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Divided Loyalties

Genesis 19:15-17, 24-26

So one day I walked into a plant nursery, and hanging on the wall was a sign that stopped me in my tracks. The sign read “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago.” Just recently, I’ve been thinking about that…

Also, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about divided loyalties. You know what happens when we have divided loyalties. They get the best of us. They don’t bring out the best in us, instead they get the best of us. That’s what happened in this story in Genesis 19. It’s the story of a man, a woman, and a city. And we don’t get the whole story until we get the story of all three. So listen up, please.

The story in Genesis 19 is the story of a city.

The city was called Sodom. It was located in a place which today is covered by the waters of The Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the face of the earth. Today there is no life in or around that location—no plant life, no animal life, no aquatic life. It is aptly named “The Dead Sea.” However, back in the days of Genesis, the waters of The Dead Sea were not there. The city of Sodom was there and it was anything but a dead place. It was a lively and boisterous place, and it became synonymous with wicked, immoral, and undisciplined behavior. Interestingly enough, the Bible tells us that there were four great sins which thrived in Sodom.

Jeremiah 23 makes it plain that Sodom was a place of greed and lies. It was a place where profits took precedence over principles, where money was more important than morality. Had there been a motto for Sodom, it would have been “caveat emptor -let the buyer beware.” I saw an item in the paper the other day that the National Association of Dermatologists had completed a scientific study of face creams which advertise themselves as having the ability to remove wrinkles. They discovered that none of those face creams did anything of the sort. Their performance never matched up to their promise. That’s exactly how they did business in Sodom. They used greed and lies to make their money. That’s the way it was in the city of Sodom.

Ezekiel 16 makes it plain that Sodom was a place where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Those who were poor were pushed to the garbage heaps outside of town. Notice I said, “outside of town.” It was important to keep the poor and the homeless out of sight and thus out of mind. The rich people of Sodom according to Ezekiel had a surfeit of food. They were overflowing with abundance and lived in prosperous ease all the while shoving the less fortunate farther down, farther out, and farther away. That’s the way it was in the city of Sodom.

Isaiah 1 makes it plain that Sodom was a place where religion was ritual but not reality. Their religion was all talk and no walk, all shadow and no substance. The people in Sodom held to a faith that was not real—it was empty shadowy and illusory. They went through the motions of the faith but the faith had no impact on the way they lived every day. That’s the way it was in the city of Sodom.

Jude 1 makes it plain that Sodom was a place of sexual license and unnatural lusts. It was a place where the sexual revolution obliterated all the moral standards, where obscenity became the order of the day, where perversion and promiscuity became socially acceptable practice, and where people became nothing more than objects to use, misuse, and abuse. That’s the way it was in the city of Sodom.

Of course, our Supreme Authority always is Jesus Christ, and when Jesus Christ spoke of Sodom, He referred to it as a place where there was no care and kindness, a place where there was greed and oppression, a place where false religions were practiced, and a place marked by absolute immorality. That’s the way it was in the city of Sodom. Sound familiar to our 21st century ears? It should.

But the story in Genesis 19 is also the story of a man.

His name was Lot. He had a wife—we do not know her name, so I will just call her Mrs. Lot. More about her later. In any case, Lot was not native to Sodom. He had moved into Sodom from out of town. In time, he became rather prosperous and attained a measure of prestige with the “good ole boys” of Sodom. Now it may have been that one of the reasons he went to Sodom was to make the place better, but that’s not what happened. Lot didn’t change Sodom. Sodom changed Lot. Now here’s a “life principle” for you. I try to plant at least one of these “life principles,” as I call them, in most every sermon. They are easy to remember but they are solid principles and they can become a foundation for truly significant Christian living. Here’s the “life principle” for today: If you do not make the world around you better, then the world around you will make you worse.

So Lot drifted away from God in Sodom. He might have fooled himself and even others into believing that he was still God’s man, but he didn’t fool God. You remember the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln which are so often quoted but usually only quoted in part. You’ve heard the quote: “We may fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but we can never fool all of the people all of the time. . .” And of course that’s true, but Lincoln actually added a phrase which for some reason is not often quoted. He added the words “. . . and we cannot fool God any of the time.” God is not mocked. It’s the height of arrogance and the depth of ignorance to believe that any individual, city, society, or nation can fool God. It’s for sure that Lot and the people of Sodom didn’t fool Him.

Now here’s what’s so amazing about this story. In spite of all that Lot and the people of Sodom had done, God still loved them. He loved them so much that he sent two men—actually they were angels—to try to save Lot and others out of that place. Catch that please. God didn’t come to blast Lot. He came to bless him. He sent the angels to save him. Do you see what that means? It means that no matter how far we wander from God; no matter how deep the hole of sin we dig; no matter how perverse the environment in which we live; God still loves us and still pursues us and reaches out to us in His love. Sometimes His angels may speak to us in a verse of Scripture, in the words of a sermon, in the melody of a song, in the voice of a friend, in the memory of something our parents once said, in the encounter with Christ and the message of the cross  -but the angels come to us in life bringing us the word of salvation just as they came to Lot. That’s God what did for a man called Lot who lived in a city called Sodom.

Then the story in Genesis 19 is the story of a woman.

The woman, of course, is Mrs. Lot, and what happened to her is instructive to us all. God sent His angels to save Lot, his wife, and the others because God knew that Sodom was going up in smoke. You see the city was built on a very dangerous spot. Geologists tell us that there is a geological fault line running through that area and that the soil and the rock in that location is a heavy mixture of flammable bitumens and sulfur. The scientists go on to tell us that about 2,000 years before Christ, about the time of this story, a massive earthquake struck that region, and the earth literally exploded releasing poisonous gasses and carving a deep cavity out of the surface of the earth. Water then flowed into that cavity and formed what we now call The Dead Sea.

It is from this seismic cataclysm that God was seeking to rescue Mr. and Mrs. Lot. The Bible notes that as the earthquake began to rumble, the angels grabbed Lot and his family, dragged them out of the city, and told them to run for their lives. Everybody took off except Mrs. Lot. She just couldn’t forget the good old days and the grand old times in Sodom, and so she stopped, turned, and looked back. As she did the gaseous ash from that horrendous explosion suffocated her instantly. She fell dead, and because that area is such a low point on the earth, the process of dehydration causes the accumulation of salt crystals. Even today at The Dead Sea if you put a spoon on the ground at night, the next morning you will find it covered with salt. That’s what happened to Mrs. Lot. She was so covered with salt that she looked like she had been carved from a block of it. She just couldn’t decide between running toward God and life and looking back towards Sodom and death. Her indecision proved fatal. That’s the peril of divided loyalties.

The Bible is full of stories about people with divided hearts—people trapped by divided loyalties. Some people came to Jesus one day and asked, “Should we worship God or gold?” And Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” No divided loyalties. A rich, young ruler came to Jesus asking, “What I must do to be saved? Jesus said, “It’s either going to be your money or me. Which one do you pick first?” The young man walked away. No divided loyalties. Another man came to Jesus and said, “I’d like to follow you after all my family concerns are resolved.” Jesus said, “I’m sorry that’s not good enough.” No divided loyalties. They asked Him one day about judgment about their past sins. He replied, “Don’t look back in your life. Remember Lot’s wife. Once you have put your hand to my plow, then keep your eyes forward.” No divided loyalties. You see, Jesus understood that divided loyalties, divided attention, divided zeal, divided effort, divided commitment inevitably leads to failure, defeat, even death. Bottom line: Jesus Christ does not want a shallow, half-baked, piece-meal, part-time commitment from you. He wants you all, and He wants all of you! No divided loyalties.

I’m not too proud to beg you. I’m not too proud to plead with you. Do not linger in the powers of evil. Do not flirt with that which stains and degrades in life. Do not toy with temptation in your experience. Listen to the rich arid eloquent testimony of those who walk with Jesus Christ in life, and then follow this Christ who loves you, who died for you, and who wants to give you the greatest gifts of all—the gift of life and the gift of life eternal.

So…

One day I walked into a plant nursery. Hanging on the wall was a sign which stopped me in my tracks. The sign said “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago.” Earlier I didn’t tell you that that’s not all the sign said. The sign also said “The next best time to plant a tree is now!” Dear friends, it is not yet too late. Commit your life to Jesus Christ—NOW!

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