Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2018 (Pt. 1)
(Dec. 18, 2018)
For the last several years, at year’s end, I have shared some of my favorite books read over the course of the year. I try to only recommend the true “stand-outs” and realize not every book will appeal to every person. I further recognize that the vast majority of my readers are laymen so I rarely include technical or difficult books that I read. My hope is that you will become intrigued enough by a few of these titles that you will obtain them and read them for your own enrichment and personal growth.
America is no longer a Christian nation. A movement was started some 35 years ago by Jerry Falwell called “The Moral Majority” but clearly Christians are now the “moral minority.” The fact we have not been victorious politically on many social fronts does not mean we have really lost. Perhaps, some of the battle we were/are fighting was/is not the battle God wanted us to waste our time fighting anyway. The trajectory of this world is downhill morally as we rapidly move toward the glorious return of Jesus. The question for us is how do we maneuver the treacherous waters of this world until that day? One of my favorite authors, Erwin Lutzer, has written a great little book to offer believers advice on this front. The book is titled Where Do We Go From Here: Hope and Direction in Our Present Crisis. This book is a challenge for Christians to not be in despair even in the face of difficult, even heartbreaking, realities. God has called believers to be salt and light no matter what this world does or does not do. The church has a mission and its mission is to be faithful no matter what!
Most Christians agree that prayer is very important; however just about the same numbers concede they do not pray as much as they should be praying. Prayer easily gets crowded out by our busy lives, but ironically the busier we are the more we desperately need more prayer. More than 20 years ago Bill Hybels wrote a great book that became a bestseller titled Too Busy Not to Pray which addresses the issue of the importance of prayer in the midst of our business. It is simple, straightforward, and helpful. I read through it over the course of a couple of weeks as a part of my morning quiet time this year. I believe it will both encourage and bless.
It is hard to seriously discuss prayer without talking about spiritual warfare. Sadly I do not think most Christians realize that they are at war. The powers of darkness are against believers and everything they try to do. I was blessed by reading Chip Ingram’s book The Invisable War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons & Spiritual Warfare. It helped me understand some of the realities of how Satan and his demons work against my life and ministry. Every believer needs to be more aware of the tactics used by our enemy and his demons. Ingram’s book will help you greatly in this arena.
Each year I make a point of reading at least one book on worship. I believe worship is so much more than we realize. This year I read a great new book by Keith and Kristyn Getty called Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. This book will get you excited about worshiping because it will force you to really consider the question of “why” you worship. When you are able to honestly answer that question, your worship will become really exciting!
Many, if not most churches, truly desire to grow. However, many of these same churches do not realize they are doing things that hinder their growth. Many of the hindrances could be corrected but these things are hard to see by those who have been at the church long-term. Thom Rainer skillfully addresses many of these hindrances to growth in Becoming a Welcoming Church. I taught through this book on Wednesday Nights earlier this year and it generated great times of discussion. It was eye-opening to many of our people who had never thought through some of the issues raised. Rainer has a companion book that is meant to be given to visitors and prospective members called We Want You Here. It is a good book and also worth reading and considering.
When we hear the word “evangelism” we are just as likely to think of a church program as we are our personal responsibility of being a witness for Christ. That is because “evangelism” became largely “programmatized” by the church beginning around the mid-twentieth century. Same as with every other program, only a few will be involved. However, evangelism is a commissioning from Jesus to everyone who believes in Him and needs to be emphasized as such. J. Mack Stiles presents a refreshing, and much more biblically grounded, perspective on evangelism in his book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. We need not be fooled. It is not about showing up for a program, handing out tracks in parking lots, or memorizing a fool-proof model guaranteed to get results; it is about each believer building relationships and living out their faith and sharing their faith before the watching eyes of those they know and those they do not know.
I preached through the Lord’s Prayer (Mat. 6:9-13) phrase by phrase over a several week period in the spring of this year. As a part of my study I greatly benefited from 4 books specifically written to give insight into the prayer. These were J. I. Packer’s Praying the Lord’s Prayer, William Barclay’s The Lord’s Prayer, A. W. Pink’s The Lord’s Prayer; but he most helpful and enjoyable one of the four was The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution by Dr. Albert Mohler. This book, in particular, is warm and witty. It takes complex theological issues and breaks them down very simply for the reader. It is one of the very best books overall that I read in 2018. I highly recommend it!
Country music fans will greatly enjoy Charlie Daniels autobiography Never Look at the Empty Seats: A Memoir. Charlie Daniels has accomplished a lot in his nearly 6-decade career and the book covers his childhood throughout his career all the way up to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. But, Christians in particular will enjoy the strong emphasis Daniels puts on his abiding faith and how God has seen him through many hard things in his life. Daniels is a man of deep conviction, devotion, and faith. I greatly enjoyed, and was inspired, by reading his memoir.
Pastors have a unique calling, but with that calling comes unique dangers. There are plenty of obvious ones, but there are also plenty of books out there to deal with those kinds of temptations. In his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul David Tripp explores pride and breaks it down many different ways. In fact, the whole book is about how pastors are tempted to let pride, in one form or another, control their lives. It is so easy to stop letting the main thing be the main thing in our lives, but it really comes down to the fundamentals; how well and how sincerely we do them. I highly recommend this book for every pastor.
There are a few books in our Bibles that tend to be neglected, but it is often not because of their lack of content. One such example is the letter of Philemon and its powerful message of Christian forgiveness. I was privileged to teach through the book on Sunday evenings earlier this year. I used several commentaries but the one I most appreciated was Scot McKnight’s volume The Letter to Philemon in The New International Commentary Series (NICNT). It gives the reader great background, insights, and perspective without being too wordy or overly theological.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor