Numerous Christian websites publish their "Top Books" list during this time of year. Rather than a "Top 10" list, however, I'll encourage you to consider reading the following in the year to come.
1. Sipping Saltwater: How to Find Lasting Satisfaction in a World of Thirst - Steve Hoppe
We all have a thirst for paradise that we want satisfied - now! This propels us on endless journeys in countless directions looking for the "secret" that will finally admit us into the good life. Hoppe's book, which is short and engagingly written, magnificently exposes the lies behind such promises. Thinking academics, career, romance, or hobbies will satisfy is like sipping saltwater to satisfy your thirst.
2. Don't Follow Your Heart: God's Ways Are Not Your Ways - Jon Bloom
One of the most difficult aspects of life is entrusting ourselves to a Sovereign God when things are tough. We are control freaks. But our hearts must not be trusted. Bloom's book is a wonderful guided tour of how God is meticulously involved the details of our lives - even the unpleasant ones. And because this God is good, we can trust him.
3. Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul - Hannah Anderson
Hannah is a gifted writer. I have another of her books on my 2019 reading list. I'll let her sum up this much needed work: "The goal of Humble Roots is to understand how pride manifests itself in anxiety and restlessness; and how humility frees us from the cycle of stress, performance, and competition." Enough said!
4. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You - Tony Reinke
"Unintended consequences." Human beings are masters of creating these. Such is the case with the smart phone. This book is hard hitting. There are innumerable quotes that make the point, but just start with the title of chapter 1: "We Are Addicted to Distraction." Reinke's work is well-researched documenting studies connecting smart phone addiction to anxiety and depression. A big part of me wishes this device had never been invented.
5. What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? Answers to the Big Questions of Life - Ed Welch
Everyone struggles with what others think of them. Everyone. Underneath this is a good thing that is going in the wrong direction. What is that thing? Love; praise; respect; appreciation, etc. What makes us people-pleasers or approval-junkies is our preoccupation with getting love. This is the wrong direction. Welch demonstrates convincingly that when love, praise, respect, appreciation, etc. begin moving in the opposite direction, from us towards God and others, we will begin to get free from the nagging question, "What do you think of me?"
Jesus said the two greatest commands are: to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Our best energy should be used in the pursuit of these two commands. I want to take a moment to offer one reflection on how to do that.
Take a look at 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”
It’s short, simple, and straight to the point. But don’t miss the point! We love God because he first loved us. There is sequence in this verse. Our love for God comes after his love for us. Our love for God is a response to his love for us. Here’s what’s really cool about this verse from 1 John. In 1 John, the apostle points to a single event as the climax of God’s love for us. This event portrays, in all its glory, God’s love for us. That event? The cross:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin” (1 John 4:10).
It is in the cross of Christ that God’s love for us is supremely demonstrated. If our love for God is a response to his love for us, then we need to see God’s love for us in all its brilliance and that means pondering deeply the cross of Christ. We are not going to love God the way he wants us to love him without first getting a grip on his love for us. And the only way to do that is to ponder deeply the cross of Jesus Christ.
The word is thrown around quite a bit.
“Where is she in the faith?"
“Does he have faith?"
“I have faith."
For most religious people, ‘faith’ is important. But why?
“[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).
So we are justified by faith. Faith is the mechanism God uses to declare us righteous (i.e. acceptable) before him. That’s important because only those who are righteous will enjoy the presence of God eternally.
So what is ‘faith?'
The Reformers, men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and many others, taught that faith is:
Knowledge = grasping the facts of the gospel
Assent = being convinced the gospel is true
Trust = entrusting the soul’s safety to Christ on the basis of knowledge and assent
This is a good synthesis of the Bible’s teaching on faith. There is clearly a fraudulent faith that includes ‘knowledge,' but neither ‘assent’ nor ‘trust’ (James 2:19). Additionally, it is impossible to be convinced of something you know very little or nothing about (i.e. assent without knowledge) and neither is it possible to entrust your soul to something you aren’t even convinced is true (i.e. trust without assent). All three, knowledge, assent, and trust, must go together for it to be saving faith.
So do you have saving faith?