Beyond the Garden

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A garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a symphony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

“The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have permitted perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, clean air of a garden grove. By law He should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead He was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified Him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

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.

This Man

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Beards jutting, black robes rustling, the assembly of Jewish elders stared with contempt at the prisoner before them. They saw a man swaying with exhaustion, dark bruises swelling, blood dripping from ragged wounds. Enraged before the Roman governor, they cried, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king!” How could such a miserable piece of humanity claim equality with God? Standing before them in humiliation, he incensed them to anger tinged with apprehension. He moved the hearts of the people; their presence only fostered fear. If they were to retain their power, this man must die.

Pilate, the Roman governor, thought he had side-stepped the troubling issue of what to do with the Galilean, charged with sedition by the Jewish elders. Learning that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who sent him back, his wounded frame mockingly draped in a rich robe. Even in disgrace the prisoner imbued the robe with an air of dignity. Pilate recalled his earlier sardonic question to Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He hadn’t expected him to answer affirmatively. Regardless of the forceful entreaty of the elders, he could find nothing in the prisoner to substantiate the charges they brought against him. To appease the mob, he offered to punish then release him, but they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate washed his hands of the distasteful business and granted their demand, though he could find no basis for a charge against this man.

The thief knew he deserved death by crucifixion, though he fought against dying without hope. Through a veil of blood and pain he watched the face of the man on the cross beside him soften with compassion as he murmured something about forgiveness towards the mocking crowd. He and the other thief were ignored in the spectacle directed at the middle cross. People jeered and soldiers ridiculed the man they mockingly called “the king of the Jews”. The other criminal hurled insults, demanding that if he were the Christ he should save himself and them. The thief found himself rebuking him.“Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Hope flared within the thief, sparked by the innocence of the man beside him. He believed he was who he claimed to be…the Christ, the Son of the living God, assuring him in truth, today he would be with him in paradise.

In the throes of death, the man on the middle cross held the attention of the Roman centurion. Gambling for clothes at the foot of the cross did not interest him. Just hours before as the last nail was pounded through this prisoner’s feet, darkness laid eerie claim to midday light. Then someone reported that the veil in the Jewish temple was ripped apart. Somehow the centurion knew these mysterious events were connected to the man on the cross. Suddenly the crucified man cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he breathed his last. The very one who wielded the hammer, fixing the prisoner to the cross, now declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

(based on Luke 23)

© 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.

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.

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.