Two Odd Named Chaps, or When Ministry Becomes Idolatry –

 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
-       Leviticus 10:1-3

“…our God is a consuming fire.”
-       Hebrews 12:29

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
-       Matthew 7:21-23

Not all ministry is proven to be true ministry. Simply because we engage in ministry does not mean God has given His approval.  In a relatively obscure Old Testament story an interesting contrast is given between ministry as presumed and ministry as accepted.  There is a subtle but critical difference between these two.  The contrast is stark and the story has an unanticipated ending.  In Leviticus 10 two religious men are engaged in ministry.  They are offering their ministry to God and are supposing God’s favor.  Rather than concern over how their ministry was offered their service to God was rendered their own way and according to their personal dictates.  You see, even going back to the story of Cain and Abel how one worships matters.  In other words, for two odd-named chaps, specifically Nadab and Abihu, the how of ministry was not important, but rather only that ministry was being done.  The difficulty they encountered was that ministry done for personal approbation always meets with disapproval from God.  You see, the God worthy of worship dictates the manner and acceptability of worship.  Ministry must be done His way.  Nadab and Abihu mistakenly assumed their ministry to God, and paid dearly for it.  Then in summary, God makes it clear that in ministry His glory is at stake (v. 3).  As Nadab and Abihu found out, false worship is a capital crime. 

Interestingly, Jesus gives a harsh warning to ministry workers in Matthew 7.  In a ministry teeming with the presumed fruit of applauded success such as prophecy, exorcism and miracles Jesus speaks a word of judgment.  Their ministry was unlawful.  In other words, at the very heart of ministry was no true ministry at all.  It was opposed to God’s commands and rife with idolatry.  They were not at all engaged in ministry; rather they were workers of lawlessness. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith is helpful here,   

‘But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men….or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.’  (WCF 21:1)

God determines the acceptability of both ministry and worship.  These passages should serve as a warning for every pursuit of and engagement in ministry.  Because the glory of God is at stake pragmatism or 'felt needs' must not rule the day.  How we engage in ministry matters.  Ministry is to be ‘lawful’ ministry, and by that we must help those who engage in ministry to be self-consciously aware of the commands of God.  True ministry must have the glory of God at the center.  Sadly, much of what passes for ministry these days is simply the telegraphing of one's own personal desires, and oft-times no restraint or direction is given by the command of God nor the glory of God.

Ministry? By all means yes!  Ministry that is acceptable to God is self-consciously aware that His glory and His commands provide direction for all true ministry.  Because like Nadab and Abihu, without them...we’re toast.

(DJM 9/30/12)


Merely Human?

‘But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?’
-       Cor 3:1-4

"We cannot deal with people like human beings, we cannot deal with them on the high level of true humanity, unless we really know their origin—who they are. God tells man who he is. God tells us that He created man in His image.  So man is something wonderful."
-       Francis Schaeffer

“Experience confirms the witness of Scripture: we cannot long sin against God without sinning against God’s image bearers, and if in measure we do love God, we will love those who bear his image.”
-       D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, p. 47

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension's born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it's shining like
Gold but better
Rumours of glory
-       Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory, v. 3

Last Sunday’s message was taken from 1 Corinthians 3.  And as I heard the passage read I was struck by the use of the words, ‘…being merely human.’ This seemed to be a curious phrase and I needed to figure out what the Apostle Paul meant.  After a bit of study and consideration Paul’s point became clear.  The inference is that the Corinthian church, by their exhibition of jealousy and strife toward one another, were engaging in behavior that far more resembled the fallen sons of Adam than the redeemed sons of Christ.  It goes something like this, for Christians to participate, as willing accomplices in sinful behavior, is a denial of who God has redeemed them and called them to be.  To be merely human is to reassign our origins to earth.  When Paul addresses them as being ‘merely human’ he is not paying the Corinthians a compliment.  He is reminding them that they were redeemed for something better.  He is attempting to call their attention to an ontological incongruity. 

Jealousy and strife, along with every other sin, is at base a denial of the Christian’s beginnings, and to live our lives with no thought of how we treat others is to locate our origins with the unregenerate and merely human.   In other words, we are still of the flesh (v. 2).

What this means is that Paul expected differently of the Corinthians.  They were acting at cross-purposes with what God had created and redeemed them for.  In their sin against one another they were calling God a liar and denying their birthright, and here Paul does not pull any punches.  He lets them know that they are behaving as babies, immature and unspiritual, and that this behavior is simply unacceptable for those redeemed by God.

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is important and we must take heed as well.  The bottom line is that our redemption is not for nothing.  We were redeemed from something and redeemed for something.  Our salvation is not simply an escape from the realities of hell, though that surely is true.  Our salvation signals the beginning of restoration to true humanness.  Being born again is just the beginning and an indication that the re-creative process has begun…all things are becoming new.  God's goal for us is this - we are to become less like mere humans and more like Christ.

(DJM 9/11/12)


A Few Thoughts on Turning 55


‘So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’
Psalm 90:12

‘The simple fact of the shortness of our life should put down all arrogance and pride.’
John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 5

'Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.'

Jonathan Edwards

‘Why are you so……old?’

Gru to Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me

It seems like it snuck up all too quickly.  This weekend I’ll wake up on Sunday and be fifty-five years old!  It doesn’t seem possible.  Not that long ago I turned thirty-five…or at least so it seems.  And today as I worked outside using a pick-axe and shovel digging dirt in the construction of a retaining wall I was all too aware of muscles long-dormant and how far it really is to the ground to pick up my gloves.  Tomorrow will be a day for Advil and a heating pad.

Any more it seems like there are innumerable reminders of the brevity of life.  The Bible describes our lives like a vapor or mist; here momentarily and then gone.  This year Judy and I have lost two close friends, both younger than we.  Judy’s recent battle with recurrent cancer and my own heart surgery in 2004 are reminders that this life will not last forever.  Even yesterday on my way home from Medford I had three close calls in Labor Day weekend traffic.  Next year there will likely be more friends gone, and truthfully, there remains no guarantee for any of us.  

In Psalm 90 the writer makes a request of God asking for wisdom in a peculiar way.  He asks God for instruction in the accounting of his life.  The psalmist knew that wisdom could be gained by rightly assessing one’s momentary existence.  There is something  sobering about an honest and searching appraisal of one’s life.  Sadly, this is an all too uncommon exercise.

What would it look like to assess our lives?  What might a searching appraisal reveal?  To be honest I find the prospect a both a bit frightening and daunting.  I’ve lived long enough now to be painfully aware of my own deficiencies.  Truthfully, to honestly assess my life ends in an appeal for mercy.  This evening as I’ve given this some consideration I’ve put together some thoughts.  Here are some random reflections on life at 55...,

Life is a gift.

I am more aware now of my need for God’s mercy than ever before.

No matter how long I live, life is too short.

Death will come sooner rather than later.

Life can be incredibly difficult and suffering is inevitable.

I have had plenty of opportunities for both disappointment and regret.

I have disappointed and sinned against others.

There is much too much me in everything I’ve done.

The Christian life is war.

A lot of my life has been wasted on insignificance.

In spite of my sin I am assured that I have been created for something greater and  permanent.

I have no guarantees about tomorrow.

I am dispensable.

I am not my own.  I have been bought with a price.

There is more grace in Christ than there is sin in me. (Thomas Watson)

It is best for me to keep short accounts with God and with others.

I need to be often reminded that repentance delayed is repentance spurned.

I need to be often reminded that godly character is formed in the accumulation of fleeting moments.

Humility and contentment are elusive.

I have no hope without Christ.

Death itself will one day die.

How we live matters.

There is much delight and joy to be had in the ordinary.

The gospel is true and grace is real.

Christ has been raised from the dead and I will be also.

While I may attempt to assess my days God has numbered them.

My default is towards isolation, but I desperately need others.

It is easier to love things than to love people, but people matter and things don’t.

The grave is inevitable, but it is not permanent.

In all of this I find myself again directing my appeal to the mercy of God, who is the Lord of life.  He has numbered each breath from my first to my last and each of my heartbeats submit to His decree.  Though death may seem like a haunting spectre even it too must bow to His command.

It seems like fifty-five has come out of nowhere, but it’s not too late ask for a heart of wisdom.  In your mercy, teach me, O Lord, to number my days.