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!

Where’s Eden?

edenGenesis 3:22-24

Take a glance at the first two chapters of Genesis and you marvel at the harmony that seems to radiate from God’s good creation.  Now take a look at the world today and you can’t help but ask yourself: “What happened?”

Animals prey on one another. Tornadoes and Earthquakes can quadruple the death rate on any given day, in just a matter of minutes. There are wars and protests, and hatred and strife.   What happened? Where is Eden? If we left it, can we go home again?

We know the story of Genesis 3 well.  The serpent, the fruit and the fallen pair are a familiar story we learned in Sunday school.  But did we piece together that it was that act of obedience that caused creation to be what it is today?  Part of God’s judgment on Adam was “cursed be the ground.”  Paul writes in the New Testament:  “…the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it,…”

Then there is the legacy of unrighteousness we have passed on (Romans 5:12).  We have all, like Adam and Eve, painted a bleak picture of God, looked longingly at the Forbidden, partook of it and then shared the fruit of our disobedience with one another.

A number of years ago, a sad story caught the headlines.  A High School Girl was found dead in Hawaii. Her body was found intoxicated and naked in the room of two tourist that she didn’t even know. What was telling was the reaction of one girl that attended school with her: “She didn’t do anything different from the rest of us. I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t do anything that she isn’t suppose to do as a teenager.” It was as though her friend’s sin was okay because it had become socially acceptable among other teenagers.

As a society have bought the lies of Satan.  And that is what happened to Eden!  Sin drove us from our true home. Trying to create our own set of rules we found ourselves morally bankrupt.

Now how did God react to the fallen state of this pair?  How did He deal with our unrighteousness?  Right from the beginning God works to undo what they have done. He sets in motion a plan of redemption.

In the judgment to the serpent, God says:  “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”  (3:15)  Man has been so bitten by the serpent that sin’s venom courses through our veins.  Sin was passed down to all of Adam’s children.  Mankind has been limping from a bruised heel since the day they left Eden.

But the Good News is that Jesus has come.  The true Seed of the Woman, Jesus (Galatians 3:16) has come to crush Satan’s head.   He has come to clothe us and to give us His righteousness.

I began this blog asking you to examine Genesis 1 and 2.  Now take a peek at Revelation 22… the Bible’s final chapter.  You will discover once again a garden and something more: the tree of life.  Eden has been reborn!

And through Jesus:  You can go home again!

 

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

I Regret That – Part Two

Philippians 3:12-14

In my last blog post I shared some responses to a NY Times inquiry into regrets.  Blog readers of the newspaper’s website sent responses ranging from funny to tragic.  One pulled on my heart-strings:

“I dreadfully regret my adultery with a young wife and mother of an (unplanned) toddler in 1973.  I wish I had never met her, and gave in to her importuning. I do penance at church every week, and on six pilgrimages to Catholic shrines in France and Spain and Portugal, for that grievous sin.”  — Carlos

He travelled far and wide and was unable to procure forgiveness to heal his weary heart. As I mentioned last time, regret is natural, even necessary when we sin.  But what do we do when we can’t let go of regret and the pain from our past actions?

Pastor Joe McKeever shared this story on his blog:    “Pastor,” Thea said, “One of these days, I need to talk to you about something.” I was the new, fresh-from-seminary pastor of Thea’s church and had already heard the gossip about her. Before I knew what was happening, my secretary had blurted out that a year earlier, Thea had had an affair with a man she worked with at the department store. “She doesn’t think anyone knows,” the secretary assured me. I thought to myself, “Leave it to you and soon everyone will know.”  “Anytime,” I said, “I’m here to do anything I can for you.”

Thea was in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and was in great pain. I pulled a chair up to her bed and made small talk until she decided to pour out her heart and tell me the awful tale of her sin. She would have died had she known I already knew about it.  At the end, I said, “Has God forgiven you for this?” She said, “I really believe He has.” She hesitated a moment and said, “I just can’t forgive myself.” I said, “You have higher standards than God, is that it?” She reacted quickly. “The very idea–why would you say such a thing?”

I said, “Sure sounds like it to me. Oh, sure, God can forgive me. But I have higher standards. I can’t let myself off that easy.”  She said, “Then tell me what to do.” I said, “Believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that sin on the cross, the same way He did all the rest of our sins and failures. And He says, ‘Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.’ He says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed their transgressions.’ So, now, it’s time you started believing Him and got up off the floor and got on with your life.”  One year later, I received a note in the mail. “It was a year ago,” Thea wrote, “that you told me just exactly what I needed to hear. I am a   healthy person today. Thank you.”  Repent of it. Learn from it. Then put it behind you and go forward.  Everyone fails. Just don’t park there. (Joe McKeever  (http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/archives/000591.html)

I like pastor McKeever’s advice:  Repent of it.  Learn from it.  Then put it behind you and go forward.  Paul was a man that could have had regret consume him.  He had persecuted Christians to death before his conversion.  He learned to forget what was behind and strained forward for what God had for him.  How does one press on?  By helping others caught in the same temptation… by volunteering time to help victims of similar circumstances… by discovering your calling and pursuing it with everything you have.

You can chase forgiveness around the globe or you can find it stretched out to you where you are… from a nailed scarred hand.  Take it.  Then put regret behind you and go forward.