Monthly Archives: January 2014

Longing for Spring

emeraldlake2By Judy Villanueva

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth;
 the time of singing has come…”

Our faces were turned toward the screen and our eyes squinted as we strained to decipher the image hidden within the black and white background. “Yes, there it is!” the doctor announced. Tears and joy filled the room! It had been six years of praying, hoping and disappointment. “Only one?” my friend asked. “What? Well, I only see one but let’s check again.” the doctor complied. “Here’s the one and let’s see…oh my, yes, there is another! You are having twins!” Springtime! Have you ever been with someone when their spring arrived? I was lucky enough to be in the room at the moment when my friend’s winter turned to spring in an instant. Warmth, color, sunshine and the sweet fragrance of life had blown in a new season and, from one moment to the next, it became spring!

As I write this, I am watching a winter storm blowing in and while it looks harmless enough, it is bitter cold outside and it won’t be long before all the land is covered in white. Before spring arrives, we must endure the quiet and cold of winter when life lies dormant and it can feel unending at times. What does it mean to wait with faith and how do we surrender to winter with hope? It blesses me how God made the seasons to reflect the rhythms we experience in life so that we’ll be helped to remember that after a long winter comes a warm and fruit-filled spring!

There is life buried beneath blankets of snow and resting in trees that appear dead, and we must hope while we wait for our springs to form.

I wonder if God doesn’t use winters to slow us down and help us long for Him. The truth is, we want the comforts of spring, but need the love of our Father and it is often during cold winters that we finally relent and reach for Him. God does not leave us without hope during long, cold seasons and, if we pay attention, we will hear the melody of spring even in the thick of winter.  Remaining open to God’s presence through His word,  people, beauty, and love is sustaining and helps us in our waiting.   Reach for God in the winter and listen for His songs that want to fill our hearts with hope and wrap us in His love.  Rest in His arms and trust that He watches over the seeds of life that wait to flourish in the spring.

“Father, help me to want You. I love springtime and I get impatient during long winters. Thank you for quieter and even, emptier seasons that help me to reach for You. Draw me into awareness in the winter of your springtime songs around me and help me to wait while my spring forms. Amen.”

What about you?

Are you in a season of winter, longing for spring?

What are the longings of your heart?

Are you able to reach for God?

Do you know that He is with you and longs to fill the empty places of your heart?

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Wanted!

IMG_2304By Judy Villanueva

Jeremiah 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love; 
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Isaiah 43:1 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

We belong to God! What could be more life-giving than knowing that we are loved with an everlasting Love? Sadly, in this world we do have trouble and when the pressure is on, we can lose hold of this beautiful truth. Disappointments, losses and hopes deferred can cause us to feel unloved and unwanted by God. If that is what you are feeling today or ever, then let it sound an alarm to your soul! It’s not true. Don’t believe it! Lean in and lean hard into the Father’s voice! It may not be easy, but do it because God is speaking, always speaking! “I want you….I always want you. I love you. You are mine.”

We, each one of us, were created to feel wanted and loved. I believe it crushes the heart of God when life in this fallen world causes us to forget, doubt, or worse, stop believing that we are named, redeemed…and His! It makes sense, I suppose, that this is where we are often disturbed and thrown off our feet, spiritually and emotionally. If we doubt that our lives matter…that God keeps track of our smiles and tears, then we may find ourselves tossed about by the wind and whim of circumstance.

Hearing God whisper “I want you” pierces our souls with light!  What else can compare?  It calms our fears, gives us courage, and becomes a place of residing joy within us.  Read what God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; 
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  We must hold these words close to our hearts as if we are pressing the truth of them into our very bodies and, should we ever feel shaken and unwanted, we need not fear.  Instead, we must remember that independent of our feelings, God remains faithful! He is with us and we are His!

“Father, how often I am fearful and forgetful that You are ever-faithful! I want You to be my place of residing joy and freedom. Thank you for Your unfailing love…and that You always want me. Help me daily to hear Your voice calling my name and leading me to Your heart. Amen.”

What about you?

Have you ever felt unwanted?

What gets in the way of believing that God wants you/loves you?

What helps you hear God’s voice of love?

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Holding Offenses

sunsetBy Judy Villanueva

Colossians 3:13
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

I’m sure you don’t want all of the details, so let’s just say that my husband and I saw a matter differently.  After much discussion and an agreed compromise, he moved the ping-pong table the minute my back was turned! Errrggh! It may sound silly, but the point is, it often doesn’t matter what the offense is, it’s the aftermath that tangles up our hearts! To continue the story, I was hurt and really just wanted to lick the wound! Not pretty, I know. My husband sort of apologized and I knew for sure he was sorry that I was upset, but I wasn’t convinced he was sorry for his actions. In my heart of hearts, I knew that what I wanted was groveling and utter sorrow, but instead I bought a log rocking chair…and it helped!

Nursing grudges. Holding offenses. Keeping a list of wrongs. Why do we feel we are owed a debt when we’ve been wronged or offended? Think about it. When someone doesn’t return a phone call, betrays a confidence, or is careless with our feelings there seems to be an internal tally that accounts for who owes who what. The greater the offense, the greater the debt!

The flesh knows well that it owns these transgressions and, unless or until there is an exchange made that cancels the debt the offense lives to grow and fester.

The exchange might involve accepting an apology, making retribution (as in the case of the log rocker), or some other kind of not-so-pretty payback. Beware, however, because the flesh is an untrustworthy bookkeeper at war with the things of the Spirit! The numbers may balance, but it will cost you! We must ask ourselves what we want more, ownership of debts or freedom?

There is only one place to find peace from the offenses we hold, only one exchange that truly sets us free and that is at the foot of the cross! Unless we look up and witness afresh the face of Divine Love dying for us, we fall prey to the notion that we lose something when we forgive. Placing ourselves in daily proximity to Christ on the cross, stretching out our hands to receive His love, and recollecting the outpouring of grace that freed us from our own great debt of sin works to soften and open our hearts to free others.

In the presence of great Love a deposit is received that expands our capacity to relinquish ownership of offenses and exacting of accounts!

As we sit in the lap of Grace, we discover that there is no payback or exchange that compares to the beauty and bounty of belonging to God! His grace is enough.

“God, draw me to the cross so that I can remember afresh what Your Love did for me. Help me to stand in the flow of Your grace and receive what I don’t deserve. Let Your deposits of love empower my heart to let go of offenses and forgive. Thank You for the cross that freed me! Amen.”

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What about you?

Are you holding an offense against anyone?

Do you find it consuming your thoughts and diminishing your joy?

Which do you want more? The debts owed you or freedom?

Stand at the foot of cross and look at the lengths God went to free us from our sin. Let it wash over you an fill you with grace for others.

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Raising the Dead

waterfallBy Judy Villanueva

John 11:38-44
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Can you see Jesus standing before the tomb that holds His dear friend? It has been four days. Go there with me…imagine being with Jesus in front of the cave and watch the story unfold! Mary and Martha are there along with others who loved this man and his family. It’s dusty and I can hear the shuffling of feet on the sandy ground. “What did Jesus say? He wants to take the stone away? Why?” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  I hear these words as if they have traveled over 2000 years and found me typing in my little office.  God is speaking to me!  I want to believe!  I want to see the glory of God! I suddenly realize that some of my stuff is in that tomb! Hopes that have died…prayers that have grown tired…dreams that have been dragged there by long years of waiting.

I look at the tomb that holds the dead…and then, I look at Jesus!  He knows. There are tears of love in His eyes and in mine as I feel intimately known and loved. Then, He turns and faces the mouth of the cave and shouts, “Lazarus, come forth!”  There is a hush that sweeps across the site and a pressured pause as we all wait with wide-eyed anticipation. Then, we hear it…can it be?  Footsteps!  All eyes are on the mouth of the cave.  Now, watch…don’t miss it!  There! A shadow!  And now, a dead man raised and walking out of his tomb! Standing at the cave next to the One for whom nothing is impossible, we witness the beauty and wonder of life called forth from death!  I fall to the ground in sheer awe and utter amazement! The glory of God is spectacular!  I want to dance! I want to cry!  My God can do anything!

Almost unwittingly, I find myself peeking around Jesus as He hugs His friend to see if I can catch a glimpse of my stuff.  Where is it???  It’s not in the tomb!  How can I go from awe to panic in a mili-second? Where’s my dead stuff?  Befuddled, I turn scanning for my shattered hopes, my disappointments, fatigued prayers and lifeless dreams. Then Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?  What on earth?  There in front of me is Jesus asking me to believe and inviting me to witness the glory of God!  And, to my surprise, held safely in His arms, is all my dead stuff!  Jesus holds my pages of prayers, my worries, loved ones, hopes and dreams!  He looks at me and says, “Come forth!”…and I feel a surge of faith, dreams awakening, worries resting, and hopes breathing again.

“Lord God almighty! You are faithful! You are all powerful, all good, all knowing…and You love me! You know me! All the time, in every thing, You know me. Thank you that You care about my hopes and dreams. Call forth the things that have died in me and let the reality that Jesus stands with me help me to believe and watch for Your glory! Amen.”

How about you?

Do you have hopes, dreams, prayers, and weathered faith left for dead in a tomb?

How might you pray if Jesus were standing next to you? How might you ask Him to pray for you?

Do you want to see the glory of God? Do you need help to believe?

Pray. Ask God to call forth life!

 

Worship

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Throwing Stones

pagosashadowBy Judy Villanueva

John 8:1-11
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Have you ever judged anyone? What is it about human nature that wants to stand over others and cry out for justice? Even children seem to have an internal sense of fairness and tattle loudly, so that the world might be made right. Is it part of our human nature to expect that a price must be paid for wrong doing? What glares at me in this story is the complete lack of love with which this woman is thrown before Jesus and the people gathered to hear him teach. It is clear that her accusers aren’t interested in justice as much as they are in setting a trap for Jesus. She is not a person in need of mercy OR justice, simply a pawn to further their schemes. Is that what happens when we are quick to judge, when our motives or fears become a log that blinds us and cuts off love?

I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he wrote in the sand? I know he saw her! Jesus always sees us! I know he hated that her shame was dragged out and hung in full view of the people! Did he kneel down and write as a way of helping the crowd slow down and see the woman? Did he want it to sink in that they, after all, were not so different than she? I wonder what the woman was thinking? She was caught in the act! She knows how this works! I imagine her looking down in shame unable to meet the eyes of her accusers, bracing for the first stone. Instead, crouched in Jesus’ shadow, she hears him invite the one without sin to throw first, but rather than receiving blows of judgment, she hears rocks falling to the ground and feet shuffling away!

Can you imagine her first glimpse of grace as she looks up at Jesus and hears him say, “Where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you? Neither do I condemn you.” We are people in need of mercy, and yet, are terribly prone to judge each other harshly. It’s not that discerning right from wrong is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a necessary thing if we are to grow in godliness. We do harm when we stop seeing people and just see their acts, when we forget that we are not so different from those we condemn, and when we mistakenly believe we are in any position to throw stones. The only One in that position did not pick up a rock. Nor did Jesus set the woman free without exhorting her to leave her life of sin. We tend to do one or the other…we either forgive and condone sin or judge and condemn it. The truth is, what we need is mercy AND justice and, it is only crouched in the shadow of the cross that…remarkably, thankfully, undeservedly…we find both!

“Lord, I confess that I, too, judge others harshly. I ask for grace to fill my heart and your help to love people and forgive acts. I know for certain that I want mercy! I am struck watching Jesus in this story and taught by His love. I want to see people the way You do. Thank you, thank you, thank you..for grace! Amen.”

What about you?

Are you growing in gracing giving rather than stone throwing?

Do you tend to forgive and condone or judge and condemn?

Have you had an encounter with grace?

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Trusting in the Dark

DSC_0370By Judy Villanueva

1 Samuel 1:12-18
Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.”

It is a mystery as to why some prayers are answered as we hope and others are not. Most often, there is no way of making sense of it. When a heart’s desire is suspended, a desperate prayer unsatisfied or when the thing braced against happens, we are left to travail with questions about God. Is He good? Does He hear? Can He, and if He can, why doesn’t He? We join Job and a great company of brothers and sisters in the faith who have traveled through a dark night on a well-worn path of suffering with no clear answers. It has always both baffled and amazed me that God allows us to wander along these roads of unknowing. How does He tolerate us second-guessing His wisdom, accusing Him of not caring, or thinking Him impotent to act on our behalf? How does He stand it when we cry out in the dark?

I don’t pretend to have answers, only a few morsels of grace that I have gleaned along the path of my own dark night. If you are in the middle of a season of desolation, know that you are not alone. Many Christians have traveled this road and have shared the pain of not having answers and not feeling God. It is an arduous and lonely passage. You might find, like I did, that it is helpful to have someone listen and care that you feel lost, even if they cannot relocate you. One such friend of mine sat with me and listened to my lost thoughts…so unpleasant and raw. After some quiet, she finally said, “Judy, stop striving. God knows where you are and is able to bring you through this dark night and into a place of dawning. Rest. Be at peace.” She didn’t tell me to stop feeling lost and she didn’t offer any answers to my questions, but her reassurance that God knew where I was and could help me find His heart again, planted a seed of hope and light. It felt relieving and helped me begin to let go of my need to understand everything and make room for God to be God.

Inherent in dark nights are invitations to widening spaces where we grow in our capacity to allow God to be Someone we can count on, but cannot control… Someone who loves us perfectly, but does not explain the unfoldings around us.

Dark nights are humbling as they teach us to want God. What I love about Hannah is that she brought her suffering heart to God. She poured out her soul before the Lord…her troubles, sorrows, and disappointments. She didn’t turn her back on God in her despair, but rather, trusted Him with her pain. She stayed in relationship and, by His grace, held onto His love in the middle of the night. How it must bless God to be sought and trusted in the dark. We, too, must bring our honest tears to God, and trust that He listens and cares deeply, even if we cannot feel His presence or understand our circumstances. Can you rest and be at peace knowing that God is able to bring you through the dark night and promises to remain close until the dawn breaks? God knows where you are and is able to help you find your way back to His heart.

“Father, I pray for anyone reading this who may be experiencing a dark night and cannot feel You with them. Let these words reassure that You are, and will always be as close as the breath they breathe. Bring peace and new life. And, may You, the God of Israel, grant the petition they have made to You. Let them find favor in Your sight. Amen.”

How about you?

Have you experienced a season of feeling lost and disappointed with God?

Can you pour out your heart to God in prayer?

Seek a listening friend. Is there a pastor, priest or friend who is available to listen and pray with you?

Worship

“I Will Not Be Shaken”  by Tommy Walker

“Praise You in the Storm”  by Casting Crowns

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