Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Candles and Flags

“So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.”

On the bright side, at least Lot didn’t have to start with an explanation of who “the Lord” was. He had at least that much of a testimony: that he was a worshiper of Yahweh, as opposed to whatever god or gods were worshiped in Sodom, where he had rather unwisely made his home.

Evidently his prospective sons-in-law knew that much about him.

Just the Facts, Lot

How much more did they know? Well, we can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t appear they were overly familiar with Yahweh’s distinctive characteristics, specifically his transcendence and his holiness. Yahweh was not some local deity dwelling in images of wood or stone, to be alternately supplicated and managed by those in need of a favor. Rather, he is the Creator of heaven and earth, the one who first populated the world and then destroyed it. Even in Sodom, the concept of such a transcendent deity should not have been a stretch; remember, the Flood was less than 500 years in the past, not such a long time when men were still living to hundreds of years of age.

Unlike local gods, Yahweh did not have an identifiable domain to which his interests were limited. Far from being a god of crop fertility, a god of fire, a god of orchards, a god of pregnancy or a god of the moon (and yes, the Canaanites had gods for all these things and many more), Yahweh is the God of Everything, and therefore the God to whom everyone on heaven and earth must give account.

Including the citizens of Sodom.

The Judge of All the Earth

Abraham knew this. He called Yahweh “Judge of all the earth”. It is impossible Lot did not know it as well. He had traveled from Haran with Abraham on the word of Yahweh. When two men to whom he had shown hospitality warned him that they were in Sodom to destroy it on Yahweh’s behalf because of the outcry against it, Lot wasn’t the least bit surprised. The very first thing he did was run to warn his sons-in-law.

Lot certainly knew what God does and doesn’t like. Peter tells us Lot was tormenting his righteous soul over the lawless deeds that he saw and heard in Sodom, and that was hundreds of years before the Law of Moses. Moreover, when the men of Sodom came to Lot’s door, intent on “knowing” his angelic visitors, Lot quickly realized their wickedness and called it out.

Lot knew God was Judge, and he knew exactly what sort of behavior was most likely to come to the Judge’s attention: the kind he saw all around him every day of his life.

Dinner Table Talk

What might have been the fate of Lot’s sons-in-law if the subjects of sin, righteousness and judgment had come up regularly at the dining room table? What might have happened if Lot had laid for them a clear and unequivocal foundation for his subsequent warning? What might have happened if Lot’s sons-in-law understood that Lot’s beliefs were the most serious possible matter to him — so very serious that he was willing to risk their disapproval, even to the point that they might start to think twice about marrying into his family?

Well, they might have thought he was crazy as a loon, but they definitely wouldn’t have thought he was having a little bit of fun with them.

“Run your flag up the mast.” That was arguably Dad’s favorite one-liner. What he meant was this: in every new situation you encounter, your first job as a Christian is to let everybody know you’re a Christian, and part of that is letting them know what that means if they don’t already. He wasn’t alone in urging that sort of behavior; I remember singing along to Steve Camp as he encouraged believers to “light your candle on the front porch of hell”. Same idea, different metaphor.

Candle or flag, to my shame, that has not always been my way. I preferred to ease into new situations and relationships, and to feel out the ground rules for social acceptance before potentially putting myself in a position to lose whatever goodwill capital I might have accumulated.

Can I suggest that’s a bad idea, especially these days? Run your flag up the mast, and be sure to spell out everything that flag stands for: that our entire world order stands condemned by a Righteous Judge who in his mercy has made a way of escape for those who will believe him and take it.

Crazy, But Serious

I am hearing all kinds of stories about the opportunities the current craziness in our world is creating for Christians to talk about Christ with people they have never had those conversations with before. The believers who are making the most of these occasions have a consistent feature: they have all run their flags up the mast. Everybody knows where they go to church. Everybody knows what sort of crazy things they believe. Everybody knows which lines they won’t cross and why.

Everybody knows they take their faith very, very seriously. They are salt and light and all that stuff we know we are all supposed to be in this world.

When I tell you judgment is coming, will you believe me? Perhaps. It depends, doesn’t it, on the measure in which I have already laid a foundation of treating the word of God and the things of God as my be-all and end-all. If I have done that, then a word to you about the urgency of repentance toward God and faith in Christ will not seem like an out-of-character moment of lame humor.

It’ll be exactly what you would expect from me.

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