The Discipline of Unpleasant Things

I’ve been off the grid – off the blogosphere – for 21 days, and there is a reason: the last 21 days have been a mix of whirlwind, grind, ordeal, and upheaval…while we packed up our house and moved. Moved. To a new location in Cincinnati. Out of our house of 20 years, into an apartment, while we continue to look for another home. Our house sold in less than 24 hours back in March, and the prospective owners wanted to close the deal on April 24, so we had to find a house in 5 weeks, or find an apartment for the short term. We did not find a house, and are currently in a six month lease with an apartment complex not far from where we were living. So for the last three weeks (longer for my poor wife), we have been in the process of packing up the house and making arrangements to move.  Now in the midst of all this, from April 8-20, to be exact, I was supposed to be in New York City, Europe and Decatur Ala. for City to City work and a speaking engagement at a missions conference. If I would have kept those engagements, which were scheduled long before we put our house on the market, I would have left my wife to finish the packing, manage the move and the find an apartment by herself.IMG_0660

I was a bit slow to realize what that might mean for Becky, but eventually wised up and realized to be gone during that time would be, well, unwise. So I canceled the Europe portion of the trip. (I had to be in NYC for 2 days, then a week later in Decatur for the Sunday speaking engagement. That was doable.) Becky was glad, it was a necessary and good decision, and I made my contribution to the move.  With our closing on 24 April, this particular week leading up to it was the proverbial “game seven”  of the moving experience: pressure, physical exertion (I have a balky back), exhaustion, frustration, anticipation, hope, patience, impatience, ad nauseam. Moving involves activities that I detest. I now have a clear vision of what hell will be like: moving vans, boxes, tape guns, U-Haul trucks, trailers, POD storage units (nothing against these good vendors, of course, they just are part of the image in my mind), constantly moving from one place to another, carrying boxes up and down stairs, cleaning house, carrying away trash…

And yet, for all my bad attitudes and inner complaining, there is redemption (even) in moving. It’s the discipline of unpleasant things. IMG_0615Life is full of unpleasant things, the moving experience being among the most unpleasant. But it’s a form of divine discipline, and ultimately good, as a hard workout is unpleasant but good in the long run. God tells us that “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant”(Hebrews 12).  Amen. The beauty of the realism of God’s word.

The phrase “discipline of unpleasant things” randomly came out of my mouth Friday morning as our men’s Bible study was in the process of each of us sharing what the Lord was teaching us.  I’m pretty sure it’s not original, but it really captured what I have been experiencing, and it resonated with the guys. Our text that morning was Mark 6, the feeding of the 5000, and I saw it from a different lens this time around. It occurred to me (and thanks for the insight from Alan Cole’s commentary) that the disciples were experiencing the discipline of unpleasant things there in the middle of nowhere: they’re tired after an exhausting mission, their private retreat with Jesus was blown up by the crowds who found out where they were, it’s late in the day, they’re hungry, and they really want the people to go away. The disciples were irritated by it all and you can hear it in their remark “this is a desolate place and the hour is now late. Send them away…” Of course Jesus replies “you give them something to eat.” They proceed to organize everybody into groups of fifties and hundreds, no easy task with 5000+ hungry, needy, excited men, women, and children. The miracle of the feeding follows, and everybody’s having a good time. Then, the disciples get to pick up after this gigantic picnic in the middle of nowhere. Think that was fun? Life is not a constant flow of miracles. There are the occasional mighty works of God and the accompanying energizing faith. But in between there is the “discipline of unpleasant things.” We know the value of discipline, it’s all through the Bible.

I often grumble and complain about it.

IMG_0659That’s not good. But it isn’t meant to be fun. And yet it is redemptive. The comfort is that it is good for us, it produces good things, and we follow in the steps of our Master who endured the discipline of far greater unpleasant things for us and for our salvation. Now that the move is over – we closed yesterday and handed over the keys to our wonderful house of 20 years (why did we move, you ask? to get rid of climbing stairs, for us, our aging parents, our grandchildren) – we can get some rest, pray, and reflect on God’s faithfulness to discipline us for our good, that we might share in his holiness, and inhabit His house for eternity.

How do you experience the “discipline of unpleasant things?”


Why I Believe in the Resurrection

Easter Sunday reminds us that that Jesus has come, the resurrection has started, and we are on the path to the new heavens and new earth. There’s a lot to look forward to, as well as the hope today that the power of the resurrection has invaded our world (our churches, our lives), and that our labor in the Lord is “not in vain.” Why am I full of hope? Because I believe Jesus rose from the dead, and is the first installment of the resurrection to follow, for all who believe. Why do I believe in the resurrection? I have six reasons that I find compelling:

1. The empty tomb. It was open, the stone rolled away. There was nobody there. The grave clothes were left intact. The women could not have gone to the wrong tomb. They saw where He was laid to rest two days before. John and Peter came and saw. No body was ever produced. No martyr’s grave for veneration exists. tomb-front

2. The eyewitnesses. There were many who saw the empty tomb and saw Jesus himself. No one was expecting a resurrection and they had a hard time believing it until they saw Him.  Most notable was Thomas, who steadfastly refused to believe until he touched the nail prints. Jesus came to him, invited him to touch, and the famous response: “My Lord and my God!” He was seen by over 500 people.

3. The rise of the church. Messiahs don’t get hung from a tree, a normal Jew would assert. Saviors don’t get crucified, a normal Greek or Roman  would reason. Unless he was crucified and then bodily raised from the dead. How else do we account for the rapid rise of the church, at first largely composed of Jews and then increasingly populated by Gentiles? The rise was rapid, steady and continued through local and empire wide persecutions. IMG00075-20100619-1110

4. The change of the Sabbath day to the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was a Jewish cultural and religious institution,  a sign that marked them as belonging to God from their inception as a people. It was the seventh day of the week, a sacred day of rest and worship.  For the early church, mostly Jewish, to change the day of worship to the first day of the week is nothing short of revolutionary.  Something revolutionary had to happen to bring about a cultural and religious change of this magnitude.

5. The conversion of Saul. Saul, who was renamed Paul, was of pure Jewish heritage, well-educated in and obedient to Jewish law, a Roman citizen, and convinced Christianity was heresy. His zeal for God led him to persecute the new faith. We find him a few years later preaching Jesus as Messiah and “glorying” in the Cross of Christ. For a Jew, to whom the Cross was an object of curse, and for a Roman, to whom the Cross was reserved for the worst of criminals, to glory in this Cross would be one of the absurdities of history, unless the crucified one rose from the dead, proving He was Messiah and Lord. Rome 188

6. The resurrection’s effect on me. I used to live for self, with ambitions for personal fame, influence and wealth. Not today. My life direction (to serve Him), purpose (to be used of Him), and priority activities (Bible reading, prayer, teaching and serving others), can only – only – be explained by the influence the resurrected Christ has worked in my life.

I am indebted to the writings of many on this subject, most recently those of N.T. Wright, namely The Resurrection of the Son of God, and Surprised by Hope. I recommend them.

He is Risen.