Discipline for Our Own Good

October 6, 2014

Quite often I find myself asking the question, “How did things get this way?” particularly in reference to my tribe, the PC(USA), but also to the culture developing around us all. It is safe to say that we are shaped over time, individually and corporately. The way things are now is the result of decades of shaping mechanisms at work in and among us. You could say the same for any culture anywhere in the world, but my experience limits my thinking to American culture.

This weekend I had a chance to air my brains out as I breathed in sea air and enjoyed miles and miles of hiking. My thoughts turned to how my parents, both deceased, shaped me. Though my personality type was quite different from theirs (which is important to note since a lot of their discipline was aimed at producing offspring to be like them), their relentless discipline did shape my mind, my emotions, my musicality, and my faith. There were a lot of baby steps watched and encouraged along the way; they also shut some doors while opening others. Pleasing them required a lot of energy, and I was not necessarily successful; but it wasn’t until I hit my 20s that I really felt that God’s hand in shaping me was stronger than my parents’.

As God shaped the people Israel—starting with Abraham’s call in Genesis 12 and intensifying at the time of the Exodus and wilderness wandering—he did so out of love and desire for covenant relationship. In order for the Hebrews to love and appreciate God, they were going to have to understand the righteousness, justice, and holiness that made God tick. How fortunate they were for God to reveal himself, speak to them, and point them in the direction that would bring them life and prosperity as a people. Deuteronomy 4:32-34 picks up this theme with the comment that YHWH God connected with a called and chosen people, creating a completely unique circumstance for which they should be extremely grateful. The passage goes on:

To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power. . .” (Deuteronomy 4:35-37).

God showed his love to Israel by disciplining them, by instructing them, by setting parameters that would keep them safe spiritually. He is still doing this today, albeit by means other than pillars of fire or stone tablets. From a New Testament perspective, we understand that Jesus, the Word become flesh, embodied God’s self-revelation. The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer’s heart by faith, to be God’s voice and instructor and even a loving drill sergeant when that is what we need. To actually know God, to have a relationship with him, and to have his Word is not to be taken lightly! Consider everyone else in the world who worships gods that have no power, that cannot hear or speak, and actually do not care for the well-being of their followers.

But God insists that if we are people of his possession, then we must welcome the discipline he gives. We are given many privileges as children of God, but we are not given the prerogative of determining on our own what is right and wrong. God has been extraordinarily gracious to let us know what is right and to point us toward the life that results.

Unfortunately, ever since Eve, we have been having our adolescent rebellion. Just like I did as a kid, we go off and experiment with some other way of living, if only to irritate our parents and assert our independence. The difference in the spiritual realm is that independence from God is self-destructive.

If only we could truly embrace the love of the Father and trust Christ as Teacher and Lord! With God’s help, we can grow up and find ourselves. The God-centered life is what we were designed to live, and we are most fully ourselves when we are not the center of our universe.

I fear, however, that aspects of PC(USA) life are in active rebellion against God, and the church is going to suffer great damage as a result. We are in a period of ecclesiastical experimentation, trying out new ways of worship, theology, and relationships. The experiments that are not God-centered are going to come back to haunt us. When we lose sight of God’s definition of acceptable behavior and weaken a good system of discipline that holds us accountable to God and to each other, we suffer. When we lose a desire to please God, we get lost in self-orientation. We are so hell-bent on making sure God is pleased with us despite what we are doing, we are dulled to God’s requirements and empowerment to live for him. Consequently, our hearing goes bad as we let the world’s voices blare and drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures.

What the denomination does is one thing. But what are you and I to do to stay alive spiritually? God calls us to obedience for our own good:

So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time. (Deuteronomy 4:39f)

Is it not time, individually and corporately, to embrace the discipline of God, submit to the shaping work he wants to do in our lives, and thereby choose life? Yes, it is!

(I am called to appear for a second day of jury duty tomorrow. It all depends on how the jury selection process goes whether I can write a blog post then. Otherwise, I will pick up where I left off on Wednesday.)



One Response to “Discipline for Our Own Good”

  1. Randy McGrady-Beach Says:

    Perhaps some of us are so “heaven-bent” on pleasing God our way that we forget Paul’s admonishment in Philippians 2: 1-11. And John’s reminder that they will know we are Christians by our love, John 13: 34-35. Sometimes a tougher tightrope to walk but I think Jesus would rather we error on the side of love instead of judgment.

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