This morning’s devotion comes to us from Bonnie Poon Zahl.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…(John 15:1-5, ESV)
When we think of being “pruned” by God, it’s easy to think of minor cuttings, small challenges that do us good, but perhaps harder to think of the severe changes that might drastically affect our lives in too painful a way.
To the gardener, however, pruning a plant looks like cutting off living branches—taking significant lengths off of a perfectly healthy branch to encourage new growth. This is true of what Jesus is saying, too: being pruned oftentimes feels very painful, as if some large part of you that was once deeply connected to life has been severed. It can feel as though one’s wounds have been left raw to face the elements. It can feel like God has deliberately disconnected Himself, and one’s protests are met only with silence.
We can take heart from Christ’s words: God prunes every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, so that it will be even more fruitful. Every saint who has been “fruitful” has dealt with the emotional loss of having been pruned. The Gardener is lovingly ruthless. He severs parts of our connection to the vine—even connections that do not appear in need of pruning—so that we can bear more. Because He abides in us and we in Him, we can be certain that even the most painful pruning experiences are for the sake of His great love.
This morning’s devotion comes from Keith Pozzuto.
He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30, ESV)
I grew up thinking that “sanctification” was all about me. I thought that I was saved by Jesus, but then it was up to me—in my cooperation with the Holy Spirit—to become a holy person, a good person. In my mind, my obedience and disciplines were what sanctified me, what helped me climb the ladder to glory. Sanctification is the word used to describe the life between “being saved” and going on up into God’s glory. “Sanctification is a process,” I had been told.
Now I have a new vision of sanctification—and it really is a vision. It’s not based on merit, but on reality. It kind of looks like this:
I am standing in front of a gravestone. It is grey and wet, predawn, and the breeze is brisk at first. I have a shovel in my hand and I am digging. The digging is easy for a while, but then, about a foot down, I hit clay and the digging becomes harder. After a while I’m completely covered in red mire, this refuse of years of decay. Then dawn breaks. The sun rises over the cruciform headstone, and its shadow passes over me. Not long after, I am completely under its shadow. I cannot escape the depths of digging, but I cannot escape the morning shadow of the cross, either. The sunlight seems to filter around the cold stone, heaven a cross-shaped keyhole through the pit that I have dug for myself.
To me, this is a more insightful vision of sanctification. The deeper we dig, the more we realize Christ’s boundless depth of love.
2015’s cinematic rendition of the Rich Young Ruler comes to us from J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, which opens with the lead man, Abel, running—fast. Abel later explains that only cowards run, because they are too afraid to face the truth; Abel himself, however, firmly believes that he’s running towards something, not away from it. Later, his wife asks him a pointed question: “Are you delusional?” These kind of questions, of subtle inner conflicts, are central to Chandor’s latest work.
Despite the title and the promos, which cite that 1981 was one of New York’s most violent years, this film…
This devotion comes from Ethan Richardson.
He said therefore, ”What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, ”To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21, ESV)
When asked what God’s kingdom is like, Jesus says it is like…
This morning’s devotion comes to us from Jady Koch.
…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
In this cry of Jesus from the cross, it seems paradoxical that these despairing words have given people such comfort. In Cross-Shattered Christ, theologian Stanley Hauerwas explains that those who have suffered, who live in the aftermath of Auschwitz or 9/11, are those who seem to quickly identify with this verse: “We do so because we think we have some idea about what it means to be forsaken…” But he continues:
That we can even begin to entertain such thoughts is but…
There is, in fact, no BuzzFeed quiz for “Which Son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son Are You?”—and if there were, I’m not sure people would take it.
As the story goes, a decently well-off man has two not-that-decent sons. The younger, wild and fugitive, asks his father for an advance on his inheritance. (I have never been a first-century householder or the offspring of one, but have heard this would effectively send the message “You’re dead to me” from son to father.) The father (again, nothing like me, because I would have laughed at this kid or sent him to…
This morning’s devotion comes from Jonathan Adams:
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and…
An enormous thanks to all those who make last week’s Renewal Conference at Kanuga happen. It was such a joy and privilege to be asked to provide the content, and spend a week with such a wonderful group of people (in such a beautiful place). Best of all, the time itself proved genuinely restful for all involved. The recordings of the main sessions are now up on The Mockingpulpit as well as the Recordings page, but for those who would rather stream or download directly from here, you’re in luck.
1. Rest for the Restless – David Zahl
2. Christian Obstacles to Rest – Jacob Smith
3. Rest in the Bible, part 1 – Jady Koch
4. Rest in the Bible, part 2 – Jady Koch
5. How Rest Is Applied – Jacob Smith
6. The Life of Rest – David Zahl
7. Closing Question and Answer Session – DZ, JS & JDK
You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:16-19, NASB)
I grew up in the South, where this was an often-quoted verse. And people said things like, “We’re not judging, we’re just being fruit inspectors.” I’m not kidding. I’ve actually heard people say that, and they believed it. Conversely, I recently came across this quote from good ol’ Honest Abe: “A man watches his pear tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear falls at length into his lap.”
Quaint as it may be, I feel like this relates much more to what Jesus is really talking about. If the standard is perfection, and we all fail equally, then how can anyone be a “fruit inspector”?
I once listened to a preacher talk about how profoundly passive a metaphor the fruit tree was. Think about it: a tree has no input on where it’s planted, where it grows, or even what kind of fruit it produces. It’s completely at the mercy of external forces as to whether it even produces fruit to begin with. A tree has no say in the matter. It simply must be what it is.
This is oddly comforting. God is working out His plan in, through, and all around us. It’s often difficult, but I know I can trust that. Passivity is the key to activity. Seems counterintuitive, but if we take Abe for his word, it actually works.
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
“they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is…