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The word miracle means different things to different people. To some it can simply be the birth of a child, while to others it would need to be on par with over a million Israelites passing through the Red Sea on dry land to qualify. Yet, I think we could agree that God is in both events, the natural and simple and the large and earthshaking. However, we seem to rarely ever see these blockbuster types of miracles anymore. Why not? What does it take for God to perform major miracles?
Let’s look at the account of the Israelites departing Egypt in Exodus 14. After the firstborn in the land had been smitten things went pretty well for the children of God, that is, until Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he gathered up 600 chariots and took off after them. “And they were afraid, and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord.” (v 10) The stage is set for a miracle when there is great need. The Israelites were bordered by the Red Sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other.
The response Moses gave to his people was, “fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” (v 13) Out of that million there was one with absolute solid faith, and that is our next needed ingredient; a powerful, positive belief that God will do what needs to be done. Sometimes this step is harder than the miracle itself, having the faith that it can and will happen. “The Lord will fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” (v 14)
First the need, then the application of faith, and next, the going forward. (v 15) It’s OK to wait on the Lord but that doesn’t mean dropping everything and relaxing while God does all the work. The rest is in your faith in God, believing that He will do what needs to be done, and in the time He thinks appropriate. We need to trust he will do it and go forward.
And why does God perform miracles? Not to just show off but to show to all that He is God, the most powerful force to be reckoned with, and that we, as weak as we are, have more reason to glorify and worship Him. That’s praised and not dismissed.
I remember a few years ago listening to a Christian man who, with his family, were running through the jungles of Southeast Asia; running from the atrocities of Pol Pot. In one instance they were fleeing at night as fast as they could from armed men and suddenly realized they had crossed a river about as large as our Susquehanna and had not gotten wet. There was also a moment when they were caught and while standing together, the leader of the military group aimed his gun at this man and pulled the trigger. CLICK. He pointed his gun skyward and it fired. Again pointed it at this man. CLICK. CLICK. Again skyward, it fired. In the ensuing excitement they were able to escape. It was a modern day miracle and it met the conditions of need, faith, and not just sitting down and waiting. And God was getting all the glory through his testimony.
Miracles were not only for the time of Moses; they are also for those today who believe in the power of the living God. No one ever goes through their entire life without having a great need arise. It is no sin to ask God for a miracle.
“And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook; and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.” (I Sam 17:40) The Philistine in this verse was Goliath and his adversary with the five stones was the shepherd boy David. Most of us know what happened next and that David only needed one stone to fell his giant opponent, but we can attach some meanings to those five stones he collected, meanings that were applicable to David yet are also instructional to us today.
We can name his first stone courage. The whole Israelite army shook with fear when confronted by the giant Philistine, even King Saul who was taller than all around him. But for David, years of protecting his flocks from predators gave him a boldness to face all challenges, a trait that repeated itself in his life throughout Scripture.
And so we can name his second stone confidence. Each victory won, no matter how small, added to David’s faith and confidence. He didn’t trust his youthful abilities alone but also in the power and supremacy of his God.
David’s third stone we will label preparation. Do you think he just sat and played his harp all day sheep-tending? He practiced with his sling, really the only weapon he had except possibly for a small dagger. We can all agree; shooting a gun, playing an instrument, throwing a football; if you practice you will get better. Practice enough and you can reach virtuoso status; an expert. But the day will come when you need to perform what you’ve rehearsed. David was ready physically; he had skill with his sling, and he was also prepared spiritually. He knew his God, and he knew what he could do with God on his side. He was more incensed at Goliath’s blasphemy of his God than the insults that were directed against him.
His fourth stone is trust or belief; we can even call it faith. He believed God gave him a victory before flinging the first stone. Despite the threats and Goliath’s size, David trusted God for the outcome. David had the kind of faith that can move mountains and succeed against all odds.
And his fifth stone, the one he used, was victory. In the natural world we don’t send raw recruits into battle without training, or hand a violin to a beginner and place him in a symphony orchestra. Success can only be obtained by diligent practice, confidence in one’s ability, believing victory is possible, and the courage to attempt that which seems overwhelming.
Are you ready to face off against your adversaries; your giants? Has the spirit of God moved you to collect your five stones before battle? If it has, do your stones also have the names of the five stones of David?
There is a popular Christian hymn in which we sing in the chorus, “Lord, lift me up and let me stand by grace on heaven’s tableland; a higher plain than I have found, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground”. What is this higher ground? Isn’t it enough to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Yes, it is enough for your salvation but Christianity isn’t a one-time commitment; it is a life that begins with your rebirth and, as it is in the natural, grows into maturity. Advancing unto higher ground means exercising your faith and there are several ways by which we can press forward.
One way is to do more than what is expected or required. Jesus in Matthew 5 says his followers are to go the second mile. It sounds simple but how many people do you know who actually do that, without hesitation and asking no additional compensation? The extra mile is an opportunity to witness for Christ.
Similar to this is doing things that don’t earn oneself an immediate payoff. This can include a wide variety of actions from the simple, like Bible reading and memorization, to donating your skills to help someone less fortunate. Some would call this laying up treasures in heaven. If we would think about it, the Bible promises made by Jesus are mostly pledged to be fulfilled in future time, some of them after death. To give of oneself without thought of immediate remuneration is faith in action.
Another way to go after higher ground is to do things for Jesus that takes us out of our comfort zones. Try speaking in front of a group of people or leading a Bible study. Are you willing and are you trusting God to create a blessing for others through you?
God also cherishes humility. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help if a task before you is too big to handle. It’s a wonderful feeling for others to help someone whom you know needs help, and to be assisted when you really need it. It is a blessing to both give and receive. And remember that living out one’s Christian faith is almost certainly going to clash with the attitudes and morals of the world. One of the lines in the afore-mentioned hymn begins with the words, “I want to live above the world”. Christian faith seems to grow and attain new heights best through challenges and trials.
There are doubtless other ways of obtaining higher ground in a believer’s life but, regardless of the method, we are to “press on toward the goal to win the prize”. (Phil 1:14) For the believer in this life there is always higher ground to ascend. Let us all be diligent about going up.
In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Also in John’s gospel the Apostle says, “in him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4), while Jesus described himself in John 14:6 with “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If there was ever a word that so perfectly recounted the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ that word would be life.
And what do we do with such a life, the one Jesus lived and the one he came to give? The first thing we must recognize is that he was born, lived, and died with a purpose, and being God incarnate, performed his purpose with perfection. The very cornerstone of our salvation begins with Jesus surrendering his life, burdened by our sin, that after accepting his gift of atonement, we may appear before God in a righteous state, for us, a renewed and justified life.
Jesus and life are practically synonymous. He came to bring life to the spiritually dead; he offers us a life justified from the guilt of sin; he becomes our adopted brother and we are proffered a position in life as an heir to God; he provides us access to a life of eternal glory instead of eternal death.
If we reread the verse at the top, the word abundantly begins to seem insufficient. The Greek word translated as abundant in this verse and in others reads with phrases like “exceedingly abundantly above” and “very highly and above measure.” One begins to think that such a full life as this would be too much for one person to live. But sadly, how many believers do you know who actually have an abundant Christian life? Remember, we’re not talking monetary wealth but spiritual riches. Do you have it? Do I? Maybe “ye have not because ye ask not”. (James 4:2) “How much more shall your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13)
An abundant life overflows with God’s spirit. An abundant life has so much joy that it cannot be contained. An abundant life is a life with a purpose that cannot be denied. “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
Providing all mankind with a way to an abundant life was the hard part and it was done for us by Jesus Christ. Our surrendering our life for his seems to be harder, but only because our own weakness and fear make it so. Jesus came to give life and to give it more abundantly and truly, there is so much of it to share that the world’s population could all partake and there would still be more left over.
The Bible is full of promises, particularly the promises made by God. God promised the Israelites blessings that they would receive for their obedience, but also promised curses for their disobedience. God also promised the Israelites a Messiah for their once and future king. Later in the New Testament there are promises made by Jesus concerning His church and its age, and also promises made to the Gentiles.
What are some of the promises of God? Most of them are simple statements such as, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) If we believe in a God who never lies (and we do) it is a promise to us that we can bank on. Another one of God’s promises is for children to obey their parents and honor them that it may be will with them (the children) (Eph 6:1-3) Like many of God’s promises, if we believe and follow them, the better off in the long run we’d be. Entire books have been written on the promises of God so these are just two examples taken from many.
But there is an aspect to Biblical promises that needs our discernment. God is not the only one who promises us things; the devil likes to make us promises, too. His temptation of Eve in the garden is a good example. He promised her that by eating the fruit she would become as God. Eve agreed and we all know the end result of both Satan’s promise and the future of mankind.
We can illustrate this difference between God’s and the devil’s promises in a simple way. If you have ever shopped in a bent’n’dent store you have probably seen cans of food which have lost their labels. We will let one of these unmarked cans represent the future; tomorrow, next week, or next month, or even next year. Both God and Satan say to us, “Follow me, and when the time is right I’ll open this can and give you the fruit salad that’s inside.” (As a side note, Satan will usually push for us to pursue our immediate gratification while God is much more patient with us and our desires). In due time God opens the can for us and, indeed, it really is fruit salad, possibly even the best we will ever taste. However when Satan lets us open his can, instead of fruit we are more likely to find Brussels sprouts, or artichoke hearts, possibly even mixed with some harmful bacteria and our own regret for listening to him in the first place.
Am I implying that God only promises us sunshine and roses in our lives? No, He has also promised us adversity for just identifying with Him. Here, in the natural world, we recognize that a loving parent should only make promises that they know they will keep. “Doth His promise fail?” (Psa 77:8) Having faith and trusting in God’s promises are so closely tied to each other that you cannot have one alone. The difference is that God keeps His promises. It’s up to us to keep our faith that He will.
It was about a year and a half ago in this space that we examined the Biblical model of modesty. In particular we looked at women’s apparel as it is singled out in I Tim 2:8-10 and found, comparing Scripture to practice, a general disregard for modest dress even among believers. The principle of modesty however is not only for women; it is for men, too.
There is a difficulty in expanding upon this premise because there are no direct Biblical references to what men should wear to be modest. Current church standards can vary between black pants and long sleeved buttoned down shirts in winter and summer to having no standard at all because through Christ we are “free from the law”. But it can seem a bit unfair to the fairer sex when modesty can mean a non-form fitting dress in a world filled with halter tops and slacks, while men just wear shirts and pants like every other man.
If we look closer at I Tim 2:8-10, modest dress is just one of the ways of accomplishing a more important goal, that of being separate from the world. “Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (I Cor 6:17) The real issue for men and women is to not look like the world, hence clothing that does not cater to the flesh should be the preferred attire.
But it opens the door to an old conundrum; “How will they believe me about Christ if I don’t look like I’m one of them? They won’t accept me.” But to phrase it another way, how will someone believe the life changing power of Jesus Christ if I still look like them in their unchanged state? Do street witnessers need to go out with six inches of boxer shorts showing above their waistbands in order to testify how God changed their lives? It would be almost like explaining how Christ saved you from being a clown while you are still wearing a green wig and a red, bulbous nose. If the change was so great, where is it?
Just as modest fashions for women are at odds with the styles of the world, the modestly dressed man should be clothed in cleanliness, sobriety, and discipline. I’m not saying that men should wear a suit and tie when plowing the back forty; appropriate attire for the job is right, but we shouldn’t just go around dressing like slobs either. The burden of a modest appearance should not be placed on the women alone. Men, you are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of your homes, so lead by example.
The Bible clearly states that we are to draw a line between the lifestyle of the world and the practice of our faith. Granted, my line might be in a different place than your line, but a Christian needs to be an example to the world that there is another way; for men it may be their appearance, or it may be their deportment. The way a man or woman dresses in public can have that impact. We should remember that when we go out in public we represent a righteous, Holy Savior and the world should notice the difference.
In both I Chronicles 11 and II Samuel 23 are nearly identical passages describing the mighty men of David. The descriptions of their courage in battle are absolutely astounding. And although Jashobeam, Eleazar, and Shammah were the top three of the mighties, we’re going to take a look here at the next man below them, Benaiah.
Benaiah had a long career in Israel’s military history, beginning as a chief in David’s guard and eventually becoming the commander of Israel’s army during the reign of Solomon. His exploits as written in I Chr. 11:22-23 explain to us why he was so honored. “he slew two lion-like men of Moab; also he went down and slew a lion in a pit in a snowy day. And he slew an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits high: and in the Egyptian’s hand was a spear like a weaver’s beam; and he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.” No doubt about it, Benaiah was a pretty bold fellow, but what does he have to do with us, since we haven’t had to face any lions or giants in the course of our lives recently? Where it relates to us is that as Christians we daily face parallel enemies to those Benaiah dispatched, only our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We can compare our battle with the flesh to the two lion-like men of Moab. If you know your OT history, Moab was the son of Lot and his oldest daughter, and the tribe of Moab grew into a fierce, wicked, idolatrous people who relentlessly persecuted the Israelites. Likewise, our own flesh is not easy to subdue; it fights tenaciously like a lion, and just when we think we have it tamed it rears up again. It sometimes seems as if we are fighting more than one opponent. Fighting against the world or the devil is a different kind of battle than the one we wage against our own fleshly desires.
The lion in the pit makes a good analogy to Satan. I Peter warns us that Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. It doesn’t say so, but I believe Benaiah didn’t just come upon the lion; I think he was probably tracking it, and when he found it, jumped right in. II Samuel says he slew it in the midst of the pit. He wasn’t backed up to a wall; Benaiah was the aggressor. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Are you a bold enough believer to meet Satan head on?
Lastly is the Egyptian, and in Scripture, Egypt is always a representation of the world. To the Christian, the world is also like a giant, seemingly too large to overcome. May I ask, who has the most influence in your community; the world’s media or your local churches? Benaiah had only a staff he carried into battle but believers have the Sword of the Spirit and prayer. The world is big but so is our God.
Different methods for different times. Are you as bold a Christian as Benaiah was a mighty man? We should be even bolder in this age of Jesus Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit. Have you done battle against the world, the flesh, and he devil? You can fight them one at a time if you’re able, but however you face them, fight them like a mighty man of David.
If we would stop to consider it we would discover that our sense of hearing is literally bombarded throughout the day. It could be by TV or radio, a CD of our favorite music; cell phones or plain workplace conversation, even just the noise of cars on the street. Add to this cacophony our inner voice, our conscience, and realize that rarely does anyone experience total quiet. There’s almost always a voice intruding or beckoning.
Turn to John chapter 10. We have referenced the verses in this chapter before when discussing Jesus as a door and also the nature of Christian sheep, but this time we are going to look at Jesus’ claim that those who are his, Christian believers, hear and know his voice. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” (v 27) It is common in Christian circles to use terms such as “God spoke to me” and “I was clearly told by God to go in this direction”. The implication is that the person had audibly heard God and He told them what to do. Now, I’m not saying that this cannot happen but it is rarely a physically heard voice through which God speaks to us. The question then becomes, “How do I know I’m hearing God’s voice?”
Well, how do you recognize anybody’s voice? You spend time around them listening to them. Through repetition you become familiar with their accents, vocal inflections, speech patterns, and tonal ranges of their voice. I’m sure everyone has gotten a phone call where the caller did not readily identify himself yet you knew who it was; you knew him by his voice.
So how does one recognize God’s voice? It’s by the same method, only this time the repetition is in reading and studying God’s Word. By seeking to understand God’s ways and preferences, we begin to hear his direction, to hear his voice and because of this repetition we then recognize that it is his voice and not that of a stranger. (v 5) Consider those whose job it is to discover and trace counterfeit money. They don’t study the counterfeits; they study the genuine to the extent that they are able to immediately recognize when something isn’t right. In this same way, the more that we become familiar with what Scripture says, the less likely another voice will turn us onto a path that we should not take. He’s already spoken; we only need the ears to hear.
Whether we realize the depth of their influence or not, we live with and respond to those voices with which we surround ourselves. We are constantly courted by the voices in the news or in our entertainments and, though God can use these voices to direct or convict us of our actions, they themselves are not the words of God. God does clearly speak to his people, sometimes as a shout but sometimes as a still, small voice, yet He consistently speaks to us through His written Word. If he speaks to you, will you hear him through the din, and more importantly, will you recognize his voice and know that it’s Him.