Tag Archives: Isaiah

Waiting and Working for Peace

My wife and I currently live in Switzerland, very close to the French border, so we regularly travel between the two countries. Despite French being spoken in our Swiss canton, there are lots of differences between France and Switzerland. (The Swiss – rather sniffily – would claim the standard of driving and condition of the roads are among the most obvious.) But the difference I personally notice the most is in the war memorials. In France, just about every village has a memorial to those killed in the two world wars. In contrast, in Swiss towns and villages, they are conspicuous only by their absence. Switzerland has guarded its peace; it hasn’t been involved in a major war for hundreds of years, and the people here have no memory of family members lost in war.

The prophet Isaiah wrote what to us is one of the most familiar Advent scriptures. The people to whom his words were addressed were more like the French than the Swiss, in the sense that they knew war deeply, and death; tyrants, and their violence. Like Switzerland in WWII, the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day were surrounded by more powerful warring nations; but unlike the Swiss, Judah had been involved in conflict for centuries. That’s the background to this passage Handel made so familiar through his Messiah.

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:1-6, NIV)

It’s easy to jump to verse 6 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and skim over or ignore the earlier verses. Somehow, talk of yokes of oppression and blood-stained uniforms doesn’t seem to fit with the jolly atmosphere people expect at Christmas. But I wonder if those verses are crucial to appreciating Advent?

In a sermon on this passage, scholar N.T. Wright points out that these often-ignored earlier verses contain two promises that resolve two of the great problems that have plagued humanity: violence and tyranny. The promised child who will be the Prince of Peace will shatter the tyrant’s oppressive power and consign the results of violence – the wounded soldier’s blood-stained clothing – to history.    

Wright goes on to say, “What is promised through the Prince of Peace is justice attained without violence; peace attained without accompanying tyranny.  My friends, the world today is still wondering how to get to that result. And Isaiah says: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; for to us a Son is given, the Prince of Peace.’  And we who live between the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the final establishment of the kingdom he came to bring, the kingdom in which justice and peace shall be knit together at last and forever – we are entrusted with a mission. Not simply to save a few souls from the wreck of this world since God so loved the world and has promised to redeem it.  Nor simply to tinker with the world’s own systems, merely to do things a bit differently here or there.  No: rather, by prayer and courage, and holiness and hard work – and it will be hard work – we are called to discover the practical ways in today’s and tomorrow’s world of seeking justice without violence, of making and maintaining peace without tyranny.”

Often, talk about Advent focuses on a time of waiting; and this great prophecy of Isaiah’s should encourage us to wait – but to wait with a certain impatience and longing for the Prince of Peace to return and fully establish his Kingdom of Peace. We’re to long for the time when the Prince of Peace will reign over the world in a Kingdom characterized by justice without violence, peace without tyranny. A kingdom where, as in my little Swiss village, there will be no more need for memorials to war.

I say this tentatively, but recently I’ve been wondering if we as evangelical Christians in the West remember war too nostalgically and long for its consignment to history too little? Acts of remembrance so easily tip over the edge into celebrating a nation’s victories in war rather than reminding of the horrors of war.

Maybe Wright pointed us to the answer when he said that we who claim to live in the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace have been given a mission. We are to do more than remember the tragedy of war until peace is established. Our mission as the people of the Prince of Peace is more than simply passively longing for peace. Our mission, Tom Wright reminds us, is to work for peace, “by prayer and courage, and holiness and hard work – and it will be hard work… we are called to discover the practical ways in today’s and tomorrow’s world of seeking justice without violence, of making and maintaining peace without tyranny.”

I dare to suggest that Advent will have a great significance for our lives and our world if it motivates us to a commitment to do everything we can to seek justice without violence and make and maintain peace without tyranny.


Featured image courtesy Nicolas Hoizey via Unsplash.

Jesus with the Pastor: What God Does with Our Dirt

When I was in seminary, I often traveled long distances by bus. Greyhound used to have a $59 ticket to anywhere in North America. The price fit my budget and the timing fit my personality. I didn’t mind a long bus ride when I had a handful of books and a day and a half to dig in. But I had to be very careful because sometimes people would get on the bus hoping to make a best friend before the next stop. Not me. I just wanted to read my books and enjoy some solitude. I discovered a trick to keep the seat next to me open. While bus-travel is best done lightly, one item I always brought with me: my pillow. Have you ever seen an old pillow outside its case? It can be a bit off-putting. Snuggling up to my uncased pillow often kept the seat next to me open. Why? Because nobody wants to sit next to a dirty pillow. We don’t like being next to dirt…at all!

Think for a moment about all the phrases that use the word “dirt” or an equivalent. Heard of a dirty movie? Given a dirty look? Did you used to have a potty mouth or been forced to do the dirty work? You might hope to become filthy rich, but you don’t want someone to dig up the dirt on you. Why? Because we hide our dirt; we clean up our minds and hearts and language. We not only put covers on some pillows to hide their dirt; we cover our souls. We worry that some parts of our past might never come clean. 

Psychologist Alfred Adler said that dirt keeps people away from us. But “dirt” doesn’t just keep other people away; it seems to create a separation from God. Uncleanness was a way of describing people’s defilement before God, so the Old Testament has specific ways of helping people become ritually clean. Leviticus 12-15 describes ways of becoming clean because of impurity coming from blood, skin diseases, and other bodily fluids. Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement—when uncleanness and rebellion is gathered together and cleansed. Both the Israelites and the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) are cleansed to be in God’s presence. This combination of uncleanness and sin comes through the prophet Isaiah, as well, who said that he was a man of unclean lips and came from a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5).

Now, why this lengthy discussion about dirt? Because it gives us depth to understanding what Jesus does in John 13:1-17, the last supper. Back in John 1, John said that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). The noun of this verb “to dwell” is the same word that the Septuagint (the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek) uses for tent or Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting). Before the temple was built, the Tabernacle was the place where  God would meet with his people. It was a portable location for the presence of God while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. In John 1:14, John is saying that the enfleshed Word is the Tabernacle, the presence of God. Of course, in John 2, Jesus says that his body is the temple that will be raised after three days. Now notice what is happening here: rather than the disciples getting cleansed to come into Jesus’ presence, the tabernacling presence/temple of God is washing the disciples. We are not cleansed before we come into the presence of God; God in Christ comes to cleanse us! How amazing, then, are the words of Jesus, “And you are clean” (v. 10)!

But this is a specific type of cleaning. Notice the posture Jesus takes: After supper, Jesus took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. The Greek word for “took off” can also be translated “laid aside” or “laid down”—exactly what Jesus said he will do with his life for the sheep (10:15). Further, wrapping a towel around his waist was taking the posture of a slave and washing feet was doing the work of a slave. Jesus maintains this posture into the next day because that’s when Jesus dies a slave’s death on the cross. In this death, God hands down the sentence for uncleanness, but also takes the sentence on himself. Or, as Isaiah says it, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus dies a slave’s death and the result is that he cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Jesus lays aside his clothes to take up the towel to wash his disciples’ feet and he keeps the slave’s towel to lay aside his life to wash our whole persons. 

The enemy may remind you of your dirt—the stuff you want to keep hidden. But we must pay close attention to the tabernacling presence of God, the Word made flesh, the one whose body is the temple. He has come not to remind us of our dirt, but to make us clean! And by virtue of his sacrificial death, Jesus says to us, “You are clean!”


To read more on the presence of Jesus with the pastor, see Dr. Aaron Perry’s new book out now: Kairos Care: A Process for Pastoral Counseling in the Office and in Everyday Experiences (Abingdon Press). For a sample chapter, click “Take a Look Inside” at https://www.cokesbury.com/Kairos-Care


Featured image courtesy Sandie Clarke on Unsplash.

Make a Path for God’s Comfort to Arrive

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.’ You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” Isaiah 40:1-10

Comfort. It is such a simple word. Yet, when spoken in certain contexts, it becomes profound. The year 2020 has been one such context. Whether it has been the violence and racial injustice in American towns and streets, the divisions over the national election, or the murder hornets, there hasn’t been much comfort this year. This is to say nothing of the disruptive pandemic we are in. Some people have lost their jobs, others their businesses, still others, their lives. Some readers probably have had Covid, the experience of which, I am told, makes comfort a distance memory. Others have had to care for a loved one with Covid or watched a loved one die from it. During such tragedies, we normally find comfort in the presence of friends and family, but Covid has robbed us even of this. After the year we have had, what would we give to hear that simple word spoken to us: comfort.

The uncertainty and sense of hopelessness of the current moment approaches the context in which these words from the prophet Isaiah were first spoken. The people of Israel, to whom he addressed his message, were in exile in Babylon. They had been forcibly removed from their native land years before. Their homes and crops had been destroyed, their temple burned to the ground, and their king killed along with the rest of the royal line descended from David. Having been rescued from slavery by their God over 1,000 years before, they found themselves back as slaves in a foreign land. “By the rivers of Babylon,” laments the Psalmist, “we sat and wept when we remembered Zion . . . How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1, 4). The lament of the people of Israel must have had an additional layer of bitterness; they knew their own unfaithfulness caused their exile. The writer of Lamentations writes, “After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place…The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins” (Lamentations 1:3, 5). The people of Israel were experiencing the covenant curses for their centuries of unfaithfulness and idolatry: namely, the loss of God’s presence, for which humans were created. Exile. Death.

And then, spoken in the midst of their darkest days, comes that profound word, comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says the Lord through the prophet. Yes, even in exile, even in their unfaithfulness, they were still his people. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” he continues, “and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” If we could put this message more simply, it would be, “It’s over!” Or maybe even, “It is finished.”

What amazing words of hope and comfort! Those of us living through 2020 may understand a bit the unspeakable joy these words would have brought the exiles. How many internet memes and discussions are devoted to what we all will do, when this pandemic is over? How wonderful will it be, to be among friends and family again without fear, without masks? How lovely will a simple hug or handshake seem then? To eat at a restaurant, to go to a movie, to go back to work. We long after ten months of a pandemic simply to be able to leave our homes; the Israelites were in exile for 70 years; more than anything, they wanted to just go home.

But the completely unexpected truth about this prophecy is its proclamation that the end of exile would not consist in the Jews going back to their homeland, back to the place where they assumed God was. Rather, exile ends by God coming to them. The prophet says, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” The highway was not for them to leave; the highway was for God to come.

The Jews didn’t grasp these words when they were first spoken. And so sometime later when they were released from Babylon and a remnant returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they thought that their exile was over. It wasn’t. Roman soldiers marched in the streets, David’s throne was still empty, and no one saw the glory of God. Most significantly, though they had returned, comfort remained far from them. Their disappointment must have been like ours will inevitably be, when 2020 turns to 2021, and we realize the pandemic has not ended. A random year change or a lighted ball dropping from a building or a presidential election can’t fix anything. The only thing that can fix a broken and hurting world, an exiled and a quarantined people, is God showing up in our midst. And for that, they would have to wait.

Like the exiles, we are in a period of waiting right now, the season of Advent. In the cultural mind with all its cherished traditions, Advent always gets mixed up with Christmas. But the celebration and feasting that is Christmas doesn’t actually start until December 25th. The season of Advent is less about celebration and more about exile, and the Church’s song in this season is less the joyous herald angels singing and more the lamenting cry, “Oh come, oh come Immanuel!” The words of this cherished Advent hymn are not far from the song of the exiles, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” Thus, Advent focuses us not only on Christ’s first coming 2,000 years ago but also on the hope of his second coming. We are reminded in this season that though Christ has already come, all is not well. Our world is still broken and hurting and we still long for Christ’s full presence. And so we wait.

Thanks be to God that unlike the exiles, we are waiting in this season with the confidence of the children of God, and the comfort of those who know that although not all is well, exile has indeed ended. It didn’t end because the Jews went back to Canaan or because they rebuilt the Temple. Its end is not found in the ceasing of pain or death or in the absence of rulers opposed to the purposes of God. These things are still very much a reality, as 2020 has made all too apparent. Rather, as Isaiah prophesied, exile ended when God came to us, in the very midst of our darkness, in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. It is for this reason that all the Gospels launch readers into John and Jesus’ ministries with the quotation from Isaiah 40 about the God who comes on a highway in the wilderness. About the God who speaks comfort. We know, then, that God is with us in the waiting.

No matter how dark these days are, take comfort in the Gospel’s promise that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).


Featured image courtesy Alexandre Dinaut on Unsplash.

Strength in Ephesians: The Body, the Armor, the Power

If you’ve been part of a marching band, you know how intricate the planning is for halftime. I spent the last 16 years in Ohio, where it’s impossible not to hear regularly about Ohio State University. Renowned for its sports teams, OSU is also known for its marching band and its creative halftime shows. One halftime show particularly caught my eye: a tribute to Michael Jackson, in which the band took his shape and proceeded to moonwalk across the field. It was amazing! In a marching band, one individual part may look like random steps, but when put together with all the other parts, the band works together to create an amazing picture. And as the apostle Paul finishes his letter to the Ephesians, he acts like a marching band director choreographing the halftime show. He gives instructions to the Church so that it can faithfully stand as a beacon of peace and righteousness. Today, we’re looking at three things that are necessary to remain standing after all is said and done: The body. The armor. The power.

Let’s read from Ephesians 6:10-20 (CEB):

“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.”

Before we get into specifics, let’s look at the overall context of Paul’s letter: Paul writes this to remind the Ephesians of their identity in Christ, their unity as the body of believers—regardless of ethnic or other differences—and to encourage them to live in a way that honors God. The content of the book is split in half: the first three chapters explore the blessings of our life in Christ and how we have been saved by grace through faith; the last three chapters describe how we live as a result of our new life in Christ. After all, when something amazing happens in your life, you live differently.

Before jumping to Ephesians 6, let’s recognize an important aspect of this letter. We often read letters like this, hear the author say “you,” and assume it refers to me as an individual. While it’s true that as an individual believer, I need to follow Scripture, this is not Paul’s primary emphasis. Most of the time, Paul uses the plural form of “you” (“all y’all,” as we say in Kentucky) to address the Ephesians. In other words, these are commands for the church as a whole. God is calling the church to work together and help one another to live faithfully as believers.

As we venture into 6:10, Paul begins to wrap up. He urges the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord’s great strength. This is not a new theme in the book. Paul goes full circle—in 1:19, Paul told the Ephesians that he prays they may know “the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” This is an important reminder—especially for the discussion about evil powers that comes next. We do not rely on our own strength.

Having the correct source of power is incredibly important: If you have a fancy sports car, you’re going to use the best gasoline available. You can’t just pour water in the tank.  And if we’re going to have strength for the battle ahead, we have to rely on the right source of power: God’s power, not our own. Paul is emphatic about this: he repeats the idea of strength three times in a single verse: literally, “strengthen yourselves in the power of his strength.” We need God’s power, not our own, because the battle ahead is a difficult one.

In verses 11-12, Paul calls believers to put on the armor of God, because it is the only way to withstand the evil day. He makes it very clear that we are not simply battling everyday circumstances and temptations; rather, powerful forces exist that in the world that make every effort to derail our walk with God.Paul describes them as rulers, authorities (not government authorities!), cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There is a spiritual realm populated by hostile forces that are in opposition to the work of God. Paul’s point here is not to catalog the various kinds of demonic forces. Rather, he emphasizes the spiritual component to the struggles we face.

Yet Paul notes that these spiritual powers are in “the heavenly places.” The Ephesians who have read this letter will recall:

  • 1:3: We have been blessed in Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
  • 1:20-21: Christ sits at the right hand of God in the heavenly places “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
  • 2:6: We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
  • 3:10: The plan of the mystery of God has been revealed so that through the Church the wisdom of God will be made known to the authorities in the heavenly places.

Paul is urging us to be prepared to fight these forces but not to be afraid. Everything Paul has written to this point in the letter reminds us that Christ’s power is far greater than their power, and we who believe are seated with Christ, far above these lesser powers! Our transformed lives and unity in the body of Christ serve as testimonies to these spiritual beings, that God already has won the victory through Christ.

After digressing to point out who we are fighting (and the ultimate defeat of these spiritual forces), in verses 13-17 Paul returns to call the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God. Traditionally, these next few verses are read as a call to the individual believer to put on the armor of God, but Paul already told us earlier in the letter who is the body that wears the armor: “And [God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

This armor is effective when the whole body takes it up—there is a communal sense. We are not meant to be solitary individuals bearing the armor of God; rather, we are meant to help one another to bear the armor. Like the OSU marching band, in which individuals walk a path laid out for them and together make a unified whole, we who believe work together to provide a unified vision of the life in Christ.

What is this armor? Paul uses military imagery to illustrate preparing for battle, and yet the armor described is used mostly for defense. It is the devil who wages war on us, and our job is to stand our ground, stand firm, and remain standing. We’ve had a lot of hurricanes this season, and I’m always amazed at the weather reporters who stand out in the middle of the storm: they have a job to do and they find a way to stand firm in 70 mile an hour winds.

That’s our job as believers: we don’t go out looking for the battle; we know it will come to us. But New Testament scholar Andrew Lincoln reminds us: “The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won.”

Yet we won’t always face a hurricane. Scripture refers to the “schemes” of the devil. Sometimes attacks are powerful because they are subtle, taking us by surprise. Rather than a hurricane, we face a creeping mist that slowly blinds us, leaving us groping in the fog. Whether we face an onslaught of terrible life circumstances or creeping doubt, we have to be prepared to stand firm.

The first two pieces of armor that help us to stand firm are the belt of truth and the breastplate of justice (also translated righteousness). In terms of Roman armor, which is what Paul’s readers would picture, the belt is likely a reference to the leather aprons worn under the armor. This allowed freedom of movement while protecting the thighs. The metal breastplate protects a soldier’s vital organs, such as heart and lungs. When Paul refers to the belt of truth, “truth” has the sense of faithfulness and loyalty to God, and the breastplate of justice (or righteousness) has the nuance of doing what is just or right. We may think of being righteous, but the terminology refers to an action!

Paul does not pull this imagery out of thin air; these pieces of armor are mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. In one case, a messianic figure brings righteousness and faithfulness to those who suffer, particularly the poor (Isa. 11:4-5). In another case, God is offended at the lack of justice in the land, so God himself brings righteousness and justice to the people (Isa 59:15-17). Paul uses this imagery to describe how the church, the body of Christ (you and me!) must wear that same armor in order to fight its battles. The warrior God is a God who cares about righteousness in the land—justice for the poor and oppressed. When we wear God’s armor, we are to demonstrate God’s justice and righteousness.

Paul already said this in a different way in Ephesians 4:24 when he called them, “to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Here in our worship space we see the phrase “holiness to the Lord” displayed prominently. It reminds us that we are called to be people set apart for the Lord; we imitate Christ and offer every aspect of our lives to the Lord. We seek holiness in our own lives, and we work in the midst of culture to transform the injustices that we witness around us.

Connected to this righteousness is the imagery of shoes that prepare one to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Paul already wrote about the Gospel that brings peace, declaring in 2:14-16 that Christ is our peace, who destroyed the wall of hostility—the ethnic rivalry—between Jew and Gentile, making all believers one in Christ. And Isaiah connects righteousness with peace in 32:17:

“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

When Christians are faithful to God, when we live rightly—in a way that brings about justice to the community—this brings peace. It is common to hear protestors chanting, “No justice, no peace.” This was not an idea created in the 1960s; these protestors cite a biblical theme. It is only when justice pervades the land that peace will exist among us. We must work for justice for those who have been wronged—whether demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, providing aid to the poor in our community who have been overlooked, arguing for the rights of those with disabilities, or protecting others in society.

Next, Paul calls believers to take up the shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Roman shields measured about 4’ x 2-1/2’ and were made from wood covered in leather. Paul identifies the shield for Christians as faith. When we trust the message of the Gospel, when we believe that Christ died for our sins, when we know that the Holy Spirit is transforming our lives, then these beliefs extinguish the lies of the devil, when he tries to tell us we’re not worthy, we’re irredeemable, we can never change.

But there’s more to this imagery than standing firm in our faith! Roman soldiers worked together in formation. They brought their shields together in battle so that they could protect one another from literal flaming arrows. This testudo formation (“tortoise” in Latin) created a shield wall—soldiers in the front line held their shields forward; those in the middle held the shields overhead, and those on the sides protected from the sides. Soldiers were far better protected when they worked together.

This underscores the “all y’all” language. Paul encourages us to work together as the body of Christ. It’s the body of Christ together that wears the armor. John Wesley proclaimed that he knew no holiness but social holiness—by which he meant that the body of Christ works together to strengthen each other.

We cannot stand alone in this battle to keep our faith alive and vital. If you help me to strengthen my faith, and I help you to strengthen your faith, then together we are better prepared to withstand the flaming arrows of the devil. We need each other. We are stronger when we are unified.

But our armor is not yet complete. Paul keeps telling us we need the whole armor of God, and armor is incomplete without a helmet and a sword. For the believer, this is the helmet of salvation. Protection comes from knowing that Christ has already won the battle on our behalf. The only offensive weapon for the soldier is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. The term for sword refers to a short sword (about two feet long) that soldiers used for combat in close quarters, where fighting was particularly brutal. The Spirit is the power that makes the sword effective. The “word of God” refers to the gospel message of Christ, laid out for us in Scripture. This sword makes sense as a weapon: when the devil attacks, scheming and lying, the believer’s best counterattack is claiming the truths of the Gospel found in Scripture. Paul gives plenty of these throughout Ephesians:

  • God chose us in Christ (1:4)!
  • God destined us to become adopted as his children (1:5)!
  • We have redemption through the blood of Christ (1:7)!
  • God loves us (2:4)!
  • God saved us (2:5)!
  • God created us for good works (2:10)!
  • God has reconciled us to one another (2:16)!
  • We have access to the Father through the Spirit (2:18)!
  • We are being built into a dwelling place for God (2:22)!

And that’s just the first two chapters. We need to be immersed in the truth of the love of God so that we can stand firm. But Paul is not done yet. Although his armor language ends with the sword of the Spirit, he urges believers to cover the battle in prayer. He started with the command to be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. But how do we find strength in the Lord? We connect to God, submitting ourselves to God’s will, through prayer.

Paul refers to the kind of prayer in which we talk to God and listen to God throughout the day. The way that we keep alert in battle is to be in prayer regularly. This is how we stand firm in the power of God’s mighty strength.

Just like our armor must be worn together, our prayers are offered for each other. Paul begins his letter by praying for the Ephesians, and he ends by asking the Ephesians to pray for all the saints, including Paul himself, who is under arrest for preaching the Gospel. The body that wears God’s armor finds its strength only when it is connected to God whose mighty strength has made the victory possible.

Paul concludes by urging the Ephesians to stand strong. He gives us three keys to remain standing: The body. The armor. The power.

Without the body working together to strengthen each other, gaps in the armor appear; flaming arrows slip through, wreaking havoc. This Christian walk was never meant to be solitary. We encourage each other, building each other up. When you join a church, you learn from small children, middle-aged parents, and elderly saints. You get to speak into their lives and encourage their walk with Christ. Becoming part of committed discipleship groups helps us grow in the faith. John Wesley’s vision of banded discipleship groups recognizes the importance of the body strengthening each other.

To stand strong, we need (say it with me!) the body, the armor, and the power. Without the armor of truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit-empowered Gospel message, we are susceptible to the lies of the devil, who tells us we’re not loved, we have no value, we have no future. When we live faithfully in God’s truth, when we trust the love of Christ and devote our lives to him, we find that God’s armor holds fast. In wearing God’s armor, we pursue justice in an unjust world, we love and care for the humanity that God fought so hard to save, and we bring light to dark places.

To stand strong, we need the body, the armor, and the power. Without the power of God’s mighty strength, none of us will be able to stand in the evil day. It’s that simple. None of this happens on our own. Regular prayer, individually and together as the body of Christ, connects us to God, whose power is more than enough for the battle we face. Together as the body of Christ, we must seek God’s power to transform the world. To withstand the evil day and to remain standing, we need the body, the armor, and the power. This is Paul’s call to the Ephesians, and it’s God’s call to us today.

Jackson Lashier ~ Seeing God’s Glory at a Feast

According to John’s Gospel, the first miracle Jesus performs in his public ministry is to turn water into wine at a wedding. John’s Gospel calls the miracles “signs” because through them we see the glory of God, a theme John introduces in the first chapter (John 1:14, 18) and carries through to the end (John 20:29). This sign meant seeing God’s glory at a feast – a wedding banquet. We have to admit, however, that this seems like a strange way for Jesus to start his ministry – and not only because we are currently in Lent, a season of fasting. This miracle seems to lack the drama and compassion of his other acts with which we are so familiar; no suffering person is healed, no demon exorcised, no tables overturned, no water walked on. Indeed, it seems the only result of this miracle is that a bunch of partiers get to keep drinking, not exactly something that immediately suggests God’s glory. John writes,

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’ What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:1-11)

When we read this account in the context of the entire story of scripture, which John has urged his readers to do by starting his Gospel “in the beginning” at the creation of the world (John 1:1), we begin to see the significance of the sign. Of all the metaphors used to describe Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament, none is more significant than the wedding metaphor. This metaphor starts in the Old Testament when God calls Israel’s ancestor Abraham into a covenant—this is marriage imagery. The scriptures continue to describe God’s love of his people as a jealous love like that of a spouse. And in the ideal picture, the people say of their God, in the words of the Song of Songs, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song of Songs 2:16). The nuptial metaphor is also used to explain sin; when the nation of Israel strays from the law it is described as unfaithful. When the people of Israel worship other gods they are said to be committing adultery.

From this perspective, Israel’s exile from God’s presence near the end of their story can be understood as a divorce, the sundering of that covenantal relationship, the ending of the happy marriage feast – instead of seeing God’s glory at a feast, everything has gone wrong. Isaiah draws on this image when he prophesies,

“The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth. . .the new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. No longer do they drink wine with a song.” (Isaiah 24:5-9)

Likewise, the prophesied restoration or return from exile often takes the image of a new wedding and new feasting. So the prophet Jeremiah says:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

This new covenant will be marked, Isaiah prophesies, with “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)

The setting of Jesus’s first miracle as a wedding is not, therefore, insignificant to its meaning. It brings to the reader’s mind this familiar ancient metaphor. And what springs Jesus to action in this story is specifically the occasion of the wine running out, the wedding feast ending prematurely. If we understand that image as a reference to exile, then Jesus’ miracle of bringing new wine for the new feast signals in his ministry, beginning in this moment, the inauguration of the new wedding covenant that occurs through him. That this marital union is new and, in the words of Jeremiah, not like the old one, is suggested by the words of the host to the groom: “you have saved the best till now.”

But how is this union new? How is it not like the old one? Put another way, why will this new marriage not fail as the old one had? Again, the imagery in this story provides insight. Jesus made new wine not out of just any water, but specifically out of the water in the stone jars that Jews used to purify themselves in preparation for, among other things, offering the sacrifice in the Temple. The water in these jars is symbolic of the old Jewish religion focused on the cult of animal sacrifice, a religion predicated to some degree on our actions and our sacrifices, which could never fully deliver us from our sin. In turning this purifying water into new wine, Jesus demonstrates that the marriage between God and his people in Christ puts an end to the old way of doing things. No longer will our relationship with God be based on the things we do or the sacrifices we make. But now, the marriage relationship between God and his people in Christ is based not on our actions but on what Christ, who is God himself, has done.

The image of the new wine points forward to a second time that wine will be the center of the Gospel story: that moment on the night before his crucifixion, that Jesus will take a cup of wine and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) It is through the sacrifice of Jesus, then, that the new marriage with God will be inaugurated.

But the story of the first miracle also reminds us that the death of Christ, necessary for our salvation, is not the last word, but rather is ultimately defeated in resurrection. The image of the wine at last points to the wedding feast, the celebration that is eternal life in the presence of the risen bridegroom. It is the feast of reconciliation which Jesus taught about in various parables. It is the feast the Father throws when his prodigal son returns home, the feasting the angels experience in heaven when a lost sinner is found, the feast of the banquet where the host throws the doors open and invites everyone in, with the host himself providing the appropriate garments. Perhaps a feast can reveal God’s glory after all.

Jesus, like the prophets of old, refers to this feast of restoration at the Last Supper when he says, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) When we celebrate communion, then, we are not only remembering what Christ did for us on the cross in the past, we are eating and drinking in anticipation of the great heavenly feast that awaits us. And God’s glory will be manifest at the heavenly banquet in our midst, just as it was seen in the wedding in Cana where Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation began.

Edgar Bazan ~ Relaunch

In the past, I’ve talked about reset as the ability to embrace and move into the new things that God has for us by not allowing the hurts of the past to hold us back. We can’t change the facts of the past, but we can change how we feel about them and how we allow them to affect us today. It’s possible to reframe our past experiences into a story of redemption by looking at them and talking about them through the lens of Jesus’ love and grace.

The outcome is that, as we experience redemption, we are able to move into the new life God has for us; we stop keeping our future a hostage to our past. We free our future by allowing God to redeem our past and reframe our whole lives around a new story of hope, redemption, and new life.

Today, I want to talk about our future. When I use the word “relaunch,” I mean the action, the opportunity, or the decision to try again that which has not been going well.

Our text comes from Isaiah 43:18, 19:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

The context of Isaiah’s writing to the people of Israel takes place at a bleak period in Israel’s history. They were in captivity, conquered by the Assyrians who had become the dominating military and political power of the region. They had lost everything they thought they would keep forever, and they were homesick for the land and the blessing God had promised them.

This happened because they were suffering the consequences of wrong choices against each other and God. Israel had abandoned everything they once represented as God’s people; they had become selfish and unjust. They had missed the mark of their mission and calling as people of God. They had forgotten time and time again that the blessing given to their father Abraham and their mother Sarah was meant to be stretched out to all the families of the earth and that this was the reason for their existence, their purpose and goal as people of God. They failed because they forgot who they were meant to be. Instead of pursuing their purpose, they settled with ephemeral comforts and tried to become like everyone else.

No doubt Israel was discouraged because they thought this was the end of them. They were stuck – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – in their past, unable to see the new life and opportunities that God was opening up. God was speaking hope and encouragement to them in the midst of their darkest times.

God wanted them to know that even though they were suffering, they were not forsaken. God wanted the people of Israel to understand that the hardship they were experiencing would not be the end of them. God wanted to give them a fresh start, a new beginning in their life, a relaunch, so to speak. By telling them, “forget the former things,” God was saying, “it is time to move on.”

Maybe that is where we are! We may feel we are stuck, that we have failed people we love – including God – so many times that we are just getting what we deserve. If God dealt with us based on what we deserve, we wouldn’t be here. No, God deals with us with grace, to bring out the best of us and make us whole again.

God is not in the business of annihilation, but of redemption. Our God does not dwell in the past, for he is always doing a new thing. Don’t ever believe that God doesn’t want anything to do with you. If you think that you have no future, I have good news for you. God is saying, “it’s not over, I have plans for your life. I am about to do something new for you,” because God is always on the move, and he is always calling us forward.

Today, I am saying this so you can not only believe it, but so that you can also fully embrace a new life.

How can we embrace this new thing that God wants to do in our lives?

We begin by realizing that our God is forward thinking. Consider: the moment things went wrong at the beginning with Adam and Eve and their sin, God introduced a plan of salvation. Every time people got it wrong and messed up God’s work, God would continue to keep his plan unfolding. When Jesus called the disciples, and everyone else for that matter, he did it so they would follow a new path, a new way of living. He called them forward. So it is with us!

This tells us that God is far more interested in our future than in our past, that we are not a final product, and that God wants to do something new in us every day regardless of what has been. Some people think that all God wants to do is remind them of the things they have done wrong. God is more interested in your future than in your past. God is always working a future for us.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Back to the Future. In this movie, when Marty goes back to the past, he stands out. He knows things and has seen things and acts differently because he is from the future. In the first film, there are some scenes where he is thought of as weird for making peculiar decisions because his peers don’t understand where he is coming from.

In the same way, we can view all of us, Jesus’ followers, as people of the future. Let me explain. If you jump back 2,000 years to when Jesus was walking the earth, a majority of the Jewish people believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed that at the end of time, when God set the world right, the righteous would be resurrected and vindicated. The twist is that Jesus accomplished that in the middle of the history, not at the end. God did for Jesus in the present what Jewish people thought he would do for all at the end. So, in the resurrection, it’s like Jesus became a person of the future.

In the same way, everything else Jesus has done for us – how he brought a new world, a new way of living – is about bringing the promises of the future into the present. With this, God calls us to live as our future selves right here in the present, to step into what God says is true about us, and to stand out.

We don’t have to wait for our best life to happen someday; it can begin to happen right now if we step into it. Most of the things that get in the way are our choices. I know you are thinking, easier said than done. And you are right.

How do we relaunch our lives to embrace the new thing that God wants to do in our lives? Let’s look again at the story of Israel and the challenge they had.

The problem that this story presents may help us to understand why we too struggle to embrace new life today: they forgot who they were meant to be. They lost their way. They allowed things to get in the way that disrupted their purpose and sent them onto a path God did not intend for them.

The miracle in the middle of this story and all of our stories is that God never gives up on us. God is always working to give us a future. God is always invested in our healing, redemption, and restoration so we can get back on track.

This is not just about wanting to save us but wanting to give us a good, abundant life that accomplishes the desires of God’s heart and our hearts. God has written in our hearts his goodness and creativity, all the best he wants for us.  

What is your heart telling you today? What are the things that have gotten in your way, in your marriage, your family? What are the thoughts, the dreams, the desires of your heart that have been lost or forgotten over time?

Many of us have learned to have our faith in God –and that is a beautiful gift. Our faith in God grounds us in the hope for tomorrow. But let me add something else that has do with the voice of our heart: our faith in God does not mean we must doubt ourselves. Our faith in God ought to lead us to trust ourselves too. Our faith in God leads us to know not only how much we are loved but also why we were created.

Here is where many of us struggle. Do we know how much we are worth? Do we know how large our life is meant to be? Let me tell you something. Self-doubt forces us into lives that are too small for our dreams. We settle too soon. For the most part, our lives are about safely conforming to what has been, rather than building up new and wild dreams. And we doubt ourselves because we focus on our weaknesses, on our mistakes, on what people think and say about us, rather than on the beautiful ways we were created and gifted by God.

To this God says: “Forget the former things!” My friends, this word today is God telling us, “remember who you are, who you are meant to be. I am always with you.” God knows that when we live in doubt and undervalue ourselves, we give up on what we are meant to be, on any pursuit of our heart’s dreams. But we are the only creation in the universe that was created after God’s own image. Are we to reject that? No, we need to embrace it because by doing so we honor and glorify God.

Today, God is telling us to stop doubting ourselves and to find our strength and purpose. I believe that God placed dreams in our heart as the fuel to move and encourage us to live forward, and that God is overjoyed when we pursue those desires.

Can you hear God’s voice in your heart? What is God saying? How is God encouraging you right now? What dreams have been placed in your heart?

Often, when we pray over and over again for the same thing, it is not because God is failing to give us an answer, but because we have not heard the answer we want. What if this year we go with what we have already been told, with what is in our hearts, as scary and challenging as it may be?

I finish with this. To relaunch is not to keep things the way they are but to endeavor into new things. When God says “I am making a new thing,” that new thing is for you… you are not forgotten. What we think is the end is actually the beginning of the next chapter. It is time to move on to what’s next. You can only grow if you allow a new chapter to be written in your life. To relaunch is not about replaying the same old song but learning a new one.

If we welcome God’s love and grace in our lives; if we have faith in the future he has promised us; if we know that God is for us and not against us, then no matter what situations we face, we will be able to engage with them in a positive way, because we know that we have life ahead of us, and that whatever the former things were, they have no claim over us anymore: we have moved on from them.

I invite you to look for the courage to act on the dreams God has placed in your heart, on what you are meant to be. Maybe you are like a bird who for a long time has had thoughts of flying but is in a cage. Here, the door is open. God created us to spread our wings toward the bright sky he created for us to enjoy. May your choices reflect your hopes for the future and not the fears of your past. Live tomorrow today. Amen.

Karen Bates ~ Hope in a Diner Booth

At a time in my life when things were not like I wanted, I sat in a restaurant booth across from a friend as tears streamed down my face explaining how everything was going wrong.

The holidays were around the corner. I was short on cash. I was helping other people but no one asked me if I needed help. I needed to find a new place to live. I was pastoring a church and thought I was a failure. I was doing a Christmas concert and felt unprepared. I was a stressed-out, overwhelmed mess.

We had just left a service that was part of an Advent observance. Though I smiled through it, tears welled up in my eyes when the candle representing hope was lit. I didn’t let tears fall as Scripture passages were read and we sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel. But sitting across from my friend, I sobbed. For me, in a season where I was expected to celebrate Advent, I felt like doing no such thing.

My friend let me cry and then encouraged me to remember that my hope was not in my circumstances, but in my savior. My friend encouraged me to reread the Christmas story and to do things to be a blessing to other people.

For many people, this season can be a challenge. Life is hard. Things happen that catch people off guard. And it is never just one thing. It seems that difficult circumstances and situations come in waves that overwhelm.

For the first time in 20 years, a friend will celebrate Christmas without a spouse. It is not only the separation and impending divorce that rattled the friend. It was all the things that happened leading up to the separation and divorce request that has my friend in a place that seems hopeless.

And hope looks different for people. For the mother of an addicted child, hope is her child completing rehab, returning home and the family resuming its daily routines. For the child, hope is completing rehab and moving 2,000 miles away from the environment that cultivated and fed the addiction.

In this season, they are overwhelmed as they seek to find what hope looks like.

What circumstances or situations overwhelm you or someone you know? The breakup of a marriage? The death of a spouse or a loved one? The loss of a job? An addicted child? Aging parents? An undiagnosed illness? A terminal illness? An out-of-control child? An estranged relationship? A difficult job situation? Tense living conditions? Financial pressures from student loans, medical bills, or unexpected expenses? Car repairs? A crazy political climate? Difficulty find a job? Difficulty keeping a job? Mental illness? Depression? Oppression? Constant criticism? Unacknowledged achievements? Homelessness? Unemployment? Underemployment? Unmet expectations? Feeling like a failure? An unexpected transition? Family pressures? Chronic illness? Lack of health insurance? Injustices? An unjust situation?

Sometimes, people feel like they have no hope even after they have been successful because it doesn’t seem to be enough.You can fill in the blank for yourself about what overwhelms you or someone you know. For some people, it’s not just one thing, it a combination of things.

However, as we prepare our hearts to remember the birth of the Christ child and anticipate his impending return, know your hope is not in your circumstances, but indeed, in Christ, who is with you. The promise was made in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us).”

Word that the promise is being fulfilled comes as Jesus’ birth is announced in various New Testament Scriptures. One of my favorites is in Matthew 1 when Joseph is told he should still marry Mary even though she was pregnant, because the child is from the Holy Spirit. A fiancé pregnant with a child you didn’t father probably did dimmed the hope Joseph had for the future of his relationship with Mary. However, the hope for his relationship was likely restored after the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream telling him: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

In this season, if your hope is gone, waning or in short supply, my prayer is that as the candles on the Advent wreath are lit, it will reignite hope in your heart. I pray you are reminded God is with you. If your hope is gone, may the flame not only rekindle hope, but may it also remind you God loves you.

As his love surrounds you, I pray you feel the peace and joy celebrated in this season, even if you don’t feel like celebrating. Know this — God’s promises are true and God is with us. May the light of this season illuminate your way to restored hope in the resurrected Christ!

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Many Ways We Limp

The bottoms of your shoes tell a tale.

Examine them: the soles are worn down on the inside or the outside, at the front or at the back. They show how you walk. They show what you compensate for. They show the way your foot moves as you stride. And as you wear them, the sole of your shoe begins to tell the tale – of a back injury, of a sore hip, of a tender place on your foot.

A used pair of shoes will tell a foot doctor all about you.

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Yesterday I visited a massage therapist. I’d had deep tissue massages in the past. This one was slightly different: she had experience working on professional athletes. I told her a bit about what my body has been through the past couple of years. After briefly expressing this verbally to her, she responded, “let’s see what we find.”

Words weren’t needed. I didn’t need to tell her about my daily habits: my body told her. At one point I chuckled as her strong hands felt a sore spot and ruthlessly applied laser-like pressure to an area that felt only a few centimeters across on my shoulder.

“Muscles and joints can’t hide anything, can they? They don’t lie.”

She chuckled back.

“No, they don’t.”

My body told her I sit hunched with terrible posture at a laptop for hours at a time, writing and editing, oblivious to everything around me. It told her I’ve been hunched nursing a lot the past few months. It told her I go from 0 to 160, sitting a lot and then doing high impact activity like pushmowing the large, bumpy, uneven lawn for stress relief, flipping the mower over to clean out the bottom and continuing on my march. It told her I delivered a baby a few months ago and my joints are still coming back together.

I didn’t have to tell her once, “there! Right there. That’s the spot on my back.” Her hands felt and prodded, smoothed and bore down without my saying a word.

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So many of us have been mangling the bottom of our shoes trying not to show our limp. The body remembers old injuries, prone to re-injury. It also remembers the ways our muscles have attempted to compensate: a knee injury or hip injury on one side can lead to added pressure on the other side, throwing the other, completely uninjured side out of whack.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

So often Jesus looked at someone, and like a foot doctor examining the bottom of a pair of shoes, like a massage therapist honing in on the source of the knot, he saw the hidden limp; the old injury; the compensating stride; the posture attempting to correct itself. He asked questions, but not really because he needed to be told; rather, because people needed to tell.

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The body carries memories of trauma. Brains shriek with confusion when deep chemical pathways light up again. The moment of injury seems present, whether it was a car crash or personal violation, whether it was an injustice or words that ring years after the voice spoke them.

We can’t control or compensate for it a second longer: the limp returns. The muscle seizes. Some limps remain the rest of our lives. Others fade with time. Some need emergency surgery; others need quiet, careful, long-term care.

Today, can you bring your shoes to Jesus? Can you flip them over and examine the soles? What would a specialist say about how you walk? What would a sports massage therapist know about how you spend your hours? Jesus can see you limping, or fighting to hide it. Can you give him your shoes?

Can you say, “here. I’ve been hiding this injury, or trying to hide it, for so long. It’s thrown off the whole way I walk. I’ve become so used to the ache I don’t even notice it unless I sit very still and quietly. And then I feel it crying out for relief. But that pain is so hard to sit with, it is overwhelming. I can’t do it by myself without help, I might vomit from the pain.”

You don’t have to tell him the hard words unbearable to speak aloud. Just give him your shoes. They’ll tell the story.

It is okay to stop running.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Surely he took up our pain  and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:1, 3a, 4-5

Michelle Bauer ~ Finding Spiritual Freedom

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” – Isaiah 61:1

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'” – Luke 4:14-21

Once you have found a comfortable place, spend a few moments in silence.  Take a few deep breaths and feel your body begin to relax. When you feel your mind becoming quiet, offer a simple prayer to God, thanking him for his presence and inviting him to speak to you.

Jesus celebrated the Sabbath by going to the synagogue. Do you celebrate the Sabbath? Do you find it restful? Is there something you need to add or remove to make this day more restful?

The poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed – one writer summarized this list as describing “those who have been traumatized by the stuff of life.” How have you been traumatized by the stuff of life? What affect does this have on you today?

We normally think of poor people as those who have no money, but there are other ways in which we can be poor. Some of us are emotionally poor. Some of us are poor spiritually. Others are poor in healthy relationships. In what ways are you poor? What would it look like to be rich in that area?

Has it ever felt like you have been held prisoner by something? How did you get free? In what area of life do you struggle to be free? Ask God to “proclaim freedom” to that part of your life. People who are oppressed struggle to share the freedom of those around them. In what ways are you helping others who are oppressed?

Jesus declared that this prophetic passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah was being fulfilled. Do you sense these things being fulfilled in your life? Where are you experiencing freedom?

Where are you looking for freedom?