Wednesday, July 20, 2011

God's Discipline

I've heard it said that children form their first impressions of what God is like from their parents. Like most things we teach our kids, it's more about how we live and treat them than about what we say.

For example, I can say with my mouth that God is love and has grace for sinners, but if I also use that mouth to yell at and shame C for every perceived infraction and inconvenience I might feel she causes me, it might hinder her experiential understanding of that love and grace that I gave lip service to.

I want to do my best to faithfully represent God's character to my daughter and any other children I may have in the fuure with both my words and my actions.

So the question then is, what aspects of God's character can I imitate as a parent? What kind of parent is He? How does God respond to disobedience from His children?

Is God full of wrath and vengeance, looking for the slightest excuse to zap us with punishment?

Hundreds of years of history recorded in the Old Testament show us just the opposite. God is slow to anger, abounding in love. God warns and pleads and woos and relents at the least sign of repentance.

Christ's sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate unfolding of divine lovingkindness, mercy and grace.

God has every right to condemn and judge us or even to just leave us wallowing in the pain and agony we inflict upon ourselves, but instead, Christ came to take that judgment and set us free of the consequences of our sin.

God corrects, reproves and issues invitations to "Come let us reason together."

I've experienced this personally. During my my junior and senior year of college, I turned my back on the legalistic harsh taskmaster version of God I'd been exhausing myself striving to follow. God slowly wooed me to a deep understanding of his grace and lovingkindness.

That summer I lived in Youngstown, OH working as an intern at the copy desk of the local paper. God placed a longing in my heart for spiritual things that led me to stop the radio on a Christian station with grace-filled messages, a longing that led me to try to find a church to attend one Sunday. There a wonderful family welcomed me warmly and adopted me as an honorary family member for the summer. At the same time, a dear friend from college kept up a correspondence by mail with me. Her letters shone with gentle gratitude for God's goodness and grace that was contagious.

Yet I didn't immediately repent. I was entangled in a sexual relationship, and I wasn't ready to give it up. In fact, I went further off track, moving in with my partner the summer after college and reading up on zen Buddhism and other new age philosophies.

Fast forward a few months, when the relationship inevitably fell apart. God reached out to me through His people again. Instead of the expected judgment and I told you sos from my parents, they reminded me of the parable of the Prodigal Son, reminded me of the depth of God's grace and encouraged me that to come back to the faith.

By this point, I was once again living far from home, alone in a strange city. This time, I was in Miami, FL for graduate school. Again I felt the almost irresistable urge to find a church, and again I was adopted into the community. Though I still had some bad habits of partying, drunkenness and casual sex, God was patient with me. He led me to a small group Bible study and in the context of those deeper relationships, He started to heal my hurts and teach me more about His love. The more I understood his love, the more my bad habits became distasteful to me and fell away as naturally as a scab falling off when a wound is healed.

During that time, I did feel conviction from the Holy Spirit that was at times uncomfortable (though agonizing guilt and shame and lies of the enemy that I was damned for all eternity with no hope of redemption even if I repented were more often felt). Changing my lifestyle and breaking old habits and healing the wounds, some of which I had inflicted on myself, was painful at times.

In all this, God did not punish me. He even spared me some of the natural consequences of my actions. It was his kindness that ultimately led me to repentance.

That experience and others that followed so profoundly altered and deepened my understanding of grace that it touches every part of my life. It is a grace I must share and extend to others. I want everyone, but in particular my child, to understand and experience the depth and heighth and breadth of God's unfathomable grace.

5 comments:

  1. I have been forgiven so much whom am I not to extend forgivness.

    I have been willfully disobedience yet I've struggled to extend grace to my children whom have been unknowingly disobedient.

    I have a long, long way to go.

    In January, I decided that when face with the opportunity to extend judgement or to extend grace that I would always extend grace espically to my family.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a WONDERFUL post! Looking back, I see how God has done the same for me -- not allowing some horrific consequence to "get me" for my sinful ways (& I was BAD), but lovingly & gently pulling me back towards Himself. Thank you for sharing this. I've felt that I was just out sinning & w/o God for the heck of it & that it was my own choice to finally come back to God, but I see now that He was with me the whole time & gently calling me back.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love reading posts like this. :)

    Growing up I was one of the most crazy judgmental Christians...I preached God's 'love' in one breath while easily throwing out condemnations in the next.

    Thank God I've come to see His grace!

    What's also astounding to me is that even while I cringe to think of myself at that time, I still keep experiencing God's redemption from it - I've had friends get in touch after years to tell me about the influence I had on them then (surprisingly, they make it sound like a good one). Another amazing example of His grace... :)

    Thank you for sharing your story hon...I hope with you for sure that all of us will understand and experience the depth and heighth and breadth of God's unfathomable grace. It's sad that we've gotten the message so twisted - and yet that love still prevails.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Margaret, thank you for your honesty and willingness to share. Your life is a testimony of God's grace and love. It was a blessing to know you back then (remember Bible discussion in MH?) and it is beautiful to know you now. I love how your heart struggles and yearns to take the incredible character of God and have Him change you and your interactions with others, esp your family and children. It is both encouraging and challenging. Thank you for sharing this post. It is so awesome how when we are obedient and draw near to God, He changes us and our desires...making us and our desires more like Him. God is good and I'm thankful for you, my sister in Christ. Wish we lived closer, though!

    ReplyDelete
  5. That's just lovely, Pio, and so true - God is so gentle with us. I pray I will in time learn to be similarly gentle with my precious children.

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget