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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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)

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.

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.

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.