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

Tag: God

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?


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.

He Will Move Heaven & Earth

Psalm 18.6-17 says:

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. 
Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.
Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Your rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

The Bible teaches us that God hears and answers the prayers of his people. But it says relatively little about HOW God answers our prayers. It says little about how he arranges the circumstances and forces of our lives to secure his glory, to accomplish his purposes, and to bless his people. For the most part, the Bible affirms that these things are true, but offers little by way of explanation.

The text quoted above is an interesting exception. Psalm 18 is a prayer of thanksgiving by David. The inscription of the psalm indicates that David composed it after he was freed from King Saul’s menace, and after God had delivered him from his enemies, apparently during the early years of his reign. For the most part, the psalm celebrates a military victory for David by the hand of God. We don’t know any details from the psalm, but the militaristic language and the inscription support this.

Verses 7-15 comprise a powerful affirmation about how God answered David’s prayer. David says that he cried to the LORD for help (v 6), and the LORD answered from heaven. Verses 16-17 indicate that the prayer was answered. Sandwiched between these two prayer references is the mighty rhetoric of v 7-15. 

How did God answer David? In highly metaphoric language, the LORD shook heaven and earth to answer David’s prayers. He shook the earth (v 7); he sent fire and smoke (v 8); he flew down from heaven in clouds and wind (v 9f); he used the darkness (v 11); he thundered from heaven (v 13); he sent bolts of lightening (v 14); he flooded the earth (v 15). 

Many times in biblical history God used the forces of nature to accomplish his purposes. The LORD used a massive flood to destroy the sinful world in Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8). He used fire and brimstone to destroy ungodly Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). God manipulated nature to destroy the Egyptian army and secure deliverance for Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15). He caused the sun to stop midday to help Joshua and Israel secure a victory over the Amorite alliance (Joshua 10). He used flash flooding to neutralize the superior chariot forces of the Canaanites when they fought Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5). Whether this is the case with David’s prayer and deliverance, we do not know, but the point remains: God is willing to move heaven and earth to answer prayer for his people.

Psalm 18 is not the only text to suggest this. The book of Revelation presents the prayers of saints as offerings that are perpetually before the throne of God, attended to by heavenly hosts (5.8; 6.9ff; 7.3, 9ff). These are pleas for vindication by those who have been persecuted for their faith. But these prayers, which ascend to the very throne room of God, are answered in dramatic fashion by returning them to earth in the form of lightning judgments. Beginning in 8.3ff, the prayers of the saints are mixed with the very judgments used against their persecutors. 

We may not always be able to see the effects of our prayers. We may not always know if they have been answered. But we can have no doubt about God’s concerns for his people. We can have no doubt that our creator can and does move heaven and earth to answer us. And none can stand against his judgments — rulers, governments, armies, schools, philosophies, markets, sciences — all are impotent against his wrath. 

For today, live with the assurance that God will move heaven and earth for his saints. He will summon his vast forces and resources for you and me.

What Can God Do With Rocks?

Scripture speaks often of the power of God. Perhaps no more simple an illustration of Divine power can be given than the lowly stone. God himself is called a rock, calling to mind his steadfastness, strength, and protection. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18.2). “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71.3).

The Scriptures also speak often of what God has done to the rocks in demonstration of his power. “Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him” (Nahum 1.5f). 

As he reviewed Israel’s wilderness experience, Moses praised God for his miraculous and generous provisions: “He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32.13). Nehemiah similarly praised God for his provisions, saying, “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9.15; cf. Psalm 78.15f; 114.8). 

Asaph contrasted God’s faithfulness with Israel’s waywardness by reminding them yet again of God’s gracious promises: “…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it… But I would feed you with finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81.10, 15). 

John the Baptist rebuked the arrogance of the Pharisees by reminding them that God would be glorified with or without their obedience. “…And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3.9; cf. Luke 3.8). 

Jesus himself rebuked that same mentality when, during his final and triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees criticized His disciples among the crowd who openly praised him as the coming King. He replied: “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19.40).

The Almighty intends by these assertions of his power to impress upon all creation, both believer and unbeliever, that the power which spoke into existence the stones, rocks, and mountains, is the same power which can transform our lives. If he can bring forth from the rocks life-giving water, he can surely bring forth in our hearts the living water of his Spirit (John 7.37ff). He who satisfied their thirst in the wilderness with water from the rock can surely satisfy the soul’s deepest thirst with his abiding presence (Psalm 42.2; 63.1; 1 Corinthians 10.4). The Lord who is the fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2.13) can, from the broken cisterns of our sinful lives, satisfy us with righteousness beyond what we can draw ourselves (Matthew 5.6). 

This Lord who could bring honey from rock with which to satisfy a multitude is the same Lord who himself is bread from Heaven that gives us everlasting life if we but believe (John 6.31-40). He who could bring such sweetness from the stones can surely bring forth the fruit of his Spirit from hearts tainted by sin and carnality (Galatians 5.16-25). 

Finally, the Lord who could from dead stones raise unto himself living witnesses is the same Lord who can by the power of his word (Isaiah 55.10ff) transform us from unbelieving and rebellious enemies into submissive and humble servants. And if he can transform us into his people, he can surely do it unto others (1 Peter 2.4-8). We rely so much upon methods and messengers, as if these are the essence of conversion, that we often forget that it is his limitless power, vested in his eternal word, that makes us into the living stones that comprise his holy temple. 

May God help us learn to trust him as the source of unimaginable power, and his word as the fount of unending life. May we learn to find shelter and strength in him who is our Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.

“But God”

The title above may be the most encouraging phrase in our language. My friend Rennie Frazier often mentions this phrase in his preaching. He reminds his audience of its hopefulness. The word “but” is always an adversative. It tells us that an exception to some previous assertion is about to be made. The phrase “But God…” occurs 41 times in the Scriptures, the majority of which refer to some great blessing the Lord has given his people in contrast to their present circumstances. 

Sometimes, however, the phrase indicates God’s displeasure. A passage may describe a sinful act or condition; “But God” indicates divine disapproval. As Stephen reviewed the history of Israel’s disobedience, he spends a fair amount in his speech reminding his audience of Israel’s persistent refusal to follow Moses. Making the golden calf was the pinnacle of their unbelief. “But God turned away” (Acts 7.42) was the divine response. When men will not obey, they will suffer the spiritual consequences imposed by God himself. 

The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ warnings, in an attempt to excuse their own self-righteousness. “But God knows your hearts” Jesus warned (Luke 16.15). However deluded men may be about their spirituality, God knows better. 

The wicked may be proud of their immorality and lies, “But God” promises to destroy them (Psalm 52.5). None are immune to the judgments of God. 

However, the God who judges us is the same God who justifies us. He who condemns the proud also vindicates and forgives the humble. When we are confronted by our sins, we despair — until God steps in, offering pardon and healing. From this we derive our hope. 

In the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion, when all seemed lost, when God’s purposes appeared to be thwarted by the wicked schemes of men, hope appeared. Jesus was “nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men… But God raised him up” (Acts 2.23f; cf 13.30). What seemed to be defeat became victory.

When the human condition seemed hopeless, when sin seemed overwhelming, and when men were helpless to solve their problems, God reached out to man. Because of sin, men were dead, disobedient, destined for wrath. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us… made us alive” (Ephesians 2.41). However unworthy and unlovable men may have been, God’s love was greater still: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). 

When we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances, inadequate to handle temptation, grief, uncertainty, and loss, God offers his help. Paul said he “had no rest” but was “afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us” (2 Corinthians 7.51). God’s comfort conquers our fears. 

When others judge us as unworthy; when others question our soundness and integrity; when others falsely accuse; our vindication comes from God. When Paul was accused of flattery, of pretext, of error, impurity, and deceit, he looked to God. “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2.4). Our hope is in the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. 

When the boo-birds of pessimism and the watchdogs of suspicion create doubt about the wellbeing of the church; when all appears to be lost; when good men are slandered, and their integrity assailed; remember, it is God who judges and justifies. The success and growth of the kingdom depends ultimately upon God, not men. “So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3.6f).

Brothers and sisters, we live in a hard world. But God makes a difference!