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Showing posts with label Pleasure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pleasure. Show all posts

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, Plague 8 - Locusts

The Ancient Egyptian Board Game Senet
The Ancient Egyptian Board Game "Senet"
My wife and I were watching a documentary on ancient Egypt the other day. They were excavating an Egyptian tomb and they discovered artifacts of an ancient Egyptian board game called Senet.  How cool is that?  The ancients played board games!  you can still buy and play the Senet board game they played today.

One of the marks of a successful culture (at least by worldly standards) is the ability to enjoy entertainment.  You have enough surplus time and resources to stop working just to survive and just enjoy life.  In America, we take our entertainment for granted because we are in one of the most prosperous nations in the world.  Do you realize that 99% of the people in our world today will never visit Disney World.  90% will never take a vacation to the beach or even go to an amusement park.  These are luxuries most Americans can do because we can afford them while most people in the world are too busy just struggling to survive.

God wants people to be able to enjoy life.  He said, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy…” (Exodus 20:8) And, “On that day no one in your household may do any work…” (Ex. 20:10) “For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.” (Ex. 20:11) God didn't want HIs people to have to work all the time and never have time to rest and enjoy life.

The Pharisees in Jesus' day turned the Sabbath commands into a legalistic regulations that were a terrible burden for people.  They were no fun at all.  They were always upset with Jesus because he didn't follow the Sabbath commands the way they thought he should.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  The commandment to rest on the Sabbath is one of the great gifts God gave humanity. We need to time rest. And God wants us to enjoy life. 

The ancient Egyptians were a very powerful and prosperous empire.  They had time and wealth to enjoy board games, theater, sporting events, and other entertainment.  Unfortunately, they did not appreciate God for blessing them with the resources to enjoy life.  In stead, they worshiped idols.  And through 10 plagues, God punished them for their idolatry.

When I was a child, I heard that strange sound in the trees in late summer.  It sounded like a whinning buzzing that started soft and grew louder and louder  and then was echoed in another section of trees.  I asked my mom what it was and she said they were locusts.  It wasn't until I was older that I learned they weren't locust, but cicadas.  Cicadas are not locusts but are related.  In fact, cicadas, crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, and locusts are all cousins. 

I went to a Cub Scout camp once with my dad and they had us play a game.  In the morning, the challenged us all to find a critter to bring to a critter race that evening. My dad and I found a frog.  I thought we had the race in the bag that evening with our speedy little frog when we gathered around a big circle they had drawn on the ground that evening.  We all placed our critters in the center of the circle and began yelling for our critters to go.  The first one outside of the circle would be the winner.  All the critters started moving and I thought my frog might win.  But then a lone grasshopper leaped into the air and spread it's wings and flew off into the woods never to be seen again.  In one move, the grasshopper won the race.

Locusts are the swarming phase of certain kinds of grasshoppers. Grasshoppers usually live alone, but under certain circumstances they multiply radically and become social.  They join together and create huge swarms.  

According to National Geographic, a dessert locust swarm can cover 460 square miles and pack between 40-80 million locusts into less than a square mile (18-36 billion locusts in a swarm).

To put it in perspective, a typical swarm of dessert locusts could completely cover Whitfield County in Georgia where I live and nearly half of neighboring Murray County all at once.  A typical swarm of locusts can eat 423 million pounds of vegetation per day!  And the Scripture tells us the swarm that plagued Egypt was the worst “in the history of Egypt”.  

Unconditional Surrender
It's no wonder Pharaoh and his officials want relief.  They've already endured 7 plagues and their empire is in ruins.  So Pharaoh starts bargaining with Moses.  "You can go worship your Lord in the wilderness, but who is going?"  Moses says, "We are all going--men, women, children, and even the animals."  And Pharaoh says, "No.  Only the men can go!"

Now, there's an important principle you need to understand.  You cannot bargain with God for your salvation.  Jesus came to make a way for you to be saved from sin and death, but you are only saved through surrender; and you must surrender, unconditionally.  You can't say, "Lord, I will give you this part of my life, but I'm gonna keep that part of my life for myself."  No.  That will never do.  You must give God your whole life.  Philippians 2:9-11 says, "One day, God elevated him [Jesus] to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." 

The Idol of Pleasure
Egypt was an empire with thousands of idols and false gods.  But YHWH (pronounced Yahweh), the God of the Hebrews, our God, the only true and living God, sent 10 plagues on Egypt to expose the impotence of all Egypt’s false gods so that all nations and generations would know that there is only one God—the Lord. 

We have idols today too—even in our modern world.  God designed people to worship.  Trying not to worship is like trying not to breathe.  People just can't do it.  Even if someone doesn't believe in God they will still worship something.  They will worship money or power or their country or their leaders or people they admire.  They may even worship themselves.  One of the idols we worship is pleasure and entertainment. 

Now as I said before, God wants us to have time to rest and enjoy life and have pleasure.  He commanded us to rest on the Sabbath.  This was originally not some stiff religious regulation; it was God telling His children, “You got to take some time to stop and smell the roses!” 

Work can become and idol, but so can the pursuit of pleasure.  Many in our time bow down to the idol of Hedonism.  Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence.   

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life.  God wants us to enjoy life.  But any time we take something that’s good and treat it like a godtreating it as more important to you than God, letting it absorb your heart and imagination more than God, and expecting it to give you what only God can give—we are worshiping an idol.  And idols always fail us and hurt us. 

We all want to be happy and enjoy life.  Ironically, the one thing that guarantees you will not be happy and enjoy life is if you spend all your time in the pursuit of pleasure.  You may find some fabricated, false sense of happiness.  Others may even look at you from the outside and envy your “happiness”, but that’s only because they can’t see how unhappy you are on the inside.  With hedonism, all your “happiness” is as empty and false as the impotent idols of Egypt. 

In contrast to hedonism, the two most effective ways to find the greatest real pleasure in life are to 1) be thankful, and 2) help others. 

First of all, be thankful.
Being grateful is not just the polite thing to do.  When we give thanks, it actually increases our capacity to enjoy our blessings.  You see, when we are unhappy, we often think the solution is to get more things or more experiences that will make us happy.  However, that is rarely the real solution.  Most often after we get the things or experiences we wanted, the satisfaction they give goes away so quickly and all we can think about is the next thing or experience we have to have. 

The solution is to learn to be truly thankful for what we have.  Our thankfulness magnifies the pleasure we receive from the things and experiences.  Amy Harris issued a challenge in her Youth Moment last week—to name one thing for which you are thankful each day.  That is a great habit—especially this month.  But don’t stop in November.  Be thankful every day.  Get a journal and each day write down some of the things for which ayou are thankful.  Another idea is to get a jar and some slips of paper and each day write down some things for which you are grateful and put them in the jar.  Form time to time--especially when you may be feeling down--take out your journal and read from your gratitude list.  Or dump out the slips of paper from your "gratitude jar" and read them.  You will find it cheers you up and brings your new joy. (My family does a gratitude jar all year long and we read the slips together on New Years Day after dinner.)

Second, help others.
Another great way to experience true and lasting pleasure—a pleasure that soaks down deep into your soul—is to help others.  Nothing brings joy like helping someone.  As Christmas draws nearer, we remember the old cliché--it is better to give than receive.  It's a cliché, but it's true.

Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness.[i] It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.[ii]

Don’t look at helping others as a burden you have to bear.  Carrying a heavy load doesn’t sound like fun and it won't bring you much joy either.  So help others with a cheerful heart.  It’s not some religious duty you must fulfill in order for God to love you.  God already loves you!  Think about just how much He loves you.  Now, turn around and help somebody else and you may find it is the most fun you’ve ever had. 

Holy Communion
Jesus gave us a special meal to remind us how much God loves us.  The last meal Jesus shared with His disciples--what Christians call Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist.  At the meal, Jesus took bread and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body, which is given for you." After the meal, he took a cup of wine and said, "Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  And as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me."  That meal symbolized the way Jesus would die on the cross for our sins. And every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it does three things that can help us experience true joy in this life and for all eternity.

First, it reminds us how God helped us. Jesus left the glorious perfection of Heaven to come down to our broken world. Doesn't feel good to know God loved you so much He gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life?

Second, Holy Communion offers us the opportunity to be truly thankful.  Holy Communion is sometimes called "The Great Thanksgiving," for in it we give thanks for what Christ has done.  This is not just being polite.  It is an act that increases our capacity to experience joy as we the depth of God's love that prompted Him to leave the glory of Heaven for our sakes.

Third, Holy Communion is a sacred ceremony, that God uses to empower us to help others just like Christ helped us. His Spirit fills us and enables us to love people like God loves them.  And we can help people.  And helping people brings us joy.

So, I pray today you will stop trying to find joy through hedonism--a relentless pursuit of pleasure.  Instead, turn to God and find true and lasting joy as you learn to be thankful and seek to help others the way God helped you through Jesus Christ.

[i] [1] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It's Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

[ii] Midlarsky, E. (1991). Helping as coping. Prosocial Behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, 238-264

Monday, March 16, 2015

2. Get Rid of Selfish Motives

Copyright March 10, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Mark 8:31-38

            The Season of Lent, which is the 40 day period leading up to Easter, is a great time to take stock of your life.  We derive this 40-day period from the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting as he prepared to begin his public ministry.  Fasting is depriving your physical body of food to help induce a more spiritual experience.  Some people give up food or other things during Lent to help them focus more on their relationship with God.  But the whole point is to get rid of anything in your life that distracts you from what’s most important—a pure relationship with Christ.
stock of your life.
            Last Sunday, we started a message series to help you purify your life and draw closer to Christ.  Just as we cleaned up our church building last week, we seek to clean up our lives so we can better focus on the Lord.  Last week, I encouraged you to spend more time reading the Bible.  I challenged you to start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter every day—and so read the entire Book of Matthew by Easter.  Today, I want to challenge you to get rid of selfish motives.  Let’s read together what Jesus had to say about selfish motives.

Mark 8:31-38
31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.
  • Jesus begins by explaining God’s master plan to save humanity from sin and its consequences.  Sin leads to pain and death and eternal separation from God.  When I was a kid, my church explained all this in simple terms that I could easily understand.  They said, “Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glorious standards.  And the consequences of sin are death.  When you die, you will either spend eternity in Heaven or Hell.  Because we all sin, we all deserve Hell—which is an eternal punishment you can’t even imagine.  But because God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to save us.  And if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and follow him, we will spend eternity in Heaven—where there will be no more sin or suffering or sickness or tears or death.  This salvation is made possible because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.  And here in this passage before it ever happens, Jesus explains the Master’s plan.
32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
  • Peter did not want Jesus to die.  In general, we don’t want anyone to die—especially people we love.  But let’s not pass over this too quickly or we will miss something important about Peter’s motive.  Why doesn’t Peter want Jesus to die?
    • First of all, it didn’t make sense to Peter.  His vision was too small.  People tend to have very limited perspective.  We think in terms of what’s going on in our lives, right now.  Not many of us have a greater vision to think about what will be happening ten years from now or even one year from now.  And we rarely think very much about what’s going on in other people’s lives or what will be going on in their lives in the years ahead.  We are pretty focused on ourselves in the here and now.  But God thinks in broader terms.  He sees the here and now, but also one year from now, ten years from now, and ten thousand years from now.  Consider this:  as Jesus explained his plan to his disciples in this passage 2,000 years ago, he was thinking how you would be sitting here in this church right now contemplating it.  He saw how his actions would directly affect you, your children, grandchildren and your descendants another 1,000 years from today.  But Peter’s vision was small.  And Peter didn’t want Jesus to die because Peter loved Jesus.  He didn’t want harm to come to him.  
    • Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus.  This is one type of love (from the Greek word for love: phileo—which we studied a few weeks ago).  It is a somewhat selfish kind of love.  It is more about our desires than the actual wants and needs of the one we “love.”  This is a common form of love we see throughout the world.  You see, Peter did not want to be apart from Jesus.  Maybe he even felt he couldn’t bear to be without Jesus if he died.  This kind of love is motivated more by what Peter wants than what Jesus wants or even what is best for Jesus or the world.  But the highest form of love is another Greek word often used in the Bible: Agape.  Agape is the love that abandons its own selfish desires and works for the good of others, with no conditions and without any expectation of receiving something in return.  This is the love that motivated Jesus to die on the cross for our sin.
33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
  • It might seem strange that Jesus would rebuke Peter so sternly—even calling him Satan.  Yet, Peter’s motives were selfish.  There was a type of love in him, but it was mixed with impurity too.  In fact, what Peter was doing was not much different from what Satan once did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.  When Jesus went into the wilderness fasting for 40 days in Matthew chapter 4, Satan tempted him to eat something.  “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:3)  And Satan offered to give Jesus “All the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (verses 8-9), if only Jesus would bow down and worship Satan.  Peter wasn’t asking Jesus to bow down and worship him, but he was asking Jesus to bend away from God’s perfect salvation plan in favor of Peter’s lesser, worldly desires.  In Peter’s eyes, Jesus was on the verge of a gaining the popular support of the people; couple that with Jesus’ amazing power and Peter thought they could set up an earthly Kingdom of unequaled justice and righteousness.  But this was not God’s plan.  So Jesus said to Peter almost the same thing he said to Satan in the wilderness.  “Get away from me, Satan!”  And then Jesus explains the pure motives that must guide our thoughts and actions if we are his followers.

34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
  • Jesus taught being his follower means getting rid of our selfish motives and letting Agape love motivate everything we do.  Just as Jesus was willing to lay down his own life for the sake of others, we should do what’s best for others—even if they don’t deserve it or plan to do anything for us.  What a difference it makes when you finally decide to get rid of your selfish motives and let Love guide all your actions! 

What Motivates You?
            Why do you come to church?  Why do you go to work? Why do you support your wife and kids?  Why do you do the things you do?  There are many different motives for the things we do.  And sometimes our motives are not too pure.  I suppose we would be here all day if we tried to list them all.  So I’ll just list the first four that come to mind.
The first is pseudo-love.  We already talked about how Peter “loved” Jesus and didn’t want to lose him.  I call this “pseudo-love” because it is “like” love, but it is not Agape Love (the selfless, unconditional love God wants us to practice).  It is the love of a mother who “smothers” her children—who loves them so much, she can’t give them the space they need to grow into individuals, but must hover over them at all times.  The truth is, helicopter parents practice a selfish kind of love.  Really, they are using their kids to satisfy a deep longing in their own lives.  And this is not true love.  It is not the motive God wants us to have.  And if this is the kind of love that motivates you—whether you be a helicopter parent, a jealous boyfriend (or girlfriend or just friend), or anyone who is motivated by your own intense desires for the companionship of someone else, you need to get rid of your false motive.
Another false motive is greed.  Are you motivated by your intense longing for more wealth, possessions, or power?  Do you always want to have the latest gadget, the biggest house, the fanciest car?  Do you always feel like no matter how good the stuff you already have is you always need something a little better?  These are all forms of greed, which is a powerful motivation in our society.  But God doesn’t want us to be motivated by greed.  Perhaps you need to get rid of this false motive.
Pride.  Are you overly concerned about preserving your own dignity?  Do you have an excessively high opinion of your importance?  Or conversely, are you always concerned with what others think about you?  These are all forms of pride, arrogance, vanity…  The Bible does not speak highly of pride.  Rather, Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”  Jesus listed pride as one of the vile things that comes from an evil heart—alongside adultery, greed, and wickedness (Mark 7:22).  If Pride, vanity, self-importance, or arrogance motivates your actions, it’s time to get rid of your false motives.
Control.  Do you always need to be in control?  Does everything have to be done a certain way—your way?  Do you have to be intimately involved in every decision your kids or your spouse makes?  Is it almost impossible for you to delegate responsibilities to someone else because you’re afraid they won’t do it the way you would?  Do you find it incredibly annoying to work with others as a team because you’d rather just do it your own way?  If you find it unnerving to let go of control, then it’s probably time to get rid of your false motive of control.  Let me let you in on little secret.  You are not in control anyway.  And all your annoying efforts to keep things “under control” are not pleasing to God.  It’s time to stop trying to run the world around you and learn to trust God (and other people too).
One more—pleasure.  We live in a world that says, “If it makes you happy, do it.”  “Follow your own heart.”  “Have it your way.”  It sounds harmless, but if the desire for pleasure motivates you, you need to get rid of this false motive.  God calls us to be motivated by love.  And quite often real love motivates us to do things that are not pleasurable—sometimes things that are very hard.  That’s why when we get married, we promise to love our spouse “In good times and bad times, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, until death …” I’m so Glad Jesus wasn’t motivated by the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.  For it was not pleasurable to hang on the cross for our sins.  And yet, because he loved us, this is exactly what he did.  What about you?  Perhaps it’s time to get rid of your false motives. 

            Last week, I challenged you to read your Bible more—to start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter a day.  I hope you have accepted my challenge and have been reading.  If not, it’s not too late to start today.
This week, I want to give you a new challenge to add to the one from last week.  This week, I want you to make a list of what motivates you to do the things you do.  Sit down with a pen and a piece of paper.  Prayerfully list out all the things you typically do each day.  Be specific.  Get up and take a shower, take the kids to school, go to work, talk to a friend on the phone, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, etc.  Now think deeply about why you do these various things.  What is your motive for each one?  Why do you do it?  Right down your motives for each thing.  Ask yourself:  are my motives pure?  Would Jesus be happy about my motive for doing this?  How much is this motivated by pure love (Agape)?  What motives do I need to get rid of?  How might I let my actions be guided more by love?  I challenge you to make a list this week and pray that God would help you be motivated more by love.