Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review - Kindle 3 First Impressions

After what seems like months, a new Graphite 6" Wifi Kindle 3 arrived at my door last week. As an avid book reader I've considered a Kindle since the first model, but the time (and price) never seemed quite right. With the announcement of the next generation model at just $139 for a Wifi model, the wait was over, and I pre-ordered it the day it was announced.

The latest generation Kindle is a marvelous device that really sets a new standard in electronic reading devices. The improvements seen in the new model at a price of just $139 for the wi-fi version make this a remarkable bargain. I've read Kindle books on the iPhone, iPad and PC but have held off until now on a dedicated e-reader due to the price. With the arrival of the Kindle this afternoon, I'm very glad I waited for this third generation. The details have been reviewed and discussed in great detail, but I'll highlight what I've seen already that make this such a great unit.

  • Setup including secure Wifi access was incredibly simple 
  • The new high-contrast e-Ink screen is really great for reading. I had seen this mentioned in reviews, but the difference between the dedicated e-Ink screen and LCD screens like on the iPad is night and day. 
  • The page turn speed is much better than in earlier models of the Kindle. After seeing a first generation Kindle of a friend I thought I would never get a Kindle. As a fast reader, the delay and flicker in earlier models was terrible. While not completely gone, it's no longer a deal-breaker. The combination of the e-Ink screen with the graphite case really does improve the contrast and readability tremendously. 
  • New fonts - having choice over serif or sans serif and the ability to use a compressed font is great. Even better is the ability to adjust the line-spacing so you have much more control over how much text is present on a page. For a 6" unit this is so important. 
  • Text-to-speech - this worked surprisingly well, with the option to speed up or slow down the voice, or choose a male or female voice, was very nice. You can pause/restart speech with a tap of the space bar. 
  • Smaller design. While the screen size is identical to the Kindle 2, it's about a half-inch less all around or 21% less area. It's really small, portable, and crazy-thin, while having a lot more reading area than the iPhone. I almost went with the DX model out of fear it would not be much better than reading on my phone, but after reading a whole book tonight, it was far superior. 
  • PDF support is greatly improved - another reason I'm glad I waited for this new model. With Kindle books there is also instant word look-up via included dictionary, tightly integrated. (I still prefer a larger screen like the iPad for PDF's)
  • Social network support - not a big deal for some, but the ability to select a sentence or two and instantly send them plus a comment to Twitter or Facebook is pretty handy. 
  • Battery life looks to be superb; download speeds over wi-fi are great; it has ability to play MP3s, even in the background while reading; and it even has a built-in web browser (not wonderful, but nice to have in a pinch). 

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the Apple iPad, the Amazon Kindle 3, and the Apple iPhone. The iPad screen size is much larger than the Kindle 3 (but is very similar to the Kindle DX model). The Kindle screen may not seem significantly larger than the iPhone, but it's much easier to read and covers a lot more text on a given page. Battery lives are 10 hours with iPhone/iPad but up to one month with the Kindle. The latter works great in bright light and direct sunlight, but not in the dark. The iPad is the opposite. The iPad excels at PDFs and for night reading. The Kindle is far better for extended reading.

How do these compare with a laptop? Here's a picture of the same devices alongside a MacBook Pro. That's a 15" laptop by the way, not the 17" boat anchor!

If you're an avid reader who has stayed away from the Kindle for reasons of price, screen quality, size, or page turn speed, stay away no more! The new Kindle, especially the Graphite Wifi model, is a great unit. It also comes in classic White, and there is a 3G model for $189, if you need to be able to download new books anywhere-anytime, or if you don't have a smart phone and would like something with light web browsing capability.

As an added bonus, you can install free Kindle reading software on your PC, Mac, iPhone/iPad or Android, and read any Kindle books you buy on other devices - whether you have an actual Kindle device or not. I had bought several Kindle books and read them on the iPad before getting my Kindle. With the iPhone I have always-with-me access, the iPad is great for late night reading or color books, and the Kindle is great for extended or outdoors reading.

If you're a Kindle book fan, be sure to follow the Kindle Review blog / web site which highlights discounted books and limited time offers of free Kindle books.

I have to give a shout out and huge thanks to the Going To Seminary website which sponsored a contest for seminary students with a new Kindle as the prize. I was one of the lucky winners, and wrote three articles on Maximizing your Learning ExperienceLife Doesn't Get Easier, and Getting It All Done. The timing was perfect, as the next generation model came out just as the awards were being made. Alas, classes are almost over for me at Rockbridge Seminary... maybe I'll need to enroll again after I finish for another degree?!  :)

So... what are you reading, and how?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Great weekend with our 11th Annual Community BBQ

Today was a wonderful day with lots of fun, family, friends and food! Calvary Baptist had their 11th Annual Community BBQ. We had in the ballpark of a thousand or so people there (or triple the number attending in the morning), which meant we had a lot of friends and people from the community come by. The elephant ears were definitely one of my favorites :)  I also had a great time playing a set on bass with the praise team. Everybody Praise the Lord was a favorite there.

Our BBQ is really just a 'bridge' event, to show our neighbors and friends that we care about them, that we just want to hang out and have fun together, with no agenda whatsoever. Sometimes people have had rotten experiences with a church and no longer feel like it's a safe place - or that people who go to church love to judge others and have forgotten how to have fun. Calvary is not like that at all, though sometimes it's hard to understand that. I'm proud of the many people who volunteered and worked very hard today to make the event such a success!

The world famous Calvary Elephant Ear!!  Fried dough, cinnamon and sugar :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review - Handoff (Kindle Edition)

I just finished a Kindle book called "Handoff: The Only Way to Win the Race of Life," by Jeff Myers. It's a gem of a book on making an impact on the lives of others, encouraging younger leaders, and leaving a legacy to the next generation. This short book is a great resource for anyone who wants to be a positive influence in the life of others, and a definite must-read for older leaders. It's currently available at deep discount at Amazon ($1.77), which is sufficient reason to download the free Kindle reading software on your PC, Mac, iPhone or Android.

Jeff Myers does a great job in "Handoff" in describing the need, the challenges, and effective methods for investing in the lives of others and for passing the baton to the next generation. What's great about this book is that it shows tremendous heart and understanding of the challenges faced in mentoring or coaching today's younger generations. What they need and what they are looking for in relationships is really quite different from the way us older folks viewed those who went before. Myers writing style is very conversational, clear, encouraging, and practical. Instead of speaking down to the reader or to those we seek to invest in, he shows great humility and respect for all involved. The book is written from a Christian perspective, and does draw some examples from the life of Christ, but the principles and practices described in this book are of broad applicability in education, parenting, the workplace, as well as in a ministry or discipling environment.

Jeff starts out the book with his own story of failure as a teacher to really impact the lives of others, then skillfully breaks his thoughts down into chapters that include:

* What the Winners in the Race of Life Do Differently
* Feed the Giver, Starve the Taker
* Why the Next Generation is So Hard to Reach
* What the Next Generation is Not Telling You
* Those Who Stumbled: Dealing With the Pain of Being Left Out
* Finding - and Sharing - the Meaning in Your Life Experiences
* Planting Seeds of Blessing
* Riding the Bicycle: Six Steps to Building Trust with the Next Generation
* Lessons from a Sled Dog: Discovering what you Cannot NOT Do
* Living to Be, Not to Have
* How to Get the Attention of the Next Generation (Without Yelling)
* Three Ways to Have a Lasting Impact on Others, Starting Today
* Mary Poppins was Wrong: How to Make Your Mess Your Message
* Shutting Up: How to Stop Giving Advice and Start Having an Influence
* Fourteen Questions to Unleash the Potential of Those You Influence
* Confronting Failure: What to Do When the Next Generation Blows It
* How to Conquer Worry and Fear by Surrendering the Outcome to God
* Compound Influence: The Secret to an Enduring Legacy
* The Final Secret to Finishing Strong in the Race of Life
* What on Earth do We Do Now?

Each chapter is short, six to eight pages, and each naturally flows into the next. As a young boomer (oxymoron?) I really needed to hear the hard words of learning to shut my mouth and not try to fix their problems, of the importance of building relationships and trust, and how to ask FAR more questions and really help others to think about and solve their own problems. The goal in mentoring or being a leader is not to reproduce ourselves in others, but to bring out the very best in who they already are. He gives some extremely useful and practical tips - for example not just telling us to encourage others, but that when we encourage them we should strive to be as specific as possible in pointing out the good we see - this helps others see and develop their gifts.

Handoff is currently available as a regular hardcover or as a deeply discounted Kindle book. With 41 out of 43 reviews giving 5-stars, I'm surprised this book isn't more popular.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review - Everyone Communicates Few Connect

John Maxwell knows how to connect with people. You might be thinking “Good for him, I sure don’t.” Yet if you’re considering this book, you know you want to be able to. Maxwell explains in a new book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect” that “If you want to learn how to connect and thereby become more effective in everything you do, there’s good news. Even if connecting with others isn’t something you’re good at today, you can learn how to do it and become better tomorrow. And that’s why I wrote this book.”  Maxwell succeeds at his purpose in this very helpful and well-written book from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Connecting doesn’t have to be a vague idea. Maxwell notes “Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.” The good news, and the reason for the hope that we can improve at doing this, is that it’s not primarily about us, our skill or our personality. In fact, there’s a whole chapter on “Connecting is all about others.” Seeing this through his book was probably the key idea for me, though getting some practical ways to try to do this better was also great.

The book has two parts – the principles of connecting, and the practices of connecting. At the end of each chapter is a very helpful recap with the key concept of the chapter, and practical ideas for connecting one-to-one, in a group, and with an audience.

Table of Contents
Part I: Connecting Principles
1. Connecting Increases Your Influence in Every Situation
2. Connecting is All About Others
3. Connecting Goes Beyond Words
4. Connecting Always Requires Energy
5. Connecting Is More Skill Than Natural Talent
Part II: Connecting Practices
6. Connectors Connect On Common Ground
7. Connectors Do the Difficult Work of Keeping It Simple
8. Connectors Create An Experience Everyone Enjoys
9. Connectors Inspire People
10. Connectors Live What They Communicate

I enjoyed “Everyone Communicates” and hope I can put its wisdom into practice. I’ve certainly noticed over the years that as I focus less on me and how much I know, and more on who the other person is, what they need and what they think, that it’s been much easier to connect, as well as have a positive influence in their lives. If you want to have a greater impact in the lives of others, you would do well read to read "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently".

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publisher’s BookSneeze program, made comments on an online draft manuscript, and along with other commenters my name and photo are included in the book.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Well that was cool timing

I had a wonderful little surprise last night. If you saw my post yesterday on discouragement, Kem Meyer was giving away a free copy of Mark Buchanan's new book "Spiritual Rhythm" which talks about drawing near to Christ in every season of your soul. That means the dark times in winter as well as the vibrant days of spring.

I got home and had a package from Zondervan on my desk. That's odd, I didn't order anything. Open it up and guess what it was?  Mark had sent me a (surprise) copy of his new book Spiritual Rhythm (!??)  How cool is that? Free books are one thing, but the timing of this one and the fact I had only heard of the book that very morning to encourage me, now that's a God thing. Spiritual Rhythm indeed. I can't wait to read it :)   Look back here for the review.
Or check out on the Engaging Church blog an interview with Mark, part one and part two. Here's one quote I found quote interesting:
The idea that Christ forms us through seasons is, I believe, a more biblical and a more practical way to understand and steward our spiritual formation. Most models of Christian spirituality measure progress by the depths and strength of our commitments. Busyness is equal to maturity. The model of seasons – that our souls pass through winter, summer, spring, fall, often in no particular order, and that Christ meets us in all these places - measures maturity by how well we steward each season. Winter, for example, is about pruning our activities, not adding more. It’s about becoming unbusy.
So if you're in the Winter right now... it's ok. God is still with you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Discouragement is for a season

A timely and helpful post by Kem Meyer this morning, "Don't let discouragement pile up. Guard your heart..."  It was a short message I really needed to hear. I love to encourage people. I love to see the bright side of things. But from time to time, even for no good reason, I can find myself sucked into a negative vortex of thought and feelings. (BTW, one sure way you know you've gone past simple discouragement into a 'negative vortex' is when you start crying for no reason sitting at the breakfast table. Seriously, my man card is going to get revoked!)

Kem points out that noticing and admitting that stress and discouragement are overwhelming you is a needed first step, and that you can't stop there. Choose not to get so absorbed you lose your bearings. Some other tips she gives: taking care of yourself physically (sleep and exercise), making time for family, getting some focused time on top priorities, taking the needed margin for reading/learning, talking with friends, and fueling your faith. Kem is the author of "Less Clutter, Less Noise." Do yourself a favor and check out her blog for yourself.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review - The Mentor Leader

It's been a month filled with thinking, reading, and discussing the topic of mentoring (and I hope to share more on that soon). This, along with the fact that I'm now a Hoosier living in the state of Indiana, when coach Tony Dungy recently came out with a book called "The Mentor Leader", I had to order that and read it immediately! The full name of the book is "The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams that Win Consistently." Tony Dungy is, among other things, the football head coach who led the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl in 2007. What impressed me more about the fact of the win was the character of man behind the team. Dungy is a very devoted Christian whose faith is lived out in all aspects of his life, on and off the field. His book "Quiet Strength" was a NY Times best-seller.

The Mentor Leader is an excellent book that is both inspiring, challenging, and practical. Coach Dungy offers a truly unique perspective as a Super Bowl winning football coach, a devoted Christian, and a man who has benefited much mentoring and who has intentionally sought for years to have a positive influence on the lives of those he touches. The book is certainly not shy of principles and thoughtful teaching on the topics of mentoring in leadership, but it really shines as a practical and wise approach that has been borne in the laboratory of life rather than taught in a business school. He has seen firsthand "that the way to bring the best out of an individual or a team is to teach-by example and through one-on-one, step-by-step mentoring." The book is packed full of stories and anecdotes, but it is not just a random assortment of anecdotes. Dungy actually covers a lot of material, and arranges it thoughtfully.

Table of contents
Chapter 1. The Mandate of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 2. The Mind-Set of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 3. The Maturity of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 4. The Marks of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 5. The Moments of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 6. The Model of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 7. The Means of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 8. The Methods of a Mentor Leader
Chapter 9. The Measure of a Mentor Leader

If you're a fan of leadership books, you'll recognize ideas and quotes by leadership experts such as Ken Blanchard, Steven Covey, John Maxwell and others. If not, that's ok too, as he weaves these in naturally along with stories and real-life illustrations. Dungy also does a great job at pointing out where ideas like mentoring and servant leadership are taught and modeled in the Bible, especially in the life of Jesus Christ.

Some of the topics or concepts that I thought were particularly interesting: focusing on strengths, the preeminence of character and integrity in the live of a leader, building a team whose strengths complement yours and each others, the importance of just hanging out and being present in the lives of those you hope to influence, the need to create a culture to effect change, and the idea of treating those you lead as volunteers (and for some of us... they are!)  Now, there's nothing ground-breaking in any of this, but Dungy does a great job of modeling all of this, and of explaining it in a down-to-earth way.

Towards the end he finishes by acknowledging that a lot has been covered, and the idea of being a mentor leader might be a daunting one, a lot to remember. So he encourages us with the following...
"Don't worry about remembering it. Think instead about beginning to live what we've talked about - each and every day, in every setting of your life. And let me encourage you to start right where you are, with the people right around you, doing something as simple as engaging with them and talking. Sometimes the smallest things we do have the biggest impact. Just start."
Being a mentor leader is being about the journey, adding value in the lives of other people in every moment. It's recommended reading, for fans of leadership and football alike. You can find The Mentor Leader at Amazon or other retailers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer is Coming to a Close

It might seem sometimes like I all do is read, given the number of reviews recently :)
Not quite true... so I thought I would just toss out some highlights of the summer before it winds down.

It's been a really good summer, although a bit warm and fairly quiet. I've been a homebody. Dawn and the kids did get to go on a bit of a roadtrip, to Virginia and Pennsylvania to hang out with family. Work has been quite good. The recession hasn't hurt us - in fact the current climate favors companies doing projects to cut costs and optimize their operations, so we've seen new business which has kept us nicely busy. I've played bass guitar in our praise team about every other week... kept up with volleyball (which I love), with the added addition of going to B-dubs afterwards most weeks. (Alas, that has not done well for weight control!) I've enjoyed relaxing with the kids, a mixture of Wii, hanging out in the hammack, a few visits to the pool, going out to Denny's, or watching a family movie together. Their in the final years before becoming teenagers, so I'm enjoying them while I can!

I've been doing a lot of reading about mentoring, and how to foster a mentoring culture. I've also been doing some reading on helping people discover and apply their strengths. That's a growing passion - to encourage and equip others to be all that God has called them to be. Summer has been a time to reflect on such things, and it provides a little extra time to just hang out and build relationships. Life can move so fast - friends have had a lot going on in their lives over the past several months too: friends who have moved away, or are planning to soon, some who have gotten married, others who are recently divorced.

So... sorry it's been a bit quiet around here. It's hard to find time to both build face-to-face relationships with people and do as much as I would like sharing thoughts on the blog. Right now I'm still feeling like I have so much to learn, not as much wisdom to share. Why is it so hard to 'find your voice?'  :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review - The Jesus Manifesto

The "Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Christ" is a new book by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I was initially hesitant about reading the Jesus Manifesto, simply because the main thesis of the book seems so obvious to evangelical Christians. Was there more to say about this that required more than a short booklet? I've enjoyed some other books by Leonard Sweet and enjoy his unique style of writing, so when I was able to get a free copy via Amazon's Vine program, I decided to see which reviews were closer to the truth - those that found it a wonderful and inspirational book, or those that found 'nothing new' here. (Honestly, both sides have a point.)

Sweet and Viola do indeed make a very strong case for a need to really put the focus on Christ - not His mission, not the Great Commission, neither on doing nor on being, but on Christ Himself. The book succeeds in getting far beyond the 'surface level' agreement most readers would find about the supremacy of Christ. The authors point out the subtle but important distinction between being person driven and purpose driven, between imitating Christ and having more of Christ living in us, and they point out the great mystery naturally inherent in truth. If you look inside the cover at the reviewers' praise comments, you'll see quite a diversity of pastors and theologians represented - including mainline churches, evangelicals, emerging, and missional leaders. That itself speaks well for the authors.

I also liked that the book pulled no punches. In several places I found myself saying "Amen!" while in others it was more of an "Ouch!" (like some comments unfavorable about another author I like, John Ortberg). The following concepts were particularly interesting, and worth getting and reading the book:
  • Lambasting the idea that there is something "deeper" we must graduate to become more mature. Instead, "Is there anything deeper than Christ?" Depth in Christ is our goal, not deeper teaching.
  • A wonderful and devotional look at Colossians, the supremacy of Christ and the incredible marvel of "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
  • The need to proclaim Christ, to teach the gospel, to both the lost and the found.
  • A caution about several popular trends today (like 'missional' thinking) that take a good thing but if not careful can exalt mission over Master
  • An extremely interesting and thought-provoking discussion of the question - 'Is developing Christlikeness a valid goal for disciples?' (Their answer might well surprise you!)
While I did find some parts obvious, and at one point wished the book were shorter, overall there really was a lot to think about and some very good points made in the Jesus Manifesto. I would recommend it for all Christian pastors and leaders. It is a necessary and lucid call for the church to soak in and preach the supremacy of Christ.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review - Sticky Teams

"Sticky Teams: Keeping your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page" by Larry Osborne, is a book I received as part of a blog tour hosted by Engaging Church. They will be linking to reviews like these coming out this week.

Sticky Teams is not just about the importance of unity on a team, but really an excellent book about finding and keeping unity of purpose and vision among all the key components of a healthy church - the pastor and the church board, developing a unified staff, and how a pastor can promote the unity of the congregation. The principles in the book are of benefit to church staff members, ministry leaders, or those preparing for serving in ministry, but the target audience is really senior pastors. The reason is simple enough; you need the senior pastor leading the charge of developing this kind of unity among the church's leadership teams and congregation.

The book starts out making a strong case for unity - and the need to be very intentional in pursuing this. Part One focuses on landmines and roadblocks, and how things can easily go wrong with boards or with staff. It also talks about the double-edged sword of growth and what a game changer it is for the dynamics of leadership teams. Part Two is about getting everyone on the same page, with a practical focus on equipping others for ministry. Part Three is about communication, keeping everyone on the same page. The book concludes with a helpful set of discussion questions. The ideas and potential for discussion here are strong enough that our staff is starting to read this together. We'll also be discussing our "plumb-lines", the core values that guide how we do ministry and set priorities.

I enjoyed this book much more than Osborne's earlier book "Sticky Church" (which I thought overstressed the idea that sermon-based small groups are a key to unity in the church). Some of my favorite quotes and ideas from the "Sticky Teams" book:
  • "Jesus predicted growth but prayed for unity." (p21)
  • "Friends tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt, while strangers are cautious and suspicious. Friends debate. Strangers argue." (p31)
  • Very important to have right people on the bus, board and staff members who are actual leaders and not "representatives". (p51)
  • "Good" isn't good enough! If you can't find the best person, leave the spot open.
  • Six counter-intuitive principles of leadership (p73) 1. Ignore weaknesses, 2. Surveys are a waste of time, 3. Seek permission, not buy-in, 4. Let squeaky wheels squeak, 5. Let dying programs die, 6. Plan in pencil.
  • As a church grows, the role of the staff must change: shift from generalists to specialists; doing to empowering; "my" silo to "our" church (p108)
  • Make it special time not something tacked on: staff and board training should not be ten minutes carved out of a broader meeting, but something intentional and distinct. (p132)
  • For training leaders, the process and just getting people talking together is more important than the curriculum -- it's about dialoging and working through the implications of ideas and principles (p134)
If you're a pastor who is new in your position, tired of battling things out with the board, or hoping to prevent trouble with staff, "Sticky Teams" is a must-read. You can check out a sample chapter of Sticky Teams or buy the book at Amazon or other retailers.