Monthly Archives: March 2014

Gethsemane

DSC_0388By Judy Villanueva

Matthew 26:26-36    

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

It was dusk and the desert landscape was quickly changing from shadows to black night as we drove east toward the Colorado River.  I was only twelve years old and had been invited to join a friend’s family on their spring break.  In the light of day it seemed like an exciting opportunity,  but as the sky darkened I held back tears and longed to be home with my family.  Home had always been a warm and loving place filled with the people who knew me best and with whom I had shared every day since birth.  When I read this passage and imagine Jesus in the garden, I am dumbstruck at what He must have felt lying on His face, overwhelmed  to the point of death.  I’d always thought that it was the anticipation of the cross that was the cause of His troubled heart, but I have come to believe that what Jesus smelled in the garden was far worse.  I think it must have been the impending loss of home that stole His peace.  Never, for even a millisecond, had He known existence apart from His beloved Father.  They were One and had forever shared a perfect, blessed, loving community of three… but a time was drawing near when Jesus would experience being torn from His Father.

It strikes me that this scene is the only one I can think of where Jesus is troubled and, literally, doubled over with sorrow.  Can you picture our Lord with His face to the ground?   Try.  It isn’t how we are use to seeing Him,  but there in the garden beneath the Mount of Olives, He bends over with a desperate plea!  “Father, take this cup.”  He faces off with a moment of truth…a beautiful, terrorizing, extravagant, horrifying and holy moment!   Imprisonment, false accusations, a thorny crown, beatings, nails, a spear, mocking, humiliation, scorn and the full weight of man’s sin await Him.  THEN, the loss of His most precious treasure, the Love that had been His smile since forever…His Abba, His Dad would turn away!

“Your will, not mine.”  Alone in the garden, with his friends fast asleep, Jesus prays three times that this cup should pass and, each time, submits to His Father’s will.  Finally, He wakes up His friends with what looks like refreshed strength and determination, “Rise!  Let us go!”  He is no longer bent over in sorrow with His face to the ground.  No.  Jesus has been with the Father, accepted His will and now moves with faith and hope to the cross!  He knows what is coming but we don’t see Him hesitate anymore.  I wonder what THEY talked about in the garden.   Was it us they talked about?  Did their Love inspire a gift so great that the Godhead re-uped for being ripped a part in order to carry us home… so that They might become our warm and loving family for all eternity?   Oh beautiful love of God!

“I can’t even fathom this kind of Love, Lord!  I am grateful!  Help me, Jesus, to pray with a submitted heart…to ask for what I want, but trust in what You will!  Thank You for making a way for me to come home someday and share forever with You.  Amen.”

What about you?

Are you in a garden of Gethsemane?  Are you struggling with God in prayer over something He is asking of you?

Is there a cup you would like to pass?

Where are you in terms of the crucifixion of your will?  Are you able to say, “Your will, not mine”?

Have you received this gift of love, Christ’s death on the cross, that delivers us from sin?

Can you trust in the Father’s love to deliver you home safe and sound?

 

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Letting Go: A Prayer of Relinquishment

IMG_0120By Judy Villanueva

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was raise a child.  The next  hardest was letting each one go as they grew up and left the nest.  It’s hard to let go… This is the prayer I prayed over my firstborn as she left for college.

Dear Jesus,

I’d like to bring my child to you.

I see me and my daughter walking … no actually I see me struggling to carry her on my back.  She keeps slipping because I’m not strong enough to carry her, but I keep trying.

My back hurts.

I see you there by the river’s edge…so peaceful.  You can see me…us, too.  You have a warm smile on your face and you perceive the difficulty I am having bringing my daughter to you.

Finally, you say to me, “Put her down.”

I want to but I’m not sure…I have been carrying her for so long…she needs me…she’s wounded…I want to help…what will happen if I let go?

Knowing my thoughts you say,  “I am here.  She is mine.  I can heal her wounds.  It’s time for you to let go.  Judy, she needs ME.  Now trust Me…release your daughter.”

I pause and stare at you.  I want to believe You.  I know what You are saying is true and it gives me hope, but I’m afraid.

I let my grown daughter down and I look at her…words cannot convey the mix of emotion.  I love her. I have failed her.  I’m so tired.

“I would like to trust you Lord and I need your forgiveness for where I have failed…been selfish, immature, impatient and ignorant.”

I give my girl a big hug.  I look at her face and tell her to go… “Go to Jesus!”  She smiles at me and turns…she looks back and says, “It’s ok mom…I’ll be ok…I love you.”  Then, she turns and runs to You and Your arms are open wide and she lets You hug her.  You are whispering in her ear and I can see the comfort and relief on her face.

She is safe.

I see her begin to dance by the river and sing from her heart.  She is free in your presence, accepted and loved.

You walk over to me before I go…You hold me and say, “I know, Judy…it’s ok…you are forgiven…I am here…you can trust Me.  I love you.  You can leave her here.  I’ll never leave her.  Thank you for loving her all these years…but remember, she is mine…and you were not meant to carry her forever.  I am faithful, compassionate, kind and powerful beyond your imagination.  I love your daughter…My daughter…with all My heart.  She needs to learn to walk with Me now.  You need to let go and trust Me.”

 

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His Voice Down the Hallway

DSC_0419By Judy Villanueva

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.     (Philippians 4:12-13)

“Nana!  Nana!  Are you there?” my little grandson yelled down the hallway during some quiet playtime.  “I’m here.  You’re ok.  Go ahead and play.  You are fine.”  I replied.  He really was fine, but at that moment he needed reassurance that I had not left, he was not alone, and I was…just down the hallway.  As I prayed this morning I heard myself echo a similar cry, “Father, are you there?  Can You hear me?  I feel alone.  Are You still with me?”

Dark and narrow hallways must be walked one step at a time and as I look back on various trials, it is  clear that God has been with me every step of the way.   He has been faithful and I have experienced His strong hand of deliverance over and over again.  Why then, when a new trial comes, do I find myself calling out again for reassurance that God is near?  There is something about sensing God’s presence and hearing His voice down the hallway that calms my fears and strengthens me to wait…not just endure…but wait in peace and with great expectation.

Paul had learned the secret of contentment in every situation, and his “situations” were far more strenuous than anything I’ve ever encountered!  He seemed to live with the reality of “Christ” always at play and brought  His presence into every moment!   He lived his life with God whether in prison or free, well fed or hungry, in plenty and in want.  Jesus was his strength and his place of residing contentment!  So, as the sun comes up, I am starting the day a little wobbly but also reminded that through Christ, I can do all things.  I can give today to God, be weak, trust hard, and pray.  I can watch for Jesus and listen for the sounds of His voice down the hallway that whisper to me, “I am here.  You’re ok.  Go ahead and live your life.  Rest…I am with you.”

“Father, how I need to hear the sounds of You in my life.  Your presence is everything I need and I’m not sure why I get nervous and lose hold the reality that You will never leave me, but sometimes I do.  Help me today to rest in Your presence and trust in Your love.  Amen.”

How about you?

Do you need to hear God’s voice down the hallway today?  Do you need reassurance that he is near?

Have you learned the secret of being content in all situations?

Where do you need Christ’s help and strength today?

God is here.  Always!  He will not leave or forsake you.

 

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Loving Like Mary

DSC_0435By Judy Villanueva

 John 12:1-11

 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

The first time I read this passage I was drawn to Mary on her knees pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair.  I find myself staring at the scene as though I am in the room watching.  The fragrance fills the air and the beauty of the moment starts to wash over me.  This woman’s love for Jesus touches my heart with a deep yearning to learn how to love like Mary.  She threw it all down, gave all she had to love Jesus.  Spending a year’s wages on a pair of feet may have seemed a foolish extravagance, washing the toes of a guest was servant’s work and unbinding one’s hair in public was undignified.   It’s as though she could not help but use everything at her disposal to love her dearest friend.

The second time I read this passage, I heard Jesus say “Leave her alone.  It was intended that she save this perfume for the day of my burial.”  A hundred thoughts go through my head as I let the power of these words speak!  Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh no, Mary, it’s ok.  Use the money on the poor.  I’m good.”  He lets her love Him!  He receives her worship!  Do my acts of love today become places of knelt adoration to Jesus?  Do they matter and actually bless Him?   Jesus understands that the best thing I can ever do is to love Him!  It is what my soul most needs.  And, that He protects and receives my gestures of love feels like an enfolding of grace and a sweet return of fragrant Love. Oh Lord, help me to love you like Mary.

“Thank you, Jesus, for your amazing grace!  Forgive me for selfish wants and fill me with Holy power to love you well.  I am awed by Your love and grateful for Your Word today that convicts and teaches me.  Draw me to Your feet and receive my acts of worship today.  Amen.”

What about you?

As you read this passage, what are you drawn to?

How do you love Jesus?  How might you show Him love today?

God protects and receives our acts of love, and loving God is what our souls most need.  Love God and others today!

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Dusty Thoughts

DSC_0455By Judy Villanueva 

Psalm 51:17    The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit:  a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.

Psalm 103:14    As a father has compassion on his children, 
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;  for he knows how we are formed,
 he remembers that we are dust.

As I sat down in the pew I could feel a deep sigh coming over me.  My mind had been occupied with many things and it felt good to sit in a quiet sanctuary and slow down.  I have many memories of Ash Wednesday services growing up, including the post-smudge contest where ashen forehead crosses were compared, the darkest ones the envy of all.  It still makes me smile!  Today, as I listened to the Word invite me to a broken and contrite heart, I felt the Holy Spirit moving through the room with light and grace.  I became conscious of my dusty origins and aware that part of my preparation for the risen Christ involves taking inventory of my heart…and the secrets it likes to keep hidden from me.

What does it mean to remember that we are dust?  It feels strangely relieving to not have to be perfect, to freely know that I am who I am…even if who I am struggles every day with pride, fear and a lack of faith.

It’s hard work to keep from knowing my failings but I suspect that it is in the knowing that my heart becomes contrite and freed to need Jesus.

Living conscious of God’s love gives me the courage to let go of my pride and acknowledge my sin.  It makes me wonder if at the center of humility, where God is God and we are dust, our souls find a place to rest.

Aren’t you grateful that God remembers we are dust and is not thrown off course by our failures and fickle faith?  Even when we cannot bear to know the dusty truth about ourselves, He always knows us as we are…and loves us.

Here is the amazing Grace our hearts long for, the Light that draws us out of our fears and the Power that beckons us to come!

There is no sweeter place of belonging, no kinder companion when looking into our hearts…and no One else who knows just how to form our dusty lives into beautiful and fragrant offerings.

“Father, thank you for knowing me as I am and loving me anyways!  Give me the courage and humility to know the parts of my heart that need your love and grace.   Help me to remember that I am dust and need You every, every day.   Amen.”

What about you? 

Do you know that God loves you?

What does it mean to remember you are dust?

Are you willing to sit with God and let Him show you the hidden places of your heart?

Are you free to need Jesus?

Take time with God to know your heart.  Let His grace lead you to proper sorrow and to His love that covers and frees.

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