Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: punishment

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 2)

Jesus is telling a parable to His disciples, explaining to them that they should be prepared for His return.  Within the story, Jesus explicitly states there are great rewards for the disciples who are found doing the work He gave them.  However, you may need to brace yourself for how Jesus’ parable describes His followers who, upon His return, have neglected their responsibilities.

Luke 12:42-44
The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.

Like we saw last time, it would make little sense for Jesus to refer to someone who has not placed their faith in Him as both faithful and sensible, or to put that person in a position of responsibility over those in the master’s household.  After his promotion, this faithful and sensible manager now has a choice as to how he will handle his new responsibilities; and if he continues to be faithful, then Jesus will reward him.

Luke 12:45-46
But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.

Notice that the slave still believes the master will return…however, the master is taking longer than the slave expected, so he figures “I’ve got some time before he returns” and begins to act selfishly, mistreating those under his care, becoming lax in his responsibilities and watchfulness.  If he becomes distracted by his own selfish impulses, then the master’s return is sure to catch him by surprise…and it won’t be a pleasant meeting.

Luke 12:46-48
…that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.  And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten.  But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly.  Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.  And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Jesus uses strong words in this story in order to make a strong point.  The phrases will cut him to pieces and be severely beaten shouldn’t be taken literally…any more than our own phrases regarding severe discipline: “I’m going to tan your hide.” or “She cut me down to size.”  But Jesus is serious, nonetheless.  When He retells this parable to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus describes the master’s return like this:

Matthew 24:51
He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It would be easy to try and dismiss this slave as an example of someone who wasn’t “truly saved” or someone who didn’t “really believe” in Jesus as their Savior; however, what we’ve observed in the text doesn’t allow that interpretation.  The servant accepts the master’s authority and believes in his return.  He is faithful and is given additional responsibilities in the household.  However, while his master is gone, he becomes lazy and selfish, likely assuming that he can clean up any mess he makes before master gets back.  Ultimately, though, a lousy servant is still a servant. 

Our own experience bears this out.  It is unfortunate, but we all know of stories or have attended churches where those in charge have misused, or even abused, their authority.  Did the leaders physically beat their congregation?  Likely not, but there are plenty of other types of mistreatment church members have experienced – manipulation, gossip, embezzlement, affairs, among others.  It’s sad, frustrating, and just plain wrong that a believer would treat a fellow believer like this.

But how shall we describe this derelict servant?  What words would you use?  Jesus calls him a ‘wicked slave’ (Matthew 24:48), and says “that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it” will face a severe punishment when He returns.

On one hand, we can take comfort in this, knowing that Jesus will deal with those who have selfishly misused their authority and mistreated their fellow believers.  The wrongs committed within the church family will be rectified and brought to justice, they will not be sweep under rug of eternity.

On the other hand…this parable makes us do a gut-check.  How are we handling our responsibilities within God’s family?  Are we in danger of becoming lazy, selfish, or even wicked?

I know we don’t live perfect lives.  There is a difference between ‘living for God and messing up’ and ‘living for ourselves and messing around’.  God knows the difference, and He knows where you are.  In humility, though, we recognize that even the strongest are tempted to drift away.  Let’s walk in a healthy, reverent fear of the Lord, and do all that we can to make sure we are among those whose master finds them working when he comes [so that we] will be rewarded.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding guidance

When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs.  From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires.  I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like

When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction.  The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing.  Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.

Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense?  Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide.  So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives.  By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing.  By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.

One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.

Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.

I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:

Proverbs 3:11-12
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.

God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us.  If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished.  Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.

[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;

[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Less than perfect

Many of us could be mentors, but we choose not to be.  Oftentimes, it’s because we convince ourselves that our personal history or poor choices would prevent us from “doing anybody any good.”

In our minds we don’t expect mentors to be completely perfect, just mostly so.  We think that only Christians who have their lives in order and are living “comfortably blessed” are in a position to really help others.  However, when we look throughout the Bible, we find the opposite to be true.  God has, in fact, used some seriously flawed individuals – even some who had significant problems due to self-inflicted wounds – to mentor and guide others.

For about 300 years after Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was governed by various judges.  This period was marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration.  Although some God-focused revivals occurred, the nation was in a continual downward spiral.  The last verse of the book of Judges best described the culture at that time:

Judges 21:25
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.

By the end of this period, the corruption had also infested God’s appointed representatives – the priests.  A man named Eli was the High Priest at that time, with his two sons serving as priests under his supervision. 

1 Samuel 2:12-13, 17
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people…they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt [because they took for themselves portions the Law had reserved as an offering to God].

1 Samuel 2:22-29
Now Eli was very old.  He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  He said to them, “Why are you doing these things?  I have heard about your evil actions from all these people.  No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord’s people is not good.  If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them.  By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.

A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace?  I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My alter, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence.  I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings.  Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship?  You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all the offerings of My people of Israel.’

The problem is that Eli and his sons are supposed to represent the people to God and represent God to the people.  Eli had more than a passing knowledge of his sons’ long-running misdeeds and the disgrace they brought to God’s reputation.  God had given Moses direction on how to handle those in the community who blatantly disregard God’s laws:

Numbers 15:30-31
But the person who acts defiantly, whether native or foreign resident, blasphemes the Lord.  That person is to be cut off from his people.  He will certainly be cut off, because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His command; his guilt remains on him.

These consequences were for the community at large, and Eli’s family held a much higher status.  Since he did not follow through with God’s prescribed consequence, Eli was showing preferential treatment of his own sons over God.  Because of this, God brings the prescribed punishment down on Eli, his sons, and the rest of their lineage:

1 Samuel 2:30-34
“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, “No longer!”  I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.

“ ‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age.  You will see distress in the place of worship, in spite of all that is good in Israel, and no one in your family will ever again reach old age.  Any man from your family I do not cut off from My altar will bring grief and sadness to you.  All your descendants will die violently.  This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day.’ ”

If God directly rebuked us like this, we would probably assume that we’re disqualified from any type of useful service toward God.  The consequences of self-inflicted wounds can become roadblocks to the ways we’ve previously served God, but that doesn’t mean we are completely useless to God the rest of our lives.

The punishments God told Eli eventually came true.  However, in the years between the sentencing and justice being served, Eli mentored another young man.  Samuel grew up to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel, and he shepherded the nation through some turbulent times.

Just because you’re down – it doesn’t mean you’re out.
Just because you have a “past”, or a “record”, or a “history” – it doesn’t mean you’re useless.
Just because God legitimately punishes us – it doesn’t mean we’re disqualified from mentoring others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken