Mr. Nestye was a piece of work—or so we thought. “Why,” we wondered, “is our high school principal always hassling us?” As typical teenagers, we often looked for creative ways to buck authority, but as honors students, we also excelled in the classroom. In our youthful reasoning, we felt that we deserved a little latitude and that school authorities would do better to focus on the really bad kids—of which our school seemed to have no shortage.
Mr Nestye, however, stayed on us like a cornerback on a wide receiver. Often, he would magically pop out of the woodwork just as we were about to do something mischievous. Although irritated by his vigilance, we sometimes humored ourselves by making a game of it. Hiding our hall pass, my buddies and I would sneak around the school like we were up to no good. Then, just as Mr. Nestye pounced, we’d pull out the pass and laugh at his awkward response.
One day, we decided to ask the big question. “Why? Why is it that you are always giving us a hard time when there are some really bad dudes that you virtually ignore? We’re the good kids!” His response caught my teenage mind off guard. “To be honest, I’ve pretty much given up on most of them. Some of those guys are worthless and will never amount to anything. But I have hope for you. I think that you can make something of your lives and so I am doing my best to keep you from going down a wrong path.”
Our principal’s comments didn’t mean a whole lot at the time, but almost forty years later, I say, “Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Nestye! I finally get it.” Having reared children of my own, I now understand the connection between love and discipline. A wise and loving parent will never leave a child to his or her own devices.
In a similar vein, God disciplines His children because He cares deeply for our well-being. The worst thing God could possibly do is to allow us to have our own way. I think we sometimes struggle with this concept because we often see discipline as being punitive. Do wrong; get punished. That’s the way we think the process works. But God’s discipline of His children isn’t punitive, it’s formative. Our loving Father disciplines us through various means in order to eternally form us into the image of Christ. God isn’t looking to punish us; He wants to grow us!
I’ve been pretty tough on conservative Christians as of late, but it’s not because I am against the evangelical church. On the contrary, I believe that religious conservatives do well in recognizing Jesus as the one hope of humanity. They also stand strong in seeking to uphold the integrity of God’s word. Without the inspirational authority of the Bible, we are all in serious trouble.
I applaud those who seek to stand for righteousness, but I think we can do better. Righteousness isn’t simply a legal concept relating to right and wrong. It is also a moral term which finds its expression in real life relationships. From a Christian perspective, morality and love should be inseparable. If our own moral superiority causes us to look down with contempt upon those who fail to meet our standards, we have missed the heart of true righteousness.
I think that too much of what we do and say is in the name of Christ only; it’s really about ourselves and what we stand to lose. If we truly love God, and if we truly care about others, our attitudes will show it. We don’t have to agree with people’s actions or beliefs in order to treat them with honor and respect. We need only to see them as precious souls for whom Christ sacrificially gave His life. Jesus wants to reach and reconcile the “godless heathen” every bit as much as He sought to reach and reconcile each one of us.
My friends and co-laborers for Christ, we can do better—much better!