Be a Spiritual Champion: "Prepare to Be Disciplined"

*Names altered
Poor *Debbi. It seemed hopeless with her. She was not an Olympic Champion and never to become one. She didn't swim for the gold, win, get disqualified, get the medal back and learn some humbling life-lesson. Debbie didn't fall off the vault, only to come back on the high bar for the gold. She didn't land out of bounds like that little girl the other night, who came back in the floor exercises to win the Best-All-Around Gymnast Award. Debbi was my cousin. Can a preacher say this, "She was [hell] 'a warm place' on wheels"? (An UNholy terror.) She was about 2 1/2, living in a way-too-confining home in Baltimore. And just about every day she'd do a bzillion ornery things. And her mom would just look on and say, "You just wait 'til your father gets home!" As you might imagine, my young cousin did not spend her early years with an enthusiastic or kindly view of discipline. Most of us aren't too keen on it either. But if we wanna be spiritual champions, if we're ever gonna run for the Gold, we'd better prepare to be disciplined!

Don't take my word for it. Let's re-consider what the Letter to the Hebrews has to say.

…the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son
whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure God
is treating you as sons; 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 to discipline 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 at their pleasure, but he
disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the
moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it
yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been
trained by it. Hebrews 12: 6-11

Wanna be a spiritual champion? Learn to expect and to understand that God will discipline, much like my poor Uncle *Jon, not for anger, but for love's sake. And it will be a teaching and a guidance, long before it is a punishment. Oh, let's be clear. This is between us and God, and not for others to determine. If you plan to run for the Gold, understand that God disciplines for the sake of the prize of righteousness; he is not petty, but powerful, determined to save.

God disciplines for love, not just for anger's sake. He teaches and corrects, before he sanctions. (Please notice I used the word sanctions rather than punishes. More about that in a minute.) When my little cousin got that, "You just wait," message, her very young mom had left something out. She forgot to teach first. She forgot to correct. (I don't want to pick on Aunt *Nance, she's a wonderful woman and ended up a great mom, but the early days just needed a little polishing.) Maybe she should've watched the Games for lessons in life and faith. Even more than the Olympic coaches we've all been watching, God cares for us. His passion is not to punish us, but to put us in position to win. To win the saved life today that extends to all eternity. There are training rules. They are the beginning of his discipline. Trust him completely. Turn from anything that competes with him for a place in our hearts, minds or souls. Learn that he is our strength. (Repent.) Confess him and him only as Lord of Life. Love your neighbor. As yourself… as Christ loves us. Follow the commandments. Act out the Sermon on the Mount. Worship. Take to private devotions. Study the Word. Practice kindness. Do justice. And should we stray from the Way in which we trained, God in Christ will correct us. The parable of the rich young ruler for the haughty, who think themselves better than the rest. (We're not.) The forgiveness of the harlot, both for those who feel the need to judge, and for those who need to be told to go and sin no more. (We're guilty of both and need to stop.) The story of the Word of God like seed on the ground, to make us ask if God's love can grow in the hearts we give to him. (Do we grow in faith, or choke it out?) The cross that cancels the power of sin, and implores us to walk in the light even as Christ is in the light. It's all there. There in the Olympic Faith Training Manual. (Copies are available at your fingertips here every week! Bible.)

All this before he sanctions. Notice I chose this word over punishes. I like it because like the Hebrews Letter, it reminds us God's true punishments are not bent on merely destroying us, but making us more holy. God dispenses his chastening rod for our good, not our harm (says Heb.12). David Mains says it this way.
Now listen-there's a good chance (as a loving father) that the first message the Lord will attempt to have you hear is not "You're really going to get it now!" Instead . . . it could well be a word of compassion. "I love you very much." "You're special to me beyond what you realize." "I want only the best for you." "It doesn't make me happy; it actually makes me sad to have to resort to discipline." "But make no mistake, I will do what I will do for the sake of your souls and your nations." God is love. But he's not a wimp. Noah saw that. David was a test case, from his troubles with Saul and Absalom to those with Nathan and the rest. If Israel turns aside, Babylon will be the result. If we do not heed the sound of the Savior, we will see the sorrow of the cross. But always, it is holiness, not havoc, that is the point.

Runnin' for the Gold? Run your own race, no one else's.
Again I take a cue from a colleague. (Mains) "You might ask, 'How do you know when someone is being disciplined by God? Maybe the fact that someone is sick or unemployed or humbled has nothing to do with where he or she is spiritually.' The truth is, it's always risky to try to evaluate another person's situation. It's far too easy to be like the critics of Job in the Old Testament. These sincere men were convinced their righteous friend Job was responsible for his own undoing. But they were very wrong." There's a fun little cautionary tale of a Christian farmer who has a traveling Rabbi, a Hindu scholar and (get this) a newspaper critic come seeking shelter at his door. The storm has washed out the roads. Their car has quit. "Well, you're welcome in the name of Jesus here," he says. "But the best I have to offer is the barn." Off go the Rabbi, the Hindu, the critic. A half hour later the Hindu returns, "Friend, there's a cow in the barn. They are sacred in my faith and I'm not allowed to be with them. May I stay with you, who know Jesus?" 'Half hour later, another knock at the door. It's the Rabbi. "There's a pig in the barn. My faith forbids all contact with swine. May I stay with you, who know Jesus?" The farmer settles in for the night with his guests under roof. Only the critic and the creatures are still in the barn. Fifteen minutes later there's a knock at the door. Guess who?… It's cow and the pig!… The message: beware the critic in your soul and mine. Nobody wants to bed down nearby. A constantly critical soul wins few but punishes many. God will discipline our lives and those of others, and God alone. Save your sensitivity for the sake of your own spirit first. Every Olympian who triumphs learns to compete, to run the race, as we've been saying, that belongs to him or her alone. Come to know God's discipline for yourself. That's the key to becoming a spiritual champion. In each of the first four sermons in this series we've issued a practical challenge, a real life how-to. This week, ask yourself, "Do I sense that God loves me incredibly, that I'm very special to him, that his hand is still on my life for good?" Dare to locate something in your spirit that is not quite right, something God needs to teach you. 'Some way he needs to correct you. 'Some thing going on that may feel even punishing, but that you can see God using to make you more holy, sanctioned, sanctified. And don't stop there. Make a conscious decision this week, "I'll do it your way, God." Acquiesce. Bend to the training of your soul. Surrender. Trust and obey. The song's right. There's no other way. Not to the Gold! Not to the goal that is life-in-his-love. Hear the promise. There is a quiet harvest, a peaceful right living that results. What comes of this holiness is happiness. A sweet, restored fellowship with God. Finally, a healthy self esteem and divine blessings way better than a gold medallion on a ribbon that will fade! At the finish line is salvation by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Now about my little cousin, Debbi. This first baby I ever saw's 46. Wonderfully married 20+ years. An Olympic Champion of a mom with an Olympic Medal Qualifying Faith. See, when Uncle Jon got home, he didn't discipline her with the back of his hand alone, but with the goodness of his heart. She learned her lessons. She was corrected when required. She became faithful to her father, on earth and in heaven. Serving both became her passion. She was never disciplined for power's sake, but for her own sake. So she could share in holiness, "the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Wanna be a spiritual champion? Then run for the Gold! But be prepared to be disciplined: taught, guided, corrected, and more than punished, sanctioned, made holy in the peace of Christ that passes all understanding!

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