Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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Only One Thing is Needed This Christmas

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My kids anticipate December with glee. I approach it like a set of tasks to be tackled. With the Christmas season upon us, the notepad I keep on my desk has an ever-growing list scrawled on it. As soon as I cross something off, I’m adding several more things that need to be done. I feel the joy and wonder of the Advent season only after I’ve accomplished everything that “needs” to be done, which usually happens sometime around midnight on December 24.

My endless list making, shopping, decorating, and baking often cause me to miss the best part of the season: focusing on the significance of Jesus’ arrival on earth. This incessant busyness reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)

Martha missed out on enjoying Jesus’ presence in her home because she was distracted making preparations for Him. When I imagine Him responding to Martha’s complaint about Mary, I picture Jesus speaking the words with love and tenderness. Rather than scolding her, I believe He wanted to change her perspective and show her what really matters.

Like Martha, we often make things more complicated than they need to be- especially when planning for Christmas. When our preparations make us worried and upset, it’s time to take a step back, get a new perspective and simplify. Sometimes we’re inspired to do something one season and when the next Christmas rolls around we feel obligated to do it again. Then, instead of being motivated by love, we’re trying to please people and cater to their expectations.   Soon, the gift or activity or recipe that started as an inspiration becomes a tradition we feel required to keep forever more.   I wonder how many of us maintain traditions that have lost their meaning, just because of our own expectations or the desire to please others.

Thinking about this reminds me of a lesson I learned after many years of trying to celebrate my son on his birthday. Starting when he was one year old, I would plan celebrations for him that included a large number of guests and activities. I put in a lot of effort orchestrating events that would be fun, food that would please a crowd and gifts that would delight him. Yet at each of his birthday parties, I noticed he was anxious and overwhelmed. He rarely seemed to be enjoying himself despite being surrounded by large numbers of friends and family members. Year after year, I tried to make special celebrations for him, but the outcome always seemed the same.

Finally, when he’d reached fifth grade, I was tired of planning elaborate parties and suggested he choose one friend to invite on a special outing. Rather than being disappointed about not having a big party, he seemed thrilled about spending time with a good friend at a place he enjoyed. The only thing that carried over from his previous celebrations was the type of cake he wanted me to bake. It was the easiest party I ever planned. It was also the most enjoyable one not only for my son, but for the rest of our family too. He still gets a dreamy look in his eyes and murmurs, “That was awesome” when we reminisce about it.

I wonder sometimes if it’s the same with Jesus. Does He watch us scurry around getting ready for His birthday and think, just stop and be with me! Does He look at our need to please others with the perfect gift and feel sad that we’re denying ourselves the time to enjoy His presence? Are we so busy making exterior preparations for Christmas that we are forgetting the interior preparation of our hearts?

I know from other seasons of busyness that when I spend time with Jesus first, everything else has a way of falling into place. Tasks that are important get completed and the rest just stop mattering so much. My prayer as we enter the Advent season is that we will make time for the “one thing that is needed.” When we focus on Emmanuel, God with us, we remember the true reason we celebrate this season.

Click on the link to hear Third Day’s song, “Christmas Like a Child.” I hope the lyrics will stir a deep joy in you, especially if you’ve lost your way and Christmas has become more of a chore than a celebration. Listen and remember that it’s all about Jesus. Let’s pray that everything we do this season will be motivated by our love for Him.