There is a lot of talk and intimation about the good life in our culture. One can't eat a box of cereal or open an internet browser without being bombarded by messages that tell us what the good life is and how we might purchase it. Any number of famous singers and musicians weave it into lyrics; generally equating the good life with some variation of having a life spent making and spending money (preferably in large amounts), being famous, owning the fanciest or most expensive x, y or z thing, partying, basically fulfilling every desire. Many of us login to Facebook, open Instagram or Snapchat, follow folks on Twitter in pursuit of the good life. We pursue it by documenting our lives with quotes and pictures that portray to others that we are living the good life. For all the ways the good life is in the ether, do we really know what it is? And, if we think we do, are we right?
This was the question posed to our youth when we spent a week in Atlanta, GA with the YouthWorks organization doing mission work. YouthWorks has a summer theme each year and The Good Life was this year's theme. Youth and leaders began their days of service with questions about the good life placed before them in the summer devotional and the theme surfaced again as teams gathered after a day of service in evening worship time. Throughout the week, we talked about and considered what it means to live the good life and how God desires the good life for us. The theme verse was Matthew 10:10 where Jesus says, "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full."
The devotional and worship considerations of The Good Life began with a look at creation on Monday. We specifically looked at the Hebrew of the word "good" as it appears in Genesis 1. In Hebrew, the word "tov" is used to express "good." "Tov" means "good" and "beautiful" and "the way things are when things work together as they are supposed to." God created the universe and the world and us and declared us "tov." In the psalms, God declares that each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made -- "tov." God has good lives in mind for us and for creation from our inception.
On Tuesday, we considered imitations of The Good Life. Cheap imitations are all around us all the time, but while those imitations can sometimes make us comfortable or safe, their impacts are not long lasting -- they don't make more of us. The good things God has for us are often waiting just outside our comfort zones. And, so Tuesday's focus included a call to try things just outside one's comfort zone and our youth answered that call. They reached out to strangers, elderly and children alike. They preached the gospel with their actions feeding those in need, offering an ear or a prayer, by playing basketball and with glitter glue. Our young people stretched themselves to see what good God had beyond their comfort zones.
Wednesday called attention to Luke's story of the hired hand and the good shepherd in 10:10-14, reminding us that Jesus is good and bids us to follow him and his ways -- that we are called to do good too. The devotional shared, "Jesus showed us how to love others through the way he lived. In fact, a lot of the Bible is focused on how to love and serve others, even when it's hard.
That's because putting ourselves on the line for others is an important part of living the good life God created us for. In fact, 'we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do' (Ephesians 2:10). God made you good, so you could do good!' " Again our youth heeded the call, sweating it out in an urban garden so families could have nutrient rich produce, sorting medicines at the Atlanta Food Bank, and sharing time with elderly members of the Atlanta community.
Thursday's message brought The Good Life into even sharper focus by asking when God desires us to live the good life -- here and now or in the hereafter. The devotional led students step by step to see that Jesus' life and preaching shows that The Good Life is for both. Special emphasis was placed on the Lord's Prayer as we pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Students were asked to reflect on their week. Where had they seen the good things of heaven come down to earth over the course of their week? They were also asked to consider where the goodness of God had not yet reached -- what might be done about that and how one might pray for that goodness. The students were reminded that "when we trust God, follow Jesus, and love others, that is what the kingdom on earth looks like. God's kingdom exists wherever God is making things right -- in and through God's people..."
Our youth closed out the week having been the hands and feet of Christ, having seen the face of Christ in children and elderly, volunteers and homeless, having seen some of the good of heaven touching earth. Our youth did more than consider The Good Life in devotions, worship, and presentations -- our youth LIVED The Good Life. Please join us in worship August 19th and 20th to hear more about out trip from our young people themselves. They have some amazing stories.
You were made good.
And just like God pursued people
with forgiveness and love
God is pursuing you.
Because God is good
and for your good.
So avoid cheap imitations.
Don't follow false shepherds.
Stand in the way of wolves.
And live close to Jesus--the source of life.
Because the life for which you were created
is for you and for others,
for now and forever.
It is a beautiful life,
a lasting life,
a full life...
It is the good life.
**From the YouthWorks 2017 summer devotional book, The Good Life
About the Author: Pastor Nicole Kelly is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, OH. A vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.