This series of posts comes from a workshop / seminar I gave to a collection of youth leaders in Superior, WI called: Discipline w/ the Gospel in Mind.

// How does God parent? How does God discipline and disciple His people?

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet, he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the father to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).

How does God parent you and me? Well, it’s simple actually:

  1. Grace
  2. Natural Consequences

God is known for His radical grace. We often don’t understand it. We often are offended by it. Especially when people get it that don’t deserve it. We have to understand that God’s grace was so costly and Jesus took the punishment we deserved. This is the Gospel.

God parents us with with grace, compassion, slow anger, abounding love and faithfulness, a love that is maintained not ignored, forgiveness of wickedness, rebellion and sin.

  • Do you believe that God has forgiven you?
  • Do you believe God loves you, even in spite of your sin?
  • Do you believe that God is not angry at you?
  • Do you believe that God is faithful? or do you believe that God is fickle with you? that only when you are good, does God go: “Okay, I like you now… but only when you aren’t sinning?

Pastor Tim Keller, whenever he talks about the Gospel, often says:

“To the degree you understand the love and holiness of God that makes grace so costly (what it actually cost God to remove your sin), will create a restructured heart.”

In other words:

What degree do you believe the Gospel that God lavishes His grace on ALL humanity, even someone so wicked and in need of God’s grace as myself?

God’s grace is there. It’s right there. It’s always right there. All we have to do is repent and believe the Gospel. You see, we can’t even begin to parent our children or disciple students (or anyone around us for that matter) unless we believe the Gospel. Unless we believe God’s grace for ourselves.

And yet, as Exodus goes on to say, In this world, there are consequences for sin. This is what happens in a world which is broken.

  • If I look at porn, the consequences is that I look and treat my wife differently. I’m looking to an artificial thing to “save” me.
  • If I steal, the consequences are that I get labeled a thief and punished according to the law. I’m looking to needing someTHING to satisfy me.
  • If I get angry and lash out at others, the consequences are broken relationships and destroyed trust. I’m looking to control the circumstances around me because I’m so out of control.

Adults, of all people, understand natural consequences. If you swipe that credit card too much without $$ to be able to pay it back in a timely fashion, then you default on that credit card and collection agencies start calling and knocking on your door. The consequence just doesn’t go away.

Children, need to be protected to a certain degree from natural consequences. I’m not going to allow the natural consequence of getting hit by a logging truck teach my daughter not to walk across the highway when the signs says to wait. But our kids do need to wisely understand that there are consequences to doing something wrong in life. Having grace is not protecting from consequences. Consequences are a great natural teacher of what is okay to do in this world, and what isn’t okay to do in this world.

So sometimes we need to allow certain wise natural consequences (when their life isn’t in danger) and we need to contrive certain wise consequences.

Contrived consequences are things that you as a parent come up with to help teach a lesson when your child did something wrong. Our kids get toys placed in time-out as a contrived consequence. Other parents take away keys to the family car as a contrived consequence. At our middle school youth group, a contrived consequence I use is not coming to youth for a couple of weeks or so. Sometimes natural consequences are best, sometimes contrived consequences are best. This is where parenting and discipleship can get really creative and sort of fun.

// Case Study

There is a middle school boy named Jimmy. Another kid paid him a quarter to go and kick someone in the privates while waiting in line for snacks. Jimmy took his paid “hit man/private kicker” seriously and proceeded to fulfill his client’s wishes. It seemed much clearer for Jimmy that he shouldn’t have done that when I was talking with him in my office a few minutes later (hindsight brings such clarity to things, doesn’t it?!) than it did at the time. However, if this was an isolated incident with Jimmy, then the consequence would have been different. This was not an isolated occurrence. Jimmy often acts up because he needs attention. No one pays attention to him at home, so whenever and wherever Jimmy is, he wants the attention on himself. As you can imagine, this can cause all sorts of issues when we are trying to minister to other middle school students in a controlled chaotic setting.

In our conversation that night, I asked Jimmy what thought I should do about the nut-kicking as well as all the other things. He was stumped. He didn’t know. Now grace is NOT me letting Jimmy  off the hook. Grace is what I said next: “Jimmy, it kills me that the only thing I think will ‘teach’ you something is not coming to youth for 3 weeks. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t let you keep hurting people without you knowing that it costs you something.” I said this calmly and gently and with sincere remorse. Why? Because the one place Jimmy needed to be WAS youth. He cried. I nearly did, too. Do you want to know why? Because I asked to pray for him. And I did. I prayed that during his 3 weeks off from youth that he would think about who he’s hurting and how that affects others. I prayed that he would ask and seek God for strength to change.

Without me even asking him to do this, and without trying to change my mind, Jimmy went to the one he kicked and apologized, knowing full well that this wasn’t going to change the consequence. He also apologized to his small group leader for not being able to make it the next 3 weeks due to his behavior.

Do you know what caused that change of heart? Grace!!! The Gospel! I had NOTHING to do with that! It wasn’t some sort of trick I have up my sleeve. It’s the Gospel at work in the life of a screwed up teenager, just like it’s at work in a screwed up youth pastor.

Do you see why grace and consequences are so important? If you don’t know that your sin cost your parents something. That your sin cost God something. Then we don’t really care what we do.