Believers’ Least Favorite Word: Discipline

Mark how to know yourself. To know himself a man must ever be on the watch over himself, holding his outer faculties. This discipline must be continued until he reaches a state of consciousness. The object is to reach a state of consciousness — a new state of oneself. It is to reach now, where one is present to oneself. What I say unto you I say unto all: Be awake. – Meister Eckhart

The Christian gospel is a message of freedom through grace and we must stand fast in the liberty where Christ has made us free. But what shall we do with our freedom? The Apostle Paul grieved that some of the believers of his day took advantage of their freedom and indulged the flesh in the name of Christian liberty. They threw off discipline, scorned obedience and made gods of their own bellies. & We should discipline ourselves to read the Word until it comes alive…until we can almost feel the breath of God. – A W Tozer

Discipline is doing what you really don’t want to do so you can do what you really want to do.- Jeff Fisher

Discipline for a Right Life

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid
.
A good man obtains favor from the Lord,
    but a man of evil devices he condemns
.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved
.
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
    but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
The thoughts of the righteous are just;
    the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
    but the mouth of the upright delivers them
.
The wicked are overthrown and are no more,
    but the house of the righteous will stand.
A man is commended according to his good sense,
    but one of twisted mind is despised.
Better to be lowly and have a servant
    than to play the great man and lack bread.
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,
    but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers,
    but the root of the righteous bears fruit
.
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
    and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice
.
The vexation of a fool is known at once,
    but the prudent ignores an insult.
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever,
    but a lying tongue is but for a moment
.
Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
    but those who plan peace have joy
.
No ill befalls the righteous,
    but the wicked are filled with trouble.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
The hand of the diligent will rule,
    while the slothful will be put to forced labor
.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
    but a good word makes him glad.
One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
    but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
    but the diligent man will get precious wealth.
In the path of righteousness is life,
    and in its pathway there is no death
.

Believers don’t like to talk about discpline at all. And in review, they sing about it even less. So please just accept this as prayerful, biblical instruction set to music.

We’re trying to show a little discipline and keep the post manageable, so I won’t clip in James’ letter. But when I think of discipline, I think of “the wisdom letter of the second witness.” For me, discipline has become the pursuit of wisdom, and justice is the result (or wake) of exercising discipline. For James, it was simply public reflections on growing up with Jesus. It makes perfect sense that the person who had the most day-to-day experience with Jesus wrote to all those called to follow him about “how to live” our daily lives as Jesus lived his own trials, great and small, with discipline.

Odds are James didn’t know, in full, his brother was the Messiah until after the resurrection. To be sure nobody down here knew exactly how Jesus would live out his messianic role until after the resurrection. So today we’re spared the shock and awe of watching the glorification of Jesus and the transformation of his followers. Most of us have been handed a version of Jesus fully-formed, with all the glory “baked-in” when we first encountered his story. We gained it without any nagging personal knowledge that would make us say, “hey now, wait a minute.” In fact, often if you raise an exception “good people” are there to correct or scold you in many contexts. I think that’s sad. The way God made us and the way we messed ourselves up means that it takes a while for us to awaken to a new reality, and it takes even longer to walk in it. Many never do, and that, without question, is the saddest thing of all.

I’ve literally heard ordained ministers say, “after you’re ‘saved,’ Jesus has no expectations of you.” Yes they did, and there are entire trees of doctrine that imply worse by their teaching. It’s horseshit. And far worse, that “way of living” perverts souls and undermines the cause of Christ in the world much worse than any type of pornography or moral sin ever could. In reality, Satan is most pleased by undiscplined Christians. They don’t just stay “neutral;” in effect, they’re fighting for Satan as they’re stumbling blocks to other people seeking God. And I am being kind, because James straight up tells the same people they’re dead.

You can count me and James among the doctrinal transgressors and find us among the theological sinners, because we’d both rather be working out our shared salvation in daily fear and trembling, penitently in humility, than laid out, cozy and feasting, in an open grave waiting for the dirt to rain down with only a tombstone above that a self-named church wrote on: “they’re saved.” Too harsh? For me and James, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. So if we ever thought, even for a moment, that we’d have to die in order to see real and substantial, demonstrable and empirical, changes in our lives and consciousness’, then in truth, death is still our real master. That is unacceptable, even for a moment, no matter how long you’ve been following Jesus.      

James knew, perhaps better than any other living soul, what it took for Jesus to handle his trials, from the family of origin to the public crucifixion. It took discipline. Therefore to follow Jesus, we need discipline. It is not an option that we may or may not chose for our personal form of salvation, nor is it a punishment for novices, nor is it something to look back on nostalgically as a long-timer who “arrived” years ago. Discipline is a requirement, every day for everyone, if one wants to marry into God’s family. Here’s the rub, I have confessed to you all before that I don’t see enough name-brand communities presenting the of the reality of Christ in the world, but I see even less of James’ wisdom at work in many assemblies. I confess further, I am not “good with it” my own self, but I have learned to accept God’s discipline. Thankfully, acceptance is often the hardest part most of the time.

There are a lot of good folks out there who do the opposite, they refuse to accept anything “of God” if it does not meet their requirements, as if they’ll discpline God. Heck, they can’t even judge angels if they don’t know them. They mistake belief for certainty, and they confuse what they think they know with the trust it takes to please God. Sadly, I cannot be sure that they’ll be at The Lamb’s Wedding Breakfast, even though they put the RSVP on their refrigerator, took/posted a selfie with it on social media, and told all their neighbors about it face to face.

Eschatological blow-outs and no-shows aside, this is one of the few truths I know about discipline, God, and his people: God ALWAYS sends his people what they need, not what they want. Only sometimes does he send what they want, but even then most are slow on the uptake (i.e. Jesus himself). That story repeats countless times in the Book, and the only thing that ever changes are the names and faces of folks who refuse to accept the reality of their situation simply because they don’t want to. They are spoiled children at best. I know because I was an expert at being a spoiled child, until I learned to desire what God wanted to teach me.

This is an immature form of discipline, which the powers in this world and Vichey Christians in the past age believe to be like God’s discipline. It’s really just how they want to act as a ruler, like power-mad and blood-lusty gentiles always have. That is why this worldly model is passed on down by dark minds and selfish hearts, even in sermons and family homes. Sadly, in reality, they don’t know God because they never accepted His discpline, so they certainly can’t “ape it” in leadership.
Bailian pulled a real David… a mature failure in discipline, despite noble goals and a good heart, that he mangaged to straighten out latter in the story, by ‘deciding for Jesus’ discipline’ instead of the easy, expedient, and profitable way out. However, it did cost him and a lot of other people. But in fairness… Eva Green? That ain’t cricket.

God’s Discipline is Unbelievable Love (Please believe it now)

 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and nakedI counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repentBehold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Inward mature discpline is costly, wrought with soul-crushing and thinky pain, as it evokes an awareness of who we really are and what we’re really doing. But if we hold on, it always awakens a new consciosness of self and others.
Once learned, mature discipline turned outward in simple, daily interactions reforms the consciousness of even an enemy with clarity of thought and a better grasp of reality.

Legitimate Children of the Unshakable Kingdom

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives
.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (and daughters). For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holinessFor the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

“Discipline reveals itself when it’s raining.”

The quote from below sister Rosetta came from perhaps the most disciplined person I ever knew. He was a mentor of sorts, who I watched closely as he taught heroes how to do the impossible on a daily basis, often before sunrise in some of the worst conditions a person could imagine. I mean the worst conditions, the Darién Gap during the rainy season or the Sahara desert in the summer. By the time artic conditions were offered, I was in my late twenties and took a hard pass. I’ve got some stories about all that, but the point for today is that I arrived at those experiences, which set me up for even greater experiences later, not by some ingenious plan or by any kind of visual, miraculous intervention. It was really simple and mundane, God led and I followed. Only now, under orders am I mentioning it. I didn’t ever need to talk about it before I did it or while I did it. The undisciplined talk and never do it. When was the last time you met a generous woman, who talked all the time about how generous she was? Same goes for an honest man…

…More than 99% of the time, mine was a Forest Gump experience, rather than Ezekiel’s encounter with interlaced and invisible realities. I stumbled onto that path by allowing God to turn my desires, which some thought noble enough, slowly but yet methodically into a desire He had for his Son, a Nobility that no one has fully encountered yet. There were so many places it could have ended suddenly and terribly with awful people, and there were alot of charming places I could have settled and quit, among lovely people. But I kept allowing God to draw me on. It started out selfishly enough about a year after my baptism. I was on a long break from studies in a scenic part of Mexico, where many gringos retire. It was a convenient and affordable way to work on my Spanish and run around in an exotic and romantic world. Afterwards, I just kept running. Sorry to mix in another movie reference, but it’s so apt that I don’t have the discipline to pass it up.

I met a fellow who had been in special service to Westmoreland in Vietnam. I used to read military history all the time, especially on his theater, so I had a lot of questions. Over the weeks he had a lot of answers, and I got to meet his family, who he called his “reward” after decades at war in Asia. I wanted to know those worlds, their secrets, and how they affected others. He wanted a confessor, it seemed at times. It put me aback at first, but I just kept on running with uncomfortable acceptance and service. A couple of months later, without preparation on my behalf only openness on my part, I had a focus for my graduate work in Anthropology and a ready-made global network of informants (one was the disciplined fellow I cited above). I was set to study how the world’s last great empire treated its’ subalterns and how it told a very different story to folks in the homeland. Without exception all empires do it. Despite all my Gumpish innocence and ignorance, it was a world of darkness and terror covering the globe that I ran through for at least 15 years.

In the end, upon my exit, an authority marveled at my discipline in debrief. His remark bemused me. Usually authorities have called me undisciplined simply because they didn’t think I was doing what they told me to do, like that was what God wanted me to do. But this one accused me of having great discipline. If I do have any discipline, then I’d be the last to know, because God has kept giving me more to learn every day, more than “the powers that be” ever could, more than I ever asked for. So I’ve never once had a long time off to feel like “Ah ha, I’ve arrived. That’s nice.” It’s always felt like more running, after a cool-down, and thinking “What the heck is all that about now? What more could possibly happen?!” The point is, for me, discipline seems to look much different on the outside than it feels on the inside.

When I asked the authority to explicate, he responded, “Son, in all my years (about 45 in the field I presumed of him) I have never seen anyone pass through a world of shit like that and come out the other side smelling like a rose.” All I thought to myself was, “Well, I best not tell him the bigger half of the story if I want to get home quickly.” So I bought him off by saying, “I had a couple of good teachers and the only God that matters. So there might be some discipline in it.” He laughed and confessed he was an atheist. So I looked him in the eye, shook his hand real hard, and said, “Sir, if your testimony about me is true, then you must know that God is as real as our handshake. And if you ever want to know him all you have to do is ask.” When I saw that all too familiar expression on his face, I could tell the message had reached him, so I practiced some discipline by leaving well-enough alone and ran back to what was left of my home.             

I almost forgot the important part! The fella who gave me the quote for the clip above, also gave me some of his secrets about personal discipline. One of the more practical ones I’ll pass on to you now. He said whenever he was under fire or feeling edgy for a long haul, he’d repeat a single couplet of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) chapter 2 every day… just a single couplet throughout the day, day after day. It worked for him, and it’s worked for me so far. If you try it, we hope it works for you too.

Discipline in the Time of Trial

My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for testing.
Set your heart right and be steadfast,
    and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.
Cling to him and do not depart,
    so that your last days may be prosperous.
Accept whatever befalls you,
    and in times of humiliation be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire,
    and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in him, and he will help you;
    make your ways straight, and hope in him.

You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
    do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
  and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
 for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations of old and see:
    has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
    Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
 he forgives sins and saves in time of distress.

Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands,
    and to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint-hearted who have no trust!
 Therefore they will have no shelter.
Woe to you who have lost your nerve!
    What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes?

Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words,
    and those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him,
    and those who love him fulfill his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts,
    and humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord,
    but not into the hands of mortals;
for equal to his majesty is his mercy,
    and equal to his name are his works.

The penultimate thought that I have to share about disciplined growth with God is scary, but I know so many others quit too soon because of it. Besides keeping an open mind and willing heart even when your world collapses, prepare yourself for long periods of bone-chilling loneliness… even if you’re in fellowship. But please remember that you are never really alone. The reality is God wants you to Himself for a time. It is often dreadful, but if you stay with Him, stay awake because you won’t hardly recognize yourself, or Him, on the other side. Honestly, now that I am married and boring, now that He’s given me better than what I thought I wanted, way too much honestly, I look back to all the rain storms and desert winds with some fondness and a lot of nostalgia. And I think, “Huh, what a small price to pay for such a great gift.”

So many years ago, I found a kindred spirit in Tozer on pilgrimage.

Lastly, imagine you were assigned night-watch over a ward of diabetic children. How would you respond if you were confronted by such a task? Would you do your best to get them to daylight safely? Or would you spoil them with sugar, giving them only more of what they craved? Would you do the easy thing, to make yourself their hero in the dark as you lead them from illness unto death? Or could you do the disciplined thing to heal them for when the doctor returned in the morning? Would you be willing to be lonely and falsely accussed, even cursed, all night by morbidly spoiled children in order to deliver them at daybreak?

Now, imagine what would become of a “mature” people who only ate what they wanted for decades. What if a people only indulged news that agreed with their appetites for years? What if they lived for themselves at the expense of others for a generation? What if they only believed what they wanted to believe? Can you imagine that level of spiritual sickness? Remember, it has happened to “God’s people” often. God’s response has always been the same. Now, try and imagine why anyone would lie in that situation. It’s beyond me.

Leaders REALLY need to think about these thought experiments closely because they will be held to a standard commensurate with their prestige, not their followers’. Before accepting any leadership role, even more so when I know it’s God’s call, I take a long time wondering, “Can I honestly fulfill my obligations?” The only righteous “yes” requires God’s discipline… for more than a minute. In the Book, successful responses to God’s calls to leadership took a long time in R&D. For the undisciplined any time is too long; they want what they want, when they want it, and they want someone else to pay for it. Conversely, after due consideration and apropos of the experiment at hand, the wise response would be, “Can I do anything besides eating sugar to feel good?”  Next I think, “How shall I pass on my experience with not eating sugar and still feeling good only some of the time?” I don’t worry any more about what the “diabetics” will say or do about me. But also, I know that’s the first and only thing that many leaders consider. I understand the impulse, but it is increasingly destructive for themselves and others to go on that way.

Honestly, I already know all their protests by rote. Their predictable counter-tactics and lack of original thought astonishes me. It all could be comic if not for their impenitence and what it entails. Afterall, I was born into a basket of bourgeois platitudes set upon a river of affluence. Whatever insult they think scathing, sister I teethed on it. It was only God’s discipline that saved me from dying their regrettable yet well carpeted way. So I am only beholding to Him in the end for all the “whys” and “hows” and “where/when fors.” To keep my head straight, I recollect first myself as one of the diabetic children. Then I think mostly of the only One we all must answer last. From that position, if I honestly desire to live in God’s reality and no other’s, then discipline is wanting what God says I need, not what I feel that I want. And, as a gracious bonus, whatever comes next is right, and I am awake to accept all things, all people, and God’s further instruction.

Life can be traumatic and discpline is harsh on occassion, but hold on (stand fast) in acceptance (at liberty) for the Spirit will transmute all that noise into a beautiful and unique soundtrack called your life.

Discipline: Instruction with Warnings

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
 but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
     but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down
.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge
.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back
.
If a ruler listens to falsehood,
 all his officials will be wicked
.
The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever
.
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
    but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
    but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
    he will give delight to your heart.
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
 but blessed is he who keeps the law
.
By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
    for though he understands, he will not respond
.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
    will in the end find him his heir.
A man of wrath stirs up strife,
    and one given to anger causes much transgression.
One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
The partner of a thief hates his own life;
    he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.
The fear of man lays a snare,
    but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Many seek the face of a ruler,
    but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
    but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked
.

(Next post, sundown May 23rd)

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