A Costly FaithPastor Lutzer | September 18, 2005
There’s a difference between what you take and what God gives you.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Are we going to follow God’s way or our way? Are we going to do what is right or what is expedient?
By comparing Abraham and Lot, we will see what happens when we follow God or follow our greed. One man lifted up his eyes and saw what he wanted and took it; the other lifted up his eyes and saw what God gave him – and lived with delayed promises.
When we believe God, we please God.
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Sometimes we sing that song, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” But the minute we begin to follow Jesus, God brings tests into our lives. No question about it. And the test always has the same essence, the same principles behind it. The question is, are we going to follow God’s way or our way? That’s the basic bottom line. Are we going to make a decision on faith, or simply on the basis of sight? Are we going to do what is right, or are we going to do what is expedient? That’s always the question when God tests us.
Genesis chapter 12—you may turn to that in your Bibles. Last time we learned that God allowed Abraham to go into Egypt and there he lied, he failed the test. He got sent out of Egypt by the Pharaoh himself. There is nothing as tragic as when pagans discover unethical behavior in the lives of people who supposedly are following God. Abraham lost his testimony in Egypt and he lost his altar in Egypt. But he comes back.
And today we are in chapter 13 in the book of Genesis. And the Bible shows us how he was restored to God despite his sin. You’ll notice it says in verse two of chapter 13, “Now Abraham was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negev,” (when you come across that word it really means “the South,” lots of desert there in the South,) “as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at first.”
Notice the words “beginning” and “first.” God leads us back to where we got off track with Him. He gives us a new beginning because He is the God of new beginnings. So Abraham here is restored to God, the altar is back, and fellowship with God is back. And then that lovely phrase that occurs over and over again, “And Abraham called on the name of the Lord.” What a wonderful description of what prayer really is. Well, he flunked that test. But thankfully he is back in fellowship with God.
But now God is going to bring another test into his life, and that test is going to have to do with the land, very, very specifically. Here’s what happens, and let’s pick up the text. It says, “Lot,” verse five, “who went with Abraham, also had flocks and herds and tents so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abraham’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. And at that time the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling in the land.”
Wow, strife! Abraham and Lot are going to part company even though they are kinsmen. They are going to see things differently and they are going to split.
Many of us do not believe that the church is actually in the Old Testament. It is there maybe in seed form, but many people have looked at this and rather humorously concluded that this chapter represents at least the beginning of the Baptist Church.
Now, I’ve been a Baptist as a pastor of a Baptist church for five and a half years, and I love the Baptists very much. And if you can’t say that, don’t tell this story that I am going to tell you.
There is a story of a Baptist who got washed up on an island. And he was there for 20 years with no contact with human beings until some people found him and they said, “Show us around the island,” which he was very glad to do. And they noticed that there were three huts. And so they said to him, “What’s in this hut?” And he said, “That hut is the one in which I live.” They said, “What’s the other hut?” He said, “The second hut is where I go to church.” And they said, “And what’s the third hut?” And he said, “Huh, that’s where I used to go to church!” Lighten up, you Baptists! There was splitting, strife, and they were not able to agree.
And so what happens in this text is we have a very interesting insight into human nature and into the character of these two men. Now, let’s read the text and we will find out that Lot actually is the one who made an incredible choice.
But, listen to the text. You’ll notice it says in verse eight, “Then Abraham said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me; if you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’”
Wow! Abraham defers to Lot. We most assuredly would not expect that. That comes as a big surprise for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, Abraham is older than his nephew Lot. It was because of Abraham that Lot had the blessings of many cattle and wealth, because he got in on some of Abraham’s blessing and his expertise. That is one reason why Abraham most assuredly we would think would choose, and then let Lot take whatever was left over.
But, there’s another reason why we should be surprised at how magnanimous, I hope I got that correctly, that Abraham was. We should be surprised because God gave Abraham the land. It says in chapter 12, verse seven, “The Lord appeared unto Abraham and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” God have him the title deed to the land and said, “The land is yours.” Abraham may have thought, “Since the land is mine, of course I should take the best pasture land. I should get first dibs.”
But, notice what he says to his nephew: “You choose whatever you want and I will take whatever is left over.” Faith is able to handle strife. Because faith says, “I don’t need what I have coming to me right now.” Faith says, “I don’t have to insist on my rights.” Faith says, “I believe in the invisible God and His promises.” Faith means I don’t have to fight for what I think I own. Faith believes in another world, and faith believes in God! So faith is able to solve this strife. Abraham defers to Lot.
Lot now has a choice before him, and Lot chooses to defer to greed. You’ll notice that the text says in verse ten, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan valley was well-watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt in the direction of Zoar.” And then in parenthesis how ominously this occurs: “(That was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)” Wow!
You say, “Well, today the Jordan valley may be as good, but it’s not exactly the Garden of Eden.” Well, evidently before the destruction and in those times it was very beautiful. And notice that it also says, “Like Egypt,” Egypt along the Nile River. You see, when Lot was in Egypt with his Uncle Abraham, Abraham was able to pull himself out of Egypt, bounce back into fellowship with God and go on.
Lot was not. There was something in Egypt that Lot coveted, and that covetousness came out in his choice. So you’ll notice that Lot sees the wonderful pasture land and the possibility of gardens. He visualizes his livestock in grass as high as their legs. And so Lot chooses for himself.
I want everyone listening at this point, especially the young people, the teenagers. But if you are younger than that you listen, and if you are older than that I want you listen even more carefully. There’s a phrase there in verse 11 that every Bible should have underlined. It says, “Lot chose for himself.” Wow! And in those four words you have the destruction of many a life. The tragedy of many a life can be found in those four words, “He chose for himself,” and that’s the whole story.
We think of some of the terrible marriages that have taken place because someone decided that rather than consulting God, he would choose for himself. We think of some of the bad business arrangements and the bad business ethics that people have stooped to because they would choose for themselves. We think of the entertainment that some people get into and the addictions that come as a result of that because somebody said, “I am going to choose for myself.”
And there, Lot experienced the law of unintended consequences. Suppose we were to interview Lot and we were to say, “Lot, tell us why you made the decision?” He’d say, “Well, number one: opportunity. What a great opportunity my uncle is giving me. And furthermore, I don’t feel guilty because you know he told me to make the choice. Secondly: prestige and position.”
Later on he is going to be there in Sodom and he is going to have a position in Sodom. He’s not going to live in a tent anymore. He’s not going to be able to sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” He’s no longer a pilgrim. He now lives within the city; he is a city-dweller. Nothing wrong with being a city-dweller, but he was content in Sodom, and received prestige in Sodom. But, unintended consequences were on the way.
There is the story of a president of a large company who was going to build a series of buildings. And so he farmed it out to various bidders and various contractors. And you know how the process works—the contractor that submits the best bid, probably the lowest cost with proof that he will do the best job usually wins. So, one of the contractors was going to submit his bid. It was the last day for bids, and he walks into the president’s office and no one is there. The room is empty.
So he thinks to himself, “I don’t know where the president is,” and he looks on the desk, and there on the desk of all things is an open bid from his most interesting and greatest competitor. And he thinks to himself, “If I could just see the number that he came in on, and if I come in just a little less than that, I will most assuredly get the big business.”
The problem was that right on that number on the application was a can of soda pop. He thought to himself, “What am I going to do? Nobody is around.” He walks the hallways, looks in the office again; the president is nowhere to be found. And he’s thinking, “Should I, or shouldn’t I?” So he decided that he would. He decided that what he would do is to lift the can of pop really fast, look at the number, and then put it down. And so he does that. And when he does that hundreds of BBs spill out onto the table and drop onto the floor. That is the law of unintended consequences.
When the Bible says that, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw, and chose for himself,” Lot did not realize that entailed in that decision were some terrible, terrible consequences. Let’s look at them.
First of all, Lot lost his testimony in Sodom. He is there as a judge at the gate being honored, and when the men surround his house, he is willing to actually give them his daughters for this terrible, terrible kind of perverted sexuality. He is willing to give them his daughters. And when he told his son-in-law, “God is going to judge this city,” the Bible says, “They thought he was joking.” Wow! No testimony, no altar in Sodom and Gomorrah.
He lost his testimony, he lost his family, he lost his wife, who turned into a pillar of salt, and in the end he lost his character. He ends up in a cave committing incest with his two daughters. He did not know that all of those things would happen because he chose for himself. Opportunity and prestige yes, but at what price?
Now, it is interesting that Lot succumbed to a very respectable sin. There are some sins that are not respectable. For example, sins of the flesh are generally regarded as not respectable. But sins of the spirit are often times extolled, they are honored. Greed is good, we read. Greed makes capitalism work. Nothing wrong with covetousness because actually if you see your neighbor has something, what’s wrong with wanting the same thing and working until you get it? Those are sins of the spirit, respectable sins.
Back in the days of the Reformation when Martin Luther was complaining about some of the abuses of the church, a Cardinal was sent to him to buy him off. And the Cardinal was told, “Tell Luther to shut up and in order to encourage him to do that, we will give him some gold. Use money to bribe him.” The Cardinal wrote back to the Pope and said, “The fool doesn’t love gold, he couldn’t be bought off.”
It is sometimes those respectable sins that cause tremendous problems in families. Families have been split over inheritances; they’ve been split because of money. You wave big money in somebody’s face and even a rational Christian can become unrealistic and can become greedy and manipulative. Money has that power.
It has the power to seduce, because it makes all of the same promises that God does. “I’ll be with you in sickness and in health, I’ll be with you if the economy collapses. I’ll be with you.” And so what you have here is Lot choosing in the direction of wealth and power, and look at where he ended. That’s the consequences of Lot’s choice.
What about the consequences of Abraham’s choice? Notice that the text says in verse 14, “The Lord said to Abraham after Lot had separated from him.” You remember chapter 12, verse one, God says, “Abraham, leave your family and your kindred.” He didn’t leave his dad behind. He brought his dad as far as Haran, and then his dad dies and he comes into the land with Lot. And now Lot, strictly speaking, should not have been a part of his entourage.
But now that Lot has gone his own way, God and Abraham are alone. And notice what the text has to say about what God gave him. God says to him in verse fourteen, “Lift up your eyes.” You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, that’s exactly what Lot did.” You’ll notice it says in verse ten, “Now Lot lifted up his eyes.” Both of them lifted up their eyes.
What’s the difference? Big difference! The difference is this: one of the men lifted up his eyes and saw what he wanted and took it. The other lifted up his eyes and he saw what God gave him. What a difference there is between what you take and what God gives you.
So, Abraham lifts up his eyes. God says, “Abraham, remember that promise I gave you when you first came into the land? I am going to expand upon that promise.” The Lord says to him, “Lift up your eyes, look from the place where you are, northward and southward, eastward and westward; for all the land that you see, I will give it to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can be counted. Arise, walk in the land.”
And what does Abraham end up doing? He builds an altar unto the Lord. What a different ending to a story. Notice that God now expands the promise geographically. He says, “As far as you can see, and as far as you can walk, the land is going to be yours.” God expands the promise numerically. He says, “You can’t count the dust of the earth. In the very same way, no one is going to be able to count your seed.” He even expands the promise durationally. Not sure if there is a word like that, but there is now. God says, “I am going to give it to you forever,” ‘owlam, in Hebrew. (We are going to have to discuss that at some point.) God says, “I am giving it to you as a possession. I am going to even expand the promise experientially. Go ahead and walk along the length and breadth of the land. Enjoy it; it is going to be yours.”
And Abraham is going to die without a single square foot belonging to him except that which he purchases to bury himself and his wife and his family. But he dies in faith. He lives with delayed promises.
Let’s talk about our decision. First of all, let me remind you of this, that the choice that you and I make today determines the kind of person we will be in the future. The choice that you make today determines the kind of person that you will be in the future. How important those choices are.
Many of us know Larry Poland who works in Hollywood trying to get executives and Hollywood producers, befriending them and sharing the Gospel with them. And he told us the story of a man who was converted out of a difficult lifestyle, very well known in Hollywood.
And he was having lunch with Larry one day and he said, “You know Larry, I can’t understand it. I accepted Christ as my Savior, maybe it was six months ago,” he says, “I tell people what Jesus has done for me and they all say, ‘You know, you are crazy!’” He said, “For years I lived and went through three marriages, my kids were on drugs, I was an alcoholic, and nobody looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you know you’re crazy.’” He said, “Now I am finally loving my wife for the first time, I’m off of alcohol, and I’m connecting with my kids, and I know that my sins are forgiven before God, and now I’m being told I am crazy.”
You see, the kind of decisions you make determine the character you are going to be. If you want to be a character with deceit in your life and wrong values in your life and you make those decisions, you will end up either like Abraham, following God, or you and I could end up like Lot doing our own thing and choosing for ourselves, living with tragic, tragic consequences. Not just for us but for others, too.
As a matter of fact, the decision that you make today determines where you will spend eternity. Because Jesus made it very clear that if you trust Him as Savior your eternity is assured. Whereas if you neglect that, if you reject what Jesus wants to do for you and can do for you, if you reject that, then in eternity you are on your own. And eternity is a very, very long time. Watch your choices, because the choice that you make today determines the kind of person that you will be tomorrow.
Second lesson: when we believe God, we please God. Abraham in the Scripture is spoken of two times as the friend of God. Wouldn’t that be awesome to have on your tombstone? A friend of God, wow! Most of us would never think of asking for that to be on our tombstone because we know right well that is more than we really are. In fact, you ought to be thinking about what you want on your tombstone. If you are over fifty you should be thinking about it.
You say, “Well, Pastor, do you know what you want on your tombstone?” No, I am not fifty yet, you see. I looked into the mirror the other day and I said to Rebecca, “Honey, I don’t look sixty-three, do I?” She said, “No… no you sure don’t. But you used to.”
But, I’ve often thought about my tombstone. Imagine being called a “friend of God.” And this is what the Bible says, “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him out. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” The reason that Abraham could say to Lot, “You choose and I will take the leftovers,” is because Abraham could turn his back on wealth. He could turn his back on prestige and he could turn his back on opportunity, because he trusted God and did not dare choose for himself. He allowed God to make the choice. And so he could do it in faith.
You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, how much faith do we really need?” Well, “Faith even as a grain of mustard seed,” Jesus said. And even the faith that we have is really a gift of God. That is why Abraham receives no praise in all of this. God even granted him the faith. But if you find within your heart today a drawing towards Christ, pursue it. God may be pursuing you so that you come to Him in faith.
And you can come, as the words of the hymn say, “Just as am I, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt. Fighting within and fears without, oh Lamb of God I come, I come.” Come with your doubts; come with your unanswered questions. And then having come, we can all sing with authority, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me,” because we are going to follow Him every step of the way.
Think of what Abraham got when he followed God. When he went to Haran, God waited for him. When he got messed up in Egypt, God restored him. When he walked in obedience God blessed him, because he believed that there were some things more important than sight, and that was the eye of faith. We come in humility, but we come in faith and we invite God to be a part of all of our decisions.
And, the most important one you could possible make is to transfer your trust to Jesus. Some people will say, “Well, you know, you are crazy!” It’s the most important decision that you could ever make. And then we say with all of our hearts, “We follow Jesus.”
Would you join me as we pray? “Our Father, we ask in the
Name of Jesus, draw all of us into your presence we pray. Those who have never trusted Christ as their Savior, help them to see that because they are sinners they need a Savior. May they draw near to Him. And for those Father in the throws of decisions, oh we pray, help us not to choose for ourselves. May we choose You, we ask. And for those, Father, who are living now with regrets and pain, come and show Yourself mighty. Bless them, restore them, and make us a transforming people.” Now before I close this prayer I am going to give you just a few seconds to talk to God wherever you are seated. What do you need to say to Him? “Do in us that which is well-pleasing in Your sight, oh Father, in Jesus’ name, Amen.