Friday, December 21, 2012

S Detox L12 - Radioactive Relationships with Robbie Sedgeman

Radioactive Relationships

Radioactive relationships are a good topic for this time of year.  We pursue relationships around the holidays more than any other time of the year.  We go to more parties, call old friends and spend extra time with the same family that drives us crazy the rest of the year!  So, it’s a good time to step back and reflect on relationships – on healthy, mutually edifying relationships and on those radioactive ones that leave us wondering what hit us.

We have all types of relationships, from family and long-term friendships to acquaintances, neighbors and co-workers.  But there are essentially two categories of relationships:  ones that have a big influence on our lives and ones that only casually affect us.

Casual Relationships
The majority of relationships we have in terms of volume are casual relationships.  They are the co-workers or acquaintances we encounter, perhaps frequently, but we have passing conversations of little length or of small importance.  They could also be the neighbors we invite over to dinner periodically.  They may even be a sibling we call only occasionally.

These relationships add to the diversity and color of our lives.  On any given day, these relationships can add to the joy of our day or cause us agitation to no end.  And we do the same for them – we either edify their lives or we make the day more difficult for them.  We typically don’t think much about these relationships, but by sheer volume they greatly impact our days.  How we choose to interact with them can make a difference in our lives.

Who are you yoked to?
The people you are yoked to have the biggest influence on your life.  They are people you spend the majority of your time with.  Or they could be people you expend a lot of energy thinking and caring about.  They could also be people you rely upon for support and advice.  They could be family, friends, neighbors or co-workers.  Whoever they are, they influence your daily actions and the course of your life.

Think about who you are yoked to and determine if any of those relationships are unhealthy.  This is a good time to consider why you remain in the relationship.  It is so easy to make excuses for being in close relationship with unhealthy people.  Here are some of the more common excuses.

  1. Their behavior won’t impact me – I’m too strong for that.  1 Corinthians 15:33 says, ‘Do not be misled; bad company corrupts good character.’  Paul starts the verse with ‘do not be misled,’ which implies that we convince ourselves that close communion with others does not impact us.  But it does.  We are more like clay than we choose to admit.  If we start down a particular road, the wheels keep moving in that direction.  2 Timothy 2:16-17 says, ‘avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene.’  When someone has gangrene, the blood stops flowing to the infected area and then the body rots, slowing eating away at the flesh.  If we continually engage in close, ungodly relationships, we also will become polluted and slowly decay morally and spiritually.

  1. They need a good influence in their lives.  If I don’t help them, who will?  It is good to desire to help someone change their life to a positive direction.  It is loving and kind.  But the problem is that we often force our desire for change onto someone else.  Ultimately, if someone does not want to change, they won’t change.  

At best you are wasting your time.  Matthew 7:6 says, ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.’  We all have areas of sin, so this verse is not meant to be insulting.  It simply means that someone who is not open to good advice will never receive it – no matter how hard you try to persuade them.  But the verse continues with ‘If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.’  At worst, your friends will turn on you.  Or you will become like them in their behavior.

Another consideration is your motivation for wanting to help them.  Our motives are often a mixed bag.  Consider what changing the other person brings you – a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment of a perceived Christian duty or perhaps a desire to keep an old relationship even though it is no longer profitable.  What are the hidden benefits for you?

  1. Who am I to judge?  They will think I’m ‘holier than thou’ if I stop hanging out with them.  After all, Matthew chapter 7 says not to judge!  Those verses in chapter 7 talk about looking first at the plank in our own eyes before concerning ourselves with the speck in our brother’s eye.  We are called to be alert and discerning.  We are to rightly judge behaviors, starting with our own.  But what is often overlooked is that chapter 7 does not say, ‘don’t remove the speck in your brother’s eye.’  It says, ‘first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’  (Matthew 7:5) 

God calls us to righteousness in all we do, including in our relationships.  If we are truly helping someone and not being negatively influenced, we are doing well.  But if we are not positively impacting the other person, chances are extremely good that we will end up in the same position they are in.

Types of Toxic Behaviors
When someone’s behavior is consistently negative, their behavior impacts us whether we are yoked to them or casually acquainted.  There are numerous types of toxic behaviors, but here are three examples. 
Chronic Critics. The Israelites wandering in the desert fall into this category.  Nothing was good enough for them.  The chronic critic finds fault with just about everything and everyone.  Even if some good is found, there is always a ‘but’ just around the corner.  A constant focus on negativity drags down even the most optimistic person.  After awhile, you either run from them to find a breath of positive air or you end up seeing the world through the same grey eyes as the critic.

 Constant Controller.   A controller believes there is a certain way for everything and everything must proceed in that way.  They do not make way for other opinions or thoughts.  They are right.  Period.  If you spend much time with a controller, you will soon find your own sense of identity slipping away.  The next thing you know, you are asking them how you feel! 

Treacherous Tempter.  Tempters are folks who habitually engage in unhealthy and unholy behavior.  Simply being in their company can be tempting due to our sin nature.  On top of that, the tempter is most likely encouraging you to engage.  We tend to want others to do as we do because we believe it legitimizes our behavior.  Peer pressure does not stop in high school.  It follows us throughout our lives – because people feel more comfortable in sinful behavior when others are doing it, too.

Safe People
I’m sure you can add to the list of toxic behaviors as you consider your own toxic relationships.  The bottom line is that some people are safe to be around and some are not.  Here is a list of characteristics of safe people:
  • Admits their faults, takes responsibility and changes behavior
  • Open to feedback; humble
  • Earns trust and lets a relationship develop naturally
  • Deals with issues as they surface; speaks the truth in love
  • Growing
  • Appropriate emotional connecting
  • Concerned about ‘we’, not ‘I’
  • Asks for forgiveness and forgives
  • Consistent and stable
  • Confidential
  • Relates as an equal

We are not necessarily to disengage with people that fall short at times.  None of us rate 100% on the healthy and safe scale.  But being aware of these characteristics can help us identify why the relationship is – or is not – going well.  This is also a good time for self-evaluation.  Are you safe for others?  To what degree do you need to strengthen your own character?

God has given us a wonderful tool to engage with people in a healthy manner:  boundaries.  Boundaries keeps the good in and the bad out.  They are doors, not walls.  They can be opened and closed, allowing us to associate with people when it is healthy to do so or we are truly helping them, and then to close the door when their behavior becomes toxic to our lives.

God has boundaries – he often defines it with words like ‘sin’ and ‘holiness.’  God has clearly stated that those remaining in sin are not in relationship with him, but those who have been freed from sin are in intimate communion with him.  And Jesus had varying degrees of friends.  Only twelve were in his inner circle and within that, an even smaller group shared special times with him.  He was on earth as we are – with only so much time to spend.  Who are you letting into your inner circle?

God not only has boundaries, he also set boundaries for us.  Psalm 16:6 says, ‘The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.’  God has given us our families, places to live and a point in time to live.  He has also given us our genders, looks, personalities and abilities.  Sin is often born from trying to live outside of our boundaries.

His boundaries include boundaries within relationships.  As each person in the trinity has their special place, so we have our role within our various relationships.  We are to live and let others live as God directs them.  Many boundaries are crossed or not enforced because someone thinks they know what we ought to do – and we believe them!  But having healthy boundaries means having a clear identity and allowing others the same.

Standing your ground
Practicing healthy boundaries can be difficult at first because people want you to engage in their behavior and act according to their desires.  But you can set your own standards.  If you don’t, someone else will.  Healthy detachment allows us to grow and flourish according to God’s standards for our lives. 

Detachment is something we do each day.  Often times, it does not does not mean cutting off the relationship.  It means not letting the other person control our behavior.  And keeping healthy boundaries does not necessarily require an aggressive confrontation.  You can start by simply saying ‘no’ without adding explanations.  You may have to say no over and over again.  People who infringe on boundaries do not easily give up.  But, remember, no one can force us to do anything – we have choices.   For example, when people gossip, you can excuse yourself or impart something positive about the person. 

But sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to disengage with someone.  Although drastic, it is sometimes in our best interests to do so.  If someone continually causes chaos and upheaval in your life and your best efforts to change the situation are to no avail, it could be time to move on.  Pastor Craig Groeschel says it this way in his book, Soul Detox:  “We should befriend people who don’t know Christ – until they begin undermining our faith and hurting us spiritually.  Then if we can’t redefine the relationship and it becomes increasingly dangerous, we must cut off the relationship.”  That statement also applies to Christian friends who are engaging in ungodly behavior on a consistent basis with no sign of change.  Keep in mind, though, that there are varying degrees of detachment.  In extreme circumstances you may need to cut off all contact.  Most often, however, you can decrease your interaction with someone and achieve the same effect.

Boundaries – whether saying ‘no’ or disengaging from a toxic relationship – are not only good for you, but they are also good for the other person.  When you apply healthy boundaries, you give the other person an opportunity to change their behavior and their lives for the better.   Applying Godly principles is always the right thing to do – it rubs off on others without them realizing it.  It may also show them a different way – options they had never considered before.  And it is quite likely that when they are ready to change, they will come to you for help because they know you are healthy and will be concerned their best interests.  What better gift could you give a friend than that?

Above all, though, Pastor Craig Groeschel reminds us why it is important to protect ourselves within our closest relationships:  “protect yourself so you can be spiritually strong, know God intimately and share his love.  You must be spiritually healthy if you want to bring God’s healing love to a world of sick people.”

Group Work

  1. What are your family gatherings like?  Are they primarily healthy, toxic or a combination of both?  Are you looking forward to them this year or dreading them or somewhere in between?
  2. Discuss boundaries.  Can you identify when someone is invading your boundaries or you are invading theirs?
  3. Is there a specific boundary you need to set with someone this Christmas?
  4. Discuss the concept of safe people.
  5. What is your most challenging relationship this Christmas?  Is that person unsafe?  Describe their behavior toward you and what you can do to change the situation.
  6. Are you a safe person for others?  Do you invade their boundaries?  Is there an area of conduct God is calling you to change? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Soul Detox L11. Toxic "Stuff"

        MOOD POISONING– Materialism

That feeling of freedom, open highways of possibilities, has…been lost to materialism and marketing. ~Sheryl Crow

Christmas – pic of Christmas tree and gifts

Black Friday shopping, visa / master card/ Amex bills

Spender vs. Saver… Frugal/ Thrifty vs Extravagant
In Debt?...…  you don’t have to live that way!  The argument – everybody lives this way.. keeping up with the Jones’.  Dave Ramsey “Live like nobody else so you can live like nobody else”.

The Price:  (pics)
Living the cycle of work, spend, charge, work harder, spend more, charge more.
It’s a pervasive, insidious disease especially in our Western culture – we used to want (pics) the latest Barbie doll, GI Joe, baseball mitt or 10 speed bike from K-Mart.  Now kids expect (pics) ipods, cell phones – not just any cell phone – an iphone, designer clothes, designer shoes
Why?  Peer pressure – keep up with the latest trends.. have to wear the right label or you can’t hang out with the right crowd..which means you can’t sit at the ‘right’ table at lunch or go out with the ‘right’ girl/ guy for the Valentine’s dance..  Emotional need: belonging, acceptance, affirmation.  The best a parent can do is to refuse to spend the $50 for a shirt that the child will out grow in 6 months – crazy!!!
Our culture overwhelms us with toxic materialism. A lying spirit tells us that more money and better things will get us the life we desire – then, we’ll be secure, happy, significant.

(pic) like a smoker enjoying their cigarette, knowing each puff damages their lungs, many of us willingly inhale the toxic lies of materialism at the expense of our souls’ health and our effectiveness for Christ in the world. Jesus has something to say about this… “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Matt 16:26

Pic of House
People like to pretend to be rich but in reality they have nothing. Most in our current day and age are ‘house poor’…or.. they do not believe in delayed gratification.

Proverbs 13:7   “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;(A)
    another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.(B)”

Pic of car
What about those car payments? The lending institutions are more than happy to accommodate us so our payments are more manageable.. the car loans are being extended to 5 and 6 years.. what?  And the payments are still 500 plus!!  What!?  And.. of course depreciation hits the minute to drive your band spanking new vehicle off the lot. 
Pic of Hawaii
What about vacations?  Honeymoons?  Oh.. no problem.. I’ll just charge it and pay it back a little at a time.. and the honeymoon.. well. Certainly the financial gifts that are given will cover that, right?   NOT! In reality, it’s not the destination that makes the trip, but the person you’re with…..And after it’s all said and done..  how much do we end up paying for those vacations or those items? What’s the mindset?  ‘play now.. pay later’  
Recent stats:  60% of workers under 30 yrs of age have already cashed in our borrowed against their retirement. 70% of them have no money whatsoever in cash reserves. – no emergency fund.  Dave Ramsey says we need to have $1000 accessible to use for emergencies and work toward saving enough to carry us with our current bills for 6 months!  Good financial management I’d say!!!

In our spend happy society however, no one seems to ‘get it’. There is a spirit of entitlement in our day that is poisoning our 20 and 30 something generation. The mentality is ‘life is short, I want it now, I deserve it’
Rom 1:25  25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,(A) and worshiped and served created things(B) rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.(C) Amen.(D)
People reject God’s truth with its power to liberate and satisfy and instead embrace the pursuit of ‘stuff’.   Why?  Pastor Craig Groeschel says money & things make three major promises that they cannot keep:
1.    the promise of happiness
2.    …significance
3.    …security
Book “His Needs, Her Needs” – claims that women find security in finances…  NO!  our security should be found in Christ..

All 3 of the above promises are lies. Ask someone ‘does money buy happiness?’ Most, without hesitation would say no.. of course not! But if you also asked them..”do you think a little more money would make your life better?” – they would say.. yes.. of course.
More than what they say… watch what they do.. I think we’ll find that in reality they do believe the lie. Husbands break their backs to make more money, wives go into debt for that new coach purse, hair color, bracelet, etc to make their lives better. The just out of college person goes into huge debt buying that new car and paying the higher insurance rates to boot!! What about the newly weds who purchase that house that has the big walk in closet, extravagant fire place, etc…   they believe the lie – having money & stuff makes you important, successful, significant

Ok.. so what about the 3rd lie.. money and things gives me the promise of security? If we are like most people, we tend to think ‘if I just had enough money, then I’d feel secure.’ The problem is – that statement is not true. Why? Because when you get more.. you feel like you need a little more. Ask someone “How much do you need to feel safe and secure?” the most common response is ‘I just need a little bit more.’  Are we trusting money to provide more than we are trusting God?  Money and stuff will never give us the kind of inward security that only God brings.
Satan tries to use money as a substitute for God. Jesus said in Matt. 6:24 “24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.(A)
Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and power, sex, yourself.. He specifically highlighted money. Why do you think our spiritual enemy uses money to deceive us? Because money is an appealing, powerful false god. Satan will use anything to pull us away from the one true God! Satan loves it when we love and worship money. The toxic trap lures us to worship and serve created things rather than the Creator.  What does money promise? It promises what only God can provide.

Money promises happiness. True happiness, joy and peace can only come from God.
Money promises significance. Only God can make us feel and believe we are valuable/ significant.
Money promises security. Security can only be found in God – insecurity is wrestling with a spiritual problem not a financial one.

Oftentimes we trust in money – we fall into that trap/ the lie because we do not know what we already have in Christ. If you are in debt, chances are you have fallen into the trap so… the only way out is to own it. No excuses.. if you didn’t believe the lies, you wouldn’t have purchased those things that you didn’t need with money you didn’t have. Do we love, worship and serve things or God?

So now what? If we have discovered we have believed these lies, what do we do now?
1.    admit/ confess the lies you have bought into
2. change what you believe as that will change how you behave…  This is how the apostle Paul said it once he got to a place of truth in this area: Phil 3:7-8 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss(A) for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing(B) Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ(C)

“garbage’ in this translation is better translated as dung/ poop.. or even a stronger word in the original language. Bottom line – what is he communicating – all the things he thought were important are good for nothing, useless, feces.. poop! He knew the truth.. and probably found it out by experience – he has highly educated and a man of resources before Christ. He found the truth – nothing compares to the joy of knowing the Lord! The closer we get to Christ, the temptation of worldly possessions loosen thie grip and attractiveness. We finally care more about eternal things than the temporal. Charles Spurgeon said “You say, if I had a little more I should be very satisfied. You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you will not be satisfied if it were doubled”. Having more in this world does not bring fulfillment. Let’s start telling ourselves the truth:
Money & things will NEVER fulfill me.    Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”(A)

once you have done that you can…
3.start living within your means
4.    start paying off existing debt
5.    create a written budget & stick to it– tell your money where it is going to go – plan! It is a proven fact that people without a budget overspend and they have no idea where there money is actually going
6.    live the 80/10/10 principle

and .. remember this: It’s not wrong to have things. It’s wrong when your things have you.

1.    Have you ever fallen into the materialism trap at Christmas?  What is your current family traditions with regard to gift giving?
2.    Of the three false promises… which seems to be the one you get tripped up on the most?
the promise of happiness…significance…security
3.    Share some specific examples of how you see these lies being promoted in society?
4.    Comment on: Phil 3:7-8 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss(A) for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing(B) Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ(C) 
Can you relate to the Apostle Paul? What have you given up or changed your perspective on since becoming a disciple of Christ.
5.    After admitting and exposing the lies you have believed about money / materialism, what are the next steps you will take?
·        start living within your means
·        start paying off existing debt
·        create a written budget
·        live the 80/10/10 principle

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Soul Detox L10 - Cultural Toxins with Robbie Seddgeman

Cultural Toxins

Take a moment to think about what you’ve seen and heard today.  Perhaps you woke up to the alarm playing a favorite radio station.  What song woke you?  You may have turned on the TV while you were dressing.  What topic started your day?  What stores and billboards did you see while driving?  What were the attitudes of those you spent your day with - negative and gossipy or hopeful and edifying?

We are submerged in our culture whether we like it or not.  It is such a part of our lives that we typically do not pay much attention to its influence.  But it does influence us.  We cannot continually be immersed in the attitudes and actions around us without being influenced.  And the greatest danger is the culture’s subtlety.  Many of us believe we have our own thoughts and attitudes without realizing that, unless we actively engage ourselves to the contrary, our attitudes are continually shaped by the cultural norms of our society.

Satan is aware of this principle.  The Bible says that Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), so the cultures in all corners of the world are heavily influenced by Satan.  Satan’s goal is to drive you away from God.  So the cultural norms he has created will be anti-God.  Yet, interestingly, God does not tell us to isolate ourselves from society.  Instead he tells us to go into the world and influence the culture that seeks to influence us.  John 17:15  “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Crossroads of the World (map of Israel here)
Ancient Israel was seated on the ‘crossroads of the world.’    In Old Testament times, the main trade routes between north, south, east and west ran through Israel.  God intended for the peoples of the world to pass through Israel and notice a difference in the people.  Israel, like our society today, was to provide an alternative to cultural norms.  The intention was that the people of the world would notice such a good difference in Israel that they would become curious and investigate.  Israel could then point the way to God.

But Israel did not follow God’s way.  Instead Israel allowed themselves to be influenced by the cultures around them, which lead to their eventual downfall.  The societies around them worshipped foreign gods and engaged in activities God warned Israel not to participate in.  But the people of Israel allowed themselves to be infested with those cultural toxins.  This is an example and a warning to us.  Are you influencing the culture or are you allowing its toxins to infiltrate your life?

Our Interaction with Cultural Influences
Even if it were possible, the goal, as Jesus stated, is not to be removed from the cultural influences around us, but to become aware of them and turn the tide.  Romans 12:2 in the The Message says, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”  All of us have become desensitized to a certain extent, so the key is whether we will allow ourselves a fresh look at what’s going on around us and evaluate its impact on our lives. 

Cultural Spectrum
Each of us will end up on a different point in the cultural continuum, depending on our proclivities, background and experiences.  For example, just because a movie is made by non-Christians does not mean that it is an evil production.  At one end of the spectrum, some movies clearly contain non-biblical principles.  But most that we choose between are not so cut-and-dried.  Although, some Christians disagree even on that statement.  Some have hard and fast rules, such as never seeing a movie rated “R.”  Interestingly, the popular Christian movie a few years ago called The Passion of the Christ was proclaimed by many to be a must-see movie, but it was rated “R” due to the violence of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

It is ultimately up to each of us to listen to our own consciences and so determine our actions, remembering Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial.  ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when considering how actively to engage in a specific activity:
1.    Am I being entertained by sin?
2.    Is this pleasing to God?
3.    Does this lure me away from Christ?

The Problem of Pleasure
Theologian Ravi Zacharias talks of ‘the problem of pleasure.’  Have you ever considered that there is a problem with pleasure?  He suggests that the problem of pleasure is a more difficult one that the problem of pain.  Most of us can hold onto a string of hope in our pain…the hope that it will end one day and all will be well.  But what if pleasure runs dry?  What if you achieve your goals and experience many joys yet still remain empty and unfulfilled?  Solomon, arguably the wisest man who ever lived, had great success in all he did and says this in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11:
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:1 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

In his position as a successful and powerful king, he was able to pursue all the pleasures and accomplishments we dream of and yet he found it meaningless in the end.  All of us have experienced this at some point in our lives.  The job we so desperately wanted has some negatives aspects to it.  The spouse we thought would fill all our days with joy actually have some faults we need to deal with.  The car and house wear out.  The clothes become outdated.  The meal at the fabulous restaurant ended too quickly.  The movie disappointed us.  The weekend getaway is but a memory and it feels as if we never left home.

The last three words in verse Ecclesiastes 1:11 are key, ‘nothing was gained under the sun.’ ‘Under the sun’ is a Hebrew-ism, meaning that God does not play part in it.  These are pleasures pursued under the sun, here on earth, according to man’s wisdom, without input from God. 

Yet we often continue to pursue pleasure as if it can provide the peace, contentment and joy we so desire.  We look to pleasure to provide meaning in our lives.  God did design us for pleasure but not at the expense of our relationship with him.  So where we find our pleasure is key.  And when we pursue pleasure and contentment more than we puruse God, we are making idols of them and relegating Him to position number two.

Theologian Ravi Zacharias provides three principles for choosing pleasures that will keep God first in our lives and free us to fully embrace the enjoyment that God has for us.  

Pleasure Principle #1
Anything that refreshes you without distracting you from or diminishing your final goal is a legitimate pleasure.  Dr. Zacharias uses the story of Gideon’s army in Judges chapter 7 as his basis for this principle. 

God was choosing men to participate in a battle.  God told Gideon to take the men to a spring and to watch how they drank.  Most men got down on their knees and put their mouths to the water.  But other men cupped their hand, scooped up the water, brought it to their mouths and lapped it like dogs.  God told Gideon it was the latter group who would participate in the war.  The stance they took in drinking the refreshing water kept them alert and active, enjoying the refreshment yet being mindful of and ready for the next task.  They were not letting the water take their minds from the battle looming ahead of them.

But when it comes down to considering a movie to watch or a book to read, the broader question of your life’s mission may not immediately assist you in your choics.  For those moments, consider the definition of sin given by John Wesley’s mother to her son:  “If anything weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenants of your conscience, obscures your sense of God or takes away your relish for spiritual things; in short, if anything increases the authority and power of flesh over the spirit, that to you becomes sin, however good it is in itself.”  Anything that weakens your conscience and increases the power of your flesh over the spirit will detract from the completion of God’s purpose for your life.  If the details of our lives do not increasingly line up with God’s will, we will continue in a state of unrest, lacking the ability to move forward in his peace, purpose and favor.

However, in order to determine if the pleasure is distracting you from the goal, you first need to have a goal.   Knowing God’s purpose for your life and specific plans for the short-term sets the foundation from which you can determine if a pleasure is refreshing or pulling you away from your goal and God’s will.  If you have never done so, consider writing a mission statement for your life.  It will serve as a guide and a path to all that comes after it. 

Pleasure Principle #2
While with his army preparing to go into battle, David voiced his desire to have a drink from his well in Bethlehem – how refreshing that would be.  Some of his men decided to surprise David and get him that drink.  At great risk to themselves, they snuck back to Bethlehem, drew a pitcher of water from his well and brought it back to David. 

David was about to drink but stopped.  He said he could not indulge in a selfish pleasure knowing that the lives of his comrades had been in danger.  So he emptied the water onto the ground to let them know that they are of greater value to him than the fulfillment of his pleasures.

The second principle is this:  any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another is an illicit pleasure.  If David had followed this principle later in life, he would not have indulged in adultery with Bathsheba, which resulted in strained family life, which in turn negatively impacted the nation of Israel.

This principle can apply to the daily issues of life in addition to the graver ones.  Anytime we take anything that is not ours, it is an illicit pleasure:  leaving work early without permission but with pay, habitually coming home late from work until your children no longer hold onto hope that you will be at dinner, or not returning the extra $5 the cashier mistakenly gave you at the store. 

We seek peace through our pleasures, but if the pleasures are not obtained in a legitimate way, they produce harm and discontent in the lives of those we care about as well as in the consciences God has placed within us. 

Pleasure Principle #3
The last principle is best illustrated by Proverbs 25:16, “If you find honey, eat just enough.  Too much of it and you will vomit.”  Any pleasure, no matter how good, if not kept in balance, will distort reality or destroy appetite.  Ravi Zacharias gives the example of his love of playing tennis.  It gives him great delight.  But if he played tennis continually, he could not also experience the pleasure of holding his wife’s hand.

Balance is a challenge in our lives.  We have so many responsibilities and challenges that sometimes we deny ourselves pleasure.  At other times, however, perhaps in response to the stress we feel and the desire for peace, we overindulge in pleasures and they either become toxic in and of themselves or they hinder our main purpose in life.  Solomon tells us there is a time for everything under the sun – a time to weep, laugh, play and work.  If we become out of balance in any area, including pleasure, we reap the negative consequences.

Four Conclusions to Pleasure
Ravi Zacharias also provides four conclusions regarding pleasure.

1.  All pleasure must be bought at the price of pain.  With false pleasure, the price is paid after you enjoy it.  With true pleasure, the price is paid before the enjoyment. 

2.  Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure, not pain.  That next big thing that we believe will bring us joy ultimately passes and we are left empty again.

3.  The closer you get to pure pleasures, the closer you get to the heart of God.  When was the last time you did something just for the pleasure of it?  God made our bodies and minds with the ability to enjoy creation and the creativity within ourselves. 

4.  Our hearts long for an intimacy that touches both body and soul.  The cry of each human heart is to be connected.  The ultimate connection is with the One who can fill us to overflowing.  No other human can meet that need.  It is God “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  (Psalm 103:5)

Group Work

1.    Talk about cultural influences you experience that have a negative impact on you or are a source of temptation.
2.    Describe an activity you thought was innocent, but that turned out to be harmful.  Could you have anticipated its impact?
3.    Have you experienced the ‘emptiness of pleasure’?  Explain.
4.    Do you consciously think about the pleasures you indulge in?
5.    Have you ever indulged in too much of a good thing?  Explain.
6.    Are you able to just enjoy life at times?  What pleasures could you indulge in this coming week just for the sheer pleasure of it?