The Spiritual Balk Rule

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
Leviticus 10:1-2 (NRSV)

The opening of today’s chapter is a pretty harsh “good morning” as I begin my day reading with sleep weary eyes. These two sons of Aaron screwed up on the incense portion of the whole sacrificial system. They broke the balk rule of the Levitical code. The penalty? Immediate death by fire.

Yikes!

I often say that one of the important things about the journey through God’s Message is that, over time, you begin to connect dots throughout the Great Story. In this case, the first dot goes back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve commit a balk with the forbidden fruit, it starts a chain reaction. Sin, that penchant for willfully doing what we know we shouldn’t while willfully choosing not to do things we know we should, enters the human equation. And, a holy God can’t abide sin. So it is announced right at the beginning, that the penalty for all spiritual balks is death. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. The Great Story is about humanity’s wayfaring journey to get back Home.

Along this journey, there are other scattered dots to be connected. They are like waypoints hearkening back to Adam and Eve’s original balk, and reminding us that God’s spiritual balk rule does not change. Nada and Abihu are actually not the only ones:

  • Cane’s offering was not pleasing to the Lord. He died.
  • Hophni and Phineas treated God’s offering with contempt, and died.
  • A man name Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. He touched it, and died.
  • Ananias and Sapphira lied about he and his wife’s offering to the Lord, and died.

These waypoints remind us that God’s spiritual balk rule is foundational to the Great Story. It doesn’t change over time. The penalty of sin is death. Forgiveness and redemption require that the penalty for the spiritual balk rule must be satisfied. In the days of Leviticus the remedy was a labyrinth of sacrifices and offerings. Ultimately, it would be God who would send Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb to pay the ultimate penalty for all of our balks, once for all.

The Slog and Reward of Obedience

Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Leviticus 9:23-24 (NRSV)

As a father, I have experienced pleasure and appreciation when my children do what they have been asked to do; when they do what they are supposed to do. It started as small children when Taylor and Madison would be told not to touch this or to help pick up their toys. As they grew, the rules became more complex and obedience was desired and expected when they weren’t in my presence as well as when they were. As they progressed into adulthood it transitioned from their adherence to parental rules or demands, into simply the pleasure of watching children making wise choices on their own and doing what was right as they were self-motivated to do so.

Today’s chapter is rather boring. The first 22 of the 24 verses of the chapter is a recitation of Aaron and his sons, under Moses supervision, carrying out the sacrifices just as they had been prescribed in previous chapters…

  • Sin offering….check
  • Dip finger in blood….check
  • Sprinkle on altar….check
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Yada
  • Yada
  • Yada

I was tempted to bail on the chapter early on. “Yep, I read that before. Okay, I get it. They’re doing what had been prescribed exactly as it had been prescribed before.

Then we get to the final paragraph of the chapter. After all had been done exactly just as it had been exactly prescribed, Aaron the high priest goes with Moses into the tent. Inside the tent was where God’s presence resided, and it was obedience to doing the prescribed sacrifices that made the way for Aaron to enter God’s presence. When they come out from the tent and from God’s presence they are aglow with God’s glory and fire from heaven falls and consumes the sacrifices. Wow! Spectacular pyrotechnics to conclude an otherwise boring chapter.

And, that’s the point. Humanity, and the Hebrews in this particular case, are in the toddler stages of history. God the Father is teaching simple obedience. Do this, like this. When they do, they experience the glory of the Father’s good pleasure in supernatural ways.

This morning I’m thinking about our life journeys. When we are young we learn simple obedience and direct reward. Do my chores, obey parental commands, and I will earn my allowance and stave off their wrath. As we get older we learn that life does not always offer such direct rewards. I can do everything right and I still can’t find a job. Tragedy strikes even when I’m a good and obedient person whose working hard to do all the right things the right ways. As Jesus said, “Sun shines on both the good and evil person. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust.”

Nevertheless, as an adult I learn that being obedient to laws and rules and God’s desired behaviors has its own subtle and tangible rewards. It can be as subtly powerful as experiencing the pride and pleasure of a parent. It can also be the knowledge that doing the right thing does stave off a host of potentially damaging consequences for me and my loved ones. We learn simple direct lessons when we are children in order to learn the wise principles we will need when we are adults. Being wise and obedient, endeavoring perpetually to do the right things in this life, sometimes feels like a long slog. It feels like reading Leviticus chapter 9. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah…

Ultimately, there’s both a reason and a reward for making the slog. And, once again, I find myself at the beginning of another day.

Lace ’em up for the slog. I’m pressin’ on.

 

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Priests, Protestants and Me

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man, and it was Aaron and his sons who were chosen to be the priests in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrews. In today’s chapter, God through Moses takes Aaron and his sons through a ritual of ordination to become priests. It is a long ritual filled with metaphor from their priestly vestments to a little dab ‘ill do ya of blood on the ear lobe.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. A priest stands in the spiritual gap. The priest represents God to humanity and represents humanity before God. A priest is spiritually elevated and ordained to handle and serve the sacrifice, to carry our prayers into the presence of the Almighty, and to bestow forgiveness and absolution to the common sinner.

Among Christian institutions, the priesthood is one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism (and Greek Orthodox and Anglican) and the Protestant denominations. Protestants believe that since Jesus death and resurrection there is only one priest and mediator, and it is Jesus:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Hebrews 4:14

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all….” 1 Timothy 2:5

Three of the four gospel writers report that when Jesus died the curtain in the Hebrew temple was torn in two. That curtain separated people from the area of the temple where God resided. Only the priest could enter. When the curtain was torn, the way was made for anyone to enter into God’s presence. Jesus was the sacrifice, the mediator, and the priest who stands in the gap.

In my Protestant circles, we think very little of the role of a priest anymore. I have, however, observed along my journey that Protestants often like to unwittingly bestow priestly powers on our pastors and spiritual leaders. It seems there is something innately human about doing so despite what we say we believe.

This morning I’m mulling over my own understanding of the role of priests, the work of Jesus and what that means. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. The curtain is torn. The way is open for me to enter into God’s presence. I need no other emissary, or representative, or priest. I need only approach.

Will I?

 

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The Latest 07-17-2016

Summer 2016 is almost half over. Time flies. Late June and early July have been on-the-go for Wendy and me. We headed to the lake at the end of June and spent a rainy 4th of July weekend together. It literally rained non-stop, with maybe one or two brief breaks, for over two days. It was actually kind of depressing. We stayed inside and began binge watching House of Cards.

bear bottom with rooses

On July 4th we were joined at the lake by Kev, Beck, and the kiddos. The weather finally started to break and we were able to enjoy the better part of two days together. We ate at Captain Ron’s the evening of the 4th, and then went to Bear Bottom the following day for some fun in the sun. Wendy and headed for home that afternoon while our friends stayed to enjoy the rest of the week at the lake.

Congrats to our Taylor! She headed to Scotland right after the holiday weekend. She walked the stage at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh to receive her Master’s Degree. We’re sorry not to have been there with her, but so proud of her. She’s staying in Scotland and will work at the Fringe Festival there in July and August.

Wendy and I have been spending a good part of our summer doing some finish work on decorating our house. After moving in last year there were a number of things that we just decided to put off for the sake of time, energy and finances. We got some new furniture both upstairs and downstairs which meant moving and rearranging in several rooms. I installed some dimmer switches in V-Dub pub to give us more control of the “ambiance.”

Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Happy Birthday, Grandma!

It was fun to host our niece, Lydia, and two of her friends last weekend. Lydia was playing a wedding on Saturday and her friends were along to make it a girls weekend. It was nice to get to play host to the lovely ladies. I preached last Sunday at Celebrate Church in Knoxville, and we celebrated Grandma VH’s 89th birthday that afternoon with a small family gathering at her apartment.

I was on the road this week in Texas along with one of our team members, Nick. It’s a trip we make quarterly. It was very hot in Texas and on Wednesday night we decided to go out and have some fun. We went to a Laredo Lemurs game. The Lemurs play in an independent league not affiliated with MLB. It’s mostly ex-college players and minor league castaways who want to keep playing and hoping for a shot. Nick and I actually had a great night and enjoyed both the baseball and the Lemur.

I finished up earlier than expected on Friday. My flight wasn’t until late afternoon. So, I spent a couple of hours having an artist’s date at the McNay art museum in San Antonio. It’s still one of my happiest places on earth.

Madison Matt at Wedding

Madison’s summer has been a combination of building both community and career in South Carolina while maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend Matt back in Colorado. They’ve traveled back and forth to see one another. She’s back in Colorado this weekend attending a wedding with Matt. The two were here with us at Tulip Time, and we’ll get to see them again at the end of August when they meet us at the lake for a few days.

christmas-post-header

As we head toward the dog days of August, Wendy is busy prepping for her role as Director of the community theater holiday production, The Christmas Post. This is the third time she’s directed the show. It’s been ten years since the last one. I’ll be auditioning for the show as well as playing the role as her Producer. Auditions are in a few weeks and all of the leg work has begun.

 

Three Heroes: Miles Davis

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise. They’d been working on it as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was requested that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I figured this lends itself to a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have had photos of these three gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible for many years. [see featured image of this post]

The first hero I blogged about was Winston Churchill.
Today… it’s Miles Davis

Those who have followed my blog for any length of time may not be surprised to see Miles Davis’ name on my list. I reference the famous jazz trumpeter on a fairly regular basis and I even posted a review of his biography a number of years ago. Nevertheless, it seems a bit incongruent for this Iowa white boy with little musical ability and strong spiritual priorities to find the heroic in a gifted, conflicted black musician whose demons and appetites led to tragic places. It may not seem an obvious choice.

My exposure to Miles began with a Christmas gift. In fourth grade I began taking drum lessons at Woodlawn elementary school. That year my brothers gave me a couple of record albums to inspire my budding, percussive aspirations. One album was Buddy Rich. The other was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. For those who are not familiar with jazz, it is perhaps the best known jazz album of all time, and for good reason. It sparked a love affair with jazz.

In high school I continued to love jazz music. While my friends at Hoover High School were listening to Def Leppard, The Police, and Journey I was home listening to a wide selection of jazz from Weather Report to Grover Washington Jr. to Chuck Mangione. But, while many of my jazz favorites were flirtations and brief love affairs, I began to realize that Kind of Blue somehow became the true love that always hearkened me back. There was something about Miles that sunk deep in my soul.

Through my post-college years and into my 30s I lost my way creatively in many ways. When I lost my way creatively I unknowingly wandered from the person God created me to be. Unfulfilled, confused, and life-less, the disconnect led me to chase after passions into dark places. By grace, I found the artist’s way back. I began to reclaim my birthright as a child of the Creator.

It was during that journey that I hearkened back, once again, to my true love – Kind of Blue. It was then that he began to emerge as an artistic hero. I began to listen to more of Miles’ music. We were now on a journey together. Miles Ahead and Birth of the Cool were added to the list and I began to hear his own artistry evolving through the chronology of recordings. I loved the way he both honored the genius of a classic like Porgy and Bess while layering it with his own artistry. Sketches of Spain made all sorts of artistic connections for me to Picasso and Hemingway and I began to appreciate Miles’ own artistic journeys and explorations. He seemed to fill the well of his soul and music with input from such a broad, rich diversity of sources. I got that. I identified with that. It stoked my creativity and inspired me. Miles Davis, through his music, became a pied piper, a mentor, and a muse for my own creative journey.

As I learned more about Miles the man, I was fascinated. Like many artistic geniuses, he seems to have been a complex person. I don’t think he was particularly easy to be around. Unlike Winston Churchill, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed his company over dinner. Yet, even in his frailties, struggles, and failures I found myself identifying with that basic struggle those of us with artistic temperament have to create something beautiful amidst the ugliness of your own humanity .

Miles was a man of intense passions that he struggled to control. He faced and fought his own personal demons. Temporary victories gave way to repeated defeat. His soul carried scars. He hurt those he loved most. I get that, too.

Perhaps the greatest reason that Miles has become a creative hero to me is the fearless way he opened himself creatively to everything. I have twice posted on his theme “there are no wrong notes.” He was fearless in attempting new things, pushing the envelope, absorbing what others were doing and then weaving it into his own work. He wasn’t afraid to re-invent himself, push into places no one expected him to go, and where few seemed to understand. He was willing to try, to dare, and to explore new horizons. And, as he got older it seems that he never stopped. I hope that I might reflect even a small fraction of that spirit of creation.

 

The Courtyard Fountain

I was in Texas on business this week and took a few hours to visit my favorite haunt. The courtyard at the McNay in San Antonio is such a beautiful, peaceful place. I sat in the shade amidst the serene quiet. I listened to the cry of the doves on the roof and the trickle of the fountain. Monet did a wonder with water lillies on canvas (the McNay has a lovely example in their Impressionists gallery), but there’s nothing like the genuine article of creation. I didn’t have my fancy camera with me, but my iPhone does a pretty nice job. So, for photo Friday, here you go.

Rulebooks and Keeping Score

This is the ritual of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being….
Leviticus 7:37 (NRSV)

I like to keep score at baseball games. I’ve always been fascinated by the scorebook since I was a regular benchwarmer in the minors at Beaverdale Little League. I would sit on the bench next to the coach’s wife and watch her mark the book as a record of was taking place in the game. I never lost my curiosity for it.

Scoring a baseball game is relatively simple if the game follows a simple story line of strike outs, fly balls, and base hits. But when run downs involving multiple players take place and the pitcher’s mound becomes a turn-style of pitchers called in from the bullpen with runner’s on base, things get incredibly more complex in a hurry. Then layer over it the official scorer’s role of making subjective decisions of whether the batter reached on a base hit (he gets credit for it, and any runs he batted in, and the run gets charged to the pitcher who gave up the hit to the player who scored the run [unless the player who scored the run reached on an error – then the run doesn’t get charged to the pitcher]) or an error (batter doesn’t get credited for the hit, and the error must be charged to either the fielder who should have caught it, the fielder who didn’t throw it effectively, or the other fielder covering the base who didn’t catch it). You get my drift. It gets arcane in a geeked out way.

On our coffee table sits a copy of Major League Baseballs official rule book. On occasion, when a play raises a question about a play or how it is to be scored, I’ll pick it up and try to find the rule. It’s a small book, but it’s a labyrinth of regulatory text. There’s an entire section on how to score. Sometimes it’s hard to find what I’m looking for in rule 4.2 paragraph two, sub-section C line six. The game is still going on. I don’t have that much time if I’m going to keep up with my scorecard.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the way it read like baseball’s rule book. The rules for sacrifice were so complex. It’s a labyrinth of offerings and sacrifices of different kinds for seemingly every occasion. It made me think that the ancient Hebrews had a different sacrifice for every emoji:

I’m feeling thankful today. How do I make an offering for that according to the Levitical rulebook? That’s section 2, offering 3.4, paragraph three.”

“Oops, I accidentally dropped my neighbors pint glass and a shard cut my wife’s foot causing her to jerk her foot back and kick the neighbor’s cat. To whom do I charge the error and who  has to make the guilt sacrifice? Is that a blood sacrifice or just a burnt offering? Burnt offering? Can I do that on the neighbor’s grill?”

It’s overwhelming just to think about living under the weight of that system. I can’t imagine it. Which was, I believe, part of the larger point God was trying to make in the grand theme of the Great Story. “You want to try and do it on your own?” God says. “Okay, here’s the rulebook. Have fun.” Trying to keep score in life, recording errors and then make up for every wrong doing, unintended injury, and moral oversight is impossible.

Then who can be can be saved?” Jesus’ followers asked when the subject came up.

It’s impossible for human beings,” Jesus replied, stating the grand lesson of the Levitical law. “But it’s not impossible for God. God is the one who can and will do it.

Jesus becomes the sacrifice, once for all.

Suddenly, keeping score becomes quite simple. Charge the errors to Jesus. All of them.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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