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!

Pushing Past the Limitations of Your Faith

dive2Genesis 17

It was Vietnam, 1968 and for the past two weeks, the Ghostrider division had been shuttling troops and supplies for a big push in the central highlands at Plie Merong.  On September 21, 1968, Dr. Kenneth Swan was surgeon of the day at the Army’s 71st Evacuation Hospital.  This 33 year old doctor had only been in Vietnam for a month.  One of the soldier with the Ghostriders came in that morning, Private Ken McGarity.

X-rays revealed what the surgeon already knew: The soldier’s legs would have to come of.  As Swan worked on the amputations—both legs above the knee—he coordinated the activities of the team of doctors he had called in.  The orthopedist treated the shrapnel wounds in McGarity’s arms.  The ophthalmologist removed the man’s left eye and cleaned the wounds to his right eye, hoping to save it.

When the orthopedist had done all he could on McGarity’s arms, Swan amputated the ragged stump of the soldier’s right pinkie finger.  Then, in a final delicate and involved surgery, the neurologist performed a craniotomy, cutting though the top of the soldier’s forehead and lifting away the skull so that he could extract the shrapnel from the brain’s frontal lobes—damage that might have a lobotomizing effect.  Or worse.

For eight hours, the surgeons stood in their muddy boots on the concrete floor and did the best the could to repair Ken McGarity.  The next morning, Dr. Swan was not prepared for the grilling he would receive from his commanding officer.  “Why did you decide to treat the recent casualty so aggressively?”

His commanding officer continued:  “The next time you make a call, ask yourself what kind of life you’re condemning someone to.”

20 years later in 1989, Peter McPherson, a young freelance journalist, called Dr. Kenneth Swan, then a professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  During his interview with Swan, he asked: “What was the toughest case of your career?”

After telling McPherson about McGarity, he said, “He made it back to the States, that’s all I know.”  He still felt the words of his commanding officer and felt guilt for what he had probably put this young man through.

After the article by the reporter appeared, readers wanted to know what happened to the soldier.  So McPherson and Swan set out to find out.  Two years later, in July of 1991, Dr. Swan finally learned about his former patient, Kenneth McGarity. He now lived in Columbus, Georgia.  He had a wife and two daughters, had completed his high school education, attended Auburn University and had learned to scuba dive.

I’m left with a question:  How did Kenneth McGarity manage to put a life together against such great odds?  How was he able to push past obvious barriers in order to do so?  These people inspire us when we feel limited by our own set of circumstances.

I think of a friend in Ohio who has a vibrant faith but also has an alcoholic son that is killing himself.  During one of our visits to her home we saw his her son’s car parked outside their home and could see where he had driven it through a mailbox coming home drunk the night before. She still maintained her joy in Christ.

I think of an older gentleman in a former church who never let age or anything keep him from the Food Pantry when it was our month to serve.  He mowed his elderly neighbor’s yards each week and kept most of the our church steeped in tomatoes and green beans during the summer.

I think of a young lady Janine and I met when we were on vacation at a friend’s church.  She had Lou Gering’s disease.  For the father’s day service that Sunday, she stood and sang “You Raised Me Up!”  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

How did these individuals push past their barriers and on toward faith?  In Genesis 17, Abraham faces 3 common barriers to faith and overcomes with God’s help.

Barrier #1 – Age

The text begins:  When Abraham was ninety-nine.  Abram’s Golden Years were changed to his Prime of Life  at the call of an all powerful God.   When God says, ”I will establish My covenant with you.”  Our excuses sound thin.  It isn’t about your age. It is about El Shaddai – “I am God Almighty.”  This is the first appearance in the Bible of this name for God.

Barrier #2 – Full Commitment

“Walk before me and be blameless…” God instructs Abram.   Many of us struggle with how much of our hearts to give the Lord. Does it mean going to church every Sunday?  Does it mean giving every thing I own to feed the poor?  We fear surrender because we don’t know what it will cost us.  But God’s command here is more than just more religious duty tacked on to your already busy life.

True commitment to God permeates one’s existence.   “Do I have to go every Sunday?”  That question doesn’t enter the mind of one wholly committed to God.  It’s like putting the garbage out the night before trash day.  You don’t have to, but things are bound to start smelling.   “Do I have to give everything I have to feed the poor?”  That question causes us to give nothing.  True committment asks:  “How much can I give?”   That’s a question that comes from a heart permeated with God’s love and message.

Barrier #3 – The Impossible

The impossible is a stumbling block for most of us.  Charles F. Kettering was said: “When I was research head of General Motors and wanted a problem solved, I’d place a table outside the meeting room with a sign: Leave slide rules here. If I didn’t do that, I’d find someone reaching for his slide rule. Then he’d be on his feet saying, “Boss, you can’t do it.”

But some of us dare to tell God what he can and cannot do.  We give up on an unbelieving relative.  We set limits on our abilities.  We accept unjust laws because, “you can’t fight city hall” or “that’s just the way things are.”

Abraham does the same:

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”  But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:17-21)

To push past this barrier we need to say:  However God says it will be, I will believe!  It was at this point that Abraham balked.   He said:  Though it is my heart’s desire to have a son by Sarah… I make it easy for you, God, to fulfill this.  Just use my son, Ishmael.  God tells him, NO!  You stand back and see what I can do.  And Abraham’s cynical chuckling was turned to joyful laughter when the promises of a faithful God were fulfilled just one year later.

There is a new song by Casting Crowns that has been running through my head lately.  Perhaps you could use its encouragement. The song is called Dream For You and the bridge and chorus say:

I’m stronger than you think I am
I’ll take you farther than you think you can
You sing and call me Great I Am
So take your stand
My child, if you only knew
All the plans that I have for you
Just trust me, I will follow through
You can follow Me.

So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you.

See what God has dreamed for you.  Push past the limits of YOUR faith.

Blessings!

A Recipe for Sour Circumstances

lemon recipeGenesis 16

Back in 2004 Southern Living Magazine included a very deadly recipe for country biscuits.  They had to pull the issue off the shelf after reports of people following this recipe and having their mixture explode.  The first step of the recipe said to get a pot of water boiling and then to add a cup of shortening.  The shortening then melted and floated to the top of the water This doesn’t allow any of the steam to escape.  The water becomes even hotter than boiling temperature.  The pressure builds up and then the shortening finally lets out the steam as it explodes!  Now the shortening is flammable and 5 people reported injury when their biscuit recipe became a fireball in their kitchen.

Well what are the ingredients that cause the recipe for the good life to explode?   In our story from Genesis 16 we find that every one had something to contribute.

First of all – ►Sarai Stirred in Impatience.

As much as Abram longed for an heir, we can imagine that his wife desired it all the more.  To be barren in ancient times was a disgrace.  Good news came in the form of a promise to her husband, Abram.  God told him that he would have a child.  But we learn from the text that ten years had past and still the nursery was empty.  The waiting must have been excruciating.

A 4-year-old boy was traveling with his mother & constantly asking the same question over & over again? “When are we going to get there? When are we going to get there?” Finally, the mother got so irritated that she said, “We still have 90 more miles to go. So don’t ask me again when we’re going to get there.” Well, the boy was silent for a long time. Then he timidly asked, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”

Well Sarai is like that little boy, feeling herself age as God tarried with His promise.  Then she gets a brilliant idea… Why not use a surrogate mother?  It was a perfectly acceptable practice from her within her culture at the time.  (Not everything acceptable in culture is acceptable to God.)

Next:  ►Abram mixed in Appeasement

Abram’s motto was: “Do whatever it takes to keeps the peace.”  The Prime Minister to England before the Second World War was a man by the name of Chamberlain.  His strategy for dealing with the aggressive tactics of Dictator Adolf Hitler was appeasement.  He declared that the peace agreement he made with this mad man was: “Peace in Our Time.”  But it was far from peace.  Indifference to decision making, can be as deadly as making rash decisions.  Abram thought just doing what Sarai wanted would get her off his back. But doing wrong to appease another often just agitates the problem.

Finally:  ►Hagar Sprinkles in an Opportunistic Spice.

Hagar is one of those opportunistic people.  Their motto is:  It doesn’t matter what you do… just make sure you get ahead!  Do whatever it takes!  She might even have thought:  “Here’s my chance to upgrade my status.  If I have the Master’s child, maybe I can shake off these chains.”  But striking while the iron’s hot, can still leave burn marks.

Initially the dish these three are preparing seems to be coming together.  Quite often ill-conceived plans work, initially.  Abram is going to be a first time father.  Everyone is all smiles.  Plans are being made.  I picture each of them with one of those large tubes of icing putting the finishing touches on the cake they have baked together.

And then, BOOM! The whole concoction blows up in their faces.

Have you ever been there…. Maybe you’re like Sarai… you like to jump the gun or maybe you are like Abram… you like to go with the flow, or perhaps you have a Hagar streak in you… you like to place your bets on the spinning roulette wheel.  Then BOOM! Your circumstances blow up in your face.

Know this:  Your failures aren’t fatal.  Even when your circumstances sour… there is a way out of the mess.  Learn the lesson of Hagar.  Verse 6-15 tell how she takes the brunt of the fiasco and flees from a raging Sarai while carrying Abram’s child.  God meets her at a spring by the side of the road.  And there that God speaks to her.  She answers the Lord calling him “the God who sees.”  And then she adds:  “I have now seen the One who sees me!”  That knowledge is enough for Hagar to return to Abram and Sarai and have her child.  God tells her to return and she obeys Him.

When one finds oneself broken down on the side of the road… or driven into exile due to bad circumstances… one might imagine themselves hidden from the God who cares.  But God sees us.  He sees us in our messes… even the ones we have created… and offers to clean us up… to redeem us.   He alone can save us from our own baking!  Praise to His name!

Blessings!

 

Faith at Low Tide

low tideGenesis 15

Low tide, caused by the pull of the moon’s gravity upon the earth, is as predictable as the sunrise.  It isn’t as pretty a sight as high tide is.  A lot of blight that had been hidden beneath ocean waves is now exposed.  The poles holding the dock can now be seen.  They aren’t as varnished and clean below as they are above.  Sea weed is every where.  Old bottles (no messages) and drift wood are stranded on the beach.

Predators have been waiting for low tide.  Hungry birds are scarfing up the sea life that didn’t quite make it out with the tide.  Crabs that burrow in the sand now find their ocean roof removed… they are vulnerable to curious children and tourist looking for an interesting pet.

Another thing that happens is that the waters that were once so easy to pass become treacherous.  A former co-worker in Maryland once went out on a boat off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  As the tide became low they hit a sand bar and became stuck.  After frantically trying to loosen themselves, they eventually had to spend the night in the boat and wait for the ocean tide to come back and release them.  It can be embarrassing at low tide.

Well there are low tides in life as well as on the coast.  Moments where you kind of loose your footing… as hopes, dreams and resources seems to rush away from you as the waves from the beach.  A lot of blight becomes exposed in your life.  Predators wait to tempt you at this hour of vulnerability.  Areas of your life that were once clear sailing, you now find impossible to pass. You are at ebb tide.  You’re left like Otis Redding: “…sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.” And with it goes your vitality, your joy, and your peace of mind.  Faith could sure comes in handy at Low Tide.

God comes to Abram at the beginning of Genesis 15 and addresses him with: “Do Not Fear, Abram.”   What could Abram be fearing?  Reprisals from the enemy he has just defeated?  Maybe some of the other tribes in the area might be taking notice of him?  Perhaps he’s feeling a little weak now…  A little more vulnerable?

Sometimes after a victory we are the most vulnerable.  Evil in this world will not sit still after you have won a victory.  Sometimes events can happen shortly after that make you question your small victory all together.

Genesis 27 continues with Abram complaining to God: “You said that I would become a great nation.  But Eliezer of Damascus is going to get everything I have when I die.  Was that the plan?  I come out here in the middle of nowhere only to die childless, and my wealth goes to someone that doesn’t even know you?

Now remember Abram has, not once, not twice… but three times received a solid promise from the Lord.  But those precious promises that once brought him joy seem to mean precious little at low tide.  His heart is tired of waiting for the promise.   Joy has rushed from him like the waves from the shoreline.

“What are you up to God?”

Do you ever get discouraged?

You’re trying to train up your child and they seem to be choosing the path of the prodigal.

You’re trying to remain honest in your business, but the cut throat competition is eating you alive.

You’re trying to faithfully give to the church, but the car has broken down, the kids needs braces and there is this scary rumor of layoffs at work.

“What are you up to God?”

See what God does for Abram:

1.  God speaks to Abram’s fear. 

God says: Do Not Be Afraid… I will be your protection and provision.  This is the first instance of “Do Not Be Afraid” in the Bible.

2.  God speaks to Abram’s discouragement.

God says:  You WILL have a son.  You WILL have numerous descendants.  God then takes Abram to do a little star gazing.  Here the Sovereign Lord, who created each celestial body, tells Abram that if He can do that, one child is a piece of cake for Him!

Jeremiah 32:17 reminds us:  “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

I love the word of the Rich Mullins song “Sometimes by Step”:  “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land. And I no less than he. And on this road to righteousness, Sometimes the climb can be so steep, I may falter when I step, but never beyond your reach.”

How did Abram respond to the pep talk from the Lord?  Verse 6 says it all:  “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Nothing changed around him… same barren countryside… same barren Sarai.  But Abram’s heart changed right there at ebb tide… and God looked at his faith and called it righteousness.

So… in the midst of your low tide.  Do not give up.  Do not give in to fear.  Instead… go look at the stars.  (God lit one of them up in the night sky for Abram that had YOUR name on it.)  Display a little righteousness by… against all odds… simply believing!

Blessings!

Re: Money, Friend or Foe?

friend-or-foeGenesis 13

There was a television game show that used to air on the Game Show Network called “Friend or Foe.”    Center stage on the show was what was called the Trust Box.  Each contestant would get some time to tell the other why they should be considered a friend.  Then, each would put one hand inside the box.  Inside the box they each have a button.  If one doesn’t press the button, he or she is a friend.  If one does, he or she is a foe.
An amount of money is revealed.  Here is how the money is awarded:
1- friend and friend- they split the money.
2- friend and foe- the foe takes all the money.
3- foe and foe- the pot is lost.

I’ve only watched the show a couple of times but I’ve never seen anyone win money… ever.  Both contestants are usually so afraid of being duped that they each press “Foe” and leave penniless.

Observe the way of the foe and the way of the friend:  Lot chooses the way of the foe.  In Genesis 13, verse one, we learn that Lot journeyed from Egypt with Abram. I think he got one of his first glances of high society. The small town boy went to the big city, and he liked what he saw.  Verse two 2 informs us that Abram, his uncle, was rich with lots of livestock, silver and gold.

Verses 5 and 6 tell us that Lot’s wealth is beginning to grow as well.  It isn’t too long before they sense the need to separate.  The land could not sustain Abram and Lot dwelling together, because the Canaanites held the best parts, so the servants of these two men had to scrap for water and food in the rest. (v. 7)  Pasture was at a premium in the bare limestone hills.

So Abram asks Lot to choose a place to take his wealth.  Lot looks around. His eyes are immediately attracted to the valley of the Jordan.  It is green. It is lush. The cities of the plain, Sodom and Gommorah, gleam in the sunlight. “I’ll take that way!” Lot exclaims.

Author Ben Patterson writes: “Abram’s nephew… Lot appears to be the man with all the experience and Abram appears to be the man with all the money.  At first glance it seems that Lot walks away with all of the money and all Abram walks away with is a very bitter experience.”  But that is only what it looks like on the surface.  Verse 10 reminds the reader that “…this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”  More on this later.

Contrast Abram who chooses the way of the friend.  His faith actually helps to solve strife.  Abram gives Lot the free choice of the land.  This was not something he needed to do.  Abram had the right to make the first choice.  But faith does not selfishly seek it’s own desires.  Faith doesn’t hoard in fear, but gives with liberality.  Abram displays trust in a God he knew would supply his every need.

Now Decisions made in faith are often difficult at first.  Feeding his cattle on those barren hills could not have been pleasant for Abram.  But he had a promise from God that one day, all the land would be his.  After Abram’s courageous compromise with Lot, God confirms his promise to Abram in verses 14-17:  “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give to you and to your descendants forever.  I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.  Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it you you.”

We see here a contrast between Abram and Lot.  Abram was told to lift up his eyes and look. (13:14)  Lot looked up himself. (13:10)   The Lord said he would give Abram the land.  Lot just took it.   Joy in living comes when we don’t demand but humbly receive what’s coming to us.  Receiving what God gives us with thanksgiving floods our hearts with joy.

So… Regarding Money:  do you choose to be a friend or a foe?  Generosity marks the path of joy.

Blessings!

Missteps

Genesis 12:10; 13:3,4missteps

The autobiography of Billy Graham begins with this sentence: “It was July 14, 1950, and I was about to make a fool of myself.”

He had just spoken personally with President Truman. They spoke informally for a bit and then he went out to the press and told them every word of their conversation (some of it very personal in regard to faith and religion).  He then knelt down and prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving in front of all the popping flashbulbs and scribbling pencils.

Truman was furious.  He never invited Billy back to the White House during his presidency.

One White House staff memorandum in late 1951 stated bluntly: “At Key West the President said very decisively that he did not wish to endorse Billy Graham’s Washington revival meeting and particularly he said he did not want to receive him at the White House. You remember what a show of himself Billy Graham made the last time he was here. The President does not want that repeated.” Ouch!

Billy Graham, however, was able to not only speak, but be the confidant of several president following. Billy learned a secret about mistakes.

Abram in Genesis 12:10… just 6 verses from his marvelous act of obedience in verse 4… makes a misstep.  Abram went to the promised land as instructed and pitched his tent. The Promise had been offered and Abram had taken God up on His offer.  Now came a period of waiting.  If one was to give grades to Abram so far.  He would have straight A’s.  An “A” for listening to God.  An “A” for submission.  An “A” for obedience.  But now, when it comes to waiting, he gets an “F.”

He first of all goes into the Negev – a Desert Region, Southern most extremity of the promised land.  Nothing wrong with checking out the land.  But it is there that he meets a test.   12:10:  “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

Here is Abram’s first test: “Will God provide for my basic needs?”  He took one look at his circumstances and said, “There is no way this is the road God wants me on. It is time to abandon faith and time to start using some common sense.”  What road does your faith have you traveling these days?  Are you looking for a way around some struggle in your life?  Maybe the way God would have you move is through, not around your difficulties.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time makes people do rash things.  Check out Genesis 12:11-20.  With brutal disregard to Sarai, and a total lapse from faith in his Lord, Abram resorted to deceit in order to save his own skin.  In the process he endangers his family.  (Husbands, don’t ask your wife to be complicit with you in a lie.  You are out from under the protection of the Lord when that occurs.)  Abraham lies to Pharaoh… well, half lies anyway.  Sarai was a half-sister.  Abram, the great man of faith, knew what it was to desert the way of faith, and experienced fear and fell into temptation.

But after practically being thrown out of Egypt (12:20) Abram did what we all must do after a misstep.  13:3-4 reads:  “He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly, and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.”

He retraced his steps and he finds forgiveness, cleansing and renewal… where?  Where he had last worshiped the Living God.

Driving around a new neighborhood a young woman noticed a hair-salon chain offering $10 haircuts. “How could local salons compete against such a low price?” she wondered.  Then a few doors down she saw a sign on the storefront of a locally owned salon, it read, “WE REPAIR $10 HAIRCUTS.”

There ought to be a sign outside our churches that reads:  “God Repairs Damaged Lives.”

Remember Billy Graham’s mistake.  He learned from it.  Right after that debacle, Graham vowed never to make that mistake if he was granted access to a person of influence again.  He learned from the error… repented of it.  And it made all the difference.

Made a few missteps?  Your journey isn’t over.  Retrace your steps back to the sight of your last act of faith.  He awaits you there with forgiveness, healing and a fresh map of the promised land.

 

 

When the Command is GO!

GOGenesis 12: 1-9

In the book What Good is God? author Phillip Yancey tells the story of Stephen Alfred – a believer he met in India.  Yancey writes:  “[Stephen] had studied in England, married an English woman, and built up a thriving surgery practice until one night he had a kind of vision. He heard God ask him three questions: Why did I make you Indian? Why did I make you good? What are you doing about it? Haunted by those questions, he left his practice, moved his family to India, and opened a hospital that focuses on serving the poor.”

I imagine that Stephen could have lived out the rest of his years in comfort and contributed to the needs of his homeland with dutiful checks sent out each month.  But God sent out the command:  Go!

I sat in a small country church in rural Tennessee one morning and heard the same call.  I had always been unnerved by the Great Commission.  If God called me, would I go?  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.  I finally struck up a bargain with God that brought me some peace.  I reasoned with God that my primary barrier to missions work was money.  If I only had the means to go… I would go.  But I was just a struggling college student with a part-time youth ministry position… I knew such a call would never come.

Then came a Sunday morning in East Tennessee when the pastor from the pulpit announced a mission trip to Venezuela.  If anyone felt the call to go, the church would pay all the expenses.  I was caught… and I knew it.  I went forward that morning at the altar call.  A few months from then I was on a plane to South America.

Back in Chapter 11 of Genesis, we are introduced to  a man named Terah.  Terah had the radical idea of moving his entire family from the large city of Ur to a sparsely populated region known as Canaan.  So his clan pack up their possessions, put their families on camels and set out.  But they didn’t get very far.  They ended up settling in a town called Haran.  Haran was a flourishing caravan city in 19th Century B.C. and was heavy into the worship of the Moon-God.  Terah, we learn in Jos 24:2, was an idolater and would have felt right at home in Haran.  Genesis 11:31 reads: “When they came to Haran, they settled there.”  We then learn in verse 32 that Terah died in Haran.

It is when they are in Haran that Terah’s son, Abram, receives a unique call from God:  Go forth from your country, and from your relatives  and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;  And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Yahweh’s first command of Abram is: Go.  It is a radical, life altering, exciting, and mind-blowing command.  Such is the call of God!   It is the parent bird kicking the baby bird from the nest.  And that is why it can be so hard to to obey when God calls. We get ourselves nestled in here on earth.

Look at Abram.  He was tied in to Haran!  His family was there.  Family back then was everything.  He was being called from his family’s homeland… to march out to no-where-land.  Haran was an up and coming city.  Abram had lots of possessions.  He could take a lot with him… but he would leave behind a lot… primarily land.  And he had flocks and herds… they aren’t the easiest things to travel with.  Then he had the model of Terah.  Terah made big plans to conquer the unknown and then settled.  He would live in die in Haran… not in the Promised Land.  Bucking one’s family’s tendencies takes some strong resolve.

Face it: Pulling up roots is hard.  But when the clear call of God comes, the call out of our comfort zone and into the unknown, what are we to do?  We don’t get to see the inner struggle within Abram at the calling (if indeed there was one).  The next verse in Scripture reads:  So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…

Perhaps today you are wrestling with a calling… God is calling you out.  You feel you don’t have the resources (I certainly felt that way about missions as a young man); you feel too old and settled (so did aging Abram); you feel uncertain about the details of such a decision (so has anyone that has ever stepped out in faith).

Just answer these three questions:  1)  Why did God make you?  2)  Why did God make you good?  and 3)  What are you going to do about it?

The answer to those questions might just send you packing… to a new career, to a new city, to a new mission.  But that’s okay… the one who commands is the One who provides, the One who makes young, the One who fills in the details.   Ours is to listen; ours is to obey.  In the words of Oswald Chambers:  “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One. The caller is God.”

Blessings!

 

Help for Hurry Sickness

Genesis 11:1-9                                                                                               hurry                                                      When did we ever get so busy?

Many of us suffer from what Meyer Friedman called “Hurry Sickness.”  In his book, Treating Type A Behavior-and Your Heart, he defines it as “a continuous struggle … to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

How do you know if you have it?  Here is some of the items on his self-test:

     – If the person equal distance in the line next to you at the grocery store leaves the store while you’re still in line, you feel depressed.

     –  If you don’t get three phone calls and lunch completed during your short trip in the car, you don’t feel accomplished.

     –  If you speak sharp words to your spouse and children even when you know they’ve done nothing to deserve them.

     –  If you hurry your children along.  Setting up mock races (“Okay kids, let’s see who can take a bath the fastest”) in order to help you get through it faster.

     –  If you find you have stopped caring for people.  (I heard about a cartoon of a business man talking on the phone while looking at his calendar: “No, Thursday won’t work for me. How about Never? Is never good for you?”)

     –  If you flop into bed with no sense of gratitude and wonder for the day, just fatigue.

If this is you:  You may be attempting to do so much and to be so much that the hurry sickness is indeed taking its toll on you.  Stop, take a step back and look at what it is you are building.  Could it be but an attempt to recreate Babel’s tower?  Remember that old story tucked away in Genesis 11?

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (11:1-4)

There are many parallels between the industrious people of that day and those with “hurry sickness” today.

1.  They weren’t building something that was going to last.

In verse 3, Moses states that the builders weren’t even using materials that would stand the test of time.  Brick was used in the place of stone and tar was used in the place of mortar.  If the successful world you are creating is built on the shoddy materials of poor relationships, awful health habits and ill-fated bridge burning, your tower is destined to collapse around you.  Your fate will be as the fate of the builders in Shinar: An uncompleted tower.  Success is elusive even to those who pursue it with the most zeal.

2.  They were overreaching.

Verse 4 says that the group was interested in building a tower whose top will reach into heaven. (A gate to God if you will.) Now that is ambitious!   You might think:  “What’s wrong with ambition?  Isn’t that how things are done in today’s world?”  Well the problem with ambition is when it causes you to attempt to succeed beyond the healthy boundaries God sets for us. It is okay to dream, but what happens when our dreams punch through the sky? When our ego is not satisfied with the success God sends our way but craves still more?  When ever elusive success begins to unravel the threads of the rest of our existence?

3.  Their Goal was to Exalt Their Own Name

The greatest fear that many of us have is that we will walk off the stage of this world, unnoticed. We won’t be remembered. We will have lived and died a “nobody.”  But if you are ambitiously burning the candle at both ends to leave some kind of legacy, could it be that you are only leaving a “legacy of ambition?”

I love the words of Mrs. Charles Cowman in her classic devotional work: Streams in the Desert : “I was never of any use until I found out that God did not intend to make me to be… great.”

4.  Their results were “under-whelming.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 

They wanted to reach God but had underestimated his greatness.  He had to stoop down to look at their construction.  You can be working hard and still discover, too late in life, that you have not accomplished God’s goals for you.  It seems what you were building was not an altar to God, but a tower to self – just as insidious as the one in Babel.

______

You know the end of the story.  God came down and confused their language and separated them.  I’m sure they were confused… they had thought they were getting ahead in the world… and now they were thoroughly lost in the world.

Today you will lay down bricks to the monument which is your life.  Is your workmanship shoddy or sure?  Is it a monument to hurry or heaven?  Stop, take a step back and look at what it is you are building.

 

What Came Out of the Ark

animals off the arkGenesis 9:22-29; 10

“What are my kids going to end up like?” Don’t you wish you could answer that question?  Or maybe not.  I have met many parents as a pastor that looked at what happened to their children and feel such shame.  If only they had gone to church more… or had gone to church less… or had read the Bible to them more… or went to more parenting seminars.  The guilt is immense.

But I’ve met and talked with enough black sheep to know that it often has not a thing to do with how they were parented.  It had everything to do with their own stubborn will and their poor choices.

Take Ham.   One of Noah’s sons.  You know Noah… the man who walked with God… who alone found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  His son, Ham… made a terrible choice one day.  It began innocently enough.  He caught sight of his father Noah naked in his tent.  No big deal.

It was considerable breach of family ethic back in this day, but remember, the event was not intentional.  It was what he did with what he saw that got him into trouble.  The Scriptures put it gently, that he “told his two brothers outside.”  More than likely his actions were an attempt to show himself triumphant over his father by mocking Noah’s condition.  His two brothers proved more noble by (without looking) covering over their father’s shame.

Noah woke up… and he knew what Ham had done.   He announces what will happen to all three of his boys:  ““Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.” and “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.  May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.”

Cursed be Canaan?  What father would wish that on a grandson?  But remember, this isn’t a wish.  It is a prophecy.  Noah could see in the behavior of his son, Ham, something that would be passed down to his son and beyond.  Ham’s son would father the Canaanites.  And they would be wickedly sinful… and they would always end up on the bottom of his three sons.

God sought to preserve man in the ark… to save him from destruction… but the seed of sin was carried on within the human heart even after the judgment fell.  Noah’s drunkenness and Ham’s actions are evidences of that.  And quickly the sin of man begins to spread on the earth again.   “These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.” (10:32)

God would need another way to redeem man.  Another stronger ark of safety.  Jesus.

The late Adrian Rogers once preached:  “Noah’s ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in this way: The ark is like a great coffin. It doesn’t have a bow; it doesn’t have a stern; it doesn’t have a helm because it is under the control of Almighty God.   The ark keeps the judgment waters out. God shut Noah, his family, and the animals inside the ark. …  God sealed them in. Nobody could open the door. But, there was a window. Noah could open the window and look up. Do you see the parallel?  Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In whom [Jesus] ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.”  We are in Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. It is in Jesus that we know God the Father. Is it not true that when we come in to Him, we are closed in to look up? The way that we look into heaven is through Jesus Christ, the Ark of Safety.” (source)

How did sin continue on the earth after God had wiped away sinful man?  It sprang from out of the ark… from the depths of their fallen hearts.  Man-made arks can save you from drowning but can do nothing about your sin problem.  And just as Noah’s “perfect” family still turned out little sinners in need of redemption… your family will do the same.  Just as a church can only produce a healthy, safe place to worship and perhaps a good churchman or churchwoman… it cannot make redeemed believers.  That is the work of God.  A church can only expose sin and then point to the Savior.

So: pray for your kids.  Invite friends to your church.  Encourage and counsel lost family members.  But if they don’t turn out right.  It is best to put aside your guilt.

Remember and hope.  You too were a fallen sinner once as well.  And you made it onto the right boat.  Pray that they to will do the same.