Friday, August 15, 2008

True Disciples of Christ Must Look Beyond Me

I use the word "preachy" a lot to describe books. Usually, writers get this criticism when they
have an obvious message they are trying to get across (Save the Earth! Never judge a book by its cover! It's more important to be nice than popular!) in a none-too-subtle way. This time, however, when I say "preachy," I mean it literally. In Beyond Me: Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World, award-winning Christian author and speaker Kathi Macias sermonizes on how we can become true disciples of Jesus Christ by living a life focused on serving God and others, instead of ourselves.

Macias hits the "whys" pretty hard, noting that if Christians don't stand for "real life, eternal life" (19), then who will? Taking a stand, she admits "is a costly calling. Choosing to take a stand for life in the face of a culture of death may very well cost us everything. And yet, it is the very reason we are here on this earth today" (19). To combat our dark, selfish world, Macias insists that we must not only believe in Christ, but also live an exemplary life as He did.

Considering that we are all sinners, who will fail in our desire to live virtuous lives, how do we cultivate a "you-first" life? Using examples from the Bible, Macias offers some pointers: She suggests softening your heart, keeping it open to whisperings from the Holy Spirit; living the Golden Rule; modeling Christ-like love; and seeking the Kingdom of Heaven instead of obsessing about material possessions. She also recommends showing more gratitude toward God, giving Him credit for all the ways in which He blesses us above and beyond what we really deserve. Macias writes:

Perhaps because we have so many worldly goods and conveniences, and because we so fiercely pursue our own happiness and success, it is easier for us to count God's gifts as possessions we've earned in our own strength rather than as gracious blessings. (154)

A big part of becoming a true disciple, according to Macias, is using those things with which we've been blessed to bless the lives of others. According to her, "We need to see God's blessings - wealth, possessions, family, time, health - as priceless treasures that we steward to further His kingdom and benefit others, not as things to horde for our own pleasure" (159).

Kathi Macias makes it clear that following Christ is not for sissies. It will take lots of work, lots of time, lots of prayer, and lots of faith. However, it will be worth it. Despite or efforts to pattern our behavior after the Savior's "not everyone will suddenly become a Christian. But the difference between the believers and the rest of the world will be undeniable. Then, whether or not the lost repent and turn their lives over to God, they will have been convicted, and they will be without excuse when they stand before the Judge of the universe" (181).

Obviously, this book is meant for those who are already "born again," or those who have fallen away and desire to return to the fold. It's not going to convince unbelievers of Christ's divinity. However, I think it offers some excellent advice for enriching our relationships with Jesus Christ. Although I don't agree with all of Macias' ideas or interpretations, I do agree with her overall message - Living a "you-first life in a me-first world" will create a kinder, gentler existence for us all.

If you read this blog often, you've probably noticed my almost ritual avoidance of religious non-fiction and deep-thinking in general. I read to escape - books in this genre often feel like work. Beyond Me is no exception. It's well-written enough that you aren't going to cringe your way through it, but the writing doesn't sparkle brightly enough to make you read it for the language alone. Read it for its message, even if you have to indulge in a little caffeine to make it through.

Grade: B

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