Of Tragedies and Darkness

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. Genesis 19:1-14

This story is full of tragedies and darkness. Lot knew what Sodom and Gomorrah were about when he brought his family. He knew the potential dangers they all faced. But more importantly, he knew about the wickedness and evil that was about to destroy the cities. Then he offered his daughters up for the townspeople to do what they wanted to them. Fortunately for the girls, the men wanted the visitors.

Similarly, the visitors obviously knew the townspeople and the evil that was quite blatant now. They came to rescue Lot and his family. The family did not see the danger they were in. In fact, the sons in law laughed at the visitors’ rescue mission.

They all had become desensitized to the sin around them.

That’s certainly a first world problem too. For example, we accept homosexuality as normal behavior but it’s anything but normal. We laugh at crude jokes aimed at Christians. I could go on because the list is endless. Essentially we gave up trying to change the culture, and instead allow it to change us.

O Lord, we repent of our selfish, uncaring ways. We confess that our love for you can easily grow cold and stale. We are not passionate at the things you’re passionate about. We desperately need a change in our thinking and in our motives. We need a fresh dose of the Holy Spirit to revive and renew us.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

Beyond Church Doors

16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. Genesis 18:16-33

Undoubtedly, Abraham had heard about the wickedness in Sodom and Gomorrah. He also knew God was a God of Mercy. We know what was coming next after Abraham tried to convince the Lord to spare the two cities.

Early in this passage, however, we get a glimpse into the spiritual realm. “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great” is a very interesting statement. Whose outcry? Those who were mistreated and abused? Those who didn’t receive proper justice? Those who were helpless in the face of rampant sin?

We do know there weren’t a lot of righteous people in the two cities, including those who were crying out. How did those cities get to that point?

The two city names are synonymous today with debauchery and homosexuality. There are of course times when it’s easy to compare our society with what we know about those cities. I suspect there are quite a few more than 10 righteous people in each city in the country.

Still, there are systemic problems that demand a response from Bible-believing Christians (abortion and human trafficking are two). We are getting to a point where sitting on our hands and ignoring gross injustices will not cut it anymore. The world sees what we do and don’t do, and I suspect they laugh and mock at our inaction. They see the glorious church building projects, but fail to see the compassion and kindness of those who call Him Savior. We need to change that perception — whether it’s a right perception or wrong is hard to tell.

How do we do that? Quite simply actually. We find a need and go fill it, even if it’s filing papers in an office, these non-profits need people to volunteer their time and talents to help them do what they were called to do. Find a ministry that you can accept wholeheartedly and find out where you can fit in. You’ll be surprised at the red carpet they’ll roll out for you. Or it could be visiting shut-ins or nursing homes or church schools. They never turn away volunteers.

We are blessed to bless others, but because we focus inwardly so many times, it’s hard to see outside our church doors.

Did Not, Did Too!

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:9-15

This was a clear case of “Did Not, Did Too” between the divine and His creation. One of the visitors was the pre-incarnate Christ. He caught Sarah in a lie. It was like catching a child with his hand in the cookie jar. Even as he lifts one out, he’ll deny he was even there.

The question that never gets asked is, why was Sarah afraid? What did she think would happen to her because she laughed? She was 90 years old. The Lord had essentially told her to prepare the Baby Room.

Again, we’ve read ahead and know how it all ended. Of course the Lord was right. He always is. We can argue until we’re blue in the face, but He’ll always be right. That especially applies to the written Word of God. We can state our arguments and rationalize behavior all we want, but when it’s all said and done, the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

For example:

  • When the Bible says we should give to the poor, we shouldn’t make excuses as to why it doesn’t apply today.
  • When the Bible says, “If you’ve thought about committing the act, in your heart you’ve committed it,” we should evaluate our thinking and where we’re headed with that thinking.
  • When the Bible says we should be imitators of God, that’s a good time to find out what God would do and how He would act.

We stray from its truth at our own peril and risk.

On Being Hospitable

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. Genesis 18:1-8

Being hospitable to foreigners is the norm even to this day in the mid east and many nations around the world as well.

I’ve told the story before but it bears repeating. When we were leaving Tajikistan, we passed the motorcade for the President of Tajikistan. After we passed by we were pulled over by the police. They asked why we didn’t stop and wait for the President to go by. My driver, a Tajik, pleaded with the driver that he had foreign guests in the car and we were going to the airport. The implication was that the guests were more important than the President. We were let go.

This type of thinking applies to hospitality and to protecting those they are hosting. We’ll see that a little later.

Of course we can bemoan the fact that we are, in general, not a hospitable culture that we would invite strangers into our home regularly, but we can certainly learn. It all starts with one person for a coffee or dinner.

There’s a ministry we are affiliated with that works with Chinese students attending the University of Texas at Dallas. They have a program that matches “hosts” with students once a week for a few hours. The director has trouble finding American who want to take a student out or show him/her the town. With a ministry like that, we don’t have to travel 4000 miles to China or Vietnam or Papua New Guineau. They’re here and desperately want to find out more about Americans and their crazy culture. It’s a beautiful way to introduce them to Christ.

I don’t think this is the only ministry in the country like that. When we lived in Virginia Beach, they began an outreach to students in the Summer. It was brilliant because it paired students with sponsors. The only thing sponsors had to do was to host and feed them for the summer.

Most major cities have this type of program, and most programs have to beg for participants.

Consider programs in your area like this. You won’t regret the experiences.

God of the Miraculous

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. Genesis 17:15-27

All along Abraham did not think that the blessing would be through his wife Sarai. He had a point because he was 100 years old and she was 90.

But God.

But God knew all along what the lineage would be. He knew that Abraham would have a child through Hagar. He also knew what He had promised, and it didn’t include Hagar. Again, we have the benefit of knowing and studying the full story. We know all the missteps they would take, and all the joys along the way.

If it had happened today, perhaps Abraham would have responded with, “Is this a joke? Are you for real?” because it seemed preposterous to him. It was an impossibility.

But it was as true as you’re reading this. And to accent the point, the Lord told Abrahm to proceed with the circumcisions of males within his sphere of influence and household.

The obvious takeaway from this is God still performs the impossible. In the natural sense, it was hopeless for Abraham and Sarah. Now, does that mean He’ll bail you out of a situation you got yourself into? Does it mean He’ll provide you with a miracle when you want one just because you want one? No to both questions.

Often those miracles come in a form you would not expect it in.

It’s all a part of His character of blessing His children and drawing them close to Himself.

The Requirement

9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14

Up until now, God had been promising Abram, now Abraham, a multitude of descendants. This time, however, He required something from Abraham and his male descendants: ritual circumcision of 8-day-old babies. It is a ritual practiced to this day among the Jewish people.

This requirement hints of King David’s proclamation to Araunah when buying a threshing floor, “Nay; but I will surely buy it from thee at a price; neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24. So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

Building a large nation of people would cost Abraham something. Abraham was willing to pay that price for the sake of his people and his namesake.

Doing anything meaningful in life costs us something, whether it’s time, money, or attention. We don’t always see immediate rewards from what we do, but we act on faith that God will actually take care of those seeds that were planted or watered.

The bottom line to this is don’t be bashful about spending your time and attention on things that truly matter. Your efforts are not in vain.

Why Oh Why?

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Genesis 16:3-8

In interviews with Christians and non-Christians alike, the Rev. Billy Graham was asked what would be the first question he’d ask of God when he arrived in Heaven? Without missing a beat, he’d always say, “Why me, Lord? Why did you choose this Southern country bumpkin to travel the world and preach the Gospel?”

I imagine Abram was in a similar situation, except that He had God right there with him. Out of the millions of people who were in the world, why Abram?

We don’t even need to go that far. We can still ask why were we born where we were with so many comforts and privileges? What are our responsibilities with these freedoms and gifts we were so graciously given?

These are actually questions we need to ask more than we do because if will help to “level set” our priorities and become more focused.

The Reason

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Genesis 17:1-2

Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, the Lord began to fulfill His promise with Abram. We don’t know for sure, but Abram might have thought that he had done right by having a child apart from his wife Sarai, since there was apparent silence in those 13 years.

Two things stand out about these verses. First, just because God is silent in your life doesn’t mean He’s not at work. On the contrary, He’s very active in the dealings of men and women. Remember, 13 years had passed so don’t lose hope so quickly when there’s apparent silence.

Secondly, God used a 99-year-old man and and a 90-year-old woman to fulfill his promise. Granted, people lived a bit longer back then, but you are never too old to be used by God. If you’re still on Earth, God has a reason for you being here. It’s not always clear, but you are a valuable child of the Living God.

The God Who Sees Me

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. Genesis 16:13-16

If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll recognize “The God Who Sees Me” theme sprinkled throughout. It’s a truth that if we were to fully grasp, it would change our lives. Of course, we all nod our heads when we hear that phrase, because of course God sees us, but the truth of it is transformative in every area of your life. It’s not as if is watching us to see if we mess up. He does see everything we do and is cheering us on, but not in a way to be accusatory or to bring shame upon us. He wants us to make right choices and to honor Him with those choices.

In the story, Hagar went back to Abram’s household, knowing that she’d be despised and abused by her mistress Sarai. That was not an easy choice to make. But she knew that God saw her and looked upon her afflictions. God was much bigger than her current afflictions.

In the same way, God knows what we go through. He does.

  • He knows the sleepless nights waiting for a child to return.
  • He knows the pain a loved one is experiencing.
  • He knows the loneliness you feel even when you’re in a crowd of people.

He knows. He sees. And He will sustain.