Disciplining in Anger is the Opposite of Love

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Disciplining a child is important, but disciplining in anger is the opposite of love, and the biblical principles behind this statement are quite simple.

Discipline, regardless of what form it takes, is for the betterment of the child. To teach a young boy or girl right from wrong and danger from safe, discipline must be used because reason and experience are lacking at such a young age. So, we discipline to teach, for example, that fire and running into the street are bad. In other words, discipline is to be completely selfless on the part of the parent as the goal is to help someone other than ourselves, namely the child.

Anger, on the other hand, is all about us. It is, in a word, selfish. I get angry when I am hurt, I am offended, I don’t get what I want, I am embarrassed…I, I, I, me, me me. Selfish.

To summarize:  discipline is (ideally) selfless while anger is selfish.

So, when you discipline out of anger, it is not because you want to help someone else but because you yourself believe you have been wronged in some way.

Allow me to wax eloquent.

The point of Christian discipline is ultimately holiness – holiness modeled by the parents and holiness taught to the kids. When we discipline our children, we are modeling the discipline we receive from God which is explained well in Hebrews 12:5-11 which reminds us that “whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (v.6). The writer goes on to say that those who do not receive the discipline of the Lord are not the children of God. That is to say, all God’s children are disciplined by Him. Then, in verse 10, we are given the purpose of discipline:  “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” So, again, the purpose of discipline is the holiness of those receiving the discipline. This is our goal as parents as well. To put it another way, we discipline our children for their sake not ours.

On the other hand, when we get angry, it’s all about us. We are hurt, we are offended, we don’t like the situation, etc., so we get angry. It’s the belief that we are entitled to get what we want, the way we want, when we want; a lie that comes from the pit of hell. (Ironically, it is when kids believe these very same things that parents blow up at them.) Anger stems from not getting what we want and is, thus, a result of the sin of self-centered pride. It is no wonder the Lord equates anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount which is followed by a multitude of New Testament passages stating that anger is sin (not to mention the multitude of proverbs connected anger with the fool – Prov. 12:16; 14:29; 19:11; 27:3; 29:8,11; Eccl. 7:9).

Anger is anger and cannot be justified or moralized simply because it is directed against your children. In fact, a strong case can be made for the opposite. There are many reasons anger can be said to be unholy outside of the simple truth that the Bible says so, and one of the main explanations is that anger is selfish. This is where we get to the main proposition of this article:  anger is all about self whereas love is all about others. Thus, discipline is to focus on “them” whereas anger focuses on “us”. When I discipline my children, the goal is to make them, ultimately, more like Christ. How can I do that when I am not exemplifying Christ, the ultimate example of humility and selflessness? If I am disciplining in anger, I am definitely not exemplifying Christ.

It helps to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. When a med student works himself to the point of weariness, this is not punishment but discipline with the goal of becoming a good doctor. Similarly, the athlete’s agonizing training is not punishment, it is discipline for an ultimate prize. In the same way, discipline is a form of training that has a goal which is to teach the child to turn to and obey the Lord. In other words, discipline is not an end in and of itself. Punishment, however, is the end goal:  inflicting pain or loss due to a fault committed. Biblical discipline’s goal is to inflict punishment so that the fault committed will not be committed again with the understanding of why (namely, God demands it and not merely because Dad is scary).

I think this point can be further explained by a list of dangers of disciplining in anger.

Disciplining in anger…

  1. Appeases your wrath rather than teaching them to avoid God’s.
  2. Stems from a sinful heart rather than a love for God or your children.
  3. Makes children fear you not God.
  4. Teaches them when to avoid Mom and Dad at certain times rather than obeying God all the time.
  5. Is inconsistent (discipline is based on a parent’s subjective ever-changing mood rather than God’s objective unchanging  character).
  6. Involves the very real danger of physically hurting your child as anger can make you apply uncontrolled force (physically and verbally).
  7. Stems from unholy motivations (not only when an objective fault has transpired but also when Mom or Dad are embarrassed, had a bad day at work, etc.).

If you struggle with disciplining in anger, the remedy should be clear by now:  love your kids. It’s not that those who get angry at their children do not love them, but if you apply the biblical definitions of love and anger, then the more you love your kids with a selfless, biblical love then the less you will want to punish them to appease yourself.

When my children need to be disciplined, my wife and I make sure that we let them know what they did wrong in a way that they understand. We tell them they need to be disciplined, and, afterwards, tell them again why this occurred and what they did wrong. All of this is done calmly and without yelling. The end result is that  even after the discipline occurs, our kids are appreciative and loving and have even thanked us for doing what we did (we have never instructed them to do this or implied that they should). They are not scared of us or crying afterwards because we have not given them any reason to fear us through inconsistent or unpredictable yelling or undue punishment. They know the process is to teach them in a way that points to someone bigger than us. We are trying to help them and protect them from the wrath of the Creator whereas anger would make them think they need protection from us (and they would be right!)

Though we are imperfect beings, we are striving to do things God’s way for God’s glory, and I hope this helps you to do the same.

The Dangers of Refusing Service

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Our culture’s growing sense of self-reliance has permeated the church to the degree that Christians are often hesitant to accept acts of service from other Christians. Whether it’s a fear of inconveniencing others, pride, or some other heart issue, refusing to be blessed by God through others has some serious consequences. Here are a few.

Builds a Mindset of Selfishness

When sharing the gospel, the more you are rejected the more you withdraw and hesitate to continue. The same principle applies to service – the more you refuse others’ offers to help the less they feel comfortable offering. After a while, a status quo of not serving others is developed which, in turn, can lead to selfishness because if experience trains you to stop thinking about others then you will naturally only think of yourself. Take this to a level where this mindset flows through the whole church body and you have yourself a church that is violating that which it is created to do:  to worship God corporately. Paul makes it clear that the way we are to be of the “same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” is to follow the example of Christ and look out for others to the point that you “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:2-7). That’s hard to do when you refuse to let anyone look out for you.

Creates a Culture of Individualism Rather than Family

If we succeed in building a mindset that focuses only on ourselves, then we hinder the reason for the creation of the local church. In the end, we are all responsible for our own commitments to Christ, but the Lord, in understanding our needs and frailties, gave us an incredibly wise and gracious gift in the local church. From the top down, every aspect of Christianity is connected to the local church which is to be the HQ of all spirituality. What makes the gears of this amazing machine run smoothly is the sense of family exhibited through the One Another’s and deep-seated care that leads us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). If you circle out to the context of this verse, you will see that Paul is talking about the body and the members of it. Keep going and you read phrases like “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v.9a), “contributing to the needs of the saints” (v.13), “Be of the same mind” (v.16), and so on. In other words, you can’t be a true church if you’re not in each others’ lives and you can’t be in each others’ lives if you refuse any attempt to be served.

As a pastor, I am often asked by new members and visitors if there are opportunities to serve in the church. What they are looking for is some sort of formal service such as folding bulletins or greeting visitors. While these acts of service are important and helpful, the more important acts of service are those of Mary rather than Martha. When we are more focused on the formal than the One Another’s there is a problem of misplaced priorities and a kink in our relationships which can breed a culture of self-sufficiency which is dangerous and leads to a multitude of other sins. Iron sharpens iron not itself (Prov. 27:17).

Focuses on Others Above Christ

When I counsel married couples, it is common to see that each spouse finds it challenging to fulfill his or her biblical responsibilities in marriage because the other responds in a way that makes them each shy away from their God-given roles. This is a natural response and is akin to what we are talking about here:  when our gracious advances are rejected we ungraciously retreat. However, what I tell these couples I will tell you – we are ultimately serving Christ and not others. Other people are secondary; they are an added bonus when we do the right thing. In other words, still do what you are commanded to do regardless of what the other person says or does in response because it’s more about Christ than them. When we tell people that we don’t need that prayer, hot meal, or word of encouragement we are inadvertently telling them that our estimation of what we think we need or don’t need is more important than what Christ commands.

Robs Others of Heavenly Reward

When it comes to material gain, most of us would not hesitate to help someone out if doing a good deed for us would mean a promotion at work, extra credit at school, or a badge on a Boy Scout sash. But it is easy to forget that the same principle applies, though to an incomparably greater degree, when it comes to amassing reward in heaven. Our Lord tells us to focus on treasures in heaven rather than earthly treasure (Mt. 6:19-22) and these heavenly rewards are earned, in part, through serving others. When you deny others an opportunity to serve you deny them the opportunity to add to their eternal riches. Who are you to do that?

We need to honor God by serving others and that includes allowing others to serve us. Like any rusted part, if you have developed a habit of not letting others serve you, starting out may seem difficult and awkward at first but give it a few go’s and pretty soon it’ll work like new. And if I may take this analogy a bit further, the oil to your rust is going back and figuring out why you don’t let others serve you in the first place. If it’s sin, repent. If it’s culture (church, family, or otherwise), prioritize God’s Word. If it turns out you don’t let others serve you because you hate serving others then you might want to reevaluate who is first in your life; is it God and others or self?

Regardless of the situation, we need to maximize the efficacy of the church by serving and being served.

The Problem with People

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Let’s face it. Ministry is tough. Especially when it comes to serving as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20) to a world that is destined to hate us because it first hated our Lord whose kingdom we are proclaiming (Matt. 10:22). As a result, the people to whom we minister make our calling all the more difficult because they can be annoying, ungrateful, and downright nasty. They get in our way and ruin our day. But there’s a greater problem with people. A problem that can be revealed by looking at the ministry of our Lord.

In Matthew 9:35-38, there are 4 features of Christ’s ministry to be emulated by all believers that highlight the problem with people.

The first of these is Christ’s Model seen in verse 35:  “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” 

Jesus’ 3-fold ministry that comprised this model involved teaching the Old Testament prophets in the center of Jewish life, the synagogue, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom which involved announcing His rule and reign in the new covenant, and, healing the sick to authenticate His authority and message while exhibiting His love for people. Though every detail of Christ’s ministry is not to be exactly emulated by believers, His proclamation to and love for people is. Which leads us to the second feature of Christ’s ministry that will help us see the problem with people.

Secondly, Christ’s Vision is evident in the phrase :”Seeing the people.” In a moment I will talk about Christ’s compassion, but I want to point out that His compassion would not manifest if He did not first take notice, real notice, of the people around Him. If you want to model Christ’s ministry, you have to pay attention. As an ambassador of Christ, your primary occupation is people. Being an engineer, a teacher, a businessman or stock broker is merely a job you have to pay the bills to support your real occupation which is people and ministry. The people God has put in our lives are not mere scenery that make our day better or worse, they are not mere annoyances that get in your way, impede your commute or help you get to 5 o’clock without going ballistic. They are the reason we are here!

It is a healthy habit to learn to listen; the next time you are sitting at your local Starbucks, just stop and listen to people’s conversations and what consumes their lives, and you will be quickly given firsthand proof that the world around us is dying. Dying! And if you want to do something about it, if you want to be salt and light, then you have to notice that which we are to cast our light upon:  people. That leads us to our 3rd feature…

Christ’s Motivation. The entirety of verse 36 reads, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” The word translated “felt compassion” is a strong emotional Greek verb that doesn’t have a fitting equivalent in the English language. Suffice it to say that the Greek word literally refers to the intestines or bowels, so one can say that Christ cared so much that it hurt. Among all of the human experiences He took upon Himself for our sake, this physical pain in compassion is easily one of the most significant.

And what was it that triggered this compassion? The state of the people wandering around without a shepherd. Though they had political and spiritual leaders, those leaders ultimately cared only for their personal gain and profit. In realizing this, Christ does not get annoyed or impatient, He does not curse people under His breath as ungrateful sinners. Rather, He has compassion upon them.

Like Christ, we are to have compassion on the world around us. When you are so frustrated you want to call others “Idiots!” rest assured they are idiots. Just like you. Sinners saved by grace among sinners in need of grace. Live this truth out and you are well on  your way to having Christ-like compassion.

Finally, Christ culminates this scene by telling the disciples, in verse 37, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” In this verse, we see our final feature of Christ’s ministry to be emulated by all believers that highlight the problem with people:  Christ’s Method.

The only solution to the world’s problems is Christ, and until we, like Christ, see that and respond, we are not living out the truth of the gospel in our lives. And first things first:  before you start another seminary, strategize an outreach concert or plan an evangelism seminar, you need to pray. This is Christ’s method and nothing we come up with will be better than the way of the Master. Keep in mind that the one praying is often the answer to the prayer.

So, having seen these 4 features of our Lord’s ministry that we are to emulate, what is the problem with people?

First let’s recap:

1) Christ’s Model – teaching, preaching, healing
2) Christ’s Vision – He saw people
3) Christ’s Motivation – compassion
4) Christ’s Method – praying for more workers.

We have been given the gospel and the privilege of delivering it to a world in desperate need of answers. They are sick, and we have been given the cure. When they treat us poorly or reject us and our God, we should not be surprised because they don’t know any better. They are just like we used to be and would still be were it not for grace. Yet, so often we give in to our sin and look just like them:  bitter, ungrateful, angry and thinking we deserve more. So, when we recognize that we are called to be like Christ in these 4 ways, then we must also recognize that the problem with people is us.

We are called to serve others but we serve ourselves.
We are commanded to notice but we ignore.
We are asked to exhibit compassion but we exhibit anger.
We are told to offer up prayers but we offer up judgments.

The problem with people is us.

Mother’s Day on the Lord’s Day

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As we approach Mother’s Day, we come to a special day to take note of and honor the mothers in our lives. To varying degrees, churches nod to the special holiday that has become synonymous with breakfast in bed and hand scribbled cards made out of construction paper and leftover Easter stickers. It is also a time when my Facebook page is aflutter with blog posts reminding pastors that their pews are speckled with married women who are not mothers, who have lost children, who have had miscarriages and abortions and are otherwise struck with unintentioned embarrassment when mothers are asked to stand for recognition during worship services. I, for one, am thankful for the bold frankness of such women and for the technology that allows their concerns to be heard on a rapid and global scale.

Regardless of your opinion of this special day and how churches celebrate it, I’d like to share my 2 cents. Instead of focusing on mothers to the potential exclusion of others, why not make the focus of this Sunday the focus of every Sunday:  God. Don’t misunderstand me: I believe Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate my mom and my wife, the mothers in my life. In fact, sitting in my dining room is a vase full of overpriced flowers and a surprise gift in my drawer that shall remain unnamed (lest my #1 fan, my wife, read this post). But more important than celebrating the woman who raised me and the mother of my children, I want to make this day about God and praise Him for them. Whether you knew your mother or not, you were born into this world through one, and it was in God’s amazing plan that He created genders. Praise God for that. In His infinite wisdom, He created the beauty of childbirth through mothers as like begets like. Praise God for that. In His creative genius he made the family unit with different members fulfilling different roles and even growing into changing roles as we age thus providing us the social, emotional, and spiritual building blocks of the family unit and society. Praise God for that.

This Mother’s Day, rather than lifting up the mothers in your church why not lift up the Creator and praise Him through and for our mothers? After all, regardless of what day it is, in the end it’s all about Him.

A Valentine’s Question

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On this day that is all about love and relationships, I want to ask Christian husbands a question. Do you know how your wives are doing spiritually? Before you jump the gun, I’m asking if you know how she’s doing and not if you think you know because you have assumed how she’s doing. Has she told you recently how her walk with the Lord is going or, more to the point, have you asked?

In a culture with a growing fascination with the insignificant and mundane, even conversations among believers has so centered on the likes of sports, work, and movies that turning the focus to spiritual matters can be awkward and difficult. In God’s design, the family is the foundational building block of society, and as the family goes, so goes the church, culture, and so on.

If you are a believing husband married to a believing wife, you would both agree that Jesus Christ is the most important person in your universe. You strive to make Him more important than even each other. With that being the case, our conversations with our spouses should be saturated with the spiritual. And I’m not talking about merely theology or general doctrinal topics (though both are highly beneficial), but deep, personal, Valentines-ish spiritual conversations that divulge how you are both doing. This not only makes the focus of your relationship that which it ought to be but also makes your spouse who he or she is supposed to be, namely your primary disciple, discipler, accountability, encourager, and confronter of sin.

I want my kids to grow up in a  household in which we model spiritual conversations as the norm, but, more importantly, I want my life and words to prioritize that which is the most significant part of my life (God) with those who are the most significant part of this life (my family) and thereby being the husband, father, leader, and shepherd the Scriptures call me to be. The beautiful simplicity of all of this is that it begins with a simple question.

So, along with all the sugary treats, longing gazes, flowers, and romance of this special day, make it all the more special by looking your wife in the eyes and asking, “How are you doing spiritually?”

The Volleyball Tournament and the Case of the Missing Shepherd

Back in seminary, I was in charge of an annual volleyball tournament for our church’s college department that was held to raise money for summer missions.  This was no small undertaking as the college ministry spanned around a dozen campuses and had a weekly Sunday attendance of over 800.  The tournament, in turn, raised tens of thousands of dollars for dozens of short-term trips.

With each representative campus having its own Bible Study led by a “shepherd,” my first course of action in organizing the tournament was to have each shepherd pick team captains from within their studies thus giving me specific contacts to communicate with as the planning progressed.  With each passing day and gentle nudging, I received the lists from successive shepherds except for one.  I was running out of time and the stress was building.

So I emailed him.  Nothing.

I called.  No answer.

I left messages.  Crickets.

With each attempt to get this final list, I became increasingly frustrated.  It was clear to me in harassing the other shepherds for their lists that this was far down on their list of priorities (if it was on it at all), but this was ridiculous.

Finally, I tracked down his under-shepherds on a Sunday morning and, trying to control my anger, asked where the shepherd had been and if they could get him to get me the list.  They smiled wryly, patted me on the shoulder, and told me that it will be taken care of.  It wasn’t.

I just about gave up when I finally heard.  Not from the shepherd who had mysteriously dropped off the face of the earth but from our pastor when he announced that this shepherd, due to gross sin, had been disqualified and removed from his position.  I later got more details privately, but I can only imagine the grief, anguish, and scrambling to find a new shepherd as well as dealing with the fallout from his other position as the chaplain of a very prominent organization.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  You see, I was so caught up in what was most important to me that I didn’t even consider that there was something much more significant going on elsewhere.  To this day, I strive to give the benefit of the doubt and make sure everyone is okay if there is any change in a normal routine rather than demanding or even seeing only what I think or desire.  Though it is challenging at times when, for example, deadlines are looming and tens of thousands of dollars are involved, but it is dangerous to demand that what is important to you must be important to others.

You can’t see others if you’re only looking at yourself.

What If?

What if your pastor treated you the way you treat him?

What if your pastor scrutinized your every word and visibly chuckled whenever you made a grammatical error or verbal slip?

What if  your pastor dozed off every time you spoke to him?

What if  your pastor got upset and blamed you whenever someone in your large extended family did anything remotely close to offending him?

What if  your pastor felt he was justified in being angry at you for passing along your boss’s messages?

What if your pastor made sure you got paid very little and expected you to be happy about it?

What if  your pastor expected you to make every idea he had a priority in your life and hounded you the moment he felt that it wasn’t so?

What if, after you had prepared all week for his visit,  your pastor decides not to come because he was up late Saturday night hanging out with friends?

What if your pastor expected your kids to never disobey?

What if your pastor demanded that you be perfect?

What if your pastor felt he had the right to make decisions about how you should decorate your office?

What if your pastor got angry because you didn’t say “Hi” to him at church or spent more time with someone else?

What if  your pastor wrote you a harsh email every time you said something he deemed offensive?

What if your pastor expected you to never be discouraged or need to be served?

What if your pastor never served you despite you giving your life to him?

What if, after all that, your pastor sincerely asked you why it’s so difficult being you?