In Search of the Good Life

In Search of the Good Life

Discipleship is such a churchy word. Why should we bother with it? Before I tell you why I think it is important, I want to tell you why I became a priest. This story contains what I love about discipleship.

Once upon a time, I was going to be an academic. I know that won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but the reason was that I loved the big questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be a good person? I was in a graduate program in philosophy. My goal was to be a teacher, but for me this was less about sharing knowledge and more about being a life coach. I was after the concept of THE GOOD LIFE, a life lived well. Often the culture will give us a vision of the good life as sipping champagne, driving our Porsche, and not having to work.

But studying philosophy challenged that for me. I found that what we often call the good life is really the pleasant life. Beneath the glittering surface, it is the shallow life. Once one starts to look deeper, one finds that being so self-centered is really destructive. Philosophy’s answer is that if you want to get to your deathbed with no regrets, you need virtues and values such as responsibility and purpose; tempering the appetites; having a mission in the world, and so on. I got such joy out of pursuing these virtues that I wanted to share the good news of a life lived well. Then I met Jesus, and he changed everything. Well, sort of changed everything.

In Search of a Jesus-Shaped Good Life

My excitement and vision were still the same. I still wanted to encourage people to live deeper life, and to build their lives around higher virtues and values. But now all these virtues and values were Jesus-shaped. When I read the Gospels, I found that Jesus was doing this with the people that came to him. They heard his teachings and were profoundly impacted. As they stayed to hear more, they also started to observe how he lived, how he treated other people, how he prayed to God. They became his students, not in the sense of enrolling in a class, but in learning and imitating. They became students of wisdom and life. The fancy word for student is disciple.

When I put my first love of philosophy with my greater love of Jesus, I found that something providential happened. Jesus leads us into the true GOOD LIFE. It is also a life well-lived, but centered now on God and God’s plan for our lives. It is powered not by willpower, but by grace, and ends in a heart of love.

Living Well

This means different things to different people. But when I think of it, I often remember one of the funerals that impacted me the most. It was for a woman whom I had not met. When I started at my first parish as a new priest, she had already been sick with extreme dementia for quite some time. But I got to know her husband well. When she finally died, I led the funeral.

When her four children got up and spoke about their mom, it was the most moving testimony about a human being that I have ever heard. She had not lived publicly in the limelight. Instead, she focused on her family and volunteer work. But the love and grace she had given to her family and friends was remarkable. As I sat there, I remember thinking that if my children spoke like that about me when I died, then I would have lived well. I would have led a good life. So I prayed to God that I would be the person my children could speak about like that.

Becoming that person is not quick or easy. It is made up of small decisions and actions over the course of years, and the process is what we call discipleship. My invitation to you is also to strive to be the person that God has made you to be. Be a disciple.

Heaven and the Kingdom of God

Mark 1:15

In this coming Sunday’s gospel reading, we see the heart of Jesus’ message. What is he telling us? What is Jesus’ spiritual message for us and for the world? This is important to know because it is at the center of what Christianity is all about. So what was the message? In Mark chapter 1, we hear Jesus preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The kingdom of God is at the heart of his message. Jesus assumed that his contemporaries would hear this as the best news ever! He believed that they would be excited at this proclamation.

However, as modern readers, we don’t hear it the same way. The idea of the kingdom of God probably doesn’t mean as much to us. Or if it does, we often think that it means heaven after we die. But Jesus meant it to be much bigger than that.

Heaven isn’t the whole story

What we call Heaven is only one tiny part of what Jesus is talking about: that all of the promises and prophesies in the Old Testament are all now coming true. People in ancient Israel had been waiting and praying for this moment for centuries. God had promised to come himself and be the king. The Creator would come and set things right, rescue Israel from all her enemies, and finally create a kingdom of righteousness marked by peace, justice and love. In fact, at the time of Jesus, there was a revolutionary slogan that said, “No King but God.”

Jesus says the time is fulfilled. All of these ancient prophesies are coming true. But as he continues to preach and heal and teach, it becomes clear that Jesus is doing something different. The heart of the Gospel is that God is becoming king and setting the world to rights in and through Jesus. And the way to enter the Kingdom of God is to commit to Jesus, believing and trusting in him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also taught that the Kingdom would come in stages. His public ministry was the first stage, then there was his death and resurrection, then the era of the church proclaiming the good news throughout the world. And at last, there will be a final consummation of all things.

The Vision of the Kingdom of God

This is important to each of us because, as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a part of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus taught, this kingdom is not a political reality, but a spiritual reality and a vision of transformed hearts and relationships.

No one is forgotten in the Kingdom of God. All are beloved and have dignity. It is a relationship with God that lasts long into eternity. It is about the world as it was always created to be, and you get to be a part of that. The Kingdom of God is as large as the whole universe, yet fully present within your own heart. In the Gospel on Sunday, we read about Jesus proclaiming the good news and issuing an invitation. Every day is a day to say yes.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — LEARN Jesus

Surprise the World! - LEARN

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last three reflections, we looked at the first three letters, which stand for BLESS, EAT, and LISTEN. Today, we turn to the fourth habit: LEARN Jesus.

Frost talks about how important it is to LEARN Jesus Christ. He reminds us that everything we do as Christians is about Christ; it is built into our name. Jesus Christ is the reason for our hope. He is the one who has won our salvation and who teaches us what life with God looks like. Therefore, it makes sense that as Christians, we should know Jesus really well.

Catch the Jesus Wave

Frost tells the story of going to speak at a gathering of Christian surfers in Australia. He asked them who their favourite surfer was. They gave several different answers, but it was also clear that everyone was in awe of one superstar surfer: Kelly Slater. When Frost asked them to tell stories about Slater, the room erupted. People talked about all kinds of feats and awards.

Then he asked them to talk about Jesus. There was some silence, even though this was a Christian group. Some said things like ‘He’s Lord,’ or ‘He died for our sins.’ These doctrinal statements led to the point Frost wanted to make: what would it be like if they knew Jesus as well as they knew Kelly Slater?

Jesus is our teacher, our mentor, our guide, our saviour, our brother, and yes, our Lord. He did some amazing things, and taught profound wisdom. But if we are going to live like him and tell others about him, we need to know him as well as those surfers knew their hero.

Learn Jesus

Frost challenges us to spend some time once a week learning about Christ. The best way to do that is ‘a deep and ongoing study of the biographies of Jesus written by those who knew him best – the Gospels.’ Frost says that we need to not just read about Jesus, but to immerse ourselves completely in the Gospels, in the work and words of Jesus. In this way, we come to know Christ better and better, while we are drawn deeper into his life and are formed by him. This is our purpose. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

Frost suggests three ways to know Jesus better:

1) Study the Gospels to Learn Jesus

Read, reread, and reread the Gospels. This doesn’t exclude other study, and you don’t have to do this all at once. But the Gospels are the heart of our faith because they tell of Jesus, the heart of everything. Set aside a period of time every week to learn Christ.

2) Read about Jesus

There are lots of great books about Jesus, both at a popular and scholarly level. Some suggestions:

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

Jesus the Fool by Michael Frost

King’s Cross by Tim Keller

The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

3) Movies about Jesus

No movie captures everything about Jesus. By exploring a range of films, we can see how people encounter Jesus even today. Some of them, like Godspell, aren’t true to life, but seek to capture different aspects of Jesus’ character and action.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

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Lessons of the 20th Century: A Series about Hard-Won Truths

20th Century Lessons

Over the past several weeks, I have been writing that Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century is in some ways profoundly different than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. This is because we have learned from the history of the 20th century. History is a hard teacher. We can talk about our ideal theology all day long, but once we try to live it out in our lives in the real world, we end up learning some hard truths. And yet these hard truths often turn out to be great gifts.

When I say that Christianity is different, I don’t mean that it is a different faith. I believe in the covenant that God made with Israel. I believe that Jesus is God’s Incarnate Son. In his death and resurrection for the sins of the world, he inaugurated the New Creation. I believe in the need for atonement, forgiveness, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Trinity. But I also believe that we have new insights into the Christian faith that our forebears did not have.

Continue reading “Lessons of the 20th Century: A Series about Hard-Won Truths”