Me, Myself, and I

I wonder what they think of me.

I wish I had some time for myself, some self-care, maybe some pizza and a good movie. 

I’m so sick of the same sins that I battle all the time. I can’t seem to just fully get free of my struggles. 

If I could only eat better, be organized, be more fit, then I could really make a difference. I just need to improve my life. 

My upbringing was the worst, the job I recently left was so hard on me, none of the circumstances of my life have been fair at all. 

Have you ever had any of these thoughts? If we’re being honest, some of these go through our minds, right? In our day-to-day lives, we are focused on ourselves. That first one is the worst for me. I over-analyze every conversation, text message, or e-mail to make sure that I was perfectly articulate and kind in all that I said. I’m so introspective. To a fault. My wife regularly has to remind me to shut up and let things go.

Some of us live our lives focused entirely on self-indulgence and self-care. We focus so much on making it to the weekend, getting away from responsibilities, filling our own souls up with what we need to keep going. As naturally selfish people, we can consistently put ourselves before others.

Self-improvement Christianity runs rampant in our current church culture. Sermons, books, articles, blogs, and podcasts all fill our minds with the idea that we can go to Jesus and His Word with a focus on improving ourselves. We learn of habits to help us overcome anger, pride, fear, anxiety, lust, doubt. We learn of habits to help us be better servants, friends, church members, neighbors, parents, spouses.

We listen to messages that tell us that God wants to help us achieve our dreams, God wants us to loosen up and accept grace, God wants to help us be better versions of ourselves. At first glance, this seems all good and right. The gospel and the Bible both impact how we live. We are called to get rid of that which hinders our faith and replace it with that which cultivates our love for God and neighbor.

But, the gospel is not about self-improvement. The gospel is not about God sprinkling a little bit of magic pixie dust on our problems and difficulties. The gospel is not a supplement we can take to help us be better. The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is about God taking us from death to life.

One vein of self-improvement Christianity that has become supremely popular is the brokenness obsession. You can read and listen to a lot of Christian media that encourages the reader or listener to lighten up, to accept the sins you struggle with, to be your ‘authentic’ self.

All of what I’ve written about so far is focused entirely inward.

There’s a better way for me to live.

There’s a better way for you to live.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can find the freedom that Jesus intended for us.

In her book, Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self Focus, Lydia Brownback unpacks in detail much of what I just described. It was such a good book, I devoured it in two days. I would encourage you to get it and give it a read.

There are a litany of quotes I would love to share from this book, I’ll focus on just one though.

Christ is our identity too, if we’ve been united to him by faith. Sometimes we forget that. Some of us have never understood it. And it gets obscured by our naturally self-oriented hearts. 

That’s some good stuff right there.

That’s some good stuff based off of Galatians 2.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

When we fully grasp the message of the gospel, we look outside of ourselves, and we are set free to flourish in good works towards others.

If I spent as much time out in our community as I did inwardly over-analyzing how people perceived me, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time serving others as I did striving to create a better version of myself through self-improvement, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time diving into God’s Word and prayer as I did unwinding through entertainment, I guarantee you that I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life.

If I took my eyes off myself, believing that the truth of Galatians 2:20 applies to every facet of my life, I guarantee you that I would become more aware of how God is at work in the community around me.

So my encouragement for you is to immerse yourself in Scripture. Not self-help books that tell you to accept yourself and be your best self. Not podcasts that teach you that God can help you achieve all of your dreams. Get into Scripture. Remind yourself of what the overarching story of the Bible teaches us about who we are. We have been hidden with Christ. Our identity is in Him.

That means I don’t have to devote time to wondering what people think of me.

That means you don’t have to endlessly pursue the next self-improvement plan.

That means we don’t have to endlessly pursue the next activity that will help us feel better about ourselves.

That means we don’t have to parade our accomplishments before others in order to be praised by men.

It means we can focus on others.

It means we can live out the gospel.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Self-Help and Gimmicks

“If you go all in and all out for the cause of Christ, there will be setbacks along the way. But remember this: Without a crucifixion there can be no resurrection! And when you have a setback, you do not take a step back, because God is already preparing your comeback.”

This afternoon, I was hanging out at my house, striving to finish a popular Christian book that has come out in recent years. When I read this quote I couldn’t help but pause and be taken aback. Here we have the ultimate moment of human history, the defining moment of our faith, used to talk about how I shouldn’t give up in pursuing my dreams.

This is what inundates the evangelical world these days, and I honestly cannot help but feel a whole lot older than 25.

The above quote is not heretical, it is not sinful, it is not vile or vehement. But the above quote does stir up frustration in me, it does make me feel like an old soul.

The reason being is that I see a plethora of these types of takes on Scripture all over the place in evangelical circles these days. When I see what’s getting shared on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram; when I see what is getting preached at churches, when I see what fad gains all the hype, they all seem to come back to this style of the faith.

Here’s what I see Christianity to be about. The Christian faith is about using the Bible (often incorrectly or inappropriately) in order to achieve your dreams, in order to grow your self-image, in order to be okay with the fact that you’re not okay, in order to fit in more with the culture at large. The Christian faith for a lot of people these days is about clawing and crawling and fighting our way back into the center of society instead of assuming our rightful place in the margins.

It’s about using Snapchat and Instagram and other pop culture references like TV shows and movies to make following Jesus seem legit, seem relevant, seem worth a student or adult’s time. It’s about wearing t-shirts that say “I’m a Christian, but I cuss a little”. Now to me, cursing is not the unforgivable sin. That being said, why in the world should we be parading around acknowledging sinfulness in order to be relevant and relatable?

When I look around me at churches and sermons and podcasts and videos, etc., what I see is that we’ve lost a vision for what it is that we are to offer the culture around us.

What we have to offer the culture is the incredible gift of God’s grace poured out on anyone who puts their faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross through His death and resurrection. That’s it. That’s what we offer. Now I’m all about striving to make our churches and our Christian culture places where people feel loved and welcomed, that’s why I speak out adamantly against hatred based on politics and other frivolous stuff. But at the end of the day, what I have to offer someone down the street from me is the love of God, not how cool or relevant it is to be a Christian.

I’m supposed to be on the margin, and I’m supposed to be a fool, not cool.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

We know the cross has power, but to the outsider looking in on my life, if I look like a fool instead of being relevant, that’s what is to be expected.

Here’s what I plead for our churches to do, our people to do:

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT SELF-HELP

Let’s be honest. This is hard. It’s hard to not slip into morality, into ‘be better’ sermons and speeches. The best way I know how is by preaching through books of the Bible. Immersing our people in the flow of the book. David and Goliath is not about overcoming obstacles. Jonah is not about overcoming fear. Samson is not about strength to fight the enemy. Philippians 4:13 is not about sports. We fall into all of these assumptions about Scripture because we never get a full story. If you’re reading this and you’re not in vocational ministry, model this in your home or your area of spiritual influence. Dig deep. Don’t settle for less.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT GIMMICKS

I have fought the pressure countless times to be relevant. I’ve come to learn that our society is so fickle, and fads are so quick. Nothing lasts. Well, except the Bible of course. Right now we are preaching through Deuteronomy in our youth group, and we’re growing. Not because the preaching is amazing, but because relationships are being built. The students have been taking notes, and although many I find in the trash, growth is happening through God’s Word. I’m an old soul and love liturgy and the simplicity of the Bible. What I know about my faith didn’t come from gimmicks in youth group, it came from God’s Word being taught.

FIND COMMON GROUND IN HOLINESS, NOT SIN

Here’s the reality. To a culture that is pushing us to the margins, our calls to holiness are not popular. If we read Scripture, we are reminded that they were never meant to be. It is a travesty, a heart-breaking one for me, that we have tried to fight our way back into the center of society by illuminating and emphasizing our sins instead of our Savior. Let us be people who acknowledge our faults no doubt, but find joy in speaking about our Savior and the way He has redeemed us. In Christian circles specifically, may we never find camaraderie in our porn, alcoholism, selfishness, anger, greed, envy, cursing, or any other sin. Let us find camaraderie around the cross of Christ.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE SCRIPTURES, NOT CHRISTIAN FADS

Brothers and sisters, those who know my heart know that I don’t intend to berate or reprimand. Instead, I seek to inspire and encourage and remind. I pray that you and I would be people who dive deeply into Scripture. Not those two minute sermon clips on Facebook or the latest book by a popular Christian author. Rather, get into God’s Word. You’ll find that even books like Deuteronomy are full of amazing reminders of God’s grace for us.

The church is on the margins.

That’s where we’re supposed to be.

Enough with the gimmicks and self-help style Christianity.

Let us be men and women who proclaim the true message of Scripture and parade around God’s holiness rather than our sin.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach