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Posts tagged "Hopelessly Devoted"


Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Thirteen Verses Forty Four Through Forty Six

This morning’s devotion comes from the great magician, Jim McNeely III. 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46, NASB)

pearlHere we have two very distinct parables with two very distinct messages: the “Treasure in the Field” and the “Pearl of Great Price.” Let’s start by getting our actors straight. In the first parable, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, and you and I are the man. In the second parable the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant, and you and I are the pearl. The simple observation that the kingdom of heaven is said to be like the merchant, not like the pearl, ends up being very significant, as you will see.

After years of thinking and writing about it, I am more convinced than ever that the message of the parable of the treasure hidden in the field is critical for us. It is because there was a treasure that the man sacrifices all. It is from joy that he sells all that he has. It is from a great and a true desire that he acts. The Gospel is not simply doctrinal correctness or sound theology—it is a great treasure, and once we perceive its surpassing value hidden in the scrubby field of the church, it engages our desire powerfully. We drop our self-justification projects with joy, because we have found a treasure of much greater worth. We are released from all care and worry, and we have become impossibly and eternally rich and taken care of. Of all the people on earth, we have found our way and have obtained our fortune—we are spiritual gazillionaires.

I am even more convinced that the message of the Pearl of Great Value is critical for us. The heart of the message of the Gospel is that God truly wants us. He is greedy and jealous for us. He has sold all that He had, to obtain us:

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11, NASB)

Why do we call Christ’s death on the cross the “Passion?” I haven’t researched it at all and I have no idea why we call it that. But I know what passion means—it means extreme desire, reckless love, fierce devotion to the point of obsession. It means laser-like focus born of strong wanting. How does this word relate to Jesus’ death on the cross?

His love for us is an absolutely reckless and dangerous love. It is abandon-everything-else desire. It is the pearl merchant selling all he had to get that one perfect pearl. It is passion for us that led to such sacrifice. He wanted us. Badly. Enough to do this.

God is love. Not just any love. Not just idle affection. Not the gentle, detached love of a grandmother. That is a wonderful kind of love, but it is not this love. His is a passionate, reckless, die-for-you love. His is a throw-away-every-other-option love. We are His obsession. We are not His obligation, we are His joy (Heb 12:2). This is the God who is love—the God who would go to such shocking lengths on our behalf.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Amen.

Hopelessly Devoted: Zechariah Chapter Twelve Verse Ten

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Gil Kracke. 

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn (Zechariah 12:10, NIV)

On the heels of a previous declaration that the Lord alone will be the source of a fearsome and awesome salvation, the prophet continues with this thunderbolt about the “one whom they have pierced.”

tumblr_inline_n9or5km2IH1qkqzlv“And I will pour out a spirit of grace; And I will pour out pleas of mercy.” The Lord is speaking here: the spirit of grace and supplication is given to us—it is never natural to who we are. This givenness always prevails: the work of the Lord within me continues hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment, as I relate to Him in a fundamental position of reception. Without this grace given, my heart is hardened; my judgment remains clouded; my sense of perspective stays skewed. In short, I remain self-interested and self-absorbed.

“When they look on me, on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” This is the remarkable fruit of being given a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy. As I look on the one whom I have pierced, I am also given the right portions of gut-churning remorse and despair.

Why is this important? Because if the spirit of grace is not first given, if the Lord is not this “first mover,” if I am not given the eyes to see—then I look on this “one who was pierced” in an entirely different light. Naturally, I move to blame-shifting and disassociation: It wasn’t me, I had nothing to do with it. Naturally, self-justification reigns: Well, he deserved it; she got what was coming to her; they didn’t leave me any other optionsI had to take care of myself and my family.

The Lord has none of this—He squares each of these directly, and directly God transfers the justice upon Himself. Pouring out grace and mercy, the Lord draws us to see our hands driving the nails of our transgressions, gives us the sobriety to deal with our part in the death. In a flood of guilt, we are yet loved, even by the one we have crucified, resulting in “true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit.” We can then join in declaring with fearful wonder, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Hopelessly Devoted: Joel Chapter Two Verses Twenty Five through Twenty Seven

This morning’s devotion comes from the preacher himself, Paul N. Walker. 

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer and the cutter, my great army which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25-27, ESV)

Everything, ultimately, comes from the hand of God: the good, the bad, and the ugly. God is sovereign, which means that He is in control of everything. The bad things in your life have not escaped God’s notice, nor do they fall outside of His sphere of influence. This means that hurt and disease and disaster and death are all under His command and authority.

ewMost of us want to shy away from this biblical view of God. We are loath to attribute anything bad to our good God. We are more likely to say that bad things happen because of sin and the devil. God then swoops into the mess to make things right. It is true that the devil is real and threatens to undo us. It is also true that we reap our own misery because of our sin.

God, however, is not a God on the sidelines, watching our lives unfold and rushing in to help fix what is broken. If God is omnipotent, as we say He is, then He could stop our hands from sinning and save us from our own misery. Satan, like everything and everyone else, is subject to His command. Affirming God’s sovereignty means concluding that God wields both healing and woe for His own good, yet often inscrutable, purpose.

God’s sovereignty is clear to Joel. God refers to the devastating plague of locusts as His “great army which I sent among you.” The destroyers did real and severe damage in Israel, His chosen people; they brought years of loss built on more years of sorrow. Perhaps you have experienced what feels like years wasted in loss or sickness or suffering, or years spent idly or in vain—years you wish you could have back. The good and comforting news is that those years, and all years, come from the hand of God. And the better news is that God does not waste time—neither His time nor yours.

He doesn’t always provide an explanation of why He does what He does. The bad in the world will remain a mystery until the end of the world as we know it. But He does give us a promise we can trust: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.” It is His goodness and love that allows us to say in both the triumphs and trials of our lives that God “has dealt wondrously with me” and to thank Him for everything that comes from His hand.

Hopelessly Devoted: Isaiah Chapter Sixty Two Verses One Through Four

This one comes from Bonnie Poon Zahl.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:1-4, ESV)

imageThere’s the old Shakespeare line, “What’s in a name? / That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet). Juliet may not have made much of names, but our names have the tendency to transcend us. In the Bible, significant changes in a person’s life were accompanied by a change in their name: Abram was re-named Abraham—“Father of Nations”—after God declared him to be so (Gen 17:5). Jacob was re-named Israel—“God contended”—after wrestling with God until morning (Gen 32:28). Simon became Peter, the “rock” on which God would build his Church (Mark 3:16). When God re-names people, He creates a new hope, something stretching much further beyond who they’ve known themselves to be. By changing their names, He changes their lives.

Although names seem to possess less inherent meaning today, we still wish to be known as people whose lives mean something. We strive to maximize the positive traits by which we are known and minimize the jeopardizing ones, and sometimes we wish we were someone else altogether. We are not usually completely happy with who we are: we know well what we lack, yet we also lack the means to really change it. It is hard for us to render a new name in any sustainable or significant way.

And yet the old story of a new hope is true for us: “you shall be called a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” God promises that we will be known by a new name—a name that, in renaming, transforms us. No longer shall we be called “Forsaken,” but “Righteous;” no longer shall we be called “Desolate,” but “Delight of God.” The Lord has and will continue to transform us, and the first step is to call us by something different than what we are; He will name our righteousness into existence.

Hopelessly Devoted: Psalm 148

This morning’s devotion comes from Ross Byrd.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!… (Psalm 148, ESV)

Perhaps, as a kid, you also experienced the absolute downer of being told by some adult that in heaven “we just praise God for all eternity.” Great. So all visions of surfing perfect waves, jumping waterfalls, finally dunking a basketball, and recording with Billy Joel are out the window, because instead we’re just going to “praise God” in a never-ending church service. And who is this God who has designed eternity around Himself receiving praise from His creatures? Who is this God who even now commands us to praise him? Does he really need the boost

Of course I knew there had to be more to it, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I read something that turned all my thoughts upside down about the whole thing and made me want heaven (and God) more than I ever had.

123391-497x600It was an essay on “praising” in C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms. He had apparently been asking some of the same questions, including this one: why does it seem that the psalmist’s favorite way to praise God is simply to tell other people to praise Him? And not only people, but as we see in the above passage, stars and sea monsters and snowstorms! What is this all about? Lewis gives two simple observations:

First, that God Himself actually “demands praise” inherently. In other words, even if He did not command it, to praise God is simply to be awake, to be healthy, to be sane, to have “entered the real world.” And consequently, not to praise Him is to have missed everything and lost all.

Second, he writes of our everyday lives, “I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” Whether wine, music, books, sunsets, artists, sports, or children, we cannot fully enjoy a thing unless we praise it. Lewis continues, “and just as men spontaneously praise what they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely?’”

In the same way, the psalmists praise God, the true and ultimate object of praise, by telling us (and everything!) to praise Him. And so I picture heaven as being kind of like the moment after a last-second championship win for the home team where you’re just grabbing your friends, shaking them, and saying, “Can you believe this? Are you seeing this?” And there our praise, which is our happiness being fully directed toward the thing it was always meant for, will never end.

In the meantime, we may find ourselves more often resonating with the psalms of complaint (or revenge!) rather than the psalms of praise. But even then, we may find true comfort in the fact that we have a God who loves us enough to make His glory and our happiness ultimately the same thing.

Hopelessly Devoted: 1 Samuel Chapter Twelve Verses Twenty through Twenty Four

This morning’s entry from The Mockingbird Devotional comes to us from Bonnie Poon Zahl.

140623_r25161-969And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. (1 Samuel 12:20-24, ESV)

“You have done all this evil…” These are the dread words of judgment, of being found out. We might be good at hiding our sins from others, but we have no way of hiding them from God. We all stand before objective goodness, even the most pious of us, and know that, though we claim to be followers of God, we could never justify ourselves on account of our own goodness.

Yet these words of judgment to God’s people come joined with words of love: “Do not be afraid…for the Lord will not forsake his people… because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” This is perfect love, the kind that drives out fear (1 Jn 4:18).

Though you have everything to fear as you stand before God’s judgment, you also have nothing to fear—because there is no fear in love. God’s love compels Him to forget judgment in order to make you His own. As you stand before the righteous God, He will see every part of you, and in spite of it all, He will not forsake you. He sees you through perfect Love—Jesus Christ.

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.

Hopelessly Devoted: Second Corinthians Chapter Twelve Verses Eight through Ten

This morning’s Hopelessly comes from our friend Joseph McDaniels.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that [this thorn in my flesh] would leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, ESV).

Coming away from these verses with a sense of despair might not be that unusual. Who among us wants to plead with the Lord day and night to take away our suffering, only for Him to answer gently, but firmly, “No”? And more than that, for Him to say, “In fact, I will uphold your weakness so that my power can be displayed.” Couldn’t the Lord take away our suffering and still be glorified? Isn’t it possible that he could somehow display his power in my talents and strengths, rather than in my suffering? Why does it have to be this way?

undefeated_posterNone of us likes to suffer, although there is a kind of suffering that we’re proud of. It’s that suffering that gets you back on your bike after a crash; the suffering of sleepless nights spent preparing tomorrow’s reports and lectures and speeches; it’s the suffering that comes with one more rep, one more mile, one more lap, one more shot. These are the sufferings of determination and grit—sufferings we choose. These are the sufferings which validate our will and our integrity and our character. We endure this kind of suffering proudly because we know it makes us strong.

But this isn’t the kind of suffering that Paul is talking about. Jesus says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” No one is proud of being weak. No one brags about being cut from the varsity team, or about being passed over for a promotion. No one boasts of needing pills to keep themselves even, or of the late night binges of a pornography addiction. No one is proud of not knowing how to handle conflict between their parents, or what to do when their kids just won’t listen. Paul is talking about the embarrassing kind of suffering, the suffering of being helpless and feeling weak. This is just where Christ left Paul, just where Christ called him to remain.

That’s because it is only in our weakness that the gospel has real power. In Romans 1, Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Jesus said that he did not come to tend to the healthy but to the sick and to the lost. Salvation necessarily means admitting you’re weak, admitting that you can’t find your way, that you can’t fix the problem. It means admitting that you just can’t stop, and that the situation is out of control. Salvation is for those who need saving.

This salvation, too, is not a one-time event. Yes, we are united to Christ once for all time—our final acquittal cannot be revoked. But salvation is also a moment-by-moment, existential dependence upon the grace of God in Christ. We are never free of our need of him. This is why all are equal in Christ, and why there is no room for boasting.

The irony of Paul’s boasting in weakness leads us to see that he is really not boasting in himself at all. Rather, he is boasting in the magnitude of God’s salvation in him. Paul is living out of a place of helplessness because there his weakness becomes the occasion for God’s grace and power to work in and through him. If Paul’s weakness is great, greater still is God’s salvation. The Christian life, then, is one of waiting in existential weakness, a place from which we constantly admit our helplessness and look for the power of God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Hopelessly Devoted: Advent with Rembrandt

Hopelessly Devoted: Advent with Rembrandt

This one comes to us from the inestimable Zac Koons:

How do you picture the first day of creation? What did it look like when God spoke “light” into unending darkness? Was it instant, incapacitating brightness? Or did it spread unhurried, colors metamorphosing like a sunrise? Was there a bang? Or deafening silence? I wonder what it looked like for light to first come into the world.

Now, how do you picture the Nativity? What sounds back-dropped the baby’s cry? What smells hung in the air? Was it crowded around the trough? And how was Mary? Of course she was exhausted. But…

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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.

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?

From Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians (Chapter Two Verse Five)

“We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

-1Human reason can think only in terms of the Law. It mumbles: “This I have done, this I have not done.” But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given into death for the sins of the whole world. To turn one’s eyes away from Jesus means to turn them to the Law…

On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.

Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance, patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and hell. It is the Gospel’s business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.