Well, here we are, just a few days shy of being halfway through January. It’s crazy to think, isn’t it? After months of Christmas hype and shopping and general frenzy, the day came and went and before we knew it 2016 was here. Now that we’ve got a full week of the new year under our belts, what have you been up to?
If you’re one of the millions of people who made some resolutions, here’s to hoping you’re still sticking to them. Probably the most common resolution is to lose weight, or maybe to start exercising, or to just generally get healthy. With the passing into a new year, and coming off the dual calorie bombs of Thanksgiving and Christmas, many people feel it’s time to make some changes and start thinking about the welfare of their bodies. This isn’t a bad thing, and retailers take notice. Gyms offer discounts on new memberships, sports stores feature deals on exercise equipment, grocery stores promote fruits and vegetables, and if you stroll into your local Barnes & Noble you’re likely to find shelf after shelf of diet books, exercise books, and healthy cookbooks.
But if you keep looking around at Barnes & Noble, you’ll also notice plenty of books from another area – self-improvement. These are the books that aim to help you get emotionally healthy, to sort out your problems or fix your marriage or tap into your creativity. If you want your life to look different, and not just your body, this is the place to start. Or at least, that’s what the bookstore wants you to think.
While many self-help books are written by people with degrees in psychology or sociology, just as many are written by everyday people who decided that they had come up with a formula to make you better. With some success and a few bestsellers under their belt, these writers have become lifestyle gurus, the big faces we turn to when we have questions or want to make a change.
And if you think Christians have been left out of the market, you might want to take a second look. Take a walk through the Christian section at Barnes & Noble, or check out your local Christian bookstore. If you’re looking for a self-help book but with a Christian slant, then you’re in luck. There are just as many self-help books written by and for followers of Christ as there are secular ones. Everything from being a better parent or spouse, to sorting through your midlife crisis, to losing weight, to curing your gastrointestinal problems. It’s all covered, with a healthy dose of Jesus along the way.
Now, this isn’t meant to knock Christian writers or the work they do. Many people have benefited from these types of books, and having them being written from a Christian perspective can certainly help people grow in their faith as they sort out their life problems. But we have to be careful with how we approach these types of books. While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a Christian self-help book, we must be discerning about how the writer presents Jesus and Scripture. Are they pointing you to Jesus and a deeper, more meaningful relationship with him, or are they simply pulling the Bible’s greatest hits and quoting the happy parts? Are they positioning Jesus as some sort of ancient lifestyle guru, or as a king and a savior?
This is where caution is necessary, because we don’t serve Self-Help Jesus. We serve Jesus the king, the son of God. He is bigger than any book or platitude.
Remember how the gospel of John begins?
Did you catch that? Jesus isn’t just a man – he is the Word, he was with God and he is God, from the beginning. From the beginning. Jesus didn’t come here to offer us tidbits of wisdom about how to live a better life. While he does certainly invite us to better life with himself, we must remember that Jesus came to fulfill prophecy and to offer a path to salvation, one that transcends any sort of “be the best you that you can be” philosophy.
Is he starting to sound big yet?
Or how about this, from the account of Moses and the burning bush:
Have you ever thought about the implications of what it means when God tells Moses that his name is “I AM WHO I AM”? It isn’t just God telling Moses who he is, it’s God telling Moses what he is. And the crazy, mind-bending truth of the thing is this – God just is. He always was, and he always will be. He is like nothing else the world has ever known, and we will never know anything like him, or anything as big as him. He is, and always will be, exactly this – I AM WHO I AM.
When we read self-help books that posit Jesus as a sort of self-help guru, or that quote Scripture out of context under the guise of providing wisdom nuggets, we dishonor God and the inerrant testimony provided us by the Bible. Jesus isn’t Dr. Phil with a cloak and sandals on, and the Bible isn’t some ancient, leather-bound Chicken Soup for the Soul. But when we reduce him to this, when we say or believe sayings like “God just wants you to be happy,” we make him small and we strip him of his holiness. When we do this, we make the Bible about us and we will often find ourselves wandering away from Jesus without even realizing it.
Because God isn’t made in our image, and we become disillusioned when he doesn’t act the way we want him to.
Because Scripture doesn’t point back at ourselves, and when we try to force it we find that we offer a poor reflection.
Because Jesus is the Word. He was with God, and he is God, from the beginning, and this is sometimes too much to fathom.
Which brings us back to our self-help books. If you find yourself reading a Christian self-help book that points you anywhere other than back to Jesus, put it down. Nowhere does he offer you a 10-step plan to lose 10 pounds. If you read the Bible just to make yourself feel better and don’t see Jesus inviting you into a life with him, put it down and pray. The gospels are not empty platitudes. If you find that your prayers are just a list of things you want, stop and think about whom you’re praying to. Honor him, and don’t just make him into another guru trying to sell you a clearer mind and a smaller waist.
Anyone or anything that claims to offer you the path to a better life by mentioning Jesus, only to point the mirror back at you and pull Jesus out only when they need an inspirational story, is no help at all. There are plenty of great books about God out there, but that’s the point – they’re about God, not you. We are not the center of the story.
If you’ve taken anything from the Vintage City blog so far, let it be this – that it’s all about Jesus, and it’s all bigger than we could imagine. So as we move deeper into the new year, we hope that you grow closer to God, that you seek to understand him in ways you never have before, that you see what it means to love and serve him and put yourself second. This is rarely easy, and if it is we’re probably doing it wrong. Regardless of your new year’s resolutions, God doesn’t want a new you – he just wants you, period, messy and broken and confused as you are.
And that’s a lot greater than anything Dr. Phil has to offer.