Friday, March 03, 2006

Discipline for Grown-Ups

A Meditation on Amos 3-4
This week my 3-year-old son asked my wife how God gives corrections to grown-ups. I can only imagine the picture in his vivid imagination. What does it look like for God to give daddy and mommy a spanking? Does a heavenly hand part the clouds and whack away on their rear-ends? Well, sort of. Actually, God’s correction of grown-ups is much more painful than any spanking. But just as real. And something we’d all do well to consider more often.

Today in my personal devotions I’m reading Amos 3-4. In these chapters God is speaking through his prophet and announcing his impending judgment on Israel. Because of their special position as his children, they’re going to be the special recipients of his discipline. Amos 3:2 says,
“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.”

In other words, “Israel, you’re special. I’ve chosen you and revealed myself to you in a way I’ve not done with any other nation. And because of that, you’re going to receive punishment for your sin.” The covenant that promised Israel would be God’s special people also promised they would be punished when they violated that covenant (see Deuteronomy 28).

God disciplines his children. We don’t announce this at alter calls do we? “Come to God. Become his special child and receive his special discipline!” But it’s true. A mark of truly belonging to God through faith in Jesus is receiving his discipline.

Hebrews 12 tells us that this is an evidence of true sonship. In Hebrews 12:5-6 the writer of Hebrews draws from Proverbs 3:11-12 and says,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

How should this truth affect me? First, it should fill me with gratefulness. I have a Father in heaven who truly loves my soul. He is willing to interrupt my comfort, willing to rebuke and discipline me so that I will be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus. Hebrews 12:9-11 says,
…we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

If we’re willing to be trained by it, God’s discipline can be seen as a wonderful gift. When I have to bring correction to my children I will often ask, “Now would daddy be loving you if I let you do such and such?” Even my young children understand that discipline is an evidence of true love and care.

Second, the reality of God’s discipline should check the sinful impulses of my heart. God hates sin. He punishes sin. Because of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, I will not face his eternal wrath for all my sins. But this does not exempt me from his discipline of God or the immediate consequences of sinful decisions now. We should avoid sin because we love God and it dishonors Him. And we should avoid sin because sin has terrible consequences and God will discipline his true children when they harbor it and walk in it.

In Amos 4, God tells Israel all the forms of discipline he sent—drought, military defeat, destruction of crops—and ends each statement with the words, “yet you have not returned to me.” A third response in my life should be to cultivate a heart that is quick to repent. This is not to say that every form of trial or tragedy is “discipline” from God. I don’t agree with those who say that if you’re sick, or if something bad happens to you, it must mean that you’re in sin or don’t have enough faith. In his Sovereignty, God can use suffering to accomplish his hidden purposes. I’m reading Job right now as well, and this book reveals this truth very clearly. That being said, shouldn’t we also be people who ask God, “Are you trying to get my attention through this trial?” and, “Is there anything in my life that displeases you?” Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” In response to God’s loving discipline, we should be people who “return to him” in repentance and faith. What motivation we have to do so in light of the free gift of forgiveness through our Savior!

Finally, it seems that the reality of God’s discipline should sober Christians in America—a nation that in so many ways seems bent on flaunting and breaking the commands of God. We live, as Isaiah put it, among a people of unclean lips. We live in the midst of wickedness, and have, ourselves, either condoned it through our silence or taken part in all forms of it. I don’t believe our goal should be theocracy. I’m not interested in having Christians take over government. It seems to me that the best thing we can do is repent and cry out to God for mercy. We should acknowledge our many sins. We should acknowledge that instead of being “a city on a hill,” we have been overtaken by the darkness. More than it needs a conservative, right wing government, our country needs the Church to model lives transformed by the gospel. It needs us to be a holy people, serving a Holy God through faith in the only Savior. Our country needs us to intercede for it, to cry out to God and ask that He would show mercy in the form of revival in our lost nation.

Amos 3:6 asks the chilling question, “When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it?” This week images of Mardi Gras in the ruins of New Orleans conjure images of what the nation of Israel might have been like in the days of Amos. God sent disaster but the people refused to turn, refused to lay down the party, refused to repent.

I live in Gaithersburg, Maryland—a town just as sinful and deserving of God’s holy wrath as New Orleans or any other place. The reality of God’s discipline over nations and individuals and, specifically, his children should cause me—should cause every Christian—to walk humbly, to return to God, and to cry for His undeserved mercy.

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