Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zephaniah: The God who disciplines is the same God who rejoices over us with singing!

From Garden to City reading: Zephaniah

I just finished writing about God's love.  Honestly, I like thinking about that.
And then we get to books like Habakkuk or Zephaniah.
And it looks like the loving God we read about in the New Testament just showed his dark side.

It mean, it's pretty harsh.
"I will sweep everything from the face of the earth," declares the Lord in Zephaniah 1:2.
"I will sweep away both men and animals . . ."
Yeah.  Sounds loving to me.

My kids used to think I enjoyed punishing them.
That I enjoyed thinking of ways to frustrate them.
That I wanted to get back at them for being disobedient.

Honestly, in retrospect, I think I was pretty hard on them, and some of the things I made rules about really didn't matter.  But I didn't enjoy it.

I would do some things differently, given the chance.  But we don't get do-overs in raising our children.  And I digress.

The point is, our goal was to raise children who worked hard, who lived with integrity, who followed the law, who loved learning, who respected other people . . .

And we disciplined them to achieve those goals.
And we loved them along the way.
We celebrated our children.  We would have died for our children.

Sometimes discipline is easy.  Like when Jason was little, just learning to walk and run, we had a blackberry bush in our small yard.  Jason used to run dangerously close to the bush, and I was nervous he would run into the bush or even just brush past it, cutting himself on the thorns.  I warned him to stay away from the bush several times.  It's sharp.  You'll hurt yourself.  He just ran closer.  I don't think that was intentional.  He just didn't understand.

And so one day I took him up to the bush, and I poked him with a thorn, not hard enough to draw blood, but just enough for him to know this bush had the power to hurt.  "Sharp!" I said.  "Owie."

My actions might have looked cruel to an outsider, but Jason never ran close to the bush again.  And he enjoyed sweet berries every summer until we moved.

Sometimes discipline is harder.  Later one, when Jason was an adult, he got involved in drugs.  We warned him that we didn't want any drugs in our house.  But he was so deep in the lifestyle that he ignored our warnings.  We hesitated to ask him to leave.  God had been so clear in telling us to love him unconditionally and to forgive him, no matter what he did.

But if Jason hadn't left to join the Army, and if nothing had changed, we probably would have had to ask him to leave.  It wasn't safe for us.  And it wasn't safe for our daughters. It wouldn't have been because we didn't love him.  And we would have welcomed him home anytime if he agreed to abide by house rules.

Some friends of ours recently told us about the time they kicked their 19-year-old son out of the house just a few weeks before Christmas.  They just couldn't live with the rebellion.  The drama.

They loved their son so much that they couldn't let him continue in the way he was going.  And when he returned, they welcomed him, with new rules, and new standards.  And they rejoiced their son was home.  Discipline restored their relationship. The discipline looked harsh, even cruel, but the goal was restoration.

And this is God's discipline.  It's hard to see.  It's hard to understand.
It looks cruel, but God's desire is mercy.  He wants to deliver his people.

Zephaniah 3:7-15 tells the story beyond the initial discipline:
"Surely you will fear me," God tells the people, "and accept correction.  Wait for me.  After the discipline I will purify the lips of the people so that all of you will call on my name."

"I will restore the city and leave those who fear the name of the Lord.  So be glad and rejoice with all your heart, for the Lord has taken away your punishment."

And just as the father of the Prodigal Son rejoiced when his son returned home, just as we hug our children even more after we have to discipline them, the Lord will "take great delight" in his children, he will quiet them with his love, he will rejoice over them with singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

The writer of Hebrews had a great deal to say about God's discipline.  But this is enough for today.

The same God who corrects us, who disciplines us to bring us to repentance, to restore his relationship with us, is the same God who delivers us from evil, who delights in us, who rejoices over us with singing.

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