Books of the Year

Amy and I sat down the other day to review our goals from 2018 and set some new ones for 2019. One of my goals for 2018 was to read 75 books (oops), and blog more (haha)! (I also had a goal to look into a lead pastor position if the opportunity presented itself, so check).

Consequently, 2018 was a big year of transition for our family and so many of our goals had to be massively readjusted. For 2019 I am not making any big promises: I’d like to write more, I’d like to read more, but this new job is a beast and so who knows (smiley face emoji). Nonetheless, I humbly submit my books of the year…

Top 5 Books of 2018:

Hero Maker//Gaining By Losing: These two books are foundational for understanding where things are headed at our little church in Davis. Both are focused on the essential discipleship tasks of equipping and sending. They challenge us to change the scorecard from building our kingdoms to building THE Kingdom.

God Is Stranger: Krish Kandiah is (probably) my favorite. One of my first series at Discovery was based loosely on his excellent book Paradoxology. This book picks up in a similar place challenging us to examine the weirder (and stranger) stories and characters in Scripture, because those are often the best places to meet our God. Krish smartly, but accessibly, helps us navigate the complexities of Scripture and our faith.

Reading the Bible For the Love of God: There are a lot of books out in the world on how to read the Bible. Most of them, in my humble opinion, get bits right here and there but then you have 150 pages of stuff that isn’t all that helpful. This is an “older” book that I finally read this year and as I read it I had the experience of realizing this was the book I had always been looking for. Now, when people ask me about a resource to help them understand and read the Bible this is the go-to.

Little Fires Everywhere: I did not read much outside of theology/church and crime mysteries (more on this in a moment). But I did dip outside of those boundaries a few times and in this case it was well worth it. Celeste Ng is a fantastic writer and this book will thrill you with her skills, keep you guessing until the end, and make you think about many of the layered issues in our world around race, culture, class, immigration, and raising kids.

The Fifth Risk: Michael Lewis can make anything interesting. I am convinced of this now more than ever. In this book, which I believe started as a long-form article and ended up a short book, he takes the riveting topic of government bureaucracy (I know, right), and makes it fascinating and vital.

Addendum to the Top 5:

Eldership and the Mission of God//The Board and the CEO: I have spent the last few years thinking, praying, and pondering deeply over the question of church/ministry boards and leadership (and the interaction between boards and senior leaders). These relationships are tricky and I’ve seen the dark side of this part of church life more than enough times. As with the “how-to-read-the-Bible” genre, there is a great lack of helpful resources in the “elder” genre. These two books were good gifts this year. Both do an excellent job walking through perils and pitfalls, but also painting a picture of what a life-giving, healthy board/leader relationship should look like. Pastor/elder friends, don’t read another book until you’ve worked through at least one of these!


My sub-challenge in the reading category was to start working through a genre that I normally don’t read. A friend gave me a list of mystery novels to tackle, and so that became the theme of 2018. I read 20 mysteries this year, and it was so much fun I will continue on into the new year. I would highly, highly recommend Tana French’s Dublin Squad mysteries. They are easily the best writing of the 4 series I’ve read so far. You will feel like you know Dublin after you’ve read them. They are also a little weird (in a wonderful way) and walk the line between realism and the fantastical. If this doesn’t make any sense, just read a few of them and you’ll see what I mean. I strongly suggest reading them in order. If you don’t like it I’ll buy your copy off you for my own self.

Happy reading in 2019!

Books of the Year

2017 was a pretty good reading year, 60 books completed plus a variety of resource books/reading (which I don’t count). Not bad for this stage of life. So, in no particular order:

  • The Imperfect Pastor
    • This was the book of the year for me. Timely, humble, earnest and just the words I needed to keep going at this crazy calling. I had never heard of Zach Eswine before this book, but I am now a huge, and grateful, fan.
  • Barbarian Days
    • If I were to write this book it would be a “San Francisco Giants Fan Days” or something like that. This is a long meditation on our passions and hobbies and how those shape and organize our lives, which I totally get and very much appreciate.
  • Just Mercy
    • If there is an energy that drives a lot of social justice work it is anger. Which makes sense: injustice should make us angry. The problem is that when it comes to communicating about issues and causes anger only gets you so far. And then a bunch of angry people yelling about their cause gets loud (and a little obnoxious). Bryan Stevenson is one of the most humble, quiet, and yet deeply passionate people working for justice and shalom in our world. His voice is so fresh and so inspiring and there are some INCREDIBLE stories in this book. Please read it.
  • The Tech-Wise Family
    • I deeply appreciate Andy Crouch’s approach here, because he moves us beyond the issue (technology and parenting) to what is really true and important: raising wise children (and becoming a wise person in general). More than thinking about smart phones and lap tops, this book challenged me to think about modeling wisdom and how I am leading our kids to a life of pursing wisdom.
  • Ready Player One
    • I met with a group of guys fall of 2016 into the new year for discipleship, and we often met in a sports bar in Rockridge. This bar was close to where one of the men was living at the time so his wife would come down and wait for us to wrap up so the two of them could hang out. While we talked, she read. I’d always end up talking to her about what she was reading and one time she very sheepishly told me about this book (virtual reality, mystery, sci-fi, etc), and I said “I’m in!” I completely enjoyed every page of this book. It’s got 80’s references, music/movie/book references, a total nerd fest. It would have been the novel of the year (but it got beat out in the end by a truly remarkable work of fiction). Still, this was an amazing, satisfying read that I will likely pick up again. It is also being made into a movie, a feat that seems impossible (but I guess Spielberg is on it, so we are probably in good hands).
  • Kill ‘Em And Leave
    • I love musician biographies. I try to read a few each year, but this was the only one I got to in 2017. However, it was a doozy! I know very little about James Brown outside of “I Feel Good” (which used to be the intro song for Giants broadcasts back in the day, which sort of proves my earlier point). This was a very educational read, one that had me running to Spotify or Wikipedia to hear more or learn more. James McBride is also an incredible writer, which makes the whole thing worth your time whether you are interested in the subject matter or not.
  • Paradoxology
    • The other new voice that I am now a huge fan of now is Krish Kandiah. This book, along with God is Stranger, are great introductions to his work and thinking. Kandiah invites us into the weirdness and strangeness of Scripture and then pulls us through to the other side where we can exercise a stronger faith for having taken the journey. His writing is very accessible, even though he delves into some deep waters. My Writer of 2017.
  • As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire
    • I have a friend who, if he knows an author has X amount of books, will purposely save one of their books so that they never get to the end. In his words: he would rather live in a world knowing there’s at least one more book to be read (by__________) than not. I sort of get it because when Eugene Peterson decided to stop writing I kind of freaked out. I haven’t read all of his books, yet, but there will come a day when there is only one more. In the meantime, though, Peterson did publish this new work, a collection of sermons from his preaching ministry. You can see all the roots of his writing ministry in the these sermons. They are beautiful, and served as my devotional reading for about three months. I’m not sure what I will do when I come to that last book, but for now I continue to treasure Peterson’s words, he is a giant.
  • The Hate U Give
    • The novel of the year. I read this on Amy’s recommendation. Wow. There’s a lot one could read regarding police brutality these days, but this book humanizes the issue (both sides) in a way nothing else has (to my knowledge), it doesn’t provide any easy answers, and it will stick with you for some time.
  • Telling the Truth
    • I’m embarrassed to confess that I know Frederick Buechner far more from quotes than from original sources. This book came recommended by Dad, and it was, in many ways, a fitting sequel to The Imperfect Pastor. These two works, together, were fuel for the craft this year, and will be returned to again and again.
  • The Beginning and The End
    • Here is a short, but extremely profound, book that picks up where Dallas Willard leaves off. I have now made it a required intern reading text, and it is an excellent summary of the larger narrative arc of Scripture and how that arc informs our hermeneutics. Narrative theologians add this one to your tool bag.
  • Barking to the Choir
    • One of the gifts of books is they introduce you to people who remind you of certain truths: that we live in a beautiful, God-bathed world, and that there is hope and a better story to be lived and told. Greg Boyle is one of those people for me. Barking to the Choir is a bit more somber than Tattoos on the Heart, but still full of joy, humor, and deep insight into the power of compassion to change hearts.

Happy Reading in 2018!

Books of the Year

I fell off my normal reading rhythm this past year,
but still read enough to let you know what I enjoyed.
Here we go (in no particular order):

  • The Brothers: Road to an American Tragedy
    • Haunting, but I would argue balanced, account of the Tsarnaev Brothers and the Boston Marathon Bombing (which we lived through during our time in Boston). The most interesting part of the book revolved around the reflections of a Russian gangster who urged people not to rush to try to “figure out why this happened.” His thoughts: maybe they were just angry, and maybe that anger drove them to evil.
  • Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience
    • Mary Sayers is the best going right now when it comes to exegeting Western Culture. Having read a few of his books, the awe factor in this effort was not the same, but his conclusions are still excellent and worth pondering.
  • The Lost World Of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate
    • John Walton’s work is a gift to the church. This (and The Lost World of Adam and Eve) helped shape my teaching on Genesis (summer of 2016).
  • You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
    • If I had to pick the best/favorite of the list, here it is. Smith’s thoughts on worship, liturgy, and desires should change a lot of our thinking and practice when it comes to everything from how we parent to how we craft Sunday services.
  • Strong And Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing
    • Andy Crouch takes a simple 2×2 chart and turns it into a brilliant explanation of what true leadership looks like.
  • The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture
    • This fun read explores how Batman has emerged as the preeminent 21st century super hero and how his rise correlates with the widespread mainstreaming of “nerd culture.” If you like Batman, nerds, or pop culture check this out.
  • Between the World and Me
    • The heaviest of the 2016 reads (but the shortest/smallest book), this book helped me understand the physicality of racism (as opposed to the reality or theory). To understand what I mean by that: read it. It will stay with you for a while.
  • Modern Romance
    • Hilarious and, at times, inappropriate, this book deepened my compassion for my single brothers and sisters. Modern dating is not for the weak of heart.
  • The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders
    • The most refreshing leadership book I’ve read in years. It’s written by an Aussie, and it’s a bit hard to find, but worth the time and effort to get your hands on a copy. As a quiet/reluctant leader it both (a) confirmed many inner feelings and tensions, and (b) helped me see my strengths in new ways while offering some great guidance and challenge on how to lead in this way.
  • Here I Am
    • Easily the most anticipated book of the year for me. I’ve been waiting 11 years for a new Foer novel. In many ways this is his most ambitious effort to date (which is saying something for a guy who tackled the Holocaust and 9/11 in his first 2 novels). Parts of this book are intended to make you very uncomfortable, and it is not as perfectly brilliant as his other efforts, but the voice is there and at times it can be breathtaking.
  • The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity
    • Speaking of being uncomfortable: this is a confrontational work, but important, and never more timely than now (it was originally published in 2008). Rah’s words are must reading for those doing ministry in a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural context.
  • Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
    • Finally, it wouldn’t be a reading list from this blog without a Eugene Peterson reference. This is an older work that I had not gotten to yet, but picked up for a series I am doing on the Psalms. Eugene helps us get into the human experience and the language the Psalms use to give voice to that experience.

Happy reading in 2017!

Good Reads of 2013

Normally at the end of the year I post a series of top 5 lists: my favorite books, music, and movies of the year. However, I have been in a sort of media fast: one part self-imposed, the other part new-dad-reality. I have no idea what the kids are listening to (I guess Beyoncé just dropped a huge surprise album), and who has time for movies?!

But I still read books (I should get to 40 for the year with some vacation time upcoming), and so I thought I’d share some of my favorites (in no particular order).

  1. The Fault In Our Stars: I lied, there is a particular order. This was my favorite book of the year, hands down. Brilliant dialogue, never-forget-them characters, and a gut-wrenching story. Absolutely fantastic, but make sure you find a quiet, lonely place to read where you can be alone with your tears.
  2. Barak Obama: The Story: History will determine how we think about our first African-American president, but that’s not the aim of this book. Instead we find out about Obama’s grandparents and parents, and the circumstances that shaped our current president. David Maraniss is a great biographer, I’ve read several of his works and he has a gift.
  3. Every Good Endeavor: When you think of Tim Keller you probably think of Prodigal God and his great work with the parable of the prodigal son. Or maybe you think about his apologetics masterpiece: The Reason For God. Or maybe you think about great preaching and/or a city-centered church. More and more, I am grateful for what I would call Keller’s “practical theology” books: his work on marriage and now this book about work are absolutely fantastic. We gave this book to graduates this year and if there was a way to get it cheaply we would give it again!
  4. Does Jesus Really Love Me: A Gay Christians Pilgrimage in Search of God in America: Jeff Chu writes as one who has had to wrestle with his own sexuality, but also as one who has honed his craft as a reporter. So, this work is part personal journey/memoir, part investigative journalism. You might not agree with everything he has to say, or the conclusions he draws, but if you are in ministry with people who are working through their sexuality (i.e. anyone in ministry) you should read this book for the perspective(s) it provides.
  5. Raising Great Kids: I am continually impressed with Cloud and Townsend, and this is one of their oldest books, but one that has become quite pertinent to me. There are A LOT of crazy parenting books out there. A lot. This book is reasoned, biblical, and level-headed. Thank you, John and Henry, for providing some sanity is a sea of crazy.
  6. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess: I bought this book for my wife because she likes Jen Hatmaker and she’s been leading us in our own mutiny against excess. I have never heard her laugh or amen at a book the way she did with this one, so I gave it a read. Hatmaker has a very strong voice, a great sense of humor about life and herself, and some pretty convicting insights. A lot of the “justice” literature can come off very sanctimonious and self-righteous, so what I love about Hatmaker is she makes it clear that anyone can do these things, and you can HAVE FUN DOING THEM. God bless her.
  7. David and Goliath: Per usual, Gladwell packs this book thick with disparate anecdotes and ideas and somehow ties them all together into a can’t-put-it-down narrative. The thesis of the book is that the things we often think of as hindrances can actually be our greatest strengths, and the conclusion will blow your mind. Attention pastors: the final two chapters of this book contains some of the finest writing on forgiveness you will find anywhere.

To see what else I read this year, check me out on good reads. Happy reading in 2014!

Eugene Peterson on Pastoring and Other Amazingness

From this great interview:

The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.

Advice to young people looking for authentic church:

Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

Bono, Grace, Barna, Mornings, and JSF #links

  1. Bono on why he is banking on Grace over Karma
  2. Speaking of Grace, here’s a great post/resource on the best of gifts
  3. Barna continues to pump out fascinating information on the Hispanic population
  4. I’ve never been a morning person, but this article on the power of mornings is right on. Not always up early by choice, but I find it is now my most productive time by far!
  5. “Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat” by my favorite writer