Cultivating Faith – Part 9

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Intolerance

Genesis 19.1-38

City officials in Couer d’ Alen, Idaho passed an ordinance banning discrimination (including sexual orientation) in places of public accommodation.  Those who violate the ordinance are faced with astronomical fines and jail time.

Donald and Evelyn Knap are ordained ministers who run a for-profit business called The Hitching Post.  The city ordinance would require that they not turn away a homosexual couple seeking to marry at their establishment.  This same type of situation is faced by florists, cake-makers, and photographers throughout the nation.  People are being forced to tolerate what should not be tolerated if we believe the Scripture.

Genesis 19 mentions Abraham once, but that mention forms a very clear contrast between a man who intolerant of sin and his nephew who allowed sin to come in like a flood.  Genesis 18 provided a clear picture of a man developing intimacy with God which led to intercessory prayer for Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  God answers Abraham’s prayer in Genesis 19.

We know the purpose for which the two angels came to Sodom.  They came for its judgment.  Lot, sitting at the gate and in a place of leadership in Sodom, desires that the angels stay with him and be on their way early the next morning (Genesis 19.1-2).

It is clear that Lot recognizes that these men do not belong in a place like Sodom.  But that begs the question, what was Lot doing there?  Genesis 13.12-13 tell us that Lot pitched his tent as far as Sodom, and that they men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.  Lot was willing to live in the midst of great wickedness.  In short, he tolerated the world’s sin.

The two angels tell Lot that they will spend the night in the open square.  Lot wants to shelter them and get them out of the city quickly (Genesis 19.3).

Lot wouldn’t allow the angels, appearing in the form of men, to spend the night in the open.  They enter his house, and he feeds them.  Genesis 19.4-5 reveal why Lot was so insistent.

The men from the city, young and old, gathered at Lot’s house in order to satiate their deviant lusts which include rape and same-sex immorality.  Romans 1.26 calls what is described here as vile passion.  “Men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Romans 1.27).

However, the angels appearing as men were not willing participants in Genesis 19.  That wouldn’t matter to the men of Sodom.  They were driven and would not be denied.  We see before us both rape and the deviant sin of same-sex fornication.  Under the Mosaic Law, this sin would be grouped with bestiality and incest.  It would require the death penalty.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.

Leviticus 18.22

For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.

Leviticus 18.29

If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

Leviticus 20.13

Romans 1, as I’ve already cited, indicates very clearly that God has not changed His mind when it comes to same-sex fornication.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…

1 Corinthians 6.9

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

1 Timothy 1.8-11

How can you explain the actions of Lot in Genesis 19.6-8?  That he would beg the men to not behave so wickedly makes perfect sense.  However, to offer his daughters in the place of the messengers is just incomprehensible to any father of daughters.  Hospitality laws just are not enough to explain these verses away.  That Lot would allow his daughters to be raped and abused by these perverted men indicates just how far a righteous man could even go once he tolerates sin in his life.

The men were determined.  They would not be thwarted by the offer of Lot’s daughters.  Their ire was stirred.  Their intentions were brutal concerning Lot.  But the two angels intercede on Lot’s behalf.  They pull him to safety and strike all the men of at the doorway with blindness.  Yet they still wearied themselves trying to find the door (Genesis 19.9-11).

Judgment is coming to Sodom.  The outcry against its inhabitants grew great before the Lord’s presence.  Lot must escape with his family (Genesis 19.12-13).

Lot’s sons-in-law fail to listen to the warning of impending judgment (Genesis 19.14).  They are not unlike many today who mock the fact that judgment could come at any moment.  It’s a big joke to many in our world.  This is true even of some believers.

Notice the words, “And while he lingered…” (Genesis 19.15-16).  Why do you suppose Lot lingered?  Could it be that he was overwhelmed by the thought of leaving all that for which he had worked?  His possessions were great, his position was great, and he lingered.

Yet God had heard Abraham’s prayer.  So motivated by the Lord’s mercy, the angels took hold of Lot, his wife, and two daughters and set them outside the city with explicit directives to flee to the mountains and not look back (Genesis 19.17).

Lot obviously is rationalizing and making excuses when he pleads with the two angels about escaping to the mountains.  He desires to escape to a city.  Twice he mentions that it’s just a little one.  The immaturity of this man is readily apparent in this exchange and so is the mercy of God (Genesis 19.18-20).

The mercy of God is really incomprehensible here.  He gives Lot that for which he asks.  So, Lot enters Zoar, a place that he will later fear once the judgment of God rains down upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.21-22).

The Lord caused brimstone and fire to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah.  It came from the heavens.  There is no need to explain how this could be a natural phenomenon from an earthquake leading to volcanic disruptions.  The Bible simply tells us that God rained brimstone and fire upon both cities.  He overthrew them both in judgment.  This was a supernatural event which led to the thorough destruction of both cities and their agricultural support in the plains (Genesis 19.23-25).

Sodom and Gomorrah are now probably covered by the Dead Sea according to Bible scholars and archeologists.  Both cities are completely erased from the face of the earth due to their great wickedness.

Among the ruins of in the Sea of Salt is the body of Lot’s wife.  Lot’s wife was judged by God because she disobeyed and looked back at Sodom (Genesis 19.26).  The look revealed the heart, and God knows the heart.  His judgment is quick and terrifying.  So much so, that the Lord Jesus says in Luke 17:

“In that day (the Lord’s glorious appearing), he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lots wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

Luke 17.31-33

The writer of Hebrews records the words of the Lord,

“Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

Hebrews 10.38-39

But Lot’s wife did draw back in her heart.  Only the Lord knows that heart, but her example is a terrifying one.

Abraham returned to the very spot where he had stood before the Lord to intercede on the behalf of the cities where Lot dwelt (Genesis 19.27-29).  What he saw was the carnage of judgment.

The comfort Abraham had while viewing this panorama of ruin was found in the mercy God extended by delivering Lot and his two daughters.  God did this for the sake of Abraham’s intercession.  But that intercession was a result of intimacy with God.  How effective are intercessory prayer would be if we developed intimacy with our God!

It has been said by many and in many different ways that Lot took his two daughters out of Sodom, but could not extricate Sodom from his two daughters (Genesis 19.30-38).

Notice the relationship between sexual immorality and drunkenness (mentioned four times in eight verses).  God makes it very clear for us.  Habakkuk 2.15 says, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness.”

Today there is a dangerous tolerance of the consumption of alcohol even among believers.  Frankly, I don’t understand it.  The Bible is clear in many passages about the destructive and addictive nature of alcohol (Proverbs 20.1; 21.17; 23.29-35).  The Bible also clearly warns us as mature believers that we should avoid that which causes others to stumble (Romans 14.21).

Strong drink is a brawler leading people astray.  It would be useful for medicinal purposes if we did not have pain medication today (Proverbs 31.6).  John the Baptist was great in the sight of the Lord.  The Bible prophesied that he would not drink wine nor strong drink (Luke 1.15).  He would be filled with the Holy Spirit instead.  Paul wrote, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5.18).

My understanding of the Scriptures is quite simple.  God warns us of the evils of strong drink and where it leads.  All fortified, modern alcohol is strong drink.  Therefore, God’s Word warns us today to stay clear of it.  The destructive nature of alcohol is demonstrated in the countless homes and lives that have been ruined – including Lot’s family.

Lot, a righteous man, drinks wine and becomes drunk.  His inhibitions dissolve, and he does what is once again unthinkable to us.  The incestuous relationships with both his daughters on successive evenings lead to the formation of both the Ammonites and Moabites.

Is there any wonder that we should separate ourselves from this world to God for His glory?  Fellowship with believers of like precious faith is necessary so that we are not left to ourselves and the sin nature that so quickly spirals downward in each of us.

The Bible tells us that God turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, “condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeking and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Peter 2.6-8).

The only way we are able to make good decisions in this world is by mediating on the merciful kindness of God.  If we are preoccupied with this world, we will fall prey to it just as Lot did.  Lot loved his privilege, position, and possessions.  He took it upon himself to live pragmatically.  He felt that he must choose the lesser of two evils.  But he could have avoided such an anemic philosophy by finding a refuge in the lovingkindness of God.  Only those who are intolerant of the world’s sin find their lives because friendship with this world is enmity with God (see James 4.4).

If you want to know what happens to a Christian who loves the world more than God, go no further than Lot’s example.  Lot not only personally suffered; his whole family was destroyed by his example.  Once Genesis 19 closes this ugly chapter on human history, nothing else is recorded about Lot’s life (save the NT explanations and illustrations).

Lot forms a stark contrast with Abraham.  Lot represents all fathers who think it their duty to work hard, amass wealth, purchased college degrees for their children, and leave them with a decent amount of money when they die.  What a terrible way to live!   It is really shallow and temporally oriented.  Why do we train our children by example to love what moths corrupt and thieves break through and steal?  I want my boys to know right from wrong, to know the merciful kindness of their heavenly Father, and to abhor sin.  I want them to turn away from it.  I want them to stand against it.  I want them to be intolerant of the world’s evil.

Compromise may lead to the toleration and vexation of our righteous souls, but there is something worse that will come of it.  Our souls may be vexed when tolerating evil, but our children may come to the point when they will not know that vexation of the spirit at all!  Toleration may not even be a concept they consider as evil comes in like a flood.

This chapter isn’t so much about same-sex immorality as it is about the toleration of same-sex immorality, the toleration of drunkenness, the toleration of materialism, and the toleration of incest.  But the surprising observation is that this toleration comes from a righteous man, namely a believer!  Not only did Lot tolerate evil, but he participated in it.  Three questions occur that ought to focus our understanding of Genesis 19:

Are you tolerant of the world’s sin?

There was a time when society universally abhorred the idea of the sin outlined in this chapter.  But this is changing.  Now people make inane observations like, “Well, that’s not my cup of tea, but who am I to judge?”  The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah should repel us, but for many they are becoming acceptable.

Ezekiel 16.49-50 says that Sodom and Gomorrah “had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did [they] strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.  And they were haughty and committed abomination before [the LORD]; therefore [He] took them away as [He] saw fit.”  We are more prone to tolerate the world’s sin if a stand against it costs us.  Our pride, luxury, and love of recreation forms a striking similarity to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.   They are like we are.  “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28), but God rained fire and brimstone upon them and destroyed them all.

We tolerate the world’s sin because we care too much for the pleasures and concerns of this life.  Perhaps we laugh at what we consider radical Christians who warn us to flee from the wrath which is to come.  We look for preachers who speak smooth things and prophesy deceits.  We conceal our participation with the world and are traitors to the cause of our Lord Jesus.  But shouldn’t we respond to His merciful kindness and be intolerant of the world’s sin?  The choice should be abundantly clear by now.  Take the world, but give me Jesus!

Are you lingering in the world’s sin? 

 

            Some Christians recognize the evil in the world, but they so love the pleasures she offers that they cannot walk with God.  We rationalize and excuse our position, but we blink and life has passed us by.

We find that we have lingered for years in a world headed for destruction.  We know little about the eternal quality of life that our dear Savior wants us to know.  We make these grandiose resolutions, but never get around to them.  We are not as bad as the world and yet we linger in it.  We just fail to advance in our Christian life.  We are useless salt.

If our families follow us, they may no longer be vexed by the world around them.  Intolerance or tolerance never occurs to them.  Remember Lot’s wife.  Remember his daughters.  Remember his sons-in-law.  Let us lay hold on eternal life.  The normal Christian life does not linger in the world.  We forget what is behind us and press forward to that which is before us.  We cannot linger here; we shall rest from our striving against sin when we are with Jesus.

Are you standing against the world’s sin?

Then you are like Abraham staring at the burned-out remnants of scarred earth.  He was not weary in well-doing.  He was set apart from the world to God for His glory.  While the Lord turned Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes and while Lot tormented his righteous soul, the Lord delivered godly Abraham out of temptations.  He’ll do the same for those who stand against sin and abhor wickedness.  God blesses our intolerance.  We have nothing to fear if God goes with us, and He does.

Notice that God gave Lot a refuge in Zoar, but Lot never enjoyed it.  He was consumed with fear and fled to the mountains anyway.  All that was left for him was drunkenness and incest.  This is a really sad commentary on the tolerant life.  There is no refuge in this world for us.  Lot asked of Zoar, “Is it not a little one?”  But great or little, we have no connection with the cities of this world.  We look to a City whose builder and maker is God Himself.  We look forward to that City as men and women of intolerance.

God’s Resort

“Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually” (Psalm 71.3).

Shame, escape, the plea for deliverance, refuge, rock, and fortress are all very clear indicators in this psalm.  If we linger over these words, they help us to understand the background of this Psalm.  All these definitive descriptors and we are still only three verses into the Psalm.  It is quite obvious that the psalmist is experiencing great upheaval and persecution from “the hand of the wicked, …unrighteous, and cruel man” (71.4).

However, the psalmist has experience in his relationship with God.  He has trusted and hoped in God from his youth (71.5).  Something has happened to him that has caused people to look upon him as a “wonder” or an astonishment (71.7).  This same idea is expressed in Isaiah’s Suffering Servant passage.  “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man…” (Isaiah 52.14).  So, the psalmist pleads for the Lord to keep hold of him in his old age …to not forsake him when his strength fails (71.9).

The deepest hurt for him was the people saying that God had forsaken him (71.11).  It is very difficult to live a truly altruistic life and have people say that God has left you.  So he cries out to God to come near and help him (7.12) …to confound and consume his adversaries (71.13).

The psalmist clings in hope to God continually.  He cannot do anything else (71.14).  He will go in the strength of the Lord God (71.16).  Old and gray-headed, the only thing he cannot endure is the thought of God forsaking him (71.18).  He knows that even great and severe trouble shall give way to revival (71.20).  He will praise the Lord for deliverance and talk of the Lord’s righteousness all the day long (71.24).  But his adversaries who caused such deep hurt in his life will be confounded and brought to shame (71.25).

But I’d like to back up and linger upon verse 3:  “Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.”

God has been gracious to us.  We probably haven’t had too many occasions where we have prayed like the psalmist has here.  But we have to realize that God alone is our strong refuge.  We may resort to Him continually.  There isn’t anything or anyone in this world that is able to stand in His place.  Look carefully at Psalm 71.3:

Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Mark of God’s Mercy

First, this refuge is a mark of God’s mercy.  Think about the word refuge and all that it entails.  The Lord is my strong refuge.  The Lord is my strong refuge.  He is mine, and He is strong.  Beyond this, I may resort to this refuge continually.  There is never a time when I cannot find all that I need in Him.  I shut the door on everyone who seeks to rob me of peace and safety and find my strong refuge in Him.  Nothing can be brought against us as children of God – at least nothing that God does not allow.  Then when He allows it, He graciously provides a refuge to which we may resort continually.

Amazing!  Don’t even think we deserve this privilege.  That God would provide each of us a refuge like this is amazing access.  It is a sure indicator of His mercy.  We are certainly undeserving.  We can identify with David who prayed, “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?  Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?  Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144.3-4).

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Manifestation of God’s Comfort

Second, this refuge is a manifestation of God’s comfort.  A refuge is a place of comfort and security.  You are assured of the fact that not only will you be safe, but you will find comfort and relief.  All can stand against you but if you find a refuge in God, you find comfort, wisdom, and strength to face the storms brewing on the horizon.  God is a faithful anchor amidst a faithless sea of humanity.  “Hide yourself …until the indignation is past” (Isaiah 26.20).

Life robs us of temporal comfort and joy so that we might find eternal comfort and joy.  God’s refuge is not only far more compelling to those seeking it, but far more satisfying than anything else they’ve been offered.  It takes a long time for some of us to learn this.

Think about this prayer as a whole:  Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually.  Now ask yourself if you pray like this.  I’m quite convinced that many believers do not have continual refuge in the LORD because they never ask for it.  Many are too busy building their own places of refuge.  These shanties cannot stand when trouble comes.  Some hide in the pursuit of pleasure or popularity or behind the veneer of a false profession, or underneath the cover of a zeal God will not own.  We should genuinely seek God as our strong refuge …the place where we resort continually.  There are two reasons why we should do this (apart from the fact that the Bible advocates it; I take that for granted).

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Wise Choice

First, it’s the smart thing to do; it’s the wise choice.  When you think of just the little things that consume Christians in our country, it is frightening to think of a future filled with real and persistent persecution!  As a church, we must be taught to fail in our own strength.  It is the most merciful thing God can do in order to teach us to resort to Him continually.

When God is our refuge, there is always hope even in the most miserable situations here on earth.  Believers who resort to God during these times find that out.  They are truly wise.  We must conclude that it is the height of foolishness to ignore the refuge we’ve been given in God.  Let us go to Him continually.  Let us rely upon His omnipotent arm instead of our feeble attempts to deliver ourselves.  Jeremiah wrote, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD …Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD” (Jeremiah 17.5, 7).

It really is a no-brainer as they say.  Fire and brimstone is already coming upon the face of Sodom.  It’s time to flee to our strong refuge; to resort in Him continually.

God’s Strong Refuge:  The Loyal Choice

Second, it’s the loyal thing to do.  Loyalty matters to God.  When you look for a refuge in anyone or anything else, God will not put up with it for long.  He is a jealous God …He has perfect jealousy.  The psalmist was loyal to God because he experienced the all-sufficiency of God in his weakness.

Only God has the power to protect you.  Only God loves you enough to provide you with what you need instead of what you want.  If we don’t read and study verses like Psalm 71.3, it would never occur to us to pray as the psalmist did.  You discover who God is and what He wants to do for you by studying the Psalms.  Until you know God’s character, you’ll never really understand why people are willing to forsake everything and everyone else in order to serve Him.

The wonderful thing about God’s character is that as we discover Him together, we will conclude that He indeed is our refuge through all generations (Psalm 90.1).  When we flee to Him, we find comfort and security even in the midst of great chaos.

Conclusion:  We ought to have great pity upon those who still struggle to find a strong Refuge to whom they may resort.  If they think that their their troubles are burdensome now, just think of the terror that awaits them in Hell after they die!  People who fight against God will one day find that they fight against the Creator of all.  But if they pursue a relationship with God, they will have a peace that protects and keep their hearts for this life and the life to come.

Yet I hasten to add that those of us who have made the LORD a refuge and dwelling place may be assured that “no evil shall befall” us (Psalm 91.9-10).  “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18.10).  When we pray, let us ask that God be a strong refuge, to which we may resort continually (Psalm 71.3).

Cultivating Faith – Part 8

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Intimacy

Genesis 18.1-33

John Davis writes of his encounter with a setting very similar to the one we find in Genesis 18:

As we approached the crest of the hill in the 110-degree heat, we saw the most welcome sight of the afternoon, the little black tent of our Bedouin friend, Muhammad Radin.  That he would warmly welcome us was beyond question; more than once we had been the benefactors of the warm hospitality of the Ta’amri Bedouin who roam these hills.  After the usual introductions and greetings we were invited into the large section of the tent where other men were seated on a large, ornate rug.  We joined them and enjoyed hot tea prepared in typical Bedouin fashion.  On the other side of a partition the ladies talked excitedly as they prepared a meal.  The whole scene was reminiscent of Abraham’s intimate fellowship with his three visitors, as recorded in Genesis 18 (John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison, 195).

There are two reasons that the three men appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:  1) To reconfirm the promise of the birth of a son to Sarah; and 2) To judge the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

One of the men is the Angel of the Lord.  The other two are identified as men, but are most certainly angels.  Genesis 19.1 clearly tells us this.  They are messengers of the Man identified as the Angel of the Lord.  The Angel of the Lord is quite obviously a reference to YHWH Himself.  Genesis 18.10 records the Angel of the Lord’s words:  “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold Sarah your wife shall have a son.”  Then, in verse 13, He is identified explicitly as YHWH.  If we believe in the Scripture, we must conclude that the Angel of the Lord is God Himself.  The other two men appear to be his messengers and instruments of both deliverance and judgment in Genesis 19.

Genesis 18 seems to be first and foremost about a continual relationship with God – fellowship with Him.  Intercession does show up in the second part of the chapter, but we must remember that intercession flows from intimacy in our fellowship with God.

Intimacy is something we develop primarily with God and to a degree with other believers.  Intercession is properly expressed by a heart truly burdened for people by God.  This is why you cannot have fellowship with people without fellowship with God.  But you also cannot intercede for people, a great expression of love for them, without intimacy with God.  Genesis 18.1-16 provides a framework for our…

Intimacy with God (Genesis 18.1-16)

Davis writes that Abraham’s nomadic movements throughout the Land were “characterized not by palaces and temples but by tents and altars” (Davis, 196).  But Abraham’s motives cannot be confined to the hospitality requirements of the ancient Mid-East – the same requirements that motivated Davis’ Bedouin friends.  It’s more than that.

Preparing and eating a meal, as we see in our text, communicates fellowship.  It is close and comfortable.  Even within our culture, most feel more comfortable with friends or family at the dinner table.  These are people with whom we are close.  Jesus ate His last supper on earth with His disciples, but it really wasn’t His last.  The resurrected Christ also ate with His followers.  He sat at the table, blessed bread, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24.30).  He took freshly caught fish and prepared it as a breakfast for His disciples (John 21.10-12).  His disciples didn’t need to ask who He was.  They had eaten with him many times.

Intimacy with God is communicated by having a meal many times in Scripture.  Even in the future, we shall dine together at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Jesus told His disciples that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine with them again until He did so in His Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26.29).  Revelation 19.7-10 speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the great time of blessing and fellowship which accompanies that special time.

This communicates intimacy.  When we draw near to God; He draws near to us.  Jesus said to a lukewarm Laodicean church:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3.19).

But intimacy must be something built upon integrity.  Abraham laughed earlier in Genesis; Sarah is laughing in our text this evening.  Who can blame them?  The spring of life has passed both of them by, and now God is telling them that at the appointed time, it would happen.  The laughter is an expression of dejection or perhaps disbelief.  But it came from the recesses of a great and deep hurt.  God knows that.

Sarah denied the inward laughter, but God rebuked her.  He sees the heart; He knows.  He knew she was fearful.  All the Lord did was gently rebuke her.  That’s all that needed to be done.  Sarah is trying to protect herself; God is protecting His Word and His promise to both of them.

Some of us fail in our intimacy with God because we don’t see His promises fulfilled in real time.  It discourages us.  I believe God knows this.  He has to break through the shroud of unbelief and make our hearts tender for Him once again.

God speaks just as clearly today as He did to Abraham and Sarah in that tent.  He speaks through the Word of God and the illuminating work of God the Holy Spirit.  It may seem inaccessible…unreal… unreachable, but that is because we have failed to cultivate intimacy and dependence in our lives.  In short, we have not cultivated a life of faith before God.  Reality for us has become what we see, and we have altogether wandered away from God

The first step to intimacy with God is integrity within.  While we often sin; sometimes, we are just weak.  God knows it.  Weakness is not sin.  Failing to acknowledge your weakness and rest in the power of God is.  As James Dixon reminds us, “God sees every sin, but he also sees and has understanding of our weakness” (James Dixon, Genesis: Expository Thoughts, 277).  Intimacy has the integrity to admit weakness and cling to the hem of Christ’s garments.  Godly fellowship is built upon intimacy with God.  But this leads to…

Intercession for People (Genesis 18.16-33)

When the men or angels move toward Sodom and Gomorrah in order to bring judgment, Abraham stood before the Lord (18.22).  That is a very significant statement.  Why does Abraham stand before the Lord?  Why does He come near to the Lord (18.23)?  It is to intercede for people in danger of God’s righteous judgment.

This going back and forth between the Lord and Abraham is very instructive when it comes to our own intercessory prayer effort.  It is here that we find that God has a heart for people.  We don’t need to overcome the reluctance of God; He has no reluctance.  We must believe what God has revealed to us.  He “is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3.9).  God is willing and able to save to the uttermost, and so we intercede on their behalf.  As Davis writes, “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pray effectively for lost souls if one is not convinced that lostness will ultimately result in literal, eternal punishment.”

Abraham had a heart of intimacy that made Him burdened for the righteous within the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, especially his nephew Lot.  Abraham gets the number down to ten.  Would God spare all for the sake of ten righteous?  That’s the question.  And God Himself said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.”  Then Abraham and the Lord finished speaking, and Abraham returned to his place.

Did God answer the intercessory prayer of Abraham?  Absolutely!  He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but mercifully delivered the righteous within the city.  The problem was that the righteous simply did not number ten.  But the Judge of all the Earth did right.  The Scripture tells us of many men who stood before the Lord, drew near, and interceded for the deliverance of their contemporaries.  Shall we do anything less?  “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.16).  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4.8a).

Why doesn’t God hide the fact that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?  Why does He reveal this to Abraham?  The Scripture is clear:  God knows Abraham.  They are close.  There is intimacy.  Abraham is a friend of God.  He will command his children and household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice – that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him (see 18.19).

As an educator for 25 years, I know how important it is for parents to teach their children to keep the way of the LORD.  We must know the way in order to show them the way.  If we don’t, then the next generation may be the one that loses their way.  We cannot know the way of the LORD without continual preaching and teaching from generation to generation.  “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10.13-14).

Stand before the Lord; draw near to Him.  Develop intimacy and the intercessory effort will flow from a heart genuinely burdened for souls!

Cultivating Faith – Part 7

Cultivating a Life of Faith: A Man of Daily Commitment

Genesis 17.1-27

Our failures and setbacks in the Christian life may be reduced to this one sentence: We forget who God is and what He is able to do when it comes to keeping His promises.  Genesis 17 is yet another reaffirmation of the formal covenant cut in Genesis 15 and first introduced in Genesis 12.  The theme of the chapter seems to point up the fact that those who cultivate faith must do so by daily committing themselves to Almighty God, His governing title in this passage.  There are at least four godly motives for daily commitment in the chapter.

God is Powerful (Genesis 17.1-3).

Ten years went by from the time the Covenant was given to Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 12 to the birth of Ishmael in Genesis 16. Thirteen more years go by from Ishmael’s birth to God’s reaffirmation of the covenant in Genesis 17.  The formal statement and ratification of the covenant is in Genesis 15.  Is it any wonder that Abraham becomes a man who cultivated great faith in Almighty God?  God is not concerned with how we think it should be done or when we think it should be done.  He is Almighty God!  His manner and timing are perfect.

He is Almighty God in the sense that He is strong and powerful. God brings blessing our way on the basis of His omnipotence.  This same title for God appears in Psalm 68.14.  This verse states that “the Almighty scattered kings” in the many peaks of Bashan.  God reminds Abraham that He is strong and powerful enough to deliver on His promises.  “The Almighty …is excellent in power” (Job 37.23)!

Therefore, God reaffirms the covenant with Abraham by pointing to His own character, specifically His power. Then, God tells Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless in the light of what the Almighty can and will do.  God clearly tells Abraham that He will multiply him exceedingly (Genesis 17.2), and all Abraham can do is fall on his face before God continues speaking.  This leads to verse four and our second motive for daily commitment…

God is Faithful (Genesis 17.4-5).

Sometimes people refer to the covenant under consideration as Abraham’s Covenant. But God states that it is His agreement with Abraham.  It is His covenant with Abraham.  God also reminds him that he will be a father of many nations.  Nothing depends upon Abraham.  If it did, it would have failed.  Great is God’s faithfulness not our own faithfulness!

So God changes Abram’s name (exalted father) to Abraham, which means “father of the multitude.” Abraham had to be on his face thinking, “What multitude?”  He didn’t have an heir.  Maybe he thought God meant Ishmael.  It is rather difficult and humiliating to have a name that you cannot live up to!

We have to constantly recommit our lives to God. God commits Himself to us once, and then keeps His commitment.  God doesn’t have faith in us; we have faith in God.  Cultivating a life of faith means daily commitment and recommitment.  And God is faithful still through it all.

Sometimes I’m an embarrassment to God. Yet He loves me, and I love Him back.  I’m an embarrassment to God when I blame Him instead of praising Him for my trials.  I’m an embarrassment to Him when I refuse to joyfully suffer shame for His name.  But I’m still a child of the King!

Cultivating a live of faith takes daily commitment in our pursuit to glorify such a faithful God. Greater glory comes His way when I praise Him in my struggles.  I cannot grow weary in well-doing.  I might not see my reward in this life, but I will in the life to come.  I have faith that that is so, because my faith is rightly placed in such a faithful God!  God is powerful and faithful.  Those are two great motivations for daily commitment to Him, but there is a third in Genesis 17…

God is Purposeful (Genesis 17.6-14)

We have a restatement of the covenant in these verses. We are told that it is God’s covenant (Genesis 17.7), it is everlasting, and it is with Abraham and all his descendants.  Genesis 17.8 says that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession as well.  We know that God is talking about the land that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates by comparing this passage with Genesis 15.

Even though the covenant God made with Abraham is unconditional, there is a sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. This is Abraham and Israel’s part in the matter.  God is purposeful in that He gives Abraham a task to perform.  All male infants were to be circumcised at eight days after birth.  Everyone born in his house, servant or son, must be circumcised.  Refusal meant that they had shattered the sign of God’s covenant.

Circumcision should be viewed as a sign of acceptance when it came to God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham. It is a spiritual sign and a national sign.  Fathers in Abraham’s family demonstrated faith in the covenant by circumcising their sons, but the covenant would continue in spite of individual disobedience.  Women were covered under the patriarchal system of that time and were not circumcised.  But the Jewish people through time would prove that they lost sight of the significance of circumcision:

For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2.25-29).

The heart always mattered to God. It still matters today.  Some Christians today believe that baptism replaced circumcision.  Thus, they believe that they should baptize their infants.  But baptism is a person’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, an outward sign of inward faith in the Gospel.  Obviously, infants cannot make such a decision, nor can fathers make it for them.  One should have no problem with child dedication in the church, but one should not use the form of baptism.  Belief in Christ precedes baptism.  If the baptism doesn’t happen, the person is still saved (e.g., thief on the cross).

God has done it all. I see God asking Abraham to respond to God’s covenant with the sign of circumcision.  I see God giving Abraham this task for a two-fold purpose.  First, circumcision signified God separating a people apart from the world to Himself.  Second, by occupying Himself with God’s command, Abraham distances himself from the world by drawing closer to God.

There are times that I get up in the morning and I just want to stay in bed. Life is too hard.  Even encouragement from others doesn’t help.  All I know at these times is to put one foot in front of the other and do what God tells me to do.  I have a purpose …a job to do.  God tells me so in His Word.  I might not be able to make sense of everything, but I can put one foot in front of the other and do what God called me to do!  God is powerful, faithful, and purposeful.  There is a fourth and final motive for daily commitment to God in Genesis 17…

God is Merciful (Genesis 17.15-27)

God changes Sarai’s name (“my princess”) to Sarah (“a princess”). I don’t know why it was changed like this.  The Bible doesn’t say.  But the Lord said that He would bless her and give Abraham a son by her.  She would be the mother of nations and kings.

This promise had to be wonderful for Sarah to think about in future days. God knew why Sarah did what she did with Hagar.  But God forgave her and reaffirmed His promise.  Sarah couldn’t do anything to thwart God’s faithfulness.  That is mercy; that is motivating mercy.  There is no need for you to pay for your sins; Christ has already paid for them.  Why are you still on the bench?  Why are you still watching and not working?

God is tender and compassionate. He is forgiving; therefore, nations and kings will issue forth from Sarah.  He has great and mighty things in store for us as well.  His mercy is manifested in Ishmael too.

The Bible says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  Why did Abraham laugh?  If we say that he laughed for joy at what God was going to do (John Calvin’s view), then what do we do with v. 18:  “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”  And then we ask, “Why did God correct Abraham in verse 19?”  No, it seems that Abraham just cannot believe what he was hearing.  He struggled with his faith in God.

Remember, Abraham thought Eliezer should be the heir. Now he offers Ishmael as a suggestion to God, as if God needed Abraham’s help!  No, God would keep His Word and fulfill the covenant His way.  It is going to be Isaac born to Sarah in one year’s time.  If Abraham thought it strange for someone as old as himself to be a father, imagine how he felt at having sons at over 135 with Keturah, his second wife!

God then told Abraham what He had already revealed to Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Ishmael would be blessed and multiply exceedingly.  Interestingly, he would have 12 sons that became princes.  His descendants would also become a great nation.  The Arabic people are the people of this promise of God.  It is easy for us to forget that in our modern climate.  They are numerous and great as a people.

The Arabic people have brought much good and much blessing into the world. But the covenant is established with Isaac and his descendants not with Ishmael and his.  There is not racial inferiority in this passage.  That would come later as a result of sin.  God simply chose Isaac and not Ishmael.  Thus, the faith of Abraham is tested once again.

When the LORD had finished talking with Abraham, He departs. Abraham is silent.  But his faith took the form of action.  Abraham took Ishmael, all born in his house, and all male servants and circumcised them that very same day.  He did what God told him to do.  He was 99 when he himself was circumcised.  Ishmael was 13.

Abraham struggled to cultivate a life of faith in God. But his struggles were short-lived.  He came around quick.  His victories in his walk with God earned him a part in Hebrews 11 as a man who still epitomizes faith.  Romans 4.21 says that he was fully convinced that what God had promised God was also able to perform (Romans 4.21).  We, too, must be fully convinced and daily committed to the promises of God!

Blessings come with great regularity in our lives when we believe God and then obey God. Do not neglect the strength and grace God gives to you in order to overcome what seems impossible in your life.  Abraham’s example should teach all of us that nothing stands in the way of God’s purpose and plan for us – not even ourselves.  God asks us to simply believe.  When we do, He will greatly bless our lives!  He motivates our daily commitment through His almighty power, great faithfulness, purposeful calling, and wonderful mercy!

Are Fundamentalists Legalists?

I am thankful for good books on Bible characters.  We are going through Charles Swindoll’s book on the life of the Apostle Paul.  However, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Swindoll has written.  I think we sometimes get lost in a sea of theological extremes and opinions.  The Bible through the Spirit’s illumination needs to pull us back.  Our attitude should be prayerful and God-dependent.  However, we also must clearly stand for truth.

Dr. Dave Doran wrote a two-part article answering the charges of legalism and its connection to fundamentalism by men like John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll for Frontline back in 1999.  It’s worth reading or re-reading.  The only place I could find the article online is at the website for Salina Bible Church.  I quite agree with Dr. Doran.  I am a fundamentalist without apology.  While I have been Pharisaical at times in the past, my last bout with legalism was when I was still a member of the Catholic church.  It is there that I depended upon my own self-righteousness for the salvation of my soul.  I hope you’ll take the time to read these articles.  Also, come join us at a Heritage Baptist Church tomorrow!  Hopefully, you’ll find believers who love the Word and the God of the Word.

Here’s the conclusion, which I hope whets the appetite to read both parts.

While it is unlikely that any Fundamentalists are seeking to earn righteousness with God through the works of the law, it is possible that some Fundamentalists have fallen prey to the Pharisaical spirit that is so controlled by people’s opinions that it perpetuates external conform­ity without internal devotion. However, honest evaluation would reveal that this is not a Fundamentalist problem; it is a humanity problem! God told us 3,000 years ago that “the fear of man brings a snare,” so it should not surprise us to find people continually trapped in the snare of conformity for the sake of approval. It certainly happens among Fundamentalists, but it hap­pens just as frequently among evan­gelicals. The symptoms may vary, but it is the same disease.

God’s grace has provided His right­eousness for us by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:21-22), and that same grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteous­ly, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). As Fundamentalists, we should affirm these truths without apology and live them out without fear of false accusations or surrender to the opinion polls of people.

Are Fundamentalists Legalists?

Are Fundamentalists Legalists (Part 2)?

Cultivating Faith – Part 6

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Conviction (Pt 6)

Genesis 16.1-16

The descendants of Abraham would number as the stars are numbered in the heaven (Genesis 15).  God is gracious to reveal that Abraham’s future descendants would one day come out of Egypt after about 400 years of affliction with great possessions, great numbers, and a great God.  While God accomplished much for Abraham, what do we read of Abraham’s accomplishments?  We sum everything up in two words:  Abraham believed.  However, the years pile up until…

Conviction is undermined by compromise (Genesis 16.1-3).

The temptation for believers to compromise intensifies when…

        A Problem in Life Presents Itself (16.1)

Compromise of our convictions in the Lord begins when an insurmountable problem presents itself to us.  The temptation is to lift ourselves out of it or access that which cannot be humanly accessed.  We don’t pray or turn to God; instead, we take matters into our own hands.  This is a devastating decision.

The problem is obvious to Sarah at the outset of Genesis 16.  She didn’t have a son, but she had a maidservant.  Certainly Sarah’s plea for her husband to go into her maidservant would be persuasive in more ways than one.  Abraham cared for and certainly dearly loved his wife.  Surely his heart ached due to her barrenness.  Sarah had a solution to a problem that perplexed Abraham.  And one must conclude that what Sarah suggested would have been a great temptation for a man like Abraham, even though quite common in the day in which he lived.  So, the downward spiral continues…

        A Pragmatic Plan is Set in Motion (16.1-3)

Ten years passed since Abraham had come into the Land.  Sarah felt that it was her fault that God was withholding the promised heir from her.  But she would do well to remember that God made His promise with Abraham and not with her.  Sarah had carried a burden she was not meant to carry.  Instead of giving into his wife’s request, Abraham should have comforted and assured her.  He should have reminded her of the power of God to keep His promises.

We are so easily derailed by pragmatism when problems present themselves.  There will always be many options for us.  There will always be many voices or counselors to advise us.  We need discernment and wisdom from God in a sea of options and the cacophony of counselors.  It is important that we do not allow godly convictions to suffer under the corrosion of compromise.  If we fail to listen to the still, small voice of God, then we will quickly realize that…

Compromise always brings devastating consequences (16.4-16).

While this may seem obvious to an believer with a modicum of maturity, it is still something that we practically forget as we live life disconnected from the will of God.  Do this long enough, and…

        Compromise Breeds Contempt (16.4-6)

Abram went into Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid.  She conceived, and then the contempt ran in both directions when it came to Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar not only looks down upon Sarah, but she fears her.  As for Sarah, she deals harshly with Hagar.  So much so that Hagar flees for her home in Egypt.  Compromise always breeds contempt.

However, all hope is not lost.  It never is for the child of God.  Devastating consequences help us turn the corner.  We learn that…

        Compromise Deepens Conviction (16.7-16)

     The Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Himself, found Hagar by a spring in the wilderness.  The common current of questioning from the Lord finds another place within the historical account of Genesis.  “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”  This is so reminiscent of what we see as God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Lord commands Hagar to return and submit to Sarah.  He also promises her that her descendants will multiply exceedingly.  They shall be innumerable!  The amazing announcement the Lord makes at this point in the narrative is so clearly aligned with the announcement of our Lord’s birth.  It is uncanny:  “Behold thou are with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction” (Genesis 16.11).  The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and declared, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1.23).

Compromise can deepen conviction once we repent and turn to a firm stand based upon firm dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  All of us fall short of the glory of God.  All of us have had times of compromise in our lives.  While we do not need to compromise in order to deepen godly convictions, the raw truth is that such a scenario has the potential to do just that.  The awful, bitter fruit of compromise will goad us back to the Savior and deepen our relationship with Him.  The only other option is to go adrift and rudderless in a sea of sin.

Our text is clear.  The Angel of the Lord names Hagar’s child through Abraham Ishmael, which means “God hears”.  The close parallel with our Lord’s birth announcement to Joseph points forward to His name Immanuel, which means “God with Us”.  It is one thing for God to hear us; it is quite another for Him to be with us.  Ishmael is born because God heard the affliction of Hagar; Immanuel is born because God heard the affliction of the world!

But Hagar named the Lord.  She called Him:  “Thou God seest me”  (Genesis 16.13).  The name of the well is named Beer Lahai Roi (Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me).  Hagar left Abraham and Sarah and fled for a familiar place.  However, something quite unexpected happened to her.  God came after her when Abraham or Sarah did not.  She could leave behind them, but she could not leave God behind.  He pursued her!  He sees.  She saw the God who sees her and learned that she, too, could have Abraham’s God as her own God.

The cultivation of a life of faith necessitates an uncompromising stand upon the truths of God’s Word.  One of those great truths concerns His revealed character.  One powerful meditation concerning His character is that God sees …He sees all.  God knows …He knows all.  When Hagar comes back to Abraham and Sarah, she will become an ensign of their compromise before the Lord.  She will be an instrument that deepens the conviction of God’s revelation and promise to Abraham and Sarah.  He sees and He knows.

Cultivating a life of faith motivates an uncompromising stand for at least three reasons:

    1. God’s omniscience convinces and grieves the compromising heart.  Don’t be among those who say, “How does God know” (Psalm 73.11)?  Don’t think that no one sees; God sees.  He searches the heart.  He knows you.  You cannot hide in darkness from Him (see Psalm 139.1, 12).  This may bring fear and grief, but it is an important step to hope and the cleansing desire to welcome the searching penetrating gaze of God in order to melt away anxiety (see Psalm 139.23-24).
    2. God’s omniscience reaches the thoughts and intents of the heart.  You cannot claim that God is not fair or that He does not judge with righteous judgment every man.  We are finite.  We only see the outward actions of people; God sees the inner man, the soul (see 1 Samuel 16.7).  All the ways of man may be pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit of a man (see Proverbs 16.2).  The only intent that rings true is that which is for the glory of God.  Beg God for the discernment and protection from deceit that is needed due to our easily corruptible hearts.
    3. God’s omniscience heals and comforts the broken heart.  There is hope for those of us who have compromised our convictions.  Don’t run from the harshness of real-time life as desperate and broken Hagar did.  When you are slandered and cannot defend yourself, remember that God sees.  All things are naked and open to the One who will judge righteously (Hebrews 4.13).  His eyes still run to and fro and throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself the strong and all-seeing God that He is.  He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves, submit, and return.

God sees.  This is both comforting and convicting.  When we are hurting, God sees the hurt at its deepest level.  God sees us strive for lives of holiness in the face of those who accuse us of being sanctimonious and legalistic.  God sees when we go to Him yet again, broken and ruined by our sin.  We know that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin!  Even at the most depressing times of our lives, we can put one foot in front of the other and find our way back to Calvary.  God sees.  I know He sees me.