The Thorns On A Rose

Sermon Text – 06.09.2019
[Proverbs 5:15-23 and Ecclesiastes 5:12-20]
          Humanity, as many of you know, has an incredible talent for taking something good and using it in the wrong way. Sometimes, we just didn’t know the right way to use it. I mean, did you know that Chinese takeout containers are actually designed to fold out into plates? It’s so funny, I always forget – but did you know that pipe cleaners, the craft supply, can actually be used for their named for – to clean pipes? Crazy. Did you know that that hole in the pot handle is actually to balance a spoon? Another favorite, tic tac lids are designed to dispense one tic tac at a time – does anybody use it this way? We’ve been using it upside-down this entire time. Did you know that the lids on most to-go cups are actually designed to serve as a coaster. Last, but certainly not least, did you know that most of us peel our bananas upside down? This is true, most of us, grab a banana break it off from the pack and then we tug on that little handle at the top. Usually we gotta get a knife or dig a long fingernail into it to get it started and ten it peels nicely. You know how sometimes, if you don’t get it started right, it doesn’t peel – but just sort of mashes and smashes the top of your banana? But, in nature, monkey’s flip it over and peel what we call “the bottom” first. My grandpa was a missionary all over the world, and he tells this story of how a monkey taught him the proper way to eat a banana.

          See, here’s the thing. A lot of issues and a lot of ethics conversations are really complicated because it’s not usually bad, evil people doing bad, evil things. It’s maybe good people, trying to do good things – but going after it in the wrong way. They’ve taken something beautiful and twisted it, corrupted it, distorted God’s plan for how it’s supposed to go. A rose is beautiful, but there are thorns. It’s not enough to just go after good things, you have to do it in the right way. Today we’re going to be talking about three main areas of controversy and ethics – sex, money and work – but this principle applies to everything in life. There is a purpose and way, call it righteousness, holiness, a design that God had for how we are supposed to be, how God wants us to act and to live and then there is our corrupted, twisted efforts. There are thorns on the roses of life, and so we must be careful how we proceed.


          Now, I’m genuinely excited about our scripture lessons for this week, because I don’t think many of us had any clue that this stuff was in the bible. Some of this stuff is a little taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about this in church – but I’ve never been a fan of avoiding tough scriptures. So we get started in Proverbs chapter 5, and it starts [read 15a]. In case you’re not catching it, they are not talking about water. [read 15b]. They’re hinting at it now. [read 16a]. Still not talking about water, did you get there yet? [read 16b]. Oop, we touched on it. Verse 18 [read it]. Still not talking about water. And then we get to 19b. [read it]. Somehow I don’t think we’re talking about pg rated love. This passage is about sex. Here’s the part that makes us uncomfortable. Most of the passages we memorize about sex, tell us – do not do this, do not do that, “Don’t have sex with prostitutes or goats or donkeys or whatever.” Those are the passages we are comfortable with. They condemn sex. This passage talks about how sex can be awesome. What did it say? Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in each other, they are talking about the physical side of love. It doesn’t say be captivated by her personality, it says be satisfied by her breasts. We all know what those are, right? More commonly known as boobs, yes? I know this is uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable, I was raised in the same culture you were. I am almost certainly the first pastor in the history of this church and probably any church in Ishpeming to say the word “boobs” in a sermon. Yikes, right? I feel like I’m breaking a rule, I’m not supposed to be saying this stuff. But it’s in there. This is biblical preaching at it’s best. I know it’s uncomfortable, but here’s the hard truth – (gesture at the robe and stoll), it’s too late to get rid of me. The point I’m trying to make here is that God created sex, and it’s a good thing. We should be really grateful for that. He could have designed us so that the most intimate we could be is holding hands, and that’s how you get pregnant and make babies. But he didn’t create us that way, God gave us more than holding hands – so actually we have God to thank for sex!

      Now, I said that a couple months ago when we did a sermon on sexual abuse – and I heard some of the youth quoting me, “but Pastor JJ said that God loves sex and sex is awesome.” Which is true… but there’s more to it. God designed sex a certain way, he had a point and purpose for it – and we as a culture twisted it, and ruined it. This passage doesn’t just describe how great it is to enjoy each other’s bodies, no – it’s all framed inside a committed emotional relationship. Share your love only with your wife. And this is the old testament, so it’s written to men, but we can expand that for our culture – women, share your love, your breasts, only with your husband. Ugh, I just don’t think I’m ever going to get used to saying stuff like that. Think about it this way, sex is the highest, farthest, greatest act of physical intimacy – there’s nothing past it. With the baseball metaphor, it’s the home run, it’s all the way around the bases. It’s the most you do physically, and God designed it to be matched up with the most you can do emotionally. One of the greatest lies the culture ever sold us is that sex is just sex. People work so hard to remove sex from emotion – and they are missing out on something deeper. Sex is supposed to be enjoyed, it’s amazing, scripture says be captivated by it – but it’s designed for the person you are the most committed to, emotionally connected to in this entire world. Your husband, your wife. We took this beautiful gift God gave us, yes – sex is a gift from God, and we ruined it, corrupted it, sold out for a lesser version than what God had in mind. There’s always more I can say on that, but we’ve got to move on.
     And so we move over to Ecclesiastes, and in this first section verses 13-15, he’s talking about money. It’s going to sound weird, but I have the same message as I did with sex. Money is not, on its own, an evil thing. Money can be really good. A lot of churches teach that money is the root of all evil – it’s actually kinda funny because we talk about how terrible money is and then we pass the offering plate. Money is terrible, please give us some. There are teachings that say, “money is the root of all evil.” As the old saying goes “mo’ money, mo’ problems – but in our culture, money is essential. We fuel our cars by paying with money, we feed ourselves with our money, we clothe ourselves. Money can be used for good. John Wesley had three rules for money – earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Verse 13 tells us, [read 13b]. I think that word “hoarding” is important. It’s not wrong to save, but hoarding has this sense of excess – too much. Verse 15 is a great reminder – [read it]. Money can be a very good thing, but just like sex, we have to remember its purpose, its place in our lives. Don’t let money become too important, we can’t take it with us. Our world has taken this good thing, money, and twisted it. They want you to depend entirely on money. And if you don’t have it, you are worth less, looked down on. We have given money too much power in our lives. It’s not that money is evil, it’s when we take a temporary, good, useful thing, and we elevate it, twist it, corrupt it. When we are never satisfied and we always need more – we’ve lost control of our money and now money controls us. There is the way it was designed, you work and earn money, then you have money and you spend money and repeat. And yet, we’ve got it all twisted up in our culture. From credit cards to loan sharks there are a thousand different ways for you to spend what you don’t have on things you don’t need with money you did not earn. Scripture tells us, “owe nothing to anyone, except love.” Can you imagine if we actually lived that way? No debt? Oops. I know I’ve made my mistakes, with student debt, and I’m paying for it now. I wish I’d known how it’s supposed to work, before I bought in to this twisted formula. Sex can be a good thing, but there are thorns on that rose. Money can be a good thing, but there are thorns on that rose.
    And so our passage continues into verse 16 and 17, [read 16-17]. The third area I want to talk about this morning is work. Sex, money and work are the three things that God has given us to be good things, but we have twisted them up. It’s not wrong to work, and earn money and save it and spend it – those are all good things – but when we let work, or pursuit of money consume us – that’s the problem. One of the strangest pieces of our culture is that we work so much, most Americans don’t use all their vacation days. We work and we work, and we earn money, and we spend money and yet, we are so dissatisfied with our jobs. I’m not a big fan of statistics, so I won’t give you a specific number, but just personally in my experience, I know lots of people who just hate their jobs. And a lot of times, that’s the job they wanted, they just don’t like working. Like it says, it seems like they just live under a cloud, frustrated and angry. I don’t think everyone needs a new job, I think people need to learn how to be happy in their work. We have taken rest, which is a good thing, and we twisted it so that it’s all we want to do. We have forgotten that rest is rest from working, we, as humans, are designed to work. There’s an old phrase, “God gives the birds their food, but he doesn’t throw it into their nests.” Now, I’m not just talking about making money. I’m talking about the need to work in our lives. We need things to do in our life to give us a sense of purpose. In my experience the people who are the most likely to slip into depression are those who are retiring. Suddenly we have nothing to do. Those happiest in retirement have something to do, they are still active. The beauty of retirement is not doing nothing, the beauty of it is doing only that which you find fulfilling, not just obligations. God designed human beings to be productive. It’s good to work.  There’s an old farmer proverb, “hardest thing about milking cows, is that they never stay milked.” Rest is awesome, but it should be rest from work. Verse 18 says, [read 18-19]. Work, money, these are great things – but you have to remember their place and purpose in our lives, and don’t twist your pursuit of them. One quick side note, if mobility or disability are an in issue in work, remember, having a purpose and work doesn’t require physical strength. Send a post-card, give an encouraging phone call. Sometimes the greatest purpose a person can have is to be a prayer warrior for the people of God, and talking to God can be done anywhere anytime.  


    Whatever we’re talking about, whatever moral issue you have in life – sex, money, work, something else – remember that there is a design to this world, God has a plan and purpose for each piece of the puzzle. There is a difference between living an immoral and a moral life, and a lot of it has to do with whether you are trying to line up with God’s heart or your own selfish desires. For whatever reason, greed, lust, impatience, laziness – we often go after these good things, in the wrong way. Do you remember the seven deadly sins? What are they? One of the greatest realizations of my college career is that the famous seven deadly sins are actually good emotions gone wrong. Lust is just pure, awesome sexual connection, corrupted. Greed is ambition gone terribly wrong. Wrath is anger, which can be righteous, that is out of control. Sloth is rest that’s gone too far. Do you see what I’m trying to say? We twist the design, corrupt the plan, there are thorns on the rose.  


So let me ask you – where are you getting your morality? Do you get it from the culture or from the church? Your morals are not an accident. It all comes from somewhere. Parents, if you don’t teach your kid morals, someone will – they’ll get it from somewhere, probably tv or the internet. Is that really who you want influencing your children? If you don’t teach your kids about healthy sexual relationships, healthy money habits, a righteous work ethic – where are they going to get it from? Insert favorite tv show, insert favorite music group – are these the moral examples we want for them? I’m not saying avoid the culture, but explain how God’s plan for these good things has been twisted. For example, I had a professor who took his six year old son to go watch the new James Bond movie when it came out. Now whether you think that’s okay or not – he used that instance to teach his son about how men are supposed to treat women. And his little boy realized, he said, “Daddy, I don’t think James Bond treats women the way he’s supposed to.” You nailed it buddy, high five. James Bond is going after a good thing in the wrong way. So ask yourself, have you studied the scriptures to figure out how God wants you to live? Or are you just pushed and pulled this way and that by a culture that can’t make up its mind.
      Proverbs 5: 21 tells us [read 21-23]. A lot of times when it comes to ethical discussions about sex and money and all of that – you hear things like this, “I can’t fight these urges.” I’m a man, it’s natural, I can’t control it. I need it, I can’t help it, we are animals after all. In movies and tv shows for decades they have depicted men and women who haven’t had sex in a while, and they’re like drug addicts going through withdrawal, desperate in their pathetic chase of this irresistible “need.” What did it say? [read v22-23]. Do not believe a world that tells you that you are not in control. You are more than just an animal. Yes, we have natural, amazing, wonderful desires. But self-control is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, that and indoor plumbing. We are not mindless. We do not have to be slaves to our desires anymore. We have been given a better way, you have more strength, more will, more self-control than they want you to think. You are in control. If you’re not, if you don’t choose these things, the world will choose for you. Morality doesn’t happen by accident, it takes conscious effort to do the right thing.


      And so our application is very simple and has two parts. First, find the right way. Figure out the righteous path in life. Most of us know a good thing when we see it, but we have to figure out the right way to go after those good things. This is where spiritual maturity comes in. We study the bible, learn how to live the way God wants us to live. God sets the standard, he gives us the example on how to live. Come to church, join a bible study, ask questions, seek answers. So that’s step one – learn the right way. The second part of our application is that once you know the right path, go after good things in a good way. It sounds simple, but it’s trickier than you’d think. Go after good things in a good way. And to quote scripture one more awkward time – don’t fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman.

          A lot of people avoid these conversations. They can be uncomfortable, awkward, judgmental-even. I chose a rose as my metaphor because I’ve always thought roses are one of the most beautiful flowers. There are beautiful things in life – sex, money, work-ethic and more – but there is a right and a wrong way to go after those things. God shows us the right way to pursue these things, and it’s our job to figure out what that is. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you find the good in our world, in the right way. May you reject the twisted, corrupt options the world will tempt you with. And may you live a life that your God would be proud of. Amen. 

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