I really like reading. But over the last few years as my kids have gotten older and needed more attention, I’ve spent considerably less time reading than I’d like. This year, that changed, mainly because I invested in an Audible account through Amazon. At this point in the year I’ve completed 16 books. This is significant, because I probably haven’t read that many books since the first year of my marriage.
So because no one asked me but I have a sneaking suspicion some of you may be interested, here are the ten best books I read this year. None of them are brand new, they just end up being what I was interested in this year. I also tried to branch out some this year, so you’ll find a mix of Christian non-fiction, fiction, productivity, and business. The list is presented in order of highest impact to my life. I hope you’ll enjoy.
The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken
I loved this book. There were some things about it that were very difficult for me. The first half of the book told the story of “Nik,” a missionary that paid a high price during an unfruitful time of ministry in Somolia. After a terrible tragedy causes Nik and his family to return to America, he and his wife begin a journey around the world to find out how believers in persecution thrive under the threat of death. First in Russia, then China, and finally in Islamic countries, Nik encounters stories that stun us about the power of God and His ability to sustain those who are being persecuted.
If I were to recommend one book off of this list to believers, this would be the one. This book is full of stories that reverberate with overtones of apostolic Christianity. It’s full of lessons that Nik and his wife have learned as they’ve sat at the feet of believers who have stood strong when the stakes were the highest. I warn you though: this book will challenge an easy-believing, Americanized Christianity. Read it at your own risk.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I read this book three times this year. Three times! This book is about focusing in on the things that allow you to achieve your greatest level of contribution in life. It takes the phrase “Less, but better” and applies it to every area of your life, challenging you to become more focused in the area you are called to have greatest impact. If there is one book I wanted to buy multiple copies of and hand out around my office, this book was it. It’s a short read, but it will challenge you.
Living a Life of Fire by Reinhardt Bonkke
This book was the autobiography of German evangelist, Reinhardt Bonkke. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bonkke, he is an itinerant evangelist in Africa who at one time had the largest open-air tent in the world. He has led a million people to Christ in one crusade in Nigeria and his ministry is known to be accompanied by dramatic healings.
This book traces his life from his time as a young boy inside a post-World War II prison camp for Germans to his current life. It was really interesting for me to see the early days of Bonkke’s ministry since most of us know him as an evangelist that is larger than life. Bonkke’s passion for the Gospel going forth and his continuing reliance on the power of God are infectious. It was hard for me to read this and not want to share the Gospel or pray for the sick and I need more influences like this in my life.
The Shack by William P. Young
I hardly ever read Christian fiction. I can barely stand it most of the time. But two things motivated me to pick this book up: 1) A friend who is an evangelist told me about how his secular progressive uncle became a believer after reading it and 2) It’s slated to be a motion picture next year in March. When this book first came out there was some controversy over it, so I thought I’d check the book out and see what it was all about.
You can firmly count me among those who love this book. The whole book is based around the murder of a father’s youngest daughter and the father’s journey to come to peace with God after this event. That makes it sound like this book is your standard piece of fiction. In fact, most of this book starts when God sends the father an invitation to meet Him in the shack where the dress of his daughter was found several years earlier.
IMHO, the controversy over this book is hugely overdone. This book was written to engage the heart, not to teach theology, much in the same way that Jesus’ parables were told. I heartily recommend the book and if you can read it with an open heart, I think you’ll find yourself closer to God by the end of the story. I know I did.
The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
This book was an inspiration. Seth basically spends an entire book encouraging the artist (that’s you and I) to dream big, push boundaries, and be daring. This book is a manifesto of sorts that is bent on provoking us to do the art that only we can do and pursue greatness at it. Based on the story from Greek mythology of Icarus, Godin encourages not only to not fly too high, but more importantly to not fly too low, to really let our light shine where it should.
Do not read this book if you are against becoming an artist.
Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt
For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of hearing Jeff preach, you’re missing out. Jeff gives leadership to a network of churches that are focused on missional communities, so there’s always been a lot of synergy between what he does and what we do as a house church network. The message of this book is the gospel has power to touch every human being through our ordinary lives.
What I particularly love about this book and Jeff’s approach in general is his commitment to practices that are rooted in the theology of the gospel. These methods also happen to be incredibly effective. Jeff leads people to Jesus, but he does it in a process that is birthed out of his understanding of the gospel. The critical piece of this book that was helpful to me was the section on acquiring a missional identity that comes from the different roles of the persons of the Trinity. Those four chapters are worth the cost of the book alone.
So Beautiful by Leonard Sweet
It seems cliche to say it, but this book was beautiful. It is a poet’s look into the missional DNA of God’s church. If you’re looking for 3 practical how-to steps to become more missional, I would direct you other places. But if you’re looking for your heart to be awed by the way that God builds His church to reach the world, Sweet’s book is for you.
Yes, I read atheist Sci-Fi. And if you can read it and not get caught up in the backhanded attempt to poke fun at theists, this is an enjoyable book. This is a space opera with a huge comedic twist. It follows the adventures of Arthur Dent and his (unbeknownst to him) alien friend Ford Prefect as they escape Earth just before it is destroyed to make way for an interplanetary bypass. The rest of the book follows them as they get swept up into a drama bigger than they could ever imagine. I don’t know that I’ve laughed out loud so many times reading any other book. Of the three books that I’ve read in this series so far, this one is clearly the best.
The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
The Starfish and the Spider should be required reading for any and every person interested in house churches and discipleship movements. It is a book written to look at the advantages of organizations that have no leaders. It examines history and business culture to find examples of movements and organizations that thrive with no centralized form of leadership. The parallels between these organizations and house churches are many and we would do well to learn from the authors’ research. One day I hope to do a series of blogs on what this book can tell us about how the Lord leads His church.
The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
This is Watchman Nee’s seminal book. I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows Nee who hasn’t read this book and most who read it rave over its content. This books is the compilation of Nee’s thoughts on Romans 6-8. There was much to challenge me and grow here and anyone who needs to understand the position in Christ they have by virtue of their repentance and belief in Jesus can benefit from reading this book.
Honorable Mentions: The Insanity of Obedience, AntiFragile, The Confessions of St. Patrick, Jesus: A Theography, Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, The Universe, and Everything.
Note: Most of the links to the books described in this post are part of Amazon’s referral program and I do get paid a slim referral fee if you purchase a book based on my recommendation. However, it should be noted, I never recommend a book to buy unless its great. Also, feel free to buy the book or not based on your own sampling of the book.
Yesterday I told the world I was going to write a book.
Today I’m hoping to give a little perspective.
Six months to a year ago I had a friend call. My friend is prophetic, which means that he hears from the Lord very accurately and will often be used by God to communicate messages to the body of Christ. He was calling with something the Lord had spoken to him about the book I was writing.
He started to talk to me about Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9 and how David made a place for the son of Jonathan to be taken care of all of his life. This story is remarkable because David showed kindness to a potential political enemy out of his loyalty to his fallen friend. But it’s even more remarkable because David welcomed Mephibosheth to his table even though as a cripple, he was basically unclean (see Leviticus 21:16-23). David made a place at his table for an outcast.
“God is calling you,” my friend said, “to start a book club for the club-footed ones. He’s calling you to make places at the table for those who sit on the outside and feel like outcasts. It will be a book to empower those who live at the margins and those from the inner city. They need a seat at the table of the church.”
And so here I am, still writing.
But make sure you don’t miss the message. There’s a message for me in what was said, but there’s also a message for you. Maybe you don’t feel like the person who should be leading people to Jesus or starting churches. But God is raising up unlikely people from the margins of society to take the Gospel where it hasn’t gone.
You may feel like a cripple. You may feel like an outcast. You might not come from right education or even the right side of the tracks. But Jesus has mercy on you and invites you to eat at His table. You are invited to the book club for the club-footed ones. You can be used by God in this hour.
Don’t miss the invitation.
I’m finally getting around to reading Len Sweet’s book “So Beautiful.”
This amazing quote is pulled from the section on the missional life. The true nature of our missional life flows out of the nature of God. Sweet summarizes the nature of the God of mission so well, I had to share. Enjoy!
We don’t have a well behaved God, a polite God, a well-mannered God. God is not gentrified, made socially acceptable, or given to political correctness. The time until Jesus returns is not the time for long-range plans or for franchised dreams or for risk free strategies based on pre-approved to-do lists. This is the time to blaze new trails, to explore strange new lands, to build better spaces in which to live and love. If you want a quiet life, a life of peace and contentment, then don’t follow Jesus. If you want a safe life, a life of security and caution, then don’t follow Jesus. If you want a life that is all mapped out, a life you can plan and control, then don’t follow Jesus. Faith is the opposite of control.
Yesterday I mentioned that I’m trying to read more books this year. Right before New Years, I read a blog post asking “If you only read one book a year for the rest of your life, how many books will that leave you?” This was a huge kick in the pants for me because I used to read quite a bit and I have dramatically slowed down how much I’ve been reading over the last couple of years. Last year I read two books. Not exactly thrilling, especially when there are so many books I want to read.
What Jesus Started
T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution
BiVo: A Manifesto
The Permanent Revolution
The Failure of Nerve
Three Roads to the Alamo
Jesus: A Theography
The Interior Castle
The Impossible Mentor
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Getting Things Done
The Starfish Vision
The Starfish and the Spider
One thing I don’t want to do, however, is get too focused on reading to the exclusion of everything else in my life. I’ve certainly read more church planting books than I’ve planted churches and it’s always better to follow Jesus than read about somebody else following Jesus. I’m always (and especially in this endevour want to be) conscious of John Wesley’s warning about books: “Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” So keep me accountable and keep me from adding too many other books to this list!
That said, have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? And what are you trying to knock off your reading list?
I stumbled onto the Batterson Blog a few months ago thanks to the recommendation of Randy Bohlender of Stuff I Think fame. As I’ve read the posts I’ve come to enjoy Mark Batterson’s unique perspective on life and ministry which is both transparent and biblical all at the same time. In true Web 2.0 form I became aware of Mark’s new book through his blog and I was intrigued because the theme of Mark’s book, restoring the lost soul of Christianity, and signed up to join the blog tour.
Mark’s book reads like an extended version of his blog, which in my opinion is a compliment. It’s personal, a good mix of experience and biblical thought, and well-written. Mark contends that we must return to what made Christianity great in the first few centuries and in order to do that, we must return to what made our Christianity great in the first days after we came to know Christ. This is the primal place, the place, according to Mark, “where loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all that matters…[where] the place for the lost soul of Christianity begins…”
I have to stop here and say that while I believe that loving God with all of our being is essential to restoring the lost soul of Christianity, I do not believe that you can just start there. I believe that loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is the result of a revelation of Jesus to the human heart, both initially and continually over the life of a believer.
The way forward in each of these areas (heart, soul, mind, and strength) seems somewhat like a maintenance prescription for a car that neglects filling the tank with gasoline. And while I’m sure that Mark believes in the necessity of encountering Jesus regularly, the book seems to convey the idea that simply attempting to grow in love in these four areas will cause Christianity to be revitalized. So, yes, these are essential, but they have to flow out of a revelation of God to the human heart. And when they do, we will see the recovery Mark is talking about.
That said, if you are encountering Jesus in a continual and regular basis and are looking to be pushed in some practical ways, this a good book and will be helpful for you. Mark splits it up into four sections focusing in on how we can grow in our heart, soul, mind, and spirit. I’ve never seen someone take quite the same amount of time on each of these sections individually. Each one would be great to focus on devotionally for a season of time and I think the book can be read that way. For the purpose of brevity, lets look at each of these sections and sum up Mark’s take on them.
The first section of the book is about loving with our heart and Mark does a good job of showing us how we’ve stopped living (and loving) from our hearts. He then points to the fact that much of our Christianity is detached from feeling what God feels and he calls the reader back to the place of feeling the things that God feels very deeply.
Mark’s description of what happens when we touch God’s heart focuses primarily on how it affects our pocket book. People who feel what God feels are compelled to lives of extravagant giving and generosity toward the lost and the poor. I whole-heartedly agree. My only complaint is we don’t see much on how loving with our whole heart affects other areas of our lives, such as prayer, how we spend our time, or live out our testimony before unbelievers.
The next section focuses on loving God with our soul. This was probably the section that challenged me the most. Mark links the growth of our soul in love to our ability to wonder at things around us. God, he says, wondered at His creation and we stunt our spiritual growth into His image if we loose our capacity to wonder at the things around us. I know for me, it’s easy to get caught in routine and lose a wonder for God and the things He has created.
The primary place of wonder Mark spends time calling us to rediscover is our wonder over the record of God found in the Bible. I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with him about our tendency to expect to be fed by a local church leader and not feeding ourselves on the truth in the Bible. Mark shines in this section as both a teacher and a confronter.
After looking at our ability to love God with our soul, Mark spends time exploring what it means to love God with our mind. One thing I’ve learned by reading Mark’s blog and the book is that Mark has never been fond of boundaries and it shines through in this chapter. Because of that, Mark believes that there are new, God-inspired thoughts that can change the world and change lives, and it’s the believer’s duty to tap into them.
The challenge then is to receive these thoughts and act on them. The only way to put these thoughts into action is to change our approach to risk and failure, because a fear of failure will cause us only to replicate already existing patterns. Again this was solid food for thought and prayer and I would recommend it to those who haven’t thought about what it means to love God with their mind.
I have to be honest, I haven’t read this section yet, which saddens me. But the blog tour must take place and I can’t leave a book unfinished, so at some point stop back and I’ll give you my thoughts. I do have to say, however, that I think this is shaping up to be the strongest part of the book. Just by way of looking at the chapter titles, this is the part of the book I was most excited about and I believe most tangibly relates to movements. I’ll be interested also to see how Mark ties all four sections together into the “Primal Movement” he’s been describing since the beginning of the book.
In summary, Mark offers us a good book on returning to an all-encompassing relationship with Jesus. Because (at least in my estimation) Mark seems to be a boundary pusher, anyone who needs a jolt in their walk with Jesus or just a different perspective on loving God would benefit from the book. Again, I believe it would have been helpful to explore more of the vertical aspects of this love that Mark calls us to pursue. Things like encountering Jesus in prayer, fasting, and meditation might have been helpful. But to the person who is, this book will definitely push your boundaries in each of these four areas and bring us closer to the primal movement we all long to see.
*In the interest of full disclosure, Multinomah offered a free copy of this book in exchange for a review posted here as well as on a merchant site.