Generalizing

Most people I know would not be happy if they heard something like…

  • Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites.
  • White people think they’re better than everyone else.
  • Women think with their hearts not with their minds.
  • Republicans don’t care about anything but their money.

I can almost feel you getting upset from over here. Or is that just the unseasonably warm weather? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Still, chances are, if you read this blog regularly, you may fall into one or more of the categories above, and chances are that you wouldn’t like any of those things said about you. We don’t like to be generalized. I’m a white, marginally conservative Christian with a background in education, and I consider myself a bit of an environmentalist. You could go to town with generalizations based on those facts, but most would be incorrect, for most generalizations are based on, not the majority of people in a category or demographic, but a very loud and noticeable minority.

You and I aren’t okay with generalizations being applied to us. I don’t like the way Christians are sometimes categorized as ignorant, anti-science, hate-filled, self-righteous hypocrites any more than you do. Why then do we feel its okay to call “Mexicans” (and by “Mexicans” I’m of course referring to our propensity to apply this label to anyone whose native language looks like it may be a dialect of Spanish or Portugese) lazy or immoral? Why is it okay to generalize Muslims as dangerous? Why is it okay to call an atheist immoral? Why is it okay to call an environmentalist an Earth worshipper? Why is it okay to assume a homosexual is also promiscuous? Why is it okay to generalize the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated?

I’ll make this easy for you. It’s not okay. But we justify it to ourselves by saying that labels applied to us are unfair over-generalizations while assumptions made about others are just “hard truths.” Such justifications are worthless. Take a few examples:

  • Paul and Peter both spent time in and out of prisons (Acts 12 and 16, for instance). Paul was once a Pharisee. What generalizations could we make about them if judged by purely superficial standards?
  • David was “just a kid” who wanted to face down an unrealistic challenge, and some around him wanted to generalize him as foolish and vain (I Samuel 17). How well did that work out for them?
  • Moses came from an upper-class Egyptian society upbringing (Exodus 1). How easily could he have been entirely shunned by his people based off of generalizations?
  • Matthew was a tax-collector according to Matthew 9:9. Would Jesus have ever accepted such a one if He only listened to popular propaganda?

Take Jesus Himself as a final example. Here is a man who freely associated with tax collectors, with prostitutes, and with open sinners (Luke 5:30). Here is a supposed Savior who is unemployed. (At least, we have no record of Him holding a steady job outside of his ministry). He is also homeless according to His own words in Luke 9:58. Would you or I have associated with such an obvious deadbeat and drifter as this? Would we have listened to someone with so many unsavory companions? Would we have heard a man from Nazareth? After all, nothing good comes from a place like that (John 1:46).

If we had been around to judge Jesus the way we judge others, think what we may have missed. Think what we might have rejected. Let’s be slow to judge. Let’s be reluctant to justify ourselves, and let’s avoid adhering to broad and uninformed generalizations. People can surprise you. We just have to get over our own prejudices to give them the chance.

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Renewal

I didn’t feel any different when I woke up yesterday morning, but it was on the dawn of a new year. The outside looked the same as always, if not a little bit windier than usual. My home and family all looked the same. My congregation was still in the same place with worship times the same as always and the same members, though we were a bit slim in numbers thanks to holiday travel. Still, it was a new year. The calendar had moved up one incremental unit; our world had completed another orbit on its timeless circuit around our sun. I’d have to remind myself to change the year I put on the only check I still write – our contribution. It was 2012.

I’ve heard too many sermons filled with a certain degree of cynicism directed toward our tradition of New Year’s resolutions. Many remarks are made about the arbitrary nature of the New Year. But I can’t help but look at the turning of the calendar as yet another opportunity to seek refreshment and renewal in my life. It’s seems that as I get older (and there’s another arbitrary number for you), I see more opportunities for growth and for good in the secular holidays we observe, and I find myself feeling more and more distant from the attitudes I had toward them in the past. Sure, most resolutions are left unkept, but does that mean we shouldn’t try?

In the midst of one of his most sorrowful pieces, David writes in Psalm 51:7-13:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

David is confessing sin and pleading for forgiveness in these verses, recognizing how far he has fallen from God’s presence and begging for mercy. He calls for his spirit to be renewed, and he resolves to rededicate himself to following after and teaching God’s word. With renewal comes resolve. The two are inseparable. It only makes sense, then, as we reflect on the coming of a new year that we would want to resolve to better ourselves in some way. The question is one of meaningfulness. Can we resolve ourselves to be better in more than superficial ways? Can we have that same resolve David expresses in Psalm 51?

Romans 12:1-2 sees Paul also addressing renewal:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.

Paul says our minds are to be renewed, and that such a renewal will completely transform us as individuals. He also states that this renewal will be tested; it is not something that happens once and is finished. Our transformation and our resolve as followers of Christ will be continually strained, but we can remain perfect and acceptable in God’s eyes. There will be times that our resolve falters, and like David, we may fall away from God for a time, but the separation does not have to last. We can always pick ourselves up. We can always reach out to God for forgiveness. We can always seek renewal and refreshment from Him.

Whether or not you view New Year’s resolutions as a worthwhile activity, you can make every day a day where you resolve to be closer to Christ. Walking in His footsteps is an unending effort, but He is always there to help us. Our fellow Christians are always there to help us. So as we turn the page on another year, let’s all resolve to renew our spirits and to renew our efforts in His work. Drawing closer to Christ and reflecting His light in all you say and do is the best resolution you can make, and it’s a challenge you’ll spend every day of your life trying to keep. The world may look the same one year to the next, but my outlook on this life can change when I renew my spirit and resolve to draw closer to God.

Waiting Upon Jehovah

In Psalm 27, we see David writing about coming through trials by the grace of God. Remember David spends much of his young life fleeing a murderous King Saul. His wife is taken from him to be given to another man. Priests who help David are murdered by Saul. A city David delivers from possible enslavement betrays him to Saul. He lived in what shelter he could find in woods and in caves. Later, David would have to flee from Absalom, usurping the throne. Time and again, David faced distress, trials, and discouragement.

Among all of this, we have Psalm 27, where David calls God his light and salvation. David asks, in verse 1, who he should fear. He expresses confidence in God’s deliverance and ultimate salvation. He trusts in God’s protection, and he sings praises to the God in whom he trusts. David calls on God to never hide from him or forsake him. Where all others may turn from David, he trusts in the God of his salvation. He concludes by admonishing any reading this psalm to wait on the Lord and take courage in Him.

David’s Patient Trust

In the first six verses, David declares his trust in God. His focus is on God’s house, His temple, His tabernacle. David expresses a desire to be where God is, and, in faith, he looks forward to that reunion with his Lord. Verses 7-12 then expresses the difficulties David faces in his faith. He pleads for God’s continual presence, knowing difficulties surround him at every turn.

Finally, verses 13-14 conclude with ultimate confidence. Wait on the Lord. This is the difficult part, for we are creatures that like instant gratification. We are a culture of instant rice, same-day delivery, and ten-minute oil changes. We do not like to wait, but, when it comes to God, we must be patient, for He is patient with us.

A Fellowship with God

Waiting on the Lord requires continued fellowship with God. In I John 1:6-7, we have fellowship with God, one to another, when we walk in the light, when we follow His ways, the path He set out before us. This is built upon a life of prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17-18 calls on us to pray continually. We see this in David’s life, in thanksgiving, in praise, in petition, in repentance. In all things, David would turn to God. For us to have fellowship with Him, we must continually turn to Him.

Maintaining our fellowship with God takes continuous effort. Hebrews 2:1, Hebrews 4:6, Hebrews 6:1 – these verses and more highlight the effort it takes to maintain our relationship with God. We have to stay in the fight. Remember Elijah, in I Kings 19, when Jezebel puts a price on the prophet’s head. Elijah flees to Mount Horeb where God appears in a quiet voice, pushing Elijah to continue his work and to prepare others to participate in that work. Elijah’s work lasted his whole life and extended beyond it. His relationship with God was a continual effort, and ours is as well.

Waiting on the Lord

Once we’ve established that relationship, we have to work with God on His timeline and on His terms. There are some things He simply does not promise us. He never promised to remove our trials. See those under persecution in Acts 4. They do not pray for God to remove all obstacles. Rather, in verse 29, they pray for strength and boldness. Also, God never promised us to make life easy. In fact, we know the Christian life brings trials and difficulties.

The most difficult thing is that God does not have to explain Himself. Remember Job. He asked God for that very thing before being humbled in God’s presence. He has promised, however, to strengthen our hearts and hold us up. James 1:2-3 tells us our trials will make us stronger, and James 5:15-16 shows us those trials equip us to then help others through theirs. Finally, James 4:6-8 promises us that the nearer we draw to God, the nearer He will come to us. Like David, we can turn to God in all things, growing closer to God while facing our trials, looking to a future with Him. As David writes in Psalm 28:6, we can trust in Him, bless Him, and pray Him. He is the Rock of our salvation.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Christ My Rock

We live in an unstable world. Economy, disease, politics – these factors and more create unsettling circumstances around us. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. Jesus says, in John 16:33, that we will have trouble as long as we are part of this world. Where then do we turn in a life of uncertainty and troubles? Where do we take refuge when the storms of this life assault us?

God has promised us that He will be our refuge. He is our sheltering rock in the time of storms. He is our fortress against the battles of this life. Nahum 1:7, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 94:22, Deuteronomy 32:30, Isaiah 44:8 – these passages and many more call God our shelter, our rock, our refuge. He is the certainty we can have in a world of uncertainty.

Our Trust in God

We can trust in God even when friends and family fail us. The imagery of God as our refuge comes largely from the writings of David, one whose best friend’s father wanted him dead, whose wife and son turned against him on more than one occasion. David knew what it was to have friends and family turn on him. In Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14 speaks of friends abandoning him. Likewise, Job saw his wife and friends turn on him in his strife, but, in Job 42:2, he turns his trust to God, expressing confidence in God’s deliverance. We will have friends and family fail us in this life, but we can be assured our God will never forsake us.

We can also trust in our God when the things in this life fail us, when we see the unfairness, crime, and injustice in this world. We ourselves have been victims of these things, and we cannot find shelter in the things of this world as long as injustice and unfairness continue. In the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Moses contrasts the injustice of man versus the fairness of God, and Isaiah 26:4-7 calls God an eternal rock, the upright one who directs the path of the just. He alone is just and fair, and we can place our trust in the fact that His ways are right. He plays no favorites. We are all equal in His eyes, and we can trust Him to deal fairly with us in a way the world never could.

Finally, we can trust God to ultimately save us. Psalm 44:6 records the sons of Korah saying they would trust in nothing but God to save them. A strong military, a strong government, a strong stock market, our right to bear arms, strong foreign policy – these things will not save us in this life or the one to come. Jeremiah 11:12 criticizes the people of Judah for trusting their idols; we make idols of our investments, of our military, of our favorite politicians, of our savings. These are where we so often place our greatest trust and efforts, but they cannot save us. Only God can shelter our souls.

The Lord of Our Strength

Psalm 18, one of David’s later writings, proclaims God as our strength, fortress, deliverer. He is the horn of our salvation, our stronghold, worthy of praises. He is the living rock, the God of our salvation. Psalm 62:5-7 expresses confidence that God can be our only source of strength and salvation. This is the confidence we can have in our God.

We can look to Him for comfort, shelter, and strength. This comfort and security is open to all who would know Him and come to Him in humility and obedience. David, in Psalm 18, expressed a very personal relationship with his God, and David knows, in Psalm 18:20-26, that he is blameless before God, and he knows the relationship they have together. When we draw toward God, He draws toward us. We can have that same relationship, that same hope, that same security, even in the face of friends, family, and the securities of this world failing us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Do Not Fret

Psalm 37 is a Psalm of David that contrasts the ways of the wicked with the ways of the righteous. David is in a good position to comment on the things listed in this Psalm, for David really did face almost every high and low a person can experience in their life. He faced trials, violence, poverty, betrayal, and hunger alongside the wealth and power he would have later in his life. Many wanted him to fail. Many wanted him dead. Still, time and again in the psalm, David admonishes his readers to “fret not.”

We worry about the harm we perceive as possible from others. We sometimes become envious when we see those we perceive as less righteous succeeding financially where we struggle. Other times, we may feel we have no choice but to become like the wicked if we are going to be successful ourselves. Still, our admonition is the same: “Fret not.”

Purging the Stress of Comparisons

David first suggests to us that God is ultimately in control. We may look around and see a world spiraling out of control, but verses 7, 12-13, 17-18, 25, and 40 reinforce God’s involvement in upholding and preserving the righteous. It may be hard to remember, but our God is in control of eternity.

David also encourages us to take positive action. Verses 3 and 27 admonish us to actively do good. Instead of dwelling on all others are doing wrong, we can make an effort to be a light of goodness in this world, just as Peter tells Jesus did in the face of detractors (Acts 10:38). Romans 12:21 encourages to overcome evil with goodness, and Galatians 6:10 tells us to work good toward all. Finally, I Peter 2:12 reminds us that our good works glorify God, even in the face of persecution and discouragement. When we are engaged in active good, it’s all the harder to waste our time fretting over the evil we see in others.

We also to direct our minds to higher goals and higher ideals. Instead of focusing on succeeding in this world, we should be lifting our eyes higher. Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight in Jehovah, and Colossians 3:1-2 reminds us to set our minds on things above instead of upon this world. Our aim is not to get ahead in this life. Rather, it is to achieve a heavenly goal. If our eyes are lifted to Heaven, the burdens of this world way much less.

Psalm 37:5 encourages us to commit ourselves to God, just as Jesus said to seek God’s kingdom first above all things. Philippians 1:12-14, verse written by Paul while in jail, speaks of the progress Paul makes in the Lord’s work while in captivity. Instead of looking upon all he had lost, Paul focuses on the accomplishments he can achieve for God in the circumstances he is in. Regardless of our own circumstances – perhaps pressured to compromise morals, loss of income or friendships, alienation of peers – we can remain committed to God’s work.

In the end, we have to fall back on a foundation of patience in God. We are used to instant gratification, but God’s timetable is not our timetable. In Psalm 37:7, David encourages on us to wait in the Lord. We need to trust in Him and not let impatience derail our spiritual peace.

Conclusion

In Romans 5:3, Paul says that endurance is sometimes developed in times of trial. When we face difficulties, we find out what we are really made of. Paul goes on to remind us that those trials redirect our minds toward the hope we should have in Christ. When we are in pain, when we are worried, when we are facing trials, it is easy to lose sight of this. Our hope is in Him, though, and we can be patient in Him, keeping our eyes on things above.

Proverbs 3:5 encourages us trust God. Verse 7 admonishes us to reverently honor Jehovah, and verse 9 calls on us to honor Him. He will uphold us and protect us if we seek refuge in Him. Our minds should be set on Him, honoring and trusting in Him, rejecting the strains of this world so we can reach for a home above.

lesson by Tim Smelser

God, the Promise Keeper

In Titus 1:1-2, Paul refers to God as one who never lies or as one who cannot lie, depending on your translation. The point Paul is making is that God keeps His promises. In this passage, he writes of God’s promise of eternal life and the faith we can have in such a promise. We have more than Paul’s word to take on this, though, for we can look through His word and see Him keep His promises time and again. He is a promise keeper.

The Blessing of the Nations

Genesis 12:1-3 records God’s threefold promise to Abram regarding the land, his family becoming a nation, and that all families would be blessed through his lineage. God repeats this promise to Isaac and to Jacob. He even repeats the promise to those returning from captivity hundreds of years hence. These promises are revisited in the New Testament as well.

In Luke 1:46-55, as Mary lifts her voice up in praise to the Lord, she references God’s promises to Abraham so many generations ago. Also, Luke 1:67-79 records Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah speaks, moved by the Holy Spirit, and he speaks of those events as being part of God’s promise to Abraham. Finally, in Acts 3, Peter and John heal a paralyzed man outside the gate of the temple, and, in verses 24-26, they say these days are the ones spoken of by the prophets and the covenant with Abraham.

The Covenants with Israel & David

Many of us are familiar with the promises God makes to the children of Israel at Sinai. He promises to be their God if they would be His people. He promises to raise them up as a dedication to Him. In Luke 1:13-17, the angel speaking to Zechariah says John plays a part in those promises. Returning to the song of Mary, she speaks of God’s mercy on Israel in Luke 1:51-55. Also, Zechariah revisits these promises in verses 68-72 in his prophecy. Then, in Luke 2:25, we meet a man named Simeon who seeks the Messiah. In verses 29-32, this Simeon calls Jesus the salvation for all people and a light to the Gentiles.

In II Samuel 7, God refuses to have a house build by David. Instead, he promises to build David an everlasting house. He promises to David his throne will abide forever in II Samuel 7:16. We know the royal line of David would eventually fail, but Luke 1:32 records God’s angel making direct reference to his promise in the birth of Christ.

Trusting in the Promises

We don’t have angels appearing to us today. We have no more virgin births, but Hebrews 10:15-19 assures us that God’s promises are sure. Hebrews 6:13-20 cites the steadfastness of God’s past promises and oaths prove that God does not lie. John 14:1-3 records Christ promising to come again to take us home. I Peter 1:3-5 speaks of an incorruptible inheritance promised to us by the power of God. As in Hebrews 6:18-19, we can have confidence in these promises, an anchor for our souls, a hope we can hold fast.

There are many things in this life that can dash our hopes, but God’s promises are sure. We can retain our faith in Him because we know He will always be faithful to us.

lesson by Tim Smelser