God Will Get His Glory. God overrules our mistakes for his glory. Of course, this is no blank check to do as we please. Nor is it denying that there will be sad and ongoing consequences from our mistakes. But at the end of the day, God can turn ...

 

The Great Overruler

God Will Get His Glory

God overrules our mistakes for his glory. Of course, this is no blank check to do as we please. Nor is it denying that there will be sad and ongoing consequences from our mistakes. But at the end of the day, God can turn everything—the good and the bad—for the benefit of his own glory and for our good.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 20:2-3

Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace. But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”

The great hymn writer and pastor, John Newton, wrote, “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.” Thank God.

By the way, Newton knew what he was talking about. He was formerly a profligate and slave-trader, treating human beings in the most inhumane and unspeakable ways, simply because of the color of their skin—until God took hold of him, redeeming and repurposing his evil life for a good life that has been lifting the world over for centuries. Neither sinner nor saint can listen to Newton’s most famous work, Amazing Grace, without becoming suddenly and powerfully aware of the mighty grace of God against the backdrop of their own utter unworthiness. (Read a brief biography of John Newton here)

God overrules our mistakes for his glory. Of course, this is no blank check to do as we please. Nor is it denying that there will be sad and ongoing consequences from our mistakes. But at the end of the day, God can turn everything—the good and the bad—for the benefit of his own glory and for our good.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

When you are called by God, and when you love God, you cannot lose. You might come through it battered and bruised—self-inflicted wounds from sinful actions and short-sighted decisions—but in the end, and even along the way, you win.

Such is the case with Abraham in this chapter. His nagging fear overcame the stellar faith that has made him noteworthy to God and man in the previous eight chapters that have brought us to this moment Genesis 20. Apparently, his wife Sarah, who technically is his half-sister, is a very beautiful woman—even as she advances in age. And Abraham’s faith, yes the same faith that has led God to credit it as righteousness, has given way to fear—a recurring fear of being killed because of her looks (he thinks others will bump him off so they can take her as their own). So Abraham fudges, stretching the truth in a humanistic plan to protect his life.

Sure enough, it looks like his fear will become reality. (Job 3:25) King Abimelech sees the beautiful Sarah and desires her. That’s when Abraham implements his survival plan—a plan, obviously, which doesn’t say much about the value of Sarah in her husband’s eyes at this point in the development of his faith. But as the story goes, God steps in and saves the day, along with the honor of this cast of characters—the beautiful Sarah, the clueless king, and the fearful patriarch.

God saves the day! He does that a lot, you know. Sometimes several times throughout our day. It’s pretty much a full-time job for him. Of course, there are consequences. Of course, this is no “Get Out of Jail Free” card. But isn’t this a comfort to our soul?

If we properly understand God’s overruling work, we will give every effort to walk in his ways, to follow in faith while rebuffing fear, and to trust in him with all our heart while refusing to lean on our own understanding. Yes, God can overrule our mistakes, but how much better would it be if he didn’t have to!

Going Deeper: First of all, take a moment to express your gratitude to the Great Overruler. Second, ask him to give you a moment of clear seeing so that you are not leaning on your own understanding in any matter of your life.

There is a God in heaven who over-rules all things for the best; and this is the comfort of my soul.

—DAVID BRAINERD

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Light Beams of Mercy in the Darkness of Judgment

God Abounds in Love

Even in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah’s arrogant indifference to God’s expressed command, God still found a way to express his mercy. He spared Lot’s family because he was merciful. He still is. He always will be. Even up to the moment of the final judgment, God will be looking for even the slightest opening to insert his undeserved mercy to sinners deserving of Divine wrath.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 19:16, 29

When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful… But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain.

Thank God for his mercy!

Even in the midst of the dark and depressing reality of righteous judgment, we always find light beams of God’s loving-kindness. To the very end, God is looking for ways to demonstrate mercy and grace to wayward sinners, deserving of Divine wrath for their flagrant disregard of the Law of God. God is a seeking, forgiving, restoring Creator—it is his nature; he just can’t help himself.

In Genesis 19, one of the darkest chapters in the Bible, as the fires of judgment are falling on Sodom and Gomorrah for their flagrant disregard of God’s moral law, the angel of the Lord grabs the procrastinating family of Lot by the hands and pulls them to safety. Why? Genesis 19:16 says it was because, “the Lord was merciful.”

Think about that: in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah’s arrogant indifference of God’s commands, even after they had been warned to flee the coming judgment, God still found a way to express his mercy.

God was merciful. He still is. He always will be. Even up to the moment of the ultimate and final judgment, God will be looking for even the slightest opening to insert his mercy to sinners deserving of Divine wrath.

God is merciful. He just can’t help himself. When there is a chance, he will pursue the sinner with reckless abandon that he might shower them with loving-kindness—undeserved mercy and unmerited grace. You might even say that God is recklessly merciful. While Divine justice and the final judgment that it requires will not be withheld forever, for God would not be just if he did, he will go way out of his way, way beyond the call of duty, to spare the sinner. Scripture bears that out, of course:

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:13)

Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. (Micah 7:18)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

God was, is and forever shall be, great in mercy and abounding in love. That is true for you—thank God.

But don’t forget, that can be true for those you love because of you. For at the end of this sad story of judgment we find that those light beams of mercy that shined upon Lot’s undeserving family were the result of Abraham’s intercession before a merciful God looking for a cause to pardon the guilty. Genesis 19:29 says, “But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain.”

Don’t forget to embrace God’s mercy in your life today—or any day. But just as importantly, don’t forget to ask God to extend that same mercy to the people He has put in your life who may be in danger of Divine judgment.

Thank God for a Creator who delights to show mercy!

Going Deeper: Do you need mercy? That is God’s specialty, so ask him. And don’t forget to live your life thereafter as one long thank you to God for his undeserved loving-kindness. Likewise, don’t forget to ask God for his mercy on behalf of the people he has placed in your life. Perhaps he has placed them there for that very purpose.

I think that is a better thing than thanksgiving: thanks-living. How is this to be done? By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual, constant delighting of ourselves in the Lord, and by a submission of our desires to His will.

—CHARLES SPURGEON

  

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Merciful Judgment

Help Wanted: Doorman for God's Mercy

God invited Abraham to intercede on behalf of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as a perpetual reminder that his desire is always mercy first, judgment last. It also reminds us that he invites our intercession for the evil cities in which we live as well. In fact, he is counting on us to stand in the gap on their behalf. Jesus said, “You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world?” The truth is, the darkness of our world will grow darker, and people only will grow in their hatred of God’s justice. But don’t forget: the door for his mercy remains open. And we are the doormen for that mercy. If we don’t or won’t embrace that calling, our world has no hope.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 18:20-25

So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know…” Then Abraham approached the Lord and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

What was so bad about Sodom that would lead God to utterly annihilate an entire city? Genesis 18:18 tells us: it was a brazen and willful disregard of God’s design for human sexuality: “Their sin is so flagrant.”

What was the sexual sin? In the next chapter, Genesis 19:5, we find that it was homosexuality and sexual violence. Now, in my opinion, it is not the sin, but its brazenness that draws God’s judgment. Isaiah 3:9 (HCSB) says,

The look on their faces testifies against them; like Sodom, they flaunt their sin. They don’t conceal it. Woe to them, for they have brought evil on themselves.

Sin, no matter what it is, is always problematic. But where you have human beings giving God the middle finger, belligerently telling their Creator, putting it nicely, to “bug off,” judgment will come! It may be slow in coming—thankfully—but it will be sure.

However, that is not the main point of this story—though some Christians, unfortunately, have tried to make it the main point. The main thing here is a greater revelation of God’s nature as well as a clearer picture of our covenant calling to be a blessing to the world. This is what the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative reveals about our Creator:

First, we learn that God always initiates and invites. The very first thing we see in Genesis 18:17 is the Lord asking, “Should I hide my plan from Abraham? …so the Lord told him.” Then notice the very last thing we see in Genesis 18:33 is, “When the Lord had finished his conversation, he went on his way…” The Creator begins and finishes all conversations with the created—including you and me. Don’t forget, whether walking day-by-day in covenantal fellowship or connecting with God in a specific moment of prayer, it all starts and ends with God.

Too often we bring our plans and needs to God for him to bless without first finding out what he desires to bless. Rightly approaching prayer means acting on the prior assumption that God has initiated a plan and has invited our partnership in accomplishing it. That’s why we are to begin our prayers, as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, with, “God, it is your kingdom. So accomplish your plan.” When we have understood that, our interaction with God becomes what C.S. Lewis described: “Our prayers are really His prayers; God speaks to himself through us.” That is what’s going on with Abraham; that is what is motivating this “pushy” interaction with God: God initiated the conversation and invited Abraham into it. God is speaking to himself through Abraham.

Second, we learn that God’s justice is always clear and unimpeachable. In Genesis 18:20: the Lord says, “I’ve heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I’m going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I’ve heard. If not, I want to know.”

This language is to accommodate us, since obviously, God doesn’t have to “come down” to hear, see or know anything. After all, he is “the Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25) God sees and hears everything with utter moral clarity. Everything! Nothing is hidden from him; no persistent, willful sin escapes Divine justice. And even if our culture is uncomfortable with it, as people who have been called into a covenant partnership with God, we need to take our stand upon that truth. We can not be a conduit of covenantal blessing if we don’t. Let’s never forget: God is the Righteous Judge of all the earth—he sees, he hears, he knows—and he’s just!

Yet third, we learn that God’s desire is always mercy first, judgment last —and that is the heart of this story. As this intercession ends in Genesis 18:32, Abraham asks, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time: suppose only ten righteous people are found there?” And the Lord replied, “Then I won’t destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

Now we know the wages of sin is death, as Romans 6:23 says, but that is not God’s heart. Ezekiel 33:11 (NLT) says, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” What is Ezekiel telling us? Mercy is always extended before judgment falls; judgment is always God’s final option. “God is unwilling that any perish, but that all come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9, cf. Joel 2:13, “He relents”; Micah 7:18, “he delights to show mercy.”)

At the end of the day, God doesn’t choose judgment; people choose judgment by refusing to submit to his rule. Keep in mind, as Sodom’s destroyed, you are seeing God’s loving mercy first in Abraham’s intercession. But in Sodom’s steadfast and arrogant godlessness, the only alternative is justice. Ultimately, God executes justice, but it’s with a broken heart; his mercy can’t overrule his just nature. Yet even then, his mercy pays the penalty his justice demands, providing forgiveness freely for the repentant.

The fourth thing we learn about God is that his plans are always affected by our passions. God said to Abraham in Genesis 18:32, “Then I won’t destroy it for the sake of the ten.” Now God knew there weren’t even ten righteous people in this city—Abraham knew that, too—nonetheless God allowed Abraham to mediate for Sodom.

Did Abraham change God’s mind? No! And while his intercession didn’t change God’s plan, it did affect God’s timing. God withheld judgment long enough for Lot and his family to be spared. Our intercession doesn’t force God’s hand; but it does express our passion for what God already cares about.

When we do that, our prayers become God’s prayers; he speaks to himself through us! So the basis of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom was the mercy of God. He knew all about the ungodly, arrogant, flagrant stuff going there, yet he prayed for them anyway. He knew God would never destroy the righteous with the wicked.

But what he is asking God to do now is to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous. And in that, he has captured God’s heart; he has tapped God’s mercy; he has prayed God’s prayer! And we have just seen our covenant calling as Abraham’s children—which is simply and primarily this: that like Abraham with Sodom, we would make it hard for our city to go to hell.

Jesus taught as much in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13 (LB), he said, “You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world?” The truth is, the darkness of our world will grow darker, and people only will grow in their hatred of God’s justice. But don’t forget: the door for his mercy remains open. And we are the doormen for God’s mercy. If we don’t or won’t embrace that calling, the world has no hope. Yet if we will pray for God’s mercy upon our sin-filled city, we will become the conduit of his covenant to bless our world through us. We will become God’s partners; we will be Abraham’s true offspring.

And perhaps God will spare our city for the sake of our righteousness.

Going Deep With God: The next time you find your hackles getting raised by some moral flagrancy in our culture, perhaps that should remind you to intercede for the lost. They are already condemned, so you don’t need to add to that. Instead, pray for them. I’m sure you will have plenty of opportunities this week to intercede for your city.

When the author walks on the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right…something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left…It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.”

—C.S. LEWIS

  

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God Gets The Last Laugh

He Is Good ... All The Time

God gets the last laugh. If you are in a covenantal relationship with God through faith, time and circumstances are irrelevant in terms of him fulfilling his promises to you. He will. He is covenantally faithful. And while your faith may laugh because of limited understanding, or even in sarcastic doubt, God is greater than the circumstances upon which you have chosen to focus. God is true, and he will bring to pass every promise he has given you. He will get the last laugh.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 17:17-19

Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.

God gets the last laugh—always!

While the New Living Translation renders Genesis 17:17, “Abraham laughed to himself in disbelief,” the New International Version leaves off the word “disbelief,” simply saying, “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself,.” Whatever it’s motive, why the laughter? Abraham was understandably wondering how a son would be born to him, as God had promised in this encounter, and well as in previous ones, when he was nearly one hundred years old and not getting any younger, and his wife was not far behind, hovering around ninety.

Abraham laughed, but so did Sarah. In the next chapter, the Lord shows up yet again, and yet again reaffirms the covenant promise of God. In response, Sarah, eves-dropping from the flap of her tent, laughs to herself, but this time, her laughter is met with Divine rebuke. (Genesis 18:9-15) What was the difference—Abraham’s laugher was met with divine explanation; Sarah’s with divine admonition?

Flat out, Sarah didn’t believe the word of the Lord. She looked at the circumstances of her life, she’s childless at ninety, and chose to believe that condition ruled the day instead of the covenantal promise of God, with whom our age, or any other human reality, is not a factor. On the other hand, Abraham’s laughter most likely was a reflection not of his lack of faith (remember, in Genesis 15:6 he had believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness) as much as it was a limitation of his faith.

As you read the narrative of Abraham, God is progressively revealing himself and his covenantal promises/demands to this chosen man. Abraham, like you and me, often wondered, i.e., laughed with incredulity, as to how God will pull this or that off. The truth is, we have faith in God, we just don’t have the faith of God yet. But when our response turns to sarcastic doubting, a mocking, bitter pffft, which is likely the kind of laughter that privately exploded from Sarah’s mouth, we are in danger of divine displeasure.

But you’ve got to love God’s response to Abraham’s limited faith, and even Sarah’s critical doubting? God says, “you are to name the baby boy Isaac.” Don’t forget, Abraham is ninety-nine and Sarah is ninety. It has been thirteen years since the Almighty made the covenant with Abraham that if this chosen man would simply trust God, he and his wife would become the parents of many nations and the very human fountainhead of universal blessing. Yet over a decade later, in spite of the covenantal couple’s advanced age and persistent barrenness, God says, “name him Isaac,” which means, “God laughs.”

The point being, God gets the last laugh. If you are in a covenantal relationship with God through your faith in him, time and circumstances are irrelevant in terms of him fulfilling his promises to you. He will. He is a covenantally faithful God. And while your faith may laugh because of limited understanding, or even in sarcastic doubt, God is greater than the circumstances upon which you have chosen to focus. God is true to his Word, and he will bring to pass every promise he has given you. He will get the last laugh.

If you have expressed a lack of faith, or recognize that your perspective has suffered limited faith, I would recommend you do what Abraham did when the Lord spoke his promises to him: he fell down to the ground—a sign of respect and worship.

Even if you are still struggling with the impossibility of your circumstances and the slowness of God’s promises—if you are laughing at the impossibility of God’s blessing in your life—by faith, bow down and worship the One who is covenantally faithful, who always, always, always gets the last laugh!

Going Deeper: Bow before the Lord and acknowledge his greatness and his goodness. And like the frantic father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9:24, cry out to God: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

God is able to provide what God demands.

—WILLIAM WILLIMON

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Submission: A Costly Conduit of God’s Grace

Counterintuitive Obedience

God’s call for Hagar to submit to Sarah is a reminder that our submission leads to God’s seeing. When we obey God, even when obedience is counterintuitive, costly and uncomfortable, he will find us, listen to us, meet our need and restore us to his best plan for our lives. Thank God for submission to his will—a costly conduit of the manifold wisdom and provision of God through the difficult places in life!

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 16:9-10

Then the angel of the Lord told Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The challenges and complexities of life are often well beyond our intellectual and spiritual capacities. Many times we find ourselves in situations that require the wisdom and experience of a person who is well above our pay grade.

In this story, Hagar was at wits end. She was a servant girl, and had been moved across the chessboard like a pawn in Sarah and Abraham’s grand scheme. Her mistress had loaned her to sleep with Abraham in order to produce an heir, and Abraham had “all too gladly” accepted Sarah’s “generous” offer. When Hagar found out the encounter had resulted in her pregnancy, understandably, this girl who had nothing and was treated like nothing, became a bit uppity. Finally, she had something in her life to cheer about. As a result of her sudden status, however, her mistress mistreated her—most likely verbally and physically—until Hagar felt there was no other option than to run away.

But in running away, Hagar was running on empty. She had nothing: no means of support, no prospects for the future, and no plans for how to right her listing life. She was in a situation that required wisdom, experience and resources well above her pay grade.

That’s where God stepped in. Talk about Someone well above your pay grade! But God’s plan to right her life was probably not what she was hoping for. He instructed her, “Go back and submit to your mistress.” Yet in that difficult set of instruction was a promise—I will bless your obedience beyond your wildest imaginations (Genesis 16:10), and a guiding principle that would keep the ship of her life from helplessly listing ever again—the Lord had found her in her distress (Genesis 16:7), he had heard her complaint (Genesis 16:11, the son she would birth, was to be named Ishmael, which means, “God hears”), and he had granted her heart’s desire (Genesis 16:12, unlike Hagar, Ishmael would be a person to be reckoned with, and Genesis 16: 10, his descendants would multiple beyond numbering) had restored her dignity (Genesis 16:13-14).

The life lesson that God was teaching Hagar, a principal that he wants us to learn, is that our submission leads to his seeing. When we obey God, even when obedience is counterintuitive, costly and uncomfortable, he will find us, listen to us, meet our need and restore us to his best plan for our lives.

When God calls us to submit, he is simply asking us to surrender to a higher principle and a better plan than our own. When we truly understand what godly submission is, we will gladly embrace it, for there is great security in knowing that we have just turned our life’s challenges over to Someone well above our pay grade.

Thank God for submission to his will—a costly conduit of the manifold wisdom and provision of God through the difficult places in life!

Going Deeper: This will be a tough question to honestly answer, because the very nature of it will cause it to rub against the fur of our life, but to what or to whom is God calling you to submit? Do it! You are turning that “what” or that “whom” over to Someone who operates at a far higher pay grade than you.

Let God have your life; He can do more with it than you can.

—D.L. MOODY

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