5 Novels That Have Hugely Benefited Me

When I think about the books that have most benefited me, they usually share a few characteristics: 1) they shaped or changed my perspective on an issue, 2) they affected my emotions, 3) they were well-written, and 4) I continue to think about them after I've closed their covers.

As I thought about the books that have most benefited me, I realized there were too many to condense into a single post. But there are books on certain issues that could be collected and categorized.

Which brings me to novels. Here are 5 that have very much benefited me.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- There are so many beautiful lessons about truth and virtue in this book, but it's so fun to read. The story shines, the characters become your best friends, and you're a little sad to get to the end. (Oh, and the 1962 movie with Gregory Peck is one of the few book-to-movie adaptions that actually rocks.) The novel is masterfully written.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt -- This is a fantastic book. I read it for my children's lit class in college and remember laughing out loud as I read it the first time. Witty, funny, yet tender and deep, this book explores faith, family dynamics, and Shakespeare from the perspective of a seventh-grade boy. (I also love Schmidt's novels, Okay for Now and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis -- Come on, it's a classic. Most Christians have read it, and there's a reason. It really is that good. I remember hearing it first on audio, then reading it as a kid, and then reading it again as a teen when I read through the whole Chronicles of Narnia series. This book gave me a love for stories and imagination and virtues like courage and selflessness.

Safely Home by Randy Alcorn -- I was shocked by this book. I read it when I was a young teen and really didn't know much about the persecuted church. Then I read this novel and felt my eyes were opened in new ways. Alcorn tells the story of two college friends, one in America and one in China, and the terrifying and intense story within the story of the Chinese persecuted church.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery -- As a Maritimer, I have to love this book. But my love for it goes back to before I lived in Nova Scotia, when I first read this book in third grade in British Columbia. I've read it at least three more times since then and it delights me every time. The whole series is a joy. Montgomery captures and conveys wonder, joy, curiosity, and imagination in spectacular ways. This is fun and whimsical.

What are the novels that have benefited you?

My Book Cover (+ the Meaning Behind It)

I am beyond delighted to share with you the cover of my upcoming book, This Changes Everything (releasing April 30, 2017), and a bit of the meaning behind it.

The designers at Crossway were an absolute joy to work with. The principal designers of this cover that I interacted with were Josh Dennis and Micah Lanier, both fantastically creative and kind people. I met Josh briefly in June when I visited Crossway's offices and have emailed with both of them.

As they created the concept for the cover and worked on graphics and design, they graciously kept me in the loop and invited feedback. (My feedback was usually something like: "I love this! This is amazing! You're my best friends!")

What I love especially about this cover is the meaning packed into it. All of the icons/graphics represent individual chapters. The fingerprint is Chapter 1: Our Identity. The bar at the top with the cross, star, garden, and space is Chapter 2: Our Story. The head made up of different pieces is Chapter 3: Our Community (and notice how identity and community point to each other).

The man fleeing from the city is Chapter 4: Our Sin (and props to anyone who gets that reference without actually reading my chapter!). Chapter 5: Our Disciplines is also represented by the "gospel bar" at the top and the notebook-like lines. The music notes connect to Chapter 6: Our Growth. The hour glass with the man chilling in it are for Chapter 7: Our Time. And the shaking hands represent Chapter 8: Our Relationships.

Here's the blurb Crossway wrote about the book:

"The teen years have been hijacked—by fashion, music, movies, and games; by the pressures of school, peers, and society; and by superficial expectations set by the world. But there is something more glorious than all these influences that has the power to change the life of a teenager: the gospel. Written by a teenager for teenagers, This Changes Everything is a deeply theological yet practical and accessible book on how the gospel radically transforms every aspect of the teen years, including pursuing relationships, managing time, combating personal sin, and cultivating healthy habits. In a culture awash with low expectations for young people, this book exhorts teenagers to embrace a gospel-centered perspective on their lives and pursue wholehearted devotion to Christ now."

Writing a book is hard, but it's also a lot of fun - a lot. It's a privilege and an honor to work with Crossway on this project, and I'm so excited to share it with you! 

As always, friends, I appreciate your prayers as I walk through this process.

Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Review

It's always fun to read a book that's not written for you.

This is the fun I found in reading Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide, edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson. Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry was written for youth workers, pastors, and parents (not for youth themselves), though as a teen writing a book on theology and Christian living for other teens, I still benefited from this book.

Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry is both richly theological and enormously methodological in its structure. Three main sections define the book: 1) Foundations for a Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, 2) Practical Applications for a Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry, and 3) The Fruit of a Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry.

It was intriguing to me to read this book as a teenager who has never been a part of youth ministry. Yep, I survived my teen years without youth group. I attend a very small church, and we don't have the people or the power to run a targeted ministry for youth -- not that we have more than half a dozen teens at our church anyway.

For this reason, I have never dealt with a lot of the experiences the authors of Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry write about. Still, I found it interesting and applicable and a great resource to recommend to parents and pastors.

If I had to critique anything, it would be that I disagreed with some of the pragmatics or particulars of how to run a youth ministry, but a lot of that comes from my own small church context.

There are some fantastic nuggets of wisdom in this book. Here's just one:

"When teenagers grasp that God loves them perfectly and permanently in spite of their sins, there is great hope of transformation. When a kid adopts a gospel rhythm of life, whereby he or she sees the need for God and depends on his grace, God can bring immeasurable healing, freedom, and fruit. The gospel of grace must appear over and over again in our teaching and discipleship of young people" (p. 36).

In my mind, the strength of Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry is its first section, on the foundations of youth ministry. If churches could embrace this, it really would transform how teens are discipled. Chapter 3, "The Impact of Expounding God’s Word: Expositional Teaching in Youth Ministry," by Eric McKiddie was probably my favorite chapter. There was so much good theology and fantastic application on a frequently misunderstood or ignored subject.

I would most definitely recommend this book to ministers to youth. Also, parents. Parents of teens, in particular. This is a book first and foremost on how the gospel informs discipleship and I believe parents would benefit a great deal from the authors' biblical insight.

I'll close this review with another excellent quote on what gospel-centered youth ministry actually is:

"Youth ministry with a complete view of the gospel places the cross at the foundation of its missional endeavors. Students do not simply do mission trips and service to the poor because they represent good deeds to which Scripture calls us. A response to the gospel drives them. Youth workers constantly should remind kids that their lives and service are a part of God’s total work to redeem fully the whole world for the sake of Christ" (p. 38).

Buy Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry here.

*I received this book from Crossway as part of their Beyond the Page review system. I was not required to give a positive review.

5 Books on Writing That Have Hugely Benefited Me

When I think about the books that have most benefited me, they usually share a few characteristics: 1) they shaped or changed my perspective on an issue, 2) they affected my emotions, 3) they were well-written, and 4) I continue to think about them after I've closed their covers.

As I thought about the books that have most benefited me, I realized there were too many to condense into a single post. But there are books on certain issues that could be collected and categorized.

Which brings me to books about writing. Here are 5 that have very much benefited me.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon - I reviewed this fantastic little book back in April. Filled with compelling illustrations and pithy advice, this is a helpful book for creatives of all types. Its premise is based on this T.S. Eliot quote: "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn." 

On Writing Well by William Zinsser - This is the best book I've ever read on the craft of writing. Every non-fiction writer should read it, I believe - or at least, the first two parts of it, "Principles" and "Methods." His chapters on "Simplicity" and "Clutter" were worth the price of the whole book for me. 

Letters and Life by Brett Lott - Part memoir, part writer's manual, this is a beautiful book I return to again and again. Brett Lott has a brilliant way with words and I learn something new about writing each time I pick this up. 

The Christian Imagination edited by Leland Ryken - This is a collection of dozens of essays by various living and dead writers. Often I will sit down and read two or three essays, mark them up, and think about their application for me. 

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson - This is a short and practical book on writing from a Christian perspective (which is lacking from On Writing Well). There was nothing groundbreaking or shockingly fresh to me, but there were so many good truths. This is an important one for the Christian writer. 

5 Books on Homosexuality That Have Hugely Benefited Me

When I think about the books that have most benefited me, they usually share a few characteristics: 1) they shaped my perspective on an issue, 2) they affected my emotions, 3) they were well-written, and 4) I continue to think about them after I've closed their covers. 

As I thought about the books that have most benefited me, I realized there were too many to condense into a single post. But there are books on certain issues that could be collected and categorized. 

Which immediately made me think of the books I've read on homosexuality, a hot-topic issue I've done a fair amount of reading on this year. Here are 5 books that have very much benefited me.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield -- This book blew my mind (in the very best possible way, of course). Rosaria Butterfield describes her conversion as a "train wreck," going from a passionate lesbian to a child of God. As a past English professor, she is a masterful writer and tells her story with so much clarity and vulnerability. I found this profoundly helpful in challenging some of my faulty assumptions and confirming foundational convictions.

Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield -- This was Dr. Butterfield's second book, just as helpful (if not more so) than Secret Thoughts. This book covers more than just homosexuality - identity, community, repentance, sexual orientation. I highly recommend it.

Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry -- Allberry's book is short and slim, but it's an excellent introduction to the Bible's basic teaching on homosexuality. Structured in a question-answer format, this little volume is extremely readable and biblically reliable. I appreciated it a lot.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung -- This was one of the first books on homosexuality I ever read, and it was instrumental in helping me articulate my convictions in light of what the Bible actually teaches. I reviewed this book last August.

We Cannot Be Silent by Albert Mohler -- A more recent read, I just finished this book about two months ago. This was an utterly fascinating book on the history of the homosexual movement, the ideology behind the homosexual agenda, and what it means for Christians today. If you're wondering how the past has shaped the present, this is the book for you.

What books on homosexuality have you found most beneficial?

An Update on My Book

Since people have frequently been asking about my book's progress (and seeing as today is a rather exciting day in that process), I thought I would give you an update on where things are at.

The deadline to turn in the manuscript (the whole book) of This Changes Everything is August 1, but I've actually prepared to turn it in today! While I could tinker and tweak forever, I'm at the point where I'm ready for my editor to tackle it and make it so much better. I need a break from the project for a little while. So now the book goes to the editor, she edits, and then she sends it back to me for my final edits. That will be the last time I work on it.

The publication date for TCE has been scheduled for April 30, 2017, with a tentative plan to launch it at The Gospel Coalition National Conference on April 3.

I've been in steady communication with the graphic designers at Crossway, and they've almost completed the cover of the book. I can't wait to share it with you. It's different in design, but I think it's quite compelling and definitely bright!

In these months that I wait for the manuscript back, and then ultimately for the book to come out, I get to pour my time into promo/marketing/other fun stuff. There's some writing for other publications, there will be some interviews, I'll be guest teaching in Brett Harris's new online course for young adults, Do Hard Things University, and we're in the process of teaming up to launch a video series for where I'll be interviewing some well-known faces in the Christian world. 

Who knows what else may come up? 

I continue to covet your prayers. Pray for wisdom and direction in this next year -- and beyond. I went from being the 12-year-old who had her entire life planned out to being an almost 19-year-old who has no clue what her life will look like in six months. Pray that God would be glorified throughout this whole process, the writing, the waiting, the editing, the marketing, the interviews, everything. Pray that I would have humility and grace. And please pray that This Changes Everything would be used to impact individuals for Christ. 

So today I turn in my book. Then I'm making pancakes and watching movies. Because it's the little things in life. 

Some Summer Book Recommendations

While I recently posted 11 of the best books I've read this year (so far), I thought I would post a few of my favorites for summer. Not all of these are books I've only read in the last six months, but some are. If you're looking for light or heavy or fiction or non-fiction, I've included some of it all. 

What are you reading this summer?

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti - This is a marvelously fun book that combines two of my great loves - food and classic literature. It's part memoir, part cookbook, part literary guide. Cara's a light and lovely writer and includes one dish from multiple famous works - from the chocolate walnut sundaes in Nancy Drew to the oysters and cucumber mignonette in Anna Karenina - while reflecting on the beauty in each book.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell - I'm still not quite sure what to make of this fascinating and perplexing study of success. Whatever you think about it, you can't argue that it's not interesting. It is, very. Here's an excerpt: 

"The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that's the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?"

The Joy Project: A True Story of Inescapable Happiness by Tony Reinke - A fresh and delightful reminder of what happiness is and where it comes from. It's not a long read, but it's a very good one. We need books like this to remind us of the old, old story again and again. Quote: "True happiness is not found. It finds you."

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - If you haven't read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, you should consider reading it this summer. It generated so much buzz, I was compelled to pick it up, and it is truly something remarkable. It's the story of fathers and sons in a little town, but it's about so much more than that. It's difficult to describe. Read it, and you'll understand what I mean.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt - This is one of my all-time favorite novels. It's a YA work, but it's a deeply moving, deeply disturbing, deeply sad, deeply happy story. It's about a boy, a pastor's son, in the early 20th century, who moves to a new place and befriends someone who is a different color than him. And it's about all the things that happen because of that. It will leave you thinking and hoping.

The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards - Summer is a good time to pick up a big book, a book that may require more mental energy and more concentrated time and effort. Look no further than Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections is a thick book (with small print), but it is a great theological work. You will be edified and blessed by reading it. Here's an excerpt

"A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour."

The Best Books I've Read This Year (So Far)

Perhaps you know that I'm attempting a reading challenge. This one, to be exact

I am attempting to read at least 104 books this year, covering each of the categories the challenge specifies. I'm almost halfway through the year, but have already read more books than I did last year. In that case, I thought I would give you an update on a few of my favorites so far.

As of today, I have read 62 books in 2016. If you want to see all of them, you can check out my challenge bookshelf on Goodreads here. (Note: Some books were great, and some were bad. Don't think that because they're on that shelf I recommend them. Please.)

I have read some marvelous books this year, and these are 11 of them (including the category they fit in for the challenge).

The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur Bennett - a book published by the Banner of Truth

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman - a book about language

The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper (my review here) - a book with a great cover

The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson - a book with an ugly cover

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges - a book whose title comes from a Bible verse

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (my review here) - a book about the Second World War

Faerie Gold edited by Kathryn Lindskoog and Renelda Mack Hunsicker - a book for children

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller (my thoughts here) - a book written by a Presbyterian

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg - a book by a first-time author

Adoption by Russell Moore - a book about adoption

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon (my review here) - a book about art

What are the best books you've read so far this year?

Reading More Helped Me Read More

This year I've embarked on a mission to read at least 104 books. That's two books a week.

Due to the fact that I've taken January off of work, I'm plowing towards that goal at a steady rate. Some people might be aghast at that number of books, but there is one invaluable trick that has helped me consume more books.

It is this: I read more books at the same time.

After finishing two books yesterday I now have six books on the go. When I started the challenge I had closer to ten books I was reading at once.

While it sounds overwhelming, when you break it down it's really not. The key is to be reading different kinds of books at once.

For example, right now I am reading a book on Christianity and feminism, a biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a book of poems by Wendell Berry, a book on marriage, a book on social justice, and a scientific book on the existence of God. I just finished a Puritan book on the providence of God and a modern-day children's novel.

Like I said, different books.

Reading a chapter from a few books every day really adds up.

Plus, one thing that slowed me down last year was my boredom with the one or two books I was reading and thus the lack of desire to read them. When I have multiple books going at once, I'll maybe read a chapter (or even less) of one book before I want to hop onto the next one. And that's fine! I've given myself the freedom to do that.

It's really helped me reclaim my love of reading. People, life is too short not to read as many good books as possible.

You don't have to read 104 books this year. But please, for your own sake, read more.

You won't regret it.

Do More Better: A Review

Do More Better is perfectly titled. No, it's not a book about good grammar (or a lack thereof). It's not about finding an easier way to jam more and more into your schedule. It's about accomplishing more tasks more effectively for the glory of God.

In a word, it's about productivity.

This was the first book I had read on productivity - and also the first substantial piece of writing by a Christian on productivity. I was expecting good things from Tim Challies and he did not disappoint in the least.

In the first chapter, he defines productivity as this:

"Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God."

The first four chapters of Do More Better lay the groundwork for the book by offering up a framework for thinking about work and priorities and rest. Challies covers defining our roles and areas of responsibility, creating a mission, and how productivity glorifies God.

The final six chapters nail down the practical parts - how to harness particular tools to effectively manage our time and tasks. He points out three tools and includes a chapter on each - 1) a task management tool (like Todoist), 2) a scheduling tool (like Google Calendar), and 3) an information tool (like Evernote).

Challies includes bolded action steps throughout the book to emphasize what to do next.

There are two appendices at the end that you also don't want to miss - one on organizing your email and the other with 20 tips on productivity.

Challies is a capable communicator, adept at clarity and substance even in a short chunk of writing (the page count rings in at just under 120 pages - including ten chapters and two appendices). He is pithy and practical (abundantly practical) and I already feel like I'm getting more organized after reading Do More Better.

One principle especially continues to stay with me: a home for everything and like goes with like. These simple yet profound nuggets of wisdom are what endue Do More Better with punchy power.

What better way to start the new year than picking up a Christian book on productivity? Don't miss out. Grab a copy of Do More Better today.

Within the first pages, Challies claims that this book will improve your life. I have to agree.

Buy Do More Better here.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Image Credit: Challies

My Top 10 Books of 2015

I read many good books in 2015. In 2016, I've made a goal of reading 104 - that's two books a week.

But for this year I have managed to pare my favorites down to ten, all the way from the Almost-Best to the Best. As you will see, my reading tastes vary widely.

10. Nine Writers to Read by Douglas Wilson - Wilson just plain knows how to write and so it's a delight to read him. In this book, he suggests nine writers of the last century or so (both Christians and non-Christians) who were masters of their craft. As a writer, I found this book profoundly helpful.

9. Is Anybody Out There? by Mez McConnell (my review here) - Here's what I said of Mez's memoir, "Is Anybody Out There? is a fast-paced, hard-to-put-down, heartbreaking, grace-saturated, powerful read. Mez has an incredible testimony to share - not of his greatness, though, but of God's glory."

8. The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes - This is a fairly short Puritan work that is wonderfully encouraging. Whoever says Puritans are dour, joyless downers needs to pick up Sibbes. 

7. On Writing Well by William Zinnser - This is the most transformative book for me as a writer I've ever read. The first section especially honed in on some deeply wise and practical advice while inspiring me with fresh insights on the craft of writing well.

6. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Gone With the Wind is an epic. It's a book not for the faint of heart - my copy rang in at over a thousand pages. But it encapsulates some of the basest and most fundamental themes of humanity - sin, heartache, mercy, redemption, jealousy, love, forgiveness, and frustration. 

5. The Little Prince by Antoine de-Saint Exupery - This was a gorgeous book, beautifully illustrated, marvelously written. I cannot wait for the movie to come out in March. 

4. Heaven by Randy Alcorn - Heaven is one of the few books I can confidently say changed my life. This is what the cover says, "We all have questions about what heaven will be like and after twenty-five years of extensive research, Dr. Randy Alcorn provides the answers. In the most definitive book on heaven to date, Randy invites you to picture heaven the way the Scriptures describes it -- a vibrant and psysical New Earth. Free from sin, suffering and death and brimming with Christ's presence, wondrous natural beauty, and the richness of human culture as God intended it. This is a book about real people with real bodies enjoying close relationships with God and each other, eating, drinking, working, playing, traveling, worshiping, and discovering on a New Earth. Earth as God created it. Earth as He intended it to be."

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This one was a wow. It was easily the best fiction book I read this year - maybe ever. The incredible story, the vivid characters, the themes of race and reconciliation, they all weave together to make for an unforgettable read.

2. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield - I would love to meet Dr. Butterfield one day. I would love to sit down with her and just talk about life. Her memoir made me feel like she's my friend already. This is her story - her story of tenured professorship at Syracuse, her lesbian lifestyle, her hostility to Christianity, and the beautiful story of God's irresistible grace in drawing her to Himself and changing her forever. It is wondrous.

1. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin - This one definitely changed my life. I didn't agree with everything he wrote and sometimes I felt the harsh sting of his words, but there's no denying it - John Calvin was a genius, and he loved God. This was his mangum opus, and I am a better Christian for reading it.

What were the best books you read this year?

The Morning Routine That's Changing My Life

A cup of tea and reading from three books may not seem like a very dramatic way to start the day. But I can say without hesitation that it is changing my life.

It's all because of the three books that I'm reading.

After reading through John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last year (starting and ending in October), I decided to read through a Puritan work each month (again, beginning and ending in October).

This month I'm reading The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. Every morning I begin with a chapter. Each one is fairly short, not more than a handful of pages, but the book overflows with pastoral compassion and biblical encouragement. I feel nourished and spiritually enlivened after reading Sibbes.

The second book is The Valley of Vision, a book that is changing the way I pray, the way I think about Scripture, and the way I think about God. This is a collection of Puritan prayers. It's hard to describe unless you try its riches for yourself.

After my chapter of Sibbes, I read a few prayers from The Valley of Vision. Each prayer is only two pages long. Based on the art of the writing, the beauty of the theme, and the way my heart feels convicted and ashamed and yet overwhelmingly joyful, this has got to be the best book I've ever read.

Well, the best after the third book I read each morning - the Holy Bible, the perfect book. Right now I'm not doing a yearly Bible reading plan, so I'm free to settle in a smaller text and just soak it up. I've been in 1 Peter for over a week now, reading one chapter a day multiple times, thinking and praying about it.

The other thing I've started doing in the morning is not turning on my computer or my phone until I've finished reading. Usually that takes about 30-40 minutes after I've gotten up.

It's a little thing, but I feel its positive effects as I walk past my phone with my books. My days have never started off better.

And I'm not even a morning person!

How you begin each day shapes your outlook, your mood, and your attitude for the rest of the day. Don't you want to start off on the right foot?

How Making Time for Books Made Me Feel Less Busy

Hugh McGuire at the Harvard Business Review has a thought-provoking piece on why and how we should read more. He shares his own experience, a bit of science, and three tips. This is a worthwhile read.

(HBR) - My workday is tied to fast digital information: a keyboard, a big glowing screen, an Internet connection, data in and data out, crises to handle, fires to extinguish. While I can make some changes to how I approach that workday, it’s almost impossible for me, for most of us, to escape the digital flows of information during working hours. For me it’s been more effective to start weaning myself from digital inputs during my life outside of work.

I’ve used “reading books again” as the focus of my efforts—to unplug from the flow of digital information, and reconnect with that slower kind of information, the kind I used to get so much pleasure from.

I’ve settled on three hard rules that achieve two things: they get me reading books again, and they give my brain a break from constant digital overload. Here are my three rules to read again:

1. I get home from work, I put away my laptop (and iPhone). This was probably the scariest change—there is an expectation that we are always on, always connected for work. But, for me, there are very few emails that arrive at 10:15 p.m. (or 8:15 p.m.) that need to be answered right away. There are crunch times when I need to work in the evenings, but in general having a clear, well-rested mind when I start my work in the morning is far more valuable than having an overtaxed, exhausted mind from too many emails the previous night.

2. After dinner during the week, I don’t watch Netflix or TV, or mess around on the Internet. This is probably the change that has had the biggest impact. That hour or two of post-dinner wind-down is, for me, the only real free block of time in my day. So, once kids are in bed, dishes cleaned, I no longer even ask the question; I just get out my book and start reading. Often in bed. Sometimes at an outrageously early hour. I thought this change would be most difficult, but it’s been the easiest. Making time to read again has been a real pleasure. (And I enjoy the TV I do watch more than ever.)

3. No glowing screens in the bedroom (Kindle is OK, though). This was my first move away from digital overload, and even if I cheat on the other rules occasionally, this is the one rule I never violate. Not having a connected iPhone or iPad by my bedside means I am no longer tempted to check email at 3:30 in the morning, or visit Twitter at 5 a.m. when I wake up too early. Instead, in those moments of insomnia or an early wake up, I reach for my book (and usually fall right back to sleep).

Following these three rules has made a huge impact on my life. I have more time—since I am no longer constantly chasing the next byte of information. Reading books again has given me more time to reflect, to think, and has increased both my focus and the creative mental space to solve work problems. My stress levels are much lower, and energy levels up.

Managing the flows of digital information in the workplace, and in our personal lives, is going to be an ongoing challenge for all of us in the years and decades to come. Digital information flows will get faster and more voluminous. The internet is just a couple of decades old, and we’ve only had smartphones for less than 10 years.

We are still learning how to live in this information ecosystem, and how to build the ecosystem for humans rather than for the information. We will get better at it—as humans, and as builders of technology. And in the mean time, reading books again will help.

Read the rest here ->

7 Reasons To Start Reading (Something) Today

Reading is not always easy, not always even fun. But reading is vital to the thinking, growing, maturing Christian. The Bible should always be our indispensable foundation, but reading other books is necessary too.

Here are seven reasons to stop making excuses and start reading (something) today:

1. Reading introduces you to new ideas. Fiction and non-fiction both transmit a worldview and address ideas. Every book in existence is about ideas. Some are lovely, and some are violently evil. But you will never know them if you do not read.

2. Reading introduces you to new friends. Whether it's the author or characters, there is a unique parasocial bond that is created through books. You feel like you know these people, like the imaginary ones exist and like the real ones are now your friends. What joy can be found in reading about people you care for.

3. Books make you smarter than television. Books are not easier than television. You need to think to read, need to stretch your mind and invigorate those brain cells. Movies are so much more easily accessible. You can just "turn off your mind." But is that what we really want? Is that making us more intelligent beings? Sure, television in moderation is okay (if you're watching the right stuff), but are you sacrificing reading for it?

4. Books just make you smarter. In general, books increase your intelligence. They expand your vocabulary, invite you to understand new concepts, shift your paradigms, allow you to become a generally more well-educated individual.

5. Reading makes you a more critical thinker. If you read, you will inevitably come up against beliefs that you disagree with. Engage with that conflict. Think more deeply about what you believe and why you believe it. Analyze reasoning.

6. Reading makes you feel things. Emotions are not inherently bad. Feeling grief, feeling joy, feeling humor or delight through books is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a wondrous side effect of being invested in literature.

7. Reading makes you a better Christian. Even if you're not reading the Bible, you are applying your Christian worldview - your beliefs in depravity and redemption and restoration - to what you read. You are reading books that make you a more thoughtful individual, a more mindful person of the world God has created.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Martin.

My Autumn Reading List

After completing every book on my summer reading list (excluding The Brothers Karamazov, in which I'm six hundred pages in) plus more, I realized how motivating it is to give myself a reading list. I like to include an easily manageable amount that can be added to by spur-of-the-moment books or other fun reads.

So here's what I hope to complete this autumn.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - After a friend from my church praised this book to the skies and told me I had to read it, I decided to purchase my own copy. I got a beautiful version of the book, so that's an extra motivator. I don't know much more about the story than that it follows a man wrongfully imprisoned as he seeks revenge on the men responsible.

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple - I picked up this biography in a bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts, last fall and haven't got around to reading it yet. It follows the life of American literary giant Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter). I've only heard good things about Wineapple's skill as a biographer.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction by William Zinsser - Tim Challies says this about On Writing Well: "Zinsser’s [book] is brilliant, though you will have to be willing to overlook his left-leaning ideologies ... Now in it’s 30th anniversary edition, On Writing Well contains hundreds of helpful lessons on being a better writer."

Schaeffer on the Christian Life by William Edgar - The second William on my list, this one is much different than the first. In this addition to Crossway's Theologians on the Christian Life series, Edgar looks at how Francis Schaeffer's teachings and life addressed the practical grind of being a Christian.

Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore - My parents were the ones who raved about this book to me. They laughed, they cried (well, Mom did), they were thoroughly inspired of how God used this man. And they loved Dallimore's writing. I definitely have to read it.

Anna and the King by Margaret Landon - I just found out this was a book before a movie! I picked up the book at a used bookstore last week, and I'm looking forward to it. Amazon says:

When Anna arrives on a crowded dock in Siam in 1862, she is afraid her friends might have been right: A country as "backward" as Siam is no place for a proper young Englishwoman. And when she meets the king, who is unbearably headstrong and arrogant, she is quite positive she has made a huge mistake. But then Anna begins her post as governess to the royal children (all sixty-seven of them!), and it's not long before they taught her to love the beauty and excitement of this strange new land.

Things Not Seen by Jon Bloom - Bloom's debut, Not By Sight, was the best book I read in 2014 (see my review here). I was only too eager to order his new book. The premise is similar. He takes familiar stories from Scriptures and offers a fresh, biblical perspective on them.

What are you reading this fall?

Free E-Book: Taking God At His Word

For only a few more days you can snap up Kevin DeYoung's excellent book, Taking God At His Word, for free! You definitely want to take advantage of this offer.

I reviewed Taking God At His Word back in April and you can read the entire review here. This is what I said about this book:

"Taking God At His Word is short. It's readable. It's accessible.

It's broken down into eight chapters on things like the sufficiency of Scripture, its surety, its clarity, its authority, its necessity, and its unbreakableness. DeYoung want us to trust the Bible and see its importance in the practical grind of our daily lives. But he also wants us to love the Bible, just like the psalmist in Psalm 119. 

And I came away from this book feeling just like DeYoung had hoped, and just like another pastor named David Platt. 

In his endorsement of this book, Platt wrote,

'My trust in God's Word is greater, my submission to God's Word is deeper, and my love for God's Word is sweeter as a result of reading this book.'"

You can download a free e-book version of DeYoung's Taking God At His Word here at Crossway until July 14. Don't wait!

Photo courtesy of discipletimothy.

My Summer Reading List

'Tis the season for summer book lists. Normally I jump on the bandwagon and document my high aspirations for what I plan to read on those lazy pool days.

But here's the thing: there will be no lazy days for me this summer. I'll be studying all summer - intending to start or wrap up eight courses/exams. That also means, though, that I only have four and a half months of school until my degree is done. Most likely, I'll have a winter reading list.

Anyway, all that to say that I don't have a long list this summer. But yes, I still do have a list. Because I love lists. Especially book lists. So here are some books that I hope to finish (or at least start) this summer.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - This is a book that I'm already currently reading with Dad. I must admit, it's kind of weird. But then again, I've found that a lot of classics are. Maybe that's just because we live in a world of fast entertainment and 140-character messages that leave us dry to the slow richness found in this kind of great literature.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - This is another big book, but a much less weird and slow one. Though I can only picture Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, I'm really enjoying this novel. As it traces the fictional Scarlett through the tumult of the Southern side of the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era, I get totally lost in the story.

Samuel Rutherford and His Friends by Faith Cook - This is a short biography of the Puritan theologian and writer, Samuel Rutherford. He was known for the letters that he wrote, earning the nickname, "Prince of Letter-Writers." This biography also captures some of the people that he was close to and people that he wrote letters to - parishioners, friends.

Something by P.G. Wodehouse - Wodehouse is one of those staples that, along with Settlers of Catan and Veggie Tales, always has its place in the stereotypical homeschool family. Or so I've heard. I have actually never read anything by Wodehouse, the famed British humorist, and I am hoping to change that. Douglas Wilson argues here why I should be reading Wodehouse. He has convinced me.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung - This is the latest book I downloaded from Crossway to review here. Though I haven't started it yet, I am already looking forward to it. Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who was saved by God's grace and is now a pastor's wife and author, gave this glowing recommendation:

"This book provides a short, accessible, and pastoral toolbox for all Christians to navigate the shifting cultural landscape of sexuality and find confidence and hope in how the Bible directs our steps. DeYoung offers wise and readable apologetics here, providing his readers with both motive and model for how to think and talk about homosexuality and the Christian faith in a way that honors Christ and gives hope to a watching world."

What are you reading this summer?

Photo Credit: Thomas and Flickr Creative Commons

Kids Think About Deep Stuff Too

Occasionally I'm weird (according to my brother) and I go and walk around the children's section of my library and pick out a couple of random books to read. Some of them are atrocious and others are rare gems.

I recently picked up a novel called Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson. The story follows a group of kids at an all-African American elementary school in the 1970s. At the beginning of the story a white boy shows up. Purely for the color of his skin, he gets labeled (and permanently renamed) "Jesus Boy."

Throughout the rest of the novel, Frannie (the novel's main character) becomes friends with Jesus Boy and this prompts her to wonder who the real Jesus is. Her friend is a pastor's kid who thinks that Jesus Boy might actually be Jesus. Spoiler alert: she later finds out he isn't. 

At one point in Feathers, Frannie asks herself what she would ask Jesus if He was right here. She decides that she would ask Him how to have hope.

Jacqueline Woodson and I would not agree on Jesus' true identity. That comes out later in the novel when Frannie wonders if Jesus is in all of us, if he is some sort of immaterial spirit of goodness, not even a real person.

But I still applaud Woodson.

Unlike many other middle-grade novels, she creates authentic kid characters who are exploring religion. The thing is, kids think about deep stuff too. But the Disney Channel, many kids books, and society as a whole seems to consider kids incapable of theological - or even seriously intellectual - thinking.

Don't underestimate your kids. Instead foster their love for truth. Don't laugh at their big questions; celebrate them. 

All it takes is teaching a kids Sunday School class or just building relationships with kids. It won't take you long to find out that kids think about deep stuff too.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Tatlana Vdb.

I Am Prejudiced

Apparently. At least, according to Samovar, Porter and McDaniel in their stunningly "tolerant" textbook, Communication Between Cultures.

"We see people maintaining the value-expressive function of prejudice when they believe their attitudes are expressing the highest and most moral values of the culture. ... Persons who believe their God is the one and only true God are being prejudicial against people who hold different views" (p. 174).

So because I am a Christian, I am a prejudiced person. Do I detect a hint of irony?

My textbook can't please everyone so they go for the left-wingers, those who go for a looser interpretation of the Bible (e.g., in the companion reader I found out that Jesus believed in reincarnation; didn't you know?) and cave to society's liberal stance on just about everything (e.g., apparently we aren't actually born with a gender; that's just a social construct).

I actually feel a little sorry for Samovar, Porter and McDaniel. Their ears are so trained on the eggshells they crunch over that they're blind to their hypocrisy. Fixated on relative truth, they miss the logical inconsistencies littered all through their claims.

In the name of tolerance, they throw common sense out the window. In one sentence, they claim that religion helps society. Flip to the next chapter and they're calling adherents to the world's top three religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) prejudiced.

This post is not meant to slam Samovar, Porter and McDaniel. I am sure that they are rather upstanding people. I do know that they're good writers and fairly decent educational scholars. It is rather to point the finger back at us, to remind us to be careful.

Be careful how we reason. Be careful who we listen to. Be careful how we speak and how we label individuals. Be careful how we generalize. Be careful how we argue. Be careful how we study and analyze "experts." Be careful what we believe.

And be careful to pursue the truth at all costs.