HEBREWS 12:4-13

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

(New American Standard Version, 1995)

Do you discipline your children?  I do!  I don’t beat them, or even spank them.  I use no corporal punishment of any kind whatsoever because I am a foster parent.  So, I have to look for even more effective strategies for disciplining my children.  I have to base my discipline, not on Old Testament examples – you know, “beat em with a rod” and all that –  Rather, I must turn to New Covenant thinking and learn to incorporate New Covenant Biblical principles in disciplining my children; the way God Himself disciplines His children today.

Soooo, you’ve got a rebellious child; or maybe you’ve been a rebellious child?  I bet you’re glad we no longer live under the Old Covenant Law of Moses.  Unruly children got beaten with rods.  Rebellious teenagers were put to death by stoning.  If you stole a man’s cow, you replaced the cow fourfold.  If you slept with another man’s wife, you and she were both put to death.  Wow, I am so glad that I am not a Jew living back in Old Testament days—at least, I’m not a Jew outwardly.  But, of course, I am a Jew inwardly.  The Bible says that, “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (Romans 2:28-29).  So, yeah, every authentic New Testament Christian is a Jew, inwardly—that is, a spiritual descendant of Abraham—but unlike the fleshly Jews of old, thankfully, we are no longer subject to the old covenant Law of Moses.

So, if we no longer beat the kids, stone the teens, and put one another to death for various moral infractions, how does God manage His spiritual household and discipline His children today?  I think you, probably, already know the answer to that question, don’t you? He works on the heart!

The old covenant Law of Moses worked from the outside in—pounding God’s will into the human mind by force of the letter of the law; reinforced, here and there, by a rock or two, or three or four, or a whole heap (a hem).  But the new covenant in Christ works from the inside out. Beginning with the beautiful gospel message of God’s love poured out for us through the sacrifice of His Son and then, in response, cultivating a personal love for God and submission to His will as the Holy Spirit steps in to put His laws on our hearts and write them upon our minds (Hebrews 10:16).

When I consider this incredible passage of scripture, written to the Hebrew children (Jewish Christians) who were suffering tremendous hardships and persecutions at the hands of their fellow countrymen, as well as the Romans, during the first century, I am overwhelmed at the thought that, “those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives” (verse 6).

The writer makes the point that, at the time of his writing, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (verse 4). However, as we’ve seen in earlier passages, they had already “endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” as well as the seizure of their property (Hebrews 10:32-34).  And the writer of the book of Hebrews, here in Chapter 12, associates these persecutions directly with discipline, saying, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (verse 7) and “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness…” (Verses 9-10).

Well, earthly fathers, dads, if they really do care about their children, discipline them as best they know how; or, as this passage states, “as seemed best to them.”  But what “seems best to them” is NOT always best.  When I was a boy, I was not as often “disciplined” by my dad, as I was “punished” by him.  I think he was only doing the best he knew how; at least, at this point in my life, I’m willing to give him that benefit of the doubt. But my dad was not a Christian man, at least, not during my growing up years. And, because of the way he himself had been raised, he had become the type of man who didn’t really take the time to “teach” ahead of time, or to instruct, or to guide, or to mentor us kids along the way. Instead, he simply barked orders and expected us to obey. He told us “what” to do, but seldom took the time to show us “how” to do it.  Then, he just kind of let us stumble along on our own, doing the best we could until we messed up. And when we messed up – “WHAM” – we were punished—often quite severely; leaving us hurt, bitter, angry, and confused.  I don’t hold it against him anymore because I’ve come to understand that it was the only way he really knew how to deal with raising kids.

But the New Testament speaks against that sort of “discipline” or rather “punishment,” saying: “Fathers, do NOT provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). What I would have given, as a boy, or even as a young man, to have experienced that kind of “discipline”  wherein my dad would have, first, taught me about the important things in life, what the expectations were, how to live, how to love, how to “be” in this world.  Then, to have those principles, those behaviors, those life-skills modeled before me in such a way that I could emulate them.  And then when I fell short, as all kids do, to be lovingly corrected. Or, when I got a little rebellious and deliberately stepped out of line, to be met with a sternness, born of love, that meted out consequences appropriate to the misbehavior.  Or, when I was acting “stupid in a no-stupid zone,” to be allowed to suffer the natural consequences of my actions while still firmly attached to my lifeline of love and support.  Kids long for THAT kind of discipline.  They want it, whether they ever admit it or not, and they need it!

And that is how God “disciplines” His children, whom He loves.  Not simply in the way that “seems best to Him,” as earthly fathers do, but rather, in ways that are always “for our good.” No matter what discipline the Lord brings into our lives, we can be sure of the fact that, as the Hebrew writer says, it is always “for our good!”

The Hebrew writer, in this passage, goes on to inform us that God’s ultimate goal in disciplining us is to produce within us, “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (verse 11).  He also points out that being disciplined is not particularly fun. A fact to which we can all probably easily relate.  I remember when my little girls were in gymnastics and learning, without a doubt, the meaning of discipline.  They didn’t particularly “enjoy” all the stretching, bending, and training exercises that they had to go through.  Sometimes they would cry and say things like, “Salty, I’m all bust up!”  It was not uncommon for them to inform me that they really didn’t want to go to gym that day.  But then, I would remind them of their goals, their dreams, and set before them the examples of other gymnasts whom they tended to idolize. I would encourage them, I applaud them, hug them, and praise them for every little improvement. I would spend way too much money on their sparkly little outfits and other gymnastic supplies. And, yes, sometimes I would have to “make” them go to gym; so long as gymnastics remained their choice, their dream. You see, they had each made the initial decision, as well as the continuing personal decision, to pursue that particular dream. I, then, became the “reinforcer” and the facilitator of that dream—there to help them dig deep within themselves and find the wherewithal within their little hearts to be able to achieve that dream for as long as they chose to pursue it. You know what that is? That’s discipline!  And the fun, the joy, the satisfaction, the fulfillment that they got to experience was not necessarily in the “training,” but in what the training produced—that ultimate beautiful performance and all the accolades that followed!

Now, of course, no two children are the same. You cannot treat two children exactly alike, or raise two children exactly alike, while doing what is best for each of them.  That’s a problem in our world today. On more than one occasion I’ve heard parents say things like, “well, I don’t know what happened… we raised them both just alike, but this one turned out okay and that one—yikes!”  And that’s probably part of the problem right there—they tried to raise them exactly alike without taking into account the inherent, deep-seated differences between each child.  What one child responds to may not work at all for the other one.

People look for shortcuts; and worn out, fatigued parents are notorious for this kind of thing. But there are no shortcuts to parenting. Repeatedly doing what is easiest or most convenient for the parent often tends toward disaster in the long run. Each parent needs to be fully and singularly invested in each child. I know that may sound rather “obvious” but, apparently, to a lot of people, it’s not.  Parents often try employing the exact same strategies, methods, prompts, and motivators while delivering the exact same rewards and consequences for each child.  Then they wonder why what worked well with one doesn’t seem to work at all for the other one. Wakeup call—kids aren’t robots—hello!!!  You can’t treat them all the same, not in the classroom, not in the home. You must respect and appreciate their individuality.

And when it comes to our relationship with the Lord, He respects our individuality.  And because He always disciplines us—not “punishes,” but disciplines us—for our good, we should not expect Him to treat us all the same.  When I look at my own life, my struggles, my successes, my failures, my triumphs, and how far I’ve come in my walk with the Lord, it seems as if all the hardships, trials, adversities, heartache, loss, and even being made to face the reality of my own mortality when confronted by cancer, have only made me stronger.  Not that I would ever want to have to go back and re-live any of that hardship; however, I’m still thankful for it and for what it has produced in my life.  And it’s not like I’ve “arrived” already and all that is behind me now—I wish!  But I know that, even at my age, I’ve still got miles to go in the development of my spiritual maturity.  All I’m saying is that , somehow, God has delivered on His promise that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I don’t think God is content to leave me, or any of us, at our current level of discipleship and spiritual growth. God wants and deserves my unadulterated allegiance—a refined faith, purified through the fires of tribulation as necessary. It is written even of Jesus that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). So, if even my Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, needed to suffer in order to fully experience and exemplify the true value and significance of obedience, then who am I to argue against it, or try to run away from it in my own life?

I feel like I need to close these devotional thoughts by sharing with you this important concept:  because we are all individuals, and God is intimately working His will in different ways and in different measures within all of us who love Him, I don’t believe that the discipline God is working in my life applies equally to you or to anybody else. What I mean is, I don’t believe God’s reasons for allowing me to be confronted with thyroid cancer are the same reasons my little nephew, Gatlin, had to endure Ewing’s sarcoma at such a young age; and then die of it at age 14; or the same reasons our sweet Jessica had to deal with Fanconi anemia; and succumb to it at age 11. I don’t believe God’s purpose in taking their young lives bears much, if any, resemblance to His purpose in allowing me to be “disciplined” with cancer, or by any other means.  While some of the same disciplinary benefits may be inculcated upon the hearts and lives of the parents, families, and loved ones left behind, the only sure connection that I can see between any of us, and the trials we’re individually required to face, is that of “FAITH”—the uncompromising belief that, not only does God cause “all things to work together for good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28), but that “He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:7).

Oh Lord, my God, the only true and living God, Creator of heaven and earth, Giver and Sustainer of life, humbly I come before You confessing my sins and shortcomings and completely aware of my unworthiness to even to speak and expect to be heard by You. Yet, I know Your unending love is unfathomable and has no limitations. You choose to love me even when I’m unlovable in all my selfishness and rebellion. And, because You love me, You seek to discipline me that I may learn Your ways, live to Your glory, and more meaningfully demonstrate in my life that peaceful fruit of righteousness. So, thank You for that, Oh Lord, my God.

God, I don’t understand why there is so much pain and suffering going on in our world. I know some of it is the direct result of the free will You’ve granted to humanity—selfish, sinful people hurting themselves and one another. But much of it seems so unfair; especially when the innocent are made to suffer and even die. Heartbreak and heartache seem to deeply epitomize the plight of humanity. Of course, I know I do not help matters when, controlled by own pride and selfishness, I cave-in to sin by saying and doing that which I ought not, or by leaving undone so much of the good that I could and should be doing. I am haunted by both my sins of commission and my sins of omission. All I can say, Lord, is thank You, again, for never giving up on me and for being willing to continually call me to repentance by discipling me in ways and measures that are meant for my good. Lord, I want to do more than merely question and complain about the suffering and heartache I see going on around me in the world. Rather, I want to more fully yield myself to You, oh Lord, surrender my heart and life to You, and let You take and use me as You see fit to make some difference for good, some meaningful difference for eternity.  With the permission and by the authority of my Mediator, my High Priest, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I offer these prayer thoughts to You…

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