The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner is the second book in a three book set that leads the reader into understanding who they are in God. Each book is fairly brief and has discussion questions for personal and group study.

This particular volume leads the reader into “self” discovery, but not in a way one would normally think.

“Discovering yourself” isn’t about constructing something through self-improvement. It’s not an object to be grasped. It can’t be torn down and built back up by therapy.

Benner’s contention is we find out WHO we are by seeking GOD.

“There is no true life apart from relationship to God.”

A fairly bold statement for a therapist to make.

As we seek and know God, we find true freedom. We also find our calling. We find the pleasure of understanding what brings pleasure to God… and how he pours that pleasure back through us.

This past week I was reminded of that joy when I shared in another class about my main vocation: pastoring. I teach as an adjunct and really enjoy it, but when I was in another class sharing about my city, my church, and the ministry… I was overwhelmed with joy again. THIS is what brings pleasure more than anything. It wasn’t talking about the relationships I have with city leaders and others in my community. It was the relationships themselves that brought me joy. I think of the deep friendships cultivated and the HOPE of seeing these friends come into Kingdom blessing… and I find true joy.

Two buzzwords we have about our lives are “happiness” and “fulfillment.”

“God just wants me to be happy.”

“I just want to be FULFILLED in life.”

Those are important to God, but can’t be divorced from his DESIRE for us. Deep joy isn’t found in our personal happiness or fulfillment. Deep joy is found in Christ.

Benner boldly states that simply pursuing happiness and fulfillment as ultimate goals is idolatry. Our purest joy, deepest satisfaction, and true authentic self can only be found in Christ.

Benner’s slim volumes are packed with intense thoughts. Short sentences leave me thinking about those thoughts long after I put the book down.

IVP sent me these books at no cost and no obligation for review.

Book Review: Surrender to Love by David Benner

I received Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David Benner from IVP. It is part of a trilogy of small books Benner has updated.

The foreword by M. Basil Pennington has this sentence: “It took me several weeks to read.” The volume I as holding in my hands was slender. The text itself, subtracting discussion group exercises at the end, is less than 100 pages.

Several weeks?

Then, I got into Benner’s introduction… and could easily see how long this could take. Every sentence was a meal.

There are some books that “hit us” at the right time. This seems to be one of them. The words were so inviting. The spirit was gentle. The message was intense and full of love. I wrote one of the staff at IVP and said, “I have almost literally cried my way through this little book.”

Benner turns our sappy cultural notions of “love” on its ear. Unapologetically. He also talks in terms of total surrender and complete transformation that is only possible in Christ. Unapologetically. And he does so as a psychologist. He doesn’t believe in “self-help” or incremental change. It is about total surrender to the astonishing love of Christ. And his words breathe hope and life into the reader.

His premise is this: “Love invites surrender, and surrender is at the heart of spirituality.” (p. 15)

He rejects the entire notion that “God is angry” (although he deals with what it means to fear God), and boldly states that only love has the power to transform a person. We have to surrender. We have to be completely vulnerable. We don’t follow Christ out of simple, blind obedience. We follow him from a posture of surrender.

I wrote briefly yesterday of his opening four lines in Chapter One. They still blow me away.

What does God think about me? How DOES he feel about me? Too often I project my own disappointment into that that answer.

“God bursts with love for humans.” (p. 20)

Not exactly “wrath of God” stuff that makes me feel somewhat better about how lousy I am as a Christian at times.

The bold statement of God’s love for Benner is not based on emotion. It is about God’s character. Love is stripped of our sappy cultural definitions. It is powerful, and I sensed that intense love all the way through this slender volume.

When it comes to encountering God’s love, Benner believes it is vital not only for people who “live with their hearts” but also for people who “live in their heads.” We can’t leave our commitment to following Christ with head knowledge. We need the experience of his love. We need to FEEL his deep love for us. We need that experience.

But this powerful love is also for those who tend to live only in the emotion of the moment. God’s radical love takes us beyond the superficial feelings. It is a call to move beyond the superficial feelings and understand the power of authentic feeling. Along with that comes critical thinking, and God’s love is not opposed to critical thinking.

Each chapter ends with a long list of suggestions for further reflection. There are Scriptures to soak in. At the end of the book are two sets of discussion ideas. One set is for a 5 week study. The other set is for a day long retreat.

I readily concede Pennington’s statement in the foreword. This little volume is one I can carry with me for weeks and feast on sentences at a time. It is my prayer the other two volumes pack this much power!

Four Lines to Wreck My Day

I have found culturally these days that words have duel, and opposite, meanings.

When I’ve heard something or someone described as “sick,” I think, “Oh, that’s too bad. What’s wrong with them?”

Then, I find out the word meant, “Awesome,” or “incredible,” or something opposite of what the word used to mean for me.

So, I use the word “wreck,” or I could use the word “ruin.” I have heard it used as opposites as well. When someone says, “This ruined me,” it could mean, “It was bad news. It was my undoing in a BAD way.” OR… it could now mean, “It affected me so deeply I am changed for the good.”

So, in that spirit, I want to give four lines I read this morning that have “wrecked” my day. May they “wreck” yours… in some way. 🙂

The book is Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David Benner. It is an updated edition sent to me for review by IVP. And the first four lines have already sealed the deal for me.

Benner writes:

Take a moment and try a simple exercise. The results will tell you a great deal about the nature of your spiritual journey.

Imaging God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?

This may do nothing for you. But those opening lines to a very slender book have “wrecked” me. How it wrecks me isn’t really something to reveal right now.

But, may it “wreck” you in some way.

Book Review: Eldership and the Mission of God

J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt have teamed up to write a book on elders in the context of being a “missional” church. (I am not even going to pretend I know what that word means. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. Just go with it.) The book is Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership

Alan Hirsch writes the foreword to the book and starts with this: “The church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church. And the calling of the church, first and foremost, is to seek God’s rule and reign.”

While I will never get the term “missional”, I do know that when I generally read books by “missional” pastors, they resonate with how I see ministry and mission within my community.

This book is wonderfully simple. It is a “quick read,” but don’t leave it as simply that. Refer to it again and again. Visit the biblical underpinnings of eldership in their explanations. Understand how they developed the roles of elders within their own contexts. When you are working on how to form a team of elders, pull this book out again. Mark it up. Don’t dog-ear it. I hate that. Use post-it notes or something. Respect the page!

This is about biblical journey. It is about life journey. It is not about structure for the sake of structure. It is learning to build long-term relationships that root the church deeply in the community and disciple believers to change their world. We want to do so much more than simply “get people saved.” It’s more than getting them “ready for heaven.” We need to equip people to bring heaven to earth as we live. It is a powerful calling.

Reading this book helped me reflect on the wonderful relationship we have built in our own church. It is an established church but over 17 years of ministry the “board of deacons” has become a true team of elders. We have a staff as well, and I meet with them more regularly, but together we have a unit that prays together, counsels together, longs to build community in our church, and longs to build the Kingdom in our community. This book was a refreshing reminder that we are doing something solid and good. (It’s also a reminder that I should write things more quickly and try to get them published before these guys. 🙂 )

When they visit the biblical passages typically connected to elders, they talk about the role of men being leaders in their families. They also tackle the tough issue of women in leadership as well. They walk through those tough passages as well. (I have to leave something dangling so you’ll actually read the book, so I’m going to leave off what they conclude.)

This is a good basic manual that is worth visiting again and again. For me, it serves as a possible “thank you” gift to the team I serve with because they model so wonderfully what this book lays out. For new church plants, this is worth visiting as you dream about good leadership structure.

We need ALL the gifts in the church! We need ALL the gifts possible in leadership. It can’t be a one-man show any longer. This is a great tool for taking us to true team leadership.

I was sent this book by IVP for review. I am under no obligation to write a positive review.