Kraig Lowell Pullam

My thoughts. My reflections. My journey…. On pastoring, preaching, leading & learning.

Archive for the category “Book Review”

The Entitlement Cure

 
I’ve just finished reading John Townsend’s book “The Entitlement Cure”. After hearing and reading several stellar reviews, along with seeing the intriguing title, I wanted this book in hand. And while the subtitle sparked my interest more than the title, I knew I needed to read it…amid my difficulty in reading all things Townsend. I don’t know what it is; but I’ve always found the writings of John Townsend a chore and bore…to the extent of having to play music in the background not to fall asleep. Admittedly, I realize this is an unfair criticism; and something I would hate for anyone to say about my writing. After all, Townsend is a well-respected author and the co-mastermind behind New York Time’s bestselling “How People Grow”, a book I have used during my days of Christian Education in our Book Club. The fact is…Townsend is not a wordsmith. But getting beyond the style, there is substance couched in “The Entitlement Cure.” Therefore, I wouldn’t 1) Discard this book as irrelevant 2) Misdiagnose this book as a prompt of any political propaganda 3) Write off this volume as being unworthy of investment. 
“The Entitlement Cure” addresses a prevailing problem that now infiltrates every vital organ in relational life as we’ve come to know it. Whether it is in the church, marriage, home-life, work-environment…Townsend asserts that we are all infected by the disease of entitlement. In fact, entitlement is a byproduct (well, he shows how it pre-dates human creation) of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Townsend contends that entitlement is the belief that “….I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment…”, and that the problems in human society stem from this crippling disposition. In this volume, the author not only analyzes, but also speaks to both the culprit and enablers of the entitled on how to jettison this attitude of being special, being owed, refusing to take responsibility and blaming others.

Hitting at the core of the book, I realized I actually love Townsend’s style of writing! Addressing the relational patterns that drive entitlement (Chapter 2), he gives the practical markers of how we often feed the entitlement monster and thereby foster attitudes of entitlement (example: praising what takes no effort; praising what is required; praising what is not based on reality; etcetera). Unfolding five principles that can restore the problem ALL of us have with entitlement (some more than others.) While all five principles are of notable mention, I do think one of the components outlined by Townsend is how denial, perfectionism and narcissism attribute to the pressure, stress and emptiness that accompany their intended. Entitlement limits our good and our growth, according to the author. I do agree! 

One of the very central themes in this volume is Townsend’s description of feeling deserving to taking responsibility. He says that there is a right way to deserve and there is a wrong way to deserve; and explains how responsibility is not only right, but the practical ways to assume responsibility (Chapter 8). One of the things I like is Townsend’s conventional use of what he calls “NHT”. In short, this means “Next Hard Thing.” Townsend argues that our NHT is the choice we all need to make that moves us beyond the difficulty. In a real sense, what separates the good from the great, the best from all things average…is the ability and willingness to move past the proverbial areas of discomfort. According to the author, this requires 1) Carving out time 2) Going against the flow of life 3) Going against other’s expectations 4) Starting a ground zero (ie – “at the bottom”), etc. In this recourse, there are two (2) specific dynamics I would like to spotlight here in conclusion. One is saying when you are wrong (Chapter 13) and facing the pain that gets you somewhere (Chapter 14). I think that these two chapters and dynamics are key to understanding Townsend’s entire point. 

In summary, I would suggest this as a read for anyone who is looking to practically stop being an enabler to those who are highly entitled; and as a practical guide to taming the entitled monster who lives inside of us all. I give the book two thumbs up; and a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. I would also suggest this as a great read for parents, couples and church leaders. 

 

Chris Bailey’s ‘Productivity’

  
At the start of 2016, I think it is important to evaluate and explore the level of our productivity in any given arena. Chris Bailey does a stellar job of coaching his readers through such in his newly-released volume “Productivity.” In short, this volume is not your average spin on productivity. In a real sense, it is a practicum on how one can and should effectively master the use of their time and time.  

Bailey takes a year out of his young life to do an experiment on productivity. What he finds are some astonishing facts about himself, the human race and research that points to how we, as humans, can effectively make the best use of our time, energy and attention. Within the first section of his work, Bailey stresses the importance of discipline and focus by way of the use of meditation. Take note that this is not a Christian or Spiritual Book. However, Bailey highlights an essential element to not only being a person of character and faith; but being grounded requires a time of being centered and focused on the spiritual reality surrounding who we are. In my faith and the dynamics of spiritual formation, I consider this essential in how we work and serve in Christian ministry. As we set our priorities, we are then poised to work smart, knowing that all tasks are not created equal; and learn to identify what is most important. 

 

Bailey contends that productivity is about working deliberately and not, as he terms it, working on ‘autopilot.’ Working deliberately helps you and I to locate priorities in our work, to define the big picture of our tasks and to discern how best we can take control of the obligations at hand. The central pieces of this kind of drive are focus and discipline. As Bailey says: “…productivity has nothing to do with how much you do, and everything to do with how much you accomplish.” (12) Efficiency in our work is no longer enough; it is all about accomplishment. As a strong proponent of daily meditation, Bailey asserts that productive people not only manage their time, but they also manage their attention and their energy well. To this author, the three ingredients of productivity are time, energy and attention; and doing it deliberately and intentionally.  

 

A very important component in this volume is what Bailey terms our Biological Prime Time (BPT). He argues that, by taking a self-assessment in tracking the fluctuations of our own energy levels throughout any given day, we are then poised to take steps to becoming more productive, committing our high-impact tasks to our BPT. As the author stressed, productive people don’t just manage their TIME well; they manage their ENERGY and ATTENTION well. Interestingly, if I may apply this to the arenas of relationships or in ministry, we can typically scale our progress in any given relationship or in our spiritual growth in where we assign our energy and attention, as well as our time. In 2016, it should be a general rule of our proverbial thumb not to assign energy to non-impact influences, low-impact thoughts or mundane things that consume our attention. The key point is to spend your time more intelligently and to make every effort to “punctuate your productivity.” Generally, it is good to track our time; and, as Bailey contends, when we are aware of how we are spending our time, we are then prepared to make adjustments. I like that he not only gives us the what of maximizing the use of time (after all, most already know they need to manage their time more efficiently); but he walks the reader through the process of doing as such. As this is important to all persons in every station in life, it also applies to how we plan our study time in devotion/meditation, personal growth and time for sermon preparation. Knowing your strong points throughout the day allows you to appropriate and allocate your creativity, sharpness and even vulnerabilities, all that are needed.

 

The book consists of eight (8) sections. All of them have a different variable; but all of them are simply and overarching of one theme: controlling your mind; redirecting your attention; choosing what you give priority to; getting started on tasks and choosing where you will procrastinate. 

 

Overall, I think the book of overwhelmingly filled with practical principles and tools to prioritize and maximize our productivity; and thus becoming more effective in what we accomplish, short term and long term. Bailey gives a lot of information. I don’t think this book is for the faint of heart. In like manner, it is not an easy-read. However, on a scale of 1 to 10, I give this book a 7.5. Again…it is not your typical book on productivity. Therefore, I’d suggest giving it a read!

The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership

  

Over the course of the past week, I’ve struck gold! Jenni Catron’s new publication “The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership” is a goldmine for every leader who seeks refining in the private and public arena. I love to read just about anything. But I am a sucker for biographies, books on leadership, the craft and skill of expositional preaching and Christian living. This book merges and meshes biography, leadership and Christian living into one volume that is practical, portable and pregnant with leadership nuggets in layman’s terms.  

To begin with, the author addresses, at the core, what she terms “…the DNA of extraordinary.” In unearthing the true definition of extraordinary, in relation to leadership, Catron contends, “…extraordinary leaders call others to their extraordinary best.” Using Christ, other biblical characters, modern-day leaders who’ve exceled and her own lessons of success and failure, she outlines the four aspects of leadership that essentially inspire and ignite others to not only follow the leader; but to develop as leaders. The four dimensions, Catron argues the power and resourcefulness of the Shema, also known as “The Great Commandment”; and its enormous implications for us as leaders. We can find the Great Commandment recorded in several of the gospels, quoting Hebrew literature. Mark 12:30 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind and with all your strength.” In leading with all of who we are, for the sake of God and others, it requires my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength. And to not give all of myself would, in turn, shortchange God and others. 

 

Before exploring the 4 dimensions of heart (relational leadership), soul (spiritual leadership), mind (managerial leadership) and strength (visionary leadership), Catron delves into the three aspects that are essential to all four dimensions: the image of leadership (character), leading in chaos (embracing the tensions within leadership and inspiring others in the midst of tension), leading from within (leading ourselves well to lead others better). The author debunks the notion that all great leaders are extroverts, talkative, etcetera. In a real sense, there are great leaders who are introverts and act more than they make announcements. But one of the things she seeks to communicate is that our experiences in life influence how we lead our own selves and how we, in turn, lead others. Catron asserts that character (a word she uses quite frequently) is often defined as “who you are when no one is looking.” It means firmly pursing the elements that will grow you regardless of whether they get immediate attention by those who surround us or on a larger scale. Character is about pursuing Christlikeness. When it comes to the heart, one of the truths that stands out is the fact that people follow leaders not for the leader but for themselves. Extraordinary leadership has the ability to convince people of such. Relational leadership (from the heart) puts people work before paper work; and seeks to encourage and inspire others toward greatness and influence. Spiritual leadership (from the soul) contends that leadership always flourishes in the face of servanthood and submission. That while humility and submission are counterintuitive to today’s leadership paradigm, these virtues should anchor who we are as spiritual leaders who model the example of Christ. Managerial leadership (from the mind) puts intentional time and effort into building review processes and performance management systems that create effective dialogue between employees and their managers, according to Catron. And visionary leadership (from strength) requires the attributes of courage, patience, endurance, conviction and focus. A strong vision will inspire the team. 

 All in all, we can see Christ as the consummate example of these four dimensions of leadership on the extraordinary level. 

I like this book; and I’ve enjoyed reading it as well. It is my hope to sift through it during the course of the coming year and share some of its highlights with the leaders I pour into. I give this book two thumbs up; and suggest it for leadership and laity alike!

My review of “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach

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“Messy Grace”, written by Caleb Kaltenbach, is an honest insider’s look into a man’s life that grew up being raised by openly gay parents, who one day became a follower of Christ and a Pastor, struggling to embrace God’s truth while rendering grace. Moving from the use of scripture and autobiographical transparency, the author makes an attempt to skillfully (Chapters 1 to 6) fuse the love of God with the truth of God (Chapters 7 to 12) while juggling the tension that resides at the intersection of the two.

Working for a year closely connected as a Chaplain to the longest free-standing HIV clinic in Houston, I had the opportunity to interact with many in the LGBT community daily. As a result, I strongly believe that Kaltenbach is correct when he contends that many Christians fail to think critically or talk comfortably about the issue of homosexuality without and within the church context. In failing to approach the issue of homosexuality, we miss opportunities to dialogue and worse, hurt others in the process. Through his usage of story, imagery, example and painful transparency, Kaltenbach describes and unveils his personal history of his own mother and her partner, along with his father who would one day reveal his love for the same gender. What I do find intriguing is how vividly Kaltenbach describes his recollections of the seeming hatred and perceived venom directed at the gay community as he marched (as a child) alongside his mother and her partner in gay pride parades and generally in the gay community. He grew to simply believe all Christians hated anyone who wasn’t like them; and thus hated gay people. He also (some justifiably so) grew to believe that many hurts and prejudices were enacted and imposed by the Christian community, historically. As I look at even the Southern Baptist origin (of which I am a part) and how it originated (white Baptists in the south were opposed to the freeing of slaves; and wished to distinguish themselves from those in the north, who were against slavery) I must concur with many injustices done at the hands of “Christian” people and the “church.” But as with anything or religion that is extreme, this has its own limitations. After all, as the author points out, this doesn’t reflect the character of Christ.
The author seeks to persuade the reader to live in what he calls “the tension of grace and truth.” He clearly seems to suggest that those who are apart of Christianity already live in tension. But he invites all who are in the Judeo-Christian arena to explore Grace and Truth’s intersection; and live there.
The author contends that a real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us. And that we have tragically done a better job of wounding those who are different from than building them up. BUT…I like how Kaltenbach skillfully turns the tide in chapter 7 towards God’s truth. With rapidity, he stresses the fact that God’s truth must be balanced with God’s grace and love. God’s truth should not come at the alienation of God’s love; and neither should an emphasis on the love of God expunge the fact of God’s love towards messy people. The truth is – we are all messy.

 
I have two sides, when it comes to reading and reviewing this book. On the one hand, I am excited to see someone dealing with the issue of homosexuality, the church’s ignorance regarding the issue, same-gender attraction and confronting and loving others who struggle (or do not struggle) with same-sex attraction. On the other, the theologian in me kicks in…and I am uncomfortable with some of Kaltenbach’s assertions, views, perspectives and translations of scripture. But I realize he isn’t trying to just speak to the theologian; but to the charge at large and in general. I do believe him to be sincere; and that he makes an attempt to interpret God’s truth in light of the road he has traveled. He makes some very helpful steps to responding to those who “come out” and dealing with same-gender attraction in one’s own life or family.

Some of the weak points of the book are when he states that the best alternative for those who are gay be celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. I see quite a few loopholes in this regard. For the sake of brevity and my lack of a plausible alternative; I will simply say this peeked my interest; and invite others to gather your own thoughts on the author’s assertions. But to address the practice of celibacy in short I will say that, in this sex-crazed culture (which Kaltenbach does address, I give him this), still having a non-sexual relationship with the person you are attracted to of the same sex, without a time-frame of ending the race…is an act waiting to happen. I’ll leave that there. To marry another person of the opposite sex when one is still gay, almost seems akin to “praying the gay away.” Again, in my view, this has fallacies. I would also add that this volume seems to deal with the perspective of the LBGT towards Christianity from one side of the aisle. Knowing quite a few persons in the LBGT, I can attest to the fact that this is not the view of all; and Kaltenbach does point this out.

 
I do think that every Christian reader and pastor should atleast skin through this volume; and it would help to purchase a copy of this book as a helpful resource to gain an understanding of someone who has lived on both sides of the proverbial aisle. On a scale of 1 to 10, it is a 6 when it comes to reading difficulty, 7 in Christian living and a 9 in practicality. All in all, I am glad I took some time to read this book during the course of this past week. After all, “Messy Grace” is a story about us all!

John MacArthur’s Parables (Review)

imageThis week I got my hands on a copy of John MacArthur’s most recent volume on “Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.” As is MacArthur’s trademark, this particular work of his is candid in style and thorough in content.

Essentially, MacArthur’s work in this volume is threefold: 1) Clearly present factions in Christ’s immediate culture that sparked His use of parables and its purpose; debunking the common notions of why Jesus used this form of teaching. 2) Show how Christ’s key parables are fleshed out in parable, explanation, purpose, point, culture and application. 3) Contend that the parables are tools with which Christ used to teach and defend the truth as a teller of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

The above summary, in and of itself, seems difficult and complex. That’s because it is. There is nothing simple about MacArthur, in MY view. As with his preaching, like an Agatha Christi novel, if you miss a page, you may miss his point. But he does a stellar job of asking and answering: 1) What is a parable? and 2) How can we interpret the parables of Christ efficiently, effectively and correctly?

It is critical to note that MacArthur deflates the notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all. MacArthur points out that this is not true. Jesus “tells” the story to reveal a doctrinal and eternal truth to those who received Him for Who He claimed to be; and to conceal this truth from those who would reject as an outcome of His judgment. Jesus did not, however, exalt the telling of a story at the neglect of doctrinal teaching. In Christ’s approach to communicating truth, as well as in His use of parables, He did not pit narrative against proposition or the story against doctrine, as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. It is clear, according to the author, that Christ uses this for a “telling the story” to enlighten those who have a heart of acceptance towards the truths of God, having the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ. I believe MacArthur does a masterful job of underscoring that the milestone of Christ’s use of parables was fundamentally the assault against Truth. It’s culprit? The “Pharisaical Sabbath-enforcement squad” of His day. In Chapter 1, MacArthur classically communicates many insightful benchmarks in Matthew chapter 12 that ultimately spur this revolutionary and innovative approach to Christ’s preaching and His communication of the mysteries of the Kingdom.

What follows is an approach to Christ’s most prominent parables in a practical, scholarly and insightful style that is only characteristic of vintage John MacArthur.

Now, for a bit of critique. I love John MacArthur and his writings. But in this book, you sort of have to get where he’s going to get what he’s saying. As a fledgling scholar with degrees in Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages, I love him. As an honest layman with a c-average, he is hard for me to follow, on the surface.  If you couldn’t tell (as could I), even my summary bordered on the realm of being difficult to understand without a church encyclopedia. That was simply me trying to break down MacArthur complexity, to no avail.  Simply put, MacArthur is no Lucado or Swindoll or even (in my view) as simple to understand as a John Piper, at times. Now don’t get me wrong…if you can get beyond the scholarly highlights in chapters 2 through 10, you will find a GOLD MINE of preaching material, doctrinal nuggets and teaching points that will live and work well for teachers and students alike. That being said, this book (in my personal view) is not an easy-read; and not one you can speed-read through. I see it best as a volume one should read through slowly; develop a mental (or literal) file that can be used as a reference for future use when dealing with parables and illustrating the subjects/teachings/doctrines of [Receiving the Word, Discipleship, Justice and Grace, Neighborly Love, Justification by Faith, Faithfulness, Wisdom, Heaven and Hell, Persistence in Prayer.]

All in all, I would suggest having this book on one’s shelf as a handy reference in understanding the why, what and “aha” of Christ’s use of parables, and MacArthur walking you through the parables themselves. I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars for the layman; a 4 out of 5 for the scholar.

Grit to Great (Review)

  

Guts. Resilience. Initiative. Tenacity. According to authors Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval, these four aforementioned components are the essential ingredients of GRIT. In a real sense, the requirements in acheiving a superior level of success and achievement consists of no secret ingredients or magical nuances. No. Thaler and Koval contend that all persons who have acheived recognition & accomplishment in their fields have applied the learned (not born with) art of resilience, sweat, character, lessons from failures, perseverance and hard work. 
How can you explain…

• Colin Powell as a C average student?

• Michael Jordan’s coach deciding he wasn’t a good match for his team?

• Steve Jobs maintaining a 2.65 average in high school; and getting fired from Apple in the mid 80’s?

• Bill Gates dropping out of school?

• Jerry Seinfeld getting booed off the stage during his first stand-up gig?

“Grit to Great” teaches that we can encourage others to become people of grit by providing support and guidance, but also helping them, like the Jordans, Jobs, Gates, Powells and Seinfelds of the world, to learn on their own and push beyond initial limitations and disappointments. I agree with the authors who assert that the self-esteem movement that began in the late 1960’s have resulted in a rightful assesment of worth, but an unhealthy perception that we all deserve a trophy. Eventually, this concept numbs the desire of others to strive to live on the cutting edge of greatness. As a pastor and spiritual leader, I operate under no false illusion. People matter; and they are important! But I contend with Thaler and Koval when (Chapter 2) they state that talent plays only a small part in comparison to stamina and resilience. 

If I may apply this to the Christian arena… Good churches become great churches not by pulpit personalities, talented singers or gifted acrobats; but by common people who are willing to remain vigilent, determined and intent upon seeing Christi’s vision for His church become ultimate reality. 

The greatest preachers are not the most intelligent, best-dressed or well-spoken. It is the one who digs deep into the truths of God’s Word; and diligently spares no expense to cut straight in the communication of it’s truth and application.

So it is in every arena of life, according to the authors of “Grit to Great”. Simply put, the authors say that talent will get you noticed, but it is GRIT that yields you a seat at the table. How is this done? : 1) Be an overpreparer 2) Get in the door 3) Go the extra mile! 

 Admittedly, the authors assess that moving from GRIT to GREAT will not happen overnight. It will require embracing moments of boredom and the celebration of small victories. One of the ways this is done, they say, is by debunking “WillPower”. They suggest that willpower is shortlived. Conversely, we should develop new habits for acheivement and put it on repeat. Ants don’t have a spoon; but they do have a strategy. In all that we do, whether it is writing, business ownership, church membership, parenting, in marriage m, friendship circles or anything else, it is important to utilize the resources that we have; adjust to every life-change and disappointment; learn to improvise; grow in your mindset and learn how to “fail forward.” 

There are many high points and new insightful challenges to our general paradigm of thinking. But one that stands out is how we have limited time in our days and lives. The authors point to the fact that the less we have in days, the more we are able to focus on what truly counts and really matters. We shouldn’t wait for the perfect moment to start walking. As we have often heard, God will give you more along the way than He does before you start. 

The most important component in grit to great for me is the essential piece of developing our character. As a Christian Leader, truth and character are vital if we would expect to stand before people as the visible images of an invisible God. Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.” 

And it is important that “character building” (the term the authors use) begin with the building of character within us a leaders and people willing to instill the type of character in ourselves and others that makes people willing to dedicate themselves to creating a better world.  

I highly recommend this book. Around 150 pages in length; it follows the format of Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” bestseller. While there are no cited scripture references, sermon illustrations (though there are a great number of illustrations and quotes that are helpful preaching nuggets), or Greek words…every pastor and preacher should have this book on their shelves. Please follow the link to order a copy or kindle of this book!

 

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