The 18th Sunday After Pentecost October 4, 2009
23, 396, 532, 410
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
Dear fellow sinners who need help and guidance in decision-making, in the name of the Lord our God who gives wisdom for all such situations, dear fellow-redeemed:
Let’s consider a situation in which a choice must be made. It takes place on a playground. I have been named captain of the team and it’s time to choose the teams. I have the first choice. What am I going to do? Standing in front of me is Ted. He is the absolute best player in the school. I could choose him. A little further down the line of potential players is John. He’s my best friend. I’d really like to play with him. A little further down, standing by himself, is Billy—no ever chooses him, at least not until the very end and then only because there’s no one else to choose. I could choose Billy and befriend him in his loneliness.
What will be my choice? I could choose to win and take Ted. I could choose to play with a friend and pick John. I could sacrifice both winning and playing with a friend and choose Billy for his benefit.
We are faced with all sorts of choices. There are choices that we may act upon in self-interest. There are choices we can act upon for a quick fix, or short-term happiness, or a thrill that will fade. We face choices that we can make out of love for others. There are choices that are big, there are choices that are small and seemingly insignificant. However, even choices that seem relatively insignificant can have an impact that is greater than we might suppose.
As we face choices in our lives, we pray that our choice-making process will always include God’s wisdom. The only way our decisions can lead to the best of all blessings is if those decisions are made with the Lord. Our prayer can always be that the Lord enable us to “CHOOSE WISELY.” From our text we will learn that in life I. Some choices will have to be made, II. Poor choices are made when we rely on our selves, and III. Hard choices are possible when we rely on God.
Abram and Lot were not only close companions, they were uncle and nephew. Abram and Lot had shared a great deal of history together. It was the type of experience-sharing that bonds people tightly because you’ve gone through the highs and lows together. God told Abram to pack up and leave his father’s house and homeland and journey to a place which God would show him. Lot went with his uncle (cf. Genesis 12). They journeyed all the way to Canaan and settled there. In a time of famine, Abram went to Egypt to escape the famine. Lot went with his uncle. When Abram came back from Egypt, Lot also returned with him. Both Abram and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents.” [v.5] They both had been so richly blessed by God that “the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.” [v.6]
Because the land could not support all the needs of the flocks and herds and people of both men, “there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” [v.7] Because of this strife and contention Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” [v.8]
Abram and Lot faced the first decision. The land simply could not bear everyone staying in the same place. They had to decide what to do. They could try to stay together and keep on going as best as they could, but that would only create more trouble and the land still wouldn’t be able to support their animals. A choice had to be made. Abraham made the choice and told Lot, “We need to separate. We need to make a decision to avoid this strife and contention because we are brethren.” Abraham reflected what the Apostle Paul instructs us to do when he writes, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
There are any number of other situations in Biblical history when individuals or groups of people had to make a choice. The Old Testament reading recounted how Joshua presented the people of Israel with a choice before he died. Joshua reminded the people that the Lord had brought them to Canaan. They were living in cities for which they never laid a brick. They were reaping harvests which they never planted. They were living in a land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua, their leader would soon die, and so the choice was laid before them: “What god will you serve?”
When the Children of Israel were faced with that choice it was a decision for that moment—which god were they going to worship? Which god would they honor? But their choice was also one that would carry on into the years and generations to follow. Their service to God would be an ongoing activity. It wasn’t a simple question of which god they would honor with their mouths, but to which god would they pour out their love, with which god would they invest their lives, which god would they lead their children to know and love, which god would they serve that day, the next day, and for the rest of their lives. If they were going to serve the true God, that would dictate how they would act, what they would say, what they would do, and every other decision they would make. The choice was laid before them, and as we heard, they chose the Lord God, though we also know their faithfulness later wavered.
When Moses was in Egypt he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and had the choice of identifying himself as a prince of Egypt. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, however, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).
Paul and Barnabas—fellow missionaries sharing the Gospel—had made a mission trip together. When it came time to go out on a second missionary journey, they disagreed as to whether or not to take John Mark with them. John had been with them on the first trip but had deserted them. Barnabas wanted to take John with them, Paul did not (cf. Acts 15:36ff). The beginning of contention arose between the two missionaries. They had to make a choice. They had to make a decision. They decided that in the midst of this contention it was better to part ways. Barnabas took John Mark, Paul took Silas, and they went on two different journeys. The decision was made for the sake of sharing the Gospel.
We will face similar decisions. We may need to make a decision to keep peace between ourselves and others. This is not to be a decision that would compromise what God says, rather it would be a decision that does not sacrifice truth, but may sacrifice our own preference.
We face choices for which our friends and peers may apply pressure that may not be the best choice for us and may even lead to sin. God instructs us “…when sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10). We face choices when our own flesh applies the pressure and wants to nudge us into a direction that is displeasing to God.
We are faced with choices and decisions every day. They will come. They will come in all shapes and sizes. They will come with greater or lesser significance, but they will come.
When the choices arise, how can we properly go about making them? We learn from Lot that a poor choice will always come when we rely on our selves. “Abram said to Lot…‘Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord. [vv.9-13]
Abram turned the decision over to Lot. He told Lot, “You choose one way and I’ll go the other way. If you choose the other, I’ll go that way.” Lot’s criteria for his choice was what pleased his eyes. He looked and he saw a rich and well-watered land. He saw a land that is described as being like the Garden of Eden, a land that had the richness of Egypt (from which they had just returned), a land that was bountiful. Swayed by what looked so good, Lot relied on himself and what pleased him. He chose the land in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Peter writes in his second letter, “[God] 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 seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Peter 2:7-8). Lot chose poorly. He made his choice based on what his flesh liked and by doing so he placed himself in temptation’s path. Lot placed himself among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and by doing so he himself “tormented his soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.”
Lot’s choice put his soul in danger because he was continually being exposed to the wickedness of the people around him. We know from the rest of the history in Genesis that Lot eventually lived right in the city of Sodom. Lot remained a believer for Peter describes him as “righteous Lot.” But when the angels sent by God told Lot it was time to leave because they had come to destroy the city, he struggled with that decision. Lot hesitated. Lot procrastinated. Lot didn’t want to leave (Genesis 19:12ff).
The choice that Lot made based on his flesh had negative implications for his soul and upon his well-being in all areas of life for years following the decision.
When we rely on ourselves and our desires alone, our choices will always be poor. This means that some decisions that need to be made may not be all that easy to make. Decisions are difficult when the majority of people making the same decision choose the opposite way. The majority of the people, or at least the most vocal, oppose God. This means that if my decisions and choices seek to follow God and His Word, I will sometimes stand out and be in the minority, and that may make those decisions hard.
Sometimes making decisions that are pleasing to God will mean sacrificing myself—crucifying the flesh and its desires, denying myself what I really, really want because what I really, really want is not what God desires for me. Those kinds of decisions become incredibly difficult. All of these hard decisions and others like them are made possible when we put our trust in God our Savior and in His Word.
Abram gave Lot the first choice. Relying on himself, Abram would have said, “I’m the uncle. I’m the elder. God promised this land to me. I will choose the best part and Lot will get what is left.” Abram sacrificed what he would have wanted according to his flesh and gave Lot the first choice. Then when Lot chose the best land, Abram simply accepted the choice and went forward. What made that possible? Abram was able to make a sacrificial choice because he wasn’t relying on Lot’s decision, he wasn’t relying on himself, he wasn’t putting his hope in earthly things, he was trusting God’s Word.
God had promised that Abram would have a son, that a great nation would grow out of that son’s descendants, that his people would inherit the Land of Promise, and that one day the Savior of all sin would come from that nation. Abraham trusted God’s promise. Trusting God allowed Abram to let go of his personal desires, to let go of any worries that might have arisen, to let go of things that would be selfish, and to rely on God’s Word.
When we study Abram’s life story there is an interesting discovery. After every time Abram faced a challenge, God came to him and repeated His promise. After being tested with a difficult choice, God renewed Abram’s confidence by repeating the promises in which he was relying. In this way, Abram was equipped and strengthened for the next choice to be made.
After Abram and Lot separated, the Lord once again came and spoke words of encouragement to Abram. “And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord” (Genesis 13:14-18).
God enables us to make those same kinds of hard choices. Jesus died on the cross to set us free from sin and from the slavery of sin. The redeeming work of Jesus sets us free from the fleshly selfish desires. He enables us to make choices according to God’s Word, to let go of what we want and to put our trust in God’s promises even when that means the decisions will be hard. God comes to us through His Word to repeat His promises to us and to encourage us.
The ability to choose wisely is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Choosing wisely is something only God can enable us to do. The ability to choose wisely comes from the wisdom, the truth, and the forgiveness for our failures. It comes from God’s Word and by His grace. Today and every day let’s include in our prayers: “Lord enable me to choose wisely.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.