Tag Archives: discipline

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When we lived the nomadic life of a bush missionary, habits were a constant battle.  I have heard that it takes about six weeks to form habits and a few days to break them.  Well, when we were living in the bush, we would be home about six to eight weeks, the perfect amount of time to make a habit.  But then team meetings and the need for English conversation and groceries would send us to town for about a week.  During that week of rushing to accomplish doctors’ visits, government paperwork, meetings, shopping, one special activity for the children, the habits I had worked hard to form slipped away.  When I returned home, I would have to start all over again.  I never found anything that worked for me.

One thing which really troubled me was what to do when the children were stressed in transition.  Did I make allowances or keep exacting standards?  I remember talking with an older woman about this.  She told me that I must always maintain strict discipline because if I didn't the children would be lax and undisciplined adults.

This idea bothered me.  It certainly seemed valid.  We've all seen "spoiled" kids.  It certainly seemed Biblical:  "Spare the rod; spoil the child."  Yet something troubled me, and I didn't understand what or why.

However, here I had a very good reason why God had to be a Father who drives us to obey Him by fear rather than leading us to obey Him by love.  If God were to spare the rod, He would spoil the child.  He has to maintain strict discipline or we will fall away.  That's just the way we are.  We backslide, so God has to stay behind us with the rod.

While I was trying to work through this thought and before I was able to put it into words as an objection, God spoke to me.  "If that is true, Heaven becomes impossible."  Suddenly, I began to remember Scriptures about Heaven:  no pain, no crying, no suffering, perfect love without punishment.  God spoke again, "You are trying to build your righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards."  Here, I don't remember the words, but rather the idea.  If we build our righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards, in Heaven where there is no punishment, the very foundation of our righteousness will be removed, and our righteousness will crumple.   I remember God's next words, "You have to build your righteousness on a foundation of love.  Love will remain."

I don't know whether this is as thought changing to anyone else as it was to me.  Punishment and rewards may be the steps that move us from ground level into the house of righteousness, but they are not the foundation.  Even these steps themselves must be built on the foundation so that they don't separate from the house.  In order to enter righteousness, we must move off the steps and over the threshold.  We must be people who will obey fully and completely, simply because we love.

This revelation didn't answer all my questions.  It actually brought more, but it did bring some serious challenges to my faith.  God basically said that I cannot hold onto both my hope of Heaven and my belief that our righteousness must be maintained by fear and external pressure.  Only one can be true.  I have to let go of one or the other.

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I remember the first time I saw my husband, Joshua.  It was my freshman year of college.  He was a junior.  Joshua reminded me of a squirrel.  He came into a room where I was visiting someone, talked for a few minutes, then darted off.  I doubt he even saw me.  Indifference at first sight!

Later, as I noticed other things about him, I became more certain I didn't want to be associated with him.  Joshua was a weird missionary type.  He would walk around campus barefoot, wrapped in a woven shawl from India.  He was friends with other weird missionary types.  When several of those weird missionary types decided to go to the seminary across the street for graduate school, it confirmed to me that I did not want to attend that seminary.

My Grandma, the one who married the red-headed boy, always told me not to tell God “never.”  He would laugh, and that “never” would happen.  Well, I did end up getting a master's degree at that seminary.  I did become friends with Joshua.  Though I argued with God on the matter, I even ended up marrying him, but that is a long story.

Well, in the same way, I knew that God was not the God of my dreams.  I was a Christian.  I would say that I loved God, because I was trying hard to do so, but the spark just wasn't there. I didn't have any theological problem with this.  God wasn't supposed to be what I wanted.  I had heard about people who create their own God according to what they want.  I didn't want to do that.

Instead, I tried to make myself love the God about whom I heard.  He is the God who loved us so much in the past that He gave His Son to die for us.  He is the God who will love us so much in the future that we will have a wonderful life with Him in Heaven.  At present, it doesn't feel like love, but that is because of our sinfulness.  “No discipline is pleasant at the time,” but it's good for you.  The problem is that we are “at the time,” so His love doesn't feel pleasant.  So, despite my effort to love God, I felt terrified of God.

But two years ago, God asked me a question.  We had just moved to our new house near Nairobi.  I was busy getting settled in.  As I was working on laundry, I heard God ask, “What does your heart long for in a Father?”

I did not know what to say.  How could I answer this question?  He was asking me, who is the God of your dreams?  How could I tell Him that He's not it?  But He asked me.  I couldn't be rude and ignore Him.  I focused on the laundry to give myself time to think.  Then I gathered my courage and told Him, “I want a Father who will lead me to obey Him because I love Him, not drive me to obey Him because I'm afraid of Him.”

Immediately, I heard, “What makes you think I'm not like that?”  I was flabbergasted.  My initial response was, “Because of how you act.”  Still, He cared enough to ask me what I longed for, maybe I should actually think about His second question.  What does make me think He's not this God of my dreams?  Maybe my dreams are true!