Written by Dave Urbanski

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The passage in Genesis 18 we studied Sunday illustrates how we are to respond to those struggling with sexual sin.

In short, Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah because he figured there had to be a few righteous people among the wicked there — and God heard Abraham’s cry, and said he’d spare the cities if he could find even 10 righteous souls within their borders.

It’s a stirring moment. We see God’s determination to bring justice to this situation because of the sexual sin among those in Sodom and Gomorrah, but we also see the Lord’s compassion and mercy as he held back his powerful hand and was willing to hear Abraham’s appeal.

As believers in Christ, a huge part of our mission also must be justice and compassion — both of them, all the time.

It should come as no surprise that the opportunities to exercise justice and compassion in response to sexual sin are more than numerous in 2021. Our culture has steadily declined with regard to sexual morality over the decades — but in recent years, the pace of the decline has been rapidly increasing.

While LGBTQ and transgender issues dominate the headlines and gain ground and acceptance in the public square, let’s not pretend that heterosexual sin is somehow “not as bad.” It is. So, whether we’re dialoguing with someone struggling with lust or promiscuity toward the opposite sex or with lust or promiscuity toward the same sex, our response is identical in both cases: “I love you. Tell me more about your story. Let’s talk about it.”

That’s compassion.

But depending on the person, compassion may be easier to exercise than justice. Some believers may have a much harder time “laying down the law,” so to speak, for fear of offending others. As Scott noted, if a lesbian couple were to come into our church, our response would be to welcome them with open arms and love them and pray for them and do everything we can to lead them to Christ. But if that couple were to come to our church with an agenda — to promote the LGBTQ lifestyle or try to convince church members to side with them — then justice would be the appropriate response as we would tell them that such behavior isn’t appropriate at Calvary.

Beyond our approach as believers to those wrestling with sexual sin, let’s acknowledge how difficult it is to wrestle with sexual sin, in the first place! Our culture tells us, “If it feels good, do it.” And “don’t push away your desires.” But desire doesn’t determine right and wrong. Just because you desire something doesn’t mean that “getting” that something is a good outcome.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” — James 1:13-15

A common argument justifying sexual sin is “that’s how I’m wired” or “I’ve been this way since I was born.” But as Pastor Scott noted, all people have bad wiring in one way or another. It’s our sin nature, and it puts us all on a path toward wrong behavior, whether it’s sexual sin or anger or lying or cheating or stealing. That’s why we all need Jesus. And in the end, we must let Christ work in our lives and help us wrestle with our faulty wiring, every day.

In regard specifically to homosexual behavior, the Bible is clear that it’s sin — just as a heterosexual affair is sin. Some may hit back, however, with a common argument that “Jesus didn’t speak about homosexual behavior; therefore, you can’t say it’s wrong.” But that’s a fallacy: As Scott also pointed out, Jesus didn’t speak about wife beating, either — but that doesn’t make wife beating fine and dandy. Besides Jesus did speak about the issue. In Matthew 19:4-5, answering a question about marriage and divorce: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” The standard Christ set for sexual expression is in the context of marriage between men and women. Period.

But do you believe God’s grace is big enough to handle all these sexual challenges? If not, you’d better believe it! God forgives and empowers each of us — whether our struggle is heterosexual or homosexual sin. Or any struggle! When Paul said he asked the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh, God’s answer was “my grace is sufficient for you.” It’s sufficient for you and me, too!

You may wonder if people can change their sexual desires — or even if God can change them. Well, do you believe a thief can be cured of his desire to steal, or that a greedy person can change toward becoming generous? Of course, they can! (And don’t forget that all of us are constantly tempted to do all sorts of things, every day — and the Lord empowers us to say no to those temptations. It’s part of our life this side of heaven, and it’s a universal struggle.)

Indeed, Paul talks about this very thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

As such were some of us — but no longer!

God can change anyone from the inside out and take away unwanted desires. But even if he has another plan in mind for you; a purpose for the thorn in your flesh that you won’t fathom here on earth, the Lord promised that his grace is sufficient for you as you manage them every day.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we’ve seen from previous chapters in Genesis, the Lord isn’t squeamish about telling us the difficult-to-face truths — particularly with regard to how we treat each other.

Abraham’s family, we can safely say, doesn’t model a loving, stable, sacrificial home life — quite the opposite. In fact, his family life resembles a lurid soap opera, full of sin and selfishness and bad choices. Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t have children, so she lobbies for Abraham to impregnate her servant, Hagar. Abraham unwisely agrees. Of course, it all leads to anger, blame, contempt, doubt, and strife.

(Side note: Do you see how such unvarnished storytelling only strengthens the Bible as authentic? After all, if ancient people had actually fabricated Scripture, why would they use story after story of believers’ non-belief and failure? Not a very effective “marketing campaign,” is it? But then again, the Lord isn’t looking to “sell” us anything! The truth is always free.)

Yet in the midst of all the pain Abraham’s family members inflicted upon each other, God keeps meeting them at their lowest points and lifts each of them up. First Hagar — who now knows down to her bones that God has truly seen her — and then Abraham, who’s encouraged by the Lord to think much bigger. And now we come to Sarah in Genesis 18.

But first we’re thrust into an intriguing scene during which Abraham sees three men standing in front him — and one of them (denoted by the capitalized word “LORD,” or “Yahweh”) actually is God himself. However, Abraham apparently doesn’t know this, as he refers to the “man” as “Lord” — not all capitalized letters — which is another way of saying “Mister.” Abraham then implores the men to sit for a spell, after which Abraham and Sarah wait on them hand and foot.

The cool thing about this passage is that it underscores the stark differences between eastern and western culture when it comes to hospitality. Did you catch Pastor Scott explaining how in America when people knock on our doors, we’re all about the task at hand — and perhaps even reducing as much as face-to-face interaction as possible in those moments? But it’s the complete opposite in eastern cultures — in other words, efficiency and sticking to the task is decidedly not of the essence! Instead, relationships are where it’s at. And indeed, we see Abraham and Sarah putting the visitors’ needs way ahead of their own, and no matter what tasks they were up to, they’re putting to the side their work for the moment and attending to their guests and welcoming conversation, no matter how long it takes.

In that vein, let’s not forget Pastor Scott’s exhortation for all of us — that hospitality can be incredibly strategic and effective as a way of drawing others closer to Christ! As the New Testament book of Hebrews notes in chapter 13, verse 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” All of us can simply open our homes — and hearts — for others. Just like Abraham did.

Now as for Sarah — despite her tendency to place blame on others and manipulate situations to her advantage — she’s a woman who loves God and who’s considered by others who came after her in the Bible as someone to look up to. In fact, she’s a member of the “Faith Hall of Fame” as noted in Hebrews.

But as Genesis 18 points out, doubts can take over the minds and hearts of even the godliest among us. And in Sarah’s case, she laughed at the Lord’s promise that she would bear a child — not a far-fetched reaction given her age and barren condition. Then Sarah even lies to God, denying that she laughed when she did. And don’t we lie to God sometimes, too? And more than that — why? Doesn’t the Lord already know what the truth is before we can fathom or understand it? But like Sarah, we also are afraid of God’s plan; we want others to like us, and we compromise; we take life’s matters into our own hands instead of trusting the Lord to lead us.

Then God simply and patiently asks Sarah and us: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Brothers and sisters, God’s purposes will be completed in you. He who sparks life itself into being where no life existed before is more than able to help and guide you through life. But even more, God wants you to be part of his spiritual family.

He wants to be your father — and he wants to be your friend. Believe it.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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There is something much bigger in life awaiting you!

Existing as a human being on Planet Earth means we’re saddled with endless limitations, not to mention a sin nature that doesn’t take a vacation even after we’ve become Christians. Plus, the never-ending cares of life have a funny way of wiggling their way through the cracks: Bills, childcare, bills, job responsibilities, bills, to-do lists, bills, car repairs, bills — you get the picture. (Did we say “cracks”? Maybe “gaping chasms” is more accurate!)

But God doesn’t view our temporal challenges the way we do. In fact, the Lord wants all of us to set our hearts on things that exist in his heavenly realm and rise above the cares and concerns of this world! Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to live? Hey, I’m game — are you?

The thing with God is that he always has something waiting for us that’s bigger than we can possibly fathom. A glorious plan he hopes we’ll latch onto. And isn’t that what all of us need in our lives? Direction from the Lord toward something bigger?

Now, as we’ve been studying the life of Abraham in recent chapters of Genesis that we’ve studied with Pastor Scott, we’ve encountered a man we can truly relate to. Abraham may be the undisputed, heavyweight DAD of the Kingdom of Israel, but he had flaws — sometimes really serious issues — that probably sound familiar to us. He was married to a woman he couldn’t have children with (Sarah), so he unfortunately agreed to have a son by someone else (Hagar). But what’s different about this familial train wreck is that fact that we see the Lord at work amid the wreckage.

How does such a notion hit you? Has your family life been less than perfect? Have things with your marriage turned out less stellar than you wanted? Do you dread reengaging with and reentering less-than-savory situations? Well, look no further than this portion of Genesis, and you can watch God step into the lives of people just like you and me and work his miracles.

In chapter 17 we saw Abraham doing well in his work live — his vocation — but like a lot men today in the same position, he abdicated his responsibilities at home and proved an inadequate leader there. But amid the difficulties, God still managed to reveal the steps we need to take if we’re in such a position — and the inspiration to THINK BIGGER.

What are those steps? First, we need to recognize how big God is. One of the difficulties of being stuck upon our earthly plane is that we continually fall victim to challenges and emotions we weren’t meant to take on. But the Lord is certainly big enough to take on those things. (So, give them over to him, already!)

Second, we must recognize how small — yet valuable — we are. In this chapter we saw God once again reminding Abraham of his eternal promises — primarily that he will become the father of many nations. In fact, this is the point where the Lord conducts a famous renaming: “Abram” to “Abraham” (which means father of multitudes). But it also seems quite poignant that God has remained so patient with Abraham all this time, after having repeated his promises to him over and over. We have the benefit of getting the low down well past the rear-view mirror, but Abraham was living it all out in real time — and clearly latching on to God’s pledge that he would have an heir, a son, was quite hard for him to fathom. (OK, right now, imagine you are Abraham at 99 years of age with a wife who can’t give birth and declare in all honesty that you wouldn’t have doubted God the same way Abraham did! Thought so.)

And this chapter also reveals the third step we must take in order to get to the next level of the kinds of lives God would have us life — and that is simply to take the necessary next steps that will take us there! It means saying “yes” to the Lord’s leading, even when the result may be difficult and uncomfortable.

So, are stuck in a rut? Adrift without a paddle? Stranded on the highway without a drop of gas in the middle of the night — and wondering when help will arrive? Do not fear. Such temporary difficulties are just that: Temporary. And the present opportunities for you and me to rise above the mundane bumps in the road of life and really start living on that “other” level are there for the taking.

Truly, the Lord has stored up really cool and exciting things we can be up to — things that will get us exclaiming that the mundane stuff we’ve been focused on aren’t worth more than the absolute minimum focus and energy. But getting there starts only with acknowledging how big God is, how small — and nevertheless meaningful — we are, and finally putting one foot in front of the other so we get to where the Lord wants us to go.

Ready? I’ll race ya.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Do you need a spiritual tune-up? As we saw this past Sunday in our study of Genesis 15, Abraham sure did.

We already know from Pastor Scott’s previous messages that Abraham has been through quite a lot in his journey with the Lord. Some failures, some triumphs — and many challenges. And just as it often is with us, fear and doubt has creeped into Abraham’s heart amid the pitfalls and potholes of life. But God already knew his child needed something, as verse 1 reads, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”

Abraham pulled no punches with the Lord upon hearing this. He didn’t act like he had it all together or that things weren’t so bad. No, Abraham wasn’t afraid to let it all hang out, as he told the Lord in verse 2 and 3, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

Isn’t this interesting? God in chapter 12 promised Abraham that he would “make of you a great nation” (verse 2) and that “to your offspring I will give this land” (verse 7). In chapter 13, after Abraham settled in Canaan, the Lord told him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted” (vv. 14-16).

Obviously, God clearly communicated to Abraham — despite his age and his wife Sarah being barren — that he would have offspring. A lot of offspring! Did Abraham simply forget? It’s not clear, but as Pastor Scott said, such doubt — even after steadfast promises from the One who never breaks them — is a common human flaw. We see it throughout Scripture. The disciples over and over allowed fear and doubt to overtake them — the storm on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus in the boat with them, for example, despite what they knew about their Savior. Perhaps you find yourself in that same boat, with the troubles of 2020 having worn you down. But as we saw in Genesis 15, the Lord was as patient with Abraham as he is with us.

At that point God brought Abraham outside and reminded him of promises he’s already made. And the Lord gave Abraham yet another “window” illustration in verse 5: “Look toward heaven,” God told him, “and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” (Of course, he couldn’t — there are too many!) “So shall your offspring be.” And then the Scriptures tell us that Abraham believed the Lord, who counted it to Abraham as “righteousness.”

That last phrase, as Pastor Scott emphasized, foreshadows the connection between faith and righteousness that Jesus fulfilled in the New Testament. The Lord was pleased with Abraham not for a specific thing he accomplished, but for Abraham’s simple act of faith. In the same way, Christ paved the way for us to spend eternity with him — not because of good things we do, but through our simple act of faith in Jesus righteousness on our behalf!

The next few verses offer more insight regarding God’s heart for Abraham — and for us. Didn’t Abraham just express faith in the Lord’s promise that he would have heirs? Yes! But what happened next? Abraham questioned God yet again! After the Lord told Abraham he’d possess the land, Abraham actually asked, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Wow!

But the Lord wasn’t giving up on Abraham and went out of his way to prove yet again how trustworthy he is by making the most serious of covenants with his child — the kind that results in death if one party doesn’t keep it. But the thing about this covenant — just as it is with our relationship with God through Jesus — is that it was an unconditional, one-party deal. And that one party was the Lord himself, as he told Abraham in verse 18 “to your offspring I give this land.”

God without a doubt has Abraham’s back through his never-ending love and grace. The Lord wants a relationship with Abraham despite Abraham sometimes doubting and questioning the Lord. Despite Abraham sinning. Despite Abraham forgetting. And the cool thing is that we can substitute our names for Abraham’s name in chapter 15. Because the Lord loves each one of us just as much as he loves Abraham — and has so many amazing things in store for us. So, as 2020 draws to a close, and when the busyness of life starts to mess with our heads, may we all approach the throne of grace and ask the Lord to give us a spiritual tune-up. May we pray, “Lord, I want to live my life serving you. Please show me how to renew my faith in you right now — and each day after!” No matter how 2021 pans out — no matter what circumstances come up, good or bad — let all of us rely on God’s promises as the days and weeks and months go by. For just as the Lord kept his promises to Abraham, so he also will keep the promises he’s made to us.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you know that as believers in Jesus, we have a secret weapon for those all-too-familiar times when the chips are really down relationship-wise?

As Pastor Scott noted Sunday, we can always first utilize three tools at our disposal:

  • Confront without being mean
  • Ignore without becoming angry
  • Get help without whining and complaining

But when we’ve exhausted those avenues and the mistreatment at work keeps going and the bullying at school doesn’t stop, we can pull out the secret weapon — and that’s outlined in 1 Peter 2:19: “For it is commendable when someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.”

We have Jesus as our example for this instruction, since he suffered for us all yet committed no sin. No retaliation. No revenge. And just like Jesus, we must turn over our sorrow and pain to the One who always judges justly rather than lashing out and attempting to take control.

We saw this truth played out in Genesis 16, didn’t we? It was a real soap opera-like drama between Abraham, Sarah, and Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar. First off Sarah — who is barren — apparently grew impatient and told Abraham that she’ll give him Hagar so she can get pregnant with his child. But rather than talking to the Lord about it, apparently Abraham forgets — again — God’s promise of countless offspring and just goes along with Sarah’s idea. And as you can imagine, all sorts of problems commence.

Hagar looked down upon Sarah and developed a bad attitude, then Sarah blamed her problems on Abraham rather than looking in the mirror, and Abraham washed his hands of the entire situation and failed to practice godly leadership. In short, Satan produced what Abraham figured was the best idea before waiting on the Lord’s best solution. Then we see in verse 6 that Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar, which resulted in Hagar running away. A huge mess!

But since God has a big heart for those who feel alone and mistreated, as usual God played his familiar role of pursuer, and an angel of the Lord found Hagar and counseled her with a rather jaw-dropping instruction: Return to Abraham and Sarah.

Hagar must have been thinking, What? Go back to the very source of my problems? To all that emotional abuse? That’s nuts! Thing is, though, God always has a plan. And when the Lord’s directions seem crazy to us, we need to trust that he has our best in mind. And in this case — and perhaps with us in various situations — God knew Hagar needed to grow and work things out in her heart and develop a better attitude toward Sarah.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Think about your own life. What is God asking you to endure? And what fruit do you imagine your efforts may bring? Don’t forget the example Pastor Scott shared about him talking to a young person who was at his wits end about his annoying little brother. The kid wondered what the point was of going through all his trouble, and Scott reminded the kid that learning how to deal with his annoying little brother will one day help him when he’s older and inevitably in another situation with a person who’s difficult to get along with: Character development! And such an example isn’t just for young people. We all know that every time we face a challenge and see it through with God’s help, it’s going to come in handy the next time a challenge comes along. So, don’t shy away from difficulties — walk right into them with God as your help and guide!

Furthermore, we see in Genesis 16 that the angel of the Lord who found Hagar revealed to her that seeing things through will result in her having a son Ishmael, which literally means “the Lord hears.” And Hagar is so moved by God meeting her personally that she declares, “you are a God of seeing.” How true! In the same way, none of us should ever feel as though we’re going through life alone — even when there’s no one else visible: Because as the Lord found Hagar, he will find us. God see all of us, and he knows better than we do the problems and challenges we face — and how to get through them.

So, don’t forget your secret weapon of bearing up under difficulties and doing the right thing despite the obstacles in front of you. But while certainly God brings many things into our lives that he wants us to endure, many other things he does not want us to carry. Therefore, let us be done with them. Let us cast our cares of retaliation and revenge and anger upon the Lord, who alone can deal with them — and deal with our hearts. Let our complete focus be on God and his goodness — and let him handle those things we cannot.

And remember — as Abraham often failed to do — that the Lord doesn’t always accomplish his purposes in the timeframes we desire. But in his time God will see us, hear us, and find us. As we’ve been learning over and over again through the Lord’s message in Genesis, he wants so desperately to give us unimaginable blessings. All we need to do is trust him.