As some of you may know, a few years ago I worked in the medical field for a time. During that stint, I met a young crack addict I’ll call “P”. P’s brother had recently been murdered – very shortly before this encounter – in Savannah, and P currently had a ‘hit’ out on his head by the same gang that had taken out his brother. Turning to a friend and I for help, it was clear to us that he was indeed in some sort of trouble with the law: shady characters in suspicious looking vehicles began scope out my workplace and P only dropped by at odd hours – I usually only ran into him when working late, or when on-call. Well, eventually my friend managed to get in touch with a rehab center in Northeast Florida that was wiling to give P his life back: the offered to rehab his from his drug addiction, place him in a new community, arrange for him to get a college education, a job – in essence a future: a LIFE. The last time I saw P we were on the phone with this establishment, trying to make the final arrangements for his move to Florida, when a car honked outside the building. It was apparently one of P’s dealers: he’d left it all behind – a future and a life – for another hit.
What was his PROBLEM?! He was offered a life – a future – and turned it down to satisfy his flesh. Sadly, his problem, is my problem, is your problem, is ours: we think he had “too much desire” – that he was living for pleasure, when, in fact, his desire was too little. Every time we choose to sin, we make the same decision he did: we choose an immediate, temporally satisfying pleasure, over an eternal, entirely satisfying one.
C.S. Lewis says, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink(ing) and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us.”
In my flesh I wish this sermon were original – but important messages are not new: they are eternal, and simply oft-forgotten. John Piper, Sam Storms, C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine of Hippo, Paul of Tarsus, Moses – even God Himself – have said this long before me.
Hebrews 11:25 says that Moses chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”
In this section of Hebrews, Paul, I believe, is giving us a picture of what real faith looks like, and he points us to Moses. Moses’ life started rough – his mother had to put him in a basket and ship him down-river to save his life, but then he was raised as the Grand-son of Pharaoh! That’s not a bad trade, if you ask me. Think about it – ANY-THING THAT YOU WANT. That’s the sort of power you’d be getting prepped for one day. If Moses thought a young lady attractive – “Hey, you’re my wife…” – if he needed something done, he could call on his servants. It was all at his fingertips. He had a cushy life ahead of him.
Yet Paul here tells the story of Moses, who could have had a cushy life as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh, but chose rather to leave it all behind to stand up for his people – God’s people. He chose suffering over pleasure – or so it would seem.
Now, before I say something that might seem confusing, let me be clear: sin is pleasurable. If it weren’t, it would not be tempting. Imagine if every time you were to lust, instead of getting a sense of pleasure, you were struck by lightening! NO TEMPTATION – you would not lust, EVER. I mean, what’s the fun in THAT?! And if you did still lust you’d be awfully crispy. However, that is not the case – sin feels good.
Yet that PLEASURE IS FLEETING. “Fleeting” means that something runs away.
When I was young, I was given a horse – a wild horse. Until I owned Shelcy, she had roamed free with a pack of wild horses and had little to no human contact. We built a 2 acre fenced in horse pen, had someone catch her, and bring her to my house. That horse, at least for the first few years we had her, was a “fleeting pleasure”. She wanted me dead. Once, when I’d finally gotten Shelcy to eat out of my hand, as soon as I turned and walked away she picked me up by my shoulders with her teeth! Even after I broke her in she’d TRY to stomp my feet whenever I got on and off of her – and she laughed about it. I promise – horses can laugh. That animal was cursed.
A ‘fleeting pleasure’ is something you really enjoy that, as soon as you think you’ve got it in your hands, it slips through your fingers, and runs away. My horse was a fleeting pleasure.
Though some of us may be surprised to find that the Bible admits that sin is pleasurable, we all know it from experience. In fact many live as though sin is the only pleasure. We believe that the life of faith is basically just saying “no” to anything fun. Some days it seems may Christians believe that Jesus is all about those medieval times when Monks starved themselves, droned in monotone and beat themselves in the heads with boards – in Monty Python fashion – just to show that they could “suffer for Christ.” That’s all too often what we think Jesus is all about: NO FUN – NO PLEASURE.
Pay close attention to me: THAT is A LIE. Just in case anyone reading this has even a the hint of a suspicion deep down in their bones that such a picture of God might be true…It’s not a “misunderstanding” – it’s not just a “little off” – IT’S A LIE.
Psalm 34:8; “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
I LOVE TO EAT. I mean, I love to eat to the point that it’s embarrassing, and entertaining, to some of my friends. I get into it. I get weird. I say things like, “Thank you Jesus for making food so much fun!” But some of the things I like most in life I had to develop a taste for – some of the more elegant tastes take time to appreciate: sushi, for some – good coffee. I think there’s something in that. And yet, God says, “Taste me – SEE that I am GOOD.” That sounds like pleasure to me.
Psalm 16:11; “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Wow…there’s a whole sermon behind that one verse…BUT
Before I unfold this more, I want to share another story. The interesting connection between these two Greek myths was brought to my attention by a book by Sam Storms.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, the hero, must sail his ship through dangerous waters near an island of Sirens. The Sirens were an evil, man-eating monster that entranced passersby with songs so beautiful that they could then control the thoughts and actions of the sailors, driving them to crash their boats on shore, and be devoured by the seductive beasts. Odysseus, being well aware of their powers, commands his crew to plug their ears, and chain him to the mast. You see, though he knew the dangers, he still longed to hear the Siren’s songs. And hear them he did: the Sirens even took the shape of his own wife, capturing all of his passions: heart, mind, soul, & strength. He was only restrained from redirecting the ship by the chains binding him to it’s mast. Yet, Odysseus survived the temptation of the Siren’s song, at least physically.
In another Greek myth, the Argonautica by Appolonius of Rhodes, our hero is Jason. On his journey home from his quest to find the ‘Golden Fleece’, he travels the same route as Ulysses, and also encounters the same threat. However, heading wise instruction, he brought with him the musician, Orpheus, who was renown for playing the lyre so beautifully that nothing could compare to his music. Instead of plugging their ears, and tying Jason to the mast, like Odysseus, Jason simply asked Orpheus to play his finest tune. Jason and his crew didn’t even notice the songs of the Sirens because they were entranced my music far more lovely: the songs of Orpheus.
Now, Odysseus may have survived the Sirens, but only Jason triumphed over them – “both obeyed” but only one was changed, and he was changed by BEAUTY! These examples ring true with me as two very different examples of how to live out the Christian faith. How often have I fell into the trap of thinking that merely by making laws restraining my actions that somehow I am living the life of a Godly Christian, when in fact the only true triumph of Godliness is when my temptation is curbed by a greater beauty – the beauty of the one true God, which we should pursue with such passion that we actually begin to lose interest in sin, as we are able to see it as it truly is. This ‘seeing God’ as beautiful, is Christian Hedonism, and it results in WORSHIP.
Sam Storms wisely wrote “The only theology worth studying is a theology that can be sung”, and I full-heartedly agree. If our knowledge of God does not lead to joy-filled worship of God, something is wrong.
And worship is bigger than just singing – worship is a life that is lived as praise to God, and if our knowledge of God does not lead to that kind of worship, who cares? The world doesn’t care. You’re non-believing family members really don’t care. Even your Christian family members probably don’t. If you’re a student, the non-Christian in your class doesn’t likely find your theology that interesting – without this radical life response to an amazing, awe-inspiring, beautifully glorious God, you’re just “religious” to them. Yes, I might think it’s interesting, but I’m a nerd, so what I think isn’t all that important. Surely God is not impressed.
So what’s the use of all this? I believe that this is the secret to fighting sin: exchange pleasure for pleasure. Exchanging fleeting pleasure for pleasure forevermore – pleasure that is lasting.
Let me ask you a question: Why don’t you jump in front of Car? I guess the dumb answer to a seemingly dumb question would be “so I don’t get injured or killed!” However, when considering whether or not to step out in front of a moving automobile, you don’t just know the consequences – in your heart you FEEL the consequences: you KNOW it’s real: you will be hurt, possibly killed. It’s not just head-knowledge, it’s heart-knowledge that has captured your being. The reason you don’t step out in front of a moving car is simple: it is what you believe – IN YOUR HEART, not simply what you think intellectually – it is what you believe so fully that you FEEL it is true, not only KNOW it to be true – that changes what you do.
I tell you this: if we were CONVINCED in our hearts of the goodness, the beauty, the GLORIOUSNESS, the downright HUGEness of God – we’d live differently.
Here’s the key to holy living: In the Presence of God is fullness of Joy – in His right hand there are pleasures evermore. Stay in his presence – bask in the beauty of God. Be enamored by Him, and sin can’t stand a chance.
We need to fall in love with God – we need to see God AS HE IS…
We don’t only need a fresh revelation – we need a SOLID reminder of the one to whom we’re betrothed. When God proposed you said “yes”, but sometimes it’s like we’ve forgotten – we’ve folded up His picture and put it in our pocket. So we settle; we leave our first love.
Psalm 37:4; “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
NOW – this is a promise we can bank on absolutely – but think about what is being offered here. Riches? Relationships? No no no! If you are delighting in the Lord, what will be your desire? The LORD. And that He will give you gladly…
C.S. Lewis wrote; “…if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like and ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Whatever it is that you need to do to spark that desire afresh –
- re-read his love-letters,
- sit down and tell Him where you are – be honest
- maybe you just need to listen
- maybe it’s time for you to celebrate: joy is made complete when we rejoice
- or maybe we just need to say “thank you”
Thank you, Father God
Thank you, Lord Jesus
Thank you, Holy Spirit
So be it. Amen.