Author Gary Thomas explains how many Christians have come to associate pleasure with the evils of this world and reminds us that God actually created pleasure because He enjoys giving us good things. Gary encourages Christian families to make their homes a place of joy, especially for the children of the family. (Part 1 of 2)
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Husband: Um, I'm hungry. What is that wonderful smell?
Wife: They're brownies. Would you like one?
Husband: Oh, yes, I would. (Eating) That's delicious! Can I have another one?
Wife: Well, dinner's only half an hour away and I would say …
Husband: Hey, why stop with one? I'm just gonna take the whole pan.
Wife: But honey!
Husband: Tell you what; cancel dinner and make me a whole lot more of these!
End of Drama Teaser:
John Fuller: Well, maybe you're not tempted by a pan of brownies, but I'm guessing that you have some guilty pleasure that really can get you into trouble if you're not careful. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, I don't know that we've ever done a broadcast about the topic of pleasure, but we're gonna take a run at it and it may be a little uncomfortable along the way, I'm thinkin'.
Jim Daly: I'm already thinkin' it is (Chuckling). We don't talk about pleasure in a positive sense typically. It's always negative, you know.
John: Yeah, guilty pleasure.
Jim: Guilty pleasure, certainly eating chocolate, anybody identifying with that one? Or you know, getting a hamburger or a cheeseburger when you shouldn't? Those are pleasures that are pretty simple, but we want to talk about those things that are deep in our heart. And the fact is, we live in a very indulgent society today where pleasure trumps almost everything. It's all about pleasure. We want that pleasure zone met, that need within us met all the time and marketers are great at tapping that.
John: Oh, yeah, uh-hm.
Jim: I mean, are you drivin' the best car? I know you do; you buy a lot. (Laughter) Every car you buy is a used car, isn't it?
John: Yeah, I buy used cars, yes.
Jim: Well, I'm drivin' an '05 Highlander, so you know, I'm happy with that one, but people are tellin' me, "Oh, you need a nicer car."
John: Oh, yeah, it's not the latest.
Jim: It's definitely not the latest, but you know what? God created good pleasure and I think for us as Christians, we've gotta be able to identify between what is God pleasure and what is worldly pleasure. And in the Christian community, this is one area where we're not only uncomfortable, we may even be very judgmental about it. That's the other side of this and that's not a good thing either. And that's why I'm so pleased that one of our favorite guests, Gary Thomas is back with us today to help us understand a godly perspective on pleasure.
John: He's a best-selling author and speaker, a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas and he wrote a book called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling So Good?
Jim: Hey Gary, is it great to have you back.
Gary Thomas: It sounds terrible to say, it's my pleasure (Laughter) to be here, but how can I say anything else?
Jim: And you know, what, thank you for your time and thank you for how you pour into your content. I mean, it is the meat of the Word and we're so grateful to have you back on this topic of pleasure. Let me ask it this way: Why are we so muddled when it comes to pleasure?
Gary: I was as muddled as anyone and this notion of a pure pleasure, of a biblical view of pleasure literally changed my life. I think I looked at pleasure backwards as if pleasure was created by Satan, as if it's his hand tool. I think that's what most of us think. When you do a word search of pleasure, which I'm not recommending anybody do, it's amazing the sordid places it will take you.
Jim: It's the whole gamut, isn't it?
Gary: And it started to anger me that pleasure has sort of become owned by the vile, the disgusting and the perverted. And I really sensed a call that God would call us back to a pure pleasure, which I believe is the most fulfilling and satisfying kind of pleasure there is.
Jim: You believe many Christians sacrifice or deny themselves for the wrong reasons. So even if it's a good thing to deny yourself, you might be doing it with the wrong motivation. Explain that.
Gary: Well one, I think we tend to become too religious with certain things. What I often hear and what I did, I'm afraid I'll love this more than I love God. And that's a legitimate concern in one sense, but I think in another sense, we don't realize what we rob God of when we won't enjoy His gifts.
A defining moment for me was one Christmas morning when my oldest daughter was quite young. She fell in love with the American Girl doll collection. And I was steeped in ministry at that time with spending over $100 for a doll with clothes that cost more than my clothes, just wasn't in it. But the American Girl dolls, it was brilliant marketing. They sent out these 11 x 14 full-color catalogues, you know. So, it's like a foldout. My daughter would literally sleep with Samantha. She'd put her arm over. I mean, she just loved these dolls.
I got creative and I cut out some of the pictures and pasted them on cardboard with popsicle sticks, so she sort of had American Girl doll popsicle sticks.
Jim: You are cheap, dude. (Laughter)
Gary: Well, we saved up and the kids were young enough, the other kids were young enough to where they wouldn't really be able to compare prices on presents. Those are glorious years. And so, we splurged and said we're gonna get Allison Samantha, 'cause she loved to read. She loved history. She loved dolls.
And I'll never forget that Christmas Day. Allison finally picked up the box. She was always the slowest to open up her presents and I knew Samantha was in that box. I stopped what I was doing and I watched as Allison unwrapped that present and I saw the delight in her eyes. And I heard this squeal, as she realized it was Samantha. And for the rest of that day, I watched her as she played with Samantha and fed Samantha and put Samantha down and changed her clothes that cost more than my clothes. But here's the thing. I took great delight that Allison enjoyed a gift I gave her.
Gary: What would've frustrated me was not Allison enjoying the gift, but if Allison had gotten religious and said, "Dad, I'm afraid you're gonna think I love Samantha more than I love you, so I'm gonna leave Samantha in her box and just sit and talk with you." I would've said, "Honey, I paid over $100 for Samantha; you're gonna enjoy it." I wasn't threatened by her love of that doll. I delighted in her love of that doll, because I provided her with that gift. And I couldn't tell you that Christmas what I received. I don't have a clue a single gift that I received. I'll never forget that gift I gave.
Gary: That's our heavenly Father's heart. He's providing these opportunities of joy and sheer delight. He knows what we love and if it's a healthy desire, He longs to give it. And how many of us are robbing our heavenly Father of joy, becoming over-religious saying, "Well, I'm afraid you're gonna think I love it too much, so I'm just gonna ignore it?" Rather than it leading us to worship, it leads us to a false piety and self-righteousness.
Jim: Gary, you are touching on something that is so sensitive within the Christian community. You know, there's so many Christian homes where pleasure is absent. They're lifting up good things. They're not bad things to lift up you know, teaching your kids discipline and respect and responsibility and self-control. Those are good things and meaningful things, important things to teach your children, but there's not always joy in the home, because it's always concentrating on these disciplines and what's the risk of doing that? And if you take a quick inventory and you're going, "Oh, my goodness, that's my house. That's how our family's going," what do you do to inject real joy so the Father is glorified?
Gary: The risk, Jim, is seen every freshman year when these kids go off to college. I have three kids that have go[ne] through college and the stories they tell.
Jim: What do you mean by that? I mean, fill that in.
Gary: They don't know how to handle appropriate pleasure and so, they fall into illicit pleasure that are destructive, that—
Jim: A lot of them from—
Jim: --Christian homes.
Gary: --their soul, a lot of 'em from Christian homes. And let's look at our own lives. Here's how I've understood this. One of the first times I went to Houston, I live there now, but one of the first times I went there, it was August. I was speaking at a church in the morning, a different one in the evening. I said, "Well, I have to get in my afternoon run." Well, it proves I was visiting August, thinking I would go (Laughter) for an afternoon run. I came from Seattle and I had no clue what I was about to face with temperature that high and humidity that high. And I was thinkin', oh, I'm only gonna do six miles, so I don't need to carry anything to drink.
Jim: Now you're braggin'.
Gary: Well, no (Laughter), I mean, well, in Seattle, I would never carry water running six miles. Well, you just stick out your tongue and catch the rain in Seattle. So, I went off not prepared at all and after about 15 minutes, I was shocked. It felt like somebody was blowing a hairdryer down my throat. And after about 20 minutes, I passed a half-empty bottle of Coke lying in a ditch and I actually paused (Laughing), 'cause I'm thinkin', it's gross, but it's wet. I think I really need something wet. Gary, you can't step that far; you gotta keep goin'.
After 30, I was thinkin', this is life-threatening. Gary, you've gotta get something to drink. There was a mom playing with her kids in the front yard and very embarrassed, I went up. I said, "I'm not from around here. I didn't realize how thirsty I'd get. Do you mind if I drink from your hose?"
Gary: And she said, "Oh, absolutely." And I'm embarrassed, 'cause I'm interrupting them. So I turn on the hose, immediately put it up to my mouth. I know, how long had that water been sitting in the hose in that 100-degree heat? (Laughter) And I'm tasting the most bacteria-encrusted rubbery water you could imagine and there's this voice in the back of my head saying, "Gary, three hours from now, you're going to wish you were dead. The germs you're inviting, I mean, it is just horrendous what you're get[ting]." And here's the thing, I didn't care. I said, "This might be polluted water and it might make me sick. I am so thirsty, I've gotta drink now.
And I can look back and say, Gary, why would you drink polluted water? Why didn't you have self-discipline to say, no. When I think the wiser thing is, why did you let yourself get so thirsty, something that should be repugnant to you, a half-drunk bottle of Coke lying in a ditch, why did it actually become a temptation?
And I realize when I live with a thirsty soul, if I'm not enjoying soul-building healthy pleasure, I'm becoming so thirsty that I'm entirely relying on self-discipline when Satan presents an illicit pleasure. You've been working too hard. You're tired. You deserve this. And I know it's polluted. I know it might destroy my soul. I know it might destroy my integrity, affect my relationships, but I'm so thirsty, I'll drink it anyway. And usually what I used to do with discipleship, okay, let's talk about that moment; how can you say no? And instead, I realized why did you let yourself get so thirsty that something that should've been repugnant became a temptation?
And so, now I try to live my life generously, thankfully, gratefully embracing God's healthy pleasures. And I find it's one of the best defenses against illicit pleasure. And I've worked to build that with my son and my daughters. And my son says it's one of the biggest helps of his life. He said, "Dad, I grew up in a church. They always said no, no, no and here's a book that said, say, yes, yes, yes, so you're not as tempted by the things to which you should say no.
John: And the important thing, of course, is saying yes to God's design and His plans and His pleasures, not those that the world offers, not those repugnant things.
Gary: Here's the key for me. The different way the Bible uses different words, I think one of the reasons that we are so suspicious of pleasure is, you look at a couple Scriptures out of context. 1 John 2, "Do not love the world or anything in the world," and so, we say, I should just be a monk and go into my room and not love anything physical. And James says, "Friendship with the world is hatred toward God." Well, I don't want to be an enemy of God.
But the same John who wrote, "Do not love the world" in his epistle, wrote in his Gospel, John 3:16, a verse everybody knows, "God so loved the world." And you might say, well, why would He tell us not to love what God loves? So, the Greek scholars might say, well, obviously the "world" is translated the same way, but it's a different Greek word. No, it's the same word, cosmos in both cases. Well, maybe the word "love" is different. No, it's the same root word of "love."
What John is saying in his Gospel is, God loved the world as He set it up, the world that He created, the world that He said in Genesis is "good." Food to nourish, not to make us sick. Laughter to enjoy with friends, not to sarcastically tear others down. Sexual intimacy to join a husband and wife, to create new life, not for mere pleasure that could destroy souls. So, the world as God created it is good and it's to be loved.
In 1 John, he's talking about--and the context makes this clear—the world that's bent and broken and perverted--food that makes us sick, sex outside of God's relational context, alcohol that would make us drunk. Those are the kinds of things where God created those things that are abused that the Bible clearly denies. So, we have to learn, if I could put it this way, we have to learn how to appreciate the earth as God created it without loving the world as it's been bent by sin and illicit desire.
Jim: That's really well-said. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guest is Gary Thomas, his book, Pure Pleasure. Gary, for many people and there's no, I think, definitive way to clarify this, but it's the boundary question. What is one person's boundary, may be completely different for another person. So, it's even an unfair question for me to say, okay, where's the line, Gary? Because it will be different and the Lord will be working in different ways with different people.
But I need to ask it. What are those things where you know, okay, my pursuit of pleasure is now ungodly? It doesn't have to be, you know, a worldly thing. It could be just anything that gives you pleasure. Where does it become ungodly? Let's say I like to snow ski. I like to boat. I like watching football. Now Jean can tell me where that becomes ungodly, after about 12 hours of football (Laughing). But my point is, let's take it from there and work toward the more obvious.
Gary: Yeah. There are two aspects of that question; one is it inherently okay? And the Bible is clearly answering the question on that one. We have to understand that God is for us. God created us capable of pleasure because He loves us. And if He prohibits something, it's because He knows it would be destructive. So, if God is warning us away from something, it's because ultimately it will destroy us. So, clearly if it's prohibited in God's Word, that's not a healthy pleasure. That's an attack on my soul.
Jim: So, that's a non-starter.
Gary: That's a non-starter.
Jim: For Christians—
Gary: It should be.
Jim: --don't go there.
Gary: Don't go there. But the second aspect that you hinted at is the degree to which you have that. Food is a wonderful thing that we should nourish and not just to nourish. I mean, the Bible talks about banquets and feasts. And yet, the Bible also warns about gluttony, where we could eat ourselves into sickness. And so, we have to understand how that is. The same thing with recreation. I already referred, the Bible says, six days you shall work. I'm commanded to work. Work is a good thing. Work, I believe, can bring pleasure, but there's one day when I'm not supposed to work and so, a life of only recreating, I think is a less-than-pleasurable life ultimately.
But I need that time of refreshing. I … college football is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. So, those are the kinds of things where I think are appropriate. But you're right. You know, the question that becomes difficult is, when you say you love boating, you know, it's one thing to enjoy a 24-foot boat. Can you enjoy an 85-foot yacht? I mean, and those are the questions where it becomes a little bit more difficult, because the Bible doesn't always answer those for us.
Jim: Gary, sometimes the practical application of this is difficult. I mean, we don't know where those lines are. We start to judge each other in that way because we don't know necessarily where the lines are. We do that in our culture today. I mean, an obvious sinner we know, someone living in adultery, somebody who's intoxicated, someone who's not living up to their responsibilities. We know who they are. And we can become very judgmental toward those people, I think particularly those of us in the Christian community.
We may have family members that are living in some of those sinful ways and you've talked to them many, many times and they're not responding. And our heart gets a little hard about that. If they only did this and followed my advice, they would live a better life. I hope people are connecting with that.
Jim: But how do we, like Peter, having that dream about what to eat and what not to eat, think of that culture, the Jewish culture where these things were prohibited and your measure of religiosity was based on what people saw you eat. And if you ate these things that were outside the law, you were scorned. You had to go cleanse yourself from that poor judgment. We still carry some of that attitude today, don't we?
Gary: We do and one of the first I do when I get to heaven I think will shake … will be to shake Peter's hand and say, "Thank you for making it biblically explicit that I can enjoy bacon." (Laughter) I mean, for me—
Gary: --that's one of the (Laughter) great pleasures of life! Yeah, but think the way we handle this with our families, let me give a couple of real-world examples in marriage and in parenting.
I dealt with a couple one time where the husband was frustrated. He felt like the home wasn't as structured as it should be. And as we began to talk, it became clear that she was spending a couple hours a day on Facebook and then a couple hours screen time and what not. Well, we had to have a difficult conversation saying, you know what? Raising young kids is hard work and I think particularly for the younger generation they need to realize that.
If you're raising kids and being married, you don't have four hours a day to play. You don't. But here's what I said to the husband. She needs time away. You've gotta decide what is appropriate time. We settled at about around an hour. You need to say, "I will protect your hour where you don't have to be in charge of the kids. You don't have to be attending to me. You get to decide what you can do.
But I'm asking you not to go beyond that hour." Now an hour's arbitrary. It's not biblical, but we were just trying to bring some reasonable resolution to a frustrating situation where she was going ahead of time. She really didn't have four hours a day of screen time to be away. But she needed to hear her husband say, "But I'm not gonna drive you until you drop. I'm going to preserve this time of pleasure for you."
And so, when we had kids and most parents will do this now, we had regulated … we called it "screen time," whether it's a videogame or whether it's TV, whether it's that … they weren't on Facebook at their age, but is basically, this is the amount of time you can have that's appropriate. And you can spend it as you want, but then you've got other things to do. And so, we would preserve that fun time and we would try to set up fun times for 'em. We recognized, we know you need to have appropriate pleasure, but also the six and one model that's given to us through the Sabbath. Life is about working and then resting. So, we want you to work and then you can rest. We think that's a biblical life.
Jim: Hm. Gary, what you're really talking about and what we've talked about this whole half hour has been where pleasure becomes idolatry. And maybe that's the definition where it consumes you. Playing a videogame, a good game, isn't in and of itself wrong. There's nothing inherently wrong with doing that. It's when it begins to consume you and you have to do it and it becomes an idol. And that's true of what you eat, what you drink, what you wear, what you do.
Gary: Sometimes exercise.
Jim: Exercise, it can become that kind of an idol. How do we fight the temptation of idolatry?
Gary: That's why I think God gave us parents and I think why He gave us spouses. (Laughter) Seriously, I think we need objective voices. And that's where I try to listen to my wife.
Gary: You know, I've trained for 11 marathons, but she could set my schedule. She just about put her foot down when people are talking about a triathlon. She said, "Gary, I know you. I know that you may not be technically OCD, but you live in a neighborhood right next door to it."
Jim: Right. (Laughter)
Gary: "And I'm afraid I'll lose you as a husband if you're training for three sports." And I said, you know what? I think she's right. And so, I think we have to let people speak into our lives, knowing they're for us. We've gotta speak into our kids' lives. We've gotta let our spouse speak into our lives because we can easily become slaves of pleasures, because Jim, God is such a good Creator.
I mean, these pleasures are intense, whether it's adrenaline, whether it's the pleasure of taste, of touch, of sound, that a guy can think I really do need $5,000 speakers to really pick up this and the wife is, "Are you kidding me when all we've got all these other things?" If we're not letting somebody speak reason, it is so easy to become a slave to our pleasures, rather than letting our pleasures serve us.
Jim: How would you go home tonight and have that discussion with your spouse? Would you say, "Can you point out for me some areas where maybe I've slipped over into idolatry?"
Gary: Oh, I think that's a great way to put it. But in the context of what I said with this other couple and maybe make it mutual, how will we preserve what we think is essential for us in our pleasure for the sake of temptation, for the sake of having a worshipping heart toward God, for the sake of renewing our relationship? What pleasure will you help me preserve? And what pleasure do you think I'm out of bounds where I've gone too far?
Jim: Okay, let's continue that coaching though, because the answer's gonna come. I'll just use what I think my answer would be (Chuckling). I think Jean would say, well, football is a bit of a problem for you. You enjoy a lot of it and maybe you could cut back on some of it. And then of course, I might respond like, "Well, but, you know, I like it." Be my coach there. What's a better way to respond?
Gary: You like it is a good thing, but you might like something else more, having an intimate relationship with your wife, being a good dad, being successful in your vocation. And so, it's putting that pleasure in the context of what creates a full life. It's also a different issue, for instance, if you say, "Well, I like college football and I like the, you know, March Madness and I like the World Ser[ies]." I mean, if you go from one sport to another to another, but here's where I think couples can really deal with this in a very healthy way.
One wife I know had a husband who works very early hours in the morning. And he loves March Madness. I mean, college basketball for him, and he always feels a little bit guilty about it but the first day of one March Madness, he came home from work and he got home just shortly after lunch time because he does go in very early. She had his favorite chair put up with is favorite snacks and his favorite drinks and here's what she said. "You've been working so hard. You provide for us so well. You take care of me. Let me know when you run out of snacks or drinks. I just want you to have a weekend where you could really enjoy something that I know you love very much."
Now when I've said that in groups, I've had guys start drooling. I feel like I (Laughter) should pass out bibs! Now it would be a problem if he goes from March Madness then right into—
Jim: To the next weekend.
Gary: -- I've gotta catch all the, you know, training camp, but when one spouse will say, "You know what? I know you really do enjoy this and I'm going to preserve this." Maybe if he's into golf, it's the Masters. And then the guy says, "You know what? I know the Nordstrom anniversary sale comes out in July. I'm watchin' the kids all day. You could go to Nordstrom for, you know, 12 hours today. That's fine. Do whatever you want.
If we create those pockets where our spouse knows I do want to create pleasure in your life, then when they speak into us about getting out of whack, out of balance, we might be more open to listen. So, set up the conversation before you confront is what I'm trying to say.
Jim: Gary Thomas, author of the book, Pure Pleasure, we have talked about a lot of things today. You know, the sacrifice that we make that sometimes for the wrong motivations in this area of pleasure. We may give ourselves a false sense of security that we're pursuing God, when actually He's wanting to bless us. And how many Christian homes, there is a negative connotation. There's no joy and when those young people go off to college or vocationally, they leave the home, they spin out and they lose the faith for a period of time because there has been no joy in the home. And that's something that's important for all of us to make sure our homes, as Christians, are a place of joy and peace.
And then that judgment that comes in, that they, you know, I don't suffer from over-exercising (Laughing), but maybe Gary does, but you have really talked about those things. There's more to discuss though, Gary, from your book, Pure Pleasure. Can you stick with us and come back next time?
Gary: Oh, I'd love to.
Jim: Let's do it.
John: Well, I'm look forward, Gary to more insights about making pleasure a part of our parenting process at home, so my kids remember that home was fun and a loving place and maybe they'll want to come back to visit fairly often.
Now there's a lot more to Gary's book than we could possibly cover today and he talks in it about enjoying God with a new sense of freedom and delight and how to overcome temptation by pursuing true pleasure instead of that counterfeit. And you'll also rediscover the joy of serving others, especially your spouse and your children with good and godly gifts.
Learn more about Pure Pleasure, the book by Gary Thomas when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you contact us, please consider making a generous donation to Focus on the Family. We're listener supported, we depend on friends like you who believe in our mission and want to help couples build stronger marriages and empower moms and dads to enjoy their parenting journey. You want to help families grow like yours. And if you're able to make a donation of any amount today, we'll gladly send a complimentary copy of Pure Pleasure, the book by Gary, as our way of saying thank you for your generous support and it may be that you want to pass along a copy, as well.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow when we'll hear more from Gary Thomas about God's gift of pleasure, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Gary ThomasView Bio
Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children.