Sunday, July 24, 2011

Familiarity Breeds …

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for  7.30.11

There are a couple of Bible stories we should look at to start with:  Hophni and Phinehas and Nadab and Abihu.   These guys have a couple of interesting things in common.  One:  they had fathers who were very important and well respected in the church – Eli and Aaron.  Second:  they were following in their fathers’ footsteps.  Third:  they got into BIG trouble.

Eli’s sons are described as “scoundrels”:  
“Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ If the person said to him, ‘Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,’ the servant would answer, ‘No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.’  This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.” 1 Samuel 2:12-17
While it’s implied that Aaron’s sons went into the sanctuary after they had been drinking:  
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. … Then the LORD said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.’”  Leviticus 1-2, 8-10
Does it surprise you that these four men who had been so thoroughly trained and groomed to work in the sanctuary became such spectacular failures?  Probably not, we even have a name for it:  PK’s – preachers’ kids.  Right? 

I’ve heard lots of theories about why PK’s seem to fall so spectacularly: that men in the ministry tend to put their families second; that people’s expectations of PK’s is so much higher and that Satan works so much harder on PK’s to discredit the ministry of their fathers.  I guess all of those theories can be true, especially the last one, but I have one more.  I think that sometimes PK’s, especially in the cases of Hophni, Phinehas, Nadab and Abihu, get so used to being around the church building itself and what we might call “sacred” settings and situations, that those places and situations tend to lose their importance and their specialness and so the difference between sacred and common gets blurred.  (Feel free to disagree.  Let me know what you think.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should avoid church because we’ll get too comfortable there and get into trouble.  I’m just saying that we need to guard against our church/worship experiences becoming routine or second nature.

Wayne Oates describes it this way:
“Marketplace thought about the presence of God is one of sentimental familiarity. Country-western songs speak of ‘having a little talk with Jesus’ almost as if the Lord were a chum with whom one has a chitchat. ... In stark contrast, however, is the persistent biblical wisdom that God's presence comes to us when we know it not. At the least, our awareness of the presence is an afterthought”[1]
C.S. Lewis expresses a similar thought about letting our fear and respect of God begins wane and we begin to become too familiar: 
“‘I think the ‘low’ church ‘milieu’ that I grew up in did tend to be too cozily at ease in Zion. My grandfather, I'm told, used to say that he ‘looked forward to having some very interesting conversations with St. Paul when he got to heaven.’ Two clerical gentlemen talking at ease in a club! It never seemed to cross his mind that an encounter with St. Paul might be rather an overwhelming experience even for an Evangelical clergyman of good family. But when Dante saw the great apostles in heaven they affected him like ‘mountains.’ There's lots to be said against devotions to saints; but at least they keep on reminding us that we are very small people compared with them. How much smaller before their master?”[2]
I think what both of  these authors are saying is that, if we’re not careful, our relationship with God and worshipping Him can become too much about what makes us feel good when it should be more about what God wants from us.  More like this:
“I am dismayed by the popular phrase ‘worship experience’ to describe the church's corporate worship. Worship has the capacity to transform us, because it focuses our hearts and minds on God--God seen in one another, in ourselves and in the world around us. However, the phrase ‘worship experience’ suggests that worship is important because it induces feelings. In this context worship is focused more on the worshiper than on the One worshipped. ... We need to ask ourselves what a true worship experience is so that if we had one, we could recognize it.”[3]
The other extreme is that our worship can become completely ritualized and feelingless that our minds can be somewhere else while our bodies are going through the motions.

So that’s the struggle and the battle that our four PK’s lost.  Their worship quit being about God and became about themselves.  It became all about them and very little about Jesus.

Stuart Sacks has an illustration that might help us see what worship should be like.  
“While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, ‘Ham, henek met.’ Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: ‘I don't want anything; I have just come near.’
“I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael's way of honoring me. He really didn't want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.
“‘What brings you here, my child?’ the Lord asks.
“‘Ham, henek met.’”
“Doesn't that reveal the heart of true worship?”[4]
Tell Jesus today, “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”

[1] Wayne E. Oates, Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 4.
[2] C. S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 17.
[3] Mark Horst in The Christian Century (Nov. 11, 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 2.

[4] Stuart Sacks, Villanova, Pennsylvania

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