Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Got Principle?

Our Pastor had a great sermon last Sunday on basing your behaviors and decisions in life on principles.

Years ago that idea was in Steven Covey's best seller, '7 Habits of Successful People.' He recommended people and companies establish mission statements and deliberately use the principles in your statement to help guide your life.

I teach 8th graders. At the beginning of the school year I told students that we are each responsible for our own actions, therefore our behavior should not be based on out thinking, feeling, or even our physiology. It needs to be guided by principles. I explained to them how psychologists believe that we all have certain needs; love/belonging, survival/security, fun, freedom/decision-making, and power/efficacy. We can irresponsibly violate other's needs to selfishly fill our own needs, or we can responsibly fulfill our own needs while also helping provide other people's needs. Lofty hopes for a junior high teacher- adolescents aren't always capable of self-control, let alone empathy or delayed gratification.

Quixotic as it may be, I continue to remind them that they need to think of the needs and rights of others and think of the consequences and repercussions of their choices and behaviors. And I keep encouraging them to consider what principles they want to guide those behaviors instead of merely reacting to their thoughts, feelings, and physiology.

Steven Covey encouraged his readers not to be reactive, which can be counter-productive or even destructive, but instead to use your principles to be proactive, which is almost always constructive and productive.

As a Civics teacher, I've been trying to impress upon my students that no matter how much Americans disagree politically or ideologically, we share certain values- certain principles found in the Constitution. Equality and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (concepts in the Declaration) are some of these, but others are found in the preamble: unity, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, the general welfare, liberty for ourselves and those who come after us.

Theoretically, our government of us, by us, and for us bases it's decisions on advancing or at least protecting these principles.

Those who believe in and want to follow Jesus have very simple, very clear principles. This is what our pastor based his sermon on last week-

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That's it. That's all. Simple. Clear.

The religious teachers of Jesus' time, the Pharisees and Sadducees had analyzed the Old Testament and maybe devised a few more rules and regulations that they figured God probably wanted and had come up with 613 commandments (and you thought there were just 10). 613! The same number of seeds in the average pomegranate. Think these guys were legalistic? Can you say "Control-Freaks?"

Perhaps its a matter of parsing out the letter-of-the-law as opposed to abiding by the spirit-of-the-law. I'm wondering if maybe in their quest for power, purpose and legitimacy (and of course their subsequent defense of their power and rationalization of their policies and positions) these lawyers, preachers, teachers and politicians forgot about Micah 6:8-

"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Not exactly rocket science. Be fair, appreciate things like patience, kindness, and compassion, and follow God. Simple. Clear. (nowhere near as wordy as this essay you're reading).

And Jesus didn't just make that loving your neighbor stuff on the spot. He got it from Leviticus 19:18.  Mind you, Leviticus is full of those 613 rules. (Chapter 19 also says we're not supposed to get tattoos, but I digress). Incidentally, the "Golden Rule," love your neighbor or do unto others as you would have them do unto you is pretty much found in some form or another in almost every ethical and religious tradition.

Jesus didn't make up the Love your God part either. That's also Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

So the question is, if you agree and believe that the greatest commandment is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'...And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ How will that effect the things you say and do? The ways you act and think?

It's better than "WWJD?"

Does your life reflect your love for your neighbors?

When others are starving, oppressed, jailed, ethnically-cleansed, unemployed, uninsured, uneducated, cold, homeless, unsafe, unloved... do you care? Do you do anything? Do you say anything? Or are you just out to get yours or busy holding on to what's yours?

Do you really love God with your WHOLE heart, mind, and strength? Is Jesus your #1 priority?
Are you your own god? Your plans, your ambitions? Your career? Possessions?  Hobbies? Football? Family? Money? Music? Free-time? Political party? Racial identity? Club or organization?

How would life look different if you did base your life on these two great commandments? On love?
How would our relationships, families, work places, communities look different if more of us tried to base our lives on these principles?

What's stopping you?

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