Chapter 4: Christ

As we follow the story of Scripture, we find that God’s people struggle to fulfill their part of the covenant God made with them. On their own, they’re never quite able to escape their past. The natural consequences of the fall–conflict with God, conflict with humanity, conflict with all creation–continue to affect not just God’s people, but all humankind.

It is into this darkness that God the Son does something entirely unexpected: Jesus takes on flesh and becomes a human being, becomes a member of God’s people. Not only was his coming unexpected; everything about him was unpredictable. Who would have thought the Son of God would be born to parents who were relative nobodies in a place not known for producing anybody remarkable? Who would have thought the Messiah would decline multiple chances to rally the troops to regain power and would instead make a choice to live among and for the least of these? Who would have thought the one through whom all things were made would submit to death, even death on a cross?

Jesus is not just part of the story. In many ways he is the story in microcosm. Listen to how N.T. Wright captures this sentiment in the following video.

Now take a few moments to pause and allow this video to lead you into a time of meditating on the gift of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Questions for Reflection

1. When you think about Jesus, what is it that draws you most to him?

2. In what ways have you been surprised anew by Jesus in the last week? In the last year or the last few years?

3. What about imitating Jesus comes easily for you?

4. What in Jesus’s life is hardest for you to imitate?


Living A Better Story Playlist

If stories form the script of our lives, music provides the soundtrack. This playlist–comprised of songs that explore the themes of the various chapters of the story of Scripture–is intended to help saturate our hearts and minds with lyrics and music that will help us with Living A Better Story.

Chapter 3: Covenant

The story of Scripture begins with the overwhelmingly beautiful story of creation. Before long, though, that beauty is marred by the sinfulness and selfishness of humanity, by betrayal of the deepest possible degree. What’s incredible is that God’s primary response to this betrayal is different than anyone could ever have anticipated. Not only does God refuse to enforce the death penalty initially mentioned as the punishment if Adam and Eve were to eat of the forbidden fruit. God responds to their failure with forgiveness and greets their fall with amazing grace. Even more than that though, God dares to pick up the pieces and try again. God risks another encounter with heartbreak, another experience with disappointment.

So God invites Abram into a covenant. God promises blessings for Abram and all his descendants. God envisions a hope and a dream for Abram and all his descendants: that they will be a blessing to all the people of the world. And at every turn, God keeps the promise. Even when Abram and his descendants fail to fulfill their calling, God never backs out, God never gives up, God always remains faithful. Again and again God chooses to take the risk of betrayal. Again and again God endures the hurt of infidelity. And again and again God remains steadfast and loyal.

Take a few moments to listen to this song that captures beautifully God’s unconditional love.

Now allow these words to become your own as a response to God’s unconditional love.

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways have you experienced God’s faithful covenant love in response to your own betrayals?

2. How has God blessed you in the last week? In the last year? In your life?

3. In what ways are you sharing God’s blessings with others?

4. What is one new way you can intentionally be a blessing to someone else outside your closest circle of family and friends this week?


Living A Better Story Playlist

If stories form the script of our lives, music provides the soundtrack. This playlist–comprised of songs that explore the themes of the various chapters of the story of Scripture–is intended to help saturate our hearts and minds with lyrics and music that will help us with Living A Better Story.

Chapter 2: Conflict

The opening chapter of our story is as beautiful as can be. The beauty, the unity in the midst of diversity, and the wholeness that characterizes creation are a sight to behold. But in the blink of an eye, or the crunch of teeth biting into a piece of fruit, everything changes. In Chapter 2, the issue isn’t primarily about failing to keep a regulation, that’s just a part of it. The real issue is the fracturing of relationship that occurs when Adam and Eve do exactly what God told them not to do.

It’s quite clear what should happen next. It’s only a matter of time until the death penalty is enforced, after all God had been crystal clear with Adam and Eve that death would be the consequence if they disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree. But as it turns out, God goes against God’s own word. Though the facts undeniably warrant the death penalty, God is stubbornly and thoroughly pro-life. From the very beginning, God is a God of forgiveness and grace.

Yet even God’s forgiveness and grace do not nullify the natural consequences of Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust. Genesis 3 spells out the variety of ways in which their actions will cause all kinds of repercussions far beyond their own lives. But it’s vital to note that Genesis 3 is not prescriptive, in other words it is not portraying how things should be. Rather, Genesis 3 is descriptive, portraying how things are and how things will be because of the natural consequences of Adam and Eve’s bad choice. And almost immediately, God sets out to try to minimize the fallout and to try to bring about redemption in what otherwise seems like a hopeless situation.

The following video offers a chance to meditate on the ways in which sin fractures relationships and to focus on God’s desire for all creation to enjoy a sense of wholeness, both internally and communally.

Questions for Reflection

1. How have you experienced the fracturing of relationship that is sin?

2. In what ways have you caused the fracturing of relationship through bad choices you’ve made?

3. To whom can you extend forgiveness and grace this week, the way God extended Adam and Eve forgiveness and grace?

4. Who might you need to reach out to in order to begin trying to rebuild relationships that have fractured because of your choices?


Living A Better Story Playlist

If stories form the script of our lives, music provides the soundtrack. This playlist–comprised of songs that explore the themes of the various chapters of the story of Scripture–is intended to help saturate our hearts and minds with lyrics and music that will help us with Living A Better Story.

Chapter 1: Creation


Stories are one of the basic building blocks of the human experience. They help us to get a handle on the world around us. They give us a framework for making sense of our lives. They offer possibilities for the shape our future will take.

One of the great challenges of life, however, is that there are so many stories, too many stories. If we’re not careful, before we know it, we allow our lives to be defined by stories that are unhealthy or selfish or toxic. As followers of Jesus, we are invited to find our place in a story that stands out from all the other stories, a story that is life-giving and life-changing. We’re invited to find our place in the story of the Bible.


The story begins with creation. While there are many things that could be said about the meaning and significance of creation in Scripture, there is one that is more important than anything else. Creation is an expression of God’s great love that culminates in the creation of humanity as sharers in that love with God and sharers of that love with the rest of humanity and all creation.

The following videos offer an opportunity to reflect on the incredible opening chapter of the story. The first video invites us to respond to God’s loving creation with awe and wonder. The second video prompts us to reflect on what it means for us to be bearers of God’s image who are called to have dominion within creation. Both help us to have a sense of where our story begins.

Questions for Reflection

1. What does it mean to you that you’re made in the image of God? How does that make you feel?

2. In what ways do you recognize God’s image being visible in your life? What aspects of God’s image are still struggling to come to the surface of your life?

3. What is one way that you exercise compassionate dominion? What is one step you can take to be more compassionate in your exercise of the dominion God has given you?


Living A Better Story Playlist

If stories form the script of our lives, music provides the soundtrack. This playlist–comprised of songs that explore the themes of the various chapters of the story of Scripture–is intended to help saturate our hearts and minds with lyrics and music that will help us with Living A Better Story.

Seeing What’s True And What’s Not

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is trying to reorient the hearts and minds and lives of all who will listen. From the unexpected beatitudes to the reinterpretations of the law, his critique of showy religiosity to his warnings about judging others, he is intent on charting a new course for his followers. By the end, he seems to recognize a danger: if they’re not careful, his followers could end up looking not much different from those whose thoughts and actions Jesus has critiqued. In other words, Jesus wants his followers to know that what matters most is not whether they agree with him or think like him. What matters most is whether their lives look like his, whether they are producing good fruit with the lives they’ve been given.

A couple millennia later and many of us still struggle with the incongruity between what we say we believe and what our lives reveal we believe deep down. Many of us have compounded this problem by falling into the trap of believing that we’re spiritual not religious. And yet the reality of our lives indicates that this is patently untrue. Some of us may no longer be religious the way our ancestors–biological ancestors or ancestors in the faith–were religious, but that hardly means we’re not religious. In fact, as he notes in the following video, theologian David Dark insists we’re all religious.

The reason this matters is that our religion inevitably produces fruit. It may produce good fruit or it may produce bad fruit, but regardless our religion produces fruit. If we are to be people whose lives produce good fruit, the first step is identifying the ways in which we’re religious. Only then are we able to either embrace that religion wholeheartedly or make alternative commitments in order to produce good fruit. Make no mistake, though: one way or another, Jesus’s expectation is that we’ll follow in his footsteps and produce good fruit.

Questions for Reflection

1. What forms of religion have impacted you throughout your life–especially those that might not typically be labelled as “religion?”

2. In what ways are you struggling to produce good fruit? In what ways are you succeeding at producing good fruit?

3. How might you alter your thoughts and habits and actions in order to produce better fruit in your life?


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Looking In All The Wrong Places


Few words of Jesus are repeatedly as frequently as the three simple words “do not judge.” This brief phrase is a favorite of many, including plenty of people who are not followers of Jesus. The irony, of course, is that for as often as these words are repeated as an imperative for others to follow, relatively few people seem to hear these words and think, “He’s talking to me.” Indeed, rather than allowing “do not judge” to be a sort of proactive mantra, shaping us into nonjudgmental people as we go through life, many – if not most – of us wield these words as a reactive weapon.

If we fail to hear Jesus speaking to us, however, we miss the heart of the matter. It is incredibly easy to fall into the trap of judging others. We even come up with all kinds of ways to rationalize our judgmental behavior. “I’m just observing the fruit of her life.” “I’m just telling it like it is.” “Facts are facts.” “The Bible is clear about that.” But it doesn’t take long for the practice of judging to shape us into people whose behavior betrays our rationalizations. We can become angry, bitter, and resentful faster than we’d like to admit when finding fault and passing judgment become part of the fabric of our lives.

Jesus seems to realize just how destructive it can be to regularly pass judgment on others. Not only is such judgment self-destructive, it also destroys relationships with others. In order to enjoy the kind of community the Kingdom of God makes possible, therefore, Jesus calls on us to stop judging and to start treating others the way we want to be treated. In the following video, Barbara Brown Taylor offers some confessional thoughts about how easy it can be to get caught up in judging others, as well as a suggestion for how to begin to live into Jesus’s calling to treat others the way we want to be treated.

Questions for Reflection

1. Think of a recent situation in which you became angry with someone because you wanted them to change or be different. What happened as a result of this anger? What might have been different had you simply focused on finding something to appreciate or common ground that you share?

2. Think of a time when you experienced being written off by someone because they wanted to change you or for you to be different. How did this feel? How did this affect your relationship? How did this change (or not change) you?

3. Do you have a close relationship with someone from whom you’re really different? If so, how has your relationship changed the way you relate to other people who are different from you? If not, think of someone in your life you’ve written off because of your differences and commit to letting go of your desire for them to change. Instead, try to build a relationship with them that is characterized by your treating them the way you’d want to be treated.


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Finding Out Where Your Heart Really Is


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t mince any words when he instructs those listening: “Do not worry.” Neither does he hold back when addressing the tendency for people to treasure that which should not be treasured, describing in vivid detail how susceptible our treasures are to moth and rust and thieves. In the end, the entirety of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is an attempt to overthrow the reign of anxiety in the lives of Christ-followers, so that we might fix our hearts on the true King and his Kingdom and nothing else.

Certainly Jesus has in mind individuals as he speaks these words. Clearly he hopes for the lives of those who are listening to be transformed. And what a difference it would make if followers of Jesus would in fact abandon their anxiety and their attempts to control the future and instead seek the Kingdom of God and let things play out as they will!

At the same time, it’s worth hearing this text from a communal point of view and receiving these words not merely as words for individuals but words for the church as well. The truth is the church gets caught up in anxiety too, so much so that it can at times neglect to seek the Kingdom of God to the degree it is called to do so. Rowan Williams describes this tendency in the following video, while offering some thoughts as to what it would look like for the church to trust God with the future, just as Jesus invites us to do in this text.

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways have you witnessed the church become plagued by anxiety?

2. In what ways have you seen the church choose trust instead of anxiety?

3. What might God be inviting the church to do now to trust God with the future instead of obsessing over its anxiety?


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Giving, Praying, Fasting


Throughout the gospels it becomes very clear that, like the prophets of Israel before him, Jesus is not interested in mere belief. Rather, he is interested in belief that constantly and consistently gives rise to action. At the same time, he is not interested simply in action for the sake of action. Instead, he has a strong conviction that actions can be transformative.

All of this becomes apparent as Jesus shifts his attention from what not to do to what to do at the beginning of Matthew 6, about halfway through the Sermon on the Mount. While he is quite happy that most of the folks listening to him seem to be committed to regularly giving, praying, and fasting, Jesus is intent on highlighting these practices as filled with potential for two very different outcomes. The first is that these practices could produce puffed-up egos, people who advertise their good deeds because their sense of self is almost entirely based on what others think of them. The other option is that these practices, along with the work of the Holy Spirit, might transform their practitioners into people whose hearts and minds and lives have been shaped by the nature and character and will of God. It is this second outcome, this transformative outcome, that Jesus is hoping all who follow him will experience.

As we strive to think about what it would mean to commit ourselves to the practices of giving, praying, and fasting in such a way that we might prioritize transformation over achievement, here are 3 videos for your consideration, each drawn from the Open series of our archives, each of which captures their respective themes so well I couldn’t pass up the chance to share them one more time.

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways has God already worked to transform you through the act of giving? How might God be inviting you to give in secretive, transformative ways at this moment?

2. In what ways has God already worked to transform you through the act of praying? How might God be inviting you into new patterns of prayer that will change you from the inside out?

3. In what ways has God already worked to transform you through the act of fasting? How might God be inviting you to say no, to fast, so that you can know more deeply the truth that God is all you need?


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Loving The People Who Hate Us


Jesus’s exhortation to “love your enemies” may well be the most difficult of all his commands. Certainly it is one of the easiest to explain away. If we’re honest, many of us are hesitant, if not downright unwilling, to even give it a try.

In the following video, theologian Miroslav Volf suggests one explanation for why many of us balk at the idea of loving our enemies: power.

Volf seems to be on to something as he notes that possessing power makes it difficult to take up Jesus’s invitation. He recognizes with clarity the ways power gets a grip on our hearts and incapacitates our imaginations. On the other hand, he perceptively notices how a feeling of powerlessness and an experience of marginality can combine to create the conditions that lead people to try to love their enemies.

This interview with Amal Nassar, a Palestinian Christian, offers a glimpse into the life of a person who, in response to her own powerlessness and marginality, has dared to try to love her enemies.

Nassar’s testimony is an inspiration to powerless and powerful alike. But what a difference it would make in our world if those of us with power would dare to relinquish our power in order to love our enemies with the same kind of creative love as Nassar.

Questions for Reflection

1. In what ways do you struggle with operating according to an “eye for an eye” approach to life?

2. In what ways do you explain away Jesus’s call to love your enemies?

3. Do you know someone who has loved their enemies? What has that looked like? Take some time in the next week or so to try to ask them about how and why they did that.

4. Who comes to mind first when you hear the phrase “your enemies”? What is one specific way you can show love to that person or those people in the next few days?


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.

Telling The Truth About Yourself


One of the constant temptations facing humanity is the temptation to control our image, to manage our reputation. From a very early age experiences of rejection begin to shape how we act and who we are, leading us to hide certain parts of ourselves or highlight other characteristics so that we can avoid encountering rejection again. As we grow older, we become more comfortable in our own skin, content with who we are, so that we don’t have to worry about what people think about us. Or at least, that’s the idea.

Unfortunately many of us get stuck in unhealthy patterns of continuing to control our image. We find all sorts of ways to rationalize the many moves we make to exert this control. The uncomfortable reality, though, is that no matter how much energy we expend rationalizing our image-management techniques, there’s no getting around the fact that it all boils down to an inability, or perhaps even a refusal, to tell the truth about ourselves. The problem here is that without truth as a given, as a foundation we can count on, it is almost impossible to cultivate the very relationships we are so desperately trying to preserve by our efforts to control our image.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better depiction of how a desire to manage our image leads us to an inability to tell the truth about ourselves than this clip from Seinfeld.

Very few of us would go so far as to try to beat a polygraph. But, if we’re honest, there are all sorts of ways in which we try to avoid telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in order to manage the way others see us and think about us. The invitation of Jesus is to believe, really believe, that the truth will set us free, and to begin to tell the truth about ourselves–with our words and with our lives.

Questions for Reflection

1. How have you witnessed others seeking to manage their image?

2. In what ways do you try to control your reputation by being less than fully truthful?

3. How might you take one step toward telling the truth about yourself this week?

4. What could you do to help others feel safe to tell the truth about themselves?


The Good Life Playlist

If music speaks to your soul, make this playlist–comprised of songs that explore the various themes in the Sermon on the Mount–a part of the soundtrack of your life as we explore together The Good Life Jesus invites us to live.