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Posts Tagged ‘pleasure’


Three centuries before Desiring God there was The Pleasantness of a Religious Life. Clearly the former has a better title, but Matthew Henry’s book is in some ways better than John Piper’s. While it is much shorter, it is tougher reading in that venerable Puritan style that is so different from our dumbed down prose. The sentences are longer and more complex. For those who stumble over such things this book is a worthy investment of time and energy.

J.I. Packer wrote a brief introduction to the book, in part, to explain the change in meaning of “pleasantness” over the centuries since Matthew Henry wrote this book. It had a much deeper, richer and more significant meaning that we typically give it today. We think of a pleasant day as one with nice weather, few distractions, some good conversation. They saw far more joy involved. We’d say a great day or an awesome day. The meaning of pleasant has weakened over the centuries. And of course there is the problem of “religious” in our day and age. It seems quite the dull prospect this book, but Packer wants to set us straight.

“Henry’s aim is to make us see that real Christianity is a journey into joy, always moving us from one joy to another and that this is one of many good and strong reasons for being excited and wholehearted in our discipleship.” J.I. Packer

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Our world is insane about many things. Sin will do that, produce a form of insanity. But when it comes to Sex & Money, our world is really crazy. Paul Tripp’s newest book is about these “pleasures that leave you empty and the grace that satisfies.”

He confesses that this was a very difficult book for him to write, precisely because of what it revealed about his own heart. Really, that is what most of this book is about: the heart. The manifestations of a heart gone astray he’s focused on are sex and money. This is not an easy book to read for the very same reasons- the waywardness of your own heart will be revealed.

“I am sad to think that when it comes to sex and money, we still buy into the legalism that says if we can organize people’s lives, give them the right set of rules, and attach them to efficient systems of accountability, we can deliver people from their sex-and-money insanity. … Few areas of the human struggle reveal more powerfully the sad sinfulness of sin than the sex-and-money evils that are done thousands of times every day.”

He begins the book with a series of scenarios that illustrate our insanity when it comes to sex and money.

  • A fifteen year-old self-appointed expert on oral sex.
  • An 8 year-old boy who is addicted to internet pornography.
  • A married man who masturbates daily.
  • Teachers having sex with under age students (nearly nightly on the news these days).
  • Unemployed high school students bombarded with offers for credit cards.
  • The average amount of consumer debt people carry creating an “anxiety-producing dance debt.”
  • Governments worldwide are deep in debt, near bankruptcy. And their citizens are rioting because they don’t get enough benefits.

And we could go on. You could go on. I know of pastors arrested in “massage parlors”. I know people arrested in the sting operations designed to get men trying to have sex with minors. And these are only what comes out in public. What of the sex and money sins that are still hidden?

“Both offer you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart.”

But there is a deeper theological orientation that Tripp wants us to consider: both creation and redemption. He made us sexual beings. He placed us in a world where sex and money issues are unavoidable and significant part of our ordinary experience. You should get the feeling that you are living in your own version of Deuteronomy 8: test, humbled and too often found wanting. Yet…

“The gospel graces us with everything we need to celebrate and participate in both areas of life in a way that honors God and fully enjoys the good things he’s given us to enjoy.”

Tripp moves into the dangerous dichotomy, expanding on the fact that God is Creator. One of the teachings that has done us much harm is that some of life is sacred and some is secular. The fact of creation shows, as Paul says in Colossians 1, that everything was made by God and for God. It is all intended to bring Him glory, and us good. it is all under His rule. A gospel-centered approach starts here because sex and money aren’t the real problem. We are.

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In preparing for my sermon on Sunday I re-read Jonathan Edwards’ discourse “Men are Naturally God’s Enemy”. Nestled in there was the following:

“All the sin that men commit, is what they do in the service of their idols: there is no one act of sin, but what is an act of service to some false god. And therefore wherein soever God opposes sin in them, his is opposite to their worship of idols: on which account they are his enemies. God opposes them in their service of their idols.”

Idols are our functional saviors, what we use to supplement (or replace) the living and true God. We use them to “save” us from the realities of life in a fallen world. They offer pleasure, distraction, hope and other benefits. Not that they can deliver. But we rely on them, and their false promises, anyway.

As Tim Keller notes, these idols are often good things. We aren’t talking about little statues we bow down to each morning. But they function as gods in our lives. They have our allegiance. We rest our sense of security on them. This we do because, as John Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. Not that we create idols, but turn good things into idols. The problem is not “out there”, but “in here”.

As I lay in bed, wishing I was asleep, I was struck by the fact that our most common idols are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. Sure, there are modern ones like fancy sports cars (or luxury sedans or…), all things Apple, and other inventions. Or science, many bow down there accepting whatever science says (this week) without recognizing that scientists are finite, sinners with (often ungodly) presuppositions instead of purely objective thinkers and observers. But most of our idols have been there from the beginning. As a result, they go unnoticed by most people.

In one of the books I’ve read (it’s been a few years and my aging mind can’t remember which one and I don’t have the free time to chase it down), the author tells of a person from India coming to the States. Now, when people from the States go to India they are struck by the sheer number of little idols, statues to gods, that are seemingly everywhere. Yet, this person arrived on our shores aghast at all of our idols! It is always easier to see other people’s idols. Just like it is easier to see their splinter while not noticing the log in your eye.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1 (ESV)

We see here a number of idols, or functional saviors, that enslave people. I guess I could start with religion. I’m not talking faith in the God of the Bible, but that tendency toward ritual and legalism that provide us with a false sense of assurance. But I won’t.

Marriage is a frequent idol for people. They think it a refuge from loneliness, economic insecurity and hopelessness. Many single people think life would be tolerable if only they were married. Many married people live in fear of their marriage ending and don’t take the necessary steps to make that relationship healthier and godly. They so need the approval of their spouse they never say ‘no’ and live in misery because they fear a greater misery.

Connected to marriage by God, but disconnected by humanity, is sex. We live in a society of sex addicts, or idolators. Sex offers them, they think, enough pleasure to overcome the pain and boredom of life that they become enslaved. They think it offers intimacy, but forsake its intended intimacy through objectification of various kinds. It often destroys the relationships we so desperately want.

Also connect to marriage by God, and increasingly disconnected by people, is children. Many seek love from (rather than giving love to) children. They seek immortality through their children. They seek to fulfill their own failed goals through their children. Many people place intolerable burdens on their children, destroying them as a result.

We also find control. We are to subdue and rule creation- under God’s authority. But we try to play God and make everything bend to our authority. We crave control, fearing we are not sufficient to meet the challenges of unexpected events or circumstances. It destroys relationships like acid (then we wonder why the person left even as we try to manipulate them back into the relationship).

We also make a god of creation. Our idol factory hearts twist stewardship of creation into environmentalism so that the environment and/or animals become more important than people made in God’s image. People begin to sacrifice real and potential relationships on the altar of being green. They look to their pets to fill the black hole in their hearts that crave unconditional love. We should care for the environment and animals, including pets, but many give them ultimate status in their universe.

Work is another functional savior for people. (For others the avoidance of work is their idol). They seek to be utterly independent, secure and safe thru their work. It provides an ultimate meaning for them that only God is intended to have. They turn the image of God in on itself. God works, and calls us to work. It is the ordinary means of providing our needs. But in God’s providence, at times we endure hardship that we might be humble and experience grace and compassion so we will be ready to extend grace and compassion.

“A true hope looks forward to the obtaining of happiness in no other way but the way of the gospel, which is by a holy Savior, and in a way of cleaving to and following him.” Jonathan Edwards in Charity and Its Fruits

All of these things, as God gave them to us, is good! But we ceaselessly give them more importance than intended. We use them in the place of God to provide us with satisfaction, security, pleasure and even salvation. All that we have turned into functional saviors can only be returned to their rightful place as we seek all our significance, meaning, security and satisfaction from Christ. This only happens as we see the the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as Creator and Redeemer. As Jonathan Edwards argues, only when we see Christ as sufficient to bestow all the happiness we need, will we forsake other means to secure earthly happiness.

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Ben Patterson wrote a chapter entitled The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  He starts by talking about our cultures obsession with sex, relating some graffiti: “Sex makes free” and “Copulo, ergo sum” or “I copulate, therefore I am”.

Sex is certainly over-rated in our culture.  People on TV make it sound like the end all & be all of life.  It seems to be the great pursuit.  This is, as Patterson reminds us of C.S. Lewis’ ideas, the Enemy’s plan, to encourage us to twist and misuse pleasure.

God is not against pleasure- He created it.  He made our bodies in such a way that sex brings great pleasure to us.  God is pro-pleasure, including sexual pleasure.  Since Satan can’t remove the pleasure from sex, he will twist it and prompt us to mis-use it through immorality, perversion and abuse.  As Screwtape says “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”  What an apt description of addiction.

Patterson moves on to trace the idea of the Bible as a Book about Marriage and Sex.  It begins and ends with marriages.  In Genesis 2 we see Adam and Eve marrying.  In Revelation we see the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Marriage metaphors run thru many of the main themes of the Bible.  He notes Hosea’s marriage from Hades as a picture of God’s marriage with Israel.

Beyond that, the Bible is clear that sex is an area devastated by sin, and one which Jesus came to redeem.  Jesus is not out to destroy our sex lives, but to redeem them for His purposes & glory, and our greater pleasure.

Lastly, The Song of Songs is about the joy of married sex.  It is filled with numerous metaphors describing its joys and satisfaction.

But we need to build our theology of sex on solid ground.  We can quickly go off track if we don’t remain firmly grounded in what the Bible does say (and many a Christian group has gone in wrong directions).

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