The Most Hated Word in America

10 Nov

There is one word in America which is so despised that most people dismiss it offhand as a hopelessly outdated concept.  This word is so hated that most people won’t take the time to seriously consider how ignoring it has devastated our nation and individual lives.  It’s not a word that most people think of right away as a hated word, but mention it and watch the rolling of the eyes, watch the excuse making, watch the changing of the subject.  This word is opposed on so many fronts in our culture that it may never be recovered.  But its recovery may be the key to the future health of our nation.  With the normal subject matter of this blog, you may think that the word I have in mind is the Jesus.  Many people in our culture do hate Jesus, but many also love Him.

The word I am thinking of is one that people from all sectors of our society hate.  The word I am thinking of, that word which we don’t knowingly hate  but for which the whole of our society screams its disdain, is the word restraint.

As I think about almost all the problems we face as a nation, I see a failure of restraint as a central component of each problem.  Our national problem with obesity, though sometimes rooted in genetics on an individual basis, is largely a failure of restraint.  I know the extra pounds I carry are not somebody else’s fault, they are my fault for drinking to many soft drinks and eating too many cheeseburgers.  My failure of restraint is at the heart of my problem and the problems of millions of other Americans.

The massive numbers of unwed mothers, fatherless households and the horror of abortion can all be traced back to a lack of restraint.  We have become a nation that defines freedom as the throwing off of all restraint and so we have a culture filled with the bitter fruits of this philosophy.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the ones they protest against are both poisoned by their lack of restraint fueled by greed.  There is greed and corruption on both sides because restraint never gets a place at the table, whether in the board room or in the protest at the park.

The personal finances of countless families are in turmoil because of a lack of restraint.  They make enough money to have a reasonable standard of living, but they live over their heads, spending more than they can afford to get comforts they don’t really need.  It is not a requirement for every child to have a smartphone.  They are not going to die if they don’t have their own TV or video game system.  Adults will not die if they don’t get two weeks of vacation every year or if they don’t have the latest flat screen TV.

Likewise, our government is in debt due to lack of restraint.  Government officials want to keep their constituents happy so they never make the hard choices to cut spending and to shrink the size of government.  “Just say no” needs to make a comeback in Washington, not just as part of a Nancy Reagan anti-drug campaign, but as a core approach of a nation spending itself into oblivion.

The way we while away our days is fueled by a lack of restraint.  I’m talking to myself here too.  Why do we invest so much of our days in watching TV or playing video games or checking Facebook?  It’s just a lack of restraint.  When the number one app on the iPad is the game Angry Birds, you know all you need to know about our lack of restraint.

And don’t get me started about the church, which so often in our day is walking in lock-step with the world and just selling itself as another place where you can find freedom and make all your dreams come true and find your true purpose and be fulfilled.  And all of this in the worship service week after week without a word about restraint.  Somehow we have made God our servant so that He exists to fulfill our needs instead of being a people who exist to glorify Him.  We put God on our side and use Him as a motivational tool to continue in our unrestrained pursuit of self-indulgence.

I could go on and on about how the lack of restraint in our culture poisons everything, but I want to finish up by thinking for a minute about a way forward, so that restraint is no longer the most hated word in America.  Is there a way out of this culture of no restraint?

We can’t escape our culture, but we can fight it and as Christians, we should.  We must acknowledge right up front, that many times our lack of restraint doesn’t just reveal appetite, it reveals idolatry.  We may drink 8 cups of coffee a day, not because we like the flavor, but because we worship at the altar of comfort.  When we are emotionally uncomfortable, we run to coffee to feel better.  Our idol is about feeling good.  The person who overspends may value the idol of status or possessions.  Lack of restraint normally has as its end self-worship.  So we must come to terms with our idolatry if we are to have any hope of re-establishing restraint in our lives.

Second, we must remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12,  “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”  We must not move to a wrong extreme as we consider the idea of restraint.  We must not dismiss all material things.  There is a place for enjoying a good meal or a TV show or a cup of coffee.  These are God’s gifts, to be received with thanksgiving.  Where they become a trap is when we pursue such gifts without restraint.  We focus on the first phrase in verse 12 without regarding the last line, “I will not be mastered by anything.”

It comes down to our hearts.  Without the saving work of Christ, there is not much hope to recover the virtue of restraint, for our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and if we as unredeemed people follow our hearts, we will end up in a place of self-indulgence.  But when God saves us, He gives us a new heart.  We have the Holy Spirit.  We can live in ways that glorify God and resist the tendency to worship self.  God gives us the grace of restraint, not so that we would be miserable, but so that we would be holy and useful and in the end, yes, fulfilled.  For we are made to know and savor God and if we, through unrestrained self-indulgence, set our hearts on any thing else, we walk down a path to destruction.

So as a church, as Christians, let us recover the Christian virtue of restraint.  I am not calling us to all become characters in a Jane Austen novel, I’m just urging us to not buy the American lie that true happiness comes from sticking a strawberry in the Chocolate Waterfall at the Golden Corral three times a week, or having the latest this or the latest that, or that my security and hope comes from what I possess and not from Who possesses me.

A body of water flowing without restraint makes for a destructive flood.  But water flowing within restraining banks and dams can power a city or provide a beautiful place of rest and peace.  So let the word Americans love to hate, restraint, become for you a principle that guides and guards your life, so that you find usefulness and peace under the Lordship of Christ.






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