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!

Romans 8:1-11 – Life in the Spirit

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (New International Version)

I feel tremendously privileged to be a Christian and enjoy the very Spirit of God. The people of God are spiritual people, possessing God’s own Spirit. The Apostle Paul wanted Christians to know what they truly have as believers in Jesus.

No Condemnation

There is now no condemnation, no judgment, for those who are in Christ. God has pronounced a verdict, and that decision is final. We have been united to Christ by means of God’s Spirit. Since God condemns neither you nor I, there is no need whatsoever to condemn ourselves or other believers.

Since no condemnation is our reality as Christians, we are to believe this promise of God and swim in its wonderful privilege. 

Believe that the sin issue has been taken care of once for all through the life and death of Christ. If you do not feel forgiven, then put yourself in a position to believe. 

It would be silly to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and then just stand in the middle of the bathroom without getting under the showerhead. It would be silly because you did not put yourself in a position to actually become clean. You may believe that a shower and using soap and shampoo will make you clean, but if you do not actually avail yourself of the privilege of actually taking the shower but just stand there and look at it, you will not really be clean. 

We must put ourselves in a position to experience the privilege of knowing our wonderful state of cleanliness and no condemnation by actually reading the Word of God on a regular basis; praying in the Spirit on all occasions; and practicing the silence and solitude necessary to receive the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

Two people are declared “married” in a formal wedding ceremony. The couple then works out their shared union together over a lifetime. The minister does not pronounce condemnation at the ceremony; he declares a blessing. Yet, from that point forward, the two people must work on their marriage. They must believe their relationship is important enough to warrant putting themselves in a position to grow together. They will intentionally create date nights and conversations on the couch. They’ll seek to learn, appreciate, and participate in the other’s interests and life. 

“Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

Just as we do not marry ourselves and pronounce ourselves a married couple, so we do not save ourselves. However, having a marriage license does not mean there is no effort to be done in the relationship. A marriage is both a legal reality, and a kind of mystical union between two married persons.

It is a beautiful thing to be in a relationship where there is no condemnation. Because of Jesus Christ we are free to be the people God created us to be – forgiven and no longer burdened by sin’s condemnation.

Freedom from Sin and Death

In Holy Scripture, sin is not only a personal struggle but a present ubiquitous reality in the world. The power and presence of sin is found everywhere. There is personal, institutional, and systemic sin. Because sin is everywhere, death is everywhere. Biblically, death doesn’t only refer to physical death but is also a relational term referring to spiritual death. Death means relational separation from God. Conversely, life is relational connection with God. 

God did all the action necessary to make the union possible. God sent the Son. God became incarnate. God’s Son became a sin-offering, an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God condemned sin in sinful humanity. God met the righteous requirements of the law. God effects holiness in us by means of the Spirit. 

Rather than saving us from sin then simply telling us to live a holy upright life, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to indwell us so that we can live like Jesus. 

Therefore, we must put ourselves in a position to experience life through dwelling in the Scriptures and letting the Spirit and the Word work together to effect practical change in our lives. 

Having the Mind of Christ

A problem we all face is that we inhabit a fallen world. Our mindset can easily get screwy. If we want life and peace, we need the mind of Christ and the Spirit. Whatever our minds are occupied with, that’s what determines whether we will have life and peace, or not. 

If the objects of our thoughts, interests, and affections are continually away from Christ and the Spirit, we will experience death, not life. If we put ourselves in a position to indulge the sinful nature, we will miss real life. A loose mind only leads to relational separation.

The addict knows very well that there are two choices, life or death. The first of twelve steps in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable. The second step is to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. The third step is to turn my life and my will over to that Power. So, it is the same for us. 

We are powerless over sin, which will, if left unchecked, lead to death. But in the Spirit (and not in the alcoholic spirits) we have life. Sin, like alcohol, is a daily possibility, even after giving my life and my will to God. Yet, there is also the possibility of life. And that hope of life comes with possessing the mind of Christ and the Spirit. 

We have hope that through the Spirit’s power that we will overcome the power of choices that lead to death, and instead, embrace choices that lead to life. So, whatever we put into our minds is vitally important. 

The Spirit Indwelling Us

The Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, that is, the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus. The Spirit opposes the sinful nature and expects us to do the same. There’s no need to try and live the Christian life on our own power when we possess spiritual power.

Pentecost by Edgardo De Guzman

There exists an internal struggle within us that desires to do right but has a compulsion to do otherwise. Yet, the indwelling Spirit gives us victory. Jesus lived the life for us that we could not live. His life, as much as his death, achieved salvation from sin for us. 

The very same Spirit that helped Jesus live his life, and raised him from death, is the same Spirit whom we possess.

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother canning preserves. I would sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch her, looking forward to having some grape preserves on my next piece of toast. I once asked her, “Why are you always melting that wax over the fruit?” I didn’t understand how wax could make my toast taste any better. 

Grandma answered, “The wax seals the jar tightly so the fruit can’t be contaminated. If I didn’t seal it, the fruit would eventually rot.” As an amateur in the canning business, I could see the importance of picking grapes, boiling them, and canning them. But I now know how important sealing and preserving are.

You and I are God’s preserves. God not only chose us, redeemed us, and called us to life in the Son – God also had a plan for preserving us as heirs of eternal life. God gave us the indwelling Spirit so that we can live as we ought, free from sin and doing the will of God through spiritual power working within us. 

I hope today that you have a deep appreciation for the privileges of no condemnation, freedom from sin, possessing the mind of Christ and the power of the indwelling Spirit. And more than that, that you will avail yourselves of this tremendous gift of the Spirit and experience life and peace.

Gracious God, fill us with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May we live lives worthy of the Lord Jesus and please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to you.  For you have rescued us from the dominion of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.