Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Working...

Nothing special to post today. Right now all my writing energy and time is going toward revising a my latest novel (yeah!). Hopefully soon (as in within a few months--this is publishing time we're talking about) I'll have something good to announce...

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Birth of Isaac


Scripture: Genesis 21:1-8

Background: After years of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to provide Abraham and Sarah a son, Sarah finally gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was in her nineties.

Observations: The supernatural of this passage seems to center around two main phrases:

“The LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.” Sarah conceived and bore a son. If you don’t know the background of this event, such a statement seems rather dull. Women have been getting pregnant and bearing children for millennia, ever since God created Adam and Eve.

But as you study the surrounding circumstances, the impossibilities stack up. First, Sarah was barren. The story of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael proved the problem didn’t lie with Abraham. So despite trying, Sarah apparently couldn’t conceive. Second, Sarah was well past child-bearing years; biologically a woman shouldn’t be able to conceive at that age. Third, this all occurred in ancient times. There was no possibility of artificial insemination or any other medical procedure to override the natural problems.

So rightly the first verse of chapter 21 declares that God did this. Yes, He used natural ways to bring about the birth of Isaac (e.g. He didn’t make Isaac materialize out of thin air, though He could have). But God manipulated the natural in supernatural way so that it would be obvious the miracle child was from Him.

Moreover, this miracle came as God said. He keeps His promises, no matter how impossible it seems to us humans. In fact, God seems to favor the impossible promise, because it proves that He did it and therefore He is God.

“…At the appoint time of which God had spoken to him.” God is precise in His timing. He is never late. He is never early. Everything occurs exactly when He intends and nothing can thwart Him. He does not have to wait around, hoping circumstances align in a certain way so that He can act. He can align the circumstances however He wants, whenever He wants to whatever specifications He wants, even overriding the natural order of things, if need be. After all, He is the One who created time and the “natural” order in the first place!

Significance: Miracles, like angels, are often a source of human fascination and misunderstanding. In my experience, people are either quick to claim the miraculous—or to denounce it. So passages such as this one help us regain a balanced perspective about the true nature of miracles:

Miracles can—and do—happen. The account of Isaac’s birth and scores of other miraculous events recorded in Scripture reveal that God can and has broken into human history and performed impossible acts on the behalf of both individuals and nations. Since God’s character does not change, it would logically follow that He can and does the same today, though the amount and type may vary.

Miracles deal with impossibilities. Getting that prime parking spot at the mall on the busiest day of the year may be unlikely or statistically improbable, but it is not impossible. After all, someone has to park in that spot in order for it to be taken. So while such an event may be seen as a gift from God or even an act of His providence, it is not a miracle. Rather, miracles are supernatural—that is, they supersede or override the natural because the natural cannot cause it to happen; only a supernatural power can. Therefore, a true miracle can have no real natural explanation (though a skeptic may try to assign one).

Miracles don’t occur on demand. While miracles often occur to fulfill a desire or a request, God is not a genie or a vending machine, dispensing miracles when and how we want. He does what He wants when He wants. He may choose, for reasons we may never understand, to deny us the miracle we request. Or as in the case with Abraham and Sarah, God may wait, because as I noted earlier, He is very precise in His timing. Many times, He decides to reserve the miraculous for the truly impossible situation, using the less spectacular natural means He has provided already, such as medicine to heal the body. Or He may provide a different miracle than the one we requested or expected.

That said, God keeps His promises—even if it requires a miracle. Impossibilities don’t hinder God. Human timetables don’t worry Him. Circumstances form no barrier or obstacle to Him. God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. Therefore, we don’t need to worry or get impatient. If God has promised to do it, He will, no matter what.

Friday, August 3, 2018

New Christian Fiction - August 2018

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.  

Contemporary Romance:

Out of Their Element by Angela Breidenbach, Robin Lee Hatcher, Vickie McDonough, and Deborah Raney -- They are totally out of their element! Four mismatched couples find unexpected romance. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

The Redemption Road by Christa MacDonald -- As Alex awaits retribution, he means to keep Annie safe at any cost, but she knows it’s redemption he needs and she’ll pay any price for him to find it. (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

Scarlet Tears by Laura Hervey -- Caught in a romantic triangle with her brother’s best friend and a charming pastor, former call girl Carly Lawrence struggles to start a new life. (Contemporary Romance from Alabaster Box Press)


Historical Romance:

Rebecca’s Legacy by Betty Thomason Owens -- After a threat against her family, a spoiled heiress is sent to the country to work on her aunt’s produce farm and finds love. (Historical Romance from Write Integrity Press)

The Patriot Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse -- Faith Jackson is a wealthy widow, friend of George Washington, and staunch supporter of the Patriot cause. Matthew Weber is friends with both Ben Franklin and his son William, who increasingly differ in their political views; and Matthew finds himself privy to information on both sides of the conflict. When a message needs to get to a spy among the Loyalists, Faith bravely steps up and in turn meets Matthew Weber. Suddenly she believes she could love again. But someone else has his eye on the Faith she portrays in elite social circles. What will Matthew and Faith have to sacrifice for the sake of their fledgling country? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)


Cozy Mystery:

Deadly Harvest by Marissa Shrock -- Georgia’s biggest challenge in the farming town of Wildcat Springs, Indiana, is figuring out how to win Evan Beckworth’s heart. Until the day she discovers the body of a former student in the woods. When she starts to suspect this wasn’t an accident, memories stir of her father’s murder nine years earlier. A murder never solved. As Georgia works with the sheriff's department’s newest detective, Cal Perkins, she finds her heart slipping into his hands. But her head is pummeled with conflicting evidence and anonymous threats of severe consequences if she digs any deeper. In the end, Georgia faces a paralyzing choice. Ignore the dark secrets inside the family and friends who surround her or be willing to risk her own life to uncover the truth. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)

Unknown Enemy by Janet Sketchley -- A young woman with a traumatic past must discover the truth about who's playing mind games with the Green Dory Inn's owner. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)


Romantic Suspense:

Hiding in Plain Sight by Mary Ellis -- When a Charleston PI rents a room above an Italian restaurant owned by a handsome chef, she lands in the middle of a family feud with robbery, arson and murder for the daily specials. (Romantic Suspense from Severn House Publishers LTD)

Wildfire by Gayla K. Hiss -- A female wildfire scientist and a firefighter team up to solve the mystery behind the outbreak of wildfires in the Rockies and find themselves at the center of a firestorm. (Romantic Suspense from Mountain Brook Ink)

Amish Country Ambush by Dana R. Lynn -- A police officer and a dispatcher travel deep into Amish country to rescue her nephew and to escape a killer. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Imperfect Promises by Elizabeth Noyes -- When a homegrown terrorist threatens the woman he loves, former Special Forces soldier Jonas Cameron calls on old friends to help him eliminate the danger. (Romantic Suspense from Write Integrity Press)

Cold Fear by Susan Sleeman -- When a sniper’s ex-girlfriend, a musician, is framed for murder during her summer tour, he jumps to defend her from an imminent arrest and a killer’s deadly rage. But the evidence against her stacks higher as three bodies are found with her name tattooed on their wrist. (Romantic Suspense from Edge of Your Seat Books, Inc.)

Cold Case Cover-Up by Virginia Vaughan -- The first thrilling Covert Operatives tale An infant is believed to have been murdered thirty years ago—but investigative journalist Dana Lang is convinced she’s that baby. Now someone’s willing to kill to stop her investigation. And only secretive deputy Quinn Dawson, whose grandfather may have faked Dana’s death to protect her, can keep her safe. But a killer’s dead set on burying the past—and them—for good. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])


Thriller/Suspense:

Pretense by John Di Frances -- A dark cloud hangs over Europe after the brutal murders of two heads of state just days apart. A diabolical plot appears to stretch westward to the United States, implicating the CIA. But do the facts reflect reality or is there a sinister force working behind the scenes to destabilize Europe and NATO? The team of investigators led by Interpol’s Marek Frakas, 'The Wolf,' moves quickly to track the perpetrators and uncover the identity of the unseen mastermind behind the conspiracy. This cadre includes the lovely Adrianna, a young forensic weapons expert who can hold her own on the male-dominated international team of investigators. Together they seek to understand reality versus the shattered mirror-like reflections meant to obfuscate the truth and shroud the mastermind’s identity and ultimate purpose. (Political Thriller from Reliance Books Publishing, LLC)
Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig -- Dismantled centuries ago, the sword of Goliath is still rumored to thirst for its enemies' blood. Cole "Tox" Russell wants only to put the dangers of his past behind him and begin his new life with Haven Cortes. First, though, he's called to complete a final mission: retrieve the sword and destroy the deadly Arrow & Flame Order. The AFO, however, is determined to reunite the sword. With the Wraith team slowly being torn apart, things worsen when Mercy Maddox, a new operative, emerges with the stunning news that the artifact is tied to a string of unsolved serial murders. Tox and the others are forced to set aside fear and anger to target the true enemy. No matter the cost, Wraith must destroy the AFO . . . or join them in the flames. (Military Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Redefining Success



What does a successful book look like?

I have thought about that question off and on for several years, but over the past few months it has become especially potent to me. Some of it, I’m sure, relates to the release of my first novel and the less-than-hoped-for results, especially after 16+ years of work to reach that point. Some of the reason has probably come from questions, puzzlement, even frustration over some unexpected barriers I’ve bumped into with my non-fiction. Throw into the mix life circumstances and the general bumpiness of the writing life—well, it doesn’t take long to start wondering if all the labor, time, effort, training, and financial investment is really worth it.

So what would make it all worth it? My first response would be to say, “If the book is successful.” But only raises another question: How do I—or should I—define success?

Is success a publishing contract? Selling x number of copies? Reaching a best-seller list? Obtaining a particular Amazon ranking? Winning an award? Receiving a glowing review from a critic? Earning a certain number of five-star ratings? Going a book tour that produces out-of-the-door lines? Appearing on television? Having my book made into a movie? Or since I’m a Christian, should I define success by how much reader mail I receive…the number of lives my book impacted…the amount of conversions or recommitments to Christ it stirred?

Yet in each case, I run into the same problem with defining success, whether the goal is “worldly” or “spiritual”: They all depend on external factors outside of my control, whether the whim of people or the plan of God. And while I know that God is sovereign and I am free to approach Him with my requests, I am also experienced enough to know that just because I ask, even with the best of motives (which I admit they often aren’t), that God isn’t obligated to say “yes.” After all, He is God. I am not. I cannot dictate to Him how things are to go…though admittedly, it isn’t for the lack of trying.

So if I define success by any of the ways listed above or any number of others, I find my success no longer depends on me. Now to some this would be a comforting, even freeing, thought. For me, it is discouraging. If what I do doesn’t influence the outcome, why do I bother to strive for excellence? Why do my very best—especially when the mediocre seems to produce more “success”? Why put in the time, effort, and money to learn the craft…polish my manuscript…grow as a writer…even market my book? It all seems like a waste when it might not make any true difference in the end. Indeed, wouldn’t my resources be better spent elsewhere?

But if I do not define success as any of these, how should I define it? This is where I became stuck this summer, for each new attempt or idea led me to the same problem.

Then two weekends ago I was attending a writing conference, and the keynote speaker, Mary Weber, made a delineation between “achievements” and “success.” As I understood, achievements are goals like the ones I listed above: contracts, awards, bestseller lists. Basically, the goals which depended on outside factors. Now there is nothing wrong with desiring these things or working toward them or achieving them. But when these achievements become our definition of success, it creates an endlessly moving target (I sold 100,000 copies so now I need to reach a million), an insatiable striving (my last book hit the best seller list; now I have to do it again), and even purposelessness in the writer (I reached my goal. What do I do now?). Mary Weber instead defined true success as loving someone every day.

Now while she may be right that is part of the definition of a successful life, it didn’t help me in defining “successful writing.” In fact, due to the nature of writing, my writing could be seen as a selfish indulgence and thus hindering a successful life, especially when you realize that the only eyes to see my work may be God and me.

But Mary Weber’s words got me thinking in a new vein. Successful writing would be that which helps me fulfill the purpose for which God created me. That purpose, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Successful writing, therefore, would be that which glorifies God directly or helps me to better glorify Him in some way.

This definition is so simple, so obvious, it has left me shaking my head, wondering how I missed it. Yet it is also radical; it changes everything. If my writing teaches me something new about God, I’ve had a successful day of writing. If my writing leads me to repentance from a sin or to greater obedience, it is successful. If my writing declares God’s mighty deeds or surpassing character—or moves me to do so—it is successful. If the excellence or beauty of my writing reflects even in part some of God’s beauty and excellence, it is successful. If my writing conforms to God's standard of good provided in Philippians 4:8, it is successful. If my writing causes me to thank Him (even if only for reaching a day’s word count!), then a measure of success has been attained.

So I don’t need to be a best-selling, award-winning writer to be successful. I don’t have to sell a million books or inspire hundreds of readers. I don’t even need to be published. And I still have every reason to strive to do my best, to grow my craft, to hone my writing toward excellence. Nor does any piece of writing need to be seen as a waste, even if that day’s work ends up on the cutting floor. If it has helped me glorified God that day, it has fulfilled its purpose.

Moreover, this definition of success allows me to separate writing success from publishing success. Because if the writing has already succeeded in fulfilling my purpose to glorify God, the success (or failure) of publication does not matter as much; it does not determine the success of the writing itself. The writing has already succeeded because it has already brought glory to God.

Rather, publishing allows me glorify God afresh through the second command: Love my neighbor as myself. And the greatest love I can show my neighbor is to help them fulfill their purpose of glorifying God. So if my writing helps a reader see God in a fresh way, its publication has been successful. If a reader is spiritually recharged to do God’s work, publication has been successful If it helps move a reader to praise God, to repent from sin, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ—if the publication results in only one of these or similar responses in at least one reader, then publication has been successful.

And while this definition of publication success edges back toward the realm of achievements, I believe it is a reasonable one as it naturally grows out of what I can control—the success of the original writing. For if a story that makes a writer laugh or cry is more likely to have the same emotional effect on readers, how much more the spiritual impact? So a story that truly has been successful in helping me glorify God is likely to have the same effect on at least one other reader out there.

Indeed, I cannot believe that God, who is sovereign and not One to waste anything, would allow a book to be published for which He has no purpose. So if the writing glorified Him, it makes sense that any publication He provided would bring about the same. That means that I can assume any publication of my work was successful, even if I never receive a single reader letter or never hear of any impact that my writing has. (Although I pray God graciously will do otherwise!)

Now does all this mean I will never want to see my book sales grow or yearn for that special reward or crave reader mail or become discouraged due to the lack of achievements? Of course not. It will take me some time to realign my sense of success with the real measure of success, and even then I will probably forget frequently. Nor, as I stated earlier, is the desire for these things bad in of themselves. Instead, I hope that as I learn to daily examine my writing through this new lens, my work will grow more successful with each passing year, and that I can help others, through word and deed, to do the same. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Abimelech’s Dream


Scripture: Genesis 20

Background: Following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham wandered to the south and the east, eventually coming to the land of Gerar, ruled by Abimelech. There Abraham once more told the people that Sarah was his sister. So Abimelech took Sarah into his home. As a result, God came to Abimelech in a dream to warn him of the wrong he was about to commit.

Observations: On the surface, this account of Abraham and Abimelech resembles Abraham’s visit to Egypt in Chapter 12. In both cases, Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah. In both cases, the king of the land brought Sarah into his home with the intent of making her a wife. In both cases, God inflicted harm on the household of the king due to Sarah’s presence, which wasn’t lifted until Sarah was returned to Abraham. With so many similarities, what more can this account add to our study?

Yet, despite the external parallels, God handled each situation differently. In Egypt God simply struck Pharaoh and his household with a plague, and somehow from that the Egyptians discerned the truth. Here, God approaches Abimelech in a dream, warning him of impending destruction if he held onto Sarah.

This passage is also significant because we find our first reference to a prophet here. First references are significant because they create the baseline definition or perception of what a term means. In this case, we read, “‘[Abraham] is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.’” (20:7)

We often think of prophets as those who predict the future, usually with much gloom and doom. But Genesis 20 paints a vastly different portrait of the prophet’s role. Here Abraham was to pray for Abimelech; he was to intercede on behalf of the king in order that he might live.

So a prophet’s first job is not to foretell what will be, but to pray over what is. Nor is a prophet’s primary motive condemnation and destruction. Rather, he is to bring life and restoration. And if he does utter the dire, it is out of the hope that the listener will turn from wrong and do what is right so that he may live. In short, the job of a prophet is the job of interceding mediator between God and man.

Significance: God is so gracious.

Abimelech had unknowingly committed a great wrong in taking Sarah. One which could have had long-term implications now that the birth of Isaac was less than a year away. After all, Isaac was the promised son upon whom the covenant rested. God, therefore, would brook no ambiguity concerning the origins of Isaac. So from one point of view, God would have been completely justified in instantly killing Abimelech so that there could be no dispute.

Moreover, God doesn’t ignore sin just because it is a sin committed out of ignorance. Deal with it more gently, yes, but ignore it—no. Sin is sin and carries consequences, even when done out of ignorance or innocence.

But God does not kill Abimelech instantly. Rather, He approached Abimelech in a dream, and though God’s opening words sound harsh (“you are a dead man!”), the fact that God bothered to approach at all, clearly laying out Abimelech’s precarious position and the reason why, reveals God’s gracious nature. God didn’t have to do that or explain what was going on. Yet He did.

Nor does God stop there. God, being omniscient, knew that Abimelech acted in the integrity of heart. So God gave Abimelech a chance to correct the situation before He meted out all the consequences. In fact, God went so far as to prevent Abimelech from taking the next irreversible step (20:6) until Abimelech had the chance to make an informed decision. Moreover, God doesn’t leave Abimelech in the dark about what to do now. Rather, God makes it clear what he must do as well as the consequences of failure.

So in Genesis 20 we see how even in the midst of judgment and harshness, God is gracious. Indeed, the graciousness permeates the story so thoroughly, that it echoes the Gospel that was to come: Like with Abimelech, God tells us the truth about our standing before Him (dead and under judgment) as well as explains why we are in that position (sin). But not wanting any to perish, God has informed us how to make the situation right through an interceding mediator (Jesus Christ), even as He warns us of the consequences of ignoring His instructions (eternal death).

Which leaves only one question: how will we respond?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah


 Scripture: Genesis 19:23-29

Background: Two angels had come to the city of Sodom to destroy it. But before they could act, they had to extract Lot and his family. Finally after a long night of persuasion, the two angels bodily removed Lot, his wife, and two daughters from the city. After strong warnings to not look back or to stop, the two angels sent them on their way, and once they reached the agreed-upon refuge (Zoar), the destruction of Sodom and neighboring Gomorrah began.

Observations: Sometimes when we think of the supernatural, we want to contemplate the nicer elements: angels who bring tidings of great joy, miraculous healings, resurrection. Or when we do consider the terrifying and destructive side of the supernatural, it is easy to attribute it to the demonic, like when Satan acted in Job 1-2.

But although God is a God of mercy and grace, Genesis 19 reminds us He is also just and protective. He will not tolerate sin to continue on unpunished forever. Moreover, sin of even one person affects everyone around him. Therefore, deliberate and persistent sin will often move God to act in defense of those being harmed (Gen. 18:20-21). Divine destruction is the result.

And what does divine destruction look like?

It is sudden. The sun rose that day like on any other day. There was no trumpet call to herald what was about to happen. No ominous sky writing or other warning signs. One minute it appeared to be a normal day. The next, brimstone and fire rained from heaven.

It is unexpected. The phrase “the sun had risen” not only marked time but implied a sunny day, with few to no clouds. Out of this clear sky came rain—and not just any rain either. No, this rain wasn’t made of water, which would have been remarkable enough. This rain was made of fire and brimstone.

It is complete. The cities were destroyed. The surrounding countryside was obliterated. All the valley burned. All the inhabitants died. Even vegetation did not escape. If it was connected with Sodom, Gomorrah, and the valley they resided in, it was destroyed. Indeed, the destruction was so complete, that even to this day archeology and scholarship cannot pinpoint their location, only offer guesses.

It is of God. Because God is sovereign over all, sometimes He is attributed as the source of destruction because He gave Satan the freedom to enact that destruction (compare Job 1:12 and 2:3). As a result, we sometimes want to attribute all “bad things” to Satan. But this passage shows that destruction, especially when done as punishment or judgment, can come straight from God as well.

It is occasionally bizarre. Fire and brimstone, while unexpected, makes a certain amount of sense when it comes to effectively destroying a large area, and it might be reasonably explained now with what we know of meteors and comets. But when Lot’s wife tarried and looked back at her old home, she was transformed into a pillar of salt. This living, breathing person somehow was now comprised of non-living salt. Why? Scripture doesn’t specifically say. Only that this was her punishment for looking back after being explicitly warned not to, its strangeness vouching that it was of God, as He alone could have done something like this.

But even in the midst of this destruction, God showed mercy and grace, for this story ends with these words: “God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out.” God didn’t have to rescue Lot. But He did, because mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

Significance: Divine judgment is admittedly an uncomfortable subject. It challenges our perceptions of God’s love, mercy, and grace. It forces us to face the consequences of sin. It reminds us that we will be held accountable and that God’s judgment is inescapable except by the means He provides. And when we are faced with these things, we might have to change how we think, how we act, how we live.

But as uncomfortable as diving judgment is, God includes accounts like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for a reason. Not to make us petrified of Him, always fearing that we will somehow accidentally anger Him and He will bop us on the head as a result. For He is gracious and merciful and patient and very slow to get angry.

No, Sodom and Gomorrah serve as a warning. It is easy to think when we “get away” with wrongdoing, receiving no immediate punishment for it, that we will receive no punishment at all. Sodom and Gomorrah tell a different story. Punishment may be delayed in order to provide an opportunity to repent (more grace!), but delayed is not the same as canceled. And because God is God, He can and will administer said punishment whenever He deems best however He deems best. This makes complacency toward sin and presuming on the grace of God quite dangerous! So if the record of Sodom and Gomorrah is terrifying, it terrifies with the hope of jarring us free from such presumptuous complacency so that we don’t fall under the same condemnation.

Which proves what a merciful God we truly serve. He did not hide from us this difficult part of His character. He makes it clear what He expects of us and what the consequences of breaking that standard will be. He shows that He is serious about sin and that He will punish in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. He has also provided a way of escape—if we will take it.

For God will not force His way upon us. We have a choice—and we can choose not to take His way of escape, like Lot’s future sons-in-law and like his wife. But we must be aware that if we choose to ignore or refuse to take that way of escape, we are choosing to take on God’s judgment on our own…and what hope is there of the natural withstanding the omnipotent wrath of the supernatural?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: The Rescue of Lot


Scripture: Genesis 19:1-21

When God visited Abraham to reaffirm His promise concerning the birth of Isaac, He was accompanied by two men. Partway through the visit, these two men left to go to Sodom. At that time, God revealed His intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Because Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in Sodom, Abraham bargained with God to save the city as long as ten righteous people were found. Alas, such were not found, but God was already moving. He had sent those two men ahead to rescue Lot. Chapter 19 tells the tale of this rescue.

Observations: With Genesis 19, we get our first detailed picture in Genesis of God’s messengers at work, what we typically call angels. Oh, we briefly glimpsed a cherub in Genesis 3:24. The first two chapters of Job taught us about our supernatural adversary, Satan. Within Genesis 16, we read the first recorded encounter between a human (Hagar) and an “angel” or messenger of the LORD, who may have been God himself, Christ in a pre-incarnate form.

What makes Genesis 19 unique is the breadth of its detailed account of clearly angelic activity (God was left behind in 18:22). As a result, we gain numerous insights into these supernatural messengers of God:

1. Angels can appear human in form, masculine in gender. Genesis 18:2, 18:16, and 18:22 call them “men.” The Sodomites refer to them in the same way (19:5). Genesis 19:1 and 19:15, however, makes it clear these two weren’t mere mortals.

2. Angels can eat human food. Like with Abraham, Lot fixed them a meal, and they ate (19:3). So angels often can and do act like humans.

3. Angels are rational beings with a will. They can be reasoned with, as Lot did to persuade them to enter his home (19:2-3). They also can be bargained with; Lot talked them into letting him escape only to Zoar, rather than to the mountains (19:18-22)

4. Angels issue warnings and commands. No promises of a bright future or words of comfort here. God sent these angels to warn Lot of Sodom’s impending destruction and command him to leave (19:12-13, 15, 17).

5. Angels can act protectively. They were instructed to get Lot and his family safely out of Sodom. So they kept Lot from being harmed by the men of Sodom (19:9-10) and then forcibly removed Lot and his family from the city when they hesitated to leave (19:15-16).

6. Angels can also act destructively. While God was the ultimate source of the destruction (19:24), somehow the angels were the agents through which that destruction came (19:13). Indeed, this was the purpose for which they came. So angelic power can cause harm as well as help.

7. Angels can move supernaturally fast, unimpeded by natural barriers. We don’t know exactly where the oaks of Mamre were (Abraham’s location, Genesis 18:1). Nor are we certain where Sodom was (Lot’s location, 19:1), though one of my resources guessitmates that approximately 34 miles, as the crow flies, separated the two locations, with Sodom on the opposite shore of the Dead Sea. What we do know, though, is that the two locations were far enough apart for the massive herds of Lot and Abraham to not tangle over pasture (Genesis 13), though close enough for Abraham to see the smoke rising from the valley from his more mountainous location (19:27). So the two locations weren’t just a short jog apart. Yet these two angels, without the aid of modern transportation, where able to cover that distance, despite the mountainous terrain and the Dead Sea, in a few short hours: They joined Abraham during “the heat of the day” (18:1), enjoyed a meal there (18:6-8), and yet still reached Sodom before sunset (19:1).

8. Angels can perform supernatural/miraculous acts. They blinded the seeing men of Sodom suddenly and instantly. And though the door of Lot’s home had been just before them, the Sodomites could not find it. Indeed, they wearied themselves in trying to do so. This revealed the angels’ ability to hide or disguise the house, whether through mental “blindness,” confusion, or other means. (19:11)

9. Angels are supernaturally powerful. These two angels physically removed four resistant adults by force (19:16) and were capable of destroying an entire city at God’s command. (19:13)

10. But angels, though powerful, are also restrained/limited. Even though they were sent to destroy Sodom by God’s order, they could not fulfill that mission until Lot reached safety (19:22).

Significance: While angels can be intriguing, God does not tell us these things simply to fascinate us or to entertain our idle curiosity. Rather, He tells us these things for a reason, to instruct us, encourage us, warn us. So what do we learn from this astounding angelic encounter?

God sends angels for the protection of His people. Evil can and does befall the people of God. Even Lot lost all his earthly possessions in his escape. Nonetheless, the passage also makes clear that God can and does send angels to protect—sometimes quite forcibly.

God sends angels also for the destruction of those who oppose Him. We prefer to think of angels as ministering spirits that guide and protect. While they are all that, their work is not limited to such actions. After all, God is protective of His people. But if His people need protecting, then there is also someone actively threatening His people. There is nothing protective about saying, “Don’t do that” and sending the threat away with a pat on the head. Moreover, God is just. He will tolerate sin for only so long before His patience dies and His anger rouses. As a result, not all angelic visits end with good upon the person visited. It all depends on the relationship you have with the One who sends the angels.

So God’s angels are real and aren’t to be trifled with. Angels do exist. They are active in our world, though we may not see or recognize them. Genesis 19 assures us of that. But pop culture sometimes paints the picture of angelic visits as tender, soft moments of comfort and reassurance of God’s love. Genesis 19 contradicts this image. There is nothing soft or tender or comfortable about this angelic visit. They brought tidings of impending annihilation of an entire city. Their presence incited mob rage. They struck men blind. Even their protection of Lot shows no softness but a steely fierceness that eventually results in the bodily removal of Lot and his family from the city.

Most importantly, evil cannot thwart God. We sometimes believe there are places in this world so dark, so despicable, that God would never show there, never go there. Sodom would seem to be such a place, for it, along with Gomorrah, is practically synonymous with total human depravity in Scripture. They did not merely sin but openly encouraged it and celebrated it. Yet even into this place God sent two angels to rescue Lot. And they could not be stopped, though all the men of Sodom came against them. So no matter where we find ourselves, no matter how dark or evil that place may be, there is hope: God is still stronger.