Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Top Ten Favorite Books as of October 23, 2008

Considering my last post was a bit heavy, I figured I'd lighten things up with some top ten lists. This first one has to do with my favorite books. When I say favorite, I mean the books that have had the most influence on me throughout the years. There are some that I'm reading right now or that I've just read that might displace some of these, but they must stand the test of time to see if they make a lasting impact. So without further ado here they are:

1. Out of Solitude By Henri Nouwen
This book saved my life! I'm completely serious. During my year of intense Urban Ministry in inner-city Atlanta I had reached the point of physical and mental breakdown as soon as the first three months. This book came as a Godsend. In it Nouwen helps to put things in perspective by showing us that through solitude with God we can gain the strength to live lives of care and joyful expectation. He writes, "The more we allow our accomplishments—the results of our actions—to become the criteria of our self-esteem, the more we are going to walk on our mental and spiritual toes, never sure if we will be able to live up to the expectations which we created by our last successes… That means that we are not only in the world, but of the world… we become what the world makes us… To live a Christian life means to live in the world without being of it. It is in solitude that this inner freedom can grow." In short it is out of solitude that we can live life, not by what the world expects of us, but by the strength that the love of Christ provides for us.
2. Grace in Practice By Paul Zahl
After wrestling with Paul Zahl's message of complete grace during my first two years of seminary, I was finally blown away by the enormous one-way love of God that Zahl proclaims. In this book Zahl systematically looks at grace in the Bible, grace in theology, the relationship between law and grace, grace and the human condition, grace and soteriology, grace and Christology, grace in families, grace in society, grace in the Church, and grace in everything else you can possibly imagine. The reason this book is number two on my top ten is because it marks a drastic turning point in my life and ministry. No longer was my life and ministry about performance, but rather about being inspired by the one who loved me in my weakness. No longer was my core identity founded in what I accomplished, but rather in the fact that when I couldn't do a single thing to help myself, God loved me so much that he sent his only Son to die for me. In this book Zahl makes this fact the centre-figure force in everything. He writes, "Grace depends on the fact that its origin is wholly outside of myself. This is the heart of love: it comes to me from outside myself… One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it… 'We love because he first loved us' (1 John 4:19). That is the premise of this book. Grace works independent of its response, but typically engenders it."
Just a note of warning about this book. It is thick soup. It takes time to read and you won't agree with everything. But if you let the ideas rattle around in your head for a year or two they will transform your life.
3. Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta"
This is another book that I can seriously say saved my life. Around January of this year I went through a pretty nasty depression. And when I say depression I mean depression. Couldn't leave the couch really… Anyways, someone gave me this book and it proved to be a tremendous comfort and strength during a desert experience. In it, we read Mother Teresa's letters to her spiritual advisors about her feelings of abandonment from God. Her sort of "dark night of the soul" that lasted for a good portion of her life. Here's a snippet, "That terrible longing keeps growing--& I feel as if something will break in me one day—and then that darkness, that loneliness, that feeling of terrible aloneness. Heaven from every side is closed… Yet deep down somewhere in my heart that longing for God keeps breaking through the darkness." Reading in her own words the abandonment she felt and yet the face that she exuded served as a comfort to me in one of my darkest times!
4. What's so Amazing About Grace? By Phillip Yancey
"Grace is Christianity best gift to the world, a spiritual nova in our midst exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, stronger than hate." This is pretty much the gist of Yancey's book. In it he practically lays out the beauty and absurdity of Grace and how it plays out in everyday life. Six years ago this book was my first blow toward a grace first leaning in life and ministry. If Paul Zahl's Grace in Practice is the systematic textbook of grace, Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace is the practical handbook.
5. & 6. The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis & John Eldredge & Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
I put these two books together because they share an author and both entered my life at the same time. I bought the Sacred Romance on sale for $3.00 and after reading it I had to pick up Wild at Heart. These two books open you up to the amazing world and adventure that God has created for us. They show us the incredible story that we are a part of. It kind of makes you feel as if you are in a Lord of the Rings movie and I love that! These books, especially The Sacred Romance, are must reads.
7. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
One of my coolest moments in my life was hearing Brennan speak at a Youth Conference several years ago. I vividly remember this very old man connecting with youth through his message of God amazing love. In all of his works, this one especially, Brennan proclaims God's love for the broken. Of course he speaks from experience. He writes, "God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am." Well said Brennan! A powerful message that everyone needs to hear, especially the youth.
8. Commentary on Galatians By Martin Luther
"If this doctrine (justification by faith) be lost, then is also the doctrine of truth, life, and salvation, also lost and gone" "Whensoever thou art occupied in the matter of thy salvation… run straight to the manger and embrace the Virgin's babe, and behold Him being born, growing in wisdom and stature, conversant among men, teaching, dying, risen, ascending up 'far above the heavens', and having power over all things. This sight and contemplation, will keep thee in the right way…" People just don't write like that anymore. In his most personal work, Luther gives us the reader enough comfort to last life times.
9. The Purpose Driven Life By Rick Warren
It was this book that led me into full time ministry. It helped me to realize where God wants me. Enough said…
10. Law and Gospel by Werner Elert
This book is uninspiring, really difficult, and at times boring; but it was the book that "converted" me to my current Lutheran Law/Gospel slant on life and ministry. This book made the list because what it taught me runs through my mind every time I write a sermon, council a student, converse with my wife, and pretty everything else. A solid law/gospel understanding of reality helps make sense of a crazy world.
Well that's that. As of now these are the big ten. Some deserving close calls were Dangerous Wonder & Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli, Through Painted Deserts & Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, & No Greater Love by Mother Teresa. I hope that if you haven't read some of these books you might just do yourself a favor and pick one up. I pray that they transform you in the amazing way they transformed me!

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