When I was growing up in Marietta, Georgia, North Cobb County, my best friend lived right next door.  His mother, Larry, was like a second mother.  I played at their house all the time, and Larry had my parent’s permission to discipline me just like one of her own.  My dad probably said something like this, “If Robby doesn’t behave himself, don’t hesitate to bust his behind”, and Larry didn’t hesitate if we got out of line or pushed it too far.  Larry had three kids of her own, plus the other neighborhood kids that would come over to play.  Sometimes there would be 8 or 9 of us spending the night at the Dickson’s house.  We were typical kids that could be wild and crazy.  So, every once in a while Larry had to lay down the law, and sometimes a belt was used.

I was no stranger to corporal punishment.  No, I wasn’t abused, but there were times when my parents used a belt, ruler, switch or hand on my behind to get my attention.  It was a different time and culture.  We obviously live in a culture where such disciplinary methods are considered to be archaic and abusive, but it worked on me.  I realize there is a fine line between discipline and abuse, so please don’t get hung up on the whippings I got in the 1970’s.  There were other punishments that included restrictions, groundings, or added chores.  I even got my mouth washed out with soap once.  Busting my behind was usually a last resort and didn’t happen very often, but it was always preceded with the “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it is you” speech.  I didn’t understand that until I become a parent.

My dad was awesome.  He was a loving and caring father.  There was fun and laughter around the house.  He was my best friend when I was an adult, but not so much when I was a kid.  He was tough.  He didn’t put up with certain things, and when you crossed a line you knew it immediately.  One of his favorite forms of discipline was work or chores.  As I’ve shared before, one of my favorites was cleaning horse stalls.  If you’ve ever owned horses, you know what I mean.  I wasn’t one of those kids that got to sleep late every Saturday morning.  My dad had work for us to do.  One of my sister’s friends spent the night on a Friday night, and asked if our dad was going to make us get up early and feed the horses again.  This concept of child labor was foreign to her.  I think my dad may have enjoyed it when we had friends over because we had extra hands.  It wasn’t all work and no play, but a free day to do whatever we wanted was rare.  If chores weren’t done, there would be consequences.

Some may look at this and think that I had a terrible childhood, but I didn’t.  I had an awesome childhood when I behaved, which was most of the time.  When we followed the rules and did what was expected, life was good.  We were rewarded, not extravagantly, but my parents were able to give us some things that we wanted.  Plus, we usually got an allowance, and were encouraged to save money for what we wanted.  Oh, by the way my dad rarely whipped my sister because she would go into hysterics every time he tried, and it worked.  Apparently, I was too stupid to figure that out.

My dad’s love wasn’t conditional.  He loved me whether I was good or not, but behavior and character were a big deal, so discipline was a necessary and useful tool for behavior modification and life training.  There was a plan, a method to his madness. Larry, our neighbor, asked my dad why he was so hard on me, and my dad said, “I’m not here to be his buddy right now.  I’m his father.  I’m trying to get him ready for life on his own.”  There were moments when we had fun and he was a buddy, but there was always an understanding.  For those who are older, you know exactly what I mean.  It was a combination of respect and fear.  It made you think about what you did, and the choices you made.

How many of you remember in the Christmas Story movie when Ralph gets into a fight after school?  There is a scene after the fight where Ralph’s younger brother Randy is hiding inside the kitchen cabinets because he knows his dad is going to be mad about the fight.  He tells his mother, “Daddy’s gonna kill Raphie!”  Mom replies, “Daddy’s not gonna kill Ralphie.”  I know there were times when I felt like dad was going to “kill” me over something I did, but this definition of killing isn’t literal.  Punishment was eminent, but I would survive it. My parents weren’t perfect, but I think they did a good job.  Their parenting philosophy was a good balance of nurture and discipline.  I’m extremely grateful for how I was raised, and my sister and I always knew that we were loved.

For some the definition of love is a ticket to total and complete freedom to do whatever we want with no consequences.  Love means yes to everything.  I know I’m exaggerating, but there is some truth to that definition being played out in our culture.  How many of us have referred to God’s love as “unconditional”? While it is true that God loves us no matter what, He is still God the Father and there are expectations and consequences for our behavior.  If it were not so, there wouldn’t be any commandments, instruction, or correction in the Bible.  There would be no reference to holiness or godliness. There is a certain way He wants us to live.  Sometimes God says NO.

There are examples and demonstrations of love throughout the scriptures, but 1 Corinthians 13, or the love chapter, is where we get our primary Biblical definition of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-12 NIV

It’s easy to point out that love is patient, kind, etc., but there are some other parts of love that get over looked or skipped because they are more challenging, like “love does not delight in evil (or sin) and rejoices in the truth”.  Some may ask, “what truth?”  In our culture, truth is no longer absolute.  There are lot’s of “truths” to choose from, which causes a big problem when there is no “standard” to live by.  Although it’s not popular anymore, the Bible used to be and I believe still is “the truth” or God’s standard for living.

Jesus himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Jesus keeps using this theme throughout John 14.  In verses 21, 23, 24, 31, and then in chapter 15 verse 10, there are similar versions of the same statement, so it’s important.  While it doesn’t say obey, I think it’s understood that to “keep” means to protect, guard, hold on to, observe, practice, follow, and obey.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul also says that he no longer thinks, reasons, or acts like a child.  He “put away childish things”, meaning that he grew up and became a man.  He matured.  His behavior was modified through his own efforts.  He “put away” childish things.  His efforts alone didn’t save him, only grace can do that, but faith and works are supposed to go together.  Read James 2:14-26.

Love is patient, kind, and so many other wonderful things, but it is also a process that pushes or encourages us towards maturity.  God wants us to be complete, fully equipped, and lacking nothing.  God is not content for us to be immature children.  He wants us to grow, and sometimes that’s painful.  Sometimes love hurts.

Love y’all!  Have a great weekend!

Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.