Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This week's message: Distraction

Genesis 12:10-20.

Not settled, Abram is still living like a nomad. In verse nine he was meandering his way south, then he encounters a food shortage and decides to go on into Egypt for a while. He is not going there with the intention to stay forever, but there is no indication that he sought God's counsel or that he had no other option. It is likely that the famine was limited to that desert region of the Negev and that returning to the land God had promised would have been as effective as crossing into Egypt.

Abram enters Egypt and even though he wants to partake of Egypt's wealth and provision, he fears Egypt's power. He tells his wife to lie about their relationship so that he will not suffer. This goes too far when Abram does not protest as men come from Pharaoh's house to take Sarai to become one of Pharaoh's wives. He does not protest as they bring him livestock and treasure in return.

Sometimes we encounter tough times while we are waiting for God to fulfill his promise. It is tempting to turn to the world for answers and resources. Admittedly, sometimes the world does have answers and resources. Egypt had food. It was not necessarily wrong for Abram to go in search of food.

The problem arises when we are willing to trade the promise of God for a quick fix. Abram did not have to trade his wife for wealth. That was his choice. He sold her to Pharaoh. All those goods he received were a bride price. I am not sure we understand everything he was trading away, or even that Abram understood all that he was giving up.

God had promised that he would provide Abram with descendants. Those descendants were to come through Sarai, his wife. By trading her away for earthly wealth Abram trades away the source of God’s fulfillment. And then Abram settles in, enjoying his wealth.

Because of earthly wealth, Abram is now prepared to forsake both the promise of children and the promised land. If the story ended there, we would not know who Abram was. Just like if he had not left Haran to go to Canaan. This could have been the end of the promise.

But God is more faithful than we are. His promise to Abram was bigger than Abram having a few children. So God intervened. He sent a signal to Pharaoh that Sarai was really Abram’s wife. Some have speculated as to whether the plague on Pharaoh’s house was a venereal disease or whether Pharaoh had actually taken Sarai to his bed. I am not sure that those details are important. Whatever the nature of the plague, and whether Sarai was Pharaoh’s conjugal wife, what is important is that God was at work. God revealed to Pharaoh that Abram had lied about his relationship with Sarai. And here is one of the most important things in the whole story. Pharaoh sent them away with an escort to make sure they made it to the border safely.

He had every right to have both Abram and Sarai killed for lying to him and getting him involved in this scheme, but God protected them. He provided a way for them to leave Egypt and go back to the land he had promised. Regardless of Abram’s actions, God was faithful. This is not the last time we will see God continuing in his faithfulness in spite of Abram’s choices.

We also fail. We make wrong choices, we give in to temptation, we act out of self-preservation and selfishness when we face difficulties. We may have a promise from God—I will never leave you or forsake you—but we forget in the moment and we fall into sin. You know sin is missing the mark, it is falling short of perfection or stepping over lines we know we should not cross. But here is the most important thing about sin—God has already conquered it. He has dealt with it.

We don’t have to be under condemnation. We don’t have to let shame keep us away from him. We don’t have to let our regrets stand in the way of receiving God’s promise. The solution is repentance, which is simply turning away. We turn away from those wrong choices and that sin and we turn back to God. We choose to put our trust in him again. We choose to allow him to heal the wounds that came out of that sin and to restore us to what he wants us to be.

The one redeeming action on Abram's part is this: when Abram was confronted with his sin, he accepted Pharaoh’s reproach and willingly left Egypt. He didn’t try to justify or argue. Abram knew that what he did was wrong and he accepted it.

Maybe you feel like you have taken the wrong path, traded God’s promises for wealth or safety. Maybe you know that you have fallen short or crossed lines that you don’t think you can ever come back from. God has that covered in Christ. Your penalty has been paid, his blood covers your sin, and all that is left for you to do is turn away from those past wrongs and turn back to him. I encourage you to do that today. Do it everyday or as often as you think of those errors. God’s forgiveness has no limit.

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