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