Jeremy Jernigan, pastor of the twelve-thousand member Central Christian Church in Phoenix, Arizona, shows readers how to redeem pleasure from a culture that abuses it in ways God never intended.
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About the Author
Jeremy Jernigan serves as an Executive Pastor at Central Christian Church in the Phoenix area. He’s a second-generation preacher with a passion for discovering and communicating truth. Jeremy has been married to Michelle for ten years and they live in Arizona with their four kids. He’s a voracious reader and has a borderline obsession for the Yankees (each of his kids have a middle name from a Yankee player).
Read an Excerpt
How the Pursuit of Pleasure Mirrors Our Hunger for God
By Jeremy Jernigan
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Jeremy Jernigan
All rights reserved.
PURSUING GOD THROUGH PLEASURE
"All get what they want; they do not always like it."
C. S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew
We hear about it, we think about it, and we look for it. Constantly.
The search for pleasure consumes our world. In our experiences and interactions with others, we search out sources of pleasure. We judge an evening's success by how much we enjoyed it. We create and keep friendships depending on whether we get something from them. We pick our hobbies based on how much pleasure we get from them. Pleasure is a fundamental ingredient of how we live.
This pleasure-driven standard has given the idea of work a negative view since it often produces little immediate pleasure. Having a job forces us to practice delayed gratification because the money we make allows us to do the things we enjoy later. Were it not for the regular paycheck, most people would not continue to work for the satisfaction from the job itself.
Consider your own job. If you learned today you had won the lottery or you received a substantial inheritance and money would no longer be an issue for you, would you continue at your current job? Would you show up at work each day not because you need the money but because you enjoy it that much?
Pleasure shapes everything. As a case in point, there is a strong chance you are currently reading this on a digital device as opposed to boring old paper. In fact, half of American adults own an e-reader device. These devices bring the pleasure of the moment to your fingertips (and sometimes make it tough to keep reading for any amount of time when you're holding a phone or tablet with so many other distracting apps).
The multitalented writer and philosopher Blaise Pascal captured this idea four hundred years ago when he used the idea of happiness to make the same point.
All men [and women] seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
The last sentence especially makes the point. Pleasure drives actions, even to the point of a person committing suicide, which is seemingly far from pleasure. When the present moment lacks pleasure severely enough, ending all future similar moments would provide him what he seeks (at least in his mind). This is a sad example of how far we will go for our sense of pleasure.
The problem arises from the average person's inability to know where to look or how to find the pleasure he craves. Our culture presents a wide variety of options to choose from, so a person never has to fret about what to try next. Yet the results of feeling pleasure are never guaranteed. Chasing after pleasure quickly becomes a vicious cycle when the consequences begin to pile up or we realize what other pleasures we've negated as a result of our choices.
Shortly before his death, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman gave an interview in which he discussed pleasure. Specifically, he talked about his realization that his pursuit of pleasure never led to his happiness. Consider his conclusion: "I think I kill pleasure. I take too much of it and make it unpleasurable ... There is no pleasure that I have not made myself sick on."
That's a heartbreaking perspective from a man who experienced many of the world's most sought-after and hard to reach pleasures. Yet his pursuit of it made him sick. It would also lead to a drug overdose that ended his life. We feel the weight and sadness of his perspective, yet we also connect with his conclusion. We've had glimpses of it ourselves. Is this normal? Is this to be expected? Is this all there is?
Where is your pursuit taking you?
In our search to experience more pleasure, we have convinced ourselves of a powerful lie — that we can have ultimate pleasure whenever and however we want it. William Temple once said, "It is much worse to have a false idea of God than no idea at all." It is no surprise many people not only have a false idea of God but also a false idea of how to enjoy the way He created us and everything around us.
Here lies the problem.
Every pleasure, from simple to complex, exists within its own limits. To experience the maximum enjoyment out of any given pleasure, we must pursue it according to its design. Despite this truth, our culture sidetracks us into creating our own realities to suit our individual wants. That's the dominant instruction in our culture today. But in doing so, we cheapen the end result we want most.
Most non-Christians view Christianity as a religion consisting of a bunch of enjoyable actions to avoid doing. The opposite is true. God created boundaries around pleasure not to keep us from enjoying life but to show us how to get the fullest experience. God alone knows how to get the most from pleasure, and it involves certain guidelines to achieve this. As a result, it is important we understand why the pursuit of pleasure is a topic of concern for us all.
One of the reasons we get messed up in our understanding of pleasure comes from a belief that pleasure itself keeps us from a right relationship with God. That's partially true. But not for the reason we think. Consider your own views. Is God the dad who turns out the lights and shuts down the party just as it gets good? Or is God the dad who opens His house to host the party? Those are dramatically different views of God, and dramatically different views of pleasure. You're going to want to highlight or underline the next sentence (seriously, it pretty much sums up the book).
By pursuing pleasure on our terms, we actually experience less of it.
That's the deception of pleasure. Further, whenever we fail to live life as designed, and subsequently settle for less pleasure, we experience isolation from God.
This topic extends further than just the idea of pleasure itself. This is a discussion on one of the critical foundations of Christianity and whether a person can accept Jesus Christ. When we strive to experience a pleasure on our terms, we want control. We see a pleasure and we pursue it the way we want to. We don't care about anyone else's opinion or how our pursuit will affect anyone else. The opposite way to approach pleasure is to pursue it the way someone else recommends us to, which can often be at odds with how we would go about attaining it. This is what we each must wrestle with when it comes to whether we trust Jesus in the pursuit of our pleasures. To experience a pleasure in a way other than how you might normally want to shows submission to someone else's authority, in this case God's.
A person might want to move toward Christianity but not want to surrender control of how he enjoys what he enjoys. He thinks if he agrees to a biblical lifestyle, then he will miss the fullness of his experiences. In reality, the only way he can enjoy a pleasurable life is through realizing that God created everything and trusting that He knows how to enjoy His creation better than we do.
How a person experiences pleasure turns out to be a fundamental part of one's journey with God, or without Him.
When discussing pleasure, we must look at it from a balanced view, careful to explore its nuanced pros and cons. Our culture has turned pleasure into a highly charged word. For some, it's sexual, bringing with it ideas of wild debauchery and unspeakable fantasies. That's often combined with a healthy dose of shame and guilt. For others, it's something unattainable, no matter how badly you want it. These people conclude this life wasn't designed for us to enjoy it. For others, it's misleading and never materializes when you expect it. It's a game where the rules seem to change and, at best, we can only hope to be lucky to grab a few moments of pleasure here and there. The list could go on and on. Each person brings his or her own views into the discussion.
Pleasure itself is not bad. In fact, it's a part of creation that is unbelievably good. And it's a lot more than sexual, although I'll spend a chapter on that later (if you've already checked it out, that may tell you something about how you view pleasure).
Pleasure is a gift from God that He left subject to our individual choices. While I'm not sure how much we can control what gives us pleasure, we can certainly control how we pursue the pleasures we find. This is where culture corrupts our thinking. We make ourselves into mini-gods of our lives and allow ourselves the right to decide the terms of our pleasures. Despite this, we still find we cannot control as much as we'd like to think we can. The alternative — trying to eradicate our desire for pleasure — isn't a realistic option either. Author Peter Rollins wrote in The Divine Magician, "The desire to rid ourselves of desire is paradoxically a pursuit of death, for it is only in a deathlike state that desire and longing can be extinguished." As Rollins illustrates, the desire for pleasure is inherent to the experience of being human. We cannot and should not attempt to squelch it. We are then left to figure out what to do with this desire.
THE BIBLE SAYS
There's an old expression that goes like this: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."
It sounds cute and makes for a perfect bumper sticker (for those who think we should attempt to capture the Divine on the extremities of our vehicle). But for most people — myself included — this expression comes up dramatically short. I also think it makes people less inclined to hear what God actually said.
Is it wrong to ask why God said what He said before we believe it?
What if the answer to that question allowed us eventually to believe what we read from God in the Bible? What if a refusal to answer this question causes a person to dismiss God's instruction who might have otherwise believed?
This is precisely what is happening all around us. Christians are watching college students leave the church en masse. The president of the Barna Research group, David Kinnaman, addressed the discontent of the younger generation in his book UnChristian by surveying sixteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds.
That's where the term "unChristian" came from. Young people are very candid. In our interviews, we kept encountering young people — both those inside the church and outside of it — who said that something was broken in the present-day expression of Christianity.
In his book The Great Evangelical Recession, Pastor John S. Dickerson offered the following sobering facts:
Multiple sources show that evangelical believers account for only 7 to 9 percent of the United States population.
Of America's 316 million residents, we evangelicals only account for about 22 to 28 million ... we lose about 2.6 million of those each decade.
To put it in international terms, there are slightly more evangelicals in the entire United States than there are Muslims in the greater metro area of Cairo, Egypt.
In separate studies Josh McDowell, LifeWay Research, the Barna Group, and secular researchers, including those at UCLA, have all landed at figures between 69 and 80 percent of evangelicals in their twenties who leave the faith.
Or consider the research quoted by James Emery White in his book The Rise of the Nones. The "nones" he refers to are Americans who claim no religious affiliation.
The number of nones in the 1930s and '40s hovered around 5 percent. By 1990 that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3 percent rise in over half a century. Between 1990 and 2008 — just eighteen years — the number of nones leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent. Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed more of the same. According to Greg Smith, the lead researcher on the project, "We've known that the religiously unaffiliated has been growing for decades. But the pace at which they've continued to grow is really astounding." It's not hard to find evidence supporting this trend in America. Those statistics above are just a few.
Despite whether those of us who are Christians care to admit it, we have major problems on our hands. More of the same will produce less of what we care about. It's time for a new conversation.
We need to talk about why God directed us to live by a particular set of guidelines instead of allowing us to make our own rules indiscriminately. Teaching someone to trust God's unique way of living often falls on deaf ears. But I've found that when we begin by looking at why, we eventually get to what. I'm not saying we can apply logic to God and He suddenly makes perfect sense. I'm saying there are enough logical answers to the why questions that suggest God knows what He's talking about. A deep trust in Jesus is often the result, but trust makes a difficult starting point.
No doubt you've had at least one person in your life tell you something you should do. Maybe it was advice about whom to go out with (or when to break it off), which career path to choose, or how to navigate one of life's many forks in the road. The advice often comes from a trusted source such as a parent, spouse, or close friend. For many of us, at least one of those people followed their advice with the phrase "because the Bible says so." The cousin to this statement, often used with the first, is "because God says so."
Trump card one and trump card two.
This argument breaks down because of perspective, not because of its truth.
Let's suppose the Bible does say what your friend claims, or it is true God has said what they credit to Him. That's all fine and well. But what if you don't believe in God or trust the Bible as reliable? No matter how close you are to the person giving the advice, the two of you will quickly experience frustration and the tension that inevitably follows two contrasting worldviews. They decided their belief based on a foundational value you don't share.
It's like expecting every kid to act according to my family's rules. In my house, it's understandable to have this expectation. I don't let other kids stand on my couch no matter what they do in their own home. But when we are with friends at a restaurant, imagine if I were to reprimand someone else's child for failing to follow my family's rules. I'd get an odd look from my friend, and we'd have an awkward discussion about why I'm disciplining his child. They have a different family code.
We accept that the expectations of parenting are unique to each family. Whether it applies to bedtimes, food, daily routines, or boundaries, we understand this intuitively. This acceptance allows us to temper expectations of others and focus on what we alone control. With this understanding we can confidently interact with other parents.
It's simple with parenting but far more complex with decisions we make as adults. Consider our standard logic, which goes something like this: other kids need not act like my kids, but other adults should act like me.
In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt used the analogy of an elephant and a rider to describe what happens. The rider represents our reason, and the elephant represents our intuition. Here, reason stands for our carefully thought-out conclusions, while intuition is our immediate gut feeling. Haidt powerfully argued that while we'd like to think our intuitions follow our reasoning, the reverse is true. Our intuitions largely shape us and then our reason tries to make sense as to why.
If you don't believe in God, then your elephant will take you in the direction of discrediting what God or what the Bible says. If the person talking to you does believe in God, her elephant is taking her in the exact opposite direction. But we don't see that part. What we usually see, and focus the conversation on, is that your reason cannot make sense out of your friend's reason and the other way around. And these conversations rarely end well.
That's because one person's intuition (Haidt's elephant) starts them with the premise that God is real and worth trusting while the other person's intuition starts them with the premise that God isn't real or isn't worth trusting. The details of the discussion (Haidt's rider) are merely the symptom of a bigger cause.
Experience teaches us to avoid having a similar conversation with that person again. So when you have enough of these moments, you eventually stop having these conversations altogether. It should come as no surprise why we consider discussing politics and religion socially inappropriate.
Excerpted from Redeeming Pleasure by Jeremy Jernigan. Copyright © 2015 Jeremy Jernigan. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue: A Tale of Two Mice,
1. The Pursuit,
2. The Angry God in the Sky,
3. Could God Really Be Good?,
4. Mattress Mambo,
5. Nine Hundred Bottles,
6. Heavy Lifting,
7. To Love a Rattlesnake,
8. Glitz, Glam, and God,
9. Competition vs. Community,
10. Mutually Inclusive,
11. The Pleasure of Choice,
What People are Saying About This
Redeeming Pleasure is a must-read. Jeremy Jernigan paints a helpful picture of the goodness of God-given pleasure and what healthy habits of 'Christian hedonism' look like in a Jesus-honoring life. --Brett McCracken, Author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters
Jeremy is addressing a subject that we desperately need to give our attention to as Christians living in an increasingly pleasure-obsessed culture. Jeremy helps us see how following Jesus and finding pleasure are related, because when you follow Jesus you will find true and lasting pleasure. --Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church and Author of Not A Fan
For those of us who want to live life to the fullest, Redeeming Pleasure shows us how, and in ways we might never expect. Full of wisdom, humor, and honesty, I'm happy to recommend Jeremy Jernigan as someone well worth paying attention to. Bruxy Cavey, Teaching Pastor at The Meeting House and Author of the Bestseller, The End of Religion
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
REDEMING PLEASURES How the Pursuit of Pleasure Mirror Our Hunger For God By: Jeremy Jernigan This journey with Jeremy will transform you. Humble hands caught my attention right away. Jeremy writes --- God lets us know that when we mess up, when we make a selfish decision when we fall on our face God is still with us he never forsakes us. If we submit to God’s way of finding pleasure, and the flavor that follows, we experience a life that exceeds our greatest expectations--- don’t settle for good enough but go for the great through God. He is thankful God doesn’t hold His presence from us if we make the wrong choices. WOW I am too!!! We’d all be lost to the Devil for sure but not with God’s grace. If you were to always act in your greatest self-interest, you would always obey God. Mark Batterson said “Remember everything good was created by God, so we should enjoy it but in the right way, the Godly ways”. You know like sex with your spouse not with a child or anything else. God wants us to experience the true depths of pleasure. I recommend this beautiful book highly. This book is a must read it will be able to transform the way you live and think. HAPPY READING!!!! I received this beautiful book free from Worthy Publishing for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review just an honest one. The opinions I have expressed are entirely my own and no one else’s. 5 Stars ISBN 9781617956119