Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that if one attempts anything of real value there will be muttering.
I was struck this morning when the chapter began by saying that the teachers of the law and Pharisees “muttered.” Digging into the original Greek and the definitions given for the word Dr. Luke used here, it described “droning on in low, constant murmur” and “smoldering discontent.”
Having been in different positions of leadership my entire life, I have come to understand that there will always be muttering. In fact, as I sit in the quiet this morning and take a stroll down memory lane I can quickly bring to mind mutterers and their mutterings from every stretch of my journey.
A couple of thoughts on muttering:
Even Jesus Christ had mutterers muttering. I can always take solace in the fact that I’m in good company. I’ve come to accept that there will be mutterers. In fact, if there are no mutterers, then maybe something is wrong.
Muttering came from all sides. Muttering is typically not as simple as a black-and-white differentiation between those who mutter and those who don’t. The teachers of the law muttered. The crowds muttered. Jesus’ family muttered. Even Jesus’ disciples sometimes muttered. When you say things and attempt things that make people feel uncomfortable, there will be muttering, and Jesus was very clear that discomfort is a natural part of spiritual growth. Life comes through death. Salvation comes through loss. Growth comes from pruning. Receiving comes through giving. Let the muttering begin.
Jesus was never afraid to address the issue at the heart of the muttering. When there was muttering about healing on the Sabbath He questioned the reasoning of the mutterers and then healed on the Sabbath. In today’s chapter, when the muttering was about His keeping company with “sinners” He told three parables about God’s love for sinners and heaven’s celebration when a sinner repents. I’ve learned that responding to muttering head-on is often the best way to handle the smoldering discontent.
Jesus rarely showed anger or animosity towards mutterers and their muttering. Jesus was frequently the dinner guest of Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they were the ones who seemed to always lead the muttering. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is to separate the mutterers from their muttering. It’s so easy to distance myself from mutterers and demonize them, but that solves nothing. Confronting the issue at the heart of the muttering is important, but I try to treat the individuals muttering with kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
There will be muttering. I can’t prevent that. Like Jesus, however, I can choose how I respond.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it has been a crazy year-end for Wendy and me. A lot of travel for both business and personal reasons, two family weddings on separate shores of North America separated by only two weeks of time. Now we are packing for a trip across the Atlantic to spend the holiday with our family living there. Oh, and it’s year-end which means that for work we are wrapping up 2019 projects for clients, getting out 2020 proposals, and buttoning up all of the loose-ends of business before year’s end.
There is a certain pressure one feels when facing deadlines and feeling the pinch of time.
In today’s chapter, Dr. Luke continues to provide a series of short episodes from Jesus’ ministry. The countless times I’ve read this chapter my lenses have always been focused on the individual episodes and the spiritual lessons they have for me. In the quiet this morning, however, I found myself shifting focus to look at the larger context of what’s going on.
Luke has fast-forwarded the narrative on us. The last five chapters have concerned Jesus’ early ministry. Today, the story shifts:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
In two separate episodes within today’s chapter, Jesus predicts his impending death. He knows that when He gets to Jerusalem that He will be arrested and killed by His own people.
Jesus, quite literally, has a dead-line.
Going back and looking at the chapter in the context of Jesus knowing His time on earth is limited, I see that this is a time of intense preparation:
He sends the twelve out, on their own, on a ministry practicum (vss. 1-6), and tells them to trust God for all their provision, including food.
In the next episode, the disciples have returned from their practicum, but don’t seem to have learned much about faith in trusting God for one’s daily bread, as instructed. Jesus gives them a lesson in faith and provision as He feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. (vss. 10-17)
Jesus then predicts His death and attempts to impress upon his followers the seriousness of what it will ultimately mean to follow Him. (vss. 21-27)
Jesus gives His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) a glimpse of His true self and the glory of His being. Perhaps this was to inspire them with a better understanding of who He is and prepare them for becoming the leaders they will need to be after His departure. (vss. 28-36)
Jesus once again tells his followers that He is about to be executed. That’s twice in one chapter. Could it be that Jesus realizes that His followers don’t seem to be understanding and internalizing what the succession plan is going to mean for all of them? (vss. 44-48)
When his followers see a stranger performing miracles in Jesus’ name, they quickly bring Jesus their case for infringement and copyright litigation. But Jesus will have none of it. The work of His kingdom is not an exclusive enterprise of “Jesus & His 12 Associates Incorporated,” but inclusive of all who follow and embrace God’s Kingdom. They are going to have to understand this when the events recorded in Acts begin to happen. (vss. 49-50).
The chapter ends with Jesus still recruiting more followers to become a part of His earthly enterprise, and rejecting the applications of those who are unfit for the job (vss. 57-62).
Jesus is looking forward. Jesus continues to plan, and He continues to work the plan. In all of the preparation, I also observe an undercurrent of Jesus feeling the pressure:
Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 was not just a “Look what I can do” event. It was a “Hey, boys, don’t you get it?” event that comes on the heels of the twelve’s return from their individual ministry practicums in which they were sent out with nothing (no food, no money, and no extra clothes) and were expected to have faith in God’s provision. Immediately upon return, they come to Jesus spiritually blind to the possibility that just as God provided for one person on their missionary tour, He could also provide for 5,000. (vss. 10-17) For cross-reference read John’s testimony of Jesus’ subsequent rebuke to the crowds (John 6:25-71) which was so harsh even the twelve were rattled.
A demon-possessed boy is brought to Jesus, and Jesus is told that even His twelve couldn’t drive the demon away. Jesus is frustrated by His follower’s lack of faith. His response is harsh: “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (vss. 37-43)
After the second prediction of His upcoming death, His followers are still arguing about who among them is the greatest. Once again, Jesus immediately tries to provide them a word picture of the humility that will be required of them after His departure when they will be expected to carry on the Kingdom’s work. (vss. 46-50)
The twelve also don’t seem to understand the grace and mercy required of them. When a Samaritan village (good Hebrew men like the twelve had been taught to hate the racial half-breed Samaritans) does not welcome Jesus and his entourage, James and John want Jesus to kill them all with hell-fire. This earns them a stiff rebuke. (vss. 51-56)
While recruiting and taking applications from followers, Luke records that Jesus’ demands of those who would follow were intense. It feels like He is feeling the pressure to find the right people for the job as the window of training and preparation is closing. (vss. 57-62)
As I look at the task list this morning with all the things that must be accomplished before our impending departure, I admit to feeling the pressure of the preparation. I’m taking heart this morning that my pressure and preparation are minor earthly issues and not the issues of eternal significance Jesus was feeling in today’s chapter. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to be reminded that even the Son of God knows the feeling.
And, I’m reminded that this is what Christmas was about. The Son of God sent into exile on Earth to live as one of us, to feel our pain, to experience the human pressures common to all of us, and to show us the way of love, faith, peace, and perseverance.
And with that, I leave you to persevere with the items on my task list as I wish you a blessing addressing the tasks on your own.
But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that [Jesus] drives out demons.” Matthew 9:34 (NIV)
One of the things I have noticed over recent years is the divergent poles of political thought on both sides of the political spectrum. One side thinks that everything they believe is “all good” and whatever the opposition believes is “all bad.” Those in the middle who desire to seek compromise are pulled apart by the extremes on both sides. No matter what good any one tries to do or say, they are immediately attacked, slandered, criticized and their thoughts summarily dismissed.
I found it interesting that amidst Jesus’ unprecedented display of divine power and love He experiences criticism and negativity on all sides.
Jesus extends forgiveness to a paralytic, then heals the man … and the religious leaders dismiss Him a blasphemer.
Jesus shows love in reaching out to Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends … and He is condemned by the religious leaders for being with sinners, and criticized by the disciples of John the Baptist for partying and not fasting.
Jesus arrives to raise the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead … and He is laughed at by the mourners gathered there.
Jesus quietly heals two blind men, restoring their sight. He asks only that they keep quiet about it … and they do the opposite of what Jesus asked.
Jesus casts out a demon who had made a man mute … and the good religious people said that Jesus must be the Prince of Demons.
Along life’s road I have come to understand that you can do nothing worthwhile in this world without being criticized and condemned by somebody. Opposition is inevitable in this world, even to the things of God’s Spirit. Today I witness Jesus, who is healing, forgiving, loving, raising the dead and releasing people from spiritual bondage. At every turn He is being criticized, dismissed, ignored, laughed at, and condemned.
Why should I think that it would be any different for me?
This morning I’m reminded that no matter where Jesus leads and no matter what I am called to do, I will encounter some measure of doubt, criticism, hatred and opposition. My job is to press on, keep my eyes focused on Jesus, and to love even those who criticize me for it.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. Job 7:7 (NIV)
I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning. Job 7:16 (NIV)
I have never experienced suffering like Job, and I hope that I never do. I have not met anyone who has suffered the level of tragedy that Job suffered. I have, however, heard many people lament the suffering they are experiencing with Job-esque intensity. I have even been been to wail out the blues on occasion myself.
As I read through Job’s diatribe this morning I noticed a common thread that I often discover in my own wailing and in the wailing of others: extremes. Intense emotions tend to produce extreme thinking. Job proclaims that his eyes will never see happiness again. His days have no meaning whatsoever. I empathize with Job’s plight, and I fully understand the extremity of emotions he’s experiencing and expressing. Nevertheless, neither statement is true.
Job does not, at this point, know the end of his story. He does not see the days that lie ahead for him, and he has no crystal ball do divine whether he will ever be happy or not. Not only does Job’s days and suffering have meaning, they will become the source of meaning, understanding, and inspiration for billions of people across the breadth of time.
These are words and phrases that I hear in conversation which set off my “extremity” alarm. When the alarm goes off it tells me that whoever is saying it (and, it might very well be me) may be feeling an intensity of emotion that is leading to the experiencing of irrational thought. It’s not necessarily wrong, bad, or sinful. It may very well be part of a healthy progression and expression of feelings that will lead to good things and a healthier place. The pinnacle of the emotional storm might be a very good time to try and empathize with that person, but it may not be the best moment to try and reason with him or her.
Today, I’m thinking about my own penchant for thinking in extremes, and thinking about some extreme proclamations I’ve heard out of people’s mouths in recent days. As I learn to discern these intense conversations in the moment I am able to respond to the extremity alarm with grace, patience, kindness, and empathy rather than anger, frustration, or vengeance. Wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. I’m finding that present, loving silence is often the best response to storms of extreme emotion, and rational words are better left for the calm that eventually comes after the storm.
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:5-7 (NIV)
I did a lot of fishing with my dad and siblings when I was a kid. There was nothing worse than being out all day, and not catching a darn thing. For a kid, it was torture. I can only imagine how much worse it was for Simon when it was all night he’d been out and fishing was his livelihood. As I read this morning, I so identified with the discouragement Simon had to be feeling. He was tired. He was depressed. The last thing on earth he wanted to do in that moment was go back out on the water and, to top it all off, he’d just been washing his nets. Going back out meant that he’d have to come back and wash them all over again. Ugh!
I have often found, along life’s road, that God’s timing and my timing are not always the same. As frustrating and discouraging as it can get waiting on God’s timing, I have not been discouraged in the long run. The adrenaline rush that Simon must have felt when he realized his nets held the largest catch he’d ever experienced pushed away any weariness he felt. The catch served to teach him that this teacher from Nazareth really was a man of God, and was what Simon needed to convince him to leave his nets and follow the young rabbi. Finally, the catch would have provided Simon and the boys the funds they would need to provide for their families and their new life as disciples of Jesus.
Like Simon, I have found that God’s timing usually comes through, not when I want it, but right when I need it, and it provides God’s best when I need it the most on multiple levels.
Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)
One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our kitchen/dining room and was having an after school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she’s going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.
My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an envelope anonymous with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision.
“Timing is everything,” they say.
Along the journey I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In most every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.
In today’s chapter we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. This led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.
Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths we desired to take which God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up to us. I want to follow David’s example from this moment of his own journey, when he acknowledged and honored God’s timing.
“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”1 Samuel 1:8 (NLT)
Trust me when I say that this was NOT the right thing for Elkanah to say to his wife as she struggled with infertility.
In my experience, men have a traditionally difficult time understanding women in general. When it comes to the depth of pain women experience when trying, and not succeeding, to conceive or bear children the complexity of thoughts and emotions becomes almost unfathomable for a man to understand or appreciate. Elkanah’s attempt at encouraging his wife, while I’m sure delivered from the best of intentions, only served to make Hannah feel more isolated and alone. His question convinced her that he did not have a clue what she was going through. As I read Elkanah’s question a second time, I imagined that I heard Hannah’s unspoken thought as it poured out of the anger and rage of her emotional pain: “No, Elkanah, at this moment I believe ONE son would be better than TEN of you!”
Walking with a spouse through the dark valley of something as emotionally wounding as infertility requires a tremendous amount of patience, compassion, courage, and perseverance. This is why many marriages to not survive the journey. I believe that no man is truly prepared for this journey and task. A pre-game pep talk doesn’t help. A pat on the back or a Hallmark card doesn’t help. Weak attempts at cheering her up doesn’t help.
Be present in the pain. Share the pain. Step into the pain with her. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is fraught with confusing moments. Even this will not help take the pain away and may not even make things better. She will, however, not be alone in the valley. There is hope in that.