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.

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Seasons of the Spirit

Four Seasons

 

Winter is waiting on the doorstep with a foretaste of snow and clear, black nights in its breath. I can’t say I mind, for with it comes a sort of hibernation from the activity of fairer weather. Long evenings wrapped in the cocoon of a warm room with a cat on my lap and a book to ponder, I relish the repose of the winter season.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven,”  pens the writer of Ecclesiastes. (Ecc. 3:1 NKJV)   Then he lists what he sees as the cyclical events of human life set forth in the providence of God. Birth and death, planting and uprooting, speaking and silence, war and peace; all have an appointed time according to God’s purposes.     “And He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  (Ecc. 1:11)

If there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose, then my spiritual life has seasons as well. My relationship with God is shaped more like an ever-widening circle than a straight line. This infinite curve is never static; it undulates with the tides of growth and dormancy, mountaintop and valley, passion and complacency. I can not say I enjoy every spiritual season but I am beginning to understand that each one is useful and necessary, and that God has a purpose for it.

In my spiritual fall season I sense a need to prepare, to store up the things of God in my heart so I will be ready for whatever the future holds. As a farmer spends fall harvesting and storing his crops to prepare for winter, so God leads me to store up for myself treasures in heaven to strengthen me for the winters of my life. When I look back at difficulties I’ve experienced, I see that God always gave me a hunger to learn more and go deeper with Him in the time leading up to those difficulties. Fall can be cold and bleak but it does not need to be barren when God provides abundant harvest for the soul to store up.

The world appears inert in the deep cold of winter, when in fact it is dormant, in an inactive state in order to survive adverse environmental conditions. There is purpose in dormancy, even dormancy of the soul. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10) If all I know when my heart is cold is that God is God, then that is enough. I remember when I was in such deep distress all I was able to hang onto was that one truth, God is. Those two words kept me from the abyss. There is life in spiritual dormancy, deeply hidden, inactive, yet life all the same. When God breathes warmth back into that miniscule spark of life, the ice of winter begins to thaw.

The words spring and hope go naturally together in my mind. When spring stirs and stretches, my spirit rejoices in the resurgence of life which speaks of hope and continuation. Spiritual hope projects all the way to eternity, not as a possibility but as a surety, an anchor of my soul because God’s promise in Jesus Christ is not a maybe thing. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23) The hope contained in the prospect of eternal life with Christ, perfected in His presence, fills me with joy and energy, like a spring lamb bouncing around a grassy field. That kind of hope removes fear of death, opening up the endless possibilities of heaven. Although it is not always so, it should be spring in my spirit all the time.

I live in a fruitful farming area where summer reveals fertile land bursting with crops of vegetables and grain. I never tire of seeing the abundance of provision growing on the land. A spiritual season of fruitfulness can contain many aspects, like varied rows of vegetables in a garden. There is the personal fruit of intimacy with God, the fruit of selfless labor and sacrifice, the fruit of encouraging others in their spiritual walk, the fruit of sharing the truths of God with those who don’t know Him and the fruit of prayers offered up for those you love, to name a few. Spiritual fruitfulness depends on staying connected to Jesus. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4) I know I cannot be fruitful on my own, so sometimes my spiritual summer is short or yields little because I have drifted from the Vine.

Even when the spiritual season I am in is difficult I try to remember that God has a purpose for me being there, then I try to discover what that purpose is. The thing about spiritual seasons is that they always come around again, bringing more opportunities to discover the things God has made beautiful in His time.

 

© 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.

A Solitary Seed

amaryllis1-300I was given an amaryllis bulb as a gift one winter. When I planted and nurtured the bulb, it produced a long stem with four large, red, lily-like blooms at the top. I enjoyed the exotic flowers for several weeks before they died off. In order for the bulb to produce flowers again it needed to have a dormant period of several months in cool darkness without water. Having never grown an amaryllis before, I found myself checking the bulb as it rested, sure it must be dead. But when replanted and cared for, it grew and bloomed again even more beautifully.

Within the darkness of a garden tomb lay a Seed, fallen to the ground and dead, like a kernel of wheat. “I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.” (John 12:24 The Voice)

This Seed, called Jesus, endured vile abuse and death. His body was not dormant; not in some inactive state of reduced metabolic activity. He was actually dead. For three days His corpse lay cold in the darkness of the grave.

Then in the hidden depths, a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation from earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. Stale air was stirred with an intake of breath, the whisper of a burial shroud discarded on stone. The Seed, planted in death, was now unleashed to begin a great harvest.
“But God raised Jesus and unleashed Him from the agonizing birth pangs of death, for death could not possibly keep Jesus in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

Because of His resurgence after death, we too are given opportunity for new birth. But not without dormancy. First our spirit, that part made to be responsive to God, is dormant. Muffled in darkness, cold to His breath of life upon us, sin’s inertia keeps us stuck in the dirt. When a crack of light seeps into the darkness, we begin to rouse, to stir to the hardly believable possibility of life beyond this confining skin. The agony of cracking open the dry shell of our earthly existence is a small but necessary death. Offering the brittle roots of brokenness to God, we minutely share in His crucifixion. It is what is necessary to absorb the life of Jesus into our own, thereby living anew.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

Without dormancy, the amaryllis would not bloom again. Without the death of Jesus, suffered willingly so we might be restored to God, we would never bloom in new, eternal life with Him. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

 

 

 

 

Radiance

D J weddin 28The music of a gently flowing river gave ambiance to the wedding about to begin. My daughter walked gracefully down the grassy path toward the man she loved, her face radiant with joy. The beauty of her wedding finery came second to the happiness lighting her face. Later she told me how everything else faded when she began to walk towards her groom. The lovely outdoor setting, the wedding party, the people there to celebrate — she was aware of their presence but she only had eyes for the man she was about to marry. His love was the reason for her glowing countenance.

The face is a mirror of what the soul contains. If sadness has touched someone, the muscles of their face and expression in their eyes will reflect their pain. If laughter is ready to burst out, eyes sparkle and lips turn up. Some are better than others at masking what is really going on in their mind and heart, but usually some little clue in the face or body language will give them away.

Because God lives in me, I want His presence to be discernable in my face and demeanour. I can’t manufacture that; it happens when I keep my focus on Him, my heart open to what He has to say, and my spirit receptive to His love. Only then will I be one of those the psalmist describes. “Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5 NIV)

To be radiant means there is an inner light, an internal energy conveyed through facial expression. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29) Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountaintop in the presence of the Lord. His face radiated with this experience, so much so that he had to wear a veil over his face because the Israelites were afraid to come near him. What is interesting about this story is that Moses was not aware that his face was radiant. What mattered to him was the time he spent with the Lord, who would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. (Exodus 33:11)

An intimate relationship with God cannot help but be reflected outwardly. The more time I spend with Him, the more He permeates my life, the more of His glory will shine through without me even knowing it. And not just on my face, but radiate out from my life like the rays of the sun. I don’t want to be self-consciously checking to see if I’m showing forth God in a radiant way, I just want to be a channel for His glory to flow through me in all I do. Sometimes clouds of sin or selfishness will dim the radiance, but as long as I am seeking His face, He will shine again.

We have been given a perfect picture of God, in His son Jesus Christ. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) Jesus Christ illuminates His Father’s glory, becoming a spotlight revealing the immutable character of God. With Christ living in me, I pray some of His beautiful radiance will shine through my life, to light the way for others.

The Autumn Season

031Days are becoming shorter, the air cooler, and winter hovers around the corner. Skeins of geese stitch chevron patterns across the blue-washed sky, plaintive honks punctuating their flight. I survey the landscape glowing with a myriad of autumnal colors. In a palette of yellow, orange, russet and ruby, nature shouts a last hurrah before its winter sleep. In my back yard I rake up the fallen leaves, once fresh and green, now dry and brittle. Was it only a few months ago I watched them unfurl on the branch, verdant with spring sap and rustling softly in a warm breeze?

God speaks to me in the changing seasons. Spring heralds new life, summer sees its full blown maturity, fall prepares for rest, then winter sleep descends. I see my own life gradually moving from season to season, each one with its joys and heartaches, its accomplishments and respites. I am in the autumn season now, when the sap runs slower and I’m getting a bit brittle of bone, but I glory in the final burst of color before winter.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the source of all life; those who believe in Me will live even in death.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never truly die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25  The Voice)

I am like a tree awaiting winter when the coldness of death will overtake my body. Yet the seed of my soul will be ever green. Within these decaying limbs lives my risen Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, so I will never truly die. Do I believe this? Absolutely.

If all I had was a burst of color before death, I would be living without hope. But I do not, because I hold the promise of Jesus — ceaseless life with Him. Each passing year the autumn leaves whisper this assurance. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – (Col. 3:2-3)

In this season before winter, I want my earthly life to glow like the autumn leaves, heading toward dormancy only in body, but not in spirit. While in the prime of growth, leaves take in and store up nutrients to keep the tree alive through the winter. I am thankful for those things of God stored up within me, resting in the knowledge they will see me through the coming winter, and I will bud and leaf again in a heavenly climate.

“Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.” – (Joel 2:2)

The Treasure Flower

I have a treasure in my garden. Not jewels or gold coins, but a simple flower called a gazania, or treasure flower. The vivid colors of this South African plant bring a touch of the exotic to the garden, showing symmetrical daisy-like faces during the day, then modestly folding up when night comes. It has become my favourite annual to plant each year, not only because of its brilliant flowers, but because its common name reminds me of a spiritual treasure I’ve been given, of inestimable value.

“The God who spoke light into existence, saying, “Let light shine from the darkness,” is the very One who sets our hearts ablaze to shed light on the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7  (The Voice)

God’s glory in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. That is the treasure I’ve been given to carry around in this cracked pot made of earth and clay. Will I ever wrap my head around it? It leaves me dumb with wonder every time I think that God, revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, has chosen to take up residence in this lowly body.

In Jesus’ time, making pottery was a lucrative business as clay pots were the necessary vessels for everyday use. Rather than throw a cracked pot away after firing, a dishonest potter would fill the cracks with wax then cover them with paint or glaze. The way to check if a pot was sound was to hold the pot up to the sunlight, which would reveal any wax-filled cracks. Makers of fine pottery marked their goods with the Latin words “sine cera”, meaning “without wax”. Our English word “sincere” comes from this root, meaning genuine, honest, true.

When the cracked pot of my human life is held up to the Son shining from the darkness, His light streaming through the cracks will reveal my brokenness by the purity of His radiance. I am just the vessel, and a most imperfect one at that. My frailty will all the more show what a beautiful treasure I have been given, because any goodness or kindness or sincerity will be coming from His transcendent character.

My gazania flowers love the sun, opening their vibrant petals to soak in heat and light. They tolerate mild drought, require little tending and are known to attract butterflies. Whoever called them treasure flowers named them well because they offer a treasure of pleasure for so little care. I learn from them about soaking in the Son, absorbing the life He gives so I can give joy to others. I learn to not be demanding, but attractive in a way which will draw seekers to the beauty of  Jesus. I learn to close my spirit to protect it from the darkness, just as they close their petals at night.

This simple little flower teaches me I am abounding in spiritual riches because I know “…the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2: 2b-3 (NIV)

Beyond the Garden

Hatley gardensA garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a cacophony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

 “The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have allowed perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

 “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, sweet air of a garden grove. By law he should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead he was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it lies buried. Then a supernatural germination occurs; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life sheds the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

    “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)