God who disciplines

God in the Psalms No.10 

Psa 6:1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath

Our initial response to these words may not be one that lifts our spirit. Most of us would read these words and say, “Oh dear!” (or something similar!). The thought of being rebuked or disciplined is not a comfortable one! These exact words are repeated in Psa 38:1. In fact the concept of the Lord disciplining His people is a very common one in Scripture, and when we see it in context we will see what a good thing it is.

Psa 39:11 says, “You rebuke and discipline men for their sin”. So, there discipline is linked with our sin. Well we would expect that perhaps but look at Deut 4:35,36: You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you”. The ‘things’ referred to there were His acts of deliverance in Egypt before the Exodus and their experience of Him at Sinai.  This idea is repeated in Deut 11:2,3: “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt.” Again the discipline that is referred to comes about by observing the mighty acts of God as He dealt with Pharaoh and led them to their land.

Well let’s consider a general definition of discipline and see how it might fit what we’ve seen here:

discipline = training that develops self-control and character.

Now what would have been the effect upon Israel of watching God at work in Egypt? It would have gradually brought the revelation to them that He is all-mighty, all-powerful and that He deals with pride, arrogance, idol worship and sin generally. This should have taught them that God was not to be trifled with!   Psa 94:12 says, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law”. In other words, discipline comes about when we realize God’s Law, when we realize God’s standards, the way God has made things to be, when we realize the boundaries God has given us in life.

Discipline can thus be seen to be conforming our understanding and our lives to God’s design, God’s character and God’s will. The Lord made us perfect when He made the world but with the Fall, sin made us think and do things contrary to that perfection. Discipline is both the process and the product that brings us back to God’s way of thinking and acting. David was feeling very low in Psalm 6. It wasn’t that He objected to discipline but he didn’t want God to have to discipline him in anger because of sin.

Heb 12:5-11 is probably THE New Testament passage on discipline. The writer encourages us to
not lose heart when he rebukes you (v.6) and then gives the reason: the Lord disciplines those he loves” and “God disciplines us for our good” (v.10), so that Later on… it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). Now substitute the word, “trains” for discipline and we see more clearly what this is about. It’s not about punishment; it’s about bringing us into conformity with the truth – the truth of who God is, how He’s made the world to be, and how we are to live to get the best out of it.

Yes, it so often needs difficult circumstances to mould us. That was what was happening to David. We learn patience by having to wait, endurance by having to hang on in with difficult and trying circumstances, to love by being given difficult people, and so on. Each of these is God training us, disciplining us, and conforming us to His likeness – because He loves us and wants the best for us.

Rebuke & Reprisal

Readings in Luke Continued – No.3

Lk 3:19,20
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

Chapter three of Luke is largely about John the Baptist’s ministry because it leads in to the arrival and baptism of Jesus. The back half of the chapter is the genealogy of Jesus, probably through Mary, but we won’t be looking at that in these meditations. These two verses today are sort of summary verses that Luke puts in, almost as an aside before he moves on to cover Jesus’ baptism by John.

We live in a sinful world and people do wrong things. Israel were governed by God’s Law, whether they were royalty or ordinary people – or at least they should have been. Herod who is spoken of here, was Herod Antipas, and he had married the daughter of Aretas IV of Arabia . Marrying outside Israel was bad enough, but he then divorced her to marry his own niece, Herodias, who was already his brother’s wife. Herod Philip was his brother (see Mt 14:3; Mk 6:17). John, presumably in his preaching, had publicly rebuked Herod Antipas for this behaviour and when the word got back to him, Herod had John arrested and put in prison. (All this happened after John had baptized Jesus). Now that is what happened in its simplest terms, but it raises two questions. First why did John speak out in a way that he knew must provoke a reprisal and second, couldn’t God have stopped this happening and how did John being put in prison fit into God’s plans?

Neither question is answered from Scripture. We are just left to speculate, but that is what you have to do sometimes when you are pondering Scripture and chewing it over in a meditation. Is it that John just can’t help himself? Jeremiah said, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jer 20:9). In other words, he just couldn’t hold himself back, he had to speak. John had been living in the desert, aware of God’s presence, receiving his calling to prepare the people – all the people! Is Herod any different? No, he too needs to hear the truth – regardless! If he refuses it, then he will be answerable to God. Prophets are often too concerned with the truth and the glory of God to worry about the consequences! The worst that Herod can do is put him in prison and kill him! That just means promotion to heaven for John.

That in its turn raises the question for us: how real is the reality of heaven for us? Do we fear death? Do we fear the future? Are we worried about what might happen to us in the future? If we struggle with these things we need to ask the Lord to bring us into a place of security so that, like David, we can say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psa 23:4)

So, to pursue our second question, why did God not step in and save John? Yes, the Lord does sometimes step in and do the dramatic, and yes He could have brought judgement upon Herod, but in His wisdom He chose not to. There will be mysteries in life that we are going to have to leave as mysteries until we get to heaven. Perhaps there is an element of the ‘free will’ question here, perhaps God wasn’t willing to take Herod’s life and He certainly wasn’t willing to overrule his free-will. How much more He could achieve if He hadn’t granted us free-will.

And so we are left struggling with an injustice. I find this sort of thing one of the things that add to the credibility of the Bible. If I wanted to write a book that would convince everyone of its main themes, then I would make sure there were no questions, no doubts, that everything was crystal clear. However, in a sin-filled world, it is not like that. There ARE injustices, there are times when you want to cry, “Lord, why don’t you step in and do something?”

That was exactly the problem faced by Habakkuk when he cried, “How long, O LORD , must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.(Hab 1:2-4) By the end of the book he was able to say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)

He came to a point that I believe we will all come to when we reach heaven where, if the Lord grants it, we will be able to look back with the Lord’s eyes and know without a doubt that there is nothing for which we can criticize the Lord! As Paul was later to write, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.(1 Cor 13:12 ) Now it is not clear; now we have questions, but one day we will see and understand. Is this ‘blind faith’? No, this is faith built on what we CAN see. There is so much revealed in the Bible that does give us confidence, that when we come to the bits we don’t understand, we can still trust in God’s incredible love and wisdom and say, I may not understand but I will still praise Him.

Walk of Rebuke

WALKING WITH GOD. No.25

2 Sam 12:7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

Our verse above shows us the importance of not taking verses out of context. Standing on its own it could have a number of meanings. It could be very positive: you are the man of God’s choice to be king and deliver Israel. But it wasn’t. Let’s see what had been happening. Again if we purely took chapter twelve it would not be sufficient. In that chapter we find the prophet, Nathan, walking over to David’s palace and telling him a story of a rich man and a poor man. The poor man had nothing except a little ewe while the rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. When a traveller visited the rich man instead of killing one of his own animals for a feast, he took and killed the poor man’s ewe. The natural injustice of this act made David angry, and as he expresses his anger over the rich man, it is then that Nathan says, “You are the man!It is in fact a word of rebuke.

But if you didn’t know your Bible you would now be wondering what this was all about because the actions behind this have not been revealed so far. For that we have to go back into chapter 11. There we find the account of how David saw Bathsheba bathing and took her to himself and had her husband murdered. He had used his position of power to commit adultery and do away with the husband and we find in the closing words of chapter 11, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). Thus He sends Nathan on this walk of rebuke (12:1)

Now a rebuke is not a pleasant thing but in the kingdom of God it is a necessary thing. The reality is that we go astray and get things wrong, even if we are Christians. On a bad day the only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian knows that they have done wrong! But because of the old sinful nature that still lingers there, and which will never be completely gone this side of heaven, we are often hesitant to acknowledge and confess the wrong. Adam and Eve gave us the clearest examples of what happens. They did wrong (Gen 3:1-6), they realized their state (v.7), became fearful and hid when God came (v.8-10) and then justified their actions (v.12,13) by blaming others. No, we’re not always very good at facing up to the truth about ourselves and our misdemeanours. The truth is that if we can, we will get away with it, and that’s why we need someone to face us up with the truth.

We find rebukes coming at various times in Jesus ministry and in the life of the early church. In the storm on the lake, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith (Mt 8:26). When a man came to be healed, he rebuked the teachers of the Law for their hard hearts (Mt 9:4). He also rebuked the cities that did not respond to him (Mt 11:20 -). He chided Peter for wavering in faith when he walked on the lake (Mt 14:31), he chided him for being of slow to understand (Mt 15:16) and he rebuked him for his response to his teaching about his death (Mt 16:23). The classic rebuke in the Acts is that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3-5,9,10). Indeed we find Jesus teaching, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” (Lk 17:3) and “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” (Rev 3:19). Thus rebuking is an expression of God’s love for us. He sees us in error and doesn’t want us to go on in a place where His blessing is hindered by our failure. He wants us back in a place of goodness and rightness of relationship with Him. As some of the above examples show, He wants us to become strong in our faith and go on and mature.

How does He rebuke? Well perhaps a common way is through His word which Paul described as, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). He instructed Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2). Rebuking is thus confronting failures with the truth. Another way the Lord does this is through our conscience: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” (2 Cor 5:11). Allied to that, the Holy Spirit also convicts (Jn 16:8) us of our wrong doing. Sometimes, as with today’s example, He will rebuke us through another person, a prophet or simply a friend or someone close to us who sees our wrong and loves us enough to confront us with it. Indeed “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) will be one of the key ways we will grow into maturity. If someone walks the walk of rebuke to us, are we open to receive it?