30 December 2008

The Sin of Nadab and Abihu

I’ve heard the story before: Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had offered “strange fire” to the Lord and had, themselves, been consumed by fire from the Lord.

However, while finally reading through the book of Leviticus, where this story is found, the true meaning of the actions of Nadab and Abihu became clearer to me.

The people of Israel were still in the desert. Moses was still climbing the mountain daily to hear from the Lord and relay His messages to the people. The Lord had recently spoken to Moses about consecrating Aaron and his sons as the ones, the only ones, to offer sacrifices of atonement to the Lord. The people would bring their sacrifices to Aaron and his sons and these men would offer the sacrifices of burnt offering.

To anyone who has read the book of Leviticus (or Numbers, or any books of the law specifically) it becomes evident that God has a certain way of wanting things to be done. He is not vague in his instructions. He did not simply tell Noah to build a boat, a really big boat, and leave it at that. He was precise – listing the exact measurements and materials to be used. There is no ambiguity, no questions; it’s His way or no way at all. The same is true in this story. Aaron and his sons were given precise instructions on how to present the burnt offering to the Lord – what animals to sacrifice, which parts to burn, which parts to keep for themselves, where the blood was to be smeared - everything was broken down for them. The only way God could have made this easier would be to send an instruction manual with pictures. There was no questioning of God’s will or what He wanted – they knew!

So on this particular day, Aaron and his sons perform the ritual set forth by God to make atonement for the people. They slaughtered the calf, spread it’s blood in the exact parts, offered up smoke, slaughtered the burnt offering, spread the blood, offered up smoke, slaughtered the goat for the people’s sins, presented the burnt offering, presented the grain offering, offered it up in smoke and so on until all was done and “Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24).

It is directly after this time of sacrifice – the very next sentence in the book of Leviticus – at which point we see Nadab and Abihu – they “took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1). Every time I had heard this story previously, my mind automatically jumped to the words “strange fire”: What did that mean? What kind of incense did they use? Did it smell bad? Just because some sparks came out of their firepan they were consumed by a pillar of fire sent from God? Seems a bit harsh to me.

This time, however, I caught on. The “strange fire” they offered to God didn't smell funny, it didn’t emit green smoke, it wasn’t from evil spirits. It was strange to God because it was something He did not ask for. He told them exactly what He was looking for in this sacrifice and Nadab and Abihu gave Him something else, something that wasn’t on the list – and they paid the ultimate price. Upon realizing that, I discover that I am no stranger to Nadab and Abihu – I have been them myself – just call me Abi. I, too, have offered to God things He has not asked for. I have followed paths, made “sacrifices” and offered them up to my Lord when He has asked me to do none of it.

I am not alone. So many people today, in our rush to do everything and be everything to everyone, everywhere, we see or are offered an opportunity to serve and we pounce on it (or accept it grudgingly) thinking the more we offer to God the better off we are. Too often, though, we do not stop to seek His will in the matter. After all, what we want to do is “good”, right? Why wouldn’t God approve? However, these offerings, these “sacrifices” we make to God can become “strange fire” all too quickly. God is precise. He created each of us with a purpose – specific gifts and abilities that He plans to use in specific ways – and we (I especially) flounder about looking for where to go when God is ready and willing to let us know. He knows. He’s not vague.

The final point in this story is the motive behind the sacrifice – this is open to interpretation, but what I saw when reading this story was that Nad and Ab’s daddy, Aaron, offered some sacrifices to the Lord and people cheered. I may be reading too much into this, but what I see is Nad and Ab saying, “Hey, we can do that – we can burn some stuff. We need to keep these people shouting and bowing!” and so they did. They offered their “strange fire” not to please God, but to impress man. Isn’t that just so us?

“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22

10 December 2008

Wait, God, let me re-phrase that . . .

I tend to have a vision of God that's closer to resembling a maniacal, letter-of-the-law lawyer than a benevolent father. I've noticed when I pray, at times, I correct myself so as to clear up any ambiguity in my words - because, you know, it's not like God knows my heart (rolling my eyes at myself).

I can pinpoint a couple of different experiences in my life that have led to this image of a loophole-loving God. The first was in a church I have attended. The pastor of this church once mentioned in a sermon that he has learned to not pray for patience because it is not a magical fairy spell God simply grants. When we pray for patience, God will put us in situations that require patience. To this day I know people in that church that will quickly correct themselves when giving a prayer request for patience in a certain situation - "No, not patience - endurance!" I would find myself sneering inside when I heard that - and yet, I am not very different, am I? We tend to say we want to follow God and become more like Him, but not if that's going to cause any inconvenience or change for us, right? Why would we want to build patience? That requires waiting and, often, annoying situations that we would just rather not deal with. If that's what it takes, then nevermind, God, count us out on that one! (But sign me up for a bucket-ful of blessings, if you don't mind - please and thank you.)

I think, though, that the entire concept is mis-leading. God is not sitting up on His throne, just waiting for us to pray for patience so that He can cause us to be stuck in the slow checkout lane at Wal-Mart or behind that crazy old woman driver who doesn't understand that the gas pedal is what's needed to make the car go - at which point he will laugh and congratulate Himself on just how clever He is and how naive we are to pray such a prayer. He's not crafting unique ways to catch us on our requests. If He's going to work on building patience, we probably needed it. And, for the record, if we're asking for patience in a particular situation, He can and does grant it simply and quickly. I've experienced that, too.

I heard, also, a couple of years ago, a lecture from Steve Saint - the son of Nate Saint, one of five missionaries murdered by the Waodani tribe of Ecuador - wherein he discussed the sudden death of his daughter. While visiting home from college she had a horrible headache and so she asked her father to pray that her headache would go away. Steve did just that and hours later she died of a cerebral hemorrage. I do not think Steve's point was that his prayer caused his daughter to die, but that's what I took away from it anyway.

Thus, I find myself sitting with Baby Girl at 2 in the morning praying that she won't wake up again before 8 and then correcting my prayer to say that she will wake up next sometime between 8 and 9. I need to be more specific, you see, because somewhere deep inside I'm afraid God will take away my Baby Girl if I pray something that can at all be mis-interpreted.

It's a lesson, then, for me, to remember that God is not sitting on His throne waiting for the loophole in my prayer so he can say, "Haha, gotcha!" He's not that kind of God. He loves me and wants what's best, not just for me, but for all those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So, yes, sometimes he doesn't answer my prayer in the way I expect, but that does not mean I worded something wrong or just wasn't being careful for what I wished. God has a plan and any ambiguity on my part cannot and will not mess it up.

Your good and perfect will be done, O Lord.

03 December 2008

Not Me Monday, er, Wednesday?

Because I like a good game, after reading MckMama's (whose name is remarkably similar to my url only by coincidence) blog for only a couple of weeks now, I decided to join in this week with "Not Me Monday". Now, don't bother informing me of the obvious: it's not Monday. But, in the spirit of the game, I will confess, I most definitely did not procrastinate in keeping up with my blog subscriptions over the past couple of days for the main reason that my NEW computer most certainly did not get it's own laptop version of the flu and die on me after only a month of ownership and since I, most certainly, do not usually check my blogs whilst lounging on the couch nursing Baby Girl rather than sit at the lonely desktop it was not a problem for me to check them daily, as is custom. As I write this I definitely do not have a squirming little worm wriggling in my lap, trying to help me type with her tiny, stockinged feet. Because, of course, I did not decide to participate in "Not Me Monday" whilst reading my blogs, lounging on the couch nursing Baby Girl. Of course not. Why would you even ask?

Speaking of Baby Girl and her stockinged feet, I certainly did not dress her in a white onesie with lime green gingham pants yesterday and then add purple and pink socks and a pastel green jacket to keep her warm in our home that I would never let get below 72 degrees farenheit. And it was not the most unattractive outfit I could imagine because I would never consider dressing my sweet Baby Girl in anything less than stunning, especially not on a day when neither of us were seeing anyone (and it's not like I was still wearing my pjs: pink and black argyle pants with a long sleeve black t-shirt, blue striped socks with Grumpy the Dwarf on them, all topped off with a red zip-up sweater and hair sticking out of my ponytail everywhere because I never re-did the ponytail I slept in - because I would never consider not getting dressed all day long just because I'm home by myself).

Hubby and I definitely did not decorate our home for Christmas the very day after Thanksgiving because I most certainly was not tempted to lug out the boxes of ornaments, wrapping and greenery right at the beginning of November because I just couldn't wait and, therefore, I did not feel the need to decorate nearly the very moment the Christmas season officially began. Another temptation to decorate could not have been the stocking I most certainly did not buy for Baby Girl on Black Friday, even though it wasn't a Black Friday deal (although it's not like it was 50% off anyway at Hobby Lobby, because it's not like Hobby Lobby has 50% off of almost all their Christmas stock nearly EVERY day leading up to Christmas). Speaking of which, I would never stand in line for an hour at Wal-Mart only to buy two movies at half price, and then another hour at Target and an hour and a half at Kohl's even though I was buying nothing there. I did not even consider waking up at 3:50am to go shopping with my sis- and mother-in-law just for the fun of it. Who would do a crazy thing like that?

And, finally, as a result of not even thinking about dragging out the Christmas decor on Friday, I definitely have not had a strand of garland greenery adorning the floor of our entire entryway for the past five days simply because Hubby and I were not too tired from setting up the tree to worry about anything else. Because I always clean up my messes the day I make them - and would never let a mess sit longer than a day - not at all. Not me.

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