Fun Fanaticism

I remember hearing a phrase a while back which goes "Americans work hard at having fun." In fact having fun seems increasingly in this culture to be the main objective of life. The constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness has become the hedonistic pursuit of personal pleasure. And many among those who work hard have their objective as simply to make lots of money so that they can retire (hopefully as soon as possible) to spend the rest of their lives in the pursuit of their personal pleasures. In fact since pleasure seeking is the goal, they may even elect to skip working altogether with the predictable result: Pr 21:17  He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.

The pursuit of pleasure has also contributed to the breakdown of the family. Among those who elect singleness are those who do so as to live for themselves alone or perhaps pursue the pleasures of sexual immorality or the like. There are those who avoid having children to avoid unncessary interference with their pursuit of personal "happiness". So also there are those who pursued marriage solely with the expectation of personal happiness and pleasure-seeking who having lost such feeling in the relationship divorce, breaking their marriage vow, in order to "find happiness" with someone else. Or some don't even bother divorcing and just commit more overt forms of adultery.

The religious of course will generally avoid overt areas of sin. But less so these days as the philosophy of hedonism seeps into the Christian community. To accomodate the culture churches have become largely entertainment oriented with a "feel good" emphasis. The church is just a fews steps behind the world culturally and in many cases just one step behind. There are homosexual oriented churches and feministic churches and other such churches which accomodate any worldly opinion. Consider people's view of heaven. American's seem to generally think of heaven as a place where they can pursue their own personal pleasures free from restraint. But such people seldom speak of God's presence in heaven. One such example is a Robin Williams's film that came out a number of years ago called "What Dreams May Come". It presented a Godless heaven where people seek their own personal pleasures. The problem with the Biblical heaven for such people is that God is there and God is holy. When they realize that they will have to consider, "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" Is 33:14 But what is important to God in such a relationship? "Who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken." Ps 15

For the Christian "Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15 If we live for ourselves, for the seeking of our own personal pleasure, we are dead. For example, "the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives." 1Ti 5:6 Nonetheless even among Conservative Evangelicals there is a subtle strain of Hedonistic Christianity.

How should Christians view having fun? What priority should fun have in our lives? Certainly there is a good deal of freedom in the Christian life which allows us to serve God as we choose and as the Spirit leads. Of course that freedom is not a freedom to sin but rather a freedom from sin. Now Christians will often ask about whether doing particular things are sin, or where the boundary is. Recent examples I've run across have to do with drinking alchohol or getting tattoos, and I can imagine many others concerning dress and food and such. But to ask the question, "What can I get away with?" is the wrong question to ask. Paul puts it this way, "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1Cor 10:31 So the question to ask is "How does it glorify God?" Paul goes on to say, "For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." 1Cor 10:33 So another question to ask is "How will this help other people get saved?" So also in the same context he warns to not let your activity to cause other Christians to stumble. "How might this cause other Christians to stumble?"

Now let's contrast this kind of evaluation with that of hedonism. It is written, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world— the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world." 1John 2:15,16  Thus in a hedonistic worldly system one would ask, "Would this satisfy the cravings of my flesh and the lusts of my eyes?" Or "Is there something in the doing of this activity that I could boast about? Or is there something I obtain by doing this activity which I can boast about?"

We've all heard the jokes concerning recreational fanatics, such as:

My wife said I had to choose between her or fishing. I'm going to miss her.

Two men playing golf in the middle of a thunderstorm caught site of two men fishing in boat on a nearby lake. One commented "Look at those fanatical fishermen. They must be crazy to fish in a thunderstorm."

Fred got home from his Sunday round of golf later than normal and very tired. "Bad day at the course?" his wife asked. "Everything was going fine," he said. "Then Harry had a heart attack and died on the 10th tee." "Oh, that's awful!" "You're not kidding. For the whole back nine it was hit the ball, drag Harry, hit the ball, drag Harry."

I went on a ski trip recently with some Christians, two of whom categorized themselves as "ski fanatics". When people boast of being experts in a field of recreation or entertainment I'm always reminded of Isaiah 5: 22  Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks. For while drinking is allowed in moderation and is appropriate times, such as during the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus provided the wine, yet anything fleshly in excess is generally sin. Eating too much is gluttonly. Drinking too much is drunkenness. And so too, much recreation or entertainment is likewise sinful. Such people can tell you all the statistics of their field of recreation. They have all the best equipment. They devote themselves to it with their time, energy and money. They may get up early in the morning to start their devotion. Drive for hours to get to their place of devotion. Spend generously to buy their lift tickets, season passes or the like along with all the associated equipment. And their hearts are full of joy carrying out their devotion. They boast of their great accomplishments in how well they did pursuing their particular recreation or of how big a fish they landed. Or they boast of their superior equipment or how big their entertainment center is. They love their world and the things in their world. But the Bible says, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." John 12:25

It is not appropriate for Christians to ever be characterized as "Recreational Fanatics" of any kind, let alone characterizing themselves as such. For where is the boundary between a "Recreational Fanatic" and an Idolator? The apostle Paul warns the Christian community to take heed not to mind earthly things saying, "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." Php 3:18 The Christian should rather look to the next life as Paul continues his statement saying, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Php 3:20,21

Therefore "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. Jer 9:23,24


What this means practically in the Christian life is not to set your heart on earthly things, such as the pursuit of fleshly pleasures. Recreational activities should not be pursued with love and devotion as if it were a marital relationship or religious ceremony. You may like skiing or fishing or watching TV for that matter. You may have a certain preference for relaxing one way versus another. But it is not appropriate to fall in love with such things or even say that you "love" such things. They should not be the goal of your life nor the objective of your retirement. This will certainly set the Christian apart from the American hedonistic culture.

Now while Christians are not under the Mosaic Sabbath law yet nonetheless I quote a passage in Isaiah here just to get a sense of God's attitude in this matter.

Isaiah 58:13,14 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,  Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD.
There are times when we have the freedom to pursue our own pleasures, but God tested the devotion of the Israelites on a weekly basis. How might you test your own devotion to God on a regular (perhaps weekly) basis? Is simply attending church on Sunday sufficient? If you're regularly involved in some recreational activity how can you determine whether that has become an idol in your life?

Now furthermore I want to give a warning concerning "Friendship Evangelism". Christian Recreational Fanatics or borderline fanatics may try to excuse their obsession by saying that they are doing it for the glory of God in their ministry of "Friendship Evangelism". I remember talking to a Christian who had his heart set on playing golf, devoting himself to the game. He was troubled at the prospect of giving it up or playing only in moderation for the sake of Christ. But he was overjoyed when he heard about "Friendship Evangelism". Now he could pursue his fleshly desire in the name of Christ. So also after the film "Chariots of Fire" came out in which a Christian runner won a gold metal, there was a Christian on campus who gave up on the Christian Fellowship to "serve Christ playing soccer". Easy enough for Christians to find "religious reason" to justify their pursuit of fleshly pleasures.

Having Fun with all your heart?

Now I would like to bring up a verse as an example. Col 3:23a "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart" Well if that's the case doesn't that mean that we should wholeheartedly pursue our recreational activities? Shouldn't we devote ourselves to become "experts" or "fanatics" in such things? Indeed there are Christians that end up doing just that and feeling justified in doing so. But if you look at the context of the verse it's not talking about the pursuit of relaxation or recreation. It's talking about slaves obeying their masters. And if we incorporate a few more previous verses it's talking about relationships within a family. Thus it's talking about doing the hard work of fulfilling our responsibilities. It's not talking about giving ourselves over to the things our flesh desires anyhow. It's talking about serving Christ, not recreation.

How to set your heart?

In fact to serve Christ wholeheartedly may mean that we stop setting our hearts on earthly pursuits and worldly ambitions for the faster time or the bigger fish or the larger bank account. What this means practically and very simply is not to be overly joyful nor overly discourage concerning your recreational activity. If it goes well with you - don't make a big deal about it. Nor make a big deal if it doesn't go well. Let "those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." 1Cor 7:30,31

Doing such may free up your heart - your desires - to be set on heavenly things. "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." Col 3:2 "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." 1Tim 6:11 Pursue holiness with the zeal of a sports fanatic. Pick a sin - a sinful habit in your life - and devote yourself to getting rid of it. Pick an area of ministry in which you can edify the body of Christ, take initiative, volunteer, figure out not just what you can do, but how you can do it better. Get involved in a Bible study which meets on a regular basis. Get up early to feed on God's Word. Give of your time, energy and financial resources to the Lord's work and do so with a sense of "this is fun!". There will be eternal  rewards for such service. It's worth it compared to giving your life to recreational pursuits. But one last word:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2Cor 9:6,7

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