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.

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

Psalm 113

Many of us have songs that take us back to a place, remind us of important events, or remind us of a specific person. It is no different for the saints of old. In Matthew 26:30, Jesus and His apostles sing a hymn after the last supper. Psalm 113 is the beginning of the Hallel songs that would be sing at Passover, and it would have likely been the first of the songs sung at that Passover feast in the upper room.

Imagine the setting where Jesus is singing these words, knowing he would soon be betrayed and crucified. Do the words to this psalm take Jesus back to a place He once occupied, not scorned or ridiculed, but Creator? Would verses 5-7 take deeper meaning, sacrificing Himself to lift up those in need of salvation? Does the song bring any sense of doubt or apprehension in our Savior, or does He gain resolve, knowing these people need Him?

This psalm would have been sung every year of His life at Passover, a reminder of how much man needs God’s intervention and how much He has done for us. After this Passover, however, Jesus finds the resolve and strength to go to the cross. Songs may remind us of many things, when we read Psalm 113, we should be reminded of how much we need our Savior and how much He has done for us. We can be taken back to that fateful Passover night, see the resolve He has in going to the cross and commit ourselves to having the same resolve in our spiritual lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Fool Speaks In His Heart

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; There is none that doeth good (Psalm 14:1).

The Psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 14:1 (and Psalm 53:1) is understandably famous and often used these days when referring to those who do not believe that God exists. While it is true that many people turn to atheism in order to get around having a superior moral authority than themselves, and the presumption that there is no spiritual power beyond our ability to comprehend or perceive is folly, such is not really what the Psalmist addresses here.

The problem in Psalm 14/53 is not that people do not intellectually concede the existence of God – instead, the people act as if they do not believe in God! Their “atheism” is functional more than ideological. They go about their lives and act in corrupt, sinful, and ungodly ways – ways that show that they have no fear of a higher power than themselves!

The Psalmist continues:

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, That did seek after God. They are all gone aside; they are together become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one (Psalm 14:2-3).

The Psalmist declares that the problem is greater than any of us could imagine – this is not a problem limited to just “the wicked.” Everyone has turned aside. Everyone has acted in sinful ways. There are none that only seek after God’s purposes! Paul will later use these verses to demonstrate how all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and understandably so (Romans 3:10-12; 23)!

If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that when we decide to do things our own way, to seek after what we want, and to live according to our own will, we are playing the role of “the fool.” We have declared in our heart that there is no God, no matter how much we may protest that declaration in our minds.

God made things clear when He spoke through Jeremiah: “I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). It is not for us to direct our own steps; instead, we must seek after God. We must seek to understand His will so that we can walk in His steps (2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:3-6). We must not live for ourselves and our own will, but subject ourselves entirely to God and His will (Romans 6:16-23, Galatians 2:20). We ought to know He who will render judgment for every work we do (Romans 2:5-11).

Atheists do trust in a series of foolish propositions, but they are at least intellectually honest with themselves. Far too many others may profess to believe in God and yet act as if there is no God, and we have all played that role at various points in our lives. The greatest fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no God and lives however he wishes. Let us not play the fool any longer. Let us serve God in Christ!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Betrayal

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him:

But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend.

We took sweet counsel together; We walked in the house of God with the throng (Psalm 55:12-14).

The Psalmist is in great distress. He cries out to God, hoping that He will hear (Psalm 55:1-2). His pain is great, and his heart is in anguish (Psalm 55:3-5). He wishes that he could fly away and find rest, for in the city there is contention and strife (Psalm 55:6-11).

Yet his heart is not pained by just any old trouble or difficulty – that could be better tolerated. Instead, the Psalmist is feeling the distress that comes from betrayal.

There is always pain when one is spoken evil of, or has injury committed against him or her, but we come to expect it from enemies. Everyone expects their enemies to cause them problems. After all, an enemy that does not act in hostile ways is not much of an enemy.

Yet the pain caused by betrayal is doubly deepened. Not only is there the distress caused by the injury suffered, but the one causing the injury is a trusted friend! That person might be one with whom we share the faith. We may have poured out our soul to that person. We may have confessed our sins to him or her (cf. James 5:16). And now they have turned against us, perhaps even using that information given in confidence against us. Pain, fear, and disappointment surely follow.

The Psalmist knows these feelings well. He wishes for the destruction of the betrayer (Psalm 55:15). Nevertheless, he focuses his energy toward God, knowing that He is faithful and will save him (Psalm 55:16-19). Even if others are deceptive and cruel, we ought to cast our care upon the LORD, and He will sustain us (Psalm 55:20-22). In the end, God will condemn those who are wicked; it is for us to trust in God (Psalm 55:23).

If we live long enough we will experience the pain of the Psalmist. And that is why this Psalm is in the collection – it gives us a voice to express our deep frustration, disappointment, and pain. And yet it is also a reminder that even though our fellow humans will let us down at times and may even betray us, God is faithful. God will save us. We should always have our hope and trust firmly anchored in God. He is able to sustain us.

Whenever we develop close friendships we expose ourselves to the possibility of betrayal. That should not stop us from developing close friendships, but it should lead us to be circumspect and to be close friends with people of high integrity. Yet even if we are betrayed we should still communicate with our fellow man and strive to encourage him. In all of this we must remember that only God is completely trustworthy, and that is why we must always look to Him first and foremost in our lives. We must always confide in Him. We must confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9). Even if man may disappoint and betray, God will not. Let us keep our trust firmly in God!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry