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Posts tagged "Hopelessly Devoted"


Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Eighteen Verses Twenty-One Through Thirty-Five

This morning’s devotion, inspired by yesterday’s Gospel passage, was written by Kris McInnes.

…Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-35, NRSV)

Forgiveness is hard, and the forgiveness God demands is impossible. Jesus tells a story of a man who was forgiven much and then refused to forgive one who owed him little. This unforgiving man was tortured until he paid back all he owed, an amount so staggering that it would have been impossible for him to recover.

We often assume the point of the parable is simple, that we should forgive others and not hold grudges, but that end is impossible to attain. If we walk away from the parable thinking that this is something we can live up to, or worse, something we are living up to, then we are lost. The parable can only help us if through it we hear what we are supposed to do and realize that we are not doing it. And this should come naturally—it won’t take long to think about how unforgiving we are: think about the last time you heard someone sing the national anthem, the last time you watched Access Hollywood, the last time you sized someone up in the grocery store, the latest gossip you heard.

These are our shortcomings before the Law of Forgiveness. We may like that Jesus forgives, we may even like the idea of forgiving others, but we cannot do it ourselves. Like any other, this law can only assist us in illuminating our death before it and our need for an external forgiver. Thankfully, on the other side of this death is the new life in a forgiving and loving God, who sent his son Jesus to show us how it’s done.

From the cross Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and that is exactly what God does. He doesn’t even wait for us to ask. Before we go looking for it or even realize we need help, we are forgiven. Before our mouths can even form the words “I’m sorry,” we are forgiven.

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Twenty-Two Through Twenty-Seven

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Twenty-Two Through Twenty-Seven

This morning’s devotion was written by John Zahl. 

The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Eight Verse Thirty-One Through Chapter Nine Verse One

Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Eight Verse Thirty-One Through Chapter Nine Verse One

This morning’s devotion was written by Sam Bush.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-9:1, NRSV)

I was in the store the other day and…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Verses One Through Sixteen

“…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, NRSV)

We humans are in love with justice. It is probably one of the most recurring themes in cultural expression since the Stone Age. Today, it’s not just that we have our Judge Judy and Law & Order courtroom obsessions—we also just love the narrative of justice served. This is Quentin Tarantino’s shtick (Kill Bill and, more recently, Django Unchained), and this is why his movies are so critically successful. They playfully enter into a long line of comeuppances and vengeance stories that people have loved since their dawn-of-time inception.

More than just the retributive brand of justice—of bad guys getting what’s coming to them—we are also fascinated with the restorative form. Politicians, policy-makers, and administrators all use words like “social justice” and “the common good” and “equality” to talk about defending the defenseless and bringing up the lowly. This is a very good and true thing—the Bible itself speaks highly of advocacy for the poor.

But it seems that we only want this kind of advocacy for others so long as it is expressed in terms of “deserving.” One of the most glaring examples of this is the feel-good era of reality television, like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. We’ve all seen it: Ty Pennington yells aloud, “Move that bus!” and a disadvantaged family is captured, mouths agape, before their brand new house, their excessively nice cars, their new full-size basketball court. For a moment, it feels like the cosmos has been generously righted, but in truth, this kind of generosity is only warranted for the “right” kind of poor. These programs—and people in general—are comfortable with generosity only as a leg up for the hardworking, stand-up variety of unfortunates. Generosity for us does not mean blind “handouts,” but trustworthy “investments” with reimbursements. (I wonder how long these shows would last if the same generosity landed upon chronic gamblers, crooks, and sexual deviants?)

This is what Jesus is saying about the human brand of justice in relation to God’s. As Feist sang, “There’s a limit to your love.” The kind of deep generosity we may accept for ourselves runs counter to the deep judgment we hope others get. This parable gives a new—and too-often revolting—take on equality: everyone gets this generosity, without repayment plans, starting with those who deserve it least.

Hopelessly Devoted: Romans Three Verse Thirty-One

This morning’s devotion was written by Paul Zahl. 

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31, ESV)

Time and time again, Christian people stumble on this question of the Law.

The question I get, time and time (and time) again, is this one: How will I know to do right when grace and forgiveness are everything? Don’t we need a few tips, or pointers, say, from the Bible? Won’t people take advantage of grace?

That is the question you always get when you present the Gospel. You don’t get it from “non-believers,” who respond to the Gospel with incredible relief and assurance.

You get the question from “Christians,” believers for some time, who seem fearful of it, or maybe even jealous, I don’t know. “Christians” just can’t seem to understand that grace always ends up “upholding the Law” in practice. You don’t have to worry. The Holy Spirit automatically creates works of loving from prior love.

Even so, I don’t think the ministers of grace are ever going to “persuade” the Christian community that grace applies to Christians. I have failed utterly at this for well over 30 years. Outsiders love the message; insiders resist it, even hate it. Probably we just have to “let them go”—the “Christians” I mean. Something about the way the religious (sub-)culture works just makes it impossible to hear the grace word there. I’ll try to keep on going, and “I won’t… back… down” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). But have no illusions: You’ll never persuade the “religious.”

Better maybe just open up a hospital for these people when they crash (they always crash). Take ‘em in then, offer the Old, Old Story, and maybe then, after crashing and burning, they’ll hear it with new ears.

Hopelessly Devoted: First Corinthians Fifteen Verses Fifty Six and Fifty Seven

Hopelessly Devoted: First Corinthians Fifteen Verses Fifty Six and Fifty Seven

At the end of Hamilton, Philip, Hamilton’s oldest son, is shot and killed in a duel. Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, attempt to put their lives back together, moving uptown, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. “It’s Quiet Uptown,” arguably the most haunting song of the entire musical, describes their pain as they continue through life, unable to articulate or comprehend what has happened to them. Hamilton, whose career was built on words, finds himself in a situation where words have lost all meaning. Two lines near the end of the song ring painfully true: “There are moments…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Colossians Chapter Three Verse Three

This brief but powerful reflection comes to us from JAZ himself. 

For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3, NIV)

goblin-king-sarahImagine that you suddenly find yourself, without any preparation, standing on a stage and being watched by an enormous audience. How would wearing a mask over your face affect your level of comfort? If you’re like me, the answer is: immensely. It’s like being able to tell someone something that you’ve always wished someone would say to them, but without them knowing that it was you who said it. Wearing a mask enables you to feel either detached from or, at least, less associated with anything of yourself that you might regret exposing.

When we are given security that is not contingent upon our own intrinsic abilities, fruit is born, as if by reflex. It is life lived in the absence of condemnation.

As far as today is concerned, there is no rehearsal, but the performance must go on. In a very real sense, God has already covered your life with His Holy Spirit. “Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Hopelessly Devoted: 1 Corinthians Chapter Three Verses Six and Seven

This morning’s devotion comes to us from none other than the President of the Mockingboard, Aaron Zimmerman.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, ESV)

Here again we see Paul addressing the bickering problems among the Corinthians. But rather than addressing the external behavior, Paul realizes the real problem is internal and theological.

dwight-schrute-the-office-fan-artPaul knows that there are two approaches to life for all human beings. The first approach is human-centered. Men and women in this camp see themselves as in control of their lives. This is like The Office’s Dwight Schrute quoting Billy Zane’s character in Titanic: “A man makes his own luck.” In other words, human beings have the ability to judge people and events, map out their lives, and control their destiny. Students at elite colleges positively ooze with this kind of thinking. This is the human-centered view of life. In the spiritual realm, this view is called justification by works: making oneself acceptable to God through good behavior.

The second approach to life is God-centered. In this view, people are seen as they are, flawed and broken, prone to compulsive acting-out. Like the Harvard student who plays a video game for 10 hours straight, despite the fact that he has a paper due and is already on academic probation. Or like the suburban mother who regularly spends thousands of dollars on clothes she doesn’t need. Or the executive who is a furtive alcoholic. Or the high-achieving honor-roll student who is anorexic and cuts herself. Or the Bible study leader who obsesses over pornography. Thus, unlike in the human-centered view, the clear thinking God-centered man or woman no longer places the burden of “getting better” on the ones who are ill. The God-centered view knows that people need a divine rescuer—like sick people need a doctor—and that this never stops being true, even for “serious” Christians.

The Corinthians are decidedly human-centered. As a result, as we see in this passage, they quarrel about their spiritual leaders. Since they believe their personal growth is their responsibility, they know they better pick the right guru! Paul attacks this view. He steers them back to reality: God is the one who calls, redeems, saves, and continues to heal. Paul says that he and his co-pastor Apollos are nothing. An amazing thing to say! Can you imagine TV preachers saying that? But Paul says conclusively: only God gives the growth.

Do you feel like you control your closeness to God? Is your “walk with Christ,” your “spiritual journey,” all up to you? Paul says only God gives the growth. See the illustration Paul uses to close the argument: God is the gardener, and you are simply a plant in the field. So don’t do something, just sit there!

Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Two Verses One Through Twelve

Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Two Verses One Through Twelve

Another stellar devotion coming to us from Mockingtern, Margaret Pope. 

When I was ten years old, I wrote in an email to my grandparents an analogy that I came up with. The email read something like this (copied directly from the original because of course they saved it):

The other day I thought of an analogy related to God’s love. I thought you might like it: Our hearts are like sponges. When God enters our life, we soak up his love like a sponge soaks up water. When the Devil enters your life, he rings out the sponge. Like he takes over…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Lamentations Chapter Two Verses Twenty Two and Twenty Three

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Mockintern extraordinaire Margaret Pope.

As of May 14, 2016, I am an adult. Maybe more accurately a pseudo-adult because my dad still pays my cellphone bill and insurance, but nevertheless, I am no longer an undergrad. I went straight from graduation in Oxford, Mississippi, to summer camp in North Carolina to a new job in Charlottesville, Virginia, so I did not fully comprehend the reality of my newly-minted adulthood until today.  A restless weekend and an exceptionally long Monday hit me like a ton of bricks. The honeymoon phase of moving to a new city and starting a new job came to a screeching halt. Cue the tears and the hour-long phone call to mom. I explained to her that I felt as if I might crumble into a million pieces at any given moment, that life was not all sunshine and rainbows. She admitted that she had a similar day last week, confirming that, despite appearances, no one actually has it all together.

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The world tells us that as adults, we must have our lives completely figured out with a sense of who we are, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there. When we cannot meet that standard, we feel like utter failures. Fortunately, the world’s definition of a successful, put-together adult is contrary to what God requires of us. In fact, not having it all together is the only requirement for receiving the immeasurable grace that God offers. He knew full well that we would never be able to get our acts together because of the sin that permeates every aspect of our lives. Therefore, He sent His Son to earth to live a perfect life on our behalf that would cover up our bad days, our failures, and our complete inability to get it together. And the best part is that no matter how many bad days we have, God never turns away, leaving us to fend for ourselves: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 2:22-23).

In no way do I pretend to have adulthood figured out or to live perfectly in this grace. I write this to preach to myself and to remind myself of the God who saved me, forgave me, and guided me to where I am now. “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Forty Four Through Forty Six

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Ben Phillips.

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (John 5:44-46, ESV)

There is a very strong courtroom motif throughout the Gospel of John. At the end, John actually frames his account of Jesus’ life like a courtroom eyewitness testimony (21:24). Here it is certainly true: Jesus is dealing with the legal accusations of a group of Pharisees who haimageve objected to his healing miracles. Earlier in this chapter Jesus very boldly claims, “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (5:22). In God’s courtroom, Jesus is not the defense attorney; he is the Judge. Jesus goes on to state here that Moses (the Law) will serve as the prosecution.

It must be understood that while God’s Law shows us the divine moral ordering of the universe, it also always accuses sinners of their sinfulness. The Law shows no one is right with God—and that was the Pharisees’ problem. And ours too. The fact that they—and we—overlook the truth about our legal standing means that we end up missing our need for a savior.

When we hear talk about God’s holiness or glory, very often the response is pie-eyed delight, not run-and-hide Edenic fear. Many contemporary worship songs go on and on about God’s holiness and grandeur, but they also fail to recognize the fact that God’s holiness shames us. Next to the perfect, the imperfect is obliterated. It’s true.
But the Gospel of John tells us something else entirely. Way back in the introduction to the Gospel, John writes that “The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17).

The Gospel tells us that Judge Jesus is also Jesus the Condemned. The reason Jesus can make a non-condemning ruling and declare sinners righteous is that the price for not keeping the Law has been paid in his own blood—the judge takes all the blame himself, freeing us from the defendant’s chair.

Hopelessly Devoted: Luke Chapter Twenty Two Verses Forty Nine Through Fifty One

This morning’s installment from The Mockingbird Devotional comes from PZ himself. 

And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51, RSV)

This exchange between Jesus and his disciples at an urgent and dangerous moment says more than just a “No” to taking matters into your own hands. It says a great “Yes” to healing, and loving, your enemy. (I resent this, by the way, about Jesus, as he always goes that extra step toward the crumb who hurt you.)

Poster - Ben-Hur (1959)_04The disciples carry two swords among them, and like Ben-Hur, they are ready to give their lives in service of their teacher and friend. Peter is the one who by tradition takes instant aim at the high priest’s slave, and slices off the man’s ear. Jesus cries, Stop! Then he heals the stricken man. It’s in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and you can still visit the actual scene, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Jesus forbids violence in his defense, and then takes that extra step. This is the rocky part. For myself, I am right with him on the passivity. We have seen and see every day what happens when you try to take matters into your own hands. The better way is to concede things, right down the line—“It’s out of my hands!” When you take things into your own hands, it always seems to backfire. Let things come to you. Let the result come to you. And if you’re in the wrong, let the result go the other way. I think all of us who embrace the iustitia passiva are with Christ here in this lightning encounter. Our theological and personal instincts run in that direction.

But there are limits, right? Do we really have to go the extra mile, and stitch up the minion who “vuz just folloving orrderz?”

The way to look at this is not to ask whether you or I can do it, whether you or I can take that extra magnanimous step. The way to look at it is rather to remember when you or I were in the body of that temple servant, that little man in service of the wrong who was nevertheless helped along to a better path. This is that one extra step—Neil Armstrong’s one small but giant step—in service of our fellow earthlings. We are not so much “Peter,” who needs to be instructed to put away his sword. We are “Malchas,” which is the traditional name given to the temple slave. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Come, Lord Christ, and help me get up. I am Malchas and my right ear is lying in a puddle of blood on the ground.

The other day I was with a depressed young man, age 29. His face was completely blank and he could barely get out a word. Turns out he is well educated, graduated from an excellent college, and has a skilled job. But he is depressed and needs help. How could I help him, as he was pretty alienating—no smile, no laugh, dead eyes, no affect of any perceptible kind? The key, for me, was relating to my own depression, my own personal history of depression. The man in my study didn’t have to know that, but my love for him was going to have to be tied to one thing: whatever identification I could effect with his disease. Thank God I could. The link was not whether I could reach out in my own strength to this affect-less person, but whether I could reach out to my own personal affect-less self. And that self exists. All I need to do is recollect one long night in Manhattan years and years ago when my wife went into a movie theater to see a movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep and I couldn’t even go in, but pleaded depression and just walked around the block, at least 25 times, until the movie was over, and we could go back home. Stranger to depression? No. Possibility of connection? Yes.

This is how I can make Christ’s magnanimous gesture somehow my own.