Taking a hard line

What son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 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!  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.  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       Hebrews 12 v 7-11

The writer to the Hebrews took it for granted that discipline is part of the package in the father/son relationship – it was unthinkable in that culture that any legitimate son would not be trained and ‘brought up’ with his father’s values deeply ingrained in him.  We don’t know what form that discipline took… it was apparently ‘painful at the time’ – yet it engendered respect and led to a righteous life.  Surely that training, using reward and punishment, is a key element of every father’s role in the life of a child?

Proud dad: my own father with his youngest son

These days – in our western culture at least – we are much more focussed on the equally important aspects of love, warmth and kindness.  We, quite rightly, no longer hold with the draconian corporal punishment as seen in Victorian costume dramas on TV – no more ‘sir’ and fathers as aloof strangers, with cold distance and non-communication between the generations – instead we have ‘new men’ in touch with their emotions and able to express them to their children.  That’s all good – but as any parent knows, within that context of affection and security, good discipline remains part of the child-rearing package. My own experience was that doing that properly was time-consuming and challenging – in fact I had to discipline myself in order to discipline them: hence the saying, ‘This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you’!

This whole debate has hit the headlines with a vengeance in the past week because commentators are saying that ‘fatherlessness’ is a root issue behind the extreme and lawless behaviour of hundreds of young people running riot on our streets.  This lack surely includes both the positive element of investment and relationship with a good male role model and the setting of boundaries and direction that every child needs to feel safe.  Perhaps it doesn’t happen when the older generation of men had the same lack in their own upbringing… or maybe, with the breakdown in family and single motherhood in some areas being the norm, the fathers are simply not there at all. Apparently that is why boys are drawn into gang culture, where there is a strong leader and ‘father-figure’…

Meanwhile the government is cracking down with serious and exemplary sentences for every type of criminal activity perpetrated by children of all ages, bringing home the consequences of irresponsibility and selfishness perhaps a little too late for some of these youths. So is the government a kind of father-figure too, I wonder, enforcing discipline and laying down the law?  In Galatians 3 Paul describes the law as a ‘schoolmaster’ and in Romans 13 is very clear about their God-given authoritative role: it doesn’t sound at all ‘fatherly’/cuddly/loving – but maybe it’s because authority is an aspect of fathering that has been neglected in parts of our society that this hard line is now necessary.

‘The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience’                                                                                                   Romans 13v1-5

Yesterday as I watched the speeches coming from Parliament, with both sides of the house lining up together to condemn the rioting and looting, Cameron’s ‘fight back’ speech, Ed Milliband declaring Labour was standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the Coalition in this matter… I actually did feel more secure.  Someone had taken charge, stood up and told the country what was going to happen.  Perhaps it was no accident that these troubles flared when Parliament was in recess and the Prime Minister out of the country – and there was also no head of the Metropolitan police in post.  There has been a leadership vacuum – perhaps a spiritual vacuum – and as we know from Scripture, when that happens everyone does ‘what is right in their own eyes’ (Judges 21.25).

All these are just random thoughts – politics is not a subject I feel easy talking about! But having stood ‘in the gap’ for a new generation for so many years, prayed for those younger ones who will rise up and take hold of the future with both hands and bring new hope and restoration to our land, having called for and sought to exemplify those who will be the mothers and fathers that they need, supporting them with wisdom and humility, cheering them on – and also having prayed intensely into the issue of ‘fatherlessness’ in England… well it all strikes quite a deep chord that I cannot ignore.  Here we are seeing a younger generation taking the law into their own hands, causing destruction and even death.  This is not what we want to see – this does not even have the dignity of those who rose up in the Arab Spring against dictatorships: this is a shame to our nation, the opposite of what we have been looking for in an emerging generation.

In addition to that, yesterday’s date was 11.8.11.  As I have said before, I am alert to numbers and dates, always looking for where the Lord may be pointing, what He might be saying through them… just because that is how I have discerned His whispers in the past.  This year 2011, is proving to be what I have called a watershed year – 11 is the number that marks huge transition in Scripture.  So on 11.2.11 we saw Mubarak fall and 11.3.11 was the date of the Japanese tsunami – both huge transition events.  In the ensuing months God has continued to encourage me with key personal events that have underlined and marked out our changing role as parents: eg, 11.6.11 was the day Sam and Jessa got the keys to their flat and on 11.7.11 Jess was 21.  So, Lord, what about 11.8.11?  Is there a sign I should be seeing? Especially as 8 signifies new beginnings and resurrection 😉

Yesterday, as if in answer to my desire for a sign, the old door with the new ERA lock was wide open.  It is the first time I have ever seen it like that, propped open with a brick so I could see all the way through.  I think it must have been moving day for the new tenants, as the Strawberry Lettings sign had also been removed… If you have been following my strange relationship with this particular door over the past months you’ll know this was quite a big deal… but I was feeling cynical and cross: what good is a sign of the new opening up when it is all so hard and discouraging in the heat of the battle at the gate! With the fear, anger and debate engendered in the nation and the continued uncertainty and tensions in our own situation… I am fed up with the bl**dy door, even if it does signify a new era!

However, when I got home there was something a little more substantial – the lump sum from our remortgage to put down as a deposit on Sam and Jessa’s new house had arrived in our account!  That’s something I can get my teeth into at least – even if it is an investment in new beginnings for them which is going to cost us a lot of luxuries… It came not a moment too soon, as Sam was on the phone before bed saying the bank have frozen his account for going over his overdraft. Oh Lord, give me strength! It is definitely time for some parental discipline in this family!

So what’s all this about? I think it’s a warning once again about the contesting that happens at a new doorway, the reality of the cost and sacrifice involved – and a call to maturity and self-control.  I know there is an emerging generation waiting to breakthrough for the kingdom, but there is also an assault by the forces of evil.  11.8.11 is telling us it is a watershed moment in new beginnings but there are both right and wrong ways of going about that.  It asks us to choose which side we are on – will we submit to discipline or will we run riot? Will we rise up as mothers and fathers in this land, not just to pray but to invest in and set safe boundaries for the children? And will the emerging generation show care and self-control, heeding the wisdom of their fathers or ‘sell their inheritance for a single meal’ (Hebrews 12v6)? Might it even be a bit of a mixture, and that as in so many cases, bad can be turned to good? Maybe apart from or even because of all the prayer that is going on, can this can be a catalyst that will produce life: as the Riot Clean Ups website says, ‘in the early hours of the third night’s rioting, the hashtag #riotcleanup started trending ahead of #londonriots – a victory for positivity!’

Proverbs 29v18 says it all: ‘Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint – but blessed is he who keeps the law’.  It is the vision for a new future that will keep us on track and moving forward through the open door – but the discipline and focus of the Olympic athletes is the example to follow, rather than the anything goes, rabble rousing of the bored mob. In our eagerness to move forward it can never be every man for himself, but instead love and servant-heartedness – and those words we love to hate: law and order, restraint and discipline.  It is vision that provides river banks for the flood of excitement and desire for adventure – and hope and faith that keep us determinedly on course:  

Don’t give up – keep toeing the line: ‘Though it tarry, it will surely come…’ Habakkuk 2v3  

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About Sally Ann

True-story teller - words and pictures
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