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Monday, January 16, 2017

My Top Reads

 I'm excited about today's post. For several weeks now, I've received requests from my viewers, asking me to do a post that lists the top books I've read and how they influenced my life. I've always been a big reader, so I've read some pretty inspiring books over the years; however, there are a few that stand out to me as being essential in forming the person I am today. This list isn't in order of best to worst... it's simply a list of the best reads I've enjoyed over the years.  I hope you'll get some good recommendations from this list for your own personal reading as well. 
Here now are my top reads:

A Table In The Presence
by Chap. Carey Cash

A friend gave me a copy of this book several years ago, and I happened to read it at a time in my life where I needed to see proof God's hand as being active in the world today. My faith was at a crisis point at that time, and I couldn't have read a better book than this. It is the amazing story of one of the first U.S. Marine units to go into Iraq in 2001. One of the chaplains in the unit wrote this incredible book that details how God showed up in the midst of a war zone...and started a spiritual revival among the Marines he was serving with. You will find it hard to believe some of the wild stories in this book, as most of the things described in here are unexplainable apart from God. Since this book has been out for many years, you may have to look for a used copy of it. I promise though that your effort to track down a copy won't be in vain. In short, when you read this book, prepare to have your mind blown! 

Hope Unseen
by Capt. Scotty Smiley

 My connection with the author of this book and his story began long before it was ever written. I distinctly recall sitting in church one Sunday and having a dear friend stand up to ask for prayer for a friend of her nephew. Both young men were in the military and this friend (Scotty) had been seriously injured. Her nephew had gone to visit him in the hospital and prayed for him. Years later, I would come to know her nephew's family and thus follow Scotty's story of recovery in greater detail. Back when I was working with the military community on a regular basis, I actually sent Scotty a card while he was in the hospital. It was the first card of many that I sent to wounded soldiers during their recovery. When I saw that Scotty had written a book, I couldn't have been more excited. This read truly is inspiring for several reasons...probably the biggest one being that it shows how one can physically be blind and yet still see - can see through to God, can live life large, and can change the world by touching one life at a time. It is a testimony of how one young man learned to face the unknown and how he discovered hope under the most challenging circumstances imaginable. As you read this book, you will laugh until your sides hurt, and cry tears of sympathy as Scotty details his journey. Most of all, you will be directed to the God who sustained Scotty in his worst moments and who promises to sustain us all if we trust in Him. 

The Search For Significance
by Robert McGee

 This book rocked my world unlike probably any other I've ever read. God was breaking my heart wide open in the fall of 2011 when I picked up this book at the recommendation of dear friend of mine. This book exposed so much that was wrong with my thinking at the such, it was a tough read. The book directly speaks to an audience of readers who are struggling to see their worth through God's eyes instead of the opinions of others. This book will take self-evaluation to a whole different level in your life...but you won't regret it once you've read it. You will also come to understand how to relate to and help others who are struggling to find their God-given self-worth and purpose. Well worth the time of any Christian reader. 

The Sacred Acre
by Mark Tabb

 I first heard about this incredible story of forgiveness during the 2010 ESPY awards when they were presented with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. I have referenced their amazing testimony many times on this blog, and would highly recommend this book to anybody seeking to find new perspective on the topic of forgiveness and how to become better instead of bitter when tragedy strikes your life. In reading this book, I realized that, if these people could forgive under their circumstances who was I to ever harbor bitterness against others going forward?! Because of their example, I was able to let go of some deep hurts in my life and find healing for past wounds. Due to the drama in the story, I wouldn't recommend this to young readers (age 14 and under), but it is well worth the read. 

The Sovereignty Of God
by A.W. Pink

 I decided to read this book in the summer of 2011, mostly as a dare from a friend. In a recent conversation, he had mentioned that he felt this would speak to some issues I was dealing with at the time. I was not walking closely with God at that point, so I was hesitant to pick up this book. It had sat on our bookshelf for a long time, so I thought I knew what to expect when I began reading it: another book on theology that would beef up my religious knowledge but still not answer all my heart-questions. Wow...was I ever wrong! I now credit this book with introducing me to God. I had grown up in church my whole life but never had somebody explain the Gospel and the character of Christ to me in such a clear way before. This book helps explain so many of the questions that we face on a daily basis: "Why do bad things happen?" "What is to be done about suffering in the world?" and "Does my pain have a purpose?" This book introduces the reader to the simple fact that there is God who oversees and sovereignly directs everything in this world and is actively involved in your life and mine. You will never look at world events or even the happenings in your life the same way again once you've read this book. I highly recommend it to anybody desiring to have their eyes opened to Christianity in a new way. 

A Treatise On Afflictions
by Thomas Case

 Thomas Case knew what it was like to suffer. In fact, he wrote this book while imprisoned for his Christian beliefs. This is one of the most comprehensive and wonderful explanations for how to handle adversity that I've read. Written in the 1600s, this man has incredible insight into the human condition and how to look at suffering as a means to our growth and benefit as well as to the advancement of God's purposes. I would strongly encourage any Christian to read this book and be encouraged that the hard times we face are not without purpose. 

Not A Fan
by Kyle Idleman

 It's been several years since I first read this book, but it's one that I've kept coming back to time and again. In an age of Christianity where many pastors are afraid to offend, Kyle Idleman pulls no punches as he confronts the sad state of our churches today. He speaks to the idea that many have that you can have all the benefits of Christianity without ever committing fully to be a surrendered follower of Jesus Christ. It is a convicting read as he explains that the only way to truly finding the life of purpose that God offers is one that leads through self-denial and sacrifice. This book will draw you to the message of the cross and will inspire you to deeper levels of holiness and devotion to God. 

Letters Of John Newton
edited by Banner of Truth Trust

 This book was a gift to me from my parents for my eighteenth birthday, so I've had this book going on a decade now. My copy is worn on the cover from so much use, and I have marked in its margins notations that I still reference to this day. Newton, the famed author of the hymn "Amazing Grace," was a prolific letter-writer...turning out volumes of correspondence to fellow believers and friends whom he desired to encourage. Many times, I've read these letters and felt like he was speaking across the centuries to me directly. This book will not only bolster your faith but will also inspire you to use the gift of words to bless those around you in greater ways. 

Life Without Limits
by Nick Vujicic

 I can still fondly recall when I received this book as a gift from my mom. I smile when I remember her saying, "This will seem a little different at first, but hang with it. I think you'll find this book extremely inspiring and helpful." At the time, I was a recovering approval addict who had lived many years of my life trying to please people and find acceptance. Then I met Nick...through this book, I realized that living merely for the sake of others' acceptance can be toxic and will rob you of the joy that comes from living for an audience of One. God's approval is the only one that matters, and Nick shares his journey in such a way that this truth really shines through. God can and will work through a willing soul...even if he has no arms or legs. 

Glorious Ruin
by Tullian Tchividian

 Recently, the author of this book (and several others) has come under fire for his personal failings. He has openly admitted that he did not put into practice what he taught for many  years, thus marring his testimony. While I cannot speak as to whether or not he has fully repented of his sin and shortcomings, I do still believe that some God-inspired truths are still contained in this book. For anyone seeking to find meaning in a season of suffering, this book draws inspiration from the life of Job and provides a wonderful insight into how we can let our darkest moments become stepping stones to redemption. 

Coming Clean
by Seth Haines

 Shared vulnerability and honesty is something that is sorely lacking in Christian circles today. Somehow, we all feel like we have to be the strong ones, the perfect ones, the ones who "have it altogether," while yet deeply harboring longings, weaknesses, and brokenness that we're afraid to admit. Seth Haines shatters this mindset, telling his personal story of how he, a church worship leader, found healing for his past in the most unlikely way possible...the breaking of past religious stigmas all the while watching his own son fight for his life. We all need to undergo a "coming clean" process at some point in our walk with God, and this book provides a wonderful example of how one man's life changed through the arduous but worthwhile process of surrender. 

One Thousand Gifts
by Ann Voskamp

 I partly owe this blog to Ann Voskamp. I was a struggling writer in the midst of a personal spiritual recovery process, and was looking for help. I was looking for a way to set my words free. The agony of an untold story burned within me, and I yearned to put in print what I was undergoing in my heart. God was turning all my past upside down and right-side up, beginning the process of making a masterpiece of my messed up life. I receive this book as a gift from a friend...and the words of this farmer's wife set my own writing free. It gave me permission to be imperfect me...and to trust that God would write a story of His own through me. I've never come across an author who speaks to the brokenness of the human heart, or who portrays God's grace in such wildly amazing ways as Ann does. It is not a surprise that she has become a highly-sough-after speaker and presenter...because hers is a message we are desperate for in today's world. You will walk away from this read feeling hopeful and loved in ways that will blow your mind, and you will also discover the secret of gratitude and how it changes everything. 

Knowing God
by J.I. Packer

 There is much to be said about "knowing God." Many claim to have such knowledge...but if we honestly thought about it, even fewer are actually known by Him. Packer unlocks a significant truth in this book...that it isn't so much about us knowing God as it is Him knowing us! This book brings out an intimate side of the Christian life, helping the reader to see that mere acquaintance with God isn't must have the assurance that he is intimately known by God and that such knowledge ensures him of complete care and oversight by the King of the Universe. This book has blessed me on so many occasions, and I know you will find it a comforting read as well. 

A Loving Life
by Paul E. Miller

 Several years ago, while I was studying the affects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in military individuals, an Army chaplain I know sent  this book to me. It was a surprising recommendation to me when I first looked it over...but I soon came to realize that this little book contained much wisdom in regards to how to meet others in their pain. In a world of broken relationships, it's hard to often figure out how to help those who are living lives wrecked. This book uses the biblical story of Ruth as its basis and unfolds a deeply personal yet beautiful path to finding greater understanding and patience with those who hurt. This book transformed the way I talk to people who are struggling...and also helped me find greater patience with myself in the times I've been broken too. 

Voices From The Past
edited by Banner of Truth Trust

 This book has provided me with a steady foundation of devotional wealth over the years. As with other books I have, this one is worn to the point of having the cover taped up. It has traveled many miles with me on trips and has never failed to offer up a daily dose of truth from the wisdom of great men of the faith. If you get this book, you'll be delighted and refreshed by its contents and will never tire of the inspiring reflections contained in it.

The Valley of Vision
edited by Banner of Truth Trust

 "Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights. Hemmed in my mountains of sin, I behold Thy glory." Such are the opening words of this incredible collection of prayers and poetry. Gathered from journals, letters, sermons, and writings from great pray-ers of the faith, you will find your own prayer life greatly enhanced by the words contained in this little book. I've had a copy of this book for many, many years, and I never fail to return to its inspiring lines time and again. It is one that I would highly recommend that every Christian keep on hand for continual use. 

Happy reading, everyone!