Seventy books is a reduction in reading for me, and I’m happy about that. It allowed more time in a crazy pandemic year for knitting, jigsaw puzzles, baking, and other comforting activities. Plus I read more nonfiction in 2020 and that takes longer.
Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed last year. Some were produced in 2020, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?
I’ve read some impactful Christian nonfiction this year, but this book may be the most crucial.
Francis Chan writes here with a gentle, prayer-steeped tone, knowing some of what he has to say can sound hard and may be misused.
He actually pleads with readers not to use his words to berate leaders who may not be doing the best they could. And he confesses those times he’s been where some of those leaders may be. (He does warn readers who discover they’re in a church with false teaching to find a Bible-based church right away!)
So now you’re wondering what kind of book this is. It’s the result of the author’s study of what church looked like in the Book of Acts and what it looks like in other parts of the world today.
He challenges readers to “slow down long enough to marvel” [page 5] about Who God is and who we are in Him, advising, “don’t try to solve the mystery; just stare at it.” [page 7]
Chapters address wonder, pleasing God first, prayer, leadership, suffering, attitudes, and more. The focus is on simplifying, going back to the Gospel basics, and developing into an intimate capital-C Church family. The model is house churches, but it has plenty of insights and challenges that readers can apply in established building-based churches as well.
Remember it’s not about what I would like, what others would like, or what “works.” Church is for Him. [page 150]
My hope is that you will refuse to take the easy route. You need to care about His Church enough to fast and pray. You must believe you play a necessary role in the Church. [page 151]
One of the key takeaways is that each member of the church has a role to fulfill and that everyone working together is the church. The shepherds are to be training up other shepherds, not raising complacent sheep.
Francis Chan built and shepherded a megachurch in California before God called him and his family to missions in various parts of Asia. At the time of this book’s publication they were back in the United States, planting and growing house churches as part of wearechurch.com.
In Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen declares that “The greatest spiritual battle of our generation is being fought between our ears.” [Chapter 1] The thrust of this book is that we have a choice to control out thoughts—even when it’s hard, repetitive work.
She’s quick to warn that we can’t “think our way out of mental illness.” But even there, learning to redirect our thoughts can work with the medication.
The principle of this book is that toxic thought spirals can be interrupted and redirected, and that they begin with wrong beliefs about God or with not internalizing what we know to be true about God. In offering strategies, she lays out some common lies, their opposing truth, a Scripture to hold onto, and a stated choice we can make. These choices make up a number of chapters.
The writing style is candid, informal, and personal, as if the author were speaking to an intimate group of listeners. She uses her own experience as the main source of examples, so readers know she’s lived what she’s teaching.
I came to the book after the Get Out of Your Head teaching series through Right Now Media, which I almost didn’t listen to. The opening anecdotes and peppy delivery were not what I relate to. I’m of a different generation, temperament, and have different interests. However, it didn’t take long to recognize helpful teaching. After listening to the full series, I found the book through my local library’s Hoopla app.
If negative emotions and toxic thoughts are familiar battlegrounds for you, or even if you feel like you’ve lost that fight a long time ago, Get Out of Your Head may be just the resource you need to regain mental ground.
I love how it focuses on truth about who God is and how it equips us to recognize the lie at the root of our feelings and then to choose to focus on the truth instead.
Jennie Allen’s website says she’s a “Bible teacher, author, and the founder and visionary of IF:gathering.” For more about the author and her ministry, and for a free “Get Out of Your Head Toolkit,” visit jennieallen.com.
In the English Standard Version, James 1:2-5 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
I can almost guarantee we’re all going through a trial of some description. Thankfully, as believers, we can cling to the promises in this passage.
It won’t be easy. And the full effect of steadfastness won’t happen overnight, but we can rest assured that God will be with us each step of the way. And I need that assurance right now. How about you?
In the early days, COVID-19 exacerbated my tendency to procrastinate to a full-on “What’s the use?” attitude.
With God’s help, I pushed through … although I still have a tendency to put things off. However, I no longer believe my efforts to forge ahead are essentially futile.
And then George Floyd and the racial divide spotlighting the need for God-honouring forgiveness and reconciliation.
In Ontario, churches have been allowed to reopen with restrictions. You would think this would be a cause for celebration, that we would delight in the opportunity to be together again. And while that’s the case to a certain extent, we are witnessing everything from those staying away because of fear to those who think we should completely disregard the governments directives.
We have come to realize we don’t know one another as well as we thought.
Enter social media. Facebook, in particular, has become a place where we hurt one another because of the hurt we’ve been carrying, the hurt that those who attend church with us may not be aware of.
Enter, once again, the “What’s the use?” mindset.
Why would I explain myself? What good would it do?
Why would I share my perspective with that particular person? Their mind is already made up.
Why would I voice my opinion? It will only cause an argument.
Or the other extreme …
Why shouldn’t I voice my opinion? I want to start a conversation. (Sadly, this “conversation” often devolves into something completely emotion-driven and just causes more hurt—especially if posted online.)
After 35+ years in the same church, I have seen countless hurts and disagreements. Those are unavoidable. I get that.
But what do you do when one person you love and care about wounds another but you haven’t witnessed it firsthand?
You want to submit to authority.
You don’t want to cause division.
But you believe we, as the body of Christ, could be more than this, more genuine, more authentic, more loving.
I long for the day when beloved brothers and sisters don’t simply disappear into the night as it were.
However, in all this, I must cling to James 1, trusting God to work it all out not only for me but also for all those involved.
When we face trials and heartbreak, we can count on God’s promises.
When we just don’t know what to do or say, we can ask for wisdom and trust Him to provide it.
It may be cliché, but “God’s got this!” And boy, am I glad!
The full effect of steadfastness won’t happen overnight. (click to tweet)
I have so many lines in this book highlighted! Some because they’re comforting, encouraging, or challenging, and others because the word pictures are beautiful.
A few favourite lines:
In the introduction, Holley Gerth writes that she wants the book to help women
…feel less alone and more comfortable in our God-sewn skin and a little surer that we are a force to be reckoned with in this world. [Kindle location 189]
It’s in these moments that we carry wonder and fear like twins. [Kindle location 2080]
We’re all just clay on the wheel, which is another way of saying we are dust being sculpted into glory. [Kindle location 2214]
I found author Holley Gerth through Ellen Graf-Martin’s Change Makers Podcast, and have been appreciating her email newsletters and posts ever since. When I saw the digital version of her book, Fiercehearted, discounted recently, I snapped it up.
With short, conversational chapters transparently reflecting the author’s life experiences, Fiercehearted touches on topics common to many women: conflict avoidance, identity, self-worth, insecurity, success, perfectionism, expectations, failure, work, depression, friendship, and more.
Highly recommended for Christian women, and especially for those who appreciate the writing of Emily P. Freeman, Carolyn Watts (Hearing the Heartbeat), and Ann Voskamp.
“The most ordinary days become extraordinary places of transformation when we hope in Christ instead of our circumstances… No circumstance is too ordinary or too forgotten for God to meet us there in worship. His transforming grace turns our ‘everyday ordinary’ into a holy place of becoming.”
Beholding and Becoming, page 221
This delights me, because I hear an echo
of Brother Lawrence’s call to practice the presence of Christ. It makes such
good sense: the closer we are to Jesus, the more we abide in Him, the richer
life becomes. The more like Him we become.
Subtitled “The Art of Everyday Worship,” Beholding
and Becoming is a lovely hardcover gift book. Each of the 16 sections is
lavishly illustrated with soul-resting art and gentle text. Sections are
divided into “Beholding” a key truth about God and “Becoming,” where readers
are invited to apply what they’ve read to daily life.
Stopping to appreciate the artwork helps
readers to slow down and absorb the text. The art incorporates symbolism
(explained in a glossary—don’t worry if you’re not visually intuitive) to
reinforce section themes.
I’ve marked a number of key passages for further thought. The sections that spoke to me most personally looked at smallness (held in God’s greatness) and at redefining failure and success (the author declares, “Faithfulness is success” [page 111].
These, and other themes addressed in the
book, are common to many people in these crowded, don’t-slow-down days. Beholding
and Becoming is a meditative invitation to dare to slow down and consider
who God is—and what difference that can make in our lives.
Ruth Chou Simons is the author of GraceLaced,
another beautiful hardcover gift book, and she is the founder of the GraceLaced
ministry. For more about the author and her work, visit gracelaced.com.
[A review copy
was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no
way compensated for this review.]
I was eager to read this book, since I’ve
communicated enough with author Susan Harris to respect her Christian faith and
her integrity. Despite the popularity of books recounting near-death
experiences (NDEs) I’ve avoided them until now because I had no way to verify
the writer’s trustworthiness.
Subtitled “A True Story of Heaven,
Healing, and Angels,” Touched by Eternity is a memoir of the author’s three
NDEs and related visions and how these events have shaped her life. A
nonfiction author with an analytical mind, she relies heavily on details
(including her hospital records and notes taken at the time) to anchor her
personal experiences in as much fact as possible.
At the same time, the events themselves
make the book as easy to read as a novel.
An experienced speaker, leader, and
teacher, Susan Harris makes no claims to having touched Eternity by her own
merit or strength. Instead, as one would expect with a near-death experience,
her moments of greatest physical pain and weakness have been the gateways to
the spiritual realm.
She writes with honesty about her personal
failings and about her struggle to understand what happened and to accept the
disappointment of tasting Heaven and then being returned to earthly life.
Christians can be uncomfortable discussing
NDEs out of fear of drifting into heresy or false teachings. The Bible shows
people being brought back from the dead, but we don’t get their testimonies of
what they saw while they were gone.
I appreciate how Susan Harris finds
biblical connections for many of her observations and how she’s careful to
present her interpretations as her own and not as doctrine or fact. Her stated
purpose in writing this book is to stimulate discussion, encourage the faith of
Christians, and inspire non-Christians to seriously consider Jesus’ words about
Heaven and Hell.
It’s interesting to read that in her
research into other NDE accounts, she found similarities and yet differences,
as if individuals were seeing part of a much-greater whole.
My whisper was hoarse, the broken kind He hears because He Himself had hung ragged on a rugged cross. [Kindle location 2284]
No matter how much or little pain we’ve
endured, Touched by Eternity reminds us that it’s in our brokenness that
we’re closest to God. It challenges us to take time alone with Him, to remember
what He’s taught us in the past, and to obey anything He’s called us to in the
present that we may have been neglecting. Our time on earth is limited, and we
need to be about our Father’s business before that time runs out.
Other books by Susan Harris include Little Copper Pennies (a history of the Canadian one-cent piece) and Remarkably Ordinary. She currently hosts a television show called ETERNITY. For more about the author and her work, visit susanharris.ca.
[Review copy provided by the author. My
opinions are my own.]
This book’s subtitle invites women to “let go of broken identities and live the life you were made for” – and if that calls to something inside you, you’ll find practical insights that make it worth the time to read and reflect.
The Dream of You is more than a collection of verses telling women how God sees us, although it does include Scripture. It’s more than a list of self-help steps to empower us. Part memoir, plus examples from present-day and Bible times, it’s an honest, sometimes unsettling, look at the damage done by circumstances and people – and it tracks author Jo Saxton’s personal fight to reclaim her identity as the woman God made her to be, for the purpose He intended.
A Nigerian raised in England and now living in the United States, Jo Saxton has something to say to all of us about the need – and the possibility – of rediscovering our true identities in a world that wants to define and limit us. Reading her story and those of others in the book showed me how sheltered I’ve been. Still, I found key points to sit with and apply.
The title could imply a self-indulgent book, warm and fuzzy. Don’t expect that. Instead, this is a valuable tool that can make a significant difference. It presents truth and hope, and each chapter has simple questions to ponder and act on. If you skim them on a first read, go back and dig into them on a second read. Don’t miss what God wants to say to you.
The book begins with a look at God. Knowing who He is – and thus whose we are – is foundational. In turning from what life has made us believe, we need to know the truth to turn to.
Then it addresses some of the things we may need to turn from. More than other books I’ve seen, it’s very direct about this being a process. A sometimes difficult process, with wilderness times when we expect an easy victory. Because the wilderness times are teaching times that God will use for our ultimate growth.
I love how it illustrates the ongoing battle to wield the truth of God’s Word against the lies we’ve internalized. Again, we look for a one-swing cut, but if the chains are solid-forged and wrapped in layers, it will take time to make them fall. Jo Saxton shows us how to do that.
Another strength of the book is that it doesn’t end with free, happy women basking in fulfilling lives like Disney princesses. It ends with the call to take the stories we’ve lived – and the Good News about Jesus giving us our true identity –to share with the people around us. Like the original disciples, we’re on mission for the rest of our lives.
This book includes personal stories, practical information, and candid responses from people walking this “unchosen journey” with loved ones. It relies on input from studies and other key books on the subject of dementia and caregiving.
Don’t stop half-way through, daunted by the prospect of what Alzheimer’s can bring. Once the authors have given that grounding, they move on to share strategies, stories, and hope.
And don’t say we could never do what these care partners have chosen to do. Maybe we couldn’t, but we never truly know what we can do until we’re in a situation and we rely on God.
The authors contend that, like coma patients, persons with dementia hear more than they can respond to. Also, studies show their emotional reaction to a stimulus lasts after they’ve forgotten the cause. So do visit, do show love in ways they can receive.
In the call to choose to love unconditionally, I heard the same thing I hear from parents of handicapped children, about the role of loving becoming a gift.
Among the many books on the topic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, this one focuses on applying the 5 Love Languages® for both the patient and the care partner. It includes a simple self-assessment of the reader’s own love languages, plus suggestions on how to assess the person with dementia if they’ve progressed to the point of being unable to comprehend it themselves.
The authors say, “We believe that the love languages are tools for gently lifting a corner of the dark curtain of dementia, making it possible to sustain an emotional connection with a memory-impaired person.” [p. 41]
Then they provide practical tips and examples of how to show love as cognitive ability fades, including ways to help the person with dementia feel useful. The authors also advise that in the mid- to advanced stages of the disease, care partners should use all five love languages because the person’s languages will change.
This is not a book advocating keeping Alzheimer’s sufferers home in the later stages, nor does it push putting them into care facilities. It’s an honest look at different case studies that recognize the uniqueness of each situation and the people in it.
The authors warn care partners not to do this alone, due to the health risks. It’s important to form a team—and the members who’ll choose to step up to help may not be those you’d expect.
They suggest early testing for dementia because some forms are treatable (eg. depression, brain tumours) and also because the testing can take time to reach a true diagnosis. This is especially true if more than one type of dementia is involved or if it’s one of the less common varieties. They note that personality change can be an early sign.
Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade is an excellent resource equipping care partners to not only demonstrate love to persons with dementia but to also identify how to keep their own “love tank” filled. In that sense, I think it would be helpful for all types of caregivers as well.
Many of us have a difficult time saying no when asked to do something—even if we really don’t have enough time or energy to take on one more thing, no matter how small.
And, as Christians, a whirlwind of thoughts may rush to mind:
What if this is an opportunity God has placed before me?
What if I miss something He has for me?
If I have the ability to do what is being asked of me and there’s a need, isn’t that enough indication that I’m supposed to do it?
And what about those other questions, those questions we may not actually verbalize?
What will so and so think of me if I say no?
Who will do it if I don’t?
I’m supposed to go “the second mile.” Right?
I’ve recently experienced the necessity to do both: to say enough and to push through. And I believe both decisions were the right ones to make at the time.
Last weekend, for a few reasons, I didn’t get away on my annual writers’ retreat. However, I did deem it a “staycation.” I didn’t clean the church or attend the Sunday service. I didn’t cook for my family and only cleaned the kitchen because I wanted to, not because I expected or required it of myself. I did some writing and reading I wouldn’t have done otherwise and headed out of the house with my laptop to do so out of my day-to-day environment.
I also vegged more than I possibly should have, but all in all, it was a very good weekend. I got some physical rest and some mental rest, which may have been even more important.
This week, however, was different. My hubby generously shared his cold. I spent the day Tuesday down and out, sleeping and binge-watching Netflix. I didn’t have the ambition to do anything else. While I’m still fighting this virus, which has decided to settle in my chest, I was able to put in a full day Wednesday and Thursday and am facing another full day today.
This weekend promises to be a busy one. And although hunkering down for some extra rest sounds like a great idea, I am so very thankful that the Lord is giving me the wherewithal to focus on one task at a time and push through. Because this is not my natural tendency, there is no doubt that He deserves all the glory.
So, how can we tell when it’s right to decline a request and when we should step up?
Here are a few questions we may want to ask ourselves:
Have I prayed about it?
Will it jeopardize my current responsibilities?
Will it be a “one and done” project or will it lead to a long-term commitment?
How long will it actually take?
Do I know someone else who would enjoy taking on this task?
What is my real motivation to say yes?
These are only a few of the questions we could ask ourselves. What are some others that come to mind? (Please scroll down to add your suggestions.)
Know when to say enough and when to push through. (click to tweet)
Will taking on this project jeopardize your current responsibilities? (click to tweet)
6 ways to tell when to say enough and when to push through. (click to tweet)
Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)
Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.