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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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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Jesus: Alpha and Omega

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I spent the fall leading a group studying God’s covenants in the Old Testament and how Jesus fulfilled them in the New Testament. Learning about the ways God’s plan unfolds through the centuries has given me an even deeper appreciation for why we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He was there with God at the dawn of creation and will be there in the earth’s last days.   Jesus says it clearly in the book of Revelation:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13, NIV)

In spite of His lofty position, He was willing to become a baby and grow up in our fallen world because He loves us so desperately. He endured it all so we could be saved from our sins and so we could choose to have a relationship with Him.

As I’ve been reading daily advent devotions this season, a few have driven home this concept of Jesus as Alpha and Omega: the One who was there in the beginning and will be there in the end. I’d like to share two new things that struck me about Jesus and the Christmas story in a new way.

Old Testament Connection

Jefferson Bethke’s devotion Jesus, True Jubilee provides new insight on the lengthy list of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1.                He points out that the names are organized in six groups of seven names. The next name, Jesus, was at the beginning of the seventh group of seven names. The Jews reading Matthew’s gospel would have understood the significance of this this:

“The idea of 7 7’s had been in the Jewish world for hundreds of years, as the sign of completing and celebration. More     specifically, it pointed to the party and celebration of Jubilee. The Jubilee year would be the completion of the sabbatical years. Every 7 years God commanded Israel to take an entire Sabbath year. Rest. Let the crops chill. Enjoy His presence. But every 7th cycle of 7 years (so every 49 years) Israel was to throw an incredible party that entailed a few things — large scale debt would get cancelled, slaves would be set free, and God’s presence would be particularly manifest in the year of Jubilee….

Now back to Matthew. You can see just how explosive the list of names now becomes. In a very creative and fresh way Matthew is saying that the entire year of Jubilee that the Old Testament laid down was simply an arrow or signpost pointing to Jesus as the true Jubilee. With Him beginning the 7th group of 7 Matthew is saying Jesus is ushering in the true Jubilee!

Our spiritual debts are cancelled. We as slaves to sin are set free. And God’s presence is particularly made manifest in the fact that God Himself, Jesus, is walking among us! …When He entered into our world, He was bringing with Him an entire world Himself — a new way to live, to act, to love, and to know God face to face.”  (Jesus, True Jubilee, Jefferson Bethke, http://www.faithgateway.com)

New Testament Connection

I never realized the Christmas story is also told in Revelation from a very different perspective. Author John Eldredge describes it in a devotion I read recently:

“Contrast your associations with Christmas night to this description given to us from heaven’s point of view:

I saw a woman… She was pregnant, and she cried out in the pain of labor as she awaited her delivery. Suddenly, I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail dragged down one-third of the stars, which he threw to the earth. He stood before the woman as she was about to give birth to her child, ready to devour the baby as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a boy who was to rule all nations with an iron rod…

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and the angels under his command fought the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle and was forced out of heaven. This great dragon — the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world — was thrown down to the earth with all his angels… And when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle. This allowed her to fly to a place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time… Then the dragon… declared war against the rest of her children — all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus. (Revelation 12)

Eldredge continues:  “Startling. Vivid. Disturbing for sure. And an essential part of the story.

I would pay good money to have a nativity scene with this included. Not only would it capture our imagination, I think it would better prepare us to celebrate the holidays and to go on to live in the story Christmas invites us into.

Yes — Christmas is the glow of candlelight on golden straw, and a Baby sleeping in a manger. It is starlight, shepherds in a field and the visit of magi from the east. But Christmas is also an invasion. The kingdom of God striking at the heart of the kingdom of darkness, with violent repercussions.” (Remember the Dragon: Christmas Is an Invasion, John Eldrege, http://www.faithgateway.com)

God’s Perfect Plan

The more I study the Bible, the more I’m in awe of God’s perfect plan and the way it all unfolds. The fact that God’s instructions for the Jews in the Old Testament would connect to Jesus’ place in the genealogy shows His attentiveness to detail. The idea that Jesus’ birth is described in the last book of the Bible from heaven’s perspective leaves me speechless.   Both concepts reinforce the fact that Jesus is the center of God’s plan to redeem people in every generation. The person of Jesus is subtly or overtly woven throughout every plotline contained in the Bible. What a privilege it is to hold His Word in our hands and to be able to study it. What a thrill it is to realize again that His Word is living and active, always revealing new truths.

I pray your Christmas celebrations are more meaningful as you consider Jesus, the Alpha and Omega who humbled Himself and came to earth for our sakes. What a blessing and privilege it is to be included in a love story that started when time began and will continue until it ends.

Click on the link for a Christmas worship moment with Chris Tomlin’s “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).”

 


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Listen and Respond

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“Sweetie, it’s time to put down your iPad and set the table,” I say as I pull dinner out of the oven.

My son sits a few feet away, engrossed in a game on a tiny screen. He doesn’t respond, so I wait a minute and then try again.

“I think you’ve reached your time limit for today. Can you put that down now and set the table?”

After a long pause he looks up, “Sorry, mom, did you say something?”

I make the request again with a hint of irritation in my voice. “Seriously, buddy? This is the third time I’ve asked. Can you please turn that thing off and set the table? Dinner is ready.”

He’s annoyed and a little injured at my sharp response. “Geez, sorry. I didn’t hear you. I just needed to finish that one race or I’d lose all my points.”

The apology feels weak to me, but I sigh and let it go. Finally, he turns off his screen and sets the table, although he’s not pleased about the interruption.

I know this regular scenario with my son is not unique. While it would be easy to pick on kids “these days” or to highlight how the fixation with screens seem to be making people oblivious to their surroundings, these issues are not solely the fault of technology. They are a basic flaw of human nature and have existed since time began. We like to make our own agendas and aren’t fond of having them interrupted.  Sadly, one of the main relationships where this happens is between humans and God.

We simply tune out messages we don’t want to hear from Him or we hear them and choose not to respond. Other times, we miss the point and react begrudgingly and with plenty of protesting. Once in a while, we respond and are surprised to discover the joy and fulfillment that come when we put our own agendas aside and trust God instead.

I think that is why the Christmas story is so striking to me. The characters in it don’t do the normal things people do, which is probably why God chose to reveal Himself to them.

Let’s start with Mary. She’s a teenage girl who receives a visit from an angel telling her that her whole life is about to become incredibly messy and complicated. Instead of recoiling in fear or asking questions like: Why me? What am I going to tell my betrothed, Joseph? What will people think of me? She responds by saying: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said…My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” (Luke 1:38, 46-49, NIV) Her response reveals a trust in God and an acceptance of His will that is both humbling and inspiring. Not only does she listen and respond, she praises Him for using her to accomplish His plan.

Next, we have Joseph, her betrothed.   Upon finding out the news that his fiancee is pregnant, he makes plans to divorce her quietly (Jewish betrothal was legally binding, not like engagements today). However, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and explains that Mary is miraculously pregnant with the long promised Messiah. When Joseph awakens, he doesn’t say: Why me? What are people in the community going to think about me going through with this marriage? Instead “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24, NIV) Joseph listened and responded to God, going against the accepted and respected norms of his culture and community.

Third, we have the Shepherds watching over their flocks in a field outside Bethlehem. A great company of angels appears to them and tells them that the Savior has been born in Bethlehem. “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 ben told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed.” (Luke 2:15-18a)

It was probably not convenient to pack up and leave the field to find the Christ child. Yet, we don’t see the shepherds stopping to question whether it’s worth the effort. They respond to the angels and are so amazed by what they find that they can’t contain their excitement. After seeing Him, they immediately spread the word about the birth of Jesus. Despite being social outcasts, they don’t hesitate to share the miracle they’ve just witnessed with anyone they encounter.

Finally, we have the Magi. They’ve been watching the stars and travel from the east when they see the one indicating a King has been born. Imagine the time, effort and expense required for these Gentiles to embark on a journey to find the King of the Jews. Although they usually appear in nativity scenes, Scripture tells us that they arrived a while after Jesus was born (commentators range in estimates from a few months to two years).   After finding the Messiah, worshipping Him and presenting him with gifts, they have a similar experience to Joseph. “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matthew 2:12, NIV). Upon waking, they don’t question whether God has spoken– they simply respond by taking action. Their obedience prevents Herod from discovering the whereabouts of the infant King that he plans to murder to eliminate the threat to his throne.

Olive woodcarvings of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and Magi are carefully arranged around the infant King lying in a manger atop my family’s piano. As I walk past them this year, I keep thinking about the crucial parts each of them played in the Christmas story. Mary could have been angry, indignant or fearful about being singled out by God. Instead, she responded with humility and obedience, praising God for choosing to use her as part of His plan. Joseph could have let the fear of going against his culture cause him to abandon Mary and miss out on being Jesus’ earthly father. The shepherds could have ignored the angels and rationalized that leaving the fields to find the Christ child in town was too inconvenient and not worth the effort. What an amazing moment in God’s plan they would have missed. The Magi could have appreciated the star, but avoided the massive undertaking of finding the King it heralded. Yet they spared no expense for the simple privilege of worshiping God in the form of a tiny baby.

What would each of these characters have missed if they’d been too busy, fearful, doubtful, cynical, frugal or inconvenienced to listen to God? Maybe we display their likenesses prominently during the Christmas season because their actions were so contrary to human nature. They inspire us to consider anew where we might be ignoring God or failing to respond to His promptings. God can and will use anyone to accomplish His will. If we choose not to listen to Him, He will find other willing hearts. We’ll just miss out on what He wants to do in and through us.

My prayer this Christmas season is that my agenda won’t distract me from God’s promptings.   I pray that I’ll be so tuned into His Spirit that I’m ready to act when He nudges me. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men give us an example that is worth following throughout the year. It was messy, complicated, costly and inconvenient for them to listen and respond, but it changed the course of their lives and all of human history. I think it was worth it.

Will you consider one area where you can tune into God more this season? Once you’ve heard from Him, will you trust Him and respond? Life might not stay neat and orderly, but I think you’ll find being used by God makes all of that seem insignificant by comparison.

Click on the link for a profound moment of celebrating the miracle of Christmas with Bebo Norman’s song “Come and Worship.”


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The Lure of Lesser Lights

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Jesus tells us: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) The many lights that twinkle during the Christmas season celebrate this truth. I like to believe that all lights people hang at this time of year give Him praise, whether they were intended to or not. However, as much as I love this season, I often take my eyes off Jesus. Sometimes the true Light is only in my peripheral vision as I let lesser lights guide me during this hectic time of year.

The Bible reminds us that God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths. (Psalm 119:105) However, spending quiet time with the Lord can get pushed aside as other things vie for our attention. So many shiny lights blink with urgency that it’s easy to let them guide us in place of God’s Word.

One of the biggest pitfalls for us is the lure of meeting expectations that abound during this season. All of those real or imagined hopes we try to fulfill lead us down a path to exhaustion.   We can spend the season trying to find the right gift, decorate the house exquisitely, bake everyone’s traditional favorites, wear the perfect Christmas outfit, or maintain cherished traditions. The season can become engulfed with fulfilling expectations. However, when we let them be the lamp to our feet and the light to our path, we often end up feeling physically and emotionally depleted.

Every day we have to make a conscious choice: we can choose to light our paths with the world’s expectations or we can choose to light our paths by spending time with the Lord in His Word. The light we choose to lead us influences the direction we go. One path leads to disappointment, the other to joy. The best way to keep Jesus in the center of the Christmas season is to keep Him central in our daily lives, especially when we feel too busy. Even if our formal Bible study groups are on a break for the holidays, our personal times with God can continue. It is the one thing that will keep us in alignment with Him during this busy season and into the New Year. Let’s not let the “urgent” tasks of the moment cause us to sacrifice what is ultimately most important.

Thinking about this reminded me of a letter my husband and I wrote to our boys last Christmas. We’d bought them new Bibles and wanted to explain their importance. Our goal was to help them understand the reason we make reading and studying the Bible a priority in our lives. Here is a short excerpt from that letter:

“Our hope and prayer is that as you get older, you will immerse yourself in God’s word and see that it is the jumping off place for everything in life. It will give you wisdom about your daily choices, your relationships, your future plans, and so much more. It will show you who God is and what He thinks of you. It will show you how to pray and what to pray for. It will equip you with the tools you need to engage in spiritual battle. It will give you confidence to obey God when it would be easier to follow the crowd. It will give you hope no matter what difficulty you find yourself in. It will tell you the truth when the world tells you lies. It will give you a firm foundation for making big life decisions. It will give you wisdom when you don’t know what to do. But, it will only do these things if you take the time to read it, study it, and talk about it with others. As you “marinate” in the Bible, the truth you discover will flavor who you are and impact the world around you. You will further God’s kingdom on earth as you live out the things you learn in the Bible.”

This Christmas season, let’s not let our Bibles gather dust on our shelves as we’re on a break from our usual routines and engrossed in the holiday season.   Before you turn on your computer or tablet, check your phone, unfold the newspaper, or click on the TV, try sitting quietly with Him for a few minutes at the beginning of your day.

-Read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2 and Matthew 1 & 2 and prophesies about Jesus in Isaiah 9:2-7, Isaiah 42:1-9, Isaiah 55:1-13 and Micah 7:18-20.

-Review your most recent Bible study workbook and complete the parts you skipped during the busyness of the fall.

-Write a short prayer. Commit your day to God and trust Him to guide you. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you.

The things that seem so urgent will still be there when you’re finished. The ones that need your attention will get done and the others won’t matter quite so much.

If these suggestions sound idealistic and unrealistic because of your hectic schedule, pray that God will multiply your time. He’s ready and waiting to spend time with you and will orchestrate your day to make it possible. All you have to do is ask.

Start a new tradition this Christmas and make time daily to let God’s Word light your path instead of letting expectations be your primary guiding light. Instead being disappointed and exhausted, you’ll find God’s Word leaves you fulfilled and energized. As His peace rests upon you, you’ll bless others in a way that outshines fulfilling even the grandest of expectations.

Click on the link to celebrate the true Light of Christmas with Chris Tomlin’s “Light of the World.”