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Archive for September, 2016

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With quick, deft movements our daughter, Heather, enveloped her baby girl in a swaddling wrap.   It was bedtime, their first night of a week-long visit from Washington State to our home in Florida. Our younger son watched the swaddling process, fascinated by the flannel and Velcro contraption.

“Now what do you do?” he asked his sister. “Hang her upside down?”

Sophie did resemble a bat, all folded up into a neat little package. You would have thought she’d be squirming in discomfort, but her sleepy, contented expression said otherwise. Infants love the cozy, confined sensation that simulates the womb.

 

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But within months even the openness of a childproof play space isn’t liberating enough for many toddlers. Given their way, the little tykes would wobble off down the street—make that the middle of the street–confident in their abilities to handle life. Efforts to hem them in are met with raucous dissent.

Even as adults, when circumstances hem us in, we balk at the confinement, which negatively impacts our time, energy, and choices.

So when we read, “You [God] hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5 NIV), a person’s reaction might easily be: “I’ve got enough stuff in my life hemming me in—family responsibilities, long hours at work, financial obligations—you name it. I need God to free me up, not hem me in any further!”

 

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But hemmed in by God IS freed up. According to Bible scholar, Warren Wiersbe, those italicized words in the ancient Hebrew of Old Testament times included the meaning, “to guard a valuable object.” ‘Brings to mind God’s protection, doesn’t it—being held in his strong, reliable hands. *

And don’t miss that adjective, valuable. God sees each one of us as precious. Otherwise, he would not have sent his Son to die in our place.

“Hemmed in” also provides imagery of loving affection. When Sophie was tucked snugly into her swaddling wrap, Heather or Tim would encircle her in their arms and hold her close until she fell asleep. Surely those moments of cozy contentedness were among the first when she realized Mommy and Daddy loved her very much.

Similarly, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (Psalm 32:10b).

 

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“Hemmed in” brings to mind peace as well, because the all-powerful God of the universe is active in our lives. Psalm writer, King David, says we’re enclosed “behind” (in the past) and “before” (in the future). As for the present, God has laid his hand upon us (139:5).

 

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That means, behind us there is God, redeeming the hurts, mistakes, and sins of the past. Before us there is God, preparing the way for the future chapters of our lives, chapters he has already written (v. 16). In the present, there is God—attentive to our needs, guiding us through each day, and enabling us to thrive.

We are not hemmed in because God desires to control us in some self-interested power-grab. He is motivated by his gracious, loving kindness to keep us safe and content.

_________________________

 

Thank you, Father, for hemming me in. What a relief to know that Someone much wiser than I am is in control. How comforting to contemplate your continual, unfailing love. Your hand upon me is not oppressive; it is restorative, as I learn to rest in your peace. You have freed me up to live in the joy of your presence, and I am humbly, overwhelmingly grateful.

(Psalm 73:23-24; 36:5-7; 63:7-8; 16:11)

 

* (See Isaiah 41:10.) Not that God surrounds us with virtual bubble wrap so problems and pain can’t impact our lives. Rather than insulate us from challenges and hurt, he most often brings us through them—with his strength, wisdom, and peace. He’s saving perfect bliss for heaven.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.justprems.com.au; http://www.centerforparentingeducation.org; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.biblia.com.

 

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Sam leaned in close toward the center of the table, in order to be heard over the rowdy group nearby. In spite of the noise, the Green Dragon Tavern was a perfect place for Sam and his comrades to meet. No one paid much attention to them or their topic of conversation: resisting British tyranny.

“What we need,” Sam announced firmly but quietly, “are committees of correspondence in every town of Massachusetts, ready to pass on communication quickly from one to another, keep each other informed, and coordinate our efforts—in spite of the Brits’ nosy presence.”

Others at the table nodded in agreement. Almost all Bostonians longed for the removal of British soldiers, encamped in their harbor town since 1768. The men at table with Sam weren’t surprised by his idea for subterfuge. For eight years he had been writing newspaper articles in criticism of Britain’s oppressive policies and harsh taxation of the colonists.

Now it was 1772.  Samuel Adams and many others felt the colonies had endured enough. It was time for action. He began to organize Committees of Correspondence in Massachusetts, and soon more than 300 developed throughout the colonies.

Sam also helped organize protests and boycotts. The most famous was the Boston Tea Party of 1773. He led fifty-some patriots to dump tea into the harbor, thus avoiding the high import duties, and sending Britain a clear message.

 

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In 1774, Samuel Adams represented Massachusetts in the First Continental Congress. Their objective: to determine how best to deal with their grievances against Britain. The delegates readily agreed their first course of action should be prayer, but a disagreement ensued. Which clergyman from which denomination should be invited?

Samuel Adams told the congress he was “no bigot and could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend of his country (1).” He nominated an Episcopalian clergyman, Mr. Duche. Sam did not know him, but the minister had been highly recommended. The motion passed.

From communicator to leader to unifier, Samuel Adams distinguished himself as a worthy patriot for the history books. But his character out shown his considerable abilities.

 

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Sam’s distinguishing traits included:

  • Courage.  He continually spoke out against the British crown. At least once, Sam narrowly escaped capture. In 1776, Adams (and fifty-five others) signed the Declaration of Independence. They knew it could likely be their death warrants. For some, it was.
  • “Incorruptible Integrity” (as described by one biographer (2).  For the eight years Sam served in the Continental Congress, he was known for his stamina, realism, and commitment, working tirelessly on numerous committees.
  • Wisdom.  Adams knew that devotion to God would strengthen the new nation (Proverbs 14:34). “Communities are dealt with in this world by the wise and just Ruler of the Universe,” Sam wrote in 1776. “He rewards or punishes them according to their general character (3).”

Samuel Adams was indeed a man of strong Christian faith, evidenced frequently in his writings:

“The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better (4).

 

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Following the signing of the Declaration, Sam said, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come (5).

In his last will and testament Sam wrote: “I…[rely] on the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins (6).”

He was also a visionary, speaking wisdom for the generations to come. His statements ring true today, especially as we approach our presidential election:

“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that…he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country” (7).

 

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“He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country…The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men” (8).

“Those who are to have a share in making as well as in judging and executing the laws should be men of singular wisdom and integrity” (9).

Samuel Adams:  Born 294 years ago tomorrow, on September 27, 1722–a man who lived what he believed.

Lord, help me to do the same.  And may I remember:

The privilege to vote is a solemn trust for which I am accountable to God.

 

Notes:

  1. http://www.renewamerica.com, “Continental Congress:  America Founded on Prayer,” Brian Fischer, May 2, 2007.
  2. http://www.belcherfoundation, “Samuel Adams.”
  3. From a letter to John Scollay, April 30, 1776.
  4. http://www.usa.church.
  5. http://www.faithofourfathers.net
  6. Founders’ Bible, ed. Brad Cummings & Lance Wubbels, p. 1732.
  7. From an article in the Boston Gazette, April 2, 1781.
  8. From The Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Harry A. Cushing, 1907.
  9. From the Boston Gazette article, April 2, 1781.

Sources:

  1. http://www.belcherfoundation.org
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com
  3. Founders’ Bible, Shiloh Road Publishers
  4. http://www.history.com
  5. http://www.notablebiographies.com

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.history.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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(a personal psalm)

 

Surrounded by tall, majestic trees,

I rest here on the deck with you, Father,

reveling in the quiet.

The stillness pervades my soul and I sense your peace.

 

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Bright morning sun dapples the landscape and spangles the leaves.

Dewdrops gild the grass.

Such radiant splendor ushers your joy into my spirit, oh God.

“Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun”

(Ecclesiastes 11:7 NIV).

 

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Overhead a crystalline blue sky speaks of your majesty—

its unlimited vastness, a picture of your infinity;

its constant habitation over the earth,

a reminder of your omnipresence.

The heavens do indeed declare your glory (Psalm 19:1a),

and I worship you.

 

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Soft, refreshing breezes brush against my skin,

their arrival unannounced and unbidden.

They are invisible, yet cause leaves to dance and flowers to sway.

Such breezes bring to mind your Spirit—also invisible

yet always refreshing, guiding and encouraging me with gentle whispers

(2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Kings 19:12).

I praise you for such gracious provision in my life.

 

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Leaves on the trees gracefully clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12),

drawing attention to their beauty.

Some of these trees are very old; roots reach deep and wide.

Their strength is a metaphor for your power:

proven over time, reliable, unchanging.

And that strength is available to me—

an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

“Thank you” is terribly inadequate.

 

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Two cardinals provide an antiphonal chorus;

a flicker chatters contentedly.

Other small birds tweet and cheep

in happy celebration of a splendrous morning.

I’m reminded how you care for the smallest,

most common sparrow (Matthew 6:26),

and my soul is comforted by your loving attentiveness.

 

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Flowers still bloom in yards and planters.

How many thousands of flowers have you designed, God?

Surely one type of bloom would be sufficient for bees.

Yet you’ve created a glorious variety.

Your artistry is astounding— delicate petals and intricate shapes,

in numerous sizes from sunflower-grand to umbrellawort-small.

“I sing for joy at the work of your hands” (Psalm 92:4b NIV).

 

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Oh, Lord, how I praise you for the many ways creation reveals your nature.

Daily you touch my soul through the beauty and majesty of your works.

The earth is teeming with evidence of your unfailing love (Psalm 33:5)!

And I stand in awe of you, the Creator of the universe, my Heavenly Father.

 

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What attribute of God do you see revealed in nature?  How does his creative work touch your spirit?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.public-domain-image.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com.)

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Say the word, blessings, and our minds turn to the many ways God continually bestows good things. The more attentive we are, the more blessings we notice.

But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described eight blessings that sound quite bizarre at first hearing. For example:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” (Matthew 5:3a, MSG).

 

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Surely his listeners blinked in astonishment and thought, There’s no happiness at the end of that rope!

Jesus continued. “With less of you there is more of God and his rule” (v. 3b, MSG). Some may have nodded in agreement at this statement, having experienced profoundly God’s help in time of trouble.

Others may have wondered, More of God sounds good, but if I’m still at the end of my rope, where’s the blessing?

At least a few probably misunderstood the word, blessed. It’s more than happiness; it’s deep down, untouchable contentment. No matter what might happen, the blessed person remains confident in his God, hopeful in his outlook, and peaceful in his spirit—despite the turmoil of circumstances.

 

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In the ancient Greek of New Testament times, blessed was not a word spoken in sedate, pious tones. It was a shout of overflowing joy. And in the Be-Attitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus announced shout-worthy blessings—satisfying consequences of embracing God’s way of thinking and living.

“You ARE blessed,” Jesus taught (emphasis added). Notice he used present tense verbs. These statements were not hope-filled platitudes for the future; they expressed conditions for the present, available immediately.

Notice, too, that such overflowing joy is not procured through the acquisition of material goods or the experience of pleasure. King Solomon found that out long ago. He had it all, only to discover that everything was meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Countless others have tried the same route; each one has failed.

In the face of so much evidence, why do we expect self-indulgence to provide deep satisfaction?

On the other hand, Matthew 5:3-12 is just the beginning of blessing-instruction, presenting God’s guarantees for soul-happiness. If Jesus had preached another sermon of Be-Attitudes (Maybe he did!), our wise Savior/Teacher might have included these:

 

Blessed are the stretched and overwhelmed,

for they shall discover strength (Isaiah 41:10).

 

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You probably know heroes of the faith who have proven: “God gives unexpected strength when unusual trials come” (Charles Spurgeon). That strength isn’t just for heroes; it’s available to us all.

 

Blessed are the disappointed,

for they shall be transformed (Romans 12:2, NLT).

 

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As God leads us toward a new focus, a new perspective, we find our minds renewed and our spirits uplifted.

 

Blessed are the shaken,

for they shall experience the security

of the Lord, the Rock (Psalm 27:5).

 

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Praise God he is reliable, immoveable, and firm! We can confidently depend upon him now and forever.

 

Blessed are the confused,

for they shall receive wisdom (James 1:5).

 

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God never turns away from a sincere heart seeking his guidance.

 

Blessed are those who celebrate God’s blessings–

even in the midst of difficulty–

for they shall find contentment in gratitude (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

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We can follow the example of Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) who said, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

Know this, too: We can humbly and resolutely expect such blessings as these. God doesn’t make such promises lightly; He fulfills what he says:

 

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“God is not a man, that he should lie,

nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act?

Does he promises and not fulfill?”

–Numbers 23:19 NIV

 

No indeed.

‘Care to give God a shout-out for joy (Psalm 95:1-3)?

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.askideas.com; http://www.lifemoreabundant.me; http://www.pinterest.com (5); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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A little over two years ago when Steve and I retired, God provided for us a perfect little ranch house built into the side of a hill. A strip of woods and a ravine separate our block from the one behind us, and large windows in the kitchen/family room offer a tranquil view of treetops.

 

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One of the projects we completed before moving in was the addition of a deck off the back of the house. The vista we enjoy from window and deck give us the sensation of living in a tree house, and we revel in the beauty and quiet.

Just about everyone loves tree houses. Even television now offers programs featuring their construction.

Why do they cause such delight?

Perhaps because tree houses provide:

  • A quiet, peaceful refuge, removed from the stressful responsibilities of our lives.  There’s something about being up among the trees that repairs our equilibrium. We breathe easier, the peace of the surroundings soaks into our spirits and tension is released.

 

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  • A respite from the ordinary. Most of us are surrounded by concrete and dry wall much of the time. To experience a vista of trees and sky is sweet relief.
  • A new perspective and fuel for the imagination. Away from daily routines and distractions, we can see our lives from a more objective viewpoint. In addition, our thoughts dance more freely, creativity flows more readily, and discoveries unfurl more frequently. No wonder many tree houses for adults are built as artist/writer retreats.

 

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All of these reasons make sense, but I have one more theory about why we love these structures: Tree houses provide a physical, tangible replica of the presence of God.

Jesus made the way for us to experience his company, like the ladder or staircase to a refuge in the trees (1).

God is always with us, whether we’re aware or not. The key is to draw near to him through prayerful conversation and mindful observation of his glory—in a sunset, a bird song, or the scent of wisteria on the breeze. Then his peace can pervade our thoughts, and God becomes our refuge (2).

 

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With him there’s no such thing as ordinary living. He offers a God-enhanced, abundant life of joy in blessing, comfort in sorrow, sufficiency in trouble, and more (3).

New perspectives open up to us as we sit in quiet contemplation with our Heavenly Father, perspectives such as: contentment is a matter of choice not circumstances; my identity, security and purpose are not the result of events or effort; they are the result of who I am—a beloved child of God; God-thoughts change the atmosphere of my spirit (4).

 

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Tree houses offer much; God offers much more. Best of all, he’s not limited to a small structure perched among the trees.

The high life with God is always available.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Thank you, God of the universe, for the incredible privilege of an intimate relationship with you. Anytime, anywhere, I can turn to you and breathe in your peace, admire the view of your glorious attributes, and experience rejuvenation of my spirit. I praise you, O Most High, for the restful shelter you provide. You are my refuge and fortress in whom I trust (Psalm 91:1-2).

 

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What benefits of the high life with God do you especially appreciate? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18
  2. Psalm 23:4; James 4:8; Isaiah 26:3; Proverbs 18:10
  3. John 10:10; John 16:24; Psalm 147:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9
  4. Philippians  4:11-13; Ephesians 4:24; Psalm 16:8

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.fellowshipsite.org.

 

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(A conversation between God and me)

 

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GOD: In quietness and trust is your strength.* 

Me: Wait a minute, Lord. I don’t understand. Quietness and trust result in strength?  How can such static activities result in power?

GOD: Let’s analyze the key words of that statement I first spoke to Isaiah.

Quietness is the atmosphere within a tranquil, peaceful spirit where agitation and turmoil are not allowed access.

Me: How do I keep out agitation and turmoil, God?

GOD: Keep your spirit filled to the brim with other thoughts: 1) praise and gratitude, 2) scripture truth and promises, 3) memories of how I’ve guided you and provided for you in the past, and, of course, 4) prayer (Philippians 4:4-8, Psalm 119:15-16; Psalm 105:5a).

You can even thank me for the circumstances that are threatening your peace right now, because they are turning you towards me and accomplishing my purpose (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When your spirit is filled with these things, there will be no room for agitation or turmoil.

Me: I know you’re right, Father. But sometimes it’s so hard to stay focused on the positive while negative thoughts shout at me.

GOD: I know, Child.  Be mindful that many people of faith before you have fought the same fight. Remember King Jehoshophat? He and the people of Israel faced war with strong neighboring tribes. And in his prayer for deliverance, Jehoshophat said: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Me: What did King Jehoshophat mean when he said, “Our eyes are upon you?”

GOD: That’s a word picture for trust. He and the people of Israel were not looking to their own tactics or their own power to overcome. They looked to me—the Omniscient One—for wisdom on how to proceed. They looked for me—the All-Powerful One—to intercede on their behalf.

Trust is total confidence in the integrity, ability and good character of another. I am your most trustworthy Ally, just as I was for King Jehoshophat. No matter what uncertainty you may face, I am with you, working for you and enabling you to cope.

Keep your attention focused on me, not your circumstances, by:

  • Affirming my attributes—attributes like sovereignty, omnipotence, grace, and perfect love,
  • Naming your blessings—including those occasions when I’ve interceded for you and bestowed gifts you didn’t even ask for, and
  • Remembering how I’ve guided you, especially when you weren’t aware until hindsight gave you a clearer view.

Did you notice? The same strategies that quiet your spirit also expand your trust.

Me: Yes, I see how serenity and trust are intertwined. As I quiet my spirit, trust has an opportunity to develop. As trust flourishes, my spirit grows all the more tranquil.   But how do these two qualities of quietness and trust result in strength?

GOD: Strength of spirit includes power to endure stress and resist attack. It is developed by: persevering with calm patience, looking forward with expectant hope, affirming what you know in order to withstand doubt and worry, and declaring trust in spite of circumstances.

My desire is for you to become like the eagle, allowing the winds of storm to lift you higher on the wind of my Spirit (Isaiah 40:31).

 

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Me: I praise you, Oh God, for your ability to take the storms of life and use them to develop my strength. Remind me to choose quiet rest in your loving care and confident trust in your powerful competence. “In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:12).  Hallelujah!

 

*Isaiah 30:15 NIV

 

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.christianquotes.info.

 

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She was more animal than human – grabbing food and stuffing her mouth, communicating with grunts, and reacting wildly to anything that did not suit her.

A teacher was hired to train the totally undisciplined six-year old, and make her into a mannerly, well-behaved child. To complicate matters, the child could neither hear nor see, the result of a high fever when she was a toddler. You’ve no doubt guessed her identity–Helen Keller, and the teacher’s–Anne Sullivan.

 

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You’ll remember that little Helen was not only wild but willful, too. She balked ferociously at the changes Miss Sullivan tried to initiate, attacking with fists and feet, tearing at clothing, and biting. No one would have blamed Anne if she had given up.

But the young teacher was even more determined than Helen. She would reach beyond the barriers of deafness and blindness. So the two of them moved into a nearby cottage where Anne offered constant support and instruction. With patience and tremendous perseverance, she tended to Helen.

You know the outcome. Helen was transformed into a cultured intellectual, who graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, and went on to become an author, an advocate for the handicapped, and even a lecturer. In addition, Helen and Anne became lifelong friends and constant companions.

 

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Their inspiring story illustrates several ways in which our lifelong Friend and constant Companion, Jesus, transforms our lives:

1. Just as Helen discovered life was a much more positive experience when she submitted to the mores of civilization, we too experience a more positive life when we accept God’s ways and purposes rather than insist on our own (John 10:10).

2. Anne took up residence with Helen, ready and willing to transform the girl into a glorious new version of herself. Jesus has taken up residence in our spirits (John 15:5). He, too, is ready and willing to transform us–“into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

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3. Helen balked at change, unwilling to give up her way of life—unsatisfactory as it was. Little did she know what Anne had to offer. I, too, am slow to learn that “when God empties our lives of a treasured love, it is to fill them more completely with the greater treasure of himself” – Herbert Lockyer (1).

4. The relationship between student and teacher developed into a deep friendship as Helen grew up. She said of her beloved teacher, the day Anne Sullivan arrived at her home was “the most important day I remember in all my life.” Those of us who know Jesus as Friend would say the same of the day he came to live within our spirits (2 Corinthians 5:17).

5. As a result of Anne Sullivan’s instruction, support, and perseverance, Helen exchanged:

  • Constant uncertainty for confidence
  • Helplessness for achievement
  • Ignorance for knowledge

Jesus does the same and more. Because he dwells within us, we can exchange:

  • Our uncertainty for his wisdom—James 1:5
  • Our frailties for his strength—2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  • Our puny efforts for his ability to accomplish the impossible—Luke 18:27
  • ALL our inadequacies for ALL the fullness of God—Ephesians 3:19 (2)

 

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *

 

I praise you, Lord Jesus, that the moment I invited you into my life, you began your transforming work—teaching, guiding, supporting, and encouraging. You have granted me newness of life! I am not a condemned sinner; I am a saint! I am no longer bound to the sinful nature; I am a brand new creature in you! I am not a reject; I am a beloved child of the King of the universe! Thank you, oh God, for these glorious realities.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain!”  But I am greatly relieved and overjoyed that it’s all true.

(Romans 6:6; 6:4, 8:1; Ephesians 2:18-20; Romans 8:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:26; Psalm 139:6)

 

Notes:

(1) Seasons of the Lord, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 15.

(2) Henry Blackaby, http://www.preceptaustin.org, Experiencing God Day by Day, “An Exchanged Life.”

 

Photos and art credits:  www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest.com (3).

 

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Live fully * Love Bravely

Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Healthy Spirituality

Nurturing Hearts Closer to God

Just Wondering

Impressions Becoming Expressions

Jody Lee Collins

Impressions Becoming Expressions

(in)courage

Impressions Becoming Expressions