I try setting my reading goals at the beginning of the year. There hasn’t been a year when I achieved them, but they help me focus and work towards something. This year was no exception.
Reading is to the mind what physical exercise is to the body. I have become a big advocate for training and exercising your mind through reading. I believe that at our age and time, this is a much-needed reminder. Our phones are perhaps the greatest sources of distraction from reading, and we ought to come up with ways to ensure that the buzzes and notifications on the screens do not bar us from exercising our mental muscles – reading.
The purpose of my post is to mainly encourage many to read and provide clues for what good books one can read.
1. Friends and Lovers: Cultivating companionship and intimacy in marriage by Joel Beeke
I appreciate Beeke’s vast study of the puritans and their deep reverence for God. He links modern Christians to the puritan era.
Beeke beautifully instructs how married couples can cultivate an intimate friendship that brings glory to God and is a witness to the onlooking world. Indeed, married couples should not live as strangers but should cultivate a friendship that grows with their advancing years in marriage.
He quotes puritan Richard Baxter who said, “It is a mercy to have a faithful friend, that loveth you entirely, and is as true to you as yourself, to whom you may open your mind and communicate your affairs, and who would be ready to strengthen you, and divide the cares of your affairs and family with you, and help you to bear your burdens, and comfort of your life, and partaker of your joys and sorrows.“
2. A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot
Few people in our age are willing to recklessly abandon our lives and comforts for the sake of service among the nations, that they may come to an understanding of saving knowledge.
Amy, a missionary to India, abandoned even the desire for marriage to become a missionary among the pagans. She pioneered the great work of rescuing children from temple prostitution. The rescued children lived together in a home with her, and she set up a school for them. In this home, the workers taught the children God’s ways and trained them to continue with the work of rescuing others.
This is a challenge, especially for young people. May we live for that which has eternal value!
3. Sacred Influence: How God uses wives to shape the souls of their husbands by Gary Thomas
This book did a good job of deflating my self-righteousness. Whenever we desire our spouses/someone near us to change, we expect that they are the ones to do the work of mending themselves. However, wives have a major role in working on their relationship with God, changing their attitudes and emotional dispositions, and understanding how the male gender operates to influence their husbands.
In one of the chapters, Thomas challenges wives not only to call their husbands to walk in Biblical standards but also, to live by these same standards. This means that wives should never call their husbands to live up to a standard that they are not living themselves. This would play out in daily walking with God.
Gary Thomas does not offer easy steps on what wives can do to change their husbands. Instead, he shows wives what they need to do to change themselves so that their husbands may be influenced and won over.
This book is a must-read for every wife!
4. Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
One cannot help but notice that a poet wrote this book. Jackie tells her story of practicing lesbianism intricately, spicing it up with her vivid descriptions of how God had mercy and snatched her from the kingdom of darkness to that of His Son Jesus.
Mrs. Perry confesses that, at the core of her heart, the problem wasn’t that she was a lesbian but that she was a sinner and had chosen to rebel against a holy God. Therefore, it is not only her sexuality that needed fixing but her heart, first and foremost.
She also explains the struggles that came with abandoning her old life. She was unable to love even her fiance well and was insecure about becoming a girl’s mother. But God’s grace has been abundant to her as she wades through the memories of her past sins and strives to live a God-glorifying life.
This book leaves the reader marveling at God’s grace that reaches the dark recesses of the human heart and convicts an otherwise disinterested person to follow God.
5. Soaring on Broken Wings by Kathy Bartalsky (Forwarded by Elisabeth Elliot)
Kathy narrates the story of her marriage to Steve, the renewal of their commitment to Christ, their lives in the marine army, the birth of their first child amidst difficult medical conditions in Kathy’s body, the adoption of Steve sister’s daughter (Christina) and her sudden death, the end of Steve’s marine career, God’s direction and calling to missions in Africa, life in Cameroon as aviation missionaries, the death of Colby, their adopted son, her sickness and affliction of the body, their transfer to Ethiopia, and finally (and sadly) the death of Steve.
This is a story full of God’s sad Providences, His goodness, and grace in allowing Kathy to accept all that His hand gives. Kathy went through great losses; loss of her husband’s job, her two children, and ultimately her husband. In all the suffering, she learned to trace God’s hand of Providence and trust that He does all things well. She suffered well!
6. Women and God: Hard Questions. Beautiful Truth. By Kathleen Nielson
This book is a walk through the bible, mulling over the tough passages that seem to victimize women and reminding us of a good God despite a fallen world.
Nielson labors to show us the God established order for gender at the beginning of time. Everything God created was good. But then, due to the fall, sin entered the world and distorted God’s order of creation. This was best seen when God gives man authority over all creation. But the serpent approaches the woman and entices her to eat the fruit (distortion number one is human beings receiving orders from animals instead of God). Then the woman goes ahead to eat the fruit and then gives her husband (distortion number two is the woman usurping man’s authority). God had clearly ordered Adam not to eat the fruit, but he still went ahead and took it from Eve’s hand. This is a chaotic moment. From here, we see a downward spiral of the effects of sin.
Yet, amidst all this sinfulness, God is merciful. He gives laws in Deuteronomy that protect women against sexual abuse. Israel is already a sinfully patriarchal society. The laws that God gives are a mercy for them.
This book is a survey of the place of women in the Bible, leading up to the perfect Man Jesus, who treats women in honor.
7. Conscience: What it is, How to train it & Loving those who differ By Andrew David Naselli & J. D. Crowley
Naselli and Crowley do a good job defining what conscience is, how God uses it to help us in our obedience, how the conscience can malfunction when it is seared, and how to calibrate it using the Scriptures.
Often Christians argue about third level issues that are not fundamental and are most likely born from our culture and experiences in life. Using Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-10, Naselli and Crowley address how believers can co-exist even when they hold to different convictions concerning certain matters, and how God is glorified and His fame spread among the nations when His laborers do not shove down convictions which are akin to their preferences and not stipulated in the Bible.
I found great motivation for reading this book from the fact that I have listened to Dr. Naselli speak in a seminar and sat under his preaching once.
8. Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, Wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes (Jr)
The story of Susie, Charles Spurgeon’s wife and a faithful woman who went before us, is an example to women today. She looked to Jesus beyond her physical pain, which she had to live with for over 20 years, and found comfort in Him after Charles passed on to glory. Susie trained her children in the ways of God. She made sure that her twin boys understood that they had to have an individual walk with God, not riding on their parents’ faith. Susie loved and treasured the Bible and also read many books. She read through the Bible each year but also meditated on small portions of scripture daily.
Susie loved pastors and their families. She operated a book fund meant to benefit poor pastors who couldn’t afford books, to enhance their preaching and ministry. She went over and beyond to even send money to some of these pastors. Susie’s most adorable quality was perhaps how she looked for God’s beauty in all things and used art to communicate these glories. She was highly poetic. Even after her husband’s death, she still advanced his legacy through her book fund endeavors and also when she helped spearhead some efforts towards planting a church through fundraising.
Reading about Susie resulted in me add her to my list of people I look forward to meeting in heaven.
9. The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain H. Murray
This book summarizes the part of Spurgeon’s life that is often neglected by those who study him today – the theological Spurgeon. In his lifetime, he fought for the truth during three major controversies; the Arminian & Calvinism controversy, the baptismal regeneration controversy, and the downgrade controversy. For a greater appreciation for Spurgeon and how he was a gift to church history, and for a charge to stand for biblical truth even when you stand alone, this is your go-to book. My limited space here does not give justice to the greatness of this book.
10. The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
This was probably my favorite read this year. Butterfield, before her conversion, was a practicing lesbian and feminist. She was invited into a Christian home where she heard the gospel, battled with the truth, eventually yielding to God’s saving grace.
Her conversion experience formed the basis for her emphasis on hospitality as a key tenet in the believers’ lives. Radical ordinary hospitality recognizes that God has given us homes for us to proclaim and practice the gospel so that the onlooking world can come to know the knowledge and riches of the glory of God. It seeks to see strangers become neighbors, and neighbors become family (of God).
Radical ordinary hospitality isn’t flashy and showy. It is humble and inviting. Regardless of social class, every believer is called to practice it. Reading this book challenged me to think and be intentional in looking for ways and means to host people. You can read more about the book in my review.
11. Devotedly, The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot by Valerie Eliot Shepard
Valerie, Jim and Elisabeth’s daughter, unearthed letters of correspondence handed to her by her mother long before her death. They exchanged these letters between 1948 and 1953. This book records their first publishing. Jim often signed off his letters to Betty with ‘Devotedly‘ and hence the book’s title. Indeed, these letters tell of their devotion to God and each other. Jim and Elisabeth wade through challenges of trying to follow God’s will for their involvement in missions, long-distance, and not being very sure whether they should marry. They are committed to Christ first, and He informs their interaction with each other, leading up to their marriage. This book is packed with nuggets that young people can borrow on how to trust God with the unknown and exercise self-control and restraint in the face of burning passions.
I love Elisabeth Elliot and I look forward to meeting her in heaven. I enjoy reading any of her works or works about her.
12. You Who? by Rachel Jankovic
I’m a follower of Rachel on her social media accounts. I learned about her book through her timeline. Her book centers around identity. We cannot ‘discover’ our true selves apart from studying God, our Creator, through His word. Jankovic also deconstructs some of the worldly philosophies found in human secular psychology and media that have influenced how many women view themselves. This is certainly a book I plan on reading a second time, as I need frequent reminders of who I am in Christ.
13. Strangely Bright?: Can You Love God and Enjoy this World? by Joe Rigney
The book centers around resolving the tension between wanting to enjoy the things of earth against the guilt that may engulf a Christian, thinking that enjoying the things of earth equals disobeying God. Rigney does a great job in helping us appreciate that every good gift comes from God, and therefore, should be received with joy and thanksgiving, and reminds us to watch out that we may not love and prefer the gifts more than the giver.
This was certainly one of this year’s favorites. You know I enjoyed reading a book when I write its review. You can read the review here.
14. Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I love novels that marry the history of a place and real-life experience. Trevor Noah writes this book in a way that helps you appreciate his childhood experience and learn the history of South Africa during the apartheid.
This is a funny book, written cleverly, and filled with cheeky childhood and teenage experiences. Trevor was a handful of a kid who did all sorts of things, from forging his mother’s signature to bail out of school activity to being a middleman in his school canteen. Other themes in the book include; the law’s failure, the place and treatment of women in that society, and the effects of colonialism/apartheid. I enjoyed reading the book.
This is not a Christian novel. You ought to read it with a pinch of salt.
15. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
I refer to this book as the most life-changing read of 2020. Reading this book is like taking a self-criticism of your phone usage habits. He describes 12 ways that our phones change us; we are addicted to distraction, we ignore flesh and blood, we crave immediate approval, we lose our literacy, we feed on the produced (and lose the wonder of God’s creation), we conform to our social media likes, we become lonely, we nurture secret vices, we lose meaning, we fear missing out, we treat others harshly on our online interactions, and we lose our place in time.
I have been both edified and rebuked. This book calibrated my conscience. I have since become extra cautious on how I use my smartphone, knowing that my phone usage should not dominate my life because I was made to glorify God and not be a slave to created things.
16. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini is a great author. I was introduced to him last year through his first novel, The Kite Runner. His writings are a great way of learning Afghan history and appreciating the effects of the invasion by the Soviet Union and the rule of the Taliban on the country.
In this novel, Hosseini focuses on the effects of war history in Afghan on women. He does this through the two main characters, i.e., Mariam and Laila. Afghanistan is an Islam country, and, therefore, there is a theme of religion spread-out through the novel. Due to decades of war and certain clauses in the Islamic religion, women have been trampled upon and denied the most fundamental rights, sometimes even suffering abuse.
As a Christian, I couldn’t help but see the depravity of man’s heart. This novel is a sad story describing the evils human beings orchestrated on each other. You may shed a tear or two when reading the book.