Best Books for Winter Days

Our Best Books from 2017 keep coming in, and we hope you take advantage of these recommendations throughout 2018.

Karen Meadows, board of deaconesses secretary
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

Curt Miller, missions pastor
Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones

Pat Fallon, director of congregational support and care
The Bible (in particular, Psalms, Isaiah and Romans.) I found myself landing in these three books many, many times during this past year. They offered me, as well as people with whom I ministered, profound words of comfort during challenging times.

Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision for Sexuality by Dr. Todd Wilson, former pastor at College Church and senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park. As Dr. Wilson puts it so concisely, “It is time for evangelicals to rediscover the historic Christian vision of human sexuality.” He does a wonderful job of explaining how our approach to so many sex-related issues of the day must have a more robust foundation.

Perfecting Ourselves to Death: The Pursuit of Excellence and the Perils of Perfectionism by Dr. Richard Winter, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus of counseling at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. This book provides a lot of easy-to-read and yet research-based information on the important and complex subject of perfectionism. Dr. Winter sheds the light and truth found in Scripture on how our value and purpose must be based in Christ.

Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Dr. Matt Stanford. I appreciate the way Dr. Standford is able to provide clear, chapter-length overviews of the more common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc. I also appreciate his holistic approach to recovery. His chapter on mental health and the church provides a clear rationale for why the church can play a key role in supporting people with these needs.

Jeremy Taylor, missions board chair
The Mission of God by Christopher Wright. This thick tome is an excellent exploration of missiology from a theological and historical perspective. What is the mission of God? To bless the nations! This book explains why, and why it’s important for the church today.

Unexpected News by Robert McAfee Brown. People in developing nations often have a very different interpretation of familiar Bible stories than Westerners. This great little book gives some examples, focusing on Liberation Theology.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller. Keller is mainly writing to skeptics, but Christians can benefit from this accessible apologetics book as well.

Missions by Andy Johnson. This 120-page book can be read in one sitting and provides a helpful overview of the reasons international missions is still needed in the 21st century.

Prophetic Dialog by Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder. Written from a Catholic perspective, this book on witness is absolutely useful for Evangelicals. Bevans and Schroeder argue that witness must be a combination of proclamation and conversation to be effective.

The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Gary Haugen is the founder of International Justice Mission; his perspective on global poverty and its connection to violence against the poor is difficult to read but essential for anyone interested in biblical social justice.

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Already a classic after less than a decade, this book provides a biblical framework and best practices for local and international mercy work.

Josh Stringer, pastor of discipleship
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance—I discovered this book when it showed up on several “best of” lists from last year and decided on the audiobook version. Narrated by the author, this is a fascinating, yet sobering memoir about the culture of working-class America. The honest and fair critique of nominal, Bible-belt Christianity should be of particular interest to Christians as we seek to influence the culture around us with the gospel.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke—This book was of particular interest to me, personally, since “how do I have appropriate boundaries with technology?” is a question I’m asked a lot as a pastor, as well as a question we ask a lot at home. I found this book to be a resource full of diagnostic, biblical wisdom. Reinke doesn’t take a hard stance for or against smartphones or technology. His balanced approach and tough analysis covers both the benefits and dangers of smartphones, in particular, and technology, in general.

The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson—The subtitle, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together,” perfectly describes the type of real-life, up-and-down path of discipleship that we all experience. The goal of this book is to point us to Jesus, even through the failures and imperfections of our walk to follow the Savior. More than any book on discipleship I read this year, I came away from this one encouraged and refreshed about my own journey as a disciple of Jesus.

Steve Ivester, elder
Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller—Keller shows in this book that gospel-humility means we can stop connecting every experience, every conversation with ourselves and can thus be free from self-condemnation. He says, “humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but instead thinking of ourselves less.”

You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith—Smith asks the reader this uncomfortable question: “Do we love what we think we love?” This book presses us to answer this question honestly and shows us the renewed and abundant life that awaits Christians whose habits and practices—whose liturgies of living—work to open our hearts to our God and our neighbors.

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch—True flourishing, says Crouch, travels down an unexpected path—being both strong and weak. In this book, Crouch shows us how to multiply our power to create a world where people from every tribe and nation can flourish and reach their full God-given potential. 

Wil Triggs, director of communications
The Hidden Smile of God by John Piper, John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd—Suffering and perseverance pointing me to conclude at first that in 2018 we could learn a great deal about how to care for one another and stand for Christ from these people who lived for Christ in a very different world than we know.

The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord is King by James A. Johnston—Covering Psalms 1-41, this first in a planned three-volume series contained some great perspectives on these psalms, relating them to both history and contemporary life. Jim was the missions pastor here at College Church when Lorraine and I were appointed as missionaries many years ago. Reading and being blessed by these chapters was a great way to reconnect with him.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke—I loved that this book was not from the perspective of a Luddite, but someone who, at some level, embraces technology and uses it for good. Practical, real-life and thought provoking.

Gail Mudra, interim director of children’s ministries
Seasons of Waiting by Betsy Childs Howard—Waiting is hard. God is good. Howard points us to God, reminding us that although we often wonder how God will meet our needs, we can fully trust that he will. We must wait for him to reveal his provision day by day.

Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot—A wonderful collection of lead articles featured in Elliot’s newsletters. In the author’s words, “Mostly they are about learning to know God, and nothing else comes close to being as important as that.” I love her focus on knowing God and the quiet refuge her words offer.

Devotional Psalter, Crossway—I love the psalms. I am thoroughly enjoying digging into them each morning with this devotional.

Erik Dewar, pastor of worship and music
The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

A List of Highlights from 2017

There have been many wonderful contributions this year’s OneWord Journal. I offer a few highlights—art, poetry, music and writing. Enjoy.

Sean Shimmel’s  contribution to February’s “hope” gave us a glimpse of the quiet power of a mother and child--Forget (never)

Pat Cirrincione’s riff on hope after the Cubs won it all.

ChurchFolk’s Easter song works any time of year.

Speaking of Easter, Lorraine Triggs’s “Saturation Point,” gave us layers of beauty and darkness to consider.

Nancy Tally recalled a frightening and miraculous night where she saw “Jehovah Sabaoth The Lord of Hosts is Our Protector.”

He was only ten years old when he gave us these “Moonlight Lillies,” but I love Nathanael William’s contribution this year:

Lois Krogh’s “the Hidden Work of Beauty” considers reservoirs of truth in the shortened life of a dear friend.

Rachel Rim’s “The Great Homesickness” is a memory piece than manages to look back and ahead at the same time.

Alight--Dan Haase’s “tremble” contribution in July flutters still with wonder.

A good way to end--Marr Miller's video and Wes Bleed reading Psalm 8.


Checking It Twice by Nancy Tally

Old Santa—as we have been told since we were young—is making a list and checking it twice.

This time of year, I have multitudes of lists:

My “Who” list: people I want to remember, thank, encourage, honor or surprise,

Decorating list,

Gift shopping list,

Gift making list,

Shipping/mailing list,

Cyber Monday tracking list,

Menu lists,

Events to attend list,

Cookie lists,

Grocery list,

Housekeeping/laundry lists,

Medical daily info list,

Reading list,

Song lists,

Honey-do list,

Give attention to each family member list.

This is a good time of year to hone my juggling skills.

As I rechecked one list I realized, “oh, no” I forgot to order the present for my youngest grandchild. Good thing I checked early.

It’s also time to be wary that the “tyranny of the urgent” does not choke out my awareness of God’s lists.

How is my armor doing? Is it as bright and shiny as the tinsel and lights I hung? Am I renewing my armor daily with the polish of God’s Words?

I wish I could transcribe all of Ephesians 3—6 and all the lists these four chapters contain.

•Paul’s prayer list for our spiritual growth, and his request for humbleness gentleness patience and unity that we might function as one body.

•Paul’s list of God’s gifts to the church.

•Multiple “naughty lists” of things we should eliminate.

•Multiple “nice lists” of things to replace the naughty items.   

•Paul’s lists for family and work interactions.

•Then finally his list of the armor of God.

Looking at just these four chapters or thinking about Peter’s writings or even the opening chapter of Matthew’s gospel, God is not above using lists to help us see what must be done or understood.

So, have at it. Recheck those lists of yours and remember to recheck those lists God gave us.

Oh, don’t forget the fruit list!

Best Books of 2017--Part One

Enjoy these best books lists from some of our church leaders and pastors.

Brian Wildman, elder

Here are my top four for 2017:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance A well written memoir that also acts as an analysis of the culture of white working-class America.  

Glass House:  The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander After finishing Hillbilly Elegy, this was next on my list. Remarkable microcosm of the collapse of the American dream.  It helps give insight into American reality and politics.

A Pastor Prays for His People: A Collection of Wise and Loving Prayers to Help You through Life’s Journey by Wendell C. Hawley Written by one of our own. I’ve always loved Wendell’s congregational prayers. This book is a treasure.

The Law of Rewards: Giving What You Can’t Keep to Gain What You Can’t Lose by Randy Alcorn Great book on Christian stewardship. Alcorn makes the case that believers will receive differing rewards in heaven depending on their actions and choices here on earth.

Rob Wolgemuth, elder

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson Finding Biblical truth (and anchoring) in the age-old debate between legalism and antinomianism. Hint: one does not counteract the other, rather union with Christ is the remedy for both. Very thought-provoking, spiritually encouraging and well-written book.

The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power by R.A. Torrey Practical, engaging and convicting words on how, why and what to pray. Torrey’s book How to Pray is also a great read. In both these two books, he was very direct about the state of the church and the need for prayer (and revival). Despite being a scholar; Torrey always wrote in an accessible, easy to read way.

Future Grace by John Piper (reading it now) I attended a Desiring God conference on this topic five years ago and was so impacted by it, I decided to read the actual book. A friend of mine at church also encouraged me to read it. It is incredibly well written, packed with rich theology and biblically saturated. This is an incredible book, it has changed the way I think about grace and faith (and other such topics).

Eric Channing, elder

 The Bible. This is #1, not just because I’m a pastor. This is my spiritual food, and life source. Truly the best book I read this year, and that’s why I re-read it every year.

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson (A Puritan- first published in 1668): This book is a treasure. Watson provides us with much needed clarity in an age when this key doctrine is largely misunderstood and/or neglected.

Reset: Living a Grace Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, by David Murray. In this book, Murray provides tools for Christian men avoid burnout amidst the stresses and challenges of life. Some of my takeaways from this book were: Sleep more, schedule times to relax, and build your schedule for 80% capacity to allow for interruptions.

The Pastor & Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need, by Jeremy Pierre & Depak Reju. This book gives helpful, practical tools for pastors who counsel others. A quick read that will I trust will benefit those I counsel in the future.

Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverence, by Angela Duckworth. This book, written from a secular worldview, helps us understand the world’s understanding of success while debunking the view that “success” is due primarily to talent. There are some good principles to be learned about perseverance and hard work in this book, but the discerning Christian reader must infuse a Christ-centered, grace-filled worldview into this discussion to avoid a “try harder and you will succeed” mentality.

Julie Clemens, director of disability ministries

The Life We Never Expected

Ben Panner, college pastor

The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

Zach Fallon, junior high pastor

Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, Martyn Lloyd Jones Looking to be enriched as you study God's Word? This book is a compilation of sermons on 1 John by one of the great expository preachers of the 20th century.

George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father, Thomas Kidd A greatly-researched biography on the Englishman God used to stir up the spiritual conscience of America.

Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis I spent much of 2017 reading through these stories with my five-year-old son. He has been just about the perfect age for us to enjoy them together.

Remember to Breathe by Pat Cirrincione

I sit here tonight and wonder what Christmas means. Right now, it feels like Christmas is only about finishing my present shopping and baking a bunch of Christmas cookies. And for some reason, this year I decided that it would be nice to make homemade gifts. I truly thought I had at least two full weeks left before the arrival of our Savior, and I just don’t know what happened to that week I lost!

Okay, I just need to take a deep breath, (in-out-in-out), and get really organized. But when did it become my job to wrap all these extra gifts that keep coming into our home via our newly married son and his wife? Okay, deep breath (in-out-in out).

I know I say this every year, but I must get back to getting ready for Christmas in August. Really. I used to have my Christmas cards in the mail between the end of August and the beginning of October. It actually became a Christmas tradition. Certain friends thought it was such a good idea that for the past few years I’m receiving theirs before I have even purchased our own cards. What happened to my former organized self?

I know, it happened when the grandchildren arrived. No, maybe it was when our first son got married and we had to switch some family traditions around. No, let’s go back to the grandchildren and the time spent between babysitting and going to their school functions and dance recitals and sporting events. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s just making up excuses since she retired and is spending her time with book clubs, knitting group, prayer groups, lunches and dinners with friends.” But I did all that stuff before. Could it be that age has been creeping up on me, and I just haven’t noticed? Now that is absurd!

I’m going to have to think this through. I know, I’m going to look at next year’s calendar and get more organized. I’ll place colored dots on dates where I need to get something done or begun. Maybe I’ll get the dots in red, green and yellow. Red for get this done as soon as possible. Green for go and do something, anything, but don’t wait until the last minute. And yellow for “maybe I should slow down a bit and take a deep breath (in-out-in-out).”

Perhaps I should just say, “Lord Jesus, please help this crazy woman. Let her take the time she needs to stay connected with you, to read her Bible, to pray.” That is a better way to begin my day than with red, green and yellow dots. It’s a better way to frame my baking, wrapping, addressing cards and wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

It’s far better to keep in my mind that the joy and love of the season is about one person—our Redeemer King—who knows every hurried or unhurried breath we take (in-out-in-out).

The Naughty List by Wil Triggs

For whatever reason, my parents stopped going to church when I was little, or maybe they stopped before I was born. We didn’t consistently go to church.

But we did have a church. It was the Garfield Baptist Church.  All of my sisters and brother remember attending that church. This was my family’s church even though we were, well, sporadic in attendance. Maybe my parents were just millennials before their time.

Though we didn’t attend regularly, I do remember going there, one Sunday in particular.

The pastor was preaching about sin. And he was getting pretty excited. The sermons at that church were interactive in a way that we aren’t at College Church, with people shouting “Amen” whenever the pastor was trying to stress an important theological truth.

On this particular Sunday, the pastor pointedly asked the congregation about sin in their lives. He repeated the question, asking if there was anyone sitting in the church that morning without sin. No one responded.

The pastor asked a third time if there was anyone in this church who did not sin. If so, raise your hand, he said, challenging us to come face to face with our sin.

I was right there with the pastor.

I knew that Jesus had washed away my sins. Whiter than snow. As far as the east is from the west. Nothing could undo what Jesus had done.

I didn’t realize it, but that was not the point.

Every time he asked the question, the volume in his delivery got louder and more intense. It seemed to my young mind that he was not happy that no one was responding.

So after that third time asking, I shot my hand up into the air as far as it would go. Yes pastor, I was without sin!

The pastor and everyone else in the room saw my raised hand. The congregation erupted in laughter. The pastor was taken aback. My mother was mortified. She pulled down my raised hand as fast as she could.

Especially during the preaching, people didn’t really laugh at church back then, at least not at the level that happened that morning. And they were laughing at me. I didn’t understand why people were laughing. It wasn’t funny. I didn’t want to let Satan blow out my little light. I wanted to let it shine. And the pastor was asking for a response, just like he often did for people to come forward if they wanted to make a decision or have someone pray for them.

I didn’t really think that I had never committed a sin, it was just one big misunderstanding between the pastor and me. Afterwards, I felt bad and tried to explain, but there wasn’t really anything I could do. I was young enough that people were forgiving. And I think in a subsequent Sunday the pastor even joked about asking for a show of hands, looking over at me, and people chuckled in a more acceptable level.

Sometimes at Christmas, we put ourselves on the nice list. We get caught up in the moment and think of ourselves as good. We raise our hands up in the air like I did those many years ago. And then, the  wonder of Jesus can get lost in our sense of goodness.

This Christmas, I’m thinking of my favorite quote from a book I read this year:

“…we sin even in our best moments as we serve God. There has never been a single moment when we have loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29, 30). In our most sincere time of prayer, the pure eyes of our holy God see the unbelief, lukewarmness, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness that is in our hearts. We grieve over the sins we see, but God sees far more. Our sins are like the dust on a gravel road. My sins and yours are beyond number.” (The Psalms Volume 1—Psalms 1 to 41, Rejoice the Lord Is King by James Johnston, p. 415)

Though our sins may be beyond number, even more measureless is the great God who gave his only Son. He laid down all the glories of heaven. He laid himself in a manger. He washed dirty feet. He spoke to waves and storms and demons and pigs and Samaritans and tax collectors. He laid himself out on the cross. He laid aside his very life. He was laid in the tomb.

And then, wonder of wonders. Savior, Redeemer, Friend, Mighty God. King everlasting.

Let’s think more about Jesus this Christmas and less about the lists, be they naughty or nice.

Lists, Lists and More Lists by Pat Cirrincione

As a child, the one list I never made was a list to Santa about the gifts I wanted for Christmas. My family didn’t have much money, and I never wanted to make my parents feel bad about not being able to give me my much longed-for pitcher’s mitt. Thinking about that now, maybe I should have made that list to Santa.

The adult me, however, has become a chronic list maker. I make a list to go shopping (grocery or gift), and I don’t veer off the grocery list especially if I am at the market around lunch or dinner time.

I have a list of every record album in my collection, in alphabetical order. From books, to clothes, to my spice cabinet, everything has a place and an order to it, all because of my lists.

When I have company over for dinner I make a list of the food I’m serving, the time each one takes for cooking, and then another list to remind me of what not to forget in the refrigerator.

I don’t know where this list need came from, except that I used to see my Dad with a list of what needed fixing up around the house. Sometimes the list was short, and sometimes it was long. It could be genetic.

When we go on vacation or even a short weekend trip, I make up lists of what clothes to take along, what books I want to read, what kind of snacks we’d like to munch on, and which Bible I’d like to peruse.

Then there are my truly important lists—my prayer lists. I have a list of who I pray for in my missionary group, a list for people in my Adult Community group and another list for people in my Bible study group. These lists help me as I pray for missionaries out there spreading the good news of the gospel or for those I care about and their concerns for families and one another. I have a list for the needs of the woman I meet with weekly, learning from God’s Word together. I consider it a privilege to have these lists to look at and use every day.

However, it’s when I go “off list” and just speak to God as one friend to another that my prayer, or discussion, with God becomes meaningful. It’s as if I am sitting with a phone in hand, calling him to have a great talk together, sharing concerns, thoughts, hopes and dreams, good and bad that has occurred. And he’s probably relieved to not hear a list of prayers, wants, and needs.

So, as these December days bring us closer to the birth of our Savior, I’m making a list of what I can do for him.

Here it is:
•read his Word daily
•become the person I was meant to be according to his plan.

And then I’ll make a list of what I am serving for Christmas Eve dinner and New Year’s Day. And what final gifts I need to purchase, and what days I babysit the grandchildren, and what cookies of I have left to bake and . . .