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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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“Matt* and Loren* are coming to visit the weekend after next. Would you be able to join us for dinner that Saturday night?” I asked, Dave*, the worship leader of our church.

I had just arrived at ensemble practice.  Dave was already there organizing music.

“Yeah, I’ll come. It’ll be great to catch up with them.” Matt and Loren were mutual friends who had moved away.

“We’ll probably eat around six, but come early—say five? That’ll give us more time to chat,” I added.

Dave whipped a pen off the piano and wrote a note to himself—on his hand.

I had to smile. Dave was/is one of the most creative, musically talented young men I’ve ever met. Not only is he a concert-trained pianist, he’s a composer with a gift for turning artful melodies into worship.

But in those days, he would have been the first to tell you that keeping track of details or appointments was a challenge; thus the notes-on-the-hand habit. If the commitment was right there in front of him, he’d most likely remember to put it on his calendar later. The message wouldn’t be forgotten amidst all the ideas and musical themes racing through his head.

I know someone else who writes information on the palm of his hand. The information is your name and mine. The someone? Our Heavenly Father.

 

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(“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

–Isaiah 49:16 NIV)

Of course, this assurance was addressed to the people of Israel, but it’s applicable to each of us, because: 1) those of us who believe in Jesus have been adopted into Abraham’s family (Galatians 3:6-9), and 2) God does not lose sight of the individual within the multitude (Luke 3:3-7).

“God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.”

–St. Augustine

But don’t think of God’s love as perfunctory or pity-driven.

You are a treasure to your Heavenly Father—the delight of his heart (Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 149:4).

 

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You and I are constantly in his thoughts (Psalm 139 17-18).

And the imagery of our names engraved (cut, carved, or etched) on his palms brings to mind several important truths:

  1. God cannot and will not forget us or abandon us.
  1. His omniscient knowledge doesn’t just include our names, but also who we are—our personalities, dreams, circumstances, strengths and weaknesses—everything about us—is on his mind.
  1. Our images engraved on God’s palms represent an incredible role reversal. In ancient times, slaves bore the brand mark of their masters. But our Master has sacrificially submitted himself to inscribe our names on his palms.
  1. The image represents who we are becoming in God’s view, which is undoubtedly different from ours. “Reality is not what we see; reality is what God sees” (Biblical Illustrator). And that reality is perfection.

 

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(“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever

those who are being made holy.”

–Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

 

Of course, that one sacrifice was Jesus, who bled and died on a cross so we might be made right with God and receive the gift of eternal life.

As a result, Isaiah 49:16 (about our names written on God’s palms)  has taken on new meaning:

 

“See, I have engraved you—in blood—on the palms of my hands.”

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

I praise you, Heavenly Father, that it is totally impossible for you to forget your own.  How humbling to realize I am engraved on your hands—hands that withstood the nails for me. But gratitude alone is terribly insufficient.

I want your name, Lord, engraved on my palms, so I might become that perfected reality you already see.

 

*Names have been changed.

Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest.com (3)

 

 

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(Based on the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-24)

 

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Eliab plodded to the top of a familiar rise.  Just ahead he could see the flat rooftop of his ancestral home. Eliab’s heart began to drum in his ears, his face grew hot with shame, and sweat trickled down his back. Soon Eliab would face his father.

As he watched his feet take one step after another, thoughts circled around one question:

What would his father say?

Perhaps, “Get out of my sight! I no longer have two sons, only one.”

Perhaps, “Alright, Eliab, you may work in the fields and barn to pay back your debt. You may also sleep in the barn and take your meals with the other hired hands. Such flagrant waste of your inheritance must be recompensed.”

Eliab would soon know the response that would determine his fate.  He looked up once again to check his progress.  A man was running toward him down the road. What would cause him to be in such a hurry?

No sooner had the question formed in his mind than he recognized the bearing of the approaching figure. It was his father. Eliab’s knees grew weak, and not just from hunger. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, tears streaming down his face.

Quick steps approached; strong arms lifted Eliab up and grasped him in a tight embrace. He heard his father cry, “Oh, Eliab!” And together they wept.

 

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Moments passed and Eliab steeled himself for the speech he had prepared during his long journey.

“Father,” he choked, “I’ve sinned against God and I’ve sinned before you. I know I can no longer be considered your son, but…”

Eliab’s father wasn’t even listening. He turned to call out to his servants, “Get a clean set of clothes and new sandals. Bring the family signet ring. Then prepare the grain-fed heifer for roasting.   We are going to have the grandest celebration our village has ever seen! My son that was as good as dead to me is alive again!”

And with that, Eliab, caretaker of pigs, was lavishly honored because his father:

  • Forgave him for being so foolish, squandering his inheritance.
  • Restored his position in the family, symbolized by the specific request of shoes. (Family members wore shoes; slaves did not.)
  • Clothed him in fresh, clean robes.
  • Honored him with the signet ring, a symbol of authority.
  • Loved him, pure and simple.

 

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Now I’ve never been a caretaker of pigs. You probably haven’t been either. But I’ve certainly committed my own foolish acts of selfish rebellion. Maybe you have, too.

And yet, when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, he

  • Forgives our sins and remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Adopts us into his family, making us his children (John 1:12-13).
  • Clothes us in the righteousness of Jesus (Isaiah 61:10), and God sees us as if we had never sinned (Colossians 1:21-22).
  • Honors us (Psalm 91:15)—with his presence and countless gifts. Someday we’ll receive a crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).
  • Loves us, pure and simple, for now and always (Jeremiah 31:33).

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

How I thank you, Heavenly Father, for taking pity on me, as the father did in the story of the prodigal son.  You redeemed my life from the pig sty.  You forgive my sins–every one of them.  You have more than satisfied me with your goodness and faithful love.  Never do I want to lose the wonder of your love and grace!

(Psalm 103:1-5, 13)

Eliab means “to whom God is Father.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.childrenschapel.org; http://www.ncregister.som; http://www.susaneball.com; http://www.spiritualinspiration.tumblr.com.)

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Companies spend much time and money analyzing factors that grab our attention to their advertisements. They’ve discovered that certain colors, shapes, and layouts create impact upon buyers.

In fact, researchers have even determined the most powerful, persuasive words. They recommend  advertisers use these top ten:

  • You – you matter; you deserve the product
  • Free – after all, everyone likes a deal
  • Because – people need reasons why they should buy
  • Instantly – we care about immediate results
  • New – everyone appreciates an improved product
  • Save – people like a bargain
  • Proven – we appreciate research that backs up an advertiser’s claim
  • Love – taps into what’s important to us, like family, safety, and security
  • Discover – hints of a promise that we’ll be satisfied
  • Guarantee – removes the feeling of risk

As I read through this list it occurred to me all these words are part of the glorious message of Christmas:

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On that quiet night in sleepy Bethlehem, God sent his only Son into the world to be our Savior. Why? Because he loves us. Whoever believes on him will be saved from death and will receive the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16). That includes you!

 Oh, but there’s more. When we fuse ourselves to Jesus, we become brand new people (2 Corinthians 5:17).   Our outlook on life is revitalized; our values and motivations change. We instantly experience the peace of God and his joy (John 14:27 and 10:10). Each day is an opportunity to discover more of what it means to live a God-enhanced life.

And how do we know those statements are true? God’s Word is our guarantee that these blessings become ours through Jesus. The truth presented within its pages has been proven. 

  • Over 150 years of archaeological studies back up the accuracy of numerous facts in scripture. Not one discovery has uncovered an inaccuracy.
  • Dozens of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus. The mathematical laws of chance refute the possibility of coincidence.
  • Scientific and medical information in the Bible has been verified centuries later.*
  • Thousands of ancient manuscript fragments and letters (which include Bible quotes) corroborate the scriptures – many more than any other ancient text.
  • The influence of the Bible has been evident in the lives of individuals and upon the culture and history of the Western world. No other book has produced such impact.

There you have it. Ten words that researchers have found to be powerful and persuasive for selling products, or ten words that persuasively express the significance of Christmas and why it makes sense to embrace it.

The apostle John summarized the central truth of Christmas with these ten words:

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(“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14)

That is glorious, incredible news worth celebrating.

But Christmas isn’t just a happy one-day celebration, it’s meant to be a joyous, whole new way of living with Jesus — all year, every year.

Better yet?  A day is coming when the joy of Christmas will be purified, intensified and extended for all eternity–on the day when he comes again!

 

*For one small example, see “Pathfinder of the Seas” about Matthew Maury and his discoveries.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wordstream.com; http://www.beyondwaiting.com; http://www.outreach.com.)

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In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye

(Deuteronomy 32:10, italics added).

Notice the verbs: found, shielded, cared for, and guarded. Just as God watched over the Hebrew nation in the wilderness, God is surely watchful over each of us. See if these stories trigger memories of your own–when God found, shielded, cared for, and guarded you.

FOUND:

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned about Jesus before taking my first steps. At age four, after hearing the crucifixion story, I asked Jesus to be my Savior and constant Companion. Even as a preschooler, I understood my need for Someone to take the punishment I deserved for my naughtiness, so I could receive God’s gift of eternal life. If Jesus was willing to suffer and die in my place, how could I say, “no?”

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Praise God he seeks after lost sheep—even the little ones (Luke 15:4)!

Where did God find you?

 SHIELDED:

Numerous times over the years I have felt shielded from harm, including serious car accidents.

One time while approaching a stoplight, I hit a rain-slicked patch of city street, with cars in front of me and a bus to the right. My car began to slide and swerve; I started pumping the brakes. But there was no way to stop soon enough and avoid collision with the slowing line of vehicles ahead.

I took a chance and turned a bit to the right, hoping beyond hope there would be enough room for me to squeeze ahead of the bus, where the lane was open. Surely God intervened and created the needed space. (I think he also alerted the bus driver to apply his brakes and leave room for me!) My car did come to a safe stop, with room to spare.

God has shielded me in other important ways, too. He’s protected me from life-choices that would have led me down treacherous paths. He’s saved me from unhealthy relationships.

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Praise God he is our shield! We can trust in him, and receive the help we need (Psalm 28:7).

How has God shielded you?

CARED FOR:

I couldn’t find the dental insurance form I needed to drop off at Dr. H.’s office. Jeremy (our younger son and a middle schooler at the time) assisted me in a thorough search.  No form. While out on my walk, it suddenly occurred to me the form may have been gathered up with the newspaper. Sure enough, that’s where it was. Being Wednesday, those papers—and the dental form—should have been long gone in the recycling truck, but Jeremy was saving newsprint for his art teacher. God not only revealed to me the location of that form, but kept it safe, saving me the hassle of getting a new one and filling it all out again.

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Praise God for his loving attention, even in small matters like dental forms (1 Peter 5:7)!

How has God cared for you?

GUARDED:

One spring day in 1985, an elderly gentleman hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, at the stop sign on our corner. He drove his station wagon right through the garage wall. Several feet more to the right and he would have plowed into our daughter’s room, and she was playing there at the time. The driver was protected, too, sustaining only minor injuries.

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Praise God he guards us like an eagle, hovering over its young (Deuteronomy 32:11).

How has God guarded you?

THE APPLE OF HIS EYE:

The last phrase of Deuteronomy 32:10 explains why God is so attentive to his people. We are the apple of his eye. Some translations replace apple with pupil. God protects us as the pupil of his eye.

Just as our eyesight is precious to us, so we are precious to God.

As we’re careful to provide protective care for our eyes, shielding them from danger, for example, so God provides loving, protective care of us.

May we continually praise our God for all he is to us. First, he found us, and then became our attentive Shield, Provider, and Guard.

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(“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” — Psalm 92:4.)

 In the Comments below, please share your personal stories of how God found you, or how he has proved himself as your Shield, Provider, and Guard. Let’s celebrate together God’s powerful deeds on our behalf!

(Art and photo credits:  www.biblewalks.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.com; http://www.imagefriend.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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One of the “Letters to the Editor” in the most recent issue of Country Magazine caught my attention. The writer, James, related an event from his boyhood days on a farm in the 1940s.

Seems he had injured his hand quite severely one day while tightening a chain. But work on a farm doesn’t wait, especially during hay-baling season when the hay is ripe for harvesting. So in spite of his injury, James had to wear rough work gloves as he operated the wire baler. Every day for a week when he removed the gloves, the scab on his hand would come off and the wound would bleed profusely again.

On Sunday afternoon he plopped down on the living carpet to take a nap. His dog, Shadow, came to lie down beside him. But instead of settling in for a snooze himself, Shadow began to lick James’ wound. It actually felt good, James explains, so he let the dog continue.

The next morning James was astonished to see that his wound was completely healed. “It was as if the injury had never happened.”

Not until much later did James find out that a dog’s saliva contains healing properties. That’s why, when injured, they will lick their own wounds over and over.

I found James’ story particularly interesting because of a question that had been niggling in my mind this Easter season: Why did Jesus bear the scars of the crucifixion—in his hands, feet, and side–after the resurrection? It was certainly within God’s power to return Christ’s physical body to perfect wholeness, “as if the injuries had never happened.”

Come to find out, I’m not the first one to consider this question. As far back as the seventh century, Saint Bede of England (672-735, A.D.) wrote about the possibilities. Many others throughout the ages of the church have contemplated the reasons, including the following:

  1. The scars were proof to the disciples that he was the same person after resurrection as before. Had Jesus been completely restored, his followers may have assumed that their first inclination was correct: that what they saw was an apparition of Christ. After all, he appeared to them out of nowhere—an impossibility for a physical body.

But they not only saw him, Jesus invited them to touch him, so there could be no doubt (Luke 24:36-42).

  1. The scars were part of the proof of the prophecy that Jesus spoke of himself, that he would suffer, be killed, and rise again on the third day (Matthew 16:21). “This is what I told you,” Jesus reminded them (Luke 24:44).
  1. The scars provided evidence of Jesus’ physical body. Early in church history there were those who taught that Jesus didn’t really suffer on the cross. He was not truly human, therefore he only appeared to suffer.

They could not fathom the sinless Son of God submitting himself to such humiliation and horrific pain.   But dismissing the agony of Christ on the cross as well as the scars is incomprehensible.

Those three answers do quiet our curiosity, but what relevance might Jesus’ scars provide for us today?

  1. The scars prove that Jesus knows what it means to suffer. Crucifixion is the most cruel of death penalties, the worst that man can deliver. No one can say, “Jesus doesn’t know what I’m going through.” No, he is well-acquainted with grief. He knows what it’s like to bear scars of suffering.
  1. The scars prove God’s love and compassion. As the Son of God, he didn’t have to suffer on our behalf. Surely he could have devised a less abhorrent way. Instead, he identified himself with humanity by becoming human himself. He took our physical, emotional, and spiritual pain upon himself.   And he will wear the scars of suffering for eternity (Revelation 5:6).
  1. The scars remind us of what is to come. On Good Friday, Jesus body was beaten, bruised, and pierced. On Easter Sunday, those wounds became scars. A miraculous healing of gruesome wounds had occurred in a matter of hours.

One day a miraculous healing of our gruesome wounds will take place. Pain, suffering, loss, illness, and physical challenges will cease. Every negative aspect of life will melt away.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord Jesus, thank you, THANK YOU for carrying our pains, our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.  Thank you for taking the punishment we deserve and making us whole.  You are the one and only source of eternal salvation.  And only through your eternal bruises are we healed.  Out of overwhelming gratitude, we give ourselves to you.  We want to follow your example and please you.  Make us into what gives you pleasure.  

All glory to you, Jesus, forever and always!”  

 (Isaiah 53:4-6; Hebrews 5:9, 13:21, MSG)

Photo credits:  www.motherearthnews.com

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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