Category Archives: The Good Life

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.

Honoring The Covenant Of Marriage


As Jesus expounds upon what it means to be salt and light and to let God’s law lead us to becoming mature children of God, he turns his attention to the covenant of marriage. Jesus’s words in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount are focused on what not to do. Often over the years, the church has taken this same negative or restrictive tack in its conversations about the covenant of marriage. While this perspective continues to be as vitally important as it was in Jesus’s day, it is important to remember that there is another aspect of Jesus’s words that is all too easy to overlook.

In between the lines of Jesus’s commentary on the covenant of marriage is an implicit prescription of what his hearers should do: embody fidelity to the covenants they have made. In the video below, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores this theme of fidelity.

Fidelity means trading bare minimum effort for all-in commitment. Fidelity means no longer seeking ways to qualify a covenant but instead striving for unconditional faithfulness. Fidelity means that in a world of innumerable distractions we cultivate a singular focus. Fidelity means we do everything in our power to let nothing stand in the way of fulfilling the covenants we make. Finally, fidelity means that when we fail, we receive God’s grace as an opportunity to get right back to the serious business of honoring the covenant promises we have made.

This song by Andy Gullahorn captures what it’s like to come to the realization that we’ve not actively been pursuing fidelity, and yet recognize there’s still hope for cultivating that kind of commitment to the covenants we’ve made.

Questions for Reflection

1. Have you ever been on the wrong end of someone failing to honor a covenant they made? What was the experience like?

2. What “cheap thrills” have the strongest power to allure you? How do they inhibit your ability to honor the covenants you have made?

3. What are some practical steps you can take not merely to avoid breaking a covenant, but to move beyond the surface of things so that you can actively pursue fidelity to the covenants you have made?


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.

Threatening Someone’s Life


Jarrod succinctly summarizes the heart of Jesus’s words about murder and anger this way: “God wants us to reach a place where we value our relationships over our rights.” It is incredibly difficult, though, to reach this place. One of the reasons this is so difficult is because while relationships take a lot of hard work merely to maintain, much less to nurture consistently to greater depth and meaning, it’s relatively easy to sustain a passion for protecting our rights. If we’re honest, anger in response to a violation of our rights is extremely energizing. I’m convinced this is part of why so many of us hold grudges and keep records of wrongs: the anger gets us out of bed in the mornings and keeps us going during the day.

I suspect more of us struggle with this than we’d like to admit. To be sure, some of us do a pretty good job of hiding our anger, making it easier for us to believe the lie that we don’t really struggle with it. We find ways to carefully conceal our anger so that others can’t see just what a big role it is playing in our lives. Others of us, however, aren’t so skilled at pretending. The anger is constantly finding its way to expression in our words and in our actions, and while we might be successful at temporarily restraining it, its hold on our hearts and minds has become so strong it could come lashing out at the slightest provocation.

Do you remember George Costanza, Jerry’s friend on the show Seinfeld? George is the epitome of someone who is driven by anger. Anger has such a strong hold on his heart and mind that you never quite know when he’s going to lash out. There are many great scenes that capture these outbursts of anger, but this is one of the best. Still angry over a perceived slight from an acquaintance years earlier, George approaches his acquaintance’s AA sponsor to try to find a way to attain an apology from his acquaintance.

Now most of us would consider ourselves to be a bit more in control of ourselves than George, but the reality is many of us are more like George than we can even begin to acknowledge. We value our rights over our relationships and so our lives are characterized by anger that hurts others and hurts ourselves. What if we were to choose the way of grace instead of anger, the way of reconciliation instead of retribution, the way of Jesus instead of the way of the world?

This song by Sara Groves captures well what it would be like to choose the way of Jesus.

Questions for Reflection

1. How did you feel the last time you lashed out in anger? How did you feel an hour or day or week later?

2. What or who makes you angry? How does that anger play out in your life?

3. How might you take one step toward releasing the anger that controls you?

4. What would be a good way to begin moving toward reconciliation?


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.

Letting The Law Lead Us

If we are to “let the law lead us” as Jarrod suggests, we must begin by considering the way we relate to the Bible. The reality is plenty of other folks in Jesus’s day were taking the Bible just as seriously as he was; that wasn’t the issue. No Jesus’s issue with the religious leaders of his day, and his challenge in the Sermon on the Mount, revolved around the manner in which people were taking the scriptures seriously. The most important question for students of the scriptures, for people of the book that were gathering around Jesus was this: were they courageous enough to be honest about the agendas, fear, self-interest, and other concerns that colored the way they read the sacred words and then daring enough to try to set those things aside? That question continues to beg an answer from followers of Jesus to this day.

Richard Rohr briefly describes how these “distorted filters” cause problems for us when we engage the Bible.


So what would it mean to “let the law lead us?” Well, it begins with an admission that all of us bring a lot with us when we sit down to read the scriptures, so much so that it’s no unfair to ask whether we’re really interest in “letting the law lead us” or whether we’re really attempting to lead the law. Then it’s a matter of trying to pursue with everything we’ve got the spirit of the law, the heart of the scriptures, and praying that the Holy Spirit would guide us in that pursuit, that the scriptures and the Spirit in concert would shape us into righteous followers of Jesus.

To that end, this song is a helpful reminder of the spirit of the law and the heart of the scriptures, and a call to pursue it with all we’ve got.

Questions for Reflection

1. How have you understood “the law” at various points in your faith journey? How has your understanding remained the same? How has it changed?

2. Do you tend more toward being a “letter of the law” person or a “spirit of the law” person? What factors do you think have contributed to this tendency?

3. In what area of your life do you feel most faithful to the spirit of the law? Why do you think this is?

4. In what area of your life do you feel you struggle most to be faithful to the spirit of the law? Why do you think this is?

5. Are there any areas of your life you’ve made off limits, so that the law cannot lead you toward righteousness? If so, what are they? What would it take for you to open up these closed off areas?


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.

Offering Tastes and Glimpses of God

Salt of the earth. Light of the world. When I hear these phrases this is what comes to mind:

For a few brief moments several years ago, it was as if time were standing still. It was lunchtime, and I was excited a friend and I were going to be able to share a fantastic meal at Harold’s Pit Bar-B-Q (little did I know it would be the last meal I would ever eat there).

But it wasn’t the smell of the mesquite-smoked beef brisket as we walked through the door that seemed to cause time to stand still. Rather, it was the sound of owner Harold Christian’s voice stopping all conversations in their tracks by inviting everyone in the room to join him in a song and then launching into the familiar refrain of the gospel spiritual, “Amen.”

For a few moments, in the unlikeliest of places, it was as if we were standing on holy ground. The line stopped moving. Customers set their sandwiches down. Conversations ceased. Here’s what it looked like that day.


Sure there were some who didn’t sing along. To my knowledge there were no conversion experiences. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that for a moment, in that most ordinary place and time, Harold sacrificed efficiency during the lunch rush, in order to share his faith with all who would listen, in the way most natural for him: by using the beautiful, baritone voice God gave him.

Even when he didn’t sing–I ate there dozens of times during my years at ACU and that was the only time I heard him sing–there was something about the way he carried himself, something about the way he interacted with his customers, that was different than the average restaurateur. And virtually everyone who stepped foot inside that building recognized it, as evidenced by the response when Harold passed away last year. I think what made Harold unique was that he knew deep down that being salt and light was just as important as serving a great brisket sandwich.

Most of us aren’t going to interrupt a crowded restaurant by launching into songs. Indeed, most of us shouldn’t; God hasn’t placed us in a position like Harold’s or gifted us with that kind of voice. But all of us have opportunities to offer tastes and glimpses of God. The only question is whether we’ll seize them.

I invite you to let this video guide you into a time of reflection on how you might live out Jesus’s call to be salt and light, to offer tastes and glimpses of God.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who comes to mind for you when you hear the phrases “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”? Why do you think it is that this person comes to mind?

2. Think about your daily rhythms and weekly routines. In what ways can you be intentional about making sure that as you go about these rhythms and routines you are being salt and light?


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.