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!

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Noah: Another Review

NoahGenesis 6:16

No.  I didn’t see Noah (2014 Paramount Pictures).  There was no one reason why.  I’m not a special effects junkie.  I tend to be discouraged by Hollywood’s attempts at bringing the Bible to life.  I was busy.  I just decided to sit this one out.

I didn’t, however, escape from a flood of reviews about Noah.  They were everywhere and were a mixed bag even from within the Christian community.

Christian movie blogger Brian Godawa wrote about what troubled him:  “Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.”

Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) wrote:  “Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.”

I was intrigued by a review by Greg Thornbury of The King’s College in New York.  While he had some major theological objections to the film he saw in it some redeeming qualities: “The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.”

This leads me back to another reason I didn’t go see Noah.  I confess I might not give the Bible story that good of a review!  If you look beyond the cute Noah’s Ark set in the church in the nursery, and actually read the story in Genesis… you feel the horror of it all.  It is hard not to see the scene through the eyes of anything but a children’s picture book.  Maybe the film might “set one back on their heels” for the first time.  In the Genesis account, God meant business.  Most of the evil and foolish men He had created were wiped out in this Million year flood.  This is as frightening a plot as any thriller Hollywood has ever dreamed up!

Stories about judgment are never an easy read.  Whether it is in Genesis 6 & 7 (at the Bible’s beginning) or in the Book of Revelation (at the Bible’s end)… these are not stories for the squeamish heart!

But as one stands there contemplating the destruction and the surge of the water don’t forget… the ark!  Yes, the judgment of God was severe and He destroyed just about all flesh on the earth.  There was a completely different perspective just on the other side of the ark’s door.  They were singing Hallelujah!

Four  facts of life we all need to see and embrace from Noah’s tale:

1.  There is a coming judgment for sin.  “…for the earth is filled with violence… I am about to destroy them…” (Genesis 6:13)

2.  A way of escape has been made.  “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood…” (6:14)

3.  We need to enter the escape hatch before it is sealed.   “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded them…” (7:16a)

4.  God is the one who makes the protective seal.  “…and the Lord closed it behind him.” (7:16b)

We can’t hold the waters back with our own efforts of goodness.  There is no human who can provide their own protection.  Only God can do save us.  And He did that in Christ.

Peter writes in the New Testament how: “…God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.  And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (3:20b-21 NLT)

The review from within the ark is a much different one than one from outside its protective walls.  One day the final judgment will take its toll on this earth.  But those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb will find themselves rescued from the wrath of the Lamb.  I don’t deserve such mercy… but I am thankful He saved me.  Like a child protected in their home during a thunderstorm I can sometimes take my salvation for granted.  Help me never to be ungrateful.

How about you?  Have you responded to God?  If not, come to Jesus.  He will not turn you back.

Have you been baptized in order to picture this great saving act of God?  If not, then surrender to His will and be baptized to symbolize what He has done for you.

Hurry, He might be about to seal the door.

 

Where is the Hope?

SONY DSCRomans 5:5

When one becomes weary of evil acts that he or she can do nothing to stop… the next logical emotion for one to experience  is despair.    But as a believer in Jesus we need to remember that we have been given hope… a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)   The response of hope is a step away from a secular mindset during a time of crisis.  Moderns might be able to curb their anger and put it to constructive use.  They definitely have turned out with compassionate service.  But hope?  It is a commodity that is hard to come by in times like these.

In Romans Chapter 5 Paul writes of a hope that “…does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Hope in times of terror is not a natural thing… it is a supernatural thing!  And our hearts, infused by the Holy Spirit, are the ONLY means by which we can experience it.

But what is it we are hoping for?

1.  The end of evil forever.

There is lots of Scripture on this… but one will suffice.  2 Peter 3:7 -“…by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Several pastors from the Boston area posted blogs about the attack on their city.  One resonated with me.  Adam Mabry, the pastor of Alethea Church wrote an article called “A Pastor’s Perspective on the Attacks on My City.”  This is an excerpt:

“So what are we to make of it all? What are we to think when tragedy mingles with beauty? …When blood spills with    tears? [He then invites us to look to Jesus on the cross. And says:]  He, shining like the sun, brought grace and truth, kindness and undeserved mercy. And… He also experienced the deepest and darkest violence humanity has ever accomplished. … There, tragedy mingled with beauty, pain accompanied grace, and the blood of God himself spilt along with his tears. The gospel shows us that, in Christ, darkness, selfishness, terror, sin, and depravity can be and will be once and finally overcome. That’s the hope—the only hope—for the deepest why of pain.”

Evil will be overcome one day.  And I would not want to be one of the Boston bombers standing before God unrepentant on judgment day.   Believer, it is okay to desire to see justice, but don’t ring your hands if things move too slowly.  Don’t worry that there may be others involved that seem to get away Scott Free.  God has better surveillance than all of the Boston PD.  God sees.  God knows.  And He will judge.

2.  There is also hope for today.

Sometimes we despair because we think of those that lost loved ones and those that lost limbs.  We secretly think:  I’m glad it wasn’t me or my loved ones… and then we feel guilty for thinking that.  But we can’t escape it.  How would I cope if I had been standing there on Marathon day?

Here is where hope really should kick in.  We need to trust that God can use any tragedy to his glory.  No matter what evil men plot… God can turn it around.  God is still causing all things to work together for the good of those called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)  We either believe this or not!  Randy Alcorn voiced it this way:  “Evils, whether moral or natural, will not have the final say.  God will replace both with everlasting good.”

You might ask yourself:  “What can I offer to people today through these tragedies?”  Offer hope… real, lasting and living  hope.

One event that happened in the week following the marathon that did not get a lot of coverage (for obvious reasons) was the death of Sportscaster, Pat Summerall.  On the CBS evening news they ran a short piece on him and in it mentioned his faith.  That reminded me of an article in my files from Sports Spectrum magazine.

“For 45 years, Pat Summerall’s voice and face spelled football. He anchored CBS and FOX’s NFL telecasts (often alongside pat summerallJohn Madden) and broadcast 16 Super Bowls (and served as a CBS Radio analyst or pregame reporter for 10 more). This is the part of Pat Summerall’s story that most people know. In the Christian sports magazine Sports Spectrum, reporter Art Stricklin tells the rest of Pat’s story:

Pat was an only child whose parents divorced before he was born, leaving him feeling empty and alone. He became an alcoholic, living from drink to drink as his body broke down. During the 1994 Masters tournament—[Summerall also did voiceover work for high-profile golf tournaments]—he faced up: “I’d been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood—and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, saw what a terrible sight I was, and said to myself, This isn’t how I want to live.

Pat spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. This helped alleviate his alcohol problems but didn’t address his spiritual vacuum. Then he bumped into [Tom Landry, his old football coach from his days as a star kicker]. [Landry] explained about [Pat’s] spiritual need and connected him with Dallas Cowboy‘s chaplain John Weber. Pat’s life was transformed, and he was baptized at age 69.

Art Stricklin closes his article with a few words chaplain John Weber offered to sum up Summerall’s journey: “[Pat] was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand. Now he gets his power from another source.”

We hold on to the hope that can change the destiny of our neighbors, family and friends.  Don’t give in to the despair around you.  Offer hope.