Monthly Archives: February 2015

Trading Places

aspen cross2By Judy Villanueva

Matthew 27:15-26

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.   At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you:  Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”  For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

…But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.   “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.  “Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.  They all answered, “Crucify him!”  “Why?  What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.  But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”…Then he released Barabbas to them.  But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. 

We sat together in the hospital waiting room so grateful to see one another, even under these circumstances.  Mom was in the center of our little circle smiling as we, her grown children, bantered and teased one another.  In between the light-hearted exchanges were knowing glances as we held our dad up in quiet prayer.  He was missing from our circle.  Dad used to promise us that he would live to be a hundred, so I never really worried about losing him as a child, but now at 86 years of age, the notion of it seemed to hover around us.  Our prayers that day reached far beyond a good surgical outcome to a time when this beloved man will say “yes” to the gift of love given on Calvary…the one where God’s Son traded places with Barabbas!

Have you ever put yourself in Barabbas’ shoes?   He was on death row for murder among other things.  What was he thinking that day, I wonder, when all of a sudden he was yanked from his cell and placed before Pilate and a rabid crowd?  Had he heard of the “other” Jesus, the one they called the Messiah?  Imagine for a minute that you are Barabbas standing next to Mary’s son awaiting your fate. Go ahead.  Look at Him.  Feel His presence, see His eyes seeing you, the guilty one, and hear the governor ask which of you should walk free.  You know who should walk free but instead you hear your name being lifted up by the people…and you, who deserve death, are set free!

Now let’s take a walk to Golgotha.  Notice as we approach the three crosses silhouetted against the darkening sky and the crown of thorns that seems to distinguish the man in the middle.  The scene is utterly still until the silence is pierced by a Voice that whispers, “Father, forgive them…”  Stop!  Oh, look up at Love as He dies for you.  Lift your eyes to His and see a devotion so deep that it gives all it has…to have you.

 THIS love is mighty to save and, make no mistake, trading places with you was His idea!

Yes, we are Barabbas!  Most of us cannot be accused of murder and we may even feel that our lives have been “good enough” but the holy truth is that each one of us sits on death row…but for Christ!  He took our place. He paid our debt and He implores each one of us to go ahead…make the trade!

“Thank You, O God, for trading places with me!  Help me, Jesus,  to hold this gift thoughtfully every day and offer my life back in gratitude and love.  I pray You will open my dad’s eyes to this beautiful invitation…and others who need  Your love.  Amen.”

What about you?

Can you identify with Barabbas?

Have you ever felt the relief of being set free, declared innocent, or taken “off the hook”?

Do you feel your need for a Savior?

How does it feel to imagine looking at Christ on the cross, knowing he chose to stay there for you?

Have you received His gift of love?

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O Love of God!

DSC_0732 By Judy Villanueva

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
   And were the skies of parchment made,  
Were every stalk on earth a quill,  
And every man a scribe by trade;  
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;  
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
  Though stretched from sky to sky.

 Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!  
How measureless and strong.   It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.” (Frederick Lehman)

There was no moon that night.  I sat on the deck in my favorite spot with my face pointed upward at the sky, listening to the hushed song of the pines as the summer breeze played chase amongst their needles.  The stars joined us with a heavenly brilliance that stretched out like diamonds across the black expanse.  Magnificent!  It was as though God had taken off the sky-blue lid that covers the earth by day and invited a peek into infinity!  I felt so small by comparison and insignificant in the grand scheme of heaven and earth.  I remember thinking of all the millions of people who had come before me since the beginning of time and even now, considered that I am but one among millions on planet earth.  Beneath the twinkling canopy that enveloped me I prayed,  “How, Oh God, can You know me?  I am but a speck in the vastness of creation.”  And, that is when it got interesting!

Feeling that our lives have meaning is so core to our sense of well being that relating to a speck of dust can cause an unpleasant plummet.  Indeed, it did for me that starlit summer night until, that is,  I became aware of God speaking to my heart.  He said, “You’ve got it all wrong, daughter.  You are looking at things backwards.  Come! Sit with Me.”   In those gentle moments under the heavens, I felt God enlarging my vision and redirecting my focus from my finite way of looking at my place in the universe to His face.  Boom!  There, all previous notions of insignificance evaporated and what was left were the beautiful eyes of my Father.

What had once spelled out “speck”, now spelled out “LOVED”, and rather than feeling small and insignificant, I felt in awe of God’s capacity to know ME among millions.

That He can and that He does  makes Him an awesome Father and mighty God!  His love infuses our lives with meaning and transforms unpleasant plummets into a dances of wonder and worship!

God’s love spreads out around us all the time!  It is the ground beneath our feet and the sky-blue lid over our heads.  God’s love is grand, profuse, and ecstatic with joy!  It celebrates our company and eagerly awaits our notice.  The love of God is star-studded spectacular,  pure, and everlasting!  The night sky no longer speaks to me of my smallness, but shouts to me of my Father’s glory and grandness…and through it I see His beautiful eyes that watch over me!

“Father, the stars will probably always take my breath away and remind me of this very night and way you helped me see beyond myself.  Help me again and again to seek and find your face.  Thank You for loving me.  Amen.”

What about you?

Do you believe that God really knows and notices you?

Have you ever thought about God’s measureless capacity to know and love you personally?

What does it mean about God that He can?

How would it feel to live a day noticed and known by God?

Do you know how to sit with God?  Try it…He’s waiting for you.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
 your faithfulness to the skies.  (Psalm 36:5)

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Loving Matters

photo-13By Judy Villanueva

1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

I tiptoed into my children’s rooms, one at a time and kissed them goodnight.  With mixed feelings I stared at their beautiful sleeping faces, so sweet and peaceful.  All I could think of was how impatient I’d been that day when all three needed me at once, and how much I longed for quiet during the afternoon play hours.  Ugh!  Guilt.  How would these children survive me, such an imperfect mom?  I remember sitting with my dad one day, confessing my short-comings as a mom and asking for his wisdom.  His input was unexpected but so  life giving.  He said, “Just love them!  You’ll make lots of mistakes in parenting.  It’s impossible to get it perfect, but you can love them…and that makes all the difference.  Loving matters.”

The truth of these words has stayed with me over the years and guided me faithfully through many situations where I have felt inadequate.  Entering the prayer room,  counseling office, or even having breakfast with a friend,  I always wish I had more to offer in the way of wisdom and healing “know how”.  Do you ever feel that way?  Listening to stories feels very sacred and as tears flow and heartaches are shared my first reaction is always to want to bring immediate relief.  If I could, I would waive the wand to relieve suffering, but since I cannot I follow compassion to the cross and look up for help!

There in its shadow,  I hear God speak a familiar refrain. “Just love them.  I Am doing what you cannot but you can love…and loving matters!”

Let us love one another!  It will surely cost us our comfort and may be inconvenient.  Most of the time, it won’t feel like enough and every time our hearts will ache to do more, but loving matters and is  the closest some people ever get to the heart of God.  When we join another in their suffering, when we share a burden and offer love, we give and are given a priceless gift.

Loving, even when done imperfectly, touches pain with our presence and ushers people into the arms of God.

Agree to love!  Tap the Well that waits for us to drink up, be filled and poured out for others.  God is always doing what we cannot, but we can love…and loving matters!

“Thank you, God, for your love. How I need You and depend on Your presence to love well.  Give me courage to bear burdens and share suffering.  Fill me with Your love, fresh and mighty for each new day.  Amen.”

What about you?

Do you ever feel inadequate when face to face with another’s deep need?

Do you also need courage to bear burdens and share suffering?

Would you rather fix something or love someone?

Have you felt the power of love carry you into the arms of God?

“Let us love one another…for Love is from God!”

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Cultivating Joy!

lake louiseBy Judy Villanueva

Psalm 16:11
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

We reached the top and stood facing a full view of the Rocky Mountains iced in snow! The wind was blowing and the air was a warm 63 degrees…spectacular! Have you ever felt joy sweeping you up through your senses? As we walked down the hill I savored the feeling of the sun on my face, the sight of my husband walking slightly ahead of me, and the sound of pines as they sifted the wind. It soothed my soul and placed my worries in a larger context, a joyful one held securely in the hands of God.  If I ever need convincing that God is kind and good I need look no further than how He designed us to share in the beauty and glory of all that He has made!

One of my favorite questions to ask a new friend is “What gives you joy?” “What delights your soul?” “What draws you into the goodness of God?” Problems and challenges seem to find their way to the forefront of our awareness because, like the prick of a needle, pain demands our attention and, unfortunately, can be rather hoggish about it.

Being present to joy amidst and alongside life’s struggles, however, helps us remember that God is good.

Witnessing His love and kindness through the joys that a day offers inspires hope and shifts our attention to the reality of God with us. He is with us!

When my daughter was little we used to play a game on vacations or wherever we happened to be when we bumped into beauty!  I would say, “Stop! Now, freeze this moment.  Take a mental picture and never forget…” the aspens we were hiking through or the lake we were sitting by or the feel of the wind blowing through us!

Cultivating joy is a powerful spiritual exercise, not to mention its potential to transform our perspectives and enlarge our capacities to see God in and above, before and behind all of life.

But, it requires our engagement and sometimes our willingness to confront old patterns of thinking. God has designed us to share His life and see His glory in the midst and alongside our real lives. He is present in warm winds, sweet fragrances, good friends and countless other secret plans to sweep us up with joy and help us along our way!

“Father, thank you for the gift and grace of our five senses and the way they allow us to take in beauty, sounds, flavors and the feel of Your love around us. Awaken me to the day’s invitations to joy and help me to tuck away your goodness and remember Your history of faithfulness to me. Amen.”

How about you?

What gives you joy?

What draws you into the goodness of God?

How might you cultivate joy today?

Can you receive His joy today, however it may come to you, in the midst and alongside your real life?

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