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)

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A Long Obedience

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Evangelist Billy Graham died today. (Feb. 21, 2018) Not only did he live a long life of 99 years, more significantly, he walked out a long obedience to his God. As a young man attending a Florida Bible school, he was still not convinced he should be a preacher, until one sleepless night as he rambled the greens of a nearby golf course.
“I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the eighteenth hole,” he remembered.
“All right, Lord. If You want me, You’ve got me.”

From that point of obedience to God’s call on his life, Billy Graham went on to become the most well-known evangelist of this century, preaching the gospel live to over 210 million people worldwide. Only God knows how many souls have been saved because Billy obeyed His call.

From the above quote, it is obvious Billy obeyed God only after a personal struggle. He was no different than the rest of us, valuing our individualism to the point of becoming put off by following someone else, even God. Rules given to establish someone’s control naturally invite rebellion. But we often forget that God does not need to prove His control. He is sovereign God, after all. Out of love, He has given us a choice to obey His commandments or not, and when we realize He means them for our own good, we will want to obey because we trust Him.

Billy Graham obeyed God’s individual call on his life to be an evangelist, but before he did so, he was learning how to walk in obedience to what Jesus Christ desires to see in all His followers.

“I am asking you to live by the command that we love one another. I am not writing to you some new commandment; it’s one we received in the beginning from our Lord. Love is defined by our obedience to His commands. This is the same command you have known about from the beginning; you must live by it.” (2 John 5-6 The Voice)

The evangelist’s lifetime of obedience was deeply rooted in his love for God and thus a desire to live out his Savior’s commandment to love one another. He best did this by fulfilling God’s calling on his life to proclaim the gospel to as many people as he could.

God has called each of us to a long obedience, not only in walking out His commandments in our daily lives but in obediently responding with purposeful action to the individual calling He has placed in our hearts. We are each part of the body of Christ, uniquely gifted and called to be His representatives on earth. Our love for Christ and each other is defined by our obedience to His commands. Whether we obey the call to be an evangelist proclaiming the gospel worldwide, or the call to be a home-schooling mother, or the call to serve the needy in a third world country, God will honor a long obedience.

“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Submerged

 

Beneath the sea there is a rock, created when darkness was over the surface of the deep. Myriads of sea plants and creatures have touched the surface of the rock over the eons but never changed it. Currents have swirled, earthquakes trembled, yet the rock endures, immovable.

When calm weather smooths the sea far above, sometimes shafts of sunlight reach down to illumine its craggy face. Darting fish shadows dance across it, sea grasses stroke green fingers along its stony skin, and it remains constant. Just as it does when storms lash the sea with wild winds and rain. Thunder claps, subdued beneath the surface, are more felt than heard within the chaotic churn of the sea. Surging currents sweep loosened debris and marine life helplessly along, reducing visibility to green murkiness. The rock is a shadowy, immutable presence in the middle of the turmoil.

The love of God is a rock submerged beneath the ever-changing currents of our lives. No matter what may be occurring on the surface, God’s unfailing love remains a steadfast foundation beneath all that tosses us about. Does this bring you deep comfort, as it does me?

Years ago when my life was a storm of hardships, this image of a rock beneath the surface of the sea came to me as a gift, I believe, from God. Knowing my love of the sea, He placed this picture in my mind of His unchanging love for me. I remember as a child ducking under the sparkling waves at the ocean’s edge. It was a different world beneath the surface, where gravity was suspended and sounds muted. Grasping the rocks on the bottom to keep myself from popping to the surface, I opened my eyes in the green, opaque beauty of the undersea world. I couldn’t see the rocks before diving but I knew they were there, just as later I knew without a doubt that God’s absolute love was the rock beneath my unsettled world, even when my troubled spirit could not sense Him.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” ( Isaiah 26:4 NIV)

The world tends to portray love as a soft, often fickle emotion, capable of inspiring great passion that can soon fade. It cannot compare to God’s enduring love demonstrated ultimately in the giving of His Son. Jesus Christ willingly took the plunge from His home in heaven, submerging Himself in our sinful world yet never sinning so He could offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for us. He is the bedrock of our living faith and the perfect expression of God’s love.

“As you come to Him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”
(1 Peter 2:4-5)

Hand in Glove

 

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His old leather gloves are worn and soft, wrinkled across the knuckles, cracked in the palms, permanently formed in the shape of his hands. If they were used for a plaster mold, the result would be an accurate cast of my husband’s hands. Clad in these gloves, his strong hands have dug gardens, shoveled snow, repaired cars, hung Christmas lights, even gently cradled newborn grandbabies in their broad, warm palms. Muscles, bone and sinew working together to perform specific tasks have given these gloves their unique shape. But when they are laid aside on the shelf, no matter how much they resemble my husband’s hands, they are powerless. Only his hands within them bring warmth to cold leather and strength to hollow fingers.

When I feel weak and empty I sometimes see myself as a laid aside glove. My spiritual form is made in the image of God. Like a glove, the shape of my soul is contoured by the life of Christ within it. But when I have in some way blocked His life-giving power from filling out the contours of my soul, then I am weak and ineffectual. Not that I have been discarded. That is not possible, for He promised, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28 NIV)

The truth is, I don’t always allow Christ’s indwelling Spirit liberty to expend the power He desires to work out in my life. Sometimes my passion for Him wanes, my eyes stray from His face, I become distracted by my own desires and self-preoccupation, worried and burdened by the temporal. And my soul begins to slowly deflate like a balloon losing air, or an unworn glove.

When this is happening, it takes me a while to catch on. I begin to notice my spiritual energy leaking away and I am less effectual within my own faith life and in the lives of those around me. So I know I need to draw near again. Set aside the tasks of the day and spend some time nourishing my soul in the Word of God, listening to His heart in prayer and meditating on His love and goodness. Gradually the fingers of my glove tingle with returning strength. Not my own but the strength of God’s power vitalizing my grip, working through me to accomplish those things He desires me to do which I cannot do on my own.

“For it is not your strength, but it is God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work, strengthening, energizing and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13 AMP)

It takes some time for a new pair of gloves to take on the shape of the hands they belong to. Fingers are stiff and tasks done clumsily, yet with use the leather gradually forms to the hand’s unique shape. I want my soul to be well-used, sculpted in the shape of my Saviour whose Spirit fills me from within to work out His purposes. It is a unique, miraculous partnership, hand in glove.

Soaring into the Light

Canada Geese Flying at Sunrise

After days of glowering clouds and rain, the sun finally breaks through, beaming on the wet upturned face of a grateful world. I drive to work beside the crescent lake where hundreds of Canada geese find sanctuary before their winter journey south. I love this stretch of road with water, trees and sky offering a new vista each time I pass by, especially when the geese are in residence. Night shadows linger over their sleepy forms floating on the lake this almost winter morning. Then with a flurry of wings on water, an arrow of geese arises, angling sharply skyward. Reaching the treetops, they break through gloom, their dusky forms instantly aglow with golden morning sunlight. Gilded wings flashing rhythmically, graceful necks outstretched, they form a phalanx across the blue-washed sky, and I am smitten.

I remember how that felt for me, flying out of the shadows into light. Set free to soar, breaking loose from a mud-mired existence up into the stratosphere of God’s love. I relive that burst into freedom in the moment by the lake and my heart sings with joy all over. It lingers with me as I go about my work tasks, until I take time to read a passage in a translation of the bible which speaks to my heart.

“Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God. This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator; His speech shaped the entire cosmos. Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him. His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light — a light that thrives in the depths of darkness, blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched.”
~ John 1:1-5 The Voice

“His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light.” I read this several times with the fresh image in my mind of birds in flight aflame in morning sunglow. God gives me these epiphanous moments as gifts drawing me back to Him. I have been walking in His love for a long time, so He well knows I need an occasional jolt with a glimpse of His glory. The living, breathing light He has imbued in all He has made speaks to me of His light gifted to me the moment I first knew Him as my savior. Not only a lessening of darkness in my spirit but a lightening of the burden of sin He lifted from me.

Is it any wonder Christ is so often described as light? He has made us to respond to light, to thrive on light, to require light as much as we need air. How much brighter His light shines when compared to the darkness of this sin-soaked world. He Himself said, “I am the light that shines through the cosmos; if you walk with Me, you will thrive in the nourishing light that gives light and will not know darkness.” ~ John 8:12

With His light I can find my way. He reveals all that I need to see to make it in this life. It could be that the geese took flight this morning because they were in search of food, but I like to think they were soaring into the light because it drew them upward. I too want to continually soar aloft where His living, breathing light cannot be quenched, where His love is the self-perpetuating glow warming all the world.

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.

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.