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My Favorite Books of 2019

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I get a little depressed when I get on an airplane and count how many people are reading. I usually count about one person reading for every ninety-nine playing Candy Crush! I get it, sometimes I’m too weary to read, but it seems like somebody would have enough energy left to engage their mind in something meaningful.

I was talking about this with my friend, Dr. Chris DeWelt. He’s a professor and the President of College Press Publishing. He likes books. He noted that as our culture “entertains ourselves to death,” the potential influence of readers will increase. The gap between thinkers and everyone else is growing.

Every year it’s fun to share some of my favorite reads. I’ll do that below, plus I’ll add a few tips that have helped me.

Please comment below to let me know some of your recent favorites. I’m always adding to my list. As my English teacher used to say, “Read til you bleed!”

Between Two Trees: Our Transformation from Death to Life
Shane J. Wood
I’ve never read a more thorough explanation of why sin is so destructive, resurrection so wonderful, and the cross so necessary. The book drips with deep theology, but won’t ever leave you behind. Wood shares deeply personal stories of the trauma and challenges we face “between two trees” and offers us the hope for which we long. There’s a reason why Wood has become recognized nationally for his expert work. (If you are in the Tulsa area, you can hear Wood preach at Highland Park on April 19th.)

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
Alan Jacobs
If I were to rewrite Dancing in No Man’s Land, I’d reference this book a lot. Jacobs offers a thoroughly-researched explanation of what prevents us from thinking clearly. It’s often because we are so consumed with the Repugnant Cultural Other (RCO). Anger and bitterness scientifically dismantle healthy thinking, but empathy clears the way for discernment. When you read this book, our world will make a lot more sense.

Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World
D. A. Horton 

D. A. Horton urges us towards ethnic conciliation, as opposed to racial reconciliationethnic because our construct of race is biblically unsound and practically harmful, and conciliation because reconciliation assumes our country has ever experienced ethnic unity. This pursuit has sometimes left me feeling like Horton: “Flirting with the belief that hate [has] won.” But Horton brings the esperanza (hope) of the gospel into everyday moments. His life experiences and biblical scholarship deliver practical and eternal guidance. By the end of the book, I’d been inspired to engage more deeply, convicted enough to change, and equipped enough to move. I read the manuscript (because I gladly accepted a request to write a blurb for it) and now I’m reading the finished version. It’s worth multiple readings.

As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in our Spiritual Life
Casey Tygrett

I spend a lot more time thinking about my future than I do about my past, which means I often operate without knowing how my memories are shaping my life. Like it or not, our memories shape our perception of reality. We can let those memories shape us in negative or positive ways. As I Recall helped me remember things from my past with more detail than I’d guessed. Even more importantly, it helped me invite God to shape my life through my memories. Each chapter ends with simple exercises that I found to be doable and meaningful. I think anyone could benefit from the book. If you care about your soul, you need to care about your memories. (My friend, Casey, also has a great podcast called Otherwise.)

What the Bible Says about Women
Julia Staton 

If you want a deep study of women in the Bible and a thoughtful unpacking of the debated issues, this book is for you. Written in 1980, as part of a What the Bible Says series, you’ll find it helpful and relevant.

Carver: A Great Soul
Peter Duncan Burchard

George Washington Carver is a national treasure. His curious soul never outgrew him. He saw God’s hand in nature – its beauty, mystery, and provision for mankind. I discovered this book in my parents’ basement on Thanksgiving. It once belonged to my grandfather – oh if I could listen to a conversation between Carver and him! The book gave me a great surprise as it chronicled a trip Carver took to Tulsa in 1926, just five years after the race massacre. There are larger, more complete biographies of Carver, but this was a delightful read.

Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored
Clifton L. Taulbert
I had the joy of meeting Clifton Taulbert, an international leadership consultant and Pulitzer nominee, at a book-signing event this past year. I asked him many questions and he graciously answered them. I learned some things in those hours that I won’t forget. In Once Upon a Time he chronicles his days of growing up on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. It’s important to remember that people – people still alive today – faced the types of challenges he faced because of the color of their skin.

The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship
Thabite Anyabwile 

Anyabwile has become one of my favorite writers. You can see lots of his excellent work at the Gospel Coalition. He’s proven himself to be both gentle and articulate, even when disparaged by some shameful souls who take joy in misrepresenting and attacking Christian leaders whom they neither know or understand (because they are too intellectually dishonest or lazy to do so.) I typically don’t love books that are derived from sermons, but this is the exception. It offers first-class study of the Scriptures and will help you see the good news of the Good News.

The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament
Aubrey Sampson

We all deal with various degrees of pain, grief, and doubt. We have beliefs about the future, but how do we navigate the time in between? Sampson says that Godly lament is the answer. “Lament,” she writes, “minds the gap between current hopelessness and coming hope…because God sings a louder song than suffering ever could.” I’d highly recommend this book for people in any season of suffering and for people helping those who are.

The Gospel Primer
Caesar Kalinowski

Kalinowski’s 123lifeschool podcast has motivated and equipped me to live the Gospel in my everyday life, so I was anxious to buy The Gospel Primer. It serves as a daily devotional with practical steps to integrate the Good News into every nook and cranny of life. It’s best used with a group of others. Our family structures our life differently as a result. We’ve implemented practical ways to use our home, time, and family in order to care for people with the love of Jesus.

Small Matters: How Churches and Parents Can Raise Up World-Changing Children
Greg Nettle and Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado
Nettle and Mellado make the powerful claim that many children suffer from having too little, but many others suffer from having too much. The casualties of poverty are easy to see. The casualties of affluence take longer to unfold, yet they are real, indeed. The boy who thinks the world revolves around him becomes the man who thinks the world revolves around him. And he lives empty—empty of imagination (for he/she never has to use it), empty of perspective, empty of dependence upon God and others, empty of thankfulness, and empty of wisdom.

Sermon on the Mount
I read a number of studies on the Sermon on the Mount this year. My favorites were Commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (very thick) and The Story of God Bible Commentary by Scot McKnight which is helpful and very accessible. 

QUICK TIPS

  • When you have a day off work, schedule a time to read. You may not need to be rigid about it, but a loose schedule is a healthy Sabbath practice. I’ve found that when I schedule it, I gladly start reading. And when I start reading, I keep reading.
  • Read before you open your email or social media. Once I engage in either of these activities, it will be hard to return to the more important matters. The (perceived) urgent matters will prevail.
  • I have the goal of arriving to lunch meetings and appointments fifteen minutes early. I always take a book or journal. If I arrive as planned, I I’m rewarded with fifteen extra minutes of reading. If something comes up that delays me a few minutes, I’ll still arrive to the meeting on-time. If you are chronically late or just want to read more, implement this tip ASAP!!!
  • Read biographies or fiction before you go to bed. Research shows that you will sleep better and I’ve found this to be true. (Books that challenge you to change your life with every page may keep you lying awake, but anything is better than staring at a screen before you try to sleep.)
  • When the kids are out of school, I’ll pay them to read books. I don’t pay a lot but enough to entice them. I have a stack of books that I give as options. I choose books that will engage them, challenge them, or expose them to various authors/topics. I want their minds to expand beyond their world and I want them to develop a lifelong habit.

6 Comments

  1. Vicki Hinten
    • Brian Jennings
    • Brian Jennings
    • Brian Jennings

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