I recently heard a fascinating interview of a person relating their experiences on the island of Madagascar. The adventurer was wistfully recalling the quaint habits of the islanders, how exotic it is that the natives do things the same way they’ve been done for centuries. But late in the interview, she reluctantly admitted that this ages-old way of doing things, rooted in ancestor worship, is a major hindrance to development workers who are trying to address systemic issues that keep the people in poor health and poverty.
In a way, the problem boils down to a matter of limited imagination and vision. Because the islanders focus only on the way things had “always” been done and are bound by their perspective on the past, they’re quite literally dying out.
A friend and mentor recently wrote: “Spiritual formation is our continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the glory of God and for the sake of the world.”
This goes to the core of all I believe and hope for. I also realize for many (most?), these are just a bunch of meaningless churchy words that have nothing to do with the way they’ve always lived life and what they imagine is possible.
“Jesus’ primary message was the availability, presence and power of the Kingdom of God..."
— James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life
I think the Good and Beautiful book trilogy, part of the Apprentice Series, can change that. Author James Bryan Smith does a magnificent job formatting a great number of concepts and practices in ways that encourage reflection, discussion and practice.
Grace Church, we desperately need this. In fact, I’m pretty sure that without it we’re in grave danger of ultimately suffering the fate of the people of Madagascar, slowly becoming extinct for lack of a vision that leads to true health, freedom and wholeness.
Next week we kick off our group study with The Good and Beautiful God, book one of the three-book series. This will require more work than a regular Grace Group. It’s going to cost everyone something. It’s not to be taken lightly, but believe me, it’s worth whatever you’re willing to invest in it.
“Jesus’ primary message was the availability, presence and power of the Kingdom of God, which is the central teaching of the New Testament. The power of the church rests in the Kingdom of God. The Good News is that we are invited into this life with God. We enter the Kingdom through surrender, humility, trust, and a willingness to begin working on our hearts in order to become the kind of person God desires us to be. God is creating an all-inclusive community of persons whose hearts and character are shaped by Jesus. This can happen only in the Kingdom of God. Fortunately, all of us are invited.”
— James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life, pg. 46
And you're invited to this study. Will you accept?
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.