God Gave His Best Gift

What was the best gift you ever got at Christmas? One year my wife gave me an old, ratty, used soft rifle case. And I was thankful. I think she would agree with that. Turns out she had also gotten me a rifle to put in it as well, but she gave it to me separately. That was a pretty memorable gift.

Probably most memorable gifts are something we got when we were kids. Don’t those seem to be better gifts? We anticipate them more. We aren’t as jaded and cynical about Christmas when we are children.

In Ephesians 1:20-23, Paul is trying to communicate how much God the Father thinks of Jesus. And because He thinks so much of Jesus, God wants us to think a lot of Jesus too. In fact, what we learn here is God gave His best gift to us.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23 (ESV)

So Paul is saying that God made Jesus head over all creation and also gave Jesus to the church. All human authorities are put down by force—they are under His feet. But His relationship to the church is not as conqueror, but as a gift from the Father.

So we could read it as, “And he put all things under his feet and gave [Jesus] … to the church….”

“So what?” is maybe what you’re thinking. But isn’t it true that the gifts we give say something about us?

My family had some pretty humble Christmases as I was growing up. I don’t remember getting more than two or three gifts at Christmas.  Now maybe I remember things as slightly more difficult than they actually were, but I think that’s accurate. I averaged two, maybe three small presents from my parents at Christmas.

Now that says something about my parents; it says they didn’t have a whole lot of money. It doesn’t say something bad, but it does say that we were poor as I was growing up. Maybe it also says that they tried to keep Christ in Christmas for us kids. My parents would tell us what they had budgeted for Christmas and then they would give half of that amount to Jesus in an offering at church. That says something about them too. Something wonderful.

So our gifts do say something about us, don’t they? You know this. Isn’t there a difference between the gifts you give your children and the gift you bring for the white elephant gift exchange at the company party? You don’t wrap up the kitchen trash for your children to open on Christmas morning. You give them something valuable. And you give them more valuable gifts than you contribute to the white elephant gift exchange, right? When I have a white elephant gift, it’s typically something I grabbed off a dusty shelf in the basement as I was running around trying to find something at the last minute. It doesn’t get my full attention or effort. I don’t think about it ahead of time. That probably says something about me too. But with your family you put in more effort. The gift means something.

The gift that God gave the church means something too. What’s the best gift that God could have given to the Church? Is there a better one? When God was looking for the best gift that He could give to believers, there was only one choice—Jesus.

Jesus is God’s best gift. He loves His Son and wants you and me to love Him too. So He gave Jesus to the church. God didn’t give us some cast off gift. No, God gave the very best gift He had. And while giving Jesus does show that God loves the church, it shows even more that God loves Jesus.

The gift of His Son says something great about God. He is generous. He is gracious. And he gives the best gifts. He gave the only gift that can satisfy our thirst—Jesus Christ (Jn 7:37).

Are you thankful for the best gift?

When My Sin Is the Worst…

One of my goals in 2022 is to review my devotional journal from 10 years ago so I’m reminded of God’s sanctifying work in my life. I came across this today…

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Last night I was reminded of God’s grace again. I sinned against my wife and son, and God graciously forgave me. Because of my sin against my wife, I made a poor decision with my son. My sin against his mother affected him. I was wrong. God’s grace is all over my life. I have a son that I don’t deserve. He obeyed me when it was extraordinarily difficult to do so. He’s a much better son to me than I ever was to my father. In part I know God’s grace because of my son. I don’t deserve a son like him.

When my sin embarrasses me, I grow in humility—even if only temporarily. And it embarrasses me now to think about last night. The Gospel is precious because it’s not by works that I’m saved. When my sin embarrasses me, I’m especially sensitive to the message of the Gospel. God’s grace becomes a rich treasure and my only hope. When my sin is the worst, the Gospel is so much more precious.

Thank You Father for Your saving and sanctifying grace.

This is how the gospel becomes more precious to us—as we see our sin with more clarity and accuracy we realize how blessed we are that God would save us. Knowing our sin is an unusual blessing; it helps humble us, and humility draws us closer to God.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:8-10 (ESV)

In Luke 6:36-50 right after a woman who was a great sinner washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, Jesus told the parable of the two debtors to Simon, the self-righteous Pharisee who was his host. One debtor owed a lot and his debt was cancelled; one owed a little and also had his debt cancelled. So Jesus asks Simon,

Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:42b–43 (ESV)

I don’t appreciate the gospel when I don’t think I’m a very big sinner. When I have more in common with Simon the Pharisee’s self-righteousness than the immoral woman’s sorrow and repentance, the gospel won’t be that precious.

So, today, are you amazed by God’s grace? If not, could it be that you don’t think sin is that significant in your life? When your sin is the worst, the Gospel is so much more precious.

I Could Always Get My Dad

When my dad was a young pastor, he had a few standing rules, but the most important one to me was that if his wife or sons called, we were immediately put through to him. The church secretary knew that no matter what he was doing or whom he was with, he always wanted to take the call. I’m sure the policy was designed especially for my mother, so she could be certain that whatever family emergency her elementary school-age boys caused, she could get her husband. But it applied to all of us.

My Dad at groundbreaking for a church building. It’s the late ’70s; that explains the shoes. 😉

Probably the only rebuke our church secretary ever received (she was a gem) was after I called one time, and she tried to screen if the probably 12-year-old son of the pastor really needed to talk to his dad or not, and she didn’t put me through. From then on, no matter why I called, she just put me through to my dad. She didn’t even ask why I was calling; she just got my dad on the phone.

Having been a pastor myself, I realize it might not have been a wise policy. I’m sure we interrupted my dad’s study, counseling, and other important pastoral tasks. It’s funny how that affected me. No matter where I was, if I could find a phone, I could get my dad. In an age before cell phones or even the internet, knowing I could grab that harvest gold phone off the wall, dial the church office, and immediately talk to my Dad made me feel special, privileged—membership in my dad’s family had its privileges. I could always get through.

But as comforting as that was, I have a greater Father who has the same policy. When God the Father saved me, he adopted me. I am a member of his family. I’m not a stranger; I’m not an outsider.

he [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…. Ephesians 1:5 (ESV) Cf. Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6

Membership has its privileges. The only prayer of the unbeliever that God has obligated himself to hear is the prayer of repentance. But for the believer, God always hears our prayers.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12 (ESV)

I might have milked the privilege being Harley Keck’s son afforded me and made phone calls that were unnecessary, but my dad still took my calls. And our heavenly Father encourages us to come boldly before him.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

I am adopted into God’s family. This means I can always get through. How amazing that the God who spoke the universe into existence always, always hears my prayer. And I don’t have to find a harvest-gold phone to talk to him. 😉 Right now, you and I can talk to him. We are so privileged.

What Is Prayer?: A Definition that Prompts Prayer

Often the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Westminster Catechisms are particularly well-worded. This is something I’ve learned to appreciate as I grew up without any familiarity with these historic expressions of orthodox doctrine. For example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 98 says,

Q: What is prayer?

A: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

This definition is really helpful, memorable, and applicable.

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God…

Psalm 10:17 (ESV) O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear  (cf. Ps 62:8; Mt 7:7-8)

It’s okay to pray for what you want to happen. God created us as desiring beings and desire alone is not evil. In fact, as we grow in Christ we more and more want the right things. We want what God wants.

So prayer is an offering up of our desires. I hope you don’t pray for things that you don’t care about. Even intercession is about desire. I want the best for others, and I ask God for it. The Bible doesn’t forbid praying for what you want.

Prayer is actually an act of dependence. The proud and independent don’t pray much. So prayer is me recognizing that only God can do what I’m asking for. Only he can fulfill my desires.

for things agreeable to his will…

1 John 5:14 (ESV) And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (cf. Rom 8:27)

This is the caveat, isn’t it? The things we want should also be the things God wants. Of course, we don’t always know what God wants. Often His sovereign will is not apparent. What I like about this definition is it doesn’t demand that we know the mind of God. We just need to ask for things that are “agreeable to his will.”

One time on the way to church I saw a portable basketball goal being thrown out. We wanted one for years, but I wasn’t willing to spend the money. I am famously frugal. I prayed that if God wanted us to have it, it would still be available after the worship service.

Is praying for a basketball goal agreeable to His will? I think so. I don’t know that it is His will, but I know that it doesn’t violate His will. It’s agreeable to God’s will.

What things do we know with certainty to be God’s will? Salvation and sanctification for sure. We can pray for those with no doubt. Many other things need to be prayed for with some humility. I don’t always know what God wants.

in the name of Christ…

John 16:23–24 (ESV) In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (cf. Heb 4:14-16)

Why can I pray? Only because Christ has paid the penalty of my sin. My sin separated me from God. The only prayer of the unbeliever that God is obligated to hear is the prayer of repentance. But I can pray because of Jesus and Jesus alone.

Now I don’t believe that praying in the name of Christ means that we add “in Jesus’ name” to all of our prayers. I often do, but it’s not a magic formula that assures you that God hears your prayers. What it means is that we pray with the conscious awareness that we can only come to God through Jesus Christ. This awareness will show up in our prayers. At times we will pray things like, “God, the only reason I can make this request is because Jesus paid for my sins on the cross.”

What this definition of prayer explains is that we can only come to God because of Christ. Don’t ever get cavalier about coming to God. You should have no confidence if you are praying on your own merits. It’s only the merits of Christ that count.

with confession of our sins…

1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (cf. Dan 9:4; Ps 32:5-6; Ps 66:18)

It saddens me that some Christians believe that salvation means they never need to admit they’re a sinner again. That’s just wrong. Sin still indwells you and affects the quality of your prayers. The Apostle Peter claimed that a husband’s prayers could be hindered by his disobedience (1 Peter 3:7).

You and I probably cannot admit that we’re sinners too often. Confessing sin benefits us in several ways.

  • Growth in humility
  • Ability to be gracious to others that sin against us.
  • A cleansing of our conscience in our relationship with God.
  • A regular return to the truths of the Gospel—even that sin is paid for. An appreciation for the Gospel.

and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

Philippians 4:6 (ESV) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (cf. Ps 103:1-5)

It is good to thank God for His mercies. You have received grace from him today. We’re so blind to God’s overflowing grace and mercy. Gratitude gets us better at seeing moments of His mercy. What can you thank God for already this day?

May you and I pray better and more often.

Stop Being Fearful; Start Being Joyful

In college I had a professor that summarized the message of Christmas as “Stop being fearful; start being joyful.”[1]Thanks Dr. Doug McLachlan! This is from Luke 2 where the angel tells the shepherds not to fear, and he also brings them good tidings of great joy for all people (2:10). I’ve remembered this Christmas summary ever since then.  

In the midst of the busyness of this season, it’s hard to find time to consider Christ, isn’t it? Probably most of us have thought at one time or another that this time of year is so busy that we almost dread it. We’ve taken this special time of the year when we could consider Christ and we’ve made it so busy, so crazy, so frantic, that we don’t consider Him.

And it doesn’t help that our world has some suggestions for the message of Christmas.

  1. It’s a commercialized, trivialized story we see on TV specials or read in Instagram posts.
  2. It’s the story of every Christmas movie at this time of year—families overcoming their differences and getting together for a special day.
  3. It’s a time when we celebrate a fat man in a red suit who sneaks down chimneys at night. 😉
  4. It’s a time when we try to have warm feelings towards our fellow man.

But I think my professor summarized it far better than any message the world gives us.

Stop Being Fearful

Clearly the shepherds are being told not to be afraid of the angel standing before them and the brightness of the glory of the Lord (2:9). They’ve never seen anything like this. Fear would be a natural response in these circumstances. However, it’s an unnecessary response.

Maybe fear is the natural response to your circumstances. You’re uncertain about the future. Life in 2021 hasn’t gone as you expected it to go. But like the Shepherds on the night Christ was born, your fear is unnecessary.

Because of that babe in the manger, you and I don’t have to fear. Why? Why is fear the wrong response to your circumstances? For the same reasons that joy is the right response to Christ’s birth.

Your biggest need was not financial. Your biggest need was not relational. Your biggest need was not emotional. Your biggest need was not health. Your biggest need was your estrangement from God because of your sin. And the birth of Jesus took care of that (Luke 2:10-11). Jesus came so that He could die as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. The Bible tells us that all people are sinners and that their sin separates them from God.

Romans 3:23, 6:23 (ESV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.... For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But because Jesus was born, lived, died for your sin, and rose again, you can have peace with God.

Colossians 2:13–14 (ESV) And you, who were dead in your trespasses [separated from God] and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us [you couldn’t keep God’s law.] with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [You were guilty, but God nailed your sins to the cross.]

Peace is a great quality to have. It’s a good state to be in. It only comes through Jesus Christ. In fact, you and I can have peace in the midst of swirling circumstances.

Like the angel commanded the shepherds, you can stop being fearful because Jesus came to take care of your sin.

There is so much to fear in this world. Because of Jesus, I don’t have to fear financial collapse, war, environmental ruin, terrorism, aging, health issues, the future, viruses, or even my own death. I can stop being fearful.

Start Being Joyful

Our world is not very joyful. Oh we could find some people at a bar or someplace today having a good time, and I’m sure they would say that they are joyful. But biblical joy doesn’t come from outside circumstances (Jam 1:2).

One of the greatest American humorists ever to live was Mark Twain. In his day, he really made people laugh. However, in his personal life he was plagued with depression and sorrow. When his daughter Jean died, Twain reportedly said to a friend, “I’ve never greatly envied anyone but the dead. I always envy the dead”

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV). Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is… joy (Gal. 5:22, ESV). God wants to develop inside you a joy that flows out as a result of your relationship with Him.

Joy is a divine gift of God to believers. First Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (ESV).

Just like we are commanded not to fear, we are also commanded to be joyful. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. again I will say, rejoice” (ESV).

It’s been 2000 years, but I still believe you can stop being fearful and start being joyful because of the incarnation of Christ. That baby in the manger is the answer to our fears and the source of our joys.

Merry Christmas!


1 Thanks Dr. Doug McLachlan!