When You’re Too Big for a Spanking

Little A and I flew up to my parents house in PA for Thanksgiving this past week.  It was a fun time, but she and I seriously butted heads over the issue of obedience.  I had to spank, talk, time-out of few times, more than I usually do, but she was outside of her environment, probably overly tired for a few of those days, and of course was being catered to by her grandparents.

Here’s the scenario.  We’re on the plane, have already landed safely back home and she starts messing with the arm rest.  I’m telling her to leave it alone, she continues to disobey, finally, I told her to get ready for a spanking when we got off the plane and in the nearest restroom.

“No mommy, I’ll be good!  I’ll obey.  I’ll do what you say.  I promise!  No, mommy.” Multiple times. But I held my ground.  We unload, wait for our checked bag from the bottom of the plane and by the time we get to the bathroom the promise of the spanking completely flew out of my brain.  We’re in the bathroom stall together, ready to exit, and she puts her hand on the door, I say, “Sweetheart, let mommy out of the stall.”  She shakes her head and whispers to me, “You forgot my spanking.”

I almost lost it.  Her tender heart.  If she was trying to make my heart break into a million little pieces, then it worked.  She got the requested spanking and apologized for being disobedient and I squeezed her sweet little body close to mine and told her I loved her.

When do we ever come to our Father like this?

When we confess our sins, when we are humble and repentant, but when is that?  When do we bow our heads and supplication and say to God, “I’m ready to be disciplined now.”  It’s takes a broken and contrite heart–two things our Father will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Today’s post popped into my head when reading Hebrews 12 this morning–probably a good chapter to memorize, but the thought bore itself into my brain when I hit verse 10:

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; 

but God

disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness

Spankings, grounding, privilege deprivation can only go on so long, basically until we’re 18, but what then?  What are our checks and balances after that?  I often go back to a phrase my pastor likes to repeat:

We reap what we sow, more than we sow, later than we sow

Go ahead and repeat it a few times and you’ll be blown away by the truth of these words, there are natural consequences to our sins: debt, broken relationships, certain sicknesses, etc.  But there’s something else: God.  Discipline is His right as our Father, and it’s His privilege.  As parents, as humans, even, there’s not a whole lot we have control over, yes, the way our house looks, the way we dress, how we conduct ourselves, our performance at our job, but when it gets down to it, there’s little else.  Except, moving back to parent mode, if we look at the joy, the privilege and the responsibilities that go along with being a parent, we know that we do have the right to discipline our children.  I’m not going to get into how, when, or why just now, although, this post might be helpful,  but I want us to concentrate on the fact that this discipline is not only a right and a joy for our Heavenly Father, but we too should view it in just this way.

Our Father cares about us so much, that He takes His time to pull us aside, put us in time-out for a season to teach us a lesson or lessons.  Sometimes it’s just a time-out, sometimes it’s a swift swat to our back sides and sometimes the sting can linger for a long, long time.  I have to smile as I write this, because not only does He love us this much, he promises not to leave us or forsake us.  We know that right outside our bedroom door He’s there making dinner for us, cleaning up, planning for the days ahead, He is preparing us and he knows what’s best and we’re ready to come out, He’s there to embrace us.

Models Aren’t Just for Show, Or, What It Takes to Be a Disciple

Matt. 10: 16-24 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking but the spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

Jesus spent a bunch of time pouring into the lives of his disciples, and not all of his works were purely physical (healing the sick, casting out demons, preaching to the masses). Like a good teacher he prepared them mentally. Again and again in the gospels, we see the word “crowds.” They had to share him, be ready for anything at any time, and be willing to glean from anything he was saying or demonstrating. The words in the above verses are sobering; arrest, betrayal, death but he wasn’t asking them to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself, in fact, he went through every single one of these trials;

-brother will betray brother to death (Judas sold Jesus’ life for 30 silver coins) (John 18:2-3)

-handed over to the local synagogues (after his arrest, Jesus was taken to the high priest–John 18:19-24)

-do not worry about what to say or how to say it (Jesus was accused, questioned before Pilate–John 18: 33-40)

-when you are persecuted in one place, flee to another (Jesus was pushed out of his hometown of Nazareth for the truths he came to share that didn’t sit well with everyone else—Luke 4:14-30)

The key, then, to discipleship, was complete and utter surrender: the kind of surrender he talks about here:

Mark 10: 17-23 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

I am consumed with that phrase, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” This rich man had to give it up, lay it all down, he knew this would be incredibly difficult and Jesus knew how hard it would be. We have these strongholds, these family ties, these friendships, causes, missions which may be altogether good, but are they the best? Are we willing to lay it ALL down for the sake of the cross?

Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 14:25-33

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

We have to understand that the disciples were fallible, dense, Jesus even used the word “dull” but we are too. I like to say that I’m socially oblivious. For instance, I was driving with my friend in the car the other day and as we were maneuvering through a couple of lanes of traffic, this lady shouted out of her window, “You’re welcome!” I was baffled, it took me an extra minute and some discussion with my friend to realize I didn’t give the courtesy wave. Oh well. This is just one of many, many examples of my obliviousness. And yet my family still loves me and my friends tolerate me.

All this to say is that it’s going to take us time.

Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us, just obedience.

He teaches us, he prepares us, he models for us and then he leaves us with this awesome internal voice of the Holy Spirit, but we have to attentive to it and we have to yield to it and do what He is telling us to do.

One more:

John 15: 18-27

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.”

When the Counselor comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

A New Take on Old Wineskins

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment.  If he does the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2: 21-22

This phrase was spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees who had just questioned him about why his disciples were not fasting, after all John’s disciples were fasting and so were the Pharisees…

Is it any coincidence that this incident was recorded right after Jesus had recruited Levi the tax collector into the disciple mix?  Here was a guy, probably crooked as the day is long, selfish, dishonest, but God called him.  He didn’t have this beautiful religious pedigree, he didn’t fast, didn’t hang out with righteous folk, but again, Jesus called him…Levi was a friend of sinners, he feasted with them…so why him?   Couldn’t Jesus have used a wise scholar on his team to answer some of the crowd’s questions, back him up on his theology?  No, he wanted Levi, and he dined with his friends, and he loved him.  Was he part of some radical new plan?

As Christians, we have the tendency to get set in our ways: church on Wednesday nights, Sunday morning, Bible study, small group…the list goes on…would you say that we even become old and a bit crusty?  A wee bit brittle, shall we say?

I’d like to take this wineskin analogy just a little bit further and say that past hurts can make us hard and bitter too, can’t they?  They can eventually lead to cracks in our relationships too: “I can’t believe such and such still talks to so and so, don’t they know what they did?”or “Do you have any idea who they voted for? Ridiculous!  They are single-handedly trying to ruin our country.”

We build up these walls, we say inwardly or outwardly, “You may go this far but no further.” and then we stop and we crack because something hurts and we can feel our bones and joints begin to stiffen and we harden ourselves to relationships that yes, can potentially hurt us, but may also be part of that glorious new fermenting process because when we let people in, we allow the potential for joy, for new experiences, for Love and that new wine that Christ has to offer.  Christ, the fulfillment of the law.

And so I urge you, let your new creature begin to expand with joy, the kind that releases giggle gas.  Stop trying to patch things up, applying sad little bits and pieces of new to the old way of thinking and acting–and allow His presence to seep in.

What new way of thinking or acting can you adopt this week?

The Courage of Gideon: More Thoughts on God’s Call and Doing Battle

Well, I can’t keep listening to some amazing sermons and not let you all in on the scoop.  This Sunday, my pastor brought us Part 2 of his series on courage and this time led us to the book of Judges.  This book is rife with “minor” characters who God uses to do amazing things: Deborah, Barak, Jael, the list goes on, but today we’re going to focus in on Gideon.

I did a 3-parter on Gideon a way back, you can find it here, but do let me give a recap.  Because of Israel’s disobedience, not completely destroying their enemies, God gave them into the hands of the Midianites (6:1).  Their rule was so oppressive that the Israelites were hiding in mountain clefts and caves, Midian had come in like a swarm of locusts and it just wasn’t a good situation any way you look at it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.  They cry out, the Lord sends a prophet who explains that God has done this because they are serving the gods of the Amorites, gods they know are false.

But, God is his graciousness and compassion is merciful to Israel once more and sends his angel to see out Gideon on the threshing floor.  The scenario might be slightly familiar, God calls, we gripe, we make excuses:

The angel greets Gideon in an amazing way: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”   You see, right off,

1) God calls those whom He has equipped for the task he has in mind (6:12) “”The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” He sees the potential the potential that He has placed within us.

2) God understands that we need assurance of His call

3) God speaks to anyone who will listen to him, we just have to get still enough to do so

4) God oftentimes tests our obedience before he presents his greater task.  Sometimes, before He calls us to a big task, he calls us to be faithful in smaller things (6:25-32 tells Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal, cut down the Asherah pole and sacrifice his father’s bull on the newly built altar)

5) Even the most courageous often desire added assurance of God’s presence (6: 36-40 God tests Gideon with a fleece: “If you will save Isrel by my hand as you have promised–look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor.”

HE ONLY ASKS US TO DO WHAT HE IS GOING TO DO WITH US

6) Even the most courageous often feel the need for companionship

We must watch for the issue of pride (7:2 God dwindles down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300.  “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’) He dwindles down the numbers.  God will sometimes test us with the impossible, He is working so that He is glorified.

When it came down to it, it was 135,000 vs. 300; Midia vs. Israel.

Doing Battle Like David

It’s a story we’ve heard a million times, we’ve read it to our children, rehearsed it over and over in Sunday school, talked about it in study groups and heard sermons on it, but friends, this scenario is real and it’s being played out in countless ways, all over the world in believer’s lives today.

David had an anointing upon his life, a real, live one with oil and everything.  He was picked out from seven other strapping young men, all older than him, with more life experience, more authority, probably more favor.  Men, who by outside appearances could certainly be next to ascend the throne as Israel’s king–but you know who God’s spirit picked–the kid, the boy from the desert who, in his brother’s words, “tended a few sheep. “

But God chose him.

And God chooses us and give us His power through his anointing Holy Spirit.

We all know the set up:

Philistines on one side of the valley, Israelites on the other.

Every day their biggest, baddest, coolest, most intimidating and accomplished soldier, Goliath, came to taunt them.

Every day. For 40 days.

Enough to give anyone a stomach ulcer.

Your tormentors aren’t going to relent either.  They are going to do anything in their power to intimidate you: threaten you, demean you, call in their reinforcements.  But you are going to have to stand your ground and do what David did:

1) Remember God’s anointing. (I Sam. 16:12)
2) Know who you’re facing: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”(17:26)
3) Remember that he has prepared you for this very moment in time, you have slain your lions and your bears, you have seen your victories in your past. (17: 34-37)
4) You are going to have to shed off the “armor” that other people are going to try to put on you: your lawyers, your doctors, your specialists, your accountants, your wealth, your status, your know-how. (17:38-39)

This is the Lord’s Battle And Nothing Else

The Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and NO ONE ELSE

5) Arm yourself with what you know, five smooth stones, this is how you defeated your enemies before?  This is how you will do it again. (17:40)
6) Whatever they say. Don’t. Back. Down. (17:41-44)
7) Speak the name of the Lord (17:45):

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defiled.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.  Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands.

8) Approach the battle line with boldness (17:48)
9) Do what you’ve got to do: sling that stone (17:49-50)

The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

The Courage of Noah

I have to say, I can’t take credit for any of what I’m about to share in today’s post, these points are based on a sermon that my pastor gave this last Sunday, they’ve been so applicable for me over the last few weeks, that I have a feeling that there’s someone else out there struggling with the same issues of going against the flow.
Verse 5 of Genesis 6 sets the stage well:

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth –men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, the birds of the air–for I am grieved that I have made them.  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Noah was a righteous man and walked with God.

 God instructed Noah to build an ark and told him that he would bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it.  Everything on earth would perish except for Noah and his family.
Let’s note here the COURAGE that Noah exhibited:
-He did not defend his actions
-He refused to be discouraged by his critics
His courage was based on:
1) ABSOLUTE assurance that he heard from God (vs. 13-21) 
2) The awareness of God’s presence with him (vs. 9)
3) The clarity of the instructions that God gave him (vs. 14)-instructions of the height, width, breadth, and door placement on the boat
4) The experience of God’s strength in him (vs. 14) God won’t call you to do anything that he doesn’t give you the readiness to do
5) The warning of God’s coming judgment (vs. 7, 13)
6) The favor of God overshadowed him (vs. 6:8, 7:1)
7) The intimate relationship he had with God (vs. 9–remember, He WALKED with God)
8) The promise of God regarding his future (vs. 17b, 18 “Everything on earth will perish.  But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark–you and your sons and your wife and your sons wives with you.”)
Here’s the thing, there is complete silence in the Scripture about the opposition that Noah faced when he started building the ark.  Noah couldn’t explain the structure, there was no earthly reason why he should be building a boat, but be assured that if the earth was as wicked as the Bible says it was, Noah was mocked, questioned, probably harassed and by outside appearances, felt very, very alone.  But we have to go back to the above points, God didn’t call him and leave him there, he gave him specific instructions, he gave him a family to help him, he gave him supernatural strength to accomplish this task, and lastly and probably the most daunting of all, he took care of the very last step, the animals came to him. 
God’s equips, God prepares but then he asks us to step out and faith. And you’re going to be scared. You’re going to face opposition, but remember, as believers in Jesus Christ, the battle is not ours, it’s the Lord’s.
Friends, if there is something that God is calling you to do, something that defies human logic, something that will undoubtedly bring you criticism and opposition, then step out, God’s going to show himself mighty and faithful. He’s going to equip you, strengthen you and shelter you.  You only need to face what’s right in front of you, not the feckless fears that lurk around the corner.

Care to share your own Noah experience?