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Serial Season 2 and the Second Prodigal Son

Serial Season 2 and the Second Prodigal Son

While ancient near east history lessons may add layers to the text, the basic story of the Prodigal Son– a father’s love for his two wayward sons- is easily accessible across millennia. The heartwarming first half of the parable, with the angry runaway’s return to his unexpectedly gentle father, transcends time. Who has ever lived and not longed for a paternal love like that?

And yet, the beloved first half of the parable is a setup for the second half’s word of judgment. The father’s grace divides the family, and as the party for the returned runaway kicks into high gear,…

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When Everyone’s an Expert: Listening to Scripture in the Midst of Uncertainty

When Everyone’s an Expert: Listening to Scripture in the Midst of Uncertainty

This one comes to us from Eric D. S. Dorman: 

Cogs in the media machine constantly bombard us with differing perspectives on all matters of public debate. Blogs, newspapers, television, social media sites – thousands of responses and re-responses in discussions about everything.

The situation rightly causes us to ask the question: who should we believe?

It’s a constant dilemma in the Christian life. Who are you listening to? Pharaoh or Moses? Yahweh or the prophets of Baal? The old person or the new? Temptation or the word? The forgiveness spoken by God in Christ, or the word of condemnation spoken by the Accuser?…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Three Verses Twenty Four Through Twenty Eight

This morning’s devotion comes to us from the Rev. David Browder. 

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28, NRSV)

Although swooning on my part is a rarity, U2 is a band I like very much. In their song “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono sings, “Jacob wrestled the angel; and the angel was overcome.” Bono then folds the famous story of Jacob wrestling the angel into the midst of a song about unjust violence and hypocrisy. Military force in El Salvador is mentioned, as is 1980s televangelism.

R-1311927-1253218044.jpegWith all the flux and panic of humanity, what does it mean for Bono that Jacob overcomes the mysterious man with whom he is wrestling? As dour as Bono’s prognosis is, Jacob’s is no better. Jacob is sure that his sly chicanery has brought him a just and violent death, courtesy of his brother Esau. As you might remember, Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright by a despicable deception, and Esau is now on the way to meet him face-to-face. Jacob is backed into a corner, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing in the background, with no one to blame but himself.

It is at this moment that God comes to Jacob. He does not come as a sweet and gentle person but as an adversary. As an adversary He breaks the remaining vestiges of Jacob’s faith in himself. Wrestling with God, Jacob actually believes that he is prevailing, but all the mysterious “man of God” had to do was reach out and touch Jacob’s leg to dislocate it. As dawn breaks, Jacob asks for God’s blessing, and what a beautiful metaphor: Jacob’s faith is transferred from himself to God as a new day dawns.

All the political and social unrest of the world adds to personal strife. Troubled relationships, broken dreams, and unexpected tragedies can be like a powerful Esau racing toward you with fires to start. “Bullet the Blue Sky” plays as belief in your own ability to master your domain diminishes. It is then that God visits “under the guise of His opposite.” A new day dawns as your faith is placed in One who does have control and dominion. It turns out that the One you have been fighting all night is totally in your corner.

The Manner of Men – Rudyard Kipling

The Manner of Men – Rudyard Kipling

Wow. This was new to me. A short story by the renowned Jungle Book author, which recounts Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27-28 from the point of view of the sailors who accompanied him. Takes a little while to get going, but once it does… Brilliant. The ending especially. Click here for more background. There are a lot worse ways to spend your afternoon/evening.

Bridgeman; (c) David Brangwyn; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

‘If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts.’— I Cor. XV. 32

Her cinnabar-tinted topsail, nicking the hot blue horizon, showed she was a Spanish wheat-boat…

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Even My Slate? Jesus as the Ultimate Mr. Clean – Nick Lannon

Believe it or not, we’re not done with the videos from our 2015 NYC Spring Conference. Here’s a great one from Rev. Lannon:

Even My Slate? Jesus as the Ultimate Mr Clean – Nick Lannon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

P.S. We’re hard at work nailing down everything for 2016 (4/14-16). Getting really excited! Look for an announcement in the next week.

God Is Not the Archive: To Forget in the Age of Memory

God Is Not the Archive: To Forget in the Age of Memory

One great benefit of regularly preaching and teaching from the Bible in exchange for money, aside from the money itself (fine, not spectacular), is that it forces me into confrontation with portions of scripture that would otherwise escape notice. My spiritual discipline is inadequate to compel this in any other way. Take that under advisement as you read. By the call of God I have a certain limited authority, and by sheer divine grace expressed through good genes I have fair powers of recall–nevertheless, my knowledge of chapter and verse would not impress anyone who has long made a habit of studying…

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What 1,792 Blogposts Have Taught Me About the Internet

What 1,792 Blogposts Have Taught Me About the Internet

Our Buy One, Give One Free deal is up and running on the magazine site, if you’re still looking for last-minute gifts. Simply order a subscription, and add your second recipient’s address in the memo box of your order. 

Here’s one of our features from the Technology Issue, David Zahl’s state of the digital union from the particular vantage point of this website. To order this issue, either in electronic version or print, click here.

Copyright Gabriela Herman

The guy knew enough not to argue. He had clearly seen my kind before. The kind who approached the counter with purpose, maybe a…

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Strange Gifts in the Season of Receiving

Strange Gifts in the Season of Receiving

This is an Advent reflection that came up in yesterday’s entry in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It comes from pastor and theologian William Willimon, who is discussing the misplaced emphasis on the “season of giving,” and the real reason for the season–receiving. 

In a society that makes strangers of us all, it is interesting what we do when a stranger gives us a gift.

And consider what we do at Christmas, the so-called season of giving. We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas…

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The Power of Grief and the Gift of the Present

The Power of Grief and the Gift of the Present

The proper definition of “grief” is (according to dictionary.com):

Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. 2. a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow

While I wish it were otherwise, grief is something that most of us have felt at one time or another. Grief is one of those classic human experiences symptomatic of brokenness—ours and the world’s around us. Grief overwhelms the entire body; you can feel grief course through your veins, move through your joints, sound from your vocal chords, bear down on your mind, and burden your back.

The grief I’ve experienced…

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Hopelessly Devoted: First Timothy Chapter Two Verses Five and Six

This morning’s devotion comes to us from the Rev. Jim Munroe. 

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as the ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6, ESV)

In 1492, there were two prominent families in Ireland, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds. They were in the midst of a bitter feud.

James_Butler,_1st_Duke_of_Ormonde_by_William_WissingSir James Butler and his followers took refuge in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. They bolted themselves in, seeking protection from Gerald Fitzgerald and his men.

As the siege wore on, Fitzgerald had a change of heart. Here were two families, living in the same country, worshipping the same God, in the same church, trying to kill each other. So Fitzgerald called to Butler, inviting him to unbolt the door and come out. Butler, understandably wary of treachery, refused.

So Fitzgerald seized his spear, cut away a hole in the door large enough for his hand, and then thrust his entire arm through the hole. Fitzgerald’s arm, extending into the chapter house, was completely vulnerable, totally undefended, and utterly available for being chopped off.

James Butler grasped Gerald Fitzgerald’s hand with his own and then opened the door. The two men embraced, and the feud was ended. Thus was born the expression, “Chancing the arm.”

That door and that hole still exist today. You can go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and see that evidence of chancing the arm.

But you don’t have to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to be encountered by the one who chanced his arm for you. For you, and whatever feuds you face with whatever enemies stand behind your door, that arm through the door is the arm of Jesus Christ. Chanced for you, his arm through the door bears on its hand the scar of a nail hole. It is offered to you, barricaded inside all of your own inner-chapter houses.

PZ’s Podcast: Unforeseen & The Rich Man and Lazarus

PZ’s Podcast: Unforeseen & The Rich Man and Lazarus

Episode 205: Unforeseen

It’s not an abstraction! It’s more than something just to talk about or consider. It could happen to you. In fact, it probably will.

I’m talking about unforeseen death. Some people hold on for a long time, even when they don’t really want to. Other people want to hold on, but illness intervenes and they go a dozen years earlier than they expected. (You never expect it.) Other people had a bad habit in youth and maybe adulthood, and it catches them later. They never thought they would be hooked up to a respirator personally.

“I Had Too Much To…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Second Corinthians Chapter Five Verses Seventeen through Twenty One

Today’s page from the Devotional comes to us from Justin Holcomb. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)

Paul here talks about the reconciled becoming reconcilers. God reconciles Paul to Himself through Christ and, second, He gives Paul the ministry of reconciliation. Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the noun “reconciliation” and verb “to reconcile.” Reconcile means “to bring back to friendship after estrangement, to harmonize.” The picture is to re-establish an original peace that once existed. In Paul’s writings, God is always the reconciler. The initiative is God’s, who changes a relationship of enmity to one of friendship, and this is accomplished through Christ, through his death on the cross.

The recipient, he then says, is the world. This means that reconciliation is comprehensive and all-encompassing. God’s reconciliation is done in forgiveness—by not “counting against us” the amount of a debt we owe. Like late charges on a credit card for which we are legally responsible, God doesn’t post the debts to our account that should rightfully be ours. This is because Christ so closely identified with the plight of humanity that their sin became his.

This is our great hope—that Christ’s death took the consequences of our sins, that his perfect life is attributed to our account, that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more, that where we are weak, God is strong. This is what it means to be an ambassador of Christ, simply and honestly communicating our weakness, helping others with the pressure they feel to display to the world their infinite and paltry successes. If it’s already covered, and the account is settled, why are we wasting so much time and energy displaying our self-righteousness? Why not boast in weakness?