Read an Excerpt
THE JESUS LIFE
Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity
By STEPHEN W. SMITH
David C. Cook Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Smith
All rights reserved.
RECOVERING YOUR 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 meaning "to recuperate." 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 NIV). 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. (Matt. 11:28–30)
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 of rhythm. 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 science. 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, the inside 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 of the book. We're missing 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, and fulfilling. 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 religion, 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 to recover 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 doing today. 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 sorts of 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 life that 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). Luke described these men and women as "Christians" only one time, in Acts 11:26. I'm not advocating 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 challenge for 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 unthinkable: 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 of Jesus, we will free ourselves from whatever keeps us pinned down, unable to "move and have our being" as Paul described (Acts 17:28NIV). 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 from 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, Alice's 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 businesses 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 the running 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 gel sole, 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 go back 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 customer 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 He demonstrated.
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.
Excerpted from THE JESUS LIFE by STEPHEN W. SMITH. Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Smith. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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