Don’t Look Back

The door of our house shuts with a slam. I stop kneading dough in my porcelain bowl and look up as my husband runs into the cooking room.

“Quick, woman, where are our daughters? And their fiancés? ”

He pulls me by the wrist to the living room where two men stand. Tall, handsome, and with shining faces, they greet me with a nod and a smile.

My husband makes introduction. “These are angels sent to us by God Himself.”

I start in shock. Angels?  I’m puzzled until I hear the shouting, cursing, and loud knocking on our door. I know the men of our city are rioting again, and as I regard the angels, I know why. The pounding grows louder, and I fear our door will break.

“Yes, ever since these two arrived in our city, the Sodomites have become violent, demanding that they have relations with our guests.”

I cringe at the thought, remembering the beds everywhere in the town square for that very purpose. They insist on intimacy with every new man who enters the city gates.

One angel speaks. “We don’t want to impose on your family. We can spend the night in the square.”

Lot wags his finger back and forth. “Absolutely not! You must stay here with us tonight where you’ll be safe.”

The shouting thickens with more voices, and the pounding reverberates through the entire house. I return my husband’s worried expression as our two beautiful, dark-haired daughters rush to my side and cling to me. Their frightened eyes plead.

Lot regards the two angels, then our daughters. My heart squeezes into my throat. Oh, please, don’t let him do it. My eyes glue to his back in horror as he slowly edges to open the door, slips through, and closes it behind him. I strain to hear his words above the roar of protest. I distantly hear demands that he produce the two men for their pleasure.

“Good men of Sodom, why do you act so wickedly?  These men are my guests. You must leave them alone.” Lot tries to reason with them, which sometimes works.

More shouting, more protesting.

My palms sweat. My heart drums like it’s going to beat out of my chest.

“Men of Sodom, let me give you my two virgin daughters instead. You may do to them whatever you wish.” His tone is desperate. The din is deafening.

I can’t stop my body from shaking. “Save him!” I plead with the angels. “They’ll kill him! They have done this to others. I know.” I cry, tears spilling down my cheeks.

My daughters bury their weeping faces into my shoulders. They quake, and I hug them tightly as we wait to see if they will be thrown to the mob, like pieces of raw meat to charging lions.

The angels cautiously open the door and jerk my husband inside. They struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway (Genesis 19:11, NASB).

I fling myself into Lot’s arms, sobbing, convinced that the angels saved my husband’s life.

One angel set the plans. “Tomorrow at dawn, you must leave this place—you, your wife and your daughters, and your sons-in-law, because the Lord is going to judge Sodom’s exceeding wickedness.”

Just before dawn breaks over the horizon, we’re ready to go. Lot runs to the dwellings of our sons-in-law, informing and urging them to escape with us before destruction falls. In spite of the angels’ presence, they think Lot is joking and refuse to believe it’s true. When their father returns alone, our daughters cry and beg to not leave without them. Their futures are doomed.

The angels tell us that we must leave now because they cannot hold back God’s hand of judgment any longer. It’s now or never.

We are all frozen in fear. No one can move.

Out of sympathy, the angels grab our hands and pull us to safety out of the city. When they had brought (us) outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away’ (Genesis 19:17, NASB).  Lot asks them if we can escape to a nearby city, Zoar, instead of fleeing to the mountains, and they grant us permission. Then they disappear, and it’s just the four of us again.

As we trample up the hills that early morning, I listen to the angry thunder and try to cover my nose from the  pungent smell of sulphur, as fire and brimstone pour down from the black skies. I try to block out the distant screams of agony, and remember my sons-in-law are there by choice.

I shudder, sobbing, devastated about what I was forced to leave. My beautiful home. My lovely things. My entire life.

What kind of place is Zoar? I have nothing there.

A huge rumbling booms from the sky, and light like the strength of a hundred suns blazes around me. I cover my face with my hands, but I’m too curious. I have to peek. Just a last look. No one will know.

But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26, NASB).

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Poor Lot’s wife. Instantly judged for disobedience. Not thanking God for deliverance, but mourning for what she had lost. Let’s learn from her bad example.

If you’re tempted to have a pity-party, remember Lot’s wife. Don’t look back.

At the end of 2015, what have you lost? A place you loved? A relationship? A job or career?  A loved one? Lot and his family lost all of these.

No matter what has been torn from your hands, it’s time to let it go and enter into God’s new blessings in 2016.

As God takes us across the threshold of this new year, let’s be like Lot and look forward. Let’s rejoice with thanksgiving and place our trust in Him who will protect and deliver us from evil. Wherever we are, He will guide us securely into our future that He has prepared for such a time as this. As we enter 2016, the continuation of the Year of Jubilee, let’s do so in the strength and joy of the Lord.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13, NASB).

Wishing you a healthy, prosperous, and blessed New Year!

 

 

The Manger-Throne

Star of Bethlehem

How does the manger in Bethlehem compare with God’s throne room in heaven?

According to the fourth chapter of Revelation, John glimpsed into heaven’s awesome arena of praise and worship where God Almighty sat on His throne, His appearance like a jasper stone and a sardius. Encircling the throne was a rainbow like an emerald, and around it twenty-four thrones, each with a seated elder clothed in white garments and wearing golden crowns.

Do you think heaven is a place of hushed quiet with angels floating on clouds, strumming harps? Contrary to what we may imagine, John reveals that it’s full of flashes of lightening and peals of thunder amidst seven burning lamps and a crystal sea.

Wow. A bit intimidating, but certainly communicating His holiness.

The most curious—dare I say scariest—sight of all were the four living creatures. Eyes all around and within, each having six wings and different in appearance: a lion, a calf, a face of a man, and a flying eagle. They never cease worshiping God, declaring, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (Revelation 4:8b, NASB).

John describes the climax of this worship. When the living creatures praise Him who lives forever, the elders will fall down, casting their crowns before Him who sits on the throne and worshiping, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11, NASB).

Can this worship and praise compare to our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem?

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Jesus, sent from heaven by His Father God to be born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger, according to the second chapter of Luke. She placed her baby in an animals’ feeding trough, packed with clean straw, which became His earthly throne. His entry into the world was to a humble dwelling, announced by a heavenly host to poor shepherds rather than to royalty. After all, doesn’t it make sense that this perfect Lamb, sent to be the final sin sacrifice, would be born in a cave where the animals dwelled? His kingdom has never been of this world.

Nearby shepherds, who had been watching their flocks at night, were the first to receive the birth announcement and a personal invitation to come and see the newborn King. An angel of the Lord had suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord had shone all around, causing them to be terribly frightened. The angel had told them not to fear, but that he was bringing them good news of great joy for all people; “…for today in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11, NASB).

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Just as in heaven, a multitude of angels appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14, NASB).

 

The sign the angel gave the shepherds was that they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. They hurried straight to Bethlehem, finding the Holy family exactly as they had been told. Surrounded by the animals, Mary and Joseph listened with amazement as the shepherds recounted their story of the angels’ rejoicing at His birth. Upon beholding the Child, they fell to their knees and worshiped the newborn king.

Christmas Nativity

But the story doesn’t stop there. The animals surrounding the manger-throne, the angelic host singing praises and rejoicing at Messiah’s birth, drawing shepherd-witnesses to the miraculous event—these preceded the arrival of the three magi. Just as the twenty-four crowned elders surround God’s throne in heaven, so these three kings traveled to worship at the manger-throne in Bethlehem.

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How did they know about Christ’s miraculous birth? The second chapter of Matthew tells us that they saw His star in the east and followed it until it stood over the place where the Child was.

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Matthew 2:10-11a, NASB). Just as the elders cast their crowns before the throne of God, so these kings from the east bowed before Jesus, laying precious gifts at the foot of the manger: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

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A little more than two thousand years ago on this night, Christ was born. Like the shepherds and the Magi, let’s bow before Him with praise and worship, laying at His feet our most precious possession: our hearts.

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The Revelation Church at Smyrna

Welcome to Smyrna, whose congregation suffered perhaps the greatest persecution in all Christianity. As a materially poor church located in a wealthy city, their faithful works performed in the name of the Lord Jesus brought them great tribulation on earth, yet great reward in heaven.

First, a little history …

Located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna (modern day Izmir) was a cultural center referred to as the “Ornament of Asia.” Very loyal to Rome for at least three centuries, this city built temples devoted to various Roman gods and was the worship center for Emperor Tiberias. Over time, emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on penalty of death, and those who refused to obey were burned alive.

Such was the fate of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, a student under John who would not deny his faith in Jesus. Isn’t is crystal clear what a hotbed of hatred and persecution this church must have faced?

But it has also surfaced today in many parts of the world. Look at the cradle of Christianity in some Middle Eastern countries, for example. Believers are imprisoned, beheaded, and crucified by the thousands for their unwavering stand for Jesus. Quite unbelievable that this could be happening in 2015, but Bible prophecy tells us to expect it in the Last Days before the Apocalypse.

And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-9, NASB).

Jesus has no rebuke for this church, but instead commends them for their suffering. The attacks they endured were slanderous ones led by those whose evil intent was to destroy this believing church.

Even today, does political unfairness against Christian churches exist? In some countries, they are being burned down, branded as houses of worship for Infidels. And this trend is spreading around the world.

But God also commends this church for the spiritual riches they laid up in heaven. In contrast to the city’s great wealth, it was materially impoverished, probably due to unfair economic sanctions levied against it.

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 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matthew 6:20. NASB).

Although their enemies were hell-bent on destroying this church financially, their faithfulness and obedience built up great wealth for them in heaven. Think how powerful their preaching must have been for Satan to attack them so ruthlessly!

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days (Revelation 2:10a, NASB).

God readied them for their upcoming persecution, telling specifically how long it would last. He began with encouragement that they need not fear what they were about to suffer at Satan’s hands.

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Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death (Revelation 2: 10b-11, NASB).

This letter ends on a positive note. What are the benefits of enduring persecution, even if it leads to death? God spells them out.

In Smyrna’s day, one of its money symbols was a crown engraved on their coins. In contrast, Jesus promises to give the crown of life to those who hold true to their belief in the Lord. What a glorious benefit, along with eternal life in God’s kingdom.

No matter how bad it appeared, the Smyrna congregation could rest in the safety of His arms and the comfort of knowing that He is in control.

And so can we.

We don’t have to fear. The Word tells us that God wins the war against Satan at Armageddon, and His kingdom will be established . Then we will rule and reign with Christ forever. The Anti-Christ’s seven-year reign of terror is short, temporary, and controlled by God.

Are you prepared to head into these troubling days? Do you have the personal assurance that you will be an overcomer through Jesus’ death and resurrection?

We find our solace in the Savior. There is only one safe place in these days of terrorism and persecution. It’s  not a physical place, but a spiritual one found in Jesus alone. Here’s what the scripture says:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9, NASB).

For by grace are you saved through faith, and not that of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 8:11, NASB).

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe (Proverbs 18:10, NASB).

He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1, NASB).

Are you ready? So am I. Together, let’s face these days with the courage and strength of the Lord

Please continue with me to our next stop. Meet me in Pergamum.

A French Christmas

France has always had a special place in my heart. I hope you enjoy reading about some of their traditional Christmas celebrations. This post was first published on Writing Prompts, Thoughts, and Ideas.

Inspired Prompt

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By Karen Jurgensfrance+flag

Joyeux Noël! Having always been a French teacher, I can’t help but mix in a little of France with my Christmas traditions. I enjoyed creating aspects of Christmas in France every year for my students, from the traditional carols we sang to the midnight Christmas feast and even the stocking and candy game we played as a gift exchange.

Although France is historically Catholic, its religious and secular celebrations are a delightful addition to swirl in with our own. Let me share some of them with you.

Their celebration of our Santa Claus is quite different, and one interesting French story brings him to life. It tells about three children who were kidnapped by an evil butcher in the forest and held captive. Just as they were about to be killed, Père Noël came to their rescue, delivering them from their fate and returning them safely home. This…

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Christmas Roundup – The Writing Prompts Crew

Here is our Christmas Roundup! First posted in Writing Prompts Thoughts and Ideas.

Inspired Prompt

December seems like the best time to take a few moments and introduce you to the Writing Prompts Crew. We’ve added and subtracted over the years, but always end up with a really good group of writers. You can find more information about each of our writers, along with information and buy links for their published books by clicking “The Crew” tab above, or the link provided at the end of each bio. And please read to the end of this post for important information and details about the Once Upon a Christmas Giveaway!

Jennifer HallmarkJennifer Hallmark is co-founder of the Writing Prompts blog. She’s a writer by nature, an artist at heart, and daughter of God by His grace. She’s published over 200 articles and interviews on the internet. Through the Writing Prompts blog and her personal website, Alabama-Inspired Fiction, Jennifer focuses on her books, love of…

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Book Release Day for Not Alone

Just released! Congratulations to my friend, Jennifer Hallmark.

Jennifer Hallmark

Not AloneI’m excited to announce that Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted With Infertility and Miscarriage is available today. This book compilation gave me the opportunity to talk about a very difficult time in my life: the miscarriage of my first child. Though I was able to have two children after that, the pain is still there. If you know anyone who has struggled with miscarriage or infertility, this book can give them hope.**

Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage

Our society understands how terrible the loss of a child is when that child is out of the womb, but what about when a child dies before birth? Or what about the emptiness that comes when a very-much-wanted child is never even conceived?

These quiet, private losses are hard for those who have not experienced them to understand. And…

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