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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
David C. Cook; Reprint edition (April 1, 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephen W. Smith is the co-founder and spiritual director of Potter’s Inn, a ministry devoted to spiritual formation and the care of the soul. As a frequent speaker and retreat leader, he has committed himself to the spiritual growth and transformation of individuals, couples, churches and organizations. Previously he has planted and led churches in North America and Europe. He also served as adjunct professor of preaching at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhovedorp, The Netherlands. He is the author of six books, including The Lazarus Life, Living the Lazarus Life, Soul Custody and Soul Shaping. Stephen and his wife, Gwen, reside in Colorado.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Recover your life and find your way. Despite our honest efforts to improve the quality of our busy, constantly connected lives, many of us have come up epmty, defeated, and exhausted. Finally here is a book that offers the way back to the life Jesus promise us! The Jesus Life defines the true "abundant life" for everyday people and show us through eight practical ways how we can experience the life Jesus lived.
Drawn from the life and lifestyle of our Savior, The Jesus Life offers eight practical ways to truly experience the life Christ promised. Each chapter will show readers how to follow the example that Jesus modeled throughout his life including:
· The Way of Dailyness
· The Way of Hiddenness
· The Way of Family
· The Way of Companionship
· The Way of the Table
· The Way of Doing Good
· The Way of Ritual
· The Way of Suffering
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Reprint edition (April 1, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
T H E
Eight Ways to Recover
STEPHEN W. SMITH
THE JESUS LIFE Published by David C Cook
4050 Lee Vance View
Colorado Springs, CO 80918 U.S.A.
David C Cook Distribution Canada
55 Woodslee Avenue, Paris, Ontario, Canada N3L 3E5
David C Cook U.K., Kingsway Communications
Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 6NT, England
The graphic circle C logo is a registered trademark of David C Cook. All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts for review purposes,
no part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form
without written permission from the publisher.
The website addresses recommended throughout this book are offered as a resource to you. These websites are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement on the part of David C Cook, nor do we vouch for their content.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com; NASB are takenfrom the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org); NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson,
Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved; NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved; and A MP are taken from the Amplified® Bible. Copyright © 1954,
1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org.) The author has added italics to Scripture quotations for emphasis.
© 2012 Stephen W. Smith
Published in association with the literary agency of Creative Trust, Inc.,
5141 Virginia Way, Suite 320, Brentwood, TN 37027.
The Team: John Blase, Amy Konyndyk, Jack Campbell, Karen Athen
Cover Design and Photos: Nick Lee
Printed in the United States of America
First Edition 2012
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
For Gwen, my children, and my grandchildren
1. Recovering Your Life 17
We’ve Lost the Way That Leads to Life
2. The Rhythm of Jesus 33
Living a Life That Sustains
3. The Way Jesus “Did” His Life 53
Exploring His Way as Our Way
4. The Way of Dailiness 67
Living the Jesus Life Every Day
5. The Way of Hiddenness 85
Choosing Obscurity to Cultivate Life
6. The Way of Family 107
Living the Life with Our Family and Those Closest to Us
7. The Way of Companionship 125
Cultivating Friendships in Reality and Truth
8. The Way of the Table 143
Savoring a Sacred Mystery
9. The Way of Doing Good 163
Extending Life to Others
10. The Way of Ritual 181
Creating Signposts as We Journey through Life
11. The Way of Suffering 197
Understanding the Role of Pain and Suffering
12. A Good Life 221
Learning to Wear the Easy Yoke of Jesus
Table: Jewish Feasts and Festivals
in the Old Testament 232
Discussion Guide 233
The Africans have a proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In other words, many people are needed to care for the well- being and formation of an individual child. In Colorado, we have the beautiful aspens that never, ever grow alone. Aspens always grow together and are, in fact, one single tree—all connected at the roots. Since I live in Colorado and not Africa, I want to acknowledge the aspen-like effect of The Jesus Life. It takes many people to publish a book, not just the author.
I have the privilege of working with David C Cook, a publish- ing house that has been successful in the twenty-first century due to the capable leadership of innovative leaders such as Dan Rich and Don Pape. They have championed this book from the initial stirrings to the book you are holding in your hands. John Blase and Jack Campbell engaged with the manuscript, helping me with everything from structure and outline to commas and periods. John Blase offered firm guidance and an expertise that hit the bull’s-eye, even though I did not want to hear what he had to say some of the time. The book isstronger because of his work. Both of them had keen insight to improve the manuscript at different levels and perspectives. The marketing team of Mike Salisbury, Mike Ruman, Brian Erickson, and Mike Worley has been instrumental in securing exposure for this book in many areas. Rebekah Ormord, my assistant, helped me research, brainstorm, and find helpful social indicators that I present throughout the book. Thank you to Nick Lee for the beautiful cover that is rich with meaning and implication. And thank you, Kathy
Helmers, my literary agent, for helping me on all levels to convey this important message!
There are other aspen-like people noteworthy of mention , because through their care, attention, and friendship, I have had the unique opportunity to live out the "ways" that I describe in this book: Steve Forney, Chuck Millsaps, John Kapitan, and David Sachsenmaier have all probed at my roots, and together we are living and walking in these ways.
I am so deeply thankful for the supporters who stand behind Potter's Inn ministry. You are the roots of the aspen grove, and with out your support, this book and ministry would not be possible.
No voice or soul has been more important than that of my wife,
Gwen. She has helped to shape my perspective and explored with me the thoughts before they became the paragraphs and chapters in this book. Together we have lived the Jesus life, and without Gwen, there would not be the richness in the life I am currently living. Thank you for being my soul's companion and helping me become alive to the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Finally, I thank you, the reader, who I had on my mind and heart in every way I explore in these pages. It is mostly for you that I have written this important book. May this be the primer to help you navigate well the white water of life that will turn your life upside down and inside out to experience the Jesus life.
We’ve Lost the Way That Leads to Life
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
—Jesus (John 10:10 NIV)
This book will help you recover your life. The word recover means to get back something that is lost. It seems we as followers of Jesus have lost something while on the long journey toward heaven. It’s life that we’ve lost. If you want to really live, then keep reading.
Let me say from the outset that the word recover gives us hope. One of the root meanings for this word is from a Latin term mean- ing “to recuperate.”1 We need to get better. We need to get better at living life—or all we’ll do is survive.
We can regain what we have lost. We can mend our disobedient ways and get back on track to experiencing the life God has for us. I would dare say most of us need to recover life in almost every area: relationships, attitudes, finances, past wounds, and life purpose. But there is no greater area that sits waiting for recovery than our life with God. The damage, distance, and disillusionment we experience between ourselves and God—well, it’s time to close the gap.
The gap between ourselves and God—the gap between the life we are living and the life we could live—needs to close. Why? Because regardless of what you’ve come to believe about Jesus, church, and the Christian faith, one thing is for sure: Jesus is all about life. He said plainly, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10 NN).2 The full life, the abundant life, life that is "more," a life that is a better, a life beyond what we can dream of-this is what we can recover!
When I was a boy, I prayed a prayer, was baptized, and was told my sins were forgiven. Now that I have become a man, I need Jesus
to save me from more than just my sins. It's my life that needs to
be saved, restored, and recovered. I hope you're nodding your head in agreement. So many Christians today are unhappy, unfulfilled , and disgruntled. The back door of most churches is wider than the front door. People are leaving the church at an alarming rate. We want more than we have been given. We need more than what we're experiencing.
Life is difficult , and through the perils, difficulties, attempts to try this or that, we find ourselves the bull's-eye target of Jesus' own words:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
In these pages I want to become your companion in this search to find the way that leads to life-the Jesus life. First, we're going to explore our mortal existence and how we’ve become so terribly lost. Then, in part 2, we’ll explore the myth of trying to live a balanced life—something that is all the rage in books, seminars and symposiums, tweeting, blogging, and preaching. I’ll propose a better way by unpacking the concept ofrhythm. When we reestablish a life of rhythm, we learn to live to the cadence of the unforced rhythms of grace and a sustainable life. Jesus offers us a life described as “full.”
In part 3, we’ll look at eight “ways” that breathe life back into us, that sustain us in life’s journey, and that nourish meaning, hope, optimism, and a sense of community. These eight ways are all found in the life of Jesus—the very One who claimed to be Life and offers not an ordinary life but an abundant one. These ways are ignored in today’s world, yet they are all found in the Scriptures. You’ll see that learning these eight ways is not going to be like studying rocket sci- ence. They are doable and practical. In fact, they make perfect sense when you see how Jesus implemented them into His life and gave us an example to follow, for it is by following His ways that leads us to the life we most want to live!
I really meant it when I said that this book will help you recover your life. You may want to just sit and reflect on all the things that sentence stirs inside you.
What do you need to recover from?
Has someone or something stolen the life you wanted? What’s not working in your life?
Do you feel like your life and your faith have been hijacked? What is your part in recovering the life you want? What will
God do for you?Jerry, a thirty-year-old successful insurance salesman, came to me and said, "I feel out of sync. I'm speeding through time zones in my work travels, never feeling caught up, burning the candle at both ends, rushing into meetings breathless, and calling it a 'life.' It's not the life I want." Jerry wants to recover a life different from the one he's living.
Mary, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools three children under eight years old, lamented to me, "I feel like my entire life is on hold. I can't believe that this is my life. My life now-well, it's not at all what I thought I'd be doing back when I was a senior in college and engaged to the man I'm married to." Mary told me that even though the outside of her life looks fine, theinside of her heart is a mess because she resents her children for "disrupting her life." She feels horrible and wants to take back the words she just spoke-but I won't let her have that phrase back. I'm encouraging her to explore this resentment to see if there's a solution, because I believe there is one.
Then there's Paula and Jim. They have a dual-career marriage, both with good incomes. They're influential members of their church and lead a small group every Thursday night. They came and sat down in my office. "There has got to be more to the Christian life than we've been told. We're trying to do 'it' all right, but we feel like someone has torn out some of the chapters ofthe book. We're miss ing something. Going to church, tithing, and serving feels like it's killing us. We're so bone tired, and we are afraid to tell anyone how empty and desperate we really are. So many are looking to us for the
answers." Paula and Jim want more.
Barry came to my ministry’s mountain retreat looking for something. He used words like searching, desperate, and despairing. He confessed, “The life I have been living has not yielded the life I want.” When I asked him to describe what kind of life he wanted, he used words like satisfying, rewarding, andfulfilling. As we talked, Barry shared the story of man with a good heart who was now shriveled inside like a “sun-dried tomato wrapped in cellophane.” Painful to watch and sad to listen to, Barry was about to jettison his faith, stop going to church, and try a whole new and different reli- gion, because“Christianity has not delivered what God promised to me.” He went on to say, “The Bible is a book that over-promises and under-delivers. I need something more. Can you help?” I asked Barry if he felt like he needed to recover his life. He said, “Yes, recover. That’s exactly what I want to do. I want torecover my life before it’s too late.”
Our best hope for actually experiencing this abundant life is for us to go back to the One who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6 NIV). The problem is that many of us have majored on only one-third of this amazing, self-disclosing, God-revealing decree. It seems we have developed a fetish for the truth. Churches offer what they think is the right doctrine instead of helping people discover the life Jesus came to give. We fight over dogma, insisting that believing the right thing will yield the right life. The truth is, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day did the same thing so many Christians are doingtoday. We are on information overload. We go to Bible studies, attend seminars, and listen to countless sermons, but this one reality remains: Information and the amassing of information, no matter how true it is, does not lead to life transformation.
This is not the age of information.... This is the time of loaves and fishes.
We have believed that the pursuit of truth alone will yield a life worth living, and so we have emphasized doctrine over life, facts over vitality, and information over transformation. Because of our relentless pursuit to get everything right, we've gotten it all wrong.
Transformation is an experience. It's something that happens to a person who alters the trajectory and quality of life from that point forward. It's transformation that we most need to live the life we most want. Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament, was transformed by the experience of meeting Jesus on the dusty road to Damascus. His head was already filled with all sortsof erroneous knowledge. What he lacked was the experience of meeting Jesus. Everything changed for Paul after that encounter. It's my hope that this book will be a Damascus Road encounter for you. I want you to meet Jesus in a whole new way-not just the Jesus who died but the Jesus who really lived! As I've pondered and practiced these ways, the life I most need and the lifethat is most sacred is returning to my heart. I want this for you, too. As we intentionally practice these ways, we find ourselves not only recovering but also experiencing and living the life Jesus offers us. Remember, Jesus did not come to just teach us new truths so that we can believe; He came to show us how to live.
FIND OUR WAY BACK
I think it is profound that the first followers of Jesus were not called
Christians, as they are today. They were called "followers of the Way."
First-century historian Luke wrote about this no fewer than six times (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).3 Luke described these men and women as “Christians” only one time, in Acts 11:26. I’m not advo- cating that we change our collective name, but I do wonder if we’ve lost something important in straying from that original expression the early followers of Jesus used to define themselves. To lose your way can mean only one thing: You’re lost.
When the apostle Paul was defending his life and the way of Jesus, he said, “I admit to you, that according to the Way … I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance to the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14 NASB). Paul’s confession becomes a challengefor us today. Do we follow the Way or are we following a denomination, a person, a culture, or a program, or even a church?
If we don’t reexamine our ways, then we continue to be stuck like a baby being born breech. The child can’t get out of the womb to really start living. My sister was born breech. When she was unable to move through the birth canal, the doctor used forceps to gently help her through. Maybe what we need is a little help too.
ONE MAN’S WAY TO SAVE HIS LIFE
Aron Ralston, an avid mountain climber, slid into a large crater in Blue John Canyon in Utah one sunny day in 2003, only to experience the pressing weight of a huge chockstone slide on top of him and pin him in place. He was unable to escape the force holding him down. One of Ralston’s arms was held captive by this massive boulder; it was impossible for him to free himself. He stayed trapped in that dark, isolated sliver of a rock canyon for 127 agonizing hours. After
exhausting every known way of escaping, Ralston did the unthink able: He cut off his arm in order to save his life. His pocketknife became the tool that would set him free. He emerged from the jaws of death after five perilous days. His decision was not easy, but it was simple: to live, not die. Aron Ralston had to choose.
While He was on earth, Jesus issued specific challenges to everyday people who were stuck in predicaments, unable to free themselves. Occasionally extreme action is required for such people to live. Some of the ways we'll explore in this book may seem drastic or so countercultural that you might say, "I can't do this. This way is so different compared to how I'm living now."But remember, if it's life you want, then you have to choose.
By practicing the ways ofJesus, we will free ourselves from what ever keeps us pinned down, unable to "move and have our being" as Paul described (Acts 17:28 NIV). What is true is this: It may feel like cutting off your arm to consider these ways and to try to implement them in your life now, but in the end, it could be what actually saves your life.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk ftom here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you walk.
-Lewis Carroll, A!icls Adventures in Wonderland
If you don't care where you're headed in life, then it really doesn't matter which way you follow. But if you want to live, it does; in fact,
it matters a lot. It all depends upon the way you take. To find our
way back to authentic Christianity, we need to go back to the ways that Jesus “did” His life. The Jesus life is not a set of doctrines or a list of rules to be followed. It is an organic, noninstitutional way of life. The Jesus life is a living, breathing reality that is more and better than what we’ve dreamed.
JESUS WITHOUT ALL THE TRAPPINGS
In the remote area of Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico, lives a reclusive people group named the Tarahumara. This tribe has the remarkable ability to run long distances over rugged mountainous terrain quickly and without injury. Their racing method defies the billion-dollar industry of Nike, Adidas, and other footwear busi- nesses that have spent years trying to develop an ideal shoe by filling it with gel, air pockets, rubber, or other secret elements. What baffles logic and scientific research even further is that the Tarahumara run barefoot. That’s right! They run on their unprotected God-given feet. In therunning world, this tribe is now legendary. Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book, Born to Run, tells the story of these great long-distance runners. Now runners around the world are embracing the novel idea that to run fast and without injury, all they need to do is run without any encumbrance: no gelsole, no designed tread, and no laces, buckles, or clips.
I share this because when I read McDougall’s book, I saw a similarity in what has happened to those of us who call ourselves Christians—followers of Jesus—but who have picked up so many extras, rules, regulations, tips, and techniques about how to live the Christian life. What if we could just goback to the barefoot Rabbi Himself and follow Him to see how He lived His life? What
if actually following His simple ways could lead to the life we are searching for?
What we need is Jesus. Jesus without the trappings. Jesus, pure and simple.
There is a long list of add-ons to Christianity these days. Is it the
American way? It is the Republican way, or is it the Baptist or Willow
Creek way? For a while, everyone seemed to think the way was to be "purpose driven," but that faded away and some other way took its place. Every few years, we hear of another add-on or upgrade, but we keep coming up empty
Our cultural obsessions with excellence, production , and cus tomer satisfaction have invaded the way we do church these days, yet when you rethink these corporate norms, you don't see Jesus concerned with any of it. For Jesus, it was about obedience, not excellence. For Jesus it was never about moving toward greatness or mega-ness. He was focused on the few, the small,the overlooked, and the insignificant. Jesus had a soft spot in His heart for the outsider and stooped to honor children, women, and those marginalized by the culture. Have we allowed culture and business to shape our way? If so, having the courage to reestablish the ways of Jesus would be a good start to living our lives and following Him in the simple and unadorned ways Hedemonstrated.
Living the Jesus life is not about trying to be more religious
and devout. Adherents of the world's major religions-Buddhism , Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam-are all about trying harder to gain a higher power's acceptance. Not so as a follower of Jesus. It's not about trying harder until you "get it." We follow Jesus' ways through
simple acts of implementing His practices into our lives.
THE JESUS LIFE IS NOT THE CHURCH LIFE
Church historian Alfred Loisy wrote, “Jesus came preaching the kingdom of heaven. What he got was the church.” When we do the math, we realize that is true. Jesus came speaking and teaching about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven; He spoke the term kingdom eighty-seven times, recordedby all four gospel writers combined. Yet all four writers have Jesus speaking the word church only two times. And in the book of Acts, Luke said plainly, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convinc- ing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days andspoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 NIV). Jesus taught us about living in the kingdom. He told us to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33 NKJV).
But something has gone wrong. When church talk replaces Jesus talk, when church power struggles replace struggles against prin- cipalities and powers of this world, when church emphasis usurps devotion to Jesus, we have lost ourselves and left the Jesus way. The church life squeezes Jesus not only out ofour vocabulary but perhaps out of our hearts as well.
Drive across the landscape of America on a typical Sunday morning and you will find small, medium, large, mega, and multisite congregations that are gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing. However, 80 percent of churches in America are declining in atten- dance. We may be leaving disgruntled, butdo we even know the direction to head next? Something is missing.
Key findings in a recent nationwide survey revealed that people in America ages eighteen to twenty-nine are giving up on the church:
• Sixty-five percent rarely or never pray with others, and 38 percent almost never pray by themselves either.
• Sixty-five percent rarely or never attend worship services.
• Sixty-seven percent don't read the Bible or sacred texts.
Dr. Thorn Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said, "We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church."4
The life God wants us to live is dependent on the way we live. It's anchored in the way Jesus lived His life. Peter, one of the original followers of the Way, began his life as a fisherman, but as he fol lowed Jesus, everything changed for him. He was transformed from an insecure man into an ardent follower of Jesus. He wrestled with power issues but learned in following Jesus that thelife-giving way to lead is to serve. It is Peter who shared these words in his letter to young and eager followers of Jesus: "This is the kind of life you've
been invited into , the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered every thing that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step" (1 Peter 2:21). Real life has a real way to follow. It's the Jesus way with the Jesus truth that yields the Jesus life.
I’m so relieved that Peter reminded us that this life we want can be experienced! Further, we can “know how to do it, step-by-step!” So, this life is doable, attainable, and not impossible. It’s not out of our reach. It is a step-by-step journey of practicing the ways of Jesus so that we can live the life He promised to give us. Each step will require a reexamination of our lives, and we will have to make some difficult choices.
WHAT IF YOU COULD IMPROVE YOUR LIFE BY 25 PERCENT?
When my wife and I sit with couples who come to our retreat because they are tired, worn out, and burned out on religion, we remind them that the life they thirst for is not a life of perfection or of finally attaining a plateau. We speak and coach our visitors to seek a 25 percent improvement in their lives. Atfirst, you might think that’s not much at all and perhaps not worth the time and focus. But let me encourage you to think about this way.
Remember when you were in school and the teachers marked your papers and tests scores with a grade—A, B, C, or D, or an F for failing? In school, a 25 percent improvement moved you from a D to a B, or from an F to a C. Apply that kind of change to life and 25 percent moves you from poor toabove average, from failing at life to really living your life. Who of us would not be satisfied in our lives with an improvement of 25 percent or perhaps more? By implementing and practicing these ways, I am confident not only that your life can improve but also that the life that needs to be recovered can andwill be.
As we go from here, I’m going to share how Jesus lived His life according to each of the eight ways. Then, I will tell some true stories
of ordinary men and women I've met who have experienced the transformation they most wanted in their marriages, careers, fami lies, and hearts by practicing these ways. Finally, in each chapter, I will give you practical, step-by-step ideas of how you can implement these Jesus ways into your own life so you can recover what's been lost. I want you to start living. So let's getstarted.
1. Read Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30. Try read ing these verses from various translations. Circle or underline the words that stand out to you.
2. This chapter presents three key questions about recovering your life. Take some time to answer these questions perhaps by journaling your thoughts and sharing them in your group or class: a. What do you need to recover from?
b. Has someone or something stolen the life you wanted?
c. What's not working for you in your life?