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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ACCEPTING AMENDS

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [Matthew 5:7 (NLT)]

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. [Luke 6:37 (NLT)]

beach sunflowerYesterday, I wrote about making amends; today, I write about accepting them. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the young man realizes the error of his ways, returns to his father, admits his failure, and is forgiven. Although the son offers to act as a servant, his father doesn’t ask for amends or acts of penance; rather, he welcomes him back as an honored son. It’s a beautiful story about God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness. Like any good story, however, there’s conflict—the prodigal’s older brother. When he returns from working in the fields to the feast celebrating his brother’s return, he becomes angry and resentful. The parable concludes with the father’s explanation that the celebration is because, “He was lost, but now he is found!”

If, instead of a parable, this was a true story, what would happen next? Even with his father’s forgiveness, the boy still would face the consequences of his foolishness; having already gotten and squandered his money, there would be no inheritance when his father died. Although making amends wasn’t necessary for the father’s forgiveness, a truly repentant son would want to find a way to make things better. Perhaps he would work extra hours in the fields, help the homeless or counsel rebellious young men. While the boy’s relationship with his father was restored, I doubt the relationship with his elder brother mended so easily.

The older boy rightfully resented all of the extra work required of him during the prodigal’s absence, but there was more to his anger. He’d watched his father walk out to the gate each morning to wait hopefully for his younger son’s return, only to see his father return crestfallen each evening when he didn’t show up. He’d heard his father’s sobs when news of the prodigal’s disgraceful life reached his ears. When famine hit the land, he saw his father pace in the middle of the night as he worried how his younger son would survive. He knew his father, having given so much money to his younger son, was having financial difficulties. He’d seen the toll his brother’s abysmal behavior had taken on the entire family and wanted to see his brother chastised rather than given a party. He wanted to see him in sackcloth and ashes rather than wearing the best robe in the house. His brother deserved punishment and humiliation rather than a celebration. Being forgiven just shouldn’t be that easy!

As sinners, we should try to make things right with the people we’ve offended. Yet, in the prodigal’s situation, whatever he did to make amends probably would never be enough for his elder brother. Unable to understand his father’s amazing grace, rather than apologies or amends, the older boy wanted retribution. Nevertheless, as offended parties, we don’t get to choose how apologies are offered or amends are made, nor do we get to withhold our forgiveness if we’re not satisfied. When someone comes to us with a repentant heart and asks forgiveness, we can’t demand the type and amount of humble pie he must eat before getting it. We just have to forgive.

We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us. [Charles Stanley]

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

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CLEAN IT UP

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today…” [Luke 19:8-9a (NLT)]

dogI laughed at the picture of a large dog, with what looked to be a smile on his face, on his hind legs, holding a poop pan with one paw, a rake with the other, and scooping up a pile of dog dirt. The sign read: “Pets, people and parks – When you pick up your pile, everyone smiles.” Yes, we all smile when people clean up the mess left behind by their dogs. Unfortunately, it takes more than a pooper scooper to clean up the mess we leave behind when we sin.

There’s an old Jewish tale about a loquacious businessman who learned a secret about another man in town. It was so sensational that he couldn’t help but pass it along to his family, friends, and neighbors. When the man who was the tale’s topic discovered how his personal life had been broadcast throughout town, he complained to the rabbi who then summoned the tale bearer to his office. At first, the gossiper defended his actions—after all, the story was true! True or false, responded the rabbi, the story was not his to tell and he’d done incredible harm to the man’s reputation. Asking how to make amends, the gossipy man was told to return the next day with his best feather pillow. Once back in the rabbi’s office, he was told to slit open the pillow and shake out all of the feathers. When the rabbi told him then to collect the feathers and put them all back into the pillow, the man protested. The window had been open and a breeze had taken the feathers all over town; getting them back was impossible. “That,” replied the rabbi, “is what happens whenever a secret leaves your mouth. It flies on the wind and can never be gotten back.” Aside from being a lesson about gossip and guarding one’s tongue, it also points out the difficulty of cleaning up the messes that we can make in the lives of others when we sin.

Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to make amends for our failings; other times, there’s no way we can ever make something right or undo what’s been done. Fortunately, making restitution is not a requirement for God’s forgiveness; for that we just need genuine repentance. Although making amends wasn’t a requirement for Zacchaeus’ salvation, his repentance led him to do just that. While the New Testament doesn’t specifically require us to make restitution for our wrongs, Jesus did tell us that if we’ve hurt or offended our brother in any way, we must go and be reconciled.

Unfortunately, while God will forgive us our sins, not everyone else is so willing or able. Reconciliation is not always possible and, unlike a pile of poop, not everything can be picked up or made clean again. The mess left from some sins, like the feathers in the wind, can never be made right. Other sins are best left buried in the past; making direct amends in those cases would only do more harm or bring more pain. While the sins of the past don’t affect our salvation, they do affect our present and often leave us with regrets and guilt. If we can’t make amends directly to the people we’ve hurt, we can prayerfully consider other ways, such as service or giving (as did Zacchaeus), to indirectly right our wrongs. While we may not be able to fix everything we’ve broken, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live new and improved lives and make the world a better place in which to live.

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. [Matthew 3:8 (NLT)]

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)]

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)

star jasmineIn a recent Close to Home comic (drawn by John McPherson), we see the back of a white-haired gentleman at a podium. Several people are facing him with hands raised. “Does the universe really go on forever or is there a brick wall at the end?” asks one. “Who would win in a total fight to the death? Attila the Hun or Mike Tyson?” asks another. The caption at the bottom says, “Once a week, God holds a question and answer session for new arrivals in Heaven.” It reminded me of a quote by Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who, at the age of 13, survived the loss of her left arm in a 2003 shark attack.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people. But I do know that God knows all those answers and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it. [From “Soul Surfer” by Bethany Hamilton]

Later that day, I was talking with a widow friend. It had been just three months since her husband died in her arms and she has many questions she’d like God to answer. Thinking of the young surfer’s quote, I reminded her that any questions we don’t get answered in this lifetime will be answered in the next. We then looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “But, will we care?”

It occurred to us that, once in heaven, all of our earthly questions will be insignificant. We think we want to know why someone suffered or a child’s innocence was violently stolen. We think we want God’s reasoning for a partner’s betrayal, the barren womb, a loved one’s addiction, or a spouse’s death. Once in God’s presence, I wonder if those questions will seem as ridiculous as the questions posed by the people in McPherson’s comic strip.

As Job learned, our “whys” are not likely to be answered on this side of the pearly gates and I doubt we’ll need those answers on other side. The repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Do you think when he got there, he spent time asking God about his abusive step-father or the unfairness of his death sentence? Our last breath here will be followed by our first breath in heaven (a place without pain or tears—one of joy and perfect peace) and all of our earthly concerns will be gone. When we arrive in God’s dwelling place and come face to face with Jesus, I seriously doubt we’ll have any questions that need answering. Knowing God’s love for us, it will all make sense.

You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. … No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. [Hebrews 12:18,22 (NLT)]

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DIGGIN’ UP BONES – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2018

Sunrise - Duluth MN harborNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

I’m diggin’ up bones, I’m diggin’ up bones
Exhuming things that’s better left alone
I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone
Yeah tonight I’m sittin’ alone diggin’ up bones. [Randy Travis]

I was listening to Randy Travis sing, “I’m diggin’ up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.” It seemed an appropriate song for this time of year when we tend to dwell on the past—not just past loves, but past losses, mistakes, oversights, misunderstandings, injuries and pain. As one year ends and another starts, we often dig up all the grievances, regrets, and ”if onlys” of our yesterdays.

The word Randy Travis uses is “exhuming” and that’s a powerful word. When we exhume something, we’re not just digging in the dirt for weeds or post holes—we’re digging a corpse out of its grave and that’s a gruesome ghoulish thought. Once a body is buried, it’s meant to be left undisturbed; that also goes for all those old memories of things dead and gone.

When we dig up the past, we’re trying to rewrite history. Even if we could, we would do no better the second time; we’d just make different mistakes and still have regrets! From any time-travel novel or movie, we know that time-traveling is complicated; small changes in the past can have major, and often bad, ramifications. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly nearly erases himself when he accidentally becomes his mother’s high school romantic interest. In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, after the protagonist prevents JFK’s assassination, he sadly discovers that the world is worse off because of his actions. Moreover, it’s our history—all of those sad, terrible, painful, embarrassing, frightening, and distressing experiences, along with all the good ones—that make us who and what we are today. We’re us, not in spite of the past, but because of the past.

If we don’t like who or where we are in life, that’s not the past’s fault and it’s certainly not God’s. Today is the start of a brand new year and we can start fresh. The good thing about God’s mercy, love and forgiveness is that we don’t need to wait another 365 days before we can start fresh again. God specializes in fresh starts and we can begin anew any moment of any day. Each minute we waste digging up the bones of the past is a minute we’ve lost to the wonders of the here and now. The only moment we have is this one; let us use it wisely and leave the old bones where they belong—dead and buried.

 The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. [Phillips Brooks]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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