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.

Sanctifying God

And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

It was another waterless place in the desert (Numbers 20:1). The refrain had grown to be quite typical.

“Would that we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us by thirst?”

Numbers 20:3-6 sounds a lot like Exodus 16:3 and Exodus 17:1-2. The people grumble because their memories are quite short. Moses entreats God, and God provides the necessary food or drink.

Yet things are much different in Numbers 20. This time Moses and Aaron bear the brunt of God’s hot displeasure. It is this instance at Meribah that leads to the curse of Moses and Aaron. They will not enter the Promised Land.

But why did this curse come about? Why does God so strongly censure these two men who have experienced such indignity for so long at the hands of God’s people?

God told them quite specifically to speak to the rock, and the rock would bring forth water (Numbers 20:8). But Moses did not speak to the rock. He struck the rock – twice (Numbers 20:11).

Is this the cause of God’s hot displeasure? It’s entirely possible. But it would seem a bit odd. After all, this is the same Moses who killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:12) and was quite recalcitrant about following God’s will (Exodus 3-4). Furthermore, at Rephidim, God told him to strike the rock (Exodus 17:6), so there was a sort of precedent for the action. Aaron, for his part, was complicit in the Golden Calf incident, even lying about the calf’s origin (Exodus 32:1-4, 22-24). These things seem a bit more serious than striking vs. speaking.

But Moses and Aaron did more than just strike the rock. They spoke.

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them, “Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

Notice the way that Moses words this question: “Shall we bring water out of this rock?” We? What powers do Moses or Aaron have to bring water out of the rock?

We cannot know for certain whether Moses’ use of the first person plural pronoun was a thoughtless remark or whether he was intentionally trying to present the idea that he and Aaron were in some way responsible for the water about to come from the rock. But we do know that God took great offense at the idea. The water was not coming from Moses or Aaron at all. It was coming from the hand of God.

The statement, however consciously uttered, demonstrates that Moses is identifying himself quite strongly on the side of the Almighty, and even presuming to have a hand in things that the Almighty is doing. For that he receives most deserved censure. Such a statement betrays a belief in the efforts of Moses, not trust in God. Moses and Aaron did not demonstrate to the people their own dependence on God. They did not sanctify the name of God among the people in this matter. And, lest there be any later confusion, Moses and Aaron would not make it to the Promised Land – there is a distinction between the LORD God and Moses/Aaron.

This is a good example for us (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). It is right and proper for believers in Christ to strive to be holy as God is holy and to seek to conform themselves to the image of the Son (1 Peter 1:16, Romans 8:29). Nevertheless, there is always a difference between God working through us and our working. There is only room for three within the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – and none of us are any of these Three. It is not about us, our promotion of ourselves, or our work. In the end, it is all about God and His glory being proclaimed, and that, in part, through us (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9, 4:11).

Therefore, we are never saved purely by our own effort – that is impossible (cf. Romans 1-3). We, ourselves, do not convert anyone – we are servants who proclaim the message, and God gives the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8). We are not the ones sustaining or nourishing the church, Christ’s body – we have the pleasure of being part of that body and being sustained by our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33).

The great sin of Moses and Aaron was that they got so caught up on being on the Lord’s side that they confused their own part with the Lord’s part. It is good and right for us to seek to be on the Lord’s side. But let us always remember who we are, and, just as importantly, who we aren’t, and do not presume that God working through us is our work that we can claim for ourselves. Let us always serve God, remembering to sanctify Him and not ourselves!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Making Excuses

We speak of our challenge in giving; giving monetarily, giving of our time, giving from our abilities, giving over our priorities, giving thanks. In theory, we agree that we need to give more, but we make excuses in reality. We can find reasons others need to give more of themselves, but we often find reasons to excuse ourselves from such sacrifices. We are very capable at making excuses.

Excuse Makers in the Bible

  • One of the first examples we would probably think of is Moses. In Exodus 3, God is telling Moses that he will be God’s messenger to His people. In verse 11, Moses begins finding reasons to excuse himself. Moses wants to know what makes him special, how the people will disbelieve him, and how he is a poor speaker. Finally, in chapter 4:13, Moses simply asks God to send someone else. By the time Moses finishes, God is angry with him, and Moses fails to get out of the work set before him.
  • Likewise, in Judges 6, Gideon makes some similar appeals to God. When the Lord’s angel appears to him, Gideon asks how God could be with him during this time of oppression. Then, he asks how he could save Israel and points out his lowly background. Again, he fails to turn God from appointing this task to him.
  • In I Kings 19, Elijah looks for his own death. He cites his self-perceived ineffectiveness. He claims to be all alone in his work for the Lord. He feels his work has done no good, for his efforts have availed nothing but a death warrant. God does not accept Elijah’s reasons for despair but sends him back to his work, reminding him that he is not alone so long as God is with him.
  • Acts 13 records John Mark going on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas. As they leave Crete, however, and come to the mainland, John turns back from the journey for Jerusalem. In Acts 15:36, Paul and Barnabas grow contentious over bringing John Mark on another journey because of his leaving them previously. We do not know John Mark’s reasons, but, whatever they may have been, it is evident Paul finds them unacceptable.

The Rest of the Stories

None of these excuses is where the story ends, though. We know Moses stands before Pharoah and leads God’s people out of Egypt. We know how Moses intercedes for the people time and again before God. Deuteronomy 34:10-11 eulogizes Moses by saying no other prophet is like him. Gideon, in Judges 6:25-32, begins turning Israel back to God in his own household, making a courageous stand for the Lord. Elijah gets back to work in I Kings 19 and begins to mentor Elisha. Elijah stands up to Ahab and Jezebel in I Kings 20, and he stands up to Ahaziah in II Kings 1. Finally, in Colossians 4:10, John Mark is named as one comforting Paul in confinement, and II TImothy 4:11 records Paul requesting Mark’s presence, calling him useful in the ministry.

Each of these individuals become useful and productive for God once they stop making excuses and get to work. We may say “I can’t,” or “I won’t;” we may see our reasons for not working harder for the Lord as valid and reasonable. We may feel justified in our excuses for not obeying God. We can make all the excuses in the world for our actions or inaction, but God still expects humble obedience. Excuses failed to excuse Moses, Gideon, Elijah, and John Mark from His service. Let us each put away our excuses and strengthen our resolve to work for our Lord.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Choosing Our Path

The prayers of little children are quite revealing in their innocence and their frank honesty. One such prayer is, “Dear God, let the bad people be good and the good people be nice.” How true this is in a world where things God would consider good are held as bad and upholds evil as good. In our lives, we have two choices – between good and evil – and God reminds His people time and again of this choice in various ways, between life and death, between good and evil, between righteousness and unrighteousness.

This choice begins in our hearts. Proverbs 3:3, 4:4, 4:21, 6:21, 7:3 – these verses and more in that book of wisdom point out the importance of our hearts. Jesus would later say that the contents of our hearts are revealed in our lives. The condition of our hearts determines the conditions of our lives, and those decisions will dictate the paths of our lives.

The Paths of Good and Evil

Proverbs 4:19 parallels living in sin is like stumbling in the dark. Chapter 13:9 says those who live this way have knowingly put their lamps out, and Proverbs 12:21 warns that these will be filled with trouble. Chapter 10:28 and 11:19 cautions that living in evil brings misfortune and death. God’s word makes it clear that ungodly living leads to a life of trouble and misdirection.

In contrast, Proverbs 11:19 and 21:21 claim the righteous obtains life. Chapter 4:18 says the path of the righteous is as the dawn’s light, making their path clear. Proverbs 10:28 calls the hopes of the righteous joyful, and chapter 29:6 states the godly may sing and be glad.

Understanding Our Choice

Children have a pretty clear understanding of choices. They know the difference between making good choices and bad choices. We’ve read of the path presented by two choices, and the worth of each path is very clear. Not only does Proverbs make these differences clear, but the New Testament clearly reinforces this principle.

  • Romans 6:23 contrasts between the consequences of sin and the mercy found in Christ. The writer of Hebrews says He is the author of salvation to those who obey Him.
  • Galatians 6:7-8 admonishes us to not fool ourselves into thinking our actions do not bear consequences. We choose between spiritual life and death.

Consider the direction of your life today. Can you sing and be glad in the Lord, or are you stumbling in darkness? In Deuteronomy 30:15 records Moses telling the people that they have two choices – goodness and life or evil and death. He calls heaven and earth as witness to their choices, and he challenges them to choose life. We have the same choice today, and that choice begins in the heart.

Matthew 5:8 blesses those who are pure of heart, for they will see God. Will our hearts be calloused to God’s word, or will we tenderly submit to His will and choose the life of His salvation?

lesson by Tim Smelser

Compromising with Sin

In Exodus chapter 8, over the progression of the course of the plagues God delivers to Egypt, Pharaoh tries to compromise with Moses. Instead of allowing the people of Israel to leave and worship God, Egypt’s ruler tries to change the terms. In Exodus 8:25, Pharaoh tries to get them to stay in the land while worshiping, but Moses rebuts this compromise. In verse 28, Pharaoh tries a different tack – go and worship, but not three days journey. Exodus 10:10-11, Pharaoh commands Moses to take only the men and leave the women and children behind. Finally, in Exodus 11:24, the terms are to take the people but leave their flocks and herds behind. In like manner, Satan tries to compromise with us.

The Devil’s Compromises

“Stay in the land.” The devil tells us to give God lip-service, to worship God but remaining in the world. He entreats us to never separate ourselves from the world, but Jesus, in Matthew 15, warns that our hearts and actions should agree. We not only give God our service. We give Him our hearts. We cannot worship God wile compromising with the world.

“Don’t go far.” Satan tells us to be Christians, but keep it shallow. Obey some things. Do some good, but don’t be a fanatic. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus calls upon to love God wholly and completely. This is not a call for meeting God halfway. This is a call to dedicate ourselves entirely to Him.

“Don’t Take Your Families.” The devil encourages us to keep our faith to ourselves. Don’t try to impact others, but Matthew 5:13 records Jesus telling His followers that they are the salt of the land, a light to the world. He calls upon them to let their light shines so others can see the faith they profess. Jesus expects us to influence others.

“Divide Your Loyalties.” Satan calls us to allow worldly concerns to pull us away from God, but Jesus calls us to lay up treasures in Heaven in Matthew 6:24-33. We cannot serve God and our earthly treasures, so we should seek God first, trusting in Him and finding refuge in Him alone.

Conclusion

Pharaoh wanted to control Israel through comprise, but there is no compromise with God’s edicts. The same is still true. Satan wants us to make compromises and control us through those trade-offs. If we value our spiritual heritage, we will resist him at every turn, showing him that God’s will not bend to his deceptions.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Heroes of Faith

Throughout the Bible we esteem individuals referred to as heroes of faith., and, as we lift someone as hero, we tend to ignore their flaws and challenges while we elevate their successes. George Washington, Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King, and others are idealized in our culture as people like Abraham, Moses, or David would have been in Jewish culture. None of these people are perfect, though, and the inspiration should not be in a perception of perfection as much as it should be in the realization that these people are heroes despite their faults and shortcomings.

Abraham

In Genesis 12:1, God commands Abram to leave the land of his fathers to migrate to land God will show him. Abraham is cited as one of the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, and the children of Israel held their forefather in high esteem.

We see a chink in Abraham’s character in Genesis 12:12-13 when he asks Sarai to pose as his sister to spare their lives. In contrast, Genesis 15 records God promising Abraham a son, and Abraham trusts God enough to prepare to sacrifice that son in Genesis 22. How did Abraham grow from the point of lying to save his life to being willing to trust God with the life of his only son.

Like us, Abraham is working with a narrow timeline, and he lived in immediate dangers and consequences. He could see evidence where his life might be in danger. He could see evidence that bearing a child by Sarah would be improbable, both even laughing at the idea that they would have a child. He could see the end of the promise in sacrificing Isaac to God. The obstacles set before him are as real and tangible as those we face. However, when Abraham falls, he presses on. He grows in faith with each trial.

Moses

Moses is raised in a comfortable life, and we remember well his leadership of the people, the plagues against Egypt, his role in God’s plan to deliver Israel from Egypt. The Passover in Exodus 12 is initiated through Moses, setting up a sacrifice that would parallel that of Jesus. Moses frees Israel. He is the lawgiver, but he did not start out so strong.

In Exodus 3 and 4, when God appears to Moses on Mount Horeb, Moses makes excuse after excuse to avoid doing God’s will. He is not excited by the prospect of returning to Egypt, facing his brethren, and facing his former household. Even after accomplishing the Exodus, Moses would grow frustrated with the people over whom he shepherded. In Numbers 20:10, Moses defies God in anger when bringing water from a rock and neglects to honor God in the act. Despite the consequences of his action, Moses gets back to work and continues to guide and instruct Israel.

David

We’re familiar with the story of David and Goliath. He trusts God to protect him, not only from Goliath, but from a jealous King Saul as well. Saul continually tries to kill David, but David refuses to kill Saul even when given the opportunity. He is described as a man after God’s own heart.

Unfortunately, David meets Bathsheba – an encounter resulting in adultery, in lies, in subterfuge, and in murder. In contrasts, Psalm 51 illustrates a truly repentant heart, and this repentance is not the result of being caught. Rather, it is the result of someone who realizes he has sinned against his God. He repents, and he continues to press on for God.

Living Like Heroes

Why do we have the bad qualities of these individuals recorded along with the good? It is so we can see the humanity of these individuals and realize we are capable of the same achievements. Where are today’s heroes of faith? Some call modern-day heroes “Saints,” and they are on the right track if incorrect in implementation. God’s saints are today’s heroes of faith, and that involves every person who has come to accept Christ in their lives. We are to be the role models and the leaders. We are to be the ones to spread God’s word and share His promises with others.

Each of us have our own unique challenges and obstacles, and, if we want to be the saints we should be, we have to want it bad. We have to willing to be different. What we do gives credibility to what we say. We have to be willing to be singled out. It’s not always going to be easy, and we may falter or stumble. However, like these examples we have studied, we need to be able to place our trust in God, get back up, brush ourselves off, and keep going. Wherever we are, whoever we are around, we should be role models that will make an impact on those around us. We often read of these past heroes of faith. Now it is time for us to be heroes ourselves.

 

lesson by Steve Barr