Such a traveler has moved on to the far better beyond. I confess, since I heard about Eugene, I’ve often fought tears. I love the man. I met him only once, sat in the Colorado mountains, a few of us in a log cabin, with Eugene and his bride, Jan, for an hour or two. I will never forget his mirth, the way he laughed and his eyes danced. Eugene and his gentle joy. I thank God for Eugene’s faith battle that helped countless of us win more of ours. We were all graced with one of the great saints of the faith. For 18 months, John Blasé and I poured over every word, of every line, of every page of The Message and countless times my heart ached with the question: When will one like this pastoral giant ever pass by our way again? Maybe today even the trees of the field applaud, and we nod, bravely smiling through tears — we have not lost one of the greats… with Eugene, we all only gained. It’s a grace to welcome my friend, John Blase, to our farm’s front porch, as we share the journey of our “work” with Eugene over a year ago.
Alexander Pope said it: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Then Elvis came along and sang it: “Wise men say only fools rush in.” (You’re probably singing that in your head right now.)
When NavPress approached the two of us about working on some revisions for The Message Devotional Bible in celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary, we hesitated for about a minute — then said yes.
Why take such a beautifully influential creation and tinker around with it, with at least a fair chance of messing it up?
That’s a good question, and one we asked ourselves. But we knew it was an opportunity to play the smallest part in the ongoing lyrical approach to God’s Word inaugurated by Eugene Peterson.
In other words — it was a chance to be a part of the music.
The Message Devotional Bible has played a significant role in both our lives, from being the text read round the farming family’s dinner table in the evenings — to being one of the reasons we’ve still got our “eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
So, fools or not — we rushed in.
We were instructed to approach any edits with a light hand. This was not an effort to take an engine apart and then put it back together. Besides, we’re not mechanics.
No, it was more a thorough reading to determine if there were words or phrases which, over time, had become un-contemporary. Such words and phrases were tagged, compared to other translations, then wrestled with to see if we could suggest not something better, but something similarly different.
If you don’t think this was a humbling labor, then you might just want to pinch yourself and wake up.
Trust us — it was quite the daunting assignment. One angels might have even refused. But we’re not angels either, so we put our hands to the plow.
We’d love to say there was some divinely inspired plan we used to decide who would take what books to work through. The only problem is there wasn’t. We started out working on the same books in an effort to see if we were complementary as opposed to contradictory. We were, thankfully, the former, both seeing many of the same things and feeling a unison about suggesting possible edits.
After a few books together, we felt confident to adopt an approach of “you take Galatians, I’ll take Ephesians.” And that worked. There were also those times when one of us would indicate a desire to work on a specific book. And that worked too.
At the conclusion of each “batch” of Scripture, for example Paul’s letters or the Minor Prophets, we would look over each other’s work and comment or challenge as need be. All of our work was done from a distance, one of us on Canadian farmland — and another along Colorado’s Front Range.
To say working on this project was one of the highlights of our lives would be an understatement.
Our suggested edits were submitted to the NavPress editorial team, then forwarded to theological scholars for their review — then on to Eugene for final approval.
There were about as many times we would conclude, “Yes, let’s suggest an edit” as there were times we would concede, “You know, Eugene got it right. He really did. Let’s leave it as is.”
Those moments of concession were wonderful to realize, for they evidenced a man truly in a rhythm, highly attuned to just the best word or phrase to communicate Scripture’s intent to today’s ears.
Time after time, page after page, verse after verse, it was clear that Eugene Peterson is a man who loves God’s Word and intensely desires people to read it.
And that was one of the additional joys of this project – a thorough reading of God’s Word, from beginning to end. The all-too-common practice of cherry-picking not just verses, but even words, leaves the body of Christ poorer and our witness sorely at risk. This is God’s message to us — all of it.
The steady beat of His Word is the only thing that gives a strong rhythm to our days.
Reading His Word is not about getting Him to love you… but about getting yourself to the place where you can hear Him tell you He loves you.
Start in that place every day — the place where you open His Word & hear Him tell you He loves you. Don’t try to face the day, until you’ve sought the face of God.
“The skies were made by God’s command;
He breathed the word and the stars popped out.
He scooped Sea into his jug,
put Ocean in his keg.
Earth-creatures, bow before God, world-dwellers—down on your knees!
Here’s why: He spoke and there it was,
in place the moment he said so.” Ps. 33:6 MSG
Open His Word and feel His breath close on you… God’s doing it right now: His Word made the heavens — and His Word remakes you.
If anyone is thirsty, let him come not to the habit of going to the tap of distraction,
to the fridge of immediate gratification,
or to the water-well of modern escapism,
where you keep swallowing it down, but never feel well,
but come to the Word
— the pitcher & beauty of Jesus —
and drink deep & long, to the soul’s deep quenching content.
For as the well of The One Good Book says, “Streams of life-giving water will fill & brim & overflow from anyone who comes to Him when overwhelmed.” [paraphrasing John 7:37-38]
In the midst of social media streams, all that quenches is Living Water.
In the midst of all our feeds, all that satisfies is feeding on Living Bread.
As Eugene rendered Matthew 11: 28-30 — (We did not suggest any changes in these particular verses. We pray we’re not complete fools.)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me —
and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Get away with Him: Without the lens of the Word, the world warps. Steep in it, meditate on it, return to it, carry a verse of it, don’t begin the day without it.
And in this daily opening of His message to us — there is this learning of the ‘unforced rhymes of grace,’ there is this keeping company with Christ — and finding that we are kept in Christ.
And we get to, especially now, live in the rhythms of grace, always grace — all the music of this living freely and lightly.
Ann Voskamp and John Blase were commissioned in 2016 by NavPress to undertake an “aesthetic revision” of Eugene Peterson’s The Message in advance of its twenty-fifth year of publication.
Filled with notes and reflections from Eugene H. Peterson, The Message Devotional Bible invites you on a journey. You will wander, sometimes plod, and even soar through the Bible alongside a fellow traveler, discovering again and again the surprise and wonder of God’s love and devotion to you.
From the pastor who translated the entire Bible, The Message Devotional Bible sets you on the right path—devoted not just to the Bible but to God, who, in Jesus, became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. It includes over 600 scriptural insights, 52 contemplative readings, introductions to the books and genres of the Bible, more than 400 reflection questions, and 9 neighborhood-themed articles.
I cannot fathom the story of God in the world without the message of the humble man from Montana. I cannot imagine a world without the pastoring of Eugene Peterson. Open the door between Scripture and your world right here.
[ Our humble thanks to NavPress for their partnership in today’s devotion ]