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Good and Generous God

This morning we are continuing our look at the life of Abram. We last left Abram as he was being deported out of Egypt – escorted out of the country by Pharaoh’s men. 

He had gone to Egypt to escape a famine, but while there were there, they ran into a few complications. Because Abram’s wife Sarai was so beautiful –  he had asked her to tell people that she was his sister, rather than his wife – out of fear that he would be killed by the Egyptians who would see how beautiful she was and would want to remove her husband out of the equation. 

Well, this plan worked so well that Sarai ended up being taken into Pharaoh’s palace to become his wife – something that I don’t imagine Abram & Sarai had counted on. But God intervened and brought plagues on Pharaoh and his whole household because of Sarai, and through that, somehow it was discovered that Sarai was really Abram’s wife. As you might imagine, Pharaoh was none too pleased when he found out that Abram had deceived him and that Sarai was actually his wife. So after some fairly harsh words, he had his men escort Abram & Sarai out of the country.

And so that’s where we’re going to pick it up this morning – in Genesis chapter 13, verse 1.

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. 2 (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) 3 From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. 4 This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again. Genesis 13:1-4

You might remember from a few weeks ago, that before Abram had gone down to Egypt, he had been travelling through the Promised Land – the land that God had promised to give to him and his descendants – even though, at this time, Abram had no children and his wife Sarai had been unable to become pregnant and she was now about 65 years old. None the less, Abram believed the promises of God that he would have many descendants and they would inherit this Promised Land – and so he had built these altars to worship the Lord.

And so I imagine, that now, after safely coming out of Egypt back into the Promised Land, Abram was very thankful for all that God had done for him & Sarai to this point and so he returned to those altars that he had built and again worshipped the Lord. While he likely didn’t have turkey, stuffing, or pumpkin pie, I imagine this was a time of great Thanksgiving for Abram and his family.

And I didn’t really intend this message to be a “Thanksgiving Message” so to speak, but just as a sidenote, in some ways it’s too bad that we need to have a date on the calendar to remind us to be thankful for all that God has done for us. Over and over again, the Bible instructs us to give thanks – to praise God for who is he and what he’s done. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us…

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We are to give thanks in every situation. In the good – in the bad – in the hard – in the easy – in the unknown – in the everyday mundane routines of life – in every situation, we are to be thankful to God. Why? Because in every situation, God is good. And that never changes.

Our situations change. Our circumstances change – but God never does.

We sang that song earlier that had the line “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, his love endures forever. For He is good – He is above all things. His love endures forever.” I knew that song was based on a verse in the Bible so I went to see if I could find the reference for that. Well, I found it… six times. The verse goes like this: 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.”

1 Chronicles 16:34

Psalm 106:1

Psalm 107:1

Psalm 118:1

Psalm 118:29

Psalm 136:1

Six times we are told to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” If we have to be told something six times, it’s either because we’re awfully slow to get it – or it’s really important. Perhaps in this case, both reasons are true.

Either way, this morning as we’re in the midst of our Thanksgiving weekend, I just wanted to remind you that our God is always worthy of our thanks and praise and adoration. For He is good. His faithful love endures forever. Even when we blow it. Even when we go through hard times. Even when we are ungrateful and selfish. God remains good. He continues to love us and that faithful love will endure forever.

I think that’s something that by this point, Abram was beginning to understand. So Abram and Sarai and Lot all come out of Egypt, they go back to the place where Abram first built those altars and they worshipped the Lord there. They thank Him and praise Him for his watchful care over them in Egypt and they worship Him as sovereign Lord. 

Well, it’s not long after this that a new challenge pops up – and Abram will again have chance to test his faith and God will have a chance to prove his faithful love once again. Let’s take a look at verse 5.

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. 6 But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. 7 So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.) Genesis 13:5-7

So you’ll remember that Lot was Abram’s nephew. Lot’s father (or Abram’s brother) had died at a relatively young age and it seems that Abram took Lot in almost like an adopted son. Now we don’t know exactly how old Lot was at the time that his father died, but it’s clear that by now, he’s certainly a grown man and he had quite a household of his own. He had become very wealth alongside Abram – who, as we had read in verse 2, had also become “very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.”

But all this wealth has created a problem – as wealth often does. As nomadic herdsmen, both Abram and Lot needed large areas of pasture land to feed all their many flocks and herds and there just wasn’t enough land to support all their livestock. Verse 7 tells us that the Canaanites and the Perizzites were also living in the land, so perhaps they had already claimed much of the land for themselves and there wasn’t enough left for Abram and Lot to share effectively.

And so this issue was starting to create problems between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsman. They found themselves arguing about who got to pasture their animals where. I’m sure there ended up being miscommunications and double bookings and and all kinds of problems were popping up – creating tension between these two groups, and potential causing a rift between Abram and Lot.

So after some time as Abram realized what what going on, he decided not to let this situation fester, but to do something about it. Verse 8.

8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Genesis 13:8-9

It was a fairly straight-forward and simple solution and as I read it, it seems to me that Abram did two very wise things. First of all, notice here that it was Abram took the initiative to make sure that these disputes didn’t grow into a full blown fight between himself and his nephew Lot. 

Abram knew that if you let little things fester, they grow into big things. Mole hills become mountains. And Abram didn’t want to let that happen. He didn’t want to let anything come between him and his nephew and so he took the initiative to do something about it. I think that was very wise, and I think that’s a great lesson for us.

Sometimes it just seems easier to ignore the little conflicts in life rather than to deal with them. When two people have a bit of a falling out, or they butt heads on some issue – quite often we try to do one of two things. #1. We just ignore the issue and hope it will go away. Or #2. We wait for the other person to see the error of their ways and for them to come to us to make things right. But what usually happens in both of those scenarios is that nothing gets resolved and we let that thing come between us and bitterness and resentment begins to grow.

But the Bible is very clear that there is no room for that in our lives. In order for us to walk in harmony with God, we need to learn to walk in harmony with others too. Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 in the famous ‘sermon on the mount’…

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. Matthew 5:23-24

We can’t have a right relationship with God when we aren’t willing to pursue right relationships with others. And this should be especially true in the family of God. There is no place for unresolved quarrels or bitterness or resentment in the church. That’s not to say that we’ll never have disagreements. Or that we will never offend one another. That stuff’s gonna happen. But when it does, we need to take the initiative to deal with it. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:2…

2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. Ephesians 4:2-3

That verse three is hard to do – but it’s so important. “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit.” Don’t let division or bitterness or resentment grow. Take the initiative – make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit. That goes for our relationships with our neighbours, that goes for our relationship with our spouse, that goes for our relationships with other people in the church, and as Abram shows us – that even goes for our relationships with our relatives!

In fact, Abram went so far in his efforts to remain united with his nephew Lot in the midst of this conflict about pasture land for their flocks – that he even gave Lot the first pick of whatever land he wanted. Abram said…

The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Genesis 13:9

Now you’ve got to realize that Abram didn’t have to do that. As the patriarch of the family, Abram would have been well within his rights to simply tell Lot, “I’m taking this land over here – you can have that land over there. End of discussion.” In that patriarchal society in which they lived, seniority and age always took precedent over all else, so Abram, as the older Uncle, was the head of the entire family and what he said would go. So it was really an amazing kindness for Abram to offer Lot the first choice of whatever land he wanted. 

And keep in mind that not all the land was equal. In those middle eastern places, there was a vast difference between the lush, well-water valleys and the harsh, arid mountains. 

For Abram to so generously offer first choice to Lot, I wonder if Abram had a renewed trust in God after his experience in Egypt? After God had preserved Him and Sarai in Egypt – even blessing them with more than what they started with – I wonder if Abram’s trust in God now allowed him to be extra generous, because he knew that God would still take care of him in abundance?

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but it seems that the most generous people in the world are the people who trust God the most. They don’t have to cling to what they have, because they trust that God will always provide generously for them. Generosity is really a step of faith. It’s that action that shows that you actually believe what God has said. You trust his promises and so you obey his command.

So I wonder if that’s what’s happening here with Abram. Is he learning to trust God so much that he is free to be abundantly generous with his nephew Lot?

Well, I don’t know for sure, but after such an act of unselfish generosity, you’d almost expect Lot to respond in kind. You’d expect him to say “Oh no, Uncle. You are the head of the family – this decision is up to you. You’ve been so kind to me already over all these years, you should really have first pick. And after all, Uncle Abram, God did promise to give you this entire land. It belongs to you and your children. So whatever land you give me is more than a generous gift.”

You’d expect him to say that – but that’s not what we read. Verse 10

10 Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. 12 So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. 13 But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.

Genesis 13:10-13

Now I don’t want to read too much between the lines – but from what this says here, it kinda seems like Lot picked the best land for himself. Verse 10 describes the land as being like “the garden of the Lord”. That’s got to be a pretty nice place, I’m thinking. But with all that beautiful land comes some danger. We get a couple warning signs in this passage that Lot’s choice may not have been the most wise.

We see that Lot settled near a place called Sodom – and this place wasn’t a very nice place. It may have been beautiful, but it wasn’t very nice. Verse 13 tells us that the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. Not exactly the kind of place where you want to raise your family. And furthermore, we see the little note of commentary in verse 10 that says “(This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)”

And I don’t want to spoil the story that is coming a little later about Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot and his family – if you’re really curious, you can jump ahead to chapter 19 – but to summarize, there’s not really a happy ending for anyone.

Lot’s choice of land here, which certainly strikes me as being at least a little selfish, was the first step towards a whole pile of trouble and sorrow and loss. And just as a general principle, that’s where usually selfishness leads. Selfishness leads to trouble, sorrow, and loss. James chapter 3 actually has some pretty strong words about selfishness and jealousy. It says in James 3:15…

15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:15-16

That’s pretty strong language, but it’s appropriate. You never see a joyful jealous person. You don’t see selfish people ever being happy and content. Those are oxymorons. It’s a contradiction of terms. Joyful and jealous can never go together. Selfish and content are opposites. Selfishness never leads to a happy, joyful life. As James says, it leads to “disorder and evil of every kind.” 

That’s exactly what we see in the world today. That’s what we see in so many families. I had coffee with week with a friend who works for Hope Mission in Red Deer and they run after-school kids programs for disadvantaged kids. He was telling me about this one girl that comes to their programs. She lives with Tim. Tim is her mom’s ex-boyfriend. They had moved in together at some point, and then they broke up and mom left, leaving her daughter with this ex-boyfriend. And so now this poor little girl lives – not with her dad and not with her mom, not even with grandma or grandpa, uncle or aunt, but with Tim, the ex-boyfriend.

And I just couldn’t believe that when I heard that. I mean, good for Tim for taking care of this little girl – but man! You can sure see how selfishness leads to disorder and evil of every kind.

And maybe that’s why the Bible tells us so often to be thankful. Thanking God for all his blessings and praising him for all that he has done really helps to counter that spirit of selfishness and jealousy. It’s a lot harder to get all wrapped up in ourselves, when we are busy being thankful for all that others have done for us. It’s so important that we practice gratitude and thankfulness daily – not just at Thanksgiving – but every day! As we read earlier – “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 

Don’t let that selfishness take root in your life – because it’ll take you down a road that you don’t want to go. Instead, take the road of thankfulness and generosity, and you’ll end up in a much better place. That’s what Abram did – and let’s see how it turn out for him. Verse 14

14 After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. 15 I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. 16 And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! 17 Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. There he built another altar to the Lord. Genesis 13:14-18

Once again, God reaffirmed his promises to Abram. All this land – in every direction from where he was – as far as he could see – was a gift from God to Abram and his descendants as their permanent possession. And what’s more, God would give Abram so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they could not be counted.

It sounds to me like Abram’s generosity towards Lot was repaid by God many, many times over. Once again God showed that He was a good and generous God – a God who’s faithful love endures forever.

And in case you’ve forgotten, that’s the same good and generous God that we serve today. That’s the God who still loves us more than we can imagine. That’s the God that, some 2000 years ago, came to earth as man, lived a sinless life, died on a cross taking the punishment for our sins, and rose again to life again so that we may live with him forever. 

That’s the very same good and generous God that wants to have a relationship with you. He wants you to know him like a close friend. He wants you to trust his promises and to take those steps of faith with Him. He wants to show you just how good and generous He is.

And so this Thanksgiving weekend, I know everyone has all kinds of plans and get-togethers and football games and whatnot, but I’d sure encourage you to make some time just to follow Abram’s example. You don’t have to built an altar or anything, but take some time and make the effort to worship God – to thank Him for who He is and for what He’s done in your life. If you want to be real practical, make a list of all the good things God has done or given to you. And then thank him for every single one.

Thanking God is a simple, but very effective way of decreasing our selfishness and increasing our generosity. It too is a step of faith as we believe what God has said and trust in his promises.

 

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