A Prophet’s Crowning Word

Book Review:  Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win
by John M. Perkins

Coming at the end of his life in the midst of another tumultuous age in America, John M. Perkins’ Dream With Me points whites and blacks alike to a better way forward. An American prophet has spoken – maybe his last written words; his people need to listen.

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Book in a Nutshell: Part biography, part memoir, part theology, and part instruction, Dream With Me conveys renowned civil rights activist, Christian thinker, and preacher John Perkins’ “climactic message”: justice and love. The 86 year-old walks the reader through the major points of his life from his humble start as a third-grade drop out to opening his first medical center in Mississippi in the 1970’s, to providing counsel to presidents, governors, and international leaders on racial issues, to handing over his ministry and teaching efforts to a new generation of leaders. Throughout the journey, Perkins shares the lessons he’s learned and applies the biblical principles that have shaped his life and ministry. He offers this wisdom on the American questions of race and class and how the church should take lead in addressing these issues.

Reaction: I have never met the man, but I love John Perkins. I am thankful for his life of faithfulness and sacrifice. I am thankful for his wisdom and his willingness to tell his story. I am thankful for his boldness and his compassion. I am thankful for his firm convictions and his gentle humility.

John Perkins lived in Mississippi through the 1930’s, 40’s, 60’s and 70’s. Bluntly, John Perkins has seen things. He has lost family members to injustice and has personally endured brutality and torture. Throughout it all, he has maintained a humble spirit and a deep love for Christ and his church. A man who has been married for over 65 years and served in ministry for over 56 years of Christian ministry, John Perkins speaks with authority and power that pierces the heart and soul.

Last month, I read Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson. In that book, Dyson preaches to White America in hopes of confronting the sins of racism and injustice. As I mentioned in my review, Dyson presents plenty of important realities and opinions that whites need to hear; however, Dyson’s tone and approach in his delivery stands at risk of ensuring his sermon falls on a deaf congregation.

Perkins’ own “sermon” on the same issues only reinforced this response to Dyson. Like anyone else who attempts to address hot-button issues like race and class, Perkins says things that will make you squirm and make you think. But at every point, Perkins addresses his readers with charity, grace, and humility. His convictions are no weaker than those of Dyson; but the communication of his message shows its superiority in its objective, even-handed, rich, loving tone throughout the book. For example, whereas Dyson refused to acknowledge any need on the black reader’s part, and celebrated his own ability to offend, Perkins writes winsomely yet unafraid to speak directly and biblically to whites and blacks. With courage, he holds to his own convictions when they sway from political or even denominational lines. Dyson might speak truth. Perkins speaks the truth in love.

Both writers noted in their works that one of the biggest issues we face is the reality that blacks and whites often speak past one another. In light of this mutual recognition, if there is a sermon that White America needs to hear, it is the work of John Perkins; for John Perkins preaches his message like a pastor. He preaches like a shepherd who truly cares about his flock.

As I alluded, whether you are white or black, Republican or Democrat, Christian or other, Perkins will force you away from your place of comfort. Perkins, in essence, puts you in position to enter “the last fight”. As you read his work, Perkins tests your own ability to love. For one of the greatest demonstrations of love is the ability to listen. You may shake your head in disagreement at times. You may be directly challenged on some of your long-held assumptions and convictions. But if you will take Perkins’ central message to heart, you will show love when you listen.

I believe Perkins’ writing gives us one of the most important messages we have been given in many years. At a time of vitriol, distrust, anger, prejudice, and rage, America is blessed to have been given this word. The way we are acting today, we do not deserve a message like this. But John Perkins demonstrates his love for the church and for this country in the way he calls us to love God and love one another. My hope is that the church and this country will respond to Dream With Me with a reciprocal love and that justice will truly flood our days.

Quote: Neither clenched fists nor helping hands alone will bring about the complete transformation God wants… We are called to love.

Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

This one belongs on the top shelf! Dream With Me is already among my all-time favorite reads. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You can buy Dream With Me here. 

 

 

White America in a Black Church

The preacher gives it all he’s got, but the congregation looks half-empty and half-asleep.

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Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Book in a Nutshell: Writing according to the form of a worship service in lieu of the traditional chapter approach, Dyson compels his congregation to consider the volatile issue of race in America. Dyson pulls no punches as he addresses both the long history of racism in our country as well as modern-day manifestations including police brutality, appropriation, the N-word, and the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

Reaction: [Note: Since Dyson wrote this as a preacher and the book comes to the reader as a worship service, I respond here as a pastor in the same way I reflect and assess sermons and worship services in the church.]

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Rev. Michael E. Dyson

As a preacher, Dyson cannot be chided for lacking clarity and conviction; by the end of the book, he leaves no room for questions on where he stands or how he expects the reader to respond.

Dyson’s main exposition, which includes three sections directed toward white America and three sections depicting the black experience in America, stands out from the rest of the book. Here, the preacher calls out sin, reveals some of the buried heart-level issues, and shares hard-to-hear truths. The explanation of the stages of white guilt which includes a most helpful look at appropriation and his defense of hot-button topics like affirmative action show Dyson at his best even when church members might disagree.

But like any good preacher, Dyson does not just inform. He expertly uses haunting illustrations from his personal life and closes his address with concrete applications for his white congregation. This section of action steps one can take to begin to bridge the racial gap might have been the most helpful aspect of the entire worship service.

When thinking about a worship service, many since the time of the Reformation operate under this principle: Nothing should distract from the sermon.  The sermon is the part of the sermon where the people of God hear the word of God. Everything else should augment this experience. This is where Tears We Cannot Stop gets in its own way: not in the sermon but in the extras.

In his Call to Worship, Dyson reveals, “It will make you squirm in your seat with discomfort, before, hopefully pointing a way to relief.” He achieves this if nothing else. Before the choir is done singing, many in his congregation will be tempted to squirm their way home as the Hymns of Praise depict police brutality through the lyrics of contemporary R&B songs and hip-hop tracks. In the midst of the corporate singing, Dyson dissects an etymology of the F-word that adds little to his message. Before Scripture is even read and the opening prayer is said, the preacher runs the risk of losing half his audience.

The closing of the worship service hinders the impact of the sermon as well. As any preacher will tell you, there’s not much worse than putting everything you have into a sermon and watching the person giving the Benediction undo your entire sermon. Having already addressed the issue with precision and power, Dyson revisits the election of Donald Trump in The Prelude to Service which precedes only the closing prayer. As shown in the prior quote, the preacher’s stated goal was to end on a high note. The sermon and benediction succeeds in doing just that and the passing of the offering plate only solidifies this higher tone, but the president-elect characteristically drags the service into the sewers.

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Instead of a high note, the service fails to avoid the presidential black hole of race relations.

As both issues of police brutality and the presidency are covered in detail during the sermon, Dyson’s order of service would have supplemented his main address more faithfully if he had opened and closed his service in a different fashion.

Dyson’s sermon needs to be preached, but it also needs to be heard. While commending the ministry of Martin Luther King for being able to communicate to a white audience in a way they could receive, Dyson faces an uphill battle to do the same. His own recognition that white congregants have no problem getting up and walking out of a service might come back to haunt the preacher as the gut-punching, guilt-producing work of Dyson comes packaged blunt, explicit, and often combative.

The preacher gives it everything he’s got. The message needs to be proclaimed. But by the end of the service, the people still need to be in the room and they need to be awake. The question this book leaves unanswered, is will they?

Quote: There is a paradox that many of you refuse to see: to get to a point where race won’t make a difference, we have to wrestle, first, with the difference that race makes.

Ranking: 3 out of 5 stars

Review: When Harlem Nearly Killed King

When Harlem Nearly Killed King
When Harlem Nearly Killed King by Hugh Pearson

Book in a Nutshell: Forgotten in the midst of MLK’s service and speeches, one September week in New York City could have altered the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Visiting Harlem to promote his first book, King deals with tribalism among other black leaders, attempts to take advantage of the fall’s election season to garner support for his cause, and lands in the operating room after a shocking attack.

Reaction: In only 144 pages, this book exposes many events and issues surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. and the broader civil rights movement that are underrepresented in many other works. The initial chapters that reveal King’s struggles in his own ministry as a public figure provide a number of helpful lessons for those in leadership and ministry today. Pearson also provides just enough context regarding the various camps of black leadership, the political contests in New York City, and America’s ongoing fascination and fear with Russian Communism to enable the reader to grasp how the attack on King’s life could take place in the way that it did.

While already a short a read, the book seems to lose it’s steady rhythm in the twelfth chapter as Pearson gets bogged down in discussing the backgrounds of the medical staff at Harlem Hospital. This focus on medicine does present a unique window into the everyday racial discrimination in the late 1950’s, but this section feels alien to the rest of the book. All of the other chapters are of similar length and offer a helpful amount of context while keeping an enjoyable pace. But when the hospital staff emerges the pace shuts down. This lack of uniformity and the cumbersome interruption of the book’s swift movement keeps me from giving it a higher ranking.

Quote: “Had he sneezed violently enough, there’s a good chance he would have drowned in his own blood.”

Ranking: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Review: Black Like Me

Black Like Me
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Book in a Nutshell: In 1959, author John Howard Griffin, with the help of a second-guessing dermatologist, transforms his skin color so that he can discover what it is like to live in the Deep South as a black man. For about six weeks, Griffin struggles to keep his basic needs met, hears things from other men unlike anything he’s ever heard, and wrestles with an internal, psychological turmoil he doesn’t quite anticipate. This book details these experiences and includes some of his conclusions and reflections about the race “question” in America.

Reaction: Howard’s work from nearly 60 years ago produced some complex responses from me, both emotionally and philosophically.

As a sociology major in undergrad, I relished the idea of someone literally trying to live in another person’s shoes. It is a little mind-blowing that this experiment even worked and that Howard wasn’t caught by more people. Because of the nature of his experiment much of the book reads like a thriller as the reader constantly wonders what is John going to face next.

At one level, even as he writes to push for social justice and peace, Howard’s observations can come across as offensive. He makes some fairly broad assertions about how African-Americans feel about certain issues, and he often uses the “we” pronoun as he does it. I kept saying to myself, “Umm, John, you’re still white. How do you really know?” I am sure Howard learned a great ordeal in his experiment, but he seems condescending at times even towards the people he is trying to understand and defend. Using more direct quotes from some of his friends in the black community might have fixed this; however, I do understand that at the time of his writing this, Howard’s goal was for a white audience to receive the message and doing so might have hindered his success there.

On another level, Howard’s experience often provoked me to consider just how much of this has not changed at all. Blatant attacks seem to be on the rise lately and need to be confronted, but I was convicted by some of the more subtle expressions of racism that Howard’s book brings to light. One of these expressions is the tendency of the white man to loosen his tongue and talk more freely around men of color. Whereas we might tighten up our language around white company to maintain a level of decency, whites can knowingly or unknowingly settle into a rougher vernacular that can give the impression that the person talking to us is not worth the same conversational dignity. Because of this helpful observation, I believe I will have more awareness not just in what I say but how I say it.

What resonates the loudest even today are Howard’s calls to the white community to do three things: Be Informed, Listen, and Relate. The whites in Howard’s day and often in ours do not truly know about life as a black man. To bridge the gap and build a more equal and just community, people of all races, but especially the white community, should seek to be learners. They should be better listeners. And they should build authentic, mutual relationships with people from other races. The book may have been written in 1960, but these lessons are timeless; and they are needed in America right now.

Quote: “I was the same man, whether white or black.”

Ranking: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Book in a Nutshell: A political prisoner, Count Rostov, is sentenced not to a term in the Siberian gulags but to a life of confinement in the Metropolitan Hotel just steps away from the Kremlin in Moscow as Russia changes before his eyes under the Communist Revolution. Not unlike Tom Hanks stranded on an island with a volleyball, Rostov masters his surroundings and circumstances in the Hotel by claiming abandoned treasures found in the basement, memorizing the menus at both eating establishments, and developing life-giving relationships that make the only building he can know seem to house its own universe.

Reaction: A Gentleman in Moscow shines. The writing is excellent and poetic. The author is attached to alliteration but not in a way that annoyingly draws attention away from the action (see what I did there?). The characters keep you reading even when the story itself lulls.

What left me in deep thought throughout were the themes of time, culture, and change. Russia is changing and Rostov is expected to change with it. One can find many parallels in the Communist Revolution with our own experience in the early 21st Century as culture changes not at its usual, glacial rate but at blinding speed. Like good comrades, citizens face the demand to bend the knee and join the right side of history. Many of us will bend, but Rostov shows us true life might be found even in a caged life of confinement if one holds on to what really matters.

Quote: “I can’t help suspecting that grand things persist.”

Ranking: 5 out 5 stars

 

Thanks to Gretchen Wright for loaning me the book!

4 Treasures I Found Exploring Geerhardus Vos

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology  by Geerhardus Vos
Book Review and Takeaways

77292741_ec5b47243bDaddy, do you know what Cat in the Hat said?

Thus began my breakfast one morning between Christmas and New Years.

Lowering my coffee, I replied, “No, what did the Cat in the Hat say?”

Explorers never stop exploring.

Thanks to Dr. Seuss via my attentive daughter, Daddy’s breakfast was served with life lessons that morning.

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In one of my favorite reads last year, The Lost City of Z, explorer Percy Fawcett gives his life for the sake of traversing the dark, Amazonian rainforest. Time after time, he returns to South America in hopes of finding an ancient city of riches and wonder.

Fawcett leaves his British home for the Amazon on behalf of the Royal Geographic Society. The President of the Society during Fawcett’s missions once proclaimed this:

There [is] not a square foot of the planet’s surface to which the Fellows of this Society should not at least try to go.

Not a square foot.

There’s still more to see, more to find, and more to learn.

Whether on morning cartoons or in real-life cross-Atlantic missions, the truth remains.

Explorers never stop exploring.

With this mantra firmly centered in my mind as I prepared for a new year, I resolved to explore. To explore new things, new authors, new ideas, new countries, new hobbies.

But as Fawcett shows us, this commitment to exploration drives you to return to the familiar and explore again. Old jungles and old paths. Old things, old authors, and old ideas.

So in 2017, I am exploring the new. You might hear about it this year; that is, if my return to the old blog, obtains new steadfastness.

But in 2017, I am also exploring the old. One way in which this has already happened is a return to the study of systematic theology.

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Geerhardus Vos

I recently finished Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology  by the Dutch professor, Geerhardus Vos. Until recently this work, which is part of a greater five-volume set, was not available in English. Thanks to translator Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., most of us have new territory to explore.

In the same spirit as my reads of 2016 list, below is my take on the book.

REVIEW

Book in a Nutshell: This head-spinning work presents Vos’ teachings on the doctrines of God (His names, being, attributes), the Trinity, God’s decrees, predestination, creation, and providence. Based on lectures given at Calvin Theological Seminary in the 1890’s, this text is delivered in a question-answer format rather than a more typical paragraph format.

Reaction: I have studied this type of material often in the past, but I found this quest back into the jungle of systematic theology refreshing. Sections of the book can be overwhelming as Vos demonstrates his mastery over weighty topics, but he has a knack for distilling his position in crisp summary statements. I enjoyed the format as it enables easy start-stop reading. One of the greatest strengths is the set of indexes in the back of the book that will make returning to it for further study and teaching all the more profitable. If you have never read a book like this before, it might be more helpful to first explore a more accessible venture like Wayne Grudem’s work.

GoodReads Ranking:  5 out of 5 stars

FOUR TAKEAWAYS

On my exploration, I discovered a few treasures I couldn’t hoard all to myself.

1. God’s Infinity and Our Imagination –  God in his perfection has no limits and no restrictions however impossible it is for our limited minds to grasp it.

“We cannot make a concept of the infinite with our thinking… However far we proceed in our imagination, we know that we have not arrived at the end, that we could still take one more step.”

2. Rest – Vos asserts that in God’s rest on the seventh day, there are two aspects. Negatively, rest means “ceasing from creating”. Positively, rest involves “taking pleasure in the finished work”.

True rest is both stopping work and enjoying the fruits.

Think about how we rest. Do we do both? Or do we merely cease from work and forget to enjoy? Maybe, a lot of us feel like we never rest because we only go half way. Maybe, we have to move past stopping and start enjoying.

3. A God Who Governs – Back in 2008, during the national championship game, I prayed that God would let the Memphis Tigers win. I really did. Sadly, God said no.

A lot of people, Christians included, might think this silly. Surely, we think, God doesn’t care about something so meaningless. Vos has my back, however. He writes, “Scripture teaches us that nothing (emphasis mine) is excluded from God’s governing, be it small or large, free or necessary, good or evil (win or lose?).”

Reformed Christians have long taught that the providence of God is exhaustive (in case you missed it, exhaustive includes basketball). Greek philosophers like Aristotle believed the gods only concerned themselves with important matters, but the God of the Bible is no mere Zeus. When we think the same way as Aristotle, we are thinking about God’s heavenly reign as king in an earthly way.

So the current application here is simple: For whatever reason, God didn’t want Nick Saban and Alabama to win again. Bama Christians will have to recite Romans 8:28 to themselves until next year.

4. Straight Talk – When you read a systematic theology work, you will be confronted with controversial issues. There’s no way around that. Geerhardus Vos doesn’t pull punches.

ON THE TRINITY – “Is the Son God in the sense that one can speak of only one God?… Everyone must take sides [Vos argues Yes!]. No one can be saved from it with vague answers.”

ON FREE WILL – “The decree of God also embraces the free acts of men… it is completely absurd and impossible that what is most important… in world history would be beyond the control of God.”

ON GOD’S JUSTICE – “One does not convince such people, one stops their mouth.”

 

My trek through the Dutch-Reformed Amazon delivered more than enough plunder to make the effort worthwhile. I am glad I made the journey.

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But with Dr. Seuss still in mind, the journey continues. I have already begun the initial leg of Vos’ second volume on Anthropology and I have other jungles, caves, and rivers to explore this year as well. Most of them are Russian.

What are you exploring right now? Maybe it is a new author or artist or hobby. Feel free to share some your plans below.

Maybe you don’t have an answer. Whether its an old Dutch professor, a classic novel that has sat on your nightstand for months, or a foreign language waiting to be learned and spoken, let the Cat in the Hat keep you on your toes and push you down a path, any path.

Explorers never stop exploring.

16 Books That Made My 2016

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2016 was a year of reading for me. Great books. Dumb books. Long books. Short books.

Thanks in part to a 2016 Christian Reading Challenge by Tim Challies as well as some ongoing accountability from my wife, I read more books in 2016 than I have ever read in a single year. Dropping cable for a few months didn’t hurt either!

As 2017 has started, a few people have asked me about my favorite reads or for some reading recommendations.

Below, I have listed 16 books that tell the story of my 2016.

Please note: This list is not my top 16 books. When I reflect on 2016, these are the books that come to mind for one reason or the other. You will find five fiction books, six nonfiction books, and five Christian books (with a silly bonus since it’s 2017).

With each book, I have written a brief summary, my reaction, a quote from the book, and my GoodReads ranking for each book. I gave only 7 of the 70 books I read last year a full 5 out of 5 possible stars last year. All seven are listed below. I ranked 11 books 4 out of 5 stars; seven are included in the list below as well. So if you pay attention to my rankings, you have a good gauge at how my top book list would look.

 

FICTION BOOKS

The Brothers Karamazov 51fiyykscxl-_sx333_bo1204203200_by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Book in a Nutshell: All-time classic from one of Russia’s greatest authors featuring three brothers: one hedonist, one atheist, and one faithful. Love triangles, murder, courtroom drama, and existential philosophy rolled into one.

Reaction: Dostoevsky resonates with me every time. I spent a day in wonder when I finished the last page. It might be my favorite book of all time – absolutely my number 1 book in 2016. 800-plus pages will scare some away, but the journey is worth it. For a taste of Dostoevsky at a more friendly 552 pages, try his Crime and Punishment.

QuoteHe fell to the earth a weak youth and rose up a fighter, steadfast for the rest of his life, and he knew it and felt it suddenly, in that very moment of his ecstasy. Never, never in all his life would Alyosha forget that moment. “Someone visited my soul in that hour”…  

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.

 

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke41zlahmzqel-_sx328_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Based on a real-life heirloom, Hawke writes as an Anglo-Saxon father who is preparing to leave his children for battle and fears his probable death. Each brief chapter offers the father’s wisdom on virtue and character. Think Sword in the Stone meets Second Timothy.

Reaction: After hearing my senior pastor rave about this one, I read the book in one sitting and underlined half the book. I will be tempted to quote this book almost any time I teach.

Quote: On Solitude – Just as it is impossible to see your reflection in troubled water, so too is it with the soul. 

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.

 

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton51ccka8uyzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_1

Book in a Nutshell: More than 40 years before Orwell, Chesterton predicts what England will look like in 1984. A king is chosen to rule at random, and absurd chaos ensues.

Reaction: Chesterton may not have intended this, but the book hauntingly and hilariously mirrored much of the 2016 presidential election. In the Trump era, this book feels like a current script for a SNL-type movie.

QuoteThe men who lounged and wondered behind him followed partly with an astonishment at his brilliant uniform, that is to say, partly because of that instinct which makes us all follow one who looks like a madman, but far more because of that instinct which makes all men follow (and worship) one who chooses to behave like a king.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling51bbtjau6ql-_sy417_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: If you don’t know by now, you probably don’t care.

Reaction: I read this series to have some fun conversations with some high school students. As a whole the series is good, but not to the level I was expecting. There’s more epic action than Narnia, especially in the later books, but less grand redemptive truths and themes.

QuoteNot a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?  – Albus Dumbledore

GoodReads Ranking: Favorite: Goblet of Fire – 4 of 5 stars. Least: Order of the Phoenix – 2 stars

 

Open Season by C.J. Box51cuk-znxdl-_sx282_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A down-to-earth Wyoming Game Warden begins his adventures in this book as he tries to protect not only an endangered species but his young family as well.

Reaction: Joe Pickett was my 2016 guilty pleasure. The Game Warden angle breathes some fresh air into the mystery genre. The series consistently presents intriguing stories and endearing family dynamics, but readers should know there are brief mature episodes and some adult language in the books. Concerned parents and weak consciences might not enjoy the books for this reason.

QuoteThings are about to get real western. 

GoodReads Ranking: Open Season: 4 of 5 stars. Other books in the series: 2-4 stars.

 

NONFICTION BOOKS

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown51dfdkjdzpl-_sx324_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Focusing on one team member, Joe Rantz, this historical book tells the story of the Washington University rowing team that represented the United States in the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany in 1936.

Reaction: Reading the book felt like rowing the boat with the team. Some parts felt like you really have to put effort into getting to the finish line; at other times you hardly noticed how easily you are coasting through the book. By the end, this was one of my favorites in 2016.

QuoteIt’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars.

 

Black Flags: Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick51qjxe2y2zl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book covers the events and foreign policy mistakes that led to the emergence of the infamous terrorist group.

Reaction: I needed this book. Middle Eastern history and politics are hard for me to follow. Reading this equipped me to understand how we got to this point and to make some sense of the current events in Iraq and Syria. At times, this book reads like an intense thriller.

QuoteIn each case, the Islamists promised freedom from tyrannical regimes and the creation of a just society, ordered according to godly principles. What they delivered instead was an armed dictatorship defined by corruption, cruelty, and death.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi41v2b9ognesl-_sx336_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A medical professional finds out he only has a little while left to live. This book offers the needed perspective that death is certain for us all, and the last few pages of the book will make you cry ugly.

Reaction: This one probably makes the top 5 for the year, but I don’t see myself ever reading this again.

QuoteMost lives are lived with passivity toward death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 out of 5 stars

 

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann612b3z0cs-pl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This is a true story about one of the last great explorers, Percy Fawcett. Intertwined with Fawcett’s adventure is the author’s own journey to the Amazon.

Reaction: I could not put this book down at all. Everything that captures your imagination when you watch Indiana Jones grabs you here except this story actually happened. I am carefully anticipating the upcoming movie release.

QuoteIf we die, we’ll die walking.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates51cjodbpzsl-_sx333_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: An African-American father writes to his son about what it means to grow up as a black man in our country and world today.

Reaction: As a white man, there were truths I needed to hear and feelings I needed to understand. Whether it is this book or another like it, I would recommend all my white friends to read something like this in order to get a better understanding of what life is like in someone else’s shoes. For me, Coates’ atheistic worldview undermined some of the ethical arguments he proposed.

QuoteBut all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones51pebowsd9l-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Half of the book is dedicated to the raging surge of legal and illegal use of opiates across our country. The other half unveils the rise of a Mexican beach community that produces a majority of the heroin on our streets today.

Reaction: As I now live in the middle of the opiate epicenter, I might not have read another book that spoke more to my own community and context. The content was better than the delivery at times, but I learned a lot reading this one.

Quote“We can talk morality all day long, but if you’re drawing five hundred dollars a month and you have a Medicaid card that allows you to get a monthly supply of pills worth several thousand dollars, you’re going to sell your pills.”

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

CHRISTIAN BOOKS

On Preaching by H.B. Charles, Jr.412glbtjnrl-_sx326_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: A short and practical guide to preaching. It covers a myriad of topics including sermon calendars, preaching without notes, being a guest preacher, and finding your own preaching style.

Reaction: One of my favorite preachers hits a home-run with this book. It has helped me grow as much as any other preaching book I have read. If you teach or preach and you do not own this book, get it soon.

QuoteOur preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.

GoodReads Ranking: 5 of 5 stars

 

Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak51mep0r-82bl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book seeks to help guide parents in a number of important topics regarding college. Each chapter includes good discussion starters to equip parents to shepherd students during this transitional season of life.

Reaction: This book will benefit parents as much as they let it. Helpful truths abound and the conversation starters will greatly serve any family that takes the time to try them.

QuoteThriving at college begins in the home.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

Union With Christ by Rankin Wilbourne41revbuljyl-_sx323_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This first-time author explains what Union with Christ is and means, traces the doctrine through Scripture and church history, and demonstrates how this doctrine impacts everyday life.

Reaction: I recently preached on a text that addressed this doctrine, and Wilbourne’s book helped me immensely. Any Christian would benefit from studying this overlooked doctrine.

QuoteUnion with Christ is not an idea to be understood, but a new reality to be lived, through faith.

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

Oversee God’s People by Brian Croft and Bryce Butler41umjnvprgl-_sx363_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: Croft and Butler address the oversight and administration duties of an elder and pastor. This helpful book covers several topics (ex: medical emergencies, security issues) I cannot remember encountering in other pastoral ministry books.

Reaction: I read this book alongside the other elders in my church. When we met to discuss the book during our elder meetings, we enjoyed many helpful discussions in seeking to apply the book’s lessons to our own congregation. Each chapter is brief but offers plenty of material to digest and discuss with other leaders.

QuoteAdministration is shepherding.

GoodReads Ranking: 3 of 5 stars

 

Transforming Homosexuality by Denny Burke, Heath Lambert41ctbywt2hl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: These two authors present the biblical understanding of sexuality in a winsome manner. Included in this short book is an important discussion on the Bible’s teaching regarding sexual thoughts, desires, and inclinations.

Reaction: If you’re a conservative Christian, this will help clarify the Bible’s teachings and equip you to have truthful and loving conversations. If you are open-minded or even if you disagree, this book will present to you the biblical position with conviction, clarity, and compassion.

QuoteWe are not merely the sum total of our fallen sexual desires. 

GoodReads Ranking: 4 of 5 stars

 

Bonus: What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding by Thomas Hill51wb2s5tzwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Book in a Nutshell: This book is a father-centric parody of the best-selling What to Expect When You are Expecting. Over the course of the book, one father offers sarcastic advice to other fathers-to-be for each phase of the nine-month pregnancy.

Reaction: We welcomed our third child in 2016 so I tried this book out one lazy Saturday morning. Things start off strong as the introduction claims that men are the ones who really suffer during a pregnancy. I read all nine-months in one sitting so some of it might have been funnier if I had read it over the nine-month period.

Quote: (Note to the wife) Understanding what your husband is going through is the most important thing you can do. And don’t forget that pregnancy can be just as challenging, rewarding, and involving for a woman as it is for a man.

GoodReads Ranking: 2 of 5 stars

 

REFLECTIONS

Setting a goal, pursuing some diversity in reading, and having an accountability partner all helped make 2016 my best reading year ever. My wife and I are once again participating in the Challies Reading Challenge in 2017.

This year, I am pursuing a smaller total of books only because I am hoping to knock out a handful of looooong books (including the 1200-plus page classic War and Peace).

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The 2017 Non-Kindle Stack Has Begun.

I’d love to hear from you. What books made your 2016? I still have several open slots for books to read this year so feel free to let me know some books you think I should consider reading in 2017!