Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: The Forgotten Awakening by Douglas McMurry

Back in the middle of October, I had the privilege of attending the Montana Bible College Pastors and Leaders Conference. The focus of the conference was worship. The main speaker, Bruce Gore from Moody NW in Spokane, spent one of his sessions speaking about the theme of worship. He spoke on how worship is good for us, good for the rest of the world, and how the power of God’s word is not dependent on us, but on God’s grace.

The bulk of his session was filled by a story he told about how the Native Americans of the northwest anticipated and later received the gospel at it was brought to them first by fur traders, and second by some of their own people. The story is told in full in a book entitled The Forgotten Awakening: How the Second Great Awakening spread West of the Rockies by Douglas McMurry.

McMurry’s story, based on the witness of early fur traders and missionaries, is a fascinating one. Around the turn of the 18th century, a number of Indian tribes in the inland northwest recieved visions that anticipated the coming of the gospel among them. One tribe was given the symbol of the cross. Another was warned of the arrival of men with pale skin. Still another tribe was informed that men would come with “leaves bound together” that would be a source of life and mercy for the tribe. These tribes lived with these hopes for a number of decades until the first white explorers and fur traders came among them.

The book is filled with stories of the original Caucasian pioneers of the inland northwest: the mapmaker David Thompson, the fur trapper Jedidiah Smith, and the powerful George Simpson, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Each of these men and more contributed to the fulfillment of the vision received by the native tribes, introducing them to the white man’s world, but also, more importantly, to the white man’s God, a God they anticipated knowing.

All of this culminated in a decision by the Church Missionary Society and the Hudson’s Bay Company to take 2 local Indian teens back to the Red River Colony (modern Winnipeg) to be educated. Spokan Garry and Kootenai Pelly, which were the names given them by the whites, were chosen. They made the 1000+ mile journey up the Columbia River, over the Rocky Mountains near Jasper, Alberta, and then down the Saskatchewan and Red Rivers to the Red River Colony. Their education, directed by local pastors, taught them much about the world, but more importantly introduced them to Jesus Christ, who became their Savior. Filled with this new knowledge, they returned to their people and shared the true fulfillment of their people’s visions - the Savior Jesus Christ.

The story McMurry tells is fascinating and much of it was new to me. Having grown up in Winnipeg, it was interesting to read the descriptions of the perilous life of the settlers in the Red River Colony. I have personally visited many of the locations described in the story, which made it especially fascinating. Unfortunately, my thoughts on this book are not overwhelmingly positive. The writing is fine, but not exceptional. The book is somewhat disjointed. There are rabbit trails the author takes (such as following Jedediah Smith after his encounters with the Spokane tribe) that are not really necessary and do not really propel what to me was the most fascinating part of the story, the Indian visions and their fulfillment.. I would have also loved to see the last days of Spokan Garry’s life fleshed out more.

That said, this is a good book on a truly fascinating subject. If you are interested in the history of the inland Northwest, or in a portrait of God’s faithfulness and creativity, or merely like a good, true to life story, pick up a copy of The Forgotten Awakening. It will be worth your time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Best Thing about Heaven will be…

Have you ever thought about this question:  What will be the best thing about heaven?  I think if you asked a number of people, I would probably get a wide variety of answers.  For some, the best thing about heaven will be that it is eternal, everlasting, forever.  And that will be amazing.  It is hard to grasp being there a million years and still having just begun.

For others, the best thing about heaven will be the promise of perfection.  Heaven will be place without tears, without pain, without disease, without sin and most of all, without death.  For those of us on earth who suffer with pain, or heartache, or the loss of loved ones, that is an amazing promise to hold on to.

Still others will tell you that the best thing about heaven will be the gigantic family reunion.  Seeing their spouse or their children, their parents, grandparents or good friends again will be, for them, the thing they anticipate about heaven the most.  I look forward to that to – not only for a chance to get to know my grandparents better (most of them died when I was young), but also to meet the generations before them, in whose spiritual legacy I follow, and who I never did get to know.

All those things are good things.  To those things, some might add walking the streets of gold, or seeing creation restored completely, or gazing in wonder at all the beauty of the New Jerusalem.  But are these things – as amazing as they will be – the best thing about heaven?

Let me suggest to you that the Scripture points us to something else.  The best thing about heaven will be Jesus.  The best thing about heaven will be being face to face with the One who loves us, died for our sake and rose so that we might have heavenly life.  The best thing will be living eternally with the One who made it possible for us to dwell with our God.  The apostle Paul believed knowing and seeing Jesus was the best thing he could imagine.  He was willing to suffer the loss of all things for the hope of seeing Christ. (Phil. 3:8)  His desire was to depart from this world in order to see Christ, which was better by far. (Phil. 1:23)  The apostle John is the similar.  You can almost hear the awe in his words as his anticipates the day when Jesus will be revealed, we will be glorified, and we will be able to see Him as He is, face to face. (1 John 3:2)

The best thing about heaven will be Jesus.  So, if that is true, let me ask you another question.  If Jesus will be the best thing about your eternity, why is He not the best thing about your life right now?  If you are like me, you have a lot of “bests.”  If we are not careful, our life can revolve around our collection of “bests.”  The best CD I own.  The best book I read.  The best game I have ever played.  The best vacation I have taken.  The best job I ever had.  The best place I ever lived.  The best food I have ever eaten.  The best car I have ever owned.  The best.  The best.  The best.  And again, while those things are great, and God wants us to enjoy the blessings He has given us and the creation He has set us in, compared to Jesus, our collection of “bests” are pretty sad, very temporary, and ultimately unsatisfactory.  Jesus will be the best thing about your eternal life.  Why not make sure He is the best thing in your life right now.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review - Good Faith: Being a Christian when Society things Your'e Irrelevant and Extreme

Extreme is a word that used to be reserved for people who would fly planes into the World Trade Center or strap a bomb onto themselves and detonate it in a bus full of school children.  Those people are extremists, aren’t they?  Would it surprise you that a growing number of people in our society have lumped faithful Christians in that category as well?  In increasing measure, biblical Christianity, especially as it runs counter-cultural to the direction of society, is being labeled as extreme.
In addition, more and more people are convinced that Christianity is also irrelevant.  While they might believe that spirituality could be comforting, spirituality based on a 2000 year old book is considered to be completely out of touch.  They have no inkling how Christianity matters or that it could matter to them.  Thus, Christians and their faith are irrelevant.
How do we respond to those cultural trends?  To seek to answer that question, authors Gabe Lyons and David Kinnamon have written Good Faith: Being a Christian when Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.  While staying true to Scriptural teaching, Lyon and Kinnamon seek to help believers navigate the trick waters of being a faithful Christian in a hostile society, while continuing to seek and take advantage of opportunities to impact that same society for good.
The authors begin by spending the opening chapters analyzing today’s cultural attitudes and perceptions regarding faith, especially the Christian faith.  The picture is rather depressing.  But their goal is not to depress the reader, but to issue a wake-up call.  This is not your grandmother’s world, or even your parent’s world anymore.  Their goal is to call believers to what they label as “good faith.”  Good faith Christians seek to hold true to Scripture, but also seek impact and engage the world through love and compassion.  Good faith Christians seek to be people who, rather than being defined only by what they are against, are also defined by what they are for.  Good faith boils down to three essential ingredients:  love for God and others, belief in biblical orthodoxy and translating our love and belief into everyday life.
With those key ingredients, Lyons and Kinnamon direct the reader toward some of the hot button issues of the day.  Politics.  Marriage.  Sexuality.  Religious Freedom.  These are the issues where Christians are increasingly taking a stand.  And these are the issues where believers are increasingly being labelled irrelevant and extreme.  As they journey through these issues, the authors continually prompt the reader to think about how a good faith Christian could and should respond.  Their own responses are not exhaustive – this is not a how-to book to cover every situation.  And they are very clear that different Christians will have very different, biblically-educated responses to these issues.  But all in all, this is a valuable tool for Christians to have to think through and ponder how we can love, believe and live in the midst of a society that is increasingly negative toward faithful belief.

The authors end the book by focusing an even more direct gaze on the challenges of the church and Christian faith.  The chapter on societal trends in faith is especially good, pointing out why the Christian faith itself seems to be in decline.  They encourage churches to be both inwardly focused on growth and discipleship, as well as outwardly focused on being ambassadors of Christ to the world. 

The book concludes with this thought:  “We believe our faith community today faces an emerging social context that demands we learn to be Christian in a new way, described best as being ‘faithful in exile.’” (pg. 254)  Drawing lessons from the book of Daniel, the authors leave the reader with a challenge.  God is still sovereign.  He is still purposeful.  And the Christian church may face some sort of exile in today’s society.  But exile for God’s people was ultimately a good thing.  It was an opportunity for purification and reorientation toward God.  And it can be the same for us, as we look at new ways to love, believe and live out our faith in Jesus Christ in today’s world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Are you Bored with Jesus? God isn’t!

As a pastor, I try to regularly talk about Jesus.  I talk about his love.  I talk about his death for our sakes.  I talk about his resurrection.  I talk about the grace and peace and forgiveness and new life Christians have in him and through him.  Over the past few months, I have found myself becoming increasingly captivated and in awe of Jesus.  And yet, sometimes I wonder whether my excitement for Jesus is making a difference.

Why do I say that?  Because it seems like there are Christians all over who are increasingly bored with Jesus.  Now, before you speak up and say, “Jeff, I am not bored with Jesus,” think about it for a minute.  When I suggest that some Christians are increasingly bored with Jesus, what I am getting at is that we are generally much more captivated by the things of this world than we are captivated by Jesus.

After all, ask yourself the question – what gets you most excited?  Going to church to worship Jesus with Jesus’ followers?  Spending time in prayer and meditation with your Savior?  Contemplating the wonders of the gospel Jesus came to offer us?  I am guessing for most of us, those things don’t even make the top ten things we get most excited about.

I suspect the list of things we get most excited about would include shopping or golf or hunting or fishing or cars or sex or a good meal or a vacation trip or any number of things that are not Jesus.

Now let me put this all in perspective.  Last week, during our vacation in Yellowstone, I began to read Michael Reeves’ book, Rejoicing in Christ.  In the first chapter, as he is discussing Jesus and how his identity changes the gospel, he noted that Jesus is infinitely precious to God the Father.  He states, “If there is nothing more precious to the Father than him, there cannot be any blessing higher than him or anything better than him.”  (pg. 21)  That makes you think, doesn’t it?  And then, a few sentences later, “Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for all eternity.  Our boredom is simple blindness.  If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.  In every situation, for eternity.”  (pg. 21)

Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of God for eternity.  Can you imagine that?  In my weakness and worldliness, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that.  Like most of us, I am constantly dissatisfied with something.  And not satisfied nearly enough with Jesus.

Are you bored with Jesus?  Are other things infinitely more satisfying to you than him?  I challenge you to spend time each day contemplating the wonders of his power, his grace, his eternal nature, his love and his gospel, and you will find yourself increasingly captivated by Jesus and less and less satisfied by the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review - Gospel Treason by Brad Bigney

As many of you know, I love a good book.  There are times when I read a book for enjoyment and escape.  Other times I read to expand my knowledge.  Yet there are other books that are good because they touch my heart and change my way of thinking about God and life.  The best of these books are books I wish every believer would read.  They are so biblical, so wise and yet so challenging, that it would be impossible for a believer who read them with an open heart to close the book unaltered.  Gospel Treason:  Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney is just such a book.  Thoroughly biblical, incredibly wise and powerfully challenging, I wish every believer would read and take to heart the truths in this book.

When I picked up this book, I was not familiar with Brad Bigney.  I have to thank Blake Shaw, who was watching over the Grace Bible Church (Bozeman, MT) resource room for putting me onto this book.  I had read books about idols recently – Gods at War by Kyle Idleman and Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick – and I wondered, “Do I want to read another book on this topic?”  But the title of Bigney’s book grabbed me – idolatry really is gospel treason.  Worshipping our idols – and we all have them – is like committing treason against the God who saved us and denying the power of the gospel message.  As Bigney defines it, an idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds and affections more than God.

Gospel Treason breaks down into three main sections.  The first few chapters are prescriptive.  They ask what the problem is.  Bigney encourages us to examine our hearts and our motives in light of the gospel.  He seeks to help us see, with copious examples from Scripture, that the idols of our heart are the source of many, if not all the sin problems in our life.  They stand hidden behind the conflicts and the frustrations and the discouragements that plague us.  Idols taint our relationships and even change our very identity, twisting how we see ourselves.  That happens because we have hearts that are deceitful, ever in the process of drifting away from the gospel and the message of our Savior.  The first step to freedom is recognizing that idols exist in every heart and to begin to shine the light of God’s word into our hearts to reveal them.

Bigney then moves on to discussing the solution.  The solution to our idol problem is found in examining our hearts in light of God’s Word and the gospel.  Our idols are there because we put them there.  Our sinful hearts cultivate them.  We nurture them.  We protect them.  And, as weird as it sounds, we are often blind to their true nature.  For example, we may live in continual frustration in our relationships.  We may blame others for that.  We may even understand, to some extent, that we need to be more patient or more gracious.  But the idol in our heart my well be pride or selfishness or a desire to control others, and until that is revealed, we cannot get to the real heart of our relationship problems.  So Bigney challenges the reader to examine the ways idols reveal themselves.  We need to follow the trail of how we use our time, we were set our affections or how we spend our money.  All those things can reveal the true gods in our heart.  We need to ask ourselves – what areas of our life are chaotic?  Idols will always eventually cause chaos and conflict.    We need to open our eyes to the places and areas where are heart is tempted to drift from the place of trusting God.  And we need to examine where our hearts are most vulnerable.  Idols will always show up under the pressure of difficult circumstances.  Fighting idols is about inviting God’s Spirit, through God’s Word, to do the difficult process of self-examination, revealing the true motives behind our actions, and repenting and turning from them in God’s power.  We need to let God do what God desires to do – redeem us from the inside out.

Finally Bigney closes the book with some excellent, practical chapters on day to day life.  He lays out three vital habits that are necessary cures for our wandering, idolatrous heart.  And then he ends the book with a powerful vision of what life will be like when we expose and begin to gain victory over the idols that rule our hearts.

Gospel Treason is a book that will cause you to re-examine your life, your relationships, your desires, your habits, your chaos and most importantly, your heart.  I am sure that if more believers read books like this, and took the gospel truths in them to heart, the churches they belong to and fellowship in would be truly changed.

Monday, March 14, 2016

God is not like the Government

Today I was preparing for my meeting with my associate Chuck.  We have been reading The Gospel for Real Life by the recently deceased author Jerry Bridges.  In chapter 4, entitled “Justice Satisfied,” I came across this statement:  Most people “ …think that God will somehow relax His inflexible justice and pardon all of us by mere sovereign prerogative.”  (p. 43) 

I had to agree with that statement – I do think most people genuinely think God is going to sovereignly give them a pass.  Perhaps it is because they are convinced that their sin is not as bad as someone else’s sin.  Perhaps it is because their good deeds clearly outweigh their bad deeds.  Or perhaps they just think God, being a good God and a loving God, could clearly not judge someone like them who has tried so hard.

Regardless of the reason, many people are convinced that God will somehow, in some way, put aside his holiness and his justice, leaving them unsatisfied, and offer pardon to the vast majority of human beings.  They are convinced that God is able and willing to go against his character and offer forgiveness and heaven to those who are guilty.

So, I got to thinking – why do people think that way?  Well, some do not understand that God’s justice is inflexible – everyone will get exactly what they deserve.  Others do not understand the dichotomy between holiness and sin – our sin is a serious offense to God’s holy character.  And some believe that because of the examples we see in our society.

You see, government has often taken the role of god in our lives.  But God is not like the government.  What do I mean?  Think back a few years.  In 2008, after years of risky investments and phony dealings, the bottom fell out of the mortgage market and the economy as a whole.  Banks and other large corporations, threatened to go under.  And convinced that it was for the ultimate good of the economy, the government bailed out investment firms and insurance companies and auto makers.  They government did not allow them to pay for their years of bad, irresponsible choices.  They offered them forgiveness of a sort despite their deeds.

The same kind of thing could be said of homeowners that bought what they could not afford.  Suddenly upside down in the payments, owing more than their house is worth, some of them were also bailed out by a government that did not allow them to face the just consequences of their own behavior.  I believe the same thing will happen in a few years to the whole student loan industry.  The cries are already beginning to be heard for loan forgiveness on behalf of students.  The day will come, in the midst of a crisis, when the government will somehow, in some way, erase the debts these students have accrued.

Now some of you may be reading this and thinking – wow, Jeff is sure a grouch today.  That is not what I want to communicate.  Rather, I want us to recognize that the government’s actions – necessary or not, whether you agree or not – are not parallel to God’s actions with regard to justice.  God does not and will not forgive sins without justice being satisfied.  He will not “bail out” anyone.  His mercy toward a sinner cannot somehow “trump” his justice. (No Trump pun intended…)  Rather his justice must be satisfied.  God will not act like the government acts on the last day.

Thankfully, this is where Jesus comes in.  As our representative, Jesus died on the cross, bearing the full brunt of God’s justice.  We do not have to pay the price for our sin – Jesus already paid it in full.  Jesus assumed our liability for not perfectly obeying God’s law and he paid that liability to the utmost.  In Jesus, God cancelled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:14)  When we accept and trust Jesus’ provision for our sins, God’s justice toward us is satisfied and his mercy is enabled.

And so, the Christian does not fear judgment day.  Our lack of fear is not because of some phony, false belief that God is just going willy-nilly to offer grace to everyone.  Rather, our lack of fear comes from the fact that we are assured that the price for our sin is paid, justice has been satisfied and what we will receive at Christ’s judgment seat is the abundant mercy of God.  Praise the Lord – God is not like the government!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Do You Have a Worship Disorder?

Do you have a worship disorder?  Let me answer that question for you – yes you do.  So do I.  Every human who has ever walked the planet (apart from Jesus Christ) has a worship disorder.  We regularly find ourselves in awe of the wrong things.
Paul David Tripp, in his book Awe:  Why it Matters for Everything we Think, Say and Do, suggests that every one of us fights a war of awe in our hearts.  Every day we experience a battle over who or what will rule and control our hearts.  You see, God created all of us with an awe capacity.  We were designed to worship.  We gravitate to the things we find awe in.  It is awe that stimulates our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows.  And the world around us is awe-some – God created an awesome world for us to live in.  He intended us to be amazed on a daily basis.

The problem, of course, is that all too often the awe that directs our hearts is directed at and limited to the things of this created world.  This world captures our hearts, and we struggle to look past this world to the truly awe-inspiring Creator that stands behind it and over it.  Sin causes us to be spiritual amnesiacs, men and women who can look at the awesomeness of the created world and completely miss the creator God.

The reason this problem is serious is that misplaced awe keeps us perennially dissatisfied.  Why do I say that?  Because when we find the source of our awe in this world, somehow, in some way, that same source of awe will disappoint us.  Simply put, when we replace God with anything from the created world, at some point in our lives we will have to recognize that the particular created thing we love makes a poor god, an inadequate god, and ultimately a powerless god.  That is true for everything we find ourselves in awe of. 

Think about it how that might play out in your own life.  For example, sin is great at replacing our worship of God with worship of self.  If we replace awe of God with awe of self, what might that look like?  If we are in awe of ourselves, our own self-rule replaces submission to God.  Our insatiable demands for more will displace gratitude to God.  Self-reliance takes the place of faith.  A horizontal envy can become our primary emotion rather than a God-directed, God-given joy.  We embark on a continual quest for personal control rather than resting in God’s sovereignty.  What a miserable picture.  I don’t want to hang out with anyone that looks like that, and I surely don’t want to look like that myself.  When we live in awe of self, we quickly come to understand how limited that life is.  For example, while the idea of controlling our lives sounds great, how long will be it until we come face to face with something that is too big or too frightening or too powerful for us to control?  In those situations, we discover that are awe of self is awe aimed in the wrong direction.

So how do we find help?  Only grace can give us back our awe of God again.  You see, sin causes us to want for ourselves what God alone has.  We tend put ourselves in the center of the story.  As a result, not only do we become rebels against God, we become a danger to ourselves and others, and we are ultimately powerless to help ourselves.  The solution for our problem must come from outside of ourselves.

That is why Jesus came.  His sacrifice directs our attention off of ourselves, and onto the God who is holy and just and loving and all-powerful.  Jesus sacrifice reminds us that we have a sin problem we could never solve ourselves.  Jesus draws us to place our trust in what He accomplished for us – a gift of salvation we do not deserve and never could earn.  Through Jesus, we can get back our awe, so that we are enabled to see and remember the captivating majesty of the God who created us.  Only when we fix our eyes on God, only when we are captivated by the truths of the gospel of salvation, only when we recognize that He is God and we are not, only then can we begin to solve our worship disorder.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Best Books I read this year - Ministry and Faith

I had the privilege of reading many good ministry and faith books this year.  While I will highlight 8 of the best below, I probably could have easily had 12 books in that list.  These books have encouraged me and challenged me in many ways in my life and ministry.

Here are the best books I read this year (in no particular order), followed by the rest:

Holiness by Grace:  Delighting in the Joy that is our Strength by Bryan Chapell.  I read this book with my associate Chuck.  Chapell does a great joy exploring how God's command to holiness intersects with God's grace poured out into our life in Jesus.  A challenging and encouraging book.

What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung.  Homosexuality and the Bible is a very controversial topic nowadays.  Christians have many divergent views on the topic.  Kevin DeYoung carefully goes through every mention of homosexuality in the Bible, giving the reader a balanced and sane interpretation.  He also provides answers to many of the arguments Christians hear from both believers and non-believers about why homosexuality should be accepted by Christians.  Written in a very gentle, understanding tone, it is worth a read to get a solid biblical perspective on this challenging topic.

The Enemy Within:  Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard.  This was a tough book to read.  It is difficult to be reminded how relentless our sin nature is in opposing the things of God in our life.  Lundgaard lays bare a tough truth - that each of us have an enemy within that will oppose every step we take toward obedience and holiness.  Thankfully Lundgaard does not leave us with just bad news, but gives good, theological teaching on countering the influence of the sin nature in our lives.

Closing the Window:  Steps to Living Porn Free by Tim Chester.  This fall I began teaching a men's Sunday School class on purity, especially in response to the plague of pornography that many men struggle with.  As a result, I read a number of books on the subject over the summer.  Chester's book was the best of them.  Theologically wise and spiritually challenging, my only disappointment with the book was that the long chapters did not set themselves up well for a Sunday School class.

Finally Free:  Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert.  Finally Free was the second best book I read on purity this summer.  Lambert starts with a great chapter on grace, and then gives a series of practical chapters on ways we can battle for purity in light of the grace of God poured out into our lives.  I recommend Chester and then Lambert for anyone struggling with purity issues in their life.

Gospel-Powered Humility by William Farley.  Bill Farley gave a seminar for men in Missoula this fall, so I sought out some of his books, even though I could not attend the seminar.  Gospel-Powered Humility is a wonderful exploration of how the gospel, accurately understood and preached, should counter our sinful pride and produce a God-honoring humility in our lives.

Extravagant Grace:  God's Glory Displayed in our Weakness by Barbara R. Duguid.  Extravagant Grace was easily the best book I read this year.  It was also easily the toughest book I read this year.  Duguid's book is full of straight talk about grace and sin.  Unmistakably honest, she lays bare her own struggles and victories, consistently reminding the reader that God's grace is indeed extravagant and transformational.

Outrageous Mercy:  Rediscovering the Radical Nature of the Cross by William P. Farley.  I just finished this book the other day.  Outrageous Mercy is a wonderful exploration of the many ways the cross bridges the gap between a holy God and sinful men and how its truths apply to every area of the Christian's life.

2nd Tier Books, very good but just short of great:
The Legacy of Sovereign Joy by John Piper
On the Grace of God by Justin S. Holcomb
Your Jesus is Too Safe:  Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior by Jared Wilson
The Irresistible Church: 12 Traits of a Church Heaven Applauds by Wayne Cordeiro
Cries from the Cross: A Journey into the Heart of Jesus by Erwin Lutzer
Hide or Seek:  When Men Get Real with God about Sex by John Freeman
Expositional Preaching:  How We Speak God’s Word Today by David Helm
The Peacemaking Pastor:  A Biblical guide to Resolving Church Conflict by Alfred Poirier
Jesus on Trial:  A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel by David Limbaugh
They Smell Like Sheep, vol. 2 by Lynn Anderson
Burning Hearts:  Preaching to the Affections by Josh Moody and Robin Weekes
The Storytelling God:  Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables by Jared Wilson
Trusting God, Even when Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges
Renaissance:  The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness
8:28 – Unlocking God’s Promise by Bryan Hughes
What is Biblical Theology?  A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism and Patterns by James M. Hamilton Jr
Church History in Plain Language, 4th edition, by Bruce L. Shelley
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan
The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

3rd Tier books, good but mildly disappointing:
Finding Hope in the Last Words of Jesus by Greg Laurie 
The Seven Last Words from the Cross by Fleming Rutledge
Wired For Intimacy:  How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William K. Struthers

4th Tier - very disappointing:
Cross-Shattered Christ:  Meditations on the Seven Last Words by Stanley Hauerwas

Best books I read in 2015 - Fiction

I would have to say that while I did not read any great fiction literature this year, I did have fun with the books I did read.  There was nothing classic, but it was all fun and well-written.    As in previous years, I read a lot of fantasy fiction, but also enjoyed a number of mysteries and thrillers.

Here are the best books I read this year (in no particular order), followed by the others:

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King.  Take an aging Sherlock Holmes, introduce him to Mary Russell, a teenage girl who is as smart as he is, and send them out to solve mysteries.  Maybe it sounds corny to you, but these books are very well done.  They don't move fast, but they are immersive and a pleasure to read.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice kicks off a series that both my wife and I enjoyed this year.

Riptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  I read a few Preston and Child novels many years ago and enjoyed them.  This year I gave their books another try and once again, thought they were great fun.  Although Riptide does not contain my favorite Preston and Child character, Agent Pendergast, it is a rollicking read with pirates, mystery and an island with buried treasure.   What is not to like about any of that?

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin.  I have been a big fan of George Martin's Game of Thrones books for many years.  While I love the intricacies of his plots, I do wish the books were cleaner.   (That said, the books are thankfully much cleaner than the TV show.)  A Knight of Seven Kingdoms is a collection of three prequel novellas set in the Game of Thrones world featuring Dunk, a poor hedge knight, and Egg, his sharp-tongued squire who is a prince of the realm in disguise.  I would love to see more stories with these characters.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson.  Brandon Sanderson's novels have made my "best of" lists for a number of years.  Shadows of Self is set in Sanderson's Mistborn world, but hundreds of years after the original series.  Set in a technological age similar to the late 19th or early 20th century, this series of novels is much funnier than the original Mistborn series, but still set in Sanderson’s unique fantasy world.

2nd Tier books - very good, but just shy of great:
The Shadow Lamp by Stephen R. Lawhead (Bright Empires series, #4)
The Fatal Tree by Stephen R. Lawhead (Bright Empires series, #5)
The Order War by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Magic of Recluse series)
White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell series)
Rhapsody by Elizabeth Hayden
A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell series)
Wellspring of Chaos by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (Magic of Recluse series)
Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell series)
Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Dance of Death by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Moor by Laurie R. King (Mary Russell series)
The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Best books I read in 2015 - History and Biography

For the third year in a row, I took the time to track the books I read over the past year.  This post and the two that will follow it will highlight the best books I read in the following categories:  History and Biography, Ministry and Faith, and Fiction.

As many of you know, I love a good history book.  And I read a number of great ones this year.  Here are 6 of the best, in no particular order, followed by the others I read this past year.

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney.  James Madison is often considered the forgotten Founding Father of America.  Cheney's book does a good job revealing the real James Madison, his battles with chronic health problems and especially his tireless efforts in the making of the US Constitution.  It is worth the read to get to know someone nearly as important as Washington and Jefferson.

The Gothic Line: Canada’s Month of Hell in World War II Italy by Mark Zuehlke.  2015 was a year I read a lot of Canadian history.  Since that is the country of my birth, I thought it appropriate.  Zuehlke is quickly becoming the dean of modern Canadian military history.  This year I read 4 of his books on the Canadian army during World War 2 – The Gothic Line was the most obscure and the best.  Zuehlke puts the reader on the front line as Canadian troops seek to be break the last German defense line in Italy and end the war.

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre.  This was easily the best history/biography book I read this year.  I had a hard time putting it down.  The book focused on Kim Philby, the Russian spy embedded in the MI6 in Britain and his best friend Nicholas Elliot.  Philby was a traitor, Elliot ever loyal to Britain.  The tale of their friendship and Philby's eventual betrayal is a powerful one and lays bare the price of living a double life.

Midnight in Peking:  How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French.  True crime meets history in Paul French's book about a murder in China.  Set in China's capital in 1937, immediately before the Second World War, French lays bare the turmoil and the culture of foreigners living in China in the face of the Japanese menace.  Well-paced, French's book reads like a novel.

American Colossus:  The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 by H. W. Brands.  I anticipated this book to be a series of portraits of the giants of 19th century capitalism - Vanderbilt, Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller and so on.  While each of these men show up time and time again, Brands' book is a fascinating portrait of how unbridled capitalism affected the country (for good and ill) and how society eventually began to respond to its excesses.

Polk: The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R Borneman.  James K. Polk is one of the more obscure presidents in US history, but also one of the most successful.  Very few presidents could say they announced their goals prior to taking office and then achieved every one of them in a single four year presidential term.  In the process, he expanded the reach of the country and the power of the office of the presidency, paving the way for all modern presidents.

2nd Tier Reads - very good, not quite great:
The Whiskey Rebellion:  George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland
Operation Husky:  The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10-August 7, 1943 by Mark Zuehlke
The Liri Valley:  Canada’s World War 2 Breakthrough to Rome by Mark Zuehlke
Enduring Courage:  Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed by John F. Ross
Bolivar:  American Liberator by Marie Arana
Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders:  The True Story of Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada by Greg Malone
The Boys in the Boat:  Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
Missoula:  Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
River of Darkness:  Francisco Orellana’s Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon by Buddy Levy
Hunting Eichmann:  How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Mr. Hockey:  My Story by Gordie Howe
Marching as to War:  Canada’s Turbulent Years, 1899-1953 by Pierre Berton
The Ice Passage: A True Story of Ambition, Disaster, and Endurance in the Arctic Wilderness by Brian Payton
Lost to the West:  The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
Breakout from Juno:  First Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign, July 4-August 21, 1944 by Mark Zuehlke
Operation Mincement:  How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre
A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War:  How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc by Douglas Brinkley
Honor in the Dust:  Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream by Gregg Jones
Persian Fire:  The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland
The Maps of Chickamauga by David A. Powell
Columbus:  The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen
The Dark Defile:  Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842 by Diana Preston
Montrose by C. V. Wedgwood
The Savior Generals:  How Five Great Commanders saved Wars that were Lost – from Ancient Greece to Iraq by Victor Davis Hanson
Fortress Malta:  An Island under Siege, 1940-43 by James Holland

3rd Tier Reads - I finished them, but they were mildly disappointing:
The Trigger:  Hunting the Assassin who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher
The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them by Tim Howard
The Year without Summer:  1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History by William K. and Nicholas P. Klingaman
Savage Harvest:  A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
Waterloo:  The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell
The Lost Spy:  An American in Stalin’s Secret Service by Andrew Meier

4th Tier reads - more than mildly disappointing:
17 Carnations:  the Royals, the Nazis and the Biggest Cover-up in History by Andrew Morton