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 maître 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

Sunday, May 15, 2022

DOST COVET DESTRUCTION, THOU MANIAC? - Isaiah 61 Devotional #17

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... They shall call you the Servants of our God."
– Isaiah 61:1b-6b
 
In the midst of the talk I let drop a complimentary word about King Arthur, forgetting for the moment how this woman [Queen Morgan le Fay] hated her brother. That one little compliment was enough. She clouded up like storm; she called for her guards, and said, "Hale me these varlets to the dungeons."

That struck cold on my ears, for her dungeons had a reputation. Nothing occurred to me to say or do. But not so with [my companion] Sandy. As the guard laid a hand upon me, she piped up with the tranquilest confidence, and said, "...Dost covet destruction, thou maniac!? It is The Boss!"

The effect upon madame was electrical. It cleared her countenance and brought back her smiles and all her persuasive graces and blandishments.... She said, "I did but play this little jest with hope to surprise you into some display of your art, as not doubting you would blast the guards with occult fires, consuming them to ashes on the spot, a marvel much beyond mine own ability, yet one which I have long been childishly curious to see."

The guards were less curious, and got out as soon as they got permission.
---
[Later, in the queen's dungeon:]
"Ye will do in all things as this lord shall command," [said Morgan le Fay]. "It is The Boss...."

The queen's guards fell into line, and she and they marched away, with their torch-bearers, and woke the echoes of the cavernous tunnels with the measured beat of their retreating footfalls. I had the prisoner taken from the rack and placed upon his bed, and medicaments applied to his hurts, and wine given him to drink....

Then I said, "Now, my friend, tell me your side of this matter ... If my reputation has come to you right and straight, you should not be afraid to speak."

[His wife] broke in, eagerly: "Ah, dear my lord, an ye will but persuade him! Consider how these his tortures wound me! Oh, and he will not speak!--whereas, the healing, the solace that lie in a blessed swift death--"

"What are you maundering about? He's going out from here a free man and whole--he's not going to die."

The man's white face lit up, and the woman flung herself at me in a most surprising explosion of joy, and cried out: "He is saved!--for it is the king's word by the mouth of the king's servant--Arthur, the king whose word is gold!"

--A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain: Chapters 16 and 17 (excerpts)
* * *

Our last Isaiah 61 expedition broke off mid-sentence, as we meditated on a solemn promise made to our Lord's "Blessed Mourners" (those who share His heart of compassion and action for the lost): "You shall be called priests of the Lord...." (verse 6a). And we discovered the blessed role of the believer as a New Testament priest: for inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and spreading the glorious gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ.

But then, verse 6b caps off that thought with the assurance that we will further be called "the Servants of our God." 

OK, so the "priest" part sounded pretty good; but how does "servant" add anything? 

"Servant of God": cliché, and pretext nowadays for anything from ... why the pastor doesn't need a raise, to ... why it's my "holy calling" to pontificate on social media.  And yet, we know that Scripture contains no idle thought, so let's have a closer look at what this promise means: "THEY SHALL CALL YOU the Servants of our God."

Think of it! We who identify as "Blessed Mourners" are ordained by Jesus Christ Himself to carry on His Isaiah 61 commission until the end of the age. And we've already seen what-all that entails! In short, just like the Early Church, we're sent forth to turn the world upside down. 

But HOW? Maybe you feel just as Moses did, as he expressed at the burning bush: (a) I'm not impressive, (b) I'm not good at public speaking, and (c) in the end ... why should anyone listen to me!?

Notice that God never disagreed with Moses' statements. Instead, he graciously helped Moses understand that it wasn't about him; it was about HIM. 

"God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." And He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (Exodus 3:14) And, sure enough, the people responded by acknowledging him as a "Servant of our God." (Exodus 14:31)

But it didn't stop there. Now that Moses was no longer just Moses, but a Servant of the Living "I AM" God ... he could stand before a king and TELL HIM WHAT TO DO: "Let My people go!"
 
Back to us ...
"But you shall be named the priests of the Lord." (Isaiah 61:6a) That's a fantastic start. But, as with Moses ... what are the chances that anyone will listen to us because we're priests? Not hardly! Which is why we need the rest of the sentence: "THEY SHALL CALL YOU the Servants of our God" (verse 6b).

When the World comes to realize--by witness of the Holy Spirit anointing upon us with revival and signs following (which are sadly a rare thing in the Church today, and for which we ought to be praying with every cell of our being ... but that's a topic for a different time)--that we are indeed representatives of Almighty God, NOW we too can stand before kings, principalities and powers, and TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. 

Why? Because they can see and know that we are servants of a HIGHER King. While verse 6a speaks to who WE are, 6b is all about Who HE is, in--and through--us.

In Mark Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, we find the main character, a modern-day factory worker named Hank, transported magically back to sixth-century England where he becomes a servant and right-hand man to the fabulous King Arthur himself. 

As "The Boss" -- an honorary title of nobility that the people had given him -- Hank is able to walk into the castle of the wicked queenlet Morgan le Fay (who happens to be Arthur's sister) in a small neighboring kingdom and TELL HER WHAT TO DO, including, in the end, emptying her dungeon of all its oppressed and tortured occupants. Why? Not because he was Hank Morgan, but by virtue of his rank as The Boss, servant of King Arthur--"the king whose word is gold!"

Sure, this stuff plays well in fiction. But in the real world? No way!

WAY!...

We already saw how the Israelites recognized Moses as a Servant of God, and he was able to stand before Pharaoh. Here are a few more historical examples of those who stood before kings:

- "Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, 'Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you SERVANTS OF THE MOST HIGH GOD, and come here!' Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire." (Daniel 3:26) These three were actually servants of Nebuchadnezzar, but he now realized that they were truly servants of a Higher Power. And he immediately issued a decree saying that anyone who should speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would do so at the peril of his life.

- "Then the king [Darius] arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, 'Daniel, SERVANT OF THE LIVING GOD, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?'" (Daniel 6:19-20) Though Daniel was in the service of Darius, now Darius recognized Who Daniel's TRUE Master was. And he, too, immediately issued a decree: that all men, everywhere, should "tremble in fear" at the God of Daniel.

- Later, when Zerubbabel and the Jews began rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, Tatnai, the governor of Palestine wrote a letter of complaint to Darius, saying, "Thus [Zerubbabel and his men] answered us, saying, 'We are the SERVANTS OF THE GOD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH and are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished....'" (Ezra 5:11) On receipt of the letter, Darius not only dissed Governor Tatnai's complaint, but he validated Zerubbabel's claims, instructing the governor to actually fund the temple construction and not interfere with it under penalty of death.

But there's more ...

Not only does the Master give His servants grace to stand before a lost world, with its authorities and powers that be, and see His will be done because they realize we are His servants. He further gives us authority to successfully stand against spiritual principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)

Christ Himself affirmed this in Luke 10:17-19: "And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name.' And He said unto them, 'I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.'"

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank you for ordaining me as a member of Your royal priesthood of believers to bring inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and spreading the glorious gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ. And yet, I have NO illusions of being able to accomplish this great task on my own. Birth in me a heart of prayer for sovereign revival--and may it begin with me through daily repentance--until Your power, anointing, and signs follow the Church in America once again. May we become that city on a hill, so men and women everywhere declare us to be SERVANTS OF GOD ... and come to our Master's light!
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 5/15/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 24, 2022

AND YE SHALL BE NAMED...'FOREIGN DEVIL'? - Isaiah 61 Devotional #16

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... But you shall be named the priests of the Lord."
– Isaiah 61:1b-6a
 
"Life is pitiful, death so familiar, suffering and pain so common, yet I would not be anywhere else.  Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on.  These are my people, God has given them to me, and I will live or die for Him and His glory."
-- Gladys Aylward, Missionary to China, during the Japanese Occupation
* * *

Our latest stop along the glorious Isaiah 61 prophetic journey is this somewhat bewildering statement, made, of course, to the same "Blessed Mournful" we've been studying -- those so utterly broken-hearted at the fallen state of their world, so outrageously sold out to Jesus, that they're ready to make a difference, whatever the cost:
"... But you shall be named the priests of the Lord."

"But, Lord ..." we might say, "with all due respect ... You're obviously confused!  Jesus Himself revealed the 61st chapter of Isaiah to be a New Testament prophecy when He said, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' (Luke 4:21)  And, You know ... NOT every New Testament believer is a priest.  In fact, Protestants believe that NO ONE can be a priest anymore except Christ Himself -- our final, eternal High Priest. (Hebrews 10:11-14)"

To which, our loving Father would remind us that the apostle Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote:

   "...You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a HOLY PRIESTHOOD..." (I Peter 2:5)

And he goes on to say:

   "But you are a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;" (I Peter 2:9)

And, to whom was Peter addressing these statements?  To a New Testament audience of believers, specifically defined as: elect by GOD THE FATHER, sanctified by the HOLY SPIRIT, and washed in the blood of JESUS CHRIST! (See I Peter 1:1-2)

Well, I guess if the Holy Trinity is in agreement that I'm a priest -- a "royal" and "holy" one, no less! -- that not only settles the matter, but ... leapin' lizards! ... I'd better hop to it and find out what's expected of me in this role!

It's quite simple, really.  So simple, in fact, that we may have just now missed it.  Back to I Peter 2:9: "But you are ... a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD ... [SO] THAT you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

That's it!?  

That's it, indeed.  And yet, it's HUGE!  To truly unpack the concept of being "His own special people ... proclaim[ing His] praises," would require opening the bottomless treasure chest of Isaiah 62 -- the glorious sequel to Isaiah 61 that continues the prophecy from the Messianic Age on into the Age to Come (i.e., upon Messiah's return).  And, though that's outside the scope of this series, we can venture to crack open the lid of that chest and steal a peek:

   "You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isaiah 62:6b-7)

So, what does a chosen, royal, holy, special, NEW TESTAMENT generation of priests look like?  Same idea as the Old Testament priesthood, but ever-so-much-more-so!  

Under the Old Covenant, priests were God's representatives to inspire and instruct the people, administer judgment in righteousness, and accept the blood sacrifices on God's behalf to atone for sin.  In short, their purpose in life was to "channel" (as best they could, given their flawed human nature) the character of God -- Who is the Source of all inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and atonement.

So, what about a New Covenant priesthood? And WHAT does Gladys Aylward have to do with all this?

Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) was an ordinary English girl from a working-class family. She had to cut short her education at age 14 and go to work.  At age 28, feeling God's call on her life to be a missionary to China, she attended Bible school for three months with China Inland Mission, but was told flat-out that she did not qualify for an assignment in China.  

Not to be so easily dissuaded, Gladys took a job as a domestic helper (maid) in London and saved her shillings until she was able to purchase a railway ticket to the remote town of Yangcheng, China, where she had been told a lone elderly Englishwoman, Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, was serving as a missionary. The journey was fearfully difficult.  At one point, Gladys was forced off the train by Russian soldiers, and she had to walk about thirty miles through the snow to the nearest village.

But when she finally arrived in Yangcheng, her difficulties began in earnest.  In the midst of Gladys working long hours to rehabilitate a derelict old building into an inn for transient mule trains, and while struggling to learn the language and ways of a people who knew absolutely nothing of Judeo-Christian culture and niceties -- where even the children looked on her as a "foreign devil" and would hurl dirt clods at her in the streets ... In the midst of all this, her missionary partner, Jeannie Lawson, fell from the second floor of the building they were repairing ... and died!  

Now Gladys Aylward was all alone in a land that was not hers, surrounded by people who, for the most part, still did not understand nor appreciate what she was doing there, and with the China Inland Mission's assessment still heavy on her mind: "You're not qualified."  NOW was her opportunity to call it all a big mistake and make her way back home to England.  And no one would have blamed her for doing so!

But Gladys understood one glorious concept that carried her through: that if God had called her to China -- as she was utterly sure He had -- then THIS, not England, was her home.  And if God had called her to be a missionary, then that's precisely what she would be. Failure was impossible as long as God was behind her.  In her own words:

   "If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you. Remember, it is God who has called you and it is the same as when He called Moses or Samuel."

Fast-forward six years.  Gladys Aylward, now a Chinese citizen and the only white woman in Yangcheng, is running the missionary outpost known as "The Inn of the Eight Happinesses," preaching the gospel to travelers.  She has adopted numerous Chinese children, whom she cares for at the mission.  And, in her spare time, she travels the surrounding countryside as a government emissary to educate women about the new regulations against foot-binding ... and, of course, to share the good news of Jesus Christ wherever she goes.

By this time, the people who, in years past, had called her a "foreign devil" now referred to Gladys by a new and affectionate title: "Ai-weh-deh" -- "The Virtuous One."  See, she had earned the respect and love of everyone, from the children who once threw dirt clods at her, to the Mandarin official (what we would call a mayor) of Yangcheng, who considered her his "right-hand man."  Gladys stood for righteousness and against oppression, often risking her life in the process, such as when she stepped into the local prison to intervene and defuse a violent prison riot in progress and to advocate for the prisoners' welfare with the Yangcheng leadership.

Gladys Aylward's capping achievement was in 1938, when the Japanese violence reached her beloved Yangcheng, and she found herself leading 100 children to safety through a perilous war zone.  But in her own words, again:

  "Life is pitiful, death so familiar, suffering and pain so common, yet I would not be anywhere else.  Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on.  These are my people, God has given them to me, and I will live or die for Him and His glory."

In conclusion, we see a passionately brave hero of the faith whose life was a monument of "praise in the earth" -- to inspiration, instruction, righteousness, and the glorious gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ.

But, WAIT!  Isn't that the definition of a New Testament PRIEST?  Indeed it is, Hallelujah!  Where could we find a BETTER example than in Gladys Aylward?  

And now, as Christ Himself would say, "Go and do thou likewise!"

* * *
To find out more about this remarkable lady, read her autobiography, Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman (1970).  Or, for a synoptic view (if more than a bit Hollywoodized), watch the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
I've never thought of myself as a "holy, royal priest." But, at Your word, so be it!  Please, may I never rest -- nor give You rest -- until You've birthed Your own high-priestly heart within me.  Please do IN me all you NEED to ... so You can do THROUGH me all you WANT to!
In Jesus' name. Amen"

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 4/24/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 27, 2022

HOW TO REFIT YOUR CELLAR FOR USE AS A SEPTIC TANK - Isaiah 61 Devotional #15

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers."
– Isaiah 61:1b-5b
 
"Good morning, Eladio. Sorry to give bad news, but ... we have a PROBLEM!!!!!"

So began a miserable conversation with my building contractor, Eladio Stoltzfus, on a miserable day ... that turned into a miserable month.

Located in rural Maryland, my home doesn't enjoy the convenience of being tied into a municipal sewer complex. Instead, we have the next-best alternative, which is a private, underground septic system. And, if you know anything about septics, they either work ... or they DON'T. And on this particular day? Suffice it to say that my brand-spanking new system definitely DIDN'T!

All I ask of a septic system is, when I flush, I want things gone. Gone for GOOD -- NO RETURNS, PLEASE! But on this dismal morning, as I stepped down into my lovely, finished basement ... Horrors! Returns EVERYWHERE! Shooting out of the septic vent ... all across the floor!

Freeze scene ... (We'll be back!)
* * * 

Continuing our tour of Isaiah 61, the Messianic Playbook, we come to this curious statement, this glorious promise made to the "Blessed Mournful" – that unique group we've been studying who profoundly lament the sinful, fallen state of their society, and who are ready to commit their lives to being ambassadors of change:
"... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers."

As with any piece of God-given Scripture, this one can be, and has indeed been, wrenched out of its rightful context by spokesmen – on both sides of the debate -- of social policies ranging from slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, to immigration reform in our own time.

But, to those of us who identify as heirs to the promises in Isaiah 61, the burning question is twofold: What was the statement's meaning to its original audience? And, what should it look like for us, living now in the Messianic Age?

We cannot arrive at the second answer without an accurate perspective on the first. When the Holy Spirit, through the prophet Isaiah, spoke of FOREIGNERS – or ALIENS, as the King James and other versions render it – He was NOT referring to the idolatrous, perverted people groups who had inhabited (and were still inhabiting, contrary to God's perfect will ... but that' a topic for another study!) the "promised land" of Canaan. Those cultures were so utterly corrupt, immersed in sexual immorality, infant sacrifice, and other abominable behavior that God's people were ordered to wipe them out. Make no treaties with them, no intermarriage, no working relationships. No "plowmen and vinedressers." Nada!

On the other hand, God called for quite a different sort of treatment for foreigners – aliens – who out of admiration for the people of God, the Israelites, chose to live among them. There were, in fact, countless such immigrants from the surrounding nations. The Lord was quite in favor of this state of affairs. In fact, when we peek at the previous chapter, Isaiah 60, it says, "... The Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." (vv. 2b-3) 

And provided these Gentiles honored God and observed the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 24:22), they were to be treated as equals and not oppressed or enslaved (Leviticus 19:33-34). On the contrary, foreigners would often move to Israel to be "plowmen and vinedressers" because they knew they could expect honest, godly employers–a much better situation than in their own lands.

But now, back to ... HOW does all of this relate to my heretofore-lovely basement awash in raw sewage?

Well, it has to do with the second part of our question regarding today's Isaiah 61 segment: What should this promise -- "... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers" -- look like for US, living now in the Messianic Age?

If you're at all familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch names, you've probably guessed by now that Eladio Stoltzfus is a member of the Amish community. In fact, having lived right on the Pennsylvania border for the past 28 years, I've found it wise to engage the services of Amish-owned companies such as Eladio's whenever I need something done RIGHT. Fine Amish businessmen have replaced my roof, remodeled my kitchen, built the furniture for my home, provided tree service, excavation services, and constructed a very large addition on the back of my house.

Now, if you have any experience with home projects, you know that things don't always go as expected. And, that's where members of the Amish community shine, when it comes to a godly work ethic, pride in their craftsmanship, making things right when they go amiss, and honesty—"to a fault"!

In the sad case of the septic fiasco, it all began with my county's requirement that we move the septic system further from the house before we could install the addition. So, my contractor "subbed" the work, in good faith, to another company (NOT Amish) who, as it turned out, didn't know a septic tank from a hole in their head. They properly crushed the old tank and trucked in a brand new one, dug the hole, and plopped it in ... but not deep enough. So, the line from the house to the tank was running UPHILL. And after a number of weeks, a symphony of factors including the viscosity of liquids and solids, and a pesky little force known as "gravity" ... resulted in a clogged sewage line and ... you know the rest of that story!

But the "miserable day that turned into a miserable month" could have been much, much worse. In short, the subcontractor did NOT rectify his mistake, even after we hired an independent inspector who confirmed that the root cause was the tank not being installed deep enough and the line running uphill. Instead, Eladio Stoltzfus himself paid OUT OF POCKET (over $3000) to hire another excavating company – AMISH, this time! – to exhume the tank, dig the pit deeper, reinstall the tank, clear out and rerun the lines, and even replant the lawn that had been disturbed. He never once complained or tried to deflect blame.

And that was just one example of the numerous little issues – every construction project has them! – that Eladio dealt with in a manner that was more than just "professional"; it was always gracious and godly. In fact, ask anyone living near one of the many Amish communities across the U.S. who has had an opportunity to work with an Amish contractor, and you'll find that, more than likely, they would never take their work elsewhere.

As for "plowmen and vinedressers," I've found that Amish-owned companies don't just employ "their own"; they also hire skilled workers from all walks of life who seem thrilled to be working for an Amish firm. One of Eladio's employees, a master carpenter who spent weeks doing the interior finishing work on my house addition, confided that, during the twelve years he's worked for Eladio, he has been offered work by other (non-Amish) companies, often for a higher salary, but always turns it down. "I could never find someone who treats his employees with such honesty and respect," he said.

In retrospect, our previous study focused on Isaiah 61:5a, "Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks." We found that, not only does our Lord wish to bless us in work and business when we're faithful and put His kingdom first, but He also causes "strangers" – non-believers – to appreciate and support what we're doing.

To round it out, verse 5b, "... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers," echoes the glorious promises of Isaiah 60. (Read that entire chapter when you have a chance!) The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. The lowly, humble, god-fearing servant of God shall, in fact, be the head and not the tail! A city set on a hill. Gentiles shall come to our light, and kings to the brightness of our rising.

WHY? Because we're brilliant and deserving of adulation? No, indeed! Rather, it's because the Light in us is Jesus, and we're to draw all men to Him.

My friend, the master carpenter who works for Eladio Stoltzfus, is not a Christian ... yet. But he's keenly aware of the light he sees in his employer's spirit, and he's "almost persuaded" to be a Christian himself. Any day now! The Holy Spirit is still at work....

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
How unsearchable are Your judgments, and Your ways past finding out! [Romans 11:33] Thank you for promising to bless us, Your faithful servants, even in the apparently mundane dimension of work and business, so those who are alien to Your love and character will see them reflected in our own lives, want to partner with us, work with us or for us, and ultimately come to know the same God we serve.
In Jesus' name. Amen"

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 3/27/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 20, 2022

HOW TO MAKE THE COVER OF FORBES - Isaiah 61 Devotional #14

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-5
 
"… According to [Strive] Masiyiwa, a devout Christian, prayers are essential for success in business…. Employees at Econet and people close to Masiyiwa confirm that the tycoon never takes any important business decision before first going on his knees. Judging by Econet’s raving success, Masiyiwa’s prayers actually work. Prayers may work for you as well."
Forbes Magazine, 2/24/2013* (excerpts)
* * *

Who is this Strive Masiyiwa, and what has he accomplished?  Clearly something phenomenal, that the black-tie publication Forbes should feel compelled to reopen the whole discussion about the power of prayer!  (And Forbes Africa did a follow-up article a year later, in February 2014, with Masiyiwa’s picture smack on the cover.)

To further quote the article:

"Today, Econet Wireless is an investor’s delight. It is easily Zimbabwe’s most successful corporation. It is Zimbabwe’s largest mobile telecoms firm, with a subscriber base of over 6 million. Its profits for the year ended February 2011 stood at over $145 million and the Johannesburg-headquartered company has operations in Burundi, Lesotho, Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana and Rwanda. Econet has a market capitalization in the region of $600 million.  Strive Masiyiwa, the unassuming and soft-spoken founder of the telecoms giant, is the richest person to emerge from Zimbabwe. You can glean important business and life lessons by taking a close look at what made Strive Masiyiwa a successful billionaire telecoms tycoon."

Besides Masiyiwa’s success in business, he is known for his longtime friendship with the late Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, as well as his astounding philanthropic acts, such as feeding 40,000 orphans and providing educational scholarships to 250,000 youth in Africa.  

But what’s all this got to do with Isaiah 61, the “Messianic Playbook”?  

Our journey so far through this glorious chapter has been something of a pleasure tour. It began with our Lord unfurling, in first person, His agenda to seek and save humanity.  He then zooms in on the corps of “Blessed Mourners”—those who lament the lost state of their world and say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”—and switches to third person, describing the magnificent way in which they will carry on His earthly work.

But then, verse 5 … a jump scene!  It’s like you’re drifting serenely along through Disneyland’s iconic It’s a Small World exhibit, when suddenly, “WHAM!”  There’s the T-Rex from Jurassic Park right in your face, with its curly, slimy tongue!  

That’s the effect when our Lord abruptly switches to second person, addressing YOU—"Strangers shall stand and feed YOUR flocks”—and He continues in the second person right into verse 7.  Why?  Well, sure … He wants to get our attention.  But there’s more to it than that.  After all, God isn’t all that into special effects.    

While the preceding verses are a glorious narrative, to be continued midway through verse 7, this particular segment—verses 5 through 7a—is a divine blessing pronounced directly upon the reader.  It’s Christ Himself pouring the holy anointing oil of promise upon the blessed mourner’s head as He utters these words of benediction.

Now, there are two conflicting schools of thought regarding success in life and business in the New Testament age.  While those in one camp maintain that God wants all His children fat and happy, the opposing camp waves the tattered flag of the “holy indigent.”  So, which is right?  Does God want us to prosper, or does He not?  Did the blessings of the patriarchs come with a divine expiration date?

The fact is, we’re asking the wrong question.

As the Apostle Paul explains at great lengths in his writings, the New Covenant ushered in by the Messiah of Isaiah 61 is superior to the Old Covenant in every way.  Which means that our true question should be, “How will the Christian’s material success DIFFER from, and EXCEED, what was promised to the faithful of Israel?”

The answer is simple: “It’s all about Jesus now.”  

And that’s where both schools of prosperity thinking often miss the mark.  Do the writers of Forbes Magazine gush with admiration when they see Christians parading their dazzling opulence?  Or their pious poverty?  Neither, nohow!

But show them a devout, humble, unassuming believer who also happens to be a business genius, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kofi Annan, while feeding 40,000 orphans and educating 250,000 underprivileged youth—all powered by prayer?  Now we have a story worth printing!

“Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks …”  Yes, we will have “flocks”: in modern terms, “abundance of all we need in life, work, and business.”  And strangers—those who heretofore knew neither us nor the Lord we serve—will be drawn to us, just as God drew the animals to Noah’s ark, to be instrumental in the support and furtherance of all the He’s doing in our lives.

But this only happens when we put God first.  When we come to the realization that all we possess in life is His.  When we hold His blessings in an open hand, ready to give back to our Lord first, and also to those in need that He sends our way.

In Jesus’ first major sermon, the one on the mount, He revealed the eternal principle of provision: that we need not fret and grasp for the things we need in life, but “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and then all we need will be given to us.  GIVEN TO US!  Yes, God does indeed want to give us everything we need.  He has flocks to give—the cattle on a thousand hills.  And it’s ALL OURS when we finally realize, deep down, that it’s ALL HIS.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, thank you for raising up shining examples of true, humble, godly success, such as Strive Masiyiwa.  Though I have no aspirations of being a multinational business tycoon, I want what he has—a life of prayer, generosity, humility … and, yes, SUCCESS—so the “strangers” of the world will recognize the power of prayer and be drawn to Your light.  Thank you for Your direct words of benediction in Isaiah 61:5.  I’ll take that!
In Jesus' name. Amen"

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 2/20/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

* Full citation for the Forbes clip:
[Nsehe, Mfonobong. “Five Lessons from Zimbabwe's Richest Man, Strive Masiyiwa.” Forbes Magazine. Forbes Media, LLC, February 24, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2013/02/24/five-lessons-from-zimbabwes-richest-man-strive-masiyiwa/.]

Sunday, January 30, 2022

LUSHNESS OF HELL - Isaiah 61 Devotional #13

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations."
– Isaiah 61:1b-4
 
The story is told about when Satan summoned the archdemon in charge of hell's wards and habitats to lead him on a surprise inspection. Entering the gateway to the first region, the archdemon showed off the new, highly efficient inferno-thermal energy furnaces used to power the hot tubs of boiling oil where hapless souls were subjected to their daily bath.
 
In the next region, the devil was given a demonstration of the latest upgrade -- maglev tracks where souls were fastened upside down by their ankles and whisked through a variety of automatic torture stations, where they were whipped, flayed, and flambéed in rapid succession.
 
And so it went. As the archdemon opened one massive gate after another and walked his master through the screaming hordes of tortured souls in each flaming ward, he received fresh plaudits for his fine work to improve the operations of hell.

Until they passed through another gate, where Satan was astonished to see ... orchards laden with summer fruit, birds twittering in the branches, towering palm trees, fields of wheat, a gentle breeze with the smell of fresh alfalfa. The devil was beside himself. "What the heaven is going on here!?"

"Oh, Master, you know...!" the archdemon whimpered. "It's just those dratted Jews and their irrigation projects!"
* * *

On our own grand tour of the Isaiah 61 Messianic Age prophecy, we have been studying Christ's chosen few -- the "Blessed Mourners," we call them -- whom He ordained and empowered to carry on His work on Earth. They have already been gloriously equipped in verse 3 with beauty, joy, praise, and towering righteousness, and the time has come at last for them to sally forth and ... do something! But, just what does our Lord have in mind for them to do?

"They shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations."

The language here could not be more precise, nor the picture painted, more vivid. We're not talking about a fresh coat of paint or patching up a leaky roof. No ... it's about RUINS. DESOLATION. RUINED CITIES. Think of the once-proud city of Cologne after World War II. Then imagine that it had lain abandoned and utterly crumbling for yet another hundred years. Now it's 2045 and ... in marches the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help repair, raise up, and rebuild.

Back to our little story about lush orchards in hell. (I happen to be of Jewish lineage, and we Jews do love to poke fun at ourselves! If you don't believe that, check out Dan Greenburg's 1960s bestseller, "How to Be a Jewish Mother.") But our mid-century anecdote about hell is actually a nod to the awesome tenacity of Jewish immigrants, especially those pouring into Palestine after World War II, as they set out to reclaim vast swaths of the most dry, desolate land -- what had been, three millennia earlier, known as the "land flowing with milk and honey." They faced a task nearly as daunting as did the Corps of Engineers in our Cologne analogy.

There's nothing esoteric about Isaiah 61:4. These Blessed Mourners are quite clearly anointed with the Holy Spirit and power to repair and rebuild, to raise up a "city set on a hill" whose light beckons all who are weary, downtrodden, and oppressed by the devil to find our Savior's life in abundance. And raise it up they shall.

In fact, the ruins of that city are with us today. It was powerhouse of glory in the first century but, as the faith of many grew cold, it metamorphosed into the twenty-first century "desolation." Granted, there is plenty of life among the ruins, but nothing that holds a candle to the Early Church.

And, just how do we go about rebuilding? In Jesus' day, crowds would follow Him out of town -- into the hilly pastures or by the seaside boat launches -- and listen to His words of life. Shall we plan "Jesus mega-rallies" at the nearest marina or cornfield?  Or perhaps ... As recently as the 1950s and '60s, healing evangelists toured the country in circus tents, drawing in thousands to hear the gospel. So, maybe we resurrect the mid-century "Jesus tent tour" model, complete with sawdust on the ground and wooden folding chairs?

Isaiah 43:19 suggests otherwise. "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but ... He is eternally full of surprises!

In the power of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mourners, the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham, SHALL embark on the greatest "irrigation project" of all time, bringing streams into the wasteland -- abundant, vibrant life to the ruins of the Church in our generation. And it likely won't look anything like past revivals; it will be SOMETHING NEW.

Can this indeed happen right here in America? Nothing is impossible for God. Let's just give Him something to work with! A few "Blessed Mourners" who care enough to give their "utmost for His highest."
* * *

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, as I ponder the "dry bones" of spiritual life in my generation ... they seem desperately dry. But reading Isaiah 61:4, there's a glimmer of hope! If I'm truly called to continue Jesus' ministry on Earth, I have to believe that these dry bones can live again, that revival can come to America once again. And never have we needed it so! Yet ... I don't know where to begin, but I'm willing. I want to be part of the solution, no longer part of the problem. Please, Lord, show me where to get started: this year, this month, this week! I'll be watching and listening for your answer.
In Jesus' name. Amen"

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 1/30/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 9, 2022

PLANT MY HEAD ON THE FRONT SEAT - Isaiah 61 Devotional #12

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
– Isaiah 61:1b-3e
 
"I remember another experience I used to have in Atlanta. I went to high school on the other side of town--to the Booker T. Washington High School. I had to get the bus in what was known as the Fourth Ward and ride over to the West Side. In those days, rigid patterns of segregation existed on the buses, so that Negroes had to sit in the backs of buses. Whites were seated in the front, and often if whites didn't get on the buses, those seats were still reserved for whites only, so Negroes had to stand over empty seats. I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, 'One of these days, I'm going to put my body up there where my mind is.'"

- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
* * *

By happy coincidence, just as we're crossing into a new year at the time of this writing, our journey through Isaiah 61, the "Messianic Playbook," turns a corner as well.  In fact, whenever roads appear to intersect in time and eternity, God's people are called to "lift up [our] heads, awake out of sleep" (Luke 21:28, Rom. 13:11-12), for the breath of God may be blowing afresh.  His desire is for us to "understand the times, and what [we] should do" (1 Chronicles 12:32).  So, let's consider what God may be saying to us ... you and me, PERSONALLY ... at this juncture.

In review: Jesus' earthly ministry, which He launched on the first two verses of Isaiah 61, began with His broad redemptive plan for all of mankind.  But it didn't stop there, as we've seen already.  Verse 3 shifts the focus to a very special group, the "Blessed Mourners," the soil of whose hearts has been tenderized by tears on account of the ravages of sin they witness all around them, to the point that ... well, things begin to happen!

As the Gospel seed germinates gloriously within the mourner's heart, it first brings "comfort, beauty, joy, and praise" (which we've observed in the latest four devotional segments).  But there's no stopping it now!  Turn the corner, and behold!  Verse 3 concludes with a monument to God's handiwork that cannot be missed: Where the seed fell, there now stands a "tree of righteousness" for all to see, an unmistakable work of God to the glory of His name.  Hallelujah!

Hmmm ... OK, but just what does that mean?  Poetic hyperbole?

Not at all.  First, think of a TREE ... sprung from a SEED.  Now, there's nothing as prophetic as a seed.  Within its little body there are three crucial elements: life, character, and connection.  Meaning, it's every bit as alive as the tree that will grow from it ("life"), and it knows precisely how to grow itself into that tree--every wrinkle of the bark, every branch crotch, every leaf node--is all pre-programmed into the tiny seed's DNA ("character").  
 
And yet, as Jesus said in John 12:24, the seed must "die" before it can become a fruit-bearing tree.  And that's where "connection" comes in.  That little seed knows how to respond and interact with the moisture and temperature of the soil around it, by splitting open and launching itself forth as a new creation, connecting with air, water, and soil nutrients to produce what we call FRUIT.  That is, a product beneficial to the world in which it exists.

Back to us, the "trees of righteousness."  What sort of fruit would you expect from such a tree?  Righteousness!  Now, unfortunately, that's not a word we use much in our generation.  To put it in modern vernacular, "righteousness" is really "justice," but on steroids -- enriched with moral and spiritual goodness, which transcend the judgment of human laws.  So, when these trees start sprouting everywhere within our society, producing the fruit that it's in their nature to bring forth, the result is a rising tide of righteousness that floats the nation. ("Righteousness exalts a nation..." Proverbs 14:34)

Now, the opening paragraph mentioned something of "roads intersecting in time and eternity."  That wasn't poetic hyperbole either.  Seriously, America stands at a threshold today, wondering what lies beyond.  We're launching into a new year bewildered and fearful.  Just in the last two years, we've been blindsided by a pandemic that's still raging, witnessed near-unprecedented political warfare, rioting and crime, and many have lost their jobs or have a vague premonition of imminent financial ruin in the months ahead.  Not to mention ticking time bombs such as Iran and North Korea, which could conceivably reappear on the world stage and trigger a nasty armed conflict at any time.

In the midst of all this, we observe a renewed yearning in America's soul for righteousness.  From the platforms of "social justice warriors," civil rights activists, paramilitary clubs of all persuasions--right, left, or sideways--and from the halls of congress down to the local bar stool, the national awareness has shifted dramatically to the plight of marginalized groups within our society, to laws that are "unjust" (whether in reality or perception), to the issues of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, and ... you name it.  What our nation craves, without knowing it, is RIGHTEOUSNESS.

What about the Church?  Our knee-jerk reaction, more often than not, is to condemn these voices for justice, to avoid unpleasant conversations or gatherings, to retreat into our little safe spaces hoping the conflagration passes over us quickly so we can go back to minding our own business undisturbed.

But this is a prophetic moment!  Church, let us not miss the window.  Think of it: a new year, a new climate in our nation, people yearning for righteousness and willing to take action (misguided though it may often be) to make our country a better place.  Why, we haven't seen such a perfect storm since the '60s!

"Prophetic" ... a curious word, though it really shouldn't be mysterious or spooky to us believers. In fact, I Samuel 9:9 breaks it down for us: "(Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: 'Come, let us go to the seer'; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)" So, a prophetic person is simply one who has God-given insight into -- who SEES -- what God is doing. And, through the work of the Holy Spirit Who abides in us, we should all have a measure of "seeing," especially as it relates to our mission in this world.

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16 because they failed to "discern the signs of the times."  In contrast, the Sons of Issachar (which we already alluded to) in David's day were commended because they "understood the times and what they should do."  For my part, I want to be a Son of Issachar.  That means "awakening out of sleep" and "lifting up my (ostrich) head" out of the sand to see what's going on and ... most importantly ... to "see what the Father is doing," as Jesus said, so that I may be a part of it.

Let’s consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we observe this month. (Another intersection of time and eternity.)  Dr. King is the only man to have a U.S. holiday named in his honor who was not a U.S. president.  At the age of 35, Dr. King was the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.  He may also have been the man who traveled the longest road to that prize--cussed out, abused, and arrested 29 times in his fight for righteousness, this modern-day prophet never quit because, as he said in his famous speech two days before his assassination, "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop.... And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his flaws.  Every human vessel does.  But he was fit for the Master's use because he had those three crucial qualities that made him a seed of righteousness: LIFE, CHARACTER, and CONNECTION.  We know that he was tapped into Jesus, the source of true LIFE, without Whom he could never have faced down the Goliaths of racial injustice and prevailed.  But let's take a closer look at the other two qualities.

A seed of righteousness--which is to become a tree of righteousness--has its CHARACTER, its life plan, imprinted into its DNA.  Now, whether we realize it or not, each of us was conceived in the heart of our Creator and imprinted with His life plan before the human conception event took place.  We just need to find out what that plan is ... or, at least, the first bread crumb He is pleased to reveal, which will start us down the path to finding the next bread crumb, then the next, until we attain that destiny.  

Jesus, for example, being God Himself, knew precisely what the plan was in full detail.  Hence, we see Him at the age of twelve already "about His Father's business."  Some believers may have a similar experience of realizing their life calling quite early on.  Dr. King had such an experience, as we saw in the opening quote from his autobiography where he tells about riding the bus to high school.  Not only did he have a deep passion for righteousness--in the area of racial justice, in this case--but he handled it in a prophetic way.

"I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, 'One of these days, I'm going to put my body up there where my mind is.'"

In other words, when the young M.L. King boarded the school bus each day, he would envision his mind being planted on the very front seat of the bus.  And he knew that one day the rest of him would follow ... which symbolized, from his adolescent perspective, the glorious achievement of racial justice for himself and his people.  Wow!  Now, he surely didn't have a clue of how he would ultimately get to sit in that front seat, but he did have a passion and a vision.  Oh, and one more thing: CONNECTION.

As the angel Clarence's character said in "It's a Wonderful Life," "One man's life touches so many others..." Just as a seed must interact with the soil, nutrients, heat, and ultimately sunlight and air, to become a fruit-bearing tree, we trees of righteousness require CONNECTION.  We will never bear fruit in a vacuum.  Those connections may vary widely depending how God programmed us, but there must be connection nonetheless.  For some of us, it's a church prayer group, social media outlets, or "networking" in our career.  Dr. King not only learned to socialize and seek input from others at a young age (as his autobiography tells us), but he trained in public speaking during his high school years and planned to attend seminary.

"My call to the ministry was not a miraculous or supernatural something. On the contrary, it was an inner urge calling me to serve humanity." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. entered Crozer Seminary at the age of nineteen and graduated three years later.  CONNECTION.  Without it, we are lifeless and fruitless.

What is the most productive way we can kick off this new year?  Lift up our heads, seek to understand the times and what we should do, and learn more about saints gone before us who have fallen into the ground, died, and emerged as towering trees of righteousness, serving the purposes of God in their generation.

In conclusion, let's review a few well-known, inspirational quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters."

"Communism will never be defeated by atomic bombs. Our greatest defense against Communism is to take offensive action on behalf of justice and righteousness. We must seek to remove conditions of poverty, injustice, and racial discrimination."

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father: Joining the ranks of those who mourn our fallen society, I truly want to make a difference. I look not to the past -- years I've wasted, opportunities missed -- but to the future. Thank You for being the ever-merciful and loving God of second, third, and infinite chances.  But I don't want to miss the ones you send my way this year, this week ... TODAY.  I can't go on comfortably isolating myself from Your flow of LIFE, from the CHARACTER and calling You've programmed into me, and from the CONNECTIONS I need with those You've placed in my life.  Please heal my vision, fan the flames of my first love, and grow me into a tree bearing fruit of righteousness in abundance. I know I'm not Dr. King.  But I also know that You have a unique part for me to play as I seek Your kingdom, Your righteousness. Plant my head on the front seat of the bus -- whatever bus You've called me to board -- and help me work tirelessly till the day when I see my whole body in that seat as well!
In Jesus' name. Amen"

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Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 1/9/2022. 

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved