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Lance Armstrong: Mountains Ahead

MP900227641Was anyone surprised by Lance Armstrong’s confession about cheating at cycling? (If Oprah Winfrey could not tug it out of him, who could?) The problem of cheating has dogged humanity since the beginning. Remember that Jacob cheated by impersonating his older brother, Esau, to get his father’s blessing and birthright. Today we might not think of cheating as one of the more serious moral issues, but God does. In Deuteronomy 25:16 it says, “All who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the Lord.” Ouch! I don’t cite this verse to make Lance Armstrong feel bad or to sound morally superior (I’m not even morally superior to my Border Collie, and he’s a miscreant), but to point out that something sinister occurs when people cheat.

Proverbs 16:11 says, “The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards of fairness.” This Proverb is for all who make rules, follow rules, and enforce rules. If we don’t accept that God is the ultimate author of fairness and his standards are much more important and perfect than our notions of fairness, we are doomed to compromise fairness to meet our own desires. Granted, Armstrong may have been competing on what he perceived as a level playing field while doping because most of the other top competitors were doping, but the ethical waters certainly got muddied. And people got hurt in the process.

God knows it is dangerous for flawed humans to think that ethics, morality and fairness are contrivances that society can create and manage for the sake of having a smooth-running society. If a society is to survive and thrive, its people must hold to the belief that there is a moral God who cares about our decisions and actions. Any standards of fairness without the foundation of God are ephemeral. In other words, ethics and fairness are not important because societies can’t survive without them (though that is true), they are important because they are part of God’s character.

Fortunately for Lance Armstrong, and all of us, Psalm 51:17 says: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, or God.”

Hopefully, Lance Armstrong has started the journey towards a broken and repentant heart. The thing he will need to watch out for is time. As time passes, he will likely desire to move forward and get on with life while people and other forces will want to keep dragging him back to his painful mistakes. It will be challenging to maintaining a broken and repentant heart until he weathers all the storms ahead and comes to the place where God desires to take him. Lance Armstrong can be a better man. But it can only be accomplished with God’s help. Maybe that’s the lesson for Lance Armstrong: this is one race he can’t win on his own. It is a truth that applies to all of us when we stumble.

Why Not Me?

Cain and Abel by Titian

If you spend much time in the church you will notice that some Christians seem to receive more spiritual blessings from God than others. AS you become more aware of this seemingly unfair allocation of blessings, you might ask God: Why not me? I’ve too often asked that question and, honestly, with an indignant attitude. Then last Sunday our pastor preached about Cain and Abel from Genesis chapter 4. Here is their story (verses 1-8):

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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 rule over it.’
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Theologians have debated the reasons why God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s. Abel may have brought the best animal in his flock while Cain may have brought the leftovers of his crops. Cain may have brought his offering expecting to get something in return from God. Abel’s motives may have been more pure. It’s all speculation. What we do know is that Cain knew exactly what God expected but jealously and anger reared its ugly head in Cain’s heart. As a result, Cain did not recognize that God was trying to help him find favor and acceptance. God offered Cain a path to a blessing, but Cain couldn’t let go of the indignation he felt. It consumed him and drove him to a horrible outcome. You see, God reached out to Cain. This tells me that God wasn’t playing favorites with Abel, it just seemed that way to Cain. Are we any different than Cain?

Let’s face it, it feels good to be angry and indignant, but it can be dangerous when we allow it to get a foothold in our heart. It causes us to ignore God’s loving ministrations toward our attitude. Sin can then use our bad attitude to drive us to some evil, or it will let our resentment take root, grow deep, and turn us into a miserable wretch. Our attitude has distorted our perception of God if we begin to think that God deals with us unfairly. This is very similar to the deception Satan used on Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve.

It’s all about that moment of truth and choice when God points out our flaw and offers a solution to help us fix it. We all can do what is right and receive a blessing from God. (Good thing I don’t have any siblings.)