Tuesday, 18 December 2012 09:23

Lot [1]

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Dear listeners, every once in a while you hear about a sinkhole. A sinkhole is when the ground suddenly caves in. It means that somehow the dirt has eroded without being noticed. Then one day it all collapses into a big crater. A large sinkhole can swallow whole houses.

You hear of believers whose life is a sinkhole too. Suddenly things cave in. A marriage is broken, a family is devastated, and those who hear are stunned. They didn't see it coming. How can we recognize the warning signs in our own lives so you and I can seek by the grace of God to prevent a great collapse in our own lives?

The Word of God allows us to x-ray the ground of our lives and hearts. There are warning signs, and gospel cures for sinkhole forming hearts. One of these gospel warnings and cures is found in the life of a man named Lot. What a blessing that the Lord includes such lives in the Bible too. This record gives us gospel cures to rescue those in whose hearts hidden sinkholes are forming, and it keeps those who have fallen from wallowing in despair in the craters in their lives.

Our theme today is, ‘The Lord contrasts the choice of Abram and Lot, and we will consider it under the following points

1. The background to this choice

2. The crisis that forced this choice

3. The direction established in this choice

Genesis 13 compares two choices and ways of living. The choice of the one man, Lot, will lead to spiritual collapse, and the choice of the other man, Abram, will lead to spiritual growth. But before we compare the differences, we need to see what they have in common.

First of all, they were both born and raised worshipping false gods. Joshua will later remind the people that Abraham and his family worshipped idols in Ur.

This is the condition in which every one of us has been born too, even in Christian homes. Each of us must choose whether to live for this world and its idols, or for the true God. You were born an idolater. Are you still living this way?

Things did not stay this way for Abram or Lot. For second, they were called by God out of darkness into His marvelous light. God spoke to Abram: ‘Go to a far unknown land that I will show you. There I will make you a great nation! I will be your God! Through you I will bless all the nations of the world!’ The glory of God was greater than any other glory and treasure Abram had followed. So Abram did what the world would call craziness. He left everything he had known behind, and became a pilgrim, looking for a new homeland that he had never seen.

Lot made the same choice. We read in Genesis 12:4 that Lot went with him. That is, Lot chose to serve the God of Abram too. Now Lot was Abram's nephew. Abram became a father figure in Lot's life. Lot himself believed God too. Lot himself was a child of God. So they were not just physical family, they were spiritual family.

What about you? Have you already believed the heart of the gospel? Are you right with God? You can be right with God! The same gospel door is open to you. The same God of glory calls you and everyone on earth to believe His Word, to look for the new homeland that He has promised, and to serve Him.

Someone may want to say, ‘But how do we know that Lot believed too? How can I know that I have believed?’ God Himself tells us this in 2 Peter 2:7.

The first evidence of true conversion is that God calls Lot in vs. 7 a just man, and in vs. 8 a righteous soul. There is only one way to become righteous in God's eyes, and it is not based on what we do. Abram believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness [Romans 4]. Lot also believed God and became a righteous man. This is the heart of the gospel – you can be right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ!

The second evidence of conversion is that, according to vs. 7, Lot was vexed with the conversation of the wicked. The word vexed means he was oppressed; it gave him a very heavy grieved heart. The word conversation is the old English way of saying, their whole way of living. Do the sins of the world give you at times a heavy heart? Is this true of you too?

The third evidence of true conversion that we see in Lot is found in 2 Peter 2:8. Our English translation again is that Lot vexed his righteous soul, but this is a poor translation. For this word should be translated, ‘tortured’. It was a form of torture for Lot to see how the people around him lived. What is more, this was true of Lot day by day we read. Sometimes when people grow up sheltered from the wickedness of this world, they are shocked at first when they run into it. But gradually their conscience is blunted, their standards relax, and it does not seem quite so bad anymore. Lot never did get used to the sins of the people around him.

This does not mean Lot was sinless. Lot himself was guilty of great sin, and even to some degree of a lifestyle that contradicted what he professed to believe, and what his oppressed and tortured heart declared he did believe. Yet he was a child of God.

And you? Does the world still shock you? Do you say you have the same faith as Abram and Lot? Then you should also have the same heart as they had, for believing in the God of glory changes your heart.

So far we have seen that Lot and Abram shared a common background as idolaters, and both had a saving change of heart as believers in the one true God of glory.

Third, they had a shared experience of the faithfulness of God even when they were least deserving of it. This is where the second half of Genesis 12 comes in. So Abram decided to go down to Egypt to escape a famine. Now this was dangerous because his wife, Sarah, was a beautiful woman. Kings then would do anything to add another pretty woman to their harem. So Abram says to Sarah, ‘Tell them you are my sister, so they won’t kill me’. Rather than trust in the Lord, Abram trusts in his own sneaky plans. He thought only about himself, not about his wife. Pharaoh does take Sarah, but he pays Abram richly for her.

Then the Lord steps in. Pharaoh realizes the truth. Humanly speaking, he would have punished Abram and perhaps even killed him. He might have taken back all the riches he had given. But Pharaoh is afraid of the God of Abram. So he gives Sarah back and says, ‘Just get out of here’. What amazing mercy God showed. Lot was right there, and saw and heard it all.

Do you see how much they had in common? They had precisely the same privileges, the same blessings, the same experiences. They had the same God. But all of this was not enough to keep them in the next great crisis to make two very different choices:

It was the new wealth added to Abram that led to this crisis. Now their flocks and herds are so great that there simply isn't enough water and grass for the both of them. So their herdsmen start striving or fighting, [vs. 7].

What does this have to say to us? First of all, don't be surprised at trials and crisis. They are brought by the hand of the Lord. Why? That is how faith grows, how spiritual life is strengthened. You see the fruit of this trial in the life of Abram. In Genesis 12 he does not trust God enough to tell the truth about his wife in Egypt. By the time Genesis 22 comes around, Abram is even willing to kill his only son if God asks, confident that God will provide. How do you get from Genesis 12 weakness to Genesis 22 strength? Through trial.

You see, in the famine God tested Abram in his confidence. ‘Abram, do you trust me to provide for you, to protect you’? Abram failed that test miserably. But God does not fail the test. Abram worships God when he realizes this! He ends in the right place! Not wallowing in despair, but worshipping God who redeems His own from their failures!

What about you? The Lord brings various trials and tests into your life too. Do you trust your own strength and cunning, your own cover-up or strategy? Does it work? Not really if you are honest. So do what Abram did. Go back to the altar, back to the cross of Jesus Christ. And worship there. And devote your life to God there again.

So God sends another testing crisis - riches. Now some of us foolishly don't think of prosperity as a temptation. The test of riches is a test many of us would be happy to volunteer for. How foolish we are. How little we recognize the spiritual dangers and risks of wealth.

God, by bringing about this crisis in the rapidly increasing riches of these two men, has many spiritual blessings in mind. But testing can also lead to spiritual decay and a spiritual sinkhole collapse. The choices made then have great and lasting consequences.

It became obvious that Abram and Lot could not live together anymore. There is physical danger. The Canaanites living in the land can see their fighting as a sign of weakness, and could move in for the kill during the confusion and take all their riches.

There is also damage being done to the reputation of the Lord. Canaan has seen Abram and Lot worshipping at the altar of the living God, and not at their altars. What terrible advertising for the kingdom of God when professing believers argue!

What were the spiritual blessings the Lord had in mind to give through this trial? God tests them about what their true treasures are. Is it something so silly as water, grass, and gold? Or is God their treasure? It tests these two men in their relationship to one another. What will motivate them? Is it ‘me first, I am right, it has to go my way’? Will they sacrifice personal advantage to maintain their relationship as spiritual brothers even though they have to live separately, or will they sacrifice their relationship to insist on personal advantage? Do you realize what God is doing when you come into conflict and crisis with someone else?

Now in the middle of the crisis, we see Abram and Lot begin to go down two different pathways spiritually. The one chooses the high road, and the other the low road. We see this in the very way in which Abram proposes the solution, and the way in which Lot takes advantage of the proposal.

Abram has a proposal in vs. 8-9. He takes Lot to the hillside at Bethel, overlooking the Jordan River. You see well watered green fields. It is great farm land, a great place to graze your herds. If you look the other direction, you see barren hills with brown grass. Imagine you are a rancher with herds. You either have naturally irrigated river bottoms, or dry land hills.

How will Abram handle this choice? ‘Lot, let there be no strife between me and thee, for we are brothers.’ The brotherhood they have in the Lord is the most precious thing to Abram. So Abram is willing to be the least. He says to Lot, ‘Why don't you choose first.’

What do we see in Abram's choice? First, we see humility. He could have said, ‘Lot, I have the rights of the eldest, I am the one to whom God made the promises.’ However, Abram is willing to take the position of the least. He leaves it in the hands of God. Humility is not weakness – it is confidence in the God of glory!

Second, Abram chooses the way of wisdom. Proverbs would later say a harsh word stirs up strife, but a gentle word turns away anger.

Third, Abram chooses the way of love. Instead of being demanding, he is unbelievably generous. He seeks Lot's advantage more than his own.

What else do we see in Abram than Jesus Christ? Not only did Abram look ahead to see Christ's day and rejoice, but God through His Spirit also traces the mind of Jesus Christ ahead of time in Abram. Remember Philippians 2? Jesus Christ is in the form of God, it is His right to appear as Lord of glory. But the God of glory humbled himself in Jesus Christ and took the form of a servant. HE gave up his rights. He laid down his life. HE sacrificed himself to hell on the cross for wicked people who deserve hell. He was willing to be the least. The character of the God of glory is sparkling in the eyes and face of Abram as he waves his hands from the heights of Bethel and says, ‘You choose first, Lot.’

How God would be glorified if this attitude were found more among us! Abram has learned his lesson in Egypt. He came back humbled and ashamed to the altar at Bethel. Abram's heart is not as attached to his riches or himself as in Egypt. Someone may protest, ‘but you don't know about my conflict with so and so. It takes two to make peace, not just one.’ No, you are wrong. It only takes one to be willing to be the least, to stop obsessing about who was right and who was wrong, and to be Christ-like. The God of glory deserves this kind of response.

Which choice will Lot make? See him standing there. We read in vs. 10 that Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld [looked] at all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered Lot thought it looked like the garden of the Lord, that is the garden of Eden. Lot looks, but he looks with the eyes of physical sight, not the eyes of spiritual faith. This is really spiritual pride. You trust your own eyes and your own desires of what is important more than what God thinks.

Secondly, instead of wisdom, Lot chooses foolishly. He claims the entire Jordan River valley for himself. Calvin says very perceptively, “Lot thought he was moving to the gates of paradise. But is that what he found?” Verse 13 tells us what the spiritual climate of the valley was. The men of Sodom were there, and they were exceedingly wicked and sinners before the Lord. They were not just common everyday sinners. They were the worst of the worst!

Later on the prophet, Ezekiel, in chapter 16:49-50 tells us more precisely what the sins of Sodom were. The great sin of Sodom was not violence, nor was it homosexuality. Notice carefully: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hands of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and they committed abomination before me.”

Homosexuality is mentioned last, and it is only the symptom of a deeper problem. Pride, luxury, having so much that they have too much free time to pursue sinful pleasure; ignoring others in need; being selfish in that luxury.

Now Lot did not move to the valley because he thought Sodomites were good neighbors, he moved down there because he thought the grass and water were great for his flocks. But he ignored the great dangers to his soul and to his family by moving down there.

Third, Lot chooses to be selfish rather than loving. Abram has so sacrificially loved Lot, and Lot rewards this love with pure selfishness.

This choice has so much to say to the church of Jesus Christ in North America in the 21st century. We live in Sodom, don't we? People seem to care most about the next beer, the next sports game, the next movie, the next meal at a restaurant more than anything else. Our political elections are primarily about what's in it for me. Materialism is the fever of our times – you have to have more, the newest, the best, and the greatest. Spend it on yourself! You deserve it! Look out for number one! These are the great sins of our culture.

Many in the church in North America are making the choice of Lot. The church in North America wants to live in this world, and get as much of this world's pleasures as possible. Like Lot, those who are converted are grieved at the sins of the culture. But at the same time, many try to live as close as possible to the culture too. So you will read about theologians who use the big word, contextualization. Really it is just a sophisticated word for worldliness. They say, to reach our times, you have to be like them. You have to imitate the world. You have to adopt their music, their priorities, their lifestyle, not in all ways, but in many ways. Our culture does not like words, it likes pleasure. It does not like sermons, it likes being pumped up with music. It likes drama in the church, because that reminds them of the theatre and so even churches are built to look more like movie theatres than churches. Our culture does not like truth, it wants to be hip and cool. So we have the phenomenon known as hipster Christianity. We need to show our young people and our neighbors that it is cool to follow Jesus Christ.

So we are told, you have to watch the hit movies because that is how you engage the culture. In the magazine Christianity Today, you will find movie reviews in every article. But try to find a serious article about doctrine in the last 10 years. So the church pitches its tents as close to Sodom as possible. Does Mel Gibson produce a movie on the passion of the Christ that focuses on all the wrong things and uses the so-called visions of a medieval mystic nun rather than the truth of the Bible? It doesn't matter. We will advertise and promote it as the greatest evangelism tool of our generation. We will use the world's advertising and hype. It is Lot's choice all over again.

So the young people in these families who make Lot's choice know more about the latest movie than they know about the spiritual blessings God has given his people in the history of the church or in Scripture. They can name more movie stars than they can name the saints of previous generations or even the good books of this generation. Such young people get their ideas about relationships more from Sodomites than the godly.

Look at the statistics: professing born again Christians in North America lie just as much as their non-believing neighbors, use porn as much, commit adultery and get divorced as much, steal and cheat as much. And the percentage of young people in such families who are sexually involved with each other before marriage is also more like the world than not.

Do the contemporary rock bands dress like gangsters and thugs, or sensually? Well, we have to be like them. So the Christian rock groups dresses like them, listens to their music, and gets their inspiration from Sodomites rather than the Psalms. Rather than truth-saturated words, we get emotional words. After all it is not about truth, it is about being pumped up. So Christian singers imitate the same breathy lustful tone of voice that unbelievers use. All in the name of pure passion for God of course. One foot in Sodom, and one foot in the church.

Which choices are you making? The world's grass always looks greener than God's. That is, if you are using physical eyesight rather than spiritual eyesight. Judged by sinful appetites rather than eternal perspective. Are you choosing like Abram? Or are you choosing like Lot?

This is especially true of the big choices in life such as where you will live. Do you think about a good church as your first priority, where worldliness is still called sin, and truth and grace are still taught? Or do you say it is not really as strong as we are used to, but that's okay. You can serve God in many places.

It is true of choices of a spouse or friends. What do you want in a husband or wife? Someone who is willing to make Lot's choice with you? Or someone who wants to stand strong with you and live like Abram, for the God of glory? Is your greatest priority spiritual concerns? Is it godliness or worldliness? Do you move towards Sodom or towards God?

These choices are not small things. For our last point is, the direction established in these choices

Lot pitches his tent toward Sodom [vs. 12. He is drifting in that direction. By chapter 14 we find him living in a house in Sodom. And later on, we read he is sitting in the gate of Sodom, that is, as a judge and town counselor of Sodom. Lot is absorbed in Sodom. That is the drift of his life. If you read the rest of chapter 13, God has no encouraging words for Lot. He is left with just “a vexed heart”, to quote 2 Peter 2 again. His conscience tells him he is compromising, but he makes excuses for it.

What a refreshing contrast in Abram. He made the choice in the spiritual way. The Lord does not put this sacrifice and this trust to shame. Notice who comes to meet him in vs. 14. “And the Lord said unto Abrahm, let up now thine eyes and look in all directions, north, south, east, and west. For all this land I will give you and your children. Get up, walk through the whole land. And see that it is yours.” Lot lifted his eyes up on his own to see and to lust after and to move towards Sodom. Abram did not lift up his eyes to look until God told him to. God said, ‘Look and see what I am going to give you.’ Abram did this, and the last thing you read in vs. 18 is that he builds another altar to worship God. You don't read about Lot building an altar. He is too busy drifting towards Sodom. But Abram worships.

Isn't this so like the Lord? To come with encouragements to the discouraged? God has a way of piling on fresh promises and fresh treasures when His children make the right choice rather than the wrong one. He tells you, to quote Ephesians, to look at the lengths and depths and breadths and heights of the love Christ, which passes all understanding. This is the great cure for worldliness and compromise – to lift up your eyes, not to examine the world's grass. That grass will turn out to be just a cheap plastic imitation. No, lift up your eyes and examine the Lord's riches and grace in Christ Jesus.

Even if you are starting to make Lot's choices, or if you have been making Lot's choices for some time now, it is not too late for you. Before your life collapses into a great spiritual sinkhole, make the right choices, the spiritual choices that prioritize God. Go back to the altar, the cross of Jesus Christ. Worship there. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. And you will discover that God meets you with wonderful encouragements and fresh promises. Amen.

 

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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