From Adam and Eve forward, humanity has been trying to answer the question, “How do we thrive?” Another way to pose that question would be to ask, “What is the good life?" There are a thousand ways to answer that question. Whole societies have been built on certain answers like survival, freedom, conquest, the pursuit of wealth, power and control, even hatred for other societies. America was built on answers like opportunity, adventure, exploration, religious freedom, and a healthy dose of individualism.
But once a society is built and established, it gets steadily more difficult to maintain “the good life”. The ideals that build a society, the over-arching Story that pioneers lived and died for, gets watered down. Pioneers are quickly replaced with settlers. And settlers have a habit of forgetting the reasons why the society was built in the first place.
To a settler, the good life means to have a good job, a good marriage, well-adjusted and healthy kids, a comfortable house, work out 3 times a week, drink in moderation, and only occasionally order 2 dozen crullers from the local gourmet donut shop. Settlers - and let’s face it, all us are settlers - eventually lose touch with the powerful founding Story that motivated the pioneers to accomplish the amazing things they did.
In the book of Joshua, it is recorded how the people of Israel occupied the land God gave them under the leadership and faithfulness of Joshua son of Nun. It is the story of a generation of pioneers and warriors that believed with absolute conviction that nothing was going to stop them because God was with them and for them. But eventually their time came to an end. In Judges chapter 2, starting in verse 7 it says:
"...each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them. And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash."
But in verse 10 it says, "After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them."
So in one generation - one single generation - the Israelites went from the spoils of victory and the blessing of God to abandonment of God and utter failure. Stunning.
What is the Good Life? How do settlers - those of us tasked with living in the in-between times, where no volcanic, society-creating activity is going on - stay faithful to the Story that got us here in the first place? Well, just like the people of Israel, if we forget where we came from, how we got here, and who led us here, we are doomed for failure.
As great as the American Dream is and as great as the pioneers were that founded this country, as followers of Jesus it is not our ultimate Story. Phillipians 3:20 and 21 says, "But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control." Now this is not describing some otherworldly future where we will be floating on clouds and playing harps. This is talking about God-shaped reality; life as God intended it from the beginning. This is where heaven and earth come together. This is resurrection and new life as citizens of God’s kingdom.
Because this is our future, we live now with this image in full view. As bad as the world gets, we know who comes out on top. As messed up as people are, we know God is in the rescue and recovery business, the resurrection business.
In 1 Corinthians 15:54-58, Paul tells us how this all fits together:
"Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless."
That is our story. That is our promise. Nothing you do for the Lord is useless. No-thing. So that brings us full circle. What is the good life? What does it mean to thrive? Well, it starts as we follow Jesus together as a family. It starts around the table, sharing a meal, singing, praying, interacting, remembering our history and imagining our future. And then we go out from there, or more accurately, we get sent out. And we become representatives of the kingdom that will have no end. We work, we raise families, we love our neighbors, we pray, we heal, we suffer, and we laugh. And all of those things, every-thing, matters to God. Not just what we do in a church service.
Truth be told, much of life is pretty ordinary and unglamorous. It is the stuff of settlers. Many churches try to pump up crowds with big ideas, big programs, and big visions - pioneer talk. But what happens when you leave church and have to change a diaper? Or wash the dishes? Or do your homework? In God’s economy, that is holy work, not just what is typically called ministry.
So here is the truth. Do you want to live the good life? Then find some friends, some fellow settlers that have not forgotten the Story. People that love God and love each other. You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t need smoke machines and a million dollar sound system. Just be together, worship, pray, eat, laugh, and love. Then go live. And be a generation, like Joshua’s, that serves God for the rest of your lives.