KNOWING WHY (Discipline – Part 2)

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? [Hebrews 12:7-9 (NLT)]

water dropwortSeveral years ago, there was a popular television program in which “Supernanny” Jo Frost would visit a home to help parents deal with the behavior problems of their children. She emphasized the need for both discipline and forgiveness. If children misbehaved or broke a rule after receiving a warning, they served a time-out on the “naughty step.” The parent clearly explained the reason for the discipline and the length of time they’d be sitting there. Once the sentence on the step had been served, the parent offered a second explanation for the discipline. An apology was requested which, once offered, was followed up by a kiss and cuddle and the incident was over and done.

I thought of the nanny’s insistence that an explanation for the discipline was essential. After all, what good is discipline if we don’t understand the reason for it? In yesterday’s devotion about Aravis and Aslan, it was not the wounds that changed Aravis; it was understanding the connection between her wounds and her callous behavior that did. In real life, however, we don’t have a talking lion to explain our wounds. Moreover, God’s discipline involves far more than a few minutes in “time out” and can be more painful than the cuts received by Aravis.

We live in a fallen world and troubles will besiege both the righteous and sinner. As the Book of Job illustrates, not all trouble, hardship, sickness, and disaster come from God’s discipline. Nevertheless, we’re usually more than willing to blame the world rather than ourselves when life goes awry. When we dismiss our troubles simply as bad luck or complain about them without realizing we could be reaping the consequences of our own sin, we miss the point of enduring them. The one thing troubles aren’t is mere chance or fate. All that happens to us is part of God’s providence; there is a reason for the storms of life whether it is direction, inspection, protection, perfection or correction.

Unlike the Supernanny, God doesn’t sit us on the naughty step for as many minutes as our age. If He did, I might spend hours each day sitting on the stairs! We’re not toddlers but even toddlers know when they’ve misbehaved. As for me, with just a little Scripture reading and prayerful thought, I usually know when my troubles are of my own making. Rather than mistakenly asking Him, “Why?” the question should be, “What do you want me to learn from this?” God is far wiser and loving than even Jo Frost and He’ll be sure to tell us! God will sit us on that step, the Holy Spirit will convict us, and Jesus will forgive us. Like the toddler’s error, the incident will be over and done with as far as He is concerned.

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. [Hebrews 12:10-11 (NLT)]

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PAYING THE PRICE

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. [Galatians 6:7 (NLT)]

osprey“It wasn’t worth it!” I grumbled while applying cortisone over four painful red bumps on my foot. When walking around the lake at the botanic gardens, I’d spotted an osprey in a nearby tree. To get a good shot, I had to step off the paved trail into what I knew to be fire ant territory. Having had previous encounters with these stinging insects, I knew better than to stand there in sandals, but I did it anyway; the picture wasn’t worth the price I was paying for my poor decision.

It’s not just fire ants that cause us to regret our poor choices. Wanting to sow his wild oats, the prodigal son enjoyed himself while recklessly spending his inheritance but, when the hungry young man was slopping pigs, he knew his wild living hadn’t been worth it. Adam and Eve (and the rest of mankind) paid a hefty price for a bite of an apple: banishment from Eden, painful childbirth, marital discord, toil and death. I wonder if David thought adultery worth the price he paid: his first son by Bathsheba died, he was humiliated when Absalom publicly took his wives, and violence and rebellion plagued his family. King Manasseh knew better than to build pagan shrines, sacrifice his own children, and place a carved idol in the temple. The price he paid was being led away to Babylon in bronze chains with a ring in his nose. Fortunately for him, Manasseh was given a second chance by God; not everyone is so lucky. Lot’s wife had been warned; was that last look at Sodom worth the price she paid? Then again, as a pillar of salt, she could gaze at the city’s ruins forever.

After nearly 3000 prescription pills were found in her possession, a sheriff’s deputy in a northern community pled guilty to “attempted possession of a controlled substance.” Punishable by up to a year in prison, she was sentenced to seven days in jail and a year of “conditional discharge.” Less restrictive than probation, conditional discharge means the court retains jurisdiction over her with several provisions including drug and alcohol evaluations, no employment where she might have access to drugs, and no use or possession of a firearm. Since the original charge was negotiated down from felony possession (meaning four to fifteen years in prison), most of us would think she got off easy. Apparently expecting probation with no jail or restrictions, the defendant was shocked by what she considered a harsh sentence. As a deputy, she couldn’t plead ignorance of the law or its consequences; nevertheless, she thought the price she paid too high. My study Bible speculated that had David known the cost of his sin, he might not have bedded another man’s wife. I disagree. As a king, David knew the law given in Leviticus: the punishment for adultery was death for both he and Bathsheba! Like the deputy, he knew the consequences and like her, he got off easy.

Stepping onto an ant hill has painful consequences but so does sin. The penalty I paid for that photo was negligible compared to the cost of many of our poor decisions. When choosing between right and wrong, the price we pay can be far greater and longer lasting than a few insect bites. Although Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and God promises forgiveness when we repent, we still have to face the consequences of our sins here on earth. We, however, are not the ones who get to pick and choose what those consequences will be nor do we get to complain and say, “But God, it wasn’t worth it!”

Temptation can be tormenting, but remember: The torment of temptation to sin is nothing to compare with the torment of the consequences of sin. Remorse and regret cannot compensate for sin….though sins can be forgiven immediately – the consequences can last a lifetime. [Edwin Louis Cole]

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. [Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT]

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GONE IN A FLASH – EASTER MONDAY

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

Zermatt - Switzerland - crossAfter warning us not to put them in our pockets and accidentally take them home (or put them in the dryer if we did), small pieces of paper were given to everyone in attendance at last week’s Good Friday service. Following the sermon, we were asked to write a sin (or sins) for which we repent on the papers, come forward, and nail them to a cross resting on the steps before the altar. Listening to the hammering echoing in the sanctuary, I thought of what it must have sounded like two thousand years ago when Jesus and the others were hammered to their crosses: the loud pounding of the hammers, the commotion of the crowd, the mockery of the soldiers, and the cries of agony from the men as those blunt tipped nails pierced their bodies.

Those slips of paper were made of nitrocellulose; often used by magicians, they are commonly known as flash papers. Once we’d nailed our papers to the cross, the pastor ignited them and they instantly disappeared in a brilliant display of fire. Nothing, neither smoke nor ash, was left of them. What a powerful illustration of the way Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross as those nails were hammered into Him, made our sins disappear forever.

Next to the small olive wood cross on my desk, I now have a three-inch square-cut nail, a souvenir from Good Friday’s service. The cross, with its distinctive grain, artistic shape, and smooth finish, is so beautiful that it’s easy to forget it represents an instrument of torture. The dark rustic nail beside it will better remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Paying the price for our sins, His death brought us back into fellowship with God the Father. After the joy of Resurrection Sunday, however, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice until Lent rolls around next year. Let us never forget the miracle of forgiveness that occurred when a suffering bleeding and totally sinless Jesus endured torture and death for the forgiveness of our sins.

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. [Martin Luther]

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. [1 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. [Ephesians 2:18 (NLT)]

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OUT WITH THE OLD – MAUNDY THURSDAY

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. … And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” [Jeremiah 31:31-33,34b (NLT)]

Gardenia

In a contract, both parties are expected to hold up their end of the bargain; if one or the other doesn’t, the contract is null and void. A contract has contingencies and failure on one side can negate the relationship. On the other hand, in a covenant, both parties agree to hold up their end of the deal even if the other party doesn’t; failure on one side or the other does not negate the relationship. God’s standard is perfection but, try as we might, we can’t be perfect. In a contractual relationship, He would have no reason to stay true to His word since we’re unable to stay true to ours. Out of necessity, we have a covenant relationship with God; fortunately, He will hold up His end even when we fail.

The old covenant was introduced by Moses to the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai over 3,400 years ago. When Jesus blessed the bread and wine in that upper room in Jerusalem 1,400 years later, the New Covenant with God began. It’s important to remember that Jesus did not negate the law—there was nothing wrong with the law. The problem was with the people who couldn’t abide by it.

In the old covenant, people were told what to do (and not to do) to get right with God but, in the new covenant, the getting right with God has been done for us. The old covenant required the blood of animals and yearly atonement; the new covenant is for all of eternity and was satisfied with the sacrifice of just one very special man. The old covenant was one of the law and works but the new one is one of grace and faith. Instead of the law being written on tablets, it is written on men’s hearts. The old covenant was signified by circumcision and the new by a change of heart. The old covenant found God in the temple in Jerusalem but the new finds Him in the temple of the spirit. The old covenant was one of bondage and the new is one of liberty. The old covenant was established on Mt. Sinai for Israel alone; the new was established on the cross and is for all of mankind. It was with Jesus that the old covenant ended and it was with Him that the new covenant began; what was the Last Supper of the old covenant became the First Supper of the new one!

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” [Luke 2:20 (NLT)]

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HE WAS BETRAYED – HOLY WEEK

On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” [Mark 14:27-28 (NLT)]

Station of the Cross - V - LorettoIn the days leading up to his crucifixion, the people who claimed to love Jesus the most failed him in many ways. When Jesus asked Peter, James and John to keep watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep, not once but twice! During the Last Supper, Peter vowed he’d never deny Jesus, even if it meant his death. The rest of the disciples echoed this pledge. Yet Judas had already arranged to betray Jesus and, within a matter of hours, Peter would deny Jesus three times. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, most of those brave disciples deserted Jesus and ran away.

When the mob shouted they wanted Barabbas to be freed, where were the disciples? Did no one ask for Jesus to be saved? No, the mob called, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” More important, where were all of those people who had been healed by Jesus? Just a few days earlier, a crowd had shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Where were they? Why were they silent?

The disciples weren’t even there to carry the cross for Jesus; that task fell to Simon, a stranger. Only His mother, some of His women followers and John stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. The other disciples were absent; disillusioned and fearful for their lives, they had scattered. It was a dying criminal who showed his faith in Jesus when he said, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Once Jesus took His last breath and died, it was a Roman soldier and not a disciple who declared, “This man truly was the son of God!” The disciples were not even there to help bury their teacher. That responsibility was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, members of the Jewish high council and secret followers of Jesus.

The disciples, confused and frightened, lost hope and  failed Jesus both as disciples and as friends. In spite of their denial and desertion, Jesus forgave them and charged them with the task of spreading the good news of His resurrection. Jesus knew it is better to be a believer who sometimes fails than not to believe at all.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28-18-20 (NLT)]

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FAITHFUL FRIENDS

Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” … “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [Mark 2:4b-5,11 (NLT)]

monarch butterfly - cannaJesus had returned to Capernaum and the word was out—the rabbi from Nazareth could heal. People were flocking to Him and the crowd followed Jesus right into the house where he was staying. Four friends of a paralyzed man carried him to see Jesus but the house was so full they couldn’t get through the door. Determined to get to Jesus, they carried the paralyzed man up the outside stairs to the rooftop and started to dig through the thatch. Picture the scene. The room is jam-packed when a disturbance is heard overhead. Dried mud and straw start to fall into the room, a head peaks through, more straw and dirt come spilling through the opening, a mat is dropped, and then four men lower their paralyzed friend down to the ground right at the feet of Jesus.

Rather than heal the man, however, Jesus forgave his sins. Then again, Jesus always put first things first; even more important than health is the forgiveness of sin! Scandalized, the scribes thought His words blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. To prove His authority to forgive, Jesus then healed the paralytic. While the forgiveness of the man’s sins couldn’t be demonstrated, the scribes couldn’t refute the validity of his healing when the once paralyzed man jumped up, grabbed his pallet, and walked. Imagine the gasps of the astonished people as he worked his way through the crowded room to the door.

This story tells us we must be stretcher bearers. When our friends are weak, we should bring them to God as did those four men when they placed the paralytic at Jesus’s feet. We often think that Jesus healed the man because of his faith. Look more carefully at the words; Jesus healed the man because of the faith of his friends! They were so sure that Jesus could heal him that nothing discouraged or stopped them. Like them, nothing should stop us from carrying our friends (or even people we don’t know) to God in prayer. Yet, how often do we offer to pray for someone and pray just once, haphazardly, or not at all? Our faithful prayers can make a difference!

For the last several months, I’ve been praying for a toddler with metastasized cancer. Hundreds of us, many of whom don’t even know her (including fifty from my Tuesday Bible study), have joined in bearing her stretcher and placing it at Jesus’s feet. What looked absolutely hopeless in October looks hopeful today; her scans are good and she’s begun physical therapy. Knowing she still has to face a transplant, radiation, and immunotherapy, her stretcher bearers will continue to carry her until the day she lifts up her pallet and goes home—which brings me to another lesson from this story. It is God, and God alone, who has the authority both to forgive our sins and to answer our prayers. No matter how deep our faith, not everyone whose stretcher we bear will be healed. Some may pick up their pallet and go home to their family but others will pick up their pallet and go home to God. Nevertheless, let us never forget that before Jesus healed, He forgave; while health is not guaranteed, forgiveness is. Thank you, God, for your saving grace!

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. [Romans 12:12-13a (NLT)]

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