Friday, July 17, 2015

Hometown Disappointment (Matthew 13:54-58) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man was heading home after work and decided to stop to watch a Little League baseball game.  He asked one of the youngsters what the score was.  “Well we're losing 18-0.  Oh, said the man, I must say you don't look very discouraged.  Why should we be discouraged Mister, we haven't come up to bat yet.”  You've got to love that never say die spirit.

What is discouragement?  At its core, it's a loss of courage.   You find that you have lost heart.   It's a loss of confidence or motivation or self-assurance or hope.   Familiar words which closely resemble it are being demoralized, despondent, dejected, disheartened, dismayed, or dispirited.   Does anyone know what I'm talking about?     It's not a healthy place to live mentally and emotionally.  It's color is gray and sometimes dark, it's not a bright and shining place to be.   It can be contagious to those around you.  It's also universal, it catches up to all of us sooner or later, including yours truly.  Some of you may be wrestling with discouragement this very morning.

Even Jesus was not immune; he too knew such times.  In our lesson from Matthew, we find Jesus dismayed because of what was occurring in his own hometown.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a town in the region of Galilee, in northern Israel, with his mother Mary, father Joseph, and his siblings.  Everyone knew him from the time he was a child.  One day, after being away for a period of time, Jesus returns to his hometown and begins teaching in the synagogue.  The towns people are critical and skeptical of his teaching and demonstrations of power.  They ask:  “Where did this man get these things?”  “What's this wisdom that has been given him?”  “Isn't this the carpenter?”  “Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?”  “Aren't his sisters here with us?”   They were offended by him.  He was greeted with incredulity, hostility and skepticism.

Perhaps Aesop, of Aesop's fables fame was right, familiarity breeds contempt, the more you are acquainted with someone and know their faults and shortcomings, the easier it is to dislike them and not respect them.   The townspeople shut Jesus out.  The audacity, the arrogance, the impudence of him coming to our town and saying these things.  Jesus says with a heavy heart:  Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor.”   It was a bad day for Jesus.

Why do people get discouraged?  Consider some of the causes.  First, it comes from fatigue.  Weariness is a common source of discouragement.    Someone said:  Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  I've seen it in my own life, I suspect you have seen it in yours.   You are bushed and become physically and emotionally drained.   Then you are vulnerable.   Problems become magnified, they appear larger than they really are.   Relatively simple challenges seem overwhelming.  You lose heart and discouragement takes over your mind.  You wonder if you will get through something or if you will ever complete that initially simple task before you.

A school photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease.  "What are you going to be when you grow up?" he asked one little girl.  I don't know she replied, but my mom says she is always tired, so maybe I'll be tired to.”  The remedy for such a condition is obviously rest, relaxation, getting away, taking a sabbath, a break from the pressures and demands upon you.

Second, discouragement stems from times of failure and frustration.  You become frustrated with not reaching your goals.    Though you are working hard you don't seem to be getting anywhere, you can't seem to complete your task or carry out your responsibility.   The sense of accomplishment eludes you.  Things are not turning out the way you had hoped, your self-confidence is shaken.  You are frustrated with the trivial things and perpetual obstacles that consume your time and energy.  You get burned out and lose heart.

A classic example is the mythical Greek figure Sisyphus.  He was condemned to everlasting punishment in Hades.  The punishment was to roll an immense boulder up a hill, and then when it was just about at the top, it would come plunging down to the bottom.  He had to repeart that futile process day after day for eternity.  Can you imagine such a punishment.   Conversely, one author wrote:  I know people who work incredibly hard all the time, but they never burn out, because they are reaching their goals and living with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Third, discouragement comes from fear.   Fear that things won't turn out well, fear of failure, fear that the worst will happen, fear that you are inadequate, fear of criticism, fear of what people will think about you or say about you.   You so desire to win someone's approval,  but you can see it isn't happening and it becomes a worry and concern.    Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mt. Community Church in El Cajon writes:  Occasionally, I receive a critical letter from someone who has heard me speak or read something I've written.  It seems that those letters always arrive at the most inopportune time.  You may be struggling already, and you open the mail and discover someone has directed a barrage of criticism at you.  And you start believing the criticism, wondering if you ought to even continue the work you’re trying to accomplish.”   Yes fear is a common catalyst, your confidence is shaken, you lose courage, and you lose heart.

I remember feeling so good when I read that story from Dr. Jeremiah, whom we know is a respected nationally known pastor, author and speaker, who has his own television program.  No matter who we are we all have times when we feel vulnerable.  It reminded me of the time when I was serving as pastor of FPC, Santa Monica.   It was my first few years as pastor.  I had been counseling a man for months about problems he was having in his marriage and his business.  He told me what an encouragement I had been to him and that he was planning to join the church.   One day he called and invited me to breakfast.   After a time, he said he had something to tell me, that he was leaving the church.  I asked him why.  He said: “Well you are just not a good preacher and I don't get anything out of your sermons.  I felt like someone had literally kicked me in the stomach.  It shook my confidence to the core for a period of time.  I too began to ask myself if being a pastor was my true calling.   Thankfully, by God's grace after a time I bounced back and mentally got back on my feet.  Resilience is a wonderful gift.   I also learned a valuable lesson that God taught me.  Never let someone's critical and negative opinion have such power over you.

Is there a remedy, an antidote, for seasons of discouragement?  Yes, here are some biblical responses.

First, persevere.   Don't quit at the first sign of problems or trouble.   Scripture says: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered, be steadfast, stand firm, let nothing move you, always give yourselves fully to God's work.”  Don't give in or give up too quickly.  There can be invaluable lessons God wants to teach us during difficult times, and we need to just tough it out, trust in God and persevere.  Devise a new plan, a new strategy for reaching your goal.  Seek  wisdom from others.  Find a new perspective, a new angle.  Re-set your aim at your target.  Just because  there are problems, doesn't mean you are not in the right, place, at the right time, doing the right thing.
Second,  fight the gloomy outlook!  Resist it, don't yield to it.  Scripture says - fight the good fight of the faith.   Don’t give into discouragement and allow it to rob you of your power and enthusiasm and energy and joy.  God gives us power to resist such things.   Pray for God's help to lift your spirit.  Pray for that power to stop yourself from sliding into mire of discouragement.  I have found this is true in my prayer life, no, not always, but it happens.  The Bible teaches that we are in a spiritual battle, a supernatural conflict with negative forces.  The book of James says - “Resist the devil.”  Why - because Satan loves to take us down.  The devil knows that a discouraged Christian is ineffective.  When you are dejected and disheartened, your power and potential to be a witness for Christ falls dramatically.  It’s impossible to share Christ’s joy when there is no joy in your heart to share.

Third, remember that Jesus Christ is your Lord, leader and ruler yesterday, today and always.    Remember God’s goodness to you in your past.  When you recall the good things God has already done in your life, your spirit will be lifted.  Remember God’s closeness in the present.  God is with you whether you feel Him or see Him or Sense Him or not.  Jesus promises - “I am with you always.”  Phil. 4:13:  I can do everything through Christ, because He strengthens me.”   Get your mind off your circumstances and on the Lord.  Scripture says, God will console us in times of discouragement.  The first place to begin when discouragement sets in is prayer, and then, turn to uplifting and inspiring scriptures, and let the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit infuse your spirit and renew your heart.

Fourth, though it is hard to admit to ourselves, sometimes we must finally put a halt to our efforts, apply the brakes and move on to something else.   “Stop beating a dead horse” sums it up.  The problem is that there is no magic formula for one to know when that time has arrived.  Prayer is always required here.  It's a decision of faith.  It's a leap of faith.  How much time do you give it?   That is always the question.

Jesus himself recognized that the time had come in Nazareth.  Jesus could see his ministry was not bearing fruit, it wasn't being received, it wasn't being embraced in his own hometown.  He gave it a chance.  But at some point, Jesus recognized that his efforts were futile, useless and so Jesus left Nazareth and moved on to the next town.  God sometimes call us to let go, to put it behind us, and to move on.  What do you hear God saying to you? 

In what area of your life are you feeling discouraged?  What is it that you are struggling with now? 

I leave you with a scripture which has inspired millions of believers over the centuries:  It is from Isaiah 40:  “The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth.  He gives strength to the weary and power to the weak.  Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not be faint.” Amen!

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