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Thursday, June 5, 2014

It was a small step, but it was forward!

It is all out war against sin in our lives.  Nothing short of describing this as a prolonged conflict will do!  In the midst of the battle, we can sometimes lose perspective of the small victories which have already occurred.  When we do, we get down on ourselves for still being engaged in the entire warfare situation.  Truth is, until we leave this earth, we will be engaged in this battle!  We just have to learn to be good warriors, entering into the victories we experience, and learning to step forward into the next.  No victory is without some form of struggle or conflict - it is just part of life.  Even finding a good deal on some purchase we may be wanting to make takes some effort on our part.  Even if all we do is surf the net to find the best deal on the item, there is some effort expended on our part which brings us the "victorious" moment of getting it for the price we hoped to pay.  So it is with the things in this life we hope to experience in our spiritual, emotional, and relational lives. There are small victories along the way, but not without a cost associated with them.

In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?  My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either.  It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.  God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  (Hebrews 12:4-11 MSG)

If there is one thing a soldier's training ingrains into the fibers of his being it is the value of discipline.  He is taught to be alert to danger, obedient to orders, and submissive to authority.  Why?  His life, and the life of his peers, depends on his ability and willingness to act upon what he is told and what he knows.  It isn't any different in this spiritual walk of ours - we are creating the culture for change in the lives of those we are surrounded by whenever we are alert to the dangers we face, are obedient to the "commands" we receive, and remain unyielding in our submission to the one who desires to control our lives (Jesus).

As a child of God, we can expect discipline in our lives.  It is part and parcel with being raised in any family.  Discipline isn't designed to destroy us, but rather to keep us safe.  This may not always be understood by those whose parents may have been abusive or neglectful in their care.  Our heavenly Father is not the same as these abusive or neglectful parents, though.  So learning to see him as a Father who desires only the best for his children is the first step in accepting "the best" may come with a little discipline.  The warrior has to learn the lessons of warfare before the soldier is ever fit to be placed into the field of warfare!

Those with abuse/neglectful parents may think of God's discipline as a little like punishment - for this is the only perspective they have.  The truth is, discipline is really training - it "rights" our behavior and trains us toward those things which will keep us safe in life.  For example, when God commands us to avoid certain behaviors, such as not making a hasty vow, it isn't because he never wants us to promise to do something, but because he wants us to know our word matters.  When we give our word, we are to follow through on it because integrity matters.  So, God "trains" us to pay attention to what it is we commit to doing - so we will be able to fulfill that which we actually are capable of doing.

Training involves not only showing someone what to avoid, but it focuses them on what is within the limits of what we can do.  For example, when I train someone to type, I usually ask them to focus not so much on the numbers at the top of the keyboard, but on the three rows of letters and those two keys with the tiny bumps on them which help us to know we are on the right set of keys as we begin to type.  Those tiny bumps on the "f" and "j" keys aren't there by accident.  They help us to know our "position" and to have an accurate frame of reference from which we will make all our key strokes.  God's training isn't dissimilar to this - he places guideposts in our path to assist us in making right choices and staying on course so all our future steps are correct.

Right now, training may seem a little like "unwanted" discipline.  In the midst of being corrected in our behavior or choices, we might even chafe a little under the intensity of focus being placed on those behaviors/choices.  Why? It is uncomfortable to have our lives examined!  Yet, if we are to make good life choices, we need to know which ones are not the best for us.  It is this "discovery period" where we realize we are not as consistently as "on target" as we need to be where we begin to recognize a change of perspective is necessary.  As I learned to fire my rifle, one of the things I needed to do was bring the tiny little site into focus on the end of the barrel.  I was to use that site to assist me in hitting the target.  The alignment mattered.  The "alignment" of our choices matters as much - we won't hit the target, or win the battle, when our "alignment" is less than on target.

Most of us who have endured the grueling weeks of basic training for one of the branches of military service will admit to the fact it wasn't all that "fun". It was downright hard at times and there were probably moments for each of us when we just wanted to quit.  I think we often walk a fine line between being stretched to capacity and finding that extra little bit of inner strength which helps us keep plugging along.  All discipline helps us find that "extra" within each of our lives which will help us to be victorious over those things which seem to give us the greatest struggle and pain.  We cannot deny the fact of a loving Father watching over our lives, nor can we discount the value of his discipline in bringing us to the point of those small victories.  Just sayin!