Friday, October 20, 2023

Isaiah 61: Your Mission ... Should You Choose to Accept It

Read the first five installments of the 30-part devotional series based on Isaiah 61, right here on Strike the Jordan!

Isaiah 61: Your Mission ...
Should You Choose to Accept It

by Brad Fenichel

Published: 10/2023

“The LORD has anointed Me ... to console those who mourn in Zion ... And they shall rebuild ... raise up ... and repair ...”

What could I do in my lifetime that would move the needle on world peace?  World hunger?  World revival?  What could I possibly do to stop a thousand runaway trains in our nation today, all heading toward the precipice of disaster and divine judgment?

Join Brad Fenichel, author and founder of the National Minute of Prayer, on an action-packed 30-day devotional journey through Isaiah 61—the “Messianic playbook” which Jesus Himself quoted as His inaugural speech in Luke 4, and which contains marching orders for us, the corps of “Blessed Mourners” ordained to continue His mission.

Each of the 30 devotionals inspires prayer and meditation on a specific segment of our Lord's Isaiah 61 commission.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

ALOFT IN A BODY BAG - Isaiah 61 Devotional #5

"...The LORD has anointed Me ... to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners.."
– Isaiah 61:1e (NIV)
As the curtain lifts on Chapter 20 of The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas, 1844), the protagonist, Edmond Dantès, has been imprisoned fourteen years in the darkest dungeons of the Chateau D'If (a 16th-century French Alcatraz ... on steroids!) after having been framed for a political crime he did not commit.  And now, the pious Abbé Faria -- Dantès' only dungeon companion, and the only glimmer of hope in his desperate plight -- has died, and is lying still in a body bag waiting for the prison guards to come haul him off.

"They will forget me here," laments Dantès in his despair, "and I shall die in my dungeon like Faria.... None but the dead pass freely from this dungeon ...”

At which moment, our hero has an epiphany.  Why not bring on death forthwith?  And so, he drags his friend's corpse away through a tunnel and stuffs himself into the body bag instead.  When the guards show up, they carry him out and launch him off the cliff on which Chateau D'If is perched, and into the sea below -- their standard method of burying their hapless dead.  Dantès, naturally, had provisioned himself with a knife, so he promptly cut his way out of the body bag and swam off to start his new life as the fabulously rich Count of Monte Cristo.  (As for how he came by such fabulous riches ... you will have to read the book.)

By happy accident, our monthly trek through Isaiah 61 brings us on Easter Day to the end of verse one: "The LORD has anointed Me ... to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners..."

In previous weeks, we have sounded the depths of this verse truth by truth, the latest having been " proclaim freedom for the captives."  We explored various means by which the great enemy of our soul holds his captives in bondage, such as:  comfort, entertainment, wealth, security, and the fear of man.  

However, it is important to note that our Lord, Whose every word is carefully chosen -- He is not given to pointless redundancy -- says that He not only came to proclaim "freedom for the captives," but also "release from darkness for the prisoners."  Because, not only are there satanic powers that hold us captive to vice, but there are those that would further imprison the soul in the deep darkness of despair.  Think of it this way.... If Captivity is a landslide that blocks our path toward the "life in abundance" our Savior came to gift us, Dark Despair is a Mount Everest landed squarely on top of us, ending all hope of getting there.  It is the Chateau D'If, from which dungeon the only way out is in a body bag.

But, just as Abbé Faria provided the only means of escape for Dantès -- with his own body bag -- our Lord Jesus Christ descended into the grave in order that, through His resurrection, He would set us free from the power of death.  And, not only death -- which is the ultimate dungeon indeed -- but all other dark prisons that confine us.  This is, of course, the miracle of Easter.

But what shall we do with this glorious freedom?  

Certainly not to imitate Edmond Dantès, who devotes the remainder of his life to exacting revenge from those who sent him to prison those fourteen years.  (The Count of Monte Cristo is a bittersweet tale for, without fail, whenever he executes one of his seemingly flawless plots of vengeance, it has the unintended effect of also bringing down sorrow upon those he holds dear ... and, ultimately, on himself.)

What, then?

"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” Jesus said. (John 20:21)  Which means, among other things, that He is sending us "to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners..."  

Jesus never hesitated to go where He could find people bound in darkness.  He left the multitudes behind and made a special journey to the country of the Gadarenes just to free a single wretched soul held in prison by a legion of devils.  And, that is not the only one-on-one house call our Lord made.  There was the Samaritan woman, a lonely outcast of five shipwrecked marriages.  And the widow of Nain, who had lost her only son and hope of provision.

As we reflect on our Lord's incomprehensible love, which sprung us from Satan's dungeon by means of His own body bag, to the glorious new life of Easter morning, let us not lose sight of His compelling commission in Isaiah 61.  "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for His death and resurrection that set me free, not only from the darkness of sin and death, but also from the many dark prisons in which the enemy would confine me. Please give me a passion to continue Jesus' ministry of setting free those who are oppressed by the devil. And, by Your power I shall!
In Jesus' name. Amen"

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 4/4/2021. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2021 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 7, 2021


"...The LORD has anointed Me ... to proclaim freedom for the captives..."
– Isaiah 61:1d (NIV)
"So quiet!" wailed Seven. "Just one voice."

"One voice can be stronger than a thousand voices," replied Janeway. "Your mind is independent now, with its own unique identity."

"You are forcing that identity upon me. It's not mine."

"Oh yes it is." replied Janeway, her voice brimming with compassion. "I'm just giving you back what was stolen from you. The existence you were denied, the child who never had a chance. That life is yours to live now."

Any serious "Trekkie" would immediately identify this exchange as being from "The Gift" -- one of the opening episodes of Star Trek Voyager's second season. 

"Seven," of course, was short for "Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One" -- her Borg "designation." Borg have no names, only designations. Names are "irrelevant."

Formerly a human child, Annika Hansen, Seven had been captured and assimilated many years ago by the Borg to become a drone in their collective, where, as half-humanoid-half-machine, their minds are technologically interlinked. Each Borg drone hears the thoughts of the entire collective, so they think and act as one. They find strength and comfort in their communal thought world. 

Now, while imprisoned in Starship Voyager's brig, as much for her own safety as that of the ship, Seven is unaccustomed to hearing nothing but her own thoughts within her troubled head, rather than thousands of voices. She has been severed from the collective's "hive mind," and the silence is maddening.

It is at this point that Kathryn Janeway, the captain of Voyager, meets with Seven and tries to convey the magnitude of the gift of freedom she has been given. But it isn't until the end of the fourth season, about seventy-five episodes later, that Seven finally comes to appreciate her freedom and turns down the opportunity of returning to the Borg collective.

Wherever Jesus walked, we see Him setting captives free. But to effectively continue that ministry -- as He commanded us to do -- we must be able to recognize captivity in all its manifestations. Moreover, we must understand the addictive effects of long-term captivity on the human mind and spirit.

Captivity can be a source of identity, security, serenity -- and torpor. Caught in Satan's web, injected with his mind-numbing venom, the captive feels no compulsion to escape. In fact, even after experiencing new birth through our Savior's blood, it may require months -- even years -- for many of us Christians to fully yield to the Holy Spirit's venom-purging action.

Captivity has many "perks" that tempt us away from the purposes of God, away from the glorious existence He has ordained for us, away from His promise of "life in abundance." 

- The Israelites yearned for the "good old days" of their slavery because the fine cuisine they left behind seemed more enticing than the Promised Land ahead. COMFORT.

- Or, we have the rich young ruler who couldn't follow the One he recognized as his "Good Master" ... because he would miss the gold clinking in his counting-house. WEALTH.

- Pilate had repeatedly sought to release Jesus until the Jews played their ace: "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar." Then Pilate washed Jesus off his hands. POSITION, POWER.

- One disciple would not follow Jesus because he needed to "bury his father" -- i.e., he wanted to see the inheritance divided first. SECURITY.

- Even Peter, who had been part of Christ's inner circle for more than three years, succumbed to peer pressure around the campfire and denied his Lord. FEAR OF MAN.

Ponder Jesus' words in Luke 9:23. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."

Herein is the divine paradox: that the cross, which would seem to rob us of freedom, is actually the source of true freedom. "May I never boast," says the Apostle Paul, "except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14, NIV) It is the power of the cross applied daily to our lives that ultimately releases us from the world's grip of captivity -- with all its deceptive "perks."

As Captain Janeway explained to Seven of Nine, "I'm just giving you back what was stolen from you. The existence you were denied, the child who never had a chance. That life is yours to live now." 

Jesus the Anointed One came to proclaim liberty to the captives. And now He has given us the keys of the Kingdom to go forth and continue the task of setting captives free.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, open my eyes to see where I'm still held captive by webs of comfort, entertainment, wealth, security, fear of man, and whatever else. Please set me free, that I may continue Your earthly ministry by proclaiming freedom to all those You send my way.
In Jesus' name. Amen"

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 3/7/2021. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2021 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

MR BELL'S FIXIT SHOP - Isaiah 61 Devotional #3

"...The LORD has anointed Me ... to heal the brokenhearted..."
– Isaiah 61:1c (NKJV)
"Mr. Bell could fix almost anything. Broken locks, broken clocks, broken pans, broken fans, broken plates, broken skates -- he could fix them all. People smiled when they walked past his little shop and saw the sign in the window. It said: 'MR. BELL'S FIXIT SHOP. I FIX EVERYTHING BUT BROKEN HEARTS' -- with a picture of a cracked heart."

So begins the story of Mr. Bell's Fixit Shop (Ronne Peltzman, 1981) -- my children's best-loved Little Golden Book thirty years ago, and now my four-year-old granddaughter's favorite as well. Mr. Bell was a darling septuagenarian who could fix anything and everything that the citizens of his tiny town brought to him. But those qualifications alone don't make for a memorable children's tale. 

What elevates the book to a timeless classic -- and Mr. Bell to the level of hero -- is when Jill, a child who loved to spend her afternoons in his fixit shop, burst through the shop door one day with her favorite doll hopelessly mutilated by the family dog. Our protagonist spends most of the night alone in his shop, applying his near-miraculous fixit powers to the doll's remains. When Jill arrives at the shop next morning, the dolly-love of her life is looking as good -- better, even -- than when she was new.
"When you fixed my dolly," says Jill, "you fixed my broken heart too." And, in response to the grateful child's urging, Mr. Bell alters the sign in his window: adding a Band-aid over the cracked heart, and changing the words to: "I FIX EVERYTHING -- *EVEN* BROKEN HEARTS."

A broken heart is, by definition, a state of grief and despair resulting from the loss of something profoundly meaningful -- often a relationship or a person who is deeply loved. And the only way to truly cure a broken heart is either to restore that which was lost (as in the case of Jill), or else to replace it with a new object of profound love, for example, if a child receives a new puppy in place of his beloved dog who died, or a young lady finds true love in place of the weasel who jilted her. 

Continuing our fascinating journey through Isaiah 61, the passage prophetic of Jesus' earthly mission, we see Him as the great Healer of broken hearts. He accomplished this feat, of course, through the cross and resurrection -- restoring what Adam had lost for us in the Fall: relationship with Him Who is deeply loved, our Creator. Through this miracle of reconciliation, He lifted humanity from brokenhearted grief and despair, to the bosom of joy. 

But it doesn't end there! 

In the story of Mr. Bell, Jill tells him, "I want to have a fixit shop of my own when I grow up." So Mr. Bell made her his special helper. 

While on Earth, Jesus had twelve special helpers. And as He prepared to leave them, He said, "I am sending you, just as the Father has sent Me." (John 20:21 CEV) They had grown up, and now they had a fixit shop of their own. A shop that's come down to you and me.

How do we fix broken hearts? Sure, the power of the gospel -- salvation from Sin -- is the greatest healer of all. But there are other wounds of the heart as well. 

Ezra's commission was the rebuilding of the temple. As the foundation was laid, "Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy." (Ezra 3:12 NIV) Restoration of worship brought healing to their broken hearts.

Nehemiah was sent to the repatriated captives at Jerusalem, who were in a desperate situation of "great distress and reproach" (Neh. 1:3 NKJV) due to their city's wall lying broken and burned. Rebuilding the city wall restored their security, pride, and national identity. The story closes with great joy and celebration (Nehemiah 8) as the people's collective broken heart, now restored, is lifted in praise.

John the Baptist's ministry was to "turn heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to their fathers." (Malachi 4:6) Relationships restored. Broken hearts healed.

What has the great Fixer of Broken Hearts ordained YOU to do? Whether the task be great, small, or in-between, you can -- as the old hymn says -- "be His hand extended / Reaching out to the oppressed."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, I know You have a special place for me in the corps of broken-heart healers. Help me discover what it is and, in Your limitless strength, make a difference in the lives of those You place in my path.

In Jesus' name. Amen"

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 2/17/2021. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2021 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 10, 2021



"...The Lord has anointed [and] commissioned Me to bring good news to the humble and afflicted..."
– Isaiah 61:1b (AMP)
There, on a hazel tree, sat two pigeons, crying out:
Rook di goo,
Rook di goo!
There's blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight.
This bride is not right!

Just another sweet little G-rated fairy tale by that 19th-century duo, The Brothers Grimm. When I was six years old, my mother would read me a fairy tale every bedtime. But, purist that she was, they had to be from the same dusty old tomes of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm that she had cut her own teeth on a few decades earlier. Funny thing ... I never experienced childhood trauma or suffered nightmares with scenes of bloody mayhem such as Cinderella's prissy siblings dismembering their own feet to fit into the golden shoe. (No, it was NOT a glass slipper! I suppose Disney didn't have the budget to write proper slippers -- of pure gold -- into their candy-coated version.)


Continuing the story ... once the hazel-pigeons had ratted out those two little angels with their frenetically-modified appendages ...


"Don't you have another daughter?" asked the prince.


"No," said the father. "Only a deformed little Cinderella from my first wife, but she cannot possibly be the bride."


"Oh, no," agreed the stepmother, "She is much too dirty. She cannot be seen."


But the prince insisted on it, and ... you know the rest of the story.


"The Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor," our Savior said, reading in the synagogue from Isaiah 61. (Or "the meek." Or "the humble and afflicted," as rendered by other translations.)


In fact, the Cinderella story has been retold in various forms and by numerous cultures since ... by wondrous coincidence! ... right about the time of Jesus' own life and ministry on Earth. Fairy tales, as a genre, have been common currency across the ages because they contain the stuff of life: the wealthy and the poor, the lofty and the afflicted, good vs. evil, hope vs. despair.


This world's wise and wealthy expect divine favor by virtue of their status. Sure, I'll squeeze my foot into the Prince's golden slipper. What's an extra few toes, between friends? But Jesus didn't come to rub elbows with the wise and wealthy (unless they set those things aside to follow Him, of course); He came to bring good news to regular people like you and me. Because those lofty folk had "blood in the shoe."


In the Parable of the Great Banquet, after all the influential guests scorned the Lord's invitation, he "... became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'" (Luke 14:21, NIV)


The Wise Men sought Jesus in a king's palace ... but the shepherds had already found him lying in a manger. The chief priests and rulers expected a Messiah in shining armor, riding forth to crush the Roman invader ... but the "humble and afflicted" had already found a lowly carpenter riding a donkey into Jerusalem where he would make the ultimate sacrifice and break their yoke of affliction. 


What does this mean for us, His disciples? "As the Father has sent me, so also I am sending you," said Jesus before ascending to his throne.


Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, forgive me for all the ways I've favored people for their status, their wealth, and all the other things this world values, and ignored the poor, the humble, and the afflicted. Fill me with the love of Jesus so I'll be a bearer of good news to the poor and afflicted who cross my path.
In Jesus' name. Amen"

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 1/10/2021. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2021 All Rights Reserved