Sunday, June 25, 2023

Mourning: Christ's Highest Call

 Index to the Devotional Series based on Isaiah 61

MEGATONNAGE! - Isaiah 61 Devotional #30

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And they shall rebuild ... raise up ... and repair ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-4
"If you could add together the power of prayer of the people just in this room, what would be its megatonnage?...

"This power of prayer can be illustrated by a story that goes back to the fourth century. The Asian monk [Telemachus] living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance.... And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. And believing that he had heard, he set out. And weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot.

"And it was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. And he followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, 'We who are about to die salute you.' And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. And he cried out, 'In the name of Christ, stop!' And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum.

"And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, 'In the name of Christ, stop.' And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn't, they grew belligerent and angry. And as he was pleading with the gladiators, 'In the name of Christ, stop,' one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, 'In the name of Christ, stop.'

"And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.

"One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. 'In the name of Christ, stop!'"

- Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast [excerpts], February 2, 1984 - From
* * *

There are varying accounts of the precise events of that day, which history suggests was January 1 of A.D. 391.  Some have it that the gladiators skewered Telemachus at the command of a Roman official.  Others recount that it was the crowd themselves who stoned him to death (unlikely though it may seem that they would find a supply of stones for that purpose within the Colosseum).  But the end result of his actions is a matter of recorded fact.  Touched to the heart by Telemachus' courage and martyrdom, Emperor Honorius issued the edict that banned gladiatorial combat within the empire for all time.

In this concluding installment of our study of Isaiah 61, the "Messianic Playbook," we could perhaps review the chapter's main elements, ponder our Lord's marvelous and compassionate plan of redemption, or reiterate our duty to spread His message as long as we have breath left in us to do so.  But more to the point, let's take this opportunity to address a more practical angle: "What is the likelihood that, thirty days from now, I will even remember what I've learned from Isaiah 61 ... much less be putting it into practice?"

"Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:23-24, NIV)


But why is it that we so often listen to the Word being taught, or preached on a Sunday morning, and then have absolutely no recollection thirty days later of what our Lord was saying to us through that teaching or sermon?  Why is that we can read a profound Christian book, or even a chapter of the Bible and hear His voice almost audibly saying, "This is your life purpose. Listen up! Repent and seek God! Obey!" and never take the slightest action in response to that call?

Our Savior's patience is never-ending (Hallelujah!), and He is not One to condemn, but to train, encourage, and draw us to Himself as a loving father.  And, as we survey the magnitude of the human Problemfor which He has called us to be part of the solutionHe knows that we are "but flesh," that we naturally grow faint and discouraged at our own inadequacy.

And yet, Christian, if you have felt Him tug at your heart through this Isaiah 61 study ... if there was ever a time to respond, it is now, in light of the glorious message of the chapter that describes how He intends to use His corps of Blessed Mourners to be salt and light, to turn an upside-down world right side up.  This is our purpose.  This is why we haven't been raptured or otherwise swept into eternity with Him.  Because this is the work we have yet to do.  And there's never a job He would call us to without also providing the courage and the power to do it!  As Jesus saidHis last words of commission to His disciples in Matthew 28"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So, what is the root cause of our paralysis when it comes to matters such as these?  Surely it's a simple one: where to start!  What could I do in my lifetime that would move the needle on world peace?  World hunger?  World revival?  What could I possibly do to stop seven thousand runaway trains in our nation today, all heading toward the precipice of disaster and divine judgment?  And that, in fact, is the right question to ask.  

Remember when the prophet Elijah, toward the end of his life, poured out his discouraged heart to God saying, "I'm the only one left who serves You?" And God's loving reply was, "There are seven thousand others who are faithful. You are not the only one!" ... as He sent Elijah on his way to meet up with a few of those seven thousand and partner with them for the task at hand. (I Kings 19:14-16)

See, it's 100% true that we are incapable, alone and in ourselves, of stopping seven thousand runaway trains.  But if each of us seven thousand faithful ones that God has reserved and called to be His Blessed Mourners ... if each of us sets his or her hand to a single track switch, and if we all act in obedience to throw that switchbe it ever so long and tedious a taskwe will, in the end, succeed in redirecting those seven thousand trains off the track that leads to perdition, saving the helpless souls aboard who were deceived and doomed by the enemy's lies.

Think of Telemachus, who could not have imagined how successful he would be at throwing a switch that day, bringing the train of gladiatorial deaths to a halt.  He just acted in obedience on what he felt called to do.  And God did the rest.

We can think of many others who tackled a single task, whether great or small, and God did the rest: Mother Theresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., William Wilberforce, George Washington Carver, Harriet Beecher Stowe ... the list is endless.  Put them all together, and the aggregate result is, to use President Ronald Reagan's words, "megatonnage!"
* * *

In conclusion of this devotionaland of the entire Isaiah 61 studyhere is a short piece I posted in 2012 on the National Minute of Prayer website (

Since the The Big Ben Minute [book] was released this spring, a number of media folks have asked me about the Minute of Prayer movement.  What's the bottom line ... what's the angle?  Is this about praying to end abortion?  Our loss of freedoms?  The upcoming election?  The war on terror?

The answer is YES.  And a thousand thousand other things we Christians should be caring about and fervently praying for.

But, how do we cover all that ground in 60 seconds?  Why, it would be absurd to think we could effectively do such a thing.  Think about it....

Just as our Father God keeps countless worlds in motion, while His eye is on the fallen sparrow, likewise, His heart swells with compassion for each of the seven billion humans on this planet
including the three hundred million of us who live in the United States of America.

- Each time a young person is cut down in the prime of life by a bullet or a bomb on the battlefield, He is right there, feeling the pain that mankind's sin has brought on our world.      
- Each time a tender baby is savagely poisoned or torn limb from limb by an abortion procedure, God is there feeling the agony and bearing the infant away in His everlasting arms.
- Each time a young lady sits alone, cutting her body with razors to express the pang of loneliness in her soul, or a young man pumps destructive chemicals into his veins in an attempt to soothe the misery of his existence for just an hour ...
- When the hopeless newborn gasps for air in a dumpster ...
- Or the carefree girl is dragged into an alley at gunpoint ...
- Or the young couple loads that last cardboard box into the car and drives away from their home in despair, because the bank has taken possession ...
- Or doctor calls, and yes, it's malignant ...

Our Father God's heart weeps for the pain of all who are oppressed by the devil, and He desires to saturate us with His compassion so we may intercede for their release.  But His heart is too big.  If He were to saddle any one of us, even for a moment, with the sorrow He feels for lost humanity, it would crush us!

What, then?  There's an old hymn that opens with the words:
Lord, lay some soul upon my heart
And love that soul through me ...

You see, God will take one splinter of that massive cross of mankind's suffering, and He'll lay it on you or me.  And, we always know what splinter He's placed in our heart, because it pinches deeply each time we think about it!  Your splinter might be the vacuum of godly leadership in our nation.  Mine might be the 3000+ babies cruelly slaughtered each day in the U.S. alone
or maybe it's the countless young ladies who can never seem to wash their hands of the guilt over ending a child's life.  Another's splinter might be the homeless young families sheltering in the old condemned post office building down the street.

So, when my alarm buzzes at 9:00 p.m., calling me to join my voice with the invisible throng across our nation who are praying at this same moment, I hold up my splinter to the One who gave it.  And, as each of us holds up his or her splinter, the cross of God's compassion takes shape in our corporate prayer.  That's when Heaven and Earth touch, and the infinite heart of our loving Father connects with His people's supplication.  And that's when He can start to move across America, an every broken heart, and broken home, and broken church, and broken state, to bring hope and deliverance.

What, then, is the "bottom line"?  What's the purpose of our Minute of Prayer?  It's to pray for whatever splinter of burden God has laid on each of us.  That, ultimately, He may forgive our sin and heal our land.

* * *

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
As I stood these thirty days before the mirror that is Isaiah 61, I studied my own face and said, 'Could I possibly be one of the Blessed Mourners my Lord is referring to?  Could I possibly make a difference?'  Now I must needs step away from that mirror.  But please ... burn the image into my soul.  Don't stop working on me, drawing me, changing me, refining me like silver in Your furnace every single day, until you purify and draw out a precious nugget that reflects Your image ... Your heart for the lost.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/25/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 29, 2023

JESUS' VIEWS ON BUD-LIGHT - Isaiah 61 Devotional #29

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."
– Isaiah 61:1b-11
* * *

Then, without warning, [the witch] did a thing that was dreadful to see. Lightly, easily, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, she stretched up her right arm and wrenched off one of the cross-bars of the lamp-post.
. . .
She raised her arm and flung the iron bar straight at its head....  The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass.
. . .
"Hullo! What's that?" said Digory.... "Do come and look...."

It was a perfect little model of a lamp-post, about three feet high but lengthening, and thickening in proportion, as they watched it; in fact growing just as the trees had grown.

"It's alive tooI mean, it's lit," said Digory.

"Remarkable, most remarkable," muttered Uncle Andrew.... "We're in a world where everything, even a lamp-post, comes to life and grows...."

"Don't you see?" said Digory. "This is where the bar fellthe bar she tore off the lamp-post at home...."

- The Magician's Nephew, Chapters VIII and IX [excerpts] (1955) C.S. Lewis
* * *

As our tour of the Isaiah 61 Messianic prophecy comes in for a landing, He closes it with one final thought.  This thought addresses the question that the ten preceding verses have ignited in the minds of His Blessed Mourners: "How could I dream of fulfilling even a molecule of this weighty mandate? Surely I'll fall flat."

Have no fear.  Is this not the same dear Savior Who said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light"? (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV)  Even as He calls us to submit our neck to His toilsome yoke, He assures us that the labor will be restful, easy, and light!  But how can this be?  

Let's unpack our Lord's concluding message in verse 11, which settles this very mystery: "For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

First, think of a bud, on a branch, connected to a vine in the earth of the Lord's garden. "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5, ESV)  See, as branches we often flaunt lots of buds, which are our good intentionsall the things we're going to accomplish "for Jesus."  But those buds will never develop into a single piece of fruit without the power of the vine coursing through us.

This is a sobering thought, and yet ... what freedom, what exuberance, what "joy unspeakable" it unleashes in us when we finally "get it"!  It's our Lord Who is at work in us, both to will (the bud, the good intention) and to fulfill (the cluster bursting forth in sweet fruit) His good pleasure.  We need only be planted in His good earth, where the "the garden" itselfthe very earth, charged with His infinite love and power"causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth."

Theologian and author C.S. Lewis, best known for his classic fiction series The Chronicles of Narnia, gave us a unique illustration of this truth.  If you've read the first installment of the Narnia books (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) or seen one of the video adaptations, you will recall Lucy's discovery, when she first enters Narnia, of a lamp-post strangely located and shining bright in the middle of a forest.

Though that book was the first of the Narnia series to be published, it was followed five years later by a prequel (the sixth book of the series, The Magician's Nephew), where we discover at last the origin of this odd lamp-post.  

In true allegorical style, the story brings us to the land of Narnia at the dawn of its creation, in a state of utter darkness and void.  And there we find Aslan the Lion (a type of Jesus) speakingor singing, as it wereall things into being.  His words permeate the earth itself, which responds in explosive fashion with every sort of grass, trees, flowers, and herbs.

Enter the witch Jadis (the story's counterpart for Satan) appearing on the scene from another dimension.  In a burst of hatred and wrath at finding Aslan and hearing His song, she flings at Him the only thing that comes to handa short iron bar that had earlier been wrenched from a lamp-post.  It ricochets off the Lion's head, Who is both unharmed and unruffled by the blow. But almost immediately, as the iron sticks into the earth pregnant with Aslan's creation power, it begins growing into a fully-formed lamp-post that sheds a magnificent, sweet light in the manner of its kind.

Isaiah 61 is all about Messiah Jesus, Who said, "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12), coming to dispel darkness and despair.  But He also said, "As the Father sent Me, so I send you" (John 20:21), and "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).  We not only carry His torch ... we are the torch as His Spirit shines bright in us.  We not only purvey His fruit of hope and salvation ... we are the branches, that bear the buds, that spring forth into the most delicious fruits of "righteousness and praise ... before all the nations."  How? Solely by virtue of abiding in Himin His earth, in His gardenwhere His Isaiah 61 creation power courses through our veins.

In the words of the old hymn, "Channels only, blessed Master / But with all Thy wondrous power / Flowing through us, Thou canst use us / Every day and every hour."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
What a fitting conclusion You sealed the Isaiah 61 message with, hallelujah!  Help me to "get it."  I need to "get it"!  Open the eyes of my heart to see that I, tooflawed and failure-prone as I amcan be a branch budding forth to glorious fruit, a light springing up in the darkness, as I yield to Your loving hand, to be rooted in the fertile earth of Your garden.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 5/29/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 4, 2023

QUEEN OF DIAMONDS, KING OF HEARTS - Isaiah 61 Devotional #28

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God ... as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
– Isaiah 61:1b-10c
"Oh, then, some pledge of your indulgence, some object which came from you and may remind me that I have not been dreaming; something you have worn, and that I may wear in my turna ring, a necklace, a chain."

"Will you depart if I give you that you demand ... you will leave France ... return to England?"

"I will, I swear to you."

"Wait, then, wait."

Anne of Austria re-entered her apartment, and came out again almost immediately, holding a rosewood casket in her hand, with her cipher encrusted with gold.

"Here, my Lord, here," said she, "keep this in memory of me."

Buckingham took the casket ... and faithful to the promise he had made, he rushed out of the apartment.

- From The Three Musketeers (1844), by Alexandre Dumas, Père
* * *

Counted among the greatest novels ever written, The Three Musketeers is a fast-paced thriller brimming with romance, betrayal, palace intrigue, and derring-do.

In this pivotal scene, which occurs in the belly of the Louvre fortress, residence of Louis XIII and Queen Anne of Austria, she entertains, reluctantly at first, the advances of the Duke of Buckingham.  But at last, casting caution to the winds, she slips him a tiny box that contains a fabulous ribbon brooch with twelve diamond studsa token of love from her husband, Louis.

It was this small act of unfaithfulness that catalyzed events ultimately costing reputations and lives ... even precipitating the Anglo-French war, with the siege of La Rochelle.

Today's segment of the Isaiah 61 prophecy focuses on the jubilant response of Messiah's followersthe Blessed Mourners we've been studyingto the central truth of verse 10 that we covered last time: being clothed in His salvation and wrapped in His righteousness.  

And, although we've seen these faithful ones, earlier in the chapter, being endowed with joy: first, in exchange for their mourning, and again as part of their "firstborn inheritance" ... this time it's different.  This is the Habakkuk-3 type of love-joythe kind that wells up from within and bursts forth in response to who we are in the Beloved, regardless of our station or circumstance:
Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.
   - Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

In fact, the prophet Habakkuk's words (7th century B.C.) match those of Isaiah 61 (8th century B.C.): "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God ... as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

So, the metaphor is that we flaunt this boundless love-joywhich is to be found in Christjust as a bride adorns herself with the glittering jewelry she has received from the bridegroom on her wedding day.  She's head-over-heels in love, and the world must know and rejoice with her!

But then comes the sad and fateful scene ... where we find the exquisite royal bride, Anne of Austria, trysting in a dark passageway with the enemy of her homelandthe enemy of her husband and lover, King Louisand handing over the priceless diamond jewelry he'd gifted to her.  The same jewelry she had worn with delight just twelve years ago.

Anne of Austria's romantic feelings for her husband didn't evaporate in a day, or even a year.  But when she failed to guard her heart, it was simply a matter of timea "slow fade."

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away.
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices made,
A price will be paid when you give yourself away.
People never crumble in a day.
- From Slow Fade, by Casting Crowns (2007)

Let us ponder the heartbroken words of our Lord in Revelation 2: "And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works...."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thinking back to my first love, when my heart brimmed with joy like a bride in shining jewelry ... I can only echo the words of the songwriter:
'Help me, Jesus; I know what I am. / Now that I know that I've needed You so / Help me, Jesus, my soul's in Your hand.'
I repent of my unfaithful neglect. In Your tender mercy, take me by the hand and lead me back.  May I know that first love, do those first works, and rejoice once again in God my Savior, King of Hearts!
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 5/4/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 27, 2023

NERVES AFLAME - Isaiah 61 Devotional #27

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a groom puts on a turban, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
– Isaiah 61:1b-10
"I have one thing that counts, and which is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves: that is my love for the people and [Juan] Perón."
- María Eva "Evita" Duarte de Perón (1919-1952), First Lady of Argentina

Juan Domingo Perón ... thrice-elected, beloved and abominated ... president of Argentina. Rejecting the philosophies of both communism and capitalism (which, from his point of view, "both 'insectify' the individual by means of different systems"), he established instead the "Justicialist Party," whose principles are human dignity, freedom--for example, from corporate greed and exploitative labor conditions--and opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Whatever our opinions of Perón—regarding his questionable postulates, politics, and practices—may be, there is no denying that he threw his heart and soul into all he did, and he was able to accomplish some amazing things.  
From a Time Magazine article (Nov. 27, 1972):
"To his credit, Perón gave a sense of dignity to the working man for the first time in Argentine history.... Perón was able to raise wages and build hospitals, clinics and schools. He passed laws granting severance pay to discharged workers and extending social security; he also instituted the eight-hour day for farm laborers. Perón nationalized the British-owned Argentine railroads, retired the entire foreign debt, and by 1947 boasted a fivefold increase in industrial production during his regime."
Perón met his future wife, "Evita" Duarte, at a performing-arts charity event to benefit the survivors of a devastating earthquake that had claimed 10,000 lives. Evita was no stranger to injustice and heartache. Born into poverty, she was an illegitimate child (as were all her siblings), shunned and shamed by the community. Determined to rise above circumstance, she had made a successful incursion into the performing arts, which led to her participation at the charity event where she met Juan. And the rest is history!
Juan and Evita's shared passion for justice and the plight of the poor was a magnetic bond. The ensuing year would see him imprisoned by his political opponents, and then released after mass demonstrations by his supporters. The two were married on the following day and, seven months later, Evita became first lady as her husband won his first presidential election.
From that moment until her tragic death from cancer eight years later, at age 33, Evita's flaming persona captured the heart of her Argentine people. Evita Perón led rallies and gave speeches to thousands. She is credited with the passage of a bill in 1947 granting women the right to vote. And through her Eva Perón Charitable Foundation, she channeled $100 million annually to healthcare and housing for the poor. Though she had never held elected office, Evita was given a no-holds-barred state funeral, as the nation mourned her passing ... and some even pressed to have her canonized as a saint.
So ... how does any of this relate to our Isaiah 61 devotionals?
Over the past 26 segments, we have attempted to scratch the surface of this rich prophetic chapter--though it would take many, many books to fully unpack its glorious message.
The two opening verses speak directly of Christ Jesus' arrival on the world stage. Then verse 2 quickly pivots the focus to what we have referred to as his body of "Blessed Mourners"those who are deeply appalled by the state of their world and have a passion for change. Over the next seven verses, our Lord describes every detail, every facet, of the plan He has for these Mourners to turn the world upside down through the power of His Spirit.
And we now reach the part where the prophecy wraps up. First, verse 10 summarizes the Mourners' joyful response to their Messiah's Covenant of Love and His Great Commission. And finally, verse 11 recapitulates His commitment to them until the end of the age.
For today’s segment, we will focus on one of the two points He is making in verse 10: the Covenant of Love. As the verse states, "... He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness ..."
Think about Evita Perón and her tragic backstory. And yet, rather than letting it define her, she harnessed the wounded, mournful state of her heart to compel action for the betterment of the poor and the outcast. As she stated in our opening quote, "I have one thing that counts, and which is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves: that is my love for the people and [Juan] Perón."
Why Juan Perón? Firstly, because he had the same love for his people. But also because he saw Evita when she was "invisible," when she was a lily trampled in the mud, and he cared enough to make her part of his world so they could change it together.
As Isaiah 61:10 reminds us, our Lord has clothed us with the garments of salvation (establishing His covenant with us) and wrapped us with a robe of righteousness (placing us in right standing with God, Who sees us as righteous in Christ).
Ponder these loving words to His people, Israel, in Ezekiel 16:
"I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine. I gave you a good bath, washing off all that old blood, and anointed you with aromatic oils. I dressed you in a colorful gown and put leather sandals on your feet. I gave you linen blouses and a fashionable wardrobe of expensive clothing. I adorned you with jewelry: I placed bracelets on your wrists, fitted you out with a necklace, emerald rings, sapphire earrings, and a diamond tiara. You were provided with everything precious and beautiful: with exquisite clothes and elegant food, garnished with honey and oil. You were absolutely stunning. You were a queen! You became world-famous, a legendary beauty brought to perfection by my adornments. Decree of God, the Master." (Ezekiel 16:8-14, MSG)
* * *

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
THANK YOU, THANK YOU for clothing me with salvation when I was naked in my sin, and for wrapping me in Your own righteousness, precious and beautiful. Hallelujah! Infuse me with vision, impel me to action
NERVES AFLAMEfor the accomplishment of Your Great Commission, the proclamation of Your message of life in abundance, light in the darkness, and the ushering in of Your eternal kingdom.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 2/19/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 26, 2023

SEEDS THAT BLESS, SEEDS THAT CRUSH - Isaiah 61 Devotional #26

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed."
– Isaiah 61:1b-9
* * *
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
― From The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), by J.R.R. Tolkien
* * *

When did you first hear the name "Tolkien"?  

At the risk of dating myself, I'll confess that I discovered and devoured The Hobbit, followed immediately by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, toward the tail-end of the mid-1960s Tolkien "cult  following" era.  (Remember the days of "Gandalf for President!" and "Frodo Lives!" graffiti?)  In fact, the set of books I read as a teen was passed to me by a former burnt-out-on-speed hippie, thankfully saved and rehabilitated during these early Jesus People years.
But, it wasn't until a quarter-century later that the author came to be widely recognizedgradually and posthumouslyas the "father of high fantasy literature."  Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and it would be hard to find anyone who hasn't heard of J.R.R. Tolkien, thanks in part to the magnificent Peter Jackson live-action Lord of the Rings film series released 2001-2003.
There were a good number of main characters in Tolkien's masterpiece saga, such as Gandalf the wizard, Frodo the hobbit, and Gollum the stoor.  But the principal human character, in fact the one person this epic series revolves around in fulfilling its hidden agenda of being a Bible allegory, is Aragorn, who is the secret descendant and heirmore than 30 generations removedof Elendil, high king of the twin realms of Gondor and Arnor.
In the next few paragraphs, we're going to see a connection between Aragorn, Adam, Abraham, Jesus Christ our Lord, and His corps of Blessed Mourners.  It all comes down to the concept of seed.
As we began to study verse 8 of our Isaiah 61 devotional series, we came to realize that we suddenly had a backstage pass to God's eternal perspective on the Fall of Man, Redemption, and world evangelism!  And He concludes this glorious tour in verse 9 with the statement: "And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed."
So, let's begin at the beginningthe Fall of Man in Genesis 3. After Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden tree, God showed them His eternal plan to undo the curse they had just brought upon themselves and all of mankind, and to bring back His blessing instead.  He said to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel." (Genesis 3:15)
Beginning at that statement, we can trace the golden thread of redemption throughout the 66 volumes of the Bible, to where it ends with Jesus Christ's return wearing a golden crown (Revelation 14:14), as Lord of Lords and King of Kings for all eternity.  And how do we recognize that thread?  Again—it's all about seed.
When Jesus began His ministry by taking the podium in a small synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18) and quoting the opening thoughts of Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me ..." He was throwing down the gauntlet in a dual challenge.  Sure, he was flashing His credentials as the Messiahthe Anointed Oneto the great annoyance of the Jewish leaders present on that day.  But, more importantly, He was announcing Himself to that foul serpent, Satan, as the Seed of the woman, come to crush his head and redeem the human race for Himself.
Back to Aragorn for a moment.  His credential as true heir to the joint throne of Gondor and Arnor consisted of King Elendil's broken sword, which had been passed down through thirty-plus generations of Elendil's descendants living in relative obscurity in the northern wilderness, patiently waiting for the day of restoration.  That day had come, Aragorn knew, and it was time to re-forge Elendil' sword and wield it in battle to overthrow their great enemy, Sauron of Mordor, at last.
In Tolkien's words:
"The Sword of Elendil was forged anew by Elvish smiths, and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent Moon and rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes; for Aragorn son of Arathorn was going to war upon the marches of Mordor. Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again...."
All Aragorn had to do was reveal that shining sword to Sauron, and the war was on.  And reveal it he did!  (What happened next?  Watch the movies or ... better yet ... read the books.)  After centuries ... millennia of lying low, the rightful heir to the kingdom was coming to reclaim his own.
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman ..." (Galatians 4:4)
So, what brings up all this talk of seed and offspring, of nations and peoples and blessing in verse 9 of Isaiah 61?  Let's trace that golden thread ... because where it ends is a surprise indeed!
- As we already saw, it began in Genesis 3:15, speaking of the woman's Seed, Who would crush the serpent's headmeaning that Seed would bless all of mankind by freeing them from the bondage of Sin.
- Fast-forward to Abraham, who was the recipient of God's epic promise: "In your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22:18)
- Continuing through Isaac: "... And in your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 26:4)
- And Jacob: "... And in you and in your Seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 28:14)
We're certainly seeing a pattern here.  But there's more to the promise!  This Seed is to be a King Whose kingdom is neverending.
- As God first hinted to Abraham: "... And I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you." (Genesis 17:6)
- And to his direct descendant David: "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever." (2 Sam. 7:16)
- And to David's direct descendant Mary: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:31-33)
- Interestingly enough, the connection was not lost on Mary: "He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his Seed forever." (From Mary's Song, Luke 1:54-55)
And here is where the golden thread runs right through our front door and into the hearth.  Again, it has to do with the seed.  
First, the Apostle Paul, through the Holy Spirit penned these words in Galatians 3:16: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed'Who is Christ."  
OK, so it's clear that the Seed through Whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed is none other than the Messiah Jesus Christ.  Right?  Well ... partially right!  For, just thirteen verses later, within the same chapter, Paul appears to contradict himself: "And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)
So, why does the apostle first emphasize that the promise was to Abraham's Seedone Seed, Jesus Christand then turn around and say the opposite: that we, the many, are in fact Abraham's seed?
Here is where the Amplified Bible is very helpful, as it renders that same verse, Galatians 3:29: "And if you belong to Christ [if you are in Him], then you are Abraham’s descendants, and [spiritual] heirs according to [God’s] promise."
See, this is one of those cases where the English language, rich as it may be, fails us.  We have a single, ambiguous grammatical constructbelonging, indicated by the apostrophe-s as the example above: "Christ's"—which could mean that something is an integral part of you, or it could also mean that you simply possess it.  For example, imagine for a moment that a friend confides in you, saying, "I have a skeleton."  Your first response might be one of alarm: "Why ... where did you dig it up!?"  When, quite obviously, every one of us has a skeleton, right?  No cause for alarm there!  It's part of us.  Without my skeleton, I could not live.  And conversely, without me, my skeleton could not live.  I am in my skeleton, and my skeleton is in me; we are parts of the same entity.
So, Paul was saying that there is only one Seed of the womanSeed of AbrahamWho would crush the serpent and thereby bless all peoples of the earth ... and that is Jesus the Messiah.  On the other hand, if we belong to Himmeaning we are now parts of the same entity, members of the body of Christthen we are also the Seed.  And all nations of the earth shall be blessed in us.
In fact, Scripture goes to great lengths to hammer home this point.  A few examples:
- "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." (I Corinthians 12:12)
- "Abide [live, have your very existence] in Me, and I [live, have My very existence] in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
This is the same principle we encountered a few episodes back in our Isaiah 61 series, where our Lord clearly shows us that, though we are sons and daughters of God, added to His family down through the centuries, yet we do not miss out on the supreme inheritance promised to Jesus, the Firstbornbecause we are in Him, so we are all firstborn!
And what about blessing all nations and peoples of the earth by crushing the head of that great serpent, Satan?  Well, of course, Jesus crushed his head through His twin victories of the cross and the resurrection.  But He goes on crushingwe go on crushingSatan daily.  We are in Him, and therefore His crushing continues through us:
- "Through God we will do valiantly, and it is He who will trample down our enemies." (Psalms 108:13)
- "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet...." (Romans 16:20)
Hallelujah!  This great triumph of our Isaiah-61 Messiah over Sin and death continuesand we, His corps of Blessed Mourners, get to be part of the campaignuntil it ends on that Day when "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15)

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank you that my body is the temple of Christ and of Your Holy Spirit, Who dwells in me, and I in Him
so we can live and breathe, act and minister as one.  Please forgive me for the frequency with which my own sin so easily besets me and hinders Your flow of blessing to all nations and peoplesspecifically, the ones you have placed in my path to touch and bless.  Please cleanse me of my selfishness and make me a fruitful seed, a moving part in Your eternal plan, part of that City on the Hill, a light in the darkness spreading the hope of redemption announced in Isaiah 61.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 3/26/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 29, 2023

ONE IF BY BONDAGE, TWO IF BY BLOOD - Isaiah 61 Devotional #25

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And [I] will make with them an everlasting covenant."
– Isaiah 61:1b-8d
* * *

"Paul Revere, Jr. Spoon Sets World Record in $2.4 Million Fine Silver Auction!" screamed the headline for a May 28, 2021 press release. Which continued with this opening paragraph:

"Adrenaline remained high throughout Heritage Auctions' eight-hour Fine Silver & Objects of Vertu Auction May 20, as one great collection followed the last. The room was electrified from the onset of the sale as an auction record was set for a single American silver spoon by America's most famous silversmith, Paul Revere, Jr. ... with the auction flying past its high estimate to reach $2,433,894."
* * *

Impressive!  But what do we really know about Paul Revere?  

Most of us envision this hero of the Revolution, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's ballad "Paul Revere's Ride," galloping through New England towns at midnight shouting his cry of alarmsomething like: "The British are coming! The British are coming!"  
Actually, he didn't shout at all.  Though his mission was indeed to alert the townspeople, the ride itself was intentionally silent, since the countryside was crawling with Redcoats.  

But Paul Revere was undeniably larger than life.  Perhaps even prophetic, like the "Men of Issachar" mentioned in I Chronicles 12:32, who "understood the times and knew what Israel should do."  Born on New Year's Day 1735, Revere took an active role at age 40 in the birth of a new nationjoining the Sons of Liberty, participating in the Boston Tea Party and, of course, undertaking his famous Midnight Ride.
On the other hand, those of us who are Antiques Roadshow junkies will be more familiar with his extraordinary Colonial-period silver work such as the spoon mentioned abovefine articles that are still with us today, consistently netting six and seven figures at black-tie auction houses.  

What we may not know is that Paul Revere largely abandoned his silversmithing after the war in order to do ... so much more!  He established an iron and brass foundry which supplied, among other things, material for building the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides").  He opened a hugely successful copper rolling mill. (Think ... Revere Ware!)

OK, but what does this all have to do with our Isaiah 61 devotional series?

We have previously been examining the quadrilateral verse 8 from all angles: "[1] For I, the Lord, love justice; [2] I hate robbery for burnt offering; [3] I will direct their work in truth...." We've had a glimpse at the infinite depths of our Father's love, Who hates sin and injustice, and Who summons his "Blessed Mourners"deep calling to deepto carry on His Isaiah 61 commission in SPIRIT and TRUTH.  But for this divine plan to become reality requires a NEW CONTRACT with mankind.  Which brings us to the fourth and final facet: "And [I] will make with them an everlasting covenant."  

Back to Paul Revere for a moment.  Notice that headline, which begins with "Paul Revere, Jr."  

Paul Revere, Jr."our" Paul Reverewas born in 1735 to a Frenchman, Apollos Rivoire, who changed his name to Paul Revere upon immigrating to America.  Paul Revere Sr.himself a fine goldsmith and silversmithproceeded to indenture his son at the age of 13 as an apprentice in his own Boston shop.  Then, in 1754, as the young man was almost finished his apprenticeship, the father passed away, which suddenly elevated Paul Revere, Jr. to the position of de facto head of the family and legal owner of the family silversmith business.

The change was subtle, and yet profound.  Think about it.  As a 13-year-old, and even (toward the end) a 19-year-old apprentice in his father's business, Paul Jr. was quite likely an exceptional craftsman, but a wage-earning employee nonetheless.  His apprenticeship contract (indenture) gave him no right to make business decisions; it instilled in him no feeling of partnership, vision, or passion for the business.

But with the father's passing, all of that changed.  There would have been a will and testament that superseded, and rendered obsolete, the apprenticeship indenture, and which now established Paul Revere, Jr. as the new owner, the HEIR.  Now he could DO THINGS.  Now he would WANT TO DO THINGS.
Before, though he was a son, the working relationship was one of BONDAGE: employer and employee.  Now it was one of BLOOD: family, responsibility, and LOVE.  He went on to accomplish even greater things than making fine silver spoons and tea sets; he started some of the greatest American metallurgical enterprises.  Why?  Because now his HEART was in it!

"Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
(Galatians 4:1-7 NKJV)

That says it all, HALLELUJAH!  

But to further impress on our hearts the glorious truth of His EVERLASTING COVENANT, which is so transcendently superior to the Old Covenant that it renders it obsolete, our Lord further articulates it for us in the book of Hebrews:

"For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.'  In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
(Hebrews 8:7-13, NKJV)

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
THANK you for calling me, deep unto deep, to join your Isaiah 61 'Blessed Mourners.'  Help me comprehend the length and width and height and depth of your new and EVERLASTING COVENANT.  Write your law upon my heart and baptize me afresh daily in your Holy Spirit until I live, breathe, and radiate your love to everyone you send my way.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 1/29/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved