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Monday, June 8, 2015

"The End of Me" (Kyle Idleman)

TITLE: The End of Me: Where Your Real Life in Jesus Begins
AUTHOR: Kyle Idleman
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2015, (208 pages).

One of the most profound mysteries of Christianity, often manifested in the words of John Newton's Amazing Grace, is "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see." In this very gentle and pastorally sensitive book, Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, tells us upfront that for Christ to reign in us, we must decrease. We must put an end to individual wants in favour of God's desires. When we declare the end of self, it marks the beginning of Christ's work in us. "Jesus became real when I came to the end of me." This is the single idea that reverberates throughout the whole book. Real life begins when our sinful nature ends. The first four chapters deal with what it means to pronounce the "end of me." The next five chapters build upon this as the beginning of the real me.

Part One is based on the first four beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5. He reflects on the poor and marginalized in society, and how a poor community in Paraguay was able to organize an orchestra with recycled and unwanted products. Contrasting a wealthy society with a poor, when Jesus talks about "Blessed are the Poor," it is only when we have nothing more that we can offer of ourselves that we start leaning not on ourselves but on the promises of God.  In "Blessed are they who mourn," the author looks at the way we are so attached to things that the moment we lose them, we mourn and grieve. How can one be happy when one mourns? Is it not cruel or insensitive? The way to understand this beatitude is that, we are most happy when things shrouded in human wisdom come to an end. For Idleman, "mourning is true and focused grief." It is a beginning of true personhood. In "Blessed are the meek," we are reminded about humility and the danger of behaving like the Pharisees during Jesus' days. Are we performing on the basis of one's pride or are we serving humbly regardless of results. "Blessed are the Pure in Heart" is a call for us to be authentic. It is about sincerity that comes out of a pure heart, not full of ourselves but pure in heart.   The author makes a keen observation on social media as well, saying that there is a tendency to show off in social media, to be more concerned about what other people think instead of being our true selves. With purity in heart, with hypocrisy away, we are ready to begin a real life in Christ.

Part Two touches on being strong, smart, and talented, not in our own wisdom or strength, but in God's wisdom and strength. We are most real about ourselves when Christ is most present in our hearts. The chapters are laid out in a series of contrasts. The first contrast is to be empty in order to be filled. With reference to the narrative in 2 Kings 4, we learn about how empty jars can be fully filled. Losing something may not be all bad, for it prepares one to be ready to receive new things. We contrast the nature of spiritual poverty versus physical poverty. We note how the busyness of life prevents us from noticing the beauty of ordinary time. We need to be full of the Spirit rather than full of ourselves. The second contrast is that helplessness is an opportunity for empowerment. Like people more willing to help a person who are out of sorts. There is no pride but humility. Acknowledging our weaknesses is a good start to getting help. The third contrast is about qualification and being chosen. If we were to apply to be a disciple of Jesus, would our educational qualifications and work experiences matter? Or is Jesus looking more for the humble and the teachable? The third contrast is weakness that we may exhibit God's strength. Common weaknesses include pride, insecurity, and self-righteousness. A notable cultural phenomenon is that there are bestsellers that talk about "success" and "strengths" but few talk about failures and  weaknesses. When we submit them before God, we let God turn them upside down into right-side up. Finally, Idleman helps readers to understand what it means to deny ourselves.

In a sense, there are two beginnings in this book. The first part is about beginning to put an end to self-efforts and self-oriented lifestyles. The second part is the beginning of putting Christ as Lord over all. Written in a very accessible manner, Idleman's clear thinking and examples cut away any theological jargon to enable one to focus on what it means to die to self, to take up our cross, and to follow after Jesus. How we begin is important. It is to let ourselves decrease while God increase in us. It is a call for us to embark upon a life in Christ without us being a drag to ourselves. If we truly love God and claim to follow after Jesus, this book is a laser beam that can burn away the cancerous cells of self, so that our true persons can grow and flourish in Christ.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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