Choices, Choices (Genesis 13:1-18)

Abraham and Lot faced important choices when arguments broke out. Yet, what motivated Abraham to make the choices he did?

Read more below or watch the video recording of this sermon at St. Luke’s.

Introduction- faith is a journey

From the moment God called Abram, and Abram chose to listen, follow and obey, he was on a journey not just a physical one moving from Ur to Haran, Shechem and on into Canaan but a spiritual one too. He had been called by God who he didn’t know before – hadn’t worshiped before – his physical journey was echoing a spiritual one – he was getting to know God. 

Abraham, this man of faith that is remembered in the New Testament began where we all do not knowing God and then he went on an epic journey! He had received promises from God. He was following God’s instructions and he was growing in his faith journey. Alongside his physical journey At each place they settled Abram built an altar to the Lord. An altar was a place of sacrifice of worship. Abram spent time in an attitude of humility and prayer giving the God who called him praise and honour. As Abram got to know God he would get to know that God was a god he could trust that he would fulfill his promises but like any relationship that took time being together on that journey physically and spiritually.

Around Ten years ago I went on an adventurous journey. I went to New Zealand with the mission organization OM on a three month discipleship and evangelism programme. There were seven of us in our twenties that had signed up for this programme. At the start of the programme we didn’t know each other at all. We travelled from place to place across both islands, hiked mountains, swam in frozen lakes, camped in remote spots, and when you travel together, cook together, do your laundry together you do get to know each other real well. But it wasn’t just getting to know the other participants – through daily bible studies and worship, evangelism training I got to grow deeper in faith and in love with Jesus, to be stretched out of my comfort zone of what was familiar and trust and know Jesus more, digging deeper into God’s word. God opened up my eyes to the vastness of his world to the beauty of it, to his work in it and that he was always faithful. Going on that adventure journey developed my understanding of God further. 

What can Abrams journey teach us about our own journeys with God? Abram chose this journey. On this journey Abram was learning more and more about God. About how he could choose to truly trust God and believe the promises he’d been given.

Choose God

In our passage from Genesis 13 we see choices that Abram made – he chose to call on the name of the Lord, he chose to be generous and let his nephew choose the best land, and he chose to continue trusting in God to fulfill his promises. His choices were influenced by his knowledge of and relationship with God. How are our choices influenced by God? How can they be? Do we allow them to be? What can the journey and choices of Abram teach us?

Abrams journey with God begins in the previous chapter (ch. 12) – Abram encounters God for the first time (v1). He makes a choice to follow God (v4), he encounters God again at Shechem and builds an altar there and worships God (v7) , Abram continues the journey, where he builds another altar between Bethel and Ai  and worships God again – calling on the name of the Lord (v8), before traveling to Negev – then (v10) a famine hits that region so they travel on to Egypt.

This is where Abram makes a choice to lie to Pharaoh about the identity of his wife – he’s like no that’s not my wife! That’s my sister!  The reason he did that was because he was fearful of his own life. Because his wife was so beautiful He thought if they knew he was married to Sarah they would kill him so that then they could marry her. So he lied – and he actually did okay from the lie – v16, he acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkey, male and female servants and camels. You might think, well that can’t have been a bad choice really…. But then we get to v17  But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So the Egyptians kick them out of the Egypt sending them on their way.

Abram had received a promise that God would make him into a great nation (12:2). That, would involve Abram being alive to have children, he’s promised again in 12:7 that his offspring will be given the land. Instead  of trusting that in order for that to be fulfilled  God would keep him safe, he chose to lie and deceive. 

It’s after this event that we have our passage for today. Where Abram once again chooses to call on the name of the Lord. And I think it’s necessary to know what happened in Egypt in order for us to fully grasp what it might mean for Abram to be calling on the name of the Lord here.

After the events in Egypt we trace his journey from Egypt back to the Negev and then back to the altar he had built between Bethel and Ai. There is a parallel here between Abram retracing his physical steps to go back to where he had encounters with God. And retracing his spiritual steps – He again calls on the name of the Lord. By Calling on the name of the Lord, there’s a sense that he’s seeking forgiveness, he feels a need to recalibrate, to acknowledge he’d made a mistake and not trusted God to keep him safe.  He’s choosing to reconnect with God to reboot. Its almost like there’s a desparate need in him to call on God’s name, its a priority, he wants to put things right with God. He chooses God again. 

Is that true for any of us here today – do we feel a real need within us to reconnect with God – to get back on track and retrace our steps. Do we choose God?

I also wonder that this desire of Abram to call on God’s name – to worship him, is not only due to a need to recalibrate but also to acknowledge God’s power – he’d seen it at work in Egypt. He understands better who God is and wants to go back to calling on the name of the Lord and trusting in him.

Do we choose to get to know God better by calling on his name? Being here today I am making an assumption that you have made a choice to worship God, to acknowledge like Ab we don’t always get it right,  but are  seeking out God, to know him better and worship him.

Choose to be transformed

It is a choice to worship God, acknowledge him, call on his name

And that choice then leads to a transformation. When you spend time with someone you can often become more like them. 

In the New Testament there is this sense that through choosing to know God through Jesus a transformation occurs – in Romans 12:1-2 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Worship leads to transformation. And in Ephesians we read ‘when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’

By spending time with God, getting to know God better, I believe Abram is changing and transforming.

I believe this is what we are seeing in the way Abram deals with the situation that arises in our reading. Abram is faced with a dilemma. Arguments have broken out amongst his herders and those of his nephews. It is not Abram alone that is wealthy, Lot his nephew has also gained his own flocks and herd and servants. They have become too many to be together in one place. The commentaries explain that it is highly likely that it was not sustainable to stay where they were together, there wasn’t enough pasture for all the cattle and livestock to feed – it was inevitable that they would divide. But how would Abram deal with this situation?

As the elder in the relationship he had every right to choose the best land for himself, and yet he forfeits that right, allowing Lot to choose – and unsurprisingly Lot chooses the most fertile land. 

There is a sense here that Abram has been renewing his mind, changing his moral compass, choosing to be in line with God who called him – to live a life trusting Him. God has generously promised Abram that he will make him a great nation. As he spends time with God he transforms in his choices, and chooses to be selfless and generous rather than greedy and looking out for his own benefit and gain. 

Ab is choosing in this encounter with his nephew to be generous, just as God is generous and he does not conform to greedy self centered ways. His worship has led to his choices being transformed. He’s called on the name of the Lord, spent time with Him and in doing so is changed from what would have been expected. He is becoming more godly in his behaviours. 

Do we choose to spend time getting to know God, to know what he is like (through prayer, worship and reading God’s word) both with other Christians but also on our own? Are our choices changing as we know God better? Do we make choices because of God’s generosity? That reflects his generosity and love? 

Abrams blessed again

Abram’s choice motivated by his relationship with God appeared to lead to the loss of well watered ground – he let Lot choose, and Lot chose what seemed to be the best land. As I was preparing this message I wondered whether Abram felt a moments pang of disappointment – that he was left with land that didn’t look as good as the land Lot had chosen. It made me think How do we respond in times of disappointment?

Abram could have dwelt on ‘missing out’ on the land on the plains – been disappointed – we don’t know. But when they part ways Abram  encounters God again. He might of been disappointed but if he was that didn’t last for long – His choice of generosity and selflessness led to another encounter with God where his promises are further expanded – promises that his offspring  will be so numerous that like dust it cannot be counted, that as far as the eye could see the land would be his and his offsprings forever and was instructed to lay claim to the land by walking the length and breadth of it. 

God was blessing Abram with the whole land and wants Abram to enjoy all the blessings that the whole land has to offer. Which again led to Abram obeyong, worshiping God – building an altar to him again and journeying around the land he had been promised.

In the New Testament we are promised and told that because of God’s love for his world Jesus was sent into the world that whoever believes in Jesus would not die but have eternal life – that is the ultimate blessing, the ultimate promised land. 

Do we take pleasure in and enjoy all that we have been given in our lives? Do we take seriously the promise of eternal life. Enjoying our life now, living a life knowing God and obey his call and seeing the blessings we have now and those to come?

Conclusion

Abram chose to follow God – his faith grew. He went on both a physical and spiritual journey with God.

We are at different points in our journey with God. Are we going to choose to follow God, coming to him when we don’t get it right? Are we going to choose to make time to worship and know God better? Are we going to choose to live a life of transformation that reflects his love and generosity? Are we going to choose to keep walking with him even past possible disappointments, to the blessings he will bring? 

My prayer is that Like Abram as we know God better we turn to him when we might get it wrong, we choose to get to know him better and grow our trust in his promises, we see transformation in our motives, attitudes and choices, and we keep walking with God, even in disappointments, so that we would see the final blessings of a life with God for all eternity.

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