My 10 Favorite Reads in 2016

So many great books published, too little time to read them all. In no particular order, here are my favorite nonfiction reads this year. Almost all of them were published in 2016.

  1. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus, by L. Michael Morales.
  2. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, by Jeremy R. Treat.
  3. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K. A. Smith.
  4. A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, by John Piper.
  5. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, by Timothy Keller.
  6. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, by Sinclair B. Ferguson.
  7. Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, by Ray C. Ortlund.
  8. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, by Stephen J. Wellum.
  9. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization, by Os Guinness.
  10. Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling, by Jared C. Wilson.

“Come, Thou Word” – A Christmas Hymn

The following lyrics of “Come, Thou Word” were composed to the tune of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

“Come, Thou Word”
December 20-21, 2016

Verse 1
Come, Thou Word, which with the Father
and the Spirit ever dwelled
And hath taken flesh to save us
from our sin and death and hell.
We behold Thee in Thy manger,
Fully God and fully man,
Myst’ry of the ages former,
Now revealed in Bethlehem.

Verse 2
Come, Thou King, whose birth the angel
Sang to shepherds in the night.
‘Round them came a host of heaven,
‘Round them shone a holy light.
“See I bring good news of great joy,
So no longer be afraid:
Christ the Lord, the promised Savior,
Unto you is born this day.”

Verse 3
Come, Thou Son, whose arms shall carry
Those fast-bound in chains of sin.
‘Mid this exile, ruined sinners
Shall be raised to life again.
He was born for our redemption,
O’er the manger loomed the Tree.
There in David’s little city
Lay the one who set us free.

“See This Child”–An Advent Poem for 2016

“See This Child”
December 6, 2016

See this child for whom all things
Are made and by whom held.
This mighty one, begotten Son,
Has come with men to dwell.

See this child with undefiled
Nature now asleep.
This righteous one, beloved Son,
Will scorn and murder reap.

See this child with tiny hands,
Who cries and must be fed.
This lowly one, a virgin’s Son,
Is everlasting bread.

See this child with infant smile
Whom heavenly host proclaim.
This worthy one, the royal Son,
Shall be for sinners slain.

See this child in swaddling cloths
And in a manger laid.
This gentle one, the promised Son,
Has come to kill the grave.

Happy Birthday, Jim Hamilton! Eleven Lessons He’s Taught Me

Today is April 11, 2016, and Jim Hamilton turns 42 years old. Eleven years ago in 2005, a month before I turned 22, I began my first semester of seminary and met him through taking his course on the book of Isaiah. In God’s kind providence, that course and subsequent interactions with Jim impacted my mind and heart in ways that still reverberate to this day.

I praise God for Jim’s example and service for Christ, for I know he’s impacted so many thousands of people over the years. In 2010 our family moved to Louisville so that I could pursue a PhD in Biblical Studies under Jim’s supervision, and in 2013 I was honored to be his first doctoral student to walk the stage.

I’ve learned so much from Jim. He has been a source of encouragement and counsel. At different times he has served as my professor, doctoral supervisor, and pastor. And I’m glad to call him a friend.

As I think about how Jim has been a blessing in my life, there are numerous lessons he’s taught me, either out loud or with his example. Since I’ve known him for eleven years, here are eleven things, in no particular order, that have affected the way I think about my faith, my family, my studies, and my ministry.

 

On Writing: Make the most of your time, writing during your most productive days/hours.

On Parenting: Be a fun dad, because the kids aren’t young for long.

On Reading the Bible: Read the Bible over and over again, and memorize as much as you can.

On Manhood: Be a man who pursues purity in heart and life.

On Marriage: Be unashamed at how much you love your wife.

On Fiction: Read Harry Potter.

On Reading the Old Testament: We should read the Old Testament like the apostles did.

On Languages: In biblical languages, as in sports, fundamentals matter.

On the Academic Life: Keep your head down and be faithful in your work.

On Preaching: Help the congregation see and feel their need for the passage.

On the Point of It All: What matters most is God’s glory–in salvation through judgment, of course.

John Piper Is 70 Today

john-piper-desiring-god-facebookHappy birthday, John Piper!

Piper was born on January 11, 1946, which means he turns 70 years old today. His writing and preaching have been a means of God’s grace to me for more than ten years now, so I wanted to reflect on this influence as Piper marks a milestone.

During College
A college roommate was once reading and raving about a book called Desiring God. I asked him, “Who’s John Piper?” And after reading its subtitle, my follow-up question was “What’s a Christian hedonist?” As far as I knew, any kind of hedonism was a thing to avoid! And I was fairly antagonistic to the notion of God’s comprehensive and meticulous sovereignty, so Piper’s theology seemed like a thing to avoid too.

During Seminary
In 2005 I started seminary. My first semester included a course on the book of Isaiah, taught by Jim Hamilton, and during the weeks of that course my view of God’s sovereignty underwent a revolution. In conjunction with this course I came across another John Piper book, When I Don’t Desire God. The title intrigued me, so I bought it. I don’t remember how quickly I started reading it, but after its first chapter I knew I would be reading other Piper books soon. My next one was Don’t Waste Your LifeThen I read Desiring God, the book on which his resource ministry is based, and nothing would ever be the same.

No doubt about it: the Lord was using the writings of John Piper to change my life. Piper likes to say, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do–sometimes even sentences.” Okay, fine. For ten years now, the sentences in Piper’s books have been changing me. Reading his books awakened an embrace of this “Christian hedonist” thing he kept talking about. The notions of being satisfied in God and treasuring Christ were paradigm-shifting. I still think the line “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” is one of the most insightful and important truths ever uttered. Add to that Piper’s slightly nuanced version of the catechetical statement, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Amen, and amen!

During Ministry
While I was in seminary I began pastoring a church. During those years I read Let the Nations Be GladFuture Grace, The Pleasures of God, Finally Alive, God Is the Gospel, The Justification of God, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Spectacular Sins, This Momentary Marriage, and Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, though probably not in that order. Whether he was talking about how missions serves the ultimate goal of worship, or how the gift of God himself in the gospel is what makes heaven and justification and eternal life worth having, or how God is the most joyful of all beings in the universe, or how we combat the promises of sin with the superior promises of God, I constantly found his books eye-opening and enriching. He brought the Bible to bear clearly and powerfully on any subject he addressed.

On Preaching and Poetry
If I had to choose my favorite Piper sermon, I simply couldn’t do it. But I remember when Piper was still going through Romans as the Preaching Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. For eight-and-a-half years he exposited “The Greatest Letter Ever Written,” and on December 24, 2006 he completed the series. I listened to that final message and rejoiced at such a faithful expository ministry. It’s easier for me to choose my favorite Piper poems: “God Answers,” “Love Her More and Love Her Less,” and “Justified for Evermore” (found at the end of Future Grace). And I love his poetic books like The Innkeeper and The Misery of Job and Mercy of God. We need theology that doesn’t just instruct the mind but stokes the affections.

On Legacy
John Piper’s influence on my life is incalculable. I hope the Lord gives him many more years to write and preach, but he has already left a legacy that will mark him as one of the most significant people whom the Lord raised up to equip and challenge the Church. If you’d like to learn more about John Piper, Justin Taylor wrote an excellent dissertation on him called “John Piper: The Making of a Christian Hedonist.”

My 2015 List of 10 Favorite Books

In no particular order, here are my ten favorite books that I read in 2015, though some were published earlier than this year. More can and should be said about each, but a few sentences per book will have to suffice for now.

  1. The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ, by Ray Ortlund. Devotional, enriching, moving. I believe every pastor and every church member would greatly benefit from the time spent in this book. I read it at the beginning of 2015, and now near the end of this year, I’m still exceedingly grateful for its message. O how we need the gospel as Christians.
  2. Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, by Richard Hays. This book was great fun to read and full of insight. Hays wants readers to see how the Old Testament helps you read the New, and how the New Testament helps you read the Old. Lightning strikes all over the place.
  3. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. The authors narrate the story of the Bible, including a brief chapter on the intertestamental period. In six “Acts,” they take you from the creation of the world to the return of Jesus. This is a well-written and well-told drama about the Greatest Story ever told!
  4. The Pastor’s Ministry: Biblical Priorities for Faithful Shepherds, by Brian Croft. I’ve benefited from Croft’s other books, but this may be his most important to date. And the subtitle is right on point: he lays out the biblical priorities for pastors. This is a book ministers should read and re-read. The author is a pastor who loves pastors, and he knows exactly what we need to hear.
  5. The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, by Joe Rigney. At the risk of overstating my case, this is not only one of my favorite books this year, it’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Rigney is wise and thoughtful as he guides the reader on how to appropriate God’s gifts in His world.
  6. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller. I love Keller’s writing and preaching, so I was especially excited to pick up this book. And it was everything I hoped it would be. Preachers should read books on preaching, and Keller’s is a must.
  7. Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ, by Tony Reinke. There are only a few books I’ve read in one sitting, and Reinke’s book on Newton is one of them. Once I started, I didn’t want to stop. His work on Newton is soul-nourishing. Added to that: Reinke is a fantastic writer!
  8. Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience, by Peter J. Leithart. Speaking of fantastic writers, Leithart is the man. This book made me laugh and cry, hopefully at all the right places. He writes with beauty about beauty, and these pages left me in greater awe of God. Our Maker is a magnificent artist who has left traces of Himself everywhere.
  9. Knowing Christ, by Mark Jones. I am drawn to books on Christology, and this one had a particularly strong pull. A few pages into the book, I realized I would love Christ more after finishing it, which is exactly what Jones would want. If Christ is like a diamond held high, Jones turns it slowly and patiently, leaving us to marvel at every angle.
  10. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis (former MI6 spy). I know this seems like cheating, because the Chronicles contain seven books. But this is my list, and you can’t stop me. Adding to the enjoyment of the series was the experience I had reading these aloud to me seven-year-old. My first journey through them may have been as an adult, but I still believe in Deeper Magic before the dawn of time.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the above, I’d love to know.