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This year’s offering includes a wonderfully eclectic mixture of book genres.

The Most Highly Recommended books from this year:

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Fr. Gregory Boyle, 2010.  Here is one of those remarkable books that, if you let it, makes you cry and laugh and ponder. Boyle is an easy reader who shares first hand accounts of the storied lives of the people he’s come to identify with.

“Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapened selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. We don’t grow into this – we just learn to pay better attention.”

Here’s to paying better attention.

Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized AgeJonathan Grant, 2015.

This is about as thorough and in-depth a discussion on sexuality in this day of confusion and permissiveness. If you value being open-minded, read this Christian perspective to sexuality.

Well researched and well written, it is one of the best resources I’ve seen on the ever widening topic of human sexuality and faith.


Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, 2003.

This is one of the best anthologies I have read.

Lent is time for self-denial, soul-searching, and spiritual preparation; it is a time for deeper contemplations led by daily reading and reflection. This collection will satisfy the growing hunger for meaningful and accessible devotions. Culled from the wealth of twenty centuries, the selections in Bread and Wine represent the best of classic and contemporary Christian writers.

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, Henri Nouwen, 1992.

Thus continues my on-going mentorship by the late Henri Nouwen who’s little booklets (115 pages) season the literary landscape with such beautiful gems. One of the best books I’ve read.

The four verbs of the last supper: take, bless, break, & give are used as the outline for insights to what it means to be the beloved of God.


with: Reimagining the way you relate to God, Skye Jethani, 2011.

This might be one of the best books to understand how what you think/believe about God affects how you live out your faith. Jethani uses four prepositions (under, over, from, and for) “to diagnoses how each one has captured some element of truth but in the end is deficient. Ultimately, they miss the most important thing – real communion with the living God… a life of faith, hope and love – the very things that we all desperately want and need.”  (Jim Belcher)


Unless you become like this Child, Hans Urs von Balthasar, 1988. What moved this great theologian to write this pithy little 70 page booklet in the last year of his life? Like secret last words, this became the surprising star of this year’s reading.

“Somewhat startlingly, von Balthasar puts forth his conviction that the central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient “adults” into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of their Spirit. All else in the Gospel—the Lord’s Incarnation, his hidden and public lives with their silences, miracles and preaching, his Passion, Cross and Resurrection: all else has been for this.”

Here are other fine books read in 2018:

Come Home Laughing: A novel for adult children of divorce, Tanya Lyons, 2015. It is wonderful to personally know the author of a book; when she lived here, she was an active member of our church family (a trigger word, as the novel reveals). Though she is well travelled, she is setting roots in Scotland, but her heart for God’s world impels her to be on international YWAM staff. This story started as part of her master’s thesis, though it had been on her heart for a long time.

Her mixture of story, characters, facts, and texts make this an interesting and engaging read.

Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel, 2004. With this little volume the editors (Witvleit & Vroege) hope to “stoke awareness that we stand in community with hosts of believers across time and space. In a culture that values novelty and innovation… Christmas is one time a year when worshippers often want to sing old songs… the longing for things of the past can easily slip into saccharine nostalgia… but it is also quite a redeemable impulse, especially when it leads us to… the gospel”

Understanding the Trinity, Alister McGrath, 1988. Beginning with the current skepticism about God’s very existence, and his own journey as a molecular biologist, Dr. McGrath presents convincing apologetics. But no one has been argued into faith, even him. “The only way to be sure about the living God,” he says, “is to encounter him, and this can happen to people who know almost nothing about him.”

McGrath’s insights on the Incarnation and the deity of Jesus eventually lead to an understanding of the Trinity (as much as this mystery can be understood): God in three persons as the Triune God.

Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction, Susan Phillips, 2008. The three parts of this book are “Beginning”, “Journeying”, and “Fruition” where Susan S. Phillips shares the anecdotes of her many years to illuminate the Art of Spiritual Direction.

It is a good and gentle primer into this field. Phillips’ many stories reveal her own vulnerability, and gives a glimpse into the practice of deep listening in a time of fast talking.


God is Red: The Secret Story of how Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, 1984. Liao Yiwu is a Chinese dissident and journalist whose essays and interviews examine pockets of Christianity within 20th-century China and how they have grown. Christian faith spread across China until the brutal genocide of Christians (and others) during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong. Mostly anecdotal tales provide glimpses of worship in settings from the smallest villages to the house churches of modern Beijing.

An excellent companion novel to read with this is “Do not say we have nothing” by Madeleine Thien.


The Source, James A. Michener, 1965. A work of historical fiction that sweeps through thousands of years by telling the story from the perspective of an archeological expedition in Israel at the “Tell” at Makor (Hebrew word for “source”). It is hard to imagine a finer story teller taking a thousand plus pages to weave in so many facts and fictions. As the dig goes deeper, so do the implications and complexities of the history of Israel and faith.


I’m not sure I could have read any novel more unlike Michener when I came upon Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” (1908). It is fun to come to this stage of my life and finally read children’s books I missed along the way. This story of a precocious orphan girl who wants nothing more than to belong – can worm its way into your heart as she does the hearts of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the aging bachelor brother and sister who take her in.

See “Longing to Belong” for more.


Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life (What if life isn’t meant to be perfect but we are meant to trust the One who is?), 2002.

Thomas quotes a question posed to Madame Guyon: “What if the Lord called upon you to spend your whole lifetime waiting for His return to you – how would you conduct yourself?” She answered, “wait on Him in a spirit of humility, in a spirit of abandonment, with contentment and resignation.” This is not the sort of advice popular today, but Thomas writes a very accessible book that integrates maturity and wisdom in each chapter.

Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God, 2017. Mark Batterson writes a very accessible book, more practical than mystical, appealing to the very real possibility that we can “hear” God speak – we can sense His communication with us through what he calls God’s “Seven Love Languages.”

“God is actively speaking through: Scripture, Desires, Doors, Dreams, People, Promptings, and Pain. Batterson gives you the tools you need to unlock each of these languages.”

The Mystery of Children: What our Kids teach us about Childlike Faith, 2001. Mike Mason’s clever chapters from 0 to 12 1/2 follow the birth and growth of his daughter, Heather, and how she teaches him about childlike faith. Ever the observer, he’s looking for God in the face of a child: “A child is a revelation of God… if God were a painter, He would paint not with brush and oils but with babies. He would write the history of the world not with kings and armies but with children… A child’s voice is the voice of God… God is speaking to us… We really do not know anything at all about love. And here, in the humility of unknowing, is the place to start.”


What was the best book you read in 2018?

What took you on a journey and changed the direction of your life?