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There is in the 21st century evangelical world a staggering asymmetry between  what is being done and what is being talked about. The great preponderance of attention is given to the few celebrated ministries (perhaps, God forbid, “celebrity ministries”) which live in the limelight, but the great preponderance of God’s work is done by the unnumbered little known ministries who live in the backwaters.  The reasons for the imbalance are not hard to catalog, and a small few of those reasons are not pernicious.  But there is one inescapable result of that remarkable disproportion which is wicked in all of its parts – the longing to be noticed beyond the ministry which God has given me.  Celebrity wanna-be-ism.  Creeping narcissism.  Isaiah 14 revividus.  The pride of life as a Siren’s song to those engaged in ministry.  Take all of this as the whining of one frustrated by his own enduring insignificance if you will; who can blame you?  But is there not a cause?

 

The longing is not unique to our age, but it is a more besetting snare because of the technology that today makes it so remarkably easy to have an un-vetted, entirely non-peer-reviewed voice – even if only a whisper – beyond the actual sound of one’s voice.  (I can prove this: you are reading these words. The prosecution rests!)  This is not to decry those capabilities; it would be comically hypocritical to do so from this venue.  But it is perhaps a call to conscious, deliberate remembrance of a moral principle which is almost as easily forgotten as it is biblically undeniable: viz., in ministry, the longing to be celebrated is Luciferian in all of its parts.  God will not share His glory. This is the lesson of Numbers 20:10, read in light of the divine commentary of Psalm 106:33. The sin of Moses was that he “spoke ill-advisedly with his lips” – that is, He cried out “Must we fetch water from the rock!”  In the context of ministry, God has no patience with 1st person plural pronouns.  God has often expanded the reach of a man’s ministry beyond the reach of his voice; when that happens the person must handle that expanded ministry as part of the stewardship given him by his wise and enabling Lord. But with that sort of reach comes some level of notoriety, and with that notoriety comes the respect and praise of many who really don’t know the celebrated minister very well, and with that exaggerated praise comes the temptation to actually begin to believe your own press clippings!  Paul warns Timothy that pride will certainly wrap a person in a miasma of moral befuddlement (1 Tim 3:6), and the longing – yea, even the willingness – to wallow in the inordinate accolades so often bestowed today is certainly a function of pride. 

 

Therefore, it is imperative that day by day, by means of carefully designed strategies, those in ministry sit in merciless judgment on the ever present impulse to narcissism.  If God gives you a ministry beyond the reach of your voice, be careful!  By reason of that notoriety the devices available to Satan to tempt in your life are more numerous and more deceptive (2 Cor 2:11).  If you find yourself longing to be recognized beyond the corner of the vineyard where He has placed you, repent!  It is required of a steward that he be found faithful (1 Cor 4:2), not that he be found famous.  Know that the man who gives himself to ministry is not in some special sense inoculated from the sin of pride; indeed, he is the more vulnerable.  Thus he must be the more zealous daily and deliberately to humble himself in the sight of God; in so doing he will set the Sovereign free to lift him up in ways which will almost certainly mean very little in this life, but will mean everything in the next – the real – life (Jms 4:10).

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When?  January 5 – 8, 2009

Where? Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN

What?  Teaching Module:  Biblical Theology of Old Testament Temple Worship

 

Crossroads Bible College is a remarkably strategic ministry, carefully and sacrificially training men and women for ministry, largely in urban settings.  I have long admired Crossroads from afar, and had gotten to know some of the faculty since our family’s move to this area.  But this was my first opportunity to share in the ministry.  It was a delightful experience.  I was impressed with the selfless and charitable spirit of all those with whom I rubbed shoulders in the course of the week.  A person could hardly be treated with greater kindness. The students who sat in my class were hungry to learn because they were hungry to serve, and obviously convinced that the effectiveness of their service was a function of their knowledge of and submission to the Word of God. The college demonstrates a well-defined and animating sense of mission. The course assigned me gave me opportunity to push back the boundaries a bit on the students’ grasp of the Old Testament, always a delight.  The insights and contributions of those students made the week to be a true fellowship of learning. Indeed, the week at Crossroads Bible College impressed upon me once again the nobility and strategic importance of those many ministries which are not as celebrated as some – perhaps not as celebrated as they deserve to be, but which touch and change lives for God’s glory day by day and year by year.  For more in that regard, see the post above.

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