Saturday, December 31, 2022

Reading List 2022


I managed to read books from a dozen genres this year, according to how I'd categorize this list of 20 books. 

Apart from the books listed here, I consistently read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as the most important book to be continually reading. 

Here are the books I've read in 2022...

  1. Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? by Roland Allen. Even though this book was written in 1912, it’s so ahead-of-its-time insightful that it feels prophetic. What Roland Allen wrote 110 years ago feels like a clear call to attention for any church planter today in 2022. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years, and I’m about to embark on leading a new church plant, and I found much of what I read here highly relevant to my situation. If you can set aside the Anglican particulars and the outdated vocabulary, there are many invaluable principles to be gleaned here from Roland Allen’s incisive and prescient observations. For example, because I’m not working cross-culturally in a faraway place, I often found it helpful to think “young adults” on pages where Allen used the word “natives” or “local peoples,” and to think “older generations” on pages where Allen used words like “foreigners” or “missionaries.” The lessons I learned by doing that were amazing. I consider this book a timeless classic on church planting.
  2. The Army of the Potomac: Mr. Lincoln's Army by Bruce Catton. There were evenings when I’d put this book down, unable to read any further after reading only 5-10 pages, because the angst I felt was too great. It just seemed like too much pain and suffering due to too much pride and stupidity. And yet Catton’s reflective and perceptive narration kept drawing me back again and again to learn more from his helpful interpretations of these early battles of the Civil War.

    The climax of the book is the Battle of Antietam, said by many to be “the worst single day of the entire war.” The many heart-rending “what ifs” in a battle that could have truly resulted in a war-ending victory for the Union have long left me inexpressibly exasperated with General McClellan’s inept leadership of so many thousands of men whose lives seemed lost for absolutely no reason.

    But then Bruce Catton suddenly opened my eyes at the end of the book to what I’d never seen before. He explains that a decisive and complete war-ending Union victory at Antietam would not have been “an abolitionist’s peace” — the kind that was eventually achieved at the end of the war. The very fact that Antietam was only a “tactical” Union victory — and an incomplete victory — allowed Lincoln to immediately follow it up with his Emancipation Proclamation, making this bloody, horrific battle actually the most decisive battle of the war, “affecting the whole course of American history ever since.” Which meant the lives lost in it did have meaning, however horrible the battle truly was.

    Mr. Catton, you have my attention, and I certainly want to continue reading this trilogy.
  3. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners by Dane Ortlund. As someone who has too often felt a sense of futility in my halting progress as a Christian over many years, I found this book refreshing. Dane Ortlund revived my hope by tossing out the typical performance-based approach to sanctification, and by inviting me into deeper intimacy with Jesus. I was drawn to his clear and simple message that my growth as a Christian is not about measuring my outward behaviours as much as about pursuing a genuine relationship with Jesus so that he can accomplish his good work in me. Ortlund developed this unapologetically simple theme by treating it much like a diamond that’s worthy of examination from many different angles. And as he did so, he often made profound truths accessible by his excellent quotes and analogies.

    My only reservation as I finished reading this book was an overall feeling that it all just sounded too easy — too unresisted — too much like the inevitability of falling dominos. It’s unfortunate that a book this profound (which it is) felt at times on the verge of being glib. For though I felt helped with the feelings of futility that I’d felt before I began this book, I also completed it with a sense of having been skillfully reminded of fundamental things that I already knew, but that I still struggled to do.
  4. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It by Roland Allen. This was not an easy book to read, but I considered it an extremely important book for me to read as I prepare to launch an evangelistic church plant. Much like Allen’s previous book, “Missionary Methods” (which this book was written to defend and reinforce), this book is full of timeless insights. To transfer the application of those insights into my 21st century North American context, I regularly thought about traditional church methodologies whenever Allen addressed traditional Anglican missionary methodologies. The parallels abounded. There were quite a few times when I felt truly wowed by Allen’s wisdom, and amazed at the obvious present-day applicability of his observations.
  5. The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road by Bruce Catton. Catton is clearly both an able historian as well as an expressive storyteller. As the latter, he often waxes eloquent, like an orator of old, conveying the heart of the story rather than just the facts; focusing on the humanity of the characters rather than just their roles. There were times I found this riveting, though at other times a tad tedious. But what I appreciated about Catton’s storytelling was his attention to the details that weren’t tactically significant, but that filled in scenes of enormous scale with little bits of knowledge that made the story more lifelike. Certainly there were times when I’d have preferred a few more details about the battles, but I can find that information in the more technical books out there. What Catton provides here is a heartfelt and fascinating telling of a tale that explains some of the dramatic transitions that both an army and a nation experienced amidst a very cruel war.
  6. Ignite Your Life: Living for Significance by David A. Macfarlane. This is an extremely practical book written by a man who has truly lived and modelled all that he describes in it. Having personally met David Macfarlane, I could see his winsome smile as he told his cheesy jokes, and I could hear his voice as he good-naturedly created conversations between nameless biblical characters as if they were just like ourselves, with all our usual biases and excuses. His subtitle is “Living for Significance,” but what made this book worthwhile for me was his emphasis on how to make the most of the opportunities God gives us to make a difference in this world. I needed to hear his words of confident faith on that theme as I prepare to embark on a new untried ministry initiative. There were a couple times when what David wrote felt so appropriate and applicable that I immediately began to put his points into practice. I’m grateful for his wisdom and encouragement.
  7. What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. This book clarifies the essential elements of the gospel, and I personally found that abundantly reassuring. Amidst the many muddy and distorted versions of the gospel that I’ve been exposed to in recent years, I found it encouraging to hear the gospel explained so clearly and so compellingly. And I also didn’t feel the need to agree with every line or nuance of Greg Gilbert’s explanations to feel inspired by his description of the gospel. I simply appreciated his many great reminders in this brief book of what really matters as I consider and communicate the gospel of Jesus.
  8. Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary by W. Stephen Gunter. I found it enormously helpful to finally read Arminius rather than just what others have written about him. Gunter has provided a long overdue and extremely valuable service by translating Arminius’ “Declaration of Sentiments,” which is surely Arminius’ most complete and coherent explanation of where he stood on key theological issues. Not only did this clarify much of what Arminius actually believed (in contrast to what many people say he believed, or in contrast to what many of his theological “followers” currently believe), but I also found it encouraging to hear the spirit with which he stated his beliefs (in contrast to the vehemence of his adversaries). Arminius wrote that “I have no doubt that if they [his adversaries] had consented to the private conversation… We would have arrived at a mutually satisfactory conclusion, or we would have concluded at the very least that our disagreement presented no immediate danger to the truth necessary for salvation and piety, or to Christian peace and unity” (p.100-101). That statement comes not only from the mind of a great theologian, but also from the heart of a pastor who wanted to walk in unity with those who contended with him. That’s a posture we could use more of these days. So whether I applaud Arminius’ “Declaration of Sentiments” (which I enthusiastically do), or find some of his views confusing (which I also do), I hope I can carry my heartfelt beliefs with the same gracious spirit with which Arminius carried his.
  9. The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton. Reading the 1,049 pages of this amazing trilogy in my comfortable chair is obviously a vastly different universe than the 1,488 bloody, death-filled days of this war. But as I read Catton’s descriptive conclusion of this third volume, I found myself feeling what might’ve been a hint of what the Army of the Potomac likely felt as they silently stared across an unfought battlefield at a Confederate flag of truce. This final volume introduces the highly capable Union generals who were relentless enough to finally bring this war to a close, which felt such a relief after enduring the incompetencies of so many previous Union generals.

    And if you want to read just one paragraph that epitomizes Catton’s approach to writing these 1,000-plus pages, check out the first paragraph of the last numbered section of the last chapter. It’s classic Catton. And I found it irresistible prose that even got me reflecting on the course of my own life. This trilogy is an epic saga well worth the read.
  10. The Epistle to the Hebrews by F. F. Bruce. Long ago, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews invited his readers to rest in the wonders of the finished work of Christ. Unfortunately, my own personal struggles with drivenness have long made that message very difficult for me to embrace. So this year, I decided to read through Hebrews very slowly, while also reading through F.F. Bruce’s commentary parallel to my reading of the epistle. And what an incredibly rewarding experience it’s been. This commentary is not only a valuable reference book for carefully studying Hebrews, but F.F. Bruce has also provided a wealth of faith-strengthening insights that have truly deepened my relationship with Jesus. This commentary is well worth reading devotionally, and as I’ve done so, F.F. Bruce has helped me to grow in my understanding of the truths in this amazing epistle.
  11. Relentless: The Power You Need to Never Give Up by John Bevere. I really struggled with this book, but I kept reading because I know I have trouble persevering amidst adversity, and I truly hoped there were important things I could learn. And I certainly benefited from portions of this book that felt like they hit some bullseyes in my life. I appreciated John Bevere’s emphasis on how God has given us authority to rule with Christ in our circumstances rather than letting our circumstances rule us. And I was helped by his clear reminders of why we can confidently believe God even amidst the troubles we face in a spiritual war, and of how we can more effectively fight in that war. It was also good to be assured that when we’re doing God’s will, we can be certain that any adversity we face is not only conquerable in Christ, but will also train us for future challenges.

    But unfortunately, my frustrations with this book were many. I was troubled with some of Bevere’s reckless theological overstatements (the worst being when he heretically and repeatedly insisted that “we are Christ” rather than more carefully explaining our union with Christ). I was also annoyed when he would carelessly base his points on fragments of verses from Bible paraphrases (and in one case, on the punctuation of a paraphrase) even if the wider context of a passage in a more literal translation emphasized something different. And I also grew weary of how insubstantial his quoted reference material was, especially as he repeatedly felt the need to emphasize how scholarly it was. And yet in the midst of all that, I relentlessly persisted, and I managed to learn some worthwhile things by chewing the meat and spitting out the bones.
  12. The Mount of Olives: 11 Declarations to an Extraordinary Life by Michael V. Ivanov. This book took me by surprise. Given to me as a gift, I didn’t know what to expect, but quickly found the principles shared in the context of its story quite relevant to my life. It wasn’t just the fact that I felt struck by how much some of the book’s 11 declarations felt worthy of remembrance and of applying to my life. What really got my attention was the pointed applicability that a few of the declarations had in my current context. I just know that it’s going to be important for me to put some of them into practice.

    However, I was distracted by how the author unrealistically inserted too many 21st century sensibilities into the book’s first century characters, and I was also particularly disappointed by the manner in which the author included Jesus in the story. Jesus is portrayed as powerful enough to miraculously heal, but then he merely points to the boy’s principles as if knowing them is more valuable than actually knowing Jesus. The book thereby presents the principles as the truths we need for a changed life, rather than more accurately portraying a miracle-working Jesus as the only one who can work the most important change that is needed in our lives. I was also troubled by how the author described conversations with Jesus — as well as a heavily-modified account of his crucifixion — in ways that missed the whole point of his incarnation and crucifixion. The scene at the cross could have been the moment when the boy heard the most important declaration of all: “It is finished.” But instead, the book’s final declaration is vaguely about believing, with a painful lack of clarity about precisely what it’s so important to believe. That leaves the book’s concluding focus merely on a boy and his new-found principles rather than on the power of the resurrected Jesus, who is briefly alluded to near the end.
  13. The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins. This book wore me out. It should’ve been entitled, “The Immeasurable Wordcount.” And Atkins’ writing style seemed so disjointed that I feel like a passenger in need of a chiropractor after all the unannounced thematic zig-zagging he did. It not only happened throughout every chapter, but even within paragraphs, and even in single sentences, leaving me too often wondering, “What’s he talking about now?” But the weariness is also due to the lengthy descriptions of so many peripheral details. It seemed like Atkins just didn’t know when enough was enough. Near the end of his second last chapter, Atkins described being at a lecture where he wanted to tell the speaker to “put a sock in it,” and then wondered why we couldn’t all just do that. At that point, I wanted Atkins to do so, but with just one chapter left, I figured I’d read to the end.

    But what made the book so overly long was also because it wasn’t actually a book about different deserts of the world (as the subtitle suggests). It was far more about various social issues being faced by people living near deserts. And yes, it was interesting to read about the Anangu people of Australia, and the Uighur people of China, and the fishermen of the failing Aral Sea, and about the Central American refugees in America. But amidst all that, there was just no need to include chapters about the excesses of the Burning Man event, and about why an Eritrean man named Peter chose not to join a monastery in Egypt. In other words, too often, Atkins’ social commentary just had too little to do with deserts or with people indigenous to deserts — there just happened to be a desert in the background as he included us in his personal travels. So overall, not a very satisfying read.
  14. Covenant: The Framework of God's Grand Plan of Redemption by Daniel I. Block. Wow, what a feast! My biblical worldview has certainly been expanded. Daniel Block has provided an extremely comprehensive explanation of how the entire biblical narrative, from beginning to end, is tied together by God’s persistent commitment to covenant relationships with his creation. I guess I kind of knew that, but this book helped me to see how each covenantal stage not only builds upon the previous stage, but also how each progressive stage clearly echoes the others. Grace is evident at every stage, from the rainbow to Sinai to David’s throne, and to the cross! What an encouragement to see how God’s love and grace are as clearly evident in the covenants of the First Testament as in what’s been fulfilled in the New Testament. And what a helpful challenge to see how grace was even being expressed in the giving of laws, and in the commands of our Saviour, so that we know how we can live for God by his grace!

    I also found it helpful to see how Dr. Block clearly emphasized Israel’s ongoing relevance in God’s covenantal relationships. He also described the missional aspect of the Israelite covenant for the rest of the world, though I had hoped to hear more emphasis on that given how it was first mentioned to Abraham and then expanded on by prophets and by Jesus and by most New Testament writers.
  15. Friend of God: The Legacy of Abraham, Man of Faith by Ray C. Stedman. It had its moments. Here and there, I found some faith-building encouragements in this book. But too often, I felt a little bit bored, or a little bit annoyed at Ray Stedman’s penchant for finding unlikely symbolism throughout the story of Abraham. I guess I approach these stories with a bit of a different hermeneutic, seeing its characters more as examples to learn from than as rigid symbols to interpret. Overall, Stedman certainly has a warm and heartfelt approach, but too often that made the book feel like nothing more than a living room chat, and too lightweight for what I’d prefer in a study of a story of such significance.
  16. Everest: The West Ridge, 50th Anniversary Edition by Thomas F. Hornbein. Tom Hornbein was an intense young man, and as terrific a writer as a climber. I was fascinated by Hornbein’s account of the team dynamics, the preparations for the climb, and the rigours of climbing a previously unclimbed ridge of Everest. His creative and contemplative descriptions continually drew me in to the story he told. And the quality of this 50th anniversary edition of the book is superb with its multiple prefaces from previous editions, and its many large and beautiful photographs helping the reader to imagine what Hornbein so capably described. Many times I found myself pausing to re-read a sentence that just seemed far too thoughtful to be passed over too quickly.

    That happened as I read Hornbein’s stirring description of his and Willi Unsoeld’s brief time at the top of the world: “We felt the lonely beauty of the evening, the immense roaring silence of the wind, the tenuousness of our tie to all below. There was a hint of fear, but not for our lives, but of a vast unknown which pressed in upon us. A fleeting feeling of disappointment — that after all those dreams and questions this was only a mountain top — gave way to the suspicion that maybe there was something more, something beyond the three-dimensional form of the moment. If only it could be perceived… The question of why we had come was not now to be answered, yet something up here must yield an answer, something only dimly felt, comprehended by senses reaching farther yet than the point on which we stood; reaching for understanding, which hovered but a few steps higher.”
  17. God's Plan for Your Wellbeing: 50-Day Guide by Dave Smith. This book explores six specific areas of personal wellbeing, all of them well worth addressing, but in my own life, some clearly more so than others. In a few sections of this book, I was already conscious of how little wellbeing I was experiencing, and Dave Smith’s encouragements and challenges were helpful. For that reason alone, I’m glad I read and interacted with the material in this book. But that said, I found the contents of this book a bit uneven. Perhaps that’s related to the fact that some sections felt more personally relevant than others, but not entirely. Some pages just didn’t seem to delve that deep, offering little to chew on. But I got enough out of what I read on other pages to make reading this book worthwhile.
  18. Lead Like it Matters: 7 Leadership Principles for a Church That Lasts by Craig Groeschel. Craig Groeschel managed to set my sights on some lofty, spiritual heights, while also offering me some extremely accessible helps that gave me hope to get there. As a pastor in the early months of a new church plant, I felt my faith grow as I read this. I felt challenged to believe God for more. But I also feel as though I now have some new tools in my hands to work with, some of which I’ve already used. This extremely practical book reminded me in compelling ways that I have permission to risk, and I have permission to fail. But most importantly, Craig pointed me to Jesus and reminded me that all the helps and tips and tools he’s recommending aren’t worth a hill of beans if I’m not pursuing a genuine walk with Jesus. This book raised my perspective to something much higher than merely vibrant church growth and fruitfulness — it raised my perspective to want more of Jesus, for myself as well as for anyone around me.
  19. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Ulysses S. Grant said that Lincoln “was incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.” Abraham Lincoln began as a little-known wanna-be politician, and when he was unexpectedly nominated as the Republican candidate for the 1860 election, his powerful rivals were stunned. Then upon being elected president, Lincoln did what no one expected — he invited his rivals (who were also rivals of each other) to be in his cabinet. That resulted in a fair bit of drama behind the extraordinary drama of the Civil War. And though I didn’t find every episode of this behind-the-scenes political drama riveting, one thing held my attention throughout it all: the political genius and exemplary character of Abraham Lincoln. Not once in 754 pages did I feel that Goodwin glamourized Lincoln. And yet, like Grant’s quote above, it’s difficult to overstate his greatness. Lincoln’s magnanimity, his humility, and his integrity shine through on page after page. His leadership and his statesmanship seem unbounded as he capably led the rivals in his cabinet through a war within his borders. I was inspired by Lincoln’s wisdom and tenacity and kindness in the midst of such turbulent times. We need such leaders today, and I’d be encouraged if what I read in this book helps me to grow as a leader.
  20. Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels by Dane Ortlund. This book is essentially a celebration of God’s grace as expressed in the gospel! It reminded me of how vital it is that I continually keep the gospel at the front and center of my life and thoughts. As Dane Ortlund explores each of the four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life on this earth, he provides plenty of outstanding insights while identifying a unique and vital aspect of the gospel in each of them. I found myself feeling both convicted as well as comforted by what I learned. Some portions felt more personally helpful to me than others, but the parts that were helpful felt profoundly so. And it left me grateful to be reminded of the importance of continually meditating on and embracing the gospel as I pursue a life with Jesus. It’s not just the door through which we enter the Christian life — it’s the whole house in which we live that life!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

How to be Steadfast in an Unstable World

I want to know how King David was able to so confidently declare that, "My heart is steadfast, O God!" (Ps. 108:1). As I read Psalm 108, that declaration comes as a surprise to me, given how David later describes the circumstances. Toward the end of the psalm, David lets us see more of his heart as he asks, "Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go out, O God, with our armies" (108:11). How could David's heart be steadfast despite the warfare he was in that seemed to be going so badly? Perhaps some of us are facing difficulties that leave us wanting to ask the same question. 

Personally, I don't consider myself all that "steadfast." It doesn't take major warfare to leave me feeling moody, or easily discouraged, or with a quitting attitude when I feel I've failed at something. That's not steadfast. But David knew something vital that helped him to counter such struggles. Immediately after describing his own human heart as "steadfast," David gave thanks to God, saying that "your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds." (Ps. 108:4).

Those words "steadfast love" are an English translation of a Hebrew word for which there is no truly equivalent word in the English language. It's the Hebrew word hesed, which means far more than simply a combination of a collection of words like loving and merciful and kind and compassionate. The definition of hesed must also include words like steadfast and unfailing and faithful and loyal to be accurateIt’s the love of a God who doesn’t give up on us  it's God’s faithful affection for his people  it’s his commitment to covenant – it’s a promise to us that God won't break. It's steadfast love.

So it gets my attention when I see David declaring God's steadfast love in the context of big-time warfare that seemed to be going badly. David was obviously feeling rejected and needing God to "grant us help against the foe" (108:12). But well before he ever mentions that, David makes important choices to give God his proper place. He boldly says that he will give thanks and sing praises to God (108:2-3). Then he declares, "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be all over the earth!" (108:5) And only then does he plead with God for deliverance: "That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer me!" (108:6). All this from a man who felt rejected by God in terrible circumstances!

This was only possible because David was convinced that the God of steadfast love who is exalted above the heavens, is also well above the circumstances David was facing. David made it clear how he knew this by how he made a point of recounting God's promises. He wrote that "God has promised in his holiness..." (108:7) and then listed what God has declared his plans to be for Israel. 

So amidst the feelings of rejection that David finally admits near the very end of the psalm  "Have you not rejected us, O God?" (108:11)  what does David choose to focus on despite having feelings to the contrary? Does he focus on the warfare and the circumstances? Or on God’s promises and unfailing love? David's final statement gives us the answer: "With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes" (108:13).

David's heart remained steadfast because he knew that God's steadfast love for him was greater than all he was facing.

© 2022 Ken Peters

Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading List 2021


Should I be concerned that my 2021 reading list is so… theological? I’m not too inclined to read much fiction, but I still figure I should be reading a variety of genres among non-fiction books. Perhaps the pandemic has made me too serious. 

Apart from the books listed here, I consistently read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as the most important book to be continually reading.

Here are the books I've read in 2021...

  1. The Divine Conquest: God's Pursuit of Man by A.W. Tozer. This book is primarily about the Holy Spirit. But Tozer is too pastoral a writer to simply offer a theology of the Holy Spirit with no application to our lives, which is why he challenges us to lay down our lives so that the Holy Spirit can fill us afresh. In God’s pursuit of men and women in this world, our experience of His Spirit dwelling in us requires submission to Jesus’ Lordship, and allowing a divine conquest of our will. That’s what makes this book so forceful, and even uncomfortable. But being filled with the Spirit — and even conquered by the Spirit — is all about intimacy with God, which is what my heart is after.
  2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene B. Sledge. It was incredibly sobering to read this account from the perspective of a young marine who was on the front lines of the horrors of the Pacific campaign of WWII. It’s impossible for a reader to fully imagine what Sledge experienced, and yet he’s a great writer who very ably captures the intensity of battles, the sheer awfulness of the battle zones, and even the morale-sucking monotony of war. Though I sometimes wished he had explained more fully how some battles progressed, I definitely appreciated his vulnerability and sensitivity in what he did describe, as well as the incredible sacrifices that he and his fellow-marines were willing to endure for the sake of so many others.
  3. The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way by Eugene H. Peterson. It’s difficult to describe this book. I found it at times provoking, at times irritating — at times informative, at times boring — at times eloquent, at times rambling. A couple chapters stood out for me as incredibly timely messages that I really needed to read and process. Other chapters included fascinating and engaging explanations of the context of biblical characters and events. But too many other chapters just felt like indulgently long-winded sounds and sentences signifying nothing. And by indulgent, I mean long, cumbersome sentences as long as a third of a page; and long lists in the form of sentences, as if every scenario or example needed to be mentioned between so many commas in an unnecessarily long description. It was wearing, and it left me wanting to be done, despite all the wonderful and quotable gems buried amidst the many words of this book.
  4. The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Again and again, God-glorifying insights burst forth from the pages of this book. Reading it was often like having curtains opened that provided me with fresh perspectives of familiar places. But I had to persevere. There were times when it felt like dry theology, with obscure quotations and highly precise distinctions. But it was never long before a sentence or paragraph would once again have my full attention, encouraging me with what felt like more than just a deeper understanding, but also a deeper appreciation of my God. To say I found it informative in a helpful way would be true, but not the greatest compliment. That’s why I would also add that what felt like information often felt inspiring, given the devotion with which Tozer wrote this book.
  5. Winning the War in Your Mind: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Craig Groeschel. I picked this book up at a time when I felt desperate about a battle I was losing against so many negative thoughts in my head. And this book has given me hope of winning that fight because of the practical and accessible steps it gave me to counter the lies I’ve spent way too much time believing. I think a big reason it felt so helpful is that it doesn’t just describe what’s happening in the spiritual realm, but also provides easily understood explanations of what’s going on neurologically. That’s what made the strategies that Craig provides so compelling — once I understood how the exercises literally change how my brain functions, I felt greater motivation and greater hope that they’d make a difference. And the four main principles of the book are thoroughly biblical, and left me not only knowing that I can only win this war through deeper communion with Jesus, but left me wanting that.
  6. Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton. Though the general premise of this book didn’t feel new to me, many of the particulars did. And yet there were moments when I thought that however valuable the ideals of this book are, the particular applications of them just felt too unrealistic. They would just require too many team retreats, or make too many meetings too long. But Ruth Haley Barton won me over as she gently encouraged readers to start small and grow gradually. I don’t think I can subscribe to every detail she suggests, but I found her emphasis on discerning God’s will over human decision-making inspiring. I’d much rather take time to hear God together as a team than constantly endure the tug of war of human opinions, and she provides very clear and practical steps on how to do so. I’ve already begun sharing and practicing some of what I learned in this book in a board-context, and it’s been well-received.
  7. In the Day of Thy Power: The Scriptural Principles of Revival by Arthur Wallis. I’d long been reluctant to read this book as it sat on my shelf for many years after I received it as a gift. Quite honestly, I’m skeptical of the idea that the classic idea of “revival” is God’s strategy for reaching the world for Christ. I’ve always felt that such a view tilts too much toward an attractional evangelistic model rather than the missional act of going out into the world as Jesus commanded us to do. But when a friend of mine who is very fruitful at making disciples and planting churches raved about this book, I decided to give it a try. As I began, it didn’t take long to see that the author was extremely thorough and very well-acquainted with the Bible. And though I was sometimes a bit uneasy with what seemed like prophetic interpretations of passages, I also sometimes found those explanations quite compelling. By the end, this book made two important impressions on me: the relevance of revival isn’t exclusive to attractional evangelism, and persistent prayer is essential to any form of evangelism. In fact, this book gave me a greater desire to grow in prayer as the author challenged and inspired me regarding what God wants to do through us in this world. I’m glad I finally read it.
  8. At the Foot of the Snows: A Journey of Faith and Words Among the Kham-Speaking People of Nepal by David E. Watters. When a book brings tears to my eyes, or causes me to suddenly pause and pray in response to something I’ve read, I know I’m being treated to a highly worthwhile story. I found this book quite moving, its story very inspiring, sometimes leaving me mesmerized or on the edge of my seat. It’s a stirring story of true Christlikeness expressed in the lives of an ordinary family and of the simple mountain people they lived among. It includes stories of angels and miracles, and of beatings and imprisonments. And yet it’s not written in a way that left me feeling that the people portrayed were wholly different from me, living a spiritual life completely unattainable to anyone reading this book. The author’s son wrote in the epilogue that his parents “were painfully aware of their own inadequacies, struggling all the while in vessels of earth and clay.” It was Christ who shone in them as they humbly followed him to achieve his purposes in all their human frailty. And as a result of their obedience, a beautiful people group will now stand before the throne of Jesus joyfully singing his praises!
  9. The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James. I love that the gospel of Jesus is so clearly portrayed throughout the many stories of the Old Testament, and Carolyn Custis James brings that out in her exploration of the story of Ruth. And though she says that this book was written to and for women, the inspiring insights she finds are also enriching for male readers like myself. I appreciated the research that was obviously put into the many cultural and biblical themes relevant to the book of Ruth, and given the significance of the female characters in this story, there was definite benefit in reading a book written from a woman’s perspective. I only struggled to some degree with the amount of conjecture or speculation that was reflected in the interpretation of the motives of some of the characters in the story.
  10. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard. In all the reading I’ve done, Dallas Willard might be one of the most quoted authors I’ve encountered, so I decided to give one of his books a try. And I have to admit, now that I’ve completed it, I’m feeling rather winded. The man has a lot to say about a lot of themes, and says it all in an extremely thorough manner. But though winded, I also feel encouraged. Even though reading this book was quite the mental workout, I was repeatedly amazed at Willard’s fresh perspectives on familiar themes, and found myself gripped by portions of the book that seemed so applicable to where I was at in my heart. Sure, I wondered about his interpretations of some passages, and thought he went on too long in numerous places (the entire final chapter seemed totally unnecessary), but it all seemed worth it as he provided some brilliant and practical descriptions of a life of prayer, a life of rest in God, and a life of obedience and abundance as a disciple of Jesus. Overall, I felt helped by this book.
  11. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller. It’s not like I didn’t find some great insights and observations in this book. Miller did a wonderful job of highlighting the true sacrificial nature of love, as illustrated in the biblical book of Ruth, and in contrast to our society’s soft and fuzzy versions of love. And I appreciated how well he did at connecting the dots between the story of Ruth and the larger biblical narrative, culminating in the story of Jesus. But too much of this book simply felt like Miller was using the book of Ruth as a platform for sharing a wide collection of opinions and passions that had too tenuous a connection to Ruth’s story. I too often found myself wondering, “What does this have to do with the book of Ruth?” And I was also uncomfortable with many of Miller’s interpretations of character motivations that felt to me like he was inserting twenty-first century mindsets. All those concerns ended up making what could’ve been a great book seem just okay.
  12. The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A. with Some Account of his Ancestors and Relations; and the Life of the Rev. Charles Wesley, M.A. by John Whitehead, M.D. It felt more like a project than a pleasure to read this lengthy account of both John and Charles Wesley. It was written and published in two volumes in 1793 and 1796 by a man who knew John and Charles Wesley personally, so I figured I’d get an accurate portrait of their lives unblemished by the forgetfulness that comes with the passing of time. Unfortunately, Dr. Whitehead’s closeness to the Wesleys seemed to make him reluctant to provide a truly accurate picture that included more than a few sentences about their faults in his glowing accounts of them. Dr. Whitehead was also not a fan of condensing the source material he used, and so amidst his detailed explanations of what happened in the lives of the Wesleys, he constantly inserted the contents of lengthy letters that seemed totally unnecessary. And all of it written, of course, in highly wordy eighteenth century English. I learned a great deal, but I sometimes wondered if I was reading a defence of the original intentions of Methodism rather than a biography of the Wesleys, given the changes that were brewing around the time when John Wesley died.
  13. The Father Heart of God: Experiencing the Depths of His Love for You by Floyd McClung. This book has sat on my bookshelf unread for years. But then I spontaneously chose to read it because someone told me that Floyd McClung presents the message of the gospel in this book in a way that the world needs to hear. I found it even more than that. It offers an invitation and guidance on how to get free of hindrances in our hearts that prevent us from more fully experiencing the blessings of the Father heart of God. Though an extremely short book, and refreshingly simple in its message, I found it encouraging, and found some of its personal applications particularly relevant. 
  14. The Whole Armor of God: How Christ's Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare by Iain M. Duguid. I wanted to read this because of the weakness I so often feel in the very areas that the armour of God is meant to help us. I needed reminders, and I wanted reassurance, and I needed guidance, and this book provided all of that. In Iain Duguid’s typically insightful and pastoral approach to unpacking biblical texts, he gave me hope that I can grow as a good soldier of Christ. And what was most helpful was that Duguid continually pointed his readers (or listeners, as these are sermon transcripts) to Christ as the One who is the complete fulfillment of the armour he invites us to wear. It’s so encouraging that putting on the armour of Christ means pursuing Jesus himself.
  15. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Four fascinating stories about four exceptional men, each facing very trying circumstances. Goodwin is a masterful writer who literally captivated me with these enlightening portraits of four past presidents. I was impressed with her thorough grasp of what influenced them, of what motivated them, and of how each of their leadership styles so perfectly fit the crisis that each of them faced. And though she emphasized how all four of them came from such different backgrounds and had such different temperaments, what they obviously all had in common was that they were all exceptionally ambitious and exceptionally resilient. I’m grateful not only to have learned much about them as leaders, but to have learned valuable leadership lessons from them.
  16. Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year by Malcolm Guite. I occasionally write poems, but I must admit that I struggle to read them. And yet, in the case of this book of sonnets, a form of poetry with which I was totally unfamiliar, I’m inclined to doubt myself in my reading-struggles rather than the poet. Though I often felt distracted by what seemed like a seemingly endless variety of random rhyme schemes, I felt genuinely stirred by about a quarter of the seventy sonnets in this book. Guite’s creative use of language to express profound insights in the sonnets I enjoyed was worth the read. And the fact that I struggled to read the rest of them is no reason to doubt the value of these poems, chronicling the Christian calendar.
  17. Life Can Begin Again: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount by Helmut Thielicke. As this book title suggests, Helmut Thielicke describes the Sermon on the Mount as an opportunity to make a fresh start in life along a new path. But he also assures us that the ideals of that sermon are pointless apart from knowing the One who preached it. Thielicke wanted his listeners to recognize that it is by knowing He who has looked after everything in our past and has assured us of a future full of promises fulfilled that we are made ready to obey the unflinching demands of the Sermon on the Mount, and to confidently begin living our new life with the Preacher of that sermon.
    This sermon series by Thielicke was delivered soon after WWII ended to German listeners whose lives had been shattered by the war. With his usual pastoral manner, Thielicke makes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount immensely relevant and pointedly challenging to people seeking to make sense of life in tough times. I felt wowed by some of these sermons and unfazed by others, but as a whole I appreciated Thielicke’s insights regarding the passages he focused on, and I was fascinated by his specific references to how his listeners had been impacted by the war.
  18. A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims Around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ by David Garrison. This book got me excited. And what’s even more exciting is that the dramatic increases in the movements of Muslims turning to Christ that are documented in this book have continued to grow exponentially in momentum in the seven years since the stories of this book. I really enjoyed reading about the history of each of the nine regions (or “rooms”) of “the house of Islam,” but I especially loved the present day personal stories of Muslims who had fallen in love with Jesus. This book fits into so many book-categories that I’m drawn to: history, biography, missions… but the greatest reason i enjoyed it was that it got me excited about what God is up to throughout this entire world, leaving me with a desire to be a part of it.
  19. Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose by Marcos Eberlin. Amazing is not an adequate word for what this book describes. For example, consider the flagellum motor, a microscopic nanomachine that helps many lowly bacteria find food. It requires millions of atoms to be perfectly arranged so as to actually form a so-called molecular motor that appears to have rotors, shafts, O-rings, junctions, a propeller, and even a clutch. It’s all true. And the scientist who wrote this book asks a simple question: How could such an ingeniously and sequentially arranged complex cellular structure that operates in such a highly synchronized fashion have evolved one blind, random mutation at a time? And he asks that question about one fascinating example after another so as to suggest that the world we live in must have involved foresight and planning to exist. Too many complex life forms required multiple aspects of their structure, that mutually depend on each other to function, to all become operational at once in order to exist. Marcos Eberlin has a terrific ability to explain extraordinarily complex aspects of our world in a way that I not only found readable, but also highly compelling.
  20. Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership by Elton Trueblood. At the risk of overstatement, I found this book truly inspirational. Lincoln’s spiritual life has long been debated due to how extensively his spiritual views changed throughout his life. That’s why I so appreciated how thoroughly Elton Trueblood researched the subject, and then sought to express Lincoln’s heart rather than just explain his religious opinions. Trueblood made it clear how the most profound changes in Lincoln’s spiritual journey happened in his final years while being the president during a civil war. And if any reader chooses to consider how great trials can positively shape our own perception of God’s involvement in our lives, we would do well to consider this quote from June 1862: “I have felt His hand upon me in great trials and submitted to His guidance, and I trust that as He shall further open the way, I will be ready to walk therein, relying on His help and trusting in His goodness and wisdom.”
  21. Determined to Believe?: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility by John C. Lennox. As I read this, it felt like I was literally attending a course personally taught by John Lennox. The material is so thorough in its presentation, so meticulous in the biblical references, and so clear in how Lennox patiently reached his conclusions that I wanted to be a front row student every time I sat down to read this book. Lennox is a sharp thinker who made some great points in this book, and really got me thinking. But I didn’t find it quite as comprehensive as I had hoped it’d be, as Lennox didn’t address some key biblical passages that I’d like to have heard his views on, and he sometimes seemed a tad dismissive of views that differed from his conclusions. I’ve read a fair bit on both sides of this issue, but I’m glad I added this to what I’ve read. Though I wasn’t fully persuaded by some of Lennox’s conclusions, I still found most of his arguments extremely helpful and insightful.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Read the Instructions

I find it helpful when God explicitly tells me, point blank, what he likes. So it gets my attention when God gives such clear instructions in Psalm 92 regarding what it's good for me to do, and why. 

The psalmist says, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and [it is good] to sing praises to Your name, Most High; [it is good] to declare your lovingkindness in the morning, and [it is good to declare] Your faithfulness by night" (Ps. 92:1-2). The format of that sentence makes the "it is good" declaration applicable to every phrase. It's all good. It's good to do all that – morning, evening, daily. It's good. Good to remember. Good to do.

And the psalmist also says why. "Because YouLord, have made me joyful by what you have done, I will sing for joy over the works of your hands" (Ps. 92:4). Thanksgiving, praise, declarations, and remembrance. It's all good to do, and takes being intentional to do it daily, and is sure to encourage us if we begin and end each day this way.

© 2021 Ken Peters

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Focus on the "You's"

If I were a writer of hymns, I wonder how many of my hymns would begin the same way David began Psalm 86. Probably too many. As David began the psalm by calling out to God, he self-consciously lamented, “I am poor and needy.” David’s initial focus in that psalm seems like one big “I”“I am poor and needy.”

But then it’s worth noticing that in the next 16 verses, the word “You” – in reference to God – appears 18 times, and the word “Your” another 10 times. Yes, “I am poor and needy,” but David’s primary focus in response to that seems to be, “You, Your, You, You…”

Fast-forward to today, and I can certainly say that without Jesus, I am desperately poor and needy. But I know Jesus personally, and so I’ll do far better by focusing on David’s You-statements than on how poor and needy I may feel, because the truth is that with Jesus, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” no matter what the circumstances (Romans 8:35-39)! Jesus is the “exact representation” of the God who David was describing in his many You-statements (Hebrews 1:3). 

David put the spotlight on God as he declared that…

  • You are good
  • You are ready to forgive
  • You abound in steadfast love to all who call upon You
  • You will answer when I call on You in times of trouble
  • There is none like You
  • You are great
  • You do wondrous things
  • You alone are God
  • You are merciful
  • You are gracious
  • You are slow to anger
  • You are abundant in mercy and faithfulness
  • You have helped me
  • You have comforted me
And with that, David ended the psalm.

 

David began with “I am poor and needy,” but then after declaring, You, Your, You, You, Your, You, You, You, You, You, You, Yours, You, You, Your, You, You, Your, Your, Your, You, Your, Your, You, You, You, Your, and Your, he ended by declaring that You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me!”

That kind of focus helps and comforts me too. So today, I am going to focus on YOU, Lord, not on me, because that’s how I know I’ll be encouraged.

© 2021 Ken Peters

Friday, October 1, 2021

When Being Outnumbered is a Good Thing

I expect all of us know what it’s like to struggle with some kind of stubborn behaviour that we know isn’t pleasing to God. I sure do. A typical struggle in my life is how I can react very selfishly and imperatively toward people when I’m feeling under pressure. People I love get hurt. And then when the dust settles, I not only need to resolve things with them, but it can feel like God is disapprovingly waiting for a conversation as well, arms folded, with a furrowed brow. And I’m reluctant to even talk to him about it – yet again.

Even King David could relate to that. He wrote in Psalm 40:12, “My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head. Therefore my heart fails me.” But despite such struggles, David was full of hope and encouragement as he wrote this psalm.

David began the psalm by describing God as being inclined to him, and willing to help him, despite his unworthiness. In fact, I’m amazed at how a man who later described himself as being surrounded by “innumerable evils” and as having more sins than the hairs on his head (v.12) also had the faith to describe God as having thoughts toward him that are “more than can be numbered” (v.5). Do you ever feel like your sins can’t be counted? Then try counting God’s thoughts toward you! Hairs can be numbered, but God’s thoughts of you can’t be.

And God’s innumerable thoughts toward us are not disapproving thoughts. We know that because of how David began the psalm by describing how God had helped him: “he brought me up out of a horrible pit… He set my feet upon a rock… He put a new song in my mouth” (vv.2-3). That doesn’t sound like a frowning God looking down on our feeble frames. Then in response to what God had done for him, David poured forth his "new song" in response: “I have proclaimed good news of righteousness… I do not restrain my lips… I have declared your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your lovingkindness and your truth” (vv.9-10). David did “not restrain” his praise for a God who clearly did “not withhold” his love from David, despite his many sins. This is why we don’t need to feel reluctant to approach God, whatever our struggles might be.

It’s no wonder that David ended the psalm by declaring, “The Lord be magnified!” (v.16). David then repeats the amazing contrast: “I am poor and needy [meaning, my sins are ‘more than the hairs of my head’]; Yet the Lord thinks upon me [with thoughts that ‘are more than can be numbered’]. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.” (v.17). I’m so glad he’s still inclined to help us too.

© 2021 Ken Peters

Thursday, July 15, 2021

To Grasp It, You Need To Know You Need It

My brain has trouble grasping God's greatness. I can know from what Jesus did on the cross that God is for me, and I can read all about how great God is, but when all that doesn't translate into a steady confidence in him amidst life's constant troubles, I know I'm not really getting it. After all, if the God who wants to help me is truly great and mighty and awesome beyond description, shouldn't that give me confidence amidst any of the troubles I face?  

Psalm 145:3 says, God's "greatness is unsearchable." Immeasurable. Unquantifiable. Boundless. And Psalm 147:5 says, "Great is the Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite." What a combination to comprehend – awesome power and infinite understanding. What a comfort it ought to be that such a God is "for us" (Rom. 8:31). 

But Psalm 147 goes on to tell us the key to truly receiving this revelation of who God is. Psalm 147:6 says that God "lifts up the humble" and verse ten says that "He does not delight in the strength of the horse" or "in the legs of a man." Verse eleven is the key: The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy." In other words, our revelation of God's greatness needs to be combined with a revelation of my weakness, my neediness, my dependence on God. God's greatness will only benefit the humble. My comprehension of God's power is connected to my dependence on him.

And then why wouldn't I depend on a God who I've discovered to be mighty in power, infinite in understanding, and merciful to the humble? What a great God! It's no wonder Psalm 147 begins and ends with "Praise the Lord!"

© 2021 Ken Peters


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The way to begin a day...

I have had difficult days when I've awakened from sleep with a great sense of futility. After struggling with the same old issues in my heart for so long, I've sometimes felt like there's no hope of change. Will I ever stop believing the lies I'm so prone to believing? Will I ever stop getting tripped up by the same vulnerabilities? It creates a horrible hopelessness. But amidst such days, I go through the motions anyway, and try to begin each day seeking God as I read the Bible.

And as I did that recently, I suddenly felt struck as I read the psalmist declare, "While I live I will praise the Lord" (Psalm 146:2). 

It's such a simple statement, and I felt halted by it. I just stared at it, thinking of what it said. While I am alive – "while I have my being," he says – as long as I'm breathing, I'm going to praise the Lord. That's the psalmist's approach to life. Not hopelessness, but praise. Not a focus on self, but on Yahweh – the faithful, covenant-keeping God who draws near. In other words, why wake up with a complaint on my lips about my inadequacies when I can wake up praising the God who wants to be with me and help me every moment of my day? 

The psalmist then writes, "Happy [or blessed] is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry, the Lord gives freedom to the prisoners" (vv.5-7). I can be happy because the God who helps all the people listed there also wants to help me! The one who "keeps truth forever" never changes, and he won't disappoint those who put their trust in him. 

So why on earth would I ever struggle with a sense of futility when such a great God "who made heaven and earth" has offered to personally help me? Yes, imperfect me! And you! 

No wonder the psalmist described people who have such a God as happy! The truth is, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31) And that is why it's better to begin my day praising the Lord rather than complaining about me.

© 2021 Ken Peters

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Heartbeat of Heaven

Do you want to hear God’s heartbeat? God’s thoughts are expressed in the Bible, but his heartbeat can be heard in the words that are repeated in that book, age after age. 

An example is found when Jesus spoke for the last time with
his disciples, before leaving this earth. He said, “Go...”

When the living Word spoke that word “Go” to the ones he had called, I hear a heartbeat. How could Jesus’ heart not have harkened back to a day long before, when God said, “Go” to one pivotal person? Nearly 2,000 years before Jesus told his disciples to “Go,” God called a man and said, “Go,” and promised to bless every nation through his obedience.

“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go...’” – leave what you know to pursue my plans so that many people will be blessed (Gen. 12:1). That word is a heartbeat from heaven. “Go,” God said to him, and I will make you a blessing to nations. Then centuries later, Jesus said to his followers, “Go,” and I will send you to nations that I want to bless.

God’s heartbeat says “Go” and obedience to God’s heartbeat means believing God’s heart for us. Abraham obeyed God because he believed God. He trusted God, which is why he was so willing to relinquish his past as he set out on a journey to lay hold of an unknown future in God. We too are invited to believe God – to trust him – and to relinquish our lives as we begin a journey of living for God, going to others with all the blessings received from him.

And the sound of God’s heartbeat goes back many centuries further. When Jesus, through whom “all things were created, in heaven and on earth” (Col. 1:16), said “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), how could his Creator’s heart not have harkened back to when God blessed his creation and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28)? Each of those moments is a commissioning. 

With each new disciple, God’s people are multiplying and filling the earth as God commanded the first people he created. That’s the fulfillment of a Father’s heartbeat – a Father of creation, and of a family of many nations. It’s the heartbeat of Father who not only sent his servant Abraham, and every follower of his Son, but it’s the heartbeat of a Father who also sent his Son.

“Go” is the heartbeat of a living God that has been beating since the first days of creation, and is beating still as God says, “Go” and share the life-changing love you have found in my Son, Jesus.

© 2021 Ken Peters

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading List 2020

The year 2020 will obviously be known for many things – a pandemic, wearing masks, and social distancing to name a few  but as far as my own reading habits went, the year 2020 could be known as the year for biographies, auto-biographies, and memoirs. Seven of the 27 books I read in 2020 fit those categories (25%), plus two other books that recounted personal stories about travel expeditions. It wasn't intentional, but it certainly did result in my appreciation for that genre growing.

My full 2020 reading list appears below, but as usual, I'll also include my reading lists from past years (just for the record): 201920182017, 2016201520142011 and 2010 (this blog was totally dormant for 2012 and 2013).

Apart from the books listed here, I consistently read my Bible throughout the year. I believe the Bible is God's inspired Word to us, and of all the things I read, I see the Bible as the most important book to be continually reading.

Here are the books I've read in 2020...

  1. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan. It’s difficult to describe this auto-biography, given the awful scale of the adversity John Bunyan faced, both in the inner turmoil of his personal faith battles (which were extreme, to say the least), as well as in the fierce opposition he faced as a non-conformist preacher in the 17th century. He persevered, and left this world a legacy that has blessed more people than we can know. And though his personal struggles may seem preposterous, it’s his perseverance through both the inner and the outer struggles he describes that I found so impacting. Again and again, he turns to God’s Word for relief and release, resulting in a spiritual depth that he was irrepressibly eager to share with others until the day he died. I actually wanted to like this book less due to how long John Bunyan’s struggles persisted, but I found his tenacity so attractive that I couldn’t help but admire him and the story he had to tell.
  2. The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus' 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn S. Sunshine. The truth is, most of this book left me wanting to give it 5 stars. I found the overall message and challenge of the book to be inspiring and provoking. It left me wanting to *give it a try* in terms of the methods that the authors described. There’s much in this book that feels both relevant and important, and I’m going to discuss its contents with others until I can confirm what the Lord wants me to implement from it. My only hesitancy regarding its message is how far the authors go in redefining what churches and church growth should look like in the context of the global north based on what’s happening in the radically different contexts in the global south. I’ll need to think on that a bit more! I don’t think I’m quite as convinced as they are that the methods of this book can’t be implemented within the context of existing churches in the global north.
  3. Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears. There are few individual battles in the annals of the wars of this world that I care to read a 500+ page book on, but Gettysburg is one of them. And Stephen Sears does a masterful job of compellingly telling the tale based on extremely thorough and well footnoted research. I’ve previously read a great deal about the American Civil War, but still felt that this book clarified a great many interesting details for me regarding this historically momentous battle.
  4. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. There were more than a few times when I was *wowed* by what I found in this book — insights that gave me a whole new perspective on particular passages in the Bible. In fact, this book is packed with details that beg for further study (little wonder, since it’s based on a book by Beale of much greater depth called “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”). And yet, despite the fact that the authors would’ve had to be very selective in what they chose from that longer work, I noticed a fair bit of repetition in this brief 166-page book. And then what they selected from the longer work left me sometimes feeling like they were racing through a barebones list of the essential details in which every sentence was critical, and with much of the scholastic background material removed (or alluded to in substantial endnotes). It left me weary at times, though I suspect I’d have been more wearied by the significantly greater detail that Beale goes into in his longer book. I think this condensed version will be sufficient for me.
  5. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller. I’m not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t what I expected. Essentially, this is about how expository sermons can be clearly evangelistic while also edifying the saints. A tall order, but Keller painstakingly emphasizes that the only way to do this is to connect the truths of any scriptural passages to the unspoken messages we pick up from the world in which we live, and then bring every sermon back to focus on Christ rather than resorting to moralism. I found his emphasis on Christ and the gospel truly stirring, but didn’t find it easy to see how I would be able to address the various cultural narratives he then described in such detail — almost too much detail. But then he brought it all back to focus on Christ as he appealed for sermons preached from hearts of Holy Spirit-inspired worship. A very rich read.
  6. Sand Dance: By Camel Across Arabia's Great Southern Desert by Bruce Kirkby. I feared I’d be disappointed by this book, knowing how improbable it would be for three upstart Canadians to reproduce what Wilfred Thesiger achieved in his heroic crossings of Arabia’s Empty Quarter in the 1940s before the oil industry changed the region forever. I feared the regular visits of Land Rovers and the apparent reluctance of the Bedu guides in this 1990s adventure would spoil the story, making it all seem farcical. I was wrong. I loved this book. I was mesmerized by the descriptive passages, and drawn into the tensions with the Bedu guides (which thankfully resolved), and identified so much with the pathos of the journey’s end that I cried as Kirby concluded. Perhaps it’s because it was so obvious from the start that no one could reproduce what Thesiger did 70 years ago, but more likely because it reminded me of my own good-byes after living in the desert of northern Sudan for a year of my life in 1987. Living in a desert has a way of making a permanent impression on a person. I’m grateful Kirby and his friends made this journey, and so glad he wrote this extraordinary account.
  7. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I never imagined myself reading a book on this subject, and yet the more I read, the more I realized how valuable a book on this subject is for anyone who wants to be better equipped to show true care to anyone facing end of life challenges. And while I can understand why Dr. Gawande would subtitle his book, “Medicine and What Matters in the End,” I’d suggest that an alternative subtitle could be, “The Shortfalls of Medicine When it Comes to the End.” Dr. Gawande describes and illustrates those shortfalls with great humility, sensitivity and compassion. I found this book quite moving, and full of helpful insights on a subject that’s relevant to us all, but that we don’t relish thinking about too much.
  8. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński. Kapuściński begins with one of the more transfixing opening paragraphs I’ve encountered in a long time, and then goes on to provide one compelling portrait after another of the extraordinary beauty and pain of post-colonial Africa. Some chapters felt riveting to me, and many touched my heart, though some felt tantalizingly incomplete. But all of them felt written by a man with a keen eye for detail, and who truly immersed himself in the cultures he encountered, and who felt genuine appreciation of the people that he met. The feeling that too many chapters felt like partial tales that left me hanging was my only disappointment. But perhaps that was the author’s point, as so much appeared to be unresolved in the dizzying diversity of the African nations he wrote about as they struggled to establish their identities in the turbulent era he described.
  9. God's Lavish Grace by Terry Virgo. Perhaps Terry Virgo had a different audience in mind than me. I read this because I wanted to grow in my understanding and appreciation of God’s infinite grace, but I couldn’t help but think that this book was was aimed at newer Christians. It was an okay book that did in fact speak to Christians who were tired or discouraged, and did have some helpful insights, but it just too often felt like the author was skimming the surface of this topic rather than plumbing its depths.
  10. Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices From Africa and Asia by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Despite not knowing this book existed until just months ago, my reading of this book feels long overdue. I’ve long had a passion for global missions, but I can’t deny that I’ve long viewed it almost exclusively from a Western perspective. So it felt both refreshing and encouraging to read about such a culturally diverse collection of heroes of the faith from so many nations of the world. I can’t say I felt equally enthusiastic about every character described in this book, but I’m still grateful for how every story expanded my awareness of how God has advanced his kingdom in this world. The stories were all well told, and for the many characters in this book who I can applaud enthusiastically, their tenacity in the faith and their zeal for Jesus is an inspiration, and well worth remembering.
  11. God's Strategy in Human History: Volume 1 – God's Path to Victory by Roger Forster and Paul Marston. This book was both helpful and sometimes frustrating for me to read. I found it helpful in how the authors unpacked some valuable doctrines that I was eager for more input on — such as election and predestination — and I'm grateful for the careful thought they gave to themes that I’ve previously had only very narrow exposure to. But unfortunately, I didn’t always find it easy to grasp the flow of thought throughout the book, and also struggled at times with what felt to me like variations in what they were saying regarding some of their finer points. I was also uncomfortable with what felt like a rather blunt and sweeping dogmatism on themes that I don't think the Bible is altogether clear about, and this was sometimes expressed in a somewhat testy tone toward those who differed with the authors’ opinions. I certainly found it educational, but also found it a bit of a mixed bag.
  12. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation by Carl Bangs. I find it hard to imagine how this book could have been better. I thoroughly enjoyed delving into a time period from so long ago, and Carl Bangs does a brilliant job of describing the religious and political contexts of the times, basing many of his descriptions on obscure town and university records from nearly 400 years ago. Bangs achieves a very helpful balance in this biography between historical details and theological details, as well as sensitively including personal details about a man who experienced such tragedy, and so much opposition from many ungracious enemies. This biography is educational as well as enjoyable, and I so appreciated being able to learn about Arminian doctrine from the words of Arminius himself.
  13. How the World Began by Helmut Thielicke. The fact is, I simply like Helmut Thielicke’s books. This is a collection of sermons he preached on the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Foundational stuff, to be sure. But what made the material so rich for me was how it felt like Thielicke was able to put Genesis 1-11 in the now, and to so masterfully include me as a reader (listener) in his sermons by the examples he’d use — and not usually in flattering ways. But I also enjoyed how he would insert questions or perceived objections into his sermons that I could identify with, and then he’d deal with those objections like a man solving an ancient riddle. I can’t say that I always agreed with every line or every thought he wrote, but what does that matter when so much of what he shared felt so compelling and so encouraging.
  14. With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates. I’ve long wanted to read a Lincoln biography, but with so many in print, how does one choose? Well, having previously read a shorter book about Lincoln by Stephen Oates, I felt safe choosing this one. But I was also attracted to the title of this book. I appreciate the phrase Oates chose for the title to sum up the life of Abraham Lincoln. The political world seemed as ruthless and as spiteful then as it seems now, but Lincoln was a different sort of politician. He was once marketed in a campaign as “Honest Abe,” but it seems to me he could’ve also been known as “a man in whom there is no guile.” He was such a good-hearted man, and though Oates makes it clear he had flaws, it was Lincoln’s willingness to look past the flaws of both friends and foes alike, and see good in them, that most impressed me about him. In fact, by the end of the book, I felt befriended by him myself, leaving me wiping tears away at the book’s conclusion. This was a highly readable book and a very rewarding account of the life of a man who is worth remembering.
  15. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes by Zack Eswine. I have long found The Book of Ecclesiastes to be extremely confusing. I’ve needed someone’s help to make sense of it, and Zack Eswine’s book was very helpful. I actually had a sense that I was meant to read this book. I was struggling with some particular realities of living in this broken world, and I knew that there had to be a better way for me to respond to specific disappointments than the creeping disillusionment in my heart. Zack Eswine explained how Ecclesiastes teaches that we’re meant to live in the tension of both delightful and disquieting times in this world under the sun. And instead of trying to escape the tension, we’re to live in the grace God provides for it knowing that God is governing both the delightful and the disquieting times. That frees me to truly enjoy the delights, and to trust God in the disquiets. “With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken.” Not every chapter was a huge help to me, but many of the chapters truly hit the bull’s-eye I needed.
  16. Intimate Moments with the Savior: Learning to Love by Ken Gire. This is a book to be savoured. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than one chapter in a day with so many beautiful insights to be reflected on... pondered... prayed about... absorbed... savoured. I simply love Ken Gire’s writing style. It’s almost poetic in the allusions and parallelisms he finds. It’s also like he’s painting a picture as much as telling a story as he invites the reader into different scenes from the Gospels (each chapter including a full scripture passage, a meditation, and a prayer). I expect I’ll refer back to this book again from time to time. It felt nourishing, and digging into the selected passages truly made me feel closer to Jesus.
  17. Spent Matches: Igniting the Signal Fire for the Spiritually Dissatisfied by Roy Moran. I have some thinking to do. And some praying. Roy Moran wants to provoke some paradigm shifts in his readers, and given the fact that true paradigm shifts should inevitably make people uncomfortable, I think Roy Moran has done a good job with this book. Because after finishing this book, I felt very uncomfortable — but in a way that wants to continue the conversation, and go back over what I underlined, and talk with God and others about what I read. I feel provoked in an area in which I need to be provoked because I haven’t been as fruitful as I want to be. Roy Moran presents in this book an understanding of the Great Commission that challenges our knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Jesus called us to teach people to obey his commands, not to simply know them, and so if we’re not making disciples who also obediently make disciples, then we’re not achieving what Jesus called us to achieve. So Roy Moran offers a paradigm-rattling obedience-based discipleship model that is highly repeatable in its simplicity, allowing any disciple of Jesus to make disciple-making disciples, but that doesn’t check all my boxes for what I think “church” is meant to look like! This book is both persuasive and compelling enough to make it difficult for me to ignore its premise amidst my difficulties with some of its implications. I have some thinking to do.
  18. Thin Air by Greg Child. This may be the most insightfully reflective, emotionally expressive, and creatively descriptive book on mountain climbing that I’ve ever read (and I’ve read many). It’s extremely well written, is full of creative turns of phrase, and includes many engaging descriptions of fascinating people and places and situations. I got choked up at times, sometimes laughed out loud, and at other times, simply couldn’t put this book down. But I still found myself too often frustrated due to not being able to fully visualize Greg Child’s descriptions of his climbs. He used far too much insider language without explanation regarding the geographic features of mountains and regarding climbing gear and techniques. If I hadn’t previously read so many other mountain climbing books, I’d have felt even more confused. This book deserved a glossary since Greg Child clearly didn’t want to upset the pace of the book with technical explanations. And his pacing in his storytelling is quite good — except for the times when I kept wishing that I knew what he was talking about.
  19. Kept by the Power of God by I. Howard Marshall. First of all, I’m simply grateful that this book exists. I wanted to read a book from a non-Calvinist perspective on Christian assurance, and I.Howard Marshall has provided this rarity. And what I found so persuasive about this book is that it’s more an exegetical study than a topical study. Marshall painstakingly walks us through passage after passage of the New Testament, showing that our “assurance of final salvation does not rest primarily upon the evidences of election but rather on [our] Saviour.” In other words, salvation rests in our Saviour rather than a system. That is a huge comfort to me, and why I wanted to read a book like this. It gives me the language and the background that I wanted in order to speak more Biblically about the assurance that is ours in Jesus!
  20. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. This book is a piece of history written from the heart. Karen Blixen’s insightful storytelling likely feels that way because she obviously truly loved the faraway place and peoples she was describing. That’s primarily what kept me reading, for even though Karen Blixen was most certainly a product of the colonial times in which she lived, she displayed true affection for the local people she dwelt among. But I simply found the book to be too much and too disjointed. At times her insights felt forced, and at other times her observations seemed over-generalized. And in the end, what should have felt like a heart-rending departure from Africa ended up simply feeling like too long a good-bye.
  21. Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know by John Campbell. Simply put, this is a detailed book-length fact sheet. The intention of the authors was not to write something gripping, but to provide something introductory and informative, and they have done a very good job of that. This book is well-documented, and though it will inevitably contain biases, it has the ring of factual objectivity to it. The writers clearly appreciate Nigeria, but they don’t get caught up with expressing affection for Nigeria. And they clearly have hope for Nigeria, but they don’t shy away from describing what hinders hope for Nigeria. I read this to gain a general understanding about Nigeria, and I found it very well written, well presented, and very helpful.
  22. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I cut my teeth reading Tozer as a new Christian forty years ago, and yet I hadn’t read a book by him since. It’s been too long! But I recently felt God prompt me to read this book, and I’m so glad I did. Tozer deals with vital foundational truths in this book that address our whole approach to God. And yet this entire book feels more like the earnest prayer of a man after God than just his opinions on Christian living; more like a call or a cry than a theological explanation. Tozer appeals to our hearts as much as to our minds. It’s a cry to clean house and make room for intentional time with God, and I trust there will be lasting changes in my life as a result of reading this.
  23. Behind the Ranges: Fraser of Lisuland by Geraldine Guinness Taylor. What came first to mind as I completed reading this biography of James Fraser was that he seemed both incredibly inspiring as well as tremendously unintimidating. What I mean is that though Fraser was both highly motivated and sacrificing in his pursuit of God and His purposes, he was also very kind-hearted and relational in how he pursued those purposes. But it was his revelation regarding the supreme importance of prayer that I found most inspiring and instructive. I’ve already begun pursuing some of Fraser’s approaches to prayer, and I hope that the encouragement of this story touches my prayer life in many more ways.
  24. The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development by J. Robert Clinton. I found this book a challenge to appreciate. It almost felt like a science textbook. The stages of leadership development that the author presented felt way too tightly defined in way too much detail to feel applicable to leaders everywhere. People’s personal experiences just don’t always follow the rigid patterns he describes. And I was continually distracted by the jargon the author used as he talked about stages and phases, patterns and processes, clusters and continuums, and more galore. There are some excellent principles and insights in this book that I’m sure I’ll refer back to in the future — and chapter seven on “Life Maturing Processes” was a huge help — but it all just seemed too much to wade through to find what felt valuable.
  25. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin. I’m sure this book has more to teach me than what I absorbed in my halting, brain-stretching first reading of it. I kept thinking, I’m going to have to go back and re-read what I’ve underlined to really appreciate the flow of Newbigin’s thoughts. And I hope I do that one day, because I’ve never read anything quite so probing regarding the cultural implications of Christian mission and evangelism. I struggled to align myself with everything Newbigin expressed, but the value of this book is that it forced me to think outside the well-established theological lines I’m accustomed to staying within, and that, I believe, is a good thing.
  26. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by Timothy J. Keller. I often long for a deeper personal understanding of the grace of God — and have also sometimes felt more than a bit like Jonah — so the sub-title of this book attracted me. Again and again, Keller challenged my puny view of God’s grace, but then reminded me that the path to a fuller experience of God’s grace must include challenges to the parts of me that resist his grace. For example, “If Jonah was to begin finally to ascend, both in the water and in faith, he had to be brought to the very end of himself. The way up was, first of all, down. The usual place to learn the greatest secrets of God's grace is at the bottom." And “We learn from Jonah that understanding God's grace — and being changed by it — always requires a long journey with successive stages. It can't happen in a single cathartic or catastrophic experience (like being swallowed by a fish!)." There’s so much more I could quote. I only wish Keller had formatted the book so that it didn’t feel quite so much like two books stuck together, resulting in a bit of repetition.
  27. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane C. Ortlund. This is, without a doubt, the best book I have read in... I don’t know how long. I didn’t just read it — I prayed through it. During my regular devotional times with the Lord, I took time to pray into statements in the book that I had underlined as I gave thanks for encouraging truths, and repented of my unbelief regarding things that just seemed too good to be true. This book struck so many chords in my heart that I felt it was written just for me, and yet I’ve already bought a couple more copies for friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I have. To see the heart of Jesus unveiled as Dane Ortlund probed the truths of Matthew 11:29 seemed to continually stop me in my tracks, sometimes feeling stunned, and frequently feeling overwhelmed by God’s love and kindness toward me despite my sins and struggles.