Strange Fire…

“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[a] 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

For those of us who have been to many different churches, camps, or conferences, we can attest to the fact that there are many different types of worship. However, sometimes things just don’t feel right, and while the problem can often stem from our own spiritual problems, I believe other times it comes from much more.

I’ve noticed over the last few years, that I have a preference as to the style of worship I partake in. I believe we all do to some extent. Certain songs done certain ways in certain settings are the most comfortable to us, and it usually has a lot to do with how we were raised. When I hear worship music done “my way,” I certainly feel as if I can bow before the cross more naturally, however I’ve been at services where the music was not my style, yet I still managed to worship with all my heart. Style is simply not the issue, and it was not the issue in Leviticus 10. When wielded properly, style only enhances worship by emphasizing the theological truths we sing on a mind, soul, and body level. For example, a dimly lit room can help us worship in spirit and in truth, without the distraction of what we might worry others can see. Style is really not what causes an unsettling “worship” service, so lets explore Leviticus 10 to find out what does.

Verse one begins by explaining that Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron. While Aaron did establish the priesthood in the days of Moses, that did not mean that his sons were golden. Scripture tells us that the sons of priests or prophets were often far from practicing lifestyles of righteousness; Eli’s sons were also put to death by God (1 Samuel 2: 12-36). God goes on in verse one to say that Nadab and Abihu mixed fire and incense and “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” In order to properly understand the depth of this verse, it helps to read Leviticus 9, in which God gave Moses and Arron specific instructions as to how they were to go about worshipping God in a specific situation. When they had finished worshipping how God had requested, God also sent a consuming fire, but this time it engulfed the sacrifice as a display of God’s glory. So what made God’s fire so drastically different in the two situations? The difference is that the worship of Moses and Arron was a response to what God had said, while the worship of Nadab and Abihu was an attempt to conjure up what God had never said. Thankfully, we are given more information in verse three as to what made their worship unacceptable to God.

In the beginning of verse three we see that Moses is about to speak to Arron. Considering the fact that Arron’s sons were just consumed in fire, it logically follows that God would speak through Moses to Arron considering the grave loss it must have been. Within God’s words He says the He will be sanctified by those that are near Him.” Given the context, I believe this implies that Nadab and Abihu were not close to God, and that that was a factor in God’s display of justice. I believe they tried to “worship” Him when their hearts were far from him, and we can certainly see that theme throughout the rest of the Bible (Matthew 5:8, Isaiah 29:13). In addition, the fact that Nadab and Abihu were not close to God has a causal relationship with their attempt to manufacture worship without any instructions to do so from God. The farther we are from God, the less we can hear from Him. As we hear God less and less, the more prone we are to try to speak or act for God ourselves.

By the end of verse three there is one last point that God emphasizes concerning worship; He says that before “all the people” He will be glorified. This is not to say that there is not a time and place to worship alone under the New Covenant. Jesus said that we now live in a time in which we don’t need to go to the temple to worship, because we are the new temple. He said, “The true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23). I think that what this does point to is a pride issue on the part of Nadab and Abihu. In chapter 9, their father had just led an extremely powerful time of worship before the people of God. Leviticus 9:24 literally says the people shouted and fell on their faces. The glory of the Lord was truly shown. Rather than paying attention to the humility of all the people, I believe Nadab and Abihu sought after the fame, power, and position their father must have had to be the leader of such an extraordinary event. This is what led them to try a little worship out for themselves. They did not see or understand that the ultimate purpose of worship is to bring God worth and glory among all of God’s people.

So, how can we identify “strange fire” when it is in our midst? We need to look for three characteristics. 1. Strange fire is not a response to what God has said and done, but it is an attempt to manufacture true worship. 2. Strange fire is led by those who appear to be near to God, but are far from Him in their hearts. 3. Strange fire is ultimately self-gratifying, and does not accomplish the purpose of bringing God’s glory before His people. The issue is that we all have probably done this at one point or another, we’ve brought an offering before the Lord that was unacceptable because of the condition of our hearts. Thankfully, Jesus died and rose again so that we could be forgiven of so great a sin. However, let us not trample on the grace of Christ, let us learn from the example of Nadab and Abihu, and let us seek to worship the Lord His way; not ours (Hebrews 10:29).

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Loving Debates

Being in a seminary, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people who seem to enjoy delving into their differences. When rising tensions are apparent, fake smiles appear, eyebrows raise, and those arguing seem to enjoy it. It’s as if each member of the debate steps into the oratory ring. As they dance around each other with their words, they block hits by ignoring the other persons point, and they throw (what they imagine to be) K.O. punches. I cannot help but feel that beneath the smiles is a hungering pride that would see others at a loss, for the sake of ego. Make no mistake, in this age of social media and glorified individualism there is a rising tide of those who love to argue amongst Christian circles. Like money, debate in and of itself can be good under the right circumstances, but when we begin to love it our hearts fall to the sin of pride. At the core of that love, is an unhealthy love for self that yields disunity. Again conflict is not wrong, and I believe it is necessary to produce resolution. However, the lover of debate will never reach resolution, because he is not in it to build up but to tear down.

What can we really do about this as Christians? Do we just sit back and watch those who love debate divide us, or has God given us a way to preserve unity? We can uncover three simple preservation tactics from 2 Timothy 2:23-25, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

First, we can refuse. One time I spoke up in class to voice a strong opinion, later my fellow student excitedly poked my shoulder, and basically petitioned me to argue with him. It was at that point that I realized his heart was not in the right place, but unfortunately I chose to indulge him. As I continued to “talk” to him, it became more and more apparent that he was rather enjoying challenging what I believed, as he twisted my words into straw man arguments. Looking back, I realize that I should have listened to the warning of the Holy Spirit, and refused to participate in nothing less than a fruitless quarrel masked with smiles. Sometimes we must refuse to step into the ring of the debater to preserve unity.

Second, we can correct with gentleness. If a healthy conflict does emerge, we can do our part to make sure it doesn’t go south by responding with respect and care. The Bible says in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It seems that in todays world we have figured out all of the ways to make it look like we are being kind, while still completely stirring the pot with our words. We’ve learned how to wrap up self righteousness and pride in a cute little box, whether it be on social media, on the phone, or in person. We can help stop the facade by exemplifying true gentleness starting with the heart, and that leads us to the third preservation tactic.

Third, we can set our hearts to fulfill God’s purpose, not ours. If we are going to be able to refuse the lover of debate, and answer an argument with gentleness, then we have to get our hearts right first. 2 Timothy 2:25 says, “…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them to repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s purpose is to grant repentance and truth for the one in error, not a “win” for the one who is right. Far too often, we get this backwards as Christians in churches, seminaries, and social media sites.

Each preservation tactic from 2 timothy really comes down to Godly love for the one in opposition, rather than selfish pride. We would do well to remember to refuse to engage in foolish speculations that bring about quarrels, and to treat necessary conflicts with care, while bearing a godly perspective.

 

System Overload

I work at Chick-Fil-A and today I did what I do many days: IPOS. Working with the “Ipad Ordering System,” is one of my favorite jobs because it means I get to be outside taking drive-through orders face to face. Being outdoors means I don’t have to experience the chaos of the indoor lunch rush, instead I get take orders over the sound of a natural breeze. While the pace is fast, the work feels so light as if it is put into perspective by being immersed in the outside world of God’s creation. Sometimes I look through the window to see what looks like 10 people crowded into the drive-through cockpit, scurrying about frantically to stay above water. In busy times like these, it is a known principle that after so many orders, the IPOS team needs to let the window get through a few cars before continuing on. Later today I thought back on what happens at work in light of the difference between what we learn, and what we do as Christians. What we learn can be compared to the IPOS work environment. Much like being beyond the perception of the chaos inside, we take things in through our minds in a way that surpasses reality. We can learn thing after thing, or take order after order without letting our feet hit the ground. However, at some point the system begins to overload back inside or in reality, because orders that never get cashed out, are like lessons that never get applied. Point: Sometimes in order to do what God has called us to do, we need to stop learning more and more, and start doing little by little until theres a spot for more information.

Academic Works

The Imprecatory Psalms

Within the confines of Scripture there are a few issues that require serious contemplation, commitment, and prayer to truly understand. Beyond that even, there are concepts that surpass our own understanding, which are known only to the Everlasting God (Deuteronomy 29:29). When it comes to the Imprecatory Psalms, skeptics are asking the question: How can these fit into modern day Christianity?

To begin answering that question we must first look at some key points of understanding when it comes to the Imprecatory Psalms. First, the psalmist did not simply seek to destroy his enemies out of hate, rather his heart burned for God’s justice. Gary Crampton stated this in his article on the imprecatory Psalms, “The imprecatory Psalmists are to be seen as men who expressed a burning desire that God be glorified. They earnestly sought the vindication of God’s name (Psalm 9:19-20; 83:16-18). As sin is an affront to the holiness of God, states David, it must be judged accordingly (Psalm 139:19-20).”[1] If we seek to mirror the heart of God as the Psalmists did, than we must realize that a part of His heart is justice against evil. Second, the end goal of the imprecatory psalms was to turn the wicked to God through punishment, so that they might seek Him.[2] Psalm 83:16-18 says, “Fill their faces with shame that they might seek your name…O Lord that men may know that You, whose name alone is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.” That passage makes it clear that the psalmist did not take eternal justice into his own hands, but that he sought for God to give the wicked a serious wake up call. Third, we must understand that the vehicle that brought the imprecatory psalms out of the authors had more to do with heartfelt emotional expression, than a hateful “name it and claim it” expectation. The psalmist communicated to God with his entire being, which included his sometimes fallible emotions. Therefore, the psalms should not be viewed as a book of model prayers, but an incredible example of the intimacy that should occur between God and man. When David prayed, “Oh God smite the teeth of the wicked,” I do not believe he was actually requesting for that specifically, but that he was communicating his emotions to God in the form of those words. Fourth, within the imprecatory psalms, it is clear that justice is reserved for God to exact, not man. In his article on the imprecatory psalms, William Ross states, “We must distinguish between cursing our personal enemies ourselves (Col. 3:8) and calling upon God to curse his enemies. This distinction is evident in Romans 12:14. While Paul instructs us not to curse others, he does not prohibit asking God to pour out his justice.”[3] This statement flies in the face of another viewpoint championed by John Day stating that since we have been adopted as sons of Abraham, we have been given the power to curse.[4] While the reasoning behind this viewpoint can be respected, it misses the point that God was and is the One who curses and blesses (Genesis 12:3).

Beyond these 4 points of understanding, we must dig deeper and ask the question: What should we take away from the imprecatory psalms as believers today? In the beginning of his article on the imprecatory psalms, William Ross states, “While we profess that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), we must carefully consider the ways in which that is true of these psalms.”[5] Much like the Canaanite Genocide, there are ways in which Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant that we cannot ignore in our interpretation of the imprecatory psalms. In the Old Testament, God sought to bring His chosen people to the Promised Land, therefore God exacted His providence and Justice through war. The people of God were not yet the temple of the Holy Spirit, rather they were a theocracy. That realization is monumental in understanding these psalms. Now, Gods chosen people are all over the world, saved by the blood of Jesus, which was shed for all. His sacrifice was complete…all of God’s justice was put onto the cross as Jesus died. Jesus paid it all. Under the Old Covenant, Jesus had not yet paid it all, and animals were sacrificed to cover over the sins of the people. It was incomplete. As the sacrificial system was fulfilled through Jesus, so was Gods justice. The reason that matters is because the imprecatory psalms were written during the time of incomplete justice. We now realize what had not been revealed to David yet: that those who remain wicked and never turn to Jesus will be served complete justice in the day of the Lord’s second coming. I believe that in light of this understanding Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). While this message can be found through Gods word, the fulfillment of the New Covenant brought this concept into words. So, when we look at the imprecatory psalms, we learn that it is righteous to pray for God to stop evil and wickedness in both specific and universal circumstances.[6] We also learn to pray with our whole hearts in regards to every situation. While issues like this can be hard to sort through, Gods Word does not fail. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

[1] Gary Crampton, “What About The Imprecatory Psalms?,” accessed February 2, 2017, The Trinity Foundation.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Ross, “Should We Pray the Imprecatory Psalms?” (March 2015), accessed on February 2, 2017, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms.

[4] John Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” Biblioteca Sacra 159 (April-June 2002): 86-166, accessed February 2, 2017, mbts.edu.

[5] William Ross, “Should We Pray the Imprecatory Psalms?” (March 2015), accessed on February 2, 2017, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms.

[6] Gary Crampton, “What About The Imprecatory Psalms?,” accessed February 2, 2017, The Trinity Foundation.

Why Be Still and Know?

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). I find that there are times in my life when I must stop doing and start evaluating. In this high speed age of various activities, our minds can only process so much before we start going through the motions. Psalm 46:10 is saying that there are moments when we must realize that all that we say and do pales in comparison to what God says and does. The NASB words the first part of this verse as “Cease striving,” which helps us define the meaning of the text by shedding light on the relative futility of human ordeals in comparison to God. Given this understanding, when I stop to “be still” I’m surrendering my hold of how I think the events in my life must play out, and I’m choosing to hold onto God instead. It is almost always in moments like these, when I am reminded of God’s truth, and suddenly I see. I see where the church and I have confused cultural norms and expectations with the counter cultural Word of God. My hope for this blog is that my writing will help me remember what God has shown me, and that it will lead others to “Be still and know.”