Mary Scheer, Brewster Baptist Church
Luke 9: 57-62
In my last few sermons I’ve been talking about things that can be obstacles to our faith and affect our relationships with God and keep us from living our best life.
Today I want to talk about things that can cause us to get stuck in life and in our faith and how to get unstuck.
While I was thinking about this subject, I recalled a time when my girls were really little. Kelley was around 4, Katie 2 and Kristyn around 3 months old. With the kids in the car, my husband and I were driving through a torrential downpour on our way to some destination. We hit a pile up, with traffic lights out up ahead, cars backed up and the clock ticking, he turned down a dirt road that promised to be a shortcut. We got about half way when we came to a place where a puddle stretched from one side of the field, across the road, to the other side of the field. I said, “hu, that doesn’t look safe to drive through.” “It’s fine,” he said, “I’m sure we can make it!” “I don’t think so, the water looks too deep said I.” But he gunned the engine and off we drove in our little pinto. We plunged right into the deepest part of the puddle, submerging half the car instantly. I turned around to the back seat to get the kids out, and from her car seat, Kristyn’s little feet were splashing in water. That was as far as the car sank, but for sure we were stuck and going nowhere. We got out of the car, walked in the rain, finding shelter under a bridge until we hailed a police man to call a tow truck and hall our car out of the puddle that was just big enough to derail our whole day.
Life is full of puddles, obstacles and detours that look innocent enough and yet can get us off track and leave us huddled under bridges, waiting out the rain and missing out on life.
While I was at the base last week, I was dropping some papers off at the medical clinic and while I was in line, I looked over at a documentary about elephants playing on a small screen in the waiting room. Apparently this group of elephants had been walking in one direction, when one of the young ones suddenly turned around went backwards. In doing so, she stepped on a trap and wire cut deeply into her ankle. After pulling and tugging and finally realizing she was stuck, the baby just laid down and started crying. I was watching thinking, “why did you turn back?”
There’s a powerful story in the bible about someone who turned back and the warning it serves us even today.
That story is about Lot’s wife. Poor Lot’s wife! I hate the fact that she doesn’t even have a name. Fortunately, there’s not too many Lot’s in the Bible, so it’s easy to keep her straight. She was married to Abraham’s nephew Lot.
Abraham and his family, including his nephew, had been living in Egypt temporarily because of a famine in his home town of Haran. When the famine ended they headed out for the planes of the Negev. They Lord had blessed them both and they had a lot of cattle and large families. They needed to spread out. So Abraham told Lot he cold have first pick of where he wanted to settle his family and live.
“Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar
The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. 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.” (Gen. 13: 10-11 NLT)
Lot chose that location because of the material advantages it provided. He didn’t wind up in Sodom all at once, first he pitched his tent outside the city (v12) and later moved into the city (19:3).
Peter said that, “Lot was a “righteous man,” who was “distressed by the filthy lives” of Sodom’s citizens. But even so Lot preferred to stay there and make a profit than to leave, and thus take a stand against evil.” (2 Peter 2:7-8)
Well, one day, the Angel of the Lord showed up to talk with Abraham to tell him that he had heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah and he was going over there to take a look. And if things were as bad as it sounded, he was going to destroy the cities.
The Prophet Ezekiel noted, “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed detestable sins….” (Ez. 16: 49-50a NLT)
Abraham acted quickly to intercede for his nephew and his family and started asking God how many righteous people would need to be in the city in order for God to spare it…if he found 50 would he still destroy it…how about 40, 30, 20…or even just 10?
God said, if there were 10 righteous people he would not destroy it. Well, the Angel of the Lord stayed on with Abraham to discuss some other upcoming events in Abraham’s life, while the two angels who had come with the Lord went to Sodom. Arriving there, they found the city in very bad shape and were nearly attacked themselves!
They urged Lot, his wife, their two daughters and their fiancés to leave the city. The angels spent the night in Lot’s house and talked about the devastation to come. Lot’s two son-in-laws to be, just laughed at the warning and left.
At first light, the angels took Lot by the arm and literally led the family out, warning them not to stop or look back or they would be destroyed. With some distance between them and the city, the Lord sent a bolt of lightening that ignited what archeologists speculate were oil fields below them and the cities went up in flames. The time of destruction had come.
Apparently there weren’t even 10 righteous people in either town because they were not spared. Lot and his family were saved because Abraham had interceded for them.
Lot took the lead, their daughters in the middle and his wife lingering in the rear. And then it happened, even though they were warned not to look back, Lot’s wife turned around. And right then she was turned into a pillar of salt! Every time I read that I can’t believe it…I always want to yell, “don’t do it!”
God said don’t look back, don’t do it,” but she did it and the consequences were devastating.
Maybe it wasn’t the best place to live, but it seems she had become a part of the community, she had neighbors and friendships that connected her in a way that caused her to hesitate and linger and ignore the angels warning not to stop or look back.
When talking about a future time of destruction and his return, Jesus used Lot’s wife as an illustration to warn people not to turn back.
In Luke 17 Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.
And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building until the morning Lot left Sodom.
Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.” (Lk 17: 26-33 NLT)
Lot’s wife was clinging to the life she was leaving, it’s as if her heart was being pulled in two different directions and she couldn’t move forward. She was stuck. She hadn’t heard James warning about choosing the things of the world over God. He said, “Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4 NLT)
If Lot’s wife looked back because she didn’t want to leave what she had, the Israelites looked back because they were afraid of where they were going.
After being freed from 430 years of slavery in Egypt, God led them out of captivity toward freedom and the Promise Land.
Along the way though, there were some times, they wanted to go back to Egypt.
- Just after their escape, while Pharaoh was chasing them, they wanted to go back rather than die in the wilderness (Ex 14: 10-12).
- Then they wanted to go back rather than die of hunger and thirst. They said to each other, “If only we had died in Egypt, there we sat around pots of meat & ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us into this desert to starve us to death.” (Exodus 16)
- So God led them to water and then provided Manna (bread in the wilderness). Then they complained about how sick & tired they were of manna and how they wanted meat. (Numbers. 11: 1-3)
- They said, “if only we had meat to eat, we remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost, also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (Num. 11: 4-6; 16)
- The Lord was angry and said he would send them so much meat that it would make them sick, “because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you and have wailed before him saying, “why did we ever leave Egypt?”
- Then just before they entered the Promise Land, Moses sent some scouts in to check out the living conditions. Their fearful report scared everyone and they responded by trying to get a volunteer to lead them back to Egypt!
Talk about romancing the past! They made it sound like they had left Club Med, when the reality was they were making bricks without straw!
Lots of things that can cause folks to turn back from their faith and perhaps disappoint with God is one of the biggest reasons…disappointment in his provision…disappointment in how he answered or didn’t answer a prayer, Maybe you know someone who “used to believe in God,” but then something happened and they shrunk back from their faith.
Sometimes it’s a:
- desire to return to what we thought we had,
- a hesitation to leave what we know,
- or a fear of going in a direction we hadn’t planned on that can leave us stuck.
Years ago during a practice deployment in Florida with the Chaplain School, we were doing this obstacle course in the pouring rain that turned into a tropical storm…Anyway, no kidding thunder and lightening moving in, pouring rain. We all made it through the various obstacles that emptied out at a rope that stretched from one tower, across a pool of water to another tower. We had to climb up the tower, walk out on a little ledge, turn around backwards look up to the rope, grab it and kick our feet up over it and inchworm our way across the water up the incline to the other tower. Well, when I stepped out on the ledge and turned around and got my feet up, I did the thing that’s almost as dangerous as looking back…and that’s looking down! There was only ground below me…I would have to crawl out a ways before I was over water. I was shivering in the pouring rain, exhausted from the other parts of the course and scared by the thought that I could fall before I ever made it over the water. All of that left me hanging there, shivering, unable to go forward, I was stuck. After a while, the vocal and energetic support from the Training Instructors encouraged me onward.
Getting stuck is easy, life is full of puddles and some are scarier to cross than others! Getting unstuck is another thing. Our sermon text offers some help. One day, Jesus was walking along, talking with his disciples when some other folks joined the group.
SERMON SCRIPTURE: LUKE 9: 57-62 (NLT)
As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
In all of these cases, Lot’s wife, the Israelites, the folks who said they would follow Jesus later, it was their relationship with the past that kept them stuck and unable to move forward.
Each one had a reason for hesitation, something in their life that wanted to deal with first. Some people have a hard time separating themselves from the issues in their past and it shapes what they believe God will do with them in the future.
Maybe there are things in our lives that we feel like, if only I hadn’t done this, or if only I could have done that, then I’d be in a better position to take that next step in how I follow or serve God.
God called Paul to be an Apostle and he had a past to get past (as someone who previously tortured and approved the killing of Christians). Here’s Paul’s advice for how to move forward.
He said, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead…I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sister, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus is calling us.” (Philippians 3:10-14 NLT)
By letting go of and forgetting the things that hinder us from the past and approaching the future with faith, we will experience the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Some people live their whole lives stuck; not enjoying the life they wanted, not growing in their faith as they hoped…Even as the Israelites wandered in circles for 40 years, some folks feel like they’re wandering around getting no where. God wants more for us.
The key to being the best disciple we can and living our best life, is to have faith that’s forward focused, ready to follow and willing to trust God.
There may be times when God will ask us like Lot and his family to leave a job, a relationship or a place that feels like home and follow his leading.
There may be times when he asks us like the Israelites to believe the impossible and take the next step towards the promise he has for us.
And should you ever get stuck along the way, may you feel his hand reaching for yours, may you hear his words of promise and assurance which say:
- “In their heart, a person plans their way, but the Lord directs their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
- “The Lord directs the steps of the godly, He delights in every detail of their lives. (Psalm 37:23 NLT)
- “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
- “Whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” (Proverbs 1:33)
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5)
- Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
- “I will instruct you and teach you in the way should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8)
- “For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.” (Psalm 48:14)
- Trust in the Lord to guide you continually …” (Isaiah 58:11)
- “And God, who began the good work in you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil. 1:6 NLT)
Dear Lord, Thank you for your promises to be involved in the lives of your people. Sometimes it seems like you’re so close we can touch you and other times, it feels like you’re so far away, it’s hard to imagine you guiding us. And yet we trust your word that says you do have a plan for us and we trust in your ability to guide us. Sometimes it’s not so easy to trust in our ability to follow. I pray though that you would help us to be able to discern your leading in our lives, show us plainly which way you would have us go. Lord protect us from going the wrong way, help us not to hesitate or fix our gaze too closely on the things of the world. And help us to let go of anything in the past or any fears about the future that get us stuck. I pray for anyone who feels stuck this morning, that you would provide a way out of that place and help them reach forward for that which you have called them to, help them to look forward with faith to the good things that are part of your plan. May we all look with forward focused faith. In Jesus name. Amen.