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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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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MORE WAG, LESS BARK!

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (RSV)]

 My son, sweeten thy tongue and make savory the opening of thy mouth; for the tail of a dog gives him bread, and his mouth gets him blows. [Story of Ahikar]

dogLast month, my husband and I attended a “Sweetheart” dinner at church. The men were in charge of the entire event and there were a few rough spots in the night. Then again, at the risk of being accused of political incorrectness or gender bias, most of the men probably were novices at that kind of event planning. Unlike the men, we women have had decades of organizing (and attending) school parties, PTA fund raisers, charity galas, birthday parties, showers, weddings, anniversary bashes, and other assorted celebrations. In spite of the glitches, there was much that went right and the evening was enjoyable and entertaining. Unfortunately, the woman sitting beside me kept criticizing how things were done—from name tags and table assignments to flowers and dessert. Her nit-picking comments became as annoying as the yapping of a bad-tempered dog and I thought of a bumper sticker I’d recently seen: “Wag More, Bark Less!”

Bad tempered dogs (and people) are nothing new; a similar proverb dates back to 500 B.C. in an Aramaic papyrus found in Egypt called the Story of Ahikar. “Wag More, Bark Less!” may be bumper sticker philosophy, but I wish more people (including me) did just that. After reading the qualifications and concerns of the candidates for our property association board, I was struck by how many were unpleasantly barking and nipping at each other rather than wagging their tails and showing me how well they’d work with one another and our management company. An on-line community newsletter was so filled with bark (and bite) that we stopped subscribing. Rarely are the letters to the editor in the newspaper anything but bark in the way of anger and criticism. While waiting at the bakery counter yesterday, an impatient woman yelled at the harried clerk and stormed away in a huff. Sometimes, it feels like we’re in a kennel full of angry upset dogs—yapping, baying, growling and snarling! Worse, once one dog (or person) starts barking, other dogs (and people) tend to join in the unpleasant clamor.

Like the woman beside me at that dinner, there are times I bark or snarl in disparagement, annoyance or anger rather than wag in happiness, appreciation, or compassion. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are responsible for what we put in our minds. Even in the bleakest of circumstances or worst of conditions, there is some small thing worthy of praise. Our job, as Christians, is to find it and think about it! Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to help us in that task. Moreover, as my mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all!” Thankfully, the Spirit gives us the self-control to do just that! If we can’t wag, at least we can muzzle ourselves so we don’t bark!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. [Galatians 5:22-23, 25-26 (RSV)]

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AGAPE

Coronado beach - Bil PavlackaJesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” [Mark 1:29-31 (NLT)]

Last summer, we enjoyed beautiful sand sculptures created by Bil Pavlacka on Coronado beach. One had been constructed as a memorial to the seven sailors who died on the destroyer Fitzgerald that month. It was not Pavlacka’s first memorial; he’s sculpted sand to honor a Navy Seal killed in Iraq and to recognize the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting and the Paris and Brussels attacks. Those sculptures were labors of love—love for people he never personally knew but people he knew were his neighbors.

What a contrast his work is to the bumper stickers I recently saw on a truck parked beside us. There didn’t seem to be a minority group the driver wasn’t anxious to hate, insult or possibly worse since the back window also sported a “License to Kill Arabs.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 917 hate groups (such as white nationalists, black separatists, racist skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic zealots) currently operate in the United States. Based on his bumper stickers, the truck’s owner must have belonged to several of them. How easy it is to spout hate for people we don’t even know; yet, they are our neighbors!

We are called to love one another—not romantic (eros) or friendship (philia) love—but agape or unconditional sacrificial love—like the love God had for us when he sacrificed His son and the love the good Samaritan had for a total stranger. It has nothing to do with attraction, affection or even liking one another. Agape love isn’t emotional; it is a choice. It also happens be one of God’s commands.

Agape love is like building an intricate sandcastle; it takes time, effort, dedication and patience. On the other hand, hate is like those bumper stickers or a well-placed kick aimed at a sandcastle; it is thoughtless and destructive. Jesus doesn’t ask us to like everyone but He does expect us to love them—to be kind, considerate, understanding, patient, tolerant, polite, and good to them. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it on our own—the Holy Spirit empowers us to love one another as God loves us. Like building a sand castle, however, it doesn’t come easy and there will be times our efforts fail. Nevertheless, we must keep at it until we get it right. What we can’t do is take the easy way out with hate!

It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor. [Martin Luther]

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. [1 John 5:19-21 (NLT)]

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OUT OF FEAR

turkey vulturesBut if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you… The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. [Deuteronomy 28:15,20 (NLT)]

In writing about the mezuzah last week, I learned that 4,649 laws govern every aspect of its writing. Each of the 713 letters must be perfectly shaped, written on handmade specially processed parchment made from a kosher animal, inscribed in black ink formulated from a specific recipe, with a unique quill pen, by a qualified scribe. Why so many rules to fulfill a requirement that was only a few words in Scripture?

The fourth commandment about the Sabbath is the longest one but pretty straightforward: make it a day of rest rather than work. Although Scripture referred to conducting business, field labor, treading in a winepress, loading animals, traveling and kindling fire as forbidden work, it never provided an all-inclusive list of prohibited activities. To further clarify the commandment, work was classified into thirty-nine categories of forbidden activity. To obey perfectly, however, more interpretation was needed. Since reaping (clearly field labor) was forbidden, what if someone climbed a tree and accidentally broke a branch or rode an animal and detached a stick to hit it? Since an accidental sin was still a sin and, technically, breaking a branch was reaping, those activities were prohibited, as well.

I’ve often given the Bible’s Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes grief over their pettiness regarding the law. After studying Deuteronomy 28, however, I’m beginning to understand how the system of laws governing the conduct of the Jewish people became so complex. After listing the blessings for obedience, Moses laid out the many curses for the Israelites’ disobedience to God and those curses are far more extensive than the blessings. They include everything from wasting diseases, plagues, captivity, inflammation, boils, military defeat and scorching heat to becoming food for scavenging birds, madness, swarms of insects, starvation, and cannibalism. It’s not a pretty picture Moses paints as he warns the people to obey all the words of the law.  After reading those curses, it’s easy to see how fear of punishment led to legalism and why the minutiae of the law became more important than a relationship with the giver of the law. Fearful of punishment and striving for absolute obedience, the Jews wanted to cover every eventuality.

Although the law pointed out sin, what the people didn’t understand was that the law, no matter how intricately interpreted or followed, could not keep people from sin. We must never make the mistake of thinking we can reach a level of perfection good enough for God; the Israelites couldn’t and neither can we. In actuality, the law revealed that people are sinful and can never attain righteousness through obedience to it; no matter how carefully they try, they will always fall short. Righteousness is attained only through faith in Jesus Christ.

Several weeks ago, I received the following “wisdom” in my email: “Love God and do as you please.” A paraphrase of St. Augustine’s words, it is not carte blanche to sin. Rather, if we genuinely love God with all our being, we will want to do only what pleases Him. We don’t please him to avoid captivity or pestilence or to work our way into His good graces; we please Him out of love. We don’t do it on our strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. As for me, that seems a whole lot easier than having the Sabbath quandary of whether or not I can turn off the alarm clock, open an umbrella, or pick up the button that fell off my jacket.

Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good. [St. Augustine]

Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. [Romans 13:10 (NLT)]

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