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I got a new book from a friend the other day to look over and I think it has some potential.  The Next Level takes an honest look at the struggles in our lives and points out that we have a choice to either see them as a prison or as a testing ground in which God can develop our character.  The author outlines his plan by examining the tests of 31 biblical characters and then brings some application to our lives.  It’s not a bad idea and fits nicely into a month long devotion plan.  But I was a bit disappointed early on when I saw what is so prevalent in countless spiritualized self-help books today.  In part of the introduction, one of the authors describes his church as a place where they want to help people be “better husbands and wives, better parents, better children, employees, friends and neighbors and ultimately, better people.’”  Better people?  I read that and thought: I don’t want to just be better.  I want to be different; radically different.  I want to have a change that is way above anything a simple 5 or 10 step plan can accomplish.  I want transformation.

We often get a bug to change and we dive into the latest improvement program whether that is for our brains or our brawn.  But when our “better” falls flat against God’s standard, we retreat into lives of “nobody’s perfect” and we have to be “realistic or practical.”  You know: get our feet in the real world.  So I wonder, isn’t there something more?

Though I’m sure that The Next Level is a good book and I’ll probably finish it, I don’t see it addressing the real issue of our lives.  Work harder or smarter or longer won’t get the prize we ultimately need.  We have to be changed from the inside out before anything of real and eternal value will come.  Even the most successful by worldly or religious standards still faces eternity with the burden of measuring up to the almighty.  So we need a change that can’t be muscled on our own.  I suppose that’s why Jesus said that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.  The original text can also be translated as “from above.”  In other words, it’s a divine thing.  Thst’s what’s missing in the world of self-improvement.  What is needed is inner change.  Yes, I’ll continue to read and probably learn something.  But let’s always make sure we’re not getting the cart before the horse.  New birth always precedes real change.

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