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Archive for Discipline

“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. 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 12:10b-13 (NLT)

In the final section concerning discipline, the writer shares two purposes that God desires to accomplish. First, God’s loving discipline is beneficial because it produces holiness in our lives. Psalm 119:67 reads, “I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.” Verse 71 of the same chapter continues, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” Discipline serves as a corrective and produces holiness in our lives.

Second, discipline trains us in right living that purifies our character. Hebrews 5:8 states, “Even though Jesus was God’s son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”

In the western world parents view their objective as that of raising independent children who will be functional in the world. In the ancient world of the Bible, the goal was different. The goal of parents in Bible times was to create worthy heirs. (Think about that as you read Matthew 5:10-12 and Luke 15:11-32.) God uses discipline to create worthy heirs who inherit the Kingdom of God.

As we experience the necessary discipline to inherit the Kingdom, we must first deal with ourselves. We “take a new grip” and embrace the promised outcomes of God’s discipline. It may be painful at the time, but God doesn’t expect us to embrace the pain. He expects us to embrace the outcomes that he’s working out in our lives. As we deal with ourselves, we simultaneously must watch our influence. When we undergo God’s loving discipline we cannot forget that people are watching us and taking note of how we respond to God’s work in our lives. God is good, and he’s working out his plan for our best. Remember, it’s not what happens to us that matters. What matters most is what happens in us.

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“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? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.” –Hebrews 12:9-10a (NLT)

Since God’s discipline is an act of love that is based on our relationship to him, it seems logical for the writer to use our human fathers as an illustration of God’s function as our heavenly Father. According to the author, our earthly fathers disciplined us though they doubtless made mistakes. Some fathers discipline too much and others not enough. Some fathers discipline too heavily, while others discipline too lightly. But God makes no mistakes.

You may have had a father who disciplined you inappropriately. We live in a world where abuses of all forms are too frequent in society. Any time a parent abuses a child in any form is an injustice and should be renounced in the strongest possible manner. If that’s your story, it’s important that you not enforce that same standard of measure on God. Good fathers make favorable comparisons to God. They provide living and visible signposts to enable children to see God with clarity. But not every father is a good father. These fathers provide contrasting images to that of our heavenly father. Instead of thinking that God is like my bad father, think God is not like my bad father.

Recently my daughters were watching an episode of Jon and Kate Plus 8 on TLC. As I was in the kitchen, I heard Jon Gosselin describe to the camera the objectives of good parents. He remarked that in his opinion, good parents make sure their children are happy, healthy and safe. That’s not terrible advice, but it is certainly incomplete. A parent’s ultimate role is to enable their children to know God. Through every aspect of parenting, which includes discipline, we help our children learn how to relate to God.

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“For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. 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 his 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.” –Hebrews 12:6-8 (NLT)

The writer of Hebrews uses these verses to make a couple of very important points. The first is that God’s discipline is an act of love. That’s hard for us to grasp. Maybe you’ve heard a child respond to their parent’s discipline with the words, “you don’t love me!” As a parent, nothing is further from the truth. Parents discipline their children because they do love them. God’s discipline is to be considered as a sign of his affection for our lives. Love motivates God’s discipline, and love governs God’s discipline. Every expression of discipline passes through the Father’s loving heart.

The second point the writer makes in this section is that discipline is based on our existing relationship with God. A father who doesn’t discipline is being negligent. A child who escapes discipline loses out of the benefits of being related to the father. But here’s the surprise: The absence of discipline informs the relational status of the person. Discipline is so much a part of God’s way with his children that if it’s absent their status as children of God should be called into question. (On the flip side we could say that discipline is a mark of assurance of salvation.) God’s discipline proves our legitimacy as children of God. Discipline is the Lord’s acknowledgement that he claims us.

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Nov
03

When God Inflicts the Hurt

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Is what I’m facing God’s way of telling me to change something? Is God trying to get my attention? Or is it part of what comes with living in a fallen world? Can I know the difference? How can I know the difference? Those are the kinds of important questions I sometimes hear from those who suffering.

God’s discipline, like persecution, is a type of suffering that is unique to the people of God. Suffering can be a means of God’s discipline in our lives. But how do we know the difference? How can we identify it? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious; but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” Lewis would agree that God will sometimes introduce pain into our lives in order to get our attention. What is God’s discipline, anyway? What do we mean when we say that? God’s discipline is loving training given to amend actions and attitudes. In other words, it is correction, not punishment.

I can’t recall a time in the past 26 year of teaching and preaching that I have ever dealt with this subject or this passage in a full length sermon. It was challenging to prepare and challenging to deliver. I’m sure it was challenging to hear as well. I think it’s an important subject, especially in light of the broader context of suffering. There’s no need for Christians to speculate on matters and questions when Scripture provides insight and understanding. So over the next few days I’m going to unpack the concepts that I shared in last weekend’s message.

Hebrews 12:3-5 provides some context for the readers understanding of God’s loving discipline: “Think of all the hostility (Jesus) endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.’”

Perhaps the discipline that the author has in mind is to provide help in the battle against sin. The word “struggle” comes from a wrestling metaphor and literally means “hand to hand combat.” One scholar suggested that the readers were afraid that their suffering was a result of God’s inattention to their lives or that God had abandoned them. That was not the case. They were experiencing God’s discipline and needed to identify it as such.

Just because we identify our suffering as God’s discipline does not necessarily mean that we will respond to it appropriately. It is possible to respond inappropriately to God’s discipline, and the writer gives two classic examples. First, it is possible to make light of it or to shrug it off as no big deal, not unlike a junior high kid that laughs with his friends after being sent to the principal’s office. The second response is to become so overwhelmed by the discipline that you feel like giving up or quitting the Christian race.

It’s very important that we identify God’s loving discipline when (not if) it comes and that we respond appropriately. When you accept God’s discipline in your life you are acknowledging God’s authority over your life!

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