About Paul Schlehlein

Follower of Jesus, husband, father of 6, and missionary church-planter to the Tsongas in rural South Africa.

Review: How to Get Unstuck

Matt Perman, Zondervan, 2018, 288 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: it’s not enough to protect your time. You must protect your focus.

“The Preciousness of Time” by Jonathan Edwards is the best teaching I’ve read on time management because of its theological rigor. From a productivity standpoint, however, Unstuck was more profitable. Matt Perman, a Christian that blogs at Whats Best Next, provides ten principles for maximum productivity. But his greatest contribution is the importance of focus–no easy thing in our preoccupied world.

The secret to effectiveness is concentration, which is focusing on one priority for an extended time.

Concentration gets more done better. The goal is “deep work”, a state of high concentration. It is a kind of super power that most people cannot perform because it has so many obstacles. The formula is: time spent x intensity of focus high quality of work produced. Effective people are able to concentrate (doing one thing at a time) for long periods on the most important things. This takes a lot of practice.

Pros: Perman has spent decades crafting excellent habits of time management. I didn’t want to forget his advice, so I consolidated his book into my own mnemonic device: F-O-C-U-S. (1) Fight distractions. These are the biggest obstacles to deep work because it kills flow. It’s crucial to finish one job at a time because incomplete tasks dominate our attention (“I still have to get this done”) and depletes energy (“I’m so stressed”). Personally, eliminating distractions during deep work includes seclusion, having no access to my phone, closing email and Evernote, doing online reading after the work day, no “work” post 5:30 pm, and no phone checks until after breakfast.

(2) Order the day according to priorities. There’s a difference between responsibilities (duties) and priorities (chief duties). It is vital to give our best, longest and most skilled time to priorities.  It’s not a priority if it doesn’t take high concentration. (3) Complete the task. Start and complete one job at a time. Bach and Handel composed one major work at a time. Rare freaks like Mozart that could do multiple works simultaneously are not the model.

(4) Use large chunks of time to accomplish deep work. Two small chunks of 2 hours are must less effective than one chunk of 4 hours. (5) Stop work when the day is over. End your day at a specific time so you can recharge. You’ll be less effective during the day if you tell yourself you can get tasks done late at night.

Cons: Perman is a Christian and Southern Seminary grad (MDiv in two years) that used to serve on staff at Desiring God. I wish he had used more Scripture in the book. Unstuck has a little too much business/CEO feel for my taste. But I never read books from that genre, so it probably was good for me.

Conclusion: Perman succeeds in convincing the reader to habitually prioritize his day and focus on important tasks for long periods of time. Read chapter 13 if you only have time for one. Chapters 1, 11-12, and 16 were helpful too.

Excerpts:

  1. “The more distracted we are, the more shallow our reflections; the shorter our reflections, the more trivial they are likely to be.”
  2. “If there is a ‘secret’ of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective [people] do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” – Peter Drucker
  3. “Only the confidence that you’re done with work until the next day can convince your brain to downshift to the level where it can begin to recharge for the next day.”
  4. “The ability to concentrate intensely is a skill that must be trained.” Cal Newport

Ten Ways Judas Iscariot and Prosperity Preachers are the Same

  1. They betray Christ for money (Mt. 26:15).
  2. They love maintaining the outward appearance of holiness (Mt. 26:25).
  3. They show remorse at public scandals but not true repentance (Mt. 27:3-5).
  4. They sometimes refuse money to feign godliness (Mt. 27:5).
  5. They interact with Jesus’ disciples while being secretly paid to deceive them (Lk. 22:5-6).
  6. They display public affection for Christ while working for the devil (Lk. 22:47).
  7. They expertly fool the masses but cannot deceive the righteous Judge (Jn. 5:26-27).
  8. They use the guise of caring for the poor to hide greed (Jn. 12:6).
  9. They are demonic (Jn. 13:27).
  10. They show that despite their terrible sin, the sovereign will of God cannot be broken (Hb. 2:14).

Ten Gracious Steps for the Sexually Immoral

Sexual immorality is rampant all over the world. Our African village is no different. When those inside our church fall to this sin, we counsel them with a spirit of love by urging them to follow these ten “R’s”.

This always takes time and patience. Teaching through a list like this may take hours or even days. But the repentance of a sinning brother is worth this kind of investment.

  1. Remember. God’s will is that you stay far away from sexual immorality (1Th. 4:3). Don’t forget that God has created you for the purpose of imitating the holy life of Christ (Mt. 5:48).
  2. Request. Ask God to forgive your sin (1Jn. 1:9), to give you a pure heart (Ps. 51:10), to protect you from the sin of fornication (Gn. 20:6; 1Chr. 4:10; Ps. 141:9) and to help you persevere (1Jn. 2:19).
  3. Responsibility. Place the blame on yourself for your sin (Ps. 51:1-4). Do not fault the world or church for suspecting the genuineness of your Christian profession while you are living in immorality (Eph. 5:3; 1Co. 6:9-10).
  4. Run. Stay far away from the temptation, not just the sin (Ex. 13:17-18). The best way to avoid fornication is to avoid tempting situations (Dt. 25:13-15; Pr. 5:8; 7:8). Flee fornication! (Gn. 39:12; 1Co. 6:18).
  5. Read. Diligently study and meditate upon God’s Word. It is powerful enough to keep His people from sin (Ps. 119-11; Pr. 7:2-3).
  6. Reflect. Guard your thought life by thinking upon pure things (Phil. 4:8). Rid yourself of any objects that hinders this (Dt. 25:13). Meditate upon what Jesus did on the cross to forgive you of such sins (Rm. 5:8).
  7. Relate. Be around believers as often as you possibly can (Hb. 10:25).
  8. Respect. Treat younger women as sisters and older women as mothers (1Tm. 5:2). Avoid doing things with a person of the opposite sex that you would not do with your sister or brother.
  9. Resolve. Get married when you are young (Pr. 5:18) to avoid youthful sins (1Co. 7:2), provided are emotionally and financially prepared (1Tm. 5:8) and the person is a Christian (2Co. 6:14; 1Co. 7:31). If not, break off the relationship.
  10. Repent. Mourn over your fornication (2Co. 12:21). Recognize that this sin breaks God’s law (Gn. 39:9; Ex. 20:14), the church covenant and is worthy of church expulsion should you not repent in word and action (1Co. 5).

Review: The Heart of the Bible

John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2005, 143 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: a list and explanation of fifty-two key passages every Christian should memorize

John MacArthur wanted to encourage his congregation to memorize more Scripture. He chose 52 passages that reflected ten main themes–the heart of the Bible. The 2-3 page explanations on each passage are theologically rich and easy to understand.

Pros: (1) This is a great book to give new Christians at their baptism. As they begin their Christian walk, these pages will encourage them to memorize and understand the Bible’s foundational passages.

(2) The book fits well into a one-year course. Our little African church is memorizing one passage for each week of the year.

Review: Blessed

Kate Bowler, Oxford, 2013, 337 pages, 5 of 5 stars

Summary: a lucid, concise and superbly researched historical account of the prosperity gospel—the best in print.

Bowler took years visiting health and wealth churches around the US in research for this book. Ironically, incurable colon cancer struck this young Duke professor as the book was going to print.

She argues the prosperity gospel (PG) centers on four themes: faith (a power turning words into reality), wealth (faith in the pocketbook), health (faith in the body), and victory (faith’s final goal). These topics became four of the five chapters.

The book’s subtitle (‘a history of the American prosperity gospel’) could just as well remove the word “American” since much of the PG round the world pulls from the US anyway.

Pros: (1) She names name by the hundreds. In this regard, she’s Paul-like (1Tm. 1:20). They called Puritan Richard Sibbes the sweet-dropper. Bowler is the name-dropper. She’s coming after you if you’ve influenced American prosperity over the past 100 years (e.g. Jakes, Cho, Lake, Bakker, Roberts, Meyer, Peale). Her favorite target is Joel Osteen. (2) Her tone isn’t polemical. She writes as an objective researcher. I consider this a plus because good arguments don’t need white knuckles and red faces to terrify the reader. (3) The lengthy bibliography on PG/Word of Faith works is invaluable.

(4) She must have researched a million pages of PG literature (cruel and unusual punishment) and then gives the reader the choicest dreck. For example, “Plant the seed of faith and put away the Washington’s” or this gem from Creflo: Dollar “I own two Rolls-Royces and didn’t pay a dime for them. Why? Because while I’m pursuing the Lord those cars are pursuing me” (p. 134). (5) Bowler excels at showing how earlier metaphysical mind-power repackaged itself into positive thinking (‘picturize, prayerize, actualize’) which repackaged itself into the modern prosperity message.

Cons: Besides the occasional Scripture reference, Bowler rarely interacts with the Bible. True, this is a history, but I expected more from a professor of religion.

Conclusion: Most missionaries and pastors should read this because most missionaries and pastors do battle royal against the PG in their ministry. This book gives the historical underpinnings of the deadliest poison within Protestant churches. The daily Christian should consider this hardback as well since “soft prosperity” (think Osteen) is more pervasive in the church and home than they know.

Quotes:

“[Speaking in tongues] became the gateway drug for other gifts of the spirit” (70).

“At Paula White’s Without Walls church, a feminine aesthetic pervaded the sanctuary and encouraged giving through the provision of floppy pink envelopes which tithers were encouraged to wave during the service” (129).

“John G. Lake and his ‘God-men’ theology pumped confidence into the veins of faith believers who called each other ‘overcomers,’ ‘dominators,’ and ‘little gods’” (179).

Review: What’s Your Worldview?

James Anderson, Crossway, 2014, 112 pages, 3 of 5 stars

Summary: an interactive storyline designed to help the reader identify and clarify their worldview and its implications.

Don’t read this little paperback from cover to cover. Follow the “Choose Your Own Adventure” plot to help you discover the consequences to your worldview (e.g. atheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc.) and other big questions (“Does God exist?” “Is there more than one true religion?”).

Pros: (1) Creative. The book is short. But it must have taken considerable thought to piece it together. (2) This is a nice, little title to give the unbeliever in the cubicle next to you. The size won’t intimidate him and it will make him think. (3) This is a good refresher on apologetic terms like Nihilism (what does that word mean again?) and Deism (“a halfway house on the road from Theism to Atheism”). (4) This is a good refresher on apologetic arguments, like why the problem of evil is harder for the atheist than the Christian. (5) His six-page intro on worldviews was excellent.

Cons: (1) Anderson tries to be unbiased but is sometimes timid (“some worldviews…walk with a pronounced limp”) or feeble (“the Christian worldview has a lot going for it”). Actually, all other worldviews are dead wrong! (2) The “end of the trail” on the Christian worldview was weak. If I traveled this far, at least give me a taste of Whitefield.

Quotables: “Worldviews are like [brains]: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one.” (12)

The Dangers of Western Churches Supporting Foreign Pastors

Why should a church support an American missionary family at forty, sixty, eighty or even a hundred thousand dollars per year when a national pastor–who already knows the culture and language–can live on just a small fraction of that?

Among the chief proponents of foreign support for national pastors is KP Yohannan and his ministry Gospel for Asia (GFA). In his best-selling book Revolution in World Missions Yohannan writes: “The primary role for Westerners now should be to support efforts of indigenous missions works through financial aid…” (147). He bemoans the untold millions of dollars being wasted on Western missionaries and structures.

On the surface, supporting foreign nationals appears to be the cheapest, most efficient way for the West to use their missionary funds. Beneath the veneer of this plea, however, are a number of dangers that may make this method more destructive in the long run.

1. It discourages personal responsibility.

When a Chinese cow plows a Chinese field, it is not the responsibility of the French to give it the feed bag (1Tm. 5:18). When a Zambian pastor shepherds a Zambian congregation, it is not the duty of Brazilians to support him (5:17). Except for extreme circumstances (like funds for famine relief, Ac. 11:27-30), it is a sign of an unhealthy church that expects others to support the pastor that labors for them in preaching and teaching. Continue reading