Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29–31)
I'm not what you would call a detail person. Sure, there are some areas I give attention to -- I make sure dishes are clean, I get annoyed when my computer desktop gets cluttered and am often distracted by a burnt-out bulb in a bank of lights. But especially when it comes to decorating and organizing, the small stuff often pass me by.
However I did notice, when I arrived home yesterday, that Christmas has begun in the Ketchum household. The ceramic Christmas tree with green lights is plugged in, the manger scene is perched atop our mantel and an army of nutcrackers guard the window-sill from the advances of the evil mouse king. I am very grateful for a wife who cares about these detailed touches that bring the magic of Christmas warmth though our front door.
But even more wonderful than a carefully placed ornament is the fact that our Heavenly Father is a God who cares about details. Jesus told us in today's passage that he even cares about small, insignificant, plain-looking sparrows. You could get them dirt-cheap in Bible times. They were, as we would say, a dime a dozen. But not one of those homely sparrows drops dead unless God says it can. If God cares enough to determine the time, place and means of that tiny bird's last chirp, do you not think that you might be on God's mind today?
I hate to break it to the PETA folk, but Jesus didn't die for to save the souls of sparrows. He did, however, die for yours. If he is concerned about the countless small birds darting through the sky, then he most certainly cares about you, your salvation, your problems, your hurts, your concerns, your celebrations and your victories. Nothing is too insignificant for God. He's all about the small stuff.
Misplaced shame is a mountain in the way of missions. Jesus means for us to cast it into the sea. “If you have faith…it will be done” (Matthew 21:21ff).
The jagged mountain of shame becomes a highway for missionary joy when we blast it away with the bombshells of Bible promises. How many megatons of power are in these shame-blasting promises?
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your Husband, the Lord of hosts is his name (Isaiah 54:4-5).
The Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been confounded; therefore, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! (Isaiah 50: 7-8).
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation(Romans 1:16).
I suffer (as a missionary) but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 1:12).
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God (1 Peter 4:14, 16).
God means to blast the mountain of shame out of the way and make it a highway for missionary zeal. “Every mountain and hill shall be brought low…and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God” (Luke 3:5).
Shame tries to cancel your missions commitment in two ways. You can feel that you’re not good enough for missions. Or we can feel that missions is not good enough for you. Shame for sin can keep you away, and shame for God can scare you away. You can feel crushed beneath the shame of sin, or you can feel comfortable above the shame of the cross. In either case shame wins and you lose.
But this is not the will of Christ for you. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go (forth to mission!) in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). And do not fear the world’s shame. God’s honor makes all the difference. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26). So let us go on from strength to strength in the courage of God's promises: "He who believes in him will not be put to shame" (1 Peter 2:6); "No one who beleives in him will be put to shame" (Romans 10:11); therefore, "Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord" (2 Timothy 1:8).
John Piper, A Godward Life, p. 179-180
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).
Mark Altrogge writes:Nobody likes pain.Nobody likes seeing their children suffer. Nobody likes financial hardship. We don’t have to like what’s happening to us.
But we are to rejoice in all things.
We don’t have to like affliction, but we can rejoice in midst of it because of what we know.We know that God causes all things to work together for our good, and that good is to be transformed into the likeness of his Son.
Our hearts constantly interpret what is happening to us. When something bad happens we can interpret it as God has forgotten about us or doesn’t care about us. Or we can interpret it as something God is doing to make us like Christ. We can interpret our trials as meaningless hardships or as God’s loving hand working something in us that will bring us joy for all eternity.
What matters most is not whether we like what is happening to us but what we believe about God in our situation. Do we believe God is in control of all things, all-wise, infinitely good and loving? If we believe these things we can rejoice in our pain even though we don’t like it.
Last December a stress test revealed I had some blockage in my heart and I had to get a catheterization and a stent.I didn’t like it.I didn’t like having to get up at 5a.m. and drive an hour to the hospital in Pittsburgh. I didn’t like getting poked and jabbed and having blood drawn several times. And I really didn’t like having to adorn myself with a hospital gown. I didn’t like lying on the gurney. Didn’t like being cut open. And the worst part of it all was having to lie on my back with a screaming headache without moving or lifting my head for four hours after my surgery. But I was glad for the doctors, nurses, medical technology, surgery and discomfort because I knew it in the long run it would hopefully prevent a heart attack and give me a longer life.
You don’t have to like what’s happening to you. You don’t have to like being single or lonely. You don’t have to like not having a job. You don’t have to like not knowing what you’re going to do in life. You don’t have to like your sickness. But you can still rejoice and be glad that God is using it for his glory in your life.
We don’t have to like pain but we can praise God in the midst of it.
In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham made this bold proclamation that a day should be set aside as a time of national Thanksgiving. Lincoln's faith and character peer through these words and give testimony to the dependence upon God which many of our nation's leaders have possessed. By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col. 2:6-7
Lord Jesus, [Thursday is] the day we call, Thanksgiving—the beginning of a weekend during which many of us will joyfully consume large quantities of food, with family and friends; begin retrieving Christmas decorations from the attic and start playing the music of Advent; do some strategic planning for Black Friday shopping; and resume eating more large quantities of food… again, joyfully.
But whether we eat turkey or toast; with a crowd or all alone; in a season of comfort or in one of great stress… before, above and beyond everything we do this weekend, we want to give you worthy thanks for our priceless redemption. If anybody has a right and reason… even a responsibility to overflow with gratitude, it is us, Jesus. These two verses from the heart and pen of Paul are the launching pad for the praise and thanks we bring before you today. How could we ever, when we will we ever give you the adoration and affection of which you alone are worthy?
At the very nanosecond we were given faith to receive you, we were fully and firmly rooted in your righteousness and love—planted forever is eternal wonder. Now, completely forgiven, we have no need for any other righteousness than yours. And just as we can’t add one iota to your righteousness, we can’t diminish the love you have for us by one degree. You have already set us free from the penalty of sin (Hallelujah, many times over); you are continually setting us free from the power of sin (O, the freedom and hope this brings), and one Day you will totally set us free from the very presence of sin (We believe, help our unbelief).
Jesus, much more fully, we want to live in you, marinating in the riches of the gospel—for life can’t be found anywhere else but in you. We want to be built up in you, maturing by the same grace that saved us, being liberated for the race that you’ve set before us. We want to be strengthened in you, forgiving others as you have forgiven us, forbearing with others as you forbear with us, accepting others as you accept us. Make us great lovers to your glory. Nothing else really matters in this life…
So rise up in us, O living water, unto eternal life. Artesian springs of grace, come forth with such compelling and propelling force that our thanks will overflow the banks of our hearts—like a tsunami of worship and redemption. So very Amen we pray, in your generous and faithful name.
from Scotty Smith
Dear Father...let us be peacemakers
more ready to call people friends than enemies
more ready to trust than to mistrust
more ready to love than to hate
more ready to respect than despise
more ready to serve than be served
more ready to absorb evil than to pass it on.
Dear Father . . . let us be more like Christ.
--quoted in Prayers for Today by Kurk Bjorklund, p. 235
It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28)
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:12–15)
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24, ESV)
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.(Galatians 6:10)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)
I felt Al Mohler had some excellent thoughts about praying for tomorrow's election (no matter who you're voting for):First, we should pray that God will bless America with leaders better than we deserve. Democratic systems inevitably reflect the electorate’s decisions, and these decisions reveal underlying worldviews. And, truth be told, all we can expect from democracy is the government we deserve. We must pray for a government and for leaders better than we deserve. May God grant us mercy as he reigns and rules over all things, including this election.
Second, we should pray that Americans will be motivated to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship, yet also that we will be stripped of an unhealthy and idolatrous confidence in the power of government to save us. God has given us the gift of rulers and governments in order to restrain evil, uphold righteousness, and provide for civil order. No human ruler can save. No government official or office holder can heal the human heart, solve the sin problem, or accomplish final justice. These powers belong to God and God alone.
Third, we must pray that Americans will vote by conscience, not merely on the basis of celebrity or emotion. Christian citizens must vote to uphold righteousness and contend for righteous and just laws. But, at the same time, we must repent of moralism and the tacit assumption that better laws would produce better people.
Fourth, we must pray that Americans will vote to defend the least among us — and especially those who have no vote. This starts, but does not end, with concern for the unborn and for the recovery of respect for the dignity and sanctity of every single human life at every stage of development, from conception until natural death.
Fifth, we should pray that God will prick the conscience of the nation on issues of morality, righteousness, and respect for marriage as the central institution of human civilization. So much ground appears to have been lost on these issues. We need to pray that much ground can be regained. Marriage itself is on the ballot this year, both in the presidential election and in specific measures in four states. There is much work to be done, and so much is at stake.
Sixth, we should pray that God will protect these candidates and their families. They have been through an arduous ordeal and now face the deadline of the vote. They are physically exhausted and now face the judgment of the people. They are public figures, but they are also flesh and blood human beings, who are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. Their families have withstood much. We should pray for their marriages and their children. May God protect them.
Seventh, we should pray that the election is conducted with honor, civility, respect, and justice. We must pray that we do not face another round of litigation after an election. This brings democracy into disrepute. May there be a clear winner, not a contested result.
Eighth, we must pray that Americans will be prepared to accept the results of the election with respect and kindness. This will be no time for rancor, condemnations, and conspiracy theories. Instead, we must pray that God will settle the hearts of the people. May Christians be ready to respond with prayer, respect for office, and a gentle spirit. Others will be watching.
Ninth, we should pray that this election would lead to even greater opportunities to preach the Gospel, and that the freedom of the church will be respected, honored, and protected.
Tenth, we must pray for the church, praying that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ would be strengthened in the truth, grounded in the faith, and empowered for witness and ministry. May the church, the sign of the coming kingdom, be faithful to declare the Gospel — knowing that this is the only message that will save.
May God grant us mercy and grace as we seek to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens — and our responsibilities as Christians. This world is not our home, but we do bear responsibilities as followers of Christ as we are living here.
May God bless America, not because this nation deserves to be blessed, but because He is a God of grace and mercy. Oh God . . . save us from ourselves
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41–44, ESV)
Have you ever figured this story out? The widow gives about 1/64 of a day's way. Peanuts. Less than peanuts. Far less than the other wealthy temple-goers. Yet Jesus honored her above them. Why? Isn't it far better to give piles of cash, even if it's not a sacrifice to the giver? Ask a pastor heading up a building project at his church which donor he would rather have: someone who could give a couple pennies or one who could chip in a couple grand. Hmmm.
Yet Jesus honored her above the others. Why? The text says that they gave out of their abundance. They gave in such a way that they didn't have to forgo a steak dinner or that summer trip to the villa on the Sea of Galilee. They gave God the leftovers.
The widow gave while in smack dab in the middle of poverty. She had virtually nothing, but gave it anyway. When someone gives all that they have, that means they have . . . nothing left over (I'm pretty good with math). She gave sacrificially. She gave until it hurt. Had she no needs? Food? Housing? Was all that paid for? If so, she could have still set it aside for a rainy day or a new pair of sandals. I believe such sacrifice reveals a deeper truth about this woman -- her total reliance upon God. She believed that he truly would supply all her needs (Philippians 4:19). She believed that nothing was her own and all belonged to God anyway. It was a great privilege to give to the one who had blessed her beyond words. That philosophy drove her to the offering box that day.
This story cuts to the heart of my selfishness and greed -- what I want to do with what I've earned. Will I toss God the scraps of my leftovers or will I allow him to soften my heart to such a degree that I become overwhelmed with His generosity and can't help but gladly give back with great joy?