Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: "It Came From Within!"

Andy Stanley has been called "one of our generation's great communicators." I would tend to agree, and this book is a very well written book that should have a long shelf-life because of its practical application. "It Came From Within! The Shocking Truth Of What Lurks In The Heart" is eye-opening for anyone interested in dealing with baggage from their past.

Andy uses the theme of cheesy monster pics to demonstrate spiritual truth - thus the 'B' movie monster on the front cover. He begins by giving real life examples of how each of us do our best to hide those monsters that lurk inside of our hearts: guilt, anger, greed and jealousy. Some of us deny that we are susceptible to any of them, but we could all see ourselves in his examples. We blow up at a loved one for a seemingly small infraction; we fall into a destructive habit; we dwell on things that we know will drag us down or perhaps we simply refuse to forgive someone.

The first few chapters are spent building a convincing case that we each need to find a remedy. You may start reading as a doubter, but I think after a few chapters, you'll find an application for your own life. The reason for the book is simple - the heart matters. Jesus spoke to this when He said clearly "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft false testimony, slander." (Matthew 15:19)

Andy insightfully explains that each of these four "enemies of the heart" results in a debt-to-debtor dynamic that messes up our relationships. As long as we feel that someone owes us, our relationship will never be quite right. There are only two ways to resolve this: either the debt has to be paid or it has to be forgiven.

The dynamic of guilt, for example, takes the form of "I owe you." We've done something we perceive as wrong and some spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for it. Anger, on the other hand, says "You owe me!" It's the result of not getting what we want. Think about the last time that you were angry. Wouldn't it have been resolved if things had simply gone the way that you wanted - somebody owed you and you didn't get what you wanted.

Greed says, "I owe me." Greed is trickier because it disguises itself, others would tend to recognize it in us before we see it in ourselves. As Stanley writes, "People with greed lodged in their heart fear that God either can't or won't take care of them." No matter what we have, it's never enough. The final monster, jealousy, says "God owes me." The jealous person looks at what others have, whether it be money, opportunity, talent, looks, etc., and thinks "If I had that my life would be different." Translation: God owes me.

Once we've identified the monsters, Andy goes about teaching us how to rid ourselves of their influence. So, how do we release the debt? The first weapon to use is confession. We have to own it, and to acknowledge that we struggle. Secrets are powerful and unless they're dragged into the open they will continue to pull us down. As he says, in the Bible, confession is associated with change, it is the beginning of the process. The kicker is that confession is not just about getting right with God, "you cannot resolve your differences with God if you are unwilling to resolve your differences with the people around you." This may hurt, but it's true.

Another key is forgiveness. In my experience, this is extremely difficult for some people. Why should a victim bear the responsibility of having to forgive? The simple truth is that unforgiveness does not hurt the person who has hurt you - it hurts you! But when we forgive - an act of the will, not a feeling - the one who is released from prison is us. Those around us are also freed from having to live with our bitterness. This is the key to dealing with our anger - releasing the guilty party from the debt that we believe they owe us. The truth is, in almost all cases, the debt could never be repayed anyway. My favorite quote from the book: "In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another."

The answer for a greedy heart is to first ask the question, why do I have so much? When all that we have is focused on us, we know we have a problem with greed. The Bible teaches us that all that we have comes from God, and that we are managers of His resources. If guilt is conquered with confession; anger is conquered with forgiveness; then greed is conquered with generosity.

To deal with jealousy we must first admit that "the problem is that I'm not getting what I want." Instead of dwelling on what someone else has, we ought to be bringing our requests and concerns, and yes, even our feelings of envy to God. "In the shadow of the cross, it is clear: God doesn't owe us anything. We owe Him everything." So, rather than allow those feelings to fester, learn to celebrate the achievements and success of others. You will find that, eventually, your feelings will change.

This is one of those books that is very difficult to summarize. I highly recommend that you take the time to read this book. It is laced with real-life situations that apply to any of us. This book is so good it will very likely lead to a series of messages from my pulpit, so get a head start and read it.
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