Sunday, December 8, 2013

Separate But Not Indifferent
We've all had family and friends who have gone their separate ways.  Sometimes, the separation is due to one side wronging the other, either in reality or in perception.  Other times, even when blood binds people together, their lives and personalities simply propel them in two opposite directions.

In Abram's case, his separation from his nephew, Lot, was a little of both.

After stepping out on faith and leaving everything to follow God's command, Abraham grew rich.  In fact, all too soon, Abraham and Lot's flocks grew so great that "the land could not support them while they stayed together" (Gen. 13:6).  Naturally, when there's a shortage of anything (especially food and water), generally unified people will take sides, and sure enough, "quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s" (v. 7).

Abraham determined "close relatives" shouldn't quarrel, so he proposed their family should part ways and, to that end, divide the grazing lands between them.  Abraham then showed a true heart of generosity as well as utter faith that God would continue to bless Him no matter what--he gave Lot first choice of the land.  

Uncle and nephew had surely grown very close over the years; alone and away from their homeland, they were all each other had for family.  That closeness must have made Abraham keenly aware of his nephew's inner character so much so that I'm sure Abraham was not surprised by Lot's response.  Still, just the fact that he gave Lot the chance to do the right thing and divide the "best" lands between them implies that Abraham still held out hope for his nephew.

Lot, though, greedily snapped up the better grazing lands, leaving the less-lush land for his Uncle: "Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt....So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east" (Gen. 13:10-11). 

Scripture records that "Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents" while "Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom"  (v. 18, 12).

There couldn't be two more extreme images, one of Abraham separating himself from the world to the point of the closest landmark being some trees and the other of Lot living near one of the most evil cities in history.

The problem with setting up one's tents this close to a city known throughout history as being the epitome of all things immoral is it's only a hop, skip, and a jump before you're camping closer and closer to the city gates.  Then, before you know it, you're comfortable enough to step through those gates and, eventually, live within the walls with little to no hesitation, and that is exactly what happened.  

Just one chapter later, a conglomerate of kings captured the city of Sodom and, with it, Lot's family.  As Scripture records, "They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom" (Gen. 14:12).

Living.  In.  Sodom.

At this point, Abraham had a choice.  He could save Lot or let him suffer the consequences of his own actions.

The two men had already separated.  Abraham owed Lot nothing more.  And besides, Lot had chosen poorly, obviously demonstrating a heart not devoted to remaining completely separate from the world.  Yet, whether Lot was participating in the worldly living found within Sodom's walls wasn't the point.  The question was, what would Abraham, God's chosen man, do about it?  

Although there is no other instance in Scripture of Abram picking up his sword to take the battlefield, in this solitary episode, Abram did just that:  "When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan...He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people" (Gen. 14:13-16).

Stupidly enough, Lot apparently did not learn his lesson here about separating himself from the world.  He evidently went back from captivity to his home in Sodom so that a mere five chapters later, angels have to come and warn Lot to leave or be destroyed along with the city.

Since Lot did not learn his lesson, does that mean, then, that Abraham should have just left him the first time to rot in the consequences of his sin?  I don't believe so.  

In Abraham, I see seeds of God's heart as shown throughout the New Testament in Jesus Christ:  first,our God is not indifferent to suffering, even when that suffering is a direct result of our choices.  Secondly, our God is a God of second chances, One who doesn't give up on us even when we seem to never learn our lessons.

These are the characteristics I see in Abraham.  These are the characteristics I believe God wants to see in the church today.  Yet, too often, it seems that the church unintentionally equates God's requirement to be "separate" from the world with being "uninvolved."  That un-involvement then leads to a heart of indifference.

Yet, God did not call His children to be indifferent or uninvolved.  He merely called us to be separate. Yes, there is a difference.

As we enter this holiday season, there is a lost world around us.  We may even have family and friends living in a modern version of Sodom.  Perhaps we have intentionally separated ourselves from them because of different moral or religious beliefs, fearing the impact on us and on our children.  

While I can honestly understand that desire, I still believe God wants us to look at that person as one who needs a Savior, as one who may only hear that gospel from your lips.  In all things, may we guard our hearts against indifference.  Let us not ignore the plight of the lost simply because we have chosen to be set apart in pursuit of sanctification.  

Image: entitled "Indifference."

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