Happy New Year to you all!
Long time followers know that for the last several years I’ve been trying to read more books. I love reading and in the thick of raising a family and starting churches I largely gave up my reading habits for a season. The last few years I’ve been trying to correct that problem. This year I was able to successfully complete 20 books, which is a recent record!
Now, while I’ll never be this guy who read 308 books this year, I thought it might be helpful to some of you to give a quick run down of the top ten books I’ve read this year in the hopes that you might find something worth while to feed your spirit, soul, and mind. Don’t just read the list: find one or two that might challenge you in the new year and dive in! Or, instead, suggest a book I need to read in 2019 that you found helpful. We all grow as a result.
That said, in order of impact, my top 10 books I read last year are:
This book was by far the most motivating and challenging book that I read this year. It’s written by well known speaker Francis Chan who famously left his mega-church to start a house church in San Francisco. The book is not a treatise of why you should be a part of a house church. Instead, it’s a look at everything that is troublesome about the modern American church and how we can become the church God wants. Chan masterly identifies problems with the American church, problems he himself helped create in his own church that are both found in each human heart and among the people of God corporately. Both the house church movement and the traditional church will find much to repent of in these pages. Throughout the whole book, however, those of us who have been part of house churches will see the answers to the questions Chan raises in the model we’ve been pioneering. Chan spends the last chapter offering the answers they’ve discovered as their network has asked these questions, but the answers will not surprise those of us who have been part of a house church. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It will challenge you, cause you to look at your heart, and possibly even push you to rethink how you relate to the church in the future.
I will write a more thorough review of the book in the near future.
If Letters to the Church hadn’t appeared on the shelves this year, “The Vanishing American Adult” would have easily been my top book this year. Written by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, this book is a look at the increasing stalled maturity that seems to be plaguing American youth. Sasse could use the problem to rant against generational stereotypes or lay the blame on his opposing political party. Instead he traces trends in our society that have lead to us allowing teenagers to remain immature into their 30’s and beyond. Part of the beauty of this book is the author could have used the problem he profiles in depth to suggest a political solution. That’s what politicians do. Instead, Sasse details out five ways that parents can work against the tide of society to raise real adults in the face of increasing cultural imaturity: Expose kids to other generations, expose kids to hard work, teach them be frugal, expose them to rigorous travel, and expose them to great books. As a parent whose children are quickly approaching the teen years, I devoured this book. Sasse isn’t writing as a distant theorist. He writes as a parent who is trying raise responsible, tough adults and who knows the peril that will come if we don’t do it right. My one criticism, if I had one, is that at times it swerves a bit much into concern for our nation. This doesn’t drown out the true message of the book, but it does at times remind you that Sasse is both writing as a Christian and a leader in our nation for the benefit of both.
I will write about this book in the future as well. However, one of the things this book did was convince me that I need to read more deeply and more thoughtfully. Sasse’s chapter “Build a Bookshelf” is worth the cost of the book alone and it lead to the formation of a “Man Book Club,” where me and other guys can gather and grow as deeper readers. If you see better books on my list in the future, this book is why.
As I started to read more books this year, this book became one I increasingly wanted to spend time in. I’ve known for years that it is a Christian classic that details the life of a disciple. What I hadn’t known is that it is regarded as the first English novel. Written by John Bunyon while in prison for his faith, the book details the journey of a man named Christian and then his wife as they set out from their home to find the Heavenly Country they hear about in the Gospel that is preached to them. It’s an allegorical story that teaches believers about the path of true discipleship. One of the things that reading old books does for us is liberate us from tyranny of our age that comes through in our social media and modern writing. As I read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I realized just how much of my approach to following Jesus is birthed out of my generation’s approach to Scripture and not Scripture itself. I read this as an audiobook, but a more modern rendering of this book would be a great discipleship manual to hand to a new believer. If you’re wearied by books that are full of three steps to a better life and authors that aren’t awed by the majesty of God, this book will be a refreshing change of pace for you.
This was the first book our “Man Book Club” tackled and it’s hard to under-estimate it’s impact. It’s an autobiographical look at slavery that will challenge your understanding of what slavery was truly like. I knew slavery was horrible, I didn’t understand the different dimensions of slavery and how terrible they were. I’ve never had a desire to read this book until Ben Sasse mentioned it as a book to read as part of his cannon of books he’s hoping to pass onto his children. This book made the list as a book to help Americans from every stripe understand the plight of Americans who were denied rights under a constitution that promises rights to all. As a believer in Jesus, this book also helped me understand the kind of bad religion that empowers oppression instead of liberating those subjected to it. I also gained a greater appreciation for the situation of African Americans in this country in a way I wouldn’t have without this book. Regardless of your race, class, or political persuasion, you should read this book.
This was another of those books that I loved because it was born out of another age. Written by Augustine of Hippo in the later part of his life, this book details life from being a seeker of truth but in many ways an atheist to his conversion and discipleship. I expected this book to have many deep theological truths about God but instead this book spoke to me about the power of desire in the human heart. In many ways, Augustine’s confession highlights the wickedness and pride of the human heart and the mercy of God that causes Him to meet with us in spite of them. These were truths that were good for my heart to hear because there are very few writers who speak of the dangers of wickedness and pride. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth it for those who persevere through it.
I first heard about this book ten years ago. It was written by twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris who founded a website called The Rebelution. The Rebelution is devoted to asking teens to rebel against low expecations that society puts on teenagers. The website was founded in 2006 and quickly became an internet phenomenon where teens banded together to encourage each other to follow Christ and push the envelope for what could be expected by teens. The book is part biography, part manifesto, and part how-to. It’s written by teens and for teens, but I read it in hopes of giving it to my daughter who is quickly approaching her teen years. In many ways, this book mirrors The Vanishing American Adult, but in a way that speaks to teens. I’d recommend it for the teens reading this blog.
I almost didn’t recommend this book. Several days ago, Michael Frost asked his followers what book stuck with you this year. This is that book for me. It’s written by Shusaku Endo and was originally published in Japanese. Endo is a Japanese Catholic who has written several books on Christianity and I found his approach fascinating. This fiction work follows the story of two Catholic missionaries who travel to 17th century Japan to find a former hero of their missionary order who is said to have left the faith. Along the way they share the Gospel, meet other believers in Japan, are captured, and are forced to watch as both they and the believers they came to serve are tortured. The whole novel ponders the idea of apostacy and the grace of God. This book was interesting for me on two levels. On one level it forced me to examine again my willingness to suffer for Christ and what level of suffering I would embrace for Him. On a completely different level, I’m left with a weird taste in my mouth, not sure I agree with the author’s message that is quickly and succinctly delivered at the end of the book. Whether the message is true or not, the ideas have turned over and over in my head and because of that it’s earned it’s place here.
This book was not on my radar at all, but when Greg Laurie released this book in October I couldn’t pass up a chance to collect another set of stories from the Jesus People movement. For those not in the know, the Jesus People movement was a genuine, grass-roots revival that spread among America’s youth during the hippie movement of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Laurie writes this book to both look at the origins of the movement and it’s continuing impact on Southern California and the world. Laurie brings first hand experience to the story: He was a flower child of that era and came to Christ through the evangelistic work of notable Jesus People leader Lonnie Frisbee. Through Frisbee, Laurie joined the Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith that would go on to launch numerous ministries in the midst of the Jesus People movement. Through Laurie’s involvement with both Frisbee and Smith, he would go on to become an evangelist, pastor, and mega-church leader in his own right. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of my love for the Jesus People movement but I also profited from some of Laurie’s brief thoughts on the nature of the church’s need for continual revolution on the inside to power the expanding nature of the church. There are broader, better treatments of the Jesus People movement but Laurie’s is authentic and his lessons are worth considering.
I try to read at least one book every year related to my full-time work. This book had been recommended by Russell Moore at the end of last year and it seemed like a worth-while read. Cal Newport makes a strong case that focus is the asset of the future and after building the argument goes on to detail how the reader can build a lifestyle of focus, regardless of their career. The advice ranges from broad to very specific, but in general will be helpful to the vast majority of people. Much more needs to be written about this subject, but this book is a great start. It will definitely benefit you in your work life, in your personal life, and even in your spiritual growth.
I picked up this book at the suggestion of Jeff Vanderstelt, who recommended the book as a paradigm for the changes the church is going through in this generation. The book is written by Tod Bolsinger, a former pastor of a growing and thriving church that recognized his church was on the verge of plateauing. He caught a vision for a more missional church and now brings that vision to bear not just in the local church but as the leader of a seminary. Bolsinger uses the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the Lousisana purchase as a sort of parable for the place the church finds itself in this hour. While it may seem odd for this organic house church guy to recommend a book by a seminary president, there were a few gems here that were universally applicable…specifically Tod’s commitment to mission as the organizing reality of church and the truth that in times of being stuck, humans tend to double down on the thing they are best at, hoping that fixes the problem. Both of these ideas have not only been helpful to me this year…they’ve actually spoken into circumstances that I or others have been in over this past year. I’m grateful when I can learn from my traditional church brothers to strengthen the church, wherever I find it.
Other Books I Read
These were the top 10 books I read this year. I hope to read more next year. In case anyone is still reading, here’s the other ten books I read this year, in no particular order:
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
There’s a Sheep In My Bathtub by Brian Hogan
Increase Your Faith by Steve Bremner
Revolution by George Barna
On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson
Signs and Wonders of the New Churches by Wolfgang Simson
42 Seconds by Carl Mederis
Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
Julius Ceaser by William Shakespeare
So, did you see anything on the list that you’re going to add? And what did you read this last year that might benefit the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.
Over the last ten years, God has had me on a journey learning from the Church in the global South and East. Many of these lessons I’ve been able to learn directly from those from other parts of the world. But while I have had the privilege of spending time in other countries with believers I would never meet here, not everyone will have that opportunity. Thankfully, in order to learn from the church in other parts of the world, you don’t need ot be able to afford a plane ticket, you just need to be able to read.
Even earlier than my trips overseas, God was beginning to teach me about His Kingdom through books that were written by saints from other nations. For those of you who haven’t experienced or read much beyond your own borders, the following books can be helpful:
For those of you who remember that my story started in the midst of revival, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the topic of revival was near and dear to my heart. Early on I started reading books on revivals in the West, but I quickly discovered there were books that talked about revivals going on in other nations of the Earth. This book documents the story of the revival that took place in Argentina over the 80’s and the early 90’s. This revival had ties to what was currently happening in the United States in the mid-90’s and talks about how Argentina was affected by this move of the Spirit. C Peter Wagner’s book not only talked about revival, but it sowed a vision for apostolic church planting in the midst of a move of the Spirit that I had never conisdered before.
I picked up this copy shortly after I read “The Rising Revival.” Carlos Annacondia was featured in that book in a short way. This book is his story of becoming the Pentecostal Billy Graham of Argentina. I think the draw of this book is Annacondia’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct him and draw in a harvest, not just hold revival meetings. His meetings were marked by demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the Holy Spirit filling new converts. I loved seeing how the movement of the Spirit was playing out in a fairly modern nation like Argentina. I should note, while many of the things mentioned in “The Rising Revival” and “Listen to Me, Satan” were pivotal to my spiritual growth, I probably no longer hold to some of their views on how the church is structured like I did back then.
Technically this breaks with my theme of learning from the church of the global South and East, since this book was written by a German. However, much of the insight that Wolfgang shares comes from studying house church planting movements all over the Earth. Most notably, Wolf spent a number of years in India trying to understand what the Lord was doing through the house church movement there with a goal of applying the lessons learned to the church in the West. This book changed my understanding of the nature of the church and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good book on house churches.
I read this book a year after I read “Houses That Change the World” and these two books helped change the direction of my life. While Houses was more of a “how to” manual for meeting as a church like in the New Testament, the Heavenly Man read like the book of Acts. This book tells the story of one of the leaders of the underground house church movement in China. Through persecution, Brother Yun spreads the gospel, raises up leaders, and mobilizes the Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, the very place that it came from. You will not walk away from this book without being personally inspired and challenged. And, as a bonus, for the first time in reading, I saw a house church movement and the power of the Holy Spirit tied together in a way I hadn’t read about outside of Acts. In many ways it’s why I’m still able to contend for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a church planting movement. Many of us hear about how God is moving powerfully in the Chinese Church. This book give you a front row seat.
This may be cheating to have two books by the same author. This follow up is not really a sequel, as much as it is Brother Yun’s attempt to teach after having told his story. If you finished reading “The Heavenly Man” and were left wondering “How, then, should we live?” Living Water is the answer. It’s full of solid teaching on the Kingdom of God in the life of a Christian, from a Chinese perspective. Reading this book is like asking Brother Yun to disciple you a little bit each day for a month. It’s well worth your time.
It’s hard to put into words how refreshing this book was. I picked this up last year at the recommendation of some friends. It follows missionary Nik Ripken as he tries to grapple with horrible darkness and incredible fruitlessness that he encounters in Somalia. When he leaves the mission field for a season, he and his wife use the time to meet and research how the church survives and thrives under persecution. The stories he encounters and the people that he writes about are some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard recently. They pages are also filled with a challenge to endure for Jesus under long-term sustained pressure. This is truly a global book, starting in Africa, moving to Russia, China, and the Middle East. Reading this book will convince you that God can work on your behalf anywhere you go. Because of all of this, this book was my number one book recommendation for last year.
This one deserves a mention though its a book I’m currently working through right now. The book is written by a church historian and a missionary to Thailand. Both of them use their background and education to reveal how we in the West read the Bible through lenses that the original audiences of the Bible never wore. When we do this, according to the authors, we come up with a different message than the one the Bible was intending us to hear. This book has been a fascinating look at concepts like honor/shame and individual/corporate interpretations that I think most Western believers never get exposed to. There is a lot of eye-opening thoughts here. Reading it with an open mind will change (for the good) how you interpret Scripture.
Well, that’s enough for today. I could go on. But my point in listing these books was that you see you can learn from the church around the world without buying a plane ticket.
Many of you have already written me some of the books you’ve read about similar things. If you’ve read a book from an author from a dramatically different part of the world that has strengthened your walk with Christ, leave a comment for us and tell us the name of the book and how it impacted you.
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?