Monthly Archives: March 2017

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.