Overflowing

IMG_4106-001Before I stepped out of the car, I heard the deep-voiced roar of Elk Falls echoing up from the ravine below. I made my way carefully down a winding path, with the increasing thunder of the falls reverberating in my chest. The surrounding dense rain forest dripped with mist created by the swollen river cascading from it’s rock-strewn bed in a high free fall to the deep pool below. The constant overflow of glacial river water was mesmerizing, ever moving, a living force breathing mist and noise into the atmosphere like a prehistoric dragon. I thought about the thousands of years this particular flow of water had carved its way into the landscape, shaping the rocks and terrain bit by bit on its way to the sea.

God’s Word speaks often of abundance, generosity, and overflow, mostly in connection to the blessings of God to His children. His blessings run like a mighty river, cascading down in an overflowing stream of His good gifts and grace to undeserving mankind.
I have no problem imagining the never ending stream of God’s gifts because I know He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider, able to supply all I need and more. When I contemplate the abundance of God’s gifts to me, my heart spills over with gratitude.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”    (Col. 2:6-7 NIV)

I well remember the exhilaration of my early years of faith in Christ, yet they pale in comparison to the deep roots He has grown in me since, building and strengthening me on a firm foundation. Every trial He sees me through, every sure indication of His love and guidance, every reminder of how He cherishes me as His child, causes me to overflow with thanksgiving.

When I lived near Elk Falls, there were seasons when drought caused the falls to dwindle to a trickle. Spiritual drought has reduced my thanksgiving to a trickle at times, yet I recall that I am to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”(1Thess.5:18) Thanksgiving, even in difficult trials, has a burgeoning effect. The more  gratitude offered to a God who has limitless reasons to be thanked, the more thanksgiving overflows. And as words of thanks pour from a grateful heart, they carve the spiritual landscape of a person’s soul, forming a picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “The heart overflows in the words a person speaks; your words reveal what’s within your heart.” (Luke 6:45 The Voice) His words reveal a heart overflowing with love and compassion for those He came to save. I want my words to reveal an abundance of thanksgiving to Him, coming from a heart overflowing with devotion and gratitude for Who He is and all He has given.

(oil painting of Elk Falls by the author, Valerie Ronald)

 

Parenting Jesus

Jesus in the templeTheir eldest son had never given them a bit of trouble. Obedient, loving, respectful, they watched Jesus grow and became strong. His miraculous birth and identity never left Mary and Joseph’s thoughts, even as they raised him like any other Jewish boy. But their boy was different, filled with wisdom and with the grace of God upon him.

This year the family’s annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover held special significance as Jesus had reached twelve, the age when he could fully participate in the religious life of the synagogue. Up to this time he was under the tutelage of his parents concerning Jewish religious law, but now he was a bar mitzvah, a “son of the commandment,” on the brink of manhood.

After the Feast was over, they made ready, along with their large company, to travel home. Mary’s hands were full with packing and caring for her younger children so she assumed Jesus was among the company. She believed in his good judgement and had no reason to worry. Joseph came to the same conclusion, for he too implicitly trusted Jesus to behave responsibly.

“After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” (Luke 2:43 NIV) Jesus had stayed behind in the temple, a logical place for his parents to look for him when they were ready to depart. However, they did not come because it appears both thought him to be with the other. Once they realized Jesus was not with their company, they spent another day returning to Jerusalem to find him. Their conversation as they hurried along may have been somewhat accusatory of each other’s negligence or surprised at what appeared to be Jesus’ defiance of their authority. They may have momentarily forgotten that this was the Son of God they were looking for, but they soon were reminded when “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (vs. 46-47)

Mary’s anxiety came out in her reproving questions of Jesus’ perceived disregard for their concern. But his reply held no insolence, only genuine amazement that they did not know where to look for Him. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (vs. 49) In other words, ‘you shouldn’t have had to seek at all. For you know, don’t you, that there is within me an inner necessity to be about my Father’s business?’ This should have been an epiphanous moment for Mary and Joseph, when Jesus declares his unique sonship to God, which takes precedence over his closest earthly family ties. Yet the scriptures state they did not understand what he was saying to them.

In spite of who they knew him to be, he was still just their boy whom they had raised as best they could and who brought them much joy. Their lack of understanding might be attributed to their familiarity with this child they lived with daily, and perhaps a reluctance to acknowledge the beginning of his independence away from them toward his divine ministry and his true Father. Gifted with the singular privilege of parenting Jesus, his mother would come to treasure all these things she knew of him in her heart, (vs. 51) just as she did when he was born. She would do so for the rest of her life , until welcomed home to heaven by her son and Savior.

The Face of Christ

A short, roughly-cut black beard, olive brown skin weathered from spending most of his time outside in a warm middle eastern climate, a strong, straight nose and dark brown eyes. From what history tells us of the appearance of men during the time of Jesus, this is an approximate description of how He might have looked. Imagination might embellish with deep creases around His mouth from smiling, slight shadows above His cheekbones from a nomadic lifestyle short on sleep, and eyes like His Father’s, full of compassion and love.

This beloved face is described by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Christ’s birth, as “having no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isa. 53:2 NIV) He was an ordinary-looking man of His time, with no distinguishing physical features to set Him apart. Although prophesied as the Messiah, He wore none of the usual emblems of royalty, making His true identity visible only to the discerning eyes of faith.

Three of Jesus’ disciples saw His face in a new light when Christ revealed His glory to them. “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light.” (Matt. 17:2) Peter, James and John were privileged to see Christ in His glorified state, with the light of His holiness shining from His face.

As the time of His crucifixion approached, Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 NKJV), facing the completion of His earthly mission with determination, even as He knew the inevitable outcome. Isaiah records the prophecy that the Messiah’s face would resolutely be set like a flint (Isa.50:7) toward the suffering He must endure. Before the crucifixion, His captors spit upon, beat and disfigured His face until it was marred beyond human likeness (Isa.52:14) Those who once knew His familiar face no longer recognized it. Nor did they expect to see it again after His death, yet He was resurrected to life, whole and identifiable by the many people who encountered Him before He ascended to heaven.

The features of Jesus will not always be a mystery to us. Some day we will behold Him in heaven, where we will see His face clearly. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ( 1 Cor.13:12) In the meantime we have a purpose to fulfill, given to us when we first believed in Christ, our risen Savior. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6) We are to let this light shine from our own faces to a hurting world.

Do you want to see the face of Christ? Then look into the faces of those who love and serve Him here on earth, perhaps even your own face, and you will see the resemblance.

Loving By Faith

One of the most famous literary romances in history, between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, began without them ever having met in person. During the 20 months of their courtship, the couple exchanged nearly 600 letters. In his first letter to her, Robert Browning wrote Elizabeth, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett … the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought. In this addressing myself to you for the first time, my feelings rise altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart … and I love you too.”

How is it that love could bloom between Robert and Elizabeth, never having seen each other or spent time together? Theirs was a meeting of hearts and minds; a love fueled on paper with words written by two gifted poets. They learned to love by faith. Faith that the person expressing themselves in letters would be the same one they would someday meet face to face. They fell in love with the essence of each other, how they thought, felt, reacted and believed.

There is no physical description or image of what Jesus actually looked like. No one living today has seen Him in human form or heard Him speak, in reality. Yet millions of people love Him. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8-9 NIV)

Through His love letter, the Bible, Jesus has shown us His heart and His desire for us to be His beloved. This love letter is the vehicle used by the Holy Spirit through which we are drawn into relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. We love Him by faith in the truth of what is written. The truth running like a scarlet thread through the God-breathed Word, that God sent His beloved Son to earth as a man who lived a perfect life, suffered a sacrificial death, and rose from the grave to gift us with forgiveness, eternal life and a restored relationship with God. All because He loves us beyond what we can think or imagine. Therefore … “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 1:9)

Sight unseen, we love Him because His love has filled us with an inexpressible and glorious joy. To know that God loves us in spite of our inadequacies, our failures, our sinfulness, gives rise to a great response of love for Him. We cannot love like God does, but we can love those He loves. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”  (1 John 4:12)

And that is how we may see God, in the faces of those we love here on earth. Because loving God by faith opens our hands and hearts to show others His love, and so His love is made complete in us. Some day we will see Jesus face to face, when loving Him by faith will become a shining reality.

The Extravagance of God

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I am familiar with the scientific explanation of why the leaves of deciduous trees turn color in the fall. I know that chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color, breaks down in cooler temperatures, letting the colors of other pigments show through. But that is not my first thought when I gaze upon the flaming yellow and gold of the elm tree in my backyard. Like sparks from a fire, it drops bright leaves on the grass where they glow against the green, warming my heart. Rather than science, I think about the extravagance of God who delights in making beautiful the dying of a leaf.

His extravagance, His generosity, His abundance is revealed in all of nature, from the unending vastness of the universe to the complexity of a single cell. When I am delighted by what God has made, I think how much delight He has in making it. Holy joy is imprinted on every created thing, springing from His fingers in unending originality, beauty and grandeur. I do not think God creates as He does just for Himself. His nature is to give and give and give, so He does in all He has made.

In Psalm 145 David praises God’s bounteous nature and goodness. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. (vs.3) They will celebrate Your abundant goodness. (vs.7) The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. (vs.13) NIV

The extravagance of God revealed in creation is but a three dimensional picture of His boundless generosity of spirit toward me, His child. He created me in His likeness. (Gen.1:27) He crowned me with glory and honor. (Ps.8:5) He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ps.86:15) These are a few examples of the generosity of God in the Old Testament. The ancient books also foretell the coming of His greatest outpouring of love, a gift beyond anything we can think or imagine. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel, God with us.” (Is.7:14)

God’s unfettered love reveals itself most purely in the gift of His own son, Jesus Christ. Extravagance is often thought of in negative terms, but with God it is the sacrificial giving of Himself in the person of His Son, which portrays holy extravagance at its ultimate. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom.8:32)

Autumnal colors around my home are lavish, festooning the hills and fields with extravagant sweeps of gold and orange. I look up often to see skeins of Canada geese stitch V’s across a sky blanketed in blue. I choose to read this abundant beauty as one of God’s messages to me of His lavish, extravagant love. Nothing is wasted in His message, because the beauty of dying leaves symbolizes the potency of Christ’s sacrifice, a paradox of the purest love given in the most brutal death. In laying down His life He gave us forgiveness, mercy, grace, eternal life, adoption into His family, His Holy Spirit and unending love, to name only some of His gifts. It doesn’t get any more extravagant than that.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Turn Toward the Light

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As a relative newcomer to the Canadian prairies, I delight in the cheerful sight of a field of blooming sunflowers. Their sun-shaped, bright yellow heads raised in unison to the east always lift my heart with joy. It is a common misconception that all sunflowers follow the movement of the sun, however this is only true of young sunflowers not yet in bloom. At dawn the budding flowers face east and move west throughout the day in a rhythm synchronized by the sun, called “heliotropism”. When in full bloom the mature flowers continuously face east to draw the most warmth from sunlight.

The Heliotropic Effect is a recent hypothesis that suggests societies, cultures, organizations and individuals work towards the most positive images they hold of themselves. Like sunflowers, people are drawn toward the light of positive affirmation, encouragement and gratitude. This is thought to be a healthy mindset, however, the foundational basis of self-focus may lead to inflated egos, perfectionism and hypocrisy if not balanced.

In fact, this modern hypothesis has its roots deep in the truth of God’s Word, but with a significantly different focus. Followers of Jesus Christ desire to look toward the perfect Son of God, to derive their identity and purpose from His positive image, not their own.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Cor. 3:18 NIV )

A person with an unveiled face has no barriers between himself and God. His position before God is restored because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His own perfect life, taking the place of our imperfect lives. So without the veil of sin, in a right standing before God, we can reflect His glory by becoming more like Him as we soak in His life-giving Spirit. In His inspired Word, God reveals the image He wants us to emulate in the person of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is gradually transforming us to be more like Jesus. He instills in us the desire to look toward His Son as our model of a life pleasing to God.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is. (1 John 3:2 NLT)

The Heliotropic Effect hypothesis falls short because of its emphasis on self realization. Appreciative Inquiry founders, who coined the theory, say, “Like a plant that grows in the direction of a light source, individuals and groups strive to grow towards the positive image they hold.”  No matter how hard we strive, we cannot make ourselves perfect. But by turning our faces to the Son, like a sunflower, we are imbued with the gift of reflecting His perfect likeness to the world around us.

Bring the Boy to Me

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The desire of a parent to do whatever it takes to protect and care for their child is a primal one.