Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Your Best Isn't Good Enough

I like to believe that if I put my head to it...I can accomplish anything. I like to think that if I try my absolute hardest everything will work out (in every area of life). For example:

You want a promotion? Come in early, leave late. Go that extra mile on every project. Create efficiencies where there was once chaos. Be a workplace superstar!

Are you tired of being single? Lose 10lbs, get your hair done/nails did, buy new clothes, and clear out the aisles of Sephora (if you're a girl). For guys, just get these things the arrows are pointing to-->*

I've done these things and ended up (1) laid off and (2) sitting at home on Friday nights watching French romcoms and eating chips and ice cream.

How can this be?!!

Long story short: Sometimes your best just isn't good enough.

I decided I would start a series on the Faith Hall of Fame, because I love Hebrews 11. The first hall-of-famer is Abel:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous 
Hebrews 11:4

Who are Cain and Abel? The sons of Adam and Eve, and this is how their story goes:

Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
Genesis 4: 3 - 5

Some say that Cain's sacrifice was rejected because it was of poor quality. But let's just take that off the table right now, because when I do crappy work, I know there is a possibility that it is going to be rejected/refused/sent back for revisions. My hope is that I can get over, but my reaction to failure-to-get-over is never rage. Rage comes when you feel like you have been played. Cain gave his best, and is flipping out because his best isn't good enough. So it begs the question:

For Real...Why is Cain's Sacrifice Rejected?

"Baaaaa-d Cain!"
I have to admit: I'm a Bible nerd.  So I was both shocked and elated to realize: this is a doozie! So, I'm open to your opinions if they differ from mine. 

Many commentaries that I have read, have said Cain's sacrifice was rejected because it was a blood-less sacrifice. Sooo...if Cain had thrown a dead sheep up there, everything would have been cool? I take issue with this for the following reasons:
  1. Nowhere in the Bible does it say Cain's offering was rejected because it was blood-less. Nowhere does it say Abel's offering was accepted because it was an animal.

  2. This is a somewhat legalistic view. It assumes that there is some type of rigid formula to pleasing God, some "rule" to be followed and that Abel was on board and Cain was a rule-breaker (thus rejected).
  3. Abel is a keeper of flocks, so it makes sense for him to bring an animal. Cain is a tiller of the ground, so it makes sense for him to bring fruit. You can't convince me that Cain can go outside of his area of expertise and bring an animal offering as good as or better than Abel's. This point is 100% opinion, but I feel like God makes it clear that He wants us to work within our gifts (1 Peter 4:10, Romans 12:6).
  4.  Contrary to popular belief, God is not in love with animal sacrifices:

    The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
    Isaiah 1:11

    For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalms 51: 16-17
Cain's heart...scary isn't it?
So I have to go with the view that something in Cain's heart was not right. And beyond that, most importantly, because his heart wasn't right, and because FAITH works by love ( Galatians 5:6), it was impossible for Cain to please God (Hebrews 11:6). 

I love Hebrews 11, because it is talking about all the things that these people did by faith in order to be what? Pleasing! Hebrews 11 isn't about all the amazing and miraculous works you can do by faith. It's about understanding what is necessary in order to be pleasing...and that necessary thing is faith. Hebrews 11 is, shockingly, full of rule breakers...so it's not over a broken rule that Cain missed out on being called "friend of God." It's not because of a broken rule that Cain missed out on being counted as "righteous." Cain missed out because Cain's heart wasn't broken like the psalmist said, and when his offering was rejected we don't see contrition recorded on his face, rather we see the rage of someone who was confident in the "best that he could do"...never realizing that his best is never good enough.

Note: I'm not saying don't try. I'm not saying go and be a faith-filled villain (as if such existed). In truth, I don't know how NOT to try. I'm saying don't depend on your efforts and think they are the key to your acceptance. Don't look at everything you've done and think: "Wow. I'm am amazing Christian" because our God is not served with hands (Acts 17:25).

If my best could ever be good enough, there would be no cause for grace. And how do we get grace (that awesome stuff that saves us)?

...we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 
Romans 5:2

Go figure.

*Guys, for the purposes of this blog, we're going to pretend having those could fail to end your single days. However...that's probably not true. Those will work every time. I'm just saying.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Runner's High

I am a runner. I'm not hardcore and I'm not very fast--in fact my sister tells me that I run in "slow motion"--but technically I still count as a runner, since that is my core workout. For the past two years I have scoffed, yes scoffed at the idea of this "runner's high." In my book it was a myth.

I've waited for "runner's high" for the past two years expecting to just have this extreme burst of joy and feel like super amazing. I've never done drugs, but in my mind runner's high is a substitute for drugs. I wanted my head and body to be like "whoaaaa, these endorphins are like drugs!" For me, the runner's high was more about how I would feel than about what I could do. And so yesterday, as I was laughing the idea of runner's high to scorn, I thought: "what if I've had it, but didn't acknowledge it as such, because of my expectations?"

The most common thing runners say about runner's high is "I felt like I could run forever." They get to a point where something that was difficult is no longer difficult; pain ceases to be painful; and the place where you thought your limit was becomes a tiny dot on the horizon behind you. And when you're done running, you feel like a big deal.

I realized...I had this feeling, just a few nights ago.  Last Thursday night, I ran 5 miles on the treadmill after a particularly wretched day; a day that could only be described as a whirlwind of horrible. But when I was done running (which felt hard up until, but easy after, mile 3) I was dancing down the hallways of my apartment building. Runner's high: It's real. It's just not what I had expected.

There is some euphoria, but mostly, the runner's high enables you to keep going. And I started thinking: is there a such thing as spiritual runner's high?

I don't know. It's not for nothing that the bible repeatedly refers to the Christian walk as a race:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  - Hebrews 12:1 

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win - 1 Corinthians 9:24

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith - 2 Timothy 4:7

This is a flat out race. Maybe, more like a tough mudder, even! But, there were times when I thought that because I was a Christian, everything would be easy and joyous. I thought those spiritual endorphins would be like drugs, because for a long time my salvation was more about a spiritual experience than God's will for my life. But the spiritual endorphins kick in when you've been running so long, and you're so tired, and once you're about to give up...whoosh, somehow you can bear it. You hear an amazing sermon, or someone randomly says something spiritual profound to you, or you read a verse that changes everything. And somehow you can keep going, and the peace and knowledge of God that comes with that feeling...makes you know you're a big deal!

I think the spiritual runner's high is the subtle workings of the Holy Spirit. It's sounds a little weird, but it's called The Helper, The Comforter, we know it intercedes in times of weakness. It does all the things necessary to keep us running.

I realize, that to a point, I was running (both physically and naturally) for the high. I was running to see what I could get out of it. And even though there are benefits,  the real point of the high is to keep you running.

Just random thoughts. 

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
 - 2 Corinthians 12:9

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do I trust God? Part 2 - One Day at a Time

Sorry for the delay. I'm an accountant, and it's year-end. Times were/are hard. Blog abandoned.

I have some trust issues. I'm not sure exactly where all of the stem from, but I attempt to psychoanalyze myself in the shower from time to time. I was in a car accident when I was 9, and for years I've thought I was so antsy about death because I learned at such a young age that I could die. And I was in the shower wondering: why is that what I learned?

It was a very bad accident, doctors said I'd die; I didn't die. Then they said I wouldn't walk; I can walk and run.  They said I might have brain damage; I have a Masters degree from the University of Notre Dame (don't mention Manti T'eo...). So why didn't I learn that God is a healer? A deliverer? A way-maker? Well, I did learn those things as well, but I also learned that I wasn't immune from hurt. Tragically, it was the latter that was internalized.

In my previous blog, Do I Trust God Part 1, I said "I think you have to first realize that you're free, before you can start to trust God...and in what glorious manner you've been freed." That is such a difficult thing, because once you've encountered trouble of any kind, it's hard to ever feel safe again. You know that bad things can happen. And you know that they can happen to you. How do you get past that?

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.  On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 
 Exodus 16:4-5

So how do you get past that? One day at a time. 

The Israelites had seen hard times. Let's not forget that. They were slaves for hundreds of years in Egypt. And so even though they had seen miracles, and even though they crossed the Red Sea on dry land, they didn't forget that. 

And so God decided to teach them trust again, one day at a time. "In this way I will test them..." In this way, God will also test us. Am I at a place where I can trust God today for tomorrow?

This is not new information. People have been saying "one day at a time" for eons. "One day at a time" is the AA go-to mantra. But did you realize that it is a biblical principle also (see Matthew 6:34, or recite The Lord's Prayer in your mind)?

Bread from heaven is being "rained" down, so there is a ton of it. But yet they are only to gather enough for that day and:

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. Exodus 16:19-20

Our distrust of God rots and corrupts what God is doing for us. If they have to hoard manna, then they don't trust God to provide manna the next day. They say, "God gave this to me today, but what if He abandons me tomorrow?!" Day-to-day, unbroken chains of faith are difficult for us to maintain because we are so concerned with "what if?"  But the manna came every day. For 40 years.


Can I trust God for manna? I love that word. The people named it "manna" which literally means "what is it?" God can provide for me tomorrow, and when it comes, it won't be anything that I expected. God works in such mysterious ways that all we can say is "whaaaa?" But can I count on that? Can I depend on God to shock me with His goodness daily? Can I take my Christian walk one day at a time? 

I'll find out...one day at a time.