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The Snakebite Letters

As a great fan of C.S. Lewis and especially The Screwtape Letters it was a joy to find East Coast philosopher and C.S. Lewis expert Peter Kreeft had taken pen in hand and written additional insights from “the tempters training school”. The book THE SNAKEBITE LETTERS by Peter Kreeft (1993, Ignatius Press) contains 14 letters dealing with such diabolical topics as “How To Sabotage Worship” and “How To Shoot Chastity In The Head”. In addition the book closes with a chapter akin to “Screwtape Proposes A Toast” titled “Rethinking 199-: A revisionist View. The book is full of insights and brilliant satire. It reads like letters written in the 1990’s rather than during World War 2 so a modern audience can relate completely to the contemporary issues discussed as context for the acts of temptation. One major difference between Kreeft and Lewis is a focus on the challenges of Roman Catholic Higher Education which Kreeft dedicates 4 chapters and Lewis doesn’t mention. Lewis and his focus on “Mere Christianity” and those doctrines and  temptations common to all followers of Christ is missing a bit as Snakebite the Demon is intentionally vocal about his anti-catholic convictions. Even with this being true the book is full of “revelations of demonic strategy”for the culture, public and private morality and even basic Theology that had me constantly nodding my head in complete agreement and wondering why I had never articulated it with that level of clarity before. I recommend reading and reflecting on this helpful book of social/ecclesiastical criticism for the spiritual insights you will gain on temptation, The broader understanding of Roman Catholic similarities and differences with Protestant thought as well as put a smile on your face.

Understanding and Leading Change

John Kotter is perhaps the worlds leading authority on understanding organizational and by extension ministry change. His position as long time professor at Harvard Business School and author of best selling book LEADING CHANGE have given him a perspective on observing the growing body of literature and research on how to lead change.

In the book THE ICE BERG IS MELTING (St. Martins Press, 2005) Dr. Kotter and co author Holger Rathgeber take the 8 principles of LEADING CHANGE and weave them into a fable in the same vein of THE ONE MINUTE MANAGER featuring a colony of Imperial penguins living in Antarctica who speak and act a lot like the people we are trying to lead in changing times. The fable is cute and makes important ideas accessible to all ages and educational backgrounds. The slightly off beat story of Fred, Alice, Louis and NoNo is easy to remember and provides a common vocabulary for discussing complex ideas. For those not constantly enamored with cute stories the book also includes a section on pages 130-134 thee eight step process of leading successful change and understanding the roles of both “thinking and feeling” in the process.

The goal of the book is not to “dumb down” these original concepts but place them in a story to ta[ into the power of narrative to influence behavior throughout an entire organization with a smile on their face. Having read Dr. Kotter’s other works I wish I had discovered this book before, it would have been a great additional tool for leading ministry change. Get and read a copy of this book it will help you communicate growth and change as you lead into the future.

Better Than A Personal Life Coach

As an admitted fan of Patrick Lencioni I was delighted to find a book authored by him that I had not yet read.I entered into the book with very high expectations THE FIVE TEMPTATIONS OF A CEO (Jossey-Bass, 1998)  did not disappoint. The first 100 pages  of the book is set up as a business fable featuring Andrew a frustrated under-performing  CEO the evening before a board meeting that he is apprehensive about. On his way home late at night he meets Andrew on the Public Transport Train and the discussion quickly turn to the 5 biggest mistakes CEO’s as a group seem to be drawn towards. For those not excited about “fables or parables” to teach the lessons A summary model of why executives fail  begins on page 111 and includes diagrams (p. 119) and self assessment questions (p.123).

As helpful as the general identified temptations are for example  #1 Choose Results Over Status it is the unpacking of the principle in the fable that had the most impact on me personally by way of application. I am not a CEO but the ideas presented are a part of my life and the chapter caused much good reflection and personal questioning. This was a great book that I recommend to anyone who wants to be informed or reminded of how the big principles of life and career work. It will be a great addition to your library and work categories now and in the future.

Building A Theological Vocabulary

This semester I have been carrying in my academic briefcase a short reference work titled POCKET DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGICAL TERMS Edited by Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling (Inter-Varsity Press, 1999). Over and over as students have needed theological definitions to names.terms and  phrases  that come up in class lectures, readings or in assignments and this has been the perfect tool. The book contains over 300 entries which includes the foreign language terms so common in philosophy and Theology as well as concise explanations of movements and theological traditions. The dictionary covers the various perspectives with equal care from the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” to the “Westminster Confession and Catechisms” (p. 121). Special value is added by the cross referencing which allows for ideas to be connected and further explored. Biblical citations are included when specially valuable but this work does not include a Scriptural concordance which allows the book to be complete in only 122 pages. The scholarly pedigree of Dr. Grenz who was professor of Theology at Cary Hall/Regent College in British Columbia and Professor Guretzki from Briercrest Bible College are impeccable and insure trustworthiness. If you teach using theological terms this is an invaluable tool to help your students self-discover the answer to their own question,”what does that term mean?” as well as build their vocabulary in the process. My copy is going to continue to reside in my briefcase for years to come!

An Introduction to “Strengths” Psychology

In just 110 pages the New York Times #1 Best Selling book, HOW FULL IS YOUR BUCKET by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton (Gallup Press, 2004) lays out over 50 years of research on the subject of positive encouraging personal interaction. Using as a unifying metaphor the word picture of a “dipper” and a “bucket” the book simply and understandably presents a powerful case for the power of encouragement.Starting with the interview question of “Whats right with people?” the authors use powerful stories, copious research results and personal experiences to motivate the reader to be intentionally positive in their interactions. Chapter One titled Negativity Kills begins with an unforgettable study by Dr William E. Meyers a chief Army psychologists on American prisoner of war detained in North Korean prison camps who suffered from “extreme hopelessness” (p.19) and how it was accomplished.Other chapters deal with positive attitudes and work productivity and positive interaction and parenting. The book also includes ad ID code to take the “Clifton Strengths Finder” inventory and use resources on http://www.bucketbook.com. Overall I found the book helpful as a reminder and full of illustrations for sermon/teaching illustrations. I think in the past we could take for granted people would pick up the concepts about the  power and practice of positive encouragement from family,school church and social life but that assumption can not be made so if you or someone you know needs an introduction  or refresher course in human interactions this would be a great tool!

Moving beyond The Status Quo….

I admit from the outset that I am not a great fan of catchy titles especially ones that mimic a best seller so the book GOOD TO GREAT IN GODS EYES: Ten Practices Great Christians Have In Common by Chip Ingram (Baker Books, 2007) sat in my “to be read pile of volumes for months before I began to read it. Having loved GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins I was not full of high expectations for  a book riding its title’s coat tails. But after reading the volume from cover to cover I was very pleasantly surprised and I am delighted to have been wrong about the value of this book.

The opening words of chapter one set the stage, “Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day” Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each of the 10 chapters begin with a series of quotes and then continues to some general thoughts and personal reflections from the authors life and ministry. This is intern followed by a clear concise list of principles related to the topic. The chapter concludes with specific Action Steps and Questions for Reflection and Discussion. The 10 chapter headings include:

  1. Think Great Thoughts                                        6. Take Great Risks
  2. Read Great Books                                                 7. Make Great Sacrifices
  3. Pursue Great People                                            8. Enjoy Great Moments
  4. Dream Great Dreams                                          9. Empower Great People
  5. Pray Great Prayers                                              10. Develop Great Habits

The reality is these are not the finest paragraphs ever written on Thinking, Books, Prayer and Risk Taking but the chapters are uniformly well written, easy to understand, short enough to easily read but long enough to inform and motive growth in behavior. It is the breadth of the topics covered as well as the interesting writing style that give the book is value.

I teach a class of incoming university freshmen every fall. I plan to make this book a part of the curriculum in the semesters to come. I can’t think of a single volume that covers all these diverse but important topics in a unified and applicable way. If you are looking for a solid overview of steps to spiritual and personal growth this book would serve you well!

 

Life Skills On Display

As a big fan of “The One Minute Manager” series over the years I was very pleased to have found a copy of THE ONE MINUTE ENTREPRENEUR By Ken Blanchard, Don Hutson and Ethan Willis (Currency/Doubleday, 2008). The focus of the book is creating and sustaining a successful business but I found the issues raised in the parable of the book was applicable to all of life. The story involves a fictional couple who is mentored by “real life” people who’s names are well known in the  personal growth world. The parable includes a rough start and the lessons learned to transition to a successful mindset. The body of the work lays out the skills and principles necessary to establish a career on an upward trajectory.  The end portion does not ignore common pitfalls and temptations that trip people up as they move through life. At less than 130 pages the book is a short read but the appendix covering the “top 20 attributes of successful entrepreneurs” is a nice value added. This is an excellent book for someone starting out as well as someone in the middle of their careers as a course affirmation or road map for correction. A very worth while read!