Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bow Down

DSC_1223By Judy Villanueva

Nehemiah 8:6      Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Matthew 2:11      On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Romans 14:11      For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Is it fair to say that we don’t bow down much these days as a culture, as a church or as individuals? I can’t help but wonder why? Today, I decided to bow down during my morning prayers and pay attention to what happened to my thoughts and feelings as I talked with God on my knees, with my head down. Bowing seems to invite surrender and reverence. It did…I could feel it! But, praying with my face on the floor also made me feel tearfully contrite and humble of heart. It felt corrective.

I suspect there is something about putting ones body in a bowed position that helps us to feel bowed, submitted, and more in touch with the reality of our finitude and our great need of an infinite and able God.

When I think of the things that literally drive us to our knees, four invitations come to mind: great need, sin, gratitude and God’s felt presence. When loss, illness, or trouble comes our way and we are overwhelmed, we often feel pushed to our knees in desperation. When we have violated our nature, created in God’s image, by behaviors that bring us shame, we may feel the need to lay prostrate in sorrow as we cry out to God for help and freedom. When the sun rises, or we slow down enough to notice beauty around us, when we receive our hearts’ desires or experience God’s provision, we may fall on our faces in gratitude. When God draws near and we feel His breath…when somehow we touch the Almighty or His goodness and love touches us, we may find ourselves waking up from having fallen face first in utter worship!

What’s the point? We need to bow! It helps us pray more completely. We were created for a yielded relationship with a wise and powerful God. It is no joking matter. It necessitates that we regularly lower our heads and accommodate prayerful face plants that can deal a blow to our pride at its roots. A blow that can lead our hearts to proper sorrow, and connect us to our brokenness. We need to fall to the ground in gratitude for the daily gifts of life that we take for granted most days.

Bowing down before God helps us to find our true selves and, astonishingly, the God who bowed down to save us!

Yes, there is a God who washed feet, prayed in a garden on His knees, and bowed under the weight of the cross He carried to Calvary. He hears our prays and cares about our sorrows, temptations and triumphs! In full surrender, Jesus lived, loved and died bowed down before God that we might one day be lifted up!

“Father, help me to bow down. I am aware of my pride and how it interferes with my ability to surrender my heart and life to You. As I bow in the mornings, I ask for correction, grace, and your hand of love to lift me up. Thank you for bowing down low to save me and for caring about my life and loving me every single moment of every single day. Amen.”

How about you?

What prompts you to bow down?

Are you aware of obstacles that keep you from bowing down before God?

How might bowing in prayer change the way you pray, think or act?

Bow and pray. Try it! Put your body in a bowed posture and notice what happens to your thoughts, feelings and prayer. God bless you as you bow before Him.

Worship:

“When I Don’t Know What To Do”  by Tommy Walker

“Surrender”  by 4 Him

“I Need You Now”  by Matt Redman

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Seasons and Surrender

DSC_1221By Judy Villanueva

Romans 8:38-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A friend’s daughter got married a few weeks ago.  It was surreal to watch her come down the aisle, a beautiful bride on her daddy’s arm!  What happened to that little one who, once upon a time, literally fit in the palms of my hands?  That day I watched my friend say good-bye to the daughter she had raised, and to her family, the way it had always been. These milestone moments come upon us almost without warning!  Sometimes seasons feel like they will last forever, but don’t blink because all seasons come to an end.  Change.  It is subtle one minute and shockingly bold the next.

What can we do but love well, feel our endings with joy and tears…and then, open our arms to whatever is next!

My mom has shown me what it looks like to surrender with grace to whatever is next in life.  As she approaches eighty, her perspective on this last season of life is remarkable and bright!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain or lament growing old.  Instead, she says things like, “Growing old sure is interesting!”  She seems to be a student of every phase of life and, with a disposition of curiosity, she stays present and positive as health, relationships and realities change.  Most pronounced to me is the gratitude that keeps bubbling to the surface of her life.  She is grateful for good blood flow, that dad doesn’t have any pain and that she can live these days with the love of her life next to her.

Accepting change isn’t always easy especially if we have loved the life that is changing!

Letting go and saying good-bye is an act of faith.  We entrust our life to God each time we surrender to endings and new beginnings.

This seems to be the way of it.  Seasons end and new ones begin.  Children grow up and get married.  Jobs change, friends move away, we all get older and one day, old.  Loving and belonging to God is the strongest anchor in life, isn’t it?  His love never ends!  His hold on our lives is forever faithful.  We can be curious and grateful for all of the seasons that come to us because we have a Father who does not change, who will not leave, and who walks with us through every change…all the way, and until we are in His arms to stay.

“Father, it fills me with joy to remember that nothing can separate me from Your love!  Help me to be grateful and let go of the things that have ended so that my arms might open to receive whatever is next!  Thank You for staying with me throughout my life.  Amen.”

What about you?

How are you doing with the changes in your life?

Are you letting yourself feel your endings with gratitude and tears?

Are you surrendering with grace and looking forward with hope?

God is forever faithful.   Nothing can separate you from His love!

Worship:

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Heart Habits

DSC_1246By Judy Villanueva

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. ” (C.S. Lewis)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2Corinthians 3:18)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about habits, not just the physical kind but, the heart kind as well. My dismay is not just over how difficult developing good habits are, but how back-breaking extinguishing bad ones can be as well!  Making and breaking habits is hard work! Yet, the whole of our days is comprised of habits, good and bad, big and small… each one adding up to the kind of life we live.  In fact, habits not only govern our physical health, but our moods, energy, attitudes, and capacities as well.

However old we are, habits have been formed and are being formed every day, the aggregate of which determines our ability to thrive and be happy.

This tends to make sense to us in terms of physical habits like exercise, eating well, and healthy patterns of living. But, what about the habits of the heart?  The heart has patterns of feeling, thinking and reacting. Many heart patterns form while in our families of origin and, countless things influence these habits, but none more profoundly than our own daily choices. When you are offended, for example, is your heart-habit to remember your own frailties and forgive? Or, do you hold grudges and lick your wounds? If you’ll notice, there is a heart pattern within you that prompts you to do one thing or another. Maybe you are burdened with the heart-habit of being critical or self-absorbed? Being negative, expecting the worst, losing your temper, or dwelling on sad things can all become heart habits.

It is sobering to consider that every day, we either cooperate with the formation of sour habits or look to God for help to do something different!

Each choice, each thought, each action is soul forming! In other words, like C.S Lewis writes, there is a kind of creature being shaped each day, one that either resembles our Savior more and more or one that doesn’t!

Being with God empowers us to choose beyond our habits and live as new creatures in Christ!  He invites us to spend time with Him, to notice His presence in the day, and to learn from Him.  God is a willing teacher and is ready to touch us with His grace.  The tried and tested Christian practices put us in His good company. Silence, solitude, gratitude, fasting, celebration…the enriching of His Word, prayer of many kinds are all on the menu of ways to engage with our God.  Learning to pay attention to God in the middle of life, whether working or worshipping, is transformative!  Living “awake” and engaged with God creates His heart in us and turns “the central part of ourselves into something a little different from what it was before”…into people who look a little more like Jesus.

“Father, I want to be more like Jesus!  Please draw me into daily awareness that Your Spirit lives within me and lead me into sacred pauses that open my heart and mind to Divine inspirations.  Help me to learn from you as I spend time with You.   Amen.”

What about you?

Have you ever considered that the choices  you make are shaping your soul?

What are the habits of your heart?  Are you aware of what comes most naturally and does it remind you of Jesus?

Is the fruit of the Spirit becoming second nature?  Are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control flowing from your life?

Are you becoming more like Jesus?

Worship

“These Things are True of You”  by Tommy Walker

“Come to Jesus” by Chris Rice

 

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The Lord’s Prayer

DSC_1176By Judy Villanueva

Our Father, which art in heaven,


We belong!   We have a Father in Heaven!  The One who made worms and flowers, oceans and mountains, goofy looking fish, giraffe, and elephants… is OUR Dad!  Think about it!  Our Father really is stronger and smarter than every other dad.  He is the King of Kings and our very own Abba Father…Yours and mine!

Hallowed be thy Name.


“Holy, Set apart, honored and praised!”  Our culture does not hallow much and hard as I try, I find my hallowing efforts terribly lacking.   Help me, Father, into Your presence because I know that anyone who glimpses Your beauty falls down in awed wonder!  I want to be see You better and bless You with abundant and heartfelt praise!

Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth,  as it is in heaven.


I can only imagine the fervor with which Jesus uttered, “Thy Kingdom come”!  He knew the beauty and perfection of His Father’s kingdom first hand.  He was teaching us to ask for that which we need most…our true home!  Let Your kingdom come, Lord God, into our hearts, our heads, our choices, our dreams, our words, and our prayers.  We want Your will on earth as in Heaven… and no other!

Give us this day our daily bread.


We need You!  How vast are our daily needs for bread, drink, fellowship, love, work, health, dreams, adventures, comfort and safety!  Hear our cries for provision!  We lack joy.  We are hungry for peace!  We ache for Love.  We grow weary for lack of knowing that we are Yours!

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.

Help us to be sorry.  Open our eyes to our failures and give us courage to know ourselves in Your presence.  It is unsettling to to see our sins, but Your grace becomes our safe place.  Help us to forgive any who has sinned against us.  How easy is the temptation to receive Your grace and then to hold offenses against our neighbor.  Fill us with the wonder of Grace and let it fill us with grace for others.

And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 


Around every corner there seems to lurk temptations that mean to steal life from God’s beloved children.  Jesus came that we might have life to the full, but evil lays traps that siphon off life as it pollute our souls.  Lord, have mercy!  You can see what we cannot…make a victorious way for us to defeat and overcome temptation.  Deliver us from evil!

For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, For ever and ever. 

Yours is the kingdom…absolutely!  Yours is the power!  Above any other, You reign victorious!  Yours is the glory, the wonder, the awe-inspired beauty that never, never ends!  We rest in Your power and rise up with praise that Your Kingdom is now and forever!  It will not end!   It will last forever and ever…and ever!

 Amen.

 It is true!  So be it!  Let it be so!!!  We agree!  Do it!

 

What about you?

This is a great exercise!  Take each part of the Lord’s Prayer and let your mind and heart pause, ponder, and pray.  Think about each part, talk it over with a friend, and then, respond to however it speaks to you.  Let this prayer become your own.

Worship:

“The Lord’s Prayer” by Tommy Walker (Generations Hymns)

“Victorious”  by Donnie McClurkin.

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Taking Up the Cross

aspen cross2By Judy Villanueva

Luke 9:23

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Kneeling together, our three little ones sound asleep upstairs, we prayed for more of God.  “Do whatever you must, Father, to make Yourself Lord of our lives.”  I remember a hush coming over the room and looking at my husband with a sense of foreboding at what trial this prayer might usher into our young lives.  What had he just prayed?  What would it cost, and did I really want more of God at any price?

Following Jesus.  It sounds so adventurous, so noble, and good!  As Christians that’s what we are on the planet to do, right?  To learn how to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  Weeell yes,  this is the goal and certainly it was the inspiration behind the prayer I said “Amen” to that day.  But, let’s face it, Jesus leads His followers to mountain tops that, while glorious in their view and magnificent in the beauty they etch in the soul, require traversing some pretty rugged terrain.  To coin a phrase, soul-shaping isn’t for cowards!

God’s refining fire burns as it purifies and presses as it     fashions His likeness in us.

The next several years brought extraordinary challenges.  They were years of holding on by our fingernails and trusting God in the dark.   Strangely,  on one of the harder mornings,  I remember waking up aware that the birds were singing!  It seemed an odd thing to notice at such a time, and yet, opening my eyes to the reality of great disappointment, I was also aware that our little ones were safely tucked up in their beds, that love had not left our home, and that somehow,

God was still faithful…regardless of whether or not I understood what He was up to!

He never gave us a blueprint or explained His methods, but God answered the prayer we prayed that day so long ago.  Somehow during the trials, He had become Lord of our lives more fully!  He had stretched out our capacity to take in more of Him and had helped us to want Him more than our comforts!  Suffering loss was oddly freeing and helped us to understand, a little better, that what we need most in this life is Jesus!

“Thank you Jesus, that You hear our prayers and are faithful.  Even when we do not fully understand where our prayers may lead us, You do.  Teach us to follow wherever You lead.  Give us strength and help us to trust You every step of  the way.  Amen.”

What about You? 

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does that look like on any given day?

How is self denial and cross bearing part of your life in Christ?

Is there a connection between prayers you’ve prayed and what has happened next?

Do you know that you can trust the God who hears your prayers?  Do you believe in His good heart and wise ways?

God is faithful always.

Worship:

“Find Me Faithful”  by Tommy Walker

“Follow Jesus” by Selah and Nicole C. Mullen