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Jun 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 16, 2013 – Genesis 13

Reducing the Stress of Strife

Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Genesis 13:5-7

INTRO: Why is the term “spiritual journey” a good metaphor for the Christian life?

. . . .

There’s an important lesson in Genesis 13 about how spiritual growth occurs
– the word translated “journey” in verse 2 means “starting point” or “stage” (of journey)
• Abram’s journey took him “from the Negev . . . to the place where his tent had been”
The lesson: we grow by leaving one place and arriving at another
– or leaving one thing to take up another

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor. 13:11)

Notice that Abram returned to “place [he] had been at the beginning”
-it’s as if he made a wrong move and had to start over
• so he returned to the “place of the altar” – that’s where we go to start over
• we return to that vital connection with God
– so sometimes our progress is backward, before resuming our forward movement

Vv. 5-7, God’s blessings put a strain on their relationship

Literally, “the land could not bear them to dwell together”
– they became a drain on the land’s limited resources
– so the unpleasant interaction between their hired hands began to erupt

We do not want to live with strife – this constant state of conflict
– it’s easy to see that a lot of people in our county are chronically upset
• the way they drive (quick to honk), or push their shopping cart through grocery store, etc.
• atmosphere in Southern California is sometimes charged with a surplus of angry energy

You’ve heard this before, but I think Larry Senn says it very well
– the quote is from his book, Up the Mood Elevator

“Amy F. T. Arnsten, PhD, professor of neurobiology at Yale University School of Medicine, has found that stressful situations cause the higher-reasoning centers in our brain to shut down, while at the same time allowing the more primal areas of our brain to take over.
As adrenaline is released during high-stress moments, it inhibits the prefrontal cortex, where higher reasoning takes place. Adrenaline then stimulates the amygdala . . ., which is where our ‘fight or flight’ reaction kicks in as we cope with our conditioned fear and loss of control reflexes.
This result is what Arnsten calls ‘the biology of feeling frazzled,’ a fascinating mix of extreme and narrow focus and loss of concentration. Our ability to intake information (and clues) diminishes and all our senses are focused in a single direction. Our intensity increases and choices seem obvious, but our thinking is unreliable and our reactions usually inappropriate.
. . . Even at moderate levels we start to lose touch with the complexity of social situations. We begin to act in short-term, self-protective ways that come across as selfish, defensive and self-centered. In short, when it matters most, we’re often at our worst.”

– constant stress (home, school, work, etc.) without relief can put us in this state
• I want to emphasize, this is not only physically unhealthy, it can be relationally devastating

Relationships require a number of specific skills
– we learn these skills our from parents and then internalize them
• many adults didn’t learn these skills as children
• so when the need for them arises, they become stressed
○ that is when they act in those defensive, self-protective ways
○ this, in turn, creates more strife and stress for everyone

In passing, we notice the footnote at the end of verse 7
– we’ll see this concern again later regarding the locals (34:30)
– others, outside the family or clan, were witnessing this internecine conflict

Vv. 8-9, Abram initiated an action to eliminate the strife

How did he go about this?
– we’ll follow this closely, because it may be useful
• sometimes we may be able to use this approach to resolve conflicts

  1. He asked Lot to cooperate with him – “Please” (twice)
    – he did not ignore or minimize the problem – did not blame Lot
    • he took equal responsibility for it – even more than “equal”
    – as the chieftain, he would be expected to produce a solution
    • he could have ordered Lot to go west
  2. He emphasized a foundational reality – “we are brothers” – “we’re family”
    – it seems like he’s stating the obvious, but this is what gets lost
    • we forget to affirm our commitment to the relationship
    – Abram’s goal was to preserve their relationship
    • strife was inconsistent with brotherhood
  3. He empowered Lot – “the whole land is before you”
    – Abram forfeited the contest to end the strife
    – as impractical, impossible, and self-defeating as this may seem, at times, the best way to resolve conflict is to let the other person go first
    • let them get their way
    • we accommodate ourselves to their weaknesses and limitations
    For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45)
    – consider some of these losses as investments in your peace of mind
    Better is a dry morsel and quietness with itThan a house full of feasting with strife (Pr. 17:1)
    – learn how to let other people be happy in having their way
    • of course, we don’t do this to the point of absurdity
    – when in conflict, don’t worry about trying to instruct the other person
    • in tense moments, people are the least likely to appreciate your insight
    • rather, like Abram, teach by example
  4. Abram suggested that he and Lot move in different directions, separate from each other
    – he was willing to be physically separated to stay relationally connected
    • this would allow both of them to continue growing wealthier
    – some relationships can be saved by creating healthy space
    • although relationships are formed by coming together, they’re sometimes strengthened by moving apart

Sometimes we cannot find a way to end the constant strife
– or else the obvious solutions are unrealistic or undesirable
• for example, Abram and Lot could have given away half their stuff
– Some people won’t allow us to interact with them without strife
• so we do what we can to resolve this round, then pull away — create distance
• there is no rational reason or Christian value in allowing someone to repeatedly abuse us

Disclaimer: I don’t have our marriages in mind (although physical abuse would demand separation)
– in my experience, couples don’t try hard enough
• one, or the other, or both aren’t willing to do the difficult work
• that is, the personal work of self-discovery and change
○ they seldom ask, “What am I doing that is wrong? Why do I behave this way?”
○ and because they don’t ask, they keep doing the wrong thing, even though it still produces the same, unwanted results

Vv. 10-13, There are indicators that Lot made a poor choice

Two more footnotes:
Verse 10, “before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”
Verse 13, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly . . .”

In making his choice, Lot used:

  • the wrong method, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw . . .”
  • the wrong criteria, “well watered everywhere”

Let’s look at Lot in contrast with Abram

Vv. 14-18, Abram found himself alone with God

“Now” – the same word that was translated “Please” in verses 8-9
– it is time for Abram to lift up his eyes and look
– he has a different perspective than Lot (relational versus material)
– Lot “moved his tents as far as Sodom” – and we already know something about Sodom
• Abram “moved his tent . . . and . . . built an altar”
○ there was this additional, spiritual, factor in Abram’s calculations and actions

After giving in to Lot, it’s as if God says, “Here’s what I have for you”

Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us? (Mt. 19:27)

– “dust of ground” – interesting twist on 2:7
• God was creating a new people, breathing life into a new humanity

CONC: So what have we learned regarding our spiritual growth?

That the way we move forward is from losses into gains
– we give up something to get something else
• “I don’t party like I used to, but I’m closer to God”
– notice that Lot lost ground — from initial gain to total loss

Abram traded the best choice for the right choice,
– he traded staying with Lot for traveling with God, strife for peace

This is how we make our spiritual journey, by stages
– from darkness to light, from death to life
• every death is followed by a birth, every end is a new beginning

How do we keep going when the losses seem too great?
– we train ourselves to focus our eyes on the gains

. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (He. 12:2)

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ep. 1:18-19)

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