2021: A Year in Reading

In all the ups and downs of 2020, I decided I wanted to read more — both of the Bible and of books in general. I continued this priority in 2021, and it ended up being one of my most book-filled years yet. 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.

Fiction

How Lucky: A Novel
by Will Leitch (Harper, 2021)

How Lucky is simply terrific. We picked the book up because it’s set in Athens, GA—just a mile from where Katie and I lived as newlyweds. So, yes, Leitch induced a severe sense of homesickness. But the book gave us more than nostalgia. With a disabled protagonist, the book is a testament to human dignity, friendship, and kindness. Honestly, thinking about the characters right now brings a big grin to my face. They’re that delightful. (Full disclosure: There’s a lot of language, so know that before going in.)

Jack
by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)

This book is the fourth (and presumably final) book in Robinson’s stellar Gilead series. This novel dives into issues of race and inequality, and it gives a deeper look into Jack Boughton’s compulsive, slightly neurotic, always paranoid psyche. Della loves him despite his many obvious flaws, in a way that depicts God’s love for us. As a result, this book about a tremendously flawed character is teeming with grace.

Lovely War
by Julie Berry (Viking, 2019)

Where to start with Lovely War? It’s a World War I love story told from the perspective of Greek gods living in the modern world. The idea sounds crazy, but it totally works. Katie read this book in 2020 and insisted I read it too. I’m glad I did.

The Christmas Pig
by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2021)

Full disclosure: I was unsure about The Christmas Pig. The first quarter of the book is really heavy (especially for kids), and dare I say a tad boring to get through? But once the magic begins, the book finds its footing. I won’t spoil anything for you, but Rowling explores themes of love, sacrifice, and new life. (And, oddly enough, the book feels like a literary version of a Pete Docter Pixar film.) I do think there are a tad too many characters to grow emotionally connected to, but by and large The Christmas Pig is an enjoyable, inspiring book.

Bud, Not Buddy
by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, 1999)

A delightful story about a brave little boy on a journey to find his dad (or so he thinks). Bud is such a lovely, spunky character. I also enjoyed learning how key characters in the book (a former Negro league player, a black-led jazz group) were inspired by the author’s own grandfathers.

One Came Home
Amy Timberlake (Random House, 2014)

In my estimation, this book is a modern classic. One Came Home, cut from the same cloth as True Grit, tells the story of a girl who sets out to find her sister who’s presumed dead. Along the way, she encounters more adventure and danger than she bargained for.

Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne (1926)

Milne’s classic book is one of my favorites to read to the kids. But I’m not sure who enjoyed the book more — me or them. Milne’s love for his own son permeates the pages, and it’s a love I like to share with my children.

A Bear Called Paddington
by Michael Bond (1958)

I was introduced to the character of Paddington by the 2015 movie of the same name. But what a joy this little bear is! A refugee from “darkest Peru,” Paddington humanizes refugees of all kinds and urges us to treat others with love and dignity.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll (1865)

I once heard that Carroll was under the influence while writing this book. And after reading it? Well… I believe the rumors. This book is bizarre, an off-the-wall fever dream. While I appreciate how its uniqueness, Alice in Wonderland is not my cup of tea.

Perelandra
by C. S. Lewis (Scribner, 2003)

Perelandra is part 2 of Lewis’ criminally underrated Space Trilogy. It plays out like a retelling of Genesis 1-3 on Venus, and the protagonist seeks to stop the deceiver before Venus suffers the same fate as Earth. If you haven’t read it before, give it a chance. It’ll win your heart (and mind).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C. S. Lewis (1952)

I’ve never completed the Narnia books, so I’m slowly working my way through them. Between Reepicheep’s bravery, Eustace’s growth as a character, and the overall sense of adventure, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of the more enjoyable so far. The end reminded me of the best parts of Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet or Perelandra.

The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck (1937)

Do you want a light coming-of-age story about a boy and his horse? The Red Pony is not for you. This brief novel is composed of several short stories about a boy growing up in an isolated part of the western frontier. The story is fraught with tension that never resolves, and Steinbeck includes graphic depictions of animal violence. Not an enjoyable read.

Junius Maltby
by John Steinbeck (1932)

Steinbeck’s short story is a cautionary tale of sloth. While not as unsettling as The Red Pony, it’s still not one I anticipate to return to.

Anne of Avonlea
by L. M. Montgomery (1909)

Confession time: I read the original Anne of Green Gables with deep reservations, but Montgomery’s classic was a lovely little novel. Sadly, I found Anne of Avonlea to be inferior in every way. I have lots of problems with this book, but I’ll boil it all down to one character: Davy. Let the reader understand.

The Green Ember
by S. D. Smith (Story Warren Books, 2014)

We’d heard high praise for this young adult fantasy book, so we were eager to pick it up. I enjoyed it less than the kids. The pacing was inconsistent, and it sometimes felt more interested in world-building than telling a compelling story. But I appreciate the world Smith was trying to build, and I hope subsequent books live up to their potential.

The Bronze Bow
by Elizabeth George Speare (1961)

I first read this book in middle school. Reading it now, some 20 years later, gave me a fresh appreciation for Speare’s storytelling and her ability to make us feel like a part of the first century world. We understand how radical Jesus must have been to young, angsty revolutionaries ready to burn Rome to the ground. But what Jesus offered was transformative, as we see in the life of the protagonist.

Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone
by J.K. Rowling

Katie and I had long awaited the day when we could introduce the kids to the Harry Potter books. That day arrived this fall. Our plan is to read one each fall as the kids grow older.

The Best School Year Ever
by Barbara Robinson (1971)

A sequel to the infamous novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, this book continues telling the stories of the mischevious Herdmen kids. While not as memorable as its predecessor, Robinson still inspires lots of laughter and a few heartwarming moments.

Christian Nonfiction

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution
by Carl Trueman (Crossway, 2020)

Why is the world the way it is? In other words, how could we arrive at a point where the statement “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” could be readily accepted by almost everyone? Trueman traces the development of the “self” through hundreds of years of Western thought. His work is impressive, wise, and surprisingly readable considering the breadth and depth of the topic. One of the most important reads of the year.

Reading While Black: African-American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope
by Esau McCaulley (Intervarsity Press, 2020)

McCaulley highlights the unique exegetical contributions of the black church to biblical interpretation. I simply loved this book. Having listened to McCaulley’s podcast The Disrupters, I could hear his voice as I read his words. Chapter 6 (“What Shall We Do with All This Rage”) stood out for his thoroughly biblical handling of a complex problem. A marxist McCaulley is not, and we’d all do well to cling to the Scriptures as firmly as he does when our cultural headwinds urge us not to.

Family Worship
by Donald Whitney (Crossway, 2019)

We have wanted to incorporate formal family devotions into our family routines, but we’ve had lots of fits and starts. Family Worship was a brief, helpful reminder on why and how we can do so. Whitney urges brevity, simplicity, and consistency in family worship, and we have tried to incorporate these practices into our family routines.

For God So Loved the World: A Blueprint for Kingdom Diversity
edited by Walter Strickland and Dayton Hartman (B&H, 2020)

Strickland and Hartman takes us on a tour of the what and why of kingdom diversity, featuring chapters from significant names in Southern Baptist life and some names who’ve influenced my own thinking. In particular, I appreciate the chapters on complementarianism — explaining the differences in complementarian thought and charting a path forward that’s both faithful to the inerrant Scriptures and empowering women to use their God-given gifts.

The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians
by D.A. Carson (Baker Books, 1993)

I’ve read this book multiple times through the years — during my pastoral internship, then again in my first years of ministry. I read it again with my intern and found it as powerful and challenging as ever. Carson interacts with various passages of 1 Corinthians, and the insights for ministry are practical and wise.

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News
by Jeffrey Bilbro (IVP Academic, 2021)

What is this news addiction doing to us? Is there a way out? And, most importantly, how should our Christian faith lead us to think about these questions? Bilbro addresses these topics in this book, which is wise, practical and liberating. (I wrote a review of the book at the Christ and Culture blog.)

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Collector’s Edition)
by Eugene Peterson (Intervarsity Press, 2019)

Eugene Peterson is best known for The Message translation of the Bible. But I wish he were more known for his devotional writings — like this book. In it, Peterson wades through the Psalms of Ascent and offers application to aid us in spiritual formation.

Cannabis and the Christian
by Todd Miles (B&H, 2021)

How should Christians think about marijuana? With the growing marijuana legalization movement, we can no longer simply say it’s bad because it’s illegal. We need to think Christianly about this substance, applying biblical ethical principles to this topic. This brief book by Todd Miles helps us do this very task. (I interviewed Miles about this book for Christianity Today.)

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
by Tish Harrison Warren (Intervarsity Press, 2016)

Does God care about how we brush our teeth, wash the dishes, or drive to work? Tish Harrison Warren says yes. This simple book is one of best books I’ve read in the past five years, so I made a point to read it again with my intern.

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts
by James K. A. Smith (Baker, 2019)

On the Road with Saint Augustine is equal parts travelogue, apologetic work, historical theology, and autobiography. Smith helps us see how Augustine is much like each of us — a flawed human being who finds hope and healing in a life-changing resurrected ancient carpenter.

Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures
by Matthew Mullins (Baker, 2021)

Mullins, a literature prof, urges us to treat the Bible like literature. In particular, we can take principles for reading poetry and apply them to reading the poetry in the Scriptures. Doing so, he argues, will help us love the Bible on its own terms, not just see it as a collection of principles. In other words, there’s a reason why God gave us the Bible in all its various genres, as opposed to giving us a divine encyclopedia.

The Work of the Pastor
by William Still (Christian Focus, 2010)

This powerful, punchy, practical little book is one of my favorites on pastoral ministry. I re-read it, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

Restarting the World: A New Normal After a Pandemic
by H. Norman Wright and Bryn Edwards (B&H, 2021)

In theory, this little book could be helpful. Ironically, though, I received it while the delta variant was just beginning to ravage the country. So… maybe the title was a bit premature? Nevertheless, there are some helpful insights, and the book is brief, simple, and easy to read.

Mere Discipleship: Growing in Wisdom and Hope
by Alister McGrath (Baker, 2018)

In this book, a collection of lectures delivered over the years, McGrath interacts with and applies key components of C.S. Lewis’ thought. I noticed that he shared some of his observations in the book in his lecture at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture this year.

The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry
by S. Joshua Swamidass (Intervarsity Press, 2019)

Joshua Swamidass proposes a new way of reconciling the creation/evolution debate. I must say, parts of his theory are intruiguing, though other parts leave me unconvinced. If you’re looking for a short version of what he’s advocated, he explains in this podcast episode.

Humbled: Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God
by David Mathis (B&H, 2021)

A short, helpful book on a big, cumbersome problem we all deal with — the problem of pride, and the pursuit of humility. In around 100 pages, Mathis urges us to look to the example of Jesus and pursue humility.

The Multi-Directional Leader: Responding Wisely to Challenges from Every Side
by Trevin Wax (TGC, 2021)

Such a wise little book from Trevin Wax. Wax puts into words thoughts I’d long wrestled with. In particular, I appreciate his call for “epistemic humility.” The book both encouraged and challenged me in my personal life and in my ministry.

Retreiving History: Memory and Identity Formation in the Early Church
by Stefana Dan Laing (Baker, 2017)

My favorite part of this book is towards the end. Laing shares the stories of notable women in church history — most of whom would are unknown in our churches. We owe it to ourselves to know these important stories of faithful saints in the past.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
by Dane Ortlund (Crossway, 2020)

In 2020, lots of people were reading this book, so I finally read it for myself. Ortlund interacts with Scripture and Puritan thinkers to get at the heart of Christ — and what that means for our Christian life. The short of it: Jesus loves us far more than we dare imagine. An uplifiting, scripturally rich read with short chapters, so you could easily make it a part of your devotional routine.

Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t
by Gavin Ortlund (Baker, 2021)

Ironically, I read these books by the Ortlund brothers back to back! This book is less devotional and more apologetic. Ortlund is making a case for God — appealing not just to facts and logic, but also to art and beauty. In the coming years, I think we’ll need to employ the kinds of arguments Ortlund uses in this book.

Walking in God’s Wisdom
by Benjamin T. Quinn (Lexham, 2021)

Quinn gives us a framework from which to understand Proverbs, and he draws out key themes that pervade the book. The rare commentary that’s enjoyable to read. When I teach Proverbs, I intend to consult this book!

Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit
by Hannah and Nathan Anderson (Moody Publishers, 2021)

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” and in this book the Hannah Anderson draws devotional applications from nature to spur worship and reflection, while her husband Nathan supplements these reflections with beautiful drawings.

The Gospel and Religious Liberty
by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker (B&H, 2016)

I read this book to prepare for a church lecture on the topic of religious liberty. It was succinct but helpful in helping me compile my thoughts.

The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent
by Scott James (B&H, 2014)

We read this book together as a family in our morning devotions, and I found it to a simple, easy-to-follow guide to seeing the hope of Christ in the Christmas season. Each day, you’re prompted to read a verse, reflect on it, and pray. The devotions were simple enough for the whole family (even the littlest one) to get involved.

The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering
by Daniel P. Horan (Franciscan Media, 2013)

A Franciscan friar offers his reflections on the seven last words of Jesus. Horan’s interpretation of Jesus’ words lean heavily into issues of justice, as his tradition often does, but he occasionally offers helpful applications.

Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross
by Robert J. Nash (New Growth Press, 2020)

I found this book to be far more helpful and applicable than Horan’s book. Nash’s reflections and meditations informed my preaching of the seven last words of Jesus during Lent.

General Nonfiction

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass

One of my goals in 2021 was to read more books by people of color, and Frederick Douglass’ infamous autobiography was at the top my reading list. Douglass is unflinching in his depiction of slavery, and his words resonate like those of an Old Testament prophet speaking God’s judgment against a cruel, inhumane system. I urge everyone — especially believers in Jesus — to read and reflect on his words.

Talking to GOATS: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard
by Jim Gray (Harper Collins, 2020)

Why did Mike Tyson give away a brand-new sports car? What was the best game you never saw Michael Jordan play? How did Muhammed Ali treat a bunch of South Carolina kids? And what’s behind the beef between Pete Rose and Jim Gray? The veteran sportscaster tells these (and other) stories you’ve never heard before. If you like sports, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Gray sometimes toots his own horn too much, but the stories are worth it.

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
by Cokie Roberts (Harper Perennial, 2005)

The Founding Fathers were instrumental in the founding of our nation, but after reading this book I’m convinced that the nation wouldn’t exist without the contributions of “Founding Mothers” like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison and others. While the men were away fighting wars and writing laws, the women kept estates afloat, ran businesses, wrote pamphlets — all while raising children. This book was an illuminating look at their experiences, filled with quotes and references to primary sources. I, for one, hope we can celebrate these founding mothers as much as we celebrate the founding fathers.

Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
by Barack Obama (Crown, 2004)

Before Barack Obama was a President, a Senator, husband, or father, he was a young man searching for his identity. And while I don’t agree with all of Obama’s politics, I deeply appreciated his candor in this book. He tells the story of his birth, searching for the father he barely knew, reconciling the disparate parts of his upbringing, and coming to terms with his identity. Dreams of my Father isn’t the polished autobiography of elder Obama the statesman; it’s the the raw reflections of a young man trying to find his place in this world. And doesn’t that describe all of us?

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
by Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Alan Jacobs wants you to read. A lot. But lest you grow stressed, Jacobs doesn’t give you a lengthy list of literary “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Instead, he urges you to read what you find interesting. Read on a whim. Follow your nose. And grow in your love of the written word.

A Shot in the Moonlight: How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Soldier Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South
by Ben Montgomery (Hachette Book Group, 2021)

This book tells the true story of a grave injustice against a black man in the Jim Crow South — and the surprising legal victories he acheived. While the details of the story are astounding, the book’s methods of telling said story left much to be desired. For example, several chapters are simply excerpts from the trial transcripts.

Christmas in Plains: Memories
by Jimmy Carter (Simon and Schuster, 2001)

In this short book, Georgia’s most famous resident shares vignettes of his life story through various Christmases in his life. The Christmases begin simple but grow increasingly complex in his Presidential years.

Commentaries

I read several commentaries in 2021. Here are the ones I completed:

A Sickness & A Cure: A Response to the Events of Jan. 6

By Pastor Nathaniel

You (like me) watched with horror what happened on January 6, 2021. While peaceful protest is a hallmark of our democracy, what happened at the US Capitol was tragic and grievous. It was a dark day in American history.

I’ve wrestled with what to say in this moment. Here are some prayerful thoughts.

A Sickness

What we saw Wednesday was merely a symptom of a deep-rooted sickness that has gripped our nation. It’s a sickness of idolatry, of violence, of only listening to facts we agree with, of pursuing worldly means of achieving power. It’s a sickness of sin.

Sadly, this is not just a sickness in the world “out there.” It has crept into the church, infecting self-proclaimed followers of Jesus.

This is our problem.

If we want a cure to the disease, here are a some biblical truths we must cling to:

1. We serve no ordinary king. Our ultimate king is Christ — and Christ alone. He is the only one who deserves our undivided allegiance.

“He… is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (1 Timothy 6:15)

2. We pledge allegiance to no ordinary kingdom. Our ultimate Kingdom is not the United States, but the kingdom of God. Our love and devotion to this temporary nation must never exceed our love and devotion for the never-ending kingdom of God.

“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” (Psalm 145:13)

3. We do not fight in ordinary ways. There are situations in which it is biblically permissible to use force — such as serving in the armed forces or in self-defense. But as Christians, our primary weapons of war aren’t clubs and violence, but prayer and intercession.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

4. We do not have an ordinary mission. We are called to be agents of reconciliation in the world, pointing broken people to their loving God. We are not — in any situation — called to be agents of chaos.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

A Better Cause

I’m not naïve. I’m sure some of you may find yourselves strangely sympathetic to the rioters’ cause. Maybe you feel a strong sense of injustice, and you want to be a part of some great movement.

Let me speak directly to you for a moment: Your ache at the realities of injustice is good; we do live in a fallen, broken world. Your desire to join in a great cause is admirable; we all want to be a part of something great.

But this is not the way.

There is injustice in the world, but this isn’t the way to fight it. We should be a part of greater causes, but we deserve something better than a violent mob.

The truth is that God already has a plan to effect change in the world — to fight injustice and give you a chance to join in something great. But this plan doesn’t involve clubs and riots. It involves everyday people of God joining together to love their neighbors and proclaim the gospel to them. If you want to change the world, join the church.

We aren’t called to fight our enemies, but to love them.

Look to Jesus

Jesus lived during a tense political time, too. The whole world was walking on egg shells; at any moment, violence could break out. The people expected the Messiah would join them in their fight — overthrowing the wicked empire they so despised.

But did Jesus do that? No. When Jesus came, he didn’t conquer his enemies, he laid down his life for them. He didn’t satisfy the crowds’ yearning for violence, he renounced those desires. When Peter drew the sword to cut off the ear of one of Jesus’ captors, Jesus reprimanded him for it.

See, their hopes were far too small. Jesus had bigger plans — plans not just for a temporary kingdom, but for a cosmic redemption of all parts of mankind.

Today, don’t let your hopes be too small. Join in with God’s bigger plans — for your life, and for the world.

As we conclude, please join me in praying for our nation — and for us. The change we want to see in the world must start in our own lives.

This post originally published at CedarRockBaptist.com.

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.

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.

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4 Ways to Pray for Baton Rouge

Last Sunday, we awoke to yet another tragedy. Three law enforcement officers were killed and three more injured in Baton Rouge, mere weeks after the death of Alton Sterling.

As I saw the horrific news develop, I wanted to know how I could pray for this city reeling in pain and division. So I reached out to Katie Harris, a friend who serves in Baton Rouge with AmeriCorps. Since she lives and ministers within the city, I knew she’d be able to help me know how to pray.

She offered four ways I can pray for the city. I hope that these help you pray as well.

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A Savior Greater Than Our Divisions

They were unlikely friends.

One man had betrayed his family and culture to work for the corrupt, overbearing government they despised. His old friends now counted him among the thieves and murderers. They even refused to worship with him.

His associate was part of an anti-government movement. This occasionally militant group aspired to wage war against the government and return to the glory days when their culture and religion ruled.

These men had little in common, and they should have been enemies. But they decided to lay aside their past and their politics to work together for the common good.

This story sounds naïve and unrealistic. In today’s divisive world, everything is divided into camps of red and blue, black and white. We can’t even imagine a scenario in which two people this different could find a way to work together.

But this is no made up story. This is the true story of Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot, two of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Continue reading

Fools-Golden Rules: The Golden Rule’s Cheap Substitutes

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

We all know the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s practically hard-wired into our brains.

Yet even though we know the golden rule so well, we often have a harder time putting it into practice. Too often, we prefer one of the golden rule’s cheap substitutes, such as… Continue reading