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.

Continue reading

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

A Homeless Gospel in a Partisan World

I’m accustomed to seeing Donald Trump Twitter tirades. I’m not, however, accustomed to seeing Southern Baptist theologians as the object of those tirades. Yet, yesterday morning, I woke up to this:

Opinions of Donald Trump aside, when was the last time a Republican Presidential nominee publically went after an influential Evangelical leader? I can’t think of an example. Republicans used to actively court Evangelicals, not crucify them.

And the cordial feelings tended to be mutual. Though the Republican Party has never aligned perfectly with Christian teaching, conservative Evangelicals could generally rely on the party to produce candidates who valued life, character, and religious freedom.

Yet that assumption has been slowly eroding, and Trump’s tweet seems to be the nail in the coffin. The gospel no longer fits neatly into a political party (if it ever did at all). Continue reading

The Dangerous, Deadly Consequences of Pilate Politics

Each year, a different aspect of the Easter story grabs my attention and causes me to reflect. This year, it’s been Pontius Pilate.

Pilates’ sins were many. He ignored his convictions and his wife’s wise counsel. He gave in to the whims of an angry mob. And he condemned Jesus to be crucified — not because he believed Jesus was guilty, but because it was more politically expedient.

And when it was all over, he washed his hands — trying to convince himself and others (unconvincingly) that he was not responsible for the unjust execution that was about to take place.

Pilate exhibited a complete failure in political leadership. Unfortunately, his failures are all-too common. Continue reading