Sunday, January 13, 2008

God Allows Us to Choose - Genesis 12 - 15

There is a huge bundle of wonderful ideas all wrapped up in the statement that entitles this lesson. Freedom of choice is equal to the greatest gift ever given to man kind by the Heavenly Father. When a Bible student thinks about the greatest thing God has ever done for man, his mind must go directly to the Cross where “God gave his only begotten Son to die for our sins.” This was the miracle of all miracles. But then we must realize that it would have been for naught if God had not given us the freedom to choose Christ as our savior. Our “freedom of choice” is a wonderful gift directly from the Son of God.

If you will think back to the garden that God furnished as the home of the first man created you will see the beginning of ‘freedom of choice’ in that Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit. It was their choice! Actually there is only one instance in the life of man where he has no choice. God created Adam, a man. God created Eve, a woman neither of them had any choice either to be born or as to their sex, or parents. You and I had no choice; we were born without our permission and our sex was determined by the way our genes were arranged—we had no choice in whether or not we wanted to be born or what sex we would be.

When Adam and Eve chose to disobey they lost an eternal life of bliss and passed their sinful nature on to posterity. This was not God’s will and in order to give us a way out he gave us the freedom of choice to allow us to plan and carry out our destination. We can and must choose right or wrong; heaven or hell; this day we must choose to accept Christ and what he did at the cross for us—or we will choose to reject Jesus and live our life in disobedience.

God chose Abram as the man that would be the Father of His chosen people that inhabited the earth after the flood; this is not Old World History—but the focus is on one specific nation—Israel. Israel’s history begins with this one individual—the man we know as Abraham. His original name, Abram, was given him by his father whose name was Terah—they lived the city of Ur of the Chaldean which was located in the southern part of present day Iraq, near the Euphrates River. They settled here after the confusion of the languages and the scattering of the people at Babel. This area was a part of the country that God had called the “Land of milk and honey” therefore it had prospered, and Ur had grown into a cosmopolitan city. Bible history does not indicate that God had dealt with the scattered people on a daily basis after they left Babel. Indications are that the people of Ur worshiped a variety of deities; one of which may have been God, but God is a jealous God and will not share his position with any other man made deity. Terah and his family had fallen into the ways of the city in which they lived. God chose Abram to be the Father of His people while he was living in Ur. God revealed himself to Abram and called on him to follow him—the one and only God and no other. In Acts 7: 2, we find that god directed Abram to take his family and move north to Canaan but for some reason they stopped at the city of Haran. [Please turn to the passage in Acts and read these verses that are very interesting.]

Our lesson begins with the 12th chapter of Genesis and gives us the history of these people that could either obey God and prosper or disobey Him and fall into disfavor. Many of us have studied this lesson that emphasizes the fact that Abram chose to obey and worship the Lord while Lot chose [pitched his tent toward Sodom] to live in a fertile land whose inhabitants followed other gods and lived lives of sin and rebellion. I hope we are able to show that Abram made many mistakes; he was far from the perfect example, and he also had to pay for his mistakes, repent and return to God on several occasions. We should not approve of his mistakes, but we can find some peace of mind when we see that we too can make mistakes that God will forgive if we will only stay humble, seek forgiveness and obey God to the best of our abilities. The emphasis in this lesson shows the impact that our choices have on our individual fellowship with Jesus Christ. We can choose Christ and be saved “As by fire” or we can choose Christ and obey him and live a more abundant life here on earth and gain heaven with its abundance of rewards promised to the faithful. Abram made mistakes, but his repentant attitude and willingness to obey was accepted by God and he was rewarded for his follow-ship.

People are reluctant to change; therefore when God called Abram to move out from his family, and leave his home and travel north into a country that “I will show you”…it took great faith on Abram’s part to follow these instructions. This constitutes Abram’s first step of faith with acceptable depth in [Yahweh] God. Because of his great faith, proven by his obedience, Yahweh made a covenant with Abram. [Remember a covenant has two sides.] First, Abram was to obey God, and then God would make him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, make him a blessing, bless those that blessed Abram and curse those that cursed him and bless all peoples on earth through him. I truly believe that someone who reads this may be in the same position that Abram was in. God may be trying to lead you to a place of greater service and usefulness for him. No one should let the comfort and securities of their present position cause them to miss God’s plan for their life. “At seventy-five years, he led the way taking his wife, Sarai, and Lot with him.”

As we study this area of time and the happenings involving the twelve tribes we find that little is being done toward the establishment of a Godly people anywhere on earth. God was determined that ‘His people’ the “Israelites’ would have a home of their own. In verse five we find that Abram took his wife Sarai and nephew Lot, his holdings and “people they had acquired’ with them and set out for the Land of Canaan—that was inhabited by the Canaanites. The land became the focal point of Israel and the rise of Christianity. This land was given to Abram, the father of the Israelites by God, and it has had a great impact on all of Christian history. The Islam people need to remember that God told Abram that anyone that cursed him and his people would be cursed.

The people at First Baptist need to remember that nothing pleases God more than for his people to worship Him. Our Sanctuary is our place of worship and not a gymnasium. Abram did not build a gym, a recreation room, or even a youth building. Abram built an ALTER to the lord. The alter was not just a place where sacrifices were offered. The alter was the place where people communicated with God and where they remembered their notable encounters with God—they were for prayer and worship and the place where people remember the promises that God has made to his people. Most of the time when I enter the Sanctuaries of churches today [including my own] the atmosphere is more like one expects prior to the beginning of a rodeo or a basketball game. There are far more ball game results being discussed than prayers being offered. No wonder that children do not respect the House of God—just look at the examples set by their own parents.

It will serve us well to stop talking for a moment and start looking at a map that indicates the journey made by Abram and his people during their period of obedience to God. The family lived in Ur of the Chaldeans about three-hundred miles north of the Persian Gulf, on the banks of the Euphrates when God directed him to go into the unknown lands. They first moved about two thousand miles north to Haran…then about seven hundred miles south to Shechem, Bethel, and Jerusalem in Canaan Land. And now as we start looking at their move into Egypt, they first went to The Negev and then to Egypt which was another thousand or more miles. Try, as best you can, to think of the logistics involved at that time, in the moving of a small nation three times, a distance of nearly three thousand miles using pack donkeys, camels and traveling on foot. Now add to your imagination the fact that Abram and his people became involved in a period of drought and famine in this land that had been called the “Land of Milk and Honey.” I ask you…how did Abram manage to maintain his faith and dependence on God? He did. Could you? He was at Negev when the famine struck and he left for Egypt where there was food available for his people. Why would there be a famine in the land where God had just sent Abram. I don’t know. It just appears to me that it could have been in order to test the faith of Abram and his people. After all, the Bible states that “By faith Abraham followed God.”

The next time life deals you a hand that seems impossible to play and win, why don’t you simply trust God as the dealer to be setting you up to win a hand that looks impossible but causes you to immediately realize that nothing is impossible with God? This was a test of Abram’s faith and he passed the test with a score that pleased God. There is no record where Abram questioned God. The next time you find yourself in a position like this; don’t question God…just move on to Egypt. Do as Abram did…obey, and then wait for the opportunities God will provide for your recovery.

If you have doubts, you are no different from Abram. He was afraid, and he made a mistake in asking that his wife protect him from death by saying she was his sister. That was not God’s order! His mistake worked for awhile…until God punished the Pharaoh for taking another man’s wife, but as usual…your sin will find you out. This incident proves that lying compounds the effects of sin. When he lied, Abram’s problems multiplied. This incident led God to have Moses write in stone as one of the Ten Commandments—“Thou shalt not bear false witness.” He was fortunate that the Pharaoh was willing to return his wife, all his wealth and give him the chance to leave Egypt without further repercussions.

Abram reversed his travels out of Egypt and returned to Negev; then on to Bethel and Ai where he had previously built an alter for worship and sacrifice. He was a very wealthy man with live stock and other riches. Lot was still with him, and he too had grown wealthy. Both had herds that over grazed the land and their herdsmen were having problems with each other. Abram took the matter into his own hands and directed that Lot choose the direction he would go and they separated. Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom [13: 1-13].

The lesson here for us is that it is best to take the initiative in solving any problem that confronts us; we should be willing to let the adversary have first choice even if we are older and maybe even more deserving and seemingly should have firs choice. Abram even ran the risk of being cheated—and at first it seemed that this had happened. This agreement shows us how to respond to difficult family disagreement. There was a better way to solve their problem and it would have saved Lot’s family from destruction; but Lot’s pride, greed and jealously stood in the way. Christian church members should realize that arguments, disagreements and rivalries can be destructive to the church; causing the loss of trust; and causing peace and good will to diminish. The foundation of the Church is anchored in love for God and each other and should never be undermined or uprooted.

Lot’s actions reveal his character; HE HAD A CHOICE TO MAKE [note the title of this lesson] in that Abram and God let him choose the direction he would go. He made his choice knowing that the area was occupied by a wicked people that were not worshippers of his God. Young people in particular should learn a lesson here and that is the importance of choosing their friends and associates. Just remember that black birds stay in their own flock; quail stay in their covey…birds of a feather flock together. Anytime anyone strays from God’s directions—they can still make their own choice but it will always be in the wrong direction.

He chose fertile land with great pastures that had plenty of water for his flocks and this seemed like a great and wise choice. He either ignored, or failed to realize that the wicked city of Sodom would offer enticing choices that would eventually destroy his family and leave him a broken man. Do you know a family that in shambles because either the wife or husband chose to live in a Sodom? A divided house can not stand. Listen well; because there is a paradox here in this lesson. It is dangerous to partake in the ways of Sodom; however the Bible teaches us to go there as evangelist, missionaries, preachers and teachers with the sole purpose of taking the Word of God to these people. If you are there for the right reason—God will be with you. However you can not become a satisfied citizen of a wicked city and still expect God’s hand of protection. Christ told us to go into Sodom [all the world] but we must CHOOSE not to become like the people we are trying to reach.

The last verse in the lesson tells us that Abram also made a CHOICE to live in the timberland at Hebron, where he built an alter to the Lord. God blessed Abram because he obeyed Him. Soon he changed his name to Abraham and continued to keep the covenant he had made with this man to make him the Father of God’s people, through which all people would be blessed by the coming Messiah that would arrive through the lineage of David whose forefather was Abraham. You have the privilege of choosing this day whom you will follow and serve; but as far as John Vandiver and his house…we will choose to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

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