Sunday, August 28, 2022

Mourning: Christ's Highest Call

 Index to the Devotional Series based on Isaiah 61

JESUS: LIFE OF THE PARTY? - Isaiah 61 Devotional #21

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs."
– Isaiah 61:1b-7c
 
"...If God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it--SOME!
- Pollyanna, Chapter XXII (1913) Eleanor H. Porter
* * *

When Eleanor Porter, an unassuming writer from Massachusetts in her early 40s, wrote the novel Pollyanna, little could she have imagined how it would "go viral."  According to book publisher Simon & Schuster: "First published in 1913, her story spawned the formation of 'Glad' clubs all over the country, devoted to playing Pollyanna's famous game. Pollyanna has since sold over one million copies, been translated into several languages, and has become both a Broadway play and a Disney motion picture."

This might seem puzzling, since the term "Pollyanna" has, in our day, become synonymous with a certain detachment from reality, a tendency to pretend away whatever unpleasantries life may bring.  But, on the contrary, Porter's Polyanna knew the secret source of strength to face adversity: by focusing on joy, as Scripture commands us to, rather than on the negatives.  Timely was her message, too, since the five short years following the book's publication would bring with them the twin tragedies of world war and pandemic.

If you have been following this Isaiah 61 series, you will remember from the last two devotionals how our Lord's task force of "Blessed Mourners" are heirs together with Jesus Christ, the Firstborn.  They possess IN HIM -- according to verse 7 -- both great honor, and the rights and privileges of sonship, equipping them to carry forth His great commission of turning the world upside down.  A heady job description, sure; but the verse doesn't end there.  The "inheritance stool" does not stand on just two legs.

There's one more thing -- a thing of utmost importance -- that we must seize as our rightful inheritance: EVERLASTING JOY!  Until we grasp the magnitude of the importance of JOY of the Lord, and allow it to flow freely from the wellspring of our heart, we will never be that City on a Hill, bringing light to the valleys of sin that surround.

If we study the major revivals of the past, we find that they evoked from the heart of man two responses: great repentance, and great joy.  As a child brought up in the U.S. "South" during the tail end of the "Latter Rain Movement," I recall the great tent-and-sawdust revival meetings, where worshipers would pack in around the front, before the platform, singing, whooping, and dancing with the joy of the Lord.  Then came the "Jesus Movement" in the late '60s and early '70s, where, once again, repentance and great joy were on full display.  Topping the list of "Jesus People" worship songs were "Break Forth into Joy, O My Soul!" and "The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength."

Though space would not allow us to list even the scriptural references to joy (let alone quote the full text) ... as Polyanna put it, "... God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times ..." Still, we can meditate on a few.

- Think about the nine Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) -- the visible evidence by which the world may see His work in our heart and come to believe in Him.  The first (and greatest, as He reminds us) is LOVE.  But the very next, perhaps we may call it the "second greatest," is JOY!

- During the revival of Nehemiah's time, when the people responded with open, weeping hearts to the Word of the Lord, what did he instruct them to do?  "Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!" (Nehemiah 8:10)

- How about Jesus?  After all, we're studying Isaiah 61 -- the playbook for the earthly ministry He initiated, which He handed off to us, to be continued until His return.  Well, to kick off His ministry ... He went to a party!  That's right, along with His disciples and His mother, he attended a wedding, which, in those days would include a blow-out celebration with plenty of good foods, drinks, and enjoyment.  And when it became clear that the caterers' error had left them short of beverages, which would certainly put a dent in the day's joy, Jesus supplied an abundance of wine -- of the very best quality, as the maĆ®tre d' observed!

We shall leave the theologians to debate, as they have for centuries, whether the wine they were drinking that day contained alcohol.  In any case, it is irrelevant.  The point is that our Lord Jesus chose -- certainly not by accident, since He has no accidents -- to perform as His first miracle the act of bringing joy to the hearts of many with fine beverage for their party.  And, thereby He manifested His glory so they believed in Him. (John 2:11)

And He certainly didn't stop there.  We see numerous occasions in Scripture where Jesus was "eating and drinking" at this or that house.  "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Luke 7:34)

Of course He was no "glutton and winebibber" as His critics slanderously said of Him.  Rather, He was a Person Who did not hesitate to joyfully keep company with people -- of all walks of life -- that He might show them the way to peace with God.  This clearly stuck in the crop of the chief priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees -- who hadn't a freckle of true joy of the Lord on their whole carcass!

What's this have to do with us?

Well, consider the average Christian's daydream.  Up walks his work buddy, lays a fawning hand on his shoulder and wistfully purrs, "O dear friend, you have something I don't, but I really, really want it!" And he has a wide-open door to lead his friend to Jesus.

That daydream can become glorious reality right now, today, in your life and mine.  But for that to happen requires that we let the Holy Spirit come in and regenerate our curmudgeonly, trash-talking, fault-finding, bellyaching selves and install that third leg of our "inheritance stool": EVERLASTING JOY.  Then, as we truly manifest the fruits of love and joy ... well, THAT is when the "Nations will come to [our] light, and kings to the brightness of [our] dawn." (Isaiah 60:3)

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
I can no longer ignore the importance You assign to JOY in my Christian life and ministry. Please throw open the doors to my inner storehouse of negativity, and blow it all away with your divine influx of EVERLASTING JOY!  That the world may see Your light in me, that the world may know Your joy.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 8/28/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 24, 2022

CRACKING NUTS IN JESUS' NAME - Isaiah 61 Devotional #20

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-7b
 
"Speak up, good lad, and fear nothing,” said the King. "How used you the Great Seal of England?"

Tom stammered a moment, in a pathetic confusion, then got it out --

"To crack nuts with!"
 
- The Prince and the Pauper, Chapter XXXII (1881) Mark Twain
 
 
* * *

On our fair ocean voyage through the Messianic 61st chapter of Isaiah, we found ourselves last time at a primary port of call: verse 7, which happens to be the midway point of the nine verses (3-11) that enumerate His promises to the "Blessed Mourners" -- we who are to carry on our Lord's work till He returns.

And, as we noted, this most precious verse brings to light the nature of our inheritance in Jesus Christ, the Firstborn, Who is Himself the Heir of all things (Psalms 2:7-8).  And what may that nature be?  Simply put, that we ourselves become firstborn and inherit as such the firstborn's "double portion" -- because we're IN HIM.  That's right, ALL things for life and godliness.  And the verse breaks it down further into three categories of inheritance: honor (which we already explored), possession, and joy.  Let's talk about possession....

"... In their portion.... in their land," it says, "they shall possess double." (verse 7b)  But what "land" are we talking about?  

Under the Old Covenant, God has much to say about land -- the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, which promise was fulfilled in the days of Joshua.  Having brought His people out of Egypt (symbolic of Sin), through the Red Sea (which stood for salvation and baptism), Almighty God settled them in the "Promised Land," where they were to possess whatever the sole of their feet laid claim to (Joshua 1:3-6).

And, make no mistake, God's gifts and callings are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).  He didn't feed His promises through some sort of giant shredder when Jesus arrived on the scene.  In fact, the ONLY thing He did shred was the veil that kept sinful man out of the Holy of Holies (Matthew 27:51), hallelujah!  As for the PEOPLE of Israel, they still figure in His end-time plan. (Read Romans chapter 11.)  As does the LAND of Israel. (Read The Book of Revelation.)

But now that we've got all that straight ... Isaiah 61 is indisputably a New Covenant prophecy.  We have that from the mouth of Christ Himself (Luke 4:21).  Which means it has New Covenant meaning.  INCLUDING the concept of LAND.   

Having brought us out of Egypt (Sin), through the RED Sea of His precious blood, we now enter His promised land of REST.  In fact, Father God devotes an entire chapter of the New Testament -- Hebrews 4 -- to explaining the promised LAND we now enter, as being His place of REST.  And Christ Himself used the analogy of REST in Matthew 11:28-30, where He speaks of entering a YOKE with Him (meaning, we have work to do!) and finding it easy, light, and restful.

What does it all mean?

"As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." (John 20:21) We keep coming back to that thought in our study of Isaiah 61 because we know that Jesus read the passage, set its fulfillment in motion, and then commissioned US -- His "Blessed Mourners" -- to continue its fulfillment until the end of the age.  

But, though the task seems daunting, it is easy, light, and restful when we are IN HIM -- in His yoke.  It is our inheritance, our possession, the Kingdom of God, our Great Commission, our life's labor in the fields of His harvest ... His LAND. His REST.  Because He is carrying out that commission through us, IN US, as we are IN HIM, acting IN HIS NAME.  

In the words of the old song:
"When we stand in the name of Jesus / Tell me who can stand before us.
When we stand in the name of Jesus / We have the victory,"


Which brings us to that giant in the world of literature, Mark Twain.  When Twain published his first great work of historical fiction, The Prince and the Pauper, little did he know what a striking allegory it was to God's glorious New Covenant of grace.  

In this masterpiece of a novel, we see the nine-year-old prince of Wales -- soon to become King Edward VI -- leaving his royal palace to take on the form of a pauper dressed in rags, sharing the sufferings of the common people (his subjects), who in turn mocked him and refused to believe he was their prince.  And, by doing this, the prince in turn enabled the true pauper boy, Tom Canty of Offal Court, to be clothed in his royal garments, inhabit his royal apartments, and even issue princely decrees, such as promoting a particularly loyal friend from earl to duke.  Tom could do all of this because, when the prince BECAME Tom, Tom BECAME the prince and could act in his name.  

And yet -- wonder of wonders! -- the punch line of Twain's story was the very thing our Lord would have us focus on today.  When the true prince left Tom behind to act on his behalf, he left in his possession the most powerful weapon in the kingdom: the Great Seal of England.  It had the power to enforce the king's law, to execute judgment on an enemy, to do wondrous things.

But poor Tom had no idea how to use the Great Seal.  In fact, he didn't even know it was the Great Seal.  What he did know, as we saw in our lead-in excerpt from the story, was that it functioned quite splendidly for cracking nuts!

O Blessed Mourner, think of it!  Through the precious blood of Christ, we are privileged to be resting IN HIM beyond the veil, seated in the heavenly places of His firstborn inheritance, while living out His commission here on Earth, ambassadors of Heaven by His power and the authority of His Great Seal -- His NAME.  We have power to tread on spiritual serpents and scorpions, on all the powers of the enemy in the name of Jesus.  To make a DIFFERENCE.

And yet, how often do we utter the name of Jesus in prayer for ... cracking nuts?  Prayers for ourselves only -- our needs, our comforts?

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
When I stand before You on that day, and You ask, 'How did you use the Great Seal of Heaven?' may my reply not be, 'To crack nuts with!'  Instead, I ask, place Your yoke upon me and teach me.  Together, may we work the fields of Your harvest, acting in the power of Jesus the Firstborn, speaking healing, deliverance, and salvation in Your name to all who are oppressed by the devil.  Fulfilling the Isaiah 61 mandate.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 7/24/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 26, 2022

WAITING FOR NORMAL BODY PARTS TO ARRIVE - Isaiah 61 Devotional #19

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... Instead of your shame you shall have double honor ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-7a
 
"I can't be a princess! I'm still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!"
- Mia Thermopolis, from The Princess Diaries (2001) Walt Disney Pictures
* * *

Today's portion of the magnificent Isaiah 61 treasure--the bequest of our Lord's "Blessed Mourners"--is in fact just a single facet of the multi-faced gem that is verse seven, which could itself spawn a thousand sermons.  So it is essential that we first look at the gem from all sides, then rightly divide it for the purposes of this study.

"Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs."
- Isaiah 61:7 (NKJV)

Wow! To begin with, we have three prominent themes: HONOR instead of shame; POSSESSION instead of confusion; and finally, the outcome--boundless, everlasting JOY.  This devotional will focus on the first theme, HONOR.

But what's up with that pesky word "double"?  Double honor.  Double portion.  Is it, like, we're allowed second helpings but not thirds?  

Thankfully, our Lord does not afflict us with unsolvable puzzles.  In fact, Isaiah's 8th-century B.C. audience wouldn't even do a double take.  They were familiar with Old Testament law, wherein the "right of the firstborn" was a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17), not to mention the double honor of continuing the family's patriarchal lineage (Genesis 49:3).  So, while the words "portion," "land," and "possess" all speak of inheritance, the word "double" specifically focuses on FIRSTBORN inheritance.

OK, so what's a verse about firstborn inheritance doing right smack in the middle of God's promises to His "Blessed Mourners" (verses 3-11)?

Because it is absolutely PIVOTAL!  Think of the ground we've covered since verse 3. He first gives them "beauty for ashes": His eternal destiny in exchange for the ashes of their broken dreams.  Right up through verse 6, where they "eat the riches of the Gentiles": His unlimited provision in exchange for the petty possessions and prestige they left behind.

Why?  Because, as Paul said, "You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)  Christ--Who is the image of the invisible God, the FIRSTBORN of all creation. (Colossians 1:15) He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the FIRSTBORN from the dead (v. 18), and the FIRSTBORN among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

But it gets BETTER!...

Jesus Christ is indeed the firstborn among many bretheren, since we are all sons of God through adoption.  Thinking back to the Old Testament "right of the firstborn," that means Jesus gets a double portion of honor and inheritance, while we get ... the scraps, right?

No, no, NO, hallelujah!  And herein lies the mystery of it all: that, having died, and now alive again "hidden with Christ in God," WE ARE ALL FIRSTBORN ... IN HIM!  Hebrews 12:22 speaks of the saints gone to be with Him as "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."  And Romans 8:16b-17 speaks directly in terms of our inheritance: "...We are children of God. And if children, then heirs--heirs of God and JOINT HEIRS with Christ."

Did you see that?  It's not a matter of Jesus, the Firstborn, getting a "double portion" and the rest of us getting what's left over.  Rather, IN HIM, we are the church of the firstborn, joint-heirs with the one-and-only Firstborn, Jesus Christ.  IN HIM, we enjoy that "double portion"--instead of shame, the firstborn's honor; and instead of confusion, the firstborn's possession.  There are no leftovers.  It's just the firstborn's portion: ALL THINGS for life and godliness.

Charles Spurgeon proclaimed this same truth in his impassioned sermon "The Joint Heirs and Their Divine Portion," delivered July 28, 1861:

"And O my soul, thy portion cannot be slender nor thy dowry narrow, since it is the same inheritance which Christ has from His Father's hands. Weigh the riches of Christ in scales and his treasures in balances, and then think to count the treasures which belong to the saints. Reach the bottom of Christ's sea of joy, and then hope to understand the bliss which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Overleap the boundaries of Christ's possession if you can, and then dream of finding a limit to the possessions of the elect of God. 'All things are yours, for ye are Christ's and Christ is God's.' [Romans 8:17]"

Now, having surveyed the full breadth of verse 7, let's bite off, at last, today's theme: HONOR instead of shame.  As joint heirs with Christ, one thing we receive is "double honor," that is, the HONOR of the firstborn Son.  And yet, it's paradoxical because we enjoy that glorious honor only by giving it to Him, Who is the One and only being entitled to it.  As Paul stated, "May I never boast 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)  Meaning, my boast--my honor--lies in the fact that He is everything; I am nothing, and yet at the same time, I am everything IN HIM.

And, if I inherit all the honor of the Firstborn of God, there remains no place for shame.  Why? Because, on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, He bore the utmost shame--MY shame--so I no longer have to!

In our opening teaser, we recall Mia's shock on learning that she was heir to a kingdom she'd never even heard of: "I can't be a princess! I'm still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!"

In Disney's 2001 classic The Princess Diaries, Amelia "Mia" Thermopolis is ashamed of her looks, bullied by classmates, terrified to speak in front of class ... yeah, a typical fifteen-year-old.  But when her world is turned upside down by the sudden revelation that she is a princess, soon to be queen, well ... watch the movie.  But the point is that her surprise inheritance lifts her from shame to honor, from being a nobody to the place of preeminence among her people--a vantage point from which she can truly make a difference.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank You that I am part of that "chosen generation," that ALL THINGS are mine in Jesus Christ the Firstborn.  From this place of strength, may I live--no longer I, but Christ in me--to reflect all honor and praise back to Him, that the world may come to His magnificent light!
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/26/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 12, 2022

'SOUPE AU CAILLOU' - MIRACLE RECIPE FROM THE BIBLE - Isaiah 61 Devotional #18

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast."
– Isaiah 61:1b-6c
 
"Two travelers, dying of thirst and hunger, entered a farm and asked for something to fortify their feeble stomachs.

"'Gentlemen,' said the farmer, '...leave! For we have neither meat nor bread.'"

So begins the earliest known account (c.1716) of "La Soupe au Caillou (Stone Soup)," by Anne-Marguerite Petit du Noyer (1663-1719), a.k.a. Madame Desnoyers.
* * *

Today's Isaiah 61 episode -- following the story of Christ's dyed-in-the-wool, turn-the-world-upside-down brigade -- brings us to a veritable meat-and-potatoes question: "How do these 'Blessed Mourners' eat!?"  Indeed, those of us who would answer this passage's high calling cannot but ask ourselves whether it includes "holy" hunger and ruination.

It's a fair question, and one that Peter himself raised in Mark 10.  To which, our gracious Lord responded, "... There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life."

Or, for the flat-out meat-and-potatoes perspective, we have Matthew 6: "Don't worry what you'll eat, drink, or wear.  While the world is obsessing over those things, your Father's got you covered.  Be a faithful Kingdom servant, and you'll see that His provision is automatic! [paraphrase mine]"

While this sounds good on paper ... let's face it ... Jesus was just being "poetic," right?  And if we go to the original Greek, we'll discover that it works out to be, like, some abstruse spooky-spiritual meaning?

Actually, the original Greek is clear and simple--no bait-and-switch: "Don't worry, saying, 'What shall we eat/drink/wear?' ... Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things.  Seek first His Kingdom ..."

If you're starting to see a theme emerging here ... you're right!
- Mark 10: Seek to follow Christ over family and possessions: receive a hundredfold.
- Matthew 6: Seek His Kingdom over food/drink/clothing: receive all those things.

And our Isaiah 61 passage further connects the dots by saying, "You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles."  Which, in today's New Testament context, equates to: "The Christian's provision will come at the hand of non-believers."

How so?

Think about it.  Whatever your perceived source of income--whether a job, business, investments, Social Security (which is just another type of investment)--it all involves a transfer of "riches" from non-believers to you.

But here's where we get tripped up, especially when you add to the mix wars, health crises, economic downturns, investments "underwater" and what not.  How am I to keep afloat when the buying power from my salary/business/investment/Social Security source is down, and the cost of living is through the clouds?  What am I to eat, drink, and wear?

A Christian businessman friend called me just the other day.  "What's your opinion on the coming recession?" he said.  "It's not affected my business yet, but I have other friends that say theirs are slowing down significantly, and I'm getting worried."

It was an opportunity for me to share how the Lord had been changing my own perspective on this very topic.  The bottom line is that the Christian's perceived sources of income are not SOURCES at all; they're just CHANNELS.  Our Heavenly Father--the One Who already knows what we need (Matthew 6)--is the Source!  As long as I consider my job or business (and I have both) as my source, they will let me down.  But when I trust the Lord as my source, and I focus first on serving Him, then He takes care of dredging the channel when it's slow ... or changing channels if necessary.  Economic drought cannot touch me so long as my trust is in Him.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit." (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NKJV)

How does this jibe with the promise that we'll "eat the riches of the Gentiles"?

Our "Stone Soup" fable begins with two itinerant men desperately in need of a meal.  The farmer and his neighbors have a rich supply of edibles to which these travelers at first seem to feel they are entitled simply by virtue of their hunger.  But the farmer rebuffs them, saying deceitfully, "Leave! For we have neither meat nor bread."

However, when the protagonists change their approach to one of service, offering to fill a cauldron with lovely "stone soup" for the enjoyment of all ... suddenly, the "Gentiles" are happy to contribute of their riches--a cabbage here, some turnips, seasonings, a cut of meat, and so on.  In the end, the travelers partook of a feast, though they'd added nothing but stones from the dusty road they traveled ... and a willingness to bless.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank You for Your compassionate foreknowledge of all I require for life and godliness--even the mundane necessities such as food and clothing.  This world is not my home; but, as I'm passing through, develop in me the heart of a Kingdom servant.  And may I come to understand, deep down, that You are the infinite Source of provision--not my job, business, or investments, but You alone.  May I trust wholeheartedly in You and eat the riches of the "Gentiles" that You channel my way.  
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/12/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved