Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Christmas Story Symmetry

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Perhaps you’ve seen a sketch of Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, which depicts the amazing symmetry of the human body and shows a beautiful merging of art, science and math.  In case you’ve forgotten what you learned in high school art class, symmetry is the balance and consistency of pattern on opposite sides.  If you drew a vertical line down the middle of DaVinci’s drawing above, there would be correlating parts on each side that matched up with one another. You see symmetry in art, architecture, interior design and living beings.

Recently I came across a different kind of symmetry that is more about stories and events in Scripture that balance and complement one another. I wanted to learn about the town  of Bethlehem by looking at the different places it’s mentioned.  What I discovered  were some parallels between the Old and New Testaments I hadn’t noticed before. It appears that the One who designed us to have beautifully symmetrical bodies also orchestrated symmetrical events in Scripture. Here are a few that stand out to me:

Ruth and the Shepherds

The book of Ruth tells the story of a Moabite woman who traveled to Bethlehem with her Israelite mother-in-law to live there after the deaths of their husbands. As a poor, foreign widow, Ruth was about as low in social status as a person could be. Her means of survival came from picking up leftover grain in a field just outside the town of Bethlehem owned by a kind and godly man named Boaz. He would later become her husband and father a child that would be in the line of King David and ultimately, the Messiah.

Now fast-forward in history to the book of Luke, where we read that on the night of Jesus’ birth angels appeared to startled shepherds tending their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Like Ruth, these men would have been societal outcasts. In spite of their unimpressive status, God chose to send angels to them to announce the birth of his son, the Messiah.

It’s beautiful symmetry set up over a thousand years apart. In both cases, God revealed himself to lowly people in a field outside Bethlehem. In that place he showed his provision to Ruth and his glory to the shepherds. And in both instances, he revealed his accessibility to all people, regardless of their social standing or nationality.

David, Mary & Joseph

Bethlehem appears again in the story of David, one of the most prominent kings in Israelite history. In 1 Samuel 16 we learn that David’s original home was in Bethlehem. Later in 2 Samuel 7 God promised David that through him he would establish a family line that would endure forever, ultimately producing the Messiah.

About a thousand years later, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for a census. Since both were from the family line of David they were required to register there. Soon after arriving, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the One who would save the world from sin and fulfill God’s promise that David’s family line would endure forever.

I love the symmetry of this ancient promise to a powerful king from Bethlehem being fulfilled in that very place through a humble and willing peasant girl.

Micah and The Magi

Micah prophesied about the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem roughly 800 years before it occurred saying, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2, NIV)

Eight centuries later, an unusual star appeared in the sky, catching the notice of a group of scholars from the east (Matthew 2 refers to them as Magi). These men traveled to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews that the star heralded, logically assuming that a king would be born in the capital city. After arriving, they inquired of King Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Because he was not a Jew, King Herod consulted with the chief priests and scribes to learn where the Messiah was to be born. They answered by quoting Micah 5:2, the same passage written above. Despite being gentiles, the Magi had come to worship the Jewish king, revealing their understanding that he was accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Don’t miss the beautiful symmetry of Micah’s prophesy in the Old Testament and the fact that it is quoted in the New Testament to guide the Magi to Jesus. Also, think of the symmetry between the Magi, who were wealthy, educated gentiles from a foreign land and the shepherds who were poor, uneducated locals with Jewish blood running through their veins. God revealed himself to people at opposite ends of the spectrum, showing us that Jesus is the Savior of all and available to all regardless of any human distinctions such as race, creed, nationality, social status, financial status, or education level. He welcomes all who genuinely seek him with humble hearts.

For me, seeing the bigger scope of God’s plan makes the miracle of Christmas even more powerful. Recognizing that events in the Old Testament have direct and specific links to ones in the New Testament inspires awe, reminding me that the original concept of symmetry came from the Creator himself. I pray that like me, you will find moments to be awe-struck by God this Christmas as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah for all people.

I understand so much more about “the hopes and fears of all the years” after studying Bethlehem’s significance from Old Testament to New. Click on the link and enjoy a new version of an old favorite: “O Little Town (The Glory of Christmas)” by Matt Redman.

(Note to my Life In Focus Blog followers: my blog is simultaneously being posted on two different sites for now.  Eventually it will only be posted at my new site: http://www.marybethmccullum.com.  Please consider subscribing to it there!)

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True vs Truth- No Other Gods Session 3, Post 2

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(Fourth in a series on Kelly Minter’s Bible study, No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols)

I carry an ache with me all the time lately, even though I’m physically fine. I feel it most profoundly at night when I kiss my oldest son goodnight after putting my hand on his head to pray for him. I feel it when I look at the stacks of college-related books and papers sitting on our office counter and each time I review another essay he’s written for an application. My son will become a legal adult in the spring and shortly afterwards, he’ll walk across a stage wearing a cap and gown, signifying the end of his childhood and the beginning of the next chapter in his life. And although this is right and good, the sadness overwhelms me sometimes.

In my twenties, I used to envision the family I would have someday. More often than not, I would picture what my future children would be like as teenagers. Much of the planning my husband and I did focused on the era we’re now enjoying with our two boys. As I think about our oldest son preparing to launch into adulthood, it feels like the wave we’ve been riding since we started our family is about to crash on the sand. After all, the era we’ve been anticipating for years and enjoying thoroughly is going to change forever within the next year. Sometimes I’m tempted to feel a little hopeless, thinking life right now is as good as it gets.

Fixating on this could lead me down a dangerous path of negative thinking.  I could spend so much time dwelling on all of the things that will never happen again that I could miss out on embracing this new season my family is entering.  I have one boy on the brink of adulthood and another who will follow in a few years. Part of parenting means equipping our kids to launch well. So, while it’s true that my kids are getting older and our years raising them will come to an end, the truth is our relationship with them won’t. Beyond parenting, I trust God has many more fulfilling endeavors for my husband and me in the years ahead. Some may involve our kids, but others won’t.

True vs. truth:  it’s a concept that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days as I’ve been working through Session 3 in No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.  She uses the story of Adam and Eve to drive home some powerful observations about what happens when we fixate on isolated things that are “true” but fail to see the larger context of Truth (with a capital “T”).  As you may remember, Satan appears in the garden in the form of a serpent and questions Eve about God’s command not to eat from a specific tree. After he plants seeds of doubt about God’s goodness in Eve’s mind, the serpent cunningly convinces her to disobey God and try the fruit:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6-7, NIV)

Kelly Minter points out that while the serpent did deceive Eve, nothing he said was false in that immediate moment:  they did gain knowledge of good and evil and they did not die on the spot (although their disobedience did ultimately bring death into the world).  She quotes Michael Wells of Abiding Life Ministries who says, “Satan will tell us what’s true, but he never tells us the truth.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote all week.  How often do I fixate on what is “true” in the moment, but fail to see the bigger Truth?

There are many times when I let what is true at a certain time deceive me and prevent me from seeing the bigger picture– like feeling sad about my kids growing up but forgetting that I’m doing my job right if they’re actually becoming capable adults. I can lose perspective on other things too– like when a friend unintentionally hurts me, or when the scale doesn’t show the weight I expect to see.  It might be an unanticipated expense that threatens my confidence in God’s provision. It could be feeling despair about the direction our nation and world are headed and failing to remember that God is still sovereign over it all.  The opportunities to focus on the little “t” instead of the big “T” are endless.

Armed with my new knowledge, I regularly pray for the discernment to see the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” I don’t want to be so easily deceived or to get so wrapped up in the small things that I fail to recognize the big picture. Jesus tells us in John 16:33  “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Now that’s Truth with a capital “T” that I can believe, no matter what.

The link below is one of my favorite songs and the video with it shows the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” Click on the link and enjoy “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray.

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