Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dented Gifts

christmas2015By Judy Villanueva

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

It has been a week of wonder and joy!  My husband and I traveled to the mountains to prepare for the arrival of our children and grandchildren. Colored lights line the split rail fence but only on one side because we ran out of lights…and, I overcooked the Christmas roast!  All the gifts have been purchased and wrapped but, I somehow lost one set of boy pajamas between here and there.  It’s tempting to get annoyed that my best-laid plans have dents, but even now as I sit at the window watching for loved ones to arrive, I feel God’s gentle invitation to turn toward Him and be helped to find Emmanuel in the middle of it all.

With all the flurry of “Christmas busy” behind me I surrender to this holy pause and let the words of Isaiah linger around me. I read them over and over again. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 

It feels like being shaken out of a stupor and awakened to the divine arms that enfold me with peace and power and the forever “Yes” of God.

The reminder that the mighty and righteous God reigns with greatness, now and always, brings a deep comfort to my soul and seems to whisper over me,


So each night when the Christmas lights turn on I look down the driveway, half lit, and smile. The grandchildren’s “pajama picture” will have seven little ones fleeced in red and white santas — and one in royal blue long underwear. I realize that, in reality, all the gifts I give have dents in spite of my best-laid plans.  None can offer that one thing that will satisfy the deepest yearning of the soul.  It is only in the presence of the One who guides with wisdom, rules with supreme power, and establishes royal peace on earth that our cups get filled to overflowing.  It is only in the arms of our Everlasting Father that we find the perfect gift we long to unwrap!  His forever “yes” — Emmanuel.

“Thank you, Father, for your perfect gift of love and for the ways you help me find Emmanuel in the middle of my life.  Amen.”

What about you?

How do you feel when your best-laid plans fall short?

Have you felt God’s invitation to turn toward Him and find Emmanuel in the middle of your life?

What does it mean to you that God is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace?

Do one of these stand out to you as a particular way that you need God this year?

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By Judy Villanueva

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I was only fifteen years old and a visitor to this odd little church where people stood up and shared publicly how they met Jesus.  My eyes were riveted on the girl who spoke because her story didn’t match her radiant smile.  I leaned forward and tried to put together the facts of her life that included being sixteen, pregnant, unmarried, AND full of joy!  I was unable to conceive how these realities could live together happily but,  I saw in her countenance a beauty that pointed beyond her circumstances to a God who loved her and filled her with so much hope that it spilled out onto all of us who sat listening!

Mary was very likely around this same age when the angel, Gabriel, visited her.  As I imagined the encounter this morning, the words, “The Lord is with you,” jumped off the page and onto my lap. Tears filled my eyes as I held and heard them for myself.  “The Lord is with you.”  Like a window that opened to welcome a fresh breeze, I felt the weary and dulled places of my soul being revived.  At the beginning of this day and, in the middle of my life,

I realize how much I need fresh announcements of God’s presence.

That God is with us means everything!  It offers sweet relief from worry and needed reassurance that we are not alone in an untamed world.

Before Gabriel disclosed the reason for his visit, he gave Mary the best news of her life! God is with you!  As I left the house this morning to run errands and visit a troubled friend, I reminded myself that wherever I go, whomever I am with, and whatever I will face today, the Lord is with me.

It became a personal annunciation of “Christ with me” in the middle of a very ordinary day and, it changed everything.

It filled me with joy and a sense of purpose. Think of it!  If God is with us, then, seriously, whom shall we fear?  And, if He is indeed with us then we can live this day beautifully loved, saved, pointing beyond our circumstances…and spilling over with hope for others!

“Thank You, Lord, for this morning’s announcement that You are with me. It gave me a needed shift in focus and truly revived my soul. Help me to recall Your presence daily, and please let the joy of it spills out onto others. Amen.”

What about you?

Do you need a fresh announcement that God is with you?

How does it feel to slow down and hear the words, “The Lord is with you” ?

What would it be like to live a day “with God” at your side?

Practice calling to mind the reality of Immanuel, God with you!

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DSC_0992 2By Judy Villanueva

Luke 1:34-38

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

I love how Scripture reveals the humanity of its characters, even amidst angelic announcements and holy encounters with God. I’m pretty sure that I would have been unconscious before Gabriel had the chance to say anything, but Mary listened with curiosity and asked a question for all of us, “How?  How can this impossible thing happen, given that I am just me?” Practical realities and past disappointments like to gather in front of our thresholds of promise and block our view of God. But, rest assured, He is there, carefully holding our hopes and inviting us to press through and join Him.

Gabriel accommodates Mary’s question and explains that, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you…” and then, reveals that Mary will give birth to the Son of God!

First an overshadowing and then a divine revelation!

Have you ever felt an awakening of soul upon reading and reflecting on the Word? I did today as I read this familiar passage and it was like hearing these words spoken over my life and over the very things I’m straining to bring to God today — things that feel impossible. Sitting quietly, I allowed thoughts of the Most High to overshadow my doubt and fear…and before long, I found myself peeking through to Hope!

All that had blocked my view at this particular threshold evaporated in His presence and my first peek revealed that the answer to “How?”…is Him!

I suppose Mary could have said “No” to God’s plan, but she didn’t. I don’t know what she was in the middle of doing that day, but whatever it was, she set it aside and wondered with an angel!  She followed Gabriel’s words to an unbelievable threshold and peeked through to a God whose Word never fails!  I can’t imagine that Mary understood the magnitude of what was told her that day, but regardless, she let go of doubts about “how” and said “yes” to Him!

“Thank You, Father, for sending your Son and becoming our How! Help me to hold Gabriel’s words to Mary for myself today and let the power of the Most High overshadow me. With Your help, I can let go of doubt and trust You for the impossible. Amen.”

What about you?

Does doubt and fear block you from seeing God and trusting Him?

Is there something is your life that feels impossible?

Do you need to be overshadowed by the power of God and reminded that He can do the impossible?

Sit quietly with God and let Who He is surround you.

No word from God will ever fail! I pray God’s overshadowing power to break strongholds and loose life over you today. Amen.

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Grateful to Tears

IMG_0661By Judy Villanueva

Luke 7:36-50

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

“What are you grateful for this year?”  I asked my husband. We sat quietly together running back over the year in our minds, sifting for God’s good and kind provision. A flood of sweet memories swept through and lined up to be named, each one a blessing for which we are so very grateful. Relationships, health, and daily bread along with coffee in the morning and a warm bed at night —  daisies, snowflakes, rainbows, and baby kisses — colors, wind, good books and skies that show up each day uniquely dressed in splendor!  It felt good to recount  blessings and give thanks but there is something about this story that calls me to go deeper.

As I read this passage two questions come to mind.  The first is, “Am I this grateful?” and the second is, “Have I grown too use to being forgiven?”

Suddenly, this isn’t just a familiar story but an encounter where I am a witness to kisses and tears, an outpouring of oil, and a heart exploding with gratitude!

It causes me to take inventory of my own heart and consider what has fueled her acts of thanksgiving.   She has thrown down all she has to love Jesus and as I read the story again it occurs to me that she is grateful for something far beyond any gift this world has to offer.

When Jesus asks Simon who will love more, the person who has been forgiven little or the one who has been forgiven much, I am startled!  Of course!  The magnitude of the woman’s thankfulness hits me and I finally understand.  She knows she has been forgiven much and cannot stop living and giving gratitude to Jesus.  Worship spills out of her as she lavishly loves Jesus with all that she possesses.

She has been forgiven, accepted and loved!

At the cost of her dignity, she lets down her hair and pours out a year’s wage so that she can shout “Thank you!” to her King!  Enfolded in the beauty of her worship I feel my own heart humbled and hungry to wake up and feel the grace I have been given.  I, too, want to worship with kisses and tears and the best I have to offer.

“Lord, I have been forgiven, accepted and loved. Help me to touch this gift and feel its power so that I cannot help but respond by loving lavishly and freely.  Amen.”

What about you?

Are you grateful?  Are you awake to the grace that you have been given?

Have you gotten use to being forgiven?

Are you living free and forgiven?

How are you living and giving gratitude to Jesus?

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