Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Know Jesus, Know Peace

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Some nights, sleep eludes me- especially with the list of things to remember during the Christmas season. I wake up at three in the morning and my mind begins to race. Like a Border collie herding sheep, my thoughts dart around my brain attempting to corral the tangle of ideas that fill my mind. I can go on this way for hours, tossing and turning in the dark until I remember to whisper a prayer.   Finally, my mind rests as I lay it all at God’s feet and accept the gift of peace He promises in His Word.

The theme of peace is woven throughout the story of the Messiah, from Old Testament to New. Isaiah called the Christ child the “Prince of Peace” hundreds of years before Gabriel told Mary she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 9:6, and Luke 1:31-33, NIV). The angels celebrated the birth of Jesus by giving glory to God and proclaiming “peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV) Jesus, the Messiah, would usher peace into the world unlike anything previously experienced.

Once He was a grown man and began His ministry, Jesus had much to say about the kind of peace He was bringing to earth. Knowing the troubles His followers would face, He gave this reassurance shortly before He was crucified:

 All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-27, NIV)

The peace Jesus offered came in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. The disciples would not fully understand what He meant until later when they experienced the Spirit’s power after Jesus ascended into heaven (see Acts 1 & 2 for the story). Today, however, His followers have unlimited access to the power and peace of the Holy Spirit.  All they have to do is ask for it.

Later Jesus also explained:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Jesus didn’t promise that He would make life easy or ensure circumstances would go according to our plans. He didn’t promise that things would always be happy. Jesus knew we would face troubles, that we would feel overwhelmed and that our fears would sometimes get the best of us. That is why He reminded us that the peace He gives is not like what the world offers—it is far greater. His peace is not based on circumstances, but on a much deeper sense of well being rooted in having a relationship with Him.

As I consider my sleepless nights and the imaginary Border collie that tries to herd my worries, I realize that what’s missing in my metaphor is a shepherd. Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10, so next time I’m fretting when I should be sleeping, I’ll picture Him walking beside that yapping collie, bringing order and peace to the chaos that sometimes rules my mind. I’ll imagine Him walking with focus and purpose, never frazzled or rushed. In His hand, He holds a curved staff that He uses to corral both the worries and the stray thoughts that keep me awake. And the next time I see a candy cane, I’ll let it remind me of my Good Shepherd’s staff.  I’ll thank Him for the gift of peace He brought at Christmas that is mine to keep throughout the year.

Given the sheep & shepherd metaphor, it seems only fitting that shepherds were the first ones to worship the newborn king all those years ago in Bethlehem. Click on the link and enjoy Sidewalk Prophets’ musical celebration of that sacred event: “What a Glorious Night.” Merry Christmas!

“What a Glorious Night” by Sidewalk Prophets

 

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When God Reassures- Women of the Word Part 1b

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There’s no doubt that Mary, the mother of Jesus, inspires us. I’m astounded by the trust she showed when God interrupted her life with the news that she would bear the Messiah. In spite of this, sometimes the Christmas story is so familiar that we don’t remember Mary and Joseph were actual people, not just characters in the nativity scene. We forget they didn’t know how their story would unfold—they had to trust God to reveal things in His timing.

Nine months after the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear God’s son, she and Joseph traveled eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for a census. The Bible remains factual in its description of the events, leaving us to guess what emotions they must have been feeling.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. “ (Luke 2:4-7, NIV)

I remember being nervous when I went into labor, especially the first time. My nesting instinct was powerful as I prepared our home for the arrival of our son. Yet unlike me, Mary didn’t have the luxury of putting life in order to calm her fears. She was too busy looking for a warm, dry place to lie down and deliver her firstborn. Despite her faith and trust in God, I think she must have had doubts and fears to overcome, just like the rest of us.

What might she have been feeling about the conditions surrounding Jesus’ birth? Was she afraid? Probably. Was she confused about being in such a desperate situation? Possibly.  Was she thinking about the symbolism of the Savior being born in humble circumstances to show that God was accessible to all people? Doubtful.

We don’t know what Mary and Joseph did after Jesus’ birth, but I imagine her huddled near the manger as her newborn slept. She must have been exhausted and in pain from the journey to Bethlehem and the grueling labor and delivery (without the benefit of pain medication or modern medicine). The smell of the animals probably hung in the air as she tried to nestle into the rough straw to rest. Was this how she pictured giving birth to the King of Kings when Gabriel announced her pregnancy nine months earlier?

The story shifts at this point to a different scene outside of Bethlehem. Shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks when a brilliant light suddenly penetrated the darkness. Their hearts pounded as an angel appeared  proclaiming the birth of the long-awaited Savior.

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:13-18, NIV)

I wonder if the shepherds’ visit showed God’s tenderness toward a young mother at a fragile moment. In that dark, cold place, their arrival brought the reassurance Mary needed most.  It affirmed God was still sovereign and that even these unusual circumstances were part of His perfect plan. When the shepherds left, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, NIV)

No doubt, they’d told Mary and Joseph about the angels that appeared to them. Did hearing this remind Mary of her own visit with an angel a few months earlier? Did she remember Gabriel’s assurances that God favored her and that she had no reason to fear? Would those words and the reminder of the shepherds’ visit sustain her through difficulties she would face in the months and years ahead? I think so.

I believe God is still in the business of providing tangible encouragement today.  He regularly reassures me when my faith and confidence waver, often using a combination of circumstances, people, songs  and Scriptures.

How has God reassured you in the midst of disheartening moments? Do you need his comfort today? Seek Him and He’ll supply exactly what you need in the midst of difficulties in your life.

Click on the link to hear “Who Comes this Night” sung by James Taylor and written by Dave Grusin and Sally Stevens. It made me weepy as I imagined the scene from Mary’s perspective. What hope and encouragement it must have brought her!

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When God Interrupts- Women of the Word Part 1

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“Hey, Aunt Marybeth—would you be up for having me recover from my knee surgery at your house? I thought it might be a little more comfortable than my dorm room.”

My attitude toward my nephew’s request could have gone one of two ways. I could have viewed it as presumptuous and an imposition interrupting my family’s busy schedule. Or, I could have considered it an honor that he felt comfortable enough to ask us for help. My family had developed a close relationship with him since he began attending a college near our home, so the request was easy for him to make and for us to grant. Opening our home to him had always been a blessing to us and this was no exception. Being there for him after surgery just deepened his relationship with our family further.

I remembered that event and the blessing of having life interrupted as I read Mary’s story in Luke 1 recently. Scripture tells us that Mary was a virgin, pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. In a stunning set of events, an angel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” He explained that Mary would conceive a child who would rule on David’s throne and that her son’s kingdom would never end. In other words, she would be the mother to the Messiah that had been promised since the time of Abraham, thousands of years earlier.

Not surprisingly, the news of this impending life interruption troubled Mary greatly since she was an unmarried virgin. Under Jewish law, she could have been stoned to death as an adulteress for being pregnant out of wedlock. Even if she wasn’t accused of adultery, her plans for the future were going to be derailed by this unexpected pregnancy. However, after the angel explained a few more details, Mary responded simply, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.”

I marvel at the way Mary relinquished her plans for God’s greater purposes. She trusted Him and didn’t ask about how He would work out all of the potential problems that lay ahead. She was open to Him, no matter how disruptive His plans would be to her life. It’s humbling, isn’t it?

From a worldly perspective Mary had much to lose through this pregnancy as an unwed teenager. It could have signaled the end of her betrothal to Joseph and the beginning of a life ostracized from her family and her community. Yet, Mary knew God had a vantage point beyond what she could see. She didn’t let possible negative outcomes keep her from being open to His plan. She didn’t know how things would work out, but she did know Who would work them out for her.

Reading further in Luke 1, we find Mary’s song of praise to God, often referred to as The Magnificat. In the nine verses of her song in Luke 1:46-55, she recounted God’s greatness and remembered His deeds from the Israelites’ history. She recognized that the child she carried would fulfill the promise God made to Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation…and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2a & 3b, NIV)   Throughout her song, Mary quoted passages from Psalms, Isaiah, Habakuk, Exodus, Jeremiah and 2 Samuel.

Mary’s song reveals her tremendous knowledge of Scripture and a deep understanding of God’s character. Maybe this is part of the reason He chose her to bear His son. She recognized the significant role she had been chosen to play and rejoiced in it saying, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name…He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:48b, 49, 54, 55, NIV) She knew God kept the promises He made because she had seen it throughout the history of her people. She applied what she learned to her circumstances and lived like she believed it was true.

Mary’s example humbles me, but it also inspires me. Her knowledge of Scripture and her ability to apply what she learned to her life makes me want to study it even more. Her openness to God’s interruptions challenges me to be mindful of the ways He wants to bless me with unanticipated opportunities. Her willingness to accept God’s new plan for her life and to believe He would use it for good makes me want to pray for His will more and mine less. Mary saw beyond her circumstances and recognized that God would impact the world through the child she would bear. This attitude causes me to evaluate my prayers and to consider how often they focus on my needs and my little world versus praying for God to use me for His purposes and His greater good.

How does Mary’s story impact you? Are you open to God’s interruptions in your carefully orchestrated plans? Do you want to see beyond yourself and to let Him use you to impact the world? I pray this Christmas season will be one that provides new opportunities to encounter Him and to recognize the blessing of His divine interruptions.

Francesca Battistelli’s song “Be Born in Me” provides a beautiful example of Mary’s willing spirit. Click on the link and enjoy a Christmas worship moment as you listen.

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