Tag Archives: Punishment

“Kingdoms Rise and Kingdoms Fall”

In everything set them an example by doing what is good.
Titus 2:7a (NIV)

Tay, Clay and Milo visited Berlin this past week. It was fun for me to see the pictures and to get Taylor’s Marco Polo describing their trip to the Berlin Wall memorial. How remarkable that what stood as a very real, tragic, iconic and seemingly immovable metaphor of the times for my generation is now reduced to a memorial and museum piece.

[cue: The Times They are a Changin’]

I am fascinated by the times we live in. Technology is advancing at a rate faster than any other time in human history. Humanity is witnessing and experiencing more rapid change than our ancestors could fathom. As a follower of Jesus, it is not lost on me that our current culture is being dubbed the “post-Christian” era or the “post-evangelical” era. Denominational institutions are splitting and crumbling. Ironically, I might suggest, much like the Berlin Wall.

I’ve watched this create tremendous anxiety and fear in some. Yet, as I observe and witness these things, I can’t say that I’m particularly worried or upset about them. Why? First, we are told countless times by Jesus and God’s Message not to be afraid or anxious. Second, if I truly believe what I say that I believe, then I have faith that this Great Story has always been moving towards a conclusion that is already written in the eternity that lies outside time. Third, the mystery and power of Christ was never of this world. That’s why the Kingdom had to come as Jesus embodied and prescribed, and why Jesus was never about becoming an earthly King with political power and clout.  When humans attempted to make the Message of Jesus and the Kingdom of God about Level 3, institutional, earthly power I believe we essentially made it into something it was never intended to be and, at the same time, emptied it of its true power.

In today’s chapter, Paul instructs his young protégé, Titus, what to teach the followers of Jesus in Crete. What struck me was not what those specific instructions were, but the motivation Paul gives for the instructions and their adherence:

“…so that no one will malign the word of God.”

“…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

“…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

The paradigm was not that followers of Jesus would have the political and institutional power to make non-believers toe our moral line. The paradigm presented was that we who follow Jesus would live out the fruits of the Spirit towards everyone, that we would exemplify Kingdom living in all we say and do, and we would love all people in such a way that others would see, be attracted to it, and wonder how they might experience the same love, joy, peace, and self-control they see in us. What a different paradigm that that of making rules, appointing enforcers, and punishing offenders which is the paradigm of this Level 3 world

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about times and change.

The words of an old U2 song flit into my thoughts:

October,
the leaves are stripped bare of all they wear.
What do I care?
October,
Kingdom rise and kingdoms fall,
but You go on,
and on,
and on.

And so I proceed on, into another day of this earthly journey trying to live out a little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Thanks for joining me, my friend. Have a great day.

Refusing to Feed Emotional Fires

source: judy baxter via Flickr
source: judy baxter via Flickr

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
    do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 (NIV)

I am the youngest of four siblings. It is said, primarily by elder siblings, that the younger children always have it easier than their older brother and sisters. I do agree that parents tend to chill out as they get older. I don’t know whether this is because they have more parenting experience or because they are simply worn out. Perhaps a little of both. In that leg of my journey, I found that my path was sometimes made easier by observing and learning from the mistakes of my brothers and sister.

When I was young I watched the arguments between my parents and my siblings. Like all families, we had our fair share of them. My observation led me to perceive and understand that there was a consistent pattern in the way arguments escalated between my parents and my siblings:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “no.”
  • Indignant, child rolls eyes and asks for reason.
  • Defensive, parent plays the authoritarian trump card. “Because, I said so.”
  • Child plays victim card, makes snide remark (under his breath, but still meant to be audibly heard) about never getting his way.
  • Parent takes offense, reacts, and angrily calls child out for his attitude.
  • Child raises his voice and accuses parent of injustice, recounting a string of similar cases.
  • Parent raises voice, recounts their own rap sheet of the child’s offenses, and threatens further punishment if child doesn’t back down.
  • Child screams and accuses parent of running a concentration camp for children.
  • Parent screams back what an ungrateful child they have and grounds him for life.
  • Doors slam.

Having observed this pattern on a number of occasions, I quickly learned that:

  1. Arguing never changed my parents initial decision, it only entrenched it.
  2. Arguing almost always ended with the child in worse trouble and more punishment.
  3. Arguing led to parental defensiveness and mistrust.

So, I stopped arguing:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “No.” Instinctively sets defense shields to maximum.
  • Child calmly says, “Okay.” He returns to his room (face it, either way it’s where you always end up).
  • Parent scratches head and wonders what just happened.

To be honest, I wasn’t always happy about my parents decisions. My pragmatism didn’t lessen my adolescent anger. I threw some private tantrums back in my room that I refused to let my parents see. It just seemed to me that all the escalation and arguing was a waste of time and energy, and the ultimate outcome threatened to be worse than just sucking up the disappointment at not getting what I wanted. The result? I think my parents were ultimately easier going and more trusting with me because I was an easier going kid.

Looking back, I believe that learning this lesson proved valuable throughout my life journey. Directing my emotional energies where they can truly make a difference and wisely choosing my emotional battles has served me well. As Solomon alluded in today’s chapter, refusing to react to another person’s emotional outburst and remaining calm usually halts any further escalation. Choosing not to add fuel to the emotional fire, the other person’s rage will usually smolder rather quickly.

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Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

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Oh, Mercy

Forbearance
Forbearance (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us….
Psalm 123:3a (NIV)

Mercy (mur-see) n. 1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence. 2. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty. 3. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.

Sometimes we lose sight of what words really mean. Throughout God’s Message I read cries for mercy and calls for mercy. I regularly plead for God’s mercy. But, do I ever really stop to consider what that really means? I read the three definitions pasted above and find in each of them a slightly different but wholly apt nuance of the word.

I need God’s compassionate and kindly forbearance because despite my best efforts I keep testing God’s patience with my repeated offenses, my moral faults and my personal shortcomings.

I need God’s discretionary power to pardon and mitigate just punishment for my condemnable thoughts, words, acts and omissions.

I desire daily evidence of divine favor and blessing.

At the same instance, I am reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I need to show compassion and kindly forbearance towards those who have offended me.

I need to pardon those who have perpetrated hurtful thoughts, words, and actions towards me.

I need to give tangible favor and blessing to others who do not deserve it.

This morning I prepare for the day mindful of the truth that it is totally improper of me to pray for God’s mercy if I am unwilling to show mercy to others.

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Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 12

Deutsch: Historische Federzeichnung einer schu...
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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 12:11 (NLT)

I still remember many of the spankings I received as a child. I don’t remember them because they were awful or excessive or unjust in any way. Spankings were relatively few in my home and reserved for times we’d totally been caught being naughty. For the record, I also remember sitting on the bathroom sink while my mom soaped up her hands and proceeded to wash the inside of my mouth out. I deserved that, too. Funny, my sister says she can’t remember ever getting a spanking, but she did. Several times. I guess I remember those for her.

As a parent one of the most difficult parts of the journey is disciplining your children. You don’t want to be too lenient, but you don’t want to be heavy handed. Each child is different in the way they respond to it, and every circumstance is different in the severity of discipline warranted. Appropriate discipline changes with the age of the child and his or her temperament. I had one child whom I could discipline with the mere look of disappointment and another child who seemed never to admit doing or saying anything wrong….ever. Needless to say, in our home discipline sometimes required different approaches depending on the offender.

No parent disciplines perfectly.

At the same time, discipline is required. It’s required for all of us if we’re going to develop into well adjusted and behaved people. We need clear understanding of right and wrong. We need to know when we’ve done well and when we’ve crossed over the line. We need appropriate negative reinforcement along with appropriate positive reinforcement.

Today, I’m thankful for parents who knew when to punish and when to praise. I’m thankful for good kids who responded to both pats on the back and pats on the butt. As the journey draws nearer to the time when my children may be having children of their own, I pray that they will find wisdom and balance in their own parenting. As I continue my journey as a child of the Creator, I pray that I will respond appropriately to both discipline and praise all the days of my life.

Chapter-a-Day Zechariah 14

“Note well: God’s Judgment Day is on the way….” Zechariah 14:1 (MSG)

As a child, there were fewer words that hung in the air with such ominous, impending doom as “Wait until your father gets home.” Growing up in a pretty traditional household, my dad was the provider and the strict disciplinarian. My mother, you should know, was no slouch. She handled the daily policing of children deftly, and she could mete out her own effective forms of parental judgement. But, when mom made a point of deferring judgment to dad, you knew it was serious and you knew there was going to be trouble for the perpetrator (and the satisfying opportunity for the victim to see justice handed out).

The threat of impending judgement had a powerful effect. We don’t often think about, or talk about God’s judgement. At least, it’s not talked about much in my community or circles of relationships. Judgment is an uncomfortable subject in a culture that likes to look on the brighter side of life. Spiritually speaking, however, we have to know that we are all waiting for our Father to come home. God’s Message reminds us over and over and over that there will be Day of judgment, and a Day of reckoning.

As a child, I lived my day knowing that I wanted Dad’s daily homecoming to be a moment of joy and not a moment of justice. Am I doing the same now as an adult, in view of God’s promised judgment?

Am I ready?

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 25

Lies

It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods. Israel ended up joining in the worship of the Baal of Peor. God was furious, his anger blazing out against Israel. Numbers 25:2-3 (MSG)

I remember many years ago catching my youngest daughter in a lie. It was a small thing but I came down hard on her and she was visibly surprised by my earnestness in the matter. It wasn’t the small, isolated act but the principle that I wanted her to understand. When a child learns that lying is acceptable, then they can easily go down a path which leads to much larger deceptions and falsehoods. Pretty soon, you’ve wandered far off the path of truth.

It’s easy to read today’s chapter and scratch our heads at God’s anger and reaction to the actions of his followers. Baal worship was prevalent in those days. It started as a type of “fertility” worship which was common in ancient cultures. It morphed in a myriad of ways as it spread through middle eastern tribes and regions. What it became was an ongoing, blasphemous sexual free-for-all. And, when the Baal followers sexual “worship” produced babies, they would sacrifice the baby to Baal by burning the baby alive. Unbridled and unrestricted sex with no responsibility for the outcome. (Hmmm, the more things change…..)

Like a loving parent, God knew that Baal worship would lead His children down a tragic path that would be incredibly destructive to the entire nation. I have to believe that in this early confrontation between God and Baal, God wanted his young nation to understand how serious He was about avoiding entanglements with Baal worship.

Today I’m reminded that even when it seems that my Heavenly Father is being unfair or harsh, He knows the plans He has for me. They are plans for life and hope, and I can trust His will.

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