- Stan and Clare
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Before I studied at Bible College, I did a 2-year Ministry Apprenticeship at the Xn group at Western Sydney Uni at Kingswood, near Penrith. My good friend Carl Matthei and I did it together and we were trained by a great minister out there, the Reverend Steve Gooch. Carl and I had a great time doing lots of ministry, trying different things, but because we were young and a bit immature, we’d sometimes do things, or say things that weren’t appropriate for people training for full time ministry so poor old Steve would have to have a chat with us and correct our immature ways. You knew you were in trouble when Steve would ring you and start with, “We need to go for a walk!”
Those walk and talks were always a bit painful because I’m proud and I don’t like to hear that I’m not perfect, but those painful talks helped me to grow up a lot as a Christian man. There’s nothing like being confronted with your sin and immaturity to help grow you up.
Last week God used Pharaoh to confront Abram with his sin. This week we’ll see what impact that has on Abram. And as we watch from a safe distance, we’ll be forced to ask this question – do I learn from my mistakes, or do I stubbornly refuse to listen to correction. Do I think I’m perfect or do I realise that as a child of God, I’m a work in progress? Let’s read v.1-4…
In chapter 12 Abram left Bethel, near Jerusalem, for Egypt because of a severe famine. Now that word for severe is important to understand, it’s the same word for “very” rich, so severe famine=severe riches. The word severe literally means “heavy”. A heavy famine leads Abram to Egypt and as he leaves, he’s now “heavy” with livestock, silver and gold. It’s really a picture of God’s hand at work here. That’s why he leaves wealthy, it’s not because of his impressive trading skills that he made it rich in Egypt, it’s because God’s blesses him.
And God didn’t bless him because of his obedience, did he? God blessed him despite his disobedience. Abram’s in this incredible position because God has shown incredible generosity and mercy to him. It’s as though God is teaching us right at the start of his plan of salvation that we’re not going to be saved and blessed by God because of our good works, we’ll be saved by God’s undeserved generosity and mercy. At the beginning of the bible Gods pointing us to Jesus.
But there’s another thing to note here, it’s the relationship God’s people have with Egypt. In the 2nd book of the Bible, Exodus, what happens? God’s people are in Egypt because of a heavy famine in Canaan/Israel, they end up becoming slaves to Egypt for 400 years, they can’t save themselves from it, until God miraculously leads them out. But not before Israel plunder the Egyptians, remember, God changes the hearts of the Egyptians so they give their Israelite neighbours all of their silver and gold!
Gen. 12 and the Exodus show us that God gives freely and He saves miraculously. And that character of God continues throughout the Bible until we get to the ultimate act of salvation. In his own life Jesus goes down to Egypt to be saved from the heavy violence of Herod when he’s little, and then he returns to provide God’s ultimate act of grace.
So just as Israel as an infant nation went down into Egypt, so Jesus went there when he was an infant. And as Israel was led miraculously by God out of Egypt so also Jesus was led out of Egypt to perform the most miraculous salvation event in the history of the world. What happens in Egypt shows us how God acts to save. Egypt points us to Jesus.
Now back to Abram, as he leaves Egypt, he’s changed and we can see that because of where he goes and what he does when he gets there. He heads straight back to Bethel where he’d already committed himself to God by building an altar in chapter 12. When he arrives, he recommits himself, he renews his faith by building another altar and I think he probably confesses his sin to god and commits to a new start. That’s normally what you do when you build an altar to God. What I like is that he doesn’t justify what he’s done in Egypt, he doesn’t minimise and pretend it didn’t happen, he takes it to God and deals with it honestly.
There’s a lesson here for people of faith today, when you sin, don’t pretend it didn’t happen, don’t justify it, make your apologies to God, then recommit yourself to him, and get on with your life, don’t let it crush you, let it grow you. Abram here is humble and more mature because of his honest confession. That’s important because it enables him to handle a potential problem with his nephew Lot in a very Godly wise way. Let’s read vv.5-7…
God’s abundant blessing on Abram has clearly also flowed over onto Lot and this creates a problem, there are so many animals and herds that there’s not enough land and water for them all to co-exist. And with the Canaanites and Perizzites there, it’s all too crowded. This is where we see the true change in Abram’s heart.
As the head of the family Abram had the right to pick the best land and tell Lot where to go. But he doesn’t, instead, he gives Lot the choice, he says, if you go left, I’ll go right, and if you go right, I’ll go left. This sort of humble generosity to a younger relative was never seen in the ancient world, this is a complete reversal of the way the world does things.
But that’s the point isn’t it? God is again showing us a new way, when you’ve received incredible generosity from God, you now make decisions that are generous to others, that benefit others. When you trust God with your life you don’t have to make selfish decisions, you don’t have to demand your rights. Abram has changed.
But unfortunately, young Lot hasn’t, he hasn’t learnt the deep, spiritual lessons that his uncle Abram has and so he makes your classic worldly decision. He looks around and sees the plain of Jordan, well-watered, like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. And he’s right, it’s beautiful, but what also lurks in the Garden of Eden and Egypt? Danger and temptation lurk there don’t they. Remember Adam and Eve in chapter 3, remember Abram in chapter 12.
And danger gets very close when we make decisions based on worldly checklists. Here’s the worldly checklist: is it beautiful, will it make me richer, will it make me more comfortable, is it the nicest place I can live in? The plain of Jordan ticks all the worldly boxes. But what’s lurking nearby? Sodom. “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.”
Abram and Lot had spent a lot of time in this area, and they would’ve known the dangers of living near Sodom. In every decision we make we need to be very aware of the potential sin that lurks nearby: for eg, who is your heart being attracted to (a person of deep faith in Jesus or not), how are you conducting your relationships (with purity or not), how do you see your money (as yours or as God’s), where do you want to live (in a comfortable place or a place where you can really serve.) Lot chose a life of comfort and it ended in disaster.
Here’s what we’re being warned about as we watch Lot in action: God’s people don’t make decisions based on what makes us feel good, or what makes us the most comfortable and prosperous we can be. Because we’ve received so much from God, we make decisions that help us, and those around us, to honour God and become more like Jesus.
Let me give you an illustration – several young couples have moved into the Guildford area and joined our church over the last couple of years. Each of these couples could be living in far nicer places in for more pleasant suburbs than Guildford. I know it’s hard to believe that there are nicer suburbs that Guildford, but trust me, there are!
But instead of spending more money to live in a more comfortable suburb they’ve deliberately chosen to live near our church. They all give generously, they all serve in ministry and they’re at church every week, encouraging us, inviting friends, talking to everyone. They’re incredible and they’ve made our church a much healthier, outward focused, caring place. They didn’t choose comfort; they chose sacrificial service and they have honoured God greatly.
When you think about where to live ask these questions – is there a good church nearby that I can get fed at and do ministry at, am I spending too much on my rent or mortgage so that I’m under unnecessary financial stress and have to work ridiculous hours so that I can’t get to church, am I basing my decision on comfort or a life of sacrificial service to the one who gave me everything? Once Lot departs for his life of comfort, God speaks to Abram, let’s read vv.14-17…
As Lot wanders off to take the juicy plains of Jordan it’s like God makes a joke, he says to Abram, “Don’t worry, look around in every direction, everything you can see, including what Lot has now, will be yours.” God reminds Abram of what he already promised him in chapter 12, that he’ll have a special God-given land, now he knows exactly where it is and what it looks like.
But it doesn’t stop there, God then reconfirms another promise, that Abram and Sarai will have kids, in fact they’ll have so many offspring they’ll be impossible to count. To the childless Abram and Sarai, who are now 75 and 65 God makes a promise that’ll take a miracle to deliver on. But that’s what God specializes in, so Abram trusts God at his word, and as a sign that he does trust God’s promises, he tours his land and then returns to Hebron, near Jerusalem and he worships the Lord, a changed and more Godly man.
It’s the wonderful promises that God makes to Abram that keep him going. And if you remember what Matt said last week, it’s the repetition of those promises that helps Abram to learn from his mistakes, grow up in his faith and continue to trust that God will deliver on his promises. Abram doesn’t have the complete Bible, like we do, to remind him, so God speaks to him and repeats the promises.
And guess what? God delivers on those promises he makes to Abraham; by the end of the 2nd book of the Bible, Exodus, 2 million Israelites leave captivity in Egypt for the Promised Land. Offspring massive, land occupied. Abram was right to trust in God, wasn’t he?
And that’s the lesson God has for us, he will deliver on His promises because all of God’s promises find their Yes in Jesus, Jesus has delivered on every promise God makes: He will save us from sin and walk us into the ultimate promised land, heaven; He will build his church; every knee will bow down to Him and; He will power you now by his Holy Spirit so that you can say no to sin and worldly living and trust in him through all of the difficulties of life.
And I just want to focus on that last promise for a moment. I know that some of you are facing some real difficulties right now; relationship, health, financial, work, family that live in other countries that you want to help more but can’t and still there are other issues that are out of your control, but not God’s. I want you to know that it’s in these difficulties that God will do His best work in you. Let me read Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
I find that incredible, as children of God we can glory in our suffering because through our pain God is producing perseverance, character and hope in us. And it’s that hope that takes away any feeling of shame that we might have because hope reminds us that God’s love is being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Let that transform you.
Here’s what we’ve learnt today:
1. From the very beginning of the Bible, God shows us that we can’t earn our way into a relationship with Him, he offers a relationship with Him as a gift that we receive simply by believing in Him.
2. Believing in Him changes every part of your life and every decision you make. Because God has been so generous to us, we now put off selfishness and desires for worldly comfort and we live a life of sacrificial service to our God.
3. We humbly confess our sins and learn from our mistakes. God is the God who forgives freely, there is no sin he won’t forgive when you ask.
4. Because God delivers on all of His promises through Jesus, we have peace with God and when I have peace with God I can glory in my sufferings because I know that God is growing me up in my faith. He is not punishing me; he is transforming me. Every child of God is a work in progress.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your love, generosity and faithfulness to your promises, power us now to live for you: repentant, selfless, generous, sacrificial lives. Grow us through our sufferings so that each day we look and live more like our wonderful saviour Jesus. In his name we pray, Amen.