Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Good and Beautiful Life: Chapter 1

NOTE: This series of posts will provide the questions and discussion points used during our Living Stones meetings to talk about James Bryan Smith's book, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ. Please use them to review our conversations, or to guide your own thinking as you read the book on your own. You can follow this link to the post about the book's Introduction. Feel free to share your questions or comments on the blog or by email to aleakaskey@yahoo.com.
In chapter 1, we meet Ben Jacobs in the retirement center. He has lived a life of wealth and influence, but feels he has ruined everything because of his selfishness and sin. Ben thought he was pursuing happiness, but he had the wrong idea about what success and happiness are (page 20).

  • What is the world's narrative of the good and beautiful life/ the successful and happy life?
  • Can you name some people living the good and beautiful life according to these narratives?
Jim tells us that the stories we live by determine the outcome of our lives. People like Ben Jacobs live false narratives of success. "Each day we make decisions that move us closer to a life of virtue or vice. We face decisions whether to be greedy or generous, self-centered or self-sacrificing, condemning or forgiving, cursing or blessing" (page 27).

When it comes to people ruining their lives and getting caught in the downward spiral into sin, Jim says sin is always ugly and virtue is always beautiful (page 24).
  • Why, then, is sin so able to lure us into its illusion of happiness?
Coach John Wooden is a counter-example to Ben. He chose a different narrative to practice each day. And it was a narrative closely reflected in the life of Jesus. When we examine how Jesus thought, we can adopt His narratives--which means we understand God, the world, and ourselves as Jesus does. That's powerful!

Read Matthew 7:24-27.
  • What does it mean to build your house (your life) on rock as opposed to on shifting sand?
Jesus isn't demanding that we live His way in order to get His blessing or to get into heaven. And He isn't offering His teachings just to make us have a bunch of rules to follow. In fact, he's just telling the truth about reality. He warns against lust, not because He's a prude, but because He knows it destroys lives when it is unchecked (page 30). He wants us to have the tools to live the best and most beautiful life possible.

"The idea that following Jesus' teaching will lead to a boring life is one of the most effective narratives employed by the enemy of our souls" (page 31).
  • How have you experienced Satan's use of this strategy, in your own life or in the lives of others?
On page 32, Jim emphasizes that no one--no even his friend Ben--is past redemption. We are always able to change when necessary. Every day we begin anew--making decisions about how we will think, speak, and act that day.
  • When in the past have you felt the possibility for change most fully?
  • What truths from this chapter could you draw on to inspire you that change is possible?
Heavenly Father, help us to remember that You have loved us from the beginning, that we don't have to do anything to earn Your love. Allow us to live in the freedom of that feeling. At the same time, help us to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit's leading, encouraging, and transforming. Help us to feel both hopeful and certain that You are at work in our lives, and that You will bring Your good work to completion. May we be open to being changed, and then used to change the world. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.


At the end of each chapter, Jim presents a "Soul Training" exercise. At the end of this week, I will post the Soul Training from chapter 1.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Good and Beautiful Life: Introduction


NOTE:  As the Living Stones Women's Ministry studies The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ, by James Bryan Smith, I am going to be posting the questions and discussion points I use for our twice-monthly conversations about the book.  These posts will serve as reminders of our meetings for those who have attended, and will allow anyone who has not been able to attend to follow along with the things we have been talking about.  I hope that reading these discussion points will encourage you to spend time with this book in order to learn more about putting on the character of Christ!

How does Jim describe the good and beautiful life in these opening sections of his book? What makes for a good and beautiful life?

Virtue lies at the heart of the good and beautiful life. What are the connotations of that word today? What does Jim use it to mean?

In the introduction, Jim says his book contains "a method of growth toward a virtuous life" (10). But he reminds us a couple of times of the very important truth that we aren't living this virtuous life to get into heaven. Everything that needs to be done to bring us close to God has already been done by Jesus on the cross. It's important to remember as we read this book that we don't have to do anything to merit God's favor. We have God's favor already through Christ.

If that's the case, then what is the point of reading books like this one, with exercises for drawing close to God?  Some points to consider:
--knowing God now, not just in heaven
--learning to live as Jesus taught
--sanctification: God's goal for us, to be holy like Jesus is holy
--cooperating in God's work; allowing Him to work in us

Jim also reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the real agent of change within us. We need to engage with the Holy Spirit as we read this book, welcoming its leading.  "If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place" (12).

Jim writes, "I encourage you to proceed with hope and certainty that you are engaged in something that can make a positive difference in your life. I am confident that God, who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion" (14).
I will post again next week with the discussion notes from chapter 1.

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