My Top Books for 2018

Here are my favorite reads for the year, by category.

Fiction

3. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

One of my high schooler’s summer reading books, which I read with her. Inspiring.

2. Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian

The fifth and final book in the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a favorite of my kids. The whole series was good, but the last one surprisingly so.

1. Ryan Graudin, The Walled City

A thrilling read with a powerful message. A highlight of my year was the opportunity to meet the author, whose other books I’m looking forward to reading in 2019.

History

3. Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

I enjoyed his biography of George Washington a few years ago, and this was just as good. It recounts the friendships and rivalries of the Founding Fathers—Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, James Madison, and Aaron Burr—along with a detailed investigation into the duel that ended Hamilton’s life.

2. Nathan Bomey, Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back

A fascinating account by a writer of the Detroit Free Press of what led to the city’s bankruptcy filing and how various leaders navigated through the crisis.

1. Margaret MacMillan, The War that Ended Peace: The Road to War

An excellent description of the conditions that brought about World War I. I bought it in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war, and managed to read it this year to mark its conclusion. While I doubt some of the parallels MacMilan drew to our contemporary world, I discovered a disturbing similarity between our current president and a former leader of Germany. And no, not the one you’re thinking.

Biographies and memoirs

3. Condoleezza Rice, Extraordinary Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family

Another inspiring book. It’s more about her parents than it is about her, concluding with her dad’s death just before her service in Bush 43’s administration. Many parts of her pastor-father’s story resonated with me.

2. Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex

1. Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt

It’s hard to decide which of the two I liked more. These are volumes two and three of Roosevelt by Morris. Theodore Rex covers his presidency, and Colonel Roosevelt his post-presidential years. An amazing man and a splendid treatment. After finishing the series, I took my father-in-law to Teddy’s birthplace on the Lower East Side and was thrilled to see so many mementos described in the books.

Current events

3. (tie) Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

A devastating account of a campaign that will be discussed the rest of my life.

3. (tie) Ben Rhodes, The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House

Rhodes served as Obama’s Deputy NSA for communication and wrote many of his presidential speeches related to foreign policy. The book helped me appreciate the complexity of the decisions every White House has to make, and it humanized those making the decisions. I highly recommend this book, especially if you generally opposed the Obama presidency. You may never agree with decisions he and his advisors made, but you may discover their humanity.

2. Brian Merchant, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone

I looked forward to reading this one, and my expectations were justified. What I did not expect was how troubling I’d find it to be. What does it take to make an iPhone? A lot more than we might be comfortable with.

1. Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

If Bryan Stevenson were an underfunded missionary to China, and Just Mercy told the tale of the injustices committed against believers by the Communist regime, evangelical pastors would promote the book and sell it in their church bookstores. As it is, Bryan Stevenson is an underfunded non-profit attorney, and Just Mercy tells the tale of the injustices committed against African Americans (most of whom are believers, as is clear in the book) in the American South. But I rarely hear evangelicals mention it. And when I do hear pastors talk about issues like this, it’s often to argue that Christians shouldn’t be involved with social justice. It’s worse than sad. It’s hypocritical. And it’s shameful.

Leadership

3. Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Wish I had read this fifteen years ago.

2. (tie) Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time

2. (tie) Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Ditto. These books often read like practical commentaries on the communication passages in Proverbs.

1. Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading

The first leadership book I’ve read that brought me to tears. The whole book is great, but Part Three inspired hope.

Spiritual formation

3. John F. Smed, Journey in Prayer: Learning to Pray with Jesus

A great little guide to praying the Lord’s prayer.

2. Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups

I don’t know another book that speaks to the critical issue of how Christian leaders determine next steps together. Most books on God’s will are individualized and take little account of other people except for seeking counsel. This book guides leaders to seek God’s will together in the midst of sharp disagreement. Super helpful.

1. Dan Allender, To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future

Just gold, as is the companion workbook. Allender leads readers to consider the story that God is writing with their lives, to value it and tell it as God does, and to see how the path behind directs their next steps. Considering my own story was one of the hardest things I’ve begun to do this year. And it’s been worth every minute.

Tolle lege!

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What Does It Mean to Be Human?

courtesy of pursuing veritas

Our church took eight weeks to consider what it means to be human, following the first three chapters of Genesis as our guide. The result was a study that was enriching, dignifying, and deeply convicting for us all.

If you missed one or all of them, you can download those eight messages on our church’s SermonAudio page, or just click on the individual sermon below:

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My Top Books for 2017

Before this year ends, let me toss in a few of my favorite books from 2017.

1. Best fiction
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

When I learned about this book, I didn’t think I’d be interested. It isn’t exactly historical fiction, and the topic is painful. But the book was riveting. It helped me understand the American black experience better, even though I have a long way to go. To be sure it is disturbing at times, but that’s part of its power.

Honorable mentions: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ichiguro, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

2. Best poetry
The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins

I have to admit: the first poem by Collins I read was “Grand Central” … and yes I read it on a subway poster. But I was enthralled and had to read more. This collection was excellent, at times playful, at times poignant. One of my favorites is “Helium,” a reflection on the day after one’s death.

3. Best biography
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachum

Meachum’s television commentary during the 2016 presidential election compelled me to read three or four of his books this year. His treatment of Bush 41 was superb. Neither hagiographical nor harsh, he brings the reader into the mind of one of the most important people of the twentieth century.

Honorable mention: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

4. Best theology
The Liberating Image by J. Richard Middleton

Middleton’s book (as well as his subsequent treatments of the imago dei) was immensely helpful as I preached this fall on what it means to be human from Genesis 1–3. The author writes with both exegetical precision and existential relief. That is, the reader discovers that Middleton has found rest for his own soul in his exegesis of Scripture. The book is a bit eggheady, so if it seems a bit daunting, you can skip Part 2.

Honorable mention: Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright

5. Best resource for pastors
Show and Tell by Dan Roam

Pastor friends, this book will take you less than thirty minutes to read—and it might save you, and your parishioners, a lot of heartache. Dan Roam is not a pastor; I’m not even sure he’s a believer. But he offers here an amazingly simple method for figuring out what you need to say, why you need to say it, and how you can do it most effectively. A game changer for me as a preacher.

Honorable mentions: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (yes, I know, but it fits here too)

6. Best resource for spiritual growth
Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch

As the title suggests, this book is about depression, and it is written both for those battling depression and for those who are helping people suffering under it. But the book is much more. It’s a conversation with a skillful counselor about issues of the heart, unanswered questions, and what God is doing in the darkness. And it leads the reader to Jesus our hope. The Spirit granted me a number of light-bulb moments while reading it, and I trust he’ll do the same for you.

Honorable mention: You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith

If you know me, you know how much I love You Are What You Love—and how highly I must think of Ed Welch’s book to recommend it before this one.

7. Best reread
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Cried reading it. Again. Achingly beautiful. I love the last twenty-five pages. I could read them again and again. But they won’t make sense without the first seven hundred.

Honorable mention: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Cried reading it. Again.

 

 

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A Bible Reading Plan for 2018

Each year I join thousands of Christians in an attempt to read through the Bible in twelve months. I’ve used a variety of methods (e.g., chronological, canonical, reading by author), and I typically read a different translation every year. In 2017 I read through the King James Version for the first time since I was a freshman in college.

For 2018 I wanted to do something different. I wanted a plan where:

  • I prayed through a psalm or part of a psalm every day,
  • I read some of the Gospels every day, and
  • I read some of the Proverbs every day.

Then of course I wanted to read through the rest of the Scriptures over the course of the year. And after my positive experience with this plan, I wanted a schedule set up for five days of reading per week to allow for missed days and time for deeper reflection and study.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find all of that in a single plan.

So I made one myself.

Check out my 2018 Bible Reading Plan to see if it’s something you want to do as well.

You’ll notice that I’ve left the Psalms and Proverbs columns blank. I’m in the middle of the Psalms now and didn’t want to start over, so I’m penciling in my prayer Psalms as I’m going along. And Proverbs is short enough that one need read only a few verses in order to get through it in a year. My hope is to read both books multiple times through 2018.

The way I’m using it is to do the first three columns (Psalms, Gospels, and OT History) in the morning and the second three columns (OT Prophecy, NT, and Proverbs) in the evening. Other ways this could be used include doing all of the readings in a single sitting or reserving one or two columns for family worship.

Whichever way you use it, it doesn’t take very long. It takes me less time to read than it takes me to lose all my lives in Soda Crush.

And if you’re not quite ready to attempt a full read through the Bible in 2018, you could use parts of this plan to accomplish your goals for the year.

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If this plan doesn’t suit you, here are some others that I’ve found useful:

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A few years ago I wrote a series of posts on the whole “read your Bible in a year” idea. You can find those below:

  1. Reading the Bible One Year
  2. Dangers Within
  3. Sitting Down
  4. Reading
  5. Plans
  6. Final Thoughts
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A Word about Faith and Obedience

220px-Robert_Moses_with_Battery_Bridge_model.jpgPerhaps no New Yorker is so vilified in the minds of other New Yorkers as Robert Moses. The man who served as Parks Commissioner for the middle decades of the twentieth century certainly led many good projects; if you’ve ever enjoyed Riverside Park, you have him to thank. But more than anyone Bob Moses has been blamed for tearing up neighborhoods through the abuse of power.

But the way it all started might be a surprise to you. The genesis of his vision was the problem of kids living in the slums who needed some kind of outlet. That prompted him to create parks in the city and parkways to get out of it. Unfortunately his solution may have created more problems than it solved.

In this way, Bob Moses illustrates something about human nature: we often rightly identify that we are in need, but wrongly identify what the need is. Such is the case in today’s text, where the disciples interrupt Jesus’ teaching to state their need, but their self-understanding was amiss.

Title: A Word about Faith and Obedience

Text: Luke 17.1–10

Overview

  • traps
  • forgiveness
  • faith
  • obedience
  • law and gospel

Resources

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