Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best reads of 2011

1. The King's Cross:  This has made first place not because it is by Tim Keller but because it is the book that seems to have brought most blessing and encouragement to others in 2011. I have been recommending it constantly all year to my church and as 'Live Life', our discipleship group, we have studied the gospel of Mark together because of it. As ever with Keller, it is a grace-saturated, faith-inducing read that has become my 'give-to' book for new believers in order to get them off the runway on the fundamentals of the gospel. Give this book away to anyone and everyone who you want to know Jesus and grow in their love and knowledge of Him. You could do much worse than choosing to read this as a husband and wife or with a friend or simply as a 'remember again' read on the good news. We must always be a people who are 'remembering again'. Real treasure lies for you within these pages, I promise you that. The nicest story I heard about someone being blessed by this book is of a wife being truly overwhelmed witnessing her husband sitting in bed next to her reading the King's Cross. She could never in a million years have imagined such a scene. You have people in your lives, families and offices you think will never know Jesus don't you? GIVE THEM THIS BOOK, pray like billy-ee-o (how do you spell that?) and see what happens.

2. Bonhoeffer: It is hard to capture how this book impacted me as it seems to still be working itself out. I have discovered that biographies are so often the 'way-in' to a writer, particularly if you've never read any of their books. The next one on my list is this one. It worked that way for me with Edwards and Lloyd-Jones and was the same with this but something altogether more profound went on. This is not just the Bonhoeffer story. It tells the chronicle of his times with all it's infamous horrors and the architects of it, who include the German church. Have you ever wondered how such a thing as the holocaust could ever be enabled to happen? This will explain it for you and terrify you as it tells what happens to a nation when the church rests in passivity and collusion with its pervading culture. When the church ceases to preach the gospel be very afraid. There are some wonderful insights into the whole theological story of the early twentieth century, if that sounds a bit dull to you, it won't be. You will also get to know Karl Barth reading this and also many others who were on the European and American scene. The battles that are now playing themselves out Bonnhoeffer so accurately predicted. He was indeed a prophet and one who we should all turn our ears to afresh in order to perhaps better understand our own times. A shout out to Gary for putting me on to this- thank you!

3. Unbroken: This is story of one of the most incredible lives ever lived. Louie Zamperini was an athlete, a pilot, a prisoner of  war and a wonderful man of faith. It is extraordinary what he went through and survived, as though he almost lived three lives in one. I am not sure why I connected so much with Zamperini, perhaps it was because my own father was a prisoner of war in Korea. The tales that are told of his torture by the Japanese were harrowing but were also amazing because of his courage and resilience. My father survived similar things and always viewed the rest of his days as his 'second life' which managed to produce me. Always behind this story and all our stories is the steady hand of God's providence and the battle that there is over each of our souls. If you have known anything of the grace of God and have experienced the new birth you will be familiar with how we all fight but happily eventually lose. Zamperini is not different from you and I on that one and how it plays out is compelling stuff. 

5. Fresh wind Fresh Fire: This has been more than just a book to me and I discovered it through Steve Furtick, who might just get the new podcast of the year award. He tells the story of what he has come to call his 'Page 23 Vision' that he had while reading this book at his parents kitchen table aged 16. He has since gone on to plant Elevation Church and spoke this year at Willow Creek to 100k leaders across he world. Not bad to get all that done by the age of 32. Now, I have no aspirations to run a mega church but I do however long to pastor a church that prays and expects the kingdom to come. As I am embarking on planting one in 2012 this book will be a continual reference point for me to keep myself and my people on the task of calling on the name of the Lord. Why is this book so special to me? On the morning that I watched 'Page 23 Vision' and this baptism film which incidentally made my heart burn I resolved to finally get around to reading Cymbala's book. THAT VERY MORNING our ex-church warden Andrew, who now lives in Egypt, was in church for one day only. He marched up to me with a smile and thrust Fresh wind Fresh fire into my hand telling me I just had to read it. He has never given me a book before or since. In that moment, God got my attention.  

6. The Papa Prayer: 'The true centre of prayer, its real point , is relating to God' so says Larry Crabb. We all have lots of questions about prayer and if, like me, you have been following Jesus for a while the list grows longer not shorter. Yes some amazing things, but these are married with non-answers, confusions and seemingly wrong answers in some instances. Crabb asks lots of the things we have all thought but never quite managed to put into words. Deep pastoral things come to mind as you read this and you will be reminded of specific people and particular seasons of prayer where maybe prayer has not seemed to do what it says in the book (it does exactly what it says in fact and this will help you see that). His basic thesis on praying seems to be 'Come as you are' not as you think God wants you to come. If you are in a mess- tell him, angry- tell him, happy -tell him. Reading this reminded me a little of the fantastic book Answering God that Peterson wrote on the Psalms. Papa prayer also tells us again who it is we pray to. He quotes John Piper saying 'No man stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon and says, 'Aren't I something!' I hope lots of you who want to explore prayer more honestly and to pray more fervently and enjoyably will be blessed by this book. Paul wrote 'Devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful' (Col 4:2) and I hope that will be so for you having read this helpful book. Be devoted to prayer dear friends.

7. The One Thing You Need to Know: I do enjoy a business/management book every now and again and came across Buckingham through the Willow Leadership Summit. He used to work in research and is now a guru with a great belief that we should be about our strengths and not our weaknesses. I have struggled on this one and am often foolishly hoping I may become someone I know my weaknesses are never ever going to let me be. Nor should they. If you want to read one book on leadership, management, vision and all the other bits on bobs you could not do better than this one. It's packed with all sorts of great quotes and illustrations and some really helpful advice on doing life a bit better and more effectively. Although I am probably more Eugene Peterson than Bill Hybels, the Bishop's in the C of E could well do with putting this on their Christmas lists particularly on Vision (how to develop a clear one). Buckingham tells us of 'The Stockdale Paradox' which is 'a willingless to look at the brutal reality of a situation but remain hopeful that one will overcome it'. Doesn't the C of E need a bit of that right now. If you think it's time for you to do a little less 'being' and a tad more 'doing' this will certainly put a bit of zip in your doo-dah.

8. Serious TimesEvery now and again you read a book and as you are reading it you think of people you would like to give it away to in the hope that they will read it too. I do that rather a lot with books and I am sure most of them remain unread on the bookshelves and bedside tables of those I give them to. Why did 'Serious times' make my pulse race? Well, it's because it is a book about how to have a significant life. A life that is called, a life that sacrifices and a life that makes an impact. Who doesn't want a life like that? I have a burden for such lives because my own life languished and, in so very many ways still languishes, in ineffectiveness in its response to the gospel. I long for my life and those lives I pray for and try to encourage to be gripped with a single-minded abandonment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book reminded me of that and offered me a narrative on how that might come to be.

9. Rumors of God: experiencing the kind of faith you've only heard about:  This is a late entrant onto the list and came as a recommendation from the excellent blog of J R Briggs who may get my 'best new blog find' prize for this year. The first thing you need to get over is that they have spelt the title of the book wrong but once you've done that there is so much to enjoy. This is written by two pastors and is worth reading just for the story told in the first chapter. Reading it reminded me of how I felt when I read the prostitute story in those first pages of 'What's so amazing about grace?' that is probably imprinted on most of our minds. These two men come across as thoughtful, dynamic and gifted pastors and each chapter has something original to say. Recently, I complained that so many Christian books steal from the same narrow canon of authors but this is not the case here.  It is full of good teaching, interesting quotes, new angles on things and encouraging stories. It is well worth popping on the list of the books you plan to read in 2012. 

9. One Day: This is a novel that I read in one sitting travelling on the Eurostar from La Rochelle to Paris and parts of it made me laugh out loud. I am not sure if that's because so much of the content seemed strangely familiar to me or because the time-frame is one that I almost exactly lived through. Sometimes these lad/chick-lit reads can be rather predicable, smutty and are often incredibly poorly written. Not so with this one. It is packed with emotion, cultural commentary and good humour. On the serious side, so many people in my city and my parish live lives like this. In fact, there are Tribes of them and I love this tribe and have a heart for them because in some ways it's my own. But the life lived as this herd of people doing and buying the same things as every one else, when it all comes down to it there is nothing eternal, little that lasts and not much that is redeeming to show from it all. This book makes me want to make that different. Perhaps that is not Nichols' is point however it is the one I took out. Oh, and some idiot let an American make this film and I can't yet bring myself to watch it. Yorkshire accent surely means Yorkshire accent . It is no doubt an unquestionable disaster on the screen as this form of English humour almost never translates into American. Apologies to my American readers, who I love dearly, but it's true on this one I'm afraid. 

10. The Pastor: One of my favourite pastors is Eugene Peterson. He became famous for his contemporary translation of the Bible called 'The Message' but he is much better known if you happen to be a pastor as a writer of books around what 'being a pastor' actually means. I have read most of them and each one has been a blessing and I have also enjoyed his amazing five part series of theology. A Christian life that never walks its way through 'A long obedience in the same direction' is a barren one. However, this is the book most Peterson fans have all been waiting for, the story of his life. He must be over eighty yet still manages to write such beautifully crafted sentences about what it means to live and work out this Jesus life. In recent years, like so many when they get a bit older, I think he has just had a bit of fun writing attributions for books that he knows are going to get lots of people hot under the collar ('The Shack' and 'Love wins' just to name a couple). I don't think he gives two hoots what anyone thinks about him which is why I like him so much. He has tons to teach our non-reading business/gadget/iMac generation of pastors with all their techniques and schemes about what we are all actually supposed to be doing. Sadly most are too busy tweeting to bother listening to his advice and giving time to read the books he recommends. He introduced me to John Calvin among many others. The truth is, I am enjoying this book so much I have not yet finished it and have been reading it all year. It is one to be savoured. So what might be his summary advice to pastors from the extraordinary life he has lived? Maybe this: "Teach your people to pray" but I will tell you for sure when I have actually finished it.  

Best reads 2009

Best reads 2010


andrew long said...

David (or Cookie), thanks for sending me the link to your blog. I am reading Kings Cross at this very moment - the bit about the rich young man ! It is a great read - but more to the point, I am encouraged to read others on your list. Andrew ps I think I may have another book for you !

andrew long said...

David (or Cookie), thanks for sending me the link to your blog. I am reading Kings Cross at this very moment - the bit about the rich young man ! It is a great read - but more to the point, I am encouraged to read others on your list. Andrew ps I think I may have another book for you !

andrew long said...

David (or Cookie), thanks for sending me the link to your blog. I am reading Kings Cross at this very moment - the bit about the rich young man ! It is a great read - but more to the point, I am encouraged to read others on your list. Andrew ps I think I may have another book for you !

David Cooke said...

Thanks Andrew- look forward to the surprise of another book!

Will PG said...

well done Cookie - I do love your blogs and value your recommendations so keep it up! Have you read The Grace Outpouring yet?

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful