Archive for the ‘books’ Category

A long time ago I came up with the idea for a book called The Elephant Cookbook. Ironically, based on the topic, I never finished it. I came up with a format that was clunky and a cute way of presenting the material that I just couldn’t quite make work. It’s still in my idea file and I pray that it can come together one day, but I had other projects that were ready to go and succeed so I changed my focus to bring them to life.

The idea behind The Elephant Cookbook was based on the idea of working on multiple deadlines, constant pressure and a to do list that seems like it will never get done. The title was conceived from the old joke, “How to you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

I’ve been there often. There is so much work to be done and you don’t know how you’ll ever accomplish it all. It all gets very daunting and if you look at it as a huge pile, the discouragement can become crippling. But what would happen if you ate that elephant one bite at a time, i.e. What if you broke the project down into small manageable steps and then set about to check each of those steps off your list one at a time. All of the sudden, each step accomplished feels like a victory and the more you check off the better you feel until all that’s left of that “elephant” are the bones.

Breaking things down into manageable steps is often the best way to reach your dreams and accomplish your goals. Now I just need to work out the bugs in The Elephant Cookbook. Oh and by the way it is okay to put a stuck project aside. Just don’t make a habit of starting without finishing. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Most of the time, you just need to take another bite and keep chewing.

One last thing, don’t leave God out of this process. He has come through for me when I was in over my head so many times it’s not even funny.

This is a straight up business book and it is quite good and very thought provoking. You might wonder why an artist, speaker and minister of the Gospel would take the time to read such a book. Well as my friend Craig Smith often says, “Sometimes you can take a business book and baptize it for the church.” This is just such a book.

What do I mean? Well what do businesses and churches have in common? The primary element of commonality is people. Whether in business or church people are being led and more importantly empowered. Successful churches work because they empower their people to be all that they can be and as such many of the principles in this book are transferable, or at least I found them to be so.

This book is about new ways to do business and run companies. His chapters are in some cases counterintuitive, and yet Burkus cites real life companies, and some pretty major players at that, that are innovating in these areas to great success. Things like outlawing email. Who hasn’t fallen into the pit of spending so much time answering emails that you get no actual work done? One of my favorites is Putting Customers Second. This has been a peeve of mine since my days in retail management. If I had a dollar for every time I had to satisfy the unrealistic demands of often dishonest people, I could have quit that awful job. Now consider how motivated I was in those conditions and as a result, everyone suffered. In the church world, the people I work with and lead are largely volunteers. I need to take care of them and bless them and put them first. These are just two of the principles.

This is a great business book, but it’s more. Most of it’s principles are really transferrable to other aspects of life. I really didn’t know what to expect from this book but I took a chance on a review copy and I am very pleased that I did. If you are in leadership of any kind (and who isn’t) this book just might be worth your time.

I am doing a study on the book of Acts and using what I am learning for a year of Bible Studies at my church and it has been eye opening. In the process of this study, I am always looking for supplemental materials to help my teaching. It was in this search that I stumbled upon Into the Fray. What a great book. Author Matt Mikalatos is a missionary and it is clear he is passionate about this book.

His approach is unique. He attempts (quite successfully) to bring the stories from Acts to the twenty-first century, as if they were happening right now. This really brings a fresh perspective on the text. It is clear, he is a great story teller. He manages to bring the text to the modern day without sacrificing truth or meaning. He doesn’t just tell the story, through a unique layout technique, he “brackets” the story and then tells the story behind the story, explaining what was happening from the Bible itself. These teachings are theologically sound and very biblical.

I think my favorite chapter is The Storytellers. In this chapter Mikalatos shows Luke telling his story, of how the physician becomes a disciple. It’s a departure from the rest of the book but it sets up a wonderful explanation on how to tell your story, i.e. share your testimony. This chapter is pure gold for all those nervous evangelists who want to share their faith but aren’t quite sure how. This chapter has made me reexamine how I share my own story and the other things I do in my presentations with AMOKArts.

At the end of the book, Mikalatos adds a really nice study guide with questions from each chapter, making Into the Fray a great tool for use in a Bible study on the book of Acts. As a resource, Into the Fray would work well from middle school ministry through adult.

If I had any complaint about this book it’s that it’s too short. I would love to see him recreate this book almost in commentary style telling all the stories rather than just the highlights. This takes away nothing from the excellence of this book. Rather it is a suggestion for another project for Mr. Mikalatos. I really loved this book.

Well in a few months I will be speaking at a writer’s conference on the topic of overcoming writer’s block. As I started working on the handouts, I discovered that I am probably headed for more of a small book than a handout. I began going through this blog to cull themes for the book. In my ideal world I would like it to be 101 ways to overcome creative block. So far I have fifty and while that may be enough, I’d really like to make 101. Ironically, I am a little stuck. Here’s the list: What am I missing? Yes I know some of them may be a little vague, but I know where I am going… Hey there’s another one “Ask Someone/take a poll”!

  1. Start
  2. Don’t Wait for Inspiration
  3. Ideas are Money
  4. Go Looking for Trouble
  5. Jam
  6. Go for a Walk
  7. Get Away From It
  8. The Second Project
  9. Not Too Many Projects
  10. Have a Diversion
  11. Eliminate Distractions
  12. Find/Make Time
  13. Be Prepared
  14. Have Something With You
  15. Your Workspace
  16. Unleash Your Inner Child
  17. Collaborate
  18. Silence the Inner Critic
  19. Ignore the Outer Critic
  20. Brainstorm
  21. Change Your Medium
  22. Do the Hard Stuff First
  23. Fresh Eyes
  24. Change of Venue
  25. Keep it Simple
  26. Deadlines are Your Friend
  27. Break it Down
  28. Minimize Distractions
  29. Believe You Can
  30. Farm It Out (no one is good at everything)
  31. Look Outside Yourself
  32. Rest
  33. Decompress
  34. Avoid Comparison
  35. Redefine Excellence
  36. Start at the End
  37. Ask Lots of Questions
  38. Make It Better
  39. Do What You Know
  40. Who Do You Know?
  41. Remember When It Was Just Fun
  42. Talk to Someone Outside Your Circle
  43. Change Your “Glasses”
  44. What’s Your Motivation?
  45. Re-Organize
  46. Seek Your Higher Power
  47. Ask Someone/take a poll?
  48. What Will Happen If You Don’t Finish?
  49. Finish
  50. Ship It!
  51. Start Again

One of the perks of being a blogger is sometimes people send you free books to review. That was the case with this book. When I saw the topic, I knew I had to check it out. As a pastor, this is one of the hardest things to explain to people. We tend treat God like all the human people we have had in our lives. While we are created in God’s image, we have to remember He is perfect and we are not. I bring this up because one of the objections people seem to have to coming to faith is it seems to be that it’s too easy. Kuhn does a masterful job of laying this out. He finds 52 different things that become true of us when we receive Christ. Using engaging stories, biblical, personal and even a few pop culture examples, He lays out all the things God has done for us through Jesus. Each chapter is short and to the point and this book is really well written and from the heart.

This would be a great book to give to a new believer or someone who is on the fence. It would also be great for someone who is struggling with knowing or believing they’re forgiven or wrestling with the meaning of grace in their life. My lone recommendation that might be seen as slightly contrary is that you read the book before you give it away, to make sure it lines up with your doctrine. I found the book to be solid in the vast majority of Kuhn’s points, but his wording on a few of the chapters might require a little explanation, especially to a new believer. No book on this topic will ever be perfect, (except the Bible) but this one comes pretty close. Kuhn goes out of his way to craft a book that is helpful and extremely encouraging. I could see this book being used well as a daily devotional, but I found it so engaging that I read it in about three days. He’s done a good job here.

Click here to find out more

The next question is “Have you lost passion for (your project)?”
This happens too. And again you have questions to ask before you give up. Chief among these are “Why did you start it in the first place?” and “What will be lost if you don’t see it through. I’ve seen people take this attitude to their marriages and it’s a disaster. It’s almost always better to remember why you started, find your passion and power through. The road to success is littered with projects that people dumped for something new. Unfortunately, this can become a pattern in our lives and the result can be that we become starter who never finish anything. Those people never succeed. It might be time to find someone with passion to take the project over. Otherwise it might be time to power through. Sometimes a lack of passion can be just the incentive to finish something so you can move on to something better.

I basically covered the next question above. “Is it more difficult than you thought?” I just have one thing to add. Most of the time, if our dreams are not too big for us, they aren’t really worth our time. Big dreams are hard to accomplish, but they often yield big results. Dream big and get help instead of giving up when the going gets tough.

The last question is the big one when it comes to dream killers. “Are you stuck?”
Getting stuck usually involves a little bit of burnout. If burnout is the case, the best thing to do is sideline the project and work on something else for a little while. I usually work on two projects at once. You might also notice I post a fair amount of pictures of models I’ve built. The reason for that is pretty simple. First of all, I like to build them, but second of all, I have realized I will occasionally need a distraction. I’ve looked at something too long and I need to divert my attention for a little bit. Letting my mind go onto something that is pretty structured but still fun allows me to adjust my focus. Now don’t let it become a distraction, which has happened for me from time to time, but for the most part, it’s just a little 15-20 minute break that lets me refocus.

Lastly sometimes, we get stuck because we have exhausted our level of ability, If that s the case, you either need to get more training, do some research or find a collaborator. Any of these things can help you get unstuck.

In the end, here is the truth. The most important part of any project is to start. This is usually the hardest and I will share more on that with a current project I am having a hard time launching in another post. Immediately after starting though is the crucial step of finishing and releasing. Without these two steps all the effort is useless.

Work your project from start to finish. Like the old song said “Take your passion and make it happen.” Ideas don’t matter unless we make them reality.

Make sure you finish, whatever it takes.

Okay, the irony is not lost on me. I write a post called Discipline and the Art of Getting It Done and then don’t post for two days. Rest assured that is because I was getting other things done, but let’s get back to it now. Last post I was determined to talk about getting it done and only got so far as why we don’t get it done. Let’s fix that now, and yes I am post dating this post, because I want to catch everything up over the next day or two.

First let’s address the not time to create issue. I am blessed to create for a living and even so I still have to back burner some projects for the sake of the most urgent, so I’m right there with you. I’ve also spent most of my life trying to be a creative while working full time at something else, so I do get it, but even so, there is something you can do to make some time. Again., do not steal this time from your family or your job. Both of these will end up becoming something you regret. Instead look for the “time vampires” in your life. This things that suck up your time while accomplishing nothing positive. Maybe it’s social media time, or gaming or the good old fashioned television. Take some of that time and put it to productive creativity. Also, and this is important, make sure to be prepared to take creative time at a moment’s notice. There is nothing more frustrating than finding creative time and being locked creatively. Make sure you are logging your ideas and keeping your fundamental tools nearby, so you’re ready. Everyone can find time to create.

Next I asked the question “Why don’t you want to accomplish this goal?” This is a reality at times. You start off with something and as you dig in, you realize you don;t want it as bad as you thought you did. It might be time to bag the project and start something else, but before you do this make sure why you’re giving it up. Realizing it won’t work is one thing and it does happen, but if you’re getting out because it’s difficult. You need to remember if it was easy everyone would do it. So if you’re just getting out because it’s hard, know this, someone will power through and do it and that person will reap the benefit. It might as well be you.

We’ll pick put the rest of this post tomorrow…