Best Books Read In 2014

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Below are my top reads from 2014. They are in no particular order or genre nor have they necessarily been published in 2014.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath. An interesting read with some great stories of why we make and why we don’t make the changes we do in our lives. I also would recommend Made To Stick as well. 

Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day by John S. Leonard. This has become one of my favorite books on sharing the gospel with others. You can read a quick review of it here.

What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. I’m not necessarily an organized person so this book was a great help to me as it caused me to begin thinking about why I should be organized as well as some great practical advise. You can read more about the book here. 

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards & Brannon J. O’Brien. We sometimes forget that many times we read the Bible as though it were a Western text. This is a simple read that helped me to think through the way I interpret and teach Scripture. 

One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World by Tullian Tchividjian. A much needed read in a culture that is all about performance!

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. If you feel like a failure in your walk with Christ and continually beat yourself up about it, this is a great book to read. 

While The World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes Of Age During The Civil Rights Movement by Carolyn Maull McKinstry. The most challenging quote of the book for me was: “It seemed that what people learned at their churches on Sundays about unity and love they placed on the shelf during the remainder of the week.”

Bonhoeffer On The Christian Life: From The Cross, For The World by Stephen Nichols. I’m a Bonhoeffer fan and found this book to be a great summary of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology. This is a great book to begin one’s journey into understanding Bonhoeffer. 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Before I saw the movie, I wanted to make sure I read the book. I’m glad I did. I couldn’t put it down. 

Reordered Love: Reordered Lives: Learning The Deep Meaning of Happiness by David Naugle. Naugle, in this book, does well at showing that true happiness and joy comes from a right relationship with God. This is a much needed read in today’s culture that is obsessed with the search for happiness. 

Making Plans To Waste Time In 2015

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As I approach the year 2015, and as I’ve surveyed the articles and blogs across the Internet, I have discovered some great advice and encouragement for making New Year’s resolutions and setting goals for the upcoming year. Hopefully, I will be able to implement some of it as I truly want to be productive in 2015.

But as I think about constructing goals for optimal proficiency for the year 2015, and not wanting to waste one moment that God has given me, I’m reminded  of and shocked by Carl Trueman’s words…

One of the amazing things about modern American culture is surely the pathological fear of wasting time.

According to Trueman, we have a phobia that we are not using our time well. And as a result, we are becoming stressed out by our busyness to do all and be all. Bottom line: We are scared of free time and as a result of technology, we have less and less of it. Trueman writes…

Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that may be going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.

I don’t think Trueman is against productivity and setting goals, after all, he is a seminary professor. But what I think he is hitting at and what we must take heed to as we approach the new year, is that it’s OK to waste time. In fact, it might be a healthy thing to do.

So though I am thinking through goals to accomplish for this coming year, I’m also planning to waste some time. Who knows? I might even plan on being a little lazy as well. But as I do, I’m reminded that doing so might be a great thing. Especially when I do so with others (most likely my family). For according to Trueman,

Wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.

 

 

Lists Of Best Books Read In 2014

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I always enjoy seeing what others are reading for by doing so, I usually come away adding some books to my own personal reading list. Since it is the end of the year, many folks post their top books of the year. Below is a list of a few of the lists. Hopefully it will inspire you to read in 2015.

  1. Aaron Armstrong’s top books of 2014. 
  2. TGC (Together for the Gospel) Staff Site Best Books from 2014. 
  3. Tim Challies Top Books of 2014. 
  4. Trevin Wax’s Favorite Ten Reads of 2014. 
  5. Kevin DeYoung’s Top Ten Books of 2014. 
  6. One Sentence Book Reviews by Philip Nation. 
  7. Christianity Today’s 2015 Book Awards. 
  8. Biblical Foundations Best of 2014 (This list is a bit more technical in regards to theology and Biblical studies)

 

The Gift Of Gifts

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O Source Of All Good,

What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp

Herein is wonder of wonders;
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on
wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me
to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child
to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou hast given me so much
that heaven can give no more.

(taken from The Valley of Vision, p. 28)

I want to wish each of you a Merry Christmas!!!! 

Around The Web

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Why Your Brain Loves Procrastination – When people procrastinate, they’re avoiding emotionally unpleasant tasks and instead doing something that provides a temporary mood boost. The procrastination itself then causes shame and guilt — which in turn leads people to procrastinate even further, creating a vicious cycle.

Christmas Tree, Inc. – We only have income for 35 days a year; the rest is all expense.

The Christmas Story Is All Wrong – When we think of the first Christmas, often we have a certain image in our minds. The nativity scenes in our homes and churches have the figures neatly arranged around a quiet child wrapped in a clean blanket placed in a quaint manager in a Pinterest-worthy stable. But if we allow ourselves to look past the sterilized sheen of those ceramic or plastic nativity sets, we know that wasn’t really the case.

Racism Is A Deeper Symptom Of A Deeper Issue That We Don’t Want To Address – Christian groups like the ERLC and the Kainos Movement are moving toward hosting discussions on racism in America and in the church in the 21st century, which is a good thing. But, if we are not careful, we will miss the deeper issues that animate the entire problem.

Jane Austen, Tim Keller, and The Happiness of Holiness – After many long, inexcusable years, I finally sat down to read a Jane Austen novel; Pride and Prejudice, to be exact. I suppose I had avoided them in my youth because they were the type of thing my sister–a girl, mind you–read. Also, I’d been subjected to the film Sense and Sensibility as a young boy and I’m still not sure what effect that’s had on my disposition ever since. In any case, inspired by my English acquaintances and a sense of nostalgia for literature, I picked up the copy off the shelf last week and got to work.

The Silence Exercise –  The assignment calls for 90 minutes of silence. Students are instructed to put away their smartphones and leave the presence of other people. They should just be still by themselves, then write a two-page paper reflecting on the experience and putting it in historical perspective. What does it feel like to be silent, to be without constant access to a smartphone? How is this part of our lifestyle now different than in premodern times?

Tim Hawkins – Fun Funeral

Heaven And Earth Come Together

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As you read the Christmas story from Luke this Christmas, consider the words written by Darrell Bock in his commentary on Luke:

Luke 2:1-21 portrays Jesus’ birth with a simplicity that belies the event’s universal significance. The birth of the Davidic Savior and Messiah occurs in a room normally reserved fro animals. His crib is a feed trough. And yet the birth in Bethlehem is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s most significant act for humans. From this simple setting emerges the Lord Jesus, the focus of all God’s promises and of all human hopes.

In Luke 2:11, Jesus’ life is introduced in terms of three titles: Savior points to his role as deliverer; Messiah points to his office in terms of the promised Anointed One of God; and Lord indicates his sovereign authority.

Jesus’ birth is set in the middle of Roman history, in the reign of Caesar Augustus, However, for Luke the key historical figure is not the powerful Roman ruler; it is the frail child, Jesus, the Christ, who is Lord. 

In the angelic exchange with the shepherds, the major point is heaven’s testimony to simple folk. The shepherds seem to represent humankind. After hearing angelic testimony of heaven’s joy over the birth, they respond admirably and go to see the child. They share the joy of heaven upon fulfillment of the word. The see, hear, and testify. Other bystander at the event marvel at what is happening as the birth produces a variety of responses. In Jesus, heaven and earth come together. 

-Luke (Vol. 1) by Darrell L. Bock, p. 225-226

Don’t Let Christmas Become Too Familiar

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Familiarity has the tendency to breed monotony. When we become so accustomed to seeing or hearing the same thing over and over again, we can become indifferent. “Yeah, I’ve heard this over and over again,” we say.

A couple of my children love the group Pentatonix. Specifically, they love their new Christmas album.  As a result, they play it over and over and over and over. Though I do enjoy Christmas music, I will have to admit that I’m growing a bit weary of listening to Pentatonix. No doubt, it’s good music. Pentatonix are some great vocalists. But I’m afraid I’ve heard it too much now. The message of the songs is now lost.

I’m afraid that sometimes, the same can be said of the Christmas story. We know it. We’ve heard it. We’ve read it. We have even seen it acted out. And yet it may have become too familiar to some of us. “Oh yeah!” we say, “I know the story.”

In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey writes:

The facts of Christmas, rhymed in carols, recited by children in church plays, illustrated on cards, have become so familiar that it is easy to miss the message behind the facts.

So what do we do? Well, Yancey tells us what he does.

After reading the birth stories once more, I ask myself, If Jesus came to reveal God to us, then what do I learn about God from that first Christmas?

For Yancey, what he learned shocked him. He writes:

The word associations that come to mind as I ponder that question take me by surprise. Humble, approachable, underdog, courageous–these hardly seem appropriate words to apply to deity.

So as you and I ponder the Christmas story, the story of the Creator becoming the created, what do you learn about God? What do you glimpse of God’s commitment to save us? What do you realize about his love? What shocks you about this story?

As my children continue to play the Pentatonix Christmas album throughout this Christmas season, and most likely, throughout all of 2015, I hope one song in particular does not lose it’s impact on me. True, the tune may grow old, but the message should not. Their remake of Mary, Did You Know? is a great song that reveals much about God becoming man along with the reasons why. It seeks to help us plumb the depths of the Christmas story.

God becoming man is no small thing. Though some of us have heard the story hundreds of times, I pray we don’t become so familiar with it that we forget the miraculous nature of it. Once you truly think about it, I think you will come to realize that it really is the  most shocking, wonderful, true, crazy, glorious, and grace-filled story ever told.

 

Reclaiming Christmas!

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Each Christmas, I always hear disappointment about how our culture  has taken “Christ” out of “Christmas.” People bemoan how the politically correct greeting “Happy Holidays!” has overshadowed shouting “Merry Christmas!” We no longer buy “Christmas trees,” but instead purchase “Holiday trees.” We send “Holiday cards” in place of “Christmas cards.” So we must reclaim Christ in Christmas, right?

Well, before we drag our family, friends, and neighbors to watch the movie Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, I would like to propose another idea. Actually, it’s not my idea, but I like it.

Rodney Clapp, a Christian author and editor, says that we should “Let the pagans have the holiday.” He writes:

We have worried about Christmas too much. Christians in an indifferent and even hostile society need to learn cultural jujitsu–to sometimes let the culture push at points where it wants to, and there collapse of its own momentum. This is especially important in our cultural situation, where resistance is so easily itself turned into marketable commodity. T-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season” make the message itself into a consumer item.

Clapp does not suggest that we as Christians stop celebrating Christmas. But he wants us to put Christmas in the proper perspective. For Clapp, it is Easter that should be returned to greater prominence within the Christian calendar. “The Christian calendar,” writes Clapp, “like the gospel narrative, builds toward and pivots around the focal events of Christ’s passion and Easter. Recognizing the liturgical year is a large step toward seeing Easter as the main Christian holiday.”

It is Easter, the cross and resurrection, in which we see ourselves in need of salvation. Though spreading Christmas cheer is a wonderful thing, speaking of the crucified Messiah is another thing altogether. The cross speaks of our need to be rescued and the lengths to which God goes to do so. Our salvation, no doubt, involves the Christmas story. However, we must take heed lest we, though worrying about our culture taking Christ out of Christmas, place the cross on the periphery of the gospel story.

If we are really worried about Christ being taken out of Christmas, the we do well to place Easter at it’s proper locale within the Christian holidays. “It is only as we reclaim Easter”, suggests Clapp, “that Christians may best reclaim Christmas.” Therefore, “let the pagans have Christmas as their most significant holiday. Easter is the central Christian holiday. And when we are known for our Easter, then we will have our Christmas back.”

Sounds like a good idea to me! Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Easter!