The Golden Rule

“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14.

How many times growing up did you hear adults tell you, “do as I say and not as I do?”  This never made sense to me and it makes less sense when you read the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. 

Almost everyone knows the “golden rule.” “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.  (Matthew 7:12)  Look at the same verse from The Message (MSG): “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”

The golden rule is a call to immediate and positive action for the purpose of helping others. We “grab the initiative” to “do.” If we want to see more of the golden rule expressed in our daily lives and in the world, then we need to think about how you want to be treated, then treat other people that way in order for your reward to be similar treatment. The golden rule says to treat others the way you want to be treated regardless of how they treat you. This might seem like a tall order to our kids and it is. It is a tall order for all of us.

But remember that Jesus told us to love — to treat others with kindness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, gentleness, and respect. In order to truly live a home run life and raise home run kids we need to love God and love others. That’s what God expects us to do. The golden rule helps us live for others and for God. It un-selfs us, strengthens our values, and empowers us to live the life God wants us to live.

It is not that difficult a concept. Since we want to be loved, we should love others. We want to feel accepted, we accept others for who they are without any conditions or judgments. We want to be encouraged, supported, and complimented, we go out of our way to make others feel that they are supported, that they feel encouraged, and compliment them when we can. We want to feel respected, appreciated and valued. Since that is what we want, shouldn’t we genuinely respect other’s points of views, ideas, and individualities; we listen to them without judgment.

And finally, we want to be forgiven for the mistakes we make. Since we want to be forgiven, we forgive others for their mistakes — big or little. That doesn’t mean we condone what they’ve done; but we refuse to feel resentful. Instead, we move forward as we would want the other person to move forward.

Living a life based on the golden rule is not always easy, but it’s worth it. Living by the golden rule starts with the question, “God, how would You have me love today … in this situation … with this individual?” Living by the golden rule is not about what we get. It’s about what we give. And it blesses both the receiver and the giver.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you explain the golden rule to people?
  2. Are the golden rule and the great commandment similar? How can we be commanded to love? How is love more than a feeling? 
  3. How do we know if we are fulfilling the golden rule?

Have Compassion

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” – Colossians 3:12.

How do you know if you have a good relationship with someone? Your initial reaction may be to evaluate based on the presence or absence of conflict. But a lack of disagreement is not the true measure of a relationship. What about love, respect, and compassion to name a few. What do you think of when you hear the word compassion? And how does compassion fit into your life?

There is a story in Mark 5:1-20 that illustrates compassion. Jesus encounters a man “possessed by an evil spirit …This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. (Vs.2-5) 

After some exchange with the spirits, Jesus purged the man of the spirits. The man was rightly thankful. He wanted to accompany Jesus. Mark 5:19 says, “But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.”  Note the words, how merciful He has been. It reflects an action that issues from a compassionate and tender heart. It is just another example of our Savior’s love and compassion for the unfortunate and for the disenfranchised.

To live the home run life requires compassion. Compassion starts with empathy, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15). To be compassionate toward others, we need to allow time for the Holy Spirit to override our tendency to judge. Lastly, we need to recognize the barriers to showing compassion to others. It’s impossible to be annoyed and compassionate at the same time. Frustration, suspicion, irritation, bitterness, dislike and anger are all signs that we may be looking at others without compassion. We can pray to the Father to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” (Ephesians 4:31)

Our goal is to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)  That is how we develop compassion and cultivate a spirit of compassion in our children.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what situations is it easy to be compassionate? When is it difficult? Why?
  2. Do you judge others by higher or lower standards than you use to judge yourself?
  3. Is it important to maintain wisdom while being compassionate? Why or why not?
  4. What are some practical ways that we show compassion to our children and others this week?

Value People Without Embracing Their Values

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2.

From the beginning of the Church until the present, Christians have wrestled with a fundamental problem: how to relate to the world and its culture. How do believers act in and interact with the society which surrounds them, and of which they are a part? Of course, we are all familiar with the old adage that Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. But what does that really mean? How do our kids value people and at the same time avoid spiritual and moral contamination? How do we balance the fact that our kids are saved not only from something but also to something (fulfilling God’s mission)?

The answer is we value and respect people without compromising our Christian values or our mission to be a light to the world. The story of Joseph provides an inspiring example of how we can successfully avoid compromising our convictions. While the Egyptian captain Potiphar was away on business, his wife attempted to seduce Joseph, his most trusted servant. Joseph may have been tempted, at least momentarily. It must have been a powerful temptation to compromise his principles for some possible perks, power and pleasure. Yet even with all that, Joseph knew it was wrong and refused to even consider compromising his values.

That’s how compromise begins. We forget the consequences of compromise. It may look like a good idea to compromise our values. It may help us relax because we are under a great deal of pressure. It may be peer pressure. The truth is we can get lured into compromise with the world–through subtlety. We get lured by the subtlety of the world and then we get locked in by forming wrong relationships that get us entangled even deeper. 

We should value people, but that does not mean we embrace or endorse their values. It is all too easy to try to absorb and assimilate cultural viewpoints and develop a shared set of values. But Christian and cultural values don’t mix well in many cases. Raising home run kids means that we can appreciate and even respect the values of others, but we must not forget our status as “temporary residents and foreigners.” (1 Peter 2:11) 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is “worldliness”? Is it mainly outward or inward?
  2. How do you understand being in the world, but not of it? What does that look like in the day-to-day life of a Christian?
  3. Why do even the most committed Christians find themselves conforming to the world?
  4. What can we tell about the kind of relationship people have with God by the way they make decisions about right and wrong?   

Give More Than They Take

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” – Luke 6:38.

In our last devotional we talked about our responsibility to respect and value people. When we see the big picture, we notice that all people are important to Jesus. Mark’s, chapter 10, tells the story of two men. One is  identified as Bartimaeus. The other, the “rich man” remains unknown. Jesus did not show favoritism to a respected family in the community while ignoring the needs of ordinary or lesser known people. Jesus demonstrates amazing love to all who call upon His name.

Not many people who have been Christians for any amount of time would argue with what I just said. We should respect and value people. But how much of our respect for people is something we get, we receive, and how much is what we give?  The better question may be how much value do we bring to our friendships and relationships? Whether we are adults or parents trying to raise home run kids, it is a pertinent question. It is a question that requires an honest evaluation.

So, do you feel like you contribute to other people’s lives in a meaningful and positive way? Do you give more than you take? It may seem a strange question, because most people do not think of friendships as a contract, or an exchange of value. But relationships, distilled to its most basic leve is in fact a fairly, constant exchange.

Think about it for a second, whether you are an adult or a kid working out your first relationships. You first look for common interests, and decide if this friendship/relationship is worth pursuing.  It boils down to whether we get more out of the relationship than we give. Do they bring enough to the table? Do they add positive value?  But God and the Bible looks at it differently. We are to have a servant mentality and give more than we take. “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”  (Proverbs 11:24-25)

Each one of us are given special abilities by God. We have certain gifts and abilities, and someone else may have a completely different set of gifts and abilities. And the reason God has given these to us is not so we can take them and use them selfishly; He wants us to use them generously. He wants and expects us to use our abilities to contribute to the lives of others. And no where does it suggest you need to get more than you give.

When we contribute to the lives of others, we help others grow, and we grow at the same time. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. A good friend is not self-centered. Agree or disagree?
  2. In relationships, what does it mean to give more than we receive?
  3. Reflect on your “inner circle” of closer friends. Who in that circle has had their life enriched by your involvement in their life. 
  4. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17.  How does that verse affect your thinking on the give and take in relationships.

Respect And Value People

Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

On an episode of M*A*S*H 4077, Hawkeye Pierce asked Margaret Houlihan, “What do you want from me?” Margaret Houlihan responded, “Respect. Simple respect. I’ll expect nothing more and I’ll accept nothing less.”

Even though we have the freedom to set our own priorities, Jesus made a point of defining certain ones of them for us: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Love is not a gray area in the Scriptures. Jesus gave love priority over all other Christian virtues. Every thought, response, and act of goodwill must first pass through the fine filter of love, or it means nothing at all. Respect is a byproduct of love.   

How do we define respect? Respect is giving due value, esteem or worth to another person.  “Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)  Respect is having and showing proper regard for the other person. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11) And respect can be both inherent and, in some ways, earned over time.

Respecting the respectable is fairly easy. But one of the difficult lessons to learn in life is that we are sometimes disappointed by those whom we have come to respect. In times like these, we remember that the honor we give others, even the undeserving, is a reflection of the love we have for God. Ephesians 6:5-7 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

As Christians, we respect and value people. God values people so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to us. Because all people matter to God, they all should matter to us. Because we value people, the needs, concerns and issues which are important to people are important to us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define respect? How do you define disrespect?
  2. There’s an old saying that claims, “Respect has to be earned.” Do you agree or disagree and why?
  3. What are some of the benefits of showing respect to others?
  4. What can we do to teach our children to respect others this week?

Kid’s Stuff

“You may speak but a word to a child, and in that child there may be slumbering a noble heart which shall stir the Christian church in years to come.” –  Charles Spurgeon

Being a new parent can be as hard as it is rewarding. But imagine for a moment that you could go back in time. When you look back at your past, pain and challenges that defined that period for you—heartache, loss, failure, shattered dreams, mistakes, regrets, doubts, fears — come to mind.

There are no end to the things we would like to change, or at least do a little better if we had the opportunity for a do-over. But there are two things that come to mind for me that I would like to share with you.    

First, I would come to the realization sooner, that my ability to change my kids is pretty limited. Yes, I am the father and the burden for discipline and change rests at least in part on me. I thought that the force of my logic, the threat of my discipline, the look on my face, or the tone of my voice, could change the hearts of my children, and in changing their hearts, change their behavior. It didn’t always work out as well as I had hoped. Soon I began to understand that if all my children needed was my guidance and me as a parent functioning as a judge, jury, and executioner, Jesus would have never needed to come. It dawned on me that for real and lasting change to happen in my kids and in me, it could only happen through the powerful, forgiving, and transforming grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I began to realize that as a parent I had not been called to be the be all end all for my kids, but a willing tool for God to make the changes in us He wants to make. 

Second, the more I realized that in order to be a tool of grace, I needed grace myself. Most new parents have a feeling of autonomy and self-sufficiency. But then we find out, usually the hard way, that we do not have the endless patience, perseverance, constant love, and ever-ready grace that we thought we had. The simple truth is that raising home run kids is bigger than our ability is as parents. The good news is we are not left to the resources of our own character, wisdom, and strength. We have Jesus. He is with our kids and working in and through us. 

So when people ask me ,“If you could go back in time and change something in your past, would you?” My answer is no. God has a plan and a purpose for everything in our lives and stands by our side as we work to raise home run kids. We just need to remember that we are not going it alone.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would going back in time help you better answer the question, “what do you want for your kids?”
  2. How much of raising home run kids is God and how much is you? Why?
  3. What can you do differently this week to raise home run kids? 

Ruled by Self-Control

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

Self-control is vital to raising home run kids. The Bible tells us that self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit.  We intuitively know that self-control is important if we are to live as God wants us to live.  But self-control is difficult to rely on, both as a child and an adult.

Well-meaning parents all over the world have tried throughout the centuries to try to figure out the right formula or wisdom to use in raising up a godly, responsible, emotionally and spiritually healthy child. It is right to desire to find a way to love, educate, train and discipline a child to help him become mature, because emotional maturity is necessary to Raising Home Run Kids. Often that means they must have self control, which means they rise above being selfish and immature. 

So what do I mean by self-control? Self-control simply means we control ourselves. We control our emotions and desires – our “want to’s”. Let’s face it—we’ve all made some pretty dumb decisions in our lives. For most of us, there are chapters in the past we would like to rewrite. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to reverse the bad decisions of the past. But there is certainly no reason to repeat them either. We can develop our character and self-control that will help us make wise decisions in our life and in raising our children.

Self-control is the ability to limit behavior rather than give in to present desires. It means that you consider a future benefit more important than your present impulse. Simply reading and understanding God’s will for us isn’t enough. We must also choose to follow it—and that’s the difficult part. So often, we are too headstrong or emotional to submit.

Children at a very young age are already wanting to find their own way. Kids are pretty determined very early in life. The problem is kids need help in developing self-discipline and self-control. We  help our kids learn self control by instilling in them certain character traits.

First, honesty. We do that by talking to your children – beginning very early – about how much you value honesty in your family. Model honesty for your children-not only in your words but also in your lifestyle. Let them know that you put more emphasis on their honesty than on the punishment for their dishonest behavior. Second gratitude. Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach kids because they are by nature self-centered. Thankful children are more polite and pleasant to be around and develop other life skills along the way. Third, pay to play. In other words, they do the hard thing first before they play. Immaturity means they play first and then if they get to the hard thing, then fine. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is self-discipline needed?
  2. How does self-control affect our lives?
  3. What is needed before self-control is effective?
  4. What can we do this week to instill character and self-control into our kids? 

Ruled by Emotion without Discipline

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.” – Galatians 5:16-18.

“Don’t be so emotional!” “Don’t let your feelings run away with you!” “Big boys don’t cry.” “Calm down and let’s be rational about this.” Life is full of warnings to keep our emotional lives in check. Yet sometimes emotions make our decisions for us. 

The parents who rule by discipline without emotion want to control their kids while the parents that rule by emotion without discipline give their children free rein and try to be their kids’ friend rather than their parent. If you are an emotion without discipline parent, you’ll find yourself frequently saying things like, “If it feels good, do it.”  That means making your decisions based on feelings. Many people feel that feelings make the decisions more authentic, more real, but do they? I think it is the opposite. We live in a culture that puts emotions and feelings on a pedestal. Letting your feelings determine your life decisions is short sighted and will not work because it is immature.

Why? Let me say first that emotions can be part of the decision process, but in balance. A child has not yet to make sound decisions let alone handle their emotions. A child can have a nice assortment of toys to choose from and they straight for the bleach in the laundry hamper.  They have many options but they usually go for the one that has chemicals. Kids think they can make good decisions, but often they do not.  And we are not talking about toddlers here.  Remember back to middle school and high school; you will probably have any number of decisions that you look back on and ask “what was I thinking?” 

Think about what would happen to animals if they mimicked humans and made immature, emotional decisions. Think of the antelope on the plains in Africa rolling his eyes as he said, “I’m old enough to think for myself, Mom” or “ Dad, you got to stop suffocating me because I’m faster than the lion.” So he saunters over to the lion and starts taunting the trash talking. “My parents said I should run, but I am afraid of you.” Yes, I know that lions have been eating antelopes for millennia, but I feel good about my chances.  The antelope may get away the first time, but sooner than later he will appear on National Geographic with the lions circling his carcass. Emotions alone will not result in good decisions. 

Satan wants nothing more than to deceive and lead children astray. I can think of no more urgent need in our urban context than to raise up a generation of children who love God and hate evil. Teaching your child God’s ways and how to live a home run life begins at home and moves on to first base when they mold their character. 

  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much should emotions play in the decision process?
  2. When do you think a child is ready to handle their emotions?
  3. What is the difference in your mind between feelings and emotions?
  4. What can we do this week to better balance emotions and discipline in the decision making process? 

Ruled by Discipline without Emotion

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

Lynette’s father was a tyrant, according to her childhood friends. She was not allowed to eat with other children in the dining room but was banished without reason to the kitchen. She got the silent treatment often from her father. He disliked her intensely. “Her father’s treatment scarred her badly,” an old friend said. When Lynette was 16 she was kicked out of the family home. Charles Manson found her crying in the street and offered to look after her. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme later attempted to assassinate President Ford.

Parenting kids by discipline without emotion is not the way to go. Strict disciplinary parenting without emotion tends to raise angry children who stop trying to please their parents because there is no point in trying. Parenting by discipline without emotion means we use the word “no” more often than we would like. Parenting is not something we can run away from. And we don’t want kids who have no emotional attachment. Kids that don’t smile, who scowl, and are ruled by a ruler. No one wants to be the type of parent who is not engaged emotionally, who lacks passion, and who is content to raise robot kids. This doesn’t work and is inhumane.

When thinking about this I came to the conclusion that there is a difference between being strict and being restrictive. What is the difference? Strictness is more of an attitude than an action. As an attitude, being strict, or discipline without emotion can be a limit to love. Being restrictive means the parent provides the needed guidance to do right and enough protection to avoid wrong. When parents have more rules than love, they lose. When they have rules inspired by love, they win. Overly strict parents are often resented while parents who live genuinely and love generously will rarely be resented. 

This means I must give time to my children. This means I must listen to my children. And yes, sometimes this does mean giving restrictions to my children. So, the question is not really, how strict should I be, but rather, how should I be strict. There is a fine balance as we talked about in this week’s message.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define strictness?
  2. Do our kids think we are fair and do they understand us?
  3. Is there a right way to parent? Why do you believe that?
  4. How much time do you spend each day talking to your kids about anything serious in your life or in their lives?

In Character

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” —Galatians 5:22-23.

If you’re like me, your greatest desire for your children is that they will love Jesus, love people, and be on a mission for His kingdom. While there are many traits and attributes we would like to see in our kids, those three will always be the priority. 

Instilling those desires in our kids is not easy. Parenting is tough, and being the type of parent God wants you to be is even tougher. We live in a culture that tells parents “anything goes” when it comes to raising kids. In order to raise home run kids, we will have to lean heavily on the Lord for His wisdom and grace. We can’t assume they will be home run kids because they attend church every Sunday and have a Bible on all their electronic devices.  It takes more than that. It takes loving God, character and it takes self-control. Good character will not do us much good if we are not building our character around Jesus Christ and His principles for our lives. Jesus is the foundation of our character.

The good news is that the Bible gives us the blueprint for raising home run kids. The challenge is to take children — step-by-step — from selfishness to selflessness. That is why it is important to begin with the ending in mind. Parenting is strategic, not just tactical. And it begins with us as parents.

If we want to be a good example to our children, we’ve got to get our belief system right on the inside so that our “outside modeling behavior” can be effective. Otherwise, we’ll be going around saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and there isn’t a kid alive who will respect that, or will want to learn from it. Remember, good character is caught more than it is taught. That means, as you live out godly character before your kids, they’ll naturally get it more than if you just tell them what it’s supposed to look like. Discipleship is not just about what you do, but what you are–how you follow Christ, walk daily with Him, serve others in His name, and “seek first His kingdom” through personal ministry. Before you discipline, you’re a disciple.

It includes developing your child’s character by helping them understand the goodness of God and learning to desire that good. Our goal is not to indoctrinate your child with Biblical truth, but rather to give your child the will and skill to learn, and the desire to keep learning about God.

There is no fail safe “formula” for building home run character. It is really just a process of teaching them to love God and to love themselves. Bringing your children into your daily faith-life with Christ is what will define and shape their character.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been through a hard time that made your character better?
  2. Would your children understand that character that came from God produces hope, and a character that you developed on your own is hopeless?
  3. How has your parenting approach focused on character building so far? Are there other areas that are taking time away from opportunities to build character? If so, what are they?
  4. What did you learn this week about character? What can you do to apply it to your life?