Books Read (and finished) in 2016

open-booksIn 2016, I read 52 books. Out of those 52 books, 16 of them were read for publishers and reviewed on my blog. 9 of those books were on my 2016 Book Plan (which consisted of a total of 28 books). So, I struggled again to even hit the 50% mark of books that had been on my plan. While that may be discouraging to some people, it’s not so to me. This is not a science and I just see every year as an iteration to work towards making this process more efficient. If I’m not enjoying what I’m reading and having fun with what I read, there’s really no point in doing any of this.

Seeing as I’m a pastor, the bulk of my reading focused on spirituality. I went on a three month sabbatical this past summer. 3 of the books that I read this year were included in my sabbatical plan. These are the books that I read this year that focused on spirituality: 

Michelle Anthony “Spiritual Parenting”

Eugene Cho “Overrated”

Michael Frost “The Road to Missional”

Bob Goff “Love Does”

J.D. Greear “Gaining By Losing”

Craig Groeschel “#struggles”

Abraham Joshua Heschel “The Sabbath”

Kent Julian “99 Thoughts on Leading Volunteers”

Madeline L’Engle “Walking On Water”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

Russell Moore “Onward”

Steven L. Ogne and Kenneth E. Priddy “The Leadership Ladder”

Eugene Peterson “Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work”

Nik Ripken “The Insanity of God”

Bob Roberts, Jr. “The Multiplying Church”

Nelson Searcy “The Renegade Pastor”

John Stott “The Radical Disciple”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “The Multi-Site Church Revolution”

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird “Multi-Site Church Road Trip”

John Van Sloten “The Day Metallica Came to Church”

Ravi Zacharias “I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah” 

Reviewing books for my blog is a big part of my list (about 30% of the total books that I read). I reviewed the following 16 books for my blog in 2016:

George Barna “America at the Crossroads”

Jimmy Evans & Allan Kelsey “Strengths Based Marriage”

Elyse Fitzpatrick “Home”

Brandon Hatmaker “A Mile Wide”

Michael Horton “Core Christianity”

Bryan Loritts “Saving the Saved”

Erwin Lutzer “Rescuing the Gospel”

Albert Mohler, Jr. “We Cannot Be Silent”

Mac Pier “A Disruptive Gospel”

Matt and Beth Redman “Finding God in the Hard Times”

Judah Smith “How’s Your Soul?”

Scotty Smith “Every Season Prayers”

R.C. Sproul “What Is Reformed Theology?”

Chad Veach “Unreasonable Hope”

Jon Weece “Me Too”

Jared C. Wilson “Unparalleled” 

I also read a few biographies/autobiographies (not sure all of these qualify for that category, but if they were on the edge, I put them here):

George W. Bush “41 – A Portrait of My Father”

Alan Chambers “My Exodus: From Fear to Grace”

Martin Dugard “To Be A Runner”

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Jennifer Knapp “Facing the Music”

Nabeel Qureshi “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”

Gene Simmons “Kiss and Make Up”

I tried to branch out and read some books that focused on business, marketing, or other leadership principles. Here are those books:

Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”

Jim Collins “Good To Great”

Seth Godin “Tribes”

Patrick Lencioni “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

I didn’t read many novels this year, just one to be exact, but I did read a few plays by August Wilson after hearing about him over the years. Here are the novels and plays that I read:

Stephen King “11/22/63”

August Wilson “Gem of the Ocean”

August Wilson “Fences”

While the books that I read in 2016 can’t very well be called diverse, I think I had a fairly decent mix of genres this year. I will continue to try to mix things up this year. My Book Plan for 2017 can be seen here.

Postscript:

After the publishing of this post, I started and finished “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton. It’s tied into some of what I did on my sabbatical and actually brings my total books read number up to 53 to equal my total in 2015.

Book Plan for 2017

Library with a book ladder and lampThis is my fourth year of putting together a reading plan. I’ve still not got a good rhythm on it. I think there are far too many unknowns for me and there are far too many good books out there that I am longing to read. So, I’ll keep plugging away and trying.

I’m trying to broaden my horizons a little bit more. I’ve been feeling a pull to more diversity in my plan, so I’m adding some touches here and there. I know that there will be blog books as well, books that I will review for my blog, which is always an unknown. I’m, never quite sure just what kinds of books will be offered, so it’s hard to predict those books. 

My plan for 2017 will be to lessen the number of books in the plan in hopes that I will be able to be more efficient in reading books from this list. It hasn’t gone well in the past when I have tried to read books on my plan when I’ve had an extensive list. Out of the 28 books on my plan for 2016, I only finished 9 of them, but I still managed to read 52 books for the year, one less than 2015, an average of one book per week. 

Maya Angelou “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Rachel Held Evans “Evolving In Monkey Town”

Victor Frankl “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch “ReJesus”

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon “Resident Aliens’

Howard V. and Edna H. Hong, editors “The Essential Kierkegaard”

Walter Isaacson “Steve Jobs”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Tim Keller “Preaching”

Stephen Mansfield “The Search for God and Guiness”

Brenda Salter McNeil “Roadmap to Reconciliation”

Matt Mikalatos “My Imaginary Jesus”

Jürgen Moltmann “A Broad Place”

Flannery O’Connor “The Complete Stories”

Andrew Peterson “The Warden and the Wolf King”

David Platt “Counter Culture”

Preston Sprinkle “Living In a Gray World”

Preston Sprinkle “People To Be Loved”

John Steinbeck “Of Mice and Men”

Howard Thurman “Jesus and the Disinherited”

Mark Twain “How To Tell A Story and Other Essays”

N.T. Wright “Simply Jesus”

This is my plan which I know will most likely shift and change a little bit, but if I don’t start out with something, I’ll have a hard time hitting anything.

Would love to hear about some of your favorite books and whether or not you have interacted with any on this list.

Happy reading!

At Just the Right Time

IMG_4276I love to read. It’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of 3 or 4 books at a time. I have stacks of books that I am waiting to get into. I have a reading plan that I do my best to follow throughout the year (check it out here). I review books here on my blog. People give me books that they recommend.

With all of the books that I have waiting in the wings to be read, I don’t always follow an order or a linear path. I’ll often put aside some books and pick up others that weren’t even on my radar before I pick them up.

I say all this because I am constantly amazed at the countless times in life when I have pulled a book off of my shelf that has sat their idle for months or even years only to have it drip with relevance as soon as I start reading it. It seems that the moment I crack the book open and begin reading was ordained so much that it hits me square between the eyes, speaking to me in the intimacy of my own thoughts and exposing me at the very moment in which I find myself. It’s almost as if I had purposely waited for just that moment to begin reading.

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to a book that had been on my radar for at least a year, Brennan Manning’s “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.” My lead pastor and friend had recommended it sometime last year. I ordered it, put it on my shelf, and then promptly forgot about it.

As I journey through the sabbatical that I am on, it seemed incredibly relevant for me to read these words, “Am I getting too serious about life? Have I let my sense of childlike wonder fade? Am I so caught up in preaching, teaching, writing and traveling that I no longer hear the sound of rain on the roof?” As those words jumped off the page at me, I silently snickered as I thought of how apropos these words were for such a time as I am in.

In the middle of a section of the book where he talks about Christmas, I read the above phrase. It struck me as even more relevant because for the past few years, I have worked hard to slow myself down in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year: Christmas. I’ve realized that the four weeks of Advent can too easily be lost to me if I don’t intentionally journey through them.

But these words could hardly be relegated to just the Advent season. Looking at my children, I can see that childlike wonder of which Manning speaks if I simply stop and pay attention. If I look hard enough and silence myself and all that is within me long enough, I can see a living example of wonder right there before my very eyes.

To read this during a sabbatical seemed like so much more than just coincidence. It was as if I was supposed to be reading it at this time and place in my life.

No sooner had I read these words about slowing down and taking things in then I read this, “The early Christians considered themselves supermen not because of superhuman willpower but because of reliance on the supernatural power of the Spirit.” I was pretty sure that I had said something similar in a sermon as one of my “go to” Greek words is the word dunamis which means, “power.”

These two points were incredibly relevant and poignant to read in this season of life. Reminders to not take myself too seriously and to try to keep a childlike wonder about myself, but also a reminder that I’m not nearly as important as I might convince myself and that the power that I have to do things doesn’t originate from me.

As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase.” The Apostle Paul spoke of his boasting in his weakness and his boast being in Christ alone. My confidence and strength resides within me, but it does not originate within me, it comes from outside of me, and I can never forget that.

Brennan Manning continues to stretch me and challenge me every time that I engage one of his works. I am not nearly as gracious to myself as I need to be. I far too often find my flaws and flagellate myself with them rather than releasing them or, as Paul did, rejoicing in them. My flaws don’t show my weakness so much as they show Christ’s strength, and that’s an important distinction that I can’t forget.

I know that there will be other books that have been collecting dust on my shelves, waiting for me to pick them up, that will speak to me at the particular and specific moment in which I pick them up. It’s happened far too many times to be considered coincidence. For now, I’ll rest in the lessons that I’ve learned in this reading and do my best to savor them and soak them in.

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

On the Job Training

learningSince I graduated from college, I’ve spent two decades in two distinctly different fields of work. I graduated with a civil engineering degree and worked for consultants while I got a Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

After 10 years in engineering, I felt a call to go into full-time vocational ministry. I was called to be a pastor in a church in Asheville, North Carolina. The denomination in which I was serving did not care so much that I didn’t have a seminary degree, they were more concerned with what I believed and whether or not I really felt that God was calling me to do this. I eventually went to seminary, successfully achieving a graduate degree in both of the fields of work in which I had spent my time.

In both my engineering career and my ministry career, I experienced on the job training. Most of the things that I had to do once I started as a consulting engineer were not things that I had been directly taught in college or in graduate school. I had a great mentor for those first few years in engineering who showed me an awful lot. We got along fairly well, which was helpful considering the amount of time that we spent together.

The same was true when I went into ministry. Considering that I had not gone to seminary when I had first started as a pastor, I felt that I was even more behind the eight ball. Every week, I was reading two or three books about ministry or theology or some subject that was relevant to what I was doing. In those first few years as a pastor before I went to seminary, I was learning on the job and I was soaking in any and every nugget of information that I could find in the books that I read, the people that I met, and the experiences that I had.

My doctor while I was in high school and through college was a doctor that my parents had used for a number of years. He was a nice guy, personable and winsome with a great bedside manner. As can often be the case with those kinds of doctors, we would get to chatting whenever I would go to the office for a checkup or visit. In our conversations, I discovered as I was getting ready to go off to college that he had graduated from my alma mater, Lehigh University.

I’ll never forget what he said to me that day. He told me that he had gone to medical school up at Yale. I thought about how smart he must have been and imagined where my next move would be after college. But he told me that he had a harder time getting good grades at Lehigh than he had at Yale. I kind of scratched my head considering all that I had heard about Ivy League schools. Then he said, “The thing is, at Lehigh they taught me how to learn.” Those words always have stuck in my head, in college, I learned how to learn.

While I rarely touch on the things that I spent hours and hours studying in college, the act and process of learning were just as important, if not more so, than the actual subject matter. Learning how to learn was an important life lesson that set the way for the rest of my life.

Since that day, I’ve laughed often as I’ve taken personality and strengths assessments that tell me of my love for learning. Anyone who knows me knows that on any given day I am probably reading three or four books. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still have to learn, but that’s not reason to give up, it just makes me hungrier to know more, not so that I can lord it over anyone or brag but so that I can engage with as many people as possible.

I love to talk with new people. I love to hear their story and to know where they’ve been and where they’re going in life. As I delve into different subjects in my life, I find that it helps me to connect with others because I can always find some common topic to vamp on for some amount of time.

I’ve been grateful to have had some pretty great work environments where I can learn as I go. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. It certainly didn’t hurt my entrance into ministry that my dad and I had a good relationship. Having served as a pastor for about 36 years by the time I became a pastor, he was a great mentor to me. I miss him every day and long to have conversations with him, to glean his wisdom, and to hear his insights and thoughts.

As I watch my children grow, I’m thrilled to see a strong love of reading in both of my boys (my daughter hasn’t reached the reading stage yet). That love of reading and of learning will help them wherever they go. I’m looking forward to the day that I can share some of the same insights that have been shared with me. If they crave learning and learn to learn, they’ll go far.

My 2016 Reading Plan

booksI put together a book plan for 2015 and did not get through the list nearly as well as I would have liked. I only was able to read 11 of the 35 books that I had listed, not a bad percentage if I’m playing baseball, but I’d much rather do better in accomplishing my reading goal. The biggest drawback that I faced was the books that would pop up along the way, books recommended by friends, colleagues, and others, as well as all of the books that I review for my blog, of which there were 19 total last year (approximately 36% of my total books read).

This year, I am shortening my list and including many books that I have started and left unfinished for some time. So, 2016 may be the year of closing up some loose ends. Some of the books are carry overs, books that I missed in 2015.

I’m knocking the number down from 33 books last year to 28. I read 53 books in 2015 and I expect I will read at least as much this year, but I want to make sure that I am leaving room for spontaneity as well as edification, growth, and enjoyment in my reading.

I’ve tried to mix up different genres and go with some books that I may not normally read or gravitate towards. Trying to expand my horizons a bit and see what I can learn along the way. I’ve been trying to read books by people with whom I may not agree in an effort to stretch myself.

Without further ado, here is my list:

Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D. “Younger Next Year”

Martin Dugard “To Be A Runner”

Rachel Held Evans “Evolving In Monkey Town”

Michael Frost “The Road To Missional”

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch “ReJesus”

Craig Groeschel “#struggles”

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon “Resident Aliens’

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Howard V. and Edna H. Hong, editors “The Essential Kierkegaard”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Tim Keller “Preaching”

Patrick Lencioni “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

Madeline L’Engle “Walking On Water”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

C.S. Lewis “Perelandra”

C.S. Lewis “That Hideous Strength”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

George R.R. Martin “A Game of Thrones”

Paul E. Miller “A Praying Life”

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. “We Cannot Be Silent”

Jürgen Moltmann “The Crucified God”

Jürgen Moltmann “A Broad Place”

H. Richard Niebuhr “Christ & Culture”

Flannery O’Connor “The Complete Stories”

Neil Peart “Ghost Rider”

Andrew Peterson “The Warden and the Wolf King”

David Platt “Counter Culture”

N.T. Wright “Simply Jesus”

I would love to hear about some of your favorite books and whether or not you have interacted with any on this list.

Happy reading!

Changing Perspective

I love to read. At any given time, I’ve always got a stack of books that are on my “To Read” list. Heck, I’ve been tracking the books that I’ve read for the last few years and created a reading plan so that I can be more intentional with what I’m reading since that list is so long.

When I look at my Amazon wishlist, I’m not always sure how I discovered some of the books that are on there. A lot of times it’s from reading something else that makes reference to a book. Other times, it’s because of the recommendation of a friend. Still other times, it’s because I was browsing around and stumbled upon something that looked interesting to me.

I also frequent Goodwill a lot. My oldest son is a big reader and I am constantly trying to find age appropriate and yet challenging reads for him. On occasion, I will find something that piques my curiosity there as well.

While there’s generally a story behind every book that I have, I can’t always look at the bookshelf and pull up in my brain just what the story was for that particular book. Other times, it’s not hard remembering at all.

One of my commitments to myself over the past few months was to challenge myself in reading things that are out of my stream. I’m not a big political guy, but Ronald Reagan made an impact on me and made a difference during my lifetime, so I picked up a biography about him. I haven’t quite gotten through it yet, but I’m trying.

The bigger challenge for me is from a theological and ideological standpoint. It’s pretty easy for me to find my theological stream and simply read books by authors with whom I mostly agree. Chances are slim that there will be 100% agreement, but I would say the agreement is in the 75-80% range on most occasions. The challenge is to read books where my agreement with the author lies somewhere between the 20-25% range.

It’s easy to read stuff with which you agree, it’s a whole different ballgame to be stretched to read things with which you don’t agree.

My friend base is fairly diverse (not extremely, but fairly). I look at the various streams and chapters of my life: Childhood, high school, college, work, Connecticut, North Carolina, Virginia, and so on. I can find myself beginning to ask a lot of questions when faced with the difference between me and some of my friends. Somewhere, there was enough commonality for these people and me to become friends, but there is also enough diversity there that we might engage in some riveting and loud conversation should we venture into certain topics.

I think it’s important to change your perspective once in a while. It needs to be done within reason, but I think that there is so much value in seeing things from a different viewpoint. It seems almost inevitable that when we change our viewpoints and perspectives, we will see things that we did not see before.

I felt the need to change my perspective while I was in seminary. I had begun questioning some of the things that I had been taught growing up, and I thought, “What better way to do it than in seminary?” I wanted to wrestle through some issues on my own, without feeling that someone was right behind me whispering, “It’s that one, you know that one is the right way!”

Now, when some people begin to question, they take major leaps away from where they are. I never quite got there. Of course, major leaps for some may be child’s play for others. My leaps have never been incredibly far, but they’ve been leaps nonetheless.

I’ve read a few books this year that were a challenge to my own thinking. They were books that had been recommended by someone with whom I did not necessarily agree but with whom I have a good relationship. That seemed to be key, I love and trust these people, even though we don’t necessarily agree, and so I gave credence to their recommendations.

I hope to be sharing my thoughts on some of these books on here in the future. I hope that the things that I have learned can be beneficial to others as well.

My 2015 Reading Plan

books to readLast year was the first year that I intentionally put together a reading plan. I learned an awful lot from that. I also began reviewing books for a few different publishers, which I hadn’t been doing when I had put together my plan for 2014. I reviewed 14 books for publishers in 2014 and I expect that I will do at least that many in 2015, so I am planning accordingly on this list.

As a dad of an accelerated reader, I’m also struggling to stay ahead of the books that he wants to read. I’ve been grateful for some friends whose children have also been accelerated readers and have valued their recommendations and input, but I still like to read things myself before passing them off to my kids unless I know 100% how the books are. It’s easier said than done, but I’m working hard and doing my best to keep looking for stuff for him.

Some friends and family gave some recommendations of books, not all of which I could include here as I wanted a manageably sized list. Without further ado, here’s the list so far. Thanks to those who have given some recommendations of books to read. Wish me the best and I’ll keep you updated as I go.

Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III “God Loves Sex”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Letters and Papers From Prison”

Lou Cannon “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime”

G.K. Chesterton “The Complete Father Brown”

Eoin Colfer “Artemis Fowl”

Suzanne Collins “Mockingjay”

Bob Dylan “Chronicles, Volume 1”

Cornelia Funke “The Thief Lord”

Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

Howard V. and Edna H. Hong, editors “The Essential Kierkegaard”

Tim Keller “Center Church”

Tim Keller “The King’s Cross”

Stephen King “11/22/63”

C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity”

C.S. Lewis “Out of the Silent Planet”

C.S. Lewis “Perelandra”

C.S. Lewis “That Hideous Strength”

Brennan Manning “All Is Grace”

Brennan Manning “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus”

Paul E. Miller “A Praying Life”

Jürgen Moltmann “The Crucified God”

Jürgen Moltmann “A Broad Place”

H. Richard Niebuhr “Christ & Culture”

Flannery O’Connor “The Complete Stories”

Ridley Pearson “Kingdom Keepers: Disney In Shadow”

Andrew Peterson “The Warden and the Wolf King”

David Platt “Follow Me”

Soong-Chan Rah “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity”

Veronica Roth “Allegiant”

John E. Sarno, M.D. “The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain”

Sam Storms “Kept For Jesus”

Leonard Thompson “A History of South Africa”

J.R.R. Tolkien “The Hobbit”

Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman “The Daniel Plan”

N.T. Wright “Simply Jesus”