2018 Reading Favorites

Friends, behold, my favorite books from 2018! The art of reading felt different this year––slower––as we welcomed our daughter and enjoyed our first year with her (a blessing!). But I preferred the slowness, I think, as it helped me appreciate the quiet moments more and process what I was reading with greater clarity.

The titles I’m sharing with you below follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:

If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. (I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.) I hope these thoughts might sway you to read a few of these titles, yourself!

Theology

First Prize: The Cross of Christ (John Stott)

I’m only halfway through Stott’s excellent book, but can already give it my highest commendation. He’s a master of accessible theology, drawing out the atonement with confident clarity, biblical richness, and a humble sensitivity to its mysteries. Many people put this book on their must-read-in-this-lifetime list, and I fully agree. Read it as soon as you can!

Runner-Up: The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Sinclair B. Ferguson)

Ferguson, in his wonderful treatment on the law and the gospel, helped me see that legalism goes beyond our common definition: It’s not simply trying to work our way to God, it’s divorcing God’s good character from his law, and viewing it apart from his heart to save sinners. Ferguson exhorted me to hold fast to “the marrow” of the gospel, the cure for both legalism and antinomianism, in writing and teaching in any context. If you’ve ever been confused about the place of the law in the gospel, read this book.

Biography, Memoir, & Historical Fiction

First Prize: The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

The storyline of Whitehead’s novel depressed me, making me wonder if I could genuinely call the book a favorite––but I think that’s his point. He brings to light the horrors of slavery in America, and how quickly hoped-for dreams of freedom could be dashed for those who took the risk and ran. Read this for the rawness of his writing and for perspective.

Runner-Up: Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (Jackie Hill Perry)

I had the honor of reviewing Perry’s memoir for The Gospel Coalition, so I’ll point you to it here!

Christian Living

First Prize: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

If I had to choose one book that stood out among the rest, a favorite of favorites, Parenting is it. No other book caused me to think as much as this one (probably because we’re new parents). Tripp builds a theological foundation for why we parent; the most striking part for me was the truth that God is parenting me as I parent my daughter. Many other moms have told me this is their favorite parenting book, and for good reasons!

Runner-Up: The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (Jared C. Wilson)

Wilson is a skilled (and prolific) writer of many practical theology books, and this one is no exception. As a perfectionist who struggles with sin and failure, I was helped to read Wilson’s words: “Jesus is for losers.” I always appreciate his push-back on false gospels; in this book, he confronts the church’s typical definition of discipleship (doing good things) with what it really is (coming to Jesus over and over and over again). I often recommend this one to people who find grace hard to believe.

Vocation & Learning

First Prize: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Tony Reinke)

Confession: I listened to Reinke’s book on audio while sleep-deprived and in the fog of early motherhood. But that season was actually the perfect time to listen: I knew I didn’t want to waste away my nursing sessions on my phone. Reinke’s hard work and research is astounding and has clearly blessed many readers, based upon the feedback I’ve read and heard in the last year. Our phones are incredible tools, but they often rule over us; Reinke helped me think about my motives and habits, and especially what these communicate to the people in the room with me.

Runner-Up: Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word (Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach)

I’m not finished with this yet, but it’s wonderful! Short chapters teach the reader how to study their Bible using memorable tools like structure, context, and linking words. If you want an accessible book on Bible study, this is it.

Fiction

First Prize: Home (Marilynne Robinson)

After Gilead was recommended to me by everyone and their brother, I finally picked it up. I didn’t enjoy Gilead as much as I did Robinson’s second novel, Home, a harrowing tale of family dynamics, personal sin, and hope deferred. Robinson is a gifted writer, one whose novels I hope to read to completion.

Runner-Up: Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)

The story of small-town barber, Jayber Crow showcases the beauty of the ordinary. Berry writes like a song, so while the novel’s plot line feels slow, it’s a welcome slowness full of enjoyable rhythms, eclectic personalities, and depth. Like Robinson’s three Gilead books, Berry’s other books stand alone but are based in the same place. Read them if you want to slow down.

I hope these suggestions prompt you to read great books in 2019. Any suggestions for the books you enjoyed this year? Leave titles in the comments––I’m always looking for great ones.

Advertisements

Five Lessons I’ve Learned in Five Years as an Editor

“Do you have any tips to share about being an editor? Any books to read or things you wish you knew when you started?”

A friend and fellow writer recently sent me these questions. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about how someone can develop an editorial eye and make strides in this elusive, but important skill-set. I figure some of you might have similar questions, so here’s my attempt at an answer!

Let me preface by saying two things:

I didn’t study writing or English in college. What you’ll find in this article, then, isn’t lessons from a classroom, but those learned through work-related experience and diving in headfirst. I don’t pretend to have a refined knowledge of all-things-grammar and technical aspects of writing, nor do I have all the answers! These are simply reflections.

I’m writing this also for writers. Good writers are skilled self-editors, and good writers keep their editors in mind as they write. It’s a beautiful gift when a writer submits an article to Unlocking the Bible, and it’s mostly done. Growth in the skill of self-editing will greatly bless the editor who receives your submission!

Without further ado:

Lesson #1: Editing isn’t taught, it’s caught.

I can’t take credit for this brilliant statement. My co-worker and editor extraordinaire, Tim Augustyn, first said it. I was training my first co-editor and asked Tim for advice. He said, “Editing isn’t taught––it’s caught.”

By this, I don’t think Tim meant there’s no possibility of learning the editorial skill-set through books or courses; rather, we learn best by watching, analyzing, and doing. Just as an apprentice would learn by studying his master as he worked, so we learn editing in a similar way:

  • When we’re reading great books, we observe and analyze voicing, word choice, argument-flow, and the rhythm of sentences.  
  • When we’re being edited, we study what our editor is doing and learn from their suggestions and decisions, and even by the way they communicate.
  • When a writer reasonably pushes back on our work, we’re learning how to become better editors.

Continue reading

10 Truths to Set Leaders Free

Friends! I’ve collaborated with some sisters in Christ from Revive Our Hearts to offer you a free ebook: 10 Truths to Set Leaders FreeWhether you lead a large women’s ministry at your church or simply gather with a few friends to study God’s Word, we all need to know God’s truth in order to point others toward it. That’s why we’re excited to deliver this ebook.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 9.07.40 AM

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE E-BOOK

We’re exploring the most common lies leaders believe and the truth that sets us free. Here’s an inside peek:

LIE #1: A leader must meet everyone’s needs and expectations. (Melissa Kruger)

LIE #2: I must be strong and always have it together. (Kristen Wetherell)

LIE #3: If I work hard serving the Lord, ministry will go smoothly. (Susan Hunt)

LIE #4: My leadership role makes me more valuable and important. (Shannon Popkin)

LIE #5: My ministry is more important to God than my marriage and family. (Erin Davis)

LIE #6: It won’t matter if I skip my personal time with God. (Kelly Needham)

LIE #7: I’m the only one who can do it. Ministry depends on me. (Leslie Bennett)

LIE #8: I’m responsible for changing people’s lives. (Linda Green)

LIE #9: My ministry is insignificant compared to leaders with larger platforms. (Paula Marsteller)

LIE #10: Ministry is so busy there’s no time to rest. (Judy Dunagan)

Together, let’s speed ahead leaving the dust of lies in the rearview mirror.

Three Takeaways from TGCW18

It was standing-room-only.

At 7am, our panel discussion had an attendance that far surpassed what we’d expected. I thought 30-50 women might come (morning people!); instead, the room was packed. This turnout spoke of the universal experience of human suffering, and more importantly, of our desire for hope in the midst of it.

This event was one encouraging part of the whole of TGCW18. The hunger and passion in our room that morning was but a tiny sliver of what had been displayed in the main hall, as a vast ocean of women from across the globe worshipped Jesus together.        

Here are my takeaways from TGCW18:

To listen to Jesus is to live.

God’s command is simple: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). But obedience to it? Far from simple, for we’re naturally drawn to whatever will itch our ears and suit our passions. We’re a rebellious people who’ve wandered and turned away from listening to the truth (see 2 Timothy 4:2-4).

But our turning away is our death:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey…by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply…But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18, emphasis mine)

I confess, I often want to listen to Jesus so that I can accomplish other things; in this, the Lord and Savior of the universe becomes a means to my own selfish ends. But in running after other gods—like attention, influence, comfort, or success—my sorrows only multiply (Psalm 16:4). To be drawn away to worship and serve idols yields the fruit of sin and death: discontentment, anxiety, fear of man, and an incessant hunger for what will never truly satisfy.

But to listen to Jesus through his Word is life. In seeking to love him, walk in his ways, and keep his commands, we gain more of him and, therefore, the truest, most satisfying life possible. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Is my greatest desire to listen to Jesus and, therefore, to love him more and be satisfied in him? Do I trust his promised, sanctifying work to gradually expel these other loves from my heart as he gives me more of himself?   

Continue reading

Faithfulness When (It Seems) No One Is Watching

I haven’t written anything in a week.

Our family is in a season of fullness, and in the midst of all this, I haven’t had the time (or mental focus) to sit down at my computer and write.

And it’s been bothering me.

For me, writing has been a public-facing act of faithfulness—and honestly, I’m struggling with its absence. Why? I genuinely love it (praise God), and I put too much of my identity in it. I wrongly see it as the way I can be faithful to the Lord, when God has placed an abundance of opportunities for faithfulness all around me, in every moment, even the seemingly smallest and most quiet ones.

Daily Faithfulness?

When you’re not producing, and it seems no one is watching, do you feel like a failure? Do you sense that maybe, just maybe, your present days are worth less than more meaningful ones?

As a new mom, I’m learning how often mothers feel this. We go from the workplace, perhaps, where our gifts are being more tangibly used and weighed and applauded, to the relative obscurity of caring for little ones who need us at every waking moment, but seem to give little in return. Or it might be the opposite situation: Maybe we’re at work full-time, but we’re drawn to stay home, wondering how we can be truly faithful if we aren’t with our kids.

For those of you who aren’t moms, I wonder if some of you are working jobs you don’t particularly care for, and it feels like your gifts have been shelved. Or maybe you’re watching others climb the ladder to worldly success while an illness or disability has benched you, making you wonder if you’ll ever be useful again.

I don’t presume to grasp God’s sovereign choice in giving some people more obvious, public-facing opportunities to be faithful than others; as Jesus said to Peter when the disciple asked him about another man’s future, “You follow me!” (John 21:22). But I do know God sees us and has a different definition of faithfulness than the world.

Continue reading

On Mothering with Chronic Pain

Since being diagnosed with Lyme disease about four years ago, my body has been in a daily wrestling match with chronic pain. Some days are easier than others, but my pains are usually present in some degree. Though we have every reason to believe the Lyme is gone (praise God for modern medicine!), as my husband and I often say, “The war is won, but the city is ravaged.”

The disease left me weak, and my body has rebuilding to do.

Two years ago, my Lyme doctor gave us clearance to try to conceive. This clearance came after years of strong warnings against conception because the risks were too high. We rejoiced at this good news: My immune system was strong enough, and my body was healed enough, to try to have a child!

Yet—  

I didn’t know if I could be a mom. In fact, I shrunk back at the possibility. When we were contemplating our newfound freedom to pursue children, the thought struck fear in my heart: There’s no way I can be a mom. I can hardly manage our home or do my job without pain, let alone care for another human life.

How would I carry a baby, or hoist a car seat? How would I be able to keep up with an active child? Although the thought of growing our family biologically was incredibly exciting—the idea of motherhood paralyzed me.

Since that season two years ago, we’ve welcomed our daughter into our family. God, in his kindness, has provided all that I’ve needed to carry her, deliver her, and mother her in these early months. My health is significantly improved and I’ve found ways to manage my pain, but it hasn’t gone away; the addition of the literal, physical load of a baby has only presented new challenges and with them, new opportunities to trust God and mother in his strength.

Continue reading

A Journaling Template for Your New Year’s Resolutions

How will you be intentional about the next 365 days?

As we’ve closed another year and started a fresh one, there’s much to thank God for, to process, and also to pray over and anticipate.

Over the past few years, I’ve found a concise and clear way to journal these thoughts and prayers. And I hope it might be useful to you!

So grab your Bible, along with a pen and notebook, and find some time to be alone with the Lord, seeking his will and wisdom for the coming year.

Continue reading

The 10 Most Popular Articles of 2017

With all the web-noise and digital content published every second of every day, it’s hard to choose how and where to spend our time online. So, for those of you who’ve chosen to spend time here throughout 2017, thank you!

My desire is to be faithful to God and to his Word. One of my writing goals for 2018 has less to do with writing and more to do with praying—particularly for the readers who come across this website and stick around to read.

For you.

So please know I’m praying for you, dear reader: for God to strengthen you and sanctify you in his truth, and for you to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

That said

These were your favorite articles from this year. Enjoy!

1. Three Takeaways from TGC17

2. Confessions of an Insecure Writer (Part 1)

3. What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word?

4. An Open Letter to Myself: On Motherhood, Writing, and Identity in Christ

5. 20 Practical Ways to Kill Sin Every Day

6. 22 Prayers for Your Bible Reading

7. 10 Bible Verses to Strengthen You As You Wait

8. Why I Read Christian Books All Wrong

9. 2017 Reading Favorites

10. When Satan Demands to Have You

May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep you in his peace as you enter 2018!

A Question About Christian Satire

Love is patient and kind.

Our God commands us to love him first and foremost, and to love our neighbor as ourselves—but are we doing this online? Especially when we disagree with our neighbor?

I’ve been saddened by the lack of love strewn throughout Christian circles on the web in recent years. Lately, someone brought a satirical article to my attention that called out by name a person with whom the author disagreed, poking fun at them and attempting to make them a laughingstock to the reader.

My heart broke.

Is satire funny and helpful when it deals with ideas? Yes. But this was about a person. Someone created in the image of God. Someone who genuinely believes they’re following Christ.

Loving Our Neighbor

Doesn’t our great God call us to more than this? Doesn’t he command us to love others because he first loved us—even when we sorely disagree with them?

Continue reading