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.

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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)

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 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.

 

Occupied With Gladness

IMG_0731-001My back yard is aglow with autumn leaves not yet fallen, the sun flaming their lemon yellows and pumpkin oranges with lively light. The garden is mostly put to bed for the year, with just a few carrots and potato hills to be dug. On my way to town I see wheat fields tilled and vegetable crops harvested. This season is a rewarding one for those who toil on the land.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “It is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” (Eccl. 5:18-20 NIV)

The writer, Solomon, believes this is the best strategy to handle the universal fact that all come into this world empty-handed, and leave it the same way; to enjoy this life in the here and now, occupied with gladness of heart. Nothing much has changed since the days of Solomon, has it? The world continues to pursue possessions and pleasures, living on the horizontal without much thought for eternity.

May I suggest it is possible to recognize both? God has bountifully heaped this earth with so much to occupy me with gladness of heart. He delights in giving His child good gifts. Every recognition of these gifts, giving rise to thanksgiving to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, takes me from the horizontal to the vertical, lifting my heart upward to Him. When I am occupied with gladness of heart, then I am occupied with God.

When every day offers abundant shining moments of God-awareness, this very earth pulls me heavenward to praise and thank Him. Sunshine on my face, love light in a dear one’s eyes, joy bouncing through a child, beauty in a single flower. For me there is an organic connection. The physical gifts of God instantly link my spirit to His because He sings in every one. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

From finite earth to infinite God, my thoughts soar to all He has gifted to me which cannot be perceived by the senses, but only by the spirit. These vast, indescribable gifts of forgiveness, mercy, redemption, reconciliation, eternal life and grace are realized in one Person, His son, Jesus Christ. To be occupied with Him gladdens my heart above all else.

  ~ But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~   1 Corinthians 15:57

 

© 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.