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My Top 10 Books of 2019

This last year has been a difficult one for me in regards to reading. I have started back to seminary for my MDiv. and have been mostly reading books for school. However, recently I have taken to audio books to so that I can listen to books for pleasure while having to read books for school. That being said, some of these books on my Top 10 list were listened to and some were actually read. None of the books below are new books. Some are decades old and a few are over a century old. I’m slow to the “classic” book scene. So, without further ado:

10. Jackson by Ralph K. Andrist (Audio)
A biography about Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States: Old Hickory.  This was a very quick, introductory type biography that went from his parents’ arrival from Ireland to the Battle of New Orleans to his presidency, the paying off of America’s debt and the Trail of Tears, concluding with (obviously) his death. If you’re an Andrew Jackson fan, this is not the biography for you. However, if you are wondering who the man was and not sure about diving into a longer biography, this is the one for you. It’s not a boring read; at times it’s funny and other times surprisingly captivating.

9. A Bully Father: Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children by Joan Patterson Karr
The actual biography in this book was not at all bad. Joan Paterson Kerr, who wrote the biographical essay (80 pages), did an excellent job writing the highlights of TR’s life. For anyone who isn’t too familiar with the 26th President, but doesn’t want to wade into the waters of a more well-known bio, like Edmund Morris’s trilogy, this would be the one I would recommend. My favorite story she told of the president was when Roosevelt went up into the attic to play with his children and their friends. One young boy turned out the lights and TR banged his head on a board. He chided the children and went down to clean the blood off his forehead. When he returned, he found the boy (Looker) who turned off the lights, stuffed into a trunk with the others sitting on it. Roosevelt could hear the fear from within the trunk and ordered the children off it. “‘Suddenly the lid opened,’ Looker recalled, “and TR looked down into my face. He was quick with his handkerchief, too, wiping my face, and almost as quick to say, “He’s broken out in a sweat! The moth-balls have got into his eyes, and may them water!” This he said, to explain his wiping away the tears which I thought was fine of him,'” (pp 79-80). I think that was fine of him as well.

For a full review, click/tap here.

8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Audio)
Who hasn’t read this book before? Me! That’s who. I have heard this book ridiculed or mocked my entire life; I mocked it as well–in ignorance. This book is actually quite simple in its approach to treating people. In some ways, it can seem that Carnegie is advising manipulation, but the goal is simply to make sure everyone gets a win-win situation. What is nice about the book is that after explaining (or even while explaining) a technique, Carnegie gives multiple examples for different aspects of people’s lives (parents, supervisors, friends, etc.). If you’ve never read it, pick up a copy (or listen on audio).

7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Audio)
Again, I’m late to the game on this. That being said, it is an interesting read. It reads as if you’re listening to someone tell the story in person. It’s as if you’re sitting by a fireplace and listening to a friend who stops and starts and makes sure you’re understanding what he’s saying. It got somewhat annoying at times, but not enough to detract from the story. However, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie (especially the Disney version with Jim Carrey, you’ve essentially read the book).

6. Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution by Myron Magnet (Audio)
This was two books rolled into one. It was a biography of sorts, but for the purpose of telling how Justice Thomas was made into the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court. From his impoverished early years and moving in with his grandfather to his short stint of liberal ideology to his becoming a justice, the reader finds such detail as to understand why Thomas is the way he is. Along with the biography is an explanation of how America has gotten into the liberal/progressive mess it is in, in which the Constitution is all but ignored, and new rights suddenly get found. I heard two interviews with the author and read a speech by him, that pulled me to read (listen actually) to this book. Definitely recommend it.

5. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
The Bible has a lot to say about how Christians are to be growing in their Christian walk. The only way to do it though is through discipline. Disciplining the body is difficult; disciplining the soul is that much harder. Whitney walks the reader through the various ways that a Christian is to be disciplined in order to grow into and maintain a healthy Christian life.

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Audio)
What a fun book! My favorite part was when Long John Silver and his mutineers were shooting up the cabin on Treasure Island with the Captain, doctor, and Jim Hawkins. My eyes were as wide as saucers wondering what would happen next. I’ve only heard bits and pieces as to what the book was about. I didn’t even know if the treasure was found. All that to say…If you haven’t read this book, pick up a copy and read. It is the quintessential adventure story.

3. Turning Every Day Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins
In seven quick chapters, Scroggins and Wright take us on a journey of evangelism. Because of my wanting to know about how to transition better, I jumped to chapter three (apparently missing that chapter four was titled “Transition to the Gospel”). Chapter three was about “Everyday People and Conversations”. The premise is that if one is having an actual conversation with someone, a problem or unwanted circumstance will eventually come up. That’s the cue to transition to the gospel. “Our conversations are never completely random or altogether open-ended. People are often looking to us to offer meaningful responses,” (p. 52). The only question is: can we give the most meaningful response? With the help of this book, the answer is yes.

For a full review, click/tap here.

2. Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney
Don Whitney has done it again. He takes something that seems to bewilder most people and simplifies it and yet enhances it all at the same time. From the first chapter, Whitney understands the struggle that most Christians have with prayer. “We can be talking to the most fascinating person in the universe about the most important things in our lives and be bored to death,” (p. 12). That statement isn’t so much an indictment against those who struggle to find prayer meaningful, but an acknowledgement that something has happened to our understanding of what prayer is. One thing I found humorous about this book is that Don Whitney says the same sentence time and again, and I am sure he did it for effect. If you pick up the book and read it, you’ll understand; I won’t give it away.

For a full review, click/tap here.

1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (Audio)
This was my favorite book of the year. It is also now my favorite fiction book ever written! Ain’t no way I actually read the 1,000+ pages. That’s what audio books are for. It took 48 hours for this book to be read by a professional actor. If you’ve seen the movie, as good as it was, it is not even close to the book! It’s a completely different story line (almost). The way Alexander Dumas was able to interweave every part of this book was just fascinating to me. Parts that seemed to have nothing to do with the story line suddenly show how important they were twenty chapters (I’m guessing) later. I was not as impressed with The Three Musketeers that I had listened to earlier, so I went into this book with some reservation. I’m glad I took the time to listen all the way through. It was an immensely satisfying book.

Look at My Muscles, Dad

When my children were younger, they would suddenly get it into their heads to start exercising. They’d do some jumping jacks and some push-ups, taking all of five minutes. After they were done, they would flex their biceps and say something to the effect of, “Look at my muscles, Dad. See how strong I’m getting? I’ve been working out.” Not wanting to crush their spirits, I would praise their efforts, after all I remember doing the same thing when I was younger. Not surprisingly, it would be weeks (or even months) before they would work out again. This is how Christians, including me, act towards growing in our strength. A little Bible reading here; a little Bible reading there. A prayer today; another next week. The difference is that many times, we don’t become giddy with accomplishments like a young child after doing push-ups. We lament that we are not growing in faith and strength.

Paul wrote to Timothy that he was to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). The word for “train” is where we get the word “gymnasium.” It has reference to training or to exercising. Training might work, but exercising is not helpful in our culture since many exercise like my children and I used to do. The best word is perhaps “discipline.” My godliness is linked to my discipline—my buckling down and getting to business, consistently and intentionally. If I were to consistently and intentionally do all the disciplines that Don Whitney wrote about (Bible reading, study, meditation, and memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving others, stewardship of money and time, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning on my own) there is no telling what type of man I’d become! Two things are for sure: I would be a very busy man and I would be so busy, I wouldn’t have time to get ensnared by sin. That isn’t to say that I would never sin, but that being captured by it would be nearly impossible. Holiness, or as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7: godliness, would be a near given state of being.

In some ways, I wish Dr. Whitney’s book was introduced by the concluding chapter, but then again, it probably would not have had the impact that it does as a conclusion. In that chapter, he articulated what discipline really was: “But even though disciplining yourself is sometimes difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want in your heart to do.”[1] This will probably be the point that I am going to take with me. I’m not seeking to make my life drudgery by disciplining myself; I’m seeking to give my life godliness. That’s what I really want. It is easy to forget the reason for doing anything, especially the things that go against the flesh. The flesh has a way of fogging up the mind. Whitney reminds the reader that the heart (not the stony heart, but the born again, heart of flesh) wants godliness and holiness. It is a struggle, but it is one worth fighting.

In my bullet-journal, I have a habit tracker in which I record whether or not I did a certain habit (good or bad). My goal is to actually add a Spiritual Discipline’s tracker which would include all of the disciplines Dr. Whitney wrote about. I was planning on having it done by August, but as the saying goes: “No time like the present.” As J. C. Ryle wrote, “Tomorrow is the devil’s day.” Thus, I will be sure to finish my Spiritual Discipline’s tracker today, and begin today with disciplining myself unto godliness. May God allow me to supplement my faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control and self-control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7).

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, IL: 1992), 244.