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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Enjoying the Earth Without Loving the World

Enjoying the Earth Without Loving the World

Is it wrong to experience pleasure? Many Christians assume "pleasure" and "sin" are synonymous. Others define godly pleasure so narrowly that they drastically minimize the powerful and Holy role that pleasure can play in their lives. Still others feel guilty even thinking about how to build a life of pleasure. Pastor Gary Thomas invites Christians to embrace a life of true pleasure as a pathway to obedience, worship, and service. Gary provides a theological and inspirational framework to help us cultivate the kind of life that pleases God.
Original Air Date: January 26, 2024

Preview:

Gary Thomas: There are things that are tantalizing you, enchanting and you’re standing in front of them. You think there might be bad consequences if you push that button and saying, “Don’t push it, don’t push it.” But you know just like a toddler boy, if you stay in front of those buttons, it’s not a matter of if you push them, it’s a matter of when.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, we’re taking a look at the role of pleasures, those enchanting buttons that, uh, all of us come across in life. Our speaker will be Pastor Gary Thomas and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Gary visited our campus recently and gave a really interesting message to our staff. And the title was Enjoying the Earth Without Loving the World, which is a great title. I think you’re going to find it very thought-provoking. Gary will explain how enjoying the gifts God provided us can help us reject illicit pleasure that may tempt us. Uh, this content is from Gary’s book called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?. So if you can’t stay with us, I’d encourage you to get a copy.

John: Yeah, and you can get that book from us and partner with us in ministry when you request Pure Pleasure by Gary Thomas at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800-A-FAMILY. Here now is Gary Thomas speaking to our staff on today’s Focus on the Family.

Gary: How as Christians do we face those buttons in our lives? At one point in my life I believed I face it entirely the wrong way. I thought pleasure was the problem. I thought I just had to be more disciplined to try to say no to those pleasures that tantalized me until my life was revolutionized going through scripture and seeing what if pleasure isn’t the problem? What if pleasure is part of the solution. I just need to look at pleasure in a new light.

I experienced this when, uh, I traveled to Houston for the first time. Now, I lived there for 12 years, but this is before I moved there speaking at two different churches. I did the Sunday sermons one morning and then that evening, I was speaking, uh, at another church to their staff on spiritual formation and I was training for marathons back in those days. And I was pretty legalistic and, and disciplined. If I had to do a certain run on that schedule, I was going to do it that day.

And so my schedule said I needed to run six miles that day. I knew it’d have to be in the middle of the afternoon. This was in Houston in the middle of August. But I had been traveling in air conditioned places. I knew it was hot and humid but I didn’t know what it feel like to run and I was so disciplined I’m going to do it. And then when I took off, I didn’t even carry water. I was coming from Seattle I would never carry water for a six-mile run which isn’t that far when you’re training for a marathon.

So I take off and after about a mile realized this is very different. It felt like somebody was blowing a hairdryer directly down my throat. At mile two, I passed a half empty bottle of coke lying in a ditch. I actually pause. Oh, it’s got to be so gross, but it’s wet. I think… And I, I, I said, “No, Gary, you cannot fall that far. Go on.” And so I did. I left it behind. Then at about 3 miles, I thought this is becoming life-threatening. And so I saw mom playing with their kids in the front yard and I saw they had a hose coiled up in the front yard.

So I’m so embarrassed I’m dripping wet. I walk up to her and I say, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m sorry. I’m not from around here. I didn’t realize I should be carrying water. I’m so thirsty. Would you mind if I just take a quick drink from your hose?” She was like, “Oh, sure, absolutely.” And since I’m embarrassed I want to do it right away so I turned the hose on, and immediately put the hose up to my mouth and it’s the most plastically tasting bacteria encrusted water you could imagine. And in the back of my mind there’s this foreboding warning, “Gary, you’re so going to regret this. In three hours you’re going to wish you were dead. The intestinal devastation you’re inviting to your body.”

And the other part of my brain was saying this, “I don’t care about three hours from now. I’m so thirsty right now, I’ll deal with what I feel three hours from now. I need to stop this thirst right now.” So I stand here this afternoon with bottles of water in the back, well hydrated and the thought of a half empty bottle of Coke in a ditch in the summer is disgusting. The thought that I would drink from a hose without letting it run through is, is repugnant. And I could look back and say, “Gary, why weren’t you more disciplined? Why were you even tempted by that?”

But I think a wiser approach is to say, “Gary, why did you let yourself get into a situation where you were so thirsty? What should have been repugnant became a raging temptation.” See those are the questions Christians often don’t ask. We just focus on Willpower in the moment. We don’t focus on what leads us to be so weak in the face of challenge because the reality is as Christians we are suspicious of pleasure at best. We think pleasure is the problem that the most godliest will be able to resist pleasure the most.

But what if pleasure is part of God’s solution for us to live lives of worship and gratitude, and holiness? So why as Christians do we tend to be suspicious of pleasure? Well, there are many verses that talk about not loving the world and they’re terrifying to us. John tells us in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world.” James says in 4:4 that, “To love the world is to be an enemy of God.” We don’t want to be God’s enemy. And so it would be easy to think, “I don’t want have anything to do with the world, the pleasures of the world, the joys of the world. I want to stay as far away as I can. I’m just going to sit, and pray, and meditate, and worship because it says don’t love the world.”

But let’s look at the Bible as a whole where John 3:16, the same John who wrote 1 John do not love the world wrote John 3:16 that you all know God so loved the world. So we take a step. Why, why would John in his gospel say, “God so loved the world,” and then in his epistle say, “Don’t love the world.” Why shouldn’t we do what God did? Quick answer is, well, obviously it, it’s the translation. Different words in Greek translated different ways. And I looked in the Greek New Testament and that’s not true. The exact same words, world in both verses cosmos. Love, derivative of agape. Exact same word. So what’s going on?

When John says that God so loved the world, he’s speaking about the Earth as God created it and designed it which God called very good. God created the Earth and said, “This is good.” The way the world is used theologically in the New Testament is the world that is antagonistic to God. The world that is in opposition to God. So, the Earth would be the good things that God has created to be used. The way God created them, the world is using the good things of the Earth for evil purposes.

So the call for Christians is to learn how do we enjoy the Earth without loving the world? That’s what sets us up to enjoy a life of pleasure. Paul writes in Timothy. This is so powerful, 1 Timothy 6:17. “God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” What a great verse just to do a whole sermon on. Look at God richly. He’s not a miser. He doesn’t say, “Okay, you had a pleasure three years ago. It’s time for you now. Or this is it for the month.” You see, God richly supplies us with not a couple religious things with all things. And what does he richly supply us with all things? To enjoy.

God is not anti-pleasure. God is the author and creator of pleasure. And as people made in His image and redeemed to worship and serve him, we need to accept the pleasures that God would given us. The problem is that we have taken condemnation of loving the world as condemnation of enjoying the earth and that’s where we go wrong and it sets us up for illicit pleasures for lives that are devoid of joy. And, and frankly for people who just blow up in misery rather than reflecting the beauty of a life lived in relationship with Jesus Christ.

But it leads us to ask fundamental questions. Why do you think God created this world? See, why I’m even more concerned about how you view pleasure is that I’m more concerned about how you view God because your view of pleasure directly reflects your view of God. Some people and I grew up in traditions like this. It’s like they view the world as this moral obstacle course. God created is so susceptible and to pleasure of many kinds. And the whole thing is it’s a contest to trip us up. Who can say no the most? Who has the most discipline? And so it’s like God is just testing us. “Here it is, here it is. Can’t have it, can’t touch it, can’t teach it, can’t see it, but here it is.”

It’s like we’re being tantalized. That’s one view of the world that reflects one view of God. There’s another view of the world that I think reflects the biblical reality. What if the many pleasures of this world reflect the kindness and the generosity, and the loving fatherly heart of the creator, God who says, “I’ve got delights forever more for you to taste here,” to just give you a glimpse of what you’ll know for eternity if you will just walk in a relationship with me.”

Just think how many pathways to pleasure there are in human existence? Just look at the five senses. The pleasures of sight looking at a beautiful… We, we live in a house we’re often going down to Arapahoe and it just showcases the mountains. It’s just gorgeous. And then there’s the pleasures of sound. I did a couple books with Michael W. Smith and, and we were in his car on one and he put in a CD of a record he was working on. And as you could imagine he has the best sound system in a car in a world. And man, hearing a system like that, you hear the melodies and the bass.

I mean, it was just incredible. The pleasure you get from that sound, the pleasure of smell and, and taste. But then there are the adrenaline pleasures. The intellectual pleasures of a, a problem solved. The pleasure I had last week, a little 18-month-old grandson hand in mine.

John: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly and you’re listening to Pastor Gary Thomas. And, uh, you can get more of his unique perspectives in his book called Pure Pleasure. We’ll send that to you for a gift of any amount to the ministry today. And when you donate, we’ll also include a free audio download of his entire presentation with extra content. So donate today and request those resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call us for details 800, the letter A and the word, FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s return now to more from Gary Thomas.

Gary: I still see us pit the things of the world against God rather than seeing them as leading us to God or as gifts from God. I see this with young moms as a pastor. They have this child and they’ve never experienced these emotions before they’re overwhelmed, but then they’re afraid. “Gary, is is it possible? I love my baby more than I love God.” And I want to say, “Don’t worry. He has a cure for that. It’s called adolescence.” But I don’t, I don’t want to break, I don’t want to break that spell.”

Instead I just say that’s the wrong question. Here’s the right question. Do you see your baby as a test from God or a gift from God? Do you think all that you’re experiencing is just God’s test? Can you experience these wonderful things and then just disdain it? Here’s what’s going on neurologically. They’ve shown this when a woman is nursing that child. Oxytocin is flowing from her brain and into her brain. That mother and child are all but melting into each other which makes sense to me.

God knows that baby is going to destroy her social calendar. It’s affected her body. It’s going to destroy her sleep. It makes sense that he would want to give her this neurological pop to still like this child totally upending her life. (laughs) And because of what’s going on neurochemically, she’s not going to get the same pop reading the Book of Leviticus. Right? It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love God’s word, it just means this is how God created her. It has a clear creational purpose. Why don’t you just thank God for these amazing feelings? Why don’t you just worship God that he lets you know what it is to have a mother’s love as he has a father’s love?

John Packer one of my theological mentors says this, “Contempt for pleasure so far from arguing superior spirituality is actually the sin of pride.” Pleasure is divinely designed to raise our sense of God’s goodness, deepen our gratitude to him and strengthen our hope of richer pleasures to come in the next world. So instead of seeing pleasure as a problem, start to see it as a solution. Pleasure serves our marriages. I’ve been in marriage ministry for decades and I’ve seen so many marriages begin to break down primarily when they become utilitarian.

It’s all about raising the kids and keeping up the house and getting this done or that. And, and you can coast on an enjoyment or a nice weekend together for a while. But if you wait too long, eventually your soul will cry out for pleasure. And if you can’t find it with your spouse that’s what makes you particularly susceptible perhaps to find it somewhere else.

A statistic that really shocked me I read was that 87% of men who cheat on their wives want to go back after the affair is over. Almost nine out of 10. What does that tell me as a pastor? The problem wasn’t the person they’re with, the problem was the state of the relationship. It let it become so utilitarian. They stopped feeding it with pleasure and so they, they just cried out. They felt like they had to go outside their marriage for pleasure. But what if you could say no? We need pleasure, both of us. How do we bring that into our marriage? Instead of having an affair with someone else, why don’t we have it with each other?

My wife and I had, um, when we first became empty nesters, we had a glorious six weeks where all three kids came back between jobs or education or whatnot. And so it was really fun, but we were in a house where the master bedroom is on the first floor and the kids of course would stay up later than we did. And it was six weeks and we were just kind of wanting to be a married couple again, but it was just kind of hard to find a moment. One, one afternoon we decided, “Hey, why don’t we just go to a hotel down the road?”

(laughing)

But she said, “What if somebody recognizes us?” I go, “What, what are the odds? Seriously, and go… And I don’t even care. I would be proud if somebody saw me going out with my wife in the afternoon to a hotel. So we, we (laughing) go to this hotel less than two miles from our house. There’s a woman there at the front counter and then the reception is there. And, and I go up and I’m waiting and the woman who was there in front of the counter stepped back said, “Why don’t you go first?” I said, “No, we’re not in a hurry.” “Please, no, no, I insist you go first.” Okay?

So I get up there and then she asked my name and then I don’t know why she did this. What’s your address? I’m like, “Oh, man. We’re a mile and a half down the road. You just turn right on Pin Oak left on 1463 right there.” And, and she’s talking about breakfast. “Yeah, we’re not going to need breakfast. That’s not going to be…” It was just, it’s just becoming obvious and Lisa was getting a little embarrassed. And finally, she gives me the key. And the woman who had stepped back immediately step forth said, “Pastor Thomas, I got to tell you, my kids just love it when you preach and I’m just so grateful that you don’t just talk to the adults, you bring in the young people.”

And now my wife’s face is just blatantly red. I realize there’s no romance happening, there’s going to be a homicide. I mean, I got to… And while it was a little embarrassing, here’s the thing, I would so much rather be caught having an affair with my wife than having one with yours. And isn’t that really at the heart of the issue of Ecclesiastes 9:7-9. “Go then eat your bread in happiness. Drink your wine with a cheerful heart for God has already approved your works.” Thank you Jesus for that. Enjoy life with the woman you love all the days of your fleeting life which he has given to you under the sun for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

Your marriage needs pleasure. You will find pleasure please. Find it with each other. And let me just say, husbands, if your wife is in that situation where she’s giving, giving, giving and you’re not thinking about her pleasure, you’re among the most foolish of men because she will find pleasure. It might be food, it might be a glass of wine followed by another glass of wine. It might be a late night stop on Facebook when an old boyfriend she knows she should have no business having contact with asked her to be a friend.

She would have laughed at it two years ago and now she’s horrified as her finger is hovering over the accept button. She can’t be utilitarian her entire life. Caring for her is caring for her pleasure. And guys, we’ve got to find ways to… I admit my generation we kind of look down on video games because they just weren’t that great. I was growing up Pong was invented and the big upgrade on Pong, they started playing Doubles Pong, right? So now wow, I mean, now it’s just not going to capture you like the games do today and so I’d always kind of be disdainful of it until I read the story of Curt Schilling, the famous Boston Red Sox pitcher was a Christian and a family man. A pitcher only plays once every five days. It’s a lot of downtime.

And players would often go out after the games. They had a lot of money and they would do things that Curt knew Christian men and loving husbands and fathers shouldn’t do. And that’s when he started playing video games. He says, “I wanted something at the hotel that I could look forward to so it wouldn’t even be a temptation to go out and do things that I shouldn’t look forward to.” And that’s the whole point of choosing our pleasures appropriately to serve our family, to serve our faith.

And so let me just ask if you’re struggling with a button instead of just demanding more willpower and the ability to say no, can you just ask yourself, “Am I too thirsty? Has life been just about work? Is there a holy pleasure that can replace the temptation? I’m just thrilled that I was asked to speak on this because it’s a lesson I have to learn and relearn. It struggles for two years. My, my weight keeps going up. I haven’t been able to run as much and I’ve been frustrated why is this happening? Why can’t I be more disciplined? Until I felt like God challenging me saying, “Gary, what are the pleasures in your life?”

And I realized about the only pleasure I was giving my myself is sugar. I know it’s pathetic, but I know I’m going to feel better if I eat sugar and then I take a job at a church in Highland’s Ranch that’s a quarter mile from Crumbl Cookies.

(laughing)

Crumbl Cookies is culinary crack. Right? Crumbl Cookies is where New Year’s resolutions go to die. They’re brilliant and evil at the same time. I mean, it’s just like… And so I could just say, “Okay, what about self-discipline?” Say, “Gary why are you running yourself so hard?” And, and we’re trying to look at the long-term picture. Ken mentioned we, we bought a house to renovate which is stupid to do. It was built in 1971. And every time you go into a house and open up something that was 50 years old there’s something worse behind it. And we have to replace it.

If you ever wonder because they make it sound so romantic on those 20-minute HGTV shows (laughing) you, you don’t have to spend a year like we have experienced it. You can experience it tomorrow. So I want you to go to the bank tonight, withdraw about 25% of your net worth. Just take it out, convert it into dollars. Go home, put it in your bathtub and light it on fire. All right?

(laughing)

That’s, that’s what it’s like to renovate a 50-year-old home. But here’s the reason we did it and why I have hope. I can try to say no to sugar, but I can also build up pleasure in other areas. We bought the house because it’s on the old Dry Creek Trail and I can go out in the evening on this deck that we built and read a novel and just enjoy God’s nature and somebody’s creative work. It’s on these wonderful trails, the Highline Trail that goes for miles, and miles, and miles. I’ve been married 39 years next month. We bought a hot tub. And when I wrote Pure Pleasure talked about the neurological benefits of swirling warm water, I’ve had so many couples just talk about how it gets married couples out every night and you just talk ’cause you’re sitting in the tub.

And so I do need to say no to what I think is an addiction, but the best way to say no is to say yes to pleasures that will build up my marriage, build up my soul, and lead me to worship God. And that’s just what I’m saying will happen with you. Your soul will find pleasure. You can deny it for a while. It will find it. I’m saying let’s choose pleasure. But then in the end let me say this. This is really where we wrap it up. Isn’t God good who created pleasure and made us capable of experiencing pleasure in so many ways? What does that tell us about the God we worship?

And isn’t Jesus amazing that because he paid the price for when we pursued elicit pleasures? We don’t need to have shame. We don’t need to say, “I have to spend the rest of my life hurting myself and torturing myself to make up for Jesus.” “I paid that price so you can be reconciled to me and you can enjoy this good Earth that I have made.” We are so blessed to be the people of this God and to be the followers of this savior.

John: Hmm, some great insight there from Pastor Gary Thomas on today’s episode of Focus on the Family as he was speaking to our staff.

Jim: I always learned something when Gary visits our campus and this was no exception. What a fascinating message. And if you have questions or if you want to learn more about how to enjoy the gifts God has given us, I’d highly recommend Gary’s book called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good?. It’s a much deeper dive into the subject and even includes, uh, practical exercises.

John: Yeah. And one man who reviewed the book said, “My wife and I read this out loud to each other. It’s a real eyeopener. It’s helped us to grow as Christians and to grow closer as a couple and we give it two thumbs up.” So get your copy of the book by Gary Thomas, Pure Pleasure and a free audio download of Gary’s presentation with some extra content when you call 800, the letter A and the word, FAMILY. 800-232-6459 or request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Yes. Please do get the book from Focus on the Family where the proceeds go right back into Ministry, uh, not shareholders’ pockets. We’re a nonprofit organization. We rely on your donations to make these broadcasts possible. The best way to help us is by making a monthly pledge. Jean and I do that to support the ministry. It doesn’t have to be a large amount. It’s the consistency that really helps us throughout the budget year. And when you make a monthly pledge of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Gary’s book, Pure Pleasure. And if you can’t make a monthly commitment, we get that. We’ll send the book to you for a one-time gift of any amount.

We just want to get this inspiring resource into your hands. And by the way, if you want to talk to someone about how to live out today’s message, please give us a call. Our friendly staff would love to hear your perspective and pray with you. That’s why we’re here.

John: Yeah. We’ve got a great team here that, uh, handles the phones and they would enjoy hearing from you. So just call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459 or you can donate online and request your copy of the book by Gary Thomas, Pure Pleasure at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Have a great weekend and be sure to join us on Monday when we have speaker and author, Lucille Williams. She’ll encourage you to help your child or your grandchild discover their talents.

Preview:

Lucille Williams: If one person, just one person believes in our children, it just takes one that will give them the confidence to soar and move on and do what they need to do. It just takes one person believing in them.

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Today's Guests

Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good

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