ďFaith and SuccessĒ††† Genesis 14:1-24†††††††† May 10, 2009

 

SI:Weíre studying the life of Abraham.

He is called, ďThe father of all those who believe.Ē

†† His life demonstrates the nature of the Christian life and faith.

In this story, will see how Abrahamís faith enabled him to deal with success.

 

Weíre going to start our reading in verse 11 because the first ten verses of this

†† chapter full of a number of difficult names and weíre liable to get bogged down.

So let me summarize it for you.

 

This is the first recorded war in the Bible.

Two alliances of kings fought against each other.

†† One alliance was soundly defeated and Lot, Abrahamís nephew,

†† was living in one of the captured cities.It was the city of Sodom.

 

Remember from last week that Lot had decided to move to the fertile fields

†† near Sodom so that he could get rich.Soon after that he moved into Sodom itself.

The city came under attack during the war and this is what happenedóvs. 11.


 

INTRO:A few years ago my sister told me she wanted to grow tomatoes.

†† Would I give her a few heirloom tomato plants.

So I gave her three healthy-looking plants,

and then I went ahead and planted my garden.

My tomatoes were beautiful that yearólush, loaded with fruit.

 

At some point late in the summer I went to my sisterís house and I said:

†† Anna, how did your tomatoes do?She said, Not too good.Only one lived.

Went out to look at it and it was the most pathetic little tomato vineó

†† it looked like Charlie Brownís Christmas tree.

I asked her how many tomatoes she got off it.She held up one finger.

†† And, she said, it was about as big as a ping pong ball.

Two thoughts crossed my mind:

†† What has she done wrong and what a good gardener am I!

 

Success and failure have a powerful effect on our spirits.

†† They greatly affect the way we see ourselves and other people.

†† And perhaps nowhere is that more the case than when you succeed and others fail.

If you are a successful parentóand your children are respectful, obedient,

†† responsible and a delight to be around, and then you spend time with someone

†† who has done a poor job parenting and their children are lazy bratsó

†† you make judgments about them and yourself in comparison to them.

 

If you are successful in business and money, in romance and marriage,

†† if you are successful in living a good and moral lifeó

†† you think of yourself in terms of those successes.

And then when you see people who have failed in your area of successó

†† your judgments are confirmed.

Itís more than just a matter of feeling good, isnít it?

†† Thereís a spiritual significance we attach to success and failure.

†† They feed our inherent self-righteousness.

 

Weíre just four chapters into Abrahamís life and already weíve seen times

†† when Abraham showed great faith in the promises of God,

†† and other times when he failed miserably.

In todayís story heís on a roll.

†† He is faced with the consequences of his nephew Lotís bad decisionó

†† might say he was faced with Lotís failure.

 

Abraham did what was rightóhe went to battle and rescued Lot.

†† Then after that great success, Abraham was returning with the spoils of waró

†† and two kings came out to meet himóthe King of Sodom and King of Salem.

They presented Abraham with two radically different ways

†† of seeing and responding to his success.

 

One way would draw him closer to Godó

†† and the other would turn him away.

Then there is a second battle that takes placeóthis time itís in Abrahamís spirit.

†† And Abraham shows us what it means to handle success by faith.

 

What does the Gospel have to say when you are on a roll, when things going great?

†† How do you live by faith in Christ when your business is blessed,

†† and your marriage is blessed, and your children are blessedó

†† and when everything you touch seems to succeed?

Success can test a Christianís faith, just like failure and trials.

 

Maybe some of you here are saying to yourselfóthis sermon isnít for me.

†† Iím going through a time of trial and failure.

But stick with me, there will be encouragement here for you too.

†† And in coming weeks, as we continue to study Abrahamís lifeó

†† there will be plenty of tough times that you can identify with.

 

So letís look at this passage under two headings for note-takers:

1.Living by faith when others fail.

2.Living by faith when you succeed.


 

MP#1Living by faith when others fail

Last week we were introduced to Abrahamís nephew Lot.

Remember what happened.Abraham and Lotís flocks and herds had maxed out

†† land, quarrelling between their herdsmen.Abraham knew that was wrong.

†† This isnít pleasing God, this fighting between brothers.

So he said to Lot, you choose which land you want.You go to left, I to right.

 

Lot looked up and saw the fertile plain of the Jordan, down near city of Sodom.

†† The grass was green and lush.It was perfect for flocks and herds.

When Lot saw it he thought:Thatís my Garden of Eden.

†† Itís perfect.Thatís where Iím going to be successful and happy.

†† It looked good.It was the place to go to make money.

†† Lot chose purely by sight.He didnít seek God.

But there is the ominous comment about his choice:

†† ďNow the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.Ē

Lot certainly knew that, but he weighed all the factors and it seemed

†† best to him to move down near Sodom.

 

It didnít work out as he expected.He got caught up in a war.

†† The king of Sodom rebelled against the king he was subject toó

†† that king, came and captured Sodom and carried away the people.

Lot and his family were taken away into slavery.

†† He thought this was going to be his garden of Eden, it turned out to be misery.

†† His plans failed and he got swept up in the consequences of evil.

 

Somebody escaped and told Abraham what had happened.

Abraham had done everything right.He had sought the Lord.

†† He had made good friends and alliesóEschol, Aner, Mamre.

So when Abraham got word that Lot had been carried off by evil menó

†† he was faced with a challengeóhow would he respond?

 

He could have rationalized:Lot chose to live near Sodom.

†† I gave him the first choice.He chose the left, so I chose the right.

†† Itís his responsibility.His problem.

He made his bed now he has to sleep in it.

 

But instead Abraham immediately mobilized the 318 trained men in his household,

†† he got his three allies on board with their menóand at great expense and risk

†† to himself he set out to rescue Lot.

What does this teach us about responding by faith to the failures of other people?

Two things.

1.First, you must see that failure is ultimately caused by life in a fallen world.

When people failówhether it is financial or moral or whateveró

†† our tendency is to focus on personal fault.

What did this person do to get himself into this mess?

†† That might be a helpful question to ask in the right setting.

†† But thereís a subtle danger to it because it feeds our self-righteousness.

What we learn from Abrahamís faith is rather than focusing on personal fault first

†† and foremost, you should see people are suffering from life in a fallen world.

Failure is from sin in the big sense.Itís the curse.

†† And your calling as a Christian is to do what you can to push back

†† the effects of the curse.

 

It would have been so easy for Abraham to write Lot off.

†† He could have focused on his faults and declared him a fool.

The Bible tells us that Lot was a believer.

†† Book of James says he was a righteous man.

How could a believer have done something so stupid.

†† To make a decision without prayer, based on what he thought looked good,

†† to fool himself into thinking he was doing the right thing when it was all

†† about making money and being successful.

It would have been so easy to pick Lot apart.And all of those things were true.

 

But his story reminds us also that failure and misery ultimately the result of life

†† in a fallen world.Your calling is to do what you can to push back against it.

†† And thatís exactly what Abraham did.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when someone called the church

†† to ask for help with a hotel room.I get that request often and I always ask

†† several questions and I usually turn people down.

Because itís evident it would be enabling their laziness.

†† 2:00 in the afternoon, on my way to Indianapolis, need to rest in Cullman.

 

Woman called and said she needed a room for herself and her mother.

†† I asked questions and from her answers it was evident she had made

†† foolish decisions and I was thinkingóno wonder sheís in this spot.

Then she said:Pastor, Iíve done lots of bad and stupid things in my life,

†† Iím asking you, please, help me.

And it cut me.I realized, here was a person suffering life in a fallen world.

†† Did she have a role in her failureóYes, just like Lot did.

But faith meant looking at the big picture.

†† That brings us to the second thing passage teaches us about the failures of others.

 

God has blessed you so that you can be a blessing.

†† When other people fail, your blessings stand out.

When you see a marriage fail, you see more clearly the blessing of your marriage.

†† When you see financial failure, see more clearly the blessings of finances.

Whatís the temptation?Temptation is to wallow in your blessing.

†† To hog it all for yourself.

God has not blessed you so that you can wallow in your blessing.

 

Abraham is our father in the faith and in his life we see a principle

†† that is repeated throughout the BibleóGodís grace obligates you to bless others.

God said:Iíve blessed you Abraham, so you will be a blessing to the nations.

†† Lord blessed Israel so it could it could be a blessing to the nations.

Abraham had made all the right decisions, he had 318 trained men under command,

†† he had good allies, he could have just dug in and weathered this war

†† that was going on around him and it would have cost him nothing.

But at cost to himself and great risk he used those blessings to rescue Lot

†† and many others.

God blesses you so that you can rise to the challenge of rescuing the Lots in your

†† life who have been taken captive by wicked men.

 

This challenge is going to be different for every Christian.

Iíve enjoyed Larry Tauntonís emails about adoption of new daughter from Ukraine.

†† Iíve been struck by how much this has cost them in every way.

Struck by how much easier it would have been to just keep home and family

†† as it was.Adopting a child is not a calling that Lord places on everyone.

†† But if he doesódo not hog the blessings of your home and family for yourself.

The Lord has blessed you to be a blessing.Will often be through the failures of

†† others, that you see your blessings more clearly, and a challenge to use by faith.

 

Who does Abraham point us to?To Jesus.He came into a fallen world.He didnít

†† say, you made your bed, now lie in it.He didnít just keep blessings of his

†† heavenly glory but had every right to.At great cost to himself, blessed you.

By faith in Jesus you get the power to respond graciously to failures of others.

Brings us to the second half of this story

MP#2Living by faith when you succeed

Abraham had great success in battle, rescued Lot and all the people of Sodom.

†† Took a great amount of spoil from the battle and was on his way back.

Out to meet him came the king of Sodom.

†† He told Abraham something that seemed generous and reasonable.

†† Keep all the spoils for yourself, just give me my people back.

Abraham, youíve earned it.Youíve done it.You deserve it.Now take it.

 

At this point Abraham faced a real battle.

†† A challenge much harder than dealing graciously with Lotís failure.

The deepest idol of the heart is your own righteousness.

†† Essence of sin is not breaking the rulesóthatís just a symptom of deeper problem.

†† Problem is our desire to put something at the center of life and make it savior.

Self-salvation.Self-righteousness.When we do well, it goes into overdrive.

†† Hard to see need for Christ when getting worth and significance from success.

 

Even though the king of Sodomís offer seemed reasonable,

†† Abraham saw that if he took it, the focus of the victory would be on him.

Only Abraham knew of a vow he had taken to the Lord.

†† Vow was that he would not accept anything from the king of Sodom,

†† because he did not ever want any glory taken away from God.

 

Proverbs 27:21 says:

†† ďThe crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.Ē

Temptation does not always come in times of failure and weaknessó

†† it often comes after success and victory.

Elijah was tempted after his victory on Mt. Carmel.

†† Jesus was tempted after his baptism and words of commendation from heaven.

And here was Abrahamís temptation.

†† What kind of victor would he be?

†† Would he take the spoils and feed his self-righteousness, or would he glorify God.

 

When you make an A on your exam, when you secure the great deal,

†† when your children turn out wellówho gets the glory?

Itís certainly right to enjoy your success.

And if someone praises you for your success, best thing to say is, thank you.

†† Donít try to say something super spiritualósound like false modesty.

A wise man put it this way:Touch the gold, but not the glory.

Enjoy the success, but make sure the glory goes to God.

†† How do you do that?How do you handle success by faith?Abraham shows us.

When you succeed, look for evidences of Godís hand.

Another king came out to meet Abraham.

His name was Melchizedek.He was the King of Salem, old name for Jerusalem.

†† Heís the first person in Bible called a priest.Heís a mysterious figure.

He came out to Abraham bearing bread and wine.

 

Does that remind you of anything?Who else brought out bread and wine?

†† Jesus did, at the Last Supper.Melchizedek is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.

So he gave Abraham bread and wine and as he did he blessed him then said:

†† ďBlessed be God Most High who delivered your enemies into your hand.Ē

Eat this bread and drink this cup, Abraham, and know that you did not

†† achieve this success.God did.He won the victory for you.

 

And isnít that just like Communion?You come to the Lordís Table.

†† And as you eat and drink you are reminded that you donít produce forgiveness.

†† You canít earn it.You canít cleanse yourself, free yourself from sin.

Only Jesus can.He won the victory.

†† And that is not only true of salvation but of every other blessing in your life.

 

You may say:Wait, I go to work.I work hard.

†† Iím the one who made the sale.Iím the one who studied for exam.

†† Iím the one who resisted temptation and remained faithful.

Abraham could have said:Iím the one who fought.Iím one who risked my men.

†† Iím the one who had the great idea of dividing my men into two forces.

 

Of course the answer is that God is the one who gave you your mind.

†† And God is the one who opened all the doors so you could be successful.

†† God is the one who provided the spiritual influences that shaped you.

So when you succeed, look for evidences of his hand.

†† Look for the doors that he opened.Look for what he has done and praise him.

 

Iím blessed in my family, and I often wonder whyóespecially when I see

†† families that are full of fighting and strife.And Iíve realized more and more

†† that one big reason has absolutely nothing to do with me.

God gave me good, godly parents who loved each other.

†† And their influence paved the way for my successes.

†† Praise God for that.He has won the victory.

In your big successes and small onesólook for Godís hand and give him glory.

†† And then you need to do something.

When you succeed, honor God with your resources.

After Abraham won the battle, and after he had eaten Melchizedekís bread and

†† wine and received his blessing, he gave him a tenth of the spoils.

 

This is the first mention of the tithe in Scripture.

††† It was practiced from this time on by believers and was law in Israel.

Whatís the purpose of this practice?Itís not to fund the church budgetó

†† itís to honor God and affirm that salvation comes from him.

 

When God has won your victories, when he has blessed your work and

†† your family and your plans, the tithe is a way of acknowledging

†† the grace and power and glory of God.

Thatís exactly what Abraham was doing.

†† He was saying with his titheóthe Lord has done this.

 

Giving is not for the churchóitís for you.

†† Itís a way for you to acknowledge Godís hand in your successes.

Itís a way of cutting the root of self-righteousness by sayingó

†† Not by my hard work, not by my decisions but Godís grace and power,

†† Iíve been blessed.

 

If giving is an area you struggle with, where do you begin?

†† Not with a dollar amountóyou need to start with the Gospel.

†† Thatís where Paul starts in his great chapter on giving 2 Corinthians 8.

The Gospel is not:I succeed and then God owes me.

†† That was the message of the king of Sodom.Youíve done it, you deserve it.

††

The Gospel, the good news, is that God gives you everything in Christó

†† so you owe him.You owe him your life.

And giving of your money and resources is one very concrete way to

†† express your gratitude and bring him glory.

 

If the Lord has blessed you with successódonít let it feed your self-righteousness,

†† donít look to your success for your significance and worth.

Look for the hand of God in your success and praise himó

†† and then acknowledge his grace and power by honoring him with your giving.

 

CONC:I know a minister who once had a church member call and sayó

†† I have to come talk to you.He could tell from the manís voice something was up.

Minister wondered: Is it a problem with his marriage, children, what?

 

So they met and the man began to tell how successful he had been.

†† Everything he had touched in business had turned to gold.

†† He had one financial success after another.

Once again, this minister was thinkingóOK, heís about to tell me

†† that some other part of his life is falling to pieces.

 

But instead the man said, Hereís where I need help,

†† I donít want my success to turn me away from God.

†† And this minister was stunned:

He realized in all his years, he had never heard anything like that.

†† That man was a true son of Abraham.Thatís the faith we all need.

 

So come to the Table.Bring your successes to the Table.

†† Take the bread and the cup from your high priestís nail-scarred hands.

†† Confess your self-righteousness, thank him for all he has done for you.