A few months ago, I wrote a brief piece entitled “When John Locke Turned Gospel into Law”, one that I considered to be true to the classic Mockingbird message: the unmistakably clear articulation of grace. Trying to connect that message with the philosopher John Locke’s vision of Christianity, I challenged his version of “the covenant of faith” as a false articulation of grace [a kind of afterthought]. Yet to my surprise, the post met with some pushback, and the comments, I must admit, did make a point: Does not Christianity shore up a positive vision of life, and thus an ethic?…
Today’s entry in The Mockingbird Devotional comes to us from Dylan Potter:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7, NIV)
The topic of Romans 14:1-15:13 is love and Christian liberty. Those who are “strong,” Paul says, tend to look down upon the “weak,” and their attitude is counterproductive to genuine Christian community. It’s certainly no less tempting now to gauge others: in the work place or in church Bible studies, the everyday appraisals are everywhere. In the previous chapter, Paul reminds the church in Rome not to allow their familiarity with grace to become a “stumbling block” to other believers— I shudder to think that he is writing about me.
Acceptance is a word we value in principle, but we’d rather not act on it. Acceptance simply goes too far for our tastes: we talk about “tolerance” or “hospitality,” but to think of acceptance in terms of Christ’s self-emptying kind of acceptance is veritably repulsive. At every corner we are inclined to say we have earned our stripes, that we have merited the privileges we so quickly withhold from those around us. A pastor once told me we only invite presumption and promote despair when we impose metrics upon others. He is correct because the word “accept” in 15:7 seems as if God is asking me to accept others as I’ve been accepted, and that acceptance isn’t one of my character traits.
The New Testament records numerous accounts when the early believers stumbled over this very same stone: Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. In fact this section is essentially Paul’s call for the Jewish believers in Rome to accept their Gentile counterparts, not as interlopers, but as brothers and sisters. The curious thing is that there is something about accepting the other that brings praise to God, perhaps because it best summarizes the condescension of Christ—to accept the other in Christ is to tell another person that we are just as shocked that God would welcome us. To view ourselves as Gentiles—this is still our stumbling stone! But most importantly, who knew that his resurrection was itself the confirmation that we are accepted by the Father every bit as much as he is accepted?
Here is Ethan’s essay from last issue on the furthest reaches of forgiveness, and its foolishness in a world bent on justice. If you’re hoping to get in on a subscription before the sixth issue hits the press, you can do so here.
Somewhere in North Minneapolis in February of 1993, Mary Johnson received a visit from the police informing her that her only son, 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd, was dead. He had been shot and killed by a sixteen-year-old boy named Oshea Israel after a confrontation at a party. During the first months of grieving and into the trial period, Johnson…
This morning’s devotion comes to us from magician and pyro, Jim McNeely.
“Woe is me, for I am ruined! / Because I am a man of unclean lips, / And I live among a people of unclean lips; / For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Then I heard the voice of the…
Here’s a fresh one from long-time contributor Lauren Larkin:
The day was like any other day, especially any day I go to Walmart. In and out. As fast as possible. Determination in my step, focus in my eye; deftly weaving and wending the cart through the other customers merely browsing. Watch out; I’m on a mission! My toddler called out the names of all the things she saw, like a baby Adam on a naming urgency. Ball! Doggy! Kitty! Boon! Baby!
I swept in to gather the few things I needed for the weekend and to capitalize on the rollbacks on school supplies…
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…