Whatever Happened To The Golden Rule?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Most of us are very familiar with that quote but most likely don’t know where it originated from. It is towards the end of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7; however, that specific wording of the verse is not found in the Bible but is derived from Matt. 7:12:  “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (NASB).”

If you’ve ever read the Sermon on the Mount which starts out with the Beatitudes in Chapter 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…; those who mourn…; the meek…; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…; the merciful…; the pure in heart…; the peacemakers…; those who are persecuted for righteousness sake….” you might feel, like me, just a little overwhelmed at how to remember all of these things when you are going about your everyday life. And that is only the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. There is much more, for example, Chapter 5 goes on to talk about: Being salt and light in this world; anger; adultery and lust; divorce; not taking oaths; going the second mile; and loving your enemies. Chapter 6 continues with: Giving to the needy; the model prayer of Jesus (which is The Lord’s Prayer vv. 9-15); fasting; laying up treasures in heaven and not here on earth; not being anxious and worried; and the fact that you cannot serve both God and riches (e.g. materialism and possessions; money). And there’s still more in Chapter 7: Do not judge; keep asking, seeking, knocking; the golden rule, the narrow way (Jesus); knowing others by their fruit, and building on the Rock–the authority of Jesus.

Whoa… that list is daunting to say the least. I cannot remember it all on a daily, hour-by-hour basis, and I fall short more times then I want or when I catch myself after the fact (for example, if I have unfairly judged someone else) and cringe at how easily I stumble at times living up to these standards.

Many of the things listed in the sermon are taken from the Old Testament Prophets and the Law. As Jesus was giving the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament He clearly stated in Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Therefore, it is impossible for us to live by those standards in our own power (just as it was for those folks in the Old Testament). Jesus fulfilled the Law by His death on the Cross and made it possible for those of us who know Him personally to live the life He laid out in the Sermon on the Mount through His power in us and not our own power. That’s the key. And that requires that we have a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ in our daily lives by spending time with Him reading the Bible and getting clear direction for our lives and praying on a daily basis. We cannot depend on last Sunday’s sermon to give us the fuel we need to get through the week and never open our Bible except on Sunday (and let’s not even talk about the lack of prayer in our lives). We must be responsible for our own relationship with the Lord and if we neglect it, we don’t look or act any differently then the rest of the world and become blind to our own shortcomings.

As you know, I’ve already admitted how hard it is to remember all of the things Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount as I go about my daily life. And that is what brings me back to the topic of this post, the Golden Rule as stated in Matt. 7:12:  “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (NASB).”

“Treat people the same way you want them to treat you….” If we keep this one concept at the forefront of our minds and lives, it will keep us from so many of the negative aspects of our lives that Jesus talked about in His sermon. If we truly treat others as we want others to treat us (whether or not they treat us in like fashion), we won’t show anger, or commit adultery or lust, etc. We’ll go the second mile, and we will love them (even our enemies) no matter what the circumstances. We’ll want to give to the needy, and we won’t be selfishly thinking about what we can get for ourselves in material possessions and money at the expense of or by using others. We won’t be anxious or worried, and we won’t judge others.

And, by treating people the same way we want to be treated by them (again, whether or not they treat us likewise), we don’t have to try to remember every item listed in the Sermon on the Mount, as we will be living it out in our daily lives by doing that one thing. In another passage, Jesus sums up the whole Law and how to live in one sentence, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and (love) your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10: 26-28).”

There’s another item from the Sermon on the Mount that we need to consider. As Christians, Jesus tells us clearly that we are to be “salt and light” in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). I like how The Message Bible states these verses, 13Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. 14-16Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of keeping my eyes off of myself and stepping out to truly see God at work in and through us and others in this world.

Our present society and the world at large are in great turmoil, and it is rare anymore when we actually see or experience “The Golden Rule” in action. Mostly, what we see is the opposite: “Doing unto others before they do it unto us” and always looking out for number one. I say it’s time for us, as Christians, to stop that pattern, and we don’t have to remember every item listed in the Sermon on the Mount to accomplish it. We need to look to Jesus and His power within us and live by “The Golden Rule.”

And let’s start today…

Photo credit here

Don’t Write Off Anyone

A couple of months ago I was sitting in a job networking meeting I attend every week with several other people who, like me, are unemployed and looking for work. There were twelve, maybe thirteen of us total. On this particular day, a homeless man named Perry entered the room just as we were getting started and took the only available seat which was next to me. He carried his backpack with him which appeared to be almost empty. I thought to myself that it took an incredible amount of courage for him to come to our meeting knowing that the comfort level of most people towards the homeless in any situation is, well, not exactly welcoming.

Since there were a number of new people at this meeting, the facilitator asked us to go around the table and share a little information about ourselves and what type of work we were seeking. When it was time for Perry to speak, he stated in a soft voice that he was homeless and living under a tree in the woods. I don’t think there was any of us in that room that didn’t feel horrible at his plight. The facilitator mentioned that he should meet with a woman afterwards who worked there who could help him find some community resources. Perry hardly moved from his slightly slumped position in his chair and said nothing else for the duration of the meeting. I leaned over and gave him the woman’s name and encouraged him to meet with her. At the end of the meeting Perry was one of the first to leave the room, and I left a few minutes later but didn’t see him in the main lobby area. I was afraid he had left without seeking any assistance.

As I left the building I noticed an old, somewhat rusty bicycle leaning against a tree by the sidewalk. I was engaged in a conversation with a woman who had attended the meeting and as we got to the sidewalk, we parted company. I looked over again at the bicycle and this time Perry was standing by it. I asked him if he was able to meet with the woman who could help him find some help and he said, yes, but she was currently meeting with someone so he had to wait.

We ended up talking for about 15-20 minutes. He told me how he ended up homeless and that at one time he had been married, raising a family, had a decent job, and he and his wife and kids were very involved in a church for over nine years in the local community. He had developed a muscle disease that prevented him at times from doing some of the physical work at his job, but it was minor and in the beginning was not a problem for his employer. However, the muscle disease caused him to have jerking motions periodically which didn’t keep him from his work but bothered his employer and some of his coworkers. The employer eventually let him go and he was unable to find work. Eventually he lost his home and his wife left him. His son was attending a local community college. He said he’d been living out in the woods for the past year.

He didn’t appear to be angry, and he was very soft spoken and considerate. As we talked he asked me about my situation and I told him I was also unemployed and that my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May and that I no longer had any income. I asked him if he had any money and he said no. I knew I had a $20 bill in my purse, so I put my stuff on the ground and got the $20 out and gave it to him. He absolutely did not want to take it as he knew I was unemployed with no income. I told him, “Look, Perry, right now I have a more than you do. I want you to take it.” Again he insisted that I keep it and I said no. He pulled out an incredibly dilapidated billfold with absolutely nothing in it and put the $20 inside. I asked him if I could pray for him (and if you knew me, you’d know that I absolutely hate praying in public where others can hear), and he said yes. It was a short prayer, and I put my arm around his shoulders as asked God to come to his aid in his current situation. As I ended the prayer, we both looked at each other and our eyes filled up with tears, and we hugged each other. Right then the woman he was waiting to meet with became available to see him. Before he left I encouraged him to come back to the meeting next week.

As I was leaving to go back to my seasonal rental, I wondered when the last time was when someone had shown him kindness or engaged him in conversation. I never saw him again after that day as he never returned to attend another meeting. I did find out that the woman he met with was able to help him apply for food stamps, find a place to shower, and a temporary place to stay if he wanted it.

“Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Phil. 2:4 MSG). When I met Perry on that day, for a short while I was able to take my eyes off of my own unemployment situation and for a very short time step into the shoes of someone much worse off than me. It humbled me in a way I won’t soon forget. A couple of years ago I read an outstanding book titled, “Same Kind Of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It’s a true story about a homeless man, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together. Reading that book forever changed how I viewed the homeless. And meeting and talking with Perry did, too.

The title for this post, “Don’t Write Off Anyone,” extends to others besides the homeless. For example, it could be much closer to home–like a coworker you can’t stand, or the gossip you believed about someone without really knowing them so you just wrote them off. It could be a family member or a friend you’ve been angry with for years so you refuse to have anything more to do with them. Maybe it’s a clerk who was totally rude to you but you don’t know the story behind her rudeness (maybe her husband just left her). We all have a tendency to write off people for any number of reasons, most of them faulty if we look beneath the surface.

As a Christian, I am incredibly grateful that God didn’t write me off. There are no words adequate enough to express my gratitude that Jesus Christ went to the cross on my behalf. God could have written off you and me and all of humanity, but He didn’t. The cross stands as the greatest invitation to this world; and, in fact, it’s an invitation that’s open to anyone willing to believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As I have mentioned previously, if you want to know more, read the Gospel of John.

If the God of this universe didn’t write us off, how can we write off others? The answer, if we are Christian, is that we can’t.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

The inspiration for this blog post came from a chapter title by the same name in Max Lucado’s book, “Outlive Your Life” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

YouTube Video:  “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” by Jimmy Ruffin (1966)

Photo credit here

Pursuing Love

“Pursue love…” (I Cor. 14:1a). Now, you may automatically think I’m talking about romantic love. No, that’s not it. I’m talking about the kind of love that transcends the hatred and angst that fills so much of our world today. Seems it’s hard to find nowadays, but then again maybe it’s never been easy to find.

In my post, “When Trust Is Broken,” I stated that the bottom line for those of us who are Christian is this–at the core of everything, whether it is showing mercy or extending forgiveness or tenuously trusting again when there’s no sane reason to trust again–is love.” And I quoted I Corinthians 13 which is known as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible.

I don’t know about you, but I know I need some further instructions on this thing called “love.” Love for others is by no means an automatic response for most of us (if you doubt this just think of your enemies). In fact, we are most likely self-consumed much more often then we are consumed by love for others. And, I’ve even heard some people say that until they learn to love themselves, they can’t really love others (in other words, they are still consumed by self). As long as the focus is on us there is no room for loving others.

I must confess that most of my own thoughts that tend towards “self-absorption” come from feeling a need to protect myself at times. This is not a kind world that we live in, and it doesn’t take much to look back into the past to see where people have hurt us for a variety of reasons. And, it is tough to pick up and go forward again when people disappoint us especially when we don’t understand why they did (for example, the circumstances that brought about my unemployment). This is not to say I haven’t also run into some very caring people, too–most recently like the doctor and her staff that I wrote about in my post “A Very Good Ending To A Very Bad Week.” As I stated in that post, the world needs more people like them.

I think you will agree that when it comes to love and relationships, Jesus is our ultimate guide. He knew what was in the heart of every human being He came into contact with, and He still loved them, flaws and all. He went all the way to the cross and still forgave all of those who put Him there. His mission was about the redemption of humankind, a redemption we must personally and individually accept (it is not “automatic”) and He let nothing stand in His way. His love was absolutely unconditional, and the price He paid for us is far greater than any of us will ever go through in our own lives. You can read the story and accept His offer by reading the Gospel of John.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) Jesus’ own words regarding love are found in Matt. 5:43-48. While the link includes these verses in several versions of the Bible, I like how the paraphrase, The Message, states them: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

“Grow up.” Doesn’t that really say it all? We can choose to continue to live mostly self-absorbed lives or “grow up” and look beyond ourselves and the hurts others have inflicted upon us. We can continue to live our lives wearing our own personal armor that shields us from others or the armor God has provided for us (Eph: 6:10-18), which is a topic for a later time, but I want to emphasize a very important point stated in verse 12 with reference to the subject of love and loving our enemies. Ultimately, as Christians, we know “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Unfortunately, when we are hurt by others, we almost always only see the human side of the battle, but the real battle is in the spiritual realm. If we can just grasp that one reality, it would be so much easier to lay aside our own self-built armor of self-protection and replace it with God’s armor.

Love isn’t easy and don’t ever fall under the illusion that it is. Most of what we call “love” in our society isn’t even close to what love really is–and I mean unconditional love that doesn’t require anything in exchange for giving or receiving it. We just don’t love like that very often. We’re just too self-absorbed most of the time.

So, I’ll end this post with these verses from I Cor. 13:4-8a“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….”

And yes, that kind of love never fails….

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A Bit of Laughter for Labor Day

Woo Hoo!!! It’s another three-day holiday weekend! Now you may be a bit surprised that an unemployed person could get excited about a three-day holiday weekend. Just because I’m not getting paid for it and have no money to go anywhere, we who are among the unemployed (and there are currently millions of us) can still get excited about it like any normal employed person does, right? Right!!!

This afternoon I decided to high-tail it to the library to check out some books to help me unwind over the long holiday weekend. I checked out 37 (okay, maybe not that many) of the latest and greatest diet books to hit the shelves—I refuse to ever pay for another diet book again but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to seek a tried-and-true formula for losing 60 lbs in a week—plus, as an afterthought, I checked out Dave Barry’s latest offering “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead” (2010).

It’s the title that grabbed me. Many days (dare I say most?) I can so relate to it. Of course, anything that Dave Barry writes never fails to wildly entertain me with volumes of laughter. And, I can’t believe that Dave is in his early 60’s already (but then, I’ll be there soon enough myself). The only thing we have in common besides being baby boomers is that I actually lived in Miami for just under three years in the mid-1990’s, where he lives and writes a column for “The Miami Herald.” Now as a former Iowan, I did not fit in well in a city like Miami. And, the experience was light years away from anything I had experienced during my first year in Florida which I spent in Fort Lauderdale (1992-93). Being located close to each other is about all those two cities have in common. At least that was the case in 1992.

The first chapter I turned to in Dave’s book started on page 75, “Tips for Visiting Miami: No. 1: Are You Insane?” Now, Dave dearly loves his Miami and has lived there for years, but I have to tell you I practically rolled on the floor with laughter as I read it (not exactly a pretty sight considering those 60 lbs I want to lose in a week are still attached to my body). I could SO RELATE. I do remember that during those brief years that I lived in Miami that NOBODY wanted to come and visit me—for starters, Miami International Airport is located smack dab in the middle of one of the worst areas of Miami and for the unsuspecting traveler you don’t want to get lost navigating through those neighborhoods. But other than that (after all, many major big city airports are sometimes located in not-so-great areas of their respective cities) reading this chapter brought back many, well, interesting memories of my time in Miami.

Sometimes I feel like a cat with nine lives. My Florida years (and I’m still in Florida) comprise at least a couple of those lives—maybe three. Of course there was that year in Houston, and while I’ve been back in Florida for almost two years now from when I left there, my Houston experience was at least one of those nine “lives” all by itself and still reaches out to me two years later. I liked Houston. There’s some fabulous architecture there, and, of course, it has palm trees (a prerequisite for any city I live in after my many years in Florida). Sometimes in the night I think I can feel the city calling to me. Of course, that could just be acid-indigestion! And that is not to say that I haven’t loved living in Florida. I have! I remember my very first winter in Fort Lauderdale which totally convinced me that I never wanted to endure another winter “up north” again. But sometimes I feel like I still have “unfinished business” in Houston since my work experience and life there was so stunted and brief. I never really got to spread my wings in that city.

It’s an odd thing to go through this much time of unemployment and still not feel like I have any bearings. I have no idea what the future holds or where it might take me. I have no idea if I will stay in Florida or end up back in Houston or maybe spend time between both places. I like the idea of that, but that’s about all I know.

I try not to read into my feelings too much as I know that feelings can disappoint. I’ve been applying for jobs all over the United States so who knows where I will end up. (Well, God already knows. I sure wish He’d clue me in!) My phone stopped ringing months ago but I believe that is because I’ve now been unemployed for well over two years, and future employers don’t like to see that in an applicant. Indeed, I think it is a problem for most of the millions of us who have been unemployed for over two years. I think the long-term unemployed (since this massive unemployment problem all began a few years ago) are the most recent “disenfranchised” group in America, and it is a huge group and growing.

So anyway, I need this three-day holiday weekend to unwind just as much as any employed person does. I need to “get away” from the constant pressure of trying to find a job after such a long and fruitless search. I need to think about other things—fun things—if only for a few days. And while I know exactly what I need to do to lose 60 lbs without reading any of those books I checked out, I know that “getting off hold” in my daily life and having a purpose that makes me feel like a productive member of society again would end the frustration that keeps those 60 lbs on me, not that I’m trying to use that as an excuse. But for now I feel “stuck on hold.”

Sometimes I hate reading all of those “wait” verses in the Bible. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life. I understand why it took the Israelites 40 years to make an 11-day journey. It’s about giving up self and learning about God on a relational level, and that takes a very, very, very long time, and there are a lot of bumps in the road along the way. And some don’t make it just like the original generation that entered the wilderness in the first place. They failed to understand that this life was not about them (or in our case, about us) but about God. However, the children who were born in the wilderness did go on into the Promised Land after the original generation had died (you can read the entire story in Exodus), and that is where my hope lays, too.

So, with all of that being said, I’m glad I picked up Dave Barry’s latest book at the library today. Laughter really is the best medicine, and I believe it’s one of the best gifts God has given us to relieve the stresses of our lives (along with prayer).

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance….”

(Eccl. 3:1-4 NKJV)

I’ve spent many days over the past two years and four months weeping and mourning, but this weekend, I’m going to laugh, and maybe even dance…

And I hope you do, too.

Photo credit here