Between His Shoulders

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Atop my bookshelf stands a small wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd, with a staff in his hand and a lamb across his shoulders. It is primitive and roughly carved, yet I contemplate it often because I sometimes see myself as that lamb in need of care.

It is a reminder of the countless times Jesus has carried me when I’ve been too weak and wayward to take my next step, when He lifted me up and draped me across His shoulders, rescuing me from outer circumstances or inner failures I could not escape myself. More than that, it is a vivid picture of His love being a place of protection and rest.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deut. 33:12 NIV)
Before the patriarch Moses died, he pronounced this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin, along with blessings for the other tribes of Israel. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by the protection of shouldering hills. Benjamin is spoken of as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

This verse also reminds me of the shepherd, Jesus, portrayed often in the New Testament. In Luke 15 Jesus uses a parable about a lost sheep to convey the lengths He will go to seek a lost sinner. In the parable, when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” A lamb carried on the shoulders of a strong shepherd or God’s temple secure in the folds of shouldering hills; quite different perspectives, yet vividly depicting the protective, caring heart of the Good Shepherd of my soul.

Not only do I see myself, a child of God, secure and shielded on His shoulders, I also draw comfort from being “the beloved of the Lord” and “the one the Lord loves.” Like a warm blanket, these words wrap around my heart with the everlasting, perfect love only God can provide. What more selfless act of love is there than that of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf?  “I came to give life with joy and abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.” (John 10:10-11 The Voice)

There is a rest like no other found in the care of the Good Shepherd. The image of resting between His shoulders gives me such a sense of peace and safety. I can rest calmly there, even in the midst of trials and chaos, because I know what it is to experience that peace which passes all understanding, coming from His indwelling Holy Spirit. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes, “Our Shepherd knows best when He leads us through the dark valleys with Himself. He knows where we can find strength, and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.”

My rough little carving represents the safest, most loving place I can be, resting between the shoulders of the Shepherd of my soul.

Legacy of a Teacup

IMG_2404-001She cradles the delicate porcelain teacup in her hand before placing it on a saucer in the china cabinet. Someday my daughter will inherit this set of heirloom china, so I tell her the story of how it came to be in our family. The fine Austrian dinner set was purchased by her great-great grandparents in 1923 to make a favorable impression on a suitor who was courting their eldest daughter. Preston Sharpe married Mabel Stevenson, my great aunt. I remember the stately old house they lived in, with a formal garden lush with roses Preston cultivated himself. He named a soft pink hybrid after his Mabel, as it reminded him of the old-fashioned roses trailing across the china she treasured. This tale is recorded in my grandmother’s beautiful script on sepia-toned paper tucked inside the elegant teapot. Perhaps the true heirloom is this story, a branch of the tree which is our family, green with love, rooted in rich relationships, sending out shoots now blossoming in the lovely face of my daughter.

How do I craft an heirloom to pass on to my children and their children, a legacy fashioned from what I value the most? What comes to mind are not physical treasures but the treasures of my heart and spirit, pebbles of wisdom collected on my long walk with God. If I could package these treasures to give into their hands, I could breathe a sigh of relief when the transfer is made. But that is not how this particular legacy is handed down. No, it is lived out minute by minute, word by word, spun in multi-colored strands of dark and light, communicated with hands and tears and long talks into the night, recorded in letters and looks and words unspoken.

“I will teach you hidden lessons from our past — stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders.” (Psalm 78:2-4 NLT)

Trails of brokenness and hardship thread across my past like the cracks in a shattered teacup glued back together. These are a crucial part of my legacy because they tell how I learned of brokenness being the way to wholeness, weakness required to find strength and an empty heart leaving room for the fullness of God. I cannot imagine the grind and sweat of my battles to be for nothing. The cracks are not so much evidence of breakage but pathways carved out, leading to the truth. Most of all, I want to pour out the precious contents of this glued-together teacup. Christ glued me back together, healed and redeemed me, so I could be filled with the water of His Spirit — sweet, thirst-quenching love, overflowing like a reviving drink.

With every sip of tea from my heirloom china teacup, I remember the legacy of my ancestors. Theirs was not a perfect history but it is a part of my history and I am thankful for the good they left me. Author Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

May my legacy, dear ones to follow, be that you feel God’s love through me, poured out in a thousand different ways from this broken teacup.

 © 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.

Standing Stones

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I have come across them on an ocean shore, on top of a mountain, beside a river; a stack of uncut native stones balanced upon each other, often forming a manlike figure. They are called inuksuk, meaning “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. On a forbidding, often featureless northern landscape, these rough stone sculptures were a welcome sight for searching travelers. Originally used by the arctic dwelling Inuit for communication and survival, the inuksuk is a traditional monument, saying “someone was here” or “you are on the right path”.

An even earlier civilization used standing stones as monuments, not by their own decision but at the command of the Lord God. In Joshua 3, the Israelites came to the Jordan River where Joshua conveyed God’s instructions to the Levite priests carrying the ark of the covenant. They were to step into the water and lead the people to the other side. This was no meandering stream but a river at flood stage, swift and deep. Obediently they took their first step, then watched in wonder as the waters mounded high on either side of a dry path opening up across the riverbed. “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:17 NIV)

For the second time in their exodus from Egypt God had parted the waters miraculously before the Israelites. He wanted them to remember, so through their leader, Joshua, He instructed a man from each of the twelve tribes to carry a stone from the middle of the Jordan and set them up together as a monument. “Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always worship the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:21-24)

I have standing stones in my life. Not actual stones but figurative markers on my lifeline indicating where God has done mighty things. When I am asked, “What do these stones mean?“, I will speak about a barnacle-covered beach stone at the seaside bible camp where he made me His own. The place where tears wet a crumbling altar of broken vows and health is where everything was lost so I could come to know the Love I could not lose. I will gladly describe the obelisk pointing skyward where He knit my life back together in a new place, grounding me with love and purpose. Each beauty sketched in sky and landscape, creature and person, places a pebble in the monument of my worship of Christ who is worthy of all honor and adoration, the Living Stone.

“Come to Him — the living stone — who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed.” (1 Peter 2:4-5 The Voice)

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.

A Sense of Place

 

IMG_2005-001There is a phrase echoing around in my mind, easier to describe than to define. A sense of place.

It is warm golden pine needles carpeting the ground, spicing the air with each cushioned footstep; shafts of sunlight dropped down through tree columns, alive with dancing dust and insects; a rhythmic sound, swelling and receding, growing louder as the ocean’s edge comes into view; once beyond the trees, drawing in big breaths of salt-rich air, then kicking off my shoes and burying my toes in the sand, more fully alive here than anywhere else.

By the ocean is where I derive my strongest sense of place, a locale for joyful contemplation when all goes well and for comfort when solace is sought. I don’t live near it anymore but in some tender corner of my heart it will always draw me. I was happiest there as a child and dream of living near it again someday.

“Place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love,” writes author Randy Kilgore. “Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.”

Place, that idyllic memory evoked by emotions connected to it. For me it has become more a person than a physical setting. Yes, my heart responds to some places more than others, where special memories have their roots or beauty stirs me. At some point those places may be changed or even destroyed, but the Person who gives me the most secure, eternal sense of place will be forever present.

Jesus Christ said, “Abide in Me, and I will abide in you.” (John 15:4 NIV) What a strange concept that must have been to the disciples listening to Him. Abide? Live in? Take up residence in Jesus? When read in context of the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15, abiding in Jesus makes sense. He is our vine, our source of spiritual nourishment so we, the branch, can bear spiritual fruit. Important as spiritual fruit is, it is not the main reason for Jesus wanting us to abide in Him. His desire is for intimacy with His beloved child, a sense of connection only achieved by living as close to Him as possible. Abiding — when our inner spirit, the truest essence of who are, takes up residence in the heart of Jesus. It sounds a bit spooky, even supernatural. True spirituality is a mystery, but the practice of it is simple. Spend time with Jesus. Seek, long for, thirst after, engage, know, hear and respond to … Jesus. Find Him in His Word, talk to Him in prayer, listen for His voice in your spirit, live in Him.

The ocean shore gives me a sense of place because of significant personal epiphanies occurring there. But I have learned that my truest sense of place happens in my spiritual abode, the heart of Jesus, a place of love. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now abide in My love.” (John 15:9)

 

© 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.

 

 

Advent Week 4 – Enlightenment

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This last Sunday before Christmas, using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of devotionals, E for “enlightenment” reveals the coming of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. May His light shine into your heart this blessed season.

When I was tucked into bed as a child, I insisted my bedroom door be left open a precise amount; not too much or the hall light kept me awake, but just enough for a little comforting glow to shine in. Like most children, I was a bit afraid of the dark. Things which were familiar in the light became strange in the dark.

As a biblical metaphor for sin, darkness accurately represents aspects of a life lived outside of relationship with God. Darkness makes it difficult to find direction. It is a place of confusion where wrong seems right and up is down. Things are hidden in darkness; wrong and evil things. Death, the final darkness, severs every cherished bond.

How very like God to preface our coming salvation with a picture of light breaking into spiritual darkness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isa. 9:2 NIV)  This light would not just disperse the darkness; it would come in the form of a Person. When Isaiah foretold this light, he continued with a description of the long hoped for Messiah coming as a child born unto us, a son given. (Isa. 9:6) A Light was destined to break into the dark lives of sinful men, and it would appear as God in human flesh.

Not only was the promised Messiah portended as a light, His birth was pinpointed by a light. Wise men from far away saw an unusual star in the eastern night sky, which they understood to be a sign of a coming Jewish king. Informed by prophecy, they traveled to Bethlehem, where the light of this rare star shone over the place where the child was.“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matt. 2:10) Why? Because they understood the significance of the light and who it shone upon.

When the Light arrived as a human child, grew and became a man, He described Himself using the same figure of speech. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Such a grand claim can be irrefutably verified when our life is given over to Christ, for then we are delivered from the darkness of sin, given guidance to walk in this world well, and pointed to a new purpose. The light which came into the world now can shine from within us. “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)

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.
~ St. Thomas Aquinas ~