Review of ‘The Emotionally Healthy Leader’ by Peter Scazzero


The-Emotionally-Healthy-LeaderPeter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

In 1993, I quit my job as an associate pastor before my senior pastor could fire me. I hadn’t begun teaching heterodox doctrine or engaged in a sexual affair or some other moral failure. No, I had vociferously challenged the “seeker-sensitive” direction he was taking the church. As a 24-year-old seminary student, I felt I knew a lot more about ministry than my pastor did, and I wasn’t hesitant to download my “knowledge” on him. Needless to say, this frustrated him personally and hampered the church’s evangelistic ministry. At a tense lunch meeting, my pastor told me I needed to shape up or ship out, so I tendered my resignation and left.

At the time, I thought my quitting was a matter of principle. I realized later, however, that it was really a manifestation of emotionally unhealthiness. I was young and immature but working in a missional environment that required a spiritual grownup. Several years of apprenticeship at a more traditional church, combined with two years’ work in corporate America, wised me up and mellowed me out. In 1999, I’m happy to say, I returned to work for the pastor who had wanted to fire me, and I count those years as some of the best of my career.

“The emotionally unhealthy leader,” Peter Scazzero writes in his new book, “is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity and a ‘being with God’ sufficient to sustain their ‘doing for God.’” That described me to a tee back then. I was thinking too much and feeling too little, reading too much and praying too little, reflecting on “big ideas” too much and relating to others too little. My life was out of balance, which meant my ministry was out of balance too.

In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero encourages pastors and other ministry leaders to take inventory of their inner and outer lives, to make sure they are operating in both areas out of a spiritual and emotional surplus. Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt. 6:45), and that lesson is true for more than what we say. Our heart determines everything. What we do reflects who we are.

The Inner Life
The first half of Scazzero’s book focuses on four practices that shape a person’s ability “to lead from a deep and transformed inner life”:

  • Face your shadow.
  • Lead out of your marriage/singleness.
  • Slow down for loving union.
  • Practice Sabbath delight.

 Scazzero concedes that there are more practices than these, but they are the ones that “emerged as foundational, both in [his] own life and in two decades of mentoring other leaders.”

Your “shadow” is “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.” Until your shadow is exposed to the light, it will undermine you, limit your service, and blind you to the shadow-side of others.

Ministry and marital status present a unique set of challenges for Christian leaders. Married leaders often prioritize ministry over their spouses, sacrificing them on the altar of service. Single leaders do the same, though what gets sacrificed in their case is any sense of the value and importance of their personal lives and friendships. “Our whole life as a leader is to bear witness for God’s love for the world,” Scazzero writes. “But we do so in different ways as marrieds or singles.”

“Slow down for loving union” means tending to our own spiritual wellbeing. Doing so reveals a dilemma faced by many Christian leaders. Scazzero writes: “Doing our part to cultivate a relationship of loving union with God requires time—time that, paradoxically, we don’t have because we are too busy serving him.”

That brings us to “Sabbath delight.” “Biblical Sabbath is a twenty-four-hour block of time in which we stop work, take rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.” I know of many pastors who preach about Sabbath rest—myself included. I know fewer who actually practice it, scheduling a regular weekly time of rest their ministerial labors. Is it any wonder that unrested ministers experience so much burnout?

The Outer Life 
The cultivation of our inner lives transforms the ways we do ministry. The second half of Scazzero’s book focuses on four tasks common to leaders:

  • Planning and decision making
  • Culture and team building
  • Power and wise boundaries
  • Endings and new beginnings

For each task, Scazzero shows how the four practices described in the first half of the book change—sometimes radically—the way we do things as Christian leaders. “There is a disconnect,” he writes, “when we fail to apply our spirituality with Jesus to such leadership tasks as planning, team building, boundaries, endings, and new beginnings. Too often, we rely instead on unmodified business practices to navigate those tasks, grafting secular branches onto our spiritual root system. This tends to bear the wrong kind of fruit… The life from our root system with Jesus must flow upward and outward into every aspect of our outer leadership tasks if we are to bear good fruit.”

* * * * *

I benefited from reading The Emotionally Healthy Leader and recommend it to other Christian leaders, whether they serve as pastors, board members, or leading volunteers. It is well and winsomely written. It does not discuss everything that could to be said about the topic, as Scazzero himself concedes, but it tries to address the most important things with advice shaped by biblical wisdom, personal and pastoral experience, and psychological insight.

_____
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Sharpe’s Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803′ by Bernard Cornwell


Sharpes-TriumphBernard Cornwell, Sharpe’s Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803 (New York: HarperCollins, 1998). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

Midway through reading Sharpe’s Tiger, the first volume (chronologically) in Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series, I hurriedly ordered the second volume for two-day delivery from Amazon. I am a series reader, and this clearly is a series to be read. It follows the exploits of Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army, during the era of the Napoleonic Wars.

Sharpe’s Tiger was set in India in 1799 and focused on the siege of Seringapatam in the spring of 1799. Sharpe’s Triumph picks up the story four years later as the British Army under Gen. Arthur Wellesley—after Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington—fights against the numerically superior Mahratta Horde at Ahmednuggur and then Assaye. (I’m using Cornwell’s terms and spellings. Wikipedia prefers Maratha, Maratha Empire or Maratha Confederacy, and Ahmednagar, in case you want to look them up.)

Cornwell doesn’t paper over the greedy motives and savage conduct of the British or other Europeans as they fought for control of the Indian subcontinent. He doesn’t valorize their enemies either, however. What he does is present the conflict from a British soldier’s point of view, showing his courage under fire.

And what courage it was! Cornwell’s description of the British escalade at Ahmednuggur, in which Lt. Colin Campbell of the Scottish 78th Regiment mounted a ladder three times to scale the fortress wall—a true story, by the way—astonishes the reader as much as it astonished Campbell’s contemporaries. (Campbell received a battlefield promotion to colonel, and in later years he was knighted and served as governor of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.)

But Cornwell’s description of the British assault at Assaye, in which the 78th calmly marched in formation under enemy fire, took a beating, but still went on to crush the Mahratta right flank, is even more astounding. Sometime after his victory at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington was asked which was his finest battle. He answered: “Assaye.” When you read this book—which is, remember, a work of historical fiction—you’ll nonetheless understand why.

_____
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Sharpe’s Tiger: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799′ by Bernard Cornwell


Sharpes-TigerBernard Cornwell, Sharpe’s Tiger: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Seringapatam, 1799 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

Nearly ten years ago, for reasons I don’t remember, I started reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels. Set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, the novels follow the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, his ship’s surgeon and best friend. Hearing of my interest, a friend recommended I read Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels, which are set in the same era but tell the story of the conflict from the point of view of a soldier in the British Army. For some reason, I ignored his suggestion.

A few days ago, however, I was casting about for something new to read and seeing the Aubrey-Maturin novels on my bookshelves reminded me of my friend’s suggestion. So I went to Amazon, found the first book in the series—Sharpe’s Tiger—and began reading.

Now I’m hooked.

The book opens with Richard Sharpe, a disgruntled twenty-something private, contemplating desertion from the army. The work is boring, the pay is bad, his immediate superiors are corrupt, and army discipline is brutal. Indeed, Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill—Sharpe’s immediate superior—conspires to trap Sharpe in an offense that will get him flogged with 2,000 lashes, effectively a death sentence.

As the sentence is being carried out, however, a summons from Gen. George Harris saves Sharpe from the lash, only to send him into deeper peril on a mission behind enemy lines. Sharpe’s exploits behind those lines constitute the bulk of Cornwell’s fast-moving narrative. Like other writers of historical fiction, Cornwell has taken literary license with the British Siege of Seringapatam in the spring of 1799, though he helpfully explains where he has departed from history in “Historical Note,” at the end of the book.

Sharpe’s Tiger is the first book in the series, chronologically, though it was not the first published. That honor belongs to Sharpe’s Gold. I recommend reading the books chronologically, however, because that gives you a better sense of the history of Britain’s wars as well as the evolution of Sharpe’s character.

_____

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘W Is for Wasted’ by Sue Grafton


W-Is-for-WastedSue Grafton, W Is for Wasted (New York: Putnam, 2013). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

To be honest, I don’t remember how I learned about Sue Grafton’s series of Kinsey Millhone mysteries or when I first read them. I do know this, however: I’ve read them all and loved every one. I typically start and finish a novel within a 24-hour period. For me, any mystery that keeps me turning pages is a good mystery. By that standard, the latest installment in Grafton’s long-running series is a good mystery.

In W Is for Wasted, Kinsey learns about two murders: a distant relative she never knew and a fellow private investigator she never trusted. Some of the action takes place in Bakersfield, California, in the late 1980s, but most of it takes place in Kinsey’s hometown of Santa Teresa, California—a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara. (Having lived in Santa Barbara, it’s fun plotting Grafton’s place and street names onto the real things.)

As Kinsey investigates the first murder—and gets drawn into the investigation of the second—she befriends the homeless, antagonizes the wealthy, makes frenemies of newfound family members, interacts with old flames, and even takes a shine to her neighbor Henry’s new cat, Ed. If you’ve read the other books in Grafton’s series, you’ll appreciate the evolution of her character. If not, you’ll enjoy the mystery as it slowly unfolds.

One recommendation, though: If you’ve never read any of the other books in this series, do yourself a favor and start with A Is for Alibi. If you like that one, work your way up to W Is for Wasted in alphabetical order. Each book stands on its own, of course, but the real payoff is to read the series.

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias’ by George Yancey


Hostile-EnvironmentGeorge Yancey, Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2015). Paperback | Kindle

Christianophobia can be defined as “an irrational animosity towards or hatred of Christians, or Christianity in general.” Rupert Shortt used the term to describe the persecution of Christians around the world.[1] In his new book, George Yancey uses it to describe animus against Christians in the United States.

Yancey is professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. In Hostile Environment, he draws on research about Christianophobia published in So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in America, a book he coauthored with David A. Williamson. Using a quantitative approach that measured affection for religious groups, Yancey and Williams determined that only atheists were disliked more than conservative Christians. Using a qualitative approach, they asked “cultural progressive activists” to describe their feelings about conservative Christians, which were typically negative.

Yancey explains the negative feelings these people hold against Christians in terms of “group interest” and “group threat” theories. He writes: “[Cultural progressives] want to shape society in the ways that serve their social and political interest, and see conservative Christians as interfering with their ability to do so.” In the words of one of the activists Yancey and Williamson surveyed, “I wish [conservative Christians] would keep their noses out of science education, sexual health education, abortion clinics, etc…. Let’s discuss reality, not your favorite Sky-Daddy’s personal preferences.”

American Christianophobes do not want to outlaw Christianity or persecute Christians, as happens in varying degrees to Christians around the world. They do want to confine the social influence of conservative Christianity, however. As one activist put it: “Keep your beliefs out of the public arena; they have no place in government. Celebrate your religious choices in your unrestricted houses of worship and let others do the same.” Christianophobes “fear the loss of their rights if Christianity is allowed to flourish.”

Yancey—who is an evangelical Christian—writes candidly that conservative Christians have earned a degree of opprobrium through bad actions. He identifies two “dysfunctions” in particular: (1) “when we clearly violate norms we say we value” and (2) “when Christians try to live out their beliefs but do so in harmful ways.”

But even this concession does not explain the totality of Christianophobia. Yancey notes that many Christianophobes derive their impression of conservative Christians not from personal relationships with them but from media reports about them. “Have never personally met a member of the Christian Right,” one survey respondent wrote. “All my exposure to them and their beliefs has come from television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. All my exposure to the Christian Right through the media only served to reinforce my negative views of them.” If you dislike a person’s politics and view media that reinforces that dislike, your dislike is based on an echo chamber rather than reality.

Yancey concludes his book with suggestions about how to deal with Christianophobes. “As Christians, we have to confront sins against our fellow brothers and sisters as aggressively as we confront sins against non-Christians,” he writes. “But we have to do so in a way that does not dehumanize even those seeking to silence Christians.” This means loving our enemies, as Jesus taught us to do (Matt. 5:44). “If we get the opportunity, we must act in ways that benefit them, whether by providing resources, advice on issues they will listen to us on, or time and attention, or by any other way we might serve them.” Such service may secure good will toward Christians, but whether it does or not, it is the right thing to do.

Do some Americans hold an irrational animosity toward Christians? Yes. Based on Yancey’s research, Christianophobia cannot be denied. Yet neither should it be exaggerated. American Christians are not persecuted, as they are in other countries. Nor is their experience of hatred as extreme or consequential as the racism directed toward African Americans. Even so, it exists.

Where Christians have given others cause to hate them, they should repent. Where they experience undeserved animus, they should speak the truth in love. And in all things, they should follow the Golden Rule, treating others as they wish others to treat them (Matt. 7:17).

_____

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

[1] I reviewed Shortt’s book here.

The Art of Dadliness: What my foster daughters taught me about being a father


On Dec. 13, 2013, Greene County Children’s Division woke my wife and me out of our lazy, Saturday-morning slumber and asked if we would like to provide foster care for two children.

For months, we had prepared for this very moment—attending intensive training, completing multipage questionnaires, getting fingerprinted and finally receiving our foster care license. Our 5-year-old son was excited too. As an only child, he could not wait to meet his live-in playmates. We had even purchased a bunk bed for his room, expecting that we would be providing care for a similarly aged boy.

Greene County offered us two girls. Sisters. Ages 19 months and 2 months.

Like any sensible, middle-aged man—I was 44 at the time—looking at the prospect of diapers, bottles and princess dresses, I told the social worker no, hung up the phone and started to go back to sleep.

Then the voice of God, which sounded suspiciously like the voice of my wife, suggested that perhaps I should call back and say yes. Obedient servant that I am, I did. Several hours later, we found ourselves in a Sam’s Club parking lot buckling someone else’s daughters into the backseat of my car as snow fell to the ground.

Fast forward 18 months. The sun is shining, the air is warm and muggy, and I am weeks away from buckling “my” girls into the backseat of my car for the very last time. Their parents have completed their treatment plans and shown Children’s Division they can provide care for their daughters. I am proud of the incredible progress the parents have made. Even though they have expressed a desire to keep in touch with us, I know that reunification will change my relationship to my little princesses forever.

As I look back on our time together, I realize my girls have taught me a lot about the art of dadliness—the mindset and skillset of being a father. As Father’s Day approaches, let me share what I have learned.

Time Flies. Make the Most of It.
Our last day with the girls is scheduled for July 27. If my calculations are correct, on that date, they will have been with us for 590 days. That amounts to 14,160 hours, which is equal to 849,600 minutes, which divides up into 50,976,000 seconds. Those are big numbers, but they represent fleeting opportunities. And they fly quickly.

Even though our son will stay with us a lot longer, time with him is short too. Eighteen months with them is a compressed version of 18 years with him. When he takes the car out for his first drive alone, or heads off to college, or moves to another city for a job, or marries and starts a family of his own—will I look back on our time together with satisfaction at moments captured or with regret over opportunities lost? There’s only one way to find out: Carpe diem, “Seize the day!”—every minute and second of it.

Memories Matter. Make the Best of Them.
During their time with us, the girls have celebrated two Christmases and two birthdays. They have received numerous gifts of toys and clothes, WubbaNubbas and blankets. Those are not the things they will remember. Toys break. Children outgrow them. What matters are the memories we made together.

As a father, it is tempting—and easy—to substitute presents for presence. That temptation should be avoided. What kids want most is you, not the stuff you can give them. They want your undivided attention, the feeling that they matter to you, whatever you happen to be doing together. So put down that smart phone! Turn off the TV! Go outside and play! Read them a book! Give them a hug! Tell them, “I love you.” Then, do it again.

Admittedly, this can be difficult. Having kids means you often have to sacrifice your wants for their needs. But here is the key thing to remember: What you want changes. As you make memories with your kids, you begin to want memories more than stuff.

Mothers Matter. Love Them More.
Someone said, “The greatest gift a father gives his children is to love their mother.”

One night, I came home from work. As I walked through the door, with dogs barking and kids screaming, my wife took one look at me and said, “Your turn.” And it was. She had worked hard all day, even though she was sick and the kids were crazy. She deserved a break. Dads, your wife needs your help.

More than help, however, she needs your love. Long after our foster girls have left the home, long after our son has started his own family, my wife and I will still be together. The relationship you build in the parenting years will make or break the empty-nest years. It is easy to put off romance when you start multiplying kids in the home. Dads, don’t let that happen. As I like to young men getting married, “A happy wife is a happy life.”

God Loves. Share His Story Often.
Finally, make sure to put God’s love at the center of your dadliness. It is not for nothing that Jesus describes God as Father (Luke 11:11-13, NIV).  He is not an abusive or absentee dad, of course—two kinds of fathers that are far too prevalent in our society. He is the loving Father whose good news story your children need to hear early, often, and most of all.

Since my son was little, I have prayed the same prayer for him every night. I pray a similar prayer for my girls—though with a bit more urgency since their time with me is short. It goes like this: “Heavenly Father, thank you for my son! Thank you that he is a happy, healthy boy. I pray that you would help him have a good night’s sleep with no bad dreams so that he can be rested and ready to have a good day tomorrow. Thank you that I get to be his daddy! And I pray that he would learn to love and follow Jesus from an early age.”

More than praying this prayer, more than reading the Bible and taking them to church, I try to live a godly life for my son, daughters and wife to see, hear and experience. In a real way, I am their first Gospel. Make sure your dadliness is a story they want to read!

Not long ago, I was sitting in the play area at the local mall watching my son and the girls scamper about, when I overheard another father tell his wife that the noise of children playing bothered him so badly that he needed to walk away for time by himself. I wanted to stand up, grab the man’s T-shirt, and yell, “Man up, Dad!” God created you for this, and He has given you every skill you need to get it done. So, do it. Just do it!

 

_____

This article originally appeared at VitalMagazine.com

 

You Will Be Assimilated | The Weekly Standard


Here’s your controversial post of the day, courtesy of Jonathan V. Last:

…the same-sex marriage movement is interested in a great deal more than just the freedom to form marital unions. It is also interested, quite keenly, in punishing dissenters. But the ambitions of the movement go further than that, even. It’s about revisiting legal notions of freedom of speech and association, constitutional protections for religious freedom, and cultural norms concerning the family. And most Americans are only just realizing that these are the societal compacts that have been pried open for negotiation.

You Will Be Assimilated | The Weekly Standard.