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Saturday, May 5, 2012

"The Jesus Life" (Stephen W. Smith)

TITLE: The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity
AUTHOR: Stephen W. Smith
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2012, (256 pages).

Living a "balanced life" seems to be the rage in the past few decades. Whether one calls it time management, or priority setting, learning to juggle our lives' main responsibilities remains a popular prayer request. Yet, after striving to live the best at work, in the home, in social circles, and miscellaneous activities, the next prayer request becomes played like a broken record: More time management, more priority setting. Enters Stephen W Smith with this book with a familiar title with a not so familiar idea. Instead of seven steps or nine stages of Christian development, Smith proposes eight ways to recover authentic Christianity. Each way can be adopted depending on the individual's discernment. Instead of aiming for a forced "balance," Smith suggests "unforced rhythm." Instead of racking up "information" to live more Christianly, Smith advocates "transformation" by being Christlike. Be recovered from our sinful ways. Sync in with Christ. Live out in Christlike ways. Smith makes this key observation.

"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." (23)

The "Jesus Life" is essentially this: "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." (24)

A transformed life looks more like "obedience" rather than "excellence," about "being small" rather than being mega-sized, about being Word-sensitive rather than worldly. There is a difference between being a Christian versus being a follower of Christ. The former tends to be striving toward something until we "get it." The latter means serving and following Christ regardless of earthly results or expectations. It is not about doing church but about welcoming the kingdom of God. Using Eugene Peterson's translation of Matthew 11:28-30 to build his main idea, Smith brings in the need to instill a sense of rhythm like Ecclesiastes 3.

The eight ways that Smith is proposing are:
  1. DAILINESS - Living the Jesus Life Every Day: Here, the routine and dailiness of life is actually a liberating experience. It is to be lived every day, not just Sunday.
  2. HIDDENNESS - Choosing Obscurity to Cultivate Life: Being content to be unnoticed and anonymous, with all glory going only to God.
  3. FAMILY - Living the Life with Family and those Close to Us: Choosing to love the family that we have been given, and to cherish them as God's gift to us. Instead of enforcing our expectations and illusions, we need to practice more grace and love.
  4. COMPANIONSHIP - Cultivating Friendships in Reality and Truth: We choose our friends, and these need to be done in reality and in truth, not illusions and false expectations. Realistic enough to recognize that friendships do fail from time to time, and to be discerning on who we entrust ourselves to.
  5. TABLE - Savoring a Sacred Mystery: celebrating the life and the remembrance of Christ each time we come together for the Holy Meal. It breaks the risk of amnesia in a fast-food culture.
  6. DOING GOOD - Extending Life to Others: Looking at how much good that Jesus has done in his short years on earth can be extremely encouraging.
  7. RITUAL - Creating Signposts as we Journey Through Life: Our modern era throws a disdainful eye on things ritualistic or religious. Smith asserts that rituals are important because it gives us an identity, bonds communities, provides meaning, and life giving. The building blocks of purpose, frequency, touch, and words frame what good rituals can bring.
  8. SUFFERING - Understanding the Role of Pain and Suffering: Jesus suffered open rebellion, rejection, suffering, and death on the cross. Should disciples of Christ expect any less if they want to be followers of Christ? Contrary to the world that seeks to eliminate suffering, Smith reminds us that there is a place for suffering, for there are some things that can only be learned through suffering. The author lists 5 things that Christians can learn from. This is not to promote a sadistic way of life, but a result of the sinfulness of man.
These eight ways reminds all of us that it is not only possible to live an authentic life, it is transformative. It is the way to live the abundant life in Christ. We have a choice.

"The choice comes down to this: To become a heavenly creature or a hellish one. To live a good life or not. To live a rich, satisfying life or not. To embrace Jesus' invitation and actually move toward Him or not. The answer to this question will determine not only if you will wear the yoke but also if you will live the life - the Jesus life - the only life that is really life after all." (233)

Closing Thoughts

This is a great book to remind us to return to the rhythm of God's creation and to be restored to Christlike ways. Far too many Christians have been waylaid by the pressures of life to attempt to do more, make more, and work harder. In doing so, they get easily frustrated and discouraged. In some cases, they even lose faith. One obvious mark of this try-harder paradigm is to ask a fellow Christian, "How's life?" If the answer is "busy," you have probably encountered a member of the try-harder club. This book is a refreshing book about living the life that Jesus lived. It is possible. The way Smith puts it makes it not only memorable, but inspiring. There are many different entry points for readers to adopt with regards to the eight ways. For the uninspired and bored, the way of "dailiness" is an encouragement to be faithful. For the influential and well-connected, the way of "hiddenness" is an opportunity not to be sucked into worldly fame. For the busy person, the way of "family" reminds us the importance not to take our loved ones for granted. For the lonely, we can take courage in learning to choose our friends through the way of "companionship," based not on illusions but on reality. For the Church goer, the way of the "table" is an important chorus and celebration of what our faith stands for, and our participation in a wider community of faith. For the keen disciple to the world, we can practise the way of "doing good" everywhere we go to learn to extend the life and ministry of Christ to people around us. For the person seeking to cultivate spiritual discernment, one can adopt the way of "ritual" to create personal signposts of life. For the disciple of Christ, the way of "suffering" is to be expected, not to be rejected or denied.

In one book, Smith brings together many aspects of Christian spirituality, from Sabbath-keeping to journaling, and from inward disciplines to outward actions in Christian service. His eight ways are illuminating and based on Biblical teachings. He illuminates his points with stories, anecdotes and readings from other sources. The discussion guide at the end of the book gives small groups an excellent resource for discussion. Smith has taken his experience as a retreat master and spiritual director, wraps them up in a 256 pages book, and offers it to the Christian public as a loving contribution for us to live the Jesus life. Do yourself a favour to buy and read this book.

Rating: 4.8 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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