This is embarrassingly late. Here is a rundown of the 9 books I read in November. Happy reading!
RUN WITH THE HORSES: THE QUEST FOR LIFE AT ITS BEST BY EUGENE PETERSON
I read this book in February. I read it once again in November. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read it cover to cover. It provides me comfort like no other book. When Eugene Peterson died last year I wrote about his impact on my pastoral ministry. If you did not read my reflection, you can find it here.
I consider Peterson a mentor, even though we’ve never met. He has taught me countless lessons through the pages of his work. He has a reserved shelf in my office. In some strange way, I find comfort in knowing his wisdom and experience is at my fingertips.
Run With The Horses is a great illustration of Peterson’s academic capability and his pastoral sensitivity. The book covers the book of Jeremiah, not in its entirety, but in great detail. Peterson pulls certain passages throughout the prophet’s writing and provides historical details, insightful comments, and an overdose of congregational application. It is a great companion volume for those studying Jeremiah.
Here is Peterson’s rift on the passage of Scripture reflected in the book title (Jeremiah 12:5):
Life is difficult, Jeremiah,. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling.
Masterlife: Developing a Rich Personal Relationship with the Master by Avery Willis
I’ve told the story before. I came to faith and discipled in the faith through the LifeWay material Masterlife. Through these Bible studies I first read the Bible, memorized verses, and learned to follow after Jesus. This volume is all of the Masterlife Bible Studies converted from workbook format into a highly readable and practical book. I didn’t even know the book existed until my eyes landed upon it in a used bookstore. Half Price Books for the win … again.
I read this book during the Thanksgiving holiday. My mind was filled with memories and my heart swirled with emotions as I reflected on my early days of faith. This book sounded so familiar that I felt as if I wrote it. So much of the Masterlife material is foundational to my view of discipleship and my approach to discipling others.
I can’t imagine a more helpful book for a person seeking to grow in their relationship with the Lord. It provides solid content and extremely helpful practical steps. Willis has sprinkled his stories of life as a disciple maker and missionary throughout the books. The book beats with a pastoral heart. Get it. Read it.
The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity is Actually Thriving in America and the World by Glenn Stanton
Preachers – you need this one. It is extremely popular for news outlets and pulpits to proclaim the demise of the church. Studies are cited. Stats are given. But is this accurate or fake news? Stanton does not provide new research in this volume but he compiles research and provides a deeper dive. A few things discovered:
Liberal churches are hemorrhaging members.
Biblical churches are holding strong.
Church attendance is at an all-time high.
More young adults attend biblically faithful churches today than attended fifty years ago.
Atheism and agnosticism are not growing wildly.
The Nones are not new unbelievers. Global Christianity is booming.
I’ll leave it up to you to dig into these findings. Stanton provides an introductory view of research but provides onramps for you to dig deeper.
Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church by Scot McKnight
My first reading of this book has left it littered with underlines and marginal notes. McKnight walks a very fine line in this book but does it with care and balance. He writes on the topic of pastoral ministry as a professor not a pastor. He proceeds with caution but ultimately does a tremendous job of providing key exegetical insights and steps towards practical application.
I’ve grown a bit jaded by the academy casting stones at the church. The church becomes an easy target for those that think they can do it better … but don’t. This book is not in the same hemisphere of such critics. McKnight discusses how pastor play the role of culture makers. He writes, “Some people who want to pastor think pastoring is about preaching and sermons and studying all week, but what I mean by pastor is the passion who pastors people.” He then provides chapters that show the heart and role of a pastor. All of it is aimed at christoformity. We are to be shaped into the image of Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father by Wesley Hill
Don’t waste your time on this one. Instead pick up A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer by W. Phillip Keller. You might know Keller from his wildly popular A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Hill’s volume reads distant and impersonal while Keller’s books reads like an intimate conversation developed from an intimate reading of Scripture.
Hill’s book is masterfully designed but I was left scratching my head at more than one of his interpretations. The pretty design and format doesn’t cover the content. I hate to run the book through the mud so just let me point you to Keller’s book. While you’re at it, also pick up Keller’s Predators in our Pulpits and A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer. Worth it.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I’ve been discussing Christian community a great deal these days from the pulpit and elsewhere. Each time that I speak of “Christian community” I’m reminded of this classic work from Bonhoeffer. I’ve read this book countless times. Each time I read it my copy receives more underlines, exclamation points, and stars in the margin. If you’ve never read Bonhoeffer, Life Together would be a great introduction to his theology and ministry.
Bonhoeffer provides a glimpse into the Christian community he experienced leading students of an underground seminary during the Nazi years in Germany. The book explores the virtues of personal prayer, worship, everyday work and service. Here is a taste:
“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have another, wholly, and for all eternity.”
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE BY CS LEWIS
I still vividly remember reading this book to my daughter two years ago. When reading the final few chapters that result in the death of Aslan (Sorry for the spoiler. But you really should get around to reading this one), she exclaimed, “But Aslan is Jesus! He’s not going to stay dead! He’ll come back to life.” I wish I had the audio recorded but it still rings in my ears.
This book shows the consequence of Edmund befriending the White Witch. It is always winter but never Christmas in Narnia due to the White Witch’s curse. Yet, Aslan is on the move. With the appearance of Aslan, comes the appearance of Christmas. Aslan gives his life to save not only Edmund but all of Narnia. Yet, as my daughter noted, he doesn’t stay dead. It is a beautiful depiction of John 3:16 along with the power of the resurrection.
I did not read the Narnia series as a chid but as a college student. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to read them to my son and daughter. I pray they enjoy them, see Jesus through them, and continue to read and read and read and read and read and read.
A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection by Nolan Zavoral
I took a trip down memory lane with this one. I was once in love with the sport of wrestling. It consumed my days, my nights, my thoughts, my heart, and my identity. I was constantly on my way to practice, in the middle of practice, or coming home from practice. To save you a long story … one day I encountered Jesus and my affections and my identity were transformed. Yet, I still have a deep connection to the sport. Dan Gable was the face of the sport for years. There is no bigger legend.
For twenty-one years, Dan Gable’s Iowa Hawkeyes dominated wrestling: twenty-one consecutive Big 10 titles and fifteen national championships. Zavoral chronicles the dramatic 1996-97 season, in which Gable led his team to a record-breaking performance at the national championship. The book is about the team but is more of an intimate portrait of Gable. The books covers his childhood, interrupted by the tragedy of his sister’s murder, and chronicles Gable’s own wrestling career which consisted of only one collegiate defeat and an Olympic gold medal.
I read this book as a high school wrestler when the book was a new release. It was a fun to return to it. It also led me to return to the next book.
A Wrestling Life: The Inspiring Stories of Dan Gable by Dan Gable with Scott Schulte
Once filled with one wrestling book, I was ready for another. I read A Wrestling Life when it was first released a few years ago. I preordered this book when I first read its press release. I eagerly anticipated its arrival. I was disappointed to find the book to be about 1/3 of the size I expected it to be. Gable is a legend. As a wrestler he is a NCAA national champion, a world champion, and an Olympic gold medalist. As a coach he won 15 NCAA national championships. Thats just scratching the surface. Plus, in his personal life he has experienced his fair share of tragedy. I was looking forward to a mammoth book. Yet, it’s under 150 pages.
The book, as the title suggests, is comprised of “inspiring stories.” Each chapter is a stand alone story from Gable’s life or career. Gable as since released a second volume. I have yet to read it. Yet, I can guarantee those stories should have been included in this one.