Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Films 2015 -- the real turkeys

With this fifth edition of Turkey Films I felt I needed to go back to literal basics with this Thanksgiving game my family play each year. The rules are unchanged. I put the word “turkey” into a movie title to come up with a turkey film that makes us laugh and gets us into the holiday spirit. But this year these films are real turkey turkeys. They are the films that show up at the very bottom of my list of rated reviewed movies. They are horrible and warrant the moniker of turkey films.

1. The Monument Turkeys
2. He Died with a Turkey in his Hand
3. He was a Quiet Turkey
4. Eraturkey
5. Lonesome Turkey
6. The Turkey Countess
7. The Spiderwick Turkeys
8. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Turkey
9. The Wendell Turkey Story
10. Last Chacnce Turkey

Enjoy this list. What are your turkey turkeys? Go, gobble up a few and list them for your family. Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy time with your family and friends this holiday and through the Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Music Review: "Adore (Christmas Songs of Worship)" -- Chris Tomlin

Four words came to mind at my first two or three listenings to Chris Tomlin’s new Christmas album: slow, acoustic, meditative and melancholy. Many of the 11 songs are new Tomlin originals, mostly arranged and performed simply with acoustic guitar and piano.

The album starts with a new worship song: “He shall reign forevermore.” This is classic Tomlin, a worship anthem that we’ll be singing in church for years to come. But from there the tempo slows down and we get three or four slower songs. “Adore” is almost melancholic. “Midnight Clear (Love Song” takes the traditional carol and imbues it with a new arrangement. I like that Tomlin took the lyric, “It came up on a midnight clear, that glorious song of old” and adds to it with the “melody breaks through the silence” to become “the love song of God.” This has extended that Christmas classic in a powerful way. “Noel,” though, is the weakest song on this album and is not the carol of old.

The middle portion of the album starts with a hymn rather than a Christmas song. “Hymn of Joy” is Beethoven;s “Joyful, joyful we adore thee” and is simply a worship song with a an additional chorus. I am not sure why this shows up here. The next two songs are traditional carols, “Silent Night” and “What Child is This”. The former has a new arrangement and ends with a reading of Isaiah 9, while the latter is powerful in its simplicity.

My favorite song on this album is “It’s Christmas” It begins with a jazzy up-beat rendering of “Away in a Manger” and migrates into pop with the chorus. Adding sax and drums, it ends with “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” This feels like Christmas, with joy and happiness. It  is something to sing about.

The album closes with three new songs by Tomlin: “A King like this,” “Bethlehem” and “A Christmas Alleluia”. The last song brings synthesizer music to the front as it leaves the listener with a meditative mood.

America’s worship leader has given us another Christmas album, once more live. However, I found myself wishing for more upbeat joyful songs like “It’s Christmas” or more traditional carols like “Hark the Herald Angels”, which he recorded on his earlier Christmas Album (“Glory in the Highest”.  I found myself returning to that earlier album, which I enjoyed more. This is not a failure in Tomlin’s resume, just not as good as his earlier albums. It was a little too slow for my yuletide sensitivities.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting / Flyby Promotions for providing a free copy of the CD in exchange for this honest review and post.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible - a new bible aimed at helping men

The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible,  Crossway Books (2015)

I was invited to receive a free copy of this new devotional
bible and it came at the right time. I felt I needed a fresh perspective and God delivered. I have several bibles in my library, but have consistently used a particular one through each decade. My first one was a the NIV Study Bible in hardback, back in 1985. I used that for over a dozen years. In 1997, I receive a leather-bound copy of “The Experiencing God Study Bible” (NIV) as a Christmas gift. I’ve been using this for almost 20 years, and have had to recover it once. Now I am giving this ESV Men’s Devotional Bible a shot.

The purpose behind this new bible is to “strengthen and transform the hearts of men through the power of the Spirit-infused Word of God.” Of course, God’s Word has the power to do this, but this book is aimed specifically at men who are facing a relentless assault from the world, the flesh and the Devil in ways unseen or unheard of before. We are under constant attack and need all the help and tools we can get. To that end, this new bible will be a valued weapon in our arsenal.

I have not read the ESV before. I was introduced to Jesus through an NIV bible and have made this my translation of choice for thirty years. For a spell in seminary, I had to use the NASB, and found it a little more stilted and eventually came back to the NIV. The ESV, like the NASB, is a literal translation, seeking to capture the precise wording rather than a dynamic equivalent like the NIV, that seeks to translate thought-for-thought not word-for-word. It’s a different style. The editors have used the RSV as the starting point and claim their legacy from the KJV and ASV before RSV. From the early readings I have done, this version is a little stiffer than the NIV but perhaps a little easier than the NASB. Any new version takes us out of our comfort zone, but perhaps let’s us hear God’s Word with fresh ears. I am all for this.

Let’s move on to the book itself. The copy I got was a hardbound version, although there are leather options as well. This book is almost 1600 pages and is in a comfortable size to handle easily. It’s a black-letter edition, meaning that the words of Jesus are in black like the rest of the text. That is different from my earlier bibles. The text of the Bible is in an 8.5 point serif font, slightly different from the added devotionals which are sans serif. This is just a little smaller than the font in my current bible, making it just a little harder to read for older eyes like mine, but not too difficult that I turn away. The pages are thin, but that is to be expected for such a long book. I would not try highlighting verses with a highlighter as I would expect the ink to be visible from the other side of the page. But underlining with a ballpoint pen should be no problem. I have tended to write notes in my bible margins, but these margins are very tight and do not allow enough room for such notations. That is a pity.

The bible itself comes with three distinct features. First, as a devotional bible, there are the devotionals themselves. Written by a team of over 50 pastors and teachers under the editorial oversight of Dr. Sam Storms, there are 365 one-page devotionals that are gospel-centered and tied to particular scriptures. They are interspersed within the text of the books, with at least one devotional in each Biblical book. They reflect on the text and its contemporary meaning. Their primary intention is to be read in conjunction with the biblical text, and if you start from Genesis and read through to Revelation you’ll not only complete the Bible in a year, you’ll have 365 daily devotions to complement the text. Another way to approach them is to just read the devotional and accompany text, starting in Genesis. This way, they offer a framework for understanding the key theological themes in one year. Another way is to refer to the index of devotions at the back of the book, and select what resonates. I am personally choosing to use this Bible in my current reading program, which is a 1-year New Testament plan, and will read the devotionals as I come to them. I am joining them in progress, in other words.

The second feature are the book introductions. Each one is kept to one-page and focuses on the background, the key theme, and the book and a man’s heart. This is useful information and sets the tone for how it will be relevant for the male reader.

The final feature is the dictionary of key terms in the back. It’s not comprehensive, but at 15 pages it covers several hundred words and phrases that a causal reader might not understand.

My initial impressions on this bible are that it is a reasonable size (not too large to handle, nor too small to read), has good features (not too many that they overwhelm, yet enough that they serve their purpose), and a clear intention, to help men live stronger Christian lives. I am going to enjoy reading a new version and see how God uses this to encourage me in my walk with Jesus.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting / Flyby Promotions for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for this honest review and post. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Review: Triggers -- simple tools for life-long change

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts -- Becoming the Person You want to be; Marshall Goldsmith, Crown Business (2015)

What is the most difficult thing for adults to accomplish? According to the author, it is making behavioral change. In his research, he asks the question, “What’s the biggest behavioral change you’ve ever made?” That’s a great question. How would we answer that? Indeed, have we ever made any significant behavioral change as an adult? This engaging book tackles this topic and the business-trendy issue of employee engagement.

When it comes to change, Goldsmith argues we face two problems: ignorance of our own need and ignorance of the power of our environment. He spends the majority of the book on the latter. We can utilize tools such as 360 reviews to address the former.

The value of this book comes in the tools that he provides, mostly in the form of engaging questions which are triggers to combat the hostile environment. As he defines them,”a behavioral trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.” They are not inherently good or bad, they produce a response and that is critical.

Goldsmith suggests that when it comes to engagement we tend to fall into passivity, allowing ourselves to play victim. For example, at work we fill in engagement surveys and expect management to address the lower scores by changing our environment. Instead, Goldsmith urges us to become active, owners of our own engagement. Instead of focusing on what we accomplish each day, which can be thwarted by things outside of our control. Rather, he encourages us to ask ourselves if we did our best. He offers us to tool of daily questions. The primary six he outlines as:

1) Did I do my best to set clear goals?
2) Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
3) Did I do my best to find meaning today?
4) Did I do my best to be happy today?
5) Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
6) Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

These questions focus on how well we tried, not on how well we finished. We control our attitude and our focus. The key is asking the questions consistently and grading ourselves honestly. Goldsmith uses a 1-10 scale and tracks answers on a spreadsheet. Moreover, he suggests having someone else ask you the questions at the end of the day to ensure this happens. This can be done without judgment on the part of the questioner, since he (or she) is not vested in the answers. But an objective helper can also help spot trends and perhaps ask challenging questions related to those trends. Finally, Goldsmith suggests we tailor the questions, adding those that are needed. We must focus on where we need help, where we need to change and make progress, not on areas where we are doing fine.

Another tool he gives us are the hourly questions. A natural extension to the daily questions, these focus on the short game not the long game. Here, we focus on our engagement in he coming hour. If we are entering a meeting that is unpleasant or expected to be boring. If we enter with the knowledge that we will ask ourselves a set of tailored questions at the end, setting ourselves a test in other words, we will be better engaged and likely to leave the hour having learned something.

I tried the hourly questions recently when I went to church. I had been a little disengaged recently and so went in knowing I would ask myself two or three questions about my worship engagement. To my surprise, I found myself happier and more worshipful throughout the service. I did it in a work meeting, too, and found the same result. The beauty here, is that you can set whatever questions make sense for that hour, those that will keep you in the moment. And if you write them well, knowing what your triggers are, you will likely try harder to be able to answer them better. It’s not perfect, but it is better than doing nothing and letting entropy and inertia take over.

Goldsmith gives us three of other useful tools here. The first is a set of four “magic moves.” These comprise the quadrumvirate of apologizing, asking for help, having optimism, and asking active questions. Each of these builds positive goodwill with those around us and makes the environment that much safer and easier. The second is an acronym: AIWATT. This stands for “Am I Willing At This Time to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?” It blesses us with a simple cost-effective benefit analysis tool to answer the question of if this battle is worth fighting. If it is not, we put the decision behind us and walk away.

Finally, he recounted a Buddhist parable: that of the empty boat. I won’t repeat it here. But suffice it to capture the moral: “there’s never anyone in the other boat. We are always screaming at an empty vessel. An empty boat isn’t targeting us. And neither are all the people creating the sour notes in the soundtrack of our day.” I have started using this (when I can overcome my impatience) and found it to help me lead a less stressed life. My driving has become a little more relaxed.

This book came recommended highly by Bob Nelson, the author of “Motivating Today’s Employees.” I have enjoyed his books and trusted his judgment. He was not wrong. This is not a panacea. There are no quick fixes. But the tools have proved effective, even in my limited use. Behavioral change is tough.  But only by sticking it out, with the help of tools like these, will we make long-lasting change. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.