Genesis #11: The Promise - Conflict and Compromise
Michelle and I have been watching a series on Amazon Prime called Poldark… it’s based on a series of books written back in the 1940’s about a family in London around the late 1700s.
Every episode is full of conflict but back then they handled conflict very differently than we do today.
It’s hard to tell who they are fighting with.... it’s like they fight with complements.
Bless your heart
Very different from how we do things today.
I know because recently we are seeing how we handle conflict.
If you don’t know, there is an election on Tuesday and if you watch the news, read the paper, or get on social media we are overwhelmed with people sharing their opinions and bemoaning the opinion of anyone who disagrees.
Conflict has been a reality since the beginning… and the source of conflict hasn’t changed either.
I read an article this week on a Church Leadership blog by Sammy Adebiyi
I want you to think of a conflict/fight/quarrel you’ve had recently. Maybe something with your dad, roommate, husband, coworker etc.
The worse the conflict, the better. (As long as you can reminisce without punching a hole through your monitor.)
Okay, got it? Feeling anxious? Heart racing? Getting angry replaying the scene? Can’t stop thinking of zingers for your next confrontation?
All right. Perfect.
Now, here’s what’s gonna happen.
Even though I don’t know the what, why or any other details about your conflict, I’m gonna tell you why you got in that argument / fight / quarrel.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire, but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (James 4:1-2)
In other words, James is saying that you experience conflict because you’re not getting what you want. That’s it.
Every conflict boils down to this one truth: You’re not getting what you want.
But they were ‘wrong’ and ‘unfair,’ and she said ‘this’ but did ‘that,’ and they just don’t get it.
I know. And you’re probably right.
But here’s the thing, even when you’re right and they are wrong, the reason you’re fighting is STILL because you aren’t getting what you want.
You want him to think ____ and he isn’t.
You want her to start doing ____ or stop doing ____.
You want them to understand you. You want him to love you. You want her to respect you.
You’re not getting what you want. That’s practically the bottom line in almost every fight and quarrel.
Getting what we want is a powerful lure.
I don’t want to say there aren’t things worth fighting for… there are. There are somethings that are worth giving your life for, the Bible is very clear about that. it’s just that we have to be willing to fight for the right things.
Up until this point in our series the Beginning, Abram’s primary motive has been getting what he wants. He’s been focused on self preservation, and the result has been disastrous
He left God’s promise because he feared a drought.
He denied his marriage because he feared Pharoah.
But then God humbled him through the voice of Pharoah… driving him from Egypt
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord. Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 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.”
That’s a big change for Abram…a man who thought only of himself just a few verses back.
There is only one explanation, his faith is growing.
Abram was changed a the altar
This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.
It seems that Abram has finally understood God’s calling on his life there at the Altar.
I believe this experience at the altar was transformative for Abram… that's part of why I’m inviting you to join me on Wed night for prayer… as we seek the Lord at his altar. Because at the altar we are changed.
It’s as though Abram became able to see himself as he truly were… not as he merely longed to be. He saw himself as God held him, and in that, he found the strength to let go of the things that held him back from glorifying God.
Choosing instead to holding tightly to the things that were important to his relationship with God… and deciding to let anything go that would hold him back.
People are important, but not more than God’s Promise
People are important, but not more than God’s Promise
Abram had come to value the relationship he had with Lot. Now their people were fighting over space, and Abram had to do something. He couldn’t let this go on.
You see back at that altar, he surrendered his plans to God. His thinking to God. He was willing to be second… or third. This made all the difference.
It’s an amazing thing what can happen when people decide the most important thing.
When God’s promise takes precidence; when we have the singlur focus we talkked about last week, we become williing to allow people to come and go.
As a pastor, it used to eat me up when people left the church. I felt like it was my fault or a judgement on my personally. It may have been, but one day at an altar, I resolved to follow God and trust him to bring people who needed to experience his love.
Now some of you hear that and say… yea but.
I get it, I’m a giftep people pleaser. I was trained from birth by one of the best people pleasers I know, my father.
He taught me to just put up with it, to tolerate others no matter what.
but Then at the altar one day I realized that God’s plan and how I was convinced he wanted me to live into it was more important.
Let me give you a real world example.
Our church has been in a denominational conflict for about the last 40 years. In 1972, a phrase was inserted in our Book of Discipline… that’s our constitution as it were… the statement says: The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth.
No matter the race, color, origin, status, or economic condition, all people can attend, participate, receive communion, be baptized, and take membership vows.
No problem with that right? It wasn’t back in 1972 either. It wasn’t until some in the church began to teach that, homosexuality was normative that this became a problem. We talk of LGBTQ issues today as though this has been a life long struggle… but actually we have had a rapid transformation in our culture over the last 20 years, maybe less.
But there remains a conflict of understandings. Some see homosexuality as a part of a person’s identity, as God created them and to be accepted by the church as they seek to honor God with their lives. This should open the church to them in terms of membership, marriage, and ordination.
Then, there is the more traditional view that holds to the understanding that homosexuality is contrary to teachings of scripture and in terms of homosexual practice, including gay marriage, is sin and not to be endorsed by the church.
So you have these two groups in the church… Our doctrines say one side is correct, while the leadership of the denomination hold that the doctrines need to change… that sets us up for conflict.
And that is exactly what has been in place for the last 40 years.
Year in and year out we get gather together to argue about it; trying to enforce our understandings on one another, and year in and year out, we leave saying God is good… but not much else. Leaving some to question: How can God be pleased with us?
Well last year all that changed.
There has been put forward an agreement that the UMC will basically agree to disagree. This agreement has broad acceptance from leadership groups across the denomination.
It will be hard to work out for sure. We will be talking more about it as a church in the days and weeks to come.
For the first time, a wide majority of Methodists agree that winning isn’t the point, being right isn’t the point, actually being faithful to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself is.
It’s as though someone spent time at Abram’s altar… coming away saying I’m no longer going to try and hold you to my expectations if you don’t want to be held there.
So instead we decide, You go your way… and I’ll go the other.
Each side is saying I’m not going to allow relationships with people or a denomination to keep me from pursuing God’s promise.
Abram decided that his relationship with Lot was important, but God’s promise was more important.
Abram had to be willing to let Lot go… remember back in chapter 12 Abram was called to leave his father’s family and go… only he went with his father’s family.
Now he had gotten to the place where he was able to let him go.
Are there some relationships in your life that you need to let go of?
Are you holding on to relationships, that are actually preventing you from moving toward’s God’s promise?
I’m not saying cast people aside. What I’m saying is what would it take for you to open your grip on them and see what might happen?
In the next verse, we see that Lot was simply on a different page than Abram… in fact Lot acted as we are apt to do… something that Abram would have done a few verses before.
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. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
Lot made his choice practically.
He had a lot of wealth, a lot of animals to care for… they give you a choice, make the best choice right? Isn’t it obvious which one to choose?
Abram was probably shaking his head as Lot made his selection… thinking, I would have done that too a few days ago.
But now you see Abram’s faith is growing, he’s learning that God is to be trusted and that.
Trusting God is always the Better Choice
Trusting God is always the Better Choice
Brennan Manning wrote in his book Ruthless Trust
When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles form the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”
When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”
When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said,
“I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
Abram had learned that instead immediately doing what seemed like a sign from God… what he needed was trust.
Is there something that you are waiting for God to show you? Now, does he seem to be just waiting for you to just trust him?
Trusting God to provide, trusting God to deliver, trusting God to lead him… that was the best place for him to be even if it meant that he would be in the land full of rocks.
There were bigger problems than rocks.
Look in verse 13
Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the 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.” So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.
Geographically, Abram and Lot were standing on a high mountain. Looking out to the East, to the green lush areas Lot chose, seemed right.
But Abram wasn’t interested in doing what seemed right, he sought to live with God.
Holiness > worldliness
Holiness > worldliness
Scripture teaches that “there is a way that seems right to a man… but leads to death.”
That was the choice Lot made… a choice that seemed right, but in the end was to be filled with sin, pain, and as we will see, death.
For Abram, it was a simple choice of Seeking to honor God. To pursue God’s way instead of the way he had been going… holiness rather than worldliness.
But the choice of holiness isn’t always that clear or that simple.
Often we can’t tell what the consequences of our choices will be. It’s hard to know if this way or that will eventually lead to sin… Remember what God told Cain, sin is right there crouching at the door… we must master it.
It’s true, sometimes it doesn’t matter which way we go… both alternatives can be avenues to holiness or to sin.
So when in doubt, make the obvious choice of holiness. Chose to walk with God, which ever direction you go
The fact is, we need to get better at playing the long game… not looking for results right now.
Abram was promised that his offspring would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. Think about that for a minute… not while we are in this cleaned and disenfected space… but he’s in the desert… surrounded and covered by more dust than we can imagine.
This wasn’t going to be an overnight blessing.
Abram was going to have to begin to think and act for the long-haul.
We would be wise to do the same. To begin to work and think along with God’s plan.
A plan that requires faithfulness in the moment and for tomorrow.
While excited to take this step, I bet he was also pretty overwhelmed.
And he should be. Think about how you would be in his shoes.
We have to admit, we would be overwhelmed as well. Not if we were perfect, but because we know how imperfect we are.
As Brennan Manning wrote in his other book the Ragamuffin Gospel:
“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” and in recognizing our need for God, we discover who we are and what Grace is.
As the church father Thomas Merton said,
"A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God."
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So what did Abram do? He went back to the place where all this started. Back to the place where he called on God and God responded.
While Lot went off to build his fortune, Abram went back to the altar.
Where do you need an altar?
I want you to know today that Living into God’s promise is possible… it’s not a fairy tale.
Life doesn't have to be a struggle, it can be a labor of love
Conflict doesn’t have to be the norm, for those who understand they are blessed beyond anything they could possibly win in this world.
Frustration doesn’t need to be our default, Jesus said come to me and I will give you rest.
Joy is available to us
Hope is a gift for us
Love is the way of life
But in order to experience this life, is through Faith in Christ.
As Jesus told the woman at the well:
Turn to it
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
So, let me ask you.
Where do you need to apply this to your life today?
What is it in your life that God is calling you to take the long view… to accept as a part of your journey with him… that you aren’t going to see overnight change, but just as the dust of the wind… so he will be faithful.
Let’s spend some time at the altar today
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
The Lord be with you.
ALL: And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
ALL: We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
ALL: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
You created us in your image to represent you here on earth. You gave us in to relationships with one another. But rather than represent you and your love, we rebelled against your plan.
Where we failed to love, Your love remained steadfast. You delivered us from captivity to sin and death, You made covenant to be our sovereign God, and spoke to us through your prophets.
And so, with your people here on earth and all those saints who have gone before:
We, along with the heavenly hosts praise your name and join their unending hymn:
ALL: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ. By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection You gave birth to your church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.
On the night in which he gave himself up for us, He took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this is remembrance of me."
When the supper was over, he took the cup, Gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, In remembrance of me."
And so, In remembrance of these our mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and for ever.
THE LORD'S PRAYER