Do Unto Others

I have a happy memory of visiting my mother at the paint factory where she worked as the bookkeeper when I was very young. Occasionally my babysitter would drop me off there and I had to wait until mother’s workday was finished. The men in the factory were all like old, wizened uncles to me. One in particular was quite fond of me and always asked me about my day. He called me “Ornery.” It was many years before I knew the definition of that word … but I did like that he gave me a special nickname. Now that I think about it, his choice of words was rather prophetic.

This gentleman once gave me a real treasure. It was a solid green marble ball with a gold and black band around it that read: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I cherished this gift and hid it under my bed lest my sister try to take it from me. I often thought about the words and the generosity of that craggy old fellow.

I later learned that those words come from the Bible. Listen to this discourse from the book of Luke, as he records Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. We begin with the “blessed are you” portions:

Luke 6 (New International Version)

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Jesus assured the hearers that the resurrection will reverse all of their current woes. Poverty, hunger, weeping, rejection, exclusion, insults … soon will come a time when earth passes away and a time of rejoicing will ensue.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

But woe to those who enjoy the affluence and wealth of this earthly existence, for that, too will pass away and their joy will be short-lived here on earth.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So today, as you’re driving with angry drivers around you, when you are in rush at the grocery store and the cashier is taking too long, when annoying things happen at home, remember the solid green ball’s message that fascinated a child: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This is the way.

Birds on a Wire by Michelle Robertson

Pray for Your Enemies

Before we get to today’s Scripture, which ironically commands us to pray for our enemies, we need to pause for a moment to pray for Ukraine. Waking up yesterday to the realization that we are watching a war in Europe begin was a shock. We sat stunned as we witnessed the merciless invasion of the peaceful people of Ukraine by Putin’s armies. Europe hasn’t seen an invasion of this scope since Hitler took over Poland in 1939 … and he didn’t stop there. Never in my lifetime did I think I would see what may end up being a Third World War. But I never expected to live through two years of a global pandemic, either.

And so we join our hearts with brothers and sisters in the British Methodist Church, who published this prayer yesterday on social media. As a European denomination, this situation is much closer to them than it is to us. All of Europe trembles today.

I pray for all people all around the world this morning. I pray for bold Russians who risk arrest to protest by the thousands in Russian cities. I pray for the orphans in Ukraine who, even as we sip our coffee, are hunkered down in dirty subway tunnels. I pray for peace.

If you are tired of worrying about all of this and want to do something practical, please consider donating to the orphanage. I have friends who have traveled for years to do mission work there, and this is a legitimate cause with a legitimate and urgent need:

And now to our devotional.

Do Good

Think of someone who has really, really hurt you. Someone who has wronged you so wrongly that you want to wrong them back with a vengeance. We all have people on that list. From the girl who gossiped about you in Middle School and made your life miserable, to someone who has abused you on some level, it is natural and normal to have enemies. I have them. I know you do, too.

What does the Bible say about how to treat our enemies? Get ready for the bitter pill:

Luke 6 (Common English Bible)

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

Lawdy. Of all the teachings of Jesus, this may be one of the hardest ones to swallow. I confess that I would so much prefer to salt the wounds left by my enemies by recalling ad nauseam EVERY INSTANCE OF HURT they inflicted on me. Over, and over, and over. And then I want to hit back. But Jesus calls us to a higher response. Jesus commands us to love them. Jesus commands us to do good to people who have hurt us. Jesus calls us to a response that reflects the way we wish they had treated us.

Is Jesus asking for the impossible?

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 

Yes, this calling is hard. But he states his case beautifully. Should you be commended for only showing grace to the people who love you? Will you get a pat on the back for being good to those who are good to you? Nope. That is the easy way out. Being good to your enemies takes a lot more work. But when you do, you are acting just like Jesus.

36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

And there it is. Being God-followers means we have to respond like God … with kindness and compassion, even to the ungrateful and wicked people.

37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

I don’t know about you, but in the end, I would much rather be like Jesus than my enemy. Lord, bring on that good portion to us! And may we bring it to others in your name and for your sake.

Frolicking Fins by Michelle Robertson

Level Ground

Today’s Scripture is a whopper. It happens in a physical location that Luke describes as “level ground,” but it also happens at a spiritual “level ground” as well. When you read this, expect to be grounded.

And possibly leveled.

Luke is very transparent about the audience: they came to hear Jesus because they needed healing. They came to level ground to be healed from all their diseases. Some had unclean spirits. Some were bothered. They had learned about his power, and everyone wanted to touch him.

Are you sick in spirit?

Are you bothered by life?

Do you need to be healed?

Proceed with caution.

Luke 6 (Common English Bible)

17 Jesus came down from the mountain with them and stood on a large area of level ground. A great company of his disciples and a huge crowd of people from all around Judea and Jerusalem and the area around Tyre and Sidon joined him there. 18 They came to hear him and to be healed from their diseases, and those bothered by unclean spirits were healed. 19 The whole crowd wanted to touch him, because power was going out from him and he was healing everyone.

2Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:

“Happy are you who are poor,
    because God’s kingdom is yours.
21 Happy are you who hunger now,
    because you will be satisfied.
Happy are you who weep now,
    because you will laugh.

So far, so good. This twist on what we normally think of happiness fits into Jesus’ style of teaching. Happy=poor, happy=hungry, happy=weeping … this all equates in the system I call “Jesus math.” Jesus doesn’t do math like we do. He has his own system of equations.

Then it gets more extreme.

2Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. 23 Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.

To define happiness THIS way requires the mind of the divine. But do you see what Jesus is getting at here? Happiness means being completely, wholly, and entirely SOLD OUT to Jesus and his cross. That indeed is cause to rejoice, even in the midst of the world’s condemnation.

Then it gets more extreme.

24 But how terrible for you who are rich,
    because you have already received your comfort.
25 How terrible for you who have plenty now,
    because you will be hungry.
How terrible for you who laugh now,
    because you will mourn and weep.
26 How terrible for you when all speak well of you.
    Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.

Jesus math comes in again. Terrible=rich. Terrible=plentiful. Terrible=laughing. Terrible=praise from the world.

What can we learn from this today? I think it calls us to take a hard look at our own math. If you live your life on the “plus side” of things, perhaps it is time to minus out some of your excess and reach out to others. When we share from our plenty … our resources, our lives, our egos, and our hearts … that is when our math shifts.

What can you do today to bring joy to someone? How can you build up someone’s situation and diminish your own in the cause of the kingdom? Where can you impact the world for something outside of yourself?

And if you find yourself on the “minus side” of things, where can you go to reach out for help?

We are all sick in one way or another, but when we touch Jesus’ power, his healing flows to us and through us. That, my friends, is the math of equality.

Jesus calls us all to level the ground around us. Where do you fit into the equasion?

Dawn Breaks by Michelle Robertson

Better Than Gold

I received the most incredible gift this week. A cherished high school friend contacted me about a month ago and said she had found a cross stitch that she had started as a wedding present for me in a box in her basement. It reads,

Be unto me kind and true as I be unto you.

I’m sure you recognize this as a kind of “wedding version” of the Golden Rule. We were all raised on the Golden Rule, which instructs us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Did you know that the Golden Rule comes from scripture? Here it is in the Message version:

Luke 6 (The Message)

31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!

There is a lovely irony for me in this. Several decades ago my friend painstakingly stitched the Golden Rule onto a sampler and this month she completed it and mailed it to me with some of her beautiful homemade cookies to match. She isn’t just stitching the Golden Rule, she is living it out. She is treating others with love, care, and respect, much as she would hope to be treated in return.

Read what the rest of the passage says:

If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

What a powerful example for us today. My friend gave her time, talent, and resources so that I might have an incomparable gift for my upcoming 40th anniversary in November. I can never hope to repay her and she knew that when she completed the work she began so many years ago. I am deeply humbled and inspired. I hope you are too.

How can you live out the God-created identity that Luke is talking about? Can you be generous? Can you help someone today? Where is God calling you to be gracious to someone who can’t possible return what you give?

Our Father is kind: you be kind as well. You’ll never regret it.

Golden Friendship