Scott Chambers shares this -- An item in Leadership magazine illustrates the importance of giving attention to needs, not just paying attention to numbers. "During World War II, economist E.F. Schumacher, then a young statistician, worked on a farm. Each day he would count the 32 head of cattle, then turn his attention elsewhere. One day an old farmer told him that if all he did was count the cattle, they wouldn’t flourish. Sure enough, one day he counted 31; one was dead in the bushes. Now Schumacher understood the farmer: you must watch the quality of each animal. "Look him in the eye; study the sheen of his coat. You may not know how many cattle you have, but you might save the life of one that is sick." This is great advice, whether it’s for the Sunday school teacher or a church leader. A full class or a crowded church isn’t necessarily a healthy class or a spiritual church. To find out people’s spiritual condition, we must "look them in the eye." Then we can minister to their needs. I believe that this is some good advice for us today. It is easy to get distracted from being who we need to be as God’s people.
Under the old covenant...as revealed in Leviticus...apart from the ministry of the priests, the people had no way to approach God. It was a serious responsibility that the leaders of God’s people pay attention to their own lives. Even though every believer has access to God today, the responsibilities of leadership are not any less significant or important today. God provides the leaders of Israel, the priests, some instructions concerning how they were to lead and instruct the people as to how they should live for Him. The priests and their families had some great, albeit tedious, responsibilities. Perhaps the greatest was to be above reproach and to be examples to the rest of the nation. Since they served with him, the high priest’s sons were also required to meet qualifications. The high priest had obligations to serve the Lord faithfully, and this section of the book (chapters 21-22), reveals many facets of the priests' responsibilities. Among some of those responsibilities -- an ordinary priest might become defiled by the lifeless bodies of their immediate family…but this could not happen to the high priest. The Lord told the priests how they were to express grief or to show sorrow…yet, act like servants. We see an example of this with Aaron regarding the death of his sons Nadab and Abihu. He also shared with them concerning selecting a wife and gave them instruction concerning their children. If a son or daughter began living wickedly, he wouldn’t lose his ministry, the son or daughter would lose their life. There was some serious accountability. The high priest’s first born became the next high priest, and he was to marry a virgin…because to marry an alien would defile his offspring and also the priesthood.
Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, all men are sinners…but, our physical and moral defects aren’t an obstacle either to salvation or service. God invites all people to come to Him. Yet, for the priests of Israel, God required that every priest be free from defects and blemishes. Because the animals brought for sacrifice had to spotless, so did the priest. This was an example of the Great High Priest to come, Jesus Christ, who had no fault or defect in Him. Some of the defects that could have affected the priests are mentioned – birth defects, and the consequences of sickness or an accident. This all seems a bit stringent…and it is. Nonetheless, this passage and others like it should not be used to intimidate or humiliate anyone…that was not the purpose. Unfortunately, there have been a few radical believers who have interpreted such passages in this way. There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God…all are special! The priests were a unique class of people with an important job to do in relationship to God and holiness. God wanted them to be their very best in every respect.
The priest had to have his heart in his work. It would be relatively easy for them to turn sacred ritual into a shallow routine. The greatest protection against hypocrisy is fear of the Lord as revealed in a tender conscience. The conscience is like a window that lets in light. When the window becomes dirty or stained, the light gradually becomes darkness. We believers today need to keep our consciences from becoming hardened…but, keep them sensitive to God. This can be a tall order given the plethora of conscience staining opportunities that people have today. A priest could eat portions of specified offerings and share the food with those in his family who were qualified to eat, but if he was too generous and included outsiders, he sinned against the Lord and his guests. I don’t know about you, but it is amazing to me how our Christian walk often seems to be just the opposite of what was required of those under the old covenant. The priest had to have the honesty to say “no” to himself and to others…which can be a most difficult thing for us humans to do. As the priests had to be free from physical defects, so also the sacrifices that they offered had to be perfect or the Lord wouldn’t accept them. I have to wonder, how many times did the priest have to reject an inferior sacrifice brought to the altar? Reflective of Abel, not only must God’s servants not make it easy for people to sin, they must also encourage people to give their best to the Lord.
Kevin Miller, one of the editors of Leadership Journal, describes leadership. He talks about his days as a kid driving down the street to Hooper Wolfe's hardware store with his dad. "Hooper Wolfe's," he says, "had an old wood door, painted white -- except where the paint was worn off near the handle. You walked in, and you could hardly move. There were two narrow aisles. The counters were filled with merchandise, shelves were overflowing, and stuff was hanging from the ceiling. You'd think, 'No way am I going to find anything in here.' "But you didn't need to. As soon as you walked in, Clarence from behind the counter would say, 'Help you today?' My dad would say something like, 'I want to hang a light out back.' Clarence would come out from behind the counter and ask questions, 'Where do you going to hang it, over the patio? Well then'…and he would start rummaging through shelves until he pulled off just the right light--'you want a light like this.’ "Then Clarence would pull a flat carpenter's pencil off his ear and get out a little piece of paper and sketch it all out.' The conduit goes here...and make sure you don't mount the light too close to the soffit,' etc." Miller compares that experience in his childhood to going to Home Depot today as an adult. He says, "Unlike Hooper Wolfe's, where you had to parallel park on the street, there's an ocean of parking…and inside, Home Depot is huge. The ceilings are 30 feet high. Home Depot has forty times the inventory of Hooper Wolfe's. It all looks great under bright, argon lights. "There is a guy in an orange apron a block away. If you run him down, he's likely to say something like, 'Sorry. I usually work in paints. I'm just covering in electrical because someone called in sick.' So you're pretty much on your own." Too many churches have guys in orange aprons just doing a job. The church needs people like Clarence…people who know more than we do, able and willing to guide us in building our lives. He calls it "the Clarence Principle": the older teach the younger, and those more mature in the faith guide those who are newer in the faith.
This is our task today. We don’t have all of the regulations that the priests had in order to perform their duties…maybe that would help some people be more responsible. Many Christians live powerless lives, because their heart isn’t really in the Christian walk -- it is somewhere else. This was the attitude of the priests during the time of Malachi. What we have before us today is the opportunity to do good and to serve. If we are too busy to be Jesus to people…then we need to reevaluate our priorities. There are challenges that can and will come along and we need good leaders, younger and older, to continue to step and help us to see the right direction to go. Christian leaders are supposed to be people who have their heart in their work…and this is because God is first in our lives. We must continue to grow… in order to see what great blessings that God has in store for us.