Discipline is not a Four-Letter Word

I just signed up for a Diet Bet. I know, I know – “diet” actually is a four-letter word. I guess I’m in a place right now where I need a little bit of external motivation, and maybe some accountability, in order to keep myself on track. Quarantine life isn’t exactly conducive to stellar eating behaviors. At least not for me.

This Diet Bet has gotten me thinking about discipline. Not the “go to your room!” kind, but the kind rolled out with love by a parent who has my best interests at heart. The kind Richard Foster unpacks in his classic book “Celebration of Discipline.” The kind that shapes a life and creates space for the God of everything to breathe holiness into an otherwise messy (and these days, often fear-filled) existence. The kind that’s good for you. That kind of discipline.

Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of the way I rush into each day’s work, many times without taking time to meet with God in prayer or listen to His voice through Scripture. Once the clock has been punched, even from my home office (read: couch), I’m checking off to-do lists in a swell of momentum fueled by my own steam. Productive? You bet! In step with God’s good plans for me? I don’t know. I forgot to ask.

This is not okay! As I shared with many of you at our virtual women’s retreat last month, our first response to trials and troubles and stressors and life’s various plot changes ought to be prayer. The thing is, I do pray and seek God when things aren’t going well, but on a normal everyday… I skate. Right into it. “I’ve got this, God. No worries! I’m good.”

But I’m not, actually. Good. Without Him.

So, in terms of discipline, I’ve decided I need more of God and fewer carbs. More guidance from His Word to start each day and a few extra laps around the block at night. You might say I’m training myself to pass on empty calories and to savor more of what feeds my faith.

The really beautiful thing is that it’s predictable – when I start my day praising God and searching the pages of His Word for Him, everything is different! How I feel about the challenges I face. How I prioritize the work He’s gifted me to do. How I care for those who share my home. It’s all colored by how I start my day, and whether I invite God to share in that first, sleepy cup of coffee.

“Show me your faithful love this morning. I trust in you. Show me what I should do. I put my life in your hands!” Psalm 143:8 (ERV)

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Life Together (a PINK Tuesday post)

Life is HARD (can I get an ‘amen’?).

Life TOGETHER can be harder.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but today’s topic is DISCIPLINE.
I know – we’re as crazy about discipline as a biting toddler or a teenager whose driver’s permit is burning a hole in the wallet.

Spiritual discipline, as with parental discipline, well – it’s part of being in the FAMILY!
Those of you with children know that kids NEED their LIMITS! Children need to know where they stand and what they can and cannot do, for their safety and for their well-being. Isn’t that what the child development specialists teach – the need for ‘healthy boundaries’?

It’s as if King David had just walked out of a seminar on discipline when he wrote the words of Psalm 119, saying things to God like:
‘Teach me your commands; help me understand your rules; lead me on YOUR path because it makes ME HAPPY! I WANT to follow YOU!’

We, like David, are children in God’s family. And we come together as a family of faith looking a lot like a collection of pottery, formed by the Master’s hands.
Only, some of us are cracked.
Others, chipped.
Broken.
Maybe just a chard or a piece of something that used to hold water; that used to be whole.

We come together AS A FAMILY and we know that LIFE IS HARD.
But LIFE TOGETHER, well, sometimes that’s even HARDER.

I imagine that this is what prompted Jesus to give His followers a ‘prescription’ for how to handle conflict in the church (Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus KNEW what all of us KNOW – that LIFE TOGETHER is HARD.

Any group of people can be a community. Jesus teaches us that the distinguishing factor – the MARK of togetherness in the Body of Christ – is that when we come together IN JESUS’ NAME, HE HIMSELF is here, with us! The idea here is not unlike what happened in the books of Exodus and 2 Chronicles, when the presence of God Himself came to dwell in the midst of His people. The Hebrew word for it is Shechinah, which means ‘the special presence of God’. When God Himself came down to the people, His presence (like a cloud) filled the worship space! His glory was so powerfully present that in these two stories, Moses & the priests couldn’t even enter the sanctuary because God had filled it UP with HIMSELF!

When we gather in His Name, Jesus’ own presence is like that! His glory is so complete that what we thought we were there to do is often consumed by HIS agenda, HIS direction, HIS energy, HIS PRESENCE! When Jesus comes to church, or to Bible study, or to a meeting where the common denominator in those attending IS HIS NAME, He makes our time together something OTHER THAN what we would have made it on our own.

And this is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 work – because when 2 or 3 believers get together in His Name, Jesus Himself is there. He fills us with His presence and we become part of what He is doing in the room. Two people who disagree CAN work things out when they both have Jesus’ Name on their lips and His Spirit in their hearts!

But this is not always the case, because sometimes we meet and we have some other name on our lips, some other presence in our hearts, like –
Jealousy. Anger. Fear. A problem or relationship or issue that we’ve allowed to take precedence over Jesus’ Name.

That’s why Jesus gives a Step 2 and a Step 3 – and even a Step 4 in our Matthew text; because even in the church, we sometimes forget why we’re here in the first place. We forget that this isn’t about me, or you, or even US. It’s about HIM.

When we make our gatherings about Jesus, His presence not only changes how we talk and what we find important enough to talk about, but His presence changes US. We’re somehow BETTER when He is here!

But Jesus’ presence goes beyond affecting our behavior toward one another. What Jesus DIDN’T DO is lay out a bunch of rules and regulations and then say, “See ya! Good luck with that!” and walk away. When the Spirit of God comes to live inside of us, He doesn’t coexist with our selfish needs and desires… HE FILLS THE TENT! And in filling us up, we’re left with the PROOF of His PRESENCE – the evidence that He is here and we belong to Him… and that evidence is: LOVE!

We might even go so far as to say:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: and the MAIN THING IS: LOVE!

According to Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, LOVE fulfills the law. LOVE is the only debt we owe to one another. When we LOVE another person as we love ourselves, we can do them no wrong. When we wring out the details and get down to the nitty gritty, ALL of the commandments can be summed up in this word: LOVE.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: and the MAIN THING IS: LOVE!
Right?

But I think that sometimes we use our incomplete understanding of LOVE as an excuse to avoid the commands of the Lord…

After all, Paul says all we have to do is love each other & it will be impossible to sin! Sounds great! Simple!

Tempting, though, to throw up the love ‘blinders’ and ignore, well, EVERYTHING ELSE.
And yet LOVE is nothing if not the manifestation of God’s real presence:
Where GOD is, LOVE is.
And where LOVE is, LIGHT SHINES.

Love’s light shining on God’s Word illuminates His teachings, His commands and His ways SO THAT we see the path clearly before us, like David prayed in Psalm 119.

God’s WAY is exposed by the light of love, and by the way – so are the obstacles and the temptations that threaten to trip us up and stop traffic on the road.

Love’s light shining in community makes us BETTER than we ARE!

And it’s BECAUSE of love that we don’t ignore the struggles we have with people. Otherwise, why would Jesus have given us tools to work through these problems with others?

As parents of earthly kids and as brothers & sisters in faith, we WANT each other to be well prepared for life, and we KNOW this means we will all make mistakes. If we’re to learn from our mistakes, well, we have to take responsibility for our part in those mistakes. In this family that is the church, when we excuse one another’s bad behavior and take on the burden of someone else’s poor decisions, we aren’t doing anyone any favors! Instead, we are called through voices like Paul’s to ‘lock in our empathy, love and understanding’ (Love & Logic) from the word ‘go’, BEFORE the consequences of our actions roll out. That way, when all is said and done, we KNOW that we are LOVED. No matter how clumsy we are. No matter how far we’ve strayed. No matter what harm may have been done.

We know – ALL of us know – that LIFE is HARD.
And let’s face it – there are times when LIFE TOGETHER IS HARDER.

But when two or three or more of us gather in Jesus’ Name, His presence can change all of that. And when we’re marked by the proof of His presence – when we are marked by LOVE – the light that shines from the Word into our lives has the power to clear up our confusion, to heal our relationships and to make us BETTER than we ARE on our own.

Now, that’s a message I don’t want to hear again.

I want to LIVE IT.

Listen to this message as recorded on Sunday, September 4, 2011: Life Together.