Our Best Life Now

Our Best Life Now

“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”

“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment.”

“When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.”

“Don’t simply settle for what your parents had. You can go further than that. You can do more, have more, be more.”

“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.”

        —Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now

Focusing on how we can better ourselves is a popular industry these days. Best selling books often focus on self-improvement, on self-image, on increasing wealth. There is even a niche within Christianity called the “prosperity Gospel” or the “health and wealth movement.”

If you do X, God will bless you with Y.

A simple formula. Enticing, even.

I wonder, then, if Joel Osteen is almost on to something. No really. Hear me out.

A question by a friend came up recently. He asked, “What is the gospel?”

An obvious answer seems to be: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” As in, you will go to heaven and live forever in peace. For many folks, it seems obvious that Jesus came to die so that you could live. I recall one of the first pub theology sessions I ever attended, where someone was adamant that the only purpose of Jesus’ life was to die on the cross.

As I’ve reflected on my own view on these things, I’ve realized that such a cosmic-formula approach to the gospel is not only not very compelling to me, but that it is hard to find in the pages of the Gospels themselves.

In fact, Jesus is asked directly on several occasions: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

His responses range from: “Obey the commandments” to “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” to “Sell all that you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” And in these encounters, Jesus often adds: “Do these things and you will live.”

In other words, Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned with what happens after we die. He’s concerned with what is happening while we are alive. This was a common focus in Jewish thinking at the time—not to mention today—so it’s not all that surprising.

Yet it is surprising to many of us, because we’ve been so indoctrinated with the view that the gospel is primarily about going to heaven when we die.

Even when Jesus does tell stories or parables about heaven, they nearly always are rooted in how one is living a justice or other-centered life in this present existence. Think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) or the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25).

When Jesus begins his ministry, he began to say, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Or the “kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, God’s presence is unfolding right now all around you. Time to open yourself up to that reality. Time to live in that presence.

And what does living in that presence mean? It means things like, “loving your neighbor as yourself” and “giving to those who ask” and “loving your enemies” and throwing parties where the very least in society are given a seat at the table. It means good news to the poor.

Joel Osteen is right.

So Joel Osteen is right. Or at least, almost right. I just hadn’t seen it before.

He famously tells folks how to have “your best life now.”

Jesus, it seems, was about our best life now. And by ‘best life’, I mean, a life where we together, as community, live generously and peacefully with one another in light of God’s gracious presence. Where we seek to care for and make space for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Where we creatively re-imagine the world as one where there’s enough for all, where we respond to enemies with love and forgiveness rather than violence, and where seating at the table isn’t determined by wealth, or societal position, or if it is – it’s the poorest first, and the lowest on the ladder who get the best spot.

Jesus wasn’t about an easy life, which is what one might take from the prosperity preachers. He told us to take up our own cross—in other words—to oppose the unjust structures and powers that be and fight the injustices of our own day. It may well cost us something. But if we’re committed to it, it really could turn into our—all of humanity’s—best life. Now.

I’m in. Who’s with me?

 


bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch.

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Guest post by Mike Clawson

20 years ago I would have been among those who believe today’s SCOTUS ruling signals the moral and spiritual decay of American society – a sign of the end times.

15 years ago I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but no worse than any others, and didn’t think Christians should be making such a big deal about it. Also, my political views had shifted and I no longer believed it was right for religious people to impose our morality on society by opposing equal rights for gay people. Continue Reading..

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

This post originally appeared in Toast Weekly, a newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC.

If you’re like me, you’ve been told once or twice that being a good Christian includes occasionally telling other people about Jesus.

Your reaction might go something like: “Ewww. Yuck. I’m not that interested in evangelism, or selling something, or anything like that.”

But there is another part of you which senses that if more people knew the Jesus who was a radical for peace, forgiveness, love, and justice—the world would be a better place. So how does one go about doing this, without feeling like an unwanted door-to-door salesperson or an awkward friend? Continue Reading..

Why Does the Church Insist That People Stop Learning?

Why Does the Church Insist That People Stop Learning?

AS A PARENT, it is a particular delight when I see one of my kids reading. I love to see when they become immersed into a story, or discover something they didn’t know before as they pore over a book. It is a thrill to watch their imaginations and worlds expand. Which makes it hard to imagine a parent saying to a child: “Stop reading! You’ve learned enough already. You’ve learned all you need to know.” Yet in my experience in the church, I’ve been told exactly that. And I know my experience isn’t an isolated one. Continue Reading..

COP 21 and the Politics of Resurrection

COP 21 and the Politics of Resurrection

Guest post by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

CHANCES ARE PRETTY GOOD that you’ve never heard of COP 21, but don’t despair—you’re not alone. Ask the average American what COP 21 is, and you’ll likely get some combination of blank stares and guesses about new reality shows on FOX (mental note: Google contact information for CEO of FOX).

It’s mostly only nerds like me who have heard of COP 21 and think it matters, but here’s why I think that should change—especially for Jesus-followers.

Continue Reading..

Worship as the Ultimate Act?

Worship as the Ultimate Act?

THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CONFESSION famously says that the “chief end of man (sic) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This classic theological assertion is held with conviction by many in the Reformed tradition and beyond. God created us to give him (or her?) glory. The point of the universe is to glorify God.

It is often assumed that the way we glorify God is through worship. And worship is often understood as: singing songs on a Sunday morning, hearing a sermon, putting some money in the collection plate, and drinking some stale coffee afterward while dissecting the second point of the sermon or talking about the upcoming bake sale. Continue Reading..

The Bible as Many, the Bible as One

The Bible as Many, the Bible as One

In a recent conversation about the Bible, I referred to it as “a collection of texts known as the Bible.” Someone responded:

In the collection known as the Bible?? I’m sorry, my friend, but you have gone off the deep end…

This response was a bit of a surprise. The fact that the Bible is comprised of various books by various authors is common knowledge to anyone who has taken a single religion class in high school or college, or to anyone who has actually opened a Bible. As a young child, I was required to memorize “the books of the Bible.” Continue Reading..

Reclaiming Holy Week through Revolutionary Resurrection

Reclaiming Holy Week through Revolutionary Resurrection

Holy Week reflections by Jorge Juan Rodriguez V
(this post was originally published at HolyWeekofResistance.net)

For many Christian communities in this Empire called the United States, Holy Week has been largely commercialized, commodified and sanitized. Profound themes present in Holy Week of state violence, murder without recourse of marginalized individuals and communities, and the subverting of oppression through revolutionary acts have been diluted for the comfort of the masses and the maintenance of power. Continue Reading..

The Last Week Tonight: What Will It Take?

The Last Week Tonight: What Will It Take?

Holy Week reflections by Chris Lubbers

Have you ever repeatedly uttered a word until it just became a meaningless sound? Try it for one minute. Love, love, love, love, love, love, … At most, you’re left with a familiar, comforting noise. We often fail to notice what is familiar. The fish don’t see the water or understand its significance–if that expression isn’t itself too familiar to make the point.

Continue Reading..

We Must Listen AND Respond

We Must Listen AND Respond

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.”

Ouch. That is the opening line in the position statement on homosexuality of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. I wonder how many gay individuals had a chance to review that before it went to press. I’m guessing not too many. That is a hurtful and embarrassing statement. I am ordained in the CRCNA. This statement does not represent me.
Continue Reading..

Close