2020: A Year in Reading

2020 threw us plenty of curveballs. It certainly threw me plenty. But at the start of the year, I set out to read more — both of the Bible and of books in general. While I didn’t read as much as I’d wished, I read more than in recent years. Here’s a list of the books I read with a brief description. I share these in case any of these books sound interesting to you.

Nonfiction

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making
by Andrew Peterson (B&H, 2019)

Andrew Peterson is a gifted musician. In this brief book he takes us into his own creative process, exploring the role of community and mystery in the artistic endeavor.

Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists
by Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans, 2013)

Plantinga urges preachers to read widely and consume a healthy dose of good writing — for the sake of the preaching, and for the sake of their own souls.

Racing to the Finish: My Story
by Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Ryan McGee (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Full disclosure: I’m an avid racing fan. But I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. Dale Jr. is one of racing’s biggest stars, but he pulls back the curtain on his struggles overcoming multiple concussions. His words were a tremendous encouragement to me as I recovered from my own pains and injuries.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books
by Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press, 2018)

Prior interacts with multiple classic pieces of literature, highlighting key themes and how they resonate (or not) with the Christian faith. I came away with a greater desire to read broadly — which, I think, was one of her goals.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
by Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans, 1989)

I’ve long wanted to read Lesslie Newbigin. This year, I finally took the plunge. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is my favorite Christian theology book I’ve read in years. He explores how the church can maintain a missionary posture, and what that looks like in modern culture.

The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission
by Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans, 1995)

I couldn’t read just one book by Newbigin. So I read another. This book develops a theology of mission, and serves as a foundational text for understanding how and why the church exists “on mission.”

The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence

What can an ancient monk teach us about prayer? Much, evidently. Brother Lawrence wove prayer into every part of his life and every moment of his day — even work. We all have much to learn from this faithful saint.

The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need
by Deepak Reju and Jeremy Pierre (Crossway, 2015)

Full confession: I’m supposed to write a full book review on this one. (To my editor who’s still waiting, I’m very, very sorry.) But it will be an easy book review to write, because Reju and Pierre offer a short, simple introductory book on biblical counseling. It was a delight.

Four Views on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design
by Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, and Stephen C. Meyer (Zondervan, 2017)

This book was a helpful refresher as I prepared to teach on Genesis 1-2. Balanced and careful.

The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-day Sacrifice
by Alex Kershaw (Da Capo Press, 2004)

I knew the gist of what happened on D-Day. But this book brings the soldiers’ sacrifices to light in a whole new way with a look at Bedford, VA’s tremendous loss. I come away with a greater appreciation for these and all soldiers’ sacrifice.

Fiction

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2007)

What can I say? It’s a wonderful piece of fiction with surprisingly clear Christ themes. There’s a reason these books have sold millions of copies.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis (1950)

I decided to re-read this classic to the kids. It’s every bit as delightful as I remember. (My kids enjoyed it, too.)

The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde (1894)

I was in this play in high school, but I’d forgotten how funny this play is. The wit drips off the page.

A Long Way from Chicago (1998), A Year Down Yonder (2000) A Season of Gifts (2009)
by Richard Peck
(Puffin Books)

This trilogy from Richard Peck is criminally underrated. The main character, Grandma Dowdel, is among the most memorable in all of young adult literature.

Fair Weather
by Richard Peck (Puffin Books, 2003)

This novel, while not as memorable as the Grandma Dowdel trilogy, still offered a few laughs. I also learned much about the World’s Columbian Exposition, a tremendously influential fair located in Chicago in 1893.

Out of the Silent Planet
by C.S. Lewis (1938)

Most people know of Lewis’ fantasy books (The Chronicles of Narnia), but few know of his science fiction trilogy. Lewis’ exploration of space is less an adventure book, and more of a work of theology and philosophy. He causes us to wonder: If there were intelligent life elsewhere, how would they relate to God? And what would they think of us?

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (1843)

I read this book aloud to my 7-year-old, and I was astounded at how much he understood. This book is a classic for a reason, and it’s one of my favorite reads each Christmas.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson (1971)

I’d forgotten how hilarious — and beautiful — this little book is. Robinson’s narrative helps us understand the Christmas story with fresh eyes and hearts.

James and the Giant Peach
by Roald Dahl (1961)

This book was decidely… strange. Talking insects? A giant peach? Cloud men? Dahl lets his imagination fly. But upon re-reading this book in light of the Harry Potter books, I can only imagine that J.K. Rowling’s sensibilities (and character names) were influenced by Lewis and Dahl. Could “James Henry Trotter” be inspiration for “Harry James Potter”?

Commentaries

I read several commentaries in 2020 — on the book of Acts, Genesis, Isaiah and more. Here are the ones I completed:

  • Exalting Jesus in Acts by Tony Merida (Holman Refernce, 2017)
  • Exploring Acts by John Phillips (Kregel, 2001)
  • The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2014)
  • The Undoing of Death by Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans, 2005)
  • The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology by Warren Gage (Wipf and Stock, 2001)
  • Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (Volume 1) by James Montgomery Boice (Baker, 2006)

5 Ways to Pray for #ElectionDay

The election is only one day away. We’ve studied the candidates, researched the issues, lamented our options and read politically charged articles on social media.

But have we prayed?

I’ve got to be honest. Prayer hasn’t been my first reaction. But, as Bruce Ashford and Billy Hallowell write, prayer is one of the most important tasks we have this election:

As we battle back and forth over the political situation, it’s easy to forget the importance of prayer. Ask yourself: when is the last time you prayed for President Barack Obama, or for members of Congress?

The Bible is clear; Christians are meant to seek God’s guidance for our leaders and those in authority. Yet, many of us are so consumed with fear, frustration, or even apathy that we’ve forsaken these instructions.

How, then, can we pray for the election? Over at the IntersectProject, I offer five simple ways to pray for Election Day.

Read the rest of the article at IntersectProject.org.

John the Baptist Died Believing Character Matters

A prominent child of privilege had glaring personal weaknesses. He was overly image conscious, and he constantly got in trouble for indulging his hedonistic sexual desires.

On paper, he followed God. In practice, he did nothing of the sort.

Many of the people ignored his personal transgressions. But a well-known preacher called him out, at great personal cost.

Headlines and History Books

This story sounds like it’s ripped from the headlines. In fact, it’s ripped from the history books. This is the story of Herod Antipas and his chief critic, John the Baptist.

Read the rest of the article at IntersectProject.org.

On Social Media, We Can Do More Than Complain

We have a negativity problem on social media.

We rant about certain Presidential candidates, or we rant with equal fervor about those who don’t support said candidates.

We moan about gas shortages or the long lines at the pump, or we leverage the crisis to moan about fossil fuels or why we all can’t just use bicycles.

We grumble about faddish cultural phenomena like Pokémon Go or the latest top-40 song, or we grumble at the grumblers for criticizing our pet fad.

We hurl insults at athletes who speak out on race issues, or we hurl insults at athletes who don’t speak out.

We disparage gun owners, or we disparage anyone who speaks negatively about firearms.

And the media! How we all love to heap insults upon the media, this purportedly debased, monolithic entity with sneering, moustache-twirling executives in smoke-filled rooms planning the destruction of the American Dream. All of us — right or left, conservative or liberal — can find ways to complain about the media.

And that’s just a sample of our negativity on social media. I’m sure you could add a few items to the list.

As I scroll down my feeds, I see us circling a never-ending pit of cynicism, negativity and snark — aimed directly at those who don’t see the complex world exactly as we do. And I know that I’m part of the problem.

Here’s the worst part: These complaints spew from we who claim the name of Christ. This negativity flows from we who claim to have the world’s greatest hope.

Read the rest of the article at IntersectProject.org.

Sermon | Jesus’ Greatest Hits (Matthew 14:13-33)

“The church is the means by which Jesus compassionately provides. We are the hands by which he touches people’s lives. We are the feet by which he meets people’s needs.”

We look at two of Jesus’ most popular miracles (and a lesser known story in between) and learn how we should worship our savior.

Delivered by Nathaniel at Cedar Rock First Baptist Church on October 16, 2016.

Sermon | Sex, Politics, and Suffering (Matthew 14:1-12)

“Our ultimate allegiance isn’t to a donkey or an elephant. It’s to a crucified savior. We’re not primarily Democrats or Republicans. We’re citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We know what the world thinks about sex, politics, and suffering. But the more important question is this: What does God think about these things?

Delivered by Nathaniel at Cedar Rock First Baptist Church on October 2, 2016.

Sermon | Captivated by the Kingdom (Matthew 13:44-58)

“Discipleship must happen not merely within the four walls of this building. We can’t merely outsource biblical, moral training to the church. It needs to be a part of our lifestyle”

Are you merely familiar with Jesus, or are you captivated by him? Learn why the answer to this question is so important in this sermon on Matthew 13:44-58

Delivered by Nathaniel at Cedar Rock First Baptist Church on September 25, 2016.

Sermon | What Kind of Dirt Are You? The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

“If your faith is just a leisure time activity — just something you do for an hour in a pew — then your faith will wither”

How do we account for people who at one time had a glimmer of faith, but that faith faded? Jesus gives us an answer in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23.

Delivered by Nathaniel at Cedar Rock First Baptist Church on September 11, 2016.

When Fear Gets in the Way of Sharing the Gospel

I know I’m supposed to share the gospel. But fear always seems to get in the way.

To wit: I once had a conversation with a staunchly liberal (and probably unsaved) lady in my town. I invited her to my church and mentioned how faith inspires us to love the least of these. As I walked away, though, I realized I had only wanted to talk about topics she wanted to hear. I held back the portions of the gospel that caused friction with her worldview — namely, that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

On another occasion, I discussed faith with a deeply conservative (and probably unsaved) man. After I explained my interest in international missions, he said, “I hope you don’t leave the country. I hate any country that’s not America.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. I held back the portions of the gospel that caused friction with his worldview — namely, the parts about Jesus saving us to share his good news to the ends of the earth.

In both instances, fear prohibited me from sharing parts of the gospel my listeners didn’t want to hear. So I stayed away from controversial topics. And both of them heard something less than the full gospel message.

Continue reading