Thursday, May 16, 2013

Discipline's Harvest

Thirty-six years ago, as the Colonel (then an NROTC Midshipman) was in final physical and mental preparation for a summer of fun and sun at Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, a member of the little country church to which he and his new bride -- the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda -- belonged, approached the Colonel...

"You're headed for OCS in a few weeks, aren't you?"  T. K. Moffett was a graduate of the United States Military Academy who had served his post-graduation obligation in the Army and was now back in his native Mississippi attending Law School at Ole Miss.

"Yes, sir!"  The Colonel was raring to go.

"Got any scripture to meditate on each day?"

"Uh..., no, sir."

"Try Hebrews 12:11."

"Yes, sir."

The Colonel was (is) a scatter-brained knucklehead and he promptly forgot the advice. 

He did carry the pocket New Testament that had belonged to his Methodist preacher great-grandfather (and namesake) Thomas Edwin Gregory along with him to OCS and during a rare free minute one evening during the first week or so of the ordeal he thumbed it open looking for some comfort and inspiration.

The Word fell open to the 12th chapter of Paul's letter to the Hebrews and the Colonel's eye caught the word "discipline." He began to read...

"1. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.    
2. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  
3. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.    
4. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
5. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,  
6. because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.'
7. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  
8. If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  
9. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
10. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness."

And then, there it was, the verse that had been recommended:
"11. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. "

The Colonel quickly committed the verse to memory, making room for it in a wrinkle of brain-matter not yet crowded with the Marine Corps "knowledge" his drill instructors were requiring him to memorize.

Throughout the remainder of his career in the Corps, the Colonel referred often to Hebrews 12:11.  Early on, the Colonel leaned on the promise of "righteousness and peace" as he endured hardship and the discipline of others.  Later in his career, he sagely passed on the verse to subordinates.

That was good, as far as it went.  But, the Colonel was misappropriating God's Word for a secular purpose.

Recently, the Colonel has been participating in a study of Hebrews, chapters 11 and 12, with several other men in his church.  Chapter 11, with Paul's recounting of the Heroes of Faith, provides examples of men and women of God who exercised faith in God's promises and provision in times of hardship and want.  

Interesting and inspiring, and all, but the Colonel was really looking forward to Chapter 12 -- the "discipline" chapter.

The Colonel had a lot of experience with "discipline."  

But then, as he read Hebrews 12:11 in context with the rest of the chapter, and Chapter 12 in context with Chapter 11, a dim light of a new understanding began to glimmer in the gloom of the Colonel's cavernous cranium.

The Colonel's attention was drawn to Paul's exhortation in verses 3 through 7.  In particular, verses 3 and 7.

"3. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart... 7. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?"  

The example of Jesus' suffering is what must be considered as one "endures hardship."

And, our hardships here on earth are God's way of disciplining us.

Just as the Greek language, from which our English language versions of New Testament scripture are translated, has different meanings (agape, eros, philios) of the English word "love," so it has several different meanings that are all translated "discipline."

It's not just God's "punishment" for sin.

It's also God's "training" for greater and harder tasks.

And, it's "correction" aimed at bringing us into closer fellowship with Him.  (Verse 10: "...God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." )

So, when we are in the midst of a particular trial, suffering some hardship, perhaps we should not ask, "Why me, Lord?"

Perhaps we should ask God, "Where have I failed to measure up to your expectations?"

Or, "Show me my sin."

When, early in his time in the Corps, the Colonel learned to apply the discipline of "immediate and willing obedience to commands and orders," he displayed a form "righteousness" in the eyes of his trainers and seniors and harvested the "peace" of their approval.

To paraphrase the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 12: 9, how much more should the Colonel submit to the Father of his spirit and live!    

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