Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: God (Page 1 of 3)

Many or Few

Some of the greatest Bible stories are war stories. One of my favorites is found in 1 Samuel 13-14, when the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. 

In chapter 13, the Israelites were initially successful against the Philistines (v. 2-4). But when the Philistines summoned a massive army, the Israelites were intimidated, and Saul became indecisive (v. 5-7). The situation was further aggravated by a lack of weaponry among the Israelites (v. 19-23). 

Enter Jonathan. 

Jonathan was already responsible for the earlier victory against the Philistines (13.2-4). Here in chapter 14, he again takes initiative by taking his armor-bearer with him and sneaking into the nearby Philistine outpost (v. 1-10). The Philistines assume they’re a pair of Israelite POWs and bring them into their garrison (v. 11-12). Jonathan and his armor-bearer kill 20 Philistines in hand-to-hand combat (v. 13-14). The Lord also brought a sudden earthquake (v. 15-16) which caused some of the Philistines to flee. Saul and the remaining Israelite forces soon join the fray, and the Israelites defeat the Philistines that day (v 23).

My favorite verse in this text is 1 Samuel 14.6, “Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.’”

This was Jonathan’s confession of faith in the LORD. He understood something about God that’s too easily forgotten. He knew that God is always the majority. Period. God doesn’t need numbers, or large armies, or massive military hardware to win his battles. He only wants a few dedicated people. 

Today, God doesn’t need large churches, or large budgets, or PowerPoint, or websites, or social media, or apps, or impressive programs to win the cause of his kingdom. He simply wants a few dedicated people. If he chooses to use large things, that’s his business. But the Lord frequently uses small things to remind us of his wisdom, power, and ways (1 Corinthians 1.26-29).

Indeed, “The Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.” What matters for us is that we enter the fray.

Will you?

Counting Blessings?

You’ve probably seen this question on social media: “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

The question has two obvious purposes. First, it’s designed to help us think about the vastness of God’s blessings. We get so much from him it’s hard to enumerate. Second, it’s designed to help us thank God. If we can begin to grasp the magnitude and multitude of God’s blessings, how can we not pause and give him thanks?

Having said that, the question works only so far for two reasons. First, we’re all sinners. As sinners, even our exercises in gratitude may be tainted and limited. Because of my sins and weaknesses, I sometimes fail to see all that God’s done for me. Even when I try, I’m frustrated by my inability to enumerate and articulate his goodness toward me.

Second – and this is the most important thing – we simply CANNOT match God blessing for blessing. We CANNOT possibly keep up with all that he’s done for us. 

The most obvious reason is that God’s blessings are too numerous. A favorite hymn urges us to do the impossible anyway: “Count your blessings; name them one by one.” Not that we shouldn’t try to do it, but good luck with that! Another reason is that God often (and deliberately) blesses us in quiet ways, in ways he may not want us to fully grasp. The psalmist said, “For he gives to his beloved, even in sleep” (Psalm 127.2). In the midst of my nightly dozing, snoozing, and snoring, God is at work refilling my tank.

Behind all of this is the reality of God’s greatness. We CANNOT out-think him, outsmart him, outdo him, out-ask him. The apostle Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3.20-21).

So, when you wake up in the mornings, count your blessings. Give thanks. But don’t be surprised when your blessings always exceed your expectations and outpace your ability to recall them. God fully intends it that way.


Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Thomas Ken, 1674

These lyrics are from perhaps the most ubiquitous of all English language hymns. The title is sometimes listed as its first line, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” and sometimes as “Doxology.” 

It was written in 1674 by Thomas Ken, a bishop in the Church of England. It was apparently part of his Manual of Prayers for Winchester Scholars. According to, the song has appeared in over 1200 hymnals. 

Its appeal is obvious. It’s an invitation for all sentient creatures in heaven and on earth to praise God for his innumerable blessings. This doxological hymn accomplishes this simply and effectively.

Thinking about this doxology reminded me of Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 3.20-21 (NASB95): “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

Rather than discuss or analyze this text, I want to show how Paul builds upon a single idea to help us appreciate God’s resources and generosity. I’ll do this by building this doxology thought by thought. This isn’t an attempt at grammatical analysis, but rather an attempt to unfold Paul’s thinking about God’s blessings upon us.

  • He [God] is able.
  • He is able to do.
  • He is able to do what we ask.
  • He is able to do what we ask or think.
  • He is able to do all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever.
  • To him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.

We can’t out-ask God. We can’t out-think God. We can only be grateful and glorify him.


For Love’s Sake

“Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you”.

The apostle Paul, Philemon 8-9

The apostle Paul wrote this to his friend and fellow-Christian Philemon. Philemon was apparently a wealthy Christian who lived in Colossae. He was wealthy enough to own slaves, one of whom was Onesimus whose name meant “profitable” or “useful” (v. 15-16).

If you carefully read Paul’s this letter, it seems that Onesimus ran away from Philemon’s household and may have even stolen from his master (v. 18-19). He wound up in Rome where Paul was imprisoned. At some point, Onesimus met and was converted to Christ by Paul’s efforts (v. 10). Now Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter to effect reconciliation (v. 15-16). 

The wording of Paul’s appeal to Philemon is striking. Legally, Philemon had the right to do pretty much anything he wanted to Onesimus. He could treat him as harshly as he wanted and could even have him executed. Slaves were considered the property of their masters and were treated according to their whims. Onesimus was returning to Philemon at great personal risk. Paul knew this and took a different approach. 

Paul says that he could “order” or “command” Philemon to do right. Paul wasn’t asserting legal authority but moral authority. As an apostle he could have required Philemon to receive Onesimus, but Paul let him choose. He appealed not to authority, but to love (v. 9). 

Doing this “for love’s sake” meant that Philemon should treat Onesimus with brotherly love since now they both were Christians. Paul says to treat him like a brother, not just a piece of property. Hovering in the background is also the love we have for others because of our love for God (cf. 1 John 4.11). 

It’s for “love’s sake” that we rise above ordinary expectation to extraordinary action. For love’s sake a mother stays up all night with her sick child. For love’s sake a man may work for years at an unfulfilling job to support his family. For love’s sake a sibling helps a younger or weaker brother or sister with homework and chores. For love’s sake we help our neighbors with yardwork and errands and paying bills when they’re struggling with poor health, or they’ve lost their job. For love’s sake we sit with the sick and dying. For love’s sake we volunteer for hopeless causes, truly believing that our actions make a difference. For love’s sake we exhort others to faithfulness to Christ. For love’s sake we pray for one another. 

For love’s sake we do all these things and more, knowing it was for love’s sake that God saved us from our sins. That’s a love worth imitating. 

The God of Ice and Snow

This week, the Mid-South has been hit hard with snow and frigid temperatures. Memphis averages 2.7 inches of snow per year, most often in the form of one or two snowfalls of one or two inches each. This week we’ve had about six inches, and the city is pretty much shut down.

When we think about ice and snow, it should also make us think about God. In the Book of Job, God challenged Job by saying, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of distress, for the day of war and battle?” (Job 38.22-23)

That text is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is that the land of Israel rarely saw snow. Yet there are over 80 references to snow, hail, ice, and winter. Mount Hermon, which is 145 miles north of Jerusalem was visible for miles and usually snow covered all year. The Book of Job has more references to wintery weather than any other book, and Job lived in the middle of the Arabian Desert!

Let me suggest three powerful lessons about God that we can learn from the snow and ice.

First, when we think about snow and ice, we should think about the power of God. In the book of Job, Elihu says, “God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend. For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong’ … from the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters is frozen” (Job 37.5-6, 10). Only God causes the snow and ice to fall and uses them for his purposes.

Second, when we think about snow and ice, we should think about the providence of God. We tend to think about the inconvenience of snow, ice, and cold weather, but God uses the weather to meet the needs of his people. Speaking of God’s provisions for Jerusalem, Psalm 147 says, “He makes peace in your borders; he satisfies you with the finest of the wheat. He sends forth His command to the earth; his word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; he causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow” (v. 14-18).

Finally, when we think about snow and ice, we should think about the purity of God. After his sin with Bathsheba, David prayed, “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51.7). There’s nothing as white as snow. I have a dear friend in Iowa, who whenever it snows says, “There’s no white like God’s white.” The Bible uses the whiteness of snow as a metaphor for moral cleanness. Sin is portrayed as an ugly stain, but God offers to cleanse our spirits and make them “as white as snow.”

Snow and ice are a bit inconvenient and messy. But like all of God’s creation, they’re a powerful witness to the limitless power of God. Praise God for cold weather!

Not What But Whom

You’ve probably heard the old business adage that when it comes to finding a good job, it’s not what you know but whom. You’ve probably known talented, motivated, and honest workers who didn’t have especially good jobs, largely because they weren’t well-connected. On the other hand, you’ve probably known workers who weren’t talented, motivated, or honest, but who had great jobs because Uncle Bob owned the business, or because Daddy knew the CEO.

Before we decry this as being unfair, let’s apply this to our spiritual lives. Is our salvation because of our talents, hard work, motivation, and skillset? Or is it because of something else? Is it because we know Someone?

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, “for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1.12). He doesn’t say “I know WHAT I have believed”, but “WHOM I have believed”. 

Paul wasn’t discounting WHAT he believed, he wasn’t discounting doctrine. In fact, in the letters to Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly emphasizes teaching and believing “sound” (healthy) words and doctrine (cf. 1 Timothy 1.10; 6.3; 2 Timothy 1.13; 4.3; Titus 1.9, 13; 2.1). WHAT we believe is vitally important.

But as Paul approached death, he wasn’t thinking about SOMETHING, but SOMEONE. Someone who knew Paul better than he knew himself. Someone who had never deserted Paul. Someone whose promises and plans would ultimately prevail. 

Paul had entrusted his work, his plans, and his life to God. He says in this text that God would guard whatever Paul had given him for safekeeping. It would be safe until the day that Christ returned to reward his people. For Paul, knowing his redeemer was the ultimate reality (Philippians 3.7-11). Nor was it simply knowing facts about God but knowing him relationally and intimately. 

For Christians, it’s not about what you know but whom you know. Do you know Christ?

The Will of the Lord

Do you understand the will of God?

Phrases like “the will of God” or “the will of the Lord” occur about 30 times in the Bible, most often in the New Testament. “The will of God” means God’s desire or wish, what God wants. Specifically in relation to us, God’s will refers to what he desires or wishes from his people.

Regarding this notion of God’s will, the apostle Paul said, “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5.17).

These words from the apostle Paul are a simple reminder of three things: (1) God has a will, a desire, a plan for all of us. (2) We have the intellectual and moral capacity to ascertain what that will is. And (3) we can do something about it.

God’s will is plainly expressed in Scripture. Although some portions of the Bible aren’t easy to understand, an average reader is capable of discerning what God wants. Mark Twain supposedly said, “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I have always noticed that the passagse of Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.” 

I think Mark Twain was right. The problem with either Scripture or the will of God isn’t their inscrutability. The problem is simply man’s desire (or lack of desire) to pay attention and apply it to his life. 

C. S. Lewis once observed, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”

May God help us belong to the first category.

Unrequited Love

When my son was in kindergarten, he was smitten with a classmate named Kristen. She was the cute, spunky, blond-headed, blue-eyed daughter of a local pastor. One day he mustered his courage during recess and revealed to her that he liked her. She looked at him with her ice-blue eyes, kicked him in the shins, and said “As if!” as she walked away. 

For the first time in his life, Nate experienced the pain of unrequited love. He liked her a lot more than she liked him. In this particular case, it hurt both physically and emotionally!

Unrequited love is love that’s unreturned. It’s love that isn’t given back in measure. In fact, it’s a lack of love toward someone who has bestowed love. 

Isaiah the prophet described God’s love for Judah and Jerusalem. 

Let me sing now for my well-beloved, a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. 

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.

Isaiah 5.1-6

The farmer did everything for his vineyard that he could have done, but it still didn’t produce fruit. The problem wasn’t a bad farmer, it was a bad plant. Likewise, God did everything for his people that he could. He loved them enough to give them and do for them the very best he could. Yet they failed to return his love. 

If someone treats you nicely and you’re ungrateful, it’s a social problem: rudeness. If God treats you with love and favor, and you’re ungrateful, it’s a spiritual problem: inexcusable ingratitude. 

Divine love isn’t dependent upon human response. God loves us even when we don’t love him in return. However, unrequited love isn’t without consequence. Sometimes God demonstrates his love in the punishment he gives. A father must sometimes punish a rebellious child. So too with God. 

Loving God is our highest calling. Rejecting God’s love is our greatest failure. Choose wisely. 


These days, hearing someone say the word “awesome” is neither newsworthy nor alarming. I routinely hear teens, young adults, and even older adults use the word. 

In our culture EVERYTHING has become awesome. New shoes are awesome. Cheesecake is awesome. Mobile phones, tablets, and TVs are awesome. Slam dunks are awesome. Actors, actresses, and athletes are awesome. Mani-pedis are awesome, as are new hair styles, tats, and piercings. A new ride, a new job, or a new purse are all awesome. 

But that’s the problem. If EVERYTHING is awesome, then NOTHING is awesome. The word becomes meaningless noise. 

The word “awesome” means to inspire awe, apprehension, or fear. “Awe” is an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear, produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

If awesomeness is about fear, reverence, power, and grandiosity, then it immediately disqualifies things like actors, athletes, TVs, phones, shoes, cheesecake, and other lesser things. They may be clever, exciting, tasty, useful, neat, or skillful, but they’re not awesome.

When our youngest daughter was nine, she was watching TV downstairs. Every few minutes or so, we’d hear her say, “Awesome!” She was watching a show about the wonders of nature. Little did she know it, but her response was precisely what “awe” is all about – a profound, overwhelming sense of reverence, admiration; a sense that one is in the presence of something far greater than self; a sense that this is truly unique and extraordinary. Only an awesome God can make an awesome world full of awesome creatures.

One song says, “Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God.” Moses said: “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exodus 15.11) The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12.28).

As you go about your affairs today, take a moment to ponder this magnificent and AWESOME world around us that was made by our AWESOME God. If that doesn’t move you, nothing will.

The Power of the Resurrection

In 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) won a critical battle at Salamanca in Spain. To announce his victory, he sent a courier to England. One of his admirals also attempted to send a message by using semaphore. His message said, “Wellington defeated the French.” Just as the first two words were sent, a heavy fog rolled in, ending all visual communications for 48 hours. In England, all they saw was, “Wellington defeated.” 

When the fog lifted, the message was re-sent, this time in full. The semaphore message & courier arrived at the same time to confirm the victory. What appeared to be a message of defeat became a message of victory.

When Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, his followers were crushed. The one they believed, trusted, and followed for three years died as a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed. 

When the resurrection morning came, they saw the empty tomb and later saw him. What appeared to be defeat became victory.

Ephesians 1.18-21 says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Paul says he wanted the Christians in Ephesus to experience the power of God. This was the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. Think about it! Think about what it would take to raise someone from the dead. What would it take to reunite body and spirit? To not only stop but reverse the body’s decay. To restore the person to perfect health. To reanimate the corpse’s organs and cells. To bring life out of death. That’s what God did when he raised Jesus from the dead. 

Most remarkable of all is that this same power is available to believers. Someday this power will raise our bodies from the dead and prepare us for eternal habitation (Ephesians 1.19-20; 1 Corinthians 15.42-57). This power is what raises us up from spiritual death and its consequences (Ephesians 2.1-10). This same power transforms us from ungodliness to godliness, from sin to righteousness, from darkness to light (Ephesians 4.17-24). This is ultimately the power of God to save (Ephesians 6.10-17). 

However dark and hopeless this world seems to be, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God. This power can be yours if you trust and obey.

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