Best Reads in 2016: Part 1

Bookshelf filled with colorful books

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.

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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.

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.

Don’t Waste Your Wait

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Tom Petty once sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” Have truer words ever been spoken?

We don’t like waiting. We use microwaves. We take alternate routes to avoid traffic. We waste five minutes trying to find the shortest checkout line. As I write this, Kelli and I are waiting for our second son to arrive literally any day and the wait is just painful at this point (quite literally for her). Waiting really is the hardest part.

In case you missed it, we got our first ever up-close images of Pluto this week. Far more fascinating to me than the images themselves is the story behind those images. In 2006 NASA launched its New Horizon spacecraft to capture the images of Pluto. Nearly ten years later, New Horizon reached its destination, snapped a few pictures, and called it a day decade. In case you missed that, let me reiterate. Ten. Years. Later. No lengthy layovers. No breakdowns. No leisurely Sunday afternoon drive—at times New Horizon topped out at over 30,000 miles per hour. Just a three-billion mile direct flight. And it took ten years to get there. (Side note: Is anyone else blown away by the vastness of God’s creation?)

For ten years NASA has waited for these images. How many people forgot about New Horizon in those ten years? How many people simply lost interest or gave up? How many people got tired of waiting? I’m certainly not pointing fingers–I give up in frustration when my wifi connection is slow. But on the flip-side, how rewarding were the images for those who have been waiting for the last decade? Can you imagine finally experiencing the fruit of something you invested your life in ten years ago? (I suppose many veteran parents are saying “yes” right now, but hang with me.)

There’s something redemptive about waiting. I’m not wise enough to know what it is, but there’s something to it. There’s a reason that God encourages us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10). There’s a reason that patience is included as a fruit of the Spirit. There’s a reason Jeremiah wrote, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lam. 3:25-26)

As much as it hurts to type, I think waiting might be good for us.

But we don’t like waiting, do we? So we sit in the waiting room trying to pass the time with smartphones and outdated magazines, meanwhile God is begging for our attention! Could it be that he’s trying to speak to us in our waiting? I don’t know. Maybe.

It seems natural to ask you “what are you waiting for?” But could it be that a better question would be “what is your waiting for?”

If we really believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good” God has you (and me) waiting for a reason.

Don’t waste your wait.

What Do You Dream Of?

I’m generally not one to walk around with my head in the clouds; I’m far too much of a realist (aka pessimist) for that. But just for the sake of conversation, here’s a question for you: What do you dream of? I’m not talking about those “post-late-night-mexican-food” dreams. I mean aspirations, goals, the type of dreams that keep you going even on your worst days?

About two years ago Kelli and I took a weekend vacation just to get out of town. I remember on the drive up we took a sheet of paper and wrote down some of our dreams and goals in life. I still have that paper stuck to the inside cover of my journal, so I thought I’d take a chance and share a few of my dreams with you (as long as you promise not to laugh).

Write a book.
I love to read—which makes me want to write. Obviously, I write on this blog. I’ve also been fortunate enough to write some articles for 1798 Magazine. But I really I want to write a book. I have no idea what I would write a book on, but I know at least two people would read it. Thanks Kelli and mom.

Earn my doctorate.
In all fairness, having a child changed my perspective on this one a bit. I’m not willing to exchange precious moments with my children for a couple of letters before my name, but maybe someday down the road I’ll have the time (and money…crossing my fingers) to pursue that doctorate degree.

Plant/pastor a church.
I know these are two very different animals (and by animals, I mean that both can maul you and potentially leave you with some nasty scars.) Nevertheless, if I’m honest, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of planting or pastoring a church someday. Also, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember that I am far too inexperienced and unwise to plant or pastor a church. Maybe someday.

Build a house.
This is at the pinnacle of my list. I’m a family guy, so very few things make me more excited than dreaming of designing and building a place for my family to laugh, cry, play, fight, eat, sleep and make memories together.

What about  you? What do you dream of? Do you dream at all? If not, you really should.