When Generalizations Are Negative (and not necessarily true)

Remember the red cups firestorm a couple months ago? I avoided saying anything about it. I didn’t want to give it any more attention. I still don’t. So, this post isn’t specifically about red cups. It’s about what the red cup incident reveals to us and what we can learn from it.

The red cup tirade was attributed to “some Christians” who were bent out of shape , crying foul that a company didn’t recognize their personal beliefs. But it started with one person’s rant. One person. I personally know no Christian who was upset about the cups. I saw no posts that supported the one person’s rant. I only heard and read perspectives that basically cried, “Who cares?!” But the red cup firestorm showed us that one person’s rant can be generalized or attributed to a whole group, even if the overwhelming majority doesn’t back up the rant. It was negative press, but we still shared it and talked about it as if it was a big issue. Instead of simply saying, “I don’t agree. End of story.,” we took offense but kept it viral.

The generalizations are far and wide and usually spread faster and farther when they have a negative tone. And Christians aren’t the only targets. Muslims. Gun-control activists. Gun-rights activists. Police officers. Black teens. Mentally ill persons. Foreigners. And the list goes on.

How badly do we detest other people’s generalizations of what we believe and how we think and respond to things? Maybe we need to start with a more reflective question: How do we personally generalize from one person to many in everyday circumstances?

If you’re going to walk in God’s Word, wear it well.

The parade was open to everyone, including a man who wore a homemade costume that resembled a Bible. As he walked, he waved a Bible in the air, emphasizing his words:

Who believes this book needs to be in the White House?

Yell, “Amen!”

I occasionally heard a few murmurs, but definitely no loud “Amens.” That’s not to say people don’t believe the Bible and it’s truths need to be lived out in our country’s leadership. It was just…simple…uncomfortable.

As Christians, we need to speak God’s Word. We need to walk it out in daily life. But we need to pay attention to how we speak it and how we walk it out.

I don’t know this particular man’s background or motivation, and I don’t want to judge him too harshly or quickly. Instead, I decided to let his actions prompt my own questions and reflection.

Can I imagine Jesus setting such an example for us?

How did Jesus motivate people?

How and why did He ask questions?

How do I speak God’s Word? Do I represent His character as I’m speaking, or is there any disparity between the my words and my actions (as I try to speak and live out God’s Word and His character)?

Is what I’m saying and doing having the impact God wants me to have, or am I like a clanging gong?

Am I attracting people to Jesus or repelling them?

Instead of focusing on what someone else is doing or not doing, instead of passing judgment, take time to ask yourself questions that can only challenge you to grow. Let God show you the truth, so you can live out the life He intends for you.

God’s Social Network

What do you “like” on Facebook?

I recently noticed someone promoting her recently created fan page with the promise, “I’ll like you if you like me!”

Perhaps she was trying to be funny, but I have to admit my first thought was, “I’m glad God’s ‘like’ isn’t so conditional!”

And then there are the posts people throw into the social networking sphere and leave those who respond wondering if the posts were made by a person. Despite follow up questions and comments, the person who originally posts doesn’t respond. It reminds me of playing softball or kickball as a child when there weren’t enough available people to make teams, so people repeatedly batted and left “ghost men” on bases to be forced around the diamond by subsequent batters. Someone posts a question or comment for their friends to read and then declare “Ghost man on Facebook!” In other words, you can respond, but I won’t acknowledge it. You’re talking to deaf ears.

I’m glad God isn’t silent. There’s no “Ghost god in heaven!”

Social networking might be frustrating at times, but it’s only because we’re networking with other people. Relationships and communications are challenging.

Our relationship and communication with God is different. We can gather a few social networking tips from God.

  1. Gather friends. Some you’ll invest in for many years. Some will be brief acquaintances. But we need each other. We were created for community.  A friend loves you all the time,   and a brother helps in time of trouble. (Proverbs 17:17)
  2. Intentionally engage. God’s will for you is not to live in a protective cocoon. You need to connect with others in ways that make a difference in your faith and the faith of others. Pray, serve, and encourage. Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Be yourself. God created you in his image, and he created you to be unique. Don’t cheat or deceive him or yourself by trying to portray yourself as less or more than you are. You made my whole being;  you formed me in my mother’s body. (Psalm 139:13)
  4. Be positive and truthful. Hold yourself to God’s standards. Refrain by letting any other standard determine how you respond. Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. (Ephesians 4:15)

You might be heavily involved in social networking. You might be avoiding it for a variety of reasons. Whatever your choice and wherever you’re connecting, let God be your guide. Reflect him in all connections. Let his ways guide your ways.

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan.  God knew them before he made the world, and he chose them to be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29)

Sunrise, Sunset

The sun rises and sets every day. (Well, in reality, it only looks like it rises and sets. It’s not moving.) I take it for granted. I’ve seen breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and I imagine you have, too. It’s easy to say “yeah, another beautiful sunrise…breathtaking in the moment, but soon forgotten.”

Not this one. I hope to never forget this sunrise – just like I hope to never forget the sunset I witnessed on a flight from the West Coast several years ago. They share something – a stunning, stark transition from dark to light, or light to dark.

When you think of transitions from dark to light, or light to dark, in your life, what comes to mind? I’m not referring to literal sunrises and sunsets. What about the figurative sunrises and sunsets, when you’ve experienced an overwhelming oppression of darkness or an intense illumination with light?

I’ve felt swallowed by darkness, and I’ve felt exposed and warmed by light. The morning I witnessed the brilliant sunrise, I remembered both.

I began an early morning drive and watched the radiant moon, nearly full, contrasted against the darkness. There was no hint of daylight…except the reflected light of the moon. The moon by itself is dark. I looked at the darkness around the moon and surrounding me. It was a stark contrast to the bright moon. As I turned and began to travel southward, I could see to the east no hint of light. I looked to the west and marvelled at the moon, which would have been swallowed in the darkness like everything else around me except that the sun was somewhere, out of my sight, sharing its powerful light. The moon itself? No light. There has to be a source of light. And the moon has to be positioned to reflect it.

What is your source of light? Are you positioned to reflect it?

I thought of the brilliance of the nearly full moon. It wouldn’t have radiated as much light if it wasn’t as full as it was. The moon itself doesn’t grow and diminish in size. It’s the same dark mass all the time, but there are cycles of reflecting more or less light because of its position and the position of “obstacles” blocking the light source.

I can become disheartened when I’m less illuminating than I want to be. I feel less significant. I question my worth. Sometimes it has to do with my own position, and sometimes it has to do with various situations around me. But the source of my light doesn’t change. And the basis of who I am doesn’t change.

How have you experienced cycles of illumination in your life?

And then I saw a hint of light on the horizon. The sun wasn’t visible, but evidence of it was. In fact, evidence of the sun had already been visible because of the moon. As I looked at the thin but vibrant line of light, I was captured by its warmth. I couldn’t feel it’s warmth. I was inside the car – plus, it was a cold morning. But the light was warming. There was something about this sunrise, looking at the moon on my right and the emerging sun on my left. I kept looking back and forth. But as with any sunrise, change can happen in the blink of an eye.

When have you looked away from something for what seemed like a brief moment and looked back to find significant change? When has life changed in the blink of an eye?

As I glanced again, I still couldn’t see the sun, but I saw splashes of color bleeding upward. It was similar to a sunset, but it wasn’t splattered across the sky or horizon – and I saw something I hadn’t seen before.

There was a bold beam of light, reaching from beyond my perspective of the ground high into the sky. It widened as it shot upward, just as a sunbeam widens as it reaches the ground through a break in the clouds.

It was brilliant.

The emerging sunrise on my left. The vibrant moon on my right. Light and dark – but all connected to the light.

I was right in the middle. And as I drove, my view changed with each passing mile.

My view changes on a daily basis. With new experiences, struggles, and relationships come new perspectives. I move through cycles of light and darkness, but the source of my light remains the same, regardless of my experience of it. There is hope and brilliance in everything – even the darkest dark – because God is the source of all life and light.

Regardless of your perspective, God is still God. He is present. He is loving. He is truth.

Look around you and experience the full presence of God.

Lord, you give light to my lamp. My God brightens the darkness around me. Psalm 18:28

Negative Patterns

There’s a beauty in patterns. Rows of trees, lines of a web, petals of flowers, veins of leaves. I like to look for the way things fit together. I remember sitting in the back of the family car, watching the utility poles as we passed. I’d try to count, establishing a pattern, so if our speed was consistent, we’d pass consecutive poles on the same count. And I enjoyed the What in the World puzzle of National Geographic’s World magazine, featuring magnified photos and challenging readers to identify the glimpse of something in nature. (Try one by clicking here.)

The consistency of patterns is reassuring – when the patterns are beautiful. I think about the patterns of my life. Some are pretty; others aren’t. What patterns do you see in your life? When you pull back and widen your perspective, what significance do those patterns have on your life, especially on your faith? What will others assume about you by looking at your patterns?

I want to reflect God.

When I think of a reflection, I think of looking into water. But it’s not the way I should strive to reflect God. After all, when you look at a reflection in water, the image isn’t accurate. The size, colors, and lines are all distorted. When we reflect God, it’s more like a photograph negative. It’s not the actual image, but it has every detail of the image recorded in accurate dimension and proportion. Someone can take the negative and reveal the truth about God. Your life becomes a series of snapshots of God for all around you to see.

Develop the negatives of your life. What do you see?

Be the Straw

One of the greatest encouragers in my life recently sent me a message: “Be the straw to the soda.” (She was quoting Sam Dalton, a speaker she admires.)

Such a simple phrase, and yet it encourages me to “be the straw” to Jesus in so many ways…

Being the straw to the soda reminds me that I’m not the soda. I don’t have to be the soda. I just have to be the vehicle through which someone tastes the soda. I’m going to mess up, but that’s because I’m not the soda – only Jesus is!

Being the straw to the soda reminds me to stay grounded. If I’m out of the soda, what good am I? I’m just a piece of plastic filled with air. I’d rather be filled and useful!

Being the straw reminds me that I’m not the only means someone has to the soda. Again, it’s not about me…it’s about the soda! Some people prefer direct drinks without a straw, and I’m okay with not being needed sometimes.

Being the straw reminds me I need to stay true to my purpose. Straws are consistent in structure: a long hollow tube. Sure, they might differ in color, size…and some even twist or bend, but some designs just aren’t going to work…like holes all over or a sharp bend. I need to accept the way I’m designed – my purpose – and trust I’m going to be most effective in it!

What about you? How will you be the straw to the soda today?

And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. 1 Corinthians 12:6

In The Light

My daughter stepped onto the front porch to answer a phone call. It was after dark on a summer evening, and we hadn’t turned on the outside light. When she walked into the house about twenty minutes later, she squinted and exclaimed, “It’s bright in here!” I replied with a chuckle, “Yes, that’s what happens when you stay in the dark for too long.”

I realized the simple truth of what I said. When we stay in the dark, our eyes adjust to darkness. When we quickly move to a well-lit area, we can’t see well at first even though we see more than we did while in the dark. As our eyes adjust, we see more and more details around us.

When we keep portions of our lives in the dark, we might adjust our perspective and rationalize we don’t need more light. We might think we can see “well enough”…but can we? When we stay in the dark too long – or when we compartmentalize certain areas of our lives in dark corners – we can’t see the truth. Not until light shines through the darkness can we see the details.

While light can be blinding, it doesn’t seem to take long to adjust to darkness. I remember many evenings I would sit and read. As the pages turned, the sun set, and the room around me grew darker and darker. I didn’t notice. I could be sitting in a nearly dark room, focused on my book, until someone would walk in and ask me how I could see in the dark. Dark? I’d look around and realize how dark it was. Because my light source had dimmed in small increments, I had adjusted.

Sad to say, but there have been areas in my life that have dimmed in small increments, too. Perhaps I didn’t think they were important enough to shine light on them…or perhaps I was too anxious of what would be exposed if God shined his light on some aspects of my life.

But God is the light that reveals the truth of my life. His light is what reveals the truth of himself. Without light we can’t see how well we’re reflecting him, and others can’t see how we’re reflecting him. Light can be blinding if we stay in the dark for too long. Or in our complacency, we can become accustomed to dimming light. He gives us light to reveal himself and his ways to us. Are you living in it?

In the past you were full of darkness, but now you are full of light in the Lord. So live like children who belong to the light. Light brings every kind of goodness, right living, and truth. Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the things done in darkness, which are not worth anything. But show that they are wrong. It is shameful even to talk about what those people do in secret. But the light makes all things easy to see, and everything that is made easy to see can become light. Ephesians 5:8-14