This Man

IMG_1419-001

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.

Advertisements

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.

The Scent of Water

dead tree with green shootThe trunk is split and gray, dry as sun-bleached bones. Leafless branches stick their skeletal fingers in the air, some broken and hanging like fractured digits. It is obvious there is no life in this old tree spindly on the edge of a cabbage field. Yet it stands steadfast through the seasons, drawing my eye whenever I pass.

I feel a slight sadness when I drive by it in spring. While it’s fellow trees are flaunting fresh, green leaves, the dead tree remains bare. Until one day I notice something different where a section of its trunk has broken away and fallen. Slowing down, I see green shoots sprouting out of what looks like dead wood. Tears prickle behind my eyes and my heart swells with something like hope.

I am reminded of what Job said. Heavy-hearted under the hand of God, occasionally Job speaks a glimmer of hope into his melancholy musings. In chapter 14 his thoughts are on the brevity of man’s troubled days, numbered by God and soon over. Then ….
“At least there is hope for a tree. If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (Job 14:7-9 NIV)

I see this as a picture of Job’s deeply buried hope. “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble,” (Job 14:1) he states gloomily. Then he uses the image of a dead tree putting forth green shoots at the scent of water. This is such a vivid picture of growth sprouting from decay, hope from hopelessness, new life from death. And what calls forth this green shoot? The scent of water.

Can a tree detect the scent of water? It seems impossible if it is dead, yet somewhere deep inside its mouldering wood a dormant cell senses life-giving moisture then begins to multiply. Can a soul dead in sin conceive of a life beyond this present world? God planted eternity in the heart of man, imbued it with an awareness of life beyond this conscious one now lived. At the scent of water our heart is called. Drawn by the scent of living water welling up to eternal life, water which symbolizes the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:14 The Voice)

What is the scent of living water? It is the fresh fragrance of forgiveness by God, who alone is able to pardon your sins. It is the perfume of perfection emanating from the Savior who calls you to be perfect, as He is perfect. It is the incense of sacrifice rising from His life laid down for you, no greater demonstration of divine love existing.

I was once like that bone-gray dead tree on the edge of a field. No green shoots, no new leaves; no life within my spirit. But then the scent of living water drifted across my heart, drawing me to the One who satisfies all my longings, filling me with His love. I bud with vibrant spiritual life, putting forth shoots new and green. The scent of water is now the River of Life flowing strong.

 

A Rescuing Light

2007_0715BC0122The scent of sun-warmed pine and salt air streamed past me as I coasted on my bicycle down the winding hill to one of my favourite summer destinations. My friend and I planned to spend the day roaming around Fort Rodd Hill, an old coastal artillery fortress and Canadian national historic site near Victoria, BC. It was a child’s paradise, with tame deer feeding on its extensive grounds, underground tunnels, cement barracks, and guard towers to explore and pretend in. When it came time to eat our picnic lunch, we always headed down the sand spit to Fisgard Lighthouse.

The red brick house and tall white tower were built in 1860 by the British, before Vancouver Island was part of Canada. Fisgard was the first lighthouse built on the Canadian west coast, and still lights the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour, home of the Royal Canadian Navy base.

As a child, these dry facts meant little, but what did capture me was the romantic idea of living in a lighthouse. I could picture myself as the heroic lighthouse keeper climbing the spiral iron staircase to tend the lights on a stormy night, sending the bright beams flashing through the dark to guide a sea-tossed ship home to safe harbour. I imagined I heard the mournful two-note dirge of the foghorn as diaphanous fog smothered sea and shore in gray mist. The lighthouse was a beacon, offering rescue and safety to those in danger, and I was drawn to the high calling it represented.

A decade later, the storms of life were battering me so hard I almost foundered, but for the lighthouse of Jesus shining through the darkness. He shone the bright beam of His love over the wind-whipped waves of my difficult marriage, a sinking sense of identity and the daily struggle of raising three small children. His light illuminated the truth of who He is, the Son of God sent to rescue the perishing. How I needed rescuing!

In a storm there is much confusion. Forces stronger than yourself push and batter until any sense of direction is lost. It is hard to see and harder still to hold on. Fear and fatigue tempt you to slip beneath the waves. But then a light flashes out of the tumultuous darkness. The storm still rages but now there is hope in that strong beam of light, beckoning you to safety. The source of the light is a place of refuge and strength, of peace and security.

That is Jesus Christ to me. He is my lighthouse. He said in His Word, “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 NIV) And I can respond with all certainty, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)

His is a light that will never be extinguished, able to pierce through the darkness of sin and offer the stronghold of His love and forgiveness to everyone lost. “You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light.” (2 Sam. 22:29)

 

 

© 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.