Genesis 18:16-33


In just a few days we will celebrate America’s birthday. She is still a youngster in terms of national longevity. Her population is approaching 300 million. She is the only authentic super-power on earth.

One of the ways to measure America is the “gate test.” That is, if a nation opens its gates, how many people want to get out and how many people want to get in? I don’t know of any Americans who want to emigrate to another country; and if they do, the gate is open. But consider the untold millions who want to become Americans. Why do so many people want to become Americans? It’s not just for money. America is a beacon of hope for the world.

Today America finds herself in two wars. First, there is the war against terrorism. Second, there is the culture war going on here at home. This is a spiritual and moral battle between Judeo-Christian values, on the one hand, and a secular-even anti-religious-agenda on the other. Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a California Supreme Court judge, describes accurately America’s internal struggle. She says, “These are perilous times for people of faith. It will cost you something if you stand up for what you believe. This is not a shooting war, but it is a war.” 1

Committed Christians are a minority in America. The respected pollster George Barna estimates that committed Christians constitute less than 30 percent of the population.2 But that should not cause us to despair. God has a marvelous history of doing great things with faithful minorities. Genesis 18 offers a perfect example.

Let me set the scene for you. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was living as a nomadic shepherd in the land of Canaan. This territory today is part of Israel and the West Bank. The time is about 2,000 years before Christ. One day three men came to visit Abraham-actually they were angels sent by God. They delivered wonderful news-that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, though very old, were going to have a baby.

Having delivered that good word, the angels headed east toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah down in the Jordan River valley.

Genesis 18:18-19 are most unusual. Here we find God actually talking with Himself. Indeed, if you have ever been caught talking to yourself, here you have a divine precedent. God ponders whether or not He ought to share with Abraham what He is about to do down at Sodom and Gomorrah. God decides that, yes, He should tell Abraham. Indeed, God usually does His work in collaboration with the faith community.

God tells Abraham that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are so great that heaven’s alarm bells have been ringing. God built this world on a moral foundation. When His moral standards are flaunted, judgment and punishment follow as surely as the night follows the day. God tells Abraham that He is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

Notice Abraham’s reaction to this sad forecast concerning the cities in the valley. Abraham feels a deep compassion for these thousands of people, even though he knows personally only one family living there. He pleads with God on their behalf. In Abraham you see nothing of the pathetic, callous spirit of the so-called pastor and his followers who try to disrupt funerals of armed forces personnel, almost celebrating those deaths as fit punishment for America’s immorality.

In Genesis 18:24 Abraham starts pleading with God on behalf of Sodom. “If 50 righteous persons can be found in the city, will you destroy the city?”

“No,” says God, “if 50 can be found I will not destroy it.”

Then Abraham starts bartering with God. “What if 45 can be found, what if 40 can be found, what about 30, what about 20, and finally, what if only 10 can be found?”

The Lord, full of grace, replies, “If 10 righteous persons can be found, I will not destroy the city.”

The tragedy was that not even 10 faithful, righteous persons could be found in this large city. Therefore, God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. So complete was the destruction that even today archeologists cannot pinpoint the exact location of these ancient cities.

What does this sad story tell us? God is not an indulgent, permissive ruler who winks at sin. “God cannot be mocked,” the Bible says. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). As the writer of Hebrews told us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). God wants to be the Savior of all persons and nations, but any person who is unwilling to receive Him as Savior will surely encounter Him as Sovereign Judge.

America’s fate and future are not finally in the hands of our military or our governmental leaders or our corporate giants or our educational institutions. God reigns over all nations. Those nations that are useful for His purposes receive God’s blessings. Those nations that contravene His purposes end up on history’s junk heap. If you want evidence of that truth, consider Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein.

The jury is still out on America. Genesis 18 suggests to me that if God can find a faithful, prayerful, righteous minority in America, that minority can be God’s raw material for saving the nation. Could we-America’s faith community-serve as that raw material for God’s miraculous work within our nation?

I love a story told by General Omar Bradley in his autobiography. General Bradley boarded a commercial plane one day, wearing a business suit. He began working on some important papers. It so happened that his seatmate was a private in the U.S. Army, who was rather gregarious. This private, who didn’t recognize the General, said, “Sir, we are going to be traveling together for quite a while, so it would be nice if we got to know one another. I’m guessing that you are a banker.” Bradley, not wanting to be rude, but wanting to get some work done, replied, “No, I am not a banker. I am General Bradley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.” After a slight pause, the young soldier said, “Wow, sir, that is a very important job. I sure hope you don’t blow it.” 3 It is an understatement to say that we Christians have a vital role to play in America’s future, and we dare not blow it.

When I consider the biblical witness as a whole, I find four ways in which people of faith can serve both God and country. First,

We should pray.

Pray daily for America and her leadership. Prayer should never be a last resort but always the first alternative. Praying for America is the ultimate form of patriotism.

The best recipe for national health and salvation was given by God in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (NIV).

A second task for the faith community is to…

Take on the burden for the sick and poor.

Without question, the Bible tilts in the direction of the sick and the poor. The code words in the Bible are: Remember the widow and the orphan.

Many Americans have an unfortunate reflex-they want the government to solve almost every social need. Yes, there is a legitimate role for a compassionate government. Providing a wise and well-funded Social Security program is a bigger task than the faith community can handle. But caring for the poor and the sick is a central mission for the church. We can do it more efficiently than the government, and we can name the name of Jesus as we do it.

Just think of the impact of Methodist and Baptist hospitals in our region. The work that Christ Church is doing to assist the Binghampton Community could be reproduced in countless other low-income neighborhoods. The New Hope Christian School system in Memphis is a non-governmental beacon of hope for the poor. The Church Health Center and the Christ Community Clinic show the enormous impact that the church and the private sector can have.

If church people tithe their incomes, the financial resources will be available. If church people learn to view the city with the eyes of Jesus, the motivation and vision will be available. When you and I meet God face to face and render accountability, He will surely ask us what we did for the least, the lost, the lonely, and the hurting.

A third task for the faith community is to…

Hate sin but love sinners.

The former president of Notre Dame, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, said that America has slipped into a mode of vulgarity that is sliding toward depravity. As an example, he pointed to the “Jerry Springer Show” in which young men and women are scripted to attack one another physically over the most salacious and infantile sexual perversions.

The prophet Jeremiah said of the people of Judah, “They did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15). Could the same be said for America?

For the first time in American history, a significant number of citizens want to redefine the institution of marriage. That is a sad commentary on the nation. Tragically, the biblical standard for sexuality (fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness) is ignored or ridiculed by the majority in America.

There are numerous other fronts on which America is under moral indictment. Greed is widely regarded as a virtue in America rather than the sin that it really is.

Much of our entertainment is obscene or profane or both. One of the greatest golfers ever produced by this nation, a man who could be a fantastic role model for children, reacts to poor shots by shouting God’s name profanely; and the TV network broadcasts that profanity around the world.

If a student in a public high school wants to write a term paper on Buddhism or deviant sexuality or witchcraft, his right to do so is carefully protected. But if he wants to do a term paper on Jesus, he is likely to encounter opposition. Some Americans have the mistaken idea that this is an explicitly atheist country in which they can be shielded from any expression of religion. But the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free expression of religion, not just in the privacy of one’s home but also in the public sector.

Friends, we must not respond to the militant enemies of Christianity with hatred or animosity. We must be firm but respectful in our stand for biblical truth. Our only chance of attracting some of our opponents to the faith is if Jesus’ spirit is transparent in us.

Our mandate number four is to…

Evangelize winsomely.

One of the reasons that Christianity is growing faster than Islam is that we are willing to compete in the open marketplace of ideas rather than trying to force people to follow our particular religion.

There is no argument half as strong as a changed life. A Christian’s testimony will always trump another person’s argument. Adding more police may help protect little children from the gunfire of drug dealers in Memphis. But the final solution is to render illegal drugs unnecessary. How? By offering people Christ, who alone can fill that aching void inside them that drives them to drugs.

The most powerful evangelistic statement you can make sounds something like this: “Since I began to follow Jesus Christ, He has been doing some wonderful things in my life. I still have a long way to go; but, thanks be to God, I’m not what I used to be. I know that God loves you as much as He loves me. What He is doing in my life, He will gladly do for you. If you want to know more, just ask and I’ll gladly share.”

Friends, that is winsome evangelism. If we step out in faith and share in that spirit, God will anoint our words with power; and through those words He can change lives and save souls.

If we would be that faithful minority within America, it will require faith and courage. But can you think of a nobler struggle than this one for the survival and the future of our beloved nation?

On the opening day of the war against terrorism, Sept. 11, 2001, a Roman Catholic priest named George Rutler saw an enormous amount of faith and courage on display. Father Rutler ran to the Trade Center when the Towers were hit. New York’s firemen were rushing toward the burning buildings. As they passed Father Rutler, they would pause for a moment and ask for prayers or a blessing or for the sacrament of confession. Soon a number of them were lined up like troops for battle. Quickly Father Rutler offered a prayer and general absolution for the whole group. The firemen knew exactly what they were running into, knew the odds, and yet they hoisted the hoses on their backs and charged. 4

If we Christians, though a minority, can step forward with that kind of faith and courage, we could be the raw material that God will use to save our beloved nation.

Happy Birthday, U.S.A., and God bless America.


Bill Bouknight is Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.


1. Quoted in World magazine, May 7, 2005, p. 18.
2. Barna, George, Evangelism That Works (Regal: Ventura, CA, 1995), p. 22.
3. Moore, James W., When All Else Fails…Read the Instructions (Dimensions for Living: Nashville, 1993), p. 142.
4. Noonan, Peggy, A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag (Free Press: New York, 2003), p. 67.

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