The Cross Around My Neck

IMG_2129In its little velvet box, the gold cross on a chain appeared small and fragile. But I saw a royal insignia, a medal to wear into the fray, the emblem of a conqueror. It took three months of minimal payments on layaway at the jewellery store before I owned it. Working part-time and on a limited budget, buying a gold necklace seemed extravagant, but I knew it as a necessity. You see, my life was a battlefield, with my marriage gasping out its last dying breaths and my family scattered and struggling. Yet in the midst of the smoke and ruin God showed up, like a bright flower blooming in devastation. I needed the cross necklace as a banner for going into battle.

Before this, God and I were old friends who had lost touch. I thought of Him with affection and respect, but not someone I talked to often. Then His Spirit began stirring up a hunger in my soul. Like a starving woman, I consumed the bread and wine of His Word, longing for more. His voice drew me into deep, prayerful conversations. I craved time with others who knew Him, whose encouragement fortified me for what was ahead. I knew that God was preparing me for combat.

So why wear a cross around my neck? Some saw it as an archaic icon of a gruesome form of public execution, even a talisman to ward off evil. To me it symbolized the One who died on such a cross with His arms spread wide in love and sacrifice. I had come to believe that Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gave His life willingly on that cross, was buried then rose from the grave to conquer death and sin, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him. I wore an empty cross, not one with Jesus still nailed to it, because I knew He was alive, just as I knew the battle I was facing would be fought in His strength.

“Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written on your heart.”
(Prov.3:3 The Voice)

When I stood before a courtroom judge to fight for an equitable end to a dead marriage, I wore the cross.
While toxic chemicals flowed into my body to fight a life-threatening disease, I wore the cross.
As I battled abandonment, poverty, loneliness and more, I wore the cross.

Every morning as I fastened the chain around my neck, I felt fortified. It was only a little piece of gold, but it gave me a focus, a touchstone to wear into the day, reminding me that I faced the challenges ahead in the strength of Jesus, who overcame death on the cross. He promised in His word, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

Jesus brought me through those long ago battles and for now the fields are green and peaceful. But I still wear the gold cross, although brutal in its origins, because it is the highest badge of honor displayed for the ultimate sacrifice given upon it by my Savior.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. But that’s not all. He disarmed those who once ruled over us — those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15)

 

©Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“By Virtue and Valour”

Navy Dad-001I can remember the smell of the Royal Canadian Navy ship on which my father sailed, a pungent blend of diesel fuel, marine paint and salty sea air. Once a year the crew’s families were invited on board for a tour. My brothers and I clambered on the large guns mounted on the fore and aft decks, never thinking about what they were for. HMCS Mackenzie was a destroyer escort class warship, commissioned to the Pacific fleet of the Canadian Navy after World War II. She carried impressive armament and electronic equipment, ready to defend Canada’s west coast against enemy attack. But she was never called to do so. She had an uneventful career, spending most of her time as a training ship or performing general duties, such as port visits and naval exercises.

Neither the Mackenzie nor my father ever saw active war duty, yet they were both vitally necessary to the safety of the country. My father is recognized as a veteran because of the risk he assumed by wearing the uniform of the Canadian Navy and pledging allegiance to protect his country. The ship’s motto, “by virtue and valour,” set the standard for what was expected of him if war should break out again. He was to be ready at all times.

As a Navy veteran, my father was honorably released from service upon retirement, but those who serve under the command of Christ will never be veterans until they reach heaven. God has equipped us with spiritual weapons to prepare us for the ongoing battle against spiritual forces of darkness.

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long.” – Eph. 6:10-18 The Message

Every weapon God has given us is battle-ready at all times, supernaturally created to vanquish the enemy of our souls. But we have a part in this battle too, which is to be prepared to put them to use. My father’s naval duties involved many days of battle exercises; “playing war”, as he called it, so in the event of a real conflict at sea, the crew would know what to do. The same is required in spiritual battle. Often in my own prayer time I pray through the passage above, figuratively donning the armor of God, preparing myself for whatever battle the day may hold. And I know without doubt there will be battles. But I also have an advantage which helps me when the combat heats up, and that is the knowledge of who wins. Before Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) His death and resurrection brought about victory over death, the weapon of the enemy. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57 NIV

I am thankful my father never had to engage in active battle during his naval career, but I am also proud that he would have done so readily if needed. He was trained, equipped, and fighting fit, ready to defend his country with his life. There is something for me to learn from him, about doing spiritual warfare “by virtue and valour”. It is by Christ’s virtue and Christ’s valour, not my own. I just need to be a willing volunteer.

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mercy Has a Name

IMG_1413Like beautiful music, the language of France lingers in my memory from my brief time spent there. My ears delighted in the lilting sound of Parisians conversing on their city streets. French is one of the Romance languages because of its Romanic origins, but its lyricism fits the modern meaning of romance just as well.

“Merci,” often concluded my transactions with shop owners or restaurant staff, so I found myself contemplating this French word for “thank you” and its similarity to our English word “mercy”. The origin of the French word merci is from the Latin mercedem, meaning reward, favour or mercy given to someone when sparing them, so the two words are related. Expressing thanks is common etiquette in today’s society, however, mercy is less often demonstrated. Mercy means to show compassion or forgiveness toward an offender, an enemy or someone within one’s power to punish or harm. Being shown mercy instead of deserved punishment logically gives rise to gratitude, thus the connection between thanksgiving and mercy.

In God’s upside down economy, I walk in the freedom of mercy because He withholds my punishment even when His holy justice demands it. I have lived long enough to know that every day I will struggle with my sin nature. I am not capable of living a sinless life and in His holiness God cannot look on my sin. This is where mercy comes in to bridge the gap. And mercy has a name. It is Jesus Christ.

“But God is so rich in mercy; He loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, He gave us back our lives again when He raised Christ from the dead — only by His undeserved favour have we ever been saved.” (Eph. 2:4-5 Living Bible)

By my own reckoning, I am not punished as I deserve, but by God’s grace I receive the salvation I do not merit. Mercy has a name because Jesus took my punishment for me on the cross. The Sinless One took sin upon Himself, thus satisfying God’s requirement for justice with His perfect sacrifice. Such magnitude of mercy lays me low before Him, speechless with inexpressible thankfulness.

Like stepping stones, God’s love leads to His mercy, which leads to my gratitude, which leads me to extend mercy to others. How can I not be merciful, in light of the great compassion and forgiveness shown to me? “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV)

In my own small way, I want to walk out thanksgiving to God on an everyday level by showing others common, and occasionally uncommon, mercies. When someone is rude or cruel, to see beneath to some hidden pain, and be merciful. When I grow impatient with the elderly woman shuffling through the grocery check-out, to remember God’s patience with me, and be merciful. When I want to close the door on all the needy crying out for help, offer what I have in my hand, and be merciful. This is my true and proper worship for such unmerited mercy.

Dieu merci. Thank you, God.

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Sword and a Saviour

Jesus_Heals_the_Ear_of_Malchus_001Malchus’ eyes stung in the smoky haze of many torches, and his ears rang with the clang of boots and weapons. He let himself be carried along by the crowd of soldiers and temple guards streaming through the gate into the olive garden. Leading the way was a man called Judas Iscariot, purported to be a follower of the revolutionary they were sent to find. Malchus’ master, the high priest, had ordered him to witness the arrest and make sure the prisoner was brought immediately to him.

Malchus expected armed resistance, or at least a search for the fugitive and his men. Instead he saw a man robed as a rabbi walking purposefully toward them out of the gloom. A few men followed him, some with swords at their sides. When Judas Iscariot approached the rabbi and kissed him on the cheek, Malchus heard the man say, “Friend, would you betray me with a kiss?” Judas then slunk back behind the crowd.

“Who is it you want?”, asked the rabbi.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” was the reply.

“I am he,” Jesus said. At those words the whole company of men stumbled backward and fell to the ground. Malchus felt as if a mighty hand had pushed him from his feet, where he lay for a moment in a daze. He expected the rabbi and his men to use the opportunity to run, but the question came again, “Who is it you want?”

Unnerved, his captors restated as they got to their feet, “It is Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

Looking into the resolute face of the rabbi, Malchus thought, “he is about to be arrested and yet he protects his men? What kind of man is this?”

The rabbi’s men drew closer, ready to defend their leader at a moment’s notice.

Malchus didn’t see it coming until it was too late. A sword flashed in torchlight, sudden, searing pain smote the right side of his head, then his hand come away holding the scrap of his ear drenched in blood. The soldiers around him bristled as Jesus commanded the man who attacked him, “Put away your sword! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Turning his powerful gaze on Malchus, the rabbi placed his hand over the streaming wound where his ear used to be. He felt a tingling warmth, then the cessation of pain. Never taking his eyes from Jesus, he tentatively raised his fingers to feel a whole, healthy ear attached to his head. His hand came away clean, no blood staining his palm. Before he could speak, the soldiers surged around him to grab the rabbi, bind him roughly and drag him out of the garden.

After the rabbi’s crucifixion and burial, Malchus heard rumors whispered around his master’s house, rumours that Jesus was not really dead, that his tomb was empty because he had come back to life and had been seen by many. These rumors caused his master, the high priest, many sleepless nights. But they were more than rumours to Malchus. They were confirmation of the truth that the healing touch he experienced in the olive garden belonged to none other than Jesus, the Messiah, now his Lord and Savior.

(based on John 18:1-11 NIV)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beckoned

2007_0715BC0111She stands on chubby feet, knees flexed, arms up for balance. For weeks she has been standing on her own, yet not quite ready to take an independent step. Across the room someone kneels to her level and beckons with arms held wide, calling her to come. She recognizes the person as someone who brings delight, someone safe and loving. With eyes focused on that familiar face, she takes her first wavering steps, forgetting herself for the joy of responding to the affectionate beckoning of her daddy.

I remember when Jesus first beckoned me. I always had a curiosity about Him. I even asked for a bible for my birthday, a strange request in our family. Then I was invited to a children’s camp where stories and songs were all about Jesus. There I saw His love reflected in the glad faces of people who talked about Him as a friend. They told me He could be my friend too; in fact, He would come and live in my heart if I asked Him. I discovered He was not a distant deity high up in heaven too holy to care about a shy, eleven year old girl. I may not have understood the verses in the bible that told me so, but I knew He actually wanted to be my friend. He beckoned me in ways I could not define at the time, but now I look back to see His hand offered, saying “Come!”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 30:3 NIV)

“Come!”, sang the beauty of sea, sky and earth; of stars and sun, color and music. His lavish creation beckoned me to Him, spelling out His love in a language my young heart instinctively knew. “Come!”, beckoned those who already knew Him, not so much with their words but with lives lived in joy and contentment not found in circumstances. “Come!”, was the wordless invitation pressed on my soft soul in nights of searching and wondering.

So I came in all sincerity, but I did not stay. The world lured me away. too fresh to faith to resist. Sometimes I would hear His voice in the distance, calling, but it was too daunting a task to untangle myself from the darkness. Until the time came when I stumbled beneath a load I could not carry myself, and He beckoned again. Then I saw His arms stretched wide on the wood, His hands held out with a warm red bloom in the palms. What kind of invitation was scribed in blood, what door flung open through the sacrifice of His flesh?

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Give ear and come to Me: hear Me, that your soul may live.” (Isa. 55:1, 3)

When I came this time, I came broken, sin sick, desperate for grace I knew I did not deserve. But this was an invitation freely given without condition but that my heart accept the hospitality of the Divine Host. In the grasp of His beckoning hand waited a life for my soul, not just here and now but forever.

Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me
and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come.                    ~Charlotte Elliot  1835~

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Living Loved

IMG_0567In a previous life I lived as a woman unloved. Having given my heart to a man who did not value it, I strove to shape myself into someone he might love. It was an impossible alteration. The more I tried, the more of myself I lost, until I became a shadow of little substance.

Then into that shadowed life stepped the Spirit of God, kindly and with infinite patience, wooing me with His unfailing love.

“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit —a wife who married young, only to be rejected,’ says your God. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. With everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:6-8 NIV)

Scraping my heart from beneath uncaring feet, I offered the pieces to God, doubting He would find anything worth patching. Having lived so long unloved, I believed the lie that I was of little value. But He who created my inmost being, who knit me together in my mother’s womb, loved me and valued me beyond measure. For a time I grieved the dead dream of being a cherished wife, then I gradually gave my heart over to its Maker. He stirred in me a hunger to know Him, to dwell in close communion with Him, to search out His truths for me.

“For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is His name.” (Isaiah 54:5)

Life around me was a maelstrom. Long neglected and abandoned, now I was the focus of a vindictive campaign to leave me broken and destitute. But internally I was living loved. God was my calm center in the eye of the storm. The more the tempest raged, the more I found peace and solace in that calm lap of love. How else could I have survived?

“ ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

Living loved is to touch bottom in the vast, unending pool of God’s care. Swim in it, float in it, be carried along in the current created by the beat of God’s great heart.

Living loved means though all sure things on earth are whipped out from underfoot, yet you stand firm on the only Rock which cannot be shaken, and you find peace.

Living loved gives a glimpse of yourself through God’s eyes, because His love comes without agendas or conditions or variances. It is a love to rest in.

Living loved sets the Cross at my back, the crux of history and of my own life, where Love stretched out His arms to die for me.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
(verse 3 of The Love of God by Fredrick M. Lehman)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Heart Revealed

o-OLD-COUPLE-HOLDING-HANDS-facebookHe holds her hand, stroking the wrinkled, fragile skin with his thumb. She does not respond but he lifts her hand to his lips for a kiss anyway. In this peaceful moment before she sleeps, he remembers how her eyes once danced and her voice had a laughing lilt. She called up love in him the moment he saw her. All he could think about was how to show her his heart. In those days it was easy, when blood ran high and a look contained a whole universe. Now his heart showed up in a plastic basin in which he washed her feet, and beat in the gentle rhythm of brushstrokes through her thin, white hair. She did not know him anymore but revealing his heart for her was as essential to him as breathing. When she opened her mouth like a bird to take the spoon he offered, with an uplift of lips almost laughing, he saw the girl he married and knew he would do it all over again.

I wonder, would God do it all over again? Would He bare His heart again— naked on a cross, to be spat upon and cursed at? For that is who Jesus Christ is —God’s heart revealed. Because the full extent of God’s heart of love was revealed in Jesus, who died once for all, there is no need for the cross again. Immanuel, “God with us”, came into this world as a newborn baby and grew to be a man who walked dusty roads, ate fish by an open fire, and laughed with His friends. Every moment of His earthly life He revealed the perfection of His Father to imperfect, sinful men. But the ultimate revelation of His heart of love came on the cross, where He willingly offered His hands to the nails, His side to the spear, as a sacrifice in place of the punishment we deserved.

We are the reason He did this, because He loved us too much to leave us without hope. “But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible way – the Anointed One died for us.”    ( Romans 5:8 The Voice)

There is vulnerability in a revealed heart; a possibility of having love spurned. Most human hearts know the pain of love rejected; how it wounds and hardens and is slow to love again. But what of God’s heart when He is rejected, as He was by His chosen people repeatedly? He never gave up because He knew the ultimate revelation of His heart would transcend all rejection with grace. “Grace means, first, love in exercise to those who are below the lover, or who deserve something else; stooping love that condescends and patient love that forgives.” – Alexander Maclaren

Though He knew what was coming, Jesus laid bare His heart, stooping to earth to walk, teach, show and live a perfect life, then to die at the hands of the creatures He created. But there is more! In His resurrection, Jesus reveals His deity, His eternality and His power to cleanse and redeem our hearts, giving us new life in Him.

Is it that in a willing, sacrificial act a true heart is revealed? A husband whose last days with his wife revolve around changing soiled bedding and looking into vacant eyes, loves no less because she cannot respond. Just as the heart of God was fully revealed through the offering of His Son, love given to the unlovely without expectation of return. It is called grace.

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.