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Friday, May 7, 2010

Cain's predicament

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

What a hopeless word this is! If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? This is harsh and hard to hear, but it is so true.

First off, it's true when I want to shift the blame to someone else. I don't want to be held responsible for my bad attitude, my irresponsibility, my laziness. Those are my negative reactions to other people's mistakes. My attitude is bad because people don't treat me well. I'm irresponsible because other people haven't held up their end of the bargain, so why should I try? I'm lazy because other people don't appreciate my work anyway. It's All Their Fault.

But God's word to Cain calls me on the carpet. "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? It's your call, brother. If you get it right, your right-eousness will be recognized. By God, if not by other people.

So I'm held accountable for my shortcomings. It's my fault, not theirs. They are, after all, MY shortcomings. And I hate that, but now I need to buckle down and get to work. So I start making to-do lists, planning my time usage, setting good priorities. And things get better in my life. But they don't get perfect. And when I see my shortcomings (STILL?!) I get frustrated. And God says to me, "Why are you downcast? If you do right, will you not be accepted?"

Then I resolve to work harder. To study more. To plan better. To manage more effectively. And things get better. But they don't get perfect. So I get frustrated. And God says to me ...

And I am broken, because I cannot do what is right. I can do some of it, but not all of it. I can be good, but not perfect. I fall short of the mark. Like Cain, I am an imperfect person.

So now I have an alternative. I can be broken, and my "self" -- the essence of all that I try to preserve, all of ME that I try to take pride in, leaks out and blows away on the wind. Or I can grab the duct tape and bind up my brokenness and try to keep it together. And try harder. And do more. And somehow make it work. And when it doesn't work, and I see others who seem to have been accepted by God when I fall short, I kill them.

Maybe not with a rock, but with my words. I gleefully spread malicious gossip about what they're really like. I take deep, evil joy in any misfortune that comes their way. These things make me feel vindicated, justified. But the blood of the victims of my unjust attitude cries out to God.

The basic truth at the heart of knowing Jesus is this: we can build our lives on the barren rock of ourselves, our accomplishments, our abilities, our resources; or we can die to ourselves and let our lives be based at the foot of the cross, on the stone of Golgatha, where Jesus bled out his innocent blood so that I might be accepted. Then whatever I have to offer is nothing at all, but I offer it anyway in gratitude for what Jesus already did for me. I am not proud, I am grateful. I am not resentful, I am joyful. I am not envious, I am delighted in the good God has produced in the life of my neighbor.

It's the difference between life and death.

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