Whether you are ready or not, at some point, a crisis will lunge its way into your life like an undetected snake hiding in your boot. It will hit you in a way you could never imagine beforehand and either hurt you deeply, or (at the very least) it will rock your stability. It can be a health crisis, a financial crisis, an emotional crisis, or even a spiritual crisis. If I have learned anything in life it is this: crises will come.
Another thing I have learned is that it is never possible to be fully ready for a crisis. You can prepare yourself (and you should), but when you are stricken, it will invariably be in an area you didn’t foresee with a strength you couldn’t imagine. I am not trying to scare you, but anyone who has lived a little will tell you what I am saying is true.
In recent months, my family has been reeling from changes that can best be explained as aging issues with my dear mom and dad. It isn’t that we didn’t know they were getting older; it is that we didn’t know what that would look like, and how it would affect both them and us. I admit to being taken entirely by surprise at the range of feeling in the sweeping changes… and my situation is by no means as bad as it could be.
On the other hand, one of our students was sitting in church last Sunday, not knowing that by this week he would have left school and be back in Ohio with his family. This week his mom was diagnosed with a brain cancer that is aggressive, and given a number of months to live. Kevin walked blindly into a crisis. His family is in a crisis. There is simply no way at his age he could have fully prepared for this. There was no way for him to see it coming. Yet, our lesson today suggests there are things he and his family can do that will make the crisis bearable – but don’t take it that following God would have insulated him from the experience. Job, Moses, Paul – any of them would tell you that following God is no guarantee for crisis free living.
Our passage for this lesson unfolds an unexpected crisis. There are two players who directly faced it: Abraham and Lot. I want to break the lesson in two, and talk today about Lot’s experience MORE than about Abraham’s, following up in the next lesson with Abe’s perspective. The basic storyline of Genesis 14 is a simple one. If I were writing about this episode in the mini-series that is the life of Abraham for an ancient version of TV GUIDE, I might say it this way:
“Lot’s choice for a place to live dropped him into the heart of a long-standing conflict that erupted into war. Caught and led captive by an enemy of his region, he is rescued by Abraham and Abe’s tribal warriors. As Lot is repatriated back to Canaan, Abraham meets face to face with two Canaan chieftains – the King of Salem and the King of Sodom.”
In essence, the story demonstrated how a bad choice led to a bad situation that required a rescue. In the wake of the rescue, there are two short, but “telling” engagements, that highlight two ways of thinking – one from a believing prince, another from a lost and wicked one.
Step back for a moment and consider the old saying: “The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battlefield.” If that is true, we should expect a level of crisis. War is about surprising the opposition. To be clear, then, the believer isn’t supposed to fit comfortably into this life without any struggle if we were born again into a war. Neither are we supposed to capitulate to those driven by fallen values. In the end, we can’t fully be ready, but the Lord has offered us a model of how to navigate the troubles in the stories of those long ago. In this story there is a secret Abraham modeled and Lot missed:
Key Principle: The secrets to effectively confronting evil are circumspect living and a carefully maintained walk with God.
The secret is NOT perfection, because that is unattainable. The secrets modeled by Abraham were un-extraordinary and un-profound preparation. Abraham placed himself in a position where evil was not saturating his life, but conversely he learned to seek, hear, and learn from God. When the struggle came, he was ready to face it on the terms of his daily walk. He didn’t seek crisis, but he was ready to answer the needs. That is our next lesson. For this one, I want to look at Lot who modeled NEITHER secret. He jumped into the soup of evil, and found himself in captivity.
Let me offer a snapshot that explains his mistake, because it is an easy one to make. In Genesis 14:1-4 the text unfolds a league of cities that rebelled against a stronger chieftain that was not on the scene in verse four. The cities paid a tribute to the chief, and after many years decided to rebel. The chief came to prove to the cities that was a mistake in Genesis 14:5-13. Chedorlaomer cleaned up the rebel cities and took people hostage. In the wake of the rebellion, there was carnage, burned camps and an escaping army. The last part of that section made clear the crisis that dropped into Lot and Abraham’s life:
Genesis 14:12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. 13 Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.
It is worth noting that this is the Bible’s earliest record of a specific regional war. Abraham went to save his nephew in response, but don’t neglect that he had a treaty with the defeated tribes to defend them. How did he get that? I suspect there is MORE to Lot’s involvement than is written at the end of 14:13, where it simply explains that Abram was an “ally.” I have no doubt there were many other wars in that time, but this is the first mention in the text of Genesis of such an event.
In the text, both Lot and Abraham faced trouble – but Lot’s troubles clearly came because of earlier choices. Isn’t that true of many of our problems?
People come in for financial assistance and tell us how they got hurt on the job, and they are now financially unable to care for their mortgage. What they don’t say (because they don’t see it) is they made MANY choices before the situation they feel victimized by now. They were overspending while they were working and have no savings. They didn’t take the optional insurances that would help in this situation. They simply didn’t look around and spot where trouble COULD come from. They lived life without a prepared circumspect view. This is not unusual.
In fact, the problem is that some believers live as if they shouldn’t prepare for anything. They believe that way of living somehow lacks faith. They maintain the view that it is possible to live successfully in the world system without the need to stick out or get ready – and I think neither will work. I honestly encounter people who believe that at their heart, most people will be reasonable when it comes to moral choices. They believe the world has few snares and many pleasures that are simply free benefits. They live life with no sense that danger may be ahead. They honestly seem unaware of the power of the enemy until they are caught.
That is the story of Lot.
To understand the setting of Genesis 14, you have to recall his blind but incredibly optimistic choice that set up his eventual captivity. Remember the story? In a time when the shepherds of Lot’s flocks were in conflict with the shepherds of Abraham’s flock (ostensibly because of limited turf) Abraham let Lot choose where he wanted to live and agreed to subdivide the land God had promised him. Lot’s choice was recorded in Genesis 13:10:
“Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.”
The choice of a place to live was a big one. As for all of us, such a choice isn’t only about the landscape, but about the moral and political environment.
The travel channel doesn’t seem to capture that idea. The other day I saw in a hotel room a show that was all about the virtues of a family from the US getting an unbelievable deal on a home in Libya. The next show followed some British ex-pats who lived in Marrakesh, Morocco. Both shows touted what a great place these families had chosen to “beat the rat race” of western society and live more simply. Both celebrated the beauty of a home that could be purchased at a fraction of the price. Both made the point that “family” was so important to them, so they made the bold move to leave their home and build a new life in a new place. Neither of them addressed how it would affect their children to be raised in an environment like the one they were promoting. Neither show referenced how living in a Muslim village would affect their daughters. Neither show seemed to acknowledge that such a “bold move” would inevitably cause them to confront other issues about their lives.
Because I raised my children in a different culture and lived long enough to see the results of that, perhaps I was more sensitive to that danger. In the end, Lot made his choice apparently without connecting any future dots.
Look at the phrase in the beginning of Genesis 13:10 and it becomes clear that Lot chose his future based on what looked like it would fulfill his desires and meet his needs – like many of us did. The problem is, as a believer, the choice wasn’t to be made that way at all. He never sought the Lord in the text, but apparently thought the Lord would just endorse his plans for the future. Have you ever done that? Have you ever asked God for His direction only after the contract was signed?
The short back story here is that poor choices by Lot led his family into a dangerous conflict he didn’t recognize. His choice set the stage about him that was physically perilous, morally hazardous and unhealthy in the extreme.
Let me lay something out in front of you for a moment. Would you drop your eyes to the middle of the text of Genesis 14? Listen as I read verse twelve:
Genesis 14:12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
I couldn’t help but notice at the end of the verse how there was a slight difference between where Lot ended up and where he first located. It caught my eye. I had to flip back and look, and there it was in the middle of Genesis 13:
Genesis 13:12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.
Did you see those words? The EDGE of Lot’s initial choice was the city of Sodom. In time, his home was parked right in the middle of town. What began as bordering Sodom ended up as living in Sodom. Can you sympathize with Lot? If you have any experience with Sodom, you know how that happened…
Have you or someone you know well ever been “sucked into Sodom?”
Maybe we should ask, “What is the problem with living in SODOM? Perhaps it doesn’t sound so bad. In the Bible, Sodom is a shorthand script for a morally degenerate environment.
• Sodom presents the values of WORLDLINESS.
• Sodom offers the enticement of a fallen world.
• Sodom is the best men can do when they apply WORLDLY wisdom.
• Sodom was touted as a HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT of freedom from rules that dragged men down.
• Sodom was SELF-WILL on open display.
Today, it looks like a parade in Key West, or a walk on the Vegas strip. The colors and energy of enticement distract you from thinking about where choices lead. Sodom is about NOW, not later. Sodom is about FEELING A RUSH, not paying the freight.
It has been centuries, and still we must ask the question to the long gone nephew Lot… “What are you doing living in Sodom?”
Perhaps you think me too harsh. Maybe you have found the enlightened ability to rationalize Sodom. Spend time counseling people paying for their past Sodom and I suspect you would change your tune.
But rationalizing Sodom doesn’t let us really think about the bill we will owe.
It is caught by a vision of the lights and the sounds of freedom. Let me see if any of these arguments hit close to where you are thinking, or have thought.
Most people didn’t get kidnapped into Sodom (Lot included), they walk in. As a warning to you, here is a thought we should consider when we see the “Welcome to the Good Life of Sodom” sign:
You and I are not as strong as we think we are. Many a “Lot” or “Lottess” have made the intentional decision to encounter Sodom thinking: “I know better. I was raised better! I will not be sucked into the temptations that Sodom offers. May I say aloud? “This was (and is) a foolish mistake!” Perhaps the simple application of 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 is in order:
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Listen to the words Paul wrote carefully. He doesn’t say that you can BEAR the temptation. He makes the point that God provides an escape before you hit the breaking point. If you don’t use the door to exit, you will be defeated. Hear me: hang in there in your strength and you will be sucked downward! In the Word, the constant call to the believer amid temptation is the same – FLEE. Get out of there.
For some, it isn’t that they believe they will be strong. It is the simple matter that they haven’t concluded that Sodom was really “all that bad” after all. I mean, “Every place has an issue!”
The problem is that Sodom is MORE CORRUPT than you may have ever imagined! Its costs are “all in” and it leaves nothing in its wake.
Unless he was comatose shortly after his move, Lot had to know of the openly recognized dangers in Sodom, but he seemed blind to how pervasive the evil had become and how powerful its attraction would be in his life and that of his family members. Remember, as you keep reading Genesis, God’s vote was that Sodom was suited to destruction. This takeover in war was likely the “last call” for the city to repent. Not long after, God said their “turnaround time” was over. Sodom was so immersed in a fallen world view the inhabitants erased all memory of true morality. They “made up their own rules” and then taxed away to pay for the social programs that tried unsuccessfully to address the unintentional consequences of their policies. Imagine a place like that! (I know you can’t!).
Paul described in Romans 1 what God called a “reprobate” mind. The willful divorce from God in the thinking of man, the pulling down of the very Creator from His rightful place of worship, marks the senseless descent from truth into the abyss of immoral ungodliness. In the end, they defiled their bedrooms in the celebration of the god of boundary-less pleasures.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Lot didn’t think he was strong enough to resist. Maybe Lot believed the old adage: “I know how far I can go.” I am convinced that many a believer has no clue of the true object of temptation. You aren’t tempted as a way for the enemy to find a way to ultimately PLEASE YOU. You are tempted, both in your flesh, and by the dangling of the world’s fallen thinking backed by the enemy’s encouragement, for the singular purpose to TRAP you.
Temptation CAPTURES the tempted. It SNARES. It ENTICES. That is its nature.
A few months ago I had a cat coming by to eat the food in my chicken pen. She didn’t harm the chickens and I didn’t like the idea of harming the cat, so I let it go on and tossed balls at her to scare her if I thought she took too much. A few weeks later, word got out. I believe her kittens came out of the bushes and they joined in. On any given morning I had more cats I was feeding than chickens. I got a “safe trap” from the animal control. I put an open can of cat food in the trap. In an hour, the trap had its first kitten. I took the trap to let the kitten go into the wilderness away from houses. I came back. In another hour, I had kitten two to relocate. In another hour, kitten three was in the trap. The remarkable thing is that each of the kittens saw the other taken away. Entering the trap was never a successful way to be fulfilled because it was designed to be a TRAP.
Think of what the Bible warned about sinful enticement:
Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11 If they say, “Come with us …13 We will find all kinds of precious wealth, we will fill our houses with spoil; 14 throw in your lot with us, we shall all have one purse…” 15 My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path.
Did not James 1:14-15 warn us:
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
When will we stop the rationalizing that ensnares us? When will we stop saying, “I’ll just be there a short time, I won’t stay long!” Does anyone ever thoughtfully plan to shipwreck their life and testimony? Isn’t it always because we chose to “nibble” before we got trapped? Still another rationalizer from the School of Lot will cry, “I’ll never know if I’m a strong enough unless I try.” What a dumb strategy. That’s like trying to decide how far you can fall by jumping from a variety of cliff heights!
Here is the truth: If you come to believe there is a better alternative to facing temptation than the one instructed by God, your arrogance is showing.
Fleeing, as God clearly instructs, is HIS way to win. If you have another plan, your knowledge (which you must believe is greater than God’s knowledge) will fail you. It just will. How about the great rationalization from the Lot school of outreach: “Wait! I’m going to be a missionary!” Some think: “I will place myself in that situation to reach people.” The “courses” at the “Lot School of Outreach” include such classes as:
• Missionary dating: I will date them and show them what a Christian really is…
• Clubbing for outreach: My testimony will shine louder than the lights and they will all notice Jesus in me as they down their drinks and look for a hookup.
• Or perhaps the ever-popular course: “Entangling your business with unbelievers as an effective evangelism strategy.”
Then there is my personal favorite: The course called “Missionary Marriage” where you marry a mate so you can reach them for Jesus!
Let’s be absolutely clear: When you assemble life apart from the Creator’s instructions, you will have two results. You will have leftover parts and things won’t work as you plan them.
When your motive is really to find fulfillment in a plan that God doesn’t endorse, you will find that you never influence Sodom as much as Sodom influences you!
That is why God instructed:
2 Corinthians 6: 14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
That is why God commanded:
2 Timothy 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
That is why God warned:
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
Did you notice that Peter couldn’t have been more clear. Don’t buy the bullets for the weapons the enemy uses to shoot at you. Making decisions to find fulfillment in this life apart from God’s path is a surefire way to pummel the part of you that truly desires to walk in obedience to God into silence and captivity. The two sides of you, the old man and the spiritually alive are tangled in a vicious war.
Quickly go back to Genesis 14:4. Consider the background to the story as a simple cautionary tale:
Genesis 14:4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but the thirteenth year they rebelled.
Consider this: Lot moved into the place when a war was slowly coming to a boil. Should we not see there are dangers in Sodom that we may not perceive when we decide to become comfortable living there? It appears that Lot was unaware of the coming conflict. That is why circumspect living is commanded by God – it helps you assess danger before you wake up in a battle you cannot win.
It is probably worth remembering here that reality will NEVER match Satan’s advertising about your compromised choices!
I have to believe from later stories that Lot wasn’t completely oblivious to the dangers of Sodom. To live there, it seems to me he had to suppress his conscience.
When rationalization takes hold, the conscience is pushed to the back of your heart.
The most remarkable part of the story to me was that AFTER Abraham rescued his family, Lot RETURNED to Sodom! After Abraham exposed the evil of the thinking of the ruler of Sodom, Lot STILL took his family and went back to settle in for a stay.
In the next lesson, I want to look more closely at the battle and its aftermath. For now, it is enough to contemplate the CAUSE of the battle, and observe which man was ready when it came.
The secrets to effectively confronting evil are circumspect living and a carefully maintained walk with God.
Dave Jackson in Leadership Magazine:
Our train rolled into Kansas City at 1 a.m. Dim lights came on to help the new passengers find seats. Many of us who had been riding home through the night had spread out to occupy two seats apiece. An attractive woman made her way down the aisle with her bags. She was looking from side to side, hoping for someone to move. I turned toward the window and watched her in the reflection. “May I sit here?” she asked. “Sure.” I looked up and smiled as I moved over. She threw her things into the rack above and sat down. Near the back of the car, only one of my colleagues had managed to keep his extra space. Lucky guy. “My name’s Kathy. What’s yours?” I told her, and we talked quietly for a while. She was on her way to visit her mother after some rough spats with her husband. I was eager to get home and see my wife and family after an exhausting church leadership conference. Soon we had both slipped off to sleep. At some later stop, I awoke to find Kathy cuddled next to me. “You don’t mind if I lean my head on your shoulder, do you?” she said sleepily. “Uh, no. I guess not.” She was just tired … wasn’t she? And besides, I had a wonderful wife and a great marriage and would be home before noon. I looked around to see if anyone was noticing. She cuddled closer. I wondered what she really wanted–or would allow. At first I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. But then it was her fault. She knew exactly what she was doing. I might as well enjoy it. After all, what could happen on a train full of people? Nothing, nothing really … except what Jesus warned about happening in the heart. Finally, I excused myself so I could go back and talk with my friend–the “lucky” one with the empty seat beside him. Or maybe I was the lucky one since that extra space was still available. I only knew I didn’t need to stay where I had been. Perhaps it wasn’t luck at all.
Maybe that was the “way of escape” that 1 Corinthians 10:13 talks about, which God had provided from the beginning.