We are looking at the life of Abraham. Our theme has been this idea of what to do when our lives are stuck on pause. How do we live in the gap between what God has promised and the reality of our circumstances? We saw this is a picture of Abraham’s life. He had God’s promises of land, seed and blessing. However, God does not give him the how or the when. Faith was more about loving and knowing the One who was leading than getting the promises. It is always about the Promise-Giver more than the promises. He first had to embrace the call of God for his life (Gen. 12:1-3). By the way, embracing the call of God is not a one-time embrace. The call of God will come 12 times to Abraham. And each time God shares a little bit more about it. It is multi-faceted. And each time Abraham has to surrender. And each time he does, God didn’t always give him answers, but more of Himself. That is the life of faith.
Then as Steve led us last week, Abraham was tested with the promise. He failed. When the going got tough, the tough went running. He gave up the land, jeopardized the seed by selling off his wife to Pharaoh and instead of being a blessing to the nations, he brought a curse on the nation of Egypt (Gen. 12:10-13:4). But aren’t you glad that God holds on to us more than we hold on to Him and His promises? God intervenes and saves Abraham from Abraham. The consequences are there, but Abraham learns that he must trust God when trials come. Genesis, remember, is a sermon to Israel, as they too are about to take hold of the land and will be tested in their faith.
Today Abraham will be tested again. Will he live by faith or live by sight? When our life is stuck on pause, this will be the ultimate question. Will we live by faith or by sight? Will we live by promises or explanations? Will we live to obey God even when we make positive advances toward God in obedience, but that results in negative consequences? Let’s start with this thought:
I. Living by faith means believing that failure is not final (Gen. 13:1-4)
Look at Gen. 13:1. Steve talked about this silent return back to the land. Notice Lot is with him. Lot, too, should have learned the lesson. Abraham was already wealthy and now more wealthy due to his disobedience. Lot is similarly wealthy, perhaps from his dad’s inheritance, but more so from tagging along with Uncle Abraham. This might sound like a good thing happened to these guys, but Abraham’s next test will come in this area of prosperity and his relationship with Lot will be severed.
But notice that Abraham goes back to where he last left off his worship. This is repentance. It is never how bad or how often you fall in your faith, but how fast you return. It is not the severity of your fall, but the quickness of your return to God. A good sign of how you know you are growing in grace is how fast you return to the Lord. How quick is your repentance?
Living by faith is about how well you handle your failures. Do you focus on your badness or His goodness? Do you beat yourself up, trying to earn your way back? Or do you rest on the grace of God, which is greater than all your sin? We always talk about a God of second chances and new beginnings. But I wonder if that puts in our mind that what we need is simply to stop sinning and start acting right, as if it is all about behavior modification and a promise to do better. That is dangerous. Perhaps it would be more biblical to say, as Scotty Smith says, “God gives us not second chances, but He gives us Jesus. His name is Redeemer, no redo.” The Gospel gives us something better than a second chance. It gives us a new life. We get a fresh opportunity to trust in Jesus and to love Him. It is not that I promise to do better, but admitting that left to my own devices, I do not have the resources to do life and that I am daily need of God’s grace. It is a return to believe Him more first, before acting right.
The world (not the Bible by the way) says, “God helps those who help themselves.” But the Bible tells us that God helps those who are helpless and place their helpless heart on the Ultimate Helper. Sometimes when we are stuck on pause, we will put our hands on the wheel and crash, but we must always go back to the altar, the place of surrender, the place of our departure, forsake sin, worship and come to the place where we find God always waiting for us! Secondly:
II. Living by faith means putting our priorities in order (Gen. 13:5-13)
Notice Moses keeps letting us know that Lot was with Abraham (Gen. 11:31, 12:4; 13:1, 5). Lot has seen Abraham through Abraham’s ups and downs. He was with him when he failed in Egypt, when he built the altars in worship and came back to the altar in repentance. You would think that Lot would have learned that scheming for yourself gets you into trouble and that choosing God’s way is always best. But Lot doesn’t learn. This teaches us something. Going through trials does not guarantee that you will grow from them. Look at Heb. 12:11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. There is still a posture of your heart that must be teachable in a trial. Abraham seems to have this deep repentance from his sojourn in Egypt. Granted he will fail again later in Gen. 20, but his humility in this chapter definitely shows that God had been working on his soul.
Yet Abraham and Lot are totally different. Abraham owned his wealth, but wealth owned Lot. Both Abraham and Lot are “living large,” so large that there is no room for the both of them to stay together. One author notes that, “As nomadic tribesmen they had to travel about looking continually for pasture for their sheep and cattle. Since the land was already inherited, there wasn’t a lot of pasture to choose from. Consequently, each man’s herdsmen sought water and the best pasture for the animals of their master.” By the way, the Canaanites were those who lived in the town, the urban people, but the Perizzites were those who lived in the country, the suburban people. But this leaves little room for Abraham and Lot together.
Who did the land belong to? Abraham. Lot should have said to his uncle, “God said you should have this land. This land is yours. I came with you because you believed that. And besides, you are my uncle and I am the nephew. You are older and I am younger. You guys been having a rough marriage with the whole Egypt thing and aunt Sarah is under a lot of stress, so you stay here!” Nope. We see nothing of the sort. Look at Gen. 13:8. We see Abraham’s heart: “For we are kinsmen.” Wenham says, “The wording seems to imply, “Men should not quarrel, let alone brothers.” Abraham could have very well said, “Now, look here, Lot, this land belongs to me. God has promised it to me, not to you. You’ll simply have to move on.” Abraham was the older one. Abraham had all the rights. You have to remember Abraham “lived in a patriarchal society where seniority and age was everything. [He] was the head of the clan, the uncle, the head honcho. Lot was his young nephew. For Abram to give Lot the advantage by giving him first choice was quite amazing.”
Think about Abraham’s options here. The issue for him is how can I keep my relationship with God, keep my relationship with Lot and at the same time have the best scenario for financial blessing? He could have said, “Let’s both leave and find a spacious enough land for both of us to grow wealthy and flourish.” He would have relationship with Lot, he would be financially well off, but what would he lose? He would lose his relationship with God. Isn’t that what he just did by going to Egypt? Leaving the land didn’t work out so well!
Now if he said, “I’m the older one and you gots-to get up on out of here,” Abraham gets more of the land to himself (financial blessing), keeps his relationship with God, but Lot might feel embittered and resentful. Doing that is putting his relationship with Lot in jeopardy. So what Abraham does here in letting Lot decide is brilliant, as it shows us his priorities as well as his heart. What are Abraham’s priorities? God, family and money, in that order. In letting Lot decide, he is surrendering all control. Money does not control him. People do not control him. God controls him. In essence he is saying, “You know what? I've taken matters into my own hands. I've tried to bless myself…I tried to put together a foolproof business plan…God says he'll protect me. God says he'll bless me. God knows me. God knows my heart. I trust God. Lot, let's play this little game where you make a decision. Truth be told, I know who makes the decisions.”
Notice the differences between Gen 12 and 13 with Abraham. In Egypt, he stirred up conflict, but back with the Lord, he is an agent of reconciliation. In Egypt, he cares about himself and is willing to sell out family to save his own skin, but back with the Lord, he cares about others more than anything. How did Abraham get his priorities right? It was the altar (Gen. 13:4). Worship always realigns our priorities. So don’t make any major decisions if you are not walking with the Lord. Everything is out of whack and misaligned. Worship puts life back in order! Let’s break this down. Notice Abraham chooses:
a) Relationships over our rights (vv.5-9)
Abraham is not like Cain. Abraham is his brother’s keeper. Again, this is a message to the Israelites, 12 tribes who came from 12 brothers, as they are about to live in the land. Notice Abraham initiates reconciliation right after mentioning the unbelievers in the land. What a horrible witness it would be to the watching unbelievers who would watch Abraham build these altars to Yahweh one minute, but then to see the people of Yahweh sacrificing their own brothers the next minute!
It is the same today. How many times have Christians dragged the name of Christ in the mud simply because one group wanted to win an argument than win souls? Let us choose relationships over our rights: our rights to our time, our space, our personality, our comfort, etc. This is a lesson I am constantly learning. These past few weeks I have seen more and more of my sin in the way I want to hold on to my rights. I don’t prioritize people when I feel like they do not respect my rights as a pastor. I had this heart that said, “Don’t you know how important I am and how important my work is? Don’t you know how valuable my time is?” Yet I preach about the One who gave up all His rights to save me and bless me! The One who valued relationship with us over everything! Lord, forgive me!
Do we value relationships over our rights at Living Hope? I have been blessed and challenged to know so many of you who continue to give up your rights so that the Lord can bless people. But we can always grow. Do we think, “My time is so valuable, I don’t have time to spend it at a joint service sitting with some old Taiwanese people who are speaking in a language I don’t understand”? or “My energy is so valuable I want to spend it on people I enjoy talking to.” It is my time, my energy, my rights! I decide who is worthy of it! What if Jesus thought that way? None of us would be saved today because really what we all deserve is hell!
Notice secondly what Abraham chooses:
b) The eternal over the temporary (vv.10-13)
Look at Gen. 13:10: “and Lot lifted up his eyes…” Here we go. Where your eyes lift towards is often an indicator of what your heart longs for. Notice the repeating theme of Genesis of these someone “seeing” something “beautiful” or “good” or “attractive” or here, “well-watered everywhere” and subsequently acting on it. This is what Eve did (Gen. 3:6), the sons of God (Gen. 6:1-2), Pharaoh with Sarah (Gen. 12:14-15) and now Lot. Unbelief lives by what we see more than what God says. When you believe, you trust what God says, even when you don’t see. As we said before, it is not “Show me and I believe,” but God says, “Believe me and I will show you.” He also moves “east,” (Gen. 13:11) which in Genesis has always been symbolic of going away from the Lord.
So Lot thinks, “Am I going to wait around in this pagan-possessed land for God’s promise, which seems so long, tedious and abstract or take this opportunity of a lifetime? I hate pause. Time to press “play”! What drove him? His priorities. He loved wealth more than God and more than family. He lived by sight. He lived by what was before him. The author lets us know that Lot’s choice is idiotic by talking about Sodom and Gomorrah, which will end up in judgment in a few chapters. He is going the way of the seed of the serpent, which is characterized by people choosing for themselves what is best for them, apart from God. Notice the author says, “Lot chose for himself,” (Gen. 13:11, italics mine). Every time people went that route, there was disaster. Eve brought sin into the world, the sons of God were judged with the Flood and Pharaoh got plagues (Gen. 12:17).
When Lot chose the temporary over the eternal, there were dangerous consequences. Notice the downward spiral: he is pitching his tent toward Sodom in Gen. 13:12. Soon he will be exchanging that tent for a townhouse as he is living in Sodom (Gen. 14:12) and eventually he will be a businessman in Sodom (Gen. 19:1). Sin always begins with compromise and ends up costing us way more than we wanted to pay and take us further way far than we ever expected to go and keep us way longer than we expected to stay. What will eventually happen to Lot? His wife will die, and he will end up having sex with his daughters, who probably picked up that morality from growing up in Sodom. And I'm sure, at the end of his life, had you asked Lot, “Was it a good deal?” He would reply. “No, it wasn't a good deal, 'cause even the real estate got destroyed. So, it was all in vain. It was all in vain.” Reminds me of the people in Rev. 18 who are weeping as they see all that they lived for burn away. They are devastated because they see that they lived for the wrong thing.
By the way, I realize God will call some of us to move far away, for whatever reason. Let me encourage you to put “Find Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, gospel-centered churches” on your to-do list as you plan your move. I understand for some God calls to be missionaries in foreign lands where the Gospel is not named, but if that is not you, I would encourage you not to make major decisions based primarily on financial prosperity, better tax break for your business, better cost of living, etc. if in the end, it will cost you your relationship with God and your relationship with your spouse and kids. Put the eternal over the temporary. Put your priorities in order. This is really hard to do! Why is Lot driven by the wrong priorities? Why does he choose what is temporary, rather than what is eternal? Why do we sacrifice the future at the altar of the immediate? And how can we choose the eternal? The essential versus the urgent?
I think the answer lies in Gen. 13:10. It is interesting that Moses gives us Lot’s heart in this situation. It is not simply that Lot sees a land that has great potential. What does he compare this land to? The Garden of Eden! And it was like the land of Egypt (all he learned from the Egypt fiasco was that it was a financially secure place). What is he saying? He is saying, “This is it. This is my dream come true. This is what I have been waiting for my entire life! It is Paradise Regained.” This was a modern real estate developer’s dream!
He reminds me of my children begging me to put a show or movie on television, usually one they have seen a gazillion times. Abbie gets herself situated in front, Annabelle walks up to the front of the TV, sucks her thumb and stares, without blinking, as the show starts. They are mesmerized. Abbie screams with excitement, “I really love this show Dada!” This is it. This is Paradise, the dream show. But I leave the room for just five minutes and upon my return, Annabelle is the corner chewing on an old raisin from under the couch in the corner and Abbie is trying to contort her body to fit into a packing box from Amazon in another corner.
Children are mini-versions of us. We are all born desperate for something. Our eyes look at what our heart longs for. What is it that we are looking for? Paradise. We want to recreate paradise for ourselves. We want to get back to the Garden of Eden. For some people, it is that dream job/career. For others it is that dream girl or dream guy or the dream of getting married. Or it is the dream of fame and reputation and status. Or it could be children. That desire is not wrong in and of itself, but if it is trying to recreate the Garden of the Lord without the Lord, it will destroy us.
In the Garden of Eden, we knew who we were. We knew what we were worth and we knew who we were made for. But we lost it. We are alienated from the Garden and since then, our hearts are created for Paradise, a place to call home. But when we are striving for that “something” or “someone” to fill that void with something other than God, we will be disappointed. Keller says, “We say, consciously or not, ‘If I had that...If I were married to him or to her...If I had this career, this kind of money and financial security...If I had a nice house, then it would validate me. We think that if we had this or that, then our inner desert or our inner emptiness would be gone. But there is more going on than money, or our career, or being in love, or having children, or the Olympic gold medal. Lot is doing what we are all doing. He doesn't want to just get rich. But he has set his heart/hope on riches in such a way that he has turned this spiritually to be something that will finally complete him. But it won't. The rest of Lot's life clearly shows that it doesn't (Gen 14,18,19). Isn't this what all people do?
If we get married and says, "Finally, "the garden of the Lord." Now I know that my life is complete and fulfilled. Now I know who I am! Now I know I am lovable! If we go into marriage this way, or parenting this way, or career this way, something will always give eventually, as it did with Lot. It's like putting a three ton truck on a one ton bridge. It will break. It's putting three tons of spiritual expectations on a finite thing. It is going to crack. It will crack. Even in this text, there is anger, quarreling, grumpiness, irritation, because Lot set his heart on money and riches, which influenced his men. He is driven by it. He will trample even on uncle Abram. Lot has looked spiritually at success, money, riches, and said, "It's like 'the garden of the Lord.'” We cannot choose the eternal things if our heart is set on temporary things because we have made those things our idols. You always serve what you worship. Are there things in your life that you are pursuing as things to complete you, validate you, make you feel lovable or so that others won’t think you are a bum or a loser? That longing is only fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in knowing that one day He will restore us back to THE Garden (Rev. 22:2).
III. Living by faith is looking to the faithful one (Gen. 13:14-18)
Look what the Lord does for Abraham. This must have been really hard for Abraham. Lot has been traveling with him for so long. They are family. But I love Gen. 13:14: The LORD said to Abram after Lot had separated from him. Isn’t that great? Our God moves in when our closest people leave. He comforts Abraham and gives Him assurance and builds his trust. God always gives you more than you can ever give to Him and God always gives His best when you leave the choice with Him. God takes him to what is most likely a spectacular mountain and promises to give him more than he could have ever asked for. And Abraham responds with worship (Gen. 13:18). The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham lived in tents “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Abraham was looking at the Promise-giver more than the promises!
How can God give Abraham all of this? Did Abraham earn it? No, just a chapter ago, we saw that he cannot hold on to any promises. Abraham is a failure. Why does God do this to Abraham and do this for us? God does this because centuries later, the seed of Abraham would be taken up to a mountain by the serpent. He would show Jesus the whole world and tell him he could have it if he simply worshipped Satan. What Satan was really offering Jesus was a way out of the cross. He could have all of the glory, without the suffering, the crown without the cross. Take the temporary over the eternal. Jesus is a greater Abraham, refusing his rights and coming to lose everything, so we may have it all. He gave up all His wealth so we can have ultimate wealth. Despite our failures, God can freely give us all things because Jesus gave up all things through His death.
Only when we "lift up (our) eyes and look" and see what Jesus gave up on the mountain for me, can we truly be generous toward others, as Abram was toward Lot. Only when we look at the One who gave up His rights to choose relationship with us, will we do the same. We are stupid all like Lot. We are all trying to find "the garden of the Lord" without the Lord. But Jesus gave up the ultimate "the garden of the Lord" so that we may have it restored to us. May the Lord help us live by faith and not by sight!
Smith, S. From a facebook status update, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10150488869563624&id=82119483623 accessed 12 January 2012.
Krell, K. “A Tale of Two Men,” http://bible.org/seriespage/tale-two-men-genesis-135-18#P63_27780 accessed 12 January 2012.
Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary (297). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Krell, K. Ibid.
Keller, T. “Real Riches and Ambitious Man,” transcribed by Toh, Benjamin in http://westloop-church.org/messages/old-testament/15-genesis/173-mans-heart-and-center-gen-131-17 accessed 12 January 2012.
Driscoll, M. “Abraham and Lot Separate,” http://marshill.com/media/genesis/abraham-and-lot-separate?mode=expand&p=transcript#read accessed 12 January 2012.
Keller, T. “Real Riches and Ambitious Man,” transcribed by Toh, Benjamin in http://westloop-church.org/messages/old-testament/15-genesis/173-mans-heart-and-center-gen-131-17 accessed 13 January 2012.