Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Loving Hand and a Cedar Switch

(Below is a re-print of an article I posted last year.   -Billy Long)

“Therefore, consider both the goodness and severity of God…” Romans 11: 22


A tricycle and a cedar switch
I had a tricycle when I was four years old. Daddy told me I could ride it around the yard but never to go near the highway. But temptation came, and I figured it would be more fun and easier to ride my tricycle on the hard pavement than through the dirt in our yard. So I decided to ride it across the highway and visit the country store across the street. Away I went pedaling my little tricycle and making my way across the busy highway. As I rolled up to the front door of the store I suddenly felt a hand gently grab my arm. It was Daddy. He had broken a small, limber cedar switch from a little tree in our front yard. It did not harm me, but it stung my legs as he gave me a “switching” all the way back across the street to our house. We were a sight to behold as I “danced” across the road with Daddy’s right hand flicking the little cedar switch against my bare legs, his left hand holding mine while I held the tricycle with my other hand. I learned that the pain of discipline outweighed the pleasure of disobedience. I never rode that tricycle into the street again.

I knew instinctively that my father was disciplining me for my good. He was protecting me from dangers of which I was unaware. I could have been killed on that highway. Our heavenly Father deals with us in the same way. His severity does not denote a lack of love, but proves His desire to protect us from peril and to save us from the harm that sin and foolishness inflict upon us.

The parent and the coach
When a young athlete makes a mistake that hurts the team, he receives two very different but necessary reactions. His parents tell him, “It’s okay, you’re a great player; you’ll do better next time.” The coach, however, scolds the boy telling him he needs to focus and work on this particular area of weakness or be prepared to sit on the bench for a while. The coach's rebuke is necessary for growth and improvement. The parents' mercy encourages the young man and prevents him from losing heart. God deals with His children in the same way. He is kind, but severe when we need it. His steadfast love gives us hope and encourages us to persevere. His severity provokes us to obedience and helps us overcome our weakenesses.

“Consider the goodness…of God”
The first Bible verse that I memorized as a child was John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The first song I learned was “Jesus Loves Me.” This truth is paramount to our understanding of God. He loves us with an incomprehensible and steadfast love. It preserves us when we would fall and holds us when we would flee. It woos us when we go astray and receives us when we return. His goodness leads us to repentance. It also causes Him to be patient beyond our comprehension. God's kindness is demonstrated in the longsuffering and forbearance He shows to a world in continual rebellion against Him and to His people who are often complacent and unfaithful.

“Consider the…severity of God.”
I serve the Lord because I love Him, but there have been times of weakness and vulnerability in my life when I remained faithful to the Lord because I fear His judgment. I do not want to forfeit rewards when I stand before Him, and I do not want to die lost and enter eternity without Him. The writer of Hebrews says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Nevertheless, it is God's love that holds me.

God’s discipline and even His judgments are acts of love designed to bring us back to Him when we don’t have grace to respond to His kindness. His discipline strengthens us to obedience. His wrath (and judgment) is an ultimate effort of love to get our attention and turn our stubborn and rebellious hearts back to Him when we go astray. The "rod" of God administers grace to enable my obedience when I might be too weak to respond simply to His love.

A chest pain kept me out of trouble.
I was not spiritually aggressive during my eleventh grade year of high school and my spiritual idleness made me vulnerable to temptation. On one particular occasion I was making plans to fall into some mischief, but awoke with chest pains on the morning of the “evil day.” I immediately decided not to go through with my plans. I was afraid I would die and go to hell. It was as if the Lord was saying to me, “Your friends might be able to do that, but I will not allow you to.” The fear of God preserved me when the weakness of my flesh was, for the moment, stronger than my resolve to obey. I thank God for His discipline which helped save me from a foolish decision in that hour.

Conclusion
God disciplines us because we are His beloved children. Discipline is part of His program for helping us to grow, mature, and be what He desires us to be. It is an aspect of grace, a manifestation of the love and wisdom of God in dealing with human nature. It is for our good. It corrects (makes right) those who need to be adjusted and punishes those who refuse the correction.

There are two Bible verses that on the surface seem to stand in contrast, but which are actually and truly compatible.
"Praise the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever." 2 Chronicles 5: 13; 20: 21
"Let us...serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 13: 28-29
God loves us, but He does have a "cedar switch," and will use it when we need it.

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." Hebrews 12: 5-6

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