Best Reads in 2016: Part 2

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I’m a sucker for the “best books of 2016” lists that flood my timelines and news feeds this time of year, so to follow suit, here’s a list of my favorite reads from the second half of 2016.

(As a sidenote, these are not not necessarily books released this year, but books that I read this year.)

The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

I offer you this quote from the book: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I don’t think I really need to add anything more.

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

Tim Challies consistently puts out some of the best Christian content and resources on his blog. That’s why this book was a no-brainer when I heard it was coming out. Do More Better is a super quick and easy read but will revolutionize the way you think about productivity. I’m still applying and tweaking many of the suggestions and tools he offers in the book, but I feel that they have helped me immensely over the last few months. Do More Better would be a great read for anyone looking to be more productive in the new year (so, basically everyone).

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

To quote the aforementioned C. S. Lewis, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” I first read The Explicit Gospel just before graduating from seminary in 2012. It was a game-changer of sorts for me. It helped me to see that the gospel is not just the entry point of the Christian life, it’s central to the entire Christian life from beginning to end. I will never graduate from the gospel. Neither will you. That’s why you should read The Explicit Gospel.

As I mentioned, I’m a sucker for “best books” lists, so I’d love to hear your recommended reading from the past year. Also, here’s the list of my favorite reads from the first half of 2016.

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Best Reads in 2016: Part 1

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I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately. Then again, “slump” may be a bit of an understatement given my current “one-post-every-six-months” rate.

While I haven’t written as much as I promised myself I would over the first half of 2016, I have certainly read plenty over the past six months. Below is a list of some of my favorite reads through the first half of 2016.

(Note: These are not necessarily books released this year, just books that I’ve read this year.)

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

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“There are many professing Christians who delight in God’s gifts, but not God. Would you want to go to heaven if God were not there, only his gifts?” This sentence was copied directly from the pages of Desiring God and serves as somewhat of a foundational statement of the book. A very challenging and thought-provoking read.

Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn

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For as long as I can remember I’ve always had some strange fascination with Johnny Cash. I don’t think I’m alone in that. As the title suggests, this lengthy biography gives readers a backstage glimpse into the life of Johnny Cash. It is a fascinating look at the fame, fortune, struggles, and redemption of one of America’s most iconic musicians.

The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball by Gene Wojciechowski

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As an avid Kentucky sports fan, I couldn’t pass this up when I saw it on the clearance shelf. I was only four years old when Laettner hit “the shot,” but I’ve seen it plenty of times over the last 24 years. Wojciechowski does a masterful job of capturing the stories and personalities that preceded “the shot.” Best $4 I’ve spent this year, but I still hate Laettner.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Being that I’m late to the game on this one, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s considered a classic for a reason.

A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

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Paraphrasing the narratives of Saul, David, and Absalom found in Scripture, Edwards beautifully and subtly paints for readers a picture of what leadership looks like in light of the sovereignty of God. Surprisingly good read, especially for those that find themselves in positions of leadership and influence.

Perfectly Present

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I love this picture. I stumbled across it somewhere online a couple of weeks ago. I feel like it perfectly embodies the problem that plagues my own heart and soul, which just so happens to be the same problem that plagues our society as a whole.

And what would that problem be?

We don’t know how to be present.

Check out the picture again. Dozens of people standing in a gaggle, each of them holding their phones in the perfect position to capture whatever it is that’s just out of frame for you and me. Were the picture zoomed out, there may even be hundreds if not thousands of people all doing the same thing. They’re there, but they’re not really there.

And then there’s the elderly woman on the front row.

No phone. No camera. Nothing.

She’s just there for the experience. Perfectly present for the moment.

She’ll have no snapshot to post on Instagram with the perfectly applied filter. She’ll have no photo to add to her Facebook timeline, making all her “friends” secretly jealous that she lives such an awesome life with such incredible experiences. She’ll probably have no proof whatsoever that she was there for whatever spectacular event this appears to have been.

But she’ll have the experience. She’ll be able to tell you what it was like to be there. She’ll be able to recount the sights. All of them, not just the fragment that was captured on a tiny digital screen. She’ll be able to remember the sounds. She’ll be able to recall the smells. She’ll be able to relive that moment in a way that the other dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands of people never will.

Why? Because she was perfectly present in a way that you and I hardly ever are anymore.

Have you ever thought about how much in life we’re actually missing because we’re trying to capture it? How much are we missing in those moments when we’re there, but we’re not really there.

Oh, the stories we could tell if we were able to be so perfectly present.

Let that be a challenge to us all.

A Holy Habit

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In the midst of all your plans to eat healthier, workout more, quit smoking, start saving, etc., can I encourage you to make another plan in 2016?

You should read through the Bible this year.

I’m supposed to say that, I know. I’m a student pastor on staff at a church that pays me to teach the Bible. If I don’t encourage you to read your Bible through this year, am I really even a pastor? (Some might argue that student pastors aren’t really even “pastors” anyway, but I digress.)

Let me write to you for a minute from outside of the pastoral perspective–or at least the best I can. I grew up in church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, repeat. As a result, I heard a lot of the Bible growing up. I knew the familiar flannel graph stories. I blushed as I would skim through Song of Solomon. I snickered at the use of the word “ass” in the King James Version (especially in 2 Peter 2:16, if you’re taking notes). Despite the fact that I was pretty familiar with the Bible, I never read through it until I was in seminary (which probably made me unqualified for seminary).

So in 2011 I picked up a copy of the One Year Bible and committed myself to reading through it. I read and I read and I read. And I got behind–like, way behind. I think I was actually 17 days behind at one point. But I made those days up over the course of a few weeks, and on December 31, 2011 I read the final passages from the book of Revelation. Done.

I didn’t understand a lot of it. Truth be told, I still don’t understand the majority of it. I did learn a lot, but nothing completely life-altering at the time. God didn’t part the clouds and commend me with a “well done, good and faithful servant!” But there was an interesting side-effect of reading through the Bible that year: it became a habit.

For the last 4+ years, I’ve had a fairly consistent habit of reading the Bible daily. On the days where I don’t make time to read, something feels out of place. Please don’t read that as a boasting of sorts. I still have “out of place” days. And sometimes even the days I do read I do so through the grogginess of an early morning funk or with a “check-Bible-reading-off-my-to-do-list” mentality, neither of which are particularly helpful. But through the grogginess and the struggles, I try to read. It’s habitual.

That’s why I think you should read through the Bible this year. Not because I suspect you’ll experience a completely life-changing truth–though you very well may. Not because you’ll learn much that you didn’t know–though you probably will. Not even because it’s what “good Christians” are supposed to do. I think you should read through the Bible this year to form a habit of reading the Bible daily.

You can find an endless number of reading plans on the YouVersion app or a quick internet search will provide you with ample plans to choose from. If it’s easier, just pick up the One Year Bible, set it on your nightstand or coffee table like I did and read the passages that correspond with each day.

In a season when we’re all contemplating dropping a bad habit, let’s fill the void with a good one–one that has some eternal weight significance (poor word choice around the New Year). One that I really believe will transform us “from one degree of glory to another” one daily reading at a time.

2015: Good Reads

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Way back in January I made a pact with myself to aim for quality rather than quantity when it came to the books I would read in 2015. I should have done that several years ago. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of my three favorite reads from 2015.

(Note: this list is not exclusive to books released in 2015.)

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges

christianministryThis might be the most practical and relevant book on ministry that I’ve read to date—what’s impressive is that it was published in 1830. Just goes to show you that there really is nothing new under the sun. It was also refreshing to read a book on ministry/leadership that couldn’t possibly push any sort of modern agenda.

The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler

minglingofsoulsConfession: I may have a slight man-crush on Matt Chandler. However, I think I can relatively objectively say this is a special book. What makes Mingling of Souls great is that it biblically addresses the full spectrum of love—from initial attraction all the way to the well-worn marriage–where as most books on “love” simply begin on the wedding day.

On Writing by Stephen King

onwritingI’ve heard several writers recommend this book on various podcasts, so when I found it for about $3 in a used book store, it was a no-brainer. This wannabe writer couldn’t put it down. King’s biography combined with his practical tips for writing make this a must read for anyone that wants to be a writer someday. (Warning: book contains some “flavorful” language.)

A Liberating Truth (Under the Sun)

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Anybody remember the band 311? For the 3 of you that do, you might remember their song “Come Original”. I have no idea what the basis of the song was (because, you know, songs always have these strange underlying meanings, especially when you play the album backwards), but I have felt the pressure to “come original” quite often.

As a student pastor, I feel the pressure of trying to come up with creative ways of communicating truth that has been around for thousands of years. That’s the reason I probably spend more time preparing teaching content than any other one aspect of my job. As a wannabe blogger/writer, I feel the tension in trying to churn out content that is new, innovative, or somehow original. That’s the reason I don’t blog very much.

More often than not, I feel like I don’t have anything new to offer.

Then comes this reminder from one of the wisest men to ever live:

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

It’s true, isn’t it? Anyone who has seen their wardrobe cycle out of style and back in style knows this. But if we’ll just stop for a second, there’s a great freedom here.

  • Pastors, you don’t have to try to preach the Christmas story from some new, innovative angle this year
  • Moms, you don’t have to compete with the creativity found on the boards of the profession Pinterest moms.
  • Jonas, you don’t have to wait until you have the illusion of an original idea or thought before you write.

There is nothing new under the sun–and that is a liberating truth.

Not By Sight

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I went to the doctor for a physical earlier this week. Unlike my freshman college calculus class, I passed this test with flying colors. I also learned that I have 20/13 vision. Unsure if that was good, bad, or meant that I was living a couple of years in the past, I asked the nurse for some clarification. She informed me that my vision was “better than perfect,” as if that’s really a thing. Upon further research, apparently I can see at 20 feet what the average person can see only at 13 feet.

So I can see really well. Which is awesome–until I remember that walking faithfully has nothing to do with what I can see (2 Corinthians 5:7).

One of my favorite illustrations regarding walking faithfully is found in Psalms 119:105:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

God’s word will illuminate my way, telling me where to and where not to step. Encouraging, right? Well, sort of. The object used in the illustration is a lamp, which would be the ancient equivalent of a flashlight. However, whereas the modern flashlight projects a concentrated beam quite a distance ahead, the ancient lamp didn’t have that ability. You know what a lamp in this context would illuminate? The next step. Not the end of the path, not the desired destination–just the next step.

Here’s the deal: being able to see at 20 feet what most people can only see at 13 feet means nothing when the lamp only lights the way for the next 3 feet.

And so we walk by faith, not by sight. Sometimes it’s more like stumbling or crawling, but by God’s grace we progress by faith–not by faith in the path or by faith in the destination, but by faith in the One who lights the way, one painfully slow step at a time.