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“What goes around, comes around.” Believe it or not, I found the source: Isaiah 3:11

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over.  Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.

The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase.  I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.

First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.  

During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news.  Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”

Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan.  This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.

The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1.  Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.

And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11.  Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from:  “what goes around comes around.”  I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:

Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.

Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today?  Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.

Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together:  https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american  

One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.

Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”

An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:

  • Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else” 
  • Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s. 
  • Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”

A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture.  This is the best summary of the comments from the website:  

Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:

This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …

It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.

Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior. 

I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses.  Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors.  (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)

Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:


The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”?  What are we to do about it?

We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another.  I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Patient Father of All,

Thank you for the words of warning,

for the work of your faithful,

and for opening my understanding 

so I can learn from scripture 

how to live in today’s world 

loving one another.  –Amen

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Brrrrr, it’s cold out there. Better stay in and read.

During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday.  Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.

For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.  

And I have worked not to be stuck inside:  I shoveled snow.  I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled.  In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.

Now here is the thing:  that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling.  Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan.  And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.

As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans.  It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.

I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture.  There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.

My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style.  In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.

In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using.  Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.

Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first.  If I don’t get something, I re-read it.  If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.

I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour.  I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.

Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful.  I have read about Abraham and Sarah.  I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.

And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac.  She drives away Hagar and Ishmael.  She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.

The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament.  How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice?  But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.

These books include so many stories.  So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.

What am I learning?  Remain faithful.  And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded.  The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.

In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading.  I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.

And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection.  Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world.  Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.

We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.

The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice.  I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.

For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.”  How easy it is to judge someone.  Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.  

In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9:  “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  

Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14:  “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be.  For those possibilities, I apologize.  I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.

But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness.  If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.

Dear Heavenly Father,

May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed.  Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –Amen

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