Like Father Like Son (John 5:19-29)

The Trinity, by Ukrainian painter Feodosiy Humeniuk, 1981

Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders: 

“I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. 

As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.

I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.

I assure you that the time is coming—and is here!—when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear it will live. Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. He gives the Son authority to judge because he is the Human One.

Don’t be surprised by this, because the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice. Those who did good things will come out into the resurrection of life, and those who did wicked things into the resurrection of judgment.”

(Common English Bible)

So goes the parent, so goes the child. Sons look and act a great deal like their fathers. And there is no mistaking the resemblance between Father of the heavens and Son of the incarnation.

In Christianity, to see Jesus is to see God. To know Christ is to know the Lord. They are distinct, yet inextricably linked as one; each is differentiated from the other in personhood, yet united with the same divine substance.

The deity of the Father and the deity of the Son is one, equal in glory, co-eternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is.

Uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Father; uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Son.

The Father and the Son are not two gods but one God.

There is only one Father; there is only one Son. Each is neither greater nor lesser than the other.

Whoever wants to be saved from guilt, shame, sin, death, and hell – and to be delivered from the injustice of the world, the failings of oneself, and the machinations of evil, should think about the Father and the Son and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity, one God.

– Athanasian Creed

So, why is all this creedal Christian doctrine of any importance? Why pay attention to such things?

Because there are many issues and problems in this world of great importance which must be addressed and dealt with. We need to have some idea of how to go about: 

  • Governing ourselves as a free people
  • Eradicating poverty and disease
  • Educating our children
  • Paying taxes
  • Providing excellent and cost effective healthcare for everyone
  • Dismantling racism
  • Seeking peaceful international relations
  • Building responsible and accountable local community relationships
  • Supporting small businesses
  • Helping workers make a decent contributive living
  • Loving our families and faith communities 

It is my unshakable conviction that all these issues, and many others, need more than our collective mental attention and physical resources; these problems also need spiritual resolutions and solutions.

Seasons, years, centuries, and millennia come and go. People are born, live, and die. Generations exist and then are no more. Civilizations rise and fall. Through it all and above it all is the person of Jesus.

Christ is alive. He brings breath from dust, beauty from ashes, order from chaos, stability from insecurity, dignity from disrespect, and meaning from uncertainty. Jesus gives life, abundant and to the full.

Christ the King, San Miniato al Monte Church, Florence, Italy

Today, this very moment, Christ is still on the throne of all creation. 

Human elections and institutions only have authority as given by Jesus, the Ruler of all.

Presently, Jesus is attentive and vigilant to people, actively interceding for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven. At this very moment, the Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ on this earth, applying Christ’s redemption of humanity to the lives of millions. 

Sometimes we need to remember how important our spiritual resources are to living in this world – and to clarify what’s really of ultimate significance in this old broken world. 

My unwavering spiritual persuasion is this: People need the Lord. Therefore, it only makes good spiritual sense to live in ways that foster a connection with Jesus. 

This morning, I did what I do every morning – whether I’m sick or well, sad or happy, facing a busy day or a relaxed day – I began my day with Scripture reading, prayer, reflection, and gratitude. And I do it with the realization that Christ is King, that as the divine/human Lord of all, his:

  • authority is real
  • rule is benevolent
  • sovereignty is ubiquitous
  • reign is supreme
  • judgments are right and good
  • power is mighty enough to raise the dead

The Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ is the exalted and glorified Son of God, the Sovereign authority over every dominion. The works of Jesus bear testimony to the cosmic reality that he is Lord of all. And, if that were not enough, Jesus shares his divine power with us, his people.

In the face of Christ’s majesty, the valid and appropriate response is sheer submission to Christ’s authority. 

Just as Jesus listened to the Father and obeyed the Father’s will, so we need to listen to Jesus and carry out his will. 

Just as Jesus enjoyed his relationship with the Father, so we are to bask in our wonderful relationship with Jesus. 

Since Jesus submitted to death on a cross and rose from the dead through God’s power, we now have access to that power by God’s grace through faith in Christ. And we are to use that divine power to take up our own cross and bear the great issues and problems of our day with all the spiritual resources granted to us in Christ Jesus.

Like Father, like Son. Like Christ, like Christians. May all followers of Jesus resemble their Lord in each word and in every way.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 12:22-31 – Do Not Worry

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (New International Version)

Worry is debilitating. It sucks the life out of us. And Jesus doesn’t want us to live that way. So, he makes it clear that we don’t have to.

Jesus cares about your whole life, not just the spiritual part. Your physical, mental, and emotional needs are also important to God. The Lord wants you and I to thrive and flourish in this life – free from worry.

In our anxiety about the future, Jesus guides us to embodying a non-anxious presence as we move from day to day.

Do Not Worry About Your Life

Worry is that sinking feeling you get whenever you face surgery; or your friend is depressed and suicidal; or someone close to you is diagnosed with major mental illness; or you lose a job, a spouse, a reputation, or a million other things that happen to us in this world. 

Jesus is not saying that we should never be concerned about the significant situations we face; what he is saying is that when we worry, we are displaying an inability to see beyond my own little world. We are exhibiting feelings about the future of which we know nothing about. And we are letting those feelings hinder us in our ability to serve God, express faith, love others, and function in well-being on a daily basis. 

We are to acknowledge those sinking feelings and face them, rather than ignoring them, wishing they would go away, or stuffing them down. Why acknowledge them?

Because Life Is More Than Food and Clothes

Whenever we experience worry about how the necessities of life are going to be met, let’s back up the truck and take a big picture view of what’s going on. 

We must remind ourselves that God cares for life itself, all of it. The Lord knows what it takes to live in this world and make it on this earth. If God cares about life, which is so valuable, he will sustain us with what we need to live that life.

Because God Cares for the Birds In Creation 

People are the apex of God’s creation. Since God cares for every other creature on this earth, and sustains their lives, the Lord will certainly care for us, as well. 

Worry begins to melt away, and replaced by faith, not when we try and work up feelings of trust, but when we take the time to observe creation – watching the birds and seeing how God takes care of them. 

Birds don’t worry; they just enjoy God’s providence. 

They work hard, but they aren’t farmers who do the work of planting and harvesting crops. Yet, God sustains them for what they need. So then, if God provides for small creatures that don’t even make plans to avoid starvation, how much more will the Lord sustain you!?

Because Worry Accomplishes Nothing 

Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do; but doesn’t get you anywhere – it’s not helpful.

Because God Cares for the Flowers and Grass In Creation 

God can dress the flowers better than we ever could dress ourselves (which is what your wife has been telling you for years). 

Jesus chooses flowers and grass because they clearly illustrate something that is not here for very long, as well as something that is fragile. 

The logic is from the lesser to the greater: If God cares for something as fragile and temporary as flowers and grass, how much more will he care for you, Jesus says, “you of little faith.”

Jesus links our worry with a small faith. 

Here’s how it happens: We have expectations in life about how things ought to go. If we have expectations based on God’s promises, then, when adverse circumstances come, we will tend toward responding in peace and with trust.

However, if we expect the future to turn out a certain way in order to be happy, then the worry sets in. As the worry seeps into the soul, we begin to take matters into our own hands. 

If the situation ends up not turning out how we want, then we start questioning if God is good, or not. We wonder if God really has our best interests at mind – or is even there, at all.

Tethering ourselves to specific outcomes, instead of specific promises, will come around to bite us in the backside every time. We must bank on God taking care of us, no matter the situation, with outcomes of divine design, and not our shortsighted half-baked human plans.

Do Not Worry About It 

Why?

Because Your Heavenly Father Knows What You Need 

Unlike other deities, who are aloof and do not pay attention to people, God always watches us and knows our every need. Fickle deities may or may not come through for people – which keeps their worshipers forever worrying about whether they’ll get their needs met, or not. 

To know God is to be a stranger to worry. Just as my girls used to jump from our stairway steps in a leap of faith – because they knew for sure that Dad was going to catch them – so also your heavenly Father is a trustworthy God.

Because the Necessities of Life Will Be Given To You

God’s business is to provide for our necessities; our business is to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  The verb form of “seek” communicates a continuous action, that is, we are to keep on seeking. 

We are to continually seek God’s kingdom by:

  • Submitting to Christ’s lordship
  • Being obedient to kingdom values 
  • Praying, “your kingdom come”
  • Bringing all of life under the gracious authority of Christ
  • Dethroning wealth and possessions as our first pursuits, and instead, seeking heavenly treasure as defined by Jesus
  • Pursuing social reform, political reform, church reform, private and public institutional reform

We are to continually seek God’s righteousness by: 

  • Being peacemakers
  • Forgiving others
  • Showing mercy, instead of judgment 
  • Pursuing right relations with family members, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow parishioners 
  • Providing for the needs of others
  • Agitating for justice in every sphere of society
  • Proclaiming the gospel to all nations

For the believer, there is to be no room for worry because we are busy with kingdom business. Whenever we are diverted from seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, worry is sure to set in.

May God’s richest blessings rest upon you, as you seek to value what God values, and as you seek the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

1 John 3:11-17 – Love, Not Hate

Cain and Abel by Gunter Tanzerel, 2011

The message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another. We must not be like Cain; he belonged to the Evil One and murdered his own brother Abel. Why did Cain murder him? Because the things he himself did were wrong, and the things his brother did were right.

So do not be surprised, my friends, if the people of the world hate you. We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love others. Those who do not love are still under the power of death. Those who hate others are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others! If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? (Good News Translation)

For the world to be a life-giving place of thriving people, it must spin on the axis of love, grace, and belonging – and not be a death-dealing haunt of murder, hate, and disconnection.

“Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible.

Death is a separation from God and others; and life is connection with God and others.

In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. Whenever someone moves from death to life, they leave the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.

There is no love in the realm of death. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love.

Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. Love, in fact, is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)

Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.

Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act mercifully and kindly through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.

It is vital that we make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.

Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death; believers love and do not hate; despite being hated by another.

The biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from the Apostle John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and do not hate them. Live for others, die to self.

Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:

You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)

Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)

May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.

May the grace and kindness of love bring life and continue to be life-giving for you.

May the hardness of hatred be far from you.

May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God. Amen.

Everyone Can Juggle

“Say, what?” you may protest. “I can’t juggle. I can’t learn that. I’m not coordinated, not rhythmic, not graceful, not _____.” (fill in the blank with your own negative)

I’m not buying it. I insist everyone can juggle, without exception. Yes, even the elderly, the young, those with severely arthritic hands and no hands, at all, can juggle. This is no mind game. It’s not playing with words.

Everyone can juggle because there is a juggler inside of every person.

God is Creator. People are creatures, created in the image and likeness of God. God is a juggler. And so are you and me.

It comes down to what kind of story we are telling ourselves.

For example, if there is a narrative rolling around in your head that you are stupid, even though you may be very intelligent, you will live up to the story of being unintelligent. The life you live will be as an incompetent nincompoop.

So, what is the story you are telling yourself about yourself?

Juggling takes practice. I can teach anyone to juggle in three minutes, or less. After that, it’s all about doing it – lots and lots of repetition and practice. It takes time, patience, and tenacity – the very qualities required to do just about anything.

Which you have done multiple times in your life, already. Sometimes we all need to remember when we did something well, when we committed to the time and effort of accomplishing an important task or project.

There is nothing glamorous about learning to juggle, and certainly not about becoming proficient at it. It is tedious, pedantic, and at times, frustrating work. It takes an overarching, “Why?”

If I want to juggle because it looks cool, and I’d like to impress friends, then I likely will not stick with it. If I believe it can be done in a relatively short amount of time, then I’ll probably become discouraged and drop out.

Yet, if I discover I really like to juggle, and I want to do it, that in the doing of this new thing I am finding out some things about myself I didn’t know before – or even that when I juggle, even imperfectly, I learn something about God – well, then, this is a “why” which has sustaining power.

Yes, indeed, everyone can juggle. There is a juggler inside each and every one of us. The real issue is whether we actually believe that is true, and whether we really have a solid internal reason for doing so.

So, let’s come back to that weird part about what I said above – that even people without an ability to lift their arms (or with no arms, at all) can juggle. It has to do with our definition of juggling. Here is the straight up dictionary definition of the words, “juggle,” “juggling,” and “juggler:”

To keep (several objects, as balls, plates, tenpins, or knives, etc.) in continuous motion in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching.

To perform feats of manual or bodily dexterity, as tossing up and keeping in continuous motion a number of balls, plates, knives, etc.

A person who performs juggling feats, as with balls or knives, etc.

One little word makes the difference here: etcetera. (etc.)

I’m actually not going to answer my own question or make explicit my point. I’ll let you fill it in yourself because I am confident you can do so. You are creative.

You’ll figure it out.

What we all really need is just enough direction to get our creative abilities going, without so much instruction that it becomes controlling (like a boss looking over your shoulder and just barking orders when you screw up).

Developing a skill or a craft is different than becoming a professional or doing a job. The real work is both internal and most often out of the limelight. It’s a commitment to a process, more than it is a means to an end goal. A process cannot be rushed; there must not be shortcuts. And, unless we learn to enjoy the process, we end up doing shoddy work.

The construction of a person’s soul is a lifelong project.

It requires becoming aware of one’s deep inward spirituality. Solitude, silence, and stillness are imperative to forming the soul.

I am a Christian. As such, I want to know Christ better. For that to happen, I need to pay attention to and care for my soul.

Throughout the history of Christianity, much attention has been given to the care of souls. Early church fathers (and mothers) such as Gregory the Great (540-604, C.E.) took great pains to describe ministerial work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both the churched and unchurched, both Christian and non-Christian.

In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor, which set the standard of pastoral care for generations. Baxter elaborated on seven functions of crafting souls (stated in my own words):

  1. Helping others connect with their spiritual selves;
  2. Giving sage spiritual direction;
  3. Building up people with careful and encouraging words;
  4. Attending to church, family, and group dynamics;
  5. Providing special focus to the needy, the sick, and the dying;
  6. Holding people accountable for their words and actions;
  7. Setting proper spiritual boundaries to keep harmful words and actions at bay within the community.

There is nothing sexy about any of these functions. It is humble nitty-gritty work which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.

As a Christian who is concerned for the construction of souls, I take my cues from the Christian Bible. There are many references to “one another” in the New Testament which highlight the spiritual dynamics and proper environment needed for souls to thrive. Just a few of the most mentioned are: 

  • Encouragement
  • Mutual edification
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Hospitality

Within the New Testament Gospels of Jesus, Christ modeled a life of spiritual practice which include healing, teaching, guiding, and mending damaged and broken souls. These were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth.

Like a proper garden, we need to continually tend to our soul, which requires the consistent spiritual farming of daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and giving.

Our souls need careful shepherding. We are to be vigilant toward attending to our spiritual selves, as well as the souls of others – not because we must, but because we are willing.

You can do this. After all, you are a juggler!