Today, I want to tell you a story that happened several years ago in order to illustrate something I've come to know and love and admire about God.
For many years, my husband and I have been a "big brother and sister" to a boy who has had enormous obstacles in his life. We first met him when he was five, shortly after his mother died of a drug overdose. His father (also a drug addict and physically and emotionally abusive) sent him away at the age of 11 to live with his aunt. Even though her house is only 15 minutes away, this boy's dad pretty much stopped having contact with him shortly after.
Around that time, this poor child had an unbelievable amount of rage inside of him — particularly toward his father — and basically didn't know how to function emotionally in society. He would mistreat girls, cuss at his teachers, and get into fights with boys. He had no impulse control and no boundaries at home. He would try to hit, bite, and kick his aunt — and we feared that when it got to the point where he outweighed her, he'd be able to do some serious damage.
Because of this, I decided to sign him up for a martial arts class. My hopes weren’t high. The class is an hour and a half long, and this boy had the attention span of a flea. Plus, it’s an hour and a half of someone telling you what to do — and a lot of it is hard, physical stuff that you wouldn’t normally want to do unless you were personally motivated. When we visited the dojo and signed up, I had a talk with the instructor and let him know about my concerns. He promised me that he had yet to meet a child he couldn’t help. So, cautiously optimistic, I began taking him to martial arts twice a week.
I couldn't believe what happened. He was a different kid when he walked through the doors of that dojo. The atmosphere there was positive, but it was hard. There were definite expectations, and all the instructors were alpha males. But this boy was soaking it up! I don’t know if it was the attention or the challenge or the atmosphere of respect. Maybe it was a combination of all three, but whatever it was, it was like a miracle.
In one corner of the dojo, there is a box with broken-up stones (a little bigger than gravel) in it called The Box of Pain. If a child has gone off the deep end or is refusing to follow an instruction or just not listening, they end up in this box doing push-ups on their knuckles. Ouch. Mostly, you try to stay out of The Box of Pain. I thought my little guy would be spending whole class periods in there doing push-ups on his knuckles. But he was never sent there once.
He knew that his martial arts instructor meant business. And he totally responded to that! Every time I took him to a class, I couldn't believe how positive he was. And it didn't take long for him to start to change. Before long, he was beginning to think about discipline, self-control, and respect. The more he went to the dojo, the more he felt confident and good about himself.
I couldn’t help but think of my little guy again (now all grown up!) as I read Leviticus 22 and encountered God’s instructions for "respecting" the sanctuary and its offerings. I think God was trying to do with the Israelites in a spiritual way what these martial arts classes did for my little friend. God had pulled the Israelites out of a land of spiritual chaos and confusion. They were wild, with little impulse control, willing — at a moment’s notice — to strap on a sword and start killing each other.
So, one of the first things God needed them to know was that He meant business. They would respect Him. They would respect each other. They would follow the rules. Or they just might end up doing knuckle push-ups in The Box of Pain.
God wants us to approach Him with respect. And, if needs be, He will begin by shouting at us with smoke and thunder from the top of Mount Sinai. Yes, He is infinitely friendly. (So was the master at the dojo!) But He will not shy away from "harsh" rules and regulations, if necessary. When He uses those, however, they are for the benefit of the students, not the teacher.
Only when we come to God and take Him seriously are we in the right frame of mind to learn from Him. He has so much He wants to teach us. And so much of it has to do with forgiving and loving ourselves so that we are willing to forgive and love others. But first, we must know that He means business.