Thursday, October 30, 2008

Excellence

Excellence is something that has been part of me for at least 15 years. Of course, it came easy to me to be excellent in academics, or in Bible memorization. In Awana as a third grader I joined my first Bible Quiz team. At the time I was completely na├»ve, unaware of the competition or the tension or even of the possibility of winning. The thought never crossed my mind. After finishing both segments of the quiz, speed (like Jeopardy) and multiple choice (with paddles we raise into the air), my team sat clenching each others’ hands in nervous anticipation. To our utter astonishment they called our team for first place. The group of us screamed our way to the front to receive our medals and trophy. And excellence in Bible quiz was my goal from then on.

In a history of grace, God granted that I be on a winning Bible Quiz team for six years straight, unprecedented. Everyone wanted either to be on my team or to finally beat me. I didn’t stop working hard, because each year I desperately wanted to win. There were no assumptions that I would win no matter what. But I did think that if I kept giving it my all, I would be rewarded. There was no second place, no third, no fourth – and certainly there was no place between fifth and fifteenth. So when as a freshman I suffered my first defeat, it felt as though I had crashed into a lightless chasm. It didn’t matter in the slightest that we had placed third. The fact was I went to win, and I had failed.

There’s more to the story, of the journey God continued leading me on through Bible Quiz until my senior year – and how I got to share the lessons as a coach. But today I want to write about that concept of no place but first. No success without the best. This is a definition of excellence.

I’m reading a book called Godcast (review coming soon of course), a collection of single-page devotionals written by an Assemblies of God pastor and radio/tv host. In chapter 196, Dan Betzer writes about mediocrity in the house of God. Now I’m no advocate of demanding perfection in the worship performance each Sunday, or of dazzling buildings on which no expense was spared. Nor do I think that God always wants us to have a well-polished speech to deliver as Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, or sermons. Sometimes He wants us to be the humble vessels through whom His message can be spoken. And whether you know the words you’re going to say or not, every teacher should have properly studied, meditated, and prayed for what he is going to say.

Yet the message is inspiring. As a teacher, do I say, “Well, I read over the passage a couple times, and I have an illustration, so I’m all set”? How many times have I as a blogger decided I didn’t feel like revising my post? And what about as a Christian? Do I consider myself good enough as long as I’m not really bad?

Every Monday night I attend a Bible study. Presently we are going through Galatians, and I’m wrestling with the implications of grace and Christian liberty. What is legalism, and how should we reconcile Christian holiness with Christ-given grace? One answer that seems clear at this point in my life is that legalism says “If I follow the rules, I am good.” But isn’t that what Judaism proved impossible? Grace is the other side, the side that so delights in the life bought through Jesus’ death and given through His resurrection that it delights to please God, not flirting with the line of trespass, but safe and free well inside the bounds of God’s righteousness.

I can’t help but mention that this doctrine of Galatians meets a complementary parallel in Romans, wherein is found the association between faith, grace, life, and righteousness.

God calls us to excellence, to the extraordinary experience of walking in the Spirit, turning aside neither to the right or to the left, each action born of faith and love and Christ alive in me.

To God be all glory.

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