Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: "Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After" By Craig Groeshel

Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage That Goes the Distance  -     
        By: Craig Groeschel
The author begins, "I wrote this book because people in my generation are making decisions way before marriage that actually sabotage what they really want for their futures." (p. 5)  Pastor Craig Groeschel writes a scriptural, human, transparent and painfully-uniquely-Christian view of relationships for today's couples.  He begins with our primary relationship-in Jesus Christ and uses that as the foundation to build and grow flourishing, life long relationship.  
This is not a Pollyanna look at marriage but a working process toward a great relationship.  Groeschel speaks from his own life's victories and mistakes.  He allows the reader to be imperfect and find a new starting place to begin a relationship well.  The book gives solid scriptural advice, based on Biblical principles all reinforced by  stories from real people, his own family and  Napoleon Dynamite.  He presents solid principles in bullet points with fresh humor to help negotiate the minefield of pre-marriage and reminds us that "God's greatest weapon in this wonderful adventure is always His own love-a love we find most clearly lived out in the person of Jesus Christ.
People who are not churched will still find great value in this book.  Yet, Craig is unshakably Christian in his answers and dares to say that a God-styled start will yield victorious results.  Whether your relationship is not working or if you are beginning life with "your number 2" (God must be your number 1) and want to do it right, you will find answers here.
"Love, Sex and Happily Ever After" is interesting and well written.  It can be read in a couple of hours but it has a lot of content packed into its pages and should be read with care.  The study guide at the end is well done and would be a great small group experience.  Pastors will find it useful in pre-marriage classes or counseling, a young adult study group or college student class.  It is not written for marriage and family counseling and the jargon is geared for young adults. I am better for reading it.
Thanks to Multnomah press for giving me this book in exchange for this review.  I appreciate them expecting honest review and I thank you for reading Thethoughtfulpastor blog.   

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: "The 360 Degree Leader" by John Maxwell

In any organization, most leadership comes from the middle. Presidents, pastors and parents may think that they have a handle on things but those in the middle of every organization are the ones who make things happen. Maxwell encourages primary leaders to think about leading from the center rather than the top. An effective leader is one who can lead up, across and down. Too often, leadership becomes a top down phenomena and frustrates everyone. Influence and not position are what makes positive things happen.
Whether you are a leader in a secular business, the church, or in your own home, you need to read John Maxwell. "360 Degrees" is the most flexible and usable of his many works. Too often leadership is confused with simply being in charge. This book defines it as freeing others to lead and then gives concrete and easily implemented tools to assess and implement change. I am a pastor and my comments come from the context of Church, however, that does not take away the power of this book for your context.

Maxwell invites the "big boss" to abandon and adapt the existing organization and create a culture of properly placed middle managers with a unified vision. He also invites those in the middle to celebrate their position and lead where they are planted. This takes work and the pain of re-tooling a lot of preconceptions. The author says, "I can't remember a single time I've regretted getting out of my comfort zone and trying to get acquainted with someone I didn't know." The cure for this pain "walking the halls" and personal growth for all concerned. John Maxwell does not abandon the reader when this tome moves to the shelf also.

The book is a masterpiece, especially for the church, but only one of the parts of its overall message. By going to you can take a free and very helpful self assessment to guide you through the next steps of creating a stronger organization. A "360° Leader Comprehensive Assessment" can also be purchased. This site is also an entry to many resources, both free and for purchase, at . His e-newsletters remain part of my Monday "Briefings". Go to a workshop whenever you have access too and take your church leadership with you!

I strongly recommend this book for anyone in leadership, and that is virtually everyone in an organization. It makes a great small group workshop or study for an administrative board too. A workbook is available. I have not read it but have ordered a copy and will bet that it is helpful.

I write reviews for Tyndale's BookSneeze program but purchased this on my own nickel! Please rate my review and thanks for reading TheThoughtfulPastor Blog.

Addendum:    I would like to add some additional material from Maxwell's book for those who will remain here and read  for a bit.  These are the lessons that I put to use from my study.  This is ongoing and I will add more from time to time.

  • Be fulfilled in the "middle".  It is ok to lead somewhere other than the top.  "Develop strong relationships with key people, Define a win in terms of teamwork, engage continual communications, Gain experience and maturity, and put the team above your personal success."  This isn't just church stuff but it is essential for the servant leader of a church.  Page 62
  • The free online leadership survey was helpful.  There is a full version for $99 but I benefited from this freebie plus an honest look at what I was doing (unsuccessfully) at the time. 
  • Go to and sign up for his e-newsletters.  He has several to suit you, including a one minute video, and they help keep you mind focused. Share them with your significant circle.  This is a part of everyone's growth.
  • The focus for the 360 leader is ideas and not is the idea that develops influence and strengthens the team.  I open court ideas more than before.  Listen to them all, especially the "foolish" ones.  
  • Walking the hall is something I have always done.  It is doubly important now.  See page 200 for the list but tend to your people who are tending to the business and pay attention when the avoid you.
  • Grow your people and create a safe circle of people with high potential.  Do so intentionally and not accidentally. If you are not growing you are backing up.
  • "Unleash your leaders to lead".  Most of the leaders in the middle don't know they are leading.  Tell them, reward them and above all listen to them and grow with them.  
  • As tempting as it is to have yet another training workshop, these principles need to be modeled and caught in pieces rather than taught in a class setting.  Rather than talk about them I am walking the halls more intentionally and forging different relationships.
  • I am re-reading after moving to another church.  The flexibility taught in this book works with "re-tooling" in the ongoing processes of the organization.  In other words, it is a life-thing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Looking at a Larger Life- "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven"

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven  -     
        By: Kevin Malarkey, Alex Malarkey
The cover say this is, "A remarkable account of miracles, angels and life beyond this world".  It is remarkable indeed but there is more than just a glimpse of the heavenly realm.  People in general are hungry for proof and this book offers an un-provable proof for the disciple's journey.  Scripture meets life in this book's message.  In "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven", God is speaking to us through the victoriously tragic journey of a little boy and his family.  

Kevin and his then six year-old son Alex were involved in a Central Ohio car crash in November of 2003.  Alex was basically decapitated, with his head held onto his neck by muscle and tissue.  Medical logic could give no hope for his survival.  Alex recalls his heavenly journey with Christ, and the adversary while in a coma.  His father Kevin chronicles the storms of life going on around him during those same moments.  Each chapter gives a word from Alex on Heaven.  However, if you stop there you miss the total message that God has for you.

This is a story of miraculous healing, encounters  with Christ and with heavenly angels.  It is reassuring and a witness to God's overwhelming faithfulness. I can't "prove" or "dis-prove" what he saw.  However, looking at the fruits of his story  I cannot deny the glimpse of heaven shown in the supernatural response of human angels at work around the Malarkey family.  A trauma nurse's certain prayer of reassurance, a marriage that survives tragedy, the church that overwhelms with their prayers,  a relative stranger paying their bills, no health insurance and yet providence, a tree crushes their home and helps to make sense of the accident, a movie star makes treatment possible, plus the many nurses, doctors, and "random" people that enter and exit his story, all of them transformed by the unmistakable fingerprints of Christ.

Alex and his foundation are dove tailed into Christopher Reeves foundation also. See: for good information.   Reeve's surgery paved the way for Alex to make it possible for children with spinal cord injuries to lead more independent lives.  You can catch up with Alex's ministry on his website at or on facebook at

"The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" has been widely read in our church.  Believe me, I don't believe every story and am not very trusting with authors who claim direct revelations.  I suppose this shows that I am "supernaturally challenged" (p.185).  Understand clearly, I simply cannot mislead people and don't recommend things lightly. Read this book.

In this book, Alex does not get his humanity polished out and the family struggled and struggles yet.  As in scripture, these miracles have made opportunities for Alex to introduce people to Christ.  This family still has to rely on God for everything and do not enjoy a happy movie ending.  This and not the ability to see angels is where I find the message.  I identified with his dad a lot during my reading.

His father Kevin writes this after a direct encounter with God, "You don't need to see or talk with angels to live a life that glorifies God.  Don't be derailed in your quest for meaning by seeking a supernatural experience.  Seek God through His Son, Jesus Christ."  (p. 189)  I would humbly add that seeking God through Jesus is a supernatural experience.

I was moved to take action.  This book convicted and inspired me to stretch in prayer, shake off the prison of self pity, and challenge my church to believe that God can. I was humbled to think of my prayer life and that of my congregation when reading of the Christian ministers written of here. The Malarkey's give us the grit and struggle that is a part of life here along with the comfort and perfection of what is to come.    I believe what it says on his licence plates.  Alex "WIL WALK".

( I was asked about the rating bar being absent here!  This is not being reviewed for the publisher.  I wrote this review to encourage YOU!  No rating is needed.  Please rate the ones for Tyndale and Multnomah.  Thanks.)