Eckhart Tolle

I have been asked many times to comment on the best-selling book by Eckhart Tolle entitled A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.  This book was released this past January and sales were boosted by a recommendation from Oprah Winfrey's book club.  Oprah has also featured Tolle on her website and has promoted his teaching as one who offers insight into God.  Earlier this year, I could walk into any bookstore and see a stand with this book at the front door.  I noticed that it is still number 16 on the USA Today best sellers list.

So what do I think of the book?

1.  It isn't as bad as I expected if read not as theology but as pop psychology.  While Tolle portrays himself as an expert of sorts on world religion, he had some good things to say about how to help people. He has had some experience counseling others and I thought some of his advice was sound.

2.  Tolle is a Buddhist, pure and simple.  Of course, Buddhists always claim not to be a religion, which is absurd.  This book and Tolle's other book, The Power of Now, are steeped in Buddhist philosophy.  I don't think the emphasis on paying attention to the "now" is half bad advice, but some of what I call Buddhist double-talk is just too much to bear at times.  It gives me a headache.  For example,

It has been said "God is love" but that is not absolutely correct.  God is the One Life in and beyond the countless forms of life.  Love implies duality; lover and beloved, subject and object.  So love is the recognition of oneness in the world of duality.  This is the birth of God into the world of form.  Love makes the world less worldly, less dense, more transparent to the divine dimension, the light of consciousness itself (page 106). 

Huh?  What did he just say?  I know how Tolle would respond to my confusion: If I don't understand what he wrote, I am not enlightened.  Well, let me start a not-enlightened club and be the president.  But don't worry, Eckhart, I don't understand much of what the Dali Lama says or writes either.

3.  Tolle's handling of Scripture, while appearing to be authoritative and authentic, is, well, it's Buddhist!  He speaks of Scripture with such confidence but may I point out that when a Buddhist wants to make sense, they usually refer to the Bible, for nothing much else in their world is practical or makes much sense to the ear and mind of the everyday reader.  It is interesting also that whenever Tolle wants to portray something negative about religion, he almost always refers to Christianity.  Now I am not denying that there is much in "Christian" history that is not positive, but why not mention a Muslim once when talking about violence and religion?  Didn't Islam invade Europe centuries before the Crusades? When's the last time your heard about a Buddhist hospital, school or orphanage? 

4.  Let's go back to Tolle's use of the Bible in his book.  On page 184, he wrote this:

Jesus points to this when he says, "Be ye whole, even as your Father in Heaven is whole."  The New Testament's "be ye perfect" is a mistranslation of the original Greek word, which means whole.  This is to say, you don't need to become whole, but be what you already are -- with or without the pain body. 

This is just one example of how Tolle misrepresents and complicates Scripture to justify what his own point of view. The only time I screamed when I listened to and read this book was when Tolle quoted the Bible to prove a point.  As my former coach would have said, this guy is "a lost ball in tall weeds" when it comes to the Bible.

Contrast what Tolle wrote with what was written by William Hendriksen in his Commentary on Matthew (pages 317-318) and see who gives a plainer, easier-to-understand analysis:

In the present connection, however, "perfect" means "brought to completion, full-grown, lacking nothing." Jesus is saying to the people of that day, as well as to us now, that they and we should not be satisfied with half-way obedience to the law of love, as were the scribes and Pharisees, who never penetrated to the heart of the law.  Though in a sense Jesus is here repeating the admonition implied in verse 45 ("that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven"), he now (here in verse 48) indicates even more definitely that it is the Father's perfection that we should strive to imitate, perfection here (as the preceding context indicates) in the love he shows to all.  Is he not the One who causes his sun to rise on evil and good, and sends rain on righteous and unrighteous?

If Oprah wants to recommend someone who can provide clear and simple insight into God and His words, perhaps she should recommend Hendriksen and not Tolle!  Maybe she should return to her Baptist roots instead of resorting to Buddhist weeds.

5.  As a purpose teacher, and this book first caught my attention because it has purpose in the title, Tolle is true to Buddhism but untrue at the same time, which makes him a good Buddhist (confused? that's the whole point!).  He would describe your purpose as so caught up in the "now" that your purpose is to read this blog entry.  That is your purpose and that sounds Buddhist.  When you are finished, you will find another purpose.  If you never see this entry, it is because it is not part of your purpose.  Huh?  So my purpose is just to live in the now and not give any thought to tomorrow.  This isn't  true to Buddhism, for even the Buddhists talk about the eightfold path and one of the "paths" is what they refer to as "right livelihood."  Yet this is what I have come to find when I search Buddhist material.  They are committed to everything and nothing at the same time.  Tolle would be of this same mindset.

All in all, I would not recommend this book if you are searching for your purpose, for there isn't much help on that front.  I would recommend it if you want to keep up on what everyone else is reading and talking about in secular circles.  I don't think Tolle's material is going to usher in a "new earth" any time soon, but I know that Jesus will come back to do that and, at that time, the eternal purpose for everyone will be made abundantly clear. 


Eat, Pray, Love

For some unknown reason, I picked up an audio version of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything and endured all 11 CDs to the end while driving around town.  I have some alternate titles to suggest for this well-written but misguided work:

1.  Liz Gilbert Goes to the Prom at 35 Years of Age.
2.  Liz Gilbert Fashions a God That is Just Right for Her.
3.  Liz Gilbert Brings Sex in the City to Indonesia
4.  Liz Gilbert Saves Herself . . . And Is Proud of Her Efforts
5.  Liz Gilbert Rejects the "Christian" God and Finds Many Others
6.  Liz Gilbert Hears Voices that Say "I'm OK, You're OK"
7.  Liz Gilbert Starts Out an Emotional Mess and Ends Up an Unemotional Mess

If you notice, every suggested title begins with Liz, which is just how the book is written.  It's all about Liz.  Poor Liz doesn't want any pain in her life, so she spends a year in Italy, India and Indonesia trying to sort things out.  Gee, I wonder how anyone who isn't free to do that can find their inner peace?

Liz Gilbert is an entertaining writer, and I think she represents a large portion of modern seekers who want to find themselves but don't want God to help them. They want to do it on their own terms.  Yet Gilbert starts the book a mess where men are concerned (she ends her eight-year marriage) and ends it a mess (she "takes a lover," a 52-year-old Brazilian living in Bali).  After 12 months on the road, Liz landed right back in the arms of someone new who she will find, if she sticks with him for eight years, will have as many problems as her ex-husband did. 

So this book reminded me that we have a lot of work to do in reaching this generation for the Lord.  It also reminded me of the old song that I still hum from time to time, Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there's no other, Jesus is the Way.


Three Cups of Tea

No, I am not inviting you to my new home for tea. Rather this is a review of a book I finished up in the UK by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Thee Cups of a Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . One School at a Time is the story of Mortenson who, after a failed attempt to scale a mountain in Pakistan, determined to build a school for the village that nursed back to health after his near-fatal climb. Mortenson is the rather eccentric son of Lutheran missionaries to Tanzania who has done a remarkable job not just building one school, but many schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan. His work continues and information is included in the book of how to follow and get involved with this work.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! I would suggest that you stop what you are doing, and buy and read this book. Mortenson's urgency, his faith, the obstacles he overcame and the focus of his work should serve as a wonderful role model for you as you attempt to do great things with your life. If you are not attempting great things, this book will stir and inspire you to strive for remarkable results.

I am serious; this book needs to be on your reading list as soon as possible.

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Learned Optimism

I am off to Nigeria later today, but wanted to send along a summary of a book I read recently. The title is Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman, Dr. Seligman is noted for his study of positive psychology, choosing to study the psychology of success rather than failure. With that in mind, Seligman shares his research concerning the role of optimism in successful people. It should be no surprise that he found that optimistic people were consistently more successful, healthy and fulfilled than pessimistic people.

What I liked about the book that it gave insights in non-technical and non-clinical jargon. Seligman includes profiles that the reader can take to determine his or her level of optimism. He then prescribes simple ways to think in new ways that can address and reverse pessimistic tendencies. It also included helpful insights for parents to help children who manifest pessimistic tendencies early in life.

This book got me thinking about, well about my own thinking. I identified certain negative attitudes I have that have definitely hindered my performance and have implemented some corrective behaviors. I have already had opportunities to assist others in recognizing and addressing pessimistic thoughts and statements.

This is a book I would highly recommend for anyone battling depression or negative thoughts. While not biblical in its approach, I found this book highly practical and a useful tool for future purpose and creativity coaching.

I will write as I can from Nigeria. If you think of it, please pray for a safe journey and for financial provision as I go.


Self-Publishing

Part of my purpose wherever I go is to stir up other writers. I love to write and have published a few books, so I know what it's like to hold something you've created in your hand. It's a great feeling. I want others to share that feeling, so I encourage aspiring writers to write and not worry about the outcome. It is difficult (but not impossible) to find a publisher, but the best option for most writers starting out is to self-publish.

There are more online publishing options than ever before. I have used iUniverse on several occasions and I am currently using Dog Ear Publishing to publish a friend's book from South Africa. You can check out those options and see that you can publish for very little money and then order books only as you need them. That avoids investing large sums of money to maintain book inventory. You pay more for each book by publishing like that, so you make less for every book that you sell. It usually pays off, however, unless you anticipate selling a lot of books once you have them.

If you would like an example to inspire you to write, may I recommend two books that I helped edit that are offered through iUniverse. They're volumes of poetry by my brother-in-law, Ed Folino. Ed has a gift for rhyme that he toyed with all his life. Then at the age of sixty, he took the plunge to publish and now he has published two books. He is working on his third volume as I write. When you go to iUniverse, you can put in his book names -- My Pittsburgh and Long Time Coming -- and the volumes will come up for you to see. If you want to be inspired to publish your own book, you can order one or both of his books to see what the self-published finished product looks like. They are available in paper or you can download an e-copy. You will see the quality of the work and how Ed has taken his gift and put it out there for the world to see. I am proud of him and urge you to do the same with your own gifts.

If you would like to know more about self-publishing, there is a great book entitled, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. I would recommend you invest in it along with my sister-in-law's ebook on how to write a book that can be found on her site. The important thing is that you stop talking and start writing. Then it's important to see that publishing your long-awaited work is easier than you perhaps thought. If I can help or encourage you, please let me know

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Pagan Christianity?

No, that isn't the title for this entry. It's the name of a book that I want to review. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna has made quite an impact as evidenced by the activity and discussion in the blogosphere. When I read some of the reviews and comments, I feel like a lightweight in the ring punching with some heavyweights. The size and scope of the some of the comments are impressive, and are both indepth and insightful. There isn't much I can add to the discussion, but I thought I would write about it anyway.

The basic premise of the book is that there is little biblical precedent or justification for most modern church activity. The book addresses the issue of church buildings, vestments, the order of worship service, the role of the pastor, the sermon, the youth pastor and tithing. It is a fair to conclude that the authors are against all those practices and traditions in their present form.

I have few problems with the premise of the book -- that all our church practices and assumptions need to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. What I do have a problem with is that the authors have a bias as they approach the material. Brother Viola is an advocate of and leader in what is called the home church movement. He believes that churches should convene in smaller home settings, as the believers met in the first century, and anything beyond that is flawed if not wrong.

I could accept the research but when the authors feel the need to interpret the research to mean that house churches are "right" and church as we know it is "wrong," then I have my problem. Why? When you approach Scripture to prove a point, one almost automatically becomes blind to anything that the Bible may say that is contrary to your preconceived belief. It is akin to the world of quantum physics. When the experiment is set to determine if matter is a particle, then matter always shows up in those experiments as a particle. When the experiments seek to determine if it is a wave, then matter appears as a wave. The nature of the experiment actually determines the outcome of the findings. I believe this is what happened to the authors in this case. They were set on proving their point, and I felt like I had a firm hand in my book that was forcing me to accept their conclusions.

I think much of the debate in books and movements such as the house church movement is whether or not Acts provides the model or spirit for church practice. If Acts provides the model for church practice, then we should all indeed meet in homes to worship. If Acts provides the spirit for our practice, then the early believers creatively addressed what they could do at that time and we should do the same. Did the early believers meet in homes because that was the model or did they meet in homes because there was no other venue in which they were permitted or was available to meet? They tried to meet in the Temple, in synagogues, in training centers and eventually were limited to homes. Does that limit us to meet in homes?

I have led about 800 home church meetings in my adult life. At one time, I was part of a church who met weekly in homes and once a month as a congregation. I know the power of a house church and the frustration of one, too. DId you ever try to launch a missions project to the 10/40 Window from a house church? It can't be done, in my opinion -- not without networking with a larger group, which leads to one of the benefits of meeting with a larger group of believers.

The authors purport that the sermon is an invention of the reformers, but didn't Jesus preach in synagogues? I think Paul did, too. When the synagogue was open to believers, did they not speak there regularly? (Come to think of it, the synagogue was a cultural adaptation that the Jews made during their Babylonian captivity. I wonder why Jesus didn't condemn such sabbath meetings as non-biblical and heretical?).

The authors condemn tithing and I do as well in much of its current heavy-handed presentation. Yet could there be no mention of tithing in the New Testament because it was so well covered in the Old and so well established in Jesus' time? While Jesus did not condone tithing per se, He did not condemn it either. And the authors attribute choirs in mass settings to the Greeks. Weren't there Old Testament choirs and didn't angels appear every once in a while to sing for special occasions? If you are fearing for your life in the first century, I don't think you will be motivated to assemble any choirs to sing for the Lord. Does that make it wrong if it's done in the 21st century? The authors believe it does.

The authors present solid research to document the historicity of modern church practice, but their conclusions are suspect at best. There is no doubt that the celebration of Christmas is a "mixed bag" of pagan influences and questionable traditions. Does that make Christmas and those who celebrate pagans? How far do we follow the model provided in Acts if it is to be interpreted strictly? Should we sell our buildings and buses? What about publishing and media? They aren't in Acts. Are the authors unbiblical for publishing? Of course they are not.

I still maintain that Acts is our model for the spirit of how early believers responded to their culture and world. When the first deacons were elected in Acts 6, it represented a creative solution to a pressing problem. That election wasn't meant to make deacons what we have made them today; it was a simple solution to the problems of the growing body of Christ. Would the early church have used buildings if they had been available to them? I think they would have in the spirit of Acts, but then again, that's my opinion. I am not trying to force you to accept it; I just want to present it for you to consider.

I hope I am not being too hard on the authors, whom I believe love the Lord and His church. I have done what they have done many times -- approach Scripture trying to prove something and to get others to accept it as well. It is my dilemma as I teach on purpose and I must ask myself all the time: Is this what Scripture is saying or what I am trying to make it say? I would recommend their book as good reading that will stimulate your thoughts and discussion. I am not ready, however, to abandon church as we know it in the 21st century for a form that existed and thrived 2,000 years ago.

Feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.

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The Bottom Billion

I recently finished a book entitled The Bottom Billion: Why The Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier. Collier is a the professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of African Economics at Oxford University and former director of developmental research at the World Bank. While this is not a book about Africa, because so many Africans are in the bottom billion of the world's poorest, I found this book insightful and helpful as I continue to work in Africa.

Collier believes, and he has the research to back it up, that there are four traps or recurring themes that appear when poor countries are studied. They are:

1. The Conflict Trap -- some countries seem to settle their political differences through civil war and military coups. This is a costly method in both financial and human terms.

2. The Natural Resource Trap -- some countries are "blessed" with certain natural resources (like oil) that provide quick and massive amounts of cash, but the cash doesn't seem to make a difference in the lives of the poor.

3. Being Landlocked with Bad Neighbors -- this prevents trade from developing in those landlocked countries.

4. Bad Governance in a Small Country -- governmental leaders do make a difference and when the government is bad along with their decisions, the people languish in poverty.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone working with or living in a country that is considered poor. Collier has loads of research at this fingertips, so be ready to have some of your favorite theories and remedies dispelled by this compelling work. Collier is an economist, so he does not approach the problems from a politically correct perspective. I wish I could take 1,000 of these books to Zimbabwe and other nations where I am privileged to visit and work. It could change the course of history if the recommendations would be incorporated into the policies and decisions of the leaders there.

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Permission Marketing

As you know, I am a Seth Godin addict. I think he is one of the best marketing thinkers today. His work influenced me to start The Monday Memo seven years ago and I believe his marketing insight has great relevance not just for marketers but also for leadership, whether in business or church. I am watching some DVDs of Godin teaching at the University of Denver and one of them reviewed his concept of permission marketing.

Godin feels that most marketing today doesn't work because people don't want it and didn't ask for it. He points out that most marketers are looking to interrupt people with unwelcome ads, billboards, pop up computer ads and direct mail. Consequently, most people ignore or tune out those unwanted messages. Godin argues that companies should invest money in creating remarkable products and services rather than spend the money for something like ads for the Super Bowl broadcast that went for $2.7 million dollars for a 30-second spot. Remarkable products are their own best marketing plan and word-of-mouth would spread the news like a virus. Thus, he also coined the term "idea virus."

What makes more sense to Godin is what he calls permission marketing, where people have asked for and welcome (or at least don't ignore) notices, ads and material from your company (or church). My Monday Memo is an example of permission marketing. People have given me their permission to write and they are free to stop that mail at any time. They have given me their approval to write and now I am free to establish a relationship with them.

Here are some points to remember about permission marketing:

  1. It costs time and money.
  2. It is revokable and nontransferable; it can't be imposed on anyone else.
  3. It doesn't happen by accident; it takes concerted effort and thought.
  4. It must be nurtured; there are no quick or easy results.
  5. It is selfish, in that it is all about the recipient and not about the company, service or product.

This is why most companies, nonprofits and organizations don't "get it" where permission marketing is concerned. It is too slow, too unspectacular and too "limited." The old way of marketing thought about mass markets, where permission marketing focuses on relationships with a smaller niche market. I am especially amazed that most churches don't pursue this approach for evangelism, fundraising and discipleship. That is why their websites, for the most part, are boring and they don't have any regular outbound emails or blogs. Because permission marketing is about the recipients -- their needs and wants -- many companies and churches just don't participate. They still want to dominate and initiate the conversations and interrupt people with the message of the gospel -- or their latest program or upcoming event.

How can you apply permission marketing in your world? What can you do to get your message out to people who are open to hear instead of knocking on doors and answering questions that no one is asking? This is a challenging question, but it must be answered by every individual and organization in this 21st century world of speed and options. Permission marketing has changed my leadership style from one of dominance to one of partnership and cooperation. It has the same potential for you, but the question remains: Do you see the need to change? I guess an even more important and fundamental question is: Do you want to change?

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Do Your Own Thing

I returned from northern California the other night where I had a good visit with family and friends. I only have one niece and nephew and I got to see them in San Jose and attended meetings with my associates at Inspiration Cruises and Tours in Fresno. Now I have a few days at home before I go down to Florida to be with family at Christmas.

On my way home, I finished up Leonard Sweet's latest book, The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living With A Grande Passion. If you aren't familiar with Sweet, you should be. He is a Methodist philosopher/author/theologian/ instructor/futurist. He has written a number of books with intriguing titles like Soul Salsa, Soul Tsunami, and Carpe Manana to name a few. I like to read Sweet -- every now and then that is. He is a bit difficult at times and his work is so well-documented with footnotes that it breaks up the flow of the text if you follow his footnoted trail. In this latest book, Sweet has 172 pages of text and 35 pages of endnotes! I met him once and he said he does all his own research and documentation. He must do nothing but read and research!

In this latest work, Sweet analyzes the Starbucks' phenomenon and determines that it is EPIC -- Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich and Connective. He goes on to state that the Church of Jesus should and must also be EPIC if it is going to impact this generation that seeks an EPIC culture wherever it shops, drinks, eats or worships. I find Sweet strong on analysis but weak on practical suggestions as to how the Church or even its members can achieve the worthy things that he describes and prescribes.

I like to read Sweet every now and then because he makes me think. He also challenges me as a writer to be better at what I do, for Sweet can certainly turn a phrase, as the saying goes. This is a book I would recommend for anyone who is interested in making the Church more relevant in today's world.

How does the title of this entry fit with the book? It doesn't except that Sweet referred to a purpose story that caught my attention. I quote from page 116:

Shortly before her death, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked why she spent her life caring for the dying. "Because I like doing my own thing," she replied. In this one response, Mother Teresa had captured the meaning of Augustine's famous dictum, "Love God and do what you will." When we share God's heart of love, our wills will be God's will. Doing our own things will be doing the divine thing.

Augustine had more accurately advised, "Pray and then do what you want [or will]." Augustine had faith that a prayer to do God's will would not be answered with tricks and deception. If you want to know God's will, pray to know and then do what's in your heart to do. Don't be so hung up on whether this or that is the right or perfect way. Trust when you pray and then do something. This is consistent with what James wrote in his epistle:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1:5-8).

If you are praying to know God's will, why are you so surprised that you do? How do you expect God to answer it? With a personal visitation? If the Spirit comes to give you the mind of Christ, when will you receive it? After 10 years? 20? The truth is that you have it now, today. What are you doing with it? What is that mind directing you to do? Whatever it is, get about the business not of analyzing the will of God but doing it, or as Mother Teresa said, of doing your own thing.

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The Strengths Movement

There is a debate in leadership circles as to which is the most beneficial investment of time: trying to improve a weakness or to maximize a strength. The last Gallup poll I saw showed that 57% of those asked felt that improving a weakness was the best use of time and energy. I disagree, and that's probably why I like the business author Marcus Buckingham. Not too long ago I finished his latest work Go Put Your Strengths to Work. I actually listened to the book, read by Marcus himself. I guess the publishers feel that his British accent will add to his credibility.

I don't listen to Marcus because he's British; I listen to him because I believe he's right.

This book came complete with a CD of forms and exercises to employ while reading, I found the forms pretty elementary and not very helpful, but Buckingham's reminders and practical examples only bolstered my already strong belief that we are better off building on a strength than improving a weakness.

Let's think about the world of sports. If you have an American football quarterback who can throw the football with accuracy, you don't really care how fast he is or whether he can block and tackle. You want him throwing and leading the team because those are his strengths. You want him spending time getting better at what he already does well. There may be other aspects of his game that he can spend some time on, getting a little less ineffective in those areas. For the most part, however, you want him building on his strength.

That is how we should think about the human resources in our businesses, schools and churches. That is also how you should direct your own life and time. Don't spend one minute more than you must on making your weakness less weak. Take the time you could employ in that exercise and use it to be even more effective at your strength. I think you'll be happier and the team you are a part of at work, home or ministry will be better off with you doing what you do best as often as possible.

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