The Kingdom of God belongs to the seriously messed up

“When Jesus described himself as a physician to sinners, a healer of the inner life, he was calling himself much more than one who associated with the broken, more even than one who could and would forgive them for the damage they had wreaked in their relationships with God and with one another. He was claiming to be one who could take damaged souls and restore them to health… He actively sought out the broken, not to pity them but to transform them.” — Chris Webb, God Soaked Life 

reconciliation

To repent

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV)

There is a simple, literal rendering of this word meaning “to change one’s mind.” That doesn’t capture what Jesus is asking of us.  Read more

Defining the Kingdom of God

“The kingdom Jesus proclaimed was neither Christianity, church, nor Christendom (words that carry all kinds of unhelpful associations in the minds of many people…). Above all else, Jesus understood the kingdom to be a community — that amazing divine and human community of loving friendship that God had envisioned from the beginning of all creation, and that has remained his constant and central purpose through all the unfolding ages since.” — Chris Webb, God Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality

 

The beautiful promise of walking with God

“The mightiest cities will one day crumble, and the most noble societies will pass. But God’s purpose remains steadfast and cannot be frustrated. God, whose presence fills all creation, is calling people to life in a community built on eternal foundations. He is calling you.” — Chris Webb, God Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality

 

Self-Discovery

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: Christ-Shaped Character: Choosing Love, Faith and Hope

In Christ-Shaped Character: Choosing Love, Faith and Hope, Helen Cepero begins with her story. And story is what this book is about. It is seeing the activity of God in our own story. It is about experiencing the presence of Christ in very real, tangible ways. We can take our life’s journey and follow Christ. As Cepero states, “The journey follows along the way of love, faith and hope.”

Each aspect of “faith, love and hope” is explored in some detail. She invites the reader to see the hand of Christ in the joys and troubles of our own journey. Our identity is not formed by doctrine alone. It is by experience. We find our identity in our stories. As we listen to each other we find where Christ is moving.

Each chapter follows a story from her own life, then steps to practice in prayer and conversation, as well as thoughts for journaling. Each chapter also offers further reading on the particular topic.

There are no set formulas. There is no “road map.” It is simply learning to see how Jesus moves in faith, hope, and love through our lives and examining that through prayer, Scripture, and conversation with others.

We need to learn how to walk on a journey. We don’t get it right from the very start. She tells a marvelous story in Chapter One of the beginners band in school. They all have instruments and they can barely read music and it’s tough to listen to. But as the students progress in music, in another year they are learning to play together better. In another year they can come together in ways where improvisation is possible. We need to journey with Christ. We don’t always get it right, but we need to keep on the journey.

This is a refreshing book to pick up and enjoy.

I was given Christ-Shaped Character by Helen Cepero through IVP. It is from their Formatio series on spiritual disciplines and is a great addition to their offerings. I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Book Review — Living in Christ’s Presence

Living in Christ’s Presence has Dallas Willard as the author, which is appropriate. It is more a collaboration. The book came to me with a DVD of the sessions given by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg not long before Dallas passed away. The book is a transcript of those lectures by Ortberg and Willard, along with the transcripts of their conversations. It is a treasure.

Reading the words are life-giving to me. I have always had a deep respect for Dallas Willard and John Ortberg. Willard was one of the great Christian thinkers of our time and his work will extend far beyond his lifetime.

The book and DVD are fresh reminders of what Dallas has worked to teach all along in his life. We need to learn to walk in the experiential knowledge of Christ. It is possible.

The gift of watching the DVD is seeing Dallas and hearing his voice one more time and knowing this reality: Dallas is so close to moving on in this walk of eternal life and he is taking us with him as far as we can go. 

There is not much new ground in this work, but solid reminders. What I have learned from Dallas over the years has been I need to keep hearing him because, as Ortberg puts it, his words are “dense.” Dallas Willard makes every word count. He doesn’t waste a word, so it is vital to stay with everything he is saying. I find it helpful to have these things repeated so my thick skull can finally absorb the truth of what Dallas is saying… and seeing.

If you get the book, and you’ve followed Dallas Willard over the years, treat yourself to the DVD as well. The combination sinks the words into the soul better, but the view of Dallas in those last months is priceless. It was hard to hold back the tears for two reasons: knowing this was recorded not long before he died, AND hearing his voice and knowing he was leading as far into heaven as he possibly could. Even through the video there was a true presence of Christ.

IVP sent me the book and DVD for the purposes of review. I am not obligated to give the product a positive review.

(Secretly, I know IVP sent it to me because they knew I would cry when I watched it. Shame on you, IVP! 😉 )