Gods At War, Week 2 — The “Pleasure Center” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was one of those drawing from a number of places in Scripture rather than a concentrated focus on one section;
  • Was one with which I wrestled all week trying to get the internalizing and the timing down;
  • Was one of the rare ones that was OK at 8:30, good at 10, and then a train wreck at 11:30;
  • Landed at this bottom line: You will only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God.


This is your brain at rest (AV).
And this is your brain, not on drugs, but in the midst of pleasure. It LIGHTS UP. When something is enjoyable to you – something like laughter or chocolate or music (I think this is what my brain does literally every time I hear the opening of The Boys Of Summer) or when you’re first getting to know that special someone and your eyes dilate as a result (mind did), that’s what your brain does. It does the same with more intense and even dangerous pleasures involving sky diving and alcohol and drugs and sexuality. Talk about giving you a RUSH. That’s exactly what your brain does in those moments, shuts down those areas related to logic and thinking while drenching those related to emotion, sensation, and Dr. Feelgood. And it creates circuity in your brain that makes you crave a repeat of that pleasure. It’s why none of you can eat just one potato chip! I would LOVE to see a picture of your brain while … sermon listening at GS! Is it at rest or in pleasure or something else altogether?!
One other very interesting piece from all this lesson in brain chemistry and anatomy. The pleasure center, governing from the light to the heavy, the innocent to the dangerous – is adjacent to pain. It’s why some people have what to OTHERS is an inexplicable PLEASURE from painful things like cutting or bingeing & purging. So yeah, this is your brain on pleasure, in its Pleasure Center and it has this incredible ability to be tremendous or toxic in your life.
And so, since we are having a frank conversation about Gods At War, complete with the realization that there is plenty of IDOLATRY around even if very few of us have little idols in our home, do I even need to point out the obvious? Every one of these pleasures I’ve talked about – food, comfort, sex, approval, success – starts out as GOOD and each one has potential to become A GOD. Food? Good. Laughter? Good. Music? (Except: ) Good. Chill, peace? Good. Approval? Good. Sex? Good. You realize, don’t you that every one of us, no exception is here as the result of sex? God invented it so that it could create you. It’s good. And yet each one of those that LIGHT UP the Pleasure Center of the brain have the ability to turn from a good thing to the only thing; from a created blessing to a contending god. I guess you could summarize a lot of what I’m saying with this ad for chocolate (Good!): WORSHIP THE DEVIL’S FOOD. Gulp.
And when the good thing becomes a God thing, that which at first FEELS GOOD ends up FOULING UP. It ensnares. I enslaves. You know this. You live this. You live with someone who lives this. The gods of pleasure take their place on the mantle of your life, adjacent to and often victorious over the God & Father of our Lord Jesus, and once in place they are very difficult to remove. As you ponder if I’m talking about your, or someone you know, or both, ponder two questions: 1) WERE DO YOU GO TO CHILL? Oh! Food! Amazon … such sublime peace in pointing and clicking and it will be here tomorrow! Internet images. A drink just helps me … relax. And 2) WHERE DO YOU GO TO CELEBRATE? Oh, let’s eat! Let’s drink to that! Hey, I haven’t shopped online so I’ll reward myself with … click! Here tomorrow! Let me fish for this compliment cuz you can never have enough approval! Let me treat myself to some digital sexual intimacy, some that requires nothing of me in return. No messy relationship, just pleasure. Or even, that cocaine or opioid. It’s why no high is ever as intense as the first.
There’s pleasure and there’s pain and there’s isolation and financial problems and as the cycle grows the pain increases while the pleasure decreases and what used to feel good now feels awful and the gods of pleasure have you and refuse to let you go. From habit to sadness to outright addiction and it’s all around us. Ultimately, we have BIG DESIRES for small things and small desires for BIG THINGS. It’s our world and it starts here (point to brain).
At least we’ve got some company. Check Psalm 106:19-20:

At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.

READ. Now check Romans 1:24-25:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

READ. See the common word? “Exchange.” TRADE. The good becomes a god and we’ve made a trade, an epic-ally bad one, like the time the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees or the Vikings traded their whole team for Herschel Walker & the Cowboys got three Super Bowls in return. That level bad trade, only worse. We settle for big desires for ultimately small things, we maintain small desires for big things, and our brain just carries us right along and it is an historically bad trade.
And so many of you who have lived this or live this know all about WHITE KNUCKLING it. I will not drink today! I will not shop today! I will not cut! I will not do porn! I will not use food for comfort instead of nutrition! I will not behave recklessly to get approve so fleetingly! I will not, I will not, I will not and each time you fail miserably. Why? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T REPLACE SOMETHING (a god of pleasure) WITH NOTHING! (your willpower). Can’t be done!! It’s so interesting that in I Kings 18:28 when the prophets of Baal – an OT era idol who was, hello!, a pleasure god complete with temple prostitution! – are asking him in vain to light a bull on fire on Mt. Carmel, look what they do:

28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.

They cut themselves to appease him! Pleasure and pain and Baal you’re so much our god of pleasure we’re begging you w/ both! No answer comes on that day, by the way. Tuck it away.
Which is why, in light of this awful exchange, this terrible trade, a look at a marvelous pattern in Scripture is in order. Check Psalm 37:4:

Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Ah, we usually SKIP the first part and go right to the desires of the heart. Yes! But, No! Delight in the Lord. His character, his sufficiency, his invasion, his hisness, his bigness. That somehow the Pleasure Center of your brain gets soaked with all THAT. Paul picks up on all this in Philippians 1:21, a verse that is so profound for me that it is up in my office now (AV) and will be on my marker then:

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Oh my God, instead of the worst trade ever – the BIG DESIRE for SMALL THINGS – it’s a return to the right order of things. Desires rightly harnessed. BIG DESIRE FOR THE ONLY THING worthy of those desires. I stop pursuing the applause of the crowd because I have the approval of the king. His approval and marinating in his good is the pleasure that I need and that doesn’t enslave but liberates, doesn’t make hollow but makes whole.
Here it is, all you who know the gods of pleasure are killing you and that you can’t trade something for nothing: You only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God. Yes! That replaces something that kills with some-ONE who loves. A trade worth making. REFRAIN. REMOVE GODS FROM THE MANTLE YOU PLACED UP THERE, TALBOT. FORCEFULLY.
It’s kind of like the difference between surfing (AV) and water skiing (AV). What happens in surfing? The surfer seeks one momentary high after another – the search for perfect wave. It’s awesome. But even at its best, even with a great surfer, the pleasure of catching the wave (and you’re sitting on top of the world) is fleeting and momentary. Then the wave crashes and so do you and you’re on your own looking for the next one.
But water skiing? Ah, that’s different. You get up and conceivable you can go for hours. The pleasure lasts. The difference? You’re being pulled along by someone else! It’s someone else’s power! That’s what it is! It endures because the pleasure is not up to you to discover; it’s within you to celebrate! It comes from beyond, moves within and empowers for good. That’s what it’s like. REF

You’ll join what one friend calls the passionate ranks of the sexually restrained. You’ll delight not in the number of likes on Facebook but in the amount of love poured into you from heaven. You’ll not just sing it, you live it, I am who you say I am, and that’s enough, more than enough, REAL enough, that the fake and phony and illusory loses its appeal. Maybe like this man’s story (Video: Idleman vid #2, 436 lb guy now a fitness trainer at church).
You only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God.
Oh, and I know you. So many of you, now. I want that! Give me breakthrough! I want that deliverance TODAY, Talbot! I need A MOMENT? Guess what? What if you only need a MOMENT that will then prepare you for all the MOMENTS to follow? What if delighting in the Lord is this series of MASSIVELY SMALL STEPS that may start dramatically but then build consecutively. From the emotional like this in worship to the more sedate where it’s you, a journal, and the Word. For me, it includes a prayer language where – GUESS WHAT? – logic is bypassed and it’s spirit to spirit, pleasure soaking prayer. All these steps build on each other and lead to that place of deep satisfaction in God and He is more than enough, He is my joy. And when your PLEASURE IS GOD, great news: you can go to bed at night with a clean conscience (didn’t hide anything from your mate or your kids or your dog) and you’re eager to get up in the morning and do it all over again. The gods of pleasure lost their luster not because of white knuckling but because you have replaced them with something so, so much better: the pleasure of God.
You only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God.
And the best news of all. You’re pulled this way already. Remember the prophets of Baal? Cutting themselves on behalf of their god of pleasure? My God, have you thought of how different this is? A god who requires you to cut yourself for his pleasure. Baal. And yet what do we have? A God was himself cut, by whose stripes we are healed, all part of this endless pursuit that he’d be your deepest treasure and your greatest pleasure. What great news that as I ponder the cross and its power I can take pleasure in his pain because he takes no pleasure in mine.