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Posts tagged "The Mockingbird Devotional"


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

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 […]

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

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 […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Romans 10:12

Today’s devotional comes from the Rev. John Zahl: For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile… the same Lord is Lord of all… (Romans 10:12, NIV) In this passage, the Apostle Paul denies the legitimacy of a particular strain of categorization. He suggests that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” He wants […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Sixteen Verses Twenty Four Through Twenty Five

This entry from The Mockingbird Devotional comes to us from Paul Walker: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV) Jesus describes the two realities of human existence (and ultimately there are only two): trust in yourself and suffer eternal […]

Hopelessly Devoted: 1 Samuel 8:9-22

This morning’s reflection comes from Leonard Finn, by way of the Mockingbird Devotional: But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Lamentations Chapter Three Verses Fifty Five through Fifty Seven

This morning’s entry from The Mockingbird Devotional is another gem from David Zahl. I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for help!” You came near when I called you and you said, “Do not fear!” (Lamentations 3:55-57, […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Jeremiah Chapter One Verses One through Nine

This morning’s devotion, following the Lectionary guide of the Devotional, comes from Andrew Pearson. And–did you know?–the Devotional is now available as an eBook? Check it out here. …Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated […]