Archive for Books

Oct
04

11 Traits of the Best of the Best

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Today I finished an exceptional book by Jon Gordon titled, “Training Camp.” Its a leadership fable, written in the fashion of Ken Blanchard and Patrick Lencioni. The impact is tremendous. The fable that Gordon offers is built around 11 principles that help us move from good to great. Here’s the list:

1. The best know what they truly want.
2. The best want it more.
3. The best are always striving to get better.
4. The best do ordinary things better than anyone else.
5. The best “zoom-focus”.
6. The best are mentally stronger.
7. The best overcome their fear(s).
8. The best seize the moment.
9. The best tap into a greater power than themselves.
10. The best leave a legacy.
11. The best make everyone around them better.

Intrigued? Let me recommend this outstanding work to you. Its a quick and easy read that delivers incredible help to those who are tired of being average.

Categories : Books, Leadership
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Mar
26

The Art of Forgiving

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The Art of Forgiving was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend who highly recommended it for its sensible practicality and common sense. Its brief, a mere 178 pages long, but contains helpful counsel to those who struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps the most helpful element of the book is Smedes’ explanation of what forgiveness is not. This would suggest that one of the primary obstacles we have to forgiving those who have wounded us is the false expectation of what forgiving looks like, how it is done, and the aftermath that follows. If you are such a person, I would recommend this simple book. As a way of piquing your interest, I have added below some of the better quotes listed in the book’s postscript.

“The most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past it cannot change.”

“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.”

“The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who does it.”

“Forgiving happens in three stages: We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us, we surrender our right to get even, and we wish that person well.”

“We forgive people only for what they do, never for what they are.”

“We forgive people only for wounding and wronging us; we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for.”

“We cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.”

“Forgiving does not require us to reunite with the person who broke our trust.”

“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”

“Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.”

“Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain but to heal pain.”

“Forgiving is best done when it is done intolerantly.”

“Forgiving is the only way to be fair to ourselves.”

“Forgivers are not doormats; to forgive a person is not a signal that we are willing to put up with what he does.”

“We do not excuse the person we forgive; we blame the person we forgive.”

“Forgiving is essential; talking about it is optional.”

“When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.”

“When we forgive we walk in stride with the forgiving God.”

Categories : Books, Forgiveness
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I really enjoyed the holiday break, using the opportunity to read several books. One title that I finished this morning was Mindset: How We Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential, by Carol Dweck. The premise of the book is simple. People either have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, and depending on your particular bent, it can make or break you.

My interest was captured early in the book as the author cited research claiming that if one took a classroom of students and complimented half of the them on “how smart they are,” then complimented the other half on “how hard they work,” those who were complimented on their hard work would out perform those who were complimented on their intelligence.

So what is the difference?

A fixed mindset believes that intelligence is innate and static. In other words, a person is either smart or not. Those with a growth mindset, however, believe that intelligence can be developed and cultivated depending on their responses to particular life circumstances. Dweck summarizes as follows:

A fixed mindset avoids challenges while a growth mindset embraces them.
A fixed mindset gets defensive or gives up easily when faced with challenges while a growth mindset persists in the face of setbacks.
A fixed mindset avoids potential failure while a growth mindset seeks to learn from failure in order to improve.
A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless while a growth mindset sees effort as the pathway to mastery.
A fixed mindset hears criticism and ignores useful negative feedback while a growth mindset strives to learn from criticism.
A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others while a growth mindset finds lessons and inspiration from the success of others.

As a result, those with a fixed mindset may plateau early in life and fail to live up to their potential. Those with a growth mindset will reach ever-higher levels of achievement.

Dr. Dweck, who serves as the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has plenty of hard research as well as human interest stories to support her findings. It is a book that would be very helpful to those who believe that growth remains a possibility and that the best is yet to be.

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Dec
29

Win at Losing

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I heard the author, Sam Weinman, interviewed on a local sports talk station about his new book, Win at Losing. He was so engaging and passionate about his book I pulled into a convenience store and one-clicked it. It took me about four sittings to finish it. Weinman is a skilled writer, but by the end of the book you feel like he’s the guy who lives down the street at the end of the cul-de-sac. He is transparent with his own relationship to winning and losing, especially when it comes to coaching his own children in sports. Birthed out of those experiences he dove into the lives of 10 people who had experienced loss. Weinman interviewed celebrities from the world of sports, politics, business and entertainment and discovered valuable lessons to help all of us who have experienced loss in some form or another. The book is very utilitarian, therefore anyone with any life experience at all would benefit from reading it.

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Nov
14

A Whole New Mind

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One of my interests is reading about neuroscience and how the brain works. This title was especially captivating to me because I am right brained and was optimistic that this book would help me understand why my brain functions the way it does. While Pink’s book does deliver some basic information about both hemisphere’s of the brain, his work is more about how using both sides to move past the information age into the remainder of this century.

Most of the text on the right hemisphere of the brain is basic. For example,

The left side is sequential while the right side is simultaneous.
The left side is the 1,000 words while the right side is the picture.
The left side specializes in text while the right side specializes in context.
The left side handles what is said while the right side handles how it was said.
The left side is about attention to detail while the right side is the big picture.
The left side is analysis while the right side is about synthesis.
The left side thinks in categories while the right side thinks in relationships.

Ultimately, Pink writes, to be healthy you have to use both hemisphere’s.

Pink offers that the left hemisphere has led the way in our careers and our economy to date, however we are now seeing many of our jobs outsourced to people overseas who can do the same kind of work for pennies on the dollar. So how does the right hemisphere help us maintain our competitive edge? By developing six senses related to the right side of the brain.

It’s not just function, but also design that values both utility and significance.
2. It’s not just argument, but also story where we learn to fashion a compelling narrative.
3. It’s not just focus, but also symphony where we combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.
4. It’s not just logic, but also empathy that enters into what other’s see and feel.
5. It’s not just seriousness, but also play that adds value to what we know.
6. It’s not just accumulation, but also meaning so that we find purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment.

Again, it’s not one engineers versus artists. It’s both/and.

I found Pink’s book to be interesting and very helpful. If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, perhaps you will too.

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Since my doctoral studies were in the field of preaching, I have read scores of books on the subject. Books on preaching sermons and how to preach sermons fall into two general categories. There are technical works written by professors that get into the nuts and bolts of the how to craft and deliver sermons. Then there are the practical volumes, written by pastors, that discuss how to approach preaching week in and week out.

Timothy Keller has published an encouraging perspective on pastoral preaching that focuses on how to go about preaching in a day that is skeptical about the gospel. He doesn’t delve into how to preach sermons, per se, but rather focuses on how pastors can approach preaching with confidence in an age of question.

Softening the message of the text is clearly not an option for Keller. He encourages preachers to have bold confidence in the text yet creatively communicate the written word with clarity and simplicity. The timeless message need not change. However, times have changed, and the wise preacher will learn how to convey spiritual truth in ways that are both understandable and compelling. Understanding the message of the text is important. Equally important is the need to understand our current culture.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who routinely preaches and teaches in a constant setting.

Categories : Books, Preaching
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I was first exposed to N.T. Wright as a seminary student at Southwestern Seminary about 15 years ago through a class on the atonement. I was fascinated by Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, in particular his exodus motif of interpreting the gospels.

Since then, I have discovered that Wright has a “popular” side as well, and over the past several years have come to appreciate his treatment of Jesus, the gospel, and Scripture on a non technical level. Surprised by Scripture is that sort of book.

In Surprised by Scripture, Wright deals with some contemporary theological issues. The most important offering of the book is his suggestion that Americans deal with theological conundrums in a manner unique from the rest of the world. For example, he points to the idea that it is only in America that we estrange science from faith, as in our ongoing evolution versus creationism debates. But it is not just that. Generally its our entire treatment of the Bible, everything from the necessity of a historical Adam to women in ministry to our views on eschatology.

As a reader I found that I didn’t agree with everything that Wright had to share. But as a theologian, I had to admit that I appreciate his thoughtfulness and his open handed treatment of some sensitive if not polarizing topics. He writes as if his goal is for the reader to figure it out for yourself.

I remember a seminary professor telling my hermeneutics class that when he went to seminary the saints of his home church admonished him by saying, “Don’t let seminary ruin your faith.” What he discovered he offered to us. “Seminary didn’t ruin my faith,” he said. “It put muscles on it.” Such are the writings of N.T. Wright, and in particular, Surprised by Scripture.

I would encourage you to read this book thoughtfully and with an open mind. No, you won’t agree with everything he says. Nor will you be persuaded by each argument. But you may close the book after the final page with some conviction about what you believe and why you believe it. And that experience will leave you stronger than the borrowed faith you’re clinging to.

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Apr
07

Book Review: Dakota

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I grew up in small towns. The small town that served as my home during my middle school and high school years is all but gone. Beginning in seventh grade, I was bussed some 20 miles one way for my education, but the small town still provided an elementary school. During those years there were two garages, one of which provided gasoline and a vending machine. There was an agricultural co-op that served farmers’ needs with seed and fertilizer. A small grocery made sure that any one could pick up some items without making the long trip to the county seat for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. The heart of this small town revolved around the restaurant that served plate lunches, sandwiches and gallons of thick, dark coffee. As you sat in that restaurant you could watch people walk in and out of the local post office to pick up or send mail. Two churches graced the town’s landscape, one Christian and the other Methodist, neither of which ever had large attendances and were cared for by circuit riders. Each of these establishments is now gone. Many of the buildings have been torn down, leaving empty lots across the community like a checkerboard.

This memory came back as I read Kathleen Norris’ book, Dakota. The book is not necessarily autobiographical, although it does represent a substantial subset of her life. As a writer based out of New York, she and her husband moved to South Dakota to live on an ancestor’s farm. The most interesting part of her presentation is her depiction of life in and around the small towns of the Dakotas and the observations she offers regarding them. Her theory, one that I am inclined to accept, is that many of the things that small towns do to try to hold on to life and vitality are actually the very things that destroy them. I offer below some of her observations in no particular order for your consideration.

1. The departure of the young.
Many of the community’s young people receive their high school diplomas and leave for college never to return, due to the lack of employment opportunities. These young people are rewarded for stepping into their future and simultaneously punished for moving on by being treated as outsiders. Small towns across the nation are losing their best and brightest resources every year at graduation.

2. The mythology of history.
Many small communities possess a selective memory about yesterday. Stories become legend and the legends grow beyond truth to the point that it is often difficult for citizens to come together and work for things that might benefit all. Says Norris, “Local control, a value to be cherished above all things, makes these communities more, not less, vulnerable to manipulation by outside interests.

3. The belief that a return to the past will heal all present ills.
Somehow the residents of these small towns believe that if the clock could be turned back 20 years or more that everything will be ok. Norris observes that “paradise wasn’t self-sufficient after all, and the attitude and the belief that it ever was is part of the reason it’s gone.”

4. Change is an enemy.
Norris observes that resistance to change and the ability to adapt to change is rooted in diminished points of reference. As the community shrinks, so does its willingness to look beyond its own borders into other communities to see what is working. And the lack of point of reference is devastating. “With resistance to change comes resentment toward anyone who demands change, yet this ultimately shortchanges the community.”

5. Finding refuge in conspiracy theories.
Many who cannot or are unwilling to cope with change will find refuge in the arms of conspiracy theories that provide easy targets of blame versus confronting the present realities of their situation. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories cultivate fears that cannot be overcome by even their close-knit neighborliness.

6. The reluctance to allow outsiders to benefit individuals and the community as a whole.
Ministers, teachers, librarians and physicians are often grouped as “outsiders,” and their expertise is limited because of that label. In some of these small communities, professional standards are questioned and invalidated which fosters mediocrity. Often these outsiders are made to be scapegoats by citizens that cannot resolve their own internal differences. Writes Norris, “Small towns need a degree of insularity in order to preserve themselves. But insularity becomes destructive when ministers, teachers, and librarians grow weary of pretending not to know what they know, and either leave or cease to offer themselves as resources whose knowledge could benefit the community.”

Norris has correctly observed that “it is the town’s cherished ideal of changelessness that has helped bring about the devastation, and it is the town’s true history that is lost…disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future.”

And I suspect what she has observed in small towns across the midwest is also, unfortunately, true of small churches as well.

Categories : Books, Church, Church Growth
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Feb
06

Daily Rituals

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A lot of people think creativity comes in waves of inspiration where poetry, music and art just “happen.” According to Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals, nothing could be farther from the truth. Curry found an interest in the work habits of creatives and researched the daily work rituals of 161 artists, composers, poets, writers and inventors. His research is chronicled in his book.

Devoting 1 to 3 pages to each person, Curry’s work reveals two important findings. First, those who create view their creative process as work rather than some inspired movement. Second, those who create treat their craft as a job, sticking closely to a disciplined regiment that seldom varied.

If you are a creative person or even have an interest in creativity you’ll enjoy this book. Curry abolishes several myths about creative people and does so in an interesting fashion. I highly recommend it.

Categories : Art, Books, Creativity
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Jan
06

Book Review: Sex and Money

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One of the best reads of 2013 was Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. Based on the influence of that helpful work I purchased and read his next release titled, Sex and Money.

We live in a culture driven to find pleasure, observed most clearly in our preoccupation with sex and money. These two, sex and money are, as the book’s subtitle suggests, “pleasures that leave you empty.” Tripp’s observation is that sex and money are among the two most taboo subjects in modern Christianity. For too long the church has been silent on these topics, partly because of the awkward nature of the subject matter, and partly because pastors and teachers don’t know how to approach them in a healthy way.

The author has taken a thoughtful approach on these matters and has successfully deconstructed the pervasive behavior to get to the real root causes of our obsessions and our seeming inability to conquer temptations. By drilling into the root issues behind our unhealthy obsessions he presents a theological perspective on both accompanied by suggestions on how the gospel of Jesus Christ itself serves as our primary resource. I agree with his simple point: everything is spiritual. Until we are able to see pleasure, sex and money through spiritual lenses, we will continue to grapple with temptation and sin. Until we are able to see sex and money through spiritual lenses we will continue to focus on managing our behavior instead of allowing God’s grace to develop Christian character.

I can’t think of a person who would not benefit from reading this book. Its not just for adulterers and those whose finances are ravaged with credit card debt. Its for you and me. I would not only recommend it for personal growth, but would also recommend it for small group study. It’s honest, practical and biblical. And, by the way, helpful.

Categories : Books
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