Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thoughts...Part 2 (Lot)

Thoughts on God’s Heart for Orphans and Widows by Keith McFarland
Part 2: Abraham and Lot- the journey of an orphan heart

The book of James makes it clear that Christians today are to care for the fatherless in their midst, yet the task of working with the fatherless can be quite daunting. Whether one is in the bush of Uganda or in a Sunday School classroom in Chicago, there remains no greater challenge then to get into the heart of an orphan. The challenge is especially tough when the life of an orphan has been characterized by hurt, pain, lack of discipline and lack of love that seems to manifest itself in the present in a lack of trust, disobedience, selfishness, and all out rebellion. Often times it’s easier to remove these children or “distractions” from the rest of a group or just ignore them all together, yet this serves only to reinforce the hurts and pains that fatherless children carry in their hearts. They are simply acting out of their orphaned heart. What is one to do? The Biblical story of Abraham and Lot provides a powerful beginning for understanding the heart of an orphan as well as the place where that heart must be led if true healing is to take place.
We are told in Genesis 12 that God chose Abraham and directed him to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house, to go to a land that God would show him! In this very command, God was calling Abraham to lay down his identity in the land of his birth and as a son in his father’s house, and to trust God alone for both his identity and provision!
Not surprisingly, the heart of an orphan is often besieged with the same issues Abraham faced; only theirs is not by choice. An orphan has lost one or both parents, thus a part of their identity, who they are, is lost. One friend of mine here in Uganda has never known his father, and he spent the first 25 years of his life struggling to know who he is or where he came from. He felt purposeless and empty, as if he were a nobody! Couple this loss of identity with the loss of familiar surroundings and familiar people, especially family, and most children retreat into themselves, build walls of protection, and become fearful of any kind of change. This is the heart of an orphan.
God, however, did not call Abraham to be an orphan but to find his identity, provision, and protection in Him. God promised Abraham three things in return for his faith and obedience: to give him land, to make him into a nation, and that blessing would be to him and through him to all the families of the earth (12:2-3). Abraham believed God and obeyed what God told him to do. It was Abraham’s faith in the promises of God that would result in his faith being “credited to him as righteousness (15:6)”, thus making Abraham the father of all who would then follow his faith. Abraham’s faith must be the beginning point for any orphan seeking to find true healing, and this faith in God must be seen as the cornerstone for a new identity found in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).
When Abraham set out from Ur, he took along his nephew Lot, who was a physical orphan from Abraham’s brother Haran (11:28, 31). Lot, too, was leaving behind any kind of identity, familiarity, and security that he might have had in Ur. Lot journeyed with Abraham as he entered the land of Canaan where God appeared to Abraham and affirmed that this was the land his offspring would inherit (12:7). Lot watched as Abraham built alters to the Lord, and as he called on the name of the Lord near Bethel. Lot saw God’s faithfulness to Abraham during the time of famine as they made their first journey to Egypt, and as God afflicted Pharaoh’s household for taking Sarah into his home. Lot watched the blessing of God come to Abraham as he left Egypt and returned to the land of Canaan rich in livestock, silver and gold (13:1). And Lot himself was rewarded for his faithful following of Abraham, as he too came with flocks and herds and tents of his own! Surely Lot had been blessed as he walked in relationship with Abraham and Abraham’s God! But having material possessions (security) does not remove the heart of an orphan.
A crucial thing happened in the lives of Abraham and Lot after they came out of Egypt and returned to Canaan, near to Bethel where Abraham had first made an altar and called on the Name of the Lord. Abraham and Lot had grown too large in possessions, flocks, and herds, so that the land could not support both of them. It was necessary for them to part ways. Why? Because the Canaanites and Perizzites were also dwelling in the land and probably held the best parts! What would Abraham do? Would he tell Lot to “get off his land,” as the land was promised to Abraham and his descendents! Would he send Lot packing back to Ur? Would he take first choice of the land and tell Lot to dwell where he could? NO! Abraham demonstrated amazing faith in the promises of God and in God as his provider as he allowed Lot to choose whatever part of the land he wanted to settle in, himself taking from what was left over.
Lot, on the other hand, demonstrated his own “orphan spirit” when he “lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord (13:10)” and selfishly chose to dwell there, moving his tents as far as Sodom.
The author then inserts an interesting note: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord (13:13).” The choosing of a well-watered valley would be very important for supporting large flocks and herds, yet it is Lot’s choice to move toward Sodom that stands out further to the reader and that the author of Genesis is stressing. Lot, who had been blessed by the God of Abraham, made his choice based on what externally seemed best for his own benefit (Sodom would have provided excellent trade for him), but in the long run would have disastrous consequences.
This aspect of choosing in the short term what seems “best” even when it carries negative consequences for the future is a typical thing for an orphan. A few years ago an orphan walked me through his own struggle to overcome what he called “the orphan spirit” or “the heart of an orphan.” His greatest challenge was his own heart that was naturally very selfish (protective of what he had or could get). Being exposed to the pain of losing his parents, the loss of identity, and the insecurity that followed him, led to a survival mentality (what can I get now?) that told him he can never have enough, even when he was living in plenty. This becomes very relevant when dealing with Lot and his choice of land and eventual move into Sodom, and it becomes very relevant when dealing with the hearts of fatherless children anywhere in the world!
In contrast to Lot, Abraham’s choice to give Lot the best of the land demonstrated his faith in God, as well as his contentment with what God had given to him and his trust in God for all of his needs, present and future. This faith was immediately rewarded by God “after Lot had separated from him (13:14).” God appeared to Abraham and affirmed His earlier promise to give Abraham’s offspring the land of Canaan forever. This time, however, God invited Abraham to walk around the land and “explore” what was to be his inheritance. Abraham’s identity and trust was in God alone as His provider. This rest in God as provider for all needs (not necessarily wants) is where the heart of an orphan must be led.
Another contrast between Abraham and Lot is set forth in chapter 14. After the defeat of Sodom in the battle of the kings, the city was sacked and all material possessions were taken, as well as the people! The text states clearly that “they also took Lot…who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions…(14:12).” It’s a bit surprising to find Lot now living in Sodom, not just near Sodom, which reveals the appeal that the city had for him, despite the wickedness taking place there. The appeal for physical protection and increase in provision was too strong of a draw for Lot. Despite the fact that he was wealthy and had good land to support him and his family, he was willing to compromise living in the midst of wickedness for what would prove to be false “security.”
Abraham, on the other hand, rested in God as his protector (remember Egypt?). He was just as vulnerable as Lot, yet remained faithful to God and content in his provision and secure in his protection. This security in God’s protection is demonstrated when he gathered together his 318 trained men and routed the kings who had taken Lot captive, bringing back “all the possessions, and also…Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people (14:16).”
Abraham was then presented with an interesting offer that will again challenge where his trust for provision truly rested. The king of Sodom offered Abraham all of the recovered possessions! If Abraham accepted the offer, the wealth he would amass would set Abraham apart as even higher than the kings he had just saved! What a temptation for a man wandering in a country not his own, especially when it was promised to him by God Himself! On top of this, all of Lot’s possessions would be his as well! Yet Abraham, the man of faith, wanted no one to be able to say, “I made Abraham rich (14:23).” Abraham refused the offer because he trusted in God alone for his identity, provision, protection and for the fulfillment of His Word to him. The heart of an orphan must be led to find security in the protection of God the Father, as well as for identity and provision.
God immediately responded to Abraham’s trust in Him by appearing to him in a vision. God’s words to Abraham ring loudly across time and space, through the pages of Scripture: “Fear not, Abraham, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great (15:1).” Abraham had demonstrated faith that he believed this to be true, and God removed any possible doubt that might creep into Abraham’s mind, even as he remained childless in awaiting God’s fulfillment of His word. God promised Abraham an heir from his own body and then sealed the covenant He was making with Abraham by passing through the sacrifice he required Abraham to make- God Himself would uphold His Covenant! Abraham could get no greater security than God’s own Covenant promise! This is the same assurance God gives to those who trust in the death of His Son Jesus!
Lot’s final appearance in the book of Genesis is a tragic one that occurs at least 13 year later. He did not learn from the earlier defeat of Sodom and Abraham’s rescue. Lot remained in the city with his family, the lone righteous man in the midst of such wickedness, tormented in soul (cf II Pet. 2:7-8)! Yes, Lot was righteous, he believed in Abraham’s God, yet he failed to lead his family in the righteousness of the God of Abraham, which ultimately, would cost him his family. Lot’s wife was tragically destroyed for “looking back” as they fled the city, his daughters’ fiancés were killed in Sodom (what was he doing allowing them to marry into such wickedness in the first place!?) and his daughters themselves manifested the perversion of the city through their own unrighteous acts of committing incest with their father (19:30-38). Tragically, nothing more is heard of Lot.
Abraham, on the other hand, was informed of the coming destruction of Sodom. Just before Abraham was made aware of God’s plans, God says of Abraham: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him (18:19, italics mine).” God knew that Abraham would lead his household in following God’s ways through living lives characterized by righteousness and justice. This is God’s heart for His people!
What a picture of where the heart of an orphan must be brought from and to if genuine healing is to take place and the orphan spirit truly overcome! The only hope for a fatherless child is to be brought to a place where they find their complete identity, provision, and protection in God alone, and where they are leading others in these too! A child must be brought beyond the point of belief in Jesus as his or her Savior- though this is the beginning point! Their hearts must be brought to day to day submission before this Father who has revealed Himself as the “Father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5)” and who through the Gospel of Jesus Christ can give them new life and will adopt them into His own family (see Romans 8:15-16, Eph. 1:3-6, and Galatians 4:4-7)! This is where the orphan heart is set free and where true healing takes place and where vision for some day leading a family is found. Yes, Lot had faith in Abraham’s God, but he failed to walk fully in the faith of Abraham and he failed to lead his family in that faith expressed in righteousness. In many ways, Lot always remained an orphan, while Abraham knew his Dad.
After searching for 25 years, the friend that I mentioned earlier accepted Jesus as his Savior and found new life in God. Sadly, his orphaned heart remained restless and he found himself struggling in his identity and struggling to lead his family. He attended church, but wasn’t experiencing the joy he saw in others. Even after his wife gave him a son, he was insecure at how to father this gift from God. After his wife’s tragic death as a result of AIDS, he was forced to be the sole caretaker of his son, yet as his own heart struggled, so did his parenting and so did his son. It wasn’t until three years later that my friend made the most exciting discovery of his life- God is His Father! Suddenly, his struggle to know who he is came to an end- he is a child of God! He has found his identity in God as his Father, provider, and protector, and has sense been leading his son in these things as well!
In reality, whether or not we are physical orphans, we are ALL born spiritual orphans, dead in sin and separated from God. All of us face the challenge to live like Abraham or Lot. And many of us live the Christian life like my friend, with Jesus in the heart but an orphan in the soul. Life is lived in slavery, not in sonship. May we all come to find our identity, provision, and protection in God alone as sons and daughters of the King, and may we lead both physical and spiritual orphans to this well-spring of life!

1 comment:

Dan Cruver said...

I just heard about this sermon and am listening to the version of it he preached here: Thanks for posting these notes. Excellent.