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It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

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After looking at my lastest bank statement, I wondered how much faith I was putting in an account balance versus God’s provision. It’s easy to say that I trust God, but another thing to live it. There are too many days where I rely more on myself and the things of this world than God and his church.

In contemplating this dilemma, I was drawn to 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 where David orders a census of his troops. His advisor Joab warns David, “My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel (verse 3)?” Ultimately David is punished by the Lord for the act of counting the troops, just as Joab foretold.

The problem with the census was the reliance on numbers and earthly strength instead of obedience to God. When I read in verse four that David had 1.1 million men who could handle a sword, I was impressed by the sheer size of his army. It’s easy to see how knowing the size of the army could make you more confident in your own ability to engage in battles not ordained by God. Who wouldn’t feel like you could conquer the world with the size of that army?

The same can be true of us. Over-confidence in our own ability or resources can prompt us to make decisions without consulting God. But the Bible teaches us that being humble and obedient to God is more important than having an army of people behind you or a large account balance. Psalm 90:12 instructs us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That is a much better number to focus on.

In the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel, Israel is in exile and the prophet Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of the restoration of the temple and Israel (chapters 40-48). In 47:8 there is a description of water flowing from the temple into the Dead Sea. The result is that “the salty water there becomes fresh.” Verse 9 tells us that “where the river flows everything will live.”

This is a compelling picture of how God’s living water brings life to formerly dead things. Because of the water from the temple of God, plants bear fruit for food and “leaves for healing (verse 12).” As believers in Jesus Christ we can do the same for people in our lives. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” 

In the course of our day we can let living water flow from the temple within us (1 Cor. 3:16)  to touch people we encounter with the Spirit of God. We can bring fresh water to people who are wading through the saltwater swamps and marshes of life (Ezekiel 47:9-11).

If I boil down the essence of obedience, it usually comes down to a battle of wills — a battle between God’s will and my selfish will. More times than I like to admit, my insistence that I have a right to do something drives me to disobey God. Yet so many of the people in the Bible teach us quite the opposite. 

This is what impresses me about Joseph in Matt. 1:18-24. He had his life planned out for the foreseeable future. He would marry this local girl Mary and they would live happily ever after. Except verse 1:18 tells us that before they came together “she was found to be pregnant.” Joseph responded as any Jewish man might have at that time and decided to act according to Jewish law which gave him the right to divorce her (Deut. 24:1). 

We get a sense that Joseph was a man who deeply desired to follow God. Verse 19 tells us he decided to quietly divorce her to prevent her from facing public disgrace. He planned to follow Jewish law yet he had empathy for Mary. But God had a different plan for Joseph.

In verse 20, an angel tells Jospeh in a dream, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Verse 24 tells us that when Jospeh woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Joseph decided to set aside his right to divorce Mary and instead obey God’s command.

Joseph modeled for us what obedience to God looks like in practice. He laid aside his selfish rights, his plans, in order to follow God’s commands. We should be willing to do the same by letting the Spirit of God guide us instead of our selfish will.

I laid on a bed in the emergency room as the doctor asked me multiple questions about my condition. I answered each question as best as I could, hoping it would help her find what ailed me.

“Does it hurt here?” She finally asked as she pressed the area where I was experiencing discomfort in my abdomen.

“Yes,” I replied as the pressure from her hand made the pain worse.

She paused with a brief look of concern, yet a look that expressed knowledge of what was going on inside of me. The doctor’s patient dialogue with me helped identify what was wrong inside my body. She now had an idea of the potential source of the pain that prompted me to go to the hospital. A subsequent CAT scan enabled a look inside of me that confirmed her suspicions.

Later, after we left the hospital, I thought about how much faith I put in the doctor. I knew something was not right inside of me and I turned to the doctor in the hospital to figure out what was ailing me and to find the right remedy. She gave me a prescription to fight the infection and further instructions to help me get well.

It made me contemplate why I don’t always have the same faith in God or even my church to help me with my struggles in life. Usually the barrier is that I refuse to dialogue with people in my church or even God about the emotional pain deep inside of me. No one can help us if we don’t first open up about the hurt we feel inside. We must be open to prayerfully seeking God for help; open to dialoguing with him. Then we must trust that his instruction is for our own good. 

There are many instances in the gospels where people pursued Jesus for healing. In Luke 8:43-48 a woman reaches out to touch Jesus for healing. In Mark 2:1-12 men lower a paralyzed man from the roof in an effort to reach Jesus for healing. Then there is the blind man in Mark 10:46-52. 

In this passage the blind man hears that Jesus is walking by and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus then asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Verse 52 tells us that Jesus responds, “Go, your faith has healed you.” The man then received his sight.

What if the blind man had not reached out to Christ or not told him what he wanted Jesus to do? It is the dialogue with God that is important; our faith in God to come to us with the right approach to what ails us inside. As Jesus said in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” 

It can be difficult waiting on God to respond to our needs. Often our impatience is born out of our expectations that God will respond according to our plans and schedule. This is what we see in Exodus 5:1-23 where Moses followed God’s request to return to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites. He told Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness (Exodus 5:1).'” Pharaoh promptly refused Moses’ request and then imposed harsher conditions on the enslaved Israelites that made their work even more difficult.

Instead of winning freedom for the Israelites, Moses made things worse for them. The angry Israelite overseers told Moses in Exodus 5:21, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” That is the thanks Moses received for being obedient to God.

It is apparent that Moses had the expectation that he would go ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites and Pharaoh would grant his request. In Exodus 5:22-23 Moses complained to God, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

When God does not meet our expectations, like Moses, we can get angry with God. It is hard to remember that God has the long view of our life and that his timing is perfect. Often when we think he is not responding to our needs he is actually equipping us and preparing the way for us.

Such was the case with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. If Pharaoh had simply let them go the first time Moses asked, all of Egypt would not have experienced the power of God. Because of God’s delay the Israelites plundered Egypt and were well equipped for their journey ahead as well as having gold and silver for the tabernacle and later the temple.

With each chapter of Exodus we can see the wisdom of God’s long view unfold as well as the consequences the Israelites faced for their impatience with God. The lesson for us is to rest in God and trust him even when we get impatient for him to act according to our expectations.

I slipped on my new pair of eyeglasses and was amazed at what I could now clearly see. Over the years my distance vision had slowly deteriorated so that I did not even notice how much I was missing when I looked around me. Now with corrective lenses I could clearly discern what was in front of me.

It made me think about how my spiritual vision can become so clouded that I cannot discern the things of God. If I am not vigilant, this world can fog up my view so that I cannot clearly see the Kingdom of God at work. It is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 8:10, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand (NIV)'” Which was a reference to Isaiah 6:9.

In Luke 8, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable he has just told to the crowd of people gathered to hear him. Jesus describes all the ways that Satan can steal the word of God from us: “…takes away the word from their hearts (verse 12); …in the time of testing they fall away (13); …and choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures (14).” If we lose sight of the word of God for the reasons Jesus lists above, we will not be able persevere and act on it in order to be fruitful for The Lord.

My prayer is that your vision of God’s purpose in your life will remain clear and in focus; that the word of God will continue to work in your heart and not fall prey to the deceit of the evil one. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”

In 1 Samuel 9, the prophet Samuel is about to anoint Saul king over Israel. He tells Saul, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line (verse 20, NIV)?” Saul immediately tells Samuel why he could not possibly be the desire of Israel. He looks to worldly attributes of strength to disqualify himself by explaining that he is from “the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin (verse 20).” He even questions Samuel by saying, “Why do you say such a thing to me?” But Samuel ignores these comments and in chapter 10 he anoints Saul king.

Too often we are quick to dismiss how The Lord views us and the tasks he appoints us to do. We are too quick to measure ourselves by the world’s standards instead of by God’s standards. Throughout the Bible we see God using the weak and lowly to overcome the powerful in the world. Psalm 8:5 tells us that God has made mankind “a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” The Psalm goes on to remind us that we have been made “rulers over the works of your hands.”

It is natural to question what God calls us to do and the position he has given us in his creation. Even the Psalmist pondered in Psalm 8:3-4, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them.” Yet we should take to heart that we are his creation and he has ordained us for a specific purpose in His kingdom on earth. Embrace this role and seek God for the strength to pursue his will in your life. Don’t let the weight of worldly questions about your worth weight you down.

In the midst of late summer, I see the fruits of my labor in my garden. Ripe, red tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers all appear on lush green plants. Flowers blossom bright hues of reds, orange, pink and purple. The grass is a blanket of soft green carpet that feels soft under my feet. I can say that all of this is a result of my work, but I know that none of it would be possible without God’s hand.

We are the benefactors of God’s creation. He could have chosen to place us in a stark and sterile world void of color and a variety of plants and animals. Yet he created a world full of color, beauty, and awesome splendor — a world that soothes our troubled souls with the sound of waves lapping the shore, the fresh smell of rain and the vast display of a mountain range. God offers us so much more through life with him, but like Adam and Eve we often opt to pursue selfish desires.

Psalm 147: 8-11 reminds us of who sustains us and this world we live in: “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

If we only look at the world around us through the eyes of our accomplishments and selfish desires, we will miss seeing the true author of life. God’s love for us is evident in the world he has placed us in. His hope and peace can be found in the life and purpose he has given to us.

I grew up in a very small town. When I tell people the name of the town where I lived as a kid, they typically shrug their shoulders and say, “Never heard of it.” It is of no significance to them. That is how it was for Jesus.

Matthew tells us in verse 2:23 that Joseph settled his family in Nazareth after returning from Egypt. As the verse explains, this was in fulfillment of the prophesy that “he would be called a Nazarene.” InIsrael.com describes Nazareth as so insignificant that it is not even listed in the Talmud or by Josephus. Few people outside of Galilee had ever heard of Nazareth which InIsrael remarks is almost saying Jesus was from nowhere.

Those who did know about Galilee did not speak highly of it. In John 1:45, when Phillip announced to Nathanael he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael remarked, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

If that wasn’t enough, even the residents of Nazareth, the people who grew up with Jesus, rejected him. Luke 4:16-30 describes the account where Jesus returned to Nazareth and proclaimed himself as the Messiah in the synagogue. As a result the people of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff. Jesus’ remark to the people, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Luke4:24),” is an understatement.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth”, as if to say that he is of no significance. In Matthew 26:71, after Jesus is arrested and taken away to be crucified, a servant girl accused Peter of being with “Jesus of Nazareth”. In Mark 10:47 when the blind man heard that “Jesus of Nazareth” is near, he promptly corrected them by shouting, “Jesus, Son of David.” Many rebuked him for saying that.

Even the apostles are labeled with the term Nazarene. In Acts 24 when Paul was brought before the governor he was accused of being a trouble maker who is stirring up riots. They go as far to say, “He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.”

When we associate ourselves with Jesus, we take on the label of being a Nazarene. People will look at you as if you are from nowhere significant. They will look at you and say, “Can anything good come from you?” While your hometown may not try to throw you off a cliff, your friends and family may not accept your new life in Christ. You may even be accused of being a ringleader for that Jesus of Nazareth.

To follow Christ means we must stop identifying ourselves with the titles and addresses of prestige in this world, and be willing to identify ourselves as being a follower of Jesus the Nazarene, “a ring leader of the Nazarene sect.”

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