One of the most laying-low, transformational experiences of my life was to lean in and work over 18 months with John Blase and Eugene Peterson on the 25th edition of the Message Bible, to sit with Eugene and his wife Jan, and to be a hushed witness to the grace of Christ in this lifelong pastor, scholar of biblical languages, and translator of The Message Bible. Eugene was keenly aware of how easy it is to feel lost while reading the Bible. To help his congregation he wrote insights on Scripture and introductions to every book. He continued, writing contemplative readings and community-themed articles to ensure readers knew that God does not stay aloof, but moves into the neighborhood. I deeply, deeply loved Eugene and it’s an absolute grace to welcome the words of Eugene to the farm’s table today…
Every Christian story is a freedom story.
Each tells how a person has been set free from the confines of small ideas, from the chains of what other people think, from the emotional cages of guilt and regret, from the prison of self, separated from God by sin. We’re free to change. The process of that change is always a story, but it’s never a neat formula.
“We live in a world where we’re free to change.”
That is Paul’s way.
When he tells us we’re free to change, he doesn’t give us a formula; he tells his story. Paul’s story is remarkable but by no means exceptional.
Similar stories are created and lived daily all over the world and have been ever since the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home” (Genesis 12:1).
Each time such a story is told, it adds to the evidence that we live in a world where we’re free to change.
“God has had plans for us from before our birth. He has never been apart from us.”
In the story of the changed life, nothing is wasted. Our former lives—in Judaism, in paganism, in secularism, in narcissism—are raw materials used in the work of art that is freedom. We don’t begin to be in relationship to God at the moment we become aware of it. God has had plans for us from before our birth. He has never been apart from us. That which took place in the years before our acceptance of Christ’s love is not rejected but used.
Nothing is wasted in the life of faith.
Change penetrates every part of our selves and our history, not just the “spiritual” parts, not just the good parts.
The inferiorities we feel, the inadequacies we sense, the sins we regret, the differences that make us feel like outsiders—these are all included in our story of freedom and are transformed into Christ-affirmed features that express the power and glory of God. As changes take place, we find that we’re free to adore, to pray, to believe, to take time to get things right, and to listen again and again for the freedom-creating Word.
Every Christian story needs to be shared with others. Every story is different. Yet every story is the same.
In the telling we recognize the common plot of God’s grace setting us apart, personally calling us and revealing his Son to us.
We also recognize the great care with which He respects and uses every individual feature of our bodies and emotions and minds so that each story is totally fresh and original.
“In the story of freedom, God is always the subject, humans, always the object.“
In the story of freedom, God is always the subject, humans, always the object. If we’re to live free, it will be because of God’s actions, not because of our own will or disposition or politics or intelligence.
Three instances in Paul’s opening lines in his letter to the Galatians show God to be the subject and humans to be the object:
(1) Paul is made an apostle by God;
(2) Jesus is raised from the dead by God; and
(3) we are rescued from this evil world we’re in by God.
Something is done to us, for us, before we do anything. We are acted on before we act. Life isn’t naturally produced by us; it’s supernaturally provided for us.
Your story—as well as Paul’s story and my story—is a freedom story.
What are some prisons the Holy Spirit has released you from in the past? Is there some area of your life that isn’t free? A tendency towards legalism or conforming to the expectations of others?
“God did not coerce us from without but set us free from within.”
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without but set us free from within.
And a new week begins… and everything rises with a prayer of freedom-
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you for all the freedom stories in the Bible.
Thank you for the freedom that Paul experienced in you
and for the freedom I’ve also experienced.
Help me to never go back to the bondage that once enslaved me,
whether to some moral bondage,
some ideological bondage,
or some theological bondage.
Help me to understand that although there are many ways to be enslaved,
there’s only one way to be set free,
and that’s by the power of your Spirit.
Use Him, Lord, to liberate me
so that I might not squander your hard-fought gift
or my heartfelt story.
This edition of the Bible remains open on my desk always.
Eugene H. Peterson (1932–2018) was a pastor for thirty years, as well as a theologian and scholar of biblical languages. The author of more than thirty books, he is best known for The Message, his translation of the Bible into contemporary, poetic language. His ministry as a pastor and his writings on theology and spirituality have shaped generations of Christians — myself so included.
The Message Devotional Bible sets you on a path to consistently practice resurrection, or as Eugene called it, a long obedience in the same direction.
This beautiful Bible includes over 600 scriptural insights, 52 contemplative readings, 9 neighborhood-themed articles, and hundreds of questions for reflection.
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]