The Books I Read in 2018 (And I Ranked Them)

So I read more books in 2018 than I’ve read in a year in a long time. Maybe it’s due to my wife, who devours book, or maybe I’ve just decided to educate myself more than I wanted to in the past.

For whatever reason, here I am, with the 12 books I read in 2018, briefly reviewing them and then ranking them. I’ll give a little description for books 1-3 on the list.

Hope you enjoy it!

12. Churchless
George Barna & David Kinnaman (of the Barna Group)
Genre: Religious Studies/Sociology
Released: October 2014
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,218

11. Sinatra in Hollywood
Tom Santopietro (Film Historian)
Genre: Biography/Film History
Released: November 2008
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,147,818

10. The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer
David Conn (Reporter, The Guardian)
Genre: Sports
Released: June 2017
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,242

9. Faith
Jimmy Carter (Former President of the United States)
Genre: Political Science/Religious Studies
Released: July 2017
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,402

8. The End of White Christian America
Robert P. Jones (CEO of Public Religion Research Institute)
Genre: Political Science/Religious Studies
Released: July 2017
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,402

7. Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a 
Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Linda Kay Klein
Genre: Christianity/Women’s Issues
Released: September 2018
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,103

6. A Reporter’s Life
Walter Cronkite
Genre: Autobiography/History/Media
Released: 1997
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,829

5. Saints and Sinners
Lawrence Wright
Genre: Religious Studies/Biography
Released: May 1995
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,285

4. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Trevor Noah
Genre: Comedy/Memoir
Released: January 2017
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360

3. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on 
Water, and Loving the Bible Again
Rachel Held Evans
Genre: Christianity
Released: June 2018
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,842

I don’t agree with everything Rachel Held Evans says — but I don’t agree with everything anybody says. However, I feel that Evans’ exploration and journey with the Bible in this book is worth reading because it caused me to ask some serious questions about my faith and grew it.

Evans wrestles with seeming contradictions both in the Bible itself and how Christian culture seems to say one thing and believe another. I found myself in her shoes very often — wondering how in the world we call the Bible inerrant but ignoring passages on how women dress, yet still saying it’s all literally true.

I think the Bible is still the Word of God, most of it at least. Some of it is just man trying to figure out how to live in a way that honors God — look at the psalms and some of the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, even Paul. That doesn’t mean, as she concludes, that it’s useless or worthless. We just need a fresh lens to look at it the way it was meant to be read.

2. The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the 
Correspondents, Staff and Guests
Chris Smith
Genre: Comedy/Television History/Media
Released: October 2017
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,466

While he was on television on a regular basis, Jon Stewart was, for my money, one of the best observers of the political and media landscape. You can disagree with his political viewpoint, which he wasn’t afraid to be honest about, but his war on hypocrisy and media laziness was fun to watch for a journalist like myself who abhores both of those things.

This book includes input from Stewart and many of the stars that came from The Daily Show — Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Samantha Bee and more — about the making of the show and the years Stewart was its figurehead. It doesn’t shy away from the tough times, including Stewart’s tiff with correspondent Wyatt Cenac and the early years of middling success. Mainly, it’s a book about people trying to be funny talking about politics and government, and it’s a good one if you’re into that kind of thing.

1. The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson
Jeffrey Toobin
Genre: History/True Crime
Released: September 2015 – reissue edition (1997 – original)
Current Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,466

I really enjoyed watching the FX series of the same name — “The People v. O.J. Simpson” — because of the performances, the drama, the intrigue. I was less than three years old when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered, so I was not aware of the media circus and the craze that accompanied Simpson’s charges and later acquittal.

Toobin’s on-the-ground reporting and research plays out throughout this narrative that does read like a true crime thriller. You get to know the characters – Simpson, Johnnie Cochran, Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden and Robert Shapiro among them. Toobin’s take definitely has a legal edge to it, as he’s very critical of Clark & Darden’s approach to the prosecution. To be fair, they did lose the case handily.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in the true crime genre, although you start the book knowing the ending. It was the best book I read this year, and I fully recommend it to whoever out there is a reader.

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Grace Is Something So Incredibly Radical

I’ve been reading Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World the last week or so, and it is truly excellent. He discusses the need for a greater understanding for grace in a world that lives by and believes in what he calls “performancism,” being judged and evaluated based solely on your performance.

The Bible doesn’t purport that, he argues several times. He gives one example that I thought was especially powerful (p. 64):

…take an example from the Bible, that of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Once the woman’s accusers left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11). Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional; it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an if. The only if the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

For me, it was a new way to look at that story that shows Jesus’ unconditional love and His gracious giving of second chances. But it hit on a very important truth to remember about the grace and love of God.

God does not primarily view our works as our defining characteristic. He views our hearts and our position with Him as most important. See it in the structure of what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” The first thing He tells her is that she is not condemned. This is true for all of us who are believers: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So we believers can rest in the fact that we are forgiven and loved and headed for eternity with God and Jesus no matter how much we screw up on earth.

But there is also then a following instruction: to sin no more. While it is an instruction we cannot completely fulfill because all men and women sin, it is not the primary way that Jesus relates to us. He relates to us based on the position of our hearts. Are our hearts submitted to following Christ? While wicked in and of themselves, the hearts of those who are believers are being renewed and remade by the Holy Spirit. It is the renewing of those hearts that allows us to pursue holiness and killing sin.

I’m reading through 1 Kings right now and saw a really cool theme throughout Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The guy was super wise. He’s praying a prayer of dedication of the temple he helped build for God and includes this passage (v. 46-50):

If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin – and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet it they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart…then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you…

Solomon, the wisest guy on earth ever, had the right attitude. God desired repentant hearts more than repentant behavior. Repentant hearts lead to repentant behavior.

And when our hearts are truly repentant, and we recognize our sinfulness, and we come to God asking for mercy, He will surely give it to us. That’s why grace is something so incredibly radical. The world doesn’t look primarily at our motives, it looks at our actions. God works the completely opposite way.

We Are Joy Seekers, Pt. 1: Looking in the Wrong Direction for What Satisfies Most

I’ve learned something over and over this year that Blaise Pascal explains quite succinctly: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception…This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”* We’re all looking for happiness in something. We look for satisfaction. We look for joy. We look for fulfillment.

As I was reading the introduction to John Piper’s Desiring God today (where I found that Pascal quote), I came to this one conclusion: The root of all sin is the misdirection of our pursuit of joy. Let me explain what I mean.

Man seeks to find joy in basically three places: himself, others or things.

got-joyWhen man seeks to find joy in himself, he looks for satisfying happiness in who he is and what he does and how that reflects on who he is. The scholar might say, “Well, look at my grades and my academic prowess, I feel quite happy.” The athlete might say, “Well, look at my trophies and my medals and my stats, I feel quite happy.” The businessman might say, “Look at my office and my salary and my title, I feel quite happy.” The person who seeks for joy in himself will be consumed with himself and his thoughts and feelings and moods.

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in others, he look for satisfying happiness in how he relates to others and how others relate to him. The high school sophomore will look at his girlfriend and might say, “She makes me happy because she likes me, I feel quite happy.” The college freshman will look at his friends he goes out with on the weekends and might say, “They make me happy because they make me feel important and liked, I feel quite happy.” The over-worked and under-appreciated wife will look at her girl friends (or maybe even another man) and might say, “They make me happy because they actually care about me, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

When man seeks to find joy in things, he looks for satisfying happiness in his possessions or in certain activities. The CrossFit junkie will look at the gym he works out at and the work out he’s just completed and might say, “Man, I just killed that workout without a problem, I feel quite happy.” The shoe-loving college girl will look at her footwear collection and might say, “I love how many shoes I have and that I can wear them, I feel quite happy.” The music lover will scan through his iTunes collection and might say, “I have so much good music that I can listen to at any time, I feel quite happy.”

I’m there.

Because I’m there, I can tell you that the music collection, the girlfriend and the grades DON’T bring full satisfaction. They can bring happiness, but only temporary. How many people that love music are ever fully satisfied with the music they currently have? How many guys are ever fully satisfied with either one girlfriend or where they are with their girlfriend? How many students are fully satisfied with one A?

Before I make my point, I’m going to say one thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with strong academic performance, strong athletic performance, strong business performance, having a girlfriend, having friends to hang out with, doing CrossFit, buying shoes or listening to/having lots of music.satisfaction_opt

But when we seek after joy in these things, we’re missing something so much greater. Also quoted in Piper’s Desiring God, C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on make mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.^

And because we are far too easily pleased in the short-term with things that seem so easily obtained, we don’t seek for what will satisfy us long-term.

I’ve been thinking on this a lot this school year because I’ve so often sought after the short-term pleasures of attention, affection or pleasure found in temporary, silly things, and seek after them daily. But alas, I’ve found a better way.

Second part coming soon…


 

* Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W.F. Trotter (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425. Cited in John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah, 2011), 19.

^ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1-2. Cited in Piper, Desiring God, 20.

A Better Possession and an Abiding One

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a BETTER POSSESSION AND AN ABIDING ONE. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done with will of God you may receive what is promised. – Hebrews 10:32-36

In his book Desiring God, John Piper points to Hebrews 10:32-35 as an example of having joy in the midst of trials. He talks about how the people mentioned here had joy despite being persecuted, thrown in prison and being stolen from. Piper questions if they were losers:

No. They lost property and gained joy! They joyfully accepted the loss. In one sense they denied themselves. But in another they did not. They chose the way of joy. Evidently, those Christians were motivated for prison ministry the same way the Macedonians (of 2 Corinthians 8:1-9) were motivated to relieve the poor. Their joy in God overflowed in love for others.

They looked at their own lives and said, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (see Psalm 63:3). They looked at all their possessions and said, “We have a possession in heaven that is better and lasts longer than any of this” (Hebrews 10:34).

This passage has been hitting me hard the last couple of days. I’ve been in a situation where I’m dealing with some serious struggles, both publicly and privately, that have been stressing me out, giving me headaches and causing a lot of thinking. It’s hard for me to remember the phrase “a better possession and an abiding one.”

I keep losing sight of what I have a hope for in heaven. I let worldly troubles and earthly drama and hardship bog me down too much that I forget who I am.

Let’s unpack this Hebrews passage. The author says the hardships came after the Hebrews were “enlightened.” I found when I truly accepted Christ, things became more difficult. Life became harder because I started living with a different standard in mind, the Christ standard.

The word “standard” has two meanings. First, it’s a “level of quality or attainment.” Second, it’s “an object that is supported in an upright position,” specifically a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope. Likewise, I think the “Christ standard” has two meanings. First, it’s the banner we fly and we adhere to, our “Jehovah-nissi” (means “the Lord is my banner” in Hebrew). Second, it’s the level of holiness we should desire to attain.

When we make Christ our standard, our flag we fly when we are “enlightened” by the truth of the Gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is our job to live and compare ourselves to the “Christ standard,” an unmatched level of holiness we are still called to adhere to.

As I was saying, life became harder after Jesus came into my life. I faced many “hard struggle(s) with suffering” (v. 32). I was mocked for my faith a couple times, struggled with sins that I previously had no problem with and became offended by things that didn’t normally bother me. Verse 33 says that the Hebrews were, “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” When we are Christians, it is inevitable that we will face some kind of public reproach or disgrace unless we hide from the world forever.

That’s the life of a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul says,

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, became we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.

If we are truly living out our faith, like the Hebrews who visited those in prison and “joyfully accepted the plundering of (their) property” in verse 34, we will be a spectacle to the world. When I think of spectacle, I think of a circus. People and animals do ridiculous things. Other people watch those things and laugh, cry, applaud, etc. The difference with Christians is that our spectacle may cause some to scoff, mock and make fun of us.

The Hebrews faced all of this. But they kept going! Why? They had a BETTER POSSESSION and an ABIDING ONE.

What is this possession? Look no further than 1 Peter 1:3-5, one of my favorite Bible passages:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

I could spend a whole other blog post unpacking these verses. I filled out around 7 or 8 full notebook pages with notes on these verses. The message is basically: we have an awesome inheritance through Christ, a salvation that leaves us in heaven with God when we die.

That is our better possession. That is an abiding possession, one that won’t go away; it’s imperishable, undefiled and unfading.

In his book The Slumber of Christianity, Ted Dekker writes about how Christians live their lives worrying about what’s going on at the time and forget about the great reward we have at the end. The 1 Peter passage above was discussed, but I want to pull a quote he uses from C.S. Lewis’ book The Weight of Glory:

Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We get distracted by trying to find pleasure here on earth that we forget the better and abiding possession we have in heaven. I’m not saying that earthly pleasures are worthless. They’re awesome, especially when they’re God-given and God-honoring.

But when things on earth don’t go our way, we should cling to the fact that we have something awesome waiting for us. That’s what the Hebrews did.

When things on earth don’t go our way, we easily lose confidence in ourselves and in God. The writer of Hebrews says to not throw that confidence away, it has a great reward! Regarding this verse, John MacArthur says, “They are closer than ever to the eternal reward, it is no time to turn back.” If you’re following Christ and facing ridicule for it, stay strong! It means your faith is being lived out and people are noticing. You are obeying Christ and doing His will!

Verse 36 is probably my favorite part of this passage.

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may received what is promised.

That endurance gained through going through trials will be a huge help when going through other trials, and is a testimony to the greatness of Christ within us. There is great honor in doing the will of God. It’s obedience, what Christ asks of us. Plain and simple. When we do God’s will, we will receive what is promised: eternal life.

I want to come back to Piper for a second. Right after he talks about how the Hebrews looked at what they had and said they had a better possession, he quotes a poem (I think) by Martin Luther:

Let goods and kindred go/this mortal life also/the body they may kill/God’s truth abideth still/His kingdom is forever.

That kingdom is a better possession and an abiding one.

The Heart of the Contrite

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” – Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)

I was reading John Piper’s Desiring God this morning and was in a chapter about worship. He wrote in that chapter:

…because we are all sinners, there is in our reverence a holy dread of God’s righteous power. “The Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). “I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you” (Psalm 5:7).

But this dread is not a paralyzing fright full of resentment against God’s absolute authority. It finds release in brokenness and contrition and grief for our ungodliness: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). (Desiring God, 86)

Then the Isaiah 57 verse popped up. Piper had quoted a part of it earlier and I had looked up the verse and been encouraged. Then he quoted the entire thing. Obviously this is an important verse, one that I needed to look at further.

My favorite part of the verse is “to revive the heart of the contrite.” The heart of the contrite is something the Lord will revive. In my Bible’s commentary, John MacArthur wrote, “After all the years of Israel’s sin and backsliding, and of Israel’s punishment, God’s grace will prevail and spiritual healing and revelation will come.”

The only way that our heart and mind can be revived after a pattern of sin and disobedience is for us to be genuinely contrite. The Hebrew word used for “contrite” is “daka’.” Other uses of the word in the Old Testament include “crushed” (Job 5:4, 6:9, 22:9). Possibly my favorite use of the word is Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Jesus was “crushed for our iniquities.” His body was destroyed, His emotions were crumbling and His will was most assuredly shaken. Otherwise He would never have asked His Father to “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He was broken.

When we sin, we must be broken. We must honestly feel like a train has run over us spiritually and emotionally for God to revive us. Psalm 51:17, as Piper quoted earlier, says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” We must be “broken and contrite and trusting in the Christ,” as Lecrae said in his song “Desperate.”

To do it honestly? We need to have the Holy Spirit working inside of us to feel that way. Our sinful flesh will not respond negatively to sin that “satisfies” or “pleasures” us, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

That same verse tells us that “the spirit is willing.” The Greek word for “willing” (which is prothymos) is only used in this verse, in the same story in Mark 14:38 and in Romans 1:15 where Paul tells the Romans that he is “eager to preach the Gospel” to those that are in Rome. Our spirit must be shaped by God’s will and be broken by the sin in our life.

Contrition is a conscious decision of our mind to feel bad or convicted about something, but our minds must be shaped by the Holy Spirit to truly feel it about our sin. In those circumstances, God will “revive the heart of the contrite.”

Working here at Snowbird this summer has taught be a lot about contrition. I’ve been broken about so much in my life that it gets to the point where I almost live in a state of contrition. While conviction and contrition are great things and necessary to be revived by God, we need to be accepting of His grace and salvation because we serve a loving and holy God who wants to use us. Even though we struggle with sin and go through numerous trials, they’re made to strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-4) and encourage us to love him more.

God bless.

A Ransomed Soul.