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The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7

Cone Flower | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

There have been a few times. Few. But there have been times when the kidding and good-natured jesting at my expense approached disrespectful unkindness. Maybe you’ve felt that too. I have been known to make myself an easy target. I don’t tend toward pretension. I don’t think of myself as all that much. Sometimes when people’s opinion of themselves is too high they can be the subject of ridicule. Often it’s behind their backs. But a low profile can make you an easy target for those who make themselves feel better by putting others down. 

Sarah seems to have just the right mixture of humility and self-deprecation together with an awareness of her unique status as a 75-year-old new mother. Embarrassed? Anxious? Relieved? Excited? Self-conscious? All we know for certain is that Sarah makes the point of saying that people will now laugh with her. Who would have thought it?!? How can this be?!!? Did they really…??? That’s enough to make most people blush. 

Previously Isaac’s name has been stipulated ((Genesis 17:17-19. In Genesis 18:12-15 Sarah is confronted about her dismissive attitude toward the promise of God. Now, however, God turns a gentle rebuke into an occasion for joy. I can imagine that there was a good bit of joy in their hearts on this occasion. The laughter was certainly joyful and awe-inspired. 

When was the last time you laughed because God brought joy to your heart? It need not take bearing a child at the age of 75 to bring joy. In fact, joy is a byproduct of hope, community, and grace. When God’s grace visits us, and we enjoy that grace in the community of others who know the blessing of grace, hopes are kindled for a better tomorrow. And that brings true joy.

Perhaps we need to reclaim such joy. That’s God’s gracious gift. It’s best shared in community (“everyone who hears will laugh…”). It brings us hope for a future pure and eternal joy founded in Jesus and celebrated together with all who see God’s gracious hand at work in our lives. 

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The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7

Tinge of Coral | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

Maybe it’s a prayer for a wayward child. It could be you’ve asked God for a mate. You might have prayed for a new job. Or a better boss. Or financial relief. Or healing. God’s answer is not always, “Yes.” Sometimes he says, “No.” The time isn’t right. The request isn’t right. You are not right with him or someone else. He says, “No.” Not because he does not love you. But because he does. 

Sometimes God says, “Grow.” The time may be right. The request might not be wrong for a more mature person. Or it may spring from an immature heart. It might be a selfish request. It could be something you cannot handle at this time. God, in effect, says, “Grow up. Become more mature.” Not, “Yes.” Not, “No.” Just, “Grow a little before I give you this.” He might also say, “Slow down. Not so fast. Wait a while.” Maybe the world isn’t ready for what you’ve asked for.

But sometimes God comes through. Although the language seems dangerous. It’s not like God ever is not able to do whatever needs to be done. It’s not like if he doesn’t act we have no hope. It’s just that from our perspective, God comes through. He shows up. Or better yet, we see his answer, and it aligns with his promise or our request. 

You get the job. You meet the special one. The boss has a change of heart. A check arrives in the mail. The disease is cured. God comes through. 

This is what happens here in these few verses. God comes through for Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is born. It is a joyful time. God be praised. This is something to be celebrated. God is to be credited. We give him the glory.

But much of this Abraham and Sarah narrative is not about the delivery of the promised child. It is about the struggles, foibles, and setbacks that come along the way. Life is not a series of yay God days, one after the other for most people. We can easily identify with Abraham and Sarah in their times of testing, waiting, struggling, questioning, and nearly giving up hope. The Bible is clear about that.

The biblical record is also clear about God’s good will and trustworthy nature in those times of waiting. God will make good on the good things he has promised. 

What promise are you waiting for? Trust, wait, and hope in God. What promise have you seen realized in your life? Give him the glory, keep the memory of that in your heart, and let it be known that God came through for you. 

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Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.” 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

Water Lily | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program works. From it’s essential first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or any other addiction]—that our lives had become unmanageable. To its breakthrough 12th step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. This process has helped countless men and women conquer the demonic oppression of addictions of all kinds. 

The other steps may seem less transformational. But they are all important. At a LINC-sponsored Hispanic ministry in Fort Worth, I saw how steps four and five were being leveraged in a powerful way. Centered in Jesus Christ and supported by the church there, people were coming to grips with their moral failings and admitted to another human being what they had done. Confession is a powerful and freeing thing.

It’s also a biblical thing. James instructs, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16). John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). 

I love how this is played out in the situation between Abimelech and Abraham and Sarah. There is no hiding the fact that sin had been committed. Although Abimelech had not “approached” Sarah, there had been deception, and a dangerous path was afoot. And everyone had excuses for his behavior. Nevertheless Abimelech did what he could to rectify the situation. He returned Sarah to Abraham, and provided gifts meant to show his and Sarah’s innocence.

On some level you’d have to say that Abimelech made it right. And God healed Abimelech and his wife and the women of his household. Because Abraham prayed for him, much had been and subsequently was set aright. 

This is the goodness, righteousness, faithfulness, justice and mercy of God. And although we may not need to be in a 12 Step program, we all have hurts and addictions small and great that need God’s touch of grace and healing. You may need to start with step 1, grapple with steps 4 and 5 (cuarto y quinto), help someone in the same manner you have been helped, or somewhere in between. There is a path to walk with God and he will be with you every step of the way.

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From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Genesis 20:1-7 

Water Lilies With Water | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

“They say we preach best what we need most. If that’s the case, hang on, for you’re in for a hum dinger today!” That’s how a pastor began his message at a pastors conference two decades ago. He must really have needed grace and truth. He brought it. Maybe you’re in for a hum dinger today as well. 

It caught me just the other day right after I hit “publish” on my blog post for the day. I had already done the hard work of thinking, researching, and writing. I probably should have gone back and re-written the whole post. But I did not. In stead, I decided to wait till today. The phrase was almost a throw away. God is speaking to Abimelech, king of Gerar. He says, “I did not let you sin against me…” When I saw that (for at least the 20th time in my life) I was reminded of David who confessed his sin with Bathsheba, “Against you, only you have I sinned and done this evil in your sight…”(Psalm 51:4). David had sinned against Bathsheba. He had sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. He had sinned against the commander of his army when he had ordered him purposefully to leave Uriah in a vulnerable position so that Uriah was killed in battle. But David cuts to the chase when he confesses all this. He had sinned really only against God. 

When I sin – in any way, sins of commission, sins of omission, purposeful, unintentional, knowingly or unknowingly – I sin against God. I need to remember that. Maybe you do too. 

John writes to the early Christians that we cannot say we love God and hate our neighbor. Loving God means loving our neighbor. God is not some distant deity, aloof from the warp and woof of life on earth. He’s not unconcerned about the way we treat one another. Nor is he tsk tsking at our wayward ways with one another. He deeply cares for all of his creation. And to think that we can treat one of his creatures with contempt and not offend him? Well, that’s just plain wrong. Dead wrong. 

One of the foundational truths of God’s word is that he is creator of all that exists. His creation is fallen, broken, and corrupt(ed). The devil has been at work and had his way with us. And whenever we give into the temptations of the evil one, our own sinful flesh, or the world’s allure, we sin against God. 

Maybe that’s not profound to you. But it is to me. I need God’s forgiveness. And so do you. For all my sins, great and small. Sometimes God prevents us from sinning, just as he did with Abimelech. But sometimes we run right past the roadblocks and warnings he posts. When we do, we confess with David, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned.” And we thank God that he forgives sin. And has done so in Jesus, his Son, who never ran past the roadblocks or warnings. But died with the weight of the world’s sin on his heart and shoulders. In him we have redemption and forgiveness. I need to hear that again and again. And I thank God that it is a message I am able to proclaim again and again. Whew! I really needed that. You?

For your personal meditation and edification on this Lord’s Day. All Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Psalm 19:1-3, 14

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky aboveproclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 49:12-15

Man in his pomp will not remain;
    he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
    yet after them people approve of their boasts.Selah
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
    death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
    Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. Selah

Psalm 79:8-13

Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
    let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
    for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name’s sake!
10 Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
    be known among the nations before our eyes!

11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
    according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!
12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors
    the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!
13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will give thanks to you forever;
    from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

Psalm 109:21-26, 30-31

But you, O God my Lord,
    deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
    because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
22 For I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is stricken within me.
23 I am gone like a shadow at evening;
    I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting;
    my body has become gaunt, with no fat.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
    when they see me, they wag their heads.

26 Help me, O Lord my God!
    Save me according to your steadfast love!

30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
    I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
    to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

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From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Genesis 20:1-7

Fuchsia Water Lily | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

One commentator writes about this incident:

Abraham’s concern was probably not because Sarah looked like a young beauty at 90 years of age. We can surmise that she was reasonably attractive at that age, but more importantly she was connected to one of the richest and most influential men of the region. In that day, a harem was sometimes more of a political statement than a romantic statement.

At the same time, we should not ignore the idea of Sarah’s continued attractiveness even in old age. “She had in some measure been physically rejuvenated, in order to conceive, bear, and nurse Isaac, and possibly this manifested itself in renewed beauty as well” (Morris).

Abraham and Sarah succumb to the same temptation that is recorded in Genesis 12:10-13. Now more than 25 years later, they try the same scheme. Abraham’s and Sarah’s fear and forgetfulness conspire to take this path of deceit. Thankfully that path is cut short by God. His intervention takes the form of the dream of Abimelech, and the stern warning to him. Why not Abraham? Why not Sarah? It is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the intervention works and Sarah is restored to Abraham, and this episode passes. Another chapter in the long saga of a fallen man of faith. 

There are certain temptations that seem more aligned with certain years of life. In our younger years, we may be tempted more toward impatience, self-indulgence, or excessive partying. In our middle years, we may be tempted toward self-sufficiency, smugness, or blindness to others’ needs. In our older years temptations of self-righteousness, laziness (“I’ve put in my time…”), or resentment can beset us. But all these sins and temptations can visit us at any time.

Age is no guarantee of spiritual maturity or of godly behavior. Nor does it exempt us from temptations of the flesh. It may not be quite the same as in our younger years, but temptations still come. Thankfully by the power of the Holy Spirit we can resist temptation. And in the rich grace of God, we find forgiveness and restoration. 

I take great comfort in seeing how God does not abandon Abraham, nor disqualify him because of this sin. For if sin would disqualify any of us, we would have no hope. As it is, we repent daily, and rejoice in God’s faithfulness and love, and get back on the path he has for us as his servants.

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From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Genesis 20:1-7

Water Lilies X 4 | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

I would rather not deal with the uglier things of life. I’m not a fan of horror movies. I couldn’t make it all the way through Braveheart. It was just too graphically gruesome. I watched The Passion of the Christ, but I didn’t find the graphic violence edifying. So if you’re following this blog from day to day, you’ll see I skipped over the incidents of Lot’s daughters and their drunken father. But, alas, here we are. Abraham is at it again. This seems to be less unseemly. But still…must we have this example of Abraham’s unfaithfulness played out before our eyes? Again!?!

The Bible is filled with real people, living real lives, doing real things. Those real things too often include sinful things. Peter denying Jesus. Disciples squabbling over who gets to sit in the seat of honor in Jesus’ coming kingdom. David and Bathsheba. Cain and Abel. Noah and his sons. One after another we see God’s people (N.B.) making poor choices. That’s putting it euphemistically. Better just say it: you see God’s people sinning. Breaking the commandments. Caving into temptation. Fearing man rather than God. 

God’s people are real people. They are human. 

But so was Jesus. Only he was without sin. He was real. He was tempted. He faced real life and death crises. But he did not sin. 

My point here? When we say, “I’m only human,” we shortchange what it means to be human. Adam and Eve were human – before they sinned. Jesus was human. Fully human. He was the fulfillment of all that humans were meant to be. 

Better we say, “God’s people are sinners.” Even though that’s not the whole story. Nor should it be. We who believe in Jesus are born again, and as such we are also saints. New creations. And our sinfulness is never an excuse for bad behavior. It is a cause for repentance. It is what required God to redeem us. It is why Jesus had to come, live, teach, suffer, and die. And his resurrection proves he did it perfectly. We’ll celebrate that in the life of the world to come when Jesus returns and takes his sinful saints home. He is our righteousness. 

Abraham is an example of faith. It was a faltering faith at times – seen in this incident above. He repeats his deception, calling Sarah his sister, only to be caught out again. And here is the interesting part: God calls Abraham his prophet. After all that, he is recognized by God before Abimelech as one who would pray for him. 

God’s people are sinners. They are forgiven sinners. And they are also the ones God uses to intercede for others. We serve the Father as broken vessels of God’s grace. And if, once in a while, our brokenness becomes evident, we can be thankful that God’s grace abounds. And perhaps it will leak out from us and be a source of blessing and favor to others. 

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The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:23-29

Water Lily Center Afire | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

On May 27, 1997, one of the most violent tornadoes in modern U.S. history produced close-to-unfathomable damage on the outskirts of Jarrell, TX, located about 40 miles north-northeast of Austin. … The Jarrell tornado broke many assumptions about twister behavior. It also left a grim toll, including 27 lives lost (Weather Underground). One photo taken after the storm shows plumbing actually pulled out of the concrete slab on which a house had stood. Storms such as these are rare, and we seldom attach a particular sin or unique evil to those who suffer such catastrophe. We must take to heart Jesus’ teaching, “And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too” (Luke 13:4-5).

I recall also hearing that the tornado in Jerrell had sucked up all the grass from the fields and lawns in its path. Total devastation. Utter destruction. Such was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And this is one case to which we may lay God’s direct cause. Moses makes it clear: God overthrew these cities. Overthrew. This is not evil caving in under its own weight. This is not a matter of life and trouble in a fallen world. This is God acting. Judging. Condemning. Overthrowing.

We are rightly cautious about attributing any and all troubles to a particular person’s or community’s sin. Jesus teaches about that in the healing of the blind man (John 9). Neither this man sinned nor his parents. This was for the glory of God. That glory would be revealed when Jesus healed the man born blind. 

God punishes sin with sin. When you see the evil spiral of one vicious agent of evil taking out another, you’re seeing how true this is. Gang wars. Organized crime. Ill gotten financial empires crumbling. Even governments succumb to their own corruption. (Sometimes not soon enough for our sensibilities). 

So every time we see catastrophes of one kind or another what are we to do? We must not judge. We’re all sinners, living in a sinful world. We need not pronounce it as the visitation of a just and holy God. Though it may be just that. We must, however, repent. We must follow the lead of Nehemiah who, upon learning of the ruined walls of Jerusalem, prayed and confessed his sin, and the sin of his forefathers. 

And while we must not too quickly attach God’s direct hand on every evil, the words of Amos come to my mind:

“I brought hunger to every city
    and famine to every town.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

“I kept the rain from falling
    when your crops needed it the most.
I sent rain on one town
    but withheld it from another.
Rain fell on one field,
    while another field withered away.
People staggered from town to town looking for water,
    but there was never enough.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

“I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew.
    Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

10 “I sent plagues on you
    like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago.
I killed your young men in war
    and led all your horses away.[a]
    The stench of death filled the air!
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

11 “I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed[b]Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord.

12 “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced.
    Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!”

13 For the Lord is the one who shaped the mountains,
stirs up the winds, and reveals his thoughts to mankind.
He turns the light of dawn into darkness
and treads on the heights of the earth.
The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is his name!

I’m really hesitant to impute to God actions of doom and destruction. But I am ready to be reminded in whatever circumstance I may find myself, that God is constantly calling us to repent and believe the good news of his reign and rule over all things. I am thankful for that gift which we may receive through faith in Jesus Christ. He will one day destroy every work of the devil. Until that time we wait in repentant hope. 

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The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:23-29

Four Water Lilies | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

One of my favorite Bible stories is the account of the seven sons of Sceva. These seven sons undertook to invoke the name of Jesus over some evil spirits. “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims,” they said. The evil spirits said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” These seven sons were sent bleeding and bruised from the house. Dismissed summarily. 

The question of the evil spirit is a worthy one for us: Who are you? How is it that we claim to Jesus’ name and God’s power? That question is answered when we take our proper place in this account of Sodom and Gamorah’s destruction. Who are you in this story? 

To some extent or another we are all Rescued Lot. Safe by the grace of God and the agency of his messengers. Some of us have been visited by angels as we normally think of them who have come to our aid in miraculous ways. All us us have been visited by angels in the less dramatic form, for the word means “messenger.” We have heard the message of God through these agents of God’s grace: Mother, father, grandmother, Sunday school teacher, friend, or pastor. We can survey the landscape of destruction from which we have been spared having been rescued. 

We might be faithful Abraham who surveys the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah after having interceded for the righteous people in those places. We may have succeeded in interceding for someone but seen the sad desolation of godlessness in the wake of its demise as it cave in on itself. Evil cannot forever stand, it will collapse under its own weight. We might sadly watch that happen. 

Surely we are not Lot’s wife who could not resist one last look back – a furtive one??? – at the place she had lived. Did she not believe the destruction would be so cataclysmic? Was she simply fascinated by the devastation being visited on her erstwhile home? Looking back on a sin abandoned is a temptation we may give into. The children of Israel will do so after they are rescued by Moses (cf. Numbers 11:5), yearning for the good old days, forgetting the travail of their slavery there. But we must not neglect the warnings of God and treat them as optional guidelines when they are dire warnings of grave danger.

We will certainly not place ourselves in this story as the One who orchestrates it all. We’re not the One to whom everyone else must answer. We are not the One who holds life and death in our hands. We are not the One who saves and destroys.

We are, however, his. And that identity is most important of all. We are the children of God. His beloved. His redeemed. His precious. His delight. His joy. And from whomever else’s perspective we may view the events in this account, our true identity is found in his loving kindness toward us and our place of delight in his heart. 

Click here for an audio version of this blog post.

The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. – Genesis 19:23-38

Water Lily | Missouri Botanical Garden | July 2021

Maybe you grew up with a Sunday school concept of Bible characters. I didn’t learn about David and Bathsheba until I was well out of my younger years. I didn’t recognize some of the personality quirks of Peter, Thomas, Philip, Paul, or the Sons of Thunder. And one time I was in a group of adults when I learned that Jacob was a rogue character. Let’s not even mention Amnon (2 Samuel 13), and now Lot’s daughters. Bible characters are not two dimensional flannel board cutouts. They’re real. They are crusty. They behave badly. Even God’s chosen people faulted and fall. Sometimes the failures are colossal.  This is no excuse. It’s just a fact. 

But the consequences of sin of any and all kinds are real and far-reaching. In this case, the colossal failure of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah comes to a screeching halt as God rains down fire and brimstone on these cities. The destruction was complete. And while this destruction is swift and cataclysmic, the event itself requires only 2 verses to report. The collateral damage is remarkable as Lot’s wife is turned to a pillar of salt. 

Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin is well known. But what of Lot’s wife? She merely looks back! Why is she so dramatically punished? Might she have lingered and simply been destroyed with these two cities? Or was this simply a wistful longing for that place and even the life she was forced to leave behind? She ignores the expressed prohibition of the angels, “Do not look back.” For whatever reason she does. And the consequences are swift and severe. 

Even though we may be forgiven for any and all sin, God’s people are not immune from the consequences of our actions. And there are prohibitions and warnings even to us who live in the New Testament era. We must not ignore them! 

The sins of the world in which we live do not escape his attention. And this is no fairy tale world. Whether it’s the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the horrific destruction of earthquake, famine, or hurricane, God’s people are not exempt from life as it really is. These may be direct acts of God’s judgment or the real and harsh consequences of life in a fallen world. But in any case these are God’s call to repentance and fair warning of a more grave and ultimate judgment. 

Thanks be to God that there is a place of safety in our Zoar: Jesus Christ our Lord. In him we have redemption, rescue, life, and salvation. We can hold to that hope in the midst of all of life.