I love reading. I read a few books deeply and slowly (#1 and #3 below). I read others quickly (#9 and #10). Regardless, I seek to remain open for God to speak to me in unexpected ways. The following are my top 10 picks for the second half of 2017 that you may want to add to your list for the coming year:
1. Matthew: A Commentary: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28 – Frederick Dale Bruner. On most days, as part of my Morning Office, I set apart an extended time to meditate on the Gospel of Matthew. I do inductive Bible study with a double-spaced manuscript of Matthew, marking it up with different colored pens. I then study each text by slowly reading Bruner’s commentary. I have been in Matthew now for almost two years. Bruner is, in my opinion, one of the most insightful, scholarly and devotional theologians alive today. I can’t recommend this enough to you.
2. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City – Timothy Keller. This is an excellent, comprehensive, theological framework that I would recommend to every pastor/leader seeking to build a church and effectively communicate the gospel. I can’t imagine a young, or older pastor like me, not reflecting on the theological and practical insights on these pages. As Keller notes, we need to grow in CQ, i.e. our cultural quotient, ensuring that our strategy, programming and preaching actually are reaching our communities with the good news of Jesus.
3. Miracle: When Christ Touches Our Deepest Need – Flora Slossen Wuellner. In Miracle, Flora, a seasoned spiritual director and retreat leader, offers powerful devotional insights on seven of the miracles of Jesus. I found myself repeatedly stopping to pray and re-read sections of each chapter. Her gift of applying Jesus’ words and works to our very human wounds, fears, and shadows challenged me to invite Jesus more deeply into my own interior life. I also added this to my Midday or Evening Office for several months.
4. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival – Melissa Fleming. As the subtitle indicates, this truly is an incredible story. It traces the very long journey of Doaa Al Zamel from her days as a young teenager in Syria during the initial days of the Arab Spring, to fleeing for her life as a 19-year-old on a harrowing journey into the Mediterranean Sea. This one story puts a human face on the “refugee crisis” in the world that is unforgettable.
5. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates. I remember reading The Autobiography of Malcom X as a 19-year-old college student and finding my life turned upside down. I would put Coates’ profound book in a similar category. He writes it as a letter to his adolescent son, attempting to answer difficult questions related to our nation’s history and present racial tensions. This is a painfully honest and raw book that is indispensable reading if we are going to have serious discussions and build communities that truly bridge racial barriers in the name of Jesus.
6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential – Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. I resisted reading Mindset because of the title, never imagining it was written by a Stanford University psychologist. Dweck’s thesis is simple: Either we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset in our approach to life. People with a fixed mindset avoid new challenges, are defensive, give up easily, and ignore helpful feedback. People with a growth mindset embrace challenges, learn from failures and criticism, and persist in the face of setbacks. Her insights are brilliant with a multitude of applications for developing leaders, building teams, and creating healthy cultures.
7. Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam – Mark Bowden. If you want to read a well-written story with lessons of both good and bad leadership, you will love this book. On January 31, 1968, 10,000 North Vietnamese troops took control of Hue, the 2nd largest city in South Vietnam. But American leadership refused to believe the size and scope of their own failure. As a result, thousands of lives were needlessly lost. It took one Colonel, exercising honest, courageous leadership, to finally come up with a strategy to retake the city. The key lesson I took away can be summed up in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: “You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.”
8. The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War – Peter Englund. The author argues that gaining a proper perspective on history takes a long time, that we need distance to make understanding possible. So now, 100 years after World War 1, he draws on the journals, letters and diaries of twenty individuals to give us a profound feel of what it was like to be caught up in that horrific war. Each person understood little of the larger picture of the events happening around them. The same applies to us today. We understand small fragments of the historical events swirling around us. But it takes decades, even eternity, to truly get a larger perspective of what is happening around us.
9. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers – Tim Ferriss. When I began listening to podcasts, I found myself fascinated by Ferriss. In Tools of Titans, he shares nuggets of wisdom from a hundred or more high achievers (ranging from Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, to culture writer Maria Popova and Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn). As each chapter is only a few pages, it is conducive to selectively read different interviews with people from a variety of fields and disciplines at your leisure.
10. Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea – Sebastian Junger. I am a firm believer that reading broadly is important for leaders, and especially for those of us who are preachers and teachers. Why? It enables us to enter into people’s lives and sub-cultures far different from our own. The Perfect Storm (made into a movie starring George Clooney) took me into the distant world of commercial fishing in New England through the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail and their tragic end. It was an amazing story that I could not put down.
What books have you read in the last six months that you would add to this list? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook @petescazzero.