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Posts tagged "The Mockingbird Devotional"


Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Five Verse Four

This morning’s devotion was written by Mary Zahl. 

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4, ASV)

Again and again, I have been struck by Christians using the language of faith to ward off the presence of pain. It’s understandable—pain is painful. All of us want to avoid it as much as possible, and when we can’t avoid it, we try what we can to minimize its side effects. As Christians, we get nervous admitting the depth of our pain, because what if it is a sign of a lack of trust in the goodness of God, a lack of faith?

I was listening to a friend tell me about her life in recent months. She had moved across the country after living happily in the South for many years. As I listened to her, it was clear to me that she was on the verge of tears from the change, but every time the tears came to the surface, she would say, “but I know I have so much to be thankful for, and I know God loves me, and that is all that matters.” No tears allowed.

I don’t believe in telling people what to do, but if I did, I would have said to my sad, exhausted friend, “What you need is a good cry. You have lost so much. Of course, there are also good things about your move, but you will not be able to see those clearly until you mourn the losses. Cry until you cannot cry any more. And, for God’s sake, don’t think your tears are a sign of faithlessness or ingratitude. Did not Jesus himself say, ‘Blessed are they that mourn?’”

When pain is denied or kept at bay, the sufferer misses out on the opportunity that comes with facing pain honestly, which is feeling the weight and powerlessness of it. Counterintuitively, the experience of going into the pain generally brings out compassion, peace, and even joy on the other side.

Like the day we call Good Friday, our deaths (no matter how small) can be transformed—resurrected—such that we might even call them good. Conversely, when we hold onto words of “Christian hope” almost as if they were magic, we miss out on the joy and hope that come when the resurrection power is given rather than grasped.

The Mockingbird Devotional: Finding Grace and Being Found

The Mockingbird Devotional: Finding Grace and Being Found

After scrolling through my Twitter feed and seeing a prominent Christian leader post something that made me want to climb in my bed, pull my down alternative comforter over my head, and hide from the world; I tweet-confessed that remembering the gospel doesn’t undo the bad stuff. My proclamation got a couple of likes so there are at least two other people in the world who might agree that oh-remember-the-gospel-and-god-and-the-kingdom-everything-is-better-now just doesn’t work sometimes. Maybe we aren’t Christian-y enough, but using the gospel and the reality of God’s kingdom as a bandaid for all that is wrong in the world…

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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.

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: 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: 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: 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: John Chapter Fifteen Verses One Through Five

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)

The_Tree_Pruner_by_Eric_Oberhauser_Web_I_2012.341145054_stdWhen 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.

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Seven Verses Sixteen through Nineteen

This morning’s devotion comes from the main character in this video

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)

3039842-slide-s-5-hipstory-leadersI 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.

Hopelessly Devoted: Proverbs Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Six

Hopelessly Devoted: Proverbs Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Six

This morning’s devotion comes from Peter Moore. 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6, KJV)

We, of course, expect wounds from our enemies. And the person without enemies is the person without convictions, without conscience, without passion. “Beware when all men speak well of you,” said Jesus, a man who, as we know from the Gospels, knew an enemy when he saw one.

But it is wounds from those who are our friends that surprise us and hurt us the most. We expect our friends to be trustworthy, kind, understanding, and forgiving. When they are not, we are often undone. The…

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FEBRUARY BOOK SALE – 20% Off All Mbird Books!

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A little self-promotion: Whenever we find a theme here on the blog we’re especially excited about and feel we’ve done some of our best writing on, we’ll take a few months, get an editor onboard, and take the time to basically do it way better and more in depth than we can find time for on the blog – thus Mockingbird books. They’re a little underused, but we love all of them – and want you to, as well. So we’re offering 20% off through the end of February. Get some books, tell your friends. IMHO, they’re solid work. Catalogue below:

A Mess of Help, by David Zahl: Our newest book presents the best of DZ’s music writing, revised, rethought and expanded, plus a good bit of never-before-done material, too. Get to know the ‘cruciform’ shape of the lives/work of many of the best rock n’ roll artists, and don’t miss the ultimate annotated playlist.

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Eden and Afterward, by Will McDavid: Mockingbird’s most ambitious biblical foray yet, it gives a pretty good deal of thought/reflection on the beginning of the Bible, Genesis. By reading it with fresh eyes and a view toward its character as literature, EAA makes these old stories fresh, new, and surprising.

PZ’s Panopticon, by Paul F.M. Zahl: PZP does comparative religion through the only lens that really matters, i.e., how do the different religions look to a dying person? Immensely provocative, entertaining, and profound, in classic Paul Zahl style.

The Mockingbird Devotional, edited by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris: Our bestselling book by a good stretch, this 365-day devotional, by over 60 contributors, provides the Gospel every day. Called the “best devotional on the planet” by Tullian Tchividjian.

Grace in Addiction, by John Z: When it comes to the bound will and the crucial question of if, and how, people change for the better, look no further. This is our most practical book, an extended meditation on the Twelve Steps with almost infinite application to ‘Christian life’, and inexhaustible comfort.

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This American Gospel, by Ethan Richardson: A rare work of what might be called ‘personal theology’, TAG starts in the gritty, everyday stories of the popular radio program “This American Life”, and it weaves them together beautifully into deep meditations on themes of human life. Packed with insight.

The Gospel According to Pixar, edited by David Zahl and Todd Brewer: Just what it sounds like; Pixar’s golden age not only resulted in exceptional children’s movies, but also a surprising Gospel bent to almost everything they did. Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and others strike a remarkable balance between story and parable. Perfect for young Sunday School courses, adult nostalgia, or a good cry.

Judgment and Love, edited by Sean Norris: One of our earliest books, Judgment and Love takes a bottom-up approach to the old theme of Law and Gospel, telling personal stories of how these themes play out in real life.

Promo code for everything is 4FYR46BT – except for Pixar and J+L, which are already discounted. Pick up yours today!

 

Hopelessly Devoted: Joshua Chapter Six Verses One Through Five

Hopelessly Devoted: Joshua Chapter Six Verses One Through Five

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Sean Norris.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before…

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