2 Peter 2:6-8: If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard).
God calls Lot righteous… but here is something we need to understand: we can be saved, we can be a Christian, we can get to heaven - yet we can still make mistakes here on earth that cost us a lot. In Lot’s case there is tragedy, and it’s all related to greed.
We think about greed like it’s a character flaw and not that big of a deal. We compare it to someone being arrogant, which is irritating, but with a low level of actual destruction. If you look up the word “greed” and see how Scripture takes it, you’ll find it is much more serious than we normally consider it to be. It’s consistently in the list with murder and child abuse and it makes the cut as one of the big “sins” we can participate in. It can destroy us; it can really mess up our families; it’s more like C4 than silly putty.
The Gravity of Greed
When Lot and Abram separate for economic reasons, Lot enters a progression that is harmful to his family (and himself) related to greed and economic gain. First, he moves “near” Sodom, which was an evil place, but it wasn’t so much that he moved there as it was “why” he moved there. For greed. Later, when he is kidnapped by rival city states, it says that Lot and his family were living “in” Sodom.
We’ve moved from “near” to “in.”
When the angels come to rescue Lot and his family, to literally take him by the hand and physically pull him out of the city, they find him “in the gates.” That (and another reference calling Lot a judge) implies that Lot was now one of the civic leaders of Sodom. He had become part of a ruling council or a judge, if you will. We’ve moved from near evil, to living in the midst of evil, to actively participating in a culture that was unapologetically evil and wrong. When the angels tell him to run… Lot lingers. The pull of greed is a strong one. And it wasn’t just Lot, this impacted his family as well.
When Lot’s wife looked back, it wasn’t just a look, it was a turning back and a turning away from God in a final way. She wanted the things greed and selfishness could give her more than she wanted salvation… more than she wanted her husband… more than she wanted her children. Even in the midst of judgment… even in the presence of angels she turned away. It’s the gravity of greed and it is tragic.
The Greed Test
Remember that the point of this story is a warning for us, we’re not just reading Lot’s mail here. So ask yourself these questions honestly and let God speak to us about where we are related to greed and decision making.
So what do we do?
1 Timothy 6:6-12 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
If we read Timothy through the lens of Lot, it is harrowing isn’t it? A man that has pierced himself with many griefs. Truly.
The way to finish well is to take the heart of Abraham in this story. Just follow some of the things that stand out to see a pattern of selflessness and generosity:
Run away from greed. Press into a life of faith and giving. God has amazing things for you – don’t let them get away!
From This Day On, Part 5 - Never Give Up!!
Today, we wrap up our series with what could be the most important teaching for some of you in all five weeks. And it stems from this: When you were dating, you found that opposites attract. You had different perspectives on what being on time meant, right? You had different perspectives on whether to plan things out or just be spontaneous? You had different perspectives on money. And it was all OK during that dating period.
But then you get married, and you discover that, sometimes, things evolve to where opposites attack. What was “cute” then just becomes irritating and maddening now. And it can begin to drive wedges between two people who vowed to become one on their wedding day. And that’s why we need this last commitment in our series--"Never Give Up.”
A quick caveat here before we dive headlong into this stuff. By encouraging the commitment to “Never Give Up,” I am not—repeat “NOT”—referring to a situation where you are in an abusive or violent marriage, where you are the punching bag and someone is just ripping you up. If that’s going on, the right and healthy thing for all involved is to get outta there and get to a safe place. Once there, you can get the professionals involved, and law enforcement, if need be. And depending upon how things go, there could come a time when it's safe to begin to work on seeing whether getting back together in a healthy environment is possible. But I don’t want anyone taking away from this message that you’re supposed to stay in a house where you’re getting roughed up or worse. You call your pastor, call someone, and get to safety.
OK, with that covered, let’s get back to the normal, run of the mill, challenging marriages, In those, we’re committing to Never Give Up. And for those of you who had a marriage end in divorce, I don’t want you feeling guilty. Some of you did everything you could to keep that marriage going, and the other person just refused to work at it with you, and the marriage ended. Others of you might be thinking, “Oh, man, I know I blew it big time. If I could do it all over, I would do it so differently.” Again, for all of you, today we are putting the past in the past. You can’t change it anyway. So, we are looking at how to operate from this day on.
With all that as a backdrop, let’s start in Matthew 19:3-6. It’s an interesting conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, who were always looking to trip Jesus up. They question him about marriage and divorce.
Matt. 19:3 - Some Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
It’s hard to imagine, but in this culture at this time, women were pretty much considered property. Although when you think about it, with human trafficking and cultures around the globe who treat women as essentially slaves, maybe it’s not so hard to imagine. But the "happily ever after" that God intended when He instituted marriage back in the book of Genesis had gotten completely off track in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. If you weren’t pleased with your wife, you could simply declare, “I don’t want you,” and you were divorced—just like that. The test for Jesus was whether he was going to fly in the face of what was culturally accepted and violate what the Pharisees knew to be the truth of scripture, or whether he would risk losing popular support by sticking to what that culture considered the outdated guidelines of God’s word. It turns out not to have been that much of a dilemma for Jesus.
Matt. 19:4-6 - “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
The issue Jesus highlights with divorce is that is it essentially undoing what God declared should not be undone. What’s been joined together, let man not separate. It’s like super-gluing two pieces of paper together and then trying to separate them. Try it, and you’re going to have two severely damaged pieces of paper. You wonder why divorce hurts so much? It’s like ripping your heart out. And those of you who have been divorced know this. Those of you whose parents divorced, you know this. The problem is that you really can’t undo what God has made one.
And the whole concept of divorce really highlights the problem in our culture, which is that people don’t really understand what marriage is, at its heart. We think marriage is a contract or an agreement, when in reality it is a covenant. The natural question you could ask at this point is, ‘Huh? What do you mean?” OK, good question. Let’s dig into that.
A contract is based upon what? Mutual distrust. A contract lays out duties and responsibilities and rights, presuming that without those being clearly articulated, one or both parties to the contract would violate them. And so, you want to rent a room, an apartment, or a house. Can you just move in? Nope. You negotiate a contract that outlines what you can and can’t do and how much you’ll pay to do and not do that stuff. And it also lays out what the owner of that room, apartment, or house will do and not do. And the contract is for a fixed time. At the end of that time, both parties, if they are agreed, can re-enlist for another year. But every contract has an end date. And if either party violates the terms, the other party can seek legal remedy.
And this is what so many people do with marriage. I’m in for as long as you perform what I deem to be your duties and responsibilities. If you don’t live up to my terms, we are done. It’s about staying only as long as the other person makes me happy, meets my needs, or until something better comes along.
A covenant, on the other hand, is not based on mutual distrust, but mutual commitment. And it’s a permanent commitment, with no end date. A marriage is kinda like Twinkies—no expiration date. And you are making that commitment not only with your spouse, but before God.
Now, on all of our wedding days, we were perfectly eager to sign on to “forever.” And that’s because we have this stupid fairy-tale notion of married life being “happily ever after.” And it’s not. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that it can’t be happily ever after. I mean that it’s just not automatic. Happily ever after can result, but only when a couple is committed to forever and is determined to work through things when the marriage gets difficult and painful. And, make no mistake, it is guaranteed to get difficult and painful. Bad things happen in our world, sin still exists, guys are bozos sometimes, and even the gals have their moments of insanity, right? Hey, I suffered my own bout of temporary insanity while I was preparing this message that I had to apologize to my wife for.
Well, Dwaine, does this mean happily ever after is just a pipe dream? Not at all. I was reading about Billy Graham and Ruth Graham recently. A reporter doing an article sat down with Ruth and asked, “I have heard that you struggled at times with Billy’s travel schedule because he would be gone for up to six months at a time. I suspect that it would have been difficult to raise 5 children under those circumstances. Did you ever consider divorcing Billy?” Ruth’s answer: “I never considered divorcing Billy. I considered murdering him at times, but never divorce.” See, working through all the difficulties that come up, committed to never giving up, is what allows you the opportunity to experience the happily ever after that we all want and dream about. And a host of people saw in the marriage relationship between Billy and Ruth Graham an incredible love and tenderness that made them want that for themselves. But it all comes through the portal of never giving up.
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, I’m not happy,” or “I don’t trust him or her, “ or “She doesn’t do this or that,” or “I just don’t love him or her anymore.” But I’ll make this pitch to you—getting a divorce merely because you’ve run out of love is like selling your car because you’ve run out of gas. You run out of gas. What do you do? You refill the tank. In your marriage, you work to refill the love. And we talked two weeks ago about how to do that during the Have Fun message. If you need a reminder of those ideas, go back and review that message.
And I get it. There will be times when you just don’t want to. Or, maybe you’ve done all you can do, and nothing is paying off. What do you do then? You keep being obedient, keep seeking God, who can express His love to that other person through you. We serve a God who is love. It’s not just something He does. He radiates love, and He can use you to love your spouse when it’s hard for you to do it.
And to keep us on target here, we just need to remember God’s promise in Galatians, chapter 6.
Gal. 6:7 - Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
You will reap what you sow. And then this little bit of encouragement.
Gal. 6:9 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
You see this in little ways. You smile at someone, what are you likely to get back? Yeah, a smile. If someone flips you off, what are you likely to do back? Yeah, because you’re a Christian, you pray for them and ask God to bless their day, right? But normal people give it back in kind. So, in marriage, if someone shows grace and compassion and thoughtfulness, what are they likely to reap? Yeah, the same. If someone is always complaining and comparing and critical, what’s going to happen? They are going to get defensiveness, anger, and self-justification. The harvest depends on the seed that’s planted.
So, think of your spouse as a field, and remember that what you plant not only comes back in kind, but it is multiplied. A stalk of corn produces far more than just the one kernel sown. Men, women, if you don’t like what you’re getting as a harvest, take a good, long look at what you’ve been sowing. If you don’t like what you’ve been getting, look at what you’ve been giving. Generally, what you’re reaping is simply the multiplier effect of what you’ve been sowing.
A word of caution here, because I know people in this situation. They got married as non-Christians, but subsequently, one spouse accepted Christ. And the other spouse has hung around, but has not accepted Christ. So, things are hard in that marriage. And the Christian is sowing like crazy, but not much is sprouting. In fact, maybe all they get back is opposition. What do you do? You never give up. You keep sowing. You live out the covenant you made to your spouse and before God. You are your spouse’s best hope for seeing Jesus in action. I’m not guaranteeing it will be easy or that it’ll end as you’d like. But you will reap a harvest based on that sowing, if not from your spouse, from God Himself. Your prayer life will blossom, God’s presence will be more real and constant, God’s comfort will be a warm blanket, and His words will offer encouragement. He will provide all you need to continue, one day at a time.
A second reality of sowing and reaping is that you reap where you sow. If you sow all your seeds into your hobbies, your kids, your career and not your marriage, you can expect that marriage to suffer. Get back to sowing into your marriage. Do the five things we’ve talked about in this series: Seek God with your spouse; fight, but fight fair—not to win but to reconcile; have fun—talk deeply about things, do things together, and get after that belly button to belly button time; don’t allow poison into the marriage—fight to keep the marriage pure; and, finally, no matter what, never give up. You reap “happily ever after” through these commitments!
From This Day On, Part 4 - Stay Pure
Our series this week tackles the fourth of five commitments we’re making to help ensure that marriages end “happily ever after.” As a gentle reminder, we have covered (1) Seek God with our spouse; (2) Fight fair, not just to win; (3) Have fun, face-to-face, side-by-side, and belly button-to-belly button. Today, it’s all about keeping your marriage pure.
Now, that sounds like a no-brainer, right? But statistics show that the majority of marriages will suffer from at least one of the following: adultery, addiction to porn, an intimate emotional relationship with someone other than the spouse. No one plans to do any of this stuff on their wedding day, so why does it happen? Well, it turns out that if you don’t purpose to not let it happen, you can just fall or walk right into it.
How important is maintaining purity in a marriage? Hebrews 13:4 says this, “Marriage should be honored by all" That’s “all"—not just married folk, but everyone. Everyone is on the hook for honoring marriage and keeping it pure. Hebrews goes on, “And the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Serious consequences demonstrate just how important all this is. We opened our message with a video about Paul Curry, who was arrested several decades after his wife died and charged with poisoning her to death with nicotine. He was convicted in 2014 and is now serving a life sentence. That’s a horrible crime, isn’t it? But there are other ways to poison someone, to poison your relationship, to poison your marriage.
We’ll talk about more than just adultery today, but we’ve got to begin there. It’s interesting that well over 90% of Americans believe that adultery is always wrong. Even so, more Americans are engaging in it. A University of California study looked at trends in adultery from 1998 to 2008, finding that it more than doubled during that decade. It appears that everyone believes adultery is always wrong for everyone else, just not for them when they do it. Why is this poison, this impurity, on the rise? There are many reasons, of course, but I want to zero in on three trends in our culture that, I believe, feed the trends we’ve seen recently in America.
1. More temptations today than in the past. There are more and easier ways to get into trouble. Social media is a great way to connect. It’s also a great way to connect in all the wrong ways. Hardly a week goes by that you don’t see a Washington Post article about someone arrested for arranging to have sex with a minor through a chat room. One-third of divorce proceedings where adultery is claimed cite Facebook as a contributing factor. Hey, it’s not Facebook’s fault. It’s just a new form of temptation for some.
We’ve all heard about the Ashley Madison website. And you know, I hope, that the client list was hacked. But you don’t have to go there. You can go to Craigslist.com and get a screwdriver, a spare tire, a guitar, and a prostitute. But perhaps the greatest game changer has been smart phones, iPads, and computers. With a few clicks, everything you should not want to see is available 24/7. And that temptation is taking a lot of people down these days.
2. People are getting married later in life. I got married at 22, and my wife was 21. That’s not the norm today. Now, nothing with getting married later. Waiting for the right person beats marrying the wrong person every time. But when, as a culture, people are waiting, and especially when the majority of people in that culture do not hold to God’s view of sex as something reserved for married couples, then what we have is a lot of singles who have had a lot of dating partners. And that means that they’ve had a lot of sexual partners. The 2013 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles revealed that the average guy has had 12 sexual partners, and the average girl has had 8. Recalculate that based on the number of people who are pretty much one-woman men and one-man women, and you can get much closer to 18 partners for the average Jack and 12 partners for the average Jill.
Dwaine, so what? Why does it matter? It matters because people are walking into marriages with a lot more baggage. Yeah, it’s not God’s best, but the reality is that a lot of people are doing things during the dating phase of a relationship that God intended to be reserved for married couples who have made a lifelong commitment to each other. They are having sex, and they are living together, and all of it is not the cementing of a commitment, but more of an audition. And you watch TV, don’t you? It’s just accepted that sex will be one of the first things people do when they are attracted to someone. And if the sex is good, then maybe things will proceed to more sex, and then maybe to a relationship. But not always. I cited the book by Donna Freitas, The End of Sex, about the damage caused to both men and women from the hookup culture so prevalent these days.
So, think about it. You’ve engaged in a sexual relationship with 4, 8, 12, 15, 18 different people. You’re doing things God reserved for marriage without being married. And then things go bad. And you do what? Yeah, you walk away. It hurts. But what have you really done? Well, you have practiced, 4, 8, 12, 15, 18 times a lack of commitment. You have essentially been training and practicing over and over again for divorce with partner after partner. Now comes the time when you eventually do get married, and problems and issues come up—because they always do. What do you do? Yeah, what you’ve trained so hard for all those years of dating. You walk away, find someone else, whatever. You don’t stick with it. Listen, do you know that the number one reason dating couples break up? It’s because one of them has cheated on the other.
3. A growing sense of entitlement. OK, if you are a millennial, you’ve been hearing this for at least 5 years now, right? But here’s the truth. Even millennials, contemplating millennials, admit that their generation suffers from a sense of entitlement. It’s the “I’m worth it. I deserve it. If he or she isn’t meeting my needs, I have the right to go out there and get it from someone else. Because God wants me happy, doesn’t He?”
To break the cycle of temptation, the culture of dating in our land, and a sense of entitlement, we covered two specific areas we need to zero in on.
Grappling with the behaviors we know are poisoning our marriages or relationships.
Paul says this in Ephesians 5:3, "But among you there must not be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity..." Now, the “you” in that passage is referring to Christians, since that’s who his letter was addressed to—the church in the city of Ephesus. It’s a call to avoid even a hint of poison. See, you and I would not drink water with cyanide in it, no matter how diluted we’re told it is. We don’t want even a hint of cyanide in the water we consume. Apply that to our marriages. Don’t excuse things that fall short of actual adultery, but are, nonetheless, laden with hints. So, we know we shouldn’t have sex with the babysitter or the office secretary. But are you looking at porn? Is there a hint of sexual immorality there? Sure thing. How about lusting after Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansen? Lusting here is essentially imagining what it would be like to have sex with them. A hint of immorality there? Yep. How about if you dress provocatively, to show off your assets. Maybe you don’t think God gave you much in that department, so you get you some new and improved assets. Not going to comment on that. Do what you want. But if you then turn around and purpose to show yourself off and invite everyone to look, is there a hint of immorality there? Yep. You’re on a business trip and you go dirty dancing with a guy while your husband is at home. A hint? You bet.
So, avoid the hint. Don’t let it get close. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says it this way: "Flee from sexual immorality." And for you Christians out there, we don’t have the right to claim that, “It’s our bodies. We can do what we want.” Nope for us, we are bounded by 1 Corinthians 6, which also says “. . you are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
So, in terms of your behavior, you know full well where you are tempted. You need to build some walls, some roadblocks, in your life so you don’t even go down the road where the temptation is. I avoid being alone with a woman who is not my wife or daughters. It’s just safer for me and the women. Not a hint, OK? If you struggle with porn, get software that will send a report to your accountability partners of every click you make where there’s a hint. And get accountability partners who will ring you up, not wink and let it pass. You can lock down your cell phone to keep YouTube and Safari away, and instead use a filtered web site. Some married couples just refrain from having separate Facebook accounts. Jackie and I have separate Facebook accounts, but we share the passwords with each other, so nothing is hidden from the other. I’m not going to tell you what you need to do. I will tell you that you know full well where you are vulnerable. Your own protection is to avoid getting close to that temptation. Too many people think they’ll be just fine getting as close as they can, but once they get close, they simply get sucked into the vortex. That’s why Paul says we need to flee from it, not see how close we can get to it. Run, Forest, Run!!
Commit to Strengthening Inward Purity
OK, roadblocks are great, and they will help, but they are not the answer for the long haul.
Concurrent with these roadblocks, you want to begin to allow God to change you from the inside out. David, a man well acquainted with temptation—you remember his affair with Bathsheba, don’t you?—asked this question in Psalm 119:9ff — "How can a young man keep his way pure?" Here’s how he answered that question, "...By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
It starts with seeking God, our very first commitment back in week one of this series. And this is a dangerous prayer he throws out there—God, do not let me stray from your commands. You see what he’s giving God permission to do? To get in his face when he strays, to expose him when he strays, to increase the pain of straying. And you wonder how it was that David was declared by God to be a “man after God’s own heart?” It is because David took this seriously. The more he sought God, the more his mind aligned with God on what was good and what was wrong. When he strayed, the pain of that and how it interrupted his relationship with God got his attention. And he began to find that joy existed where he was choosing what God wanted, and pain resulted from falling prey to temptation. So, the choice to pursue joy began to be the choice he wanted to make. It’s not as if he were no longer tempted by the immoral stuff. It’s just that God’s best began to tempt him more. And this occurred at the heart level, where the Holy Spirit of God was working. And you put that into play along with the roadblocks, and we see people emerge from a life of simply being buffeted by all manner of temptation, to a life increasingly evidencing purity. And that, my friends, is where “happily ever afters” in marriage result.
As we close this message, there may be some who are engaged in things that bring impurity into your marriages. And you’re, perhaps, a little defensive about that, seeing it as her fault or his fault, that you’ve been driven to these things by your spouse. The truth is, none of us are above being corrected by God, so drop your guard and allow God to deal with that sin straight up. Maybe you tend to respond to the realization that you’ve allowed poison into your marriage by throwing a pity party—I’m so awful and horrible. I’m never going to be anything but a failure. Or maybe it’s, “Well, I’m sorry.” (But you’re really just sorry that you got caught.) Look, the right response to all this is repentance, not just some feigned remorse. Confess that you’ve mucked up to God. Agree with Him about this thing being sin. And this might be the hardest part—you need to repent to your spouse, too. Trust me when I tell you the pain of coming clean to him or her will do wonders for helping keep you away from that temptation down the road.
Finally, if any of you have spouses who come to you and come clean and ask forgiveness, I pray you would meet them with compassion and forgiveness. Come alongside them, realizing how much courage it took to lay it all out to you, and be there to encourage them. Purity in marriage. It’s one of the five ways we can strengthen the marriages we have, and, for you singles, a key way to prepare to have strong marriages down the road.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.