Preaching to Yourself

This year has been an extremely busy one for me, and as a result my reading schedule has been thrown off course. Without even realizing it (until after buying it), Joe Thorn’s Note to Self turned out to be a devotional that both gave me good theology to think about while staying completely focused on Jesus during these past busy months. I’m really glad I managed to get my hands on this.

The author sets the standard for the book well in the title as well as in the introduction: “A good teacher or evangelist is first a good preacher to himself” (p. 24). There is no point in reading this book if you seek merely to feel good afterward or smile while closing the book, only to forget an hour later the wisdom your eyes just passed upon. Thorn unravels truths about God that make you think deeply; he presents theological muses that will only be effective if you apply them to your life. Not only that, but with titles like, “Stop Complaining,” and words like, “Dear Self, like everyone else, you are pretty good at pretending. It is not malicious, but you can put on a good face when in reality things are not good” (p. 67), it’s plain to see he is honest without being overly blunt. He is in-your-face without being rude. He is reflective without being too ambiguous.

Also outlined in the introduction is his objective to talk equally about both God’s law (His standard of living) and the Gospel (the love and grace found in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection). He does this through various topics, from pride to repentance to honoring your parents. He breaks the book into three parts. The first part, taking an upward perspective, is called “The Gospel and God.” The second part, focusing outward, is called “The Gospel and Others.” The third and final part, focusing inward, is called “The Gospel and You.” Did I mention that he is always staying centered on Jesus?

Devotional-gurus will appreciate Thorn’s refusal to leave them with a pithy word about God that will leave one unchanged, as I fear many devotionals do too often. People who don’t normally read devotionals will appreciate his ability to give them something to think about and live out through their busy schedules.

My favorite part has to be something so powerfully subtle here. While the author doesn’t really spell out how one exactly preaches to themselves, the simple “Dear Self” found at the beginning of each entry goes miles beyond its purpose by training readers to reflect on how their life is immediately impacted whenever they learn more about God and the Gospel.

Covering so many topics means everyone, whether it’s a pastor or someone who has hit rock bottom, has something to learn (and live out!) from Note to Self, and with the Kindle version only costing $3, there’s really no excuse not to pick this up.

Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself

Are You Simply ‘Born This Way’?

I wonder if the camera guy smelled something odd.

Wild excitement has surrounded Lady Gaga’s newest song, “Born This Way.”

Have you heard it? It’s pretty catchy. It has a seemingly positive message, and tries to unite everybody under a guise of self-love and rejoicing in whoever and whatever you are. Sure, it sounds like a dandy song. However, a careful listen will reveal that there is a hint of danger in the idea behind the song.

Short disclaimer: I do appreciate Gaga’s musical ability to make catchy, dance-esque songs. She is very talented, even if her videos are beyond weird. Also, I do like how in this song she does mention race and people with disabilities in an inspirational manner.

But the song is not about loving others for who they are, or anything of that sort. The ‘positive’ message is about loving yourself no matter what you do or how you live, because you were born that way.

That’s the danger of Gaga’s latest hit: the idea of defining who you are by what you do (Oddly enough, this is a bit related to my post a few days ago about finding your identity). Even if you go read all the lyrics and don’t get that vibe initially, repeating the song’s mantra, “I was born that way,” is a convenient way to justify our choices. I’ll tell you a couple reasons why that mentality is a false and dangerous way to think.

First, it’s an inconsistent mindset. There’s no doubt that certain circles of people latch onto this ‘Gaga-losophy’, but people following this ideology tend to leave out every, little detail about what they do and have done in life. Yes, I am talking about the dark stuff. Have you ever lied? You’re an untrustworthy liar then. Have you ever used something that wasn’t yours (even accidentally) or stolen a toy as a child? Well, you are certainly a thief! Have you ever spoken to someone with a mean attitude or caused someone pain in any way? If so, I’m going to stay far from you since you are absolutely an abuser.

I think we can all agree that at one point or another at some time in our lives we have done all of these three things(If you disagree, you are lying, stealing my post to make yourself feel better about your lie, and hurting me in both of those acts. See? All three!). So at this point any given person is a lying, stealing, abusive, whatever-else-they-originally-wanted-to-be, person. This is awesome! If this is you, I hope you are happy, because in Gaga’s mind those messed up things you do sum up who you are. Afterall, you were born that way! Rejoice in it, as she says. Actually it’s starting to sound like a curse more than anything.

Secondly, Gaga’s got it backwards. Who you are is supposed to determine what you do. Your beliefs affect your actions (Afterall, didn’t Lady Gaga write the song because she first believed it to be a true and good message??). You don’t see someone using their iPhone and conclude that who they are is found solely in Apple, and that’s just the way they were born. Similarly, you don’t buy a car and later determine it’s the one you want. You first do your research and testing, and once you believe which car is for you, you act by buying it. Now, this may all sound extreme, but that is the logical end to where this ideology goes. Last time I checked, concluding who people are by their actions is called being judgmental, and I don’t want to tag along with that.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Gaga’s concept completely smacks the Gospel in the face. Jesus died because we need to be born again, not stay the way we were born, but Lady Gaga sees humans living as they please, loving who they are, and living with no regrets. At the end of the day, all the mistakes don’t matter because you and I were born the way we are. After all, isn’t one of her lines, “God doesn’t make mistakes”? I definitely agree that God doesn’t make mistakes. However, while he is perfect, we are not. Who was it again that started crime, rape, murder, etc.? That’s right — we did!

But God cares more about who we are than what we do (although there is plenty of Scripture to show that he cares a lot about that, too). God starts at the heart, which is called the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).

Ezekiel 36:26-27 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

As I said before, God watches our hearts first over our actions.

1 Samuel 16:7 – “…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

And also as I said before, it’s clear that from who we are deep down affects our actions.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 – “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (italics added)

As a final note, Jesus came because we couldn’t ‘do it’ ourselves. We needed a Savior. One we didn’t deserve. Should you rejoice at being born and who you are? Yes, I think you should. However, worshipping yourself is never a good idea. Also, I don’t think Solomon would have told us that they day we die is better than the day we were born (Ecclesiastes 7:1) if we are too good to need God or change how we live.

All right, enough of my Gaga rant.

Have you listened to the “Born This Way” yet? Do you like it, love it, hate it? What kind of effect do you think the song has on younger people?