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Passive Faith and Active Faith

Date: Apr. 15, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 13:5-18

Key Verse: Genesis 13:17

“Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

Nine years ago, tomorrow, I was laid off, along with 20% of the workforce, from the company I was working at. It was a hard economic time and the company was purchased by another about a year earlier, so it was time for a little restructuring and cost-cutting, and I was a part of that cost-cutting. I was supposed to get married to my very beautiful and wonderful wife just a few months later. It was hard on me. My future was unknown. My degree is not something that is popular in the Chicago area, but I wanted to continue to serve where I was called. So, I started to look frantically for a new job, with little prospect. I was living off unemployment benefits, but that would not last forever and it wasn’t much. The only inkling of a job that I got was an interview at Argonne National Lab and a second-round application as a CIA analyst. The Argonne job didn’t pan out, and I didn’t pursue the CIA job because it would require me to train in the DC area for a few years. What in the world was I going to do? It was an opportunity to check my faith. Was my faith passive or active? In today’s passage we see an example of each active and passive faith and we can see the repercussion of each.

This week, we continue on in the story of Abram. Before Easter, we met Abram, as God called him to a new land outside of his father’s household. He would be blessed and become a blessing to others. So, Abram obeyed God and left for the land of Canaan. He traveled the land and ended up in the southern part of Canaan, in the Negev. While he was there, a famine started, and Abram decided to head to Egypt to survive. While in Egypt, Abram was afraid that he would be killed because of his wife’s beauty. He told Sarai to say she was his sister, but this deception would nearly cost him his wife as Pharaoh took her to be his wife. Thankfully, God intervened, and Abram was forced to leave Egypt, and he returned to Canaan. While in Egypt, Abram acquired a great deal of wealth, in flocks and herds and silver and gold. Abram went into Egypt seeking to survive but left Egypt wealthy. Abram’s wealth looks like a blessing from God, but it was a mixed bag. His wealth could be used for great things. Unfortunately, the wealth that Abram acquired would cause him some headaches over the course of many years. The first, of which, we see in this passage.

Our passage begins, “Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.” (5) Now, it might have been easy to forget, but Lot, Abram’s nephew, was traveling with Abram and his family. He went to Canaan and followed Abram to Egypt during the famine. While in Egypt, Lot, too acquired flocks and herds and tents. Lot gained wealth in Egypt, just like Abram. He had sheep and cattle, and tents probably refers to servants. This is a possible example of God’s blessing, as shown in chapter 12. God told Abram, “I will bless those who bless you.” (Genesis 12:3) Lot was blessed because of his proximity to Abram and therefore God. Lot wasn’t wealthy because of his own efforts, but because of God’s blessing him through Abram.

Let’s continue on, “But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.” (6-7) The region around Bethel and Ai, where they were, did not have enough water or pasture to sustain Abram’s and Lot’s large flocks and herds. On top of those two, the Canaanites and Perizzites were also in the area and there weren’t enough resources for everyone. Because of the scarce resources, Abram’s herders and Lot’s got into fights. They both couldn’t graze in the same area at the same time or drink at the same time. One group always had to wait, and the other group always seemed to take too long. It was like kids trying to share one toy: they share for a while, but they quickly get into a fight about somebody not being fair about how long they are using it.

When Abram heard of what was going on, he talked to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.” (8) Abram had a point, Lot was his nephew; they were family and they shouldn’t be fighting. They were strangers in a land with no ties to anyone else. They were both the only family that they had in the area. They shouldn’t sacrifice that because of some stuff. Their wealth should not be more important than their relationship. Abram continues, “Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” (9) Abram suggested that they separate, and he gave Lot first choice on where to go. I am kind of mixed on what I think Abram was thinking with his suggestion. Now, he could have been entirely straightforward and meant what he said 100% or it could have been a clever ruse to let Lot be a better person. Abram suggested that they shouldn’t be fighting because of their wealth and one solution would have been to get rid of the excess wealth that they both had so the land could support each of them. If you have too much stuff to store it, then there are a few options, get a storage locker, buy a bigger house or get rid of the extra stuff. If their relationship was so important, then the solution was to get rid of the problem and be together. If Abram was sincere in his request, then he missed the idea of giving up some of his wealth to keep his nephew near. But again, he might have been wanting Lot to see that and suggest it.

Unfortunately, if that were the case, then Lot didn’t get the memo. “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)” (10) Where they were standing, they were facing east, with the north on the left and the south on the right. Lot looked over the land and saw that the plain of the Jordan had lots of water and plenty of grass for the flocks and herds. It was an earthly paradise and reminded Lot of Eden and Egypt. It looked like the best land in the world, so he chose it and left Abram. Lot left the land of Canaan and settled on the periphery. “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” (12-13) Abram stayed in Canaan and Lot moved to the area around Sodom and the Bible mentions that Sodom was well known for its wickedness and sin against the Lord. They were exceptional in their sin, but Lot still chose to live near them.

Lot was selfish. He could have chosen to give up some of his wealth, but he didn’t. He could have chosen the area that was not as good, but he didn’t. He chose for himself what he thought was best. When he left Abram’s presence, God’s blessing left him, too. His time around Sodom would not be a blessed one. I won’t go into too much detail, but in the next chapter Lot is captured just because he was living near Sodom. In a few chapters, Lot has to flee Sodom because of its impending destruction, but before that happens, Lot contemplates sending his daughters out to be raped in order to appease an unruly mob. He has a fall from a blessed life because he separated from Abram and chose a seemingly beautiful land for himself.

You see, Lot had passive faith. The apostle Peter refers to Lot as a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), so we can consider Lot as having some faith, but his faith was passive. Like a person with passive faith, instead of calling on God, he chose to make a decision for himself. He decided what was best for himself without any thought of God. He was like a Sunday Christian, those types of Christians who do come to church on Sundays, but don’t trust God with their lives. They live their lives like the rest of the world, making decisions on what seems best to them. This echoes what Eve did when she chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This echoes what the men of God did when they saw that he women of the world were beautiful. When they used their human judgement to make decisions, they made terrible mistakes. The same happens to us. When we try to use our own judgement, we tend to make some bad decisions. Like I mentioned at Easter, our perspective is limited, and we cannot see all the ramifications of our decisions. Lot thought that he was choosing the best land, but it only led to his downfall. His legacy is not a positive one, all because of his passive faith.

Let me clarify what I mean. People with passive faith are very active in saving their own butts, but they only trust God when it is convenient. A person with passive faith feels the need to find a solution to their problems and worry and waste energy in doing so. A person with passive faith does not trust God with everything. People with passive faith are not nonbelievers. Nonbelievers have no faith; people with passive faith, believe God and believe in God, but believe in their own strength and ability more. When I was out of a job, I trusted and relied on my skills and resume to get me another job. I was willing to take the CIA job. I thought it was interesting and be pretty cool, but it would have been a decision made outside of God. I would have been a lot like Lot and separated from my spiritual family. What little faith I had would have been eroded away and who knows where I would be by now.

Abram stands in contrast to Lot. Now, I know that Abram’s faith in the last passage seems lacking, but here we see that he has active faith. Now active faith looks different than passive faith. Whereas passive faith has people actively running around trying to solve problems for themselves, active faith appears passive because the person is calmly trusting and waiting on God for direction. Abram gave Lot a choice of where to go and trusted God in the result. Lot took the land outside of Canaan, along the Jordan. This gave Abram the land of Canaan, which is in line with God’s promise. Now, the land of Canaan doesn’t seem as nice as the plain of the Jordan, but it was God’s promise. Abram actively trusted God and God spoke to him. “The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.’” (14-17)

Abram had confirmation from God that his decision to trust in God would be blessed. The Lord reaffirmed his promise to Abram, calling for him to walk the length and breadth of the land. It would be a land of promise, not a land of temptation, like Lot chose. Abram’s offspring would be like the dust of the earth, whereas Lot’s offspring would become a footnote in comparison. Now, Abram might have originally thought that God’s promise would be fulfilled through Lot. He may have expected that Lot, who was like a son, would be the one to carry on with God’s promise, but Lot just left. In essence, God used Lot’s departure to complete his command for Abram to leave his father’s household. Lot was the last piece of family that Abram was clinging to – the last bastion of human hope. The Lord used Lot’s selfishness to finally remove Abram from his father’s household. That action left Abram a little downtrodden, but God told Abram to look around. Abram was stuck looking at his own position, but he needed to look around at the broader picture. Abram was sad at Lot’s departure, but God knew what he needed, so he gave Abram something to do. God had compassion on Abram and that is the kind of God that we believe in. He cares for each of us and knows what is bothering us. Lot’s departure was a blow to him, but God reminded him of his promise of not necessarily the land, but of the offspring. Abram had no children and his surrogate son, Lot had just left and gone his own way, but God reminded Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the dust on the earth. It is a grand promise to get Abram to stop thinking about the past and his own ways, and to trust in God and his promise.

Here, we also see the second component of active faith. Part of active faith is waiting patiently for God’s leading and trusting in the Lord. That is the part that looks passive, like Abram is not doing anything. However, after God talks to Abram, Abram actively goes out and does something. “So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.” (18) Abram went to Hebron in response. At first, I wondered why Abram when there, but then I found out that Hebron is actually at the highest elevation in the land of Canaan. Abram went to the highest place to see the whole land. He took action that was in line with God’s direction. Abram took action and built an altar to the Lord at Hebron. He recognized the Lord, once again, and honored him with an altar. He actively obeyed when it was time.

When Abram had active faith, the result was a blessed life. After listening and trusting God, Abram still had many ups and downs, but ultimately his faith led to the promise being fulfilled. Abram would have a son and become a nation. Abram would become a blessing to so many people all around the world. Lot took the land that seemed best to him and ended up in horrible situations. Abram had faith in God’s promise, settled in Canaan. Canaan would become the land his son would live, and grandson. A nation would arise from Abram’s descendants, and, after two thousand years, the savior of the whole world would be born in what used to be Canaan. That savior would teach throughout the region, performing miracles and leading people to God. That savior would be unjustly arrested and crucified. That savior would die on the cross for the sins of the whole world and conquer death on the third day. The whole world would be blessed through Abram’s line when the savior of the world came, Jesus.

For Abram, he actually had God audibly speak to him. Unfortunately, for us, we usually don’t have that luxury. Instead, we get a tugging at our heart and an inexplicable peace when we decide to follow that tugging. We might be sitting and praying about something and we can feel God working in our heart. Sometimes, it doesn’t make any sense to follow it, but we have to make a decision to do so. Other options might seem more appealing. Maybe Abram wanted to live in the plain of the Jordan, but instead accepted Canaan. When follow God’s tugging of our hearts, despite the supposed setbacks, we can see God’s plan and how blessed that plan is.

When I lost my job nine years ago, I was frantically trying to find another one. I was going to be married while I was unemployed. I was so tempted to continue fill out the second application for the CIA analyst position. It would have been right up my alley, too. My job would have been looking at surveillance photos in hot spots around the world and identifying military hardware. I would sit and analyze photos, trying to figure out what is in the satellite and spy plane photos. It would have been exciting, but ultimately, I decided to pass on the opportunity. I decided to trust in God, to turn over my employment and the livelihood of my new family to Jesus. I realized that God called me to serve here and I should trust in him to provide for my family. Before I was laid off, I was making decent money, but I was terrible at managing money. Even with such a good income, I struggled to support myself because of how I burned money. While being unemployed, I had a temp position at Northwestern for web development. That temp position was able to become a permanent position, but I was making just over half of my previous job, and now I had a family to support. I couldn’t survive on my own making twice as much money, how would it be possible to support a family on less? God had mercy on my family and always, always provided for us. Each time we needed more, God has given us just what we needed to stay and serve him here without exception. By trusting in him, we have avoided pitfalls and found a way to continue to serve.

It hasn’t been without its struggles. Abram was blessed by God, but he saw many struggles on the way. The same has been with my life. My wife is about to give birth to our third child, but there have been certain demands a work to get things done before taking paternity leave. I have a project that we are trying to launch before I leave. There was a short timeframe and I wasn’t even sure it could be done, let alone done well. I was upset to be forced into such a situation, but I trusted God again, and we’re nearly ready. It launches tomorrow. Now, the code is not my best, but it is serviceable and decent. Every time that I trust God with my life and future, God provides. The Lord might not provide in the way that I expect or want, but inevitably God provides. And, he provides peace most of all. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) I love those verses, and, time and time again, they are proven to be true. God promises to give us peace in our decisions if we trust in God and give them to him. Now this peace is essential because God’s promises to us may never be fulfilled in our lifetimes. God’s promise to Abram was not fulfilled in his lifetime. It would take hundreds of years to come to completion. God’s promises to me might not be fulfilled in my lifetime. Perhaps those promises will be fulfilled in Ella, Lucas or Liam. Maybe it will be in their children or grandchildren, but God still gives us peace here and now, regardless of God’s ultimate plan. In the end, it takes active faith.

In our lives, we will have moments of both passive and active faith. I would say that in the last passage, Abram was living by passive faith. He didn’t trust God with his household and went to Egypt to avoid the famine. That proved to be an almost disaster, where he would have lost his wife and all hope of having children. God had to intervene and protect Abram and that led to him having active faith in this passage. When we live passively with our faith, not trusting in God and trying everything we can to avoid hardship and suffering, we end up making bad decisions like Lot. Our decisions may look good at first, but they end up costing us a great deal in the long run. When we are active in our faith, we trust God and act when he tells us to act in a way that he tells us to. Those actions might not look as good as some others, but in the long run, those actions are blessed in ways that we cannot even imagine. I still have bouts of passive faith, but with every act of active faith, like Abram, I learn to trust God more and more and live my life actively having faith in my Lord. We have to trust in God. We might think that passive faith is better than no faith at all, but passive faith is like trying to follow the world and God at the same time. We will inevitably fail because the world and God do not go in the same direction. Active faith is the only true faith, because active faith is trusting in God.

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