Stick with the Plan

Genesis 20

game planThe very quotable Yogi Berra once remarked: “It was like deja vu all over again!”  That quote comes to mind as we tackle this week’s passage.  Didn’t the events of chapter 20 just happen in chapter 12?  The fact that Abraham was traveling is similar (though this does take place within the land, chapter 12 did not); the fact that Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife is familiar; and the ultimate result of the encounter (Abraham being blessed anyway) is equally remarkable.

But chapter 20 is a shocker to me.  I can’t understand why Abraham continues his pattern of lying about Sarah…  particularly with such disastrous results experienced before.  Isn’t the patriarch further along in his journey with the Lord by now?  Since chapter 12 Abraham has repeatedly heard God speak to him.  (Gen. 15 & 17)  He has experienced the thrill of victory with the Lord in battle. (Gen. 14 see verse 20)).  He has wrestled with God in prayer (Gen. 18) and witnessed the power of God come down in judgment (Gen. 19).  So with such powerful moments in his life… why don’t they keep Abraham from repeating this past mistake?  Does it stop you?

And there is a major difference in this story compared to the former one:  there is so much more at stake now!  In chapter 12, Sarah wasn’t fertile.  But now the angels have declared to Abraham that Sarah in a year’s time she will deliver the child of the promise.  So, think about it a minute, if she spends even one night wrapped in the embrace of Abimelech… the paternity of Isaac would be forever be in question.

God ultimately delivers Abraham through a dream to Abimelech… but there are some important lessons for all of us here.

#1 – A long walk with God in obedience doesn’t mean we are safe from revisiting past sins committed in disobedience.  We must be on guard for this!

#2 – We might get a green light from God after so many years of waiting… and then mess things up right on the thresh hold of receiving the blessing.  At a graduation ceremonies for my son, Justin, he and the rest of the soldiers were allowed to go to lunch with their families before the final ceremony later that day.  Some of those that were on the thresh hold of completing boot camp, got drunk during the brief time with their family and ended up “washing out” before the evening.  They would have to repeat boat camp all over again.  When success is on the way… one needs to be even more diligent about staying on the path of obedience.

#3 – Stick to the plan.  God knows what he is doing.  If at all possible, unless you hear a clear calling from God (as Abraham did at the beginning of Genesis 12) stay put and let God unfold his plan for your life.  It may have been a famine that caused Abraham’s migration in chapter 12… it is Abraham’s restlessness that gets him in chapter 20.

It takes a special grace to stay the course before the blessings commence.  May you receive His grace in abundance as you persevere in Christ today!

Blessings!

 

When Judgment Falls

sodom and gomorrahGenesis 19

Today’s passage is a particularly difficult one for me, on several levels.  One reason is my personality.  I am kind of tenderhearted and if I err, it is usually on the side of mercy.  Secondly, I don’t want to be known as a “hell fire and brimstone” kind of pastor.  Genesis 19 actually uses the word, “brimstone.”  Yikes!  Thirdly, I’m not one to be controversial in my blogs or sermons.  And today’s text mentions one of the most controversial of subjects of our modern times.  But I’m committed to preaching and teaching ALL of God’s Word and not just the parts that make me comfortable. So, here goes…

Many today haven’t come to the Lord because of some preacher in their past that tried to scare the living thunder out of them in order for them to convert.  Scars like that don’t heal easy.  So let me say this as gently as I can.   “Judgment Day is Coming.”   It may not be tomorrow or next week or next decade. But according to the Scriptures… its coming is sure. In that day every word and deed we have ever done will be laid before the eyes of our Judge.

We have modeled for us in Scripture what the final day of the Lord will be like.  The judgment day for the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are legendary.  They stand as monuments to the limits of the patience of a loving God.  This Biblical illustration of God’s judgment is used 22 times in the Bible.

Now I’m not a fan of disaster films.  I’ve never seen Titanic, Pearl Harbor or The Perfect Storm. Somehow knowing the disastrous outcome kind of spoils the films for me.  But many love such films.  I think because it helps them answer some questions regarding those disasters: Why did it occur?  What were its devastating effects?  And did anyone manage to escape the destruction?  Let’s apply these questions to the Sodom/Gomorrah event.

Why did this disaster occur?

The book of Genesis has thrown a few hints before we ever arrive at chapter 19.

Genesis 13:10-13 records:  Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.  So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.  Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.

One of the most controversial subjects of our time has been the morality of homosexuality.   It is not my intention to hurt anyone that is wrestling with this issue in their own lives or in the lives of their children or grandchildren, but I must be honest about what I see in Scripture.  In this Scripture and passages in Romans, Leviticus, Jude, as well as others… the Bible teaches that acts of Homosexuality are sinful.

That isn’t my opinion or bias, it is what I believe the Word of God to be saying.   Now, having said that, what about Sodom (from which the term “Sodomy” has come) and Gomorrah?  Was the sin that hastened their destruction, Homosexuality?  I don’t think that it was that sin alone that brought judgment upon them.  In the passage before us alone we see attempted rape.

We also see in the NT that Homosexuality is just one sin among many that find displeasure with God.  It is in a list with such sins as: greed, envy, deceit, and, even, gossip!

I believe it was an accumulation of wickedness that brought about the destruction of Sodom.

What is the extent of the damage?

Brimstone and Fire fell out of heaven.

     “Exudations of bitumen, petroleum and probably natural gas (since the last named generally is an accompaniment of these substances)… catching fire from lightning or human action, would adequately account for recorded phenomena…” F.G. Clapp – ‘Geology and Bitumens of the Dead Sea Area, Palestine and Transjordan.” Biblical Archaeologist Reader)

The huge underground explosion would cause flaming pieces of the city to rain down upon the populace.   The destruction was total.  Many if not most of the people died and the ground was rendered infertile from that time on.

Third Question:  Did anyone make it out?

We know from reading the story that Lot and his family did.  (At least he and his daughters… his wife turned back and was transformed into a pillar of salt.)

So, with those questions answered… what do we learn from the tragic story of these twin cities of the plain?

First of all, God is Patient in Judgment.

Genesis 15:16 told us:  “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, when the sin of the Amorites has run its course.” and  “…for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

God doesn’t fly off the handle in rage like we do when we are angry.  He doesn’t zap people when they disbelieve or say hurtful things about Him.   He does, however, have limits.  You see God is merciful (that is what produces His patience), but He is also just.  He will cause those that have chosen to do evil to pay the justice due their error.  Two NT passages display this tug between justice and mercy:

Romans 2:4 – Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?  Or don’t you care?  Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin?

and…  2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think.  No, he is being patient for your sake.  He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.

The second thing to take from this story:  God Warns Us in Light of Coming Judgment to Flee!

Picture Lot running through the streets trying to get just a few to believe him.    Not a moment can be spared if anyone is to escape the doom of the city; but Lot and his family lack the will to escape.  They have to be taken by the hand and forced out of the city.

In the process Lot lost:  His Influence

Genesis 19:9 – But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door.

His Morality

Genesis 19:8 – “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

His Witness – even within his own family.

Genesis 19:14 – Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, get out of this place, for the Lord will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

His Discernment

Genesis 19:20 –  now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.”

His Spouse

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

The longer you stay in Sodom, the longer Sodom stays in you.  Mrs. Lot’s heart couldn’t leave.  It was caught in the destruction of the city.

There will come a day when God’s judgment will fall on a much larger scale (see Revelation).  The Scriptures warn us to seek escape and to warn and aid others to escape.  Is your heart too full of Sodom that your heart won’t go?  Has your witness been so dulled that others would listen anyway?  Remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17.  In a passage regarding end times, Jesus says:  Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (17:32-33)

Be a strong witness till He calls us home.

Blessings!

The Power of an Honest Prayer

altar-prayerGenesis 18

As this begins Abraham is sitting in his tent in the heat of the day.  Like a hot 100+ day in Tennessee where I grew up, this was a scorcher.  Perhaps Abraham desired nothing more than a cold, fresh brewed glass of sweet iced tea. (I did in Tennessee.)

He’s staring into the blazing sun for just a moment,when suddenly he notices three men standing near him.  He springs to his feet and does what any one would have naturally done in that day… assume the role of gracious host.

Look at the Hospitality of Abraham:

He runs to them.  Bows to the ground.  He encourages them to enter into his tent and offers them something to drink and eat.  Maybe Abraham suspects there is more to these men than meets the eye… or perhaps not.  The text doesn’t tell us.  It does reveal an age old mistake that husbands are prone to making.  Inviting guests in and then telling his wife about it.  “Come in,” Abraham tells the three strangers, we’ll get you a bite to eat. … ‘Sarah, hurry, three men are staying for dinner.’”

The men begin to eat and suddenly one says, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He not only knows the name of his wife, but the covenant name… Sarah.

Right then and there the stranger reveals what Abraham already knew.  This time next year, Sarah will have a son.

Behold the Unbelief of Sarah.

Now Sarah nearly chokes trying to hold back her laughter.  Ha!  She says secretly to herself.  Me?  Have a child?  “You did laugh” the men say when she denies her mirth.

It appears that one of the missions of the three mystery men was to strengthen the faith of Sarah.  They weren’t there for Abraham.  They were there for her.  It is important for a couple to be on the same page spiritually.

But the men discuss among themselves if there might be a second purpose for their visit: to inform Abraham of God’s coming judgment on Sodom.

Genesis 18:16-21

   Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. [17] The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, [18] since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? [19] “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” [20] And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. [21] “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

This is an invitation for Abraham to pray.  Do you recognize those moments in your own life?  It may come disguised as hopeless news segment on the nightly news… a challenging prayer request in your email inbox… a few words spoken to you by your grandchild which sadly reminds you of the world he or she will have to live in.  These are invitations to pray.

One man stays behind.  It is actually the Angel of the Lord.  No one has seen God at anytime, the Bible says.  But often in the OT, men and women saw the Angel of the Lord, and they respond by saying, “I have seen the Lord.”

Abraham stays and intercedes for Sodom with God’s ambassador.  Intercession is a difficult but powerful endeavor.  One might think otherwise.  Brigid E. Herman (1875-1923) once said:  “Wheras in former times intercession was looked upon as hard toil for strong men, it has come to be regarded by the majority of people as a nice, quiet occupation especially suitable for delicate persons and invalids.  Comparatively few look upon it as a part of a Christian’s vocation.  [Intercession] means making Christ’s interests our own. It means to learn to think with God, to have the mind of Christ, to see the world through His eyes, to share His passion to save and redeem. And that heart is formed in us by prayer. (Pray Magazine)

Abraham speaks with humility.   “I venture to speak with the Lord.” (v. 27, 31)  “I am but dust and ashes.” (v. 27)  He knows the Lord favors him.  He is aware of the Lord’s love, but he is also aware of his place before Him.

Dean Merrill in his article Whatever Happened to Kneeling? writes:  “Who can deny that over the past 25 years we have been kneeling less and less?  When I get down on my knees to pray, the quality of my interaction with God is somehow changed. And I don’t think it’s just the nostalgic memory of boyhood days when, as a preacher’s kid in the Midwest, I knelt on a plank floor with the rest of the congregation at our Wednesday night prayer meetings. I benefit from the practice now.

        The biggest benefit is that kneeling reminds us who’s in the dialogue. Prayer is not a couple of fellows chatting about the Dallas Cowboys. It is a human being coming face to face with his or her Supreme Authority, the ineffable God who is approachable but still the One in charge.

        Thus kneeling is a way of saying, “I fully understand who’s Boss here. Far be it from me to try to manipulate you or play games with you. I’m well aware of my status in this relationship, and I deeply appreciate your taking time to interact with me.

But although Abraham was humble, he still exhibits a boldness.  Where does one got to take their problems they have with the Cosmos?  To the management, of course.  God actually welcomes us and invites us to take it up with Him.

Genesis 18:23-25

   Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

Very humble, very bold.  But there is one problem with Abraham’s prayer:  He never says what is actually on his mind and in his heart.  There is one name Abraham is thinking about,… but not saying… his nephew LOT!  Lot and his family, who had moved there not too long ago, is surely behind his passionate bargaining with God.  Why doesn’t he just say that?  It might have saved him a lot of maneuvering.

Got someone on YOUR heart?  Go bold!  Be Honest with God!  He already knows what is on your heart anyway…so approach him with boldness and ask for your request (Hebrews 4:6).  In Ephesians, Paul ends one of his prayers with:  “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”  Remember your prayers are powerful not because of the words you utter, but because of a powerful God that hears them… and acts on your behalf.

Blessings!