Love: Discipline & Dependence

20130613-094308.jpg

Have you ever read, or pondered the closing words of the Old Testament? Malachi 4:6 states: “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” These are the last words contained in the Bible before a 400 year silence.

In the Gospel of Luke, the author lets it be known that this was not forgotten “… and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Fathers, as you look to our heavenly Father, may the preaching of the Gospel in the spirit of Elijah turn your hearts toward your children. Don’t let work, hobbies, disappointment, or your pride turn your heart away from or against your kids. Be kind, considerate, patient, and encouraging with your words. Don’t provoke them to anger, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Fathers and mothers, let us prepare the way of the Lord and anticipate His return by pointing our affections toward Christ, and reflect His love towards our children.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” – Proverbs 29:17

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

The Scriptures tell us that God at times, nurtures us by speaking the truth in love, and sometimes that plays out in an aggressive way. There was an interesting study I read recently about behavioral analysis. It was a study on certain adolescents who came from really good homes, but their hearts were just filled with rage. And so, they would medicate them, talk with them, and try to figure out why. In an effort to better understand where this rage was coming from, they started this intensive study on why these kids were angry like this, and here’s basically what they found:

In almost every one of the cases, they found a mother who took nurturing to a sinful level. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. From their research and study, they found in one case in particular, that one of the kids would be painting and then as the kid walked away and left the paint and started playing with another toy, the mother would clean up all the paint and put it away. And then the kid would move over to this other toy for a little bit, but then he would come back and want to paint again. And so, the mother would pull out all the paints and then put back up the other things and the kid would start to paint again. And so while the kid was painting, the mother would go over and clean up the toys over here and clean up the toys over there. And then the kid would leave the paint, come over back to the toys that the mom just put up and pull them out and start playing with them again. So the mother would go back and clean up all the paint again, because you couldn’t leave the paint out or it would ruin. So she would screw on the top, she would take down the easel, she would put it all up and then the kid would come back over and want to paint again. And so the mother would get the easel back out… and I’m sure some of you are reading this, thinking about your mom, and are just like, “Who is this mother?!” It certainly was not my mother (for which I am grateful). But this mom would pull all the paint supplies back out and set it all back up again, over and over.

And what ended up happening was, as the kid grew and developed, they weren’t really ready for any of the disappointment that is life. Because that little scenario is the only bubble in which you’ll get your way all of the time. And so, the kid couldn’t deal with kindergarten. And so as they grew, they began to develop this anger and this rage towards everyone who didn’t give them what they wanted. Because if we would just give them what they want then everything would be great… and I don’t know if you’ve ever been with anyone like that, like they just have this pervasive problem and they can’t ever see that the common denominator is them. And what happened here in this case is that it was not biblical nurturing. Biblical nurturing would be more like, “Uh sweetie, mommy put those up. You can paint tomorrow. (kiss) Little artist, go on now. (hug) Go on, play with your other stuff. Mommy already put the paint up.” The Biblical idea of nurturing is more like that. And overall, women just naturally provide nurturing nourishment much better than men do, but that does not excuse fathers from raising their children in a nurturing manner.

We must always remember though, that as parents, we’re not going to be a good enough to pull off salvation in our children’s hearts. We’re just not. We’re not going to be able to model it well enough. All we can do is commend God’s works to them. He’s got to save them. So we are to plead with Him. Men and women who walk in pride, they don’t need to plead for the lives of their children. You know why? Because they’ve got it. Why would they need to plead? God forbid if their kid runs amok. You know what the issue was? The issue wasn’t them; the issue was all you other guys’ kid. Your kid(s) came into their life, influenced them into darkness and if you would have done a better job, if you would have watched what they watched, if you would have watched what they read, if you would not have allowed them to watch the “Smurfs, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, the Disney Channel” or whatever the Evangelical community is now saying is evil and wicked and after the souls of our children, if you would have done that, then in the end, “my kid would love the Lord, because I raised them to love the Lord. That’s not how I raised them. Your kid was the real issue.” I’ve been in that room before. I’ve actually heard parents declare that nonsense.

Or here’s one I think that most everyone has seen. There are men and women who cannot sustain relationships for any period of time. Like, they have a good friend for about six months and then they’ve got this whole other group of friends for about six months, and then they’ve got this whole other group they run with for about six months. Or they go from this relationship, to that relationship, to this relationship. And if you sit down over a drink with them, they could tell you all about all that was wrong with all of those people without ever being able to see that the common denominator is them. And that’s pride. “Let me tell you why everyone else has issues.”

People who walk in pride are just perpetually in crisis. There’s always a crisis, always. It’s never having to do with them though. It’s always someone else. It’s absolutely devastating to the pursuit of Jesus. Because in the end, you don’t believe you really need Him despite the fact that all objective evidence would say it’s the other way. But you can’t see objective evidence. It’s this insane belief in our own sufficiency that robs us of freedom and life… it’s pride (Luke 18). I mean, God has flat out said that proud He will know from afar and they will not be able to draw near to Him (Psalm 138:6). Think about what that means? God opposes the proud. (Ecclesiastes 7:8; Jeremiah 13:15; Luke 1:51; James 4:6; 1st Peter 5:5)

The proud also deny their need for dependence. The Bible is clear in its teaching that we are all beggars, in desperate need of grace. We are completely dependent on God for everything; we are to praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Job’s conversation with God near the end of the book of Job is a great display of how little and not-in-control of things we all really are.

There is this idea of sanctification in the Christian faith that is beautiful, but pretty painful at times; more specifically, it is the truth that God is working all things together for our good so that we might look more like Christ. This is easy to regurgitate but difficult to really believe and apply in our daily lives. I am bent toward a particular cynicism that doubts the goodness of God in my life and His unwavering commitment to finish the good work He began in me (Philippians 1:6). My natural inclination is not to see every situation as His grace toward me and care for me in leading me to depend less upon myself and my wisdom and more upon Him and His.

As parents, there are so many more ways to see this, and feel this, than those without children.

I am more confident in my ability to love and serve my wife when I am in prayer. As parents, we are called to be more confident in our ability train and discipline when we are in prayer. I’ll admit my first thought is not always to pray. My first thought is not always to ask the sovereign Ruler of the universe to watch over and protect my marriage. The reality that I have access to the Father, through Christ, does not always immediately enter my mind when I first begin to have difficulty or struggle.

But we are dependent on God. Even when we’re not fully aware of it, or living as if we don’t believe that. In subtle ways, as parents we are to continually train our children in dependence. It doesn’t matter the situation or circumstance – dependence upon God or dependence upon ourselves to grow in maturity should be taught. This road was never promised to be easy, or to be filled with happiness and void of pain. But in the end, we hope for something greater, we rest in the idea of this promise: “Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.”

Advertisements

Little Things in Life & Basketball

20130605-174018.jpg

When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game, and someone currently pursuing an opportunity to coach full-time, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends, good food, and good drinks, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Red Lodge, Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to Kat down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts… or the 2007 NBA Finals, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… but that is the vast minority when compared to the little moments of life. All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing a class assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all, or even just some of them together and it can be the difference between a great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor being cut/traded, or even the Athletic Director looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that you must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

Every coach needs to sit down and explain to his players what is acceptable and what he is expecting of them. It may take a little while at first but once the players realize what is expected of them, and they buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, they will earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players would have never been held accountable like this before, a little grace should always be shown at the beginning. They need to understand the value of doing the little things and and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until they get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, they strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches should put their team in circumstances that will test them, help them to come up against obstacles in the game that will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard you begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is the coach’s job to encourage all his players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, didn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, didn’t crash the boards, didn’t shoot with proper form, threw a lazy pass, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. If they understand and really believe in what they are doing then they will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. Because over the years when the team has players return and can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great; it is worth the time and effort.

Love rebuke, don’t rebuke love.

20130519-103140.jpg

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. . . . To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

“It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.” – Henry David Thoreau

True love in friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships will inevitably lead to rebuke at times. And while it should be done gently, humbly, and kindly… it unfortunately doesn’t always come off that way. So when you feel attacked, when you feel blind-sided by accusations that you are less than perfect, does that excuse any and all behavior that may have caused someone to voice concern to simply be null and void, because they failed to communicate their concerns in a way that was perceived as loving and genuine? Do we disregard any concern our friends would have with us if they fail to approach us in the perfect way? Are we to deflect all responsibility if the other family member behaved less than perfect towards us in the past? What if they’re currently acting foolish, yet have the gall to proclaim that you have done something wrong?

Please, don’t tune me out yet.

Do you ever have difficulties in your relationships? Does your significant other, or those close to you do stuff at times that upsets or frustrates you? Do you ever find your expectations less than met, more like almost completely shattered. I’d be willing to bet money everyone has dealt with this at some point. Are you aware and willing to admit that you also have sin in your heart and your flesh desires things above God at times… that in conflicts with your spouse or significant other, when you’re arguing with a friend, neither of you are perfect, or even close to it… and yeah, this tension really sucks sometimes. Dating, courting, and engagement are especially tough at times. Because in that dynamic, you often get most of the problems of marriage, but without all the benefits…

Marriage is difficult too, but at least you’re already in the game, and fully committed at that point, so you might as well play it to win it. And that’s fun. Really hard at times, but a lot of fun. Because you’re a team working towards deeper sanctification in Christ here in this life. You guys aren’t against one another or trying to simply co-exist in the happiest manner. You’re partners in battle, fighting alongside one another in a war. The war has already been won, but there is still a lot of mess to work through, until the day Christ cracks open the skies to let the whole world know He really is who He said He was.

However, even though redemption has already been purchased by Christ, for the time being, you ought to be heart-broken over the sin in each other’s life, not because you get your feelings hurt, you selfishly want each other just to act better, be more attentive to your needs, or just be less embarrassing in public, but rather, you want each other to experience more of Christ in this life. To know Jesus more, to be the person God has created you to be and is working in you to accomplish His will. Your “fights and arguments” shouldn’t be over petty things or personality quirks. The issue at hand is sin. Sin should grieve us and cause us to seek help and repentance in desperation.

False conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete. True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior, but without a heart change.

John Owen addressed this when he wrote, “Christians must take severe measures in killing [their] sin. This is the real danger: “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” (Colossians 3:1-17)

When we perceive sin in a brother and/or sister’s life that we believe will cause them (and potentially others) great harm over the course of their life, we are to lovingly approach them in humility. All the while, acknowledging we have our own blind spots and our own struggles with sin, but we are for each other’s good, we are for each other’s growth and development in our walks with Jesus. Others’ sin does not negate your sin. Because we struggle doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to struggle and not ever work through grace-enabled efforts to repent. We should all be seeking reconciliation together, because it’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

Becky Pippert put it this way: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… E. H. Gifford once said, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor” … So, if I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.”

Little sins left unchecked over time grow, and sin begets sin. Ever wake up one day and ask yourself, how did I get here? You better believe that I’ve found myself there… lying in bed full of regret and wondering how the heck I had wandered off so far from where I really wanted to be. We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay.

We need to understand and remember that the cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights!

None of us who claim to follow Christ can remain neutral in each other’s fight with sin. We are either for our brother and sister, hurting alongside them, and going to war with them, out of love for them, because Christ first loved and rescued us. Or we lie, deceive ourselves, the Truth is not in us, and we let our brothers and sisters drown while we idly sit by and watch with hateful indifference. Please try to listen to the concerns of others with an eager heart for repentance and deep hunger for the chance of tasting more of God’s love for you. We are all far from perfect, but in Christ, our hearts, our love, our intentions, are for each other. So in the end, when pursuing reconciliation through Christ, we are truly for each other’s good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Recommended passages of Scripture to consult for further consideration of this topic:

Leviticus 26:14-46
Deuteronomy 8:5-6
2nd Samuel 7:14-15
Job 5:12-19
Psalm 6
Psalm 38
Psalm 39:11
Psalm 94:10-15
Psalm 119
Psalm 141
Proverbs 3:11-12
Proverbs 5:1-23
Proverbs 6:20-23
Proverbs 12:1
Proverbs 13:1; 24
Proverbs 17:10
Proverbs 19:18
Proverbs 22:15
Proverbs 23:13
Proverbs 27:5-6
Proverbs 28:23
Proverbs 29:17; 19-20
Ecclesiastes 7:5
Matthew 16:14-15
Luke 17:1-4
Luke 23:39-43
1st Corinthians 5:1-13
1st Corinthians 11:32
Ephesians 6:4
1st Timothy 1:18-20
1st Timothy 5:1-2; 19-25
2nd Timothy 4:1-5
Titus 1:9-16
Titus 2:11-15
Hebrews 12:1-15
2nd Peter 2:1-22
Revelation 3:19