Top 10 Books of 2018

A quick note about this year’s book list. I tried to be better about reading more fiction and I intentionally read more books written by women, I tried to get on the Flannery O’Connor bandwagon but still do not see what all the hype is about. I am nearly halfway through reading all of the major works of C.S. Lewis. I also tried to read a couple of books by people I don’t agree with, Brian Zahnd’s book is on my list if you read his book definitely spit out the bones for they are plentiful. Lastly, I started what I hope to be a tradition with all my kids reading classics over the summer. My oldest son and I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was so moved by the portrayal of the horrors of the slave trade and the beauty of the Gospel was breathtaking. My challenge is always to read old books and that continues but I would also add the challenge to read books by people who are different than you. One of the beautiful things that are true is that we see life through different eyes and we see Christ through the application of the gospel in our daily life yet our perspective is limited. Reading people who are different than us allows us to borrow their eyes to see the world and to share their pain and to come alongside them and bear their burdens. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy reading next year. 

My Top 10 Books of 2018

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi – I listened to the Audiobook with my family on vacation. The Audiobook was read by the author Nabeel Qureshi it was powerful, moving and convicting. Hearing Nabeel in his own voice recounts the pain and difficulty that led to him walking away from everything to follow Christ was so convicting and so powerfully encouraging at the same time. It was important for me to have my boys listen in because they will wrestle with the truth claims of Scripture one day and Nabeel journey to Christ is one they will not soon forget. 

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Growing up moving so much meant I changed schools often and as a result, I missed a lot of classics I should have been forced to read in High School. With many schools now seemingly abandoning the classics I decided that during the summers I want to start a tradition where I read a classic work with my kids each summer of Jr. High and High School. This summer I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin with my oldest son. This was such a moving story. To read the horrors of the slave trade and at the same time, the beauty of the gospel so deeply embedded in this book knowing that this was the book that Lincoln credited with the start of the civil war easily made this book my favorite of the year. What dumbfounded me the most in reading this book is I kept waiting for Tom to betray his people as the most well know euphemism taken from this book is calling someone who betrays their own race an “Uncle Tom.” To see the Christlike sacrificial love of Tom on display page after page made me stop and pray that God would give me the love and courage that Tom had in this book. So powerful. Thankful for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s courage to write such a book in a time when doing so did not get you invitations to come to talk about your book on The View. 

 

Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by J.C. Ryle – J.C. Ryle is one of the most profoundly deep yet at the same time deeply accessible writers of his day. Ryle had such an accessible and practically applicable style. Any work or sermon of Ryle’s I have read I am always, always challenged to live my light different in light of the Grace provided to me in Christ because of Ryle’s ability to distill truth and apply those truths in universally applicable ways. This is a book I will re-read again. 

 

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves – One of the things I am convinced of is that Christians (this means me too) don’t understand the Trinity as we should. We hear the word, Trinity and we avoid thinking about it or talking about it and retreat with claims of mystery. To the Christians faith, there are few things that are more foundational and differentiating than the doctrine of the Trinity. The unity and diversity of God is unique to Christianity. Knowing that we can and should know more about the Trinity the question is often where do I start? I would say right here, Delighting in the Trinity is easily the most comprehensive and accessible books I have ever read on the Trinity. It is a quick read that is well worth your time. 

 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren – Loved this book Warren has a way of seeing the beauty of Christ in things I never do. Everyone wants to live a life worth living. Our culture is fame-obsessed people do the craziest things for 15 minutes of fame. Yet most of us go from mundane to mundane. Warren explains that the extraordinary life isn’t the one that is lived outside the lines it is lived best by those who see God in the ordinary things of life in the good simple gifts he graciously gives us. 

 

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin – Jen is a fantastic writer. She does naturally what so many speakers and writers struggle to do she takes complex ideas and she distills them to their essence. If you are not going to read Systematic Theology and most people won’t, None Like Him is a must read. Wilkin discusses each of the incommunicable attributes (the attributes of God that can only be true of God) of God with such winsomeness it was a joy to read. 

 

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller – The best compliment I can give this book is that most books on prayer deal in the currency of condemnation this one dealt in the currency of conviction. This book and Ryle’s pamphlet on prayer are by far the best books I have read on prayer. I left this book challenged on why I pray and how I pray at the same time empowered to pray and inspired to pray. By far the best book I have read on prayer. 

 

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne – I really enjoyed Rankin’s writing style. His treatment of the work of Sanctification was one of the best and most accessible books I have read on such an important topic. When we get sanctification wrong it leads to legalism or cheap grace. Our church will be going through this book in our small groups this fall. I highly recommend this book. 

 

 

That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Lewis – In this book, Lewis does what Lewis always does. Lewis’ friend and fellow Inkling said it well “Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” This book was no exception. If Narnia was the novel form of Mere Christianity than That Hideous Strength finds it’s counterpart largely in the Abolition of Man. Lewis dystopian fiction discusses the nature of salvation and how we in a Spiritual battle in which we have picked a side because in picking no side we have actually picked a side. George Orwell’s early review, for instance, expressed what would become a common criticism: “One could recommend this book unreservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways.” Unlike Orwell, Lewis understood that the supernatural is not subject to our sensibilities. 

 

The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs – I have read several biographies of Lewis this one was unique in that Dr. Jacobs attempts to view the life of Lewis in light of his faith and imagination. How his imagination informed everything else he said and did. Jacobs says it this way in his introduction. What made Lewis write this way, and why it is such a good thing that he was able to write this way—these are hard things to talk about without being (or at least seeming) sentimental, yet they are necessary to talk about. In most children but in relatively few adults, at least in our time, we may see this willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment. This free and full gift of oneself to a story is what produces the state of enchantment….Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and a grievous loss. Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
  2. No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew Naselli
  3. Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  4. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman
  5. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  6. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  7. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd
  8. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  9. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 
  10. Perelandra (The Space Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  11. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  13. Path of the Assassin (Scot Harvath, #2) by Brad Thor
  14. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship by John Piper
  15. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
  16. The Flash: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 (Rebirth) by Joshua Williamson
  17. The Lions of Lucerne (Scot Harvath, #1) by Brad Thor
  18. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts
  19. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
  20. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders
  21. Art & the Bible by Francis A. Schaeffer
  22. He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis A. Schaeffer
  23. Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament: Devotions for Lent by Paul E. Stroble
  24. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  25. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
  26. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen
  27. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  28. When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt
  29. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis
  30. Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters by Helen Smith
  31. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
  32. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce K. Waltke
  33. Great Courses: St. Augustine’s Confessions by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman
  34. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth
  35. Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians – Translation by Jeremy Mynott
  36. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy
  37. Cottonmouth and the River (Freddie Cottonmouth #1) by C.S. Fritz
  38. The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripkin
  39. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  40. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

Loss, Lament, and Advent Hope

Mary's Song

It will be fine they can try again. I remember saying these words in my head upon hearing that someone we knew had miscarried. By God’s grace, I never said these words aloud. I had no idea the loss and pain that a couple goes through in losing a child through miscarriage. I now know as we lost our first child through miscarriage. Memories of the elation surrounding the first sounds of a heart beating to the depths of despair accompanying the sonogram showing no movement and no growth. The trip to the hospital to remove the life that no longer was. Untelling those we loved the news we had weeks before broke to them was a painful reminder of a life we would not see in this world. The questions of how the baby was doing by well-meaning people who had no idea were a further reminder of our silent pain.

We came through that season saddened but stronger. To this day I see kids her age, and I think of what she would have been like, and it makes me long for heaven. I actually think of her when we put out our stockings and buy presents for our kids. As we gather at Christmas, we are surrounded by those we love and are reminded of those we have lost. Our Christmas fests with empty chairs that serve as reminders of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where every seat will be filled. What I found out in the years that followed is the loss that felt so crippling at the time can never be fully healed by time. It can never be replaced by another child. It can only be understood in light of the incarnation of Christ. Of a God Older than eternity, now for you and me has made himself new.

My wife and I lost our first and only child at the time without the promise or guarantee of ever having kids at all. This created in me when we did have kids being overprotective at times and telling them each morning before I left for work to “be safe” because my kids being ok was what made me ok. All of that changed when I was awakened to the gospel truth of what God had done for me in Christ. I realized that my family had become the functional god of my life. That if they were not ok, my life lost its meaning because I didn’t want to experience a loss like that again. I grew up in church and knew all the Sunday school answers to everything. I went to Bible College and learned more answers to more questions. I really did love Jesus, but it wasn’t until I was 31 years old that I found Jesus beautiful. Up until that point in my life, he was, in all honesty, more useful than beautiful.

It wasn’t until I experienced loss myself and walked other people in our church though painfilled loss that I began to see my need for God’s help like I had never before seen. I came across this poem a couple of weeks ago, and it reminded me of the beauty of Christ and the pain of loss.

Mary’s Song
by Lucy Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

For him to see mended, I must see him torn. For him to see mended, I must see him torn. I remember saying something similar one night reflecting on the loss of someone I loved. I remember saying “can’t you see me my heart is broken” “can’t you see this family is torn.” Looking back now the problem wasn’t my heart being torn. The problem was my inability to see that for my heart to be mended I must see Christ torn. Seeing and savoring Christ is the only remedy for a torn heart He was torn so you could be made whole. He was caught so you might go free.

He was blinded in the womb to know my darkness ended. I believe that I will see my oldest child one day. My hope as a Christian is reflected in the gospel hope Jonathan Edwards so eloquently stated: “Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.” That is the gospel hope we all need this Advent season. Jesus thank you for coming yet still come quickly.

Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.

Looking For Advent Resources For Your Family?

Christmas is such a significant time to teach our kids the value of Christ to show them a God who came near. There is so much of our faith that our kids have to grow into. Some things will forever be a mystery, but one thing kids can understand is babies. Jesus, the God-man, becoming a baby. Kids need to know why he came and how he comes. I love how beautifully Sally Lloyd-Jones describes the coming of Christ.

“Everything was ready. The moment Go had been waiting for was here at last! God was coming to help his people just as he promised in the beginning. But how would he come? What would he be like? What would he do?
Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came.”

Advent is Christ coming into our darkness where we least expect it when we least expect it. He came. He came.

Happy Advent.

The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent

Every Christmas, Christians all over the world celebrate the Advent season, recognizing the love, hope, joy, and peace that is found only in Jesus Christ. Through this devotional, Scott James brings to light the many promises of Christ―from birth to ascension―that demonstrate His love for us during this Christmas season. These daily devotions, which are designed for both family and individual use, are timeless and moving reminders of the true gift of Christmas.

The Littlest Watchman: Watching and Waiting for the Very First Christmas

Benjamin is a Watchman. It’s his job to watch for the sign that all God’s promises are coming true to watch a stump.

The trouble is, it’s hard just waiting. And one night, Benjamin finally gives in and stops watching. But that same night, as he sits outside Bethlehem, he gets to watch something wonderful.

Kids will be gripped by what Benjamin saw and will be excited by the Christmas story all over again.

The Jesus Storybook Bible

I did a blog post a few years ago that we unexpectedly discovered that there are 24 Bible stories that lead to the Christmas story in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ book. We read one each day. If you haven’t figured it out already, we are big fans of all people named Lloyd-Jones in the Luce house.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

I love Ann’s passion for the gospel as evidenced in her writing. Gratitude is more than a good idea it’s a sign of a life marked by the gospel of Christ. In Ann’s latest offering she has produced an Advent devotional that is as beautifully illustrated as it is written.

Lifeway Family Advent Guide

Here is a reproducible, email attachable, family advent guide that you can share with families in your ministry. We hope these will help to focus your ministry emphasis this season and lead families to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Advent Storybook From David C. Cook

Add The Advent Storybook to your family holiday traditions and enjoy the rich images and thoughtful retellings of ancient stories that feature God’s recurring, faithful promise to rescue us. A simple question at the end of each story helps readers engage in understanding the bigger story God wants us all to know—the good news of Jesus coming to save us. Parents and children alike will delight in the biblical messages of joy, hope, and peace every day as they look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Prepare Him Room

Guide kids and their families into the heart of Christmas with this gospel-focused, four-week Advent curriculum.

Prepare Him Room by children’s best-selling author Marty Machowski takes a biblical, theological approach to the Old Testament promises and New Testament fulfillment in Christ in a way kids can understand.

With age-appropriate instruction and activities for three different learning levels—preschool, lower elementary, and upper elementary—Prepare Him Room builds gospel hope and enduring theological depth into each child’s celebration of Christmas.

Family Advent

My friend Jenny Smith has a great resource for advent a website that you can go to each and click on the number that coordinates with the date. They will then be linked to a devotional for that day. Each devotional includes:

  • a few verses of Scripture to read together (there are also links where you can read it online and even have it read to you)
  • some discussion thoughts and questions
  • a suggested activity to do together
  • usually some online activity, either a video to watch together or a game to play (please know that we have no control over other content that YouTube links or promotes)
  • a prayer prompt for your family

Parents What Message are You Preaching to Your Kids.

One of the more sobering realities in the life of a parent is that your life is preaching a message to your kids. They will leave your house with the message that your life preached ringing in their ears. When I first became aware of this reality, I started listening to myself. You know what message I was preaching? I kept saying “Stay safe and be careful.” I was teaching my kids that risk is wrong. That stepping out into the unknown is not worth it. I have since been more intentional about what I preach with my words and actions.
Recently one of my favorite Pastor/authors Eugene Peterson passed away. At his funeral, Peterson’s son described the one message his father preached in his church and to his family through his life.

“Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at the funeral that his dad only had one sermon – that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he only had one message. It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life. It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50 years. He remembered these words that his dad had snuck into his room when he was a child to say over him as he was sleeping:

“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”*

Eugene Peterson spent his life in a small church preaching a profound message to his church and his kids. One that he often repeated with his words and by the grace of God his words matched his life. Peterson was faithful to his small church he did not need to be a superstar he wasn’t captivated by fame. Bono from U2 called him and invited him to come to visit his home on the French Rivera, Peterson politely turned Bono down because he was in the midst of translating the book of Isaiah. After Eugene got off the phone with Bono, Peterson’s wife looked shocked and said: “You aren’t going?” He said “No” she then said “But it’s Bono!” to which Peterson replied, “But it’s Isaiah!”

He lived the message of a relentlessly loving God in the context of his local church and the life of his family. His life message was that a loving God who created us is in relentless pursuit of us. That will preach. May God give me the grace to preach this very message to me first and my church and family second.

* Quote taken from Glenn Packiam twitter feed.