Sometimes I feel like my blog writing is mostly a series of book reports. But hey, when I read something so good it plays around in my mind for days, how can I NOT share that? So I just decided to make it official and give you some excellent book recommendations from the section Barnes and Noble would label “Christian Living.” I know. The name of that genre makes me want to gag a little bit, as do some of the books in that kind of section. But here are some genuine good ones, and you KNOW they’re good because I’m recommending them to you, and I am a genius.
Please note that this a NOT a “10 books you must read before you’re 30,” “4,000 books every young woman should read or else she’s a uncultured swine,” “40 books to read to ensure your status as a pretentious snob,” or some equally nonsense list that is ERRYWHERE on my Pinterest feed. Everytime I see a list like that, I think, “Stop trying to tell me how to live my life.” So you will notice these are listed as suggestions, should you ever feel that one of these topics would be helpful to you.
If you struggle with seeing God as a loving father: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
Manning, a former alcoholic, helps us see how long and wide and deep is the grace of God. Again and again, he demolishes the idea that you have to fix yourself up in order to present yourself to God and win his love.
“The child is unself-conscious, incapable of pretense. I am reminded of the night little John Dyer, three years old, knocked on our door flanked by his parents. I looked down and said, “Hi, John. I am delighted to see you.” He looked neither to the right nor left. His face was set like flint. He narrowed his eyes with the apocalyptic glint of an aimed gun. “Where’s the cookies?” He demanded.
The Kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good impress anybody, even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behavior. … The child doesn’t have to struggle to get himself in a good position for having a relationship with God; he doesn’t have to craft ingenious ways of explaining his position Jesus; he doesn’t have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn’t have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is happily accept the cookies: the gift of the Kingdom.” (p. 53)
If you’re still struggling with that grace/loving Father thing: Grace by Max Lucado
Some of us are really stupid, and need to read something 5,000 times before it sinks in. If you answer to that flattering description, then read this book as well! The topic of the book is, shockingly enough, grace -- how we underestimate it, and how we can trust it.
“Of all the things you must earn in life, God’s unending affection is not one of them. You have it. Stretch yourself out in the hammock of grace.
You can rest now.”
If you feel like you are a big ole sinner: Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid
First of all, you’re absolutely right, but Duguid shows us that is no reason to despair! In fact, if you’re aiming for perfection, you are doomed to disappointment and are also missing the point.
“Let’s be honest: if the chief work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is to make Christians more sin-free, then he isn’t doing a very good job. The church throughout the ages and throughout the world has not usually been known for its purity and goodness.
God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin. This makes sense out of our experience as Christians. If the job of the Holy Spirit is to make you more humble and dependent on Christ, more grateful for his sacrifice and more adoring of him as a wonderful Savior, then he might be doing a very, very good job even though you still sin every day.”
You can read the whole first chapter here.
If you’re one of those humans who struggles with putting your identity in something other than Christ (So, everyone.): Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
Tchividjian shows us all the ways in we try to have Christianity Plus -- Christianity plus moralism, Christianity plus success, Christianity plus acclaim, etc., in order to feel good about our lives. Every “plus” captures our heart and robs us of true dependence on Christ. Here’s a section about acknowledging our brokenness:
"The world isn't captivated by people trying to give the impression they have it all together....What captures their attention is the sight of humble, desperate, dependent people who acknowledge their sin and who point to their Savior as the only one who can rescue us. The world, in other words, needs our confession, not our competence."
If you want a poetically-written book that will help you see the poetry in the world around you: One Thousand Gifts Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The writing style of this book is a little dramatic, and when I first tried to read it, I couldn’t handle it. But if you accept it as beautiful prose, Voskamp helps you see a lot of beauty in the world around you, and helps you see being thankful as the delightful task it is.
“Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of none. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of all me here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I’m always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.” (68).
If trying to find God’s will is stressing you out of your mind: Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary
Here is the (abridged) story of my life: Face major life decision, freak out in agony and ambiguity, bombard 12,000 people asking for their advice, become more confused with conflicting viewpoints, make a desperation decision, collapse, and repeat. This was even more fun when I was trying to discern what God wanted me to do in all these situations. This book saved me from this traumatic routine by pointing out that God’s will is for me to live in obedience -- there is not a secret will for me to divine whether I should take path A or B. This is probably readily apparent to all of you, but it was a game-changer for me.
“Hearing God speak in our hearts is not only a bad way to learn who God is, it’s also bad for our hearts. It prevents us from recognizing the thoughts of our own hearts and dealing responsibly with them. The good news here … is that it’s okay that the thoughts of your heart are your own. They don’t have to be God’s voice to be something worth listening to.” (7)
If you want to laugh and be challenged in a non-guilt-crippling way about living simply: 7 by Jen Hatmaker.
Hatmaker is a laugh and a half as she chronicles a journey of her own design. She goes seven months of living simply in seven different areas: clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. And she really means “simply” -- for the food month she eats only seven foods the whole time. This is not the journey of a holier-than-thou, guilt-inducing, condescending monk, however. She’s real, honest, and really, honestly funny.
Here’s a little section where she discusses the crummy condition of her potholders (79):
Scene: Jen suffers ninety-fourth burn, extracting dish from oven:
“Aaaaaaghhhh! I burned the tips of my fingers again and now I won’t have fingerprints! I can’t be searing my hands all the time! I just ca-a-a-an’t!” (Holding up hands dramatically, perhaps shaking them for effect.)
“This is how I make a living! This is my livelihood! I’m a word surgeon … I need my hands to execute my craft! These ten fingers are how the magic happens, and without them I might as well cut out my voicebox too, because that’s how useless I am on earth!”
Brandon, fantasizing about the missing voicebox, “Here's ten dollars. Go buy some.”
So there ya’ go folks. If one of you actually ever reads one of these, tell me about it, and we can discuss! Like a highly exclusive book club! I love re-hashing out the truth in all of these books, so don’t hesitate.