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Archive for James Bryan Smith

Aug
23

The Good and Beautiful Community

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This year I’ve become a huge fan of the work of James Bryan Smith. If you follow this blog, you’ll recall that I’ve already posted two reviews on Smith’s work from his previous two volumes. The Good and Beautiful series has been refreshing and has provided a needed boost to those who are either committed to mentoring believers or who just want to follow Christ more deeply.

The third book in the series is titled, The Good and Beautiful Community. Thankfully, Smith’s book on community is not another anemic “how to” on small group ministry. There are no strategies or processes about group life, so if you’re looking for that kind of help you’re going to need to keep on looking.

In this book, Smith deals with community as the relational value that believers find in their common membership of the Body of Christ. He has subtitled this book with the following description: following the Spirit, extending grace, and (sic) demonstrating love. In a nutshell, that’s his purpose for writing.

The author doesn’t deal with every single dimension of community. That indeed would have been a massive undertaking. But he does hit some important highlights, especially in the area of loving those who are difficult to love and how reconciliation works in broken relationships. His chapter on forgiveness is among the best you’ll read anywhere, as he describes a thoughtful, biblical approach to this very sensitive topic.

The other chapter that I felt was extraordinary contained his thoughtful insights on generosity. It can be a challenge to find someone who will tackle the subject of stewardship at face value, simply because many who write on this truth have an agenda in mind, namely the weekly collection. Smith is particularly strong in his appeal that believers develop a theology of “enough,” advocating simplicity which runs counter culture to our modern societies insatiable thirst for the “American dream.”

The book has many other valuable resources for the reader, but I’ll leave those for you to discover should you feel compelled to purchase a copy for personal study. Like his first two books, The Good and Beautiful Community is user friendly, formatted with the same suggested soul training exercises which makes this a valuable resource. I strongly recommend this book. If you haven’t invested in the series, your best bet is to begin with volume one and work forward. However, each book can stand alone on its own merit.

Jun
06

The Good and Beautiful Life

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Some time ago I read and reviewed The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. This first book serves as Volume 1 of Smith’s Apprentice Series on spiritual formation. Today I finished the second volume, titled, The Good and Beautiful Life.

The emphasis of the first book in this series was that spiritual formation begins when one has the correct view of God. If we don’t have the proper concept of God in our minds, our ability to relate to Him will be diminished. The Good and Beautiful Life picks up from that thought and carries it forward by challenging readers to have the proper view of how to live life in the Kingdom of God. Smith’s work is a simple survey of the Sermon on the Mount that describes how Jesus intended for his followers to live in the Kingdom. In practical and simple ways, the author takes on contemporary issues such as anger, lust, lying, avarice, and enemies. As with his previous monograph, Smith explains the false narratives disciples of Jesus face and provides the correct narrative for disciples to embrace. Each chapter concludes with corresponding “soul training” exercises that the reader can use to help apply the teaching from the chapter.

As I’ve written before, James Bryan Smith is a fresh, powerful voice on the topic of spiritual formation. Those who desire to enhance their relationship with Christ and to live more fully in the Kingdom will benefit from this masterpiece.

Apr
01

The Good and Beautiful God

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Though much of what we have available today on the subject of spiritual formation has been written by people from antiquity, there is a rising breed that has picked up the banner and have begun to wave it riotously. Among the more notable names are Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. While they have become the faces of spiritual formation in the 21st century, they do not stand alone.

James Bryan Smith is one of the names you may not be immediately familiar with, but soon you will be. As the protoge of Willard and Foster, Smith has taken the lead on developing a curriculum to teach and develop spiritual formation. He has published three volumes in this series, and I understand that a fourth volume nears completion.

The Good and Beautiful God is subtitled “Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows.” It is designed to help the reader have a clearer picture of who God is. Smith does this by deconstructing the common narratives we hold of God and replacing them with the narratives that Jesus held, practiced, and taught. Romans 12:2 argues that transformation takes place when we renew our minds and change the way we think. The way we renew our minds is to replace the old thought with a new and better thought. For example, one of the best parcels in the book is Smith’s discussion of the goodness of God. The ancient narrative held that “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished.” The narrative of Jesus, however, reveals that God is infinitely good and is always out for our good, even when we can’t understand it.

Each chapter in The Good and Beautiful God seeks to offer hope for transformation by exchanging wrong narratives for right ones. By changing the way we think, we can experience God’s tranforming power. I commend this book to you without reservation.

Mar
29

Counting Your Blessings

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In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith tells the story of a business leader who used an illustration to teach his team a valuable lesson. The leader went to the white board and drew a big, black circle. He asked his team what they saw. To the person, they replied, “A black spot.” “Anything else?” he inquired. ” The black spot was all they saw, nothing else.

“What about all of the white space around the spot?”

The point of the illustration is this: we can become so consumed by the problems that enter our lives that we can miss all of the good that surrounds the problem. Like the business team, we can also fall prey to focusing on our adversity to the degree that it renders us blind to all of the good in life.

When is the last time you did a blessings inventory? How many blessings can you list off the top of your head? Eight or ten? Could you do eight or ten pages of blessings? What about eight or ten legal pads? If we took the time and expended the energy to conduct an exhaustive blessing inventory, I suspect that our list would consume an amount closer to eight or ten legal pads than eight or ten pages. It really puts into perspective that nasty old spot in the center of the white board.

If you’re going to maintain a “can do” spirit in a “no you can’t world,” begin with the blessings of God. Don’t begin with your adversity. Your adversity is one thing floating on top of a sea of the good things of God.