Famous Bad People: Abraham

For most of us, if we're honest, there's a tendency to look at people that God really uses and blesses, and to think, "I don't measure up. I don't even come close to that." There are some people who really are blessed by God, and who make an impact in this world that is unbelievable. And then there's us. Part of our struggle in life is that we think that it takes somebody really unusual and gifted to be used by God, and right away that rules most of us out. We know ourselves, and we know that we're filled with struggles and doubts and questions. And so we conclude that it's probably going to be difficult for God to really use us in any substantial way.

One day as I was reading my Bible, I remember thinking, "Why are there so many really bad people in this book?" I know there are villains in most books, but the Bible isn't a novel or a work of fantasy. It's a record of how God has been at work in history, not as a passive observer but as an active participant. Along the way, there are a lot of stories of people that God chose to use. The funny part is that a lot of them are people that you wouldn't expect. I'm not talking about little faults. I'm talking about some pretty significant issues - prostitution, murder, corruption, deception, very loose morals. I kept asking myself, why would God use people like this?

I'm finding that the Bible actually teaches something very different from my premise that God uses extraordinarily gifted and committed people. The reality is that God uses people just like me - full of hang-ups and doubts and questions that don't really have answers. This summer, I want to look at some of the people that God has used in the Bible. I'm calling them "Famous Bad People of the Bible." Each of them is recorded in Scripture for our benefit, so we can learn from their lives, possibly to avoid the mistakes that they made, but also, ultimately, to discover that if God can use people like them, then God can probably use somebody like me.

One of these people - actually one of the better ones - is somebody called Abraham, or (his original name) Abram. I almost feel bad including Abraham in the list of famous bad people that God chose to use. When we think of him, we don't usually consider him to be a famous bad person. He's considered the father of three major world religions today - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. He has a remarkable record of faithfulness to God. At God's command, he left an important and flourishing city for an unknown land, without any questioning. He was brave and loyal to his family, defending them at any cost. He was the recipient of a covenant from God, that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. He was respected by others, and was a successful and wealthy rancher. When put to the test, he was willing to obey God, even to the point of giving up his own son. I'm sure that I couldn't come close to the track record of faithfulness that Abraham displayed during his lifetime.

But Abraham did make mistakes - or at least they look like mistakes in hindsight. To be honest, I've always thought they were mistakes, but as we're going to see today, the lines aren't always too clear. It is clear that some of the actions Abraham took had some very negative consequences and ended up getting in God's way. In all of the three events we'll examine, I can sympathize with what Abraham did. I think we'll find that there are some parallels to some of the ethical dilemmas that we face today in our businesses, in our families, in the major life decisions we make.

Scene One

Let's take a look the first of three events in Abraham's life. This event is found in Genesis 12, which is on page 13 of the pew Bibles. This story is pretty early in what we know about Abraham. God had just called him to leave his country, and Abraham had obeyed and gone, just as God told him. Genesis 12:10 says, "At that time there was a severe famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to wait it out." We don't know how long Abraham had spent in Canaan, but you can imagine that this would have been a little bit disconcerting to Abraham. He had just moved to where God had told him to go, and already he had to move on somewhere else. God told him to move there, and I would have been wondering why, if I had obeyed God, things weren't working out. Abraham decided that he would have to move, at least temporarily, until the famine was over, so he decided to go to Egypt.

As Abraham headed for Egypt, he realized that he had a problem. Read what happened in Genesis 12:11-13:

As he was approaching the borders of Egypt, Abram said to Sarai, "You are a very beautiful woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'this is his wife. Let's kill him; then we can have her!' But if you say you are my sister, then the Egyptians will treat me well because of their interest in you, and they will spare my life."

Sarah is at least 65 years old at this point, but she's still stunningly beautiful. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls praises Sarah's beauty. You wouldn't think this would be a problem for Abraham - having a beautiful wife - but it created a moral dilemma for Abraham. What if people were so attracted to Sarah that Abraham became nothing more than an obstacle? Abraham's solution: pretend that Sarah isn't a wife but a sister. Abraham protected himself by twisting the truth, even if it did open Sarah to romantic interest from others.

Was Abraham lying? Not really. He was stretching the truth. What he said was technically accurate. We read later on that Abraham and Sarah had different mothers, but the same father, so they were technically brother and sister. But Abraham purposely concealed the fact that they were married. He was technically honest, and yet he was concealing the truth.

At one level, we can appreciate what Abraham did as smart. He read the situation, and at one level, his plan worked. His life was spared. They treated him very well. But Abraham's solution also spun his world out of control. Read what happened with me in verses 14-16:

And sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, everyone spoke of her beauty. When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to their king, the pharaoh, and she was taken into his harem. Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, cattle, donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

The results of Abraham's plan: Abraham's life was spared. He received many gifts and obtained a position of influence in Egypt. The bad news, though: he lost his wife to Pharaoh's harem. God had called him to a new land and promised to make a great nation from him. Yet picture Abraham at this point. His plan works, but he sits in a tent in Egypt with all of God's promises dangling like frayed threads: no land, no family, nothing even resembling the beginnings of a blessing. It was the first time that Abraham was faced with the challenge of trusting God, even though obstacles stood in the way of God's promises being fulfilled. But it wouldn't be the last.

Abraham's plan worked - but in some ways it didn't. Read what happened in verses 17-20:

But the LORD sent a terrible plague upon Pharaoh's household because of Sarai, Abram's wife. So Pharaoh called for Abram and accused him sharply. "What is this you have done to me?" he demanded. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why were you willing to let me marry her, saying she was your sister? Here is your wife! Take her and be gone!" Pharaoh then sent them out of the country under armed escort—Abram and his wife, with all their household and belongings.

Abraham, a man who's commended three times in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, faced the same dilemma that we all do today, and he chose wrong. The question is this: when is trusting God not enough? When should we take matters into our own hands, even if it means cutting minor ethical corners? I know the answer we're supposed to give - we should always trust God and never take things into ou r own hands - but what does that mean in our everyday lives, when we need a job or we're about to lose a contract? Where does what God does stop and what I do start? When we face obstacles and dangers in our lives and careers, should we just trust God or should we do something about it? We're going to come back to this in a minute. Let's continue to look at what happened in Abraham's life.

Scene Two

The story of Abraham's life continues, and Abraham goes through some amazing experiences. He rescues his nephew, Lot, in a daring raid against four kings. He meets with a mysterious man named Melchizedek who blesses Abraham and acknowledges that it's Jehovah who has helped him prevail. God then promises a son to him. But then Abraham faces another test in which the obstacles looked bigger than God's promises. Turn to Genesis 16 and read the first three verses with me.

But Sarai, Abram's wife, had no children. So Sarai took her servant, an Egyptian woman named Hagar, and gave her to Abram so she could bear his children. "The LORD has kept me from having any children," Sarai said to Abram. "Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her." And Abram agreed. So Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram first arrived in the land of Canaan.)

It's hard to read this story and not be shocked, but actually, what happened was quite acceptable back in those days. Sarah was at least 75 years old at this point, and after all, ten years is a long time to wait for a baby. I think I'd start to develop doubts as well. At that time, a married woman who didn't have kids would be ridiculed and shunned. The normal course of action would be to do just what Sarah did - to give a female servant to her husband in order to produce heirs. That wasn't shocking; that just was the way things happened. Any children born to the servant woman would still be considered the children of the wife. They didn't understand biology like we do today. They saw the mother as the incubator for the seed that was planted in her, so that one incubator was almost as good as another. It sounds shocking to us today, but back then it was just how things were done. It wouldn't have been surprising to read back then that Abraham had chosen this course of action. It was almost expected at that time.

Once again, the results were disastrous. On one level, the plan worked. Hagar became pregnant. Abraham had an heir on the way. But everything else fell apart. Hagar knew that she had become indispensable to the family, and she began to act as if she was superior. Abraham was so overjoyed at the pregnancy that he didn't seem to care how Hagar was acting. Abraham gave Sarah the right to deal with Hagar as she wished, and Hagar ended up banished and alone. Twice now, Abraham has stepped in for God and his plans have worked, but everything else has fallen apart. There's still no true heir. Actually, it's worse than having no true heir. Now there's a rival heir to the true heir that will soon be born. For the next thirteen years, until God appears to him again in the next chapter, Ishmael is the heir. The plan worked, but everything the plan was supposed to accomplish was once again in jeopardy.

I wish I could pull out a simple lesson, like Abraham lacked faith, and you should never do what God has promised to do. The passage looks disapprovingly at what Abraham did, but the lesson isn't that we should wait on the sidelines waiting for God to act all our lives. Sometimes God wants us to move out in faith. Abraham's problem wasn't really a lack of faith; he just seems to have been considering all of the options. But it does seem that sometimes, when we try to help God out, we end up getting in the way. We'll come back to this thought in a minute.

Scene Three

The final scene we're going to look at today is found in Genesis 20. Genesis 20:1-2 says, "Now Abraham moved south to the Negev and settled for a while between Kadesh and Shur at a place called Gerar. Abraham told people there that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. So King Abimelech sent for her and had her brought to him at his palace." We've read this before. He's tried this at least once before, possibly more often. In fact, Abraham says in verse 13, "When God sent me to travel far from my father's home, I told her, 'Wherever we go, have the kindness to say that you are my sister.'" This plan may have worked in many cases, but it failed on two occasions. This was one of them.

Genesis 20:3 says, "But one night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, 'You are a dead man, for that woman you took is married.'" How would you like to have that kind of dream? Abimelech plead innocence, and God responded in verse 6-7:

"Yes, I know you are innocent," God replied. "That is why I kept you from sinning against me; I did not let you touch her. Now return her to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don't return her to him, you can be sure that you and your entire household will die."

We read on in the chapter that Abimelech did do as God said, and that Abraham prayed for his house to be healed, and that all ended well. Sarah was pregnant at this time with the son that God had promised. Last time Abraham told this lie, he almost lost his wife. This time, he not only almost lost his wife, but he almost lost his claim to the heir. If things had gone much further, the paternity of Isaac would have been in doubt. Once again, Abraham's attempt to help out backfired and ended up as just another obstacle that God had to deal with.

Here's the thing: we don't know how many times Abraham tried this approach, and it worked. It seems that he tried this ruse everywhere he went. We only know about the two times that it didn't work, but to us it looks very much like a failure. He was a man of faith, but there were at least three times in his life that his plans actually got in the way of what God wanted to accomplish.

The Lessons

Abraham's story is a comfort to me. There are a lot of times that I want to trust God, but I don't understand what my role is and what God's role is going to be as well. There are times in our lives, that despite all of our faith, we reach a crossroads and we need to make a decision. Do we buy the house or don't we? Do we take this job or wait for something better? Do we marry this person or do we stay single? We pray about these decisions, but God doesn't answer, at least in a way that makes sense. So then we either have to decide to wait, sometimes indefinitely, or to go ahead and make a decision, without any assurance that the decision we're about to make is what God wants us to do. What do we do in those cases?

Should Abraham have tried to have his own child through Hagar? Was he circumventing what God wanted to do? Yes, in hindsight, but at the time he probably thought he was just doing his part. Should he have stretched the truth about his wife to save his life? He did cross an ethical line there, but it seems that he thought he was doing the right thing - just using common sense to avoid a really bad situation.

As I thought about Abraham's life, some lessons came home to me that are very relevant in my life.

1. Even godly people sometimes have a hard time knowing what to do.

I don't know if that makes you feel better or worse, but sometimes even godly people, spiritual giants, have a hard time knowing what decision to make. It's not easy. Here's Abraham, a hero of the faith, and he faces these situations in which he just doesn't know, and the solution that he chooses ends up being the wrong one. There are times that even those of us who are really trying to follow God just don't know which course of action to take. There are sometimes no easy answers.

It's four years ago tomorrow that I started at Richview - that's hard to believe. When I was making the decision to come to Richview, I prayed ab out it, I talked to friends and family about it, I prayed about it some more, and in the end I felt like I made the decision that God wanted me to make. But I just wasn't sure. I remember talking to a friend, and saying, "What if I made the wrong decision? What if I go to Richview and it's a disaster? What do I do then?" Don't worry - I think it was the right decision, and I believe God was leading me here, but sometimes it's hard to know. I've heard of pastors who have gone to churches and it seems like it was a huge mistake. Didn't they pray? Yes, they did. But sometimes it's hard to know, even for a godly person, what to do.

I don't know if that makes you feel better or worse about whatever decision you may be facing. It may make you feel worse. I'm not saying that there aren't times that God makes his will known, and that it's very clear. But there are other times that we can pray and at the end of it all, we just don't know. Sometimes it's hard to know, even after we pray about it, if we're making the right decision or not.

There's another lesson that I think we can learn from Abraham's life.

2. Our plans may be successful but fruitless if they don't meet with divine approval

The funny thing about these three episodes in Abraham's life is that his plans worked. His life was spared. They did believe that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. He did have a son. At one level, all of Abraham's plans worked, but at another level, it was a disaster. All of Abraham's good intentions added more obstacles to what God wanted to accomplish. They didn't bring him closer to God's plans for his life. They actually took him further away from what God wanted to accomplish.

This is the scary part. I can have my whole life planned out - who I'm going to marry, what I'm going to do, all sorts of goals - and all my plans can be successful, but still be fruitless if God isn't in them. Abraham accomplished everything that he set out to do, but he moved further and further away from what God wanted and promised, instead of closer and closer.

Abraham cut some moral corners. Sometimes we think that we have to cut moral corners to succeed in some area of our life. It could be at work, where bending the truth is almost expected. If you don't do it, it could cost you your career, your commission, or a really big client. We can bend the truth, and on one level, we can succeed - but God won't be in it. We can have all the success in the world, but if God isn't in it, it will be fruitless.

One more lesson from Abraham's experiences:

3. When our plans don't work out, God is still big enough to handle it.

Anybody here ever make a mistake, that's set your life on the wrong track? A bad career decision; a mistake in who you chose to marry; a really bad moral choice. At times it can seem that the decisions we have made have sent our lives so far away from what God intended that it's hopeless - but it isn't. God is big enough to handle our lives, even our mistakes. God's plans will ultimately prevail in our lives.

That's why I love these stories about Abraham. Abraham kept on trying to help, but he kept getting further from what God wanted to do. God never threw up his hands and said, "I give up! I can't work with this man." The promised son was born. Abraham became the father of many nations. Jesus Christ was born as a descendent of Abraham. You and I can be recipients of the grace that came through Jesus Christ, who came to die and rise again to set us free from the power and the penalty of sin. It's all because God can take ordinary human beings and use them, despite their mistakes. God is big enough to handle my mistakes.

I've planned good parts of my life. I look back now and I'm thankful my plans never worked out. I've had some of my plans work out too, but God wasn't in them. Probably the best thing we can do today is to get to the end of this service and say to God, "I give my life to you - all of my plans, all of my desires. Unless you're in them, they'll go nowhere. I submit myself to you. Work in my life - even in my mistakes - to bring yourself glory."

We sing that song - All for Jesus. The words say this, and I'm going to ask you to make this your prayer today as we close:

Jesus
All for Jesus
All I am and have and ever
Hope to be

All of my ambitions
Hopes and plans
I surrender these into your hands

For it's only in
Your will that I am free

Your greatest hopes and plans, would you surrender them to God's hands today. Your greatest mistakes, would you ask him to work in your life to accomplish his promises. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sacred Passion (Proverbs 5)

I've really enjoyed looking at the family the past few weeks. If you're just joining us, we've been searching the Bible to see what it says on a number of the issues we face in our families - issues like singleness, parenting, and marriage. We're coming to the end of our series on the family. Today I want to look at a subject that is PG-rated - the subject of passion and sexuality. It's not only an important part of marriage; it's an important part of who we are.

If you have a Bible with you, we'll be looking at Proverbs 5 today. It's found on page 722 of your pew Bibles. The entire purpose of the book of Proverbs is to give us wisdom and instruction for life. It's to help us learn how to live skillfully. The authors of this book have applied themselves in observing and reflecting on how we can live life skillfully. The book of Proverbs is almost like a how-to book, except it's not as much concerned with changing our methods as changing our character. Proverbs touches on many of the issues that are close to where we live. One of them is sex.

If you've read the Bible for any length of time, you know that the Bible is never shy about sex. One of the books in the Bible is a passionate story of love and passion between a man and a woman. A whole book! Some people are so uncomfortable with reading this book that they call it an allegory of Christ's love for the church. It isn't. It's a beautiful picture of romance between a man and a woman.

There are lots of stories in the Bible with seductive overtones. The story of Ruth includes an account of Ruth coming to a man in the middle of the night, uncovering his feet, and lying down beside him for the night. I don't think anything improper happened - but I think that there were sparks flying! You can read story after story about passion and love in the Bible. You can be both spiritual and sexual at the same time. A strong faith and a strong sex drive aren't incompatible. You can be a Christian and sexually alive and passionate. That's why I want to look at Proverbs 5 today.

A University of Nebraska freshman was asked by the chaplain if his church had any influence on his view of sexuality. He said, "Are you kidding? People in my church don't believe in sex." We live in a sexually confused culture in which, and it seems sometimes like the church is the only place that isn't talking about sex. Sex is part of who we are. It's something to be celebrated and enjoyed as a gift from God.

Let's look at the heart of the Proverbs 5 passage, and then we'll back up and look at how we can experience what Solomon describes. Proverbs 5:15-20 says:

Drink water from your own well—share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in public, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Don't share it with strangers.

Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful deer. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, with an immoral woman, or embrace the breasts of an adulterous woman?

You and I may feel a little nervous reading this passage in public. It may seem too intimate, or even somewhat hurtful to you. Because a male wrote these words, he focuses on the female body, but I think we can say that these verses go both ways. They're for men and for women. It's not written as an objectification of women as much as a celebration of a man's love for is wife. Let's dig a little deeper to try to figure out what Solomon's words mean for us today.

A Celebration…

Three years ago, I traveled to Israel. I had no idea before I went how much of Israel is dessert. I always thought of Israel as the land of milk and honey. It's also the land of dust and scorching heat. There were a lot of days that we drank a lot of water and ran back to our air-conditioned coach. You can imagine how valuable wells were thousands of years ago.

When this passage was written, a well was a family's most important possession. It was essential for life. It was a crime to steal water from somebody else's well. Solomon uses the image of a well to picture a wife - one that would have been very appropriate in that culture. The Song of Songs 4:15 says, "You are a garden fountain, a well of living water, as refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains." A good sexual relationship satisfies desires. That's why Solomon says, "Drink water from your own well—share your love only with your wife." Passion is good! The Bible talks about passion being something that satisfies desires, like a good cup of water satisfies thirst. It's something that's valuable; something that's to be celebrated.

This may or not be your reality, but it's the ideal. God wants your sexuality to be a source of blessing to you. He's given it as a gift for your pleasure and your enjoyment.

Solomon goes on in verses 18-19. "Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you." The idea of blessing is that it's something that God himself blesses for you. It's a God-given gift. I wonder if we've ever stopped to ask God's blessing on our sex lives. We should! Having it blessed means that God will make it fruitful - that it will be everything that God intended it to be. That's not a bad way to pray - that the sexual component of your relationship will be everything that God intends it to be.

One poll has shown that married Christian women enjoy a vibrant and vigorous sex life that registers higher levels of satisfaction than among non-Christians. That's what happens when God blesses our sex lives.

"Rejoice in the wife of your youth." There's something to be said about a relationship that has stood the test of time - one that has seen the ups and downs and the highs and the lows. When you've spent many years together, and you've experienced the joy and the contentment of a divinely blessed, monogamous relationship, from years ago until now - that's something to celebrate. Our culture celebrates youth. I believe the people who are enjoying the strongest relationships aren't the young. They're those who have built a relationship over years that has stood the test of time.

These verses are sensual. They speak of the type of physical relationship that couples are to enjoy. Then, verse 19 concludes: "May you always be captivated by her love." The word for captivated comes from a word that means to swerve, to meander, to reel - almost like you're intoxicated. It's the stagger that expresses the ecstatic joy of a captivated lover. It means that you should be intoxicated with the love relationship that you have with your husband or wife. You can't read this passage without getting the very strong idea that this isn't a side issue in life. It's not something that's disconnected from who you are. Your passion is something to revel in. It's something that should satisfy and intoxicate you. It's a gift from God to be enjoyed.

Some theologians used to teach that the Holy Spirit leaves the room when a couple engages in sexual intercourse. One man, named Yves of Chartres counseled the godly to abstain from sexual intercourse on Thursdays to remember Christ's rapture, on Friday's in remembrance of his crucifixion, on Saturdays in honor of the Virgin Mary, on Sundays in commemoration of the Resurrection, and on Mondays out of respect for departed souls. We usually think of the Puritans as being uptight about sex, but they did a lot better than others have in church history. One Puritan encouraged sexual intercourse "to lighten and ease the cares and sadness of household affairs, or to endear each other."

Throughout history, the church hasn't always led the charge in celebrating sexuality as the Bible does. The Bible teaches that sex is a gift to be enjoyed, to be celebrated.

Two Ohio State University psychologists have concluded that sex is one of the most important of the fifteen universal fundamental behaviors that drive human behavior. They're right. God has made us that way. Other studies have shown that sexual activity is good for you. One study has shown that men who had the most sex have a fifty percent lower mortality rate than those who don't. As somebody has said, "Would you expect that a gift from God would be other than good for us?" (Leonard Sweet)

Sanskrit-based languages have ninety-six words for love. Persian has eighty. Greek has three. English has one. It's time to develop a fuller understanding of love in which passion is part of the equation.

What God has created is part of all of us. We are all sexual beings. We have the privilege of enjoying something that's been designed by the one we serve - by God himself. We have the joy of celebrating one of his good gifts to us.

No matter who you are today, I'd challenge you to elevate your understanding of the sexual area of your life as a gift from God, given for intimacy and enjoyment. God could have chosen procreation to take place in any number of ways. He chose it in a way that would bring pleasure and intimacy to us. He's given us this as a gift to be celebrated and enjoyed.

This is true of all of us no matter what our marital status is. We are all sexual beings. God has put protections around our sexuality, such as reserving it for the marriage relationship - but we're all sexual persons, created in the image of God as male and female. We need to celebrate our sexuality within the protections and guidelines that God has given us.

It may be hard for some of us who are married to hear that sex is this kind of blessing, because it hasn't been in our experience. For those who may have struggled with this for years, it may be painful or even impossible to celebrate this aspect if their lives. We may first need to get the courage to talk about this issue with our spouse, to read a book on sexuality or maybe even go for counseling. There's no shame in this, because we all experience sexual brokenness in our lives. There's never any shame in admitting that we need help. It will take some courage, but it's worth it.

For those of us who are married, another way that we can apply this new understanding is to pray and ask God's blessing on our sex lives. It's Biblical. You could pray that this area would be a fountain of blessing for you and your husband, your wife - satisfying, captivating, even intoxicating.

There's a prayer found in a Jewish book that some people think should be part of the Bible. It's a prayer that may not be Biblical, but it's a beautiful picture of how we can pray for the sexual aspect of our marriages. It's used today in some Amish weddings. It's set as a newly married couple enters the marriage bed for the first time. They jump out, realizing that they forgot to pray. They then offer this dedicatory prayer basing their relationship on friendship and love - a prayer that we learn from today:

Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
And blessed is your name in all generations forever.
Let the heavens and the whole earth bless you forever.
You made Adam, and for him you made your wife Eve
As a helper and support.
From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, "It is not good that the man should be alone;
Let us make a helper for him like myself."
I am now taking this kinswoman of mine,
Not because of lust, but in sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy,
And that we may grow old together.
And they both said, "Amen, Amen." (Tobit 8:5-8 NRSV)

Sex is a gift from God. It's something that we should celebrate. There are only two applications from what I want to talk about today, and you already have the first one. Celebrate your sexuality. It's not dirty. It's created and blessed by God for your benefit.

…To Be Protected

The other application comes from the rest of Proverbs 5, and chapter 7 as well. Sex is a celebration…but it's a celebration that needs protection. Our society hasn't really changed too much. God gave us our sexuality as a gift to be enjoyed. Solomon is very honest about the pressures that can turn us away from enjoying sex the way that God intended. The first part of Proverbs 5 is about a prostitute. Solomon gives some of the results of wasting God's gift with a prostitute in verses 9-14: a loss of honor, a loss of everything we've worked for, and even disease. Verse 14 records what one might say after suffering these results: "I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace." Solomon is brutally honest about what happens when we don't protect God's gift of sex.

Proverbs 7 talks more about an immoral woman, in a series of verses that could be equally applicable to a man who is immoral. Solomon concludes in Proverbs 7:24-27:

Listen to me, my sons, and pay attention to my words. Don't let your hearts stray away toward her. Don't wander down her wayward path. For she has been the ruin of many; numerous men have been her victims. Her house is the road to the grave. Her bedroom is the den of death.

The best way that we can protect ourselves against a misuse of sex that will damage us, and even destroy us, is to do what Solomon has already said - to "drink water from your own well - to share your love only with your wife" (Proverbs 5:15). God isn't trying to spoil our fun. He isn't telling us to ignore our desires. God knows the damage that comes about when we don't protect his gift of sex. Sex is so valuable that it needs to be protected, treasured, and nourished within the guidelines that he's given us, for our own benefit.

We live in a sexually broken world. We live in a day in which people reach puberty earlier and earlier, and yet we're getting married later and later in life. That's a recipe for disaster.

I doubt there is anybody here who can't think of a number of people - perhaps somebody close to you, perhaps even you - who hasn't been damaged by a misuse of sex. One of God's greatest gifts has been used by Satan to cause damage in many areas of our lives.

One of the greatest hurts that can be inflicted on an individual is sexual abuse. If we're sexually abused, we've been violated at one of the deepest levels of our lives, and the scars can take so long to heal. The worst part is that we read a passage like the one in Proverbs 5 and we don't see what sex was created to be. We see what that person has done for us. We may even read some of these passages and see them as a condemnation of what's happened in our lives, when it's anything but. God is on the side of those who have been victimized and hurt by others. He doesn't come to condemn, because it's not your fault. He comes to bring healing and his grace.

God doesn't condemn you; we don't condemn you.

There are more than a few of us who have sexual regrets, that may be primarily about things that we've done, images that we've seen, thoughts that we've cultivated that go far outside of what God intended. The good news about God is that "the pit of grace is as bottomless for sexual behavior as for any other sin" (Leonard Sweet). God is able to forgive our pasts, and to heal our hurts. As I encouraged us to pray earlier that God would bless our sexuality, I would encourage you to pray that God would heal and forgive you - that he would wipe out any mistakes in your past, and that he would fill you with his grace and his healing.

If you've failed God in this area, this is what God says in Jeremiah 31:34, "And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins." The reason that we exist as a church is so that we can serve as proof that God can be your healer and forgiver, just as he's been ours. I'd love nothing more than if you come to God today and let him restore you. We've seen the consequence of sin. Jesus came to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven and so that we could experience eternal life. God can heal and forgive.

No matter what your past, you can begin today to begin to protect th e gift of sex. You can enjoy it to the fullest extent within your marriage - but protect yourself from using it apart from God's guidelines. A little while ago, I came across a list of consequences of not following God's direction in this area. I copied the list onto my Palm, and it's there as a reminder to me to protect God's gift of sex. Here's what I copied. The writer, Randy Alcorn, says:

Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my action could have:

Grieving the Lord who redeemed me.
Dragging His sacred name through the mud.
One day having to look at Jesus, the righteous judge in the face, and give an account of my actions.
Following the footsteps of people whose immorality forfeited their ministries and caused me to shudder.
Losing my wife's respect and trust.
Hurting my daughters.
Destroying my example and credibility with my children.
Causing shame to my family.
Losing self-respect.
Forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my wife.
Wasting years of ministry training.
Undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community.
On and on.

Proverbs 5:21-23 concludes, "For the LORD sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes. An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his incredible folly."

I want to close today by praying for you in this area of your life. My prayer is that you would experience all of God's best in this area. My prayer as well is that you would be protected from experiencing the damage that can come when sex doesn't take place as a gift from God to be celebrated between husband and wife. I invite you to pray along with me.

Father, I thank you for this awesome gift. I thank you that although it's something we're shy to talk about sometimes, it's not something that you were shy about in your Bible. It's a gift from you. It's something that can captivate us. We thank you for this gift.

We've been damaged, because we haven't always used this gift the way that you intended. The evil one has taken this good gift from you and has used it for our harm. You are the healer and forgiver. We come to you today with a commitment to honor your Word in this area. We pray for your forgiveness and for your help.

I pray especially for those who have been deeply wounded in this area - who have been hurt or abused by somebody else sexually, who find this as an area of hurt. Would you come alongside them and comfort them, and give them your grace.

For those of us who have never come to Jesus Christ and become his follower, his apprentice, and who have never experienced his grace, we give our lives to you today. Forgive us and give us life. Thank you that Jesus died for us and rose to give us new life.

Thank you for our families. We thank you for all your good gifts, and we ask your blessing upon them. In the name of the one who died to save us, and who rose again to give us new life - in the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.