A creed to guide your life by

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Have somebody to love, something to do, something to look forward to."

What you have just read is a philosophy of life -- and a good one. Its source is a good woman living in Cape Girardeau, whom I am fortunate to know.

We live in a time of mission and vision statements, of core values and empowering ethos. It seems every corporation has them, as do many other businesses and more than a few churches. They are often grueling to conceive. Many are impossible to remember, their very length and complexity eliminates any chance of mental retrieval.

Many opinions are required before an end product is devised. As someone persuaded that such verbiage is on the whole helpful, it is nonetheless jarring to read the 12 simple words contained within the quotation marks above. The obvious truth found in them is nearly impossible to ignore or dismiss.

If you wrote a philosophy of life for yourself, you would be writing a creed. A creed is simply a statement that guides your actions. Some use the Golden Rule as a guide. The late retail magnate (and native Missourian) J.C. Penney certainly did. Before those famous department stores were named for him, Mr. Penney opened "Golden Rule" stores in Wyoming and Utah. This rule, which is an ethic of reciprocity, is found in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. It reads: "In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (Matthew 7:12)

Many of us may remember the 1977 bestselling book, "Looking Out for Number One." Author Robert J. Ringer, despite the selfish-sounding (and, admittedly, eye-catching) title, wrote thoughtfully about discovering what joy is for you. As he put it, "Trouble begins when others try to tell you what makes you happy." That's why a personal creed or philosophy is a worthwhile endeavor.

For our church, we've come up with the pithy four-word expression, "Honor God. Help People." A creed ought to be that simple, and it should be able to fit on a pencil in a pew rack. These four words aren't meant to impose a creed on anyone else. However, as a description of what we as a congregation ought to be about, it seems to work well. God comes first, but God's people (others) are right behind. We show honor to God when we help people. Fits on a pencil, and it's easily understood.

Leslie Whitehead wrote about the value of writing your own creed -- a philosophy to guide your actions. As he put it in a sermon preached while Nazi bombs rained down upon World War II London, he wrote: "Write out your own creed. Do not copy anybody else's. Do not try to make yourself believe what to you seems absurd. Do not have anything foisted on you at all. Write out for you what is true. Nothing somebody else says is true will be of any use to us in an hour of trial.

"Nothing will hold us as an anchor in a stormy sea save that little bit of the truth of God which we have made our very own."

I'd add one thing to all of the above. I'd like to think any creed I'd write, any philosophy I came up with for myself, would make Jesus proud of me.

What's your creed? As encouragement to you to think it through, I point you to the 12 little words at the top of this column.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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