The Ones Jesus Didn’t “Save”

“For God so loved the World, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.”

John 3:16 (KJV)
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This is probably the most well-known verse in the Christian Bible. It has given hope to millions, as it explains that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ allows anyone to find forgiveness, faith, and new/eternal life. But what about those who don’t believe; those loved ones (and others) who die without the hope of salvation? Doesn’t God care about them? Why does he let them die without hope? Why do they go to eternal suffering, instead of being forgiven?

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I can’t give a complete answer to those questions…I don’t comprehend the entirety of God’s plan or His mind. But I do know this– God understands our heartbreak and our grief over our unsaved loved ones. After all, Jesus spent three years preaching and announcing the Gospel, yet He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. Jesus– God in the Flesh; Emmanuel; the Perfect Son of God–didn’t “save” everyone He knew. We have the wonderful story of the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus– what about others who didn’t “see the light?” There may have been hundreds, even thousands who heard Jesus preach; who watched Him hanging on the Cross; who heard the rumors that He had risen, only to reject His message–what about them? Jesus had met them. Maybe He had healed them, or eaten at their house, or studied with them at the Temple when they were younger. Some may have been His brothers, or cousins, or mentors and teachers.

On the night before He was crucified, Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was in anguish about what He would have to face, but some of His anguish and grief had to be in knowing that, while His death and resurrection would save so many, there were still others who would choose to turn away and reject the Life and Hope and Peace that He suffered to bring.

Even during His ministry, Jesus didn’t heal everyone who was diseased or lame or blind. He even made reference at one point to the kinds of disasters that often leave us questioning God’s mercy:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus could have “saved” those Galileans from having their sacrifices desecrated; He could have provided a miracle to save those who were killed by the tower that fell in Siloam. And just as we grieve today for the senseless loss of life in places like Afghanistan and Haiti, or New York City on 9/11/2001, Jesus felt the loss of innocent strangers. Just as we plead with friends and loved ones to repent and seek God’s face, Jesus preached the need for all people to confess and seek forgiveness.

Jesus could have forced Judas to turn from his plan to betray the Master. He had the authority to cast out demons and demand that angels come to honor, protect, or comfort Him. He has the authority to make every knee bow down and every tongue confess that He is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. And someday, He will! But Jesus won’t save people against their will– even those close to him. He doesn’t compel grudging obedience, or demand abject servitude. There are some who choose to serve Him in that way, but that is not His desire. Instead, He compels us with His mercy. We choose to love Him because He first Loved us– sacrificially, unreservedly, without limits or conditions. (See 1 John 4:19)

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Jesus patiently spoke to Nicodemus in the dead of night. He chased Saul down on the road to Damascus and gave him three days of blindness to reconsider the direction of his life. He called His disciples and asked them to Follow Him– even Judas. He invited Himself to the house of Zacchaeus. He spoke with compassion to those who were broken, and outcast, and lost. And just like Judas, they had to make choices– some of His friends and followers abandoned Him when He needed them most. Some of them stumbled. But they HAD followed Jesus. They had learned from Him, and they came back and persevered.

Being loved by God comes without conditions and without reservations. Being “saved” by Christ’s atoning blood comes with a price–not just the price He paid on the cross, but the price of our repentance and acceptance of His Lordship, and yes, even the mysteries of His Grace.

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As Jesus hung on the Cross, He was positioned between two convicts who were justly condemned. Both were sinners; both were paying the penalty for their crimes. One cried out to a dying Savior, and was saved. The other mocked and cursed. Jesus had the power to save him. He did not desire that the other man should suffer. But the other man chose to reject who Jesus was, and so rejected all the mercy and power He could have shown.

Jesus died to save “whosoever” would believe. He did not die to save “howsoever.” We may not fully understand why He chose to offer Salvation in this way, but we believe it to our everlasting joy, or reject it to our everlasting anguish.

90 Percent

Bible teacher and author Chuck Swindoll is credited with saying, “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.” When I was younger, I liked this quote, but I quibbled with the numbers. Surely, we are in control of our reactions and attitudes. And our circumstances don’t determine our lives completely. But 10%?! What about those whose circumstances are overwhelmingly tragic?

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I thought of my father’s experiences, and it seemed as though what happened to him in four short years should have had a greater impact on his life. During the four short years that my father was in high school (1945-1948), his family experienced at least three tragedies. Dad grew up on a farm. His dad was a dairy farmer, as was his grandfather. Dad grew up expecting that he would, along with his father and brothers, spend the rest of his life as a farmer. But then, everything changed. First, Dad’s oldest brother was drafted into the Army at the very end of World War 2. Though my uncle was not in combat, he was badly wounded in Germany, as his unit was sent in to find unexploded bombs and land mines, and ordered to clear out rubble. Dad had lost one cousin in the war, and several others had come home wounded or changed, but this was post-war, and unexpected. It meant more work for my grandfather and the two younger sons, even as they were still in school. It meant uncertainty, as they waited for word from thousands of miles away over several months.

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Uncle Jack recovered and returned to the farm. But then, on Christmas Eve, there was a house fire. While the family escaped without major injuries, the house was a total loss. Furniture, clothes, pictures, heirlooms, farm records and financial papers– all gone. Dad moved in with his aunt and uncle to continue his education. But two weeks before graduation, his father died suddenly from complications from emergency gall bladder surgery. My father’s world had been turned upside-down in just a few short years and at a critical juncture in his life.

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However, as I’ve matured and thought about it over the years, those events, among other tragedies and triumphs in Dad’s life, really DID only amount to a small percentage of his life. Even numerically/chronologically, those four years were less than ten percent of Dad’s time on earth. Dad couldn’t control the events of those years. He couldn’t have predicted them, and he couldn’t erase them or go back and undo them. But he chose how to respond and react to those events. He learned from them.

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Circumstances in our lives, whether tragic or terrific, present us with choices. Will we turn to God, or away from Him? Will we become better, or bitter? Will we seek to assign blame, or seek solutions? My dad and his brothers were not able to continue the dairy farm their father had built up. Without the records and registration papers for the various cows, without their father’s experience and acumen, without money to upgrade their facilities and equipment, they had to sell most of what their father had built up. Uncle Jack kept the farm land, but he took a second job. Dad was drafted and sent to Korea for his own post-war odyssey, and came home to work at the local feed mill, and later in a factory job. He passed away several years ago, partly as a result of complications from his own gall bladder surgeries.

My dad’s life was impacted and shaped in part by tragic circumstances. But Pastor Swindoll is right– at least 90 percent of my dad’s LIFE was shaped by his attitude and character. My father was a man of faith and integrity. He cherished his family and his role as a father– partly because of the loss of his own dad; but also because of the lasting legacy his father had passed on. He spoke often of his wonderful memories growing up on the farm. But he also made wonderful memories– picnics and vacations, family reunions, family devotions, watching baseball on television, sharing laughter and tears, and making sure we knew we were loved and protected. He ministered to people in the community, mowing lawns for widows, or visiting shut-ins. He taught us to love music, baseball, and animals. He taught us the value of prayer, reading the Bible, and living a life of faith.

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As I get older, and look back on the circumstances of my past, I am encouraged and challenged to think that they represent only a small fraction of my life. I can’t control many of my circumstances– health setbacks, financial struggles, accidents and tragedies. But I can control my attitude and my response. My dad could have been bitter, angry, ungrateful, resentful, and self-pitying– regardless of his circumstances! But he chose to put his faith, his heart, and his attitude in the hands of a loving God. And I choose to do the same– after all, He controls 100% of my future!

Do Be Do Be Do…

I was reading the other day, and thinking about how often we read the Bible with preconceived notions. We sometimes think the Bible is a guide that tells us what to do or not to do. But a good portion of the Bible tells us, not what to do, but how to be. Even the Ten Commandments don’t tell us what to do— rather they tell us what we should NOT do.

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God has given each of us free will, and created us with distinct skills and personalities and sets of circumstances. We will not– indeed we cannot– all do the same things. God doesn’t expect it of us. And He does not expect us to earn our salvation by what we do. What He does expect is that we will do those things that bring us closer to Him and closer to the people we were meant to be. His power will take care of the rest.

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We have a tendency to get caught up in what we (and what others around us) are doing; we tend to judge and compare and criticize. Instead, we should concentrate on who and what we are becoming:

  • We want to learn–but do we want to be teachable?
  • We want to make money– but do we want to be generous?
  • We want to build a reputation– but do we want to be honest and reliable?
  • We want to have friends– do we want to be available?
  • We want a family–do we want to be intimately known and knowable?
  • We want freedom–do we want to be responsible?
  • We want justice– do we want to be just?
  • We want happiness–do we want to be content with what we have?
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Jesus didn’t give His disciples a long “to do” list. He didn’t give them detailed lists of things to do. He gave them “Beatitudes”– “Be” “Attitudes”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-12
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Of course, much of who we are and who we become depends on what we do. And it is important to do what is right and honorable, just and compassionate. But it’s the “being” that is the goal, not merely the “doing.” God knows we cannot “do” what it takes to be perfectly righteous in our own power. But He will give us the guidance, the strength, and the encouragement to “become” more like Him as we live out the above attitudes.

God Doesn’t Vote

Tomorrow is election day in America. People have been “early” voting for weeks; many will be voting tomorrow, myself included. And then we will watch and wait.

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Pundits and professional pollsters have been trying to predict the outcome for months. They will go at it for the next several days (if not longer), trying to analyze, synthesize, and dissect the voting patterns in various regions to explain why this candidate won, that one lost, or why this race is “too close to call.”

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Meanwhile, many Christians will be doing the same thing in their living rooms, Bible study groups, and neighborhoods. Is America under God’s blessing or His curse? Is this election God’s judgment, or a second chance?

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But God doesn’t “vote.” God is sovereign; He can direct the outcome of elections. He can raise up rulers and bring them down again. He can raise up a nation from nothing or tear down empires. But God doesn’t act on our whims or even on our fervent beliefs about politics, economics, social action, or social issues. He acts on HIS plans and in His wisdom. He asks us not to vote for Him, but to trust and obey Him!

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I will vote for candidates and issues based on prayer, research, and hopefully, with God’s wisdom. But my vote is not the same as my everyday witness of how God is working in His world. I can vote for the “right” candidates or principles and still disobey God’s commandment to “love my neighbor as myself.” I can vote for the “wrong” candidate, because I am focused on what she says, and not how she treats the people around her, or how she honors God by her actions. I can not vote at all, and still work to spread the good news of the Gospel.

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God wants His people to live “in the world.” He wants us to be good citizens, interacting with those around us, even getting involved in causes, movements and social issues. But He also wants us to seek His Kingdom first and foremost (Matthew 6:33). Whether we live in a nation that has free elections; whether we vote red or blue (or purple or green); whether we take an active role in politics or sit on the sidelines– we should act in a manner that honors Him above our own ambitions or preferences. And if our candidate(s) should lose; if our nation adopts policies that continue to devalue life, denigrate families, and dishonor God– that does not give us the right to seek violence, retribution, endless recounts, or haughty isolation. We must continue to DO the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons. We must continue to pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us. We must continue to tell the truth– IN LOVE–and be ready to joyfully explain the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

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God doesn’t vote. He does love ALL those who do!

What a Waste!

The author of Ecclesiastes (presumed to be King Solomon) was a wise man. Yet he concluded that almost every aspect of life was meaningless– nothing more than “chasing after the wind.” Health, wealth, learning, entertainment, popularity, achievement– they can give pleasure and temporary satisfaction. But in the end, everyone dies, and their health is gone, their wealth goes to someone else, their learning is lost, their name and accomplishments are all forgotten and/ or destroyed.

In chapter 3, the author states that there is a time for “everything”– all the seemingly important activities of life–building, and tearing down, war and peace, living and dying…https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NIV And then he makes a curious statement in verse 11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Solomon describes this as a burden– mankind can sense eternity, but can live and see only a brief span of it.

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So what are we to do?

First, we need to make an important distinction– Solomon explores the pursuits of life and finds them all meaningless. At no point does he say that life itself is without meaning. Nor does he say there is no difference between wisdom and foolishness, honest labor and laziness, or self-indulgence and connectedness. I know some people who, after a quick reading through Ecclesiastes, use it to justify a hedonistic lifestyle. “Nothing matters,” they say. But that’s not what this book actually promotes. It isn’t that “nothing” matters. Rather, it is that none of our personal pursuits produce meaning in and of themselves or beyond our own limitations.

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Next, we should be wise in light of the eternity that God has placed in our hearts. Even if our pursuits seem trivial and temporary, they have consequences that ripple through time– long after we are gone. We may not be able to see the future, but we CAN see the effects of wisdom and foolishness in the lives of others, and we can heed the advice of those who have come before us. Most of all, we have the wisdom that comes from God. Solomon’s wisdom, though incredible among humans, was limited to his own experience and learning. His frustration and despair came from knowing how limited it was!

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Finally, we must read Ecclesiastes in context. Solomon was wise, but he lacked the vision of his father, David, to fully anticipate the coming of Messiah. Solomon’s ambitions were for the span of his own earthly life. He did not have his hope firmly rooted in a resurrection and an eternal life shared with his Creator. For all his wisdom, he was found lacking in faith. After writing such wisdom (not just in Ecclesiastes, but throughout the Proverbs), Solomon ended his life in a foolish pursuit of relativism and compromise that ruined much of the strength and prosperity he had brought to his kingdom in earlier years.

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One thing remains– to fear God and follow His commands. God is eternal–and all that is done for Him and by Him and through Him will never be wasted. Solomon’s life may have ended with failure, but his words and wisdom live on. Our lives may be short; we may have wasted precious time in meaningless pursuits–God has promised that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 CSB) and that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

G.P.S.

Psalm 23:3 English Standard Version (ESV)

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

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Many phones, tablets, even vehicles, come with a GPS– Global Positioning System–which uses satellite technology to tell you where you are. Combined with a satellite navigation system, the GPS helps tell you how to get from point A to point B– mapping out various routes, including estimated travel times, and information about road construction, detours, and traffic patterns. Applications like Google Maps or MapQuest can show you details and even images of the roads on which you are traveling. Such systems and apps can be very helpful, but they are not perfect. A GPS may be a few yards “off,” leading you close to your destination, but leaving you slightly lost and confused. If you type the wrong coordinates or address into a navigation system, you may end up far from where you expected to be!

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As Christians, we have a GPS– God’s Provision and Sovereignty. God promises to lead us in the paths of righteousness. God’s direction and leadership are sure and good. We still have the responsibility of listening and adjusting our course, however. We can still miss a turn, go off in the wrong direction, or set the wrong coordinates for our destination.

But, unlike a satellite navigator, God’s provision is eternal and supernatural. God knows all the roads we can take, could take, should take, (or shouldn’t take), and will take– He knows every curve, every bump in the road, every traffic jam, and every scenic lookout and rest stop along the way! God’s MapQuest sets us on a course of righteousness– paths that will not only bring us safely to our ultimate destination of eternal life with Him, but do so in a way that brings honor and glory to Him. After all, it’s His reputation at stake as our Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd– He won’t lead us down the wrong path; He WANTS us to reach our destination. And our full potential!

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When we travel these paths, with our Shepherd leading the way, we will become familiar with the best roads; able to help others navigate the sharp turns and steep grades we have already traveled. We can share the glory of that sweet stretch of road beside the cool stream, or the view from the hidden rise. And we can share the blessings of being on the road with the one who owns it!

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Sometimes, we pray for a different path– a short cut, or a road with more adventure (or less!)–God hears our prayers, and He knows where the road leads. When we look back, we may be amazed– not only at the road God laid out for us to follow, but the roads we didn’t take. We see a short-cut; God sees missed opportunities for growth. We see a detour; God sees the dangerous wash-out we were spared. But if we walk by faith, and not by sight (or intuition, or emotion), we will begin to see the goodness of the path we are on, no matter how difficult or how different from our expectation. And we will begin to pray, not for the path to change, but for wisdom to follow where our Shepherd leads.

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The best part of God’s GPS is that no matter how lost we are; no matter which path we have chosen against His good will– God can get us back on course and to the right destination. He can turn our dead-end roads around, help us make the right turns, and help us reconnect with the paths of righteousness.

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Whatever path you and I find ourselves on today, I pray that we will turn on our GPS, and follow God’s directions for the road ahead.

A “Lot” to Learn

I’ve learned a “lot” studying in Genesis, and looking at the character of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Today, I want to summarize…

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  • Our lives depend on choices, rather than chances…Lot experienced many opportunities and some tragedies beyond his control. But even when God gave Lot some amazing opportunities– even when He offered miraculous rescue–Lot continued to make bad decisions or no decision at all. When have I done the same? Do I wait for chance and circumstance to find me? Do I drift along without making wise choices, allowing life to carry me to my next destination? Or do I seek God–His wisdom, His Word, His provision–and choose to obey Him?
  • Not making a choice IS making a choice…Lot chose to live outside of Sodom– but he ended up in the city. Lot spent much of his time NOT making decisions or plans. He chose inactivity, chose to be vulnerable to attack, chose to live in a city so wicked it was doomed to destruction, chose to compromise and bargain with his wicked neighbors, chose to drag his feet (literally) about leaving, chose to let his daughters control his destiny and legacy. How often do I pray for God to direct my steps and guide my life, and then sit on the couch doing nothing? Lot’s story doesn’t include a single instance of Lot taking initiative. He simple reacts to, takes advantage of, or accepts whatever opportunities or misfortunes befall him. And he doesn’t see his inactivity as a sin or rebellion against God. But he never CHOOSES to follow God; to seek Him or obey him. He assumes that not choosing active rebellion and evil is enough. Have I done the same? Do I think that because I am not actively involved in wickedness that I am honoring God with my inaction and apathy?
  • You cannot live surrounded by evil and not be hurt by it. Ignoring the warning signs, tolerating evil because it becomes familiar, turning a blind eye to the ways others are being hurt–if we are not part of a solution, we are part of the problem. Lot had options– he could have moved away from Sodom; he could have stayed outside the city; he could have spoken up about the evil all around him–he did none of those things. He lived a compromised life; a life in denial. What have I done to flee evil? To speak out against injustice and oppression? To stand up for what is right? When have I winked at evil, or turned a blind eye to wickedness? How often have I sat in uncomfortable silence while someone else suffered? Because “it’s not my problem.” “One voice won’t make a difference.” “It’s just the way they are.” “I don’t want to offend anyone by getting involved. It’s none of my business, anyway.” Lot and his family suffered greatly, even as they tried to “coexist” with their wicked neighbors.
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That’s a lot to consider in the life of one man. But more importantly, there are a “lot” of things to learn about the character of God in this story:

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  • God sees us. God included Lot in the larger story of Abraham– He gave an orphaned boy a family, a fortune, and a future. Lot had done nothing to “earn” God’s protection or favor. He certainly did nothing to deserve being rescued– twice– and he did nothing to show gratitude for either rescue. But God didn’t make a mistake in showing Lot mercy. God wasn’t surprised by Lot’s life choices– He didn’t “fail” Lot, and He didn’t forget about Him– even after generations.
  • God is a judge. We like to concentrate on God’s mercy and blessings, but God’s goodness requires that sin, wickedness, and evil be punished. God doesn’t delight in punishment, but He will not forget the cries of the oppressed. Those who practice evil and seem to “get away with it” will face judgment. If they do not seek God’s forgiveness, they will be destroyed. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by supernatural fire; Lot was destroyed by his own fears and compromises.
  • God is merciful. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but He was willing to save the cities for the sake of as few as ten “righteous” people. We know that “There is no one righteous, not even one..” (Romans 3:10), but God thoughtfully listened to Abraham, and promised to seek for anyone who could be considered worthy of saving. That He saved only Lot and his small family was for Abraham’s sake, not Lot’s– yet save them He did. God doesn’t save the “deserving”– He saves the lost!
  • God’s plans are perfect, detailed, and eternal. God saved the unworthy Lot, and even when his family repaid God’s mercy with incest, violence, and wickedness against Israel, God orchestrated the story of Ruth– a story of love, faithfulness, and redemption pulled from the ashes of this tragic story in Genesis. God has a plan for each of us– He already knows if we will participate eagerly in a story of beauty and blessing, or be dragged through a story of compromise and tragedy. But ultimately, our story will be woven into a tapestry of God’s faithfulness, righteousness, and restoration. How we respond will change our life, and potentially, the lives of generations to come. And God will give us opportunities to choose lives of obedience, wisdom, and faith. No matter if we live in Sodom, or wasted earlier chances, we can choose rescue and redemption because of God’s great love and mercy!
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The Bible never records a prayer by Lot– whether he DID pray is a matter of speculation. But it seems clear that Lot did not seek God in any meaningful way– he didn’t obey God, he didn’t honor God, he didn’t walk with God as his uncle did. Abraham’s life wasn’t perfect– he lied about his wife, became impatient for God’s promised son and took matters into his own hands– but Abraham learned from his mistakes. He humbled himself, looked to God for wisdom, and trusted Him for the next step. He honored God, built altars, and called on the Name of the Lord. May we call out to the same God of Abraham for guidance and wisdom today.

Winning the “Lot”-tery

The character of Lot in the Biblical book of Genesis is one that often gets overlooked in favor of his uncle, Abram/Abraham. Yet Lot lingers in the background, following Abram to Canaan, and later to the area between Bethel and Ai. (See the end of Genesis 11 and the beginning Genesis 13.) Curiously, we don’t hear anything of Lot when Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt during a period of famine. He isn’t there to support his uncle, or share his burden. He isn’t there to alleviate any of Abram’s fears relating to Sarai (See Genesis 12). Abram resorts to lying about his relationship, and causing difficulties with Pharaoh, but there is no mention of Lot until Abram and Sarai return from Egypt. Lot rejoins his uncle and they move into a fertile region– so fertile, in fact, that their flocks and herds soon grow too big for the area.

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At the beginning of Genesis 13, things have come to a crisis point. Abram, as the elder, could have used his age and position to demand the best grazing land and force Lot to fend for himself elsewhere. But he doesn’t. God has already promised that Abram and he will become a great nation and own the land of Canaan. Abram, in faith, tells Lot that he can have his choice of the land– anywhere he goes, Abram will pull back and take the leftovers.

It must have felt like winning a prize–being given carte blanche– first dibs on the best land in the region, while your elder agrees to give you even more space to expand. And Lot makes the most of this golden opportunity. He chooses the best land in the area– well watered, green, and near wealthy centers of commerce and culture–what could go wrong?

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Before we explore the answer to that question, let’s stop and consider Lot’s character and choice in comparison to his uncle’s character and offer.

Abram reveals much of his character in a pattern of “calling on the Lord.” He does it in Genesis 12:7, 13:4, and again after the separation from Lot in Genesis 13:18, where he built an altar. There is no mention of Lot ever calling on the Lord for anything. Not to seek His face, or give Him praise, or memorialize an event. Lot is not a giver– he is a taker. He takes advantage of his uncle’s wealth and standing time after time, but we never see him thanking his uncle or showing deference to him as an elder. This is not to say that Lot never showed gratitude or deference, but he seems not to have made a habit of it. In taking the best land for himself, Lot acted with supreme self-interest. He could have sought out good land elsewhere, leaving his older uncle in possession of good land close by. He could have taken time to consider more than just the obvious good points of the land he chose. But he didn’t. He jumped at what looked like an amazing stroke of luck. But in the end it turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.

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How often am I like Lot? When have I jumped at the chance to take the “easy” path, never bothering to consider how it impacts others? Have I developed the bad habit of taking “good fortune” for granted? Do I thank God, and those who have poured into my life, for their care and help? Am I dependable– am I “there” for my friends and family in good times and in times of famine, hardship, or pain?

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Lord, help me to learn these lessons from your word. Help me to be more like Abram, and less like Lot as I go through the day and week ahead. And Thank You for Your character of faithfulness and grace, that chose to rescue Lot (twice!) in spite of his selfish choices. Help me to show the same grace to others I encounter.

The “if” at the Center of Life

The English word “life” has only four letters, but the central two form another word– “If.” Life is all about making choices–and facing the consequences of those choices. Often we focus on those circumstances over which we seem to have no choice–I didn’t “choose” to be born, to be born female, to be born into the family or community where I grew up. I didn’t choose to be short, I didn’t choose the color of my eyes or skin or hair (though my hair color has changed as I get older!)

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But those are circumstances– they are not my LIFE. My life is made up of thoughts, feelings, actions, attitudes, decisions, and interactions with others. The color of my eyes, my lack of stature, or my family name does not determine my attitude or my inner beliefs or the way I treat others. Who I am is determined by the choices I make– to be proud, to believe that I am superior (or inferior) to others; to choose hope and courage or to wallow in worry and despondency; to make the most of my time, or to waste it; to envy others or be grateful for all that I have; to obey or defy; to take care of my body or make unhealthy life choices; to be a good steward or be wasteful and destructive; to show love or to withhold kindness; to forgive or to hold a grudge; to seek God for his love and mercy, or to blame God for every challenge I face. Every choice (and its consequences) is woven into the fabric of my earthly life– every reaction to bad circumstances, every investment in future goals, every moment spent “just vegging”, every secret habit I continue to indulge..

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The word “if” can hold great promise or regret– we can get lost in speculating, “if only…” or we can try to bargain with ourselves or with God, “if…then.” God gives us life, and He gives us “if”– the freedom to choose how we will react to our circumstances; freedom to choose how we will live our lives; the freedom to seek Him; the freedom to serve Him (or not) with all the unique gifts and passions He planted in each of us.

Life is filled with “ifs”– good and bad. “If’s” are conditional and have consequences. God’s love is not an “If.” It is unconditional, eternal, and immeasurable. Accepting it, however is conditional–it is the greatest “if” in the center of our life!

Lord, help me make good choices– choices that reflect the love and mercy You have shown; choices that bring You honor and glory. Thank you for making the choice to send Your only Son, that whoever (including me) believes in Him should have everlasting life!

Hannah and Her Son

1 Samuel 1:11 New International Version (NIV)
11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

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Today, we get to the essence of Hannah’s prayer. And it is not a prayer that most of us would pray. Hannah asks for a son to take away her misery and show her God’s favor. But in the same breath, she promises to give her son back to the Lord forever. How many of us would ask for something so rare and precious just to turn around and give it away?

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As I write this, my country, my friends, and even my family are deeply divided over the issue of abortion. Much is being made about a woman’s “right” to decide whether and when she will have a child. “My body, My choice,” is a common cry among the pro-choice crowd, while the other side points fingers and yells, “baby killer” at those women who choose to end their pregnancy. But yelling and chanting don’t change hearts or facts. A woman cannot actually “choose” to become pregnant at will. In Hannah’s case, she was in anguish over her inability to “choose” to become pregnant. In the case of a modern woman, she may be in anguish over not being able to avoid an unwanted pregnancy or avoid unwanted complications resulting from her pregnancy. She may, like Hannah, be in anguish over her inability to conceive or to carry to full term. But in any case, the idea that pregnancy and birth are simply a matter of “choice” is based on a false reality. There is an illusion of “reproductive autonomy” because of modern medicine. We have birth control that makes claims of being “safe and effective”; we have methods to increase fertility, regulate menstruation, reduce the chances of conception, and even stop the fertilization process within a day or two. But no woman can simply “choose” to become pregnant (or stop being pregnant) at will. Women cannot choose the gender of their children; they cannot guarantee the date of birth; they cannot produce a future world leader or athletic prodigy just by force of will. They cannot guarantee their child perfect health, long life, wealth, or happiness. And reproduction among human beings is never “autonomous”!

Hannah’s story seems the antithesis of abortion– here we have a woman begging for a child; she is in anguish over her inability to conceive. And God hears her cry and blesses her with a son.

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But today, I want to look at Hannah in a slightly different light. I think Hannah would have a great deal of compassion for those women who suffer anguish because of their womb– women whose wombs are achingly empty; women whose wombs seem to betray them as pregnancy after pregnancy ends in a miscarriage; women who long for their womb to be home to a little girl, even as they have a house full of much-loved little boys (or vice versa); women whose wombs hold anger and bitterness because they have been the unwilling vessel of abuse, incest, and rape.

Infertility and “unwanted” pregnancy are not mutually exclusive. They are distant cousins–manifestations of a fallen world where none of us control even the circumstances of our own bodies. And it is in this context that Hannah makes an extraordinary vow.

Hannah gives birth to a son– the fulfillment of all her longings. Or is he? Hannah gets to carry him in her womb; she gets to wean him. But then she vows that she will give him up– relinquish all rights to be there when he scrapes his knee or loses his first tooth, when his voice begins to deepen and his hugs require her to stand on tiptoe. What kind of mother is Hannah? She will never have all those stories of the little “mom” moments; no memories of tucking him in after a long day, or watching him climb a tree, or run after his dad. She will never hold his hand on dark stormy nights, or ruffle his hair after it gets a new cut (in fact, she vows he will never GET a haircut).

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There are moms–unsung, living in the shadows– who have made the incredible sacrifice of “giving up” their children. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by force. Some have given them up for adoption at birth. Some have lost parental rights due to divorce, incarceration, or other life circumstances. Some have had their children stolen or taken from them in tragic circumstances. Hannah was given other children after she gave up Samuel, but she never “got over” the loss of her son. No one ever does.

Which brings me back to the debate about abortion. We do not have “reproductive autonomy.” Our wombs are not just another part of our bodies. They are designed to nurture and prepare for new life. To the extent that they fulfill that design, they bring joy and pain, hope and hurt. In denying that reality and embracing the false promise of “my body, my choice”, we don’t erase the lives lost to abortion– we just bury them. And for the women who are making that choice, we must offer compassion. The pain and anguish they suffer before and after an abortion are every bit as real as that suffered by Hannah in her quest to have a son, only to give him up.

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