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It started with a Sunday walk just me and my lovely Deborabelle through our rustic community, in the sleepy town of Little Mountain. It’s actually a beautiful, insular place, rife with generations of patriotic blue-collar Americans raising families who work hard, many who gather at the end of each week to worship their Creator together under the idyllic patinate steeple at the Trinity Lutheran Church, just a stone’s throw from Noah Boland’s weathered grist wheel, located in the center of town under a sprawling ancient acorn tree.
A week ago on my way home from work I happened by this beautiful farmhouse complete with a wrap-around porch and turquoise-green tin roof besides with a for sale sign stuck out front about a block away from the church. It runs counter to the footpath Debora and I typically traverse when we walk in town in the evening to converse and to catch a glimpse of those coveted cirrus red-glow sunsets, but Debora and I were just elated to finally be outdoors again walking on such an absolute picturesque day—and then it happened. If only we had listened to that little voice in our gut that for some inane reason attempted to steer us back along our conventional path, and to bypass that house for another day. Hindsight reveals multiple alternative endings but alas it was not meant to be—and unfortunately for us we were in for an unexpected test.
Down the cracked sidewalk we went, its edges dotted with deposits of diminutive orange-clay anthills Debora and I continued, clearing the church and bounding past the first bricked residence. Then it happened. Out from behind a cluster of vehicles came a charging, very large and very loud German shepherd dog! Galloping toward Debora it barked and bore its teeth and at that moment I wasn’t convinced at all that this canine would flinch. Nevertheless I acted instinctively doing what any husband would do, and stepped in front placing my body between her and this rapidly approaching animal. I brought my shoulders low, stretched out my arms with clenched fists and bore my own canines growling in my best impersonation of a grizzly bear; at which point, thank God, the dog quickly surmised I was not something he desired to trifle with. But the combined fear and adrenalin, coupled with the very real possibility of myself or my wife driving to the E.R. after being savagely bitten sent a wave of emotion through us both. I cannot be sure exactly how the situation so quickly devolved, but if I recall correctly, the dog-owner appeared quickly thereafter and did not appreciate that I yelled at his furry companion, and he then elected to use some choice rancorous language that I shall say only made things worse. Without weighing my thoughts I sent a terse riposte back across his yard from the sidewalk, exclaiming “Better put him on a leash!” and from there forward things rapidly deteriorated into an adrenalin-fueled macho standoff yell-fest. What I wanted, was an apology, and it wasn’t happening.
There’s more to this story. Suffice it to say Debora and I dodged the bite of the dog only to be bitten squarely by the snare of a madman’s rage. We joined in, we contributed to the problem by believing that through arguing we could somehow restore him to sanity—which in hindsight was absolutely ludicrous. I called the law, they called their parents. Before either arrived both Debora and I realized either by way of fatigue or perhaps the blatant absurdity of the situation that we were cut off from having any kind of active role in bringing restoration. So we did the only thing a sane person could do. We left; only to be abruptly stopped about two blocks up the road by another man and woman this time in a pickup truck who drove almost up onto the sidewalk, which adequately convinced us to stop (feel free to interject some sarcastic humor here). These people we soon discovered were the young man’s parents.
I quickly realized that I knew the man in this truck. Several months ago he had stopped and helped me get my truck running when I was stranded at the local recycling station in town. While working on the carburetor we got acquainted and discovered we both worked in similar circles. He had found me during a short but difficult stretch in my life, and he became a Good Samaritan that showed up at the right time just when I needed some help. He soon remembered me too, and it wasn’t long before we had the whole thing sorted out. Debora and I spent some quality time talking with him and he gathered from our account of the events that we reacted as any person would if a large German shepherd started charging toward you. You would be intimidated, and then when the owner decidedly took offense to our yelling at his animal he was wrong for failing to realize that he had an obligation to keep his animal in check. Still, we admitted our wrongs for having joined in the adrenalin fever-pitched debate. After everything was said and done, we shook hands and hugged and eventually went about our way.
Some folks at this point have an innate ability to let bygones be bygones. If you are one of these people, I commend you, you are an enviable example. However, I have this nagging thing in the back of my brain, that even when I should let something go, many times It continues to weigh on me. It shouldn’t, but it does because I give it permission. Hours later, the day’s drama is still hounding me, draining me. The police were completely sympathetic with our account as well as the young man’s father and did not accuse us of any wrong, but I continued to argue in my mind.
The day’s events, the results of our choices, right wrong or indifferent are offerings. Yes, they are. If we are believers in the Most High, then like the Apostle Paul said, we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. That means we offer our lives to Him, in obedience, and in service—a simple response to a life that has been redeemed from the jaws of death and hell, and one that is now rightly related to its Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). How His word pierces the heart, revealing where I fall short! So our choices, our thoughts, our words, our hands and feet, our motives and relationships are all offerings we lift up to God. Sometimes these offerings are offered with the wrong intent, and this can produce undesirable results. We may have started out correctly but remember Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu—who worked in the service of the priesthood with their father and went about the work of the tabernacle, they were killed instantly because they thought they could approach God their own way and offered strange fire.
In the days of the temple service when Moses was given the plan for the tabernacle and its service from The LORD, the Aaronic priesthood were required to maintain God’s fire on the altar both day and night. “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Command Aaron and his sons, saying, 'This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it… It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. 'Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out” (Leviticus 6:8-9, 12-13). So, the priest on duty during his watch had a responsibility to keep that fire burning, it was not to go out—period. But just like that fire in the locomotive’s firebox, those ashes had to be addressed. We read, “The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. 'Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place” (Leviticus 6:10-11).
Let me ask you friend, reading these verses together, what was it that produced this ash on the altar that had to be dealt with? Were they not the consumed offerings that had been brought to the priest to offer up to God? And was it not the charred ash of wood that had been used to keep the fire kindled on the altar? Again, it’s brought to the fore of our minds that our lives and all that is wrapped up in the course of our days are the offerings we bring to God—and they produce ash. Later that Sunday, Debora and I went up to my father’s house and shared with him the unfortunate drama we had played a role in. I was still struggling because in hindsight I had really hoped that somehow things could have been different, and that we could have somehow reconciled that situation. But I had lost that opportunity. My father listened intently as we stood in the cool of the kitchen separated by a granite cutting table, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “Son, you have to come to the place where you pick up these things that we experience in our lives, and you have to put them aside, outside of your view behind you, and move on, because life—is about losing.” The statement resonated, and I found myself immediately recalling the Levitical priest tending the fire in the temple altar. It was one of the most profound statements I had ever heard him say. My father is successful, very efficient and effective at so many of the endeavors he's puts his hands to over the course of his storied life—even still, he has suffered great loss as well; things that can stick with you, and haunt you—if you don’t remove them, like all of us. And that’s what Moses was commanding Aaron and his sons, to tend to those ashes. That’s what my father was telling me, to tend to those ashes, and that’s what the engineer and shovel man had to do on occasion—to tend to those ashes so that the fire can burn bright and strong. God gives us the way to approach Him, we do our best to obey; and when the day is done don’t hold on to those things. Thank Him for the lessons learned, ask Him for forgiveness where you were wrong, and take out the ashes, so you can keep the altar fire of your heart burning strong for each new day. Blessings and shalom.