By John C. Miller

As I was walking my attention was caught by a book which was inside a parked car. Its title pointed to a characteristic of our day and age which set me thinking and this is what I want to share with you.
Western civilization is more and more oriented toward obtaining pleasure, enjoying life and its gratifications. Even a sweet, saying it will produce pleasure in your throat, or will cause your tie to flip, or will make you feel like Tarzan aims at inducing a man to enjoy the pleasure of that sweet or the pleasure of this cigarette or an even more destructive pleasure: drugs.
All propaganda we see and hear in the media uses the argument that we must enjoy pleasure without restrictions. Utopia of pleasure. Thus they try and sell us just a sweet or a car with the promise that if we buy their product we shall have better friends or more rest or more joy or greater sexual success. The famous slogan: "life is better with this" or "enjoy a cold drink" or "the new taste" are, after all, saying: "give yourself the treat."
In electronics the race has already begun to find the best way to produce what is known as "virtual reality." This is accomplished by having something to look through, earphones and gloves which can allow a man to be submerged in a fictitious reality. It will be like getting inside a television set in order to be with the actors, take part in their conversations and movements; in fact, being part of the scene immersed in an unreal world. These will be the video games of the future. They will try to lead the world to escape from reality to be submerged in self-complacency.
And all this in order to evade a world of truths. A world of pain. A world where one has to work; where money is insufficient to obtain all the pleasures one would like. A world of frustrations. Dreams not obtained. A world of where one gets tired, sad and unsatisfied. It leads many to the illness of the nineties. What is this illness? Depression. It is the frustration of not being able to obtain the instant gratification which man thinks he deserves.
An article in "Time" magazine said that young people are growing up with the idea that the world owes them pleasure. When they can not obtain what they want they will become an army totally prepared to submit to a world leader. The Utopia of this western materialistic system produces in today's young people the thought that "if I want it I can have it."
Today gratification is instant. With credit cards one goes out and buys. Of course after that one is immersed in mountains of debts and frustrations. The ever increasing search for pleasure has but one end.
A group of men who had been in a ship which finally sank escaped miraculously in a small lifeboat. After floating in the sea for several days under the burning sun food and water became scarce. One night, one of them, although he had properly heard all the instructions given about not drinking salt water even if he was dying of thirst, waited for the others to fall asleep and drank some anyway. Soon he died. Sea water contains seven times more water than the body can process. When we drink it we become dehydrated because our kidneys get saturated with salt. They need fresh water to counteract this. Ironically a person who drinks salt water dies of thirst.
In the same way, the covetous search for pleasure has an insatiable thirst which has no limits. It reaches incredible proportions and its end is death. The search for self-gratification is death.


What has this got to do with the church? Maybe you are saying: "Very well, but this concerns the world. I am not of the world."
Although the church does not seek pleasures, nevertheless I see the same mentality invading Christian thinking. Meetings and the things of God are taken as a means of reaching personal benefit or pleasure. God, his son and the Holy Spirit are taken as a means for gratification. If one is depressed one urgently needs to be encouraged. One wants the pleasure of a life without depression. People go to church because they need peace and that way they feel well.
Often believers are like men who go round the world looking for a more intrepid game. A certain roller-coaster is very exciting but after going on it a number of times it no longer is. Then it is necessary to look for another with an even greater drop.
The gospel is not gratification. It is the power of God for the salvation of the soul; to set us free from the power of sin and from death, that we may grow to the stature of Jesus Christ. So that when we die we may be born to the real world of glory and light where we shall reign with Christ.
When Jesus began to tell his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer in the hands of the principal priests and scribes, Peter took him aside and started to reason with him saying: "Be it far from thee, Lord." In other words, he was saying: "Be self-complacent, do not torture yourself." But Jesus said: "Get thee behind me, Satan." In other words, that thought of gratification came from hell itself. It is the same spirit which is at work in our society and is infiltrating the church.
The gospel of God is for all to be well because Jesus is with me even if it means being in prison dying of hunger. It is for all to be well with my soul not my body. It is to be well in my spirit. That is why Paul said: "I take pleasure in infirmities." (II Corinthians 12:10). I rejoice in weakness, need, persecution and anguish for Christ.
But Jesus said something else to Peter: "Thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." (Matthew 16:23). This is the same thought that invades the modern Christian church. The church does not look to God, his purposes and his will but rather looks to men.
Then Jesus said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself." This is the opposite of seeking pleasure. Jesus promised that in the world we would have tribulation. It is a promise of the Lord Jesus. Who likes tribulation? Not me. Nobody likes it. But Jesus promised that we would have it. Because if I seek my recompense here I shall not have it in heaven. And many believers in the world are selling their inheritance for earthly pleasure. Jesus said: "If you want to be my disciple deny yourself and take up your cross." A cross is something heavy. Jesus took up his cross thus doing the will of the Father.
Romans 8:17 says: "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." When I quote this verse I am not trying to tell you that you should ask God to send you tribulation. No, you must not pray such a prayer; you will have tribulation of every size and shape. I think those of us who follow God have more demons after us than those who do not have him. Why? Because flies are always after honey and at night bugs always go where there is light.
Jesus sought to please his Father, not his flesh. That is where the difference lies. Therefore he received his reward, he was made Lord of Lords and King of Kings. All the kingdoms of this world were given to him because he denied himself. Do you want to reign with him? You will have to discard the way of thinking of this world.
To follow Jesus is not easy because it means denying oneself, obeying him and suffering with him; but also reigning with him. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts ...but God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
The search for pleasure is nothing new. Solomon, the preacher, sought the way of pleasure to see where it would lead him. "I said in mine heart, go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this is also vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2).
"I said of laughter, it is mad: and of mirth, what doeth it?
"I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
"I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
"I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
"I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
"I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
"I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
"So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
"And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor.
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
Solomon tried. He tried mirth and wine, riches and pleasures, sumptuousness and luxury. He laughed with the jesters of his time to see if through joy and mirth he could reach some good end. He tried property. He bought all the household luxury items, the best screens so that by pressing a button he could see from China to Chile. And he ended up saying that laughter is madness and that pleasure is good for nothing. He pampered his flesh with wine to see if that was the answer but he did not find it there either.
Maybe he could find pleasure in architecture. So he designed a house with a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool and marble and gold all over the place. In Jerusalem I was able to see a model of his palace. Certainly he left nothing out when it came to satisfying his pleasures. There was no lack of exotic animals of every kind. He had lions chained to the sides of the ramps that lead to his golden throne. I saw them in that model.
Agriculture was not left out. Planting a seed, watching it grow, looking after it, eating the grapes and saying: "I obtained this fruit. I shall enjoy the grapes of the vine that I planted." But he received no pleasure from this, nor from the vegetable garden, nor from the beautiful gardens with the most exotic plants which he had brought from the farthest parts of the known world.
Raising cattle, this was also something not unknown to him. He was a rich landowner and all the cattle was his as far as the eye could see. He was great and increased more than all that were before him in Jerusalem and his wisdom remained with him. Could he at last say: "I have got there? I have obtained more pleasure than all that were before me in Jerusalem."


Now pay attention to his words: "Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. ...There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God." (Ecclesiastes 2:24) "...For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy."
Solomon tried everything! Then what is the answer? Jesus gave the answer: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," and "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
I Timothy 6:7 says: "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." From here we depart to another world. If this world is merely a womb, why fall in love with the umbilical cord? We shall not take it with us. No matter how comfortable the placenta may be, one day it will be separated from us. We brought nothing to this womb which is life and we shall take nothing away. We leave as naked as we came. If we have food and clothing let us be content with this.
Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I want my treasure to be Jesus, that is where I want my heart to be. When we come together I want the meeting to be a place where we can come and worship him and have fellowship with him. A place where we can give him thanks for the abundance he has given us and for looking after us so well. Let us leave aside a heart that grumbles burdened with long lists of what is still left to be done. But remember that to seek pleasure leads to death: to physical, mental and also spiritual poverty.