Monthly Archives: June 2014

Watching Over You

DSC_1246By  Judy Villanueva

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, he who watches over Israel
 will neither slumber nor sleep. 

The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  

The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going
 both now and forevermore.

Knee to knee, we sat on the couch sipping tea and savoring the gift of an unhurried afternoon.  My young friend shared with me the new developments in her life, and specifically a recent diagnosis that threatened to derail her hopes and dreams for the future.  It was devastating news.  What would this mean for her future?  What could she expect?  Fear had encircled, shouting despair over her life and mocking the God she loved so dearly.  “You see?  You can’t count on God.  Where is He when you really need Him?”  The only thing we knew to do next was to scooch  in close, bow our heads, and reach out for God’s comfort in prayer.

In his fictional book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S Lewis pulls back the cosmic curtain  and allows the reader to overhear conversations between a senior and junior demon.  Screwtape, the experienced demon, instructs Wormwood in the art of temptation!  One of most eye-opening strategies proposed was to keep the human focused forward or backward, but under no circumstances, should he be allowed to dwell in the present.  He asserts that the past is frozen and the future filled with unrealities—both prime opportunities to chain the soul to regret or fear.   But, of the present moment he cautions

“The Present is the point at which time touches eternity…the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

In other words, it is in this present moment that we find God!  He is literally with us at every point in time!  When focusing on what is behind or ahead at a future yet unborn, we step away from the present, holy moment…the one filled with the power and presence of the Almighty.

What does it mean that God watches over us?  Or, that He will not allow our feet to slip?  I have come to believe that He goes far beyond watching over our lives!  The fervor of His love compels God to draw near, so near that He suffers with us as He lovingly holds us in ALL of our moments.

He is not a far-away God, but rather, is our Father, attentive and present now and now and now!

Before my friend married the man of her dreams or held a cherished baby in her arms, she would endure a long and arduous period of suffering, one with lots of unknowns and no guarantees.  She may not have always felt the reality of God near but, all the while He watched over her coming and going.  He was the shade at her right hand, and never, not once, did He sleep or slumber.  He held her as she cried and waited and struggled to trust Him.   In spite of what we do or do not understand about our lives and even in the midst of circumstances that shout “Where is your God?”…HE IS and cannot help but watch over our lives now and forevermore!

“Father, I confess that I spend too much time fearing the future and things that may never happen.  Draw me into your company and the present moment that is all lit up with eternal rays!  Thank You for watching over me and, especially, for holding me in all my moments, both in joy and sorrow.  Amen.”

What about you?

Do you need reminding today that God is always watching over your life?

Do you find yourself dwelling on the uncertainty of the future or, regret over the past?

Can you bring your questions, fears and hopes to God?

God is with you now.  He never sleeps nor slumbers.  He watches over you now and forevermore.  Reach for Him.  Talk with Him.

Worship:

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Following Breadcrumbs

followme

By Judy Villanueva

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are the God of my salvation; 
for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

It was one of those days.  You know the kind where you wake up and, for whatever reason, feel finished before you’ve even started?  All of the undone things that are usually entrusted to God are bubbling up at the surface of awareness…things over which only God has control.  I never quite understand the ebb and flow of faith.  Why did I feel full of faith yesterday and sorely lacking in it today?  On mornings like these,  I find it helpful to bring my angst to Jesus with a question,  “What is it You want to say to me about this, Lord?” Then I try to pay attention and follow the breadcrumbs back into His arms…to a place of faith.   Do you remember the story of Hansel and Gretel when, as they ventured out into the forest, they dropped a pathway of breadcrumbs so that they might find their way back home again?   Jesus’ voice marks our pathway home and when we ask Him to speak to us about our lives, He faithfully speaks.   We “hear” as we expect Him to speak into our ordinary days, as we pay attention, and as we follow His voice to revelation!

Breadcrumbs.  An imperfect metaphor, at best, but useful in fashioning a picture of what it looks like to watch for God’s leadings.  What are the spiritual “breadcrumbs” that mark God’s path for us and help us discern His voice?

Believing that God is present in ALL of life helps us notice the holy crumbs that are scattered throughout our days.

God’s voice often comes to us as impressions,  highlights, if you will…an emphasis, an exclamation point, or a goodness that nestles up and wraps itself around us.  It also urges us through our angst, our woes and worries.  It may come as we read the Word, or look out the window…as we sit with a friend or listen to a sermon.  God is speaking and His ways of reaching out to us are endless!  Noticing His voice is the first step toward discernment and moving toward it with curiosity is next!  “What do you want to say to me about this?”

It was near or about the heat of day when I felt a “nudge” to go out for walk.  A breadcrumb.  I grabbed my headphones and went, listening to worship for an hour as I hiked under the shadows of the San Juan Mountains.  So many beautiful songs blessed me and I began to notice a theme emerging.  More breadcrumbs!  I felt drawn to the stanzas that sang of God’s presence and authority over all the earth!  Each song seemed to declare that God is great and faithful…able in all things and trustworthy.  I felt invited to gather the day’s crumbs and taste the Bread that is life!  What would have seemed so ordinary to any onlooker was, for me, extraordinary…soul-filling, peace-giving and revelatory!  What I heard as I followed the breadcrumbs was a holy whisper that loved me with these words,

“What do I want to say to you today, as you travail and wonder about your future?  I am saying that I am with you!  I will never leave you!  You have Me now and always!  I am on the throne and you, child,  can rest. Now rest.”

“Father,  thank You for Your voice of love.  You know what a worrier I am and for that, I am so sorry!  Teach me the sounds of Your voice and alert me to when and where you are addressing me.  I want to hear what You want to say to me everyday.  I want to follow.  Amen.”

What about you?

What delights you?  What troubles you?

What are you drawn to in any given Bible passage that you’ve read lately?

What has caught your attention in worship, a sermon, devotional reading or in the movie you’ve just viewed?

What does God want to say to you about your life?  Have you asked Him lately?

Will you consider that God is speaking to you all day long and wants you to hear His voice?

Worship:

“You Are Here”  by  Tommy Walker

“Who Am I” by Casting Crowns

“Awake My Soul”  by Phillips, Craig and Dean

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Look At Me!

DSC_0519By Judy Villanueva

My son, pay attention to what I say;  turn your ear to my words;  Do not let them out of your sight,
 keep them within your heart,  for they are life to those who find them
 and health to one’s whole body. ( Proverbs 4:20-22)

I was ready for the challenge!  I was twenty-three years old.  She was a baby.  I had a college education.  She had determination!  I saw the look in her eyes and knew that sin had entered her tiny little heart.  She made her move and crawled as fast as she could for the electrical outlet!  She looked over at me and then reached out her dimpled hand in defiance!   I sternly said, “Look at mommy!  Don’t you dare touch that outlet, baby girl.”  We had been here before…many, many times!  She seemed to need to have the lines of authority clarified every single day, and thus, here we were again establishing that I was mommy and she was baby!  I knew stuff.  She did not.  To her credit, she looked right at me and stalled for about ten seconds.  I can’t imagine what went through her baby brain, but in the end, she touched it!

“Look at Me!”  It’s a directive that parents use to get their childrens’ attention.  It is meant to entice the child away from one focal point and onto the parent in order to give needed correction or guidance.  Babies, of course, do not appreciate  the good intentions of the parent and simply want what they want!  This remains a challenge throughout life!   Submitting our desires to God and turning to Him for direction is essential to maintaining a balanced and healthy life.  The problem is not so much that we want this or that, but rather, with the excesses, the points at which our “loves” become disordered.  In other words, where occupations become preoccupations, where passions lead to addictions, and busyness to an anxious heart.

Can you hear God when He calls to you?  It might be a still, small voice…an internal nudge or a louder invitation, like an ulcer, or a life that is falling apart.  If we are not in the habit of “listening”, His might sound like one voice among many.  Noticing God in the midst of ordinary life is learned as it is practiced.

There is nothing more profoundly reorienting than looking at God!  It finds us!

Being willing to be interrupted and guided by God is necessary if we are to be helped to want what is most worthy of wanting!  Do you want God?  I do, in theory!  But, in reality, I want what I want and depend on His kind, steady voice in my days to help me turn away from things that distract me and look at Him.  Discovering how to hear God and being willing to do as He says becomes a holy pathway,  one that fills and quiets the soul…one that brings order to all other “loves”.  Take a minute, listen for God’s voice and then look at Him.  He is the way, the truth and the life…and He loves you!

“Father, I thank You that you are a wise and watchful parent.  Help me to hear You call  when I am in heading away from Your will.  Thank You for all the ways you have made for me to find You.  Keep finding me!  Amen.”

 What about you?

 How ordered are the “loves” in your life?

Are you aware of any excesses that have led to an unbalanced, addicted or an anxious life?

Do you want God?

Can you hear God when He calls to you?

Are you learning how to pay attention to God?  How to tune in to His voice through His Word?  Through prayer and worship?  Though silence and solitude?  Through community?

God is a faithful parent and watches over us with love.  Look at Him.

Worship

Speak to Me by Tommy Walker

 

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Are You The One?

DSC_0649By Judy Villanueva

Matthew 11:2-6

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  He is in the guy who wore camel hair shirts and ate locusts with wild honey.  We definitely get the impression that he was sold out for Jesus, and bold in his message to repent and be baptized! Yet, here in this passage, we find him in prison sending his disciples to Jesus to ask a curious question.  “Are You the One, the Messiah or should they wait for another?”  It seems to imply that John was feeling off balance and in need of reassurance.  It makes me wonder if he wasn’t scratching his head trying to make sense of the life unfolding around him. Was being in prison part of the plan or did something go wrong?  No doubt, his circumstances were not what he had expected!

John the Baptist might seem like  a hard guy to relate to, but as I witness him straining toward Jesus in need of strength and direction, I feel an immediate connection!  John’s question is my question and was my question this very morning!  I ask it often during times of disappointment or fear, and certainly, whenever I cannot make sense of how the pieces of my life fit together.  You know those times when life is not how we imagined, or when it seems like God is taking forever to answer our prayers?   I’m afraid we might find Jesus’ response to John less than comforting.  He doesn’t say, “Hang in there, cousin!  I’m on my way to break open the prison doors!”  Instead, Jesus tells John that the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised and the good news is being preached to the poorIn other words, “Take heart.  I am He!  I am the One!”

Jesus’ words might feel both reassuring and disconcerting to the hearer because while it announces His reign as Messiah, it does so right alongside John’s plight in prison.  This is always the case!

Jesus is Lord and Messiah, always AND right alongside the life that is ours…the life that we may love, as well as the life that may include the hardest trial we’ve ever faced.

It was John’s challenge, as it is ours, to hear Jesus announce His reign and to trust beyond his own understanding.  I need to hear Jesus say, “I am the One!” when life has caused my heart to falter…and allow the reality of His reign to strengthen and remind me, that despite present conditions or anything I may not understand, His kingdom has arrived!  It’s already here!  That’s what Jesus was telling John!  That’s the good news being preached to the poor and that’s the blessed Truth that sets us free today!  Take heart!  He is the One!  Look no further!

“Lord, help me to hear you announce that You are healing, raising  the dead and reigning over all!  It gives me strength to wait with hope and trust You rather than lean on my own understanding.  Help me to lay down my need to know everything and instead, to bow in faith.  Thank you that you are the One!  Amen”

What about you? 

When do you feel off balance and in need of reassurance?

What does the arrival of God’s kingdom mean to you?

Are you able to rest, knowing that Jesus reigns?

Above and beyond whatever circumstances you find yourself in,  God is good and He reigns!

 

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