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)

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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.

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)

Advent Week 3 ~ V for Vessel

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Entering week 3 using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of devotionals, my prayer for each reader is for God to fashion you as well, into a willing vessel for His glory.

The seaside park blossoms with booths and tents showcasing the richly diverse talents of artisans and craftspeople. My favourites are the potter’s works; earthenware, stoneware, ceramics and porcelain made for beauty as well as functionality. I like to carefully handle the pieces that interest me, feeling where the potter pressed his thumb into the wet clay on a mug handle, or used her hands to narrow the neck of a vase formed on a potter’s wheel. Simply put, they make vessels, hollow containers for holding something but it is obvious that their creations are so much more.

In the nativity story, Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a human vessel to receive the Spirit of God. In His infinite, mysterious wisdom God chose this poor peasant girl to carry His beloved Son in her womb. She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV) It is a question pondered by many since. The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

What qualities did God look for in a human vessel for His Son? Did He lovingly hold His creation, Mary, in His hands, turning her this way and that, looking into her soul for those certain attributes only He knew would suit His purpose? What set her apart from all other young women of her time who could have borne the Son of God? I cannot fathom the answer to these questions but I can rest in the certainty that He chose the perfect vessel.

God chose a vessel, first of all, who was pure. In order for His Son to be born a sinless man, He could not be conceived in sin, but would be born of a virgin. As Isaiah prophesied centuries before, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us.” (Isa. 7:14b)

Mary was highly favored by God, according to the angel, so the purity He required in the mother of His holy Son was not only physical but spiritual. In her simple faith Mary exhibited qualities which pleased God, such as trust, faithfulness, humility and obedience. All these traits are evident in the telling of Mary’s story in the first chapter of Luke. Most noticeable is her unerring faith and willingness to believe that what the Lord had said to her would be accomplished. “ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

Not only was she a willing vessel to carry the Son of God, she also would have realized that judgement and condemnation would come with her role. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but they were not yet man and wife, so her pregnancy would bring with it shame and reproach from those who knew her. No one would believe in her purity, except Joseph, who had it revealed to him by an angel of the Lord. She graciously accepted the damage to her reputation for the singular privilege of bearing God’s Son.

A vessel is open at the top to receive the contents intended for it. I picture Mary’s spiritual posture as open, receptive to whatever her Lord would pour into her willing heart. I have much to learn from the mother of my Savior by her servant attitude and humility. The treasure of God’s Spirit is contained in this body of mine, this earthen vessel, so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from me. (2 Cor. 4:7) My supreme privilege is to be poured out for Him.

“By Virtue and Valour”

Navy Dad-001I can remember the smell of the Royal Canadian Navy ship on which my father sailed, a pungent blend of diesel fuel, marine paint and salty sea air. Once a year the crew’s families were invited on board for a tour. My brothers and I clambered on the large guns mounted on the fore and aft decks, never thinking about what they were for. HMCS Mackenzie was a destroyer escort class warship, commissioned to the Pacific fleet of the Canadian Navy after World War II. She carried impressive armament and electronic equipment, ready to defend Canada’s west coast against enemy attack. But she was never called to do so. She had an uneventful career, spending most of her time as a training ship or performing general duties, such as port visits and naval exercises.

Neither the Mackenzie nor my father ever saw active war duty, yet they were both vitally necessary to the safety of the country. My father is recognized as a veteran because of the risk he assumed by wearing the uniform of the Canadian Navy and pledging allegiance to protect his country. The ship’s motto, “by virtue and valour,” set the standard for what was expected of him if war should break out again. He was to be ready at all times.

As a Navy veteran, my father was honorably released from service upon retirement, but those who serve under the command of Christ will never be veterans until they reach heaven. God has equipped us with spiritual weapons to prepare us for the ongoing battle against spiritual forces of darkness.

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long.” – Eph. 6:10-18 The Message

Every weapon God has given us is battle-ready at all times, supernaturally created to vanquish the enemy of our souls. But we have a part in this battle too, which is to be prepared to put them to use. My father’s naval duties involved many days of battle exercises; “playing war”, as he called it, so in the event of a real conflict at sea, the crew would know what to do. The same is required in spiritual battle. Often in my own prayer time I pray through the passage above, figuratively donning the armor of God, preparing myself for whatever battle the day may hold. And I know without doubt there will be battles. But I also have an advantage which helps me when the combat heats up, and that is the knowledge of who wins. Before Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) His death and resurrection brought about victory over death, the weapon of the enemy. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57 NIV

I am thankful my father never had to engage in active battle during his naval career, but I am also proud that he would have done so readily if needed. He was trained, equipped, and fighting fit, ready to defend his country with his life. There is something for me to learn from him, about doing spiritual warfare “by virtue and valour”. It is by Christ’s virtue and Christ’s valour, not my own. I just need to be a willing volunteer.

© 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 Question of Love

IMG_1277“Why do you argue when all I want to do is bless you?”
The question dropped into my mind fully formed, almost audible. After years of struggling against a current of numerous personal crises, the tide had turned, bringing resolution and happier prospects. The let-up of relentless negative pressure felt strange, causing me to doubt the possibility of better days to come. So I argued with God.
Can this truly be your will? Do You actually want me to marry this man and start a whole new life or is it just my own desires taking over? Then He asked me the question which changed everything. I quit arguing and answered yes to His overflowing blessings.

The questions of God have a way of making those He asks look at their situation in a different way. God doesn’t pose questions to find out the answers. He is omniscient, all knowing, the One who looks into the heart and sees the end from the beginning. His questions are always succinct, probing and worded to challenge a present thought process.

The first question asked by God in His Word is still relevant to us now. Our reply to this question determines our present journey and our eventual destiny. Adam, a man previously free and unashamed before God, disobeys His command and goes into hiding. But God does not abandon Adam in his sin. He comes near, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, calling to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9 NIV) God knows exactly where Adam is, physically and spiritually, but He asks this rhetorical question because Adam needs to see himself where he is. God’s question makes him realize he is hiding in shame … trying to cover up his wrongdoing … avoiding God for fear of punishment … making excuses … passing blame. And man’s first conscious awareness of guilt is exposed in the revealing light of God’s query.

If He asked you the same question, how would you answer God? The answers could be numerous but there are only two that really count. If you answer, “I am far away from You, not even sure You exist,” then remember how God walked in the garden to draw near to a man whose sin distanced him from perfect love, and know He provides a way through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His son, Jesus, to bring you close. If you answer, “I am here, Lord, close to your side as your beloved child, but You know how easily I wander away,” then remember He will never leave you or forsake you. No matter how fickle your heart is or how easily your eyes stray from His face, He never loses sight of one He calls His own.

God asks questions to help us see ourselves in light of where we are in relation to Him. Self-examination can be painful but when done in the presence of God’s redeeming love, it reveals areas of our life needing a touch from Him. We don’t have to find the answers alone, for He walks with us through the process, providing guidance in His Word and by His Spirit. God already has an answer for His own question. He just wants you to search and find it for yourself.
“He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” ~ Mark 8:29

© 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.

Not-So-Fond Farewells

IMG_1739The quicker, the better is my motto when it comes to saying good-bye to someone I love for a long time. I dread the moment when I will have to release them from my arms and watch them walk away. It feels like a part of my heart is being torn out, leaving a big aching hollow. I am not so fond of farewells.

This summer has been one of good-byes. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved to Africa for 3 years with little prospect of trips back home. And after I said good-bye to my son when visiting him in a distant city, he sent me a note within the hour saying he missed me already. Every parting takes a piece of my too-tender heart with it which, I’ve come to realize, is the price for loving completely.

Of all the imperfections and missed marks in the world, this is the one I find the most arduous, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to say hello because I know a good-bye must follow. We say too many good-byes in this transient society where jobs require transfers to other cities, and rending divorces result in constant partings between parents and children.

The truth is, we were not designed for good-byes. In the perfection of this world before sin entered, God made man and woman in His own image. And God walked companionably with His creations in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 1 – 3) God’s original intention was for an everlasting relationship with man, no good-byes required. Don’t you think it wrenched His heart to send Adam and Eve out of the garden? To say good-bye to the creatures He designed for relationship with Himself? The sin which broke man’s connection with God continues to throw good-byes in our path, causing hearts to break a little with each one.

So I wonder, how do I navigate those good-byes? Do I withhold myself, protecting my heart from painful partings? Not possible. I love those I love without reservation, making vulnerability part of the package. So I’ve decided to live in the good of the moments I have with each one I love. Some moments may be longer and some shorter before parting but each one is precious in and of itself. After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days saying good-bye to His disciples because they were so slow to believe and understand what He had done. During that time He made special memories with them, walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, visiting them in the upper room, making them breakfast on the beach. The disciples would have those memories to warm their hearts when He was gone.

Good-byes are an infinitesimal portion of my time spent with those I love. I choose to make that time rich, full of love and laughter, shared experiences, long talks and lots of hugs. It will still be hard to say good-bye but only because our love for each other will have deepened in the time we are together. Good memories don’t need good-byes.

 

 

© 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.