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Not All Fire Burns The Same

The current ministry world places great emphasis on contextualization.  What would worship look like in _______.  What is preaching like when _________.  I’m all for relevance.  I’m just a little concerned that in our pursuit of contextualization we’re giving permission to do whatever you like and attribute the worship label to it.

Most of it is beautiful.  A little is profane.

In chapter 9, Moses and Aaron are leading an interesting worship service.  God shows up…not in the pentecostal goosebumps sense of the word, but in a tangible way.  Leviticus 9 says that the glory of the Lord appeared to all people and that fire came out of the alter and consumed the sacrifice.  In  modern terms, this was a good Sunday.

The chapter ends, Chapter 10 begins, and we read...

1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 

Nadab or Abihu saw the reaction that Moses and Aaron got and thought “I can do that….”.  With that, they ran off to light their own fire, presumably to recreate the moment.

You know the moment.  The key change.  The chord progression.   That part of the service where everyone stands and raises their hands….except that this time, the fire they offered was profane.

Throughout history, even secular writers like Emile Durkheim have written of the two sides of the coin –  the sacred and the profane.  They may have termed it differently, there is a general sense that if there is a God, He has a way of doing things….and we sometimes have ours.  Those two are not necessarily compatible.

2 So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.

The tender hearted (or tinder hearted) among us protest “What is God doing?  Isn’t fire fire?”  Apparently not.  Like wiring a circuit breaker, there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way.  It’s presumption to expect an all powerful God to be less exact than a mere 120 volts.

We spend too much time exploring what worship would look like if we were doing it versus worship that He would call pure and true.

Heck of a thing to be wrong about, isn’t it?

Apparently Aaron had some questions about the appropriateness of the punishment, because Moses took a moment to clarify what had happened.

3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying:  ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace.

This morning I’m impressed to check the nature of my fire and keep my peace.  Of all the things I am willing to be wrong about, the nature of my fire is not one.

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7 Responses

  1. This needs to be expanded upon. Have no idea what I am supposed to take away from this.

  2. This is quite possibly my favorite comment of all time.

  3. Our Pastor talked about presumptuous permission in part of his message Sunday. Basically, we move forward hoping the outcome will be favorable, all based on presumption. In other words, we are hoping we are right because we didn’t really ask. We are afraid if we ask, we won’t get our way, however, if we do it our way, we cross our fingers and hope God agrees with us. Am I close? 🙂

  4. I concur with Rocky – I was thinking that before I even read his comment. What is this ‘strange fire’ passage supposed to mean for us today? I’ve heard this story preached for most of my life, and all-too-often ‘strange fire’ is used as spiritual shorthand for whatever theological or praxis emphasis that “we” don’t like – typically, what the “kids these days” happen to be doing. I agree with you that the passage has to mean something, but what? Such potent passages are denigrated if merely used as wax noses to bend where we will.

  5. I think you’re both overcooking it – sort of like leaving noodles on the stove too long until they’re not quite fit for consumption. I see the strange fire as worship offered in presumption, usually based on it having worked somewhere else just perfectly. I don’t see it at all as a matter of style or ‘the kids these days’. Depending on who you ask, I’m either the old coot or one of the kids, so I’m really careful about picking one side against the other lest I find myself at war with myself.

  6. Okay, so I’m really slow…is your take-away from this story that we need to develop a respectful, sensitive ear to what Father wants to do in our midst during each instance of worship?

    And I agree: When it comes to pasta, al dente is the way to be!

  7. Yes, and that the appropriateness of worship is a decision for God.

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