Preloader

The Church of Christ is a marvelous living entity! In the midst of dark times—“wars and rumors of wars, …famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24),  not to mention a godless culture promoting evil and lawlessness—is a people who find their identity in the Son of God. Such a people have long been instructed to love one another, serve one another, and encourage one another. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

One unique way to do this is by reading Christian books. If we were to sum up the purpose of Christian publishing today, we could indeed use the word ‘encouragement.’ As promised, here is a recommended reading list for 2024, added on to the three I wrote about last month. The list is longer than I originally intended but merely introduces some good books I have read in recent months. 

We all find ourselves most comfortable with certain genres’ so I have tended to go with those I enjoy the most but I hope they will overlap with your favorites as well. I might also add that with all the travelling that I do in my car, I have only listened to some of these on this list. I encourage you to consider listening to books as you take driving trips. 

I particularly like to read biographies of Christians that have faced unusual circumstances or the accounts of missionaries, pastors, or Christian leaders whose names have become familiar to believers. In that first category of unusual circumstances, Joni Erickson Tada’s Joni comes to mind. Or Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Last year in this blog, I reviewed another good one titled Shackled.

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus by Rifka Bary

At the end of last year, I listened to this intriguing story about a young girl, born in Sri Lanka to a strict Moslem family. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was a young child, still following their strict Moslem religion but integrating their children into public school systems in New York City and later, Columbus, Ohio. The girl, Rifka Bary, has written her own story Hiding in the Light, describing how God began to use Christian friends in her school to tell her about Jesus. How she dared to accept one’s friend invitation to attend a forbidden church and there discovered Who Jesus is, receiving Him as her Lord and Savior. Keeping her relationship with Jesus a secret from her family and stealthily hiding her Bible from them, she eventually is discovered and severely beaten by her father. He further threatened her life, promising to send her back to Sri Lanka where she would receive just punishment for abandoning Islam—most likely death.  She then made the brave decision to run away from home at the age of 16. Her story made national headlines.

This book as well as those mentioned previously make excellent reading for teens. So often, children growing up in Christian homes, attending church regularly, have a ho-hum attitude about anything Christian, wanting to have a taste of life outside of what they know and have experienced. This book as well as the others shows what a vital relationship with Jesus looks like in the face of grave danger. Many times our teens don’t understand the reality of Who Jesus is. I bought this book for my children who have teens in their home and suggested that they read it aloud with them.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield


Another book that tells a contemporary true story is The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. This book tells the story of a university English professor in a committed relationship with another woman. Wondering how Christianity from her own intellectual standpoint could be so detrimental and problematic to her tight-knit gay community, she begins to research the dilemma. What made Christians so narrow-minded and judgmental? The author, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, is the professor and as she begins introducing herself to the Christians that she hopes to prove wrong, she discovers they might actually be right about Who God is. An unique and compelling message for our time.

Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation by Collin Hansen


Tim Keller, well known author and pastor, who started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in metropolitan New York City in 1989, saw it grow to four (more recently five, the newest in East Harlem began after Keller retired) Manhattan congregations and several other affiliates in large cities the world over. A new biography by Collin Hansen was released in 2023, just shortly before Tim Keller’s death. Tim Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation is not just an interesting read but I found it fascinating and relatable. A plus for me was also that the audio version I listened to included three recorded sermons by Keller as well as lectures by Elisabeth Elliot and Edmond Clowney at the conclusion of the book. 

***

Eric Metaxis is a contemporary author who has written several biographies of renowned Christian men and women. Some of these include Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Chuck Colson, Susanna Wesley, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. I’ve not read a Metaxis biography that I didn’t enjoy. Two of his books are titled Seven Men and Seven Women. Obviously these last two books tell the stories of seven people rather than just one and I did list some of their names above. One of the things I like about the men and women Mataxis writes about are that we learn these folks are people just like the rest of us, coming from quirky families, devout parents as well irreligious, all economic backgrounds, various educational levels, exposed to prejudices, widely popular or little known in their time. The common denominator is always their faith in God and submission to Him. In each case, the results play out differently, their lives affecting the world in the ways God has called them and yet, each bringing Him glory.

***

The next category of books I will mention is Devotional Readings and/or personal Bible Study books. I like to read a one-page devotional at night before I go to sleep because my mind is past the point of thinking a lot or real deeply, but these give me a last reminder of Whom I trust as I fall asleep. I love the many Spurgeon devotionals that serve this purpose.

Flourish Bible Study Series by Lydia Brownback

However, in the morning when I do my Bible reading, I like something that helps me dig deeper into God’s word—something I can respond to with my writing or journaling. Lydia Brownback’s Flourish Bible Study series gives readers these options. Each book concentrates on one book of the Bible. There are currently nine books published in the series. Each has ten lessons and can be done individually or as a group. Leaders guides are free and available online. Each lesson is several pages long, giving information and observations, referring to corresponding scripture passages outside the book being studied, and asking readers probing questions with plenty of space to write answers.

Real Mercy: Where Bible and Life Meet by Thaddeus Barnum


The author of a book I was reading awhile back said Real Mercy by Thaddeus  Barnum was the best book he’d ever read for describing what God’s mercy really looked like. That piqued my curiosity enough to order the book and I wasn’t disappointed. Each of the 50 readings took me through stories from Scripture, relating them in ways I had seldom or never thought about. Then a contemporary story began and continued to be told through successive readings until God’s mercy became plainly evident to the real people in the stories. Each reading ends with “Questions for Reflection” that prompted me to journal my answers and dig into deep places in my soul that had long been neglected.

In the introduction the author quotes Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

“And when it comes to us, we are made new,” Barnum writes in his introduction. “That change is visible. It reshapes how we think, how we act, how we engage the world around us…all of these to our very core…

“The only way for [this] to happen is to let mercy come. He—the person of mercy himself—must do with us what He came to do.  And when He does, one taste of it in our souls, and Micah 6:8 comes alive….

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?”

Reading Real Mercy truly increased my desire not only to love mercy but to recall all the many sweet mercies of God shown to me and to share them with others more readily than ever before. There also happens to be three more books in this series, Real Love, Real Identity, and Real Courage. My goal is to read them all.

***

I’m ending my book list with a couple of books that deal with specific things we believers could all use help with as we travel our life journeys. Both have helped me and so I’m sharing them with you.

Courage: How the Gospel Creates Christian Fortitude by Joe Rigney

This short book effectively tackles the lack of courage believers often feel and express, using Philippians as its main source. Paul calls us to lead a life worthy of the gospel writes Rigney citing Philippians 1:27-28: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”

 “To be fearful is to give in or be mastered by one’s fears,” writes Rigney. “It is to succumb to fear, to allow fear to guide and direct our actions. To be fearless, then is to master one’s fears. Fear may still be present…. But the fearless man conquers his fear. It doesn’t rule him; he rules it.”

Rigney reminds us of the many gifts God has placed at our disposal, pointing out two specifically. One, that God has caused us to believe in Jesus and second, that he has called us to suffer for him. We might not think of that last one as a gift and yet that doesn’t diminish the fact that both the faith that unites us in Christ and the suffering that comes from that union are gifts. Both gifts “steel us in the face of our enemies,” Rigney assures us. 

I imagine that scene when Gandalf rides unexpectedly into the final battle in the Lord of the Rings and we know for certain His presence signifies that good will triumph over evil. That’s what God has promised us assuredly when we fight our battles with Christ present in our lives!

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God; John  Piper, Justin Taylor, General Editors


This book contains the writings of many sufferers including John Piper, Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Saint, Carl Ellis, David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Mark Talbot. Each tells a different story of suffering, cancer diagnoses, permanent paralysis, persecution on the mission field, ethnic-based suffering, personal injustices—these are a few of the unique tales told by the individual contributors. 

When such circumstances invade our lives, we tend to have all the wrong reactions. This book hones in on that tendency and points us to keep focus. On Christ. The book isn’t so much about what happened to these people as much as what God means by subjecting them and us to such suffering. Continuing to read from the Philippians passage above, verse 29 of chapter one says: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

As Christians, we are not exempt from suffering, rather all indications in Scripture tell us as believers to expect it. To question whether we are actual Christians if we are not experiencing it. It should not surprise us but cause us to realize that it has been planned by a sovereign God. With love, mercy, and gifts of grace that are sufficient. To love Christ, then, is to accept suffering with thanksgiving. 

“But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ,” Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-9. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Each chapter in this book will reinforce all that Paul says in the passage above and in so many other places in his epistles. Every chapter is an encouragement for all those who have in the past or are currently experiencing suffering, who seek to understand its purpose, and who desire to move forward with the peace of God.

Send Me A Message