The 4 Best Books I’ve Read Recently

3 books and kindle on desktopI’m sitting with three books and my Kindle on my desk right now. Within the past few weeks I’ve finished reading the three books. The fourth book is on my Kindle. All four books are excellent, and I want to tell you about them. Maybe you’ll want to read them, too.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been so busy writing my own two books that I haven’t taken the time to read much. Now that my second book is at the publisher, I’m starting to catch up on all the books I’ve been wanting to read. Am I ever having a wonderful time!

First, A New Devotional

Let me start with the book that I’m still reading – the book on my Kindle, Designed for Devotion: a 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation by Dianne Neal Matthews. This is one of the books I’m using for daily devotional readings this year. (I’ve read Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for the past four years and decided to try something different this year.) I came upon Matthews’ website when I was building my own author website and I was looking for models to figure out how to structure my website. Her website (http://www.diannenealmatthews.com)   was obviously effective – it got me to download a Kindle version of her devotional book. Here’s the short description of her book from the website:

Designed for Devotion Book CoverThis new devotional combines fascinating historical background information about the Bible with practical application that readers can implement in their lives each day. Dianne guides readers on a journey through the Bible from beginning to end, highlighting major events, characters, stories, and teachings. These meditations will bring you deeper into the Scriptures as you deepen your relationship with God.

As someone who grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday from the time I was three, I knew all the popular Bible stories very well. What I’m missing is a broader understanding of how they all fit together, and also a more adult perspective on what God may be trying to tell us through these stories. Several times over the past forty years I’ve started annual reading plans designed to lead me through reading the whole Bible in a year. I never got much beyond Genesis. There was too much detail to give me the broader picture I was looking for. I think this devotional is exactly what I need.

Today I read the story about Joshua sending spies to scout out Jericho to determine how to defeat the city so that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land. Rahab, a prostitute, protected the spies by hiding them in her house. Rahab had heard rumors that the God the Israelites worshiped was the one and only true God, but she didn’t know all the details. In this devotional the author summarizes the Bible story and then suggests implications for our lives today:

Rahab gives us a marvelous picture of trust. So often we get caught up in what we don’t know or can’t understand. Or we focus on the lack of tangible proof that God is working in our life. God wants us to act on the basis of what he’s already revealed to us…

So far, I’ve read the first two months of the devotional, and I’ve covered the first five books of the Bible and now I’m into Joshua, the sixth book. Obviously, a lot has been left out of this “Cliff’s Notes” retelling of the Bible, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how God relates to people – from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and many others. It’s a fascinating progression of stories, and now I’m finally able to grasp some of the progression. This devotional book isn’t a replacement for reading the Bible directly, but it certainly is a valuable complement to it.

The Last 3 Books I’ve Read

Now to the three books I’ve finished reading over the last few weeks. Each of the three books digs into a single issue and approaches the issue with a combination of telling personal stories and searching the Bible for understanding and meaning. In my opinion, all three books deserve a 5-star rating. On Amazon.com, their average ratings ranged from 4.4 to 4.8, which means that the majority of reviewers agree with me!

I’ll briefly describe each book below. If you want more information about any of the books, you can look them up online or browse a local bookstore. You can also email me with any questions you may have, or post them on this blog.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Book CoverA Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when I read this book. But I did more than laugh. I thought about some of the virtues God wants women to possess, based on what the Bible says, what various churches say, and what common sense tells me today. Rachel Held Evans is a young evangelical woman who is a prolific blogger, author, and speaker. For this book, she wanted to dig into the Bible to try to understand how a godly woman should live. After her initial study, she identified twelve topics that she would explore in depth, month by month, as she tried to live out a full year of “Biblical Womanhood.”  She started in October with the theme of gentleness. The primary Biblical reference was I Peter 3:3-4:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (NIV)

Each month she prepared a to-do list to help her live as the Bible instructed. For October, the list was:

  • Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games (I Peter 3:3-4)
  • Kick the gossip habit (I Timothy 5:12-13)
  • Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22)
  • Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131)
  • Make a “swearing jar” for behaviors that mimic the “contentious woman” of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15)
  • Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9)

The rest of the chapter describes the sometimes hilarious and sometimes insightful predicaments she gets into. The theme for July was Justice. One of the to-do’s for that month was to switch to fair trade coffee and chocolate. She also traveled to Bolivia with World Vision to observe how people in one small village of the world live. Her adventures every month gave me something to seriously think about related to how God wants me to live my life in my world.

PrintTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. A few years ago I googled “gay Christian” and ended up learning about the Gay Christian Network (http://www.gaychristian.net). They describe themselves as “a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them. Besides hosting a website that is supportive of LGBT Christians (and friends) who are trying to reconcile being gay and being Christian, the Gay Christian Network sponsors an annual conference to bring LGBT Christians together for mutual support. Mim and I went to the conference in 2011. We had never been a part of a group of hundreds of LGBT Christians before – worshipping God together, telling our stories, listening to inspiring speakers (including author Philip Yancey), and making new friends. That’s where we met Justin Lee, the founder of this organization and author of Torn.

Torn is Justin’s life story. He grew up in a loving, Southern Baptist family, and was a committed Christian from early childhood. He earned the nickname of “God-boy” because living life the way God intended for him was always in the forefront of his mind. In high school, he reluctantly came to the conclusion that he was gay, through no fault of his own. His personal struggles in dealing with this realization make up the first half of the book. In the rest of the book Justin takes us along on his search to understand what the Bible really says about being gay.

One of the blurbs on the back cover of Torn was written by Rachel Held Evans. This is what she says about his book:

This is the most important book I’ve read in years, and it will be the first I recommend to anyone interested in bridging the divide between the LGBT community and the church. Justin has given us a precious gift with this story. May we receive it with the same courage and faith with which it was delivered.

Andrew You Died Too Soon Book CoverAndrew, You Died Too Soon by Corinne Chilstrom. How would you react if someone who is very close to you committed suicide? How would you grieve? How can you be supportive of others who grieve in this type of situation? Can the Bible give us any comfort? These are some of the questions Corinne Chilstrom deals with in this book. Chilstrom is a Lutheran pastor and a nurse, and her 18-year-old son committed suicide.

Granger Westberg, author of the book Good Grief endorsed Chilstrom’s book with these words:

I was deeply moved as I read this absolutely honest story by a Christian mother who lost her son – by suicide. Grieving parents will find this forthright documentary written by a loving mother in deep grief to be more than just supportive – it glows with spiritual insights. Corinne Chilstrom has opened her heart, mind, and spirit to all people who are struggling with seemingly unendurable grief.

I kept a Kleenex in my hand as I read this book. I had to wipe a lot of tears from my eyes to be able to see the words clearly enough to keep reading. But I learned a little more about God’s promise to never forsake us. I also learned a little about how to be a helpful friend to someone who is grieving the loss of a child or other dear one through the tragedy of suicide. It’s a good book. Another endorsement on the back cover of the book said, “Chilstrom’s book speaks to Christians who want to know what to do in the face of sudden tragedy… This is a book for us as we learn to grieve, for all of us as we learn to live.” (Norma Cook Everist, Wartburg Theological Seminary)

What Should I Read Next?

Biblical womanhood, the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and suicide – three big topics – and three excellent books. Plus a fascinating daily devotional that attempts to organize all the Bible stories I learned as a kid in Sunday School and put them into perspective. Thank God for books!

I haven’t decided which book to pick up next to read. Any suggestions? What’s the best book you’ve read recently? I really want to know – and I suspect that other readers of this blog would like to know some good recommendations, too.

8 thoughts on “The 4 Best Books I’ve Read Recently

  1. I just finished reading a book by Lisa Genova called “Still Alice”. I believe it is fictional, but
    based on a true story of a 49yo Harvard psychology professor who is diagnosed with early onset
    Alzheimer’s. I learned a lot about the condition, but also appreciated the author’s taking you inside Alice’s mind as the disease progresses. Not specifically Christian, but certainly a commentary on the human condition.
    I also recently finished former Sec of State Madeleine Albright’s book “A Prague Winter”. I learned much about her early life in Prague, the family’s escape to London, and eventual entry into the United States. She was raised Roman Catholic, converted to Episcopalian, and, at age 60 found out that three of her four Jewish grandparents had died in the Holocaust. A very well written account.
    Both of these books are available at the library and on EReader.
    Brenda

    • Thanks for your recommendations! They both sound very interesting. I’m tempted to download the Kindle edition of “Still Alice” but it sounds like a book Mim will want to read, too, and she prefers paper. A few years ago I read Madeleine Albright’s book “Madame Secretary.” She’s a fascinating woman, and tells her life story well. Sounds like this is another candidate to go on my “to-read” list.

  2. I have also been reading Prague Winter – it’s very slow for me with my eye condition right now, but it is interesting. I am also reading Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward” which I find very interesting. My dear friend Pam and I are reading it together a chapter at a time and then discussing it – which makes it even better! He tells about it here: http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Upward-Spirituality-Halves-Life/dp/0470907754/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1362422650&sr=8-3&keywords=richard+rohr

    • Thanks for your recommendations. “Falling Upward” sounds interesting. I followed your link to read about it. I’ll put that on my list, too. Thanks!

  3. In the spirit of your journey with Scripture – I suggest: The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine. The author is a Jewish scripture scholar with her expertise in New Testament. While most of her work is more scholarly – this book is for the broad audience. This book is an excellent source to understanding the jewishness of Jesus and Jewish life of the first century. I had been reading it on my own – but the book group I lead – when hearing I was reading this – wanted this for their next book. So I am starting all over again!

    • Thanks for your recommendation. I looked it up on Amazon and put it on my reading list. It may be particularly interesting to read when I get to the Gospels in my devotional readings. Thanks.

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