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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SANCTIFIED

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)]

This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the end but it is the right road. At present, everything is being cleaned. [Martin Luther]

great blue heronI looked at my two sons and wondered when the tow-headed youngster’s hair darkened, his brother’s brown hair turned gray, and they both got those wrinkles around their eyes. At what point did the children who once thought Kraft mac n’ cheese to be high cuisine become gourmet cooks? When did my reckless boys become so sensible and wise? They matured into men so gradually that I wasn’t even aware of the changes as they happened.

When I look in the mirror each morning, I can’t see how I’m any different than I was the previous day but one look at my old photos tells me that, like my boys, I am not who I once was. Transformation, whether internal or external, is a gradual process; it seems almost impossible to spot as it’s happening. Nevertheless, it takes place.

When we accept Jesus, we are justified: set free by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are spiritually reborn. Our work, however, has just begun because we still sin. Like babies who must learn to walk, we then begin the process of what is called sanctification and learn how to walk in the steps of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we gradually transform from newborn Christians into mature ones. Growing in grace, we become obedient to God’s Word, understand His ways and, little by little, become more like Christ.

Although challenges are often accompanied by spiritual growth spurts, for the most part, we transform gradually and may not be conscious of it. If we look back, however, we’ll probably see the difference our growing faith in Jesus has made in the way we conduct our lives. Somewhere along the line, we developed enough patience to deal with our tiresome neighbor, wisdom to counsel a troubled friend, self-control to step away from an argument, or peace in the midst of turmoil. We’ll realize how the Holy Spirit has steadily produced bountiful fruit in our lives and matured us from baby Christians into adolescents and beyond. We’ve come a long way; yet, we have a long way to grow!

At my age, I prefer the face and body I had twenty years ago to the one I have now. On the other hand, I prefer the woman I am today to the woman of decades past. While I don’t look forward to seeing more wrinkles in the mirror, I do look forward to the changes the Holy Spirit makes as I continue the process of sanctification. I’m not who and what I used to be but I’m still nowhere close to the woman God wants me to be.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” [John Newton]

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. [1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)]

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  [Philippians 3:12 (NIV)]

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WHY THEM?

mallardsNow at this time Jesus went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, He called His disciples and selected twelve of them, whom He also named apostles (special messengers, personally chosen representatives): Simon, whom He also named Peter, and his brother Andrew; and [the brothers] James and John; and Philip, and Bartholomew [also called Nathanael]; and Matthew (Levi, the tax collector) and Thomas; and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas [also called Thaddaeus] the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor [to the Lord]. [Luke 6:12-16 (AMP)]

We know Jesus prayed all night before choosing His inner circle. He had plenty of other followers; what made Him choose those twelve men? I can understand Andrew and John; they’d been followers of John the Baptist and were primed for the arrival of the Messiah. As for John’s brother James—the brothers were known as the “Sons of Thunder,” probably because they were passionate, impetuous, and quick to anger. Why James and not someone calm and even-tempered? For that matter, why fishermen? What special skills did they bring with them? You don’t have to know how to cast a net to go fishing for people! What about Simon the zealot? Zealots were agitators who wanted to overthrow the Roman government. Did Jesus need a radical activist in His entourage? Along with the rebellious zealot, Jesus chose Matthew, a shady collaborator. As a tax man, he may have smelled better than the fishermen but he carried the odor of corruption. The publican who was forbidden to testify in court was called to testify for Christ! While Matthew’s integrity may have been questionable, Jesus’ choice of Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) made more sense; Jesus called him “a man of integrity” when they first met. Since no mention is made of the other men’s backgrounds, we can only assume that they, too, were quite ordinary.

Why did Jesus call this odd assortment of men to be his apostles? As far as we know, none were theologians or scholars and, other than Matthew’s record keeping skills, it’s hard to see anything special they brought to the table. Why these nobodies rather than someone noteworthy or well-known? Why did Jesus choose these men to be the core of the new church?

Twelve men, remarkably unexceptional—twelve men just like you and me. Jesus wasn’t looking for accomplishments; He was looking for possibility. He didn’t care who they’d been or what they’d done in the past; what mattered was who they could become and what they could do in the future. Jesus provided them with all they needed to become the people they needed to be.

They didn’t have funding, organization, church buildings, choir, websites, apps, hymnals, or even the New Testament and yet, that first Pentecost, the remaining eleven and Matthias (who replaced Judas) brought 3,000 into the new church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Twelve ordinary men accomplished the extraordinary through the power of the Holy Spirit. Just think what we could do if only we would try!

Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority (all power of absolute rule) in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (AMP)]

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LIVING WATER

Medicine LakeJesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water. … But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” [John 4:10,14 (NLT)]

When in Canada last summer, we came across a strange body of water called Medicine Lake; although it looks like a lake, it really isn’t. It’s where the Maligne River backs up before disappearing into several underground pipelines. The cave system draining this river is one of the most extensive in the world. Every spring, the runoff from melting glaciers and snow fills the river with water much faster than it can drain and, as the water backs up, the river becomes a lake. As the summer progresses, the inflow slows and the water level gradually lowers until, in autumn, it once again looks like a river. The disappearing water resurfaces far away in lakes and rivers throughout the Canadian Rockies and eventually ends up in the Pacific Ocean. Medicine Lake is like a bathtub without a stopper that is being filled faster than it can drain; once the faucet’s flow slows down, the tub’s water level lowers but it never quite empties.

On the other hand, the bogs near our northern home are more like bathtubs with drains so gunked up from hair, soap and other yucky stuff that the water can’t empty. Typically, rain and snow are the only source of a bog’s water. Formed when a lake fills with debris, a bog has little or no drainage and the water that enters it stays there. Without movement, the bog’s water becomes stagnant, gets a foul odor, and can become a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, parasites and disease. Thinking of these two bodies of water, I wondered if I’m like Medicine Lake or a bog. Like the lake, do I spread God’s blessings or, like the bog, do I keep them all to myself? The water that feeds both starts clear and fresh, but only water that flows (as it does in the lake) remains that way.

Jesus said He gives us living water, the Holy Spirit, so that we’ll never thirst again. For the water to remain fresh and sweet, however, we can’t allow it to become stagnant; it must flow in and through us and, like the water from Medicine Lake, spread far and wide. Like those underground streams, we must be His pipelines, not just of our blessings, but of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only when Jesus’ living water pours through us can we bring life to the world. Are we stagnant cisterns or flowing pipelines with rivers of living water flowing from our hearts?

Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. [John 7:37-39a (NLT)]

The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. [Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)]

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LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE 

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. [1 Peter 3: 15b-16a (NLT)]

dubble tulipHaving heard that I write Christian devotions, the man looked across the dinner table and asked, “Have you always been religious?” The unexpected question from a Jewish man I barely knew caught me off guard. While I knew he wasn’t asking for a long salvation story, I needed to answer his simple question. I faltered through a brief explanation that I couldn’t remember a time I didn’t consider myself a Christian but that my faith grew deeper as it carried me through some really rough spots in life. Having no idea where I’d go from there, I heaved a sigh of relief when the table’s conversation moved to another topic.

Describing our salvation experience was one of the topics this past week in our small group. There will be times, as there was at that dinner, when we’re given a brief opening to tell it and we’d best be prepared with a good but short answer. Pastor Bill Hybels suggests keeping that first answer to 100 words or less. In actuality, the shorter the answer, the more likely there will be a follow-up question later. As P.T. Barnum said: “Always leave them wanting more.”

When we ask someone, “How are you?” unless we’re a nurse or physician, we’re probably not interested in a detailed accounting of blood sugar, weight, bowel movements or blood pressure. When a non-believer asks about our faith, they’re not looking for a dissertation about the historical accuracy of the Bible, a sermon about salvation, or a blow by blow account of a faith journey that has probably taken years. They certainly don’t want to hear Christian buzz words like justification, conviction, propitiation, and sanctification or about the time God spoke to us in the grocery store.

When someone asks a simple and straightforward question about our faith, they expect a simple and straightforward answer. If someone is really interested in learning more, there will be additional opportunities to share the particulars. In actuality, for many of us, our salvation story is rather ordinary—we weren’t healed supernaturally, there were no burning bushes, the sky didn’t open, and a voice from heaven was not heard. Nevertheless, our lives changed. Unless we’ve thought about how to succinctly communicate that change, we may blow an amazing opportunity to share a little of God’s amazing grace. That time at the dinner party, I wasn’t well prepared; next time, I will be!

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into less than twenty-five words and Stephen managed to summarize the entire Old Testament into about 74 sentences for the High Council.  With a little effort, we should be able to put our faith story into 100 words. What’s your story? Can you tell it in 100 words or less?

When you communicate your personal faith story with sincerity, you will see supernatural sparks fly as God uses it for his glory and your listener’s good. [Bill Hybels]

So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. [2 Timothy 1:8a (NLT)]

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APPROVAL RATINGS

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

rabbitsI’d just returned from the dentist’s when their email arrived asking, “Would you recommend us?” Thinking the question theoretical, I answered in the affirmative only to be taken to hyperlinks for both Google and Facebook to do just that. The following day, I got a longer survey regarding my visit. It again asked if I would recommend his services and requested use of my name in a testimonial. Clearly, my dentist wants the approval of his patients.

Like my dentist, we all want to be noticed, liked, approved, applauded and endorsed but, unlike him, we don’t employ a company to do surveys for us. Nevertheless, we tend to measure approval in other ways—the quantity of Christmas cards sent or received, “friends” on Facebook, hits on the website or likes on the posting. Approval is determined by the number of invitations extended or accepted, memberships (and offices held) in various organizations, honors awarded, and followers on Twitter or Instagram. We judge admiration on the number and expense of gifts received, the reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor, the size of the obituary and the length of the line to pay condolences.

In the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes (drawn by Bill Watterson), there were several instances (usually after having been disciplined or given a chore) in which the precocious Calvin informed his father that his approval ratings were dangerously low (especially with six-year olds and stuffed tigers). To Calvin’s surprise, his dad seemed unconcerned about his approval ratings’ ups and downs. This comic strip father knew that a parent’s purpose wasn’t to gain his child’s approval. Would that other parents were so wise!

We all seek approval but by whom? Like Calvin’s dad, our job is not to please our children; nor is it to please any other person. Jesus warned us that we can’t be servants to both God and the world (its wealth, possessions, fame, popularity, status, or praise). Our job is to please God; His approval rating of us is the only one that truly counts! When we try to please both the world and God, the interests of our two masters eventually will collide. When that happens, and it will, whose approval will we seek—man’s or God’s?

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT)]

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. [Matthew 6:24a (NLT)]

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