Learning: The Discipline of Radiance

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Ever heard of “SDL”. No! I’m not talking about a daytime version of Saturday night live, I’m talking about a style of teaching. It’s called Self-directed learning. It came on the scene when Maurice Gibbons published a book titled, “Walk-about: Searching for the Right Passage from Childhood to School.” The year? 1974, which just happened to be the same year that I entered the ninth grade at Jacksonville Junior High School.

Now in “SDL” the individual takes the initiative and the responsibility for what occurs. Individuals select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, which can be pursued at any time, in any place, through any means, at any age. Teaching emphasizes SDL skills, processes, and systems rather than content coverage and tests. For the individual, SDL involves initiating personal challenge activities and developing the personal qualities to pursue them successfully.

And you are looking at someone has experienced SDL. Let me rephrase that: You’re looking at some one who was victimized by SDL. O yes, I walked into my Algrebra class and became part of an SDL experiment. We were told that we were going to be “self-directed.” We would move at our own pace, manage our own learning and assess our own learning activities. If we wanted to do 10 problems that day we could. If we wanted to do one problem that day we could. If we’d rather sit there and play paper football that day, we could.

So here I am a ninth grade boy with friends to talk to and girls to impress. (OK, I wasn’t too impressive, but its my story!) So here’s my dilemma: algebra problems or paper football. Hmm, wonder which I should choose? Well, I’ll give you one guess! That’s right, I became a super, paper bowl champ, and algebra waited until the 10th grade!

Now, I’m sure Maurice might say that I wasn’t handled correctly and maybe he’d be right. My purpose is not to prove to you how bad SDL is, it is simply to illustrate this one principle: Every person you know needs limits; a lack of accountability sabotages excellence.

You see it on college campuses. Kids arrive on most university campuses looking for an expression of the freedom that they think they lacked at home and the results can be disastrous. And in the middle of the campus there’s usually a display with people sitting at a table offering credit cards to college students. What a dumb idea! Let’s see: Most of them are living on daddy’s dime. They have no job and little income, but they’ve got a credit card with a $5000 limit. And it is precisely that kind of freedom which often sacrifices their future.

You see it in the Walmart. You walk in and you think someone is dying. Loud screams are coming from several aisles away. Bloodcurdling wails punctuate the elevator music and you round the corner in the toy section to see 3-year-old Johnny, laying in the floor, throwing a temper because his mom dared to suggest that the $50 toy might not be the best choice for her budget. Now the child psychologist might eell you that Johnny needs more effective ways of self-expression. I say that what Johnny needs are LIMITS!

You see, true freedom requires boundaries. Real liberation demands limits. It’s like that in our spiritual life as well. We start talking about living a “radiant life” and how that depends on having an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, not on “rules” and some begin to think SDL. “Hey, I can go at my own pace. No one can tell me what to do. I’m a self-directed Christian. Others may need to have a daily quiet time, but not me, I’m an SDL Christian. Others may need to be faithful in church attendance, but not me. I’m an SDL Christian. Others may need to guard what they watch on TV, but not me. I’m an SDL Christian.”

But here’s something you must never forget: SDLChristians are not radiant Christians. No! Confident, radiant believers are disciplined believers. You see that right here in Psalm 34. The psalmist talks about our intimacy with God and then, right in the middle of the chapter, it almost seems like he goes “off message.” Read it with me.

Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good?

In other words, you want the good life? You want the confidence we’ve talked about? You want to radiate the glory of God? Here’s what you do:

Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit. (Uh-oh . . . RULES! Wow I wanted this on the SDL) Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

Quite simply, there are some requirements to radiance that you can’t escape. There are some boundaries you can’t violate. Let me give you a couple of them right from these verses. First of all, radiance requires:



v 11 says there, “Come my children, listen to me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” O, man! That sounds like it might take some effort. “Hey, Rusty,” you might be saying, “I want to be radiant, but I don’t want to have to learn to do it. Isn’t there some other way?” Well, no there isn’t. There are no short cuts to the radiant life. It involves learning.

But notice how this verse speaks of learning. It doesn’t just tell us to learn, it also describes how we learn. It first begins with an attitude of humility. Notice that is says, “Come my children. . .” Learning requires the teachable heart of a child. No one successfully boasts of his PhD. in God’s presence. If we are to learn from Him, we must become children. Isn’t that what Jesus said. He said, “ . . . whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Learning begins with an attitude. It involves humility.

It also involves listening. This is the action of learning. He says “Come my children, Listen to me and I will teach you.” Now in a way that has a lot to do with the humility that we’ve already mentioned. I mean, having a teachable spirit would imply that you were willing to listen, but I think that listening goes beyond a willingness to a developed ability to hear God. Why else do some believers seem to have a good handle on what God is saying to them while others seem to have no clue. It may be that some have developed the skill of listening while others have not. Part of careful learning is careful listening. Hey! When you have your prayer time, do you do all of the talking, or do you take some time of silence to let the Lord speak to you. I will tell you that this skill of listening is not something that one develops overnight, but I will also tell you that listening to the Lord is a key factor in becoming a confident radiant Christian. Careful learning involves an attitude and an action.

But it also involves a direction. Notice what the psalmist says is to be taught. “Come my children, listen to me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord. This is the ultimate goal of our learning: fearing the Lord. Now I know that may seem a little strange to some. Typical academics may see that as being a bit “weird.” It seems to them that when I learn about something I actually have my fear removed. For instance, I may fear thunderstorms and attibute them to greek gods bowling in the sky or something till I learn about weather and understand what makes all that noise in a thunderstorm. Academics would say that knowledge removes fear.

I say that it all depends upon what you’re getting to know. If I am learning of some scientific process, maybe knowledge will reduce my fear, but when I am learning about the mighty God of the universe, the more I know, the more I fear. Now the idea of that fear is reverence. The more I know of God the more I reverence Who He is and What He can do. And the more I reverence Him and learn of Him and His goodness, the more I learn to Trust Him.


There is a verse in the NT about the disciples that says, “They saw Jesus . . . walking on the water; and they were terrified.” Max Lucado says of this verse:

Faith is often the child of fear.

Fear propelled Peter out of the boat. He’d ridden these waves before. He knew what these storms could do. He’d heard the stories. He’d seen the wreckage. He knew the widows. He knew the storm could kill. And he wanted out.

All night he wanted out. For nine hours he’d tugged on sails, wrestled with oars, and searched every shadow on the horizon for hope. He was soaked to the soul and bone weary of the wind’s banshee wail.

Look into Peter’s eyes and you won’t see a man of conviction. Search his face and you won’t find a gutsy grimace. Later on, you will. You’ll see his courage in the garden. You’ll witness his devotion at Pentecost. You’ll behold his faith in his epistles.

But not tonight. Look into his eyes tonight and see fear—a suffocating, heart-racing fear of a man who has no way out.

But out of this fear would be born an act of faith, for faith is often the child of fear.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” wrote the wise man.

Peter could have been his sermon illustration.

If Peter had seen Jesus walking on the water during a calm, peaceful day, do you think that he would have walked out to him?

Nor do I.

Had the lake been carpet smooth and the journey pleasant, do you think that Peter would have begged Jesus to take him on a stroll across the top of the water? Doubtful.

But give a man a choice between sure death and a crazy chance, and he’ll take the chance … every time.

Great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation.

It wasn’t logic that caused Moses to raise his staff on the bank of the Red Sea.

It wasn’t medical research that convinced Naaman to dip seven times in the river.

It wasn’t common sense that caused Paul to abandon the Law and embrace grace.

And it wasn’t a confident committee that prayed in a small room in Jerusalem for Peter’s release from prison. It was a fearful, desperate, band of backed-into-a-corner believers. It was a church with no options. A congregation of have-nots pleading for help.

And never were they stronger.

At the beginning of every act of faith, there is often a seed of fear.

Biographies of bold disciples begin with chapters of honest terror. Fear of death. Fear of failure. Fear of loneliness. Fear of a wasted life. Fear of failing to know God.

Faith begins when you see God on the mountain and you are in the valley and you know that you’re too weak to make the climb. You see what you need … you see what you have … and what you have isn’t enough to accomplish anything.

Peter had given it his best. But his best wasn’t enough.

Moses had a sea in front and an enemy behind. The Israelites could swim or they could fight. But neither option was enough.

Naaman had tried the cures and consulted the soothsayers. Traveling a long distance to plunge into a muddy river made little sense when there were clean ones in his backyard. But what option did he have?

Paul had mastered the Law. He had mastered the system. But one glimpse of God convinced him that sacrifices and symbols were not enough.

The Jerusalem church knew that they had no hope of getting Peter out of prison. They had Christians who would fight, but too few. They had clout, but too little. They didn’t need muscle. They needed a miracle.

So does Peter. He is aware of two facts: He is going down, and Jesus is staying up. He knows where he would rather be.


“What does this have to do with radiance?” you might be asking. Let me show you how all of this learning creates a radiant, confident believer. In the first place, it is faith that leads to radiance. Listen! It is the ability to have confidence in God that makes you radiate His glory in the middle of the darkest night or the strongest storm. Psalm 34:5 says that “they looked to Him and were radiant.” That’s the key. Faith leads to radiance.

Well, if faith leads to radiance, it is fear that leads to faith . . . the fear of the Lord, that is. I learn that I am weak and He is strong, and I learn that I cannot trust myself, but I can trust Him.

And if faith leads to raidance and fear leads to faith, then what leads us to fear? Well it is knowledge. I learn how awesome and powerful God is and it is that knowledge that causes me to reverence Him and realize that there is no problem He can’t solve and no situation He cannot handle. Faith leads to radiance, fear leads to faith, knowledge leads to fear.

But here comes the part we have trouble with, for you see, it is discipline that leads to knowledge. If I am to know God, I must know His word and spend time in His presence. There are no shortcuts in developing this relationship with Christ. I must study; I must pray; I must immerse myself in the Word of God; I must carefully learn Who He is and that requires discipline.

There are boundaries and requirements that must be followed if I am to experience the radiance God promises. Radiance requires careful learning. But it also requires



It is interesting that the first specific discipline the psalmist speaks of when encouraging a radiant life is controlling the tongue. In that he foreshadows James in the New Testament who wrote: “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Simply stated, if you can control your tongue, you can control your body.

Specifically, v 13 says that we should “keep our tongue from evil.” The problem with an evil tongue is that the one who possesses it has the wrong kind of fear. The fear of man causes you to speak evily. When I fear what others think of me, I have to lift myself by putting others down. When I put others down, I usually end up slandering and belittling them.

You know the drill: I want you to think I’m all that and a bag of chips, so I talk about how low down others are, judging them and comparing myself to them. I make myself look good at their expense, and it all flows out of my fear of men.

But when I fear God, my speech changes. When I fear God, I care more about what He thinks of me than about what others think of me, and, since I want Him to approve of my life, I carefully watch what I say about others. I keep my tongue from evil.

You say, “That’s great, Rusty, but what does it have to do with radiating the glory of God?” Well, just this: When I am the same person to your face as I am behind your back I can look you in the eye without a guilty conscience. Have you ever had another person whom you talked about that, after you’ve slandered them, you’ve then been in a conversation with them, and all of a sudden had all that stuff you’d been saying flash across the screen of your mind? What does that do to your confidence? It makes you feel like a hypocrite, that’s what! I cannot be a radiant believer if I’m two-faced! And usually, if I am two-faced, its just a matter of time till I’m found out.


Mildred Fister's beauty parlor in Jefferson, Iowa, has an unusual rule. Mildred refuses to allow gossip. A columnist for the Des Moines Register reacted this way:

This is a beauty parlor, for goodness' sake, one of those places women come to say things—loving, kind, unkind, and, sure, maybe downright nasty—about their friends and neighbors—whether it's true or not.

It's as basic in a beauty parlor as a blow dry. Isn't it?

"Not here," [Fister] says. There is absolutely no talking about other people in Mildred Fister's shop. Talk about you and yours if you like. . .but in the meantime, no gossip. At least [Fister] doesn't have to worry about keeping secrets….

She knows secrets because she's a friend to everybody who comes in the place. They know she can be trusted.

"Sometimes people don't have anybody to talk to," she said. "So they confide in me. They tell me things about themselves. They know I'll never repeat what they say."

That's better than gossip.

It's called friendship.


The psalmist says, “keep your tongue from evil,” and then he adds, “and your lips from speaking deceit.” Speaking lies is the second way I try to deceive others into thinking that I am something I am not. Again, the motive of this deceit is the fear of man.

Have you ever met someone who bragged about things you knew were obviously false.


Joseph Ellis became a best selling author, but even before his writing, he was famous for his vivid lectures. His classes at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts were popular because he would often puncuate his lectures with memories of his own combat experience in Vietnam. As Ellis's reputation grew—his books on the Founding Fathers have won both the prestigious National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize—the history professor began to regale local and national reporters with his memories of war.

Last year, after The Boston Globe carried accounts of Ellis's experience as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, someone who knew the truth about Ellis dropped a dime. Last week the Globe revealed that Ellis, famous for explaining the nation's history, had explaining to do about his own past.

"Even in the best of lives, mistakes are made," said an abject Ellis. It turned out that while the eminent historian had served in the Army, he'd spent his war years not in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but teaching history at West Point. He'd also overstated his role in the anti-war movement and even his high-school athletic record. His admission shocked colleagues, fellow historians, and students, who wondered why someone so accomplished would embellish his past. It’s simple really. It’s a matter of fear, a fear that somehow he wouldn’t measure up to all he thought he should in the eyes of others.

And when I live in lies, I live in bondage.

But, when I fear God, I speak truth.

Since God is true we are to walk in the truth. Fearing Him, we are to be subject to His truth. Or, to put it another way, out of our awe and reverence for God we are to be so secure that we fear no man—and thus we will tell the truth. When we are weak before God, we will be strong before the world. When we come to love God’s truth, we will hate the devil’s lies.

The result of the fear of God on my tongue is that I am able to be radiant. I do not fear men and so I do not have to keep up appearances. Accepted by God, I speak the truth in love and let the chips fall where they may. I am LIBERATED!


Someone wrote:

On a beautiful fall day, four of my granddaughter's friends decided to go for a drive instead of showing up to class on time. When they did arrive, the girls explained to the teacher they had had a flat tire. The teacher accepted the excuse, much to the girls' relief.

"Since you missed this morning's quiz, you must take it now," she said. "Please sit in the four corner seats in this room without talking." When they were seated, the teacher said, "On your paper write the answer to one question: 'Which tire was flat?'"

Those poor young ladies discovered what Abraham Lincoln already knew: No one has a good enough memory to lie.


Let me ask you three very specific questions about your speech this morning. First, are you speaking gossip? The Bible is very clear about a gossiping tongue. James, as a matter of fact calls the tongue . . .

. . . an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so

Yet, even though the Bible is so clear, we still try to justify it, don’t we? We say we’re just sharing information that the other person needs to know, or we give prayer requests, or, if all other rationalizations fail, we say, “Well, everything I said is true!” or “I’d say it to his face if he were here.” All of these are simply manifestations of a wicked heart. If I am to be radiant, I must keep my tongue from evil. So are you speaking gossip?

The second question is this: Are you speaking lies? We live in a society today where truth is whatever you perceive it to be. But we must never forget that truth isn’t what I perceive it to be, but what God says it is. It is so easy in this day of relativism to fudge the truth. So, are you speaking lies? What about with your kids? Are you telling them the truth? What about with your spouse? God any secrets that you’ve been bottling up that you need to get into the open? What about with your boss at work? Are you completely honest with him? What about with the IRS? Do you cheat?

The third question is this: Are you speaking pain? What I mean is this: Fathers and mothers, your tongue can either build your children up or tear them down. Some parents think they’re just making their kids tough with their harsh put-downs, but the truth is words can hit as hard as a fist. There are certain things you can say to your kids and certain attitudes with which you say them that will destroy them. I know you say you don’t mean them and you just lost your temper, but the truth is, if you really didn’t mean them, you wouldn’t say them, and, whether you mean them or not, a thousand apologies will never erase them from your child’s mind. Are you speaking pain?


You might be saying, “Yes, but what does this have to do with being a radiant believer?” Just this: When I really know the Lord, I know that He is the only one I have to fear. I come to that knowledge through a careful learning of His Word that teaches me what He’s like. And when I come to fear Him, I have no reason to fear anybody else. So I give up trying to impress others by putting others down or bragging about my own exploits. I am so full of God that I am empty of myself. And in the emptiness of that fullness, I can radiate the Glory of God.
















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