Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

Near the Cross

Posted: April 19, 2014 by philmartin4 in Book Recommendation, Book reviews, Gospel, Reading, Theology

“The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble.  If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble.  Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills it.” – Martin Luther, Adapted from his “Easter Book,” quoted from “Jesus, keep me near the Cross”


In the lead up to Easter, it is good to once again turn our gaze to the Cross and the empty tomb.  The whole event, however, has become so familiar that is easy to miss the richness, depth of beauty, and power of the cross.  I am thankful, therefore, for the small book edited by Nancy Guthrie.  “Jesus, Keep me near the Cross” is a collection of invaluable sermon and book excerpts written by 25 preachers from Saint Augustine to Tim Keller.  The short (max of 8 pages) messages each pack a powerful punch.  From the events leading to the Cross to the specific words Christ said while giving up his life, every aspect of this defining moment in history is dissected and preached piercingly right to the heart.

I am humbled to say that I’ve gone through many Easters since being a Christian without truly contemplating the Cross of Christ.  If there is any moment in our Savior’s life that we should seek to understand, it is this one moment.  I encourage you to buy this book and benefit from its boundless wisdom and insight.



There are some books that you read because you have to, not because you want to.  That was true three years ago when I read, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins and it is true of having to re-read it again this year. The only difference is that I am not in the same place that I was in three years ago. The first time I had to read this, I knew very little of the social sectors and had never worked for a non-profit organization (NPO’s). Now, I am transitioning into a position that is going to require me to know how to measure success.

I appreciate the work that Jim Collins has put into making his business book translate to NPO’s.  Unlike a business “a social sector’s organizational performance must be assessed relative to mission, not financial returns”. Therefore, directors of NPO’s must ask the question, “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?” This question not only guards from unhealthy applications of business concepts, it allows you to know how to measure success for your organization.

In order to measure success you need to have an executive and legislative leadership structure that can keep the checks and balances in order. The execute leader provides the overarching leadership, vision, and goals of the non-profit. The legislative leader organizes people and trains them to effectively carry out the plan of the organization.  Both are leaders, and they both train leaders, they simply carry their role within the larger vision of the organization in different ways. Therefore, for an organization to carry out its goals, it needs to be clear on the kind of leadership that is needed for the goals to be carried out.

If you have ever worked or volunteered at an NPO, you come to find out quickly that people are either passionate about the organizations goal, or underpaid in comparison to the private sector.  Finding leadership with a very small pool like this is difficult. This is why Jim Collins recommends figuring out the kind of leadership that is needed before getting the wrong people on the bus. He recommends making the selection process difficult and then states “[A] lack of resources is no excuse for a lack of rigor- it makes selectivity all the more vital.” Choose who you need carefully; they will be the ones ensuring the success of your non-profit.

In conclusion, there are three components that are critical to have for an organization to identify and ensure success. First, you need to be able to define what success will look like for your organization by the impact that is distinct to the resources you have. Second, you need a leadership structure that works for your organizations effectiveness in being successful. Lastly, you need to get the right leaders. Great leaders will work hard in their role and secure your organizational goals by developing and deploying your staff to reach them.

Reading Andy Stanley’s, Next Generation Leader, was like being with a leaders leader. He knew the challenges, temptations, problems, and decisions that need to be made. What was most encouraging was his tone and humble example. He didn’t write as someone who has it all figured out. He wrote this book as someone who has learned lessons along the way and felt compelled to tell others.

Though this book has 5 strong sections for leadership, I found three to be specifically helpful. I have heard about the competency of the leader and the character that should go with it, but I had never heard someone clearly articulate the need for courage, clarity, and coaching.

Stanley knows that leaders are placed in situations that seem uncertain to everyone. The goal is not creating, or persuading others that you know what to do. The role of a leader is to have clarity in the midst of uncertainty so that everyone knows exactly what he or she is to be doing. Uncertainty is familiar ground to the leader. In places where the path is certain, there is no need for leadership. Unchartered ground is the ground in which a leader is identified or disqualified for being capable of leading. Leaders need to be clear in the direction they give to people who follow them

Being willing to stand in the middle of uncertain ground isn’t that difficult. Leading others with clear direction is. How are you sure that they will get through? How do you know that the course you are taking is the best? Well…you don’t know. That is the reason why leaders need courage. They need the courage to be willing to own up to whatever is the result of their leadership. Leaders need to have the courage to say no to initiatives that seem promising, facing a reality that may be difficult for any organization, and they need the courage to dream big. Leadership not only needs a clear direction, it needs a leader with the courage to take them there.

With clarity, courage, competence, and character there seems to be little missing from a pretty good arsenal of tools to pull from in leadership. Leaders who rely on their own evaluation set themselves up for stagnation. Without a leadership coach a leader will only accomplish what they measure as success. Stanley believes that, “[Leaders] have a tendency to measure ourselves against the people around us. They become our point of reference. A good coach will evaluate your performance against your potential”. A leadership coach will push you to exceed the goals that you set for yourself by pushing your performance capacity.

All of the five characteristics mentioned in this book come together in coaching. You need to have character that makes you teachable. It requires humility and courage to have someone speak into your life. The more eyes on your leadership, the clearer your direction, mission, and vision will become. The clearer your direction becomes, the more competent you will be in leading those who follow you. You will become a leader worth following by the humility displayed in your leadership.

Have you ever thought about getting coaching for your leadership? Have you ever received coaching for your leadership? If you did, have you seen benefits to having someone help you?

             There are good and bad things to getting great chapter recommendations. The good thing is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money when someone has already weeded out the best content for you. The bad thing is, when the chapters are exceptionally good, they make you curious about the rest of the material. Reading, Leaders Who Last, chapters 4 and 5 only made you wonder what else was in store. 

            The only two chapters I read were phenomenal. Kraft begins in by encouraging his readers to think about what would be most important for them to do. In terms of priority, what would be the most significant thing to accomplish in your role? He then asks leaders to take stock of how well they have done in protecting their priorities. Kraft knows well that leaders have a tendency of wanting to do everything. I was really encouraged by this chapter to sit down and think of what would be the most beneficial thing for me to be accomplishing. Am I protecting it? What do I need to delegate in order for me to give myself to what only I can accomplish? I never would have thought in this way, if not for the help of Kraft. 

            But then I began to ask myself “Why?” Why do I have to stop certain things that I am doing? Dave followed up with what seemed to be a direct answer to my question. Pacing. It is all about pacing. Leaders have different capacities and it is important for leaders to operate within the God-given capacity that has been entrusted to them.

            I overwork. I have been burnt out. I have felt like quitting…and I am only 25. I need and will always need the reminder that in order to accomplish something well, I need to zero in my energy into what I am gifted to do. I don’t have, nor will I ever have, the capacity to do more than what I am physically, mentally, and spiritually capable of doing.

            Kraft brings home the point by giving us an analogy. Leaders are like rubber bands, which come in different shapes and sizes. Different bands were made for different things. When a rubber band is stretched far too much for far too long, it is only a matter of time before it snaps under the pressure. We need to be able to stretch but come back to a rested position before enduring a prolonged period of hard workflow.

            Overall this, accompanied with the other resources for this month, has made me protect my priorities, and pace myself. This is an extremely helpful resource for young leaders like me. 

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? This seems to be one of the biggest discussions within Christianity authors recently. There is a resurgence of leaders talking about what exactly the great commission means for individuals within the local church. Mike Breen and Steve Cockram provide not only a definition of discipleship, but also a way of developing a discipleship culture in this book.

The first part of the book is a brief look at the call to make disciples, looking at how Jesus modeled discipleship, and what it means for every Christian. The authors define discipleship as an apprenticeship. The leader of disciples, then, is likened to a mentor who invites and challenges others to greater maturity. This maturity then leads a Christian to a position of leading others into maturity. The goal of discipleship is to become a maker of disciples who make disciples of others.

I appreciate that in this section (Chap 3), we see not only in the life of Jesus, but in sociological studies, the importance of structured, informal, and immersion as needed components of learning. There are going to be people who are wired and geared to learn through one method, yet at the same time all of them are necessary in order to produce trainers that can lead others. This builds into the mind of every disciple (apprentice) the need to create person specific ways of building into others.

The larger and second portion of this book is dedicated to creating a discipleship culture through a unifying language. Mike and Steve then lay out the kind of language and diagrams they use in their context. Although most of these different diagrams and language can be helpful, I would encourage you to consider if these would be the most reproducible and memorable ways to disciple in your context. Within the context of campus ministry, for example, the more memorable, the more transferable, and easy to understand the better it is for students who already have a lot of information to learn and memorize. I would shoot for something students would be able to reproduce with the amount of time they have on campus.

Out of all of the chapters regarding language and culture, I really appreciate chap 9.  It is easy to picture a square with four stops or turns along the way. First, the leader does and the disciple watches. In the second step, the disciple helps as the leader does. The third step is the turning point for the disciple into a leadership role where he leads with the help of the leader. The fourth is a celebratory stage of partnership where the leader watches this disciple emerge as a leader of others in this circle of discipleship.  The circle goes on and on:

1)   I do, you watch          2) I do, you help

3) You do, I help             4) You do, I watch (and celebrate)

I have benefited and have been able to deepen certain convictions while reading this book. There are aspects of discipleship I have not thought of, and others that I am now more informed in. If you want to be a mission-driven leader of disciple-makers, I recommend this resource and the follow up Multiplying Missional Leaders to you.

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Posted: May 13, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Book reviews, Theology, Thoughts

        There are mostly two ways that people try to dissuade others of a particular point.  One would be to show the cons or negative points of something or someone. The second would be to make an object or person look like the lesser in comparison to something else. Chalmers argues that the latter is the most effective way in his article, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

        For example, my brother is a nutrition freak. His idea of a cheat day is adding croutons to his lifeless salad.  He has tried to tell me time and time again why I should stop eating burgers, fries, and all things good. All I gather from that is no calories, no fat, and no sugar equals no good. (Side note: I have yet to be convinced that I should let go of eating half a dozen doughnuts for breakfast)

        But I have been able to drop 25 pounds within a month. Now how do you get a food-lover at heart to let go of everything considered unhealthy? The way Chalmers would go about it is by persuading me of a greater desire.

        I remember training for a fight and wanting to win my bout. The last thing I wanted was to lose a fight. I didn’t want to show up unprepared. I definitely didn’t want the fight to be canceled because I wasn’t disciplined enough to make weight.

        This led me to give up foods that would stop me from reaching my goal. I not only gave up fried food, but on certain days closer to the fight, I gave up eating carbs, meats, and only ate vegetables. One day before the fight, needing to lose 3 more pounds, I crash dieted and worked out on an empty stomach. Now that I think about it, and ask myself why, Chalmers makes perfect sense- I had a desire for something that was greater than my desire for food.

        The only way we will give up ungodly desires for godliness is if we have a growing desire to be conformed into the image of Christ. Position can only be given up when we see the status we have in our union with Christ. Rejection seems a small price when we are aware of the acceptance and adoption of our heavenly Father. Resources are no longer hoarded when we see all of the riches we have received from a generous king. How can anyone really threaten a believer with loss, suffering, and death when Jesus has won on our behalf, promised unfading glory, and eternal life in which death is no more?

        Chalmers provides Christians with a template and blueprint for any impulse we want to expel. I don’t know of any other way of removing impulses that seek gratification better than introducing a greater desire. God is the ultimate satisfaction and satisfier of our souls. The promise of everything we desire finds its root in Him. This article would make great material in helping anyone struggling with a particular sin that seems greater than the promises of God.

If you would like to read this article by Chalmers you can download the PDF Chalmers, Thomas – The Exlpulsive Power of a New Affection.

Book Review: Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby

Posted: February 28, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Book reviews, Thoughts

Among the many voices talking about the topic of leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby add their voice to the conversation and add their perspective on the challenge, role, vision and goals of the leader.  They provide a lot of helpful clarifications and insights from their time with leaders and CEO’s of companies.  Their experience, consultations, and nuggets of wisdom come through in their writing.

The overarching argument the authors are putting forth is that leaders are to move God’s people toward God’s agenda. I appreciate the emphasis on the development of people. Leadership is people work. As a leader, it is important to leverage your influence and passion for the benefit of others’ development. The biggest take away from this book is to think of leadership as a way of growing others into who God has created them to be and to place them where God needs them.

The second strength of this book is the chapter on the leader’s schedule. It is important that leaders guard their time for what is important. There is a difference between being busy and being productive. The juggling that occurs between relationships, rest, duties, and delight can easily be secured with careful planning. If a leader doesn’t keep to a disciplined schedule, they are unintentionally planning to overlook important tasks. By guarding their time, they are able to give themselves to intentional thinking, planning in order to carry out duties. The leader’s schedule can become the barometer of what they prioritize and what they don’t. It can diagnose if the leader overworks, underworks, or works unnecessarily. A calendar can balance all of the leader’s priorities while keeping a good mix of high purpose and high play.

After reading this book, I found two significant weaknesses that would keep me from recommending this book to others. One would be the dichotomization of leadership. I understand that there is a practical difference between how a Christian and non-Christian would lead an organization. However, the disagreement I have is in the secular/sacred split the author contrasts throughout the book. I believe that all humans are created to make and maintain cultures through work, structures, and technological advances. The manner by which culture and companies fulfill that may be different, but this is intrinsically woven into the fabric of who we are. The Christian leader is to work against the effects of the fall in ever sphere of life. From business meetings, staff meetings, to contracts, the Christian leader is to lead in a way that is honoring to God. To spiritualize leadership is to overlook the cultural mandate in Gen 2. Christians and non-Christians are to make, maintain, work, and keep culture through work- especially leaders.

Second, I think there is an overemphasis on the theocentric sovereignty of God that leaves out intuition, conviction, and action based on what is revealed in the Bible. Blackaby makes some categorical statements about vision, goal-oriented communication and mission statements as though they are mutually exclusive with God’s purposes. In my opinion, pithy statements that work as plumb lines can be a helpful way of getting God’s people onto God’s agenda.

On the one hand I agree with his premise that leaders ought to lead people to God’s purposes.  However, I disagree about how to get there.  The authors propose vision and mission statements as an either or. In reality, they are not to be pitted against each other and can work together. A wise leader will gain his vision, mission, and goals from God while clearly communicating through easily transferrable statements.

In conclusion, I am grateful for the encouragement to carefully plan out my time in a way that is congruent with my roles.  The more time that is carved out to think, plan, and strategize, the more I am able to move people in the direction that would be most fruitful. Although I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, I think it is a needed word for many in the business world.