The Good or Faithful Life?

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The current sermon series at Smoky Row Brethren Church is about how to live well as a Christian in lots of different situations. One of the things Rich asked us to think about is what makes a good life. What does it mean to live well? Do you answer this differently depending on whether you’re a Christian or not? I think some of the answers are likely to be the same for everybody: good health, long life, meaningful work, strong relationships. In some ways, though, a Christian’s answers might stand out from the crowd.

For many people today, the good life is spelled success. To live the good life, you need to be young, rich, sexy, and famous. Living well means having it all. The New Testament writers aren’t impressed by these values: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever” (1 John 2:15-17 NRSV). Jesus says not even to worry about basic things like food and clothing: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). This sounds too impractical to be a roadmap to success.

Brenda Account PictureThe Christian “good life,” though, seems to be less about success and more about faithfulness. That’s how Paul sums up his own life as it nears its end: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, faithfulness is what the master (God) rewards: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). Faithfulness isn’t about how much we get, but what we do with what we have.

From what we see in the Bible, the faithful life is a mixed bag. Hebrews 11 talks about some pretty great things: people conquered kingdoms, escaped death, administered justice, saw loved ones raised from the dead. Unfortunately, faithful people also experienced poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death in many gruesome forms. The faithful life is often less glamorous—and sometimes shorter—than the successful life. On the plus side, anybody can be faithful—anybody, that is, who follows Jesus and relies on the help of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to be young, rich, sexy, or famous!

We could always sum this up by saying that for a Christian, the good life looks like Jesus. But what does that look like, given that Jesus never went to college, raised kids, worked at a corporation, played sports, retired from a job, or did many of the other things we do all the time? We’ll have a chance to flesh this out as we think about “the good life” in more detail in coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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Everyday Faithfulness

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“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. . . . If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am.”  (1 Cor 16:2, 10 NRSV)

Brenda Account PictureThe thing that strikes me about this section of the book of 1 Corinthians is how ordinary it is.  Following a rather exalted discussion of the resurrection, Paul deals with some items of everyday faithfulness.  The church in Corinth isn’t the only one that has needed reminding to fulfill their financial obligations and not to be too hard on a young pastor.  This is the “stuff of life,” as Rich said in his sermon this week.  It reminds me that this stuff was all real—real people dealing with real challenges and opportunities in a gifted but rambunctious congregation.

We sometimes have exalted ideas about the sacredness of Scripture that removes it from everyday life.  But evidently God cares about everyday things.  Much of the everyday life of a congregation happens behind the scenes by the people who pay the bills, make the phone calls, clean the church, and show up for property care days.  Without all these acts of everyday faithfulness, the more noticeable work of Smoky Row Brethren Church—the worship service, the food pantry, the community garden—wouldn’t be possible.

The Corinthians were addicted to showy stuff—exceptional knowledge, eloquent rhetoric, flashy gifts.  Some of them were disappointed in Paul because he wasn’t showy enough.  We’re not a particularly showy congregation.  Although gifted, we tend to be understated rather than flashy.  But even we can forget to value the everyday things and honor the people who do them.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, is known for his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God.  He hated washing dishes at his monastery but found that he kept being assigned to that task.  His boring and frustrating experience was transformed when he decided to wash dishes with the Lord, recognizing the Lord’s presence and blessing even in such a menial task.

Let’s remind ourselves of the Lord’s presence as we go about our everyday tasks this week.  Leave some comments about what you experience!