“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews: 9:14)
I love the biblical story of Abraham, Lot, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if for no other reason than it reminds me how much God wants to save us from sin … and how many just refuse to listen.
But for every one that shuts his ears to the words of the Lord, another takes His words to heart and is saved.
Lot, you will recall, was a good man, but he lived in a very sinful city named Sodom where debauchery was a way of life. (Read Genesis 19)
Abraham, Lot’s uncle, was visited by angels who told him that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. (Read Genesis 18)
Abraham asked, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city?”
Long story short, Abraham, not exactly brimming with confidence, whittled down his request to just 10 people. On the eve of destruction, not even 10 righteous could be found.
Next, two angels of the Lord came calling on Lot.
He convinced them to spend the night in his house, because he knew the streets of Sodom were filled with sexually immoral men, who eventually pounded on his door to make him bring the strangers out.
But Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob instead. (Doesn’t say a lot about Lot, does it? I’d grab a shotgun before I gave the mob my daughters, but I don’t have any daughters and back then they didn’t have shotguns. Still, you get the point).
The outcome? Lot was told to gather his relatives and leave the city because … well, you don’t ever want to hear an angel of the Lord say:
“For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.” (Genesis 19:13)
Las Vegas – A Modern Day Sodom and Gomorrah
In modern times, I suppose Las Vegas would fill in nicely for Sodom and Gomorrah.
After all, whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas … except for all the stuff that God sees and hears.
But God has opened my eyes to the fact that many wonderful, God-fearing people live in Las Vegas and other areas we may not be fond of.
So, I want to mention two ways in which God rooted me out of my preconceived notions.
And both instances involve my youngest son, a 24-year-old fourth-grade school teacher in … Las Vegas.
The First Valuable Lesson
Before my son became a teacher he was a college student who pitched weekends on a club baseball team.
One very foggy Sunday morning we were driving to a game at Jackie Robinson Field in Watts.
Not my favorite part of town, based on childhood experience.
I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, 78th and Hoover streets to be exact.
When you have immigrant parents who don’t want to move, you become one of three white kids, along with two Chinese families, going to predominantly black Bret Harte Junior High (93rd and Hoover) at the same time the original Watts Riot was going down in 1965.
I wound up Majoring in Street Smarts, with a Minor in Getting My Butt Kicked.
I grew up wary of Watts, and while I can honestly say I held no personal animosity toward anyone, I was ambivalent about the whole area.
Still, my attitude was not as loving as it should be.
God waited until this foggy Sunday morning roughly 40 years later (Scary how that time frame coincides with how long it took the Hebrews to enter the Promised Land!) to show me something special.
As we drove to this modest baseball field in the middle of Watts, the early morning grey mist began to lift to reveal a marvelous sight.
People were walking to their local churches, Bible in hand.
Like a small-town community, there were singles, couples, boyfriends and girlfriends, old people, young people, and little kids dressed in their Sunday best.
Every block I passed, someone was walking to church with a Bible in hand. It was mesmerizing.
Later on I quietly thought about what I had seen, and wondered what God was trying to tell me.
And it came to me in one of those God/Ani moments. What God was telling me was this:
“Ani, a city is whatever people decide to make it. It can be bad, it can be good. Look around and tell me what you see. Do you see at least 50 righteous people?”
Yes, Lord, I see many more than 50 righteous. I see your people, Lord, young and old, coming to worship you. I see a shining city within a city, lit up bright by a love for you I didn’t see before because I never bothered to look.
“Exactly. That is why I gave you the past that you had. Difficult at times, but without it, you would not have an appreciation for my people today. I would not have been able to bring you to a deeper understanding of who I call to me, so that no man may perish, so that every man can come to know salvation through my Son, Jesus.”
“I am not a God of just white people, or black people, or brown people, or yellow people, or red people. I am the Lord Jehovah, the God of ALL people.”
It is the same principle in Romans 10:11-13:
“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
A God/Ani moment can be very humbling to say the least.
The Second Valuable Lesson
My next humbling moment came in the fall of 2013.
In July, we helped move my son to Summerlin, Nevada, on the outskirts of Las Vegas where he teaches predominantly underprivileged youths at a modern new school.
On our second visit to see him, he had already found a church called Canyon Ridge (he discovered later that the school principal goes to the same church).
I knew they had churches in Las Vegas, but in my sometimes narrow thinking I figured they were small-town affairs with preachers in skinny black ties who looked like Bruce Dern thumping the Bible on a pulpit for a handful of the most ardent Christians.
Instead, I got a lesson that there is a world of difference between those who live there and those who come to party on weekends.
Not everyone is part of the Casino-Las Vegas Strip-Complex, and not everyone moves to Las Vegas because they want to be close to the betting parlors and roulette wheels.
So our son took us to his new church, where he now helps Saturdays in the kids ministry.
Turns out Canyon Ridge is a Las Vegas mega church, with a huge auditorium better suited for college basketball crowds. The band was right on, the pastor talked about Jesus the entire time, and the people were, well, God’s people.
I was headed for another God/Ani moment.
“Ani, look around, what do you see? Are there more than 50 righteous people?”
I see your people Lord, and yes, there are more than 50 … There are thousands, Lord.
And that’s just in one section of Las Vegas.
The point I want to make is that not everyone is consumed in the iniquity of a city’s reputation.
God flourishes even in cities that have bad reputations, because Jesus came for the sinner, to give everyone a chance to repent and learn about God’s love and salvation.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Mark 2:16-17 helps put Sin City in perspective:
“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It’s always a lesson well learned.
Never underestimate the power of God’s love for us.
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