Friday, January 13, 2006

Excess and Moderation

Driving to my home one day, I followed a motorist. On a 60mph road, her speedometer maxed at 25 mph. If she neared 30mph, she slacked off the gas; she crept to her house and I crept behind her. Another road, another day, a driver whooshed by so fast—I didn’t even catch the color of the car.

I find the biblical place of moderation a good place to camp. Today’s column will tackle the hindering habit of excess. According to the Encarta Dictionary, excess or surplus is “an amount or quantity beyond what is considered normal or substantial.” Excess behavior or an attitude “goes beyond what is socially or morally acceptable, or beyond what is good for somebody’s health or well-being.”

Almost anything in life can be taken to the extreme. A variety of average experiences can become excess either in the plus or minus column. For instance eating—one can eat too little and too much. Binging and purging are both excessive behaviors and may result in severe health problems. Money can be hoarded or worshiped, squeezed or squandered.

Other extremes include those who abide by stringent self-made rules, while their counter citizens stick decals on shirts and cars saying, “Rules—made to be broken.” One may take a vow of silence, while another uploads 1,000 songs to an Apple iPod and tunes out the world. Teetotalers and alcoholics thirst on opposite ends of moderation.

The key to moderation is to follow God’s lead. Solomon wrote “The man who fears God avoids all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Extremes hinder. He explained, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself . . . Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?” (7:16, 17). Excesses can shatter the good life.

When Jesus, meaning Savior in Greek, came to earth, he came to rescue us—to rescue us from ourselves. He came to show us moderation and good extremes, and he patterned both.

A prime example of moderation is Jesus’ associations. He didn’t exclusively cohort with the rich and famous, nor did he only align himself with victims of poverty. He befriended everyone no matter their life positions.

Jesus cautioned against judging another person’s choices to the left or right of moderation. John the Baptizer led an austere life, shaped by prayer and fasting. On the days he lived in the wilderness, he ate locusts and honey. (My husband thinks he caught a rabbit now and then.)

Jesus said because John fasted and didn’t drink alcohol, people said, “He has a demon” or he was crazy (Matthew 11:18). The Son of Man, Jesus, fasted and feasted, and they said about him, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (11:19).

Jesus finished up his teachings on that day with these words, “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Or as Eugene Peterson says in the contemporary language The Message, “Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they?” God is a better judge of life behaviors.

The scales of life found Jesus balanced. He practiced good extremism, and was excessive and lavish in his love for God and fellowmen. To follow Jesus, live a moderate life, and don’t set limits on loving God and his children. Go all out.

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