Genesis – Facing up to reality
April 7, 2024

Genesis – Facing up to reality

Passage: Genesis 13

Nick's sermon based on Genesis 13, titled "Facing Up to Reality" or "When Your Blessing Becomes Your Burden".

Key Points:

  • We often associate blessings from God with material possessions, health, and success.
  • The Bible story of Abraham and Lot shows us that blessings can also become burdens and lead to conflict.
  • Abraham and Lot became very wealthy with flocks and herds, but their abundance caused arguments between their herdsmen.
  • Abraham valued his relationship with Lot more than his possessions and offered him the choice of the best land.
  • This act of generosity was rewarded by God who gave Abraham even more land.
  • The true goal in life is not to acquire blessings but to have a relationship with God.
  • We should not let our blessings (or lack thereof) become the reason we don't seek God.
  • MCF church has grown recently, but they must be careful not to let their success become a burden.
  • True success comes from focusing on what God values and not on outward appearances.
  • We should hold our blessings lightly and value our relationship with God above all else.

Bible References:

  • Genesis 13
  • Ephesians


1. Social Media and #blessed:

Nick uses the current trend of social media posts showcasing a perfect life with the hashtag #blessed as an example. People often associate blessings from God with material possessions, good health, and success. These posts create a perception that these things are a sign of being blessed, and the lack of them suggests God's absence.

2. Ice Cream Wars:

This term refers to territorial disputes between ice cream vendors. Here, Nick uses it as an analogy for how abundance can lead to conflict. Even seemingly trivial things like selling space can become a battleground when there's a lot to be gained. This highlights the point that blessings, if not managed wisely, can become burdens that cause arguments and divisions.

3. Story of a Church Split due to Arguments over Property:

Nick uses this real-life example to illustrate how even churches, which are meant to be places of unity and love, can fall prey to the allure of material possessions. The Church of Pentecost in Ghana, once it acquired land and wealth, experienced similar conflicts to Abraham and Lot. This story emphasizes the importance of prioritizing relationships and spiritual values over material gain.

4. Story of a Young Man in Zambia who Faithfully Tithed:

This story serves as a counterpoint to the focus on material wealth. The young man, Kelvin, faithfully tithed his meager earnings despite his financial limitations. This act demonstrates that true blessings come from obedience and faith, not from the amount of money one has. He valued his relationship with God more than his possessions, and his act of giving reflected that.

Call to Action:

  • Don't let your blessings become your burden.
  • Focus on what is truly valuable: your relationship with God.








Great morning. Yes, I do apologise for my slightly tawdry appearance.
A lot, lot better than it was yesterday. I don't know what it is,
but swollen eyes. It was all closed up yesterday like I'd been doing 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
When I, my first day at secondary school, somebody looked at me and said,
why do you look like Sylvester Stallone? And I thought, well, that's good. That means I've got
rugged, film-style good looks. Then I saw a picture of Sylvester Stallone, I thought it's not
actually the compliment that I thought it was. But this sort of enhances my naturally droopy
eyes gifted to me by the Lord. So there we are. But yeah, thanks for your prayers. It is good
to be here. It's always good to speak the word of God. And we're in Genesis chapter 13 this morning.
We're racing through at a rate of knots. Not Martin Lloyd Jones pace. This is MCF pace.
Genesis chapter 13. And my handsome assistant is going to come and read it for us.
It doesn't, looks more like David Hasselhoff than Sylvester Stallone.
There you go.
Thank you, Pete. Chapter 13, Genesis. So Abraham left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev,
along with his wife and lot, and all that they owned. Abraham was very rich in livestock
silver and gold. From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages towards Bethel,
and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai. Ai, Ai, where they had come to before.
This was the same place where Abraham had built the altar, and there he worshipped the Lord again.
Lot who was traveling with Abraham had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats,
herds of cattle and many tents. But the land could not support both Abraham and Lot
with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the
herdsmen of Abraham and Lot. At that time, Canaanites and parasites were also living in the land.
Finally, Abraham said to Lot, let's not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen.
After all, we are close relatives. The whole countryside is open to you.
Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land
to the left, then I'll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right,
then I'll go to the left. Lot took a long look at fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the
direction of Zor. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the Garden of the Lord or the
beautiful land of Egypt. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot chose for
himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants
and parted company with his uncle, Abraham. So Abraham settled in the land of Canaan,
and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain.
But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.
After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abraham, look, as far as you can see in every direction
north and south, east and west, I am giving all this land as far as you can see to you
and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that,
like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted. Go and walk through the land in every direction
for I am giving it to you. So Abraham moved his camp to Hebron and settled near the Oak Grove,
belonging to Marmer. There he built another altar to the Lord.
So I think the nominal title for this on the screen would be something like facing up to reality,
but I renamed it when your blessing becomes your burden. I don't know what your understanding or
belief about blessing is, but there's a natural aspect to our relationship with God where
we tend to think that when things go well, when we have what we need, when we have all that we
hope for in life, when we see prosperity in any form, things are a little bit easy, then we are
blessed in inverted comets. And when things are a little bit difficult or where they're challenging
or where we don't have what we want or where there's disappointment or where there's upset or where
there's pain, then things become a struggle because we're left wondering what happened to our
blessing. And you've probably seen it on Facebook, Instagram, all of that stuff. If you spend any
time in the area of social media, the problem can be compounded with these hashtags, hashtag blessed.
And so he said, no, I've just got an amazing new job, a million dollars a year, hashtag blessed.
Or, you know, everything is going wonderfully, wonderfully well. And the pictures prove it,
hashtag blessed. And we make a correlation, we make a connection between the collection
of success, maybe the collection of material things, maybe the enjoyment of health. And we say,
well, that's what it means to live in the blessing of God. If we have all those things, then we are
blessed. If we don't, then there are a lot of questions, doubts, fears, and insecurities.
Now, somehow we know in our hearts that that's not really the case, but we still struggle with it,
don't we? We do sing, blessed be your name in the land that is plentiful and blessed be your name
on the road marked with suffering. Blessing of God is not just attached to all things going well,
getting all the things on our list to Santa or all the blessings that the tooth fairy can give us.
And then that's, you know, everything is wonderful in life. But there's a lot more to the blessing
of God than all of those things. And in the context of our understanding, Abraham and Lot and their
families were blessed. They had both become very wealthy. They had flocks of sheep, they had goats,
they had herds of cattle, and many tents. I like that phrase. They had lots of animals and many
tents. Many tents must mean lots of people. They had silver and gold. They were living the dream.
This was lottery level stuff. But it didn't take long for their blessing to become a problem,
for their blessing to become their burden, for their blessing to become almost the thing that
destroyed them. The land they were on could not support both of them. And as a result,
disputes broke out between their herdsmen. We know what that's like, don't we? Disputes between
our herdsmen. When clashes come. And it's usually to do with that. I mean, I was fascinated by the
term ice cream wars. And it turned out that it's to do with, you know, the areas where people are
able to sell their ice creams and people go to war over and fight over all of that turf wars.
Because, you know, you're on my space. When we were in Kenya this year, whenever it was,
seems like a blur when I was in Kenya. But it was last year, wasn't it? And we were told horrific
stories about how families and people had been massacred. And it was all to do with arguments
over land. Some wanted to grow crops on fertile land. Others wanted to graze their cattle.
And the two couldn't mix. And so people were killed over that sort of dispute. When you're
blessing, when what you have becomes the reason why you divide and the reason why you have problems
and the blessing can become a burden. If these two families didn't have so much blessing,
then those problems wouldn't exist. And now they did. The potential was there for their blessing
to become their downfall. And so in the middle of all of that, as we're retelling the story,
Abraham stepped up and took responsibility for the situation. He showed that he had enough
understanding to know that it was not worth coming to war over these things. These were the blessings
of God. This was how far God had brought us from nothing to this. And now we're going to fight
over it. It's not worth it. There were people, there were relationships, and there were principles
that were more valuable than everything that they owned between them. And so he said to lot,
let's not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close
relatives. The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you
want and we will separate. It wasn't an acrimonious separation. It was a practical pragmatic solution
to say that our lives, our relationship, our families, the things that God has called us to
are so much more valuable than what we're going to lose if we start fighting over the land.
And so Lot had a free choice with Abraham's blessing to go where he wanted to go. Abraham,
he gave priority to Lot to risk his own future. He said, you take whatever you want, wherever you
want to go, you can go there. Whatever you want to have, you can have. And I will go after you.
He valued Lot more than all that he had. And the Bible says that after Lot had gone,
the Lord said to Abraham, look as far as you can see in every direction, north and south and east
and west. I am giving all this land as far as you can see to you and to your descendants as a
permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that like the dust of the earth,
they cannot be counted. Go and walk through the land in every direction for I am giving it to you.
That was the result of Abraham's free and open giving to Lot. He didn't give to Lot on the
condition that he could keep something. He said, you take whatever you want, go wherever you want
to go. And as a result of that attitude of heart, God came to him and said, now I am going to give
you. I am going to bless you more than you could ever imagine. Go and walk through the land in every
direction for I am giving it to you. And what we see, even though we shy away from it sometimes,
we see in the Bible that God is in the business of blessing people. He blesses his people with good
things. But we know and we should know and we need to learn and to remind ourselves constantly
that the goal of our life is not the blessing. The goal of our life is not to find the prosperity,
the goods, the health, the success, whatever it is, the goal is God himself. And the test is
whether we can see past those blessings or even the lack of those blessings to see what is truly
valuable. We can so easily fixated on what we have or even what we don't have. And we think, well,
if God was really with me, this wouldn't be happening to me or this wouldn't be my circumstance
or we say, well, because this is my circumstance, God is surely with me. And I'm something rather
special in the eyes of God. And we have to see through all that, just as Abraham did, to understand
what is truly valuable. And the applications, simple applications of this passage on so many
different levels, but the warning is the same. Do not let your blessing become your burden
or the reason. Don't let your blessing or your lack of blessing become the reason why we don't
take hold of the fullness of all God has for us. You know, for us as a church, we're in a very
exciting position. We can be nothing but grateful to God for all that he's done and that he's doing.
Because churches all around have experienced and have reported drops in the number since COVID
and all the effect that that had. People of churches have shrunk in nature. And yet,
for whatever reason, for things we can't put our fingers on, we seem to have grown. And every week
to see this place full is so exciting. And to know that 146 was full. Last week, we had the Baptist
Street pool here. We had all the people mopping and everything else around it. We had chairs laid
out everywhere. And we had something like 170 people in the building. And we had about almost 30
people at 146. That's incredible to see. And it's really exciting to to be part of something
that God is doing like that. And there's there's reasons that we can't understand, but we say,
thank you God. There's a sense of God's presence. There's a sense of God's presence in the worship.
There's a sense that God is leading us the way we acquired 146 through the miraculous provision.
The sense that God really does want to do something great here in our time. This is our time to be
alive. And God is moving. It's exciting. It's genuinely exciting. But if we don't take care,
our blessing can become our burden. And our blessing can even become our downfall.
If we get it right, we focus on those things that truly valuable, that truly matter.
We hold our blessing lightly, value our relationship with God with each other,
above all things, then what God can do in us and through us really is limitless.
There is a wonderful thing and there is exciting thing to look. But if we say,
actually, no, actually we're something rather special. We've got something here.
This is marvelous. This is wonderful. Come to MCF. This is how church is done.
And all of that stuff, then that will become our downfall.
We have to hold it all lightly, hold it all before God. And just like Abraham did with Lot,
he said, you go, you take whatever you want. And we will simply trust in the Lord God.
A look of success does not automatically equal success in the eyes of heaven.
There are letters to the churches in Revelation. If you read them,
which says, you say that I have need of nothing, that we have everything we need.
We are successful. He said, yet you are wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked.
That was the assessment of God to that particular church. And as I say, I truly believe that the
potential for what God can do here is great. It's so exciting to be part of. But true success
doesn't come automatically and it doesn't come easily. It takes determined, committed decisions
to value what God values above all things. And it's so important that we keep our eyes
fixed on what is important to him and not what can lead our hearts astray or can cause us to
become a pro. Or churches that grow, churches that develop, churches that acquire also split.
And we have to value so much what is in the heart of God so that our blessing doesn't become
our burden. There was a missionary called Jim Elliot who said he is no fool who gives up what he
cannot keep to take hold of what he cannot lose. And we need to have an attitude in our hearts,
whatever God does, whether it's in our individual lives or whether it's in our life as a church,
that we will give it up just as Abraham did, not losing it necessarily, but letting go,
holding lightly in the palm of our hands, saying, all of this belongs to you, Lord,
and we're going to focus on what really matters. And that's what is so encouraging
about the times that we have in worship and whatever, because I believe there is a heart
that is going after the heart of God. And we have to be aware of ourselves and check ourselves
and hold each other to account to make sure that we're not getting drawn away by things that are
not central to what God is doing. Erica's parents, if you knew them, you'd like them, some of you
didn't know them actually, I think, they were missionary pastors with a church called the Church
of Pentecost in Ghana. And today it's among the largest churches in the world with presence
in scores of countries, they are all over the place. The membership in Ghana alone is in excess
of 10% of the population. So they have to be careful with their blessing because they can do
all sorts of things, like bring down the government and that sort of thing. So when the church started
in 1938, it was part of another organization. And as the church grew in acquired land and property
and wealth, like in Genesis 13, disputes arose and the church ended up splitting. And it got so
bad that they ended up in the High Court and a judge had to decide what happened to the church
and he brought his judgment down and said and ordered that two new churches should be established
and that the two parties should separate and that the property and all the goods and all the
wealth of the judges should be split into and shared equally. And the leadership of the
church of Pentecost said at the time, actually, no, we don't want any of it. We'd rather give it all
to the other party and God who brought us this far, who raised us from nothing up to here,
he'll do it again. And so they released it all. And they went back to starting with nothing.
And from that root, this church that is now all over the world, there's 10% of the population
and government has done all sorts, has grown. And sadly, the other church that received all the
stuff is nowhere now. You can't find it anywhere. And it's a principle that's so important because
if we measure success and blessing the way that everyone else does, it simply leads us into problems.
And so we need to check our hearts, check our minds, check our spirits, make sure we are aligning
ourselves with the Lord and what he is doing and what he wants to do and what is important to him
regardless of what is going on on the outside. There's a personal application as well. Our hearts
and minds are easily taken up with what we have or what we don't have. Our dreams and ambitions for
life, what we have, what we don't have, what we experience, what we see. But we need to value
our faith, to value our relationship with God above everything that affects our physical lives,
whether it's our health, whether it's our wealth, whether it's our success in life, whether it's
the things that happen to us. How else do people make sense of being prisoners for Christ? How
else when Andy preached many months back and he quoted Richard Wernbrand, I went and found the
book and read it through it. It's fascinating. If you can ever read the book by Richard Wernbrand
about his experience, 13 years, I think it was in prison in Romania, tortured for Christ.
How can you make sense of those decisions to submit yourself to that sort of thing
unless you know that the things that happen to you, that the physical circumstances of your life
don't actually matter compared to what really is valuable, to what really is important.
And in this room this morning, there's a whole spectrum of different circumstances.
Each and every person has a different understanding of, you know, a different experience of life,
a different experience of maybe things that we have or don't have.
But perhaps we all carry a sense of lack in one way or another. But the question is not how
much blessing we have compared to one another, but how much do we value what is truly important.
Ephesians tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
It's already blessed us. We're not hoping for a blessing. We're not looking for a blessing.
We're not working for a blessing. But God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
God has promised to look after us. It's a given. He has promised to care for us. He's promised
to provide for us. The question is will we lift our eyes from our physical circumstances
and fix them firmly on God, not allowing our sense of well-being to be dependent on how things
work out for us, but rather on who God is and the promises that He's made for us.
There's a fascinating passage in Philippians 4 where Paul thanks the Philippian church
for a gift they sent him, but he says, actually, I don't have any need of anything. Thanks for the
gift, but I don't need it because I've actually learned whether I've got loads of stuff. I'm happy
whether I've got nothing. I'm happy because I have learned to be content in any and every circumstance.
He's learned contentment and trust in God. He thanked them for the gift they sent,
not because he needed it because as he put it, I want to see what is credited to your account.
Your gift gives me pleasure because it shows me what's in your heart.
I don't give me pleasure because I've got another 10 quid or another 100 pounds or whatever it is.
And I can do something with that. He said, that's irrelevant, but the fact that you thought to give
me something, the fact that you thought to express your love in this way shows me that God has done
something great in your life. And for that, I rejoice because you value something that is important,
value 10 pounds or 20 pounds or whatever. It's great to have, that's what he was saying,
but that's not the point. The point is what God has done in your hearts. The point is the sense of
focus and vision that you have. When we're in Zambia, the principle of
tithing to the church is very much more prominently spoken about than it is here. The idea that people
would, as part of their commitment, will give 10% of their income to support the work of the church.
It's laid down as a principle, but not many people, I don't even know what happens here,
but not many people do. I think in our church, I was quite involved in the admin of the church
and he used to have a handwritten ledger. The people used to write lists of who tithe and whatever,
and probably another church of 200, there might have been eight or 10 people listed there as tithers.
But one of them was a young man. This is not about money, by the way. This is just, this is like
Jesus telling the story of the widows might. But one of them was a young man and he made his living
selling plastic buckets on the street, a young guy called Kelvin. And his income, month by month,
was a matter of pence. But faithfully and without fail, he would take 10% of his pence and he would
put it in an envelope and he would drop it into the offering in the church. The money made no
difference to the church at all. If he stopped, they wouldn't have noticed. But it was such a joy
to see the impact of that young man's faith on his life and the decisions he made with whatever
he had in his hands. He loved God and his desire to honour God was not connected to what he had.
He just wanted to do something to express what God had done in his heart.
Now he never moved on when we're thinking about our lives and how we measure success.
He never actually moved on from selling buckets on the street. A year or two later, he died.
Some people might say, well, was he blessed? Is there a blessing in that selling buckets on the
street until you die? But actually he saw and understood things that many more people, many more
physically blessed people might miss. He saw things that our blessings can blind us to.
He understood the value of what God had done in his life. And so we love and look for the blessing
of God in our lives. But we need to take care of where and how we look, put value on the right
things, pour ourselves into our pursuit of God and our love and commitment to each other. And that
will be the hallmark of MCF. Because a big successful church is not really any good to anyone unless
its heart is right. Unless when people connect to the church, they're drawn closer to God and they
know what it is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, not just a faithful member.
Our blessings in life are no good to us or anybody else unless they lead us closer to the heart of God.
I remember my father-in-law saying, you know, when we were thinking about the children and
which about them going to school and what would happen to their education and all of that,
particularly traveling around the world. And he said it matters to a point but it doesn't
really matter at the end of the day because what really matters is their heart. What really matters
is what is going on in their hearts. What really matters is their faith in Jesus.
Our blessings in life are no good to us if they don't lead us closer to the heart of God. Or if
when they are gone, all the wheels fall off and we have nothing at all. Somebody once said the
church is what is left when the building burns down. Can we worship love on a God and each other
regardless of what happens to us and regardless of what we have and regardless of what people
think about us and what regardless what people say about us. Because while we enjoy the blessing
of God and we enjoy the growth that we're seeing God give us and we're enjoying all of that,
there may come a time when people won't as Jesus promised people won't speak well
of the church. People won't speak well of all of God's people. What will we do then?
Will we value what is truly important? The challenge is real but it's a doorway to an
experience of God and all that he can do and it's impossible if we hang on to what we think
we need. So let's not let our blessing become our burden. Let's not hold on tightly to those
things and say this is what I need in life. What we need in life is Jesus.
A. W. Toes has said people don't know that Jesus is all we need until Jesus is all we've got.
It's a challenging thing. It's a challenging thing for me. It's a challenge to think about that
because so often when things go well, when you've got money in your pocket, when you've got
opportunities in life, you can feel at peace, you feel all is well with the world.
When those things are not there, when those things are challenging you, when those things are a
problem, we can think where is God and our blessing or lack of blessing becomes our burden.
In actual fact like Paul, we can learn contentment in each and every circumstance we can learn
that actually all we need is found in him.
It's a big challenge. Abram and Lot were blessed beyond measure and yet it became
a burden to them and so they took decisions based on what was truly important, what was truly
valuable and that is what we are called to do as God's people. Amen.

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