Back to Basics

We all have to deal with failure from time to time. It’s an inevitable part of life because we are imperfect creatures. Even as Christians, we still have to battle our old sin nature, and sometimes we lose a battle. It shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, but it does happen. So how do we handle failure? Some people just give up and quit. They figure they just can’t handle it, so they don’t even bother trying anymore. I think we can learn a lot about how to react to failure from the life of Abraham here. We often hold up Abraham as one of the giants of the faith, and for good reason. On a few occasions in Scripture, he is called “the friend of God.” Yet even he failed God at times.

If you read the second half of Genesis 12, you see Abraham struggling in his walk with God. He fails to trust God to provide for him during a famine in Canaan, so he goes down to Egypt. While he’s there, he starts to fear that someone will kill him in order to take his wife Sarah for themselves, so he lies and says she is his sister. This nearly has disastrous consequences when Pharaoh tries to take Sarah as his wife, and God plagued Pharaoh’s house to protect her from being defiled. Naturally, Pharaoh is furious that Abraham lied to him and tells him to get out. Abraham had ruined his testimony and any opportunity to be a witness for the one true God by his actions, and now he’s basically slinking back into Canaan with his tail between his legs after suffering that embarrassing defeat. Now what would he do? That’s what I want us to take a look at here in Genesis 13.

[Read Genesis 13:1-18]

Today, we’re going to be talking about the need sometimes to get back to basics. I’m a huge sports fan. Whenever a team is going through a slump, sometimes you’ll hear commentators or analysts talk about how the team needs to get back to basics so they can snap out of it. In other words, they’re saying the team needs to return their focus on what made them successful in the first place. Sometimes the basics become so routine that you can get into a rut. Everything starts feeling mundane because you’ve done it so many times. You start taking things for granted and letting things slip, and you can start to develop bad habits. You can also develop some bad habits if you never learned to do something properly in the first place.

For example, I am no good at basketball. I never learned the proper way to shoot or handle the ball, so I’m not an effective player. On the other hand, I’m better at baseball because I played Little League baseball when I was a kid. I learned the fundamentals and basic rules of the sport. When you have a practice, you do the same basic things over and over and over and over again until they almost become second nature. However, the danger is that you get so used to it that sometimes you don’t give your full attention to the play. You take it for granted that you’re going to field that ball, and that’s why sometimes even Gold Glove All-Star baseball players make errors. Then, during the next practice, they dedicate a lot of time to practicing that one thing a million times in order to prevent them from making that same error again.

The Christian life can get that way, too, sometimes, if we’re not careful. Have you ever read your Bible, only to realize as soon as you close it, that you have no idea what you just read? It happens to me sometimes. If you’ve been saved for a long time, there is always the danger of the Christian life becoming little more than a routine or a habit. We go through the motions simply because that’s what we’re supposed to do. What was once something that felt miraculous can become…mundane. I was saved at the age of 6 at a Vacation Bible School. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian. It’s pretty much what I’ve always known. As such, I have to guard myself against taking my walk with the Lord for granted.

Sometimes we fail and backslide as Christians because we start letting things slip a little at a time. “It’s okay if I don’t pray today. It’s just one day.” “It’s not a big deal if I skip church today and go have some fun somewhere else. It’s just one time.” That’s a risky mindset. If you let it go once, what’s to stop you from letting it go a second time, or a third? Big problems almost always begin somewhere as a small oversight or a little bit of neglect. Rarely does a Christian fall into deep sin overnight. It started with something tiny that eventually snowballed into something large. A Christian usually backslides privately long before he backslides publicly.

So what can we do to recapture that love, that joy, that peace we once seemed to enjoy that gradually feels like it’s fading away? We need to learn from Abraham’s example here in Genesis 13. He had failed miserably during his time in Egypt, but now he was determined to make things right. He did so by getting back to some of the basics of the Christian life. What are some of the “basics” that we see in this chapter?

I. The Basics of Worship (Gen. 13:1-4) – Abraham started by getting back to where he was supposed to be with the Lord first and foremost. That involved returning to the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to give him and his descendants. Specifically, he returned to the first altar he built between Bethel and Hai (which we saw in 12:8). He returned to the basics of worship by remembering two things, which we also need to remember:

A. He Remembered His Calling (13:1-3) – God had called Abraham to the land of Canaan, not to Egypt. That was where he needed to be, and so that’s where he went. It’s that simple. There are some places as a Christian you know you should not be and things you know you should not do. They may not necessarily be bad things or bad places, until they start taking the Lord’s place in your life. When we get out of the place God has called us to be, no longer doing the thing God has called us to do, that’s when we wind up in trouble. Abraham got out of God’s will and the place of His blessing, and he paid the price for it. We need to learn from Abraham’s example and get back to it. It was a simple step, but a necessary one if he was going to do God’s will.

Nowadays, we tend to associate the word “calling” only with preachers, missionaries, or people in “full time ministry,” as they say, but there’s more to it than that. When a person is saved, he receives the Holy Spirit, and he also receives at least one spiritual gift. Some people have more than one, but every Christian has at least one. You can read about that in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12.

Was there something you used to love to do as a Christian that you don’t seem to enjoy doing anymore? Maybe you used to teach a Sunday School class, but you don’t anymore. Maybe you used to enjoy witnessing on the job, but you’ve given up on that. Maybe you used to enjoy visiting and helping others with their needs, but you got tired of it. Fill in the blank for whatever it may be for you. The Lord did not save us only to sit on a pew a few times per week. He’s got bigger plans for your life than that. Find a way to get involved in what He’s doing and start doing something. As the old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” If you don’t make a commitment to doing something for Christ and stick to it, the devil will make sure to find something else to occupy that time. You will make time for the things you want to make time for. It’s as simple as that. There is always something that can be done in God’s work. Find your place and stay in it.

B. He Remembered His First Love (13:4, Rev. 2:4-5) – Abraham went back to the first altar he built, and he called on the name of the Lord there. Sometimes we just need to remember the time when Jesus saved us, and what that was like. Humans are forgetful creatures by nature, and that’s why a lot of the Bible is God saying many of the same things over and over again in different ways. We need to be reminded of things.

Revelation 2:4-5 says, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from when thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…” This was written to the church at Ephesus, and they had the same problem Abraham and many of us have had. They left their first love. What was God’s solution? Remember! Sometimes we just need to make a dedicated effort to remember what Jesus saved us from and what Jesus saved us for. One of the ways we “remember” is by getting back to the basics of where our Christian life started, when everything was still new and exciting to us.

Have you taken the time lately to think about just how much Jesus loves you? My life verses are II Corinthians 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we this judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” What should compel us to live for Christ? The fact that He loved us so much He died for us. Remember why you fell in love with Him in the first place.

This is true of any relationship. Sometimes relationships can grow cold, and the way to get them back to the way they were is to remember what made it such a good relationship in the first place. You have to get back to the basics of a good relationship, including love. We have to remember that love is more than just a tingly feeling. That eventually goes away, but love is more of a commitment than a feeling. Remember why you love God, and get back to the basics, those “first works.”

II. The Basics of Walking (Gen. 13:5-18) – Abraham has gotten back into the promised land and back to that first altar, but now a new problem arises. After spending some time in Egypt, Abraham and Lot had become very well off, and that led to some conflicts between them. As the old saying goes, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” The way Abraham handled this problem provides an example for us when it comes to dealing with problems. A large part of the Christian life is how we react when we face trouble. Abraham’s solution was rooted in very basic Christianity, and yet many of us neglect these things in our own Christian walk.

A. He was aware of his testimony (13:5-7) – The Bible takes the time to point out that the Canaanite and the Perizzite were living in the land at that time as well. Abraham had blown his opportunity to be a good witness in Egypt, and he was not about to ruin his testimony again. Many times as Christians, we forget this one very basic fact: Lost people are watching us. If you claim to be a Christian, lost people will pay attention to what you say and do. The way you handle conflict, especially with other Christians, will have a lot to do with how effective your testimony is.

Another thing we often forget: Your life is supposed to be seen. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The lost world needs to see something in you that they don’t have. That’s why it is important for Christians to be different, and that’s why it is a mistake for churches to try to act like the world to accommodate lost people. The world does not need another cheap imitation of itself. People can get that anywhere, but where are they supposed to hear the truth? To somebody, you’re the best Christian they know, so the least you can do is be a good one.

I’ve heard many people use the excuse that it doesn’t matter how they live because God looks on the heart. While it is true that God looks on the heart, the first part of the verse they’re referencing says that man looks on the outward appearance. The Lord can see your heart, but other people can’t. They can only see how you live. Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.”

There are many things I don’t say or do, not necessarily because I believe they’re wrong, but because of my testimony. Paul told the Thessalonians to avoid even the appearance of evil. I don’t want to be seen doing something that could be misconstrued as sinful because I was careless. It doesn’t matter if what I was doing was actually what they thought I was doing. People will jump to their own conclusions, whether that’s fair or not, so don’t give them bad conclusions to jump to. People will usually fill in the blanks for themselves, whether it’s right or not. That’s my personal philosophy anyway.

B. He attempted to make peace with humility (13:8-13) – Those two things are very important to note here. Abraham took the initiative in trying to solve the problem. The more spiritual person will usually make the first move. One of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 is, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” We are not called simply to be peacekeepers, but peacemakers. There is a difference.

Abraham begins by reminding Lot of their relationship. There was no need for all this bickering and fighting. After all, they were family. We will not always get along with other Christians. There are times when we have disagreements and arguments, but at the end of the day, we ought to be able to resolve them because we’re family. We have to be careful about letting problems from within destroy the church. That will begin when one person has enough humility to take the first step and actively try to make peace as Abraham did here.

One of my personal pet peeves is the phrase, “Get over it.” Whenever two people have a problem, you will usually hear one or both of them say that the other person should just “get over it.” They’re trying to shift all the blame and responsibility to the other person. Now, while it’s quite likely that there’s something the other person should get over, it’s a two-way street.

This even applies to things we don’t think are wrong. Read Romans 12-14 and I Corinthians 8 sometime. They are powerful passages on how Christians ought to deal with problems with each other. In these passages, Paul essentially says that the stronger Christian should defer to the weaker Christian in matters of personal preference and opinion to avoid offense. Paul even went so far as to say that he would not even eat meat if it would cause another brother to be offended by it. It was not because Paul was a vegan and thought eating meat was wrong. There is no Biblical basis for saying eating meat is wrong. It’s just a matter of preference. What Paul was saying that his relationship with his brethren was more important than his personal preferences. In his humility, he was willing to restrict himself for the sake of other Christians.

If many of us were in Paul’s place, we’d grab a big chunk of meat, get up in their faces, and start eating it right in front of them. You ever know anyone like that, who knows something annoys you, so they do it on purpose just to annoy you even more? If you’re that guy, I just want to go ahead and tell you: Nobody likes that guy. However, because Paul was the stronger Christian, he made the first move to reconcile, and he placed restrictions on his own liberty in the process.

Abraham does the same thing with Lot here. God promised the land to Abraham, not to Lot. Abraham was Lot’s senior and essentially his adoptive father. He had every right to tell Lot to get over it or get out. Instead, Abraham provides a peaceful solution and lets Lot have the first choice. As we’ll see later on, Lot chose poorly, but as the stronger believer, Abraham humbly deferred to his nephew here. Humility is one of the crowning virtues of Christianity, one that sets it apart from nearly every other belief system out there. You can find many passages in the New Testament that talk about the meekness and humility of Christ, and yet many of us struggle to exhibit it ourselves. Let’s be like Abraham and seek to be peacemakers and act with humility.

C. He trusted God with the outcome (13:14-18) – Abraham’s mistake in Genesis 12 was that he did not trust God. He did not trust God to provide for his family during the famine in Canaan, so he went to Egypt. He did not trust God to keep him and Sarah safe, so he lied. Now it appears that Abraham has learned his lesson. He allowed Lot to choose wherever he wanted to go and settle in the promised land, and he would go elsewhere.

After Lot separated from him, God spoke to Abraham and told him to look in every direction. As far as his eye could see, that land would be his. If we assume Abraham was still around Bethel and Hai, in terms of Bible geography, the land is elevated and there are some mountains in that area. Perhaps Abraham was standing on top of one of those mountains, where he could see the land of Canaan for miles all around.

Abraham trusted that the Lord would not forget His promises to him, so it was no problem for him to let Lot have the first choice. Many times, we want to take matters into our own hands because we’re afraid things won’t turn out well for us if we don’t. However, as Jim Elliot once said, “God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him.” Abraham is certainly proof of that.

I hope this message has been an encouragement to you. If you’ve found yourself struggling in your Christian life lately, I hope you’ll try getting back to basics like Abraham did. Sometimes, that’s all we need.