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!

A Praise Progression

Man playing a guitarGenesis 8

Those of you who play an instrument or who are into music theory already know what a “chord progression” is.  But for those of us who can only play the radio a quick definition might be in order.  A chord progression is “a series of musical chords, or chord changes that ‘aims for a definite goal’ of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.” (source: Wikipedia)

Okay… if you aren’t musically inclined, that probably meant absolutely nothing to you!  So why bring it up?

Because I see in Scripture a “praise progression” that also “aims for a definite goal” and establishes a “tonality” in life… that is… if we follow the progression all the way through to praise!

The progression is:  Waiting, Being Heard, Hoping, Being Rescued, Praising.

The most obvious praise progression is Psalm 40:1-3 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

The progression goes like this:  I waited; God heard me; I hoped (this is the patient part); I was rescued (He brought me up.); I sang a song of praise.

I have read a lot of books on prayer that say you should praise God for being who He is, not for what He has done for you.  That sounds great in theory… but how can you not praise Him for all He has done for you?  He PUT that song in your mouth… you cannot help but sing it!  The natural result of the progression is that “many see and fear and trust in the Lord.”  Harsh chords of pain and waiting and patience are resolved in the end and the sound is so sweet!  It is enticing!

What does this have to do with Genesis 8?  This is first “praise progression” of the Bible!

Noah was caught in a waiting period. – “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” -Genesis 7:24

God remembered Noah. – “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..” (8:1)

God sends hope.  – “The dove came to him toward the evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.” (8:11)

God rescues Noah. – “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.'” (8:15-16)

Noah praises God. – “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” (8:20)

Maybe you are struggling to praise the Lord today.  Your life is cooped up in a smelly old ark.  You may feel bitter or angry at your circumstances.  Praise is more difficult at different stages within the progression.  How difficult it is to praise Him with your heart in discord!  But remember this:  The chord WILL be resolved… whether in this life or the next.  Right now, your praise will just take a different form depending on where you are in the progression.

So pray:

Lord, I’m waiting.

or Lord, remember me.

or Lord, I sense you are sending me hope.  (I see the olive branch!)

And if you have found your chord resolved… if God has rescued you… Sing the Song of the Redeemed!  And if for nothing else… praise Him for Calvary… praise Him for the cross… praise Him for the hope of resurrection!

John McArthur once referred to Jesus as “the harmonizer of all discords.”  What an apt description for the lover of music theory… and for this rest of us…  who know a good song when we hear it!

Blessings!

Reaching Out to an Unreachable World

earthActs 17:6-23

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

How do you preach the Gospel in a knowledgeable, trendy, pseudo-intellectual world?  The circumstances we face today in the 21st century seem overwhelming in regard to witnessing for Christ… but we can learn a lot from the first trail blazer for Christ, the Apostle Paul in the 1st Century.

What did he do then that we should be about today?

1)  Follow the Spirit!

Now if we look at Paul’s journey into Macedonia, we see he has a plan.  He begins in Philippi and the moves on to Thessalonica… these are two stops on what was called the Egnatian Way!  It was a paved roadway across the Roman Empire.  Paul’s plan seems to make sense!  Stay on the sidewalk and set up churches along the heart of the land.

But persecution in Thessalonica sends the team to Berea… which was a good thing because many people were saved there.  But then more persecution hits and they are further turned away from the Main Highway and their team is fragmented.  While Timothy and Silas stay behind to strengthen the young church in Berea… Paul departs alone for Athens:  the philosophical capital of all time… home to greats such as Socrates and Plato.

Now Paul was more than ready to minister to Athens, it just wasn’t part of his plan… Rome, the capital of the empire, seems to have been the target.  But by the movement of the Spirit he came to Athens, the capital of philosophical thought.

Is the Spirit leading you to place of witness that you haven’t though of before?  Maybe a class at a local university or a seat on a community board, or a volunteer position at a local hospital would shake up things in your world.  Stay open to the Spirit’s lead and follow the Lord’s call.  You may have to get off your chosen sidewalk… but that’s okay.

2)  Open Your Eyes!

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

A.T. Robertson notes: “Pliny [the Roman writer] states that in the time of Nero [A.D. 54-68], Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius [a Roman satirist] sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, notes on Acts 17:16).

That sounds to me like 21st Century America.  We aren’t tripping over marble statuettes, but we do live in a land of religious plurality.

Chuck Sackett in his sermon “At Ease in Athens” wrote:  “I was reading an article from Newsweek recently: “In Search of the Spiritual.” Apparently, the religious website Beliefnet sends out more than 8 million daily emails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5 million subscribers. Generic inspiration is the most popular 2.4 million emails, followed by inspirations from the Bible with 1.6 million.  But there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, 268,000 subscribers to daily Muslim wisdom, and 236,000 who get spiritual weight loss messages.

Even nature worshiping pagans are divided up into: Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Platonism, and the God of Spirituality folk. And in case you can’t find one to suit you on that list, there’s Eclectic Paganism.

If I were to walk through Beliefnet’s website, I would draw this conclusion: we are very religious people. In fact, 79% of people in the U.S. under the age of 60 would categorize themselves as spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual.

For all of the choices, many chose not to chose.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know if that God is Jehovah, Buddha or Allah.”  – Actress Halle Berry

She is not that different from a lot of your neighbors.  Open your eyes to the belief systems of those around you.  And from that, see… truly see… their desire to find God… All this belief points to the fact that they are questioning and seeking the Almighty.

 3)  Strike up a conversation!

In Athens Paul is without his support team, but cannot remain silent.

17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Jews and God fearing Greeks in the synagogue were his typical audience.  But Paul also took advantage of the Agora (the marketplace) where ideas were sold as plenteous as groceries.  Paul took the Gospel to whoever would listen.  Verse 18 states at least two groups took note of Paul.

Epicureans –  Now they believed that life was 100% chance… and death was the end.  The other group was the Stoics – They believed that everything was god, that everything that happened was of god and had to be accepted without question.  Hince, we refer to one that doesn’t show emotion in a situation that calls for it, as someone who is very Stoic.

These groups hear Paul’s preaching and say in verse 18: “What is this babbler trying say?”

The Greek word for “babbler” here originally was used of birds picking up grain and then of scrap collectors searching for junk and then of people that stole other’s ideas and peddled them as their own.  This was not a flattering label they were putting on Paul.

To top it all off.. they also thought Paul was advocating new deities:  Jesus and Resurrection.  The Greek word for resurrection has an uncharacteristic feminine ending.  Meaning, they thought Paul was saying Jesus and Resurrection were a couple.  They apparently weren’t listening that well to Paul’s message.

What can we learn from Paul here about striking up a conversation in a diverse religious setting?  We should expect to be misunderstood, mislabeled and at times, belittled.  But that shouldn’t cause us to run away into our Christian subculture and hide… we need to find our feet shod with the Good News of the Gospel and firmly planted in the marketplace of our time.

But, you ask, how do I engage today’s culture?

>Read the paper, watch the news, if only to gain a frame of reference to talk to others.

>Talk to people:  where you work and where you go to school.

>Talk to people of other faiths, other races, other economic statuses.

You can’t make people believe in Jesus… but that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.  We just work to impact  people toward Him.

An Intelligence Test

Acts 17:16-18Test

On the Tonight Show, host, Jay Leno, has a frequent segment called “Jay Walking.”  He goes out into the area surrounding their studio… talks to real people (only to about 15 people and then about 9 make it on the show) and after about an hour of shooting they are ready to go.  Here is a sample of what Jay finds:

A Man who thought the first president was Benjamin Franklin.

A Woman who when asked how many stars were on the American Flag atop a nearby flag pole answered:  “I can’t tell, the wind is moving it too fast.”

My favorite:  A graduate from college still in cap and gown was asked what the Gettysburg Address was.  After hemming and hawing, Jay asked her: “Have you heard of it?”  She responded:  “Yes, I’ve heard of it.  I don’t know the actual address though.”

When asked what separates the inner ear and outer ear, one bright person said:  Your brain?

Another was asked:  Who lives in Vatican city?  Their answer:  Vaticans.  Jay responded:  “No, but he has a tall hat.   Answer:  “Abraham Lincoln?”

Shows like that make me feel smart.  I love shows like that.  Jeopardy, not so much.  Those contestants seem to know everything.  “What is the weight of a ball bearing off a Boeing 747, Alex?”  “Correct!”  They are smart, but that is only Jeopardy smart.

Then there is “Brilliant” smart… it is an intelligence that goes beyond remembering facts… these people have the capacity to understand things at an ultra complicated level.  They can be intimidating.  Particularly if they come to conclusions you don’t agree with.  The atheist with his book about why God doesn’t exist has a lot of degrees after his name.  You know he is wrong, but how do you reason with someone so intelligent?

Often when met with “brilliant” smart, we just stay silent.  Obviously we have nothing to say.

Paul is about to step into the world of the culturally elite.  He had to feel a bit intimidated as he entered Athens.  But he knew he was defending the truth and to stand up for the truth is always the intelligent thing to do.

Heard the story recently of Courtney Ellis, a former graduate student at Princeton:  “When I attended graduate school for English, there were many occasions when my fellow students openly ridiculed the name of Christ. To my great detriment, I stayed silent. I was quite vocal about my belief in Christ at church and with my friends, but I was terrified of what might happen to my reputation if the people at my school found out I believed in Jesus. … Most of them were just ignorant about who Jesus is. Several of them had never even met a Christian before and assumed that all Christians were the uneducated, judgmental stereotypes we sometimes see in the media. Yet, I was still afraid.

As the program went on, I began to feel guiltier for these silences. If I couldn’t be obedient to Christ in such a central thing, how would I be able to serve him in other ways? God was faithful in my rocky road to obedience—opportunities to speak up for Christ continued to come my way.

One day a fellow student asked me flat out—right before class, when many other people were around—if I was a Christian. I was at a crossroads. … I had a clear decision to make.

I took a deep breath, and, with God’s help, I said a soft, shaky, “Yes.” The student looked at me for a second, skeptically.

“Interesting,” she said. “I always thought that Christians were like circus freaks…but you’re actually kind of smart!”

It was a small step, but even the smallest step made in obedience is progress. God tells us not to fear for our reputations, because the truth will always win out.”

[More to Come]