2017, Best Books, My One Word, RESET year..

resurrectionamnesia

I read a lot in 2017. More than any other time in my life. I don’t say that to boast, because I’m not the healthiest person in many areas. And to prove that, by the end of 2017, I had become burnt out and depressed. This wasn’t directly related to reading, of course. There was a confluence of factors leading to this unfortunate state, namely a recurrence of back pain, lack of sleep, loss of exercise routine, among many, many other things….

I remember starting 2017 thinking of the word “Awe.” I wanted an increased Awe of God in my life. I wanted to see God at work in my life and in those around me. I wanted change, yes.  I was willing to be challenged. I don’t think I was seeking after novelty. I wanted the daily awareness of a great and glorious God at work in me and through me.

At first thought, I didn’t think that happened, judging by needing to hit up a church counselor and feeling depressed, burnt out, and generally awe-less. But now that I’m reflecting on how God worked during this time, I do have a greater awe of God than before. It came through frustration, sadness and weakness. Not how I anticipated it going when 2017 began. But that’s just how God works, right? When we are weak, He is strong. When we are downcast, He lifts up the drooping head and reminds you of his great love and provision…of his glorious grace and lavish love of this pathetic sinner. 

The natural person would say to disregard God at this low point and suggest other strategies. While some of those strategies are helpful, it’s essentially band-aid treatment. This is what makes who we are as Christians so supernatural and different. We press on and “groan toward God” (as Tim Keller says). We don’t curse God and essentially tell him to die, as Job’s wife does. (or through our actions that would reveal we are functional atheists even as we affirm Christ). We become desperate and needy and weak before a Father who we know loves us through it all. How could he not love us! He gave us his only Son and sent him to the cross on our behalf and then gives us the Spirit to prove love to us over and over again….. And we give God glory through it all. And this makes us very happy.

Important to note: right when I was the weakest in 2017, it was not by ceasing to read that help came. I do need to improve my reading habits. But my help came through continued reading/listening/praying. Perhaps that is partly what it means to press on. I didn’t give up. I remembered and knew how God has met me before through reading/listening/praying and I was waiting for that to happen again.. and it did. But not how I expected it. ( see this post of just one helper during this time.. ).

My One Word, RESET year

Coming into 2018, I know many are figuring out what their One Word will be. If I had to choose one, I think it would be FINISH. I need to get better at following through and finishing in a host of areas. I don’t want to be of the 92% who don’t follow through with their goals and commitments. Jon Acuff’s book is a timely and helpful read.

But even more on my mind at present is doing a RESET on life, so to speak. I finished reading David Murray’s slap-in-the-face book and have a sense an urgency to follow the wisdom inside. I relate to David’s story of feeling burnt out and with health problems. I too feel like on old man in regards to health, and it’s all because I am horrible at pacing myself appropriately and cultivating healthy habits. So in many ways I hope 2018 is kind of a RESET YEAR for me and my family.

Best Books of 2017

The best books I read of 2017:

  1. The Songs of Jesus by Tim Keller: we are going through this devotional as a couple, missed many days, but kept coming back to it. (my wife switched to Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies which is also very good.)
  2. Living Life Backwards (helped me at this low point I describe above and here). This book helped me get back to seeing life as all of grace and to deeply appreciate the simplest things in life, like food and rest and family, with an eye to the end.
  3. Galatians by Martin Luther. I saw Ray Ortlund using this book and got myself a copy finally, not a kindle version as I mostly do. Highlighted so much and only half way through it.
  4. Martin Luther by Eric Metaxes. It was the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation in 2017!! Will be coming back to this in 2018 as well as Herman Selderhuis biography).
  5. The Magnolia Story and Capital Gaines. Inspiring reads, and of all things it actually led us to remove the TV from our main living area, in effort to be more intentional with the kids..
  6. Reading the Bible Supernaturally by John Piper. Piper always increases my appreciation and love of Scripture.
  7. As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson. Recommended by Russell Moore. Didn’t disappoint. Want to go through again in 2018.
  8. How To Think by Alan Jacobs. No one thinks alone and no one is as good at thinking as we assume..
  9. George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore. Never read anything on Whitefield and started here. So much awe in how God used him and the things he said. Appreciate how he handled the friction that came his way.
  10. Benjamin Franklin by Thomas Kidd. I grew up with one view of Franklin. But I was wrong. This brought so much clarity. Really appreciate this title.
  11. Love Lives Here by Maria Goff. Went through this one together with my wife. Goff’s are so inspiring and encouraging and get you thinking how to love others well.
  12. Robert Caro’s ON POWER. Very short audible read, at suggestion of Mark Dever. Was clueless going into it, but was a very unique and interesting read.
  13. 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Recommended this one to so many, and saw great success with it in taming some of by social media habits. I eventually deactivated by facebook by end of 2018 for two months. Came back on board over holiday..
  14. Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves. Everything that Reeves writes, I read. Short read but so important and good. Highly recommend it.
  15. John Calvin: A Little Book on the Christian Life. This little book was given to me from Ligonier’s ministry and loved it. Want to read more John Calvin.

 

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

 

Living Life Backward

backward

I recently finished David Gibson’s book LIVING LIFE BACKWARD. It’s a book that explores the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes. I wanted to read this book after my counselor alluded to the book of Ecclesiastes.

I was experiencing what I called a “low-grade depression” or simply a “funk.” We all experience this to some degree from time to time, but this time it felt much stronger and harder to shake.

This book essentially re-oriented me to reality. All the sadness and disappointment I was feeling was to be expected. Nothing is out of the normal.. everything is exactly as expected in a world shattered by sin and where we are all returning to dust.

We tend to live life forward, dreaming and planning and hoping big things. Which is all well and good to some extent. But the problem is we can become overly optimistic and when things don’t go as hoped, it can leave us feeling bitter and cynical and confused…and perhaps with a low-grade depression such that I was feeling.

You wouldn’t think to give someone who was becoming cynical or depressed a book that repeats over and over that “life is vanity” and that “no one will ever remember you.” But this is exactly the medicine I needed. I didn’t need to be told everything will be fine. I needed reminded of reality and then to plan life backwards, live life backwards from the fact of death. And then get busy enjoying the life and grace that God had given me now.

Ecclesiastes teaches us to live life backwards. Says the author:

It encourages us to take the one thing in the future that is certain – our death – and work backward from that point into all the details and decisions and heartaches of our lives, and to think about them from the perspective of the end.”

So instead of living in what Ray Ortlund terms “shallow optimism” and “bitter cynicism,” you can live in the simple wisdom found in Ecclesiastes.

And right now that looks principally like two things:

  1. Stop pretending. Gibson says, we spend our lives trying to escape the constraints of our created condition…but we avoid this reality by playing let’s pretend. I recognized how I attempt to break the cycle of repetitiveness and ordinariness and so achieve greater satisfaction. I perhaps become too optimistic in my thinking, dreaming and doing. Ecclesiastes teaches you that there is nothing new, no one will remember you or even your children, and to embrace the rhythmical repetition and constraints of our lives that we think isn’t right. It is indeed “right” (in the sense that the world is broken by sin, yet redeemed by Christ) and now we can move forward in wisdom.
  2. Think gift, not gain. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is this simple yet profound wisdom: “the gift of God does not make this meaningless go away; the gift of God makes this vanity enjoyable.” Here’s the Preacher’s prescription for living the good life, from Ecclesiastes 2:24. It’s not “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die (for that is all there is).” It’s “eat, drink and be merry (because that is what there is).” We live in the simple wisdom that all life is a gift and grace and find satisfaction in simple gifts and things in life, like food and work and people. Not to leverage these things for gain, but enjoy them for itself. This wisdom is so simple you can miss it.

So think through this and ask, “am I living life forward (out of step with reality, discontent) or backwards (in step with reality, greater contentment and joy)?”