Monday, October 24, 2016

Living a Balanced Life

“Love thy neighbor as thyself”
It seems our culture so stresses “love yourself” first; it’s even taught to our kids in schools --- although the word love isn’t often used there, instead they’re taught about “rights”.  Love is something freely given to another; “rights” must be en-forced to be given to us.  Now, loving yourself is not a bad thing; Jesus and His Spirit is present in each of us; it’s what makes human life so important versus other animal life.  We were each created in God’s image.  Loving that image is proper, but that commandment (above) notes that we are not to love ourselves alone.  And, as the commandment puts in proper sequence, our neighbor should come first.  But loving ourselves is a natural thing, and loving our neighbor is not, so the commandment says seek to put him first, to help put a proper balance in your life and your actions.
The culture we live in should help us to put a proper balance in how we love our neighbor versus how we love ourselves.  Our family, our church, our country, our laws and our history all form a surrounding of culture in which we live, and that culture should help us lead a good life, a life in proper balance in this world.  But if our culture becomes toxic, like polluting the water a fish lives in, life becomes more difficult.  It is a struggle to live as we were meant to live, as we were created to live.
In our country, our culture is becoming toxic.
No man alive thinks he is the devil; every man things he acts for the good.  There are, however, many books written about discernment of spirits, and one of the things these books explain is that the devil, who DOES exist, works through our desires to do good things.  He convinced Adam and Eve that the forbidden fruit was a good thing --- for them.  He convinced the Jews and the Romans that killing Jesus was a good thing --- for them.  You noticed the dashes after those “good things”; they represent a “but …”, and they point to the selfishness of the actions, the out-of-balance perspective of the actors.
It is easy to be tempted into that out-of-balance perspective, especially when the culture, the things that help you make your decisions are themselves becoming warped or diminished.  Families are broken.  Schools devalue the history of our country.  Our laws are viewed as unjust.  Those meant to protect us are thought of as our torturers.  And God is not there.  How do we decide what is a good and proper thing to do, when our culture is broken, when we are alone in making our decisions of how to and who to love?
I think the answer, the solution we must pursue to make things better, to put better balance into all our lives, is to look at the basic theory of what we are trying to balance:  with whom in our world are we trying to balance our lives?
I wrote that it is between us and our neighbors, but that is a false perspective, for God is here too.  The proper balance in our lives is not properly prioritizing loving actions between our neighbor and self, but between God, neighbor and self.  God is not something that surrounds us as part of the culture, like water around a fish, God is part of us.  You cannot talk of man without talking of God.  We have forgotten that we are not alone.  We are like Thomas who said Jesus can’t be here unless I can touch Him and His wounds.  But He is here.  We and our neighbor exist because He wills it, and if we can’t accept that, balance in our lives is indeed most difficult.  Our life is not totally about self, to the exclusion of the other two, nor is it about neighbor exclusively, nor even God exclusively.  Our life is about a proper focus, a proper balance, a proper love, of all three.
A wife cannot love her children while ignoring her husband.  She cannot love her husband while ignoring her children.  They are a family, and love must be given to all, in the proper balance.  That is family.  We are part of God’s family.  “Come to me as little children,” --- and we must not think we are the head of God’s family.
Unhappiness in the world today, our unhappiness, is largely because our culture --- with the temptations of the devil --- has said we are the most important person in any relationship; we must put ourselves first; we have a “right” to be treated with love.
And our “right” is wrong.
- - - - - - - - - -
You must be as little children”
I think we have all seen (or at least can imagine) the small boy who walks into the huge cathedral, with its vaulted ceilings, Renaissance paintings, huge statues and shining stained glass windows.  The small boy bends his head back looking upward, and his eyes open wide:  “Wow,” he says.   Or imagine the same small lad walking into the huge wedding reception hall:  giant chandeliers hang from the ceiling, banners bedeck the walls, and flowers are everywhere, and he draws a deep intake of breath:  “Oooooooo”.  And he holds his mom’s hand for comfort, in this strange awesome place.
Cut to another young lad, entering those same surroundings.  He doesn’t look at them,  rather he pulls at his mother’s hand, and falls to the floor screaming: “I don’t want to be here; I wanna go home!’  Perhaps he stares angrily at his mother, pulling on her dress:  “I’m hungry.  Let’s go.”  Or perhaps he just says one word:  “Noooooooooooo!!!”  I think we have all seen this child also.
Now look at Jesus’ above words again: “You must be as little children.”  Who do you think He is referring to between the two boys described above?  In our culture today, the attitude of the second boy is not only common, but it is even common among college kids and adults:  “I want things my way!! Give me what I want!”  The brokenness of the second child is NOT the child Jesus says we must become.
If we can see that brokenness in the second child, why can’t we see it in our culture?
But I give you an example of one more young boy.  He lives in a remote village somewhere in the world.  His parents died of AIDS or some other illness; he lives with a former neighbor.  He works hard all day to find food; he prays at night with his neighbors; he is happy.  He smiles a lot.
Now imagine this child waking up one morning and he is in your body.  What would he see and think?  Regarding your things, I think he would be in awe, even at the least of them.  You have a bed!?  There is food in your house!?  You can imagine so many shocking things to him as he goes through your typical day versus his.  “You have so much,” he would think.  But he would feel things too.
Why are you so unhappy because that person was mean to you?  Why aren’t you happy with all the people who know you?  Why do you feel alone, with so many people around you?  Why don’t you pray at night with your friends --- and you can even go to God’s house to pray; it is so close.
Our culture has given us a strong tendency to act like that bratty child I described.  Things we have may appear awesome, as the foreign child would agree, but things don’t bring happiness, and even he would notice.  A proper balance between God and other people --- and things --- does.  Even an uneducated poor child of Africa would know that.  Why is it so hard for us to understand?

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