Dancing With the Devil
April 14, 1996
While most of you were eating Easter dinner my youngest son and I set out on a quick trip to Alabama. We journeyed back to my home in order to surprise my mother on her 75th birthday last Monday. It was the first time that my brothers and I had gotten together in seven years. We truly did surprise her and that was worth the entire trip.
While I was in Alabama, my sister-in-law Betty said that a friend of hers had read The Road Best Traveled and wanted to talk with me while I was in town. I agreed, and so on Monday I spent about an hour talking with a woman whose husband left her last October.
The names were new but the story was old. After twenty years of marriage, he was bored and frustrated. So he moved out to live by himself. She wanted to make the marriage work but more than that, she wanted to know God better. Could I help her?
She put it this way. “For twenty years my husband has been the center of my life. Now that he’s left, I’ve discovered that I can’t build my life around him. For the first time, I’ve learned that Jesus Christ must be the center of my life.”
When we finished talking I told her two things. “First, I can’t guarantee that your husband will come back. He might or he might not and there’s nothing you can do about that. Second, you’re going to be all right as long as you keep seeking the Lord. You’ve been asking God to show himself to you in a new way. That’s a prayer God will always answer.”
Seeing God in the Crisis
As I’ve thought about it this week, it occurs to me that God often reveals himself to us in a crisis situation. On Friday afternoon Roberta Hoppe and I sat down in my office and talked for almost an hour. She spoke of how much she has learned about God in the weeks since Len’s death. So it is that we learn more in the shadows than in the sunlight.
God often reveals himself to us in a crisis situation.
None of us would choose to go through a crisis in order to learn more about God. But we rarely have a choice. But we do have a choice about whether we will learn from a crisis and use it as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
In our study of the life of Abraham, we have come to one of those crisis moments. It happens just as he and Sarah return from their ill-fated trip to Egypt to escape the famine. While there, he had lied to save his life. The lie worked for awhile until God intervened. Then Abraham was forced to leave the country after having been publicly humiliated by the Pharaoh.
But he left a much richer man than he came. In spite of his sin, God had blessed him with great wealth in Egypt. And it is his great wealth that will now bring him great trouble.
I. The Problem: Quarreling and Fighting (v. 1-7)
I think it’s important to remember that if Abraham hadn’t gone to Egypt in the first place, he wouldn’t have this problem now. It’s his compromise and deceit that made him and Lot so rich that they could no longer live together.
The Bible tells us that the land could not support both of them. Evidently the Canaanites and the Perizzites controlled most of Palestine, which meant that Abraham and Lot had to live in the neglected areas. That would have been no problem when they were middle class herdsmen, but now that they have moved up the ladder, they both need some breathing room.
Tomorrow of course is April 15, Income Tax Day. Very few of us enjoy the drudgery of paying taxes, but it does accomplish one good thing at least. Working through all those figures and forms and schedules forces you to take a good look at what you have in the way of worldly goods. When you sign that return and enclose your W-2 and your check, just remember the words of Proverbs 23:5, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”
Most surveys of married couples reveal that finances are the number one cause of arguments between husbands and wives. Some of you could probably testify to the truth of that just in the last week, I’m sure.
But please note. In this case the problem is having too much money. The herdsmen didn’t start quarreling until the flocks got too big. When they were both middle-class herdsmen, everyone was happy.
For the Love of Money
Money is good, and we need it, but it doesn’t solve everything. In fact, some of the unhappiest people I know are people with more money than they know what to do with. Money in and of itself isn’t evil. That quarter in your pocket isn’t evil. It can’t be used for good or for evil depending on how you spend it.
But the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It stirs up trouble, breaks up marriages, destroys friendships, ruins businesses, splits partners, corrupts families and divides churches.
By the way, the Bible reveals four prominent reasons for fighting among the people of God:
1. Excessive prosperity. Genesis 13 offers a prime example.
2. Arrogance and Pride. Romans 14 speaks to this problem.
3. Selfish ambition. See Matthew 20:20-28 for this one.
4. Moral compromise. Joshua 7 warns us about the danger of tolerating “sin in the camp.”
Here are four facts to recall when you are faced with a quarreling Christian.
1. Satan loves to divide the saints and sow discord among the brethren.
2. God commands us to keep the unity of the Spirit because it is a testimony to the watching world.
3. The Bible warns against those who would destroy that unity through greed, pride, slander, gossip and innuendo.
4. Such individuals should be warned and if they do not repent, they should be removed from the body.
These are strong words, but I am persuaded that they are absolutely biblical. When sin is tolerated and not judged, it spreads like a cancer and the whole body is harmed.
There are times when you have to put principles ahead of friendship. Love must be tough enough to stand against moral evil even when it comes from those we love the most.
Sometimes you simply can’t live together in peace. Obviously, we ought to do everything possible to solve our problems, but sometimes our best just isn’t good enough. This side of heaven we aren’t always going to see things eye to eye. In that case, it is better to separate than to go on fighting continually. That’s what happened to Abraham and Lot.
II. The Solution: Dividing the Land (v. 8-9)
What do you do when you can’t get along? Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply go your separate ways. Why spend all your time fussing and fighting?
Who will make the first move?
In this case, the crucial question is, Who’s going to make the first move? It’s precisely at this point that we see Abraham’s greatness. Somebody’s got to step in and stop this nonsense but it won’t be Lot. He’s too worried about getting the best land for himself. Even though Abraham had the right to choose first, he gives up his right in order to settle the conflict.
So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers” (v. 8). He makes his appeal based on common kinship. “For we are brothers.” (v. 8) Most of our problems in the church would be solved if we would just remember those four little words. This week I did two phone interviews—one with a radio station in Buffalo, New York and the other with a station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As I talked with Neil Boron on WDCX in Buffalo, someone called in with a question about birth control. In my reply, I noted that Christians disagree on this topic and that we ought to follow Romans 14 which speaks of holding your convictions while accepting those who see things differently. When I finished, Neil urged all his listeners to read that chapter and take it to heart. The very next day on WHEM in Eau Claire my host mentioned how difficult it is to find God’s will when Christians disagree. While we were on the air he asked me to do another interview later on that topic because it is so important.
“For we are brothers.” We tend to forget that in the heat of battle, don’t we? Somehow brothers become adversaries and friends become enemies.
The Way Up Is Down
Abraham’s solution is the only one that will work under the circumstances: “Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. If you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” There’s no need to quarrel because Canaan is big enough for both of them. But in the end, they couldn’t stay together. So Abraham offers Lot his unrestricted choice of the land.
By human standards, this makes no sense. Why did he do such a thing?
A. He wanted to solve the problem peacefully.
B. He was willing to lose in the short run in order to keep the peace in the long run.
C. He believed that God would take care of him no matter what happened.
He had discovered the all-important truth that in the kingdom of God the way up is down. Several years ago Bill Hybels wrote a book with the arresting title Descending Into Greatness. The very idea seems absurd. To get ahead, you’ve got to climb to the top of the peak, look out for number one, win through intimidation, dress for success, learn the tricks of the trade, and learn the leadership secrets of Atilla the Hun.
But the world’s way and God’s way couldn’t be more different. God showed us his way at Bethlehem. The Bible says that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
The way up is down! When will we learn this simple truth?
Sometimes you have to lose in order to win. Often you must go down in order to rise.
III. The Choice: Sodom vs. Canaan (v. 10-13)
So now Lot can choose any part of the Promised Land. North, South, East, West—it doesn’t matter. It’s like winning the coin toss at the Super Bowl. The choice is his.
At this point the writer of Genesis makes it painfully clear what was motivating his decision: “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord” (v. 10). It seemed to Lot that the Jordan valley was like the Eden come to life before his very eyes. As he gazed, he saw lush fields for his cattle, plenty of room for vineyards, vast open areas for homesteading, and above all else, he saw that there was plenty of water.
Water! Someone has said that water is more precious than oil in Israel. You may remember that the recent treaty between Israel and Jordan centered largely around water rights from the River Jordan. For centuries men have fought and died for access to fresh water in the Holy Land.
So Lot makes his choice based on the availability of water. As he and Abraham part company, Lot moves toward Sodom while Abraham moved toward Hebron. One man went east, the other west.
Who got the better of this deal? From outward appearances, it certainly looked like Lot won. After all, he got the best land and Abraham had to take what was left. But the Bible says that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom.”
Ed Dobson points out three mistakes that Lot made:
1. He chose himself over others.
2. He chose his occupation over his family.
3. He chose the immediate over the future.
You can’t compromise with evil and come away clean. You can’t sleep in the sewer without getting dirty. You can’t dance with the devil without paying the devil’s price.
You Can’t Dance With the Devil
You can’t sleep in the sewer without getting dirty.
By choosing to live near Sodom, Lot was exposing himself and his family to gross moral evil. I’m sure if you asked him beforehand, he would have defended himself by saying that he never intended to make friends with the men of Sodom. He only lived there because that’s where the best land was. Either he was ignorant of the sin of Sodom or he just didn’t care. But if he didn’t know, he should have known because the men of Sodom reveled in their perversity.
Moral compromise often begins with a tiny step in the wrong direction. No one ever intends to fall into sin. But it happens so subtly that before we know it, our lives are entangled in a web of deceit and iniquity. James 1:14-15 graphically pictures the steps to spiritual death: “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Mark the progression carefully:
Stepping Toward the Light
What starts with a fleeting thought, if not immediately resisted, progresses into action, which leads to sin, which results in death. By the way, don’t ever let anyone tell you that temptation is wrong. Temptation isn’t wrong, it’s normal. If you’re not ever tempted, you’re already dead! Each temptation of life brings you face to face with a moral choice. Either you give in or you stand your ground and say no. Each time you give in—even a little bit—you grow weaker, and each time you resist—even a little bit—you grow stronger.
Last summer a dear friend came to see me with news that after many years of struggle she had finally turned the corner in her battle against a debilitating addiction. I shared with her an illustration that has been very helpful to me. Every day each of us makes hundreds of decisions—most of them very small. What to wear, which way to drive to work, when to go to lunch, which phone call to return first. Each decision we make is either a step into the darkness or a step into the light. Last summer I told my friend that each day she would be faced with a thousand tiny decisions and each one would either lead her back into the darkness or toward the light of life. I also reminded her that she didn’t get where she was overnight. It took thousands of tiny decisions to get there and it would take thousands of tiny decisions to get out. But each day as she took tiny steps toward the light, she would move slowly toward a brand new life. And I promised her that one day after thousands of tiny steps in the right direction she would wake up surrounded by the light of God on every side.
This week she wrote me a wonderful note telling me how marvelously her life has changed in the last ten months. She lives and walks in the light of God’s love every day. It is nothing short of a miracle.
Where did Lot go wrong? He made his choice based only on what he could see at the moment. Because he couldn’t “see” the evil of Sodom, it didn’t bother him at all. Because his eyes were filled with the desire for the lush fields of the Jordan Valley, he made the wrong choice and paid for it dearly. Later on, he would lose everything he had and barely escape with his own life when God finally judged Sodom.
A few weeks ago Glen Fitzjerrell asked me to do a radio interview with he and Jane and several former gang members who have been reached for Christ through their ministry. I was delighted to say yes and as we drove down to the US-99 studios on the 13th floor of the John Hancock Building, I listened as the three young men shared how they met Jesus Christ personally. These guys had done it all and seen it all. They spoke about the life they had lived before Christ and then how He had miraculously transformed them and given them a brand-new direction. They are on fire for Jesus.
Here’s a fact most of you don’t know because we don’t publicize it. About every month or six weeks gang leaders from all over Chicago meet here at Calvary on a Saturday afternoon to play basketball and talk about how they can reach their friends for Christ. Sometimes 40 or 50 guys show up. It’s a miracle because in any other setting they would be shooting each other as mortal enemies but they meet here in a group called the United Nations.
The leader of the United Nations is a young man named Silviu. He and I spent some time at the radio station getting to know each other. He said that just one day earlier someone had approached him and asked if he wanted to help cut and sell $10,000 of cocaine. The man would put up the money if he would help sell it on the street. He said that he could easily sell that much in a month or two and clear $50,000 at least. When I asked him how much he could make in a year selling drugs, he paused and thought about it carefully. Conservatively, he could make $200,000, but $300,000 wouldn’t be out of the question. He’s only 18 years old.
He Just Said No
So what do you do? Silviu has experienced more of life in 18 years that most people see in 80 years. He’s seen everything that you can see on the streets, and he’s done most of it. But when he met Jesus Christ, his life was radically transformed. Right now, he’s studying at DeVry Institute to be an electronic specialist. He’s praying for a Christian wife and for the chance to raise a family for the Lord. He’s also thinking about the ministry.
So he said no. That’s all. He just said no. Sure, the money looked good and he knew exactly what to do. But he didn’t have to pray about it. He just said no.
Why? Because Sodom may look good today but tomorrow it’s going up in flames.
IV. The Aftermath: God Speaks Again (v. 14-18)
I find it most interesting that God does not speak until after Lot has departed. Why is that important? Because the Lord has nothing to say to a compromising believer. You can have Sodom or you can have the Lord, but you can’t have them both.
So now the Lord comes back to Abraham and reassures him once again. “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (vv. 14-17).
Abraham must have been amazed when he heard this. God now speaks to the very point of his need. First, he promises to give Abraham all the land. Second, he promises to give Abraham descendants so numerous that no one could ever count them all. Third, he encouraged Abraham to go take a prayer walk through Canaan and survey the land the Lord was giving him.
Think about this. Lot has chosen the best land, but God promises to give all of it to Abraham. He and Sarah have no children, but God promises a descendants like the dust of the earth. The wicked Canaanites control the land, but God is giving it to Abraham.
God Honors Those Who Honor Him
What is the significance of all this? Two points come quickly to mind. First, God has made an eternal promise to the Jews that they will live in the Promised Land. The Promised Land belongs to Israel and to no one else. God signed over the title deed 4,000 years ago, and no one can take it away.
Second, God honors those who yield their rights because they believe in God’s promises. If you’re looking for a big application, here it is. Because Abraham didn’t demand his own way, God gave him back everything he lost and then some.
Who “won”? Did Lot win? Well, I think it’s fair to point out that as this story ends, you might argue that Lot did in fact win. After all, he’s got the best land. But Abraham’s got the Lord.
That reminds me a story that Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa likes to tell. “When the white man came to Africa, we had the land and he had the Bible. But now we have the Bible and he has the land. We shall see who got the better deal.” That’s exactly what Genesis 13 is teaching us. You may win in the eyes of the world, but end up losing everything.
“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Jesus asked. (Mark 8:36).
Lot won in the short run, but his victory didn’t last long. Abraham won in the long run. He got all the land anyway, and he also ended up with the Lord.
God gives the best to those who leave the choice to him.