Fountain of Life
Everything in Moderation
Good morning Chapel family! Great to be back with you today. I have a very exciting announcement for you: beginning on Sunday morning, September 13—the Sunday after Labor Day—we will begin offering live church, outdoors at our Lincoln Park Campus. Isn’t that exciting? So we will continue with our online Campus, plus Facebook Live and YouTube—that will still be pre-recorded and shown on Sunday mornings, just like we do now. So you can continue to do church online, with the same level of quality. But for those who are comfortable with it, we’ll also have one live service every Sunday morning, outdoors. I am so looking forward to that, because I can finally stop feeling restless and useless on Sundays. And in all seriousness, I can’t wait to take that big step toward normal worship gatherings. It’s going to be really special. So join us if you’d like, starting on September 13, and continue praying for us to have wisdom to navigate this pandemic.
So I had the opportunity to take some time off with my family at the shore, and probably the highlight of that time was a special meal that we do every year. We have this long table, with about 12 or 15 people around it. And we cover the table with brown Kraft paper. And on that paper goes an amazing variety food. (Here’s a picture of this year’s feast). So no plates! Just shrimp and scallops and crab legs and lobster tail—scattered all over the table—and also chorizo and corn on the cob and potatoes and bread. And the rule is: no silverware. Just hands. I’m telling you: it’s as good as it looks.
But I actually want to focus on a particular member of our family. Our dog, Maggie. I’m pretty sure the night of that meal is also Maggie’s favorite day of vacation. Because the entire time, she hangs around the table. And I know we shouldn’t, but we give her little handouts from the table—just a little something. But with 15 people, it adds up. And then, as you could imagine, plenty of stuff fell off the table. Guess who ate that? And Maggie is like most dogs: if there’s food, she eats. Period. She doesn’t really have an off switch. And I never what have known anything was wrong. Except after dinner, while we were cleaning up, (and I hope this isn’t too graphic for church), I noticed two big piles of partially digested food on the floor. And Maggie was standing nearby, looking like this (sick dog look). She had thrown up everything. Isn’t that a heartwarming vacation story? And I know some animal right people think I’m a terrible dog owner. But there’s is a reason I told that story.
Today we finish up our summer study in the book of Proverbs. And one of the themes that rises up in Proverbs is the theme of moderation. Otherwise known as “knowing when to stop.” And here’s how I want to challenge all of us: when it comes to moderation, you and I can be a lot like Maggie. Are you with me? Whether it’s with food or something else, we can have a hard time finding the off switch. Right? And the results are painful. We all know that. What we might not realize is that living with moderation—or without it—is a deeply spiritual issue…which is why Proverbs brings it up.
So, let’s read today’s Scripture. Two passages from Proverbs; the first one is chapter 23, starting in verse 19. Hear the Word of the Lord…
19 Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path:
20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
And then Proverbs 25:16…
16 If you find honey, eat just enough—
too much of it, and you will vomit. This is the Word of God.
So, today I want to talk about two things. (Normally I have three points, but I’m practicing moderation today; only two). Let’s talk about The Problem of “Too Much,” and The Wisdom of “Just Enough.” The problem of “too much,” and the wisdom of “just enough.”
So, first: The Problem of “Too Much.” Did you notice, in the Proverbs we just read, there were three substances mentioned? It talked about wine, meat, and honey. Are any of those things evil or sinful things? No. I mean, if you’re an alcoholic or a vegetarian or a diabetic, there might be a problem. But there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wine or meat or honey. They are good things that God invites us to enjoy. And those happen to all be things you eat or drink, but you could add to that list all kinds of other things, like sports, or shopping, or even Netflix or social media. Things that we can use and enjoy.
So, what’s the problem? Look at Proverbs 23:20…Do not join those who drink…what? …too much wine. Or…do what with meat? …gorge themselves on it. Then look at Proverbs 25:16: If you find honey (like in aisle 5 at ShopRite), eat just enough—because what is it that will make you vomit? Too much of it! So the thing Proverbs is warning us about is not wine or meat or honey or sports or shopping or Netflix or Facebook; the problem is…everyone? Too much of those things. It’s when we indulge in those things, and we can’t seem to find the off switch. We’re always saying, “Just one more glass; just one more bite; just one more episode; just one more item in my shopping cart. Because after all, it is free shipping.”
The problem is not the thing; the problem is too much of the thing.
Billy Joel has a song called “I Go to Extremes.” Have you heard that song? He says, Darling I don't know why I got to extremes/Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens/And if I stand or I fall
It's all or nothing at all/Darling I don't know why I got to extremes. Can you relate to that? Normally we think of this in terms of addictions, right? And Billy Joel has had his struggles with addiction. But it’s more common than hard-core addicts. I’ve heard some people say, “I have an extreme personality. When I do something, I just go for it. I don’t hold back.” Maybe you’re like that. But even if you wouldn’t classify yourself as an extreme personality, there are probably some things in life where you have a hard time stopping.
Did you know that we Americans are famous for this? We are known around the world for excess. I first discovered this years ago when my family was living in the country of Latvia. At the apartment where we were living, the garbage truck would come around twice a week. And you didn’t just put your garbage out; you had to stand there and wait for the truck, and dump your garbage in yourself. And I’ll never forget the first time I stood out there: I was holding two huge plastic bags, stuffed with our garbage from the past few days. And everyone else—all my neighbors—were holding one little metal can, with a little handle, with about 2 gallons worth of garbage. I mean the difference was just stark. It was kind of embarrassing. I wanted to say, “I have 13 children.” But I only had one. The level of consumption and waste that I was used to was so different from the way they lived. And maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s Eastern Europe, that’s kind of a poor culture.”
Okay—how about Western Europe? They did a study recently that compared the typical portion sizes of food in Paris to the size of food in Philadelphia. Guess what they found? The portions at Chinese restaurants in Philly were 72% larger than in Paris. Wow. The typical soft drink was 52% larger in Philly. Hot dogs were 63% bigger; yogurt containers were 82% bigger! Around the world, Americans are known for demanding more and consuming more than any other place on earth: the size of our portions; the size of our cars; the size of our homes; the size of our walk-in closets. We want our stuff, and we want a lot of it.
So…I’m not trying to criticize America; all I’m saying is this: this life skill that Proverbs is teaching us—the wisdom to know when it’s enough—is probably harder for us Americans than it is for a lot of other people. When you live in a culture of excess, moderation can be extra hard.
So…why is this even a big deal? I mean, so what if you indulge too much in certain things? Isn’t that what makes life fun? Sometimes, a little bit. That night on vacation, I probably had a little too much seafood. But Proverbs is very clear that when we have a lifestyle of excess, we are creating a lot of pain for ourselves. And I think you could put that pain under a few different categories.
First, excess damages our finances. Look again at Proverbs 23:20…
20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
If you’re a person who can’t stop indulging, ultimately it will interfere with your ability to work and make money. Or you’ll spend so much on your habit—you’ll max out your credit cards to keep getting more stuff, and you’ll always feel that crush of debt.
Secondly, excess damages our health. If you don’t know when to stop eating meat or drinking wine or eating honey or staying up to watch another episode of your series, you will feel like garbage and your health will suffer.
Third, excess damages our relationships. We studied this topic in our staff small groups last week, and after the groups, Pastor Paul emailed me. And I want to read you part of his email. He said, “…at its core, a lack of moderation communicates an ‘all about me’ mindset. For example, when I want to binge-watch football on a Sunday, the relationships around me suffer…I think this is true of all lack of moderation: drinking… fitness, etc....they are all ‘me’ centered… With alcoholism, it’s so easy to see that it’s all about the person wanting relief from their personal pain, but the collateral damage to others is immense…” Really wise words. When we live in excess, inevitably it hurts others.
Fourth, excess damages our enjoyment. Why would I say that? Well, let’s use food as an example. God designed food to be enjoyable, right? But ironically, the more we eat, the less we enjoy it. David Hume said, “Nothing is more destructive to true pleasure than…excesses.” You’ve noticed that, right? The first bite is amazing; the 30th bite is almost flavorless. Rebecca DeYoung said it like this: “Gluttony…dulls our appreciation for the food we eat, the pleasure we take in eating it, those with whom we eat, and the God who created what we eat.” Isn’t that ironic? I mean, the reason you reach for more is because you want more enjoyment! But you wind up getting less. If we could only get that into our heads, right?
And then finally, and most importantly, excess damages our soul. That sounds pretty serious, but it’s true. When we over-indulge in anything—food, alcohol, sports, shopping—when we have that compulsive relationship with it and we can’t seem to stop, we are revealing something about the condition of our souls. I am absolutely convinced that over-indulgence is an attempt to fill an emptiness inside us. Frederick Buechner said, “A glutton is someone who raids the refrigerator for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.” Whew. In other words, we feel this emptiness, and we misdiagnose it. We misinterpret it. We know we’re lacking something, and we say, “Oh—I’m craving another piece of cake. That’ll fix it. I just need one more beer.” We’re trying to fill a spiritual emptiness with a physical substance. And that never works. I mean, it feels good for a while, but then the emptiness comes back stronger than ever.
Let me just pause for a moment and allow you to reflect. Because sermons are worthless if you don’t make it personal. Where in your life have things gotten out of control—where it’s starting to hurt your finances or your relationships or your body? What is the Holy Spirit whispering to your heart? See, this is, at its core, a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be fixed with spiritual solutions. So let’s turn the corner and get on the solution side of this:
Point number 2: The Wisdom of “Just Enough.” Proverbs 25:16 says if you find honey, eat just enough. It doesn’t say don’t eat it. Eat some—enjoy it! But eat just enough. Know when to stop. That’s moderation.
It’s really interesting when you study this theme throughout history, because it’s definitely not unique to Judeo-Christian thinking. The virtue of moderation is very common, for example, in Greek philosophy. On one of the pillars outside the ancient Greek temple of Apollos there was an inscription that said: “Nothing to excess.” In later Greek philosophy, that concept became known as “the golden mean,” the word “mean” meaning “average, right in the middle.” So living within the golden mean meant you have just enough of something: not too little; not too much. Some of you remember the Greek myth of Icarus. Remember the story? Icarus and his father were trying to escape this evil king. So the father made them wings out of bird feathers and wax so they could fly away from the king. And his dad told him: “fly the middle course” between the ocean waves down here and the heat of the sun up there. But of course Icarus didn’t listen to his dad; he flew way too high and the sun melted the wax off his wings, and he plunged into the ocean and drowned. All because he refused to take that middle course.
So the point is, you find this idea of moderation in other cultures and other philosophies. People throughout history have recognized that living with excess ruins us, and living with moderation enhances us. So that’s not only in the Bible. But here’s the thing: only the Bible adequately explains how to actually do it.
In our staff small groups this week, one of the verses we looked at was Ephesians 5:18…Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. So it’s a verse teaching moderation when it comes to wine: don’t drink so much that you get drunk on it, because that leads to all kinds of painful things. But it doesn’t just say what not to do, right? It tells us what to do: instead, be filled with the Spirit. One of the people in my group was Ingrid Flannery, and she said something so simple, but so profound. She said, “You know, we were built to be filled.” It was one of those things that I heard, and I wrote down immediately. We were built to be filled. We all have that hunger within us, don’t we? We were built to be filled.
So here’s what Ephesians is telling us: don’t try to fill that deep hunger you have with wine (or meat or ice cream or Facebook or Netflix or NBA playoffs or romance novels or shopping). Instead, be filled with the only thing that deeply satisfies: the Spirit of God. Because when you’re right with God—when you’re filled with his Holy Spirit—you’ll be able to use any of those things—meat or wine or ice cream or sports or shopping or romance novels (well, maybe not romance novels—I think those are always harmful)…but you’ll be able to use any of those things, but they won’t be using you. They won’t own you. And you know how you can tell? Because you’ll use them just enough. You’ll know when to stop, and you actually will.
So listen: the key to moderation is not sheer will power. The key to moderation is to figure out how to fill yourself with God so you won’t keep trying to fill yourself with other stuff. And the obvious question is: how do you do that?
Let me suggest three practical ways to live this out. Okay? Three ways.
First, Learn to feast on the Bread of Life. Look at John 6:35…Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” So what does it mean to fill our hunger with the Bread of Life? Let me use the example of overeating. For me, the time that I abuse food most often is between dinner and bedtime. I can sometimes consume an entire meal worth of food between dinner and bed. Anybody else struggle with that, or is it only me? And it’s not that I’m actually hungry; I just enjoy the feeling of eating.
So I know this might sound strange or overly spiritual…but it’s not: I’m learning that it’s possible to fill that hole that I feel—that I want to fill with Lucky Charms—it’s possible to fill that with the actual presence of Christ. It’s really simple: you’re sitting on the couch; it’s about 8:00 in the evening, a new show is about to start on TV, and you instinctively start walking to the fridge, right? But you make a decision to take God at his word. So you stand up, and you put on your running shoes, and you go downstairs to the treadmill, or you grab the dog and his leash, or you get your spouse (hopefully not with a leash), and you go outside for a walk. And as you’re getting ready, you say this quick prayer: “Lord, I am so tempted to eat right now, but I know I don’t need it; Lord, fill me with your presence and your joy and your satisfaction.” And then go. It’s not a mind game; it’s not positive thinking. It’s taking God at his Word. And I’m telling you: He will fill you. Try it.
Second, Slow Down & Savor. I’ll use the example of food again, but this applies to all the other things we’ve been talking about. When you approach food, first of all, there’s a reason that Jesus always prayed before he ate. Because when we pause and give thanks, it gives a dignity and a sacredness to the act of eating. My dog never prays before eating; she just dives in. But we’re not animals. So pray before eating.
And then, when you eat, slow down. This doesn’t come naturally for me. I come from a fast-eating family. And that’s not good. It shows disrespect for the other people at the table; you tend to overeat because you’re not letting your feeling of fullness catch up to you.
So slow down. Put down your fork between bites. I know, this is crazy. But try it: next time you’re eating with other people, take a bite, and then actually put down your fork while you chew and enjoy the food. Maybe even ask someone at the table a question. Look around. Savor the moment. Compliment the cook. Take a sip of your drink. I know, this is getting radical. But it applies to other things as well: enjoy that one cup of coffee—savor it. You don’t need three! Enjoy that one episode of the series before bed. You don’t need to watch two more. Watch the one, and then talk about it with your spouse or your friend. Slow down and savor.
And then, finally, Stop Before You Have To. See, if you go to extremes, like Billy Joel, the choice of when to stop will be taken out of your hands. Does that make sense? You won’t get to choose when to stop; you’ll have to stop. If you keep piling more food on your plate, you’ll finally be so stuffed and uncomfortable, that you’ll have to stop. It’s really interesting: in English, we say, “I’m full.” In French, they say, “I have no more hunger.” And that’s different! Think about it: your hunger is gone before your stomach is actually full. The Germans have an expression: “You need to tie off the sack before it’s completely full.” It’s just good advice, and it shows that you’re the master, and the food’s not mastering you.
If you keep drinking too much, you’ll pass out; or you’ll do something really stupid and embarrassing, or worse. And you’ll be forced to stop. If you keep shopping too much, you’ll get into crippling debt, and you’ll have to stop. Are you with me?
So Proverbs is teaching us that wise people make the choice to stop before they have to. And the most powerful way to do that is to allow your deepest hunger to be satisfied by the God who created you. Be filled with the Holy Spirit! Feast on the Bread of Life! See, we were built to be filled. So if you walk through your day in a state of emptiness, and then you see a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen table, of course you’re going to be tempted to eat 8 of them. Because you’re so empty, and you’ve got to be filled with something. But what if you had started that day by reading and meditating on Scripture? What if, when you were driving that day, you had turned off the radio and thanked God for the good things in your life? What if, earlier that day, you had called your friend who’s sick and prayed with her over the phone? What if, when you went outside to take out the garbage, and you saw the western sky lit up pink and orange with the sunset, you had stopped and silently praised God for 20 seconds? In other words, what if your soul were full of the beauty and greatness of God? And then you walk into the kitchen and see the chocolate chip cookies? You still might have one. I’d probably have two. But that would be enough. Because you were already full before you got there.
When I was growing up, my dad had a strange habit. When we were indulging in something, like coffee and dessert, my dad would say, “Give me just a taste. Just give me a tiny sliver of that cake, and give me about a quarter cup of that coffee.” And I remember as a kid thinking, “Come on dad. Loosen up and enjoy it. I’m on my third slice here.” But he would say, “No—just a taste.” I thought it was so weird. You know what I think now? It was spiritual maturity. I was watching the wisdom of moderation being lived out before my eyes. You know what else I know now? He enjoyed that cake and that coffee way more than I did. I’m grateful for that example.
Here’s the last thing I’m going to say. When you think about moderation, isn’t there a part of you that feels like it’s really boring? Like, “Oh, I’m going to be all responsible and careful.” It sounds like you’re this self-righteous, puritanical, killjoy. Right? Moderation seems boring! But here’s what I’ve realized: moderation isn’t about what you don’t do. That would be boring! Moderation is all about what you are freed to do!
Listen: you and I were put on this earth to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And when you live with moderation, you will be free to do that! It’s not about, “Look at me—I didn’t have a second piece of cake or a second glass of wine or a third hamburger!” It’s, “I’m not owned by cake or wine or burgers, because I’m owned by Jesus Christ. He’s my master, and I say no to those things so I can say ‘yes’ to him…so I can love and serve the people around me…so I can be free to live life to the fullest.
Life can be so confusing—especially in a pandemic. At a time when everything seems to be changing, let’s root ourselves in the unchanging wisdom of Proverbs. Throughout this 3,000-year-old book, wisdom is referred to as “the fountain of life”—exactly what we need when we’re exhausted, empty, and dry. Come and drink deeply from the fountain of life.