Sarah Bessey over at “The Intersections of a Spirit-Filled Life” shared her 10 favorites and challenged us to do the same. Only 10? I thought. Really? Okay, I will try. : D Complete with bookmarks sticking out and my cat poking through my ultra-professional backdrop…
#1: Home by Rich Mullins. This isn’t really a book—it’s a collection of columns Rich wrote for “Release” magazine. (The man would’ve written one fabulous blog.)
I didn’t even know who Rich Mullins was when he was killed in an auto accident in 1997…and, because he was immediately canonized by the Christian music industry, I didn’t want to know him. I picked up this little volume in a Christian bookstore maybe a year or so later, and couldn’t put it down. Rich’s writings are full of humor, humility and a piercing self-analysis that is incredibly rare. All of the columns are fabulous, but my hands-down favorite is “Virtue Reality:”
God calls us to “be strong” and we mistake that for a call to omnipotence. We confuse strength to endure trials with an ability to walk unfrustrated through life. We convince ourselves that if we were strong we would never fail, never tire, never hurt, never need. We begin to measure strength in terms of ease of progress, equate power with success, endurability with invincibility and inevitably, when our illusion of omnipotence is shattered, we condemn ourselves for being weak. God has called us to be lovers and we frequently think that He meant us to be saviors.
And oh yes, the photos are exquisite. I fell in love with Rich Mullins because of these columns; I’ve stayed in love because of his music. (Well, and his gorgeous eyes.) Favorite song: “Calling Out Your Name.” Rich saw Jesus in His creation more clearly than I think most of us ever will.
Ah, Rich, we barely knew ye.
#2: Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity by Ron Sider
A recently updated classic that first appeared more than 30 years ago, this book is not for those who want to subscribe to the prosperity gospel. Sider builds a powerful case for God’s view of the poor, biblical justice and social change; in the process he addresses foreign policy, economic injustice and war. Not a book for the faint of heart, it caused a seismic shift in my perception of the Bible, the church and my place in it. A great follow-up is The Hole in Our Gospel by Rich Stearns, or The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs.
#3: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
As Pastor Nick mentioned last Sunday, not a few of us are “list checkers,” and that includes me. This book blew my legalistic tendencies right out of the water, and turned me from a fighter to a lover. From page 139:
The spirit of Caiaphas lives on in every century of religious bureaucrats who confidently condemn good people who have broken bad religious laws. Always for a good reason of course: for the good of the temple, for the good of the church. How many sincere people have been banished from the Christian community by religious power brokers as numb in spirit as Caiaphas!
The deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in prelates and politicians who want to look good but not be good; it lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.
… The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.
If you’re sick to death of what you see as the hypocrisy of the American Church, you’re not alone—please find yourself a copy of this book. I think you might fall in love with Brennan Manning…and you might discover that not all Christians are All the Same, All the Time.
#4: Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza
In 1994, according to most estimates, more than one million Rwandans were murdered in a three-month period as ordinary people and a radical Hutu militia took up machetes to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors. Immaculée Ilibagiza lost her entire family. Hers is journey of brutal survival, forgiveness and healing in the face of unspeakable evil. This book convinced me that the devil is alive and well and recently took a spring break in Rwanda—and that our American churches are sadly deficient in teaching Christians the basics about spiritual warfare. A must-read. I recommend following up with the documentary, “As We Forgive,” by Laura Waters Hinson. What makes this book so outstanding is Immaculée’s unrelenting attention to detail—and her beautiful, forgiving spirit.
The Rwandan conflict was not simply about “longstanding African tribal conflicts,” as some have maintained. Western governments were culpable in the manipulation of tensions—and weapons—on both sides, both before and after European colonial occupation. It’s a sobering topic for further study. The tough part is finding an impartial history, as most writers favor one side or the other.
#5: Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge
Yes, I do love John and Stasi’s book on women, Captivating, but this one opened my eyes to the world of men in a whole new way—how God relates to men (and vice versa). John uses lots of themes from popular books and movies to show us how men view the world and how they cope with their own emotional damage—and how God brings healing to make them the strong and masculine men He created them to be. If you know a man (or are a man), it’s a fascinating read, often hilariously funny, and one that just might be life-changing. From page 7:
When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy. …That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys. We don’t smoke, drink, or swear; that’s what makes us men. Now let me ask my male readers: In all your boyhood dreams growing up, did you ever dream of becoming a Nice Guy? (Ladies, was the Prince of your dreams dashing…or merely nice?)
John then proceeds to blow this picture out of the water.
#6: No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green by Melody Green
One of the first Christian books I read. As with Rich Mullins, I didn’t know about Keith until well after his death, but his uncompromising Christian walk still challenges me to be less cowardly in mine. Keith hit the Christian music industry like a long-haired hippie bombshell…and changed the face of it forever. Keith and Melody’s constant example of living out their faith—instead of simply talking about it—showed me how to put my money where my mouth is, and when finger-pointing needs to be done I should go look in the mirror, first.
Of course I ran out and bought his music after I read the book. Favorite songs: “He’ll Take Care of the Rest,” “Asleep In the Light,” “My Eyes Are Dry,” and “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt.”
#7: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
This book changed my life. If you read it prayerfully, it will change yours.
Stearns, the CEO of World Vision U.S., wrote the book in response to what God showed him when he moved out of his corner office as CEO of Lenox and took on his calling to helm one of the largest Christian humanitarian organizations in the world. What he discovered astounded him: not only the level of poverty in the world, but the American church’s apathy in the face of it. Stearns is brutally honest, yet his humility comes through every page because he acknowledges his own cultural biases even as he strips away the blinders on his reader’s. The statistics he includes are sobering; the personal stories riveting. You cannot read this book and be the same person at the end of it. Nor should you be.
#8: Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
This isn’t a Christian book, but it changed me just as profoundly as The Hole in Our Gospel. Stearns pulls punches a bit on the gritty impact of profound poverty; Kristof and WuDunn do NOT. It is a hard read, and probably not for everyone. The authors examine the oppression of women, worldwide–from the trafficking of young girls into prostitution in east Asia to the lack of maternal care in Africa; from the brutal gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan to the “God Gulf” in American foreign policy that has unintended (and often lethal) consequences to poor women in other countries; Kristof and WuDunn lay out the evidence, tell the stories and let the chips fall. The saving grace (and what makes finishing the book possible) is that each chapter also includes stories of hope—stories of how committed activists, both foreign and domestic, are changing how women are perceived, how we are treated, how we are helped, and how we can help ourselves. These are our sisters. At the very least, we owe it to them to hear their stories.
#9: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
A really fascinating and well-written devotional that God has used to speak to my heart more than once this year.
#10: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
A journey of beauty and faith. This book showed me how to find the everyday treasures in my life and how to begin a life of thankful living. It stripped away the veil that consigns God to the only-on-Sunday, parting-of-the-Red-Sea-style miracles and showed me the daily miracles and wonder He brings into my life…if only I will open my eyes. Ann asks the hard questions and shares her struggles in an intimate and poetic way. Inspiring and life-changing.
And one more that cannot be ignored…
#11: Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs
Anger. Tears. Fear. Disbelief. And the overwhelming sense that we in the U.S. are both getting off light and missing something critical in our faith. For more than 2,000 years, men and women have been tortured and murdered for their refusal to recant their Christian faith. I have to wonder how I would stand up under the oppression and persecution that is revealed in this book, and still haunts the church today in too many parts of the world. This book inspired me to pray more for our brothers and sisters in chains…and ask God for greater faithfulness.
“You can help others in proportion to what you yourself have suffered. The greater the price, the more you can help others…as you go through the fiery trials, the testing, the affliction, the persecution, the conflict…life will flow out to others, even the life of Christ.” –Watchman Nee, who was imprisoned in China for his faith.