When our lives are stuck on pause, it is often a great opportunity for the Lord to show us the things that our hearts are stuck on that are not of Him. We saw that with Lot. He wanted the “Garden of the Lord” (Gen. 13:10) without the Lord. His heart was stuck on it. And so he set his heart on it and lusted after it and took it. Self-gratification is always a deadly snare. This desire to master your own existence and arrogance thinking we know what is good for us apart from God was the problem of Eve (Gen. 3:6), the sons of God (Gen. 6:1-2), Pharaoh (Gen. 11:14-15) and now Lot (Gen. 13:10-12).
A lot of times we know what our hearts are stuck on by looking at our dreams and nightmares. What would you say is your worst nightmare? What would say is the thing if it came true would be utterly devastating? To be honest I have a nightmare and it feels silly sharing it, but actually it is a literal nightmare I have at least once a week. Usually in this nightmare, I am speaking to a group and somehow it ends up being the fact that I am not prepared to speak. As a result, I end up feeling this sense of humiliation. I feel like a loser and a fool. I don’t want to go all Freudian on you, but I do see it as the Lord showing me my heart and where my motivations lie, the things my heart gets stuck on that are not of Him.
What is it for you? Perhaps it is a fear of personal loss? Or fear of being exposed of what your heart is really like? Or fear of failure? Or is it a feeling of shame? Physical death? Being alone? Lack of love? It could be a number of things. Even those of us who seem like nothing bothers or phases us are often like that because we are really afraid to deal with any kind of pain at all and your greatest nightmare is to have a nightmare! We all have our worst nightmares. Lot had his worst nightmare come true. He put his hopes in a dream piece of real estate. He lets financial prosperity control and propel him. And now we find in our text that all of that is taken away from him. He ends up in bondage. Thankfully he has an uncle who has a bigger heart than him and rescues him. He could learn a lot from Abraham, but he will not as we shall see in the coming weeks.
But the question remains: how do you deal with your heart’s worst nightmare? Today we will see the answer in two words: humble courage. It sounds like an oxymoron, but we will see that this is the heart of the Gospel. What do I mean by humble courage? Tim Keller says, “Courage is the ability to do the right thing regardless of the consequences and regardless of the dangers.” Where do we find this kind of courage?
The world says, “Look at yourself.” Look within yourself. Visualize success. Speak it. Think positive thoughts. And sometimes when you see people who make the headlines on television with these tremendous acts of bravery, they will tell you, “I knew I had to do it. I just pictured saving that person and etc.” We hear stories about the soldier who risked his life for his comrades, or the pilot of a plane who safely landed his plane on the Hudson River in New York, or the people who took down the terrorists of a flight. We think of Braveheart: “You may take our lives, but you will never take OUR FREEDOM!” I think you can have those courageous moments and I am not minimizing so many men and women who have had their moments and are models of courageous acts.
However, that’s adrenaline courage. True courage is much deeper. How do you have courage for the long haul? We need something that will overwhelm our fears. How do you have courage to face your heart’s worst nightmares and do the right thing anyway? Where do you find the strength, especially when your life is stuck on pause, to persevere in a tough marriage? To maintain under the strain of a difficult trial? To keep serving a family member with a lifelong illness? To see your singleness as an opportunity to show off what it means to be exclusively devoted to Jesus Christ? To keep giving your best in a hard job? To stay pure in sex-saturated society? To keep loving and praying for that unsaved loved one? To forgive someone who keeps on wronging you? To parent children by sacrificing your personal time? As William Gurnall says, “It requires more prowess and greatness of spirit to obey God faithfully, than to command an army of men; to be a Christian than a captain.”
And Christians say, “Just have faith like Daniel! Like David! Like Abraham!” This is somewhat helpful, but inadequate. In the end, this is similar to the world’s solution and just a spiritualized version of “Find it within yourself.” The truth is, we are cowards. Our cowardice shows up everywhere and we have brought havoc in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones because we have given ourselves over to our fears. Abraham here is a picture of true humble courage, but he himself is pointing to a true and better Abraham who is ultimately the humble and courageous One, from whom we find true humble courage four our lives. What does it mean to have humble courage? Take note of this:
I. LOVING SERVICE: Not stifled by self-absorption (vv.1-14)
We have in Gen. 14:1-12 an unusual account of war. This is actually the first recorded war in the Bible. It seems odd for Moses to give us all of these details, which seem to come from something out of the Lord of the Rings. Basically what happens is that there is war between four eastern kings and five southern kings. The southern kings (including kings of Sodom and Gomorrah) were slaves of the eastern kings (including the king of Shinar, which is modern day Babylon in Iraq and the place of the Tower of Babel incident in Gen. 11) for twelve years. Finally, in the thirteenth year, they had enough and decided to revolt. Their revolt started other revolts.
The eastern kings would not have this. If they ignored this rebellion, the southern kings could potentially take over “a strategic commercial land bridge between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Whoever controlled this land bridge maintained a monopoly on international trade.” Krell adds, “The eastern kings defeated everyone who opposed them. They were an enemy that seemed invincible, relentless, unstoppable, striking fear into every heart as they steamrolled over every opposing military force.” When the eastern kings finally came up against the southern kings, they were in the Valley of Siddim. The Valley of Siddim had a lot of pits. The southern kings figured that despite the odds, these pits would be a good defense against the eastern kings. However, to their surprise, many of the southern fighters fell into these pits they relied on. This is interesting commentary on what happened to Lot as well. The very thing he relied on, a garden of the Lord without the Lord, was what gets him into trouble. Lot’s worst nightmare has come true. In the chaos, Lot, his family and everything he owned gets taken away.
Why does Moses put all this in? I think first of all, he is encouraging the children of Israel who are about to enter the land. Sometimes there will be things out of their control that will bring fear and danger. The children of Israel must trust the God of Abraham to be their God. Little is much if God is in it. Secondly, we see that choosing the way of the seed of the serpent always leads to judgment and disaster, as we see in Lot’s life. It takes courage to be a believer! Nevertheless, I believe Moses is urging his readers to not forget about their brothers as they enjoy the Promised Land, even if they cause their own messes and fall into their own pits. Unlike Cain, Abraham is his brother’s keeper.
And that is what is remarkable here. Someone comes to Abraham, who has nothing really to do with anything, to let him know that his nephew was in trouble. Now Abraham could have said, “Lot, you made this bed. Now lie in it.” Or “Serves you right for messing with God’s chosen heir. I’m the seed of the woman fool!” Or “Good luck. Hope you learn from this!” Or “I have to leave the land for him and against such powerful kings, I got no shot!” Or “What if something happens to me? Lot is expendable but I am the one indispensable man.”
A lot of times when we are stuck on pause, we are so self-absorbed. We have no time to help others because “Hey God! Where’s my promise?! And when?” We are caught up in the promises we lose the heart of the Promise-giver. And why are we self-absorbed about it? Because of fear. John says, “There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear and love cannot co-exist in the same heart. Fear casts out love. Fear makes us self-absorbed. Love focuses us on others. The enemy of love is not hate. The enemy of love is selfishness. And it is courage that helps us to choose to love when everything in us says otherwise.
Remember in Gen. 12 that Abraham tried to save his own skin and sacrifice his wife and the land. He was self-centered to the core. Now he is selfless. He is noble. He is courageous. He is humble. Money does not control him. People do not control him. Fear does not control him. God controls him. Notice where Abraham is when the news comes: at the oaks of Mamre. Last time we read about that, Abraham had built an altar there (Gen. 13:18). Worship realigns your heart with God’s. And when the Spirit of God is working in your life, you are not thinking of yourself. You are others-centered.
And that is biblical love. Biblical love is about how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone. It is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. We cannot wait for our feelings to do the action. Feelings of love always follow the actions of love, not the other way around.
Author Gene Getz says, “Abraham's move was bold and courageous. He laid his own life and the lives of the men who served him on the line for a selfish and conceited nephew. Here was a gracious and kindhearted man who held no grudges, no bitterness, and no animosity toward a relative who had taken advantage of him.” It takes one with a humble courageous heart to put self-centeredness aside and serve someone, even while he/she is stuck on pause in their own lives. What would it mean for those of us who are stuck on pause not to be cowards who are self-absorbed, but humble, courageous men and women not because we have big dreams, but because we have big hearts for others. Secondly to have humble courage means:
II. ACTIVE WAITING: Not paralyzed by passivity (vv.14-16)
The other thing we see here is that Abraham is actively waiting. Waiting for God’s promises does not mean passivity. He took action. Abraham could have played the “wisdom and waiting card.” There is a time to wait before the Lord in silence. But most of us are often paralyzed by passivity. And we say, “I’m waiting on the Lord!” when sometimes we are just lazy and/or afraid of making decisions. Notice Abraham planning, preparing, training, etc. He is not simply twiddling his thumbs and sitting around.
Kevin DeYoung has a great book called, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. One blogger, commenting on this book said, “Our reluctance to make decisions can often be traced to the misguided belief that ‘God has a wonderful plan for my life and I need to discover what it is so that I don’t make decisions that mess it up.” We all want the blueprint. Tell me what to do so there won’t be any problems in my life and everything will go smoothly. What is that? That’s being a coward! We are not able to make the right decision because we are worried about the consequences or the danger. Notice Abraham takes 300 some men and defeats four powerful kings! How? As in Abram’s day, it was not the size, training, armament, or deployment of the force. It was the Lord who gave the victory. He would not have experienced God in this way if he had not gone out.
Perhaps “His wonderful plan for our lives”—is one where he doesn’t give us the blueprint, but something better, His presence and expects us to live wisely in ways that are God-honoring and faith-driven. Perhaps this means He expects us to trust Him while we make wise choices and take calculated risks. The life of faith is never passive—whether it moves or waits—it is active and never motivated by fear or selfishness.
DeYoung goes on to say, “The…reason we want to know the will of God is because we are cowardly. It’s true. Sometimes when we pray to know the will of God, we are praying a coward’s prayer: ‘Lord, tell me what to do so nothing bad will happen to me and I won’t have to face danger or the unknown.’ We want to know everything is going to be fine for us or for those we love.” When we look at Scripture, we don’t find people to whom nothing bad happened to them. A lot of people think that if I really have enough faith, and if I try hard to obey God and live a good life, God will not let anything bad happen to me. Is that biblical? Abel had faith and he died; Enoch had faith and he did not die; Noah had faith and everyone else died! And if the Savior we love came to die, how can we really expect anything less? And sometimes I hear people say, “Well I’m waiting to get peace about it.” I believe God gives peace, but peace is never the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ. But that “peace” can be very subjective. I ate some Chipotle last week and felt really at peace! I remember when I gave my life over to the Lord for ministry, I was so unsettled, nervous, scared out of my mind, unsure, etc. I simply took a risk and trusted him.
I am not concerned that we feel stuck on pause. I am concerned if we are living cowardly lives. Are we paralyzed by passivity? Are we stifled by self-absorption? My point is not that we look to Abraham and find faith from him. My point is that we look to the truly courageous and humble person: Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 11, you have the hall of faith of heroes. The writer of Hebrews essential says, “Remember Abel, remember Noah, remember Abraham, remember Moses, etc.” However at the beginning of Hebrews 12, he doesn’t tell us to remember Jesus, but fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder, which can be translated “Champion.”
What is the author of Hebrews saying? He is saying Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Hero. Jesus Christ is the true Champion, the true Warrior and truly the humble courageous one. He is the greater Abraham, who was not passive and didn’t save us from physical danger, but from spiritual death. He didn’t save us at the risk of His life, but at the cost of His life. He saved us not with an army, but giving up everything, so we could be saved.
Jesus faced the ultimate nightmare, what Keller calls this the “nightmare behind the nightmares.” Do you know what the ultimate nightmare is? It is to stand before God and having to answer for every act of self-absorption, all of our cowardly attitudes, behaviors and actions of our lives. Jesus is the truly courageous one. He was courageous in the place of cowards. He dealt with the Ultimate nightmare. I am a self-absorbed passive coward afraid of humiliation, but I can be courageous when I believe Jesus died the worst humiliation possible so I will not have to. And how did Jesus do it? The author of Hebrews says, “For the joy set before Him endured the cross.” It was joy. Keller adds, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of joy.” If Jesus can face our ultimate nightmares and fear, we can face our tiny ones. May the Spirit of God fill us to look and believe on God’s humble and courageous Son today once again.
From the blog http://streetwiseabbey.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/david-and-goliath-via-timothy-keller/ accessed 20 January 2012.
2]Gurnall, W. The Christian in Complete Armour; A Treatise of the Saints' War against the Devil, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gurnall/armour/files/armour.html accessed 20 January 2012.
Krell, K. “The Original Braveheart,” http://bible.org/seriespage/original-braveheart-genesis-141-24#P5_2141 accessed 20 January 2012.
Getz, Gene (1996-01-15). Men of Character: Abraham: Holding Fast to the Will of God
(Kindle Locations 1413-1415). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Found in http://solumevangelium.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/part-1-just-do-something-gods-will-overcoming-fear-confusion-and-indecision/ accessed 20 January 2011.
Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (498). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
DeYoung, Kevin (2009-04-01). Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (Kindle Locations 373-377). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
From the blog http://streetwiseabbey.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/david-and-goliath-via-timothy-keller/ accessed 20 January 2012.