My List of Best Reads of 2016

It’s the end of another year. Can you believe it? I’m sure I’ll be writing 2016 on everything for at least another month because I can’t believe 2017 is here already! Whether I like it or not, time is flying and it’s the time of year where I like to think back on what books I’ve read and compile a list to share. So let’s get to it!

In no particular order the following books made my 2016 best reads list.

Create vs. Copy by Ken Wytsma. This book is a gem. I learned a lot about theology of creation and how it informs, inspires and spurs on creation and innovation in my own life in community with others. I enjoyed this book so much I wrote more about it and the personal impact it had on me in a blog you can read here.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. After reading and loving Praying Circles Around the Lives of Your Children by Batterson a couple years ago (review of this one is also on the blog if you’d like to learn more), I was thrilled when I received The Circle Maker as a gift from my friend Monica. Batterson tells story after story of transformation taking place in so many lives because of prayer. While reading this one, I felt compelled to wake up a little earlier than I normally would (read: I only hit snooze once instead of 3 or 13 times), to spend a few minutes praying intentionally for people in my life. I have to tell you, I had some incredible conversations with the very same people I was intentionally in prayer during this time. Pausing, acknowledging God is at work for all people and He is good in and through all circumstances, changes everything.

Play with Fire by Bianca Olthoff. Rather than describe the book here, head on over to the blog to read through a fun conversation Bianca and I had about Play with Fire.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. “The Bible is a story about the reign and rule of God” make for wise words from Wilkin. This little book is packed with insightful truths and practical helps regarding reading and understanding the Bible. I wish this book had been around 20 years ago! Wilkin identifies for the reader, the main theme of the Bible is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. We see the same 4 big ideas told over and over throughout the smaller narratives found from Genesis to Revelation. She also offers 4 practical ways to engage with scripture which will help us remember the Bible is about God. Yes the Bible informs us and our lives, but only through the lens of who God is. Reading and learning as much as I did from Wilkin inspired me to write a 2 part series on Reading the Bible which you can find here and here.

Favor with Kings by Caleb Anderson. Nehemiah. What a story right? Favor with Kings is a look at the memoirs of Nehemiah as He was used by God to lead the charge to rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem with the Israelites who had recently returned home from exile. The overarching idea of the book is every person has a mission from God and the mission is always about people. Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the wall, but more importantly, the rebuilding of morale and joy for God’s people.

Giddy Up Eunice by Sophie Hudson. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I completely did on this one and I’m glad I did. The title alone captured my interest and I just had to read a book titled Giddy Up Eunice. This is a book for the ladies. And it’s not full of potpourri, butterflies and doilies.  Hudson uses hilarious and insightful storytelling to discuss three very different stories found in the Bible of the unique relationships between Elizabeth and Mary, Ruth and Naomi and Lois and Eunice. All stories are of very different circumstances, yet all with the underlying truth women need each other. We need women older than us who can mentor, encourage us and pass on their wisdom to us. And in return, we need to do the same for the generation of women rising up behind us. I may have genuinely cried laughing reading this one. Pick up two copies because you’ll want to gift to an important woman in your life too.

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf. I may have cried a river reading this book but for a different reason than above. I first heard of Katherine and Jay’s story via a video clip of them at Catalyst West several years ago. And last February, I watched Katherine talk about her life streaming from The If:Gathering conference. In her mid-twenties and with a newborn and Jay in law school, Katherine suffered a massive stroke. Hope heals recounts the story from both Katherine and Jay’s unique perspectives. What I loved most about the book is while they wrote it to share their story of stroke and recovery; they did so in a way telling of the story of God. It’s about who He really is and the hope and healing only He can bring. Earlier this year I drove to a little Christian book store in Brea, CA to meet Katherine and Jay for a book signing. Katherine told me, “the story is God’s; we just told it.” It’s a beautiful read and I highly recommend you snag this up, along with a box or 30 of Kleenex.

One Thousand Wells by Jena Lee Nardella. Here again I judged a book by its cover. The tag line of the book reads, “How an Audacious Goal Taught me to Love the World Instead of Save it.” Intriguing, am I right? An early twenties Jena, in a unique partnership with the band Jars of Clay, set out for Africa determined to build 1000 wells and bring clean water to communities in need. Throughout the book she shares about struggles with working with the band, the struggle of bringing foreign aid to areas of desolation and maybe the most poignant of struggles, learning to live out the Christian faith like Jesus, despite status quo.

The Hatmakers were frequent flyers in my house this year. I read 3 of Jen’s and 1 of Brandon’s. Here we go:

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. This book is about grace. It’s about accepting and extending grace. I  enjoyed the random recipes she threw in here and there throughout and some quotes of some of her followers. It’s simple, full of grace - for the love - with a bit of typical Jen humor throughout (such as the rant about yoga pants. If you don’t know what I am talking about, stop reading and immediate look up Jen Hatmaker Yoga Pants on YouTube).

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  Jen takes minimalism to a new extreme with her 7 month long hiatus of excess. Jen leads her family on a major downsizing experiment to rid the excess and refocus their dependence upon God. Jen chooses 7 areas of her life where she lives in excess and for the duration of a month for each, she lives on only 7 of whatever the theme is for that month. For example, one month she purges her closets of clothes and literally wears the same 7 articles of clothing every day for a month. Another month it’s food. She eats a variation of the same 7 foods for a month.  Throughout the book Jen shares about the lessons learned throughout the experiment. I loved this book. It’s hilarious, honest and inspiring. I’ll read this one again. It certainly caused me to consider areas of my life where I live in excess and am missing out on living life closer to God because of it.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. Interrupted tells the story of Jen and her husband Brandon as they go through a season when they began to question the Christian status quo and they began to wonder if Jesus really meant what he said and did. Because if he did intend for his followers to live lives reflective of what he said and did, this changes everything about everything. It means Jesus cares much more for how his followers treat the people around them, than carrying out the traditions of religion. Of the three Jen Hatmaker books I read this year, this was my favorite.  

Barefoot Church by Brandon Hatmaker. In Jen’s book 7, she tells a story about an Easter service she and Brandon went to one year with Shane Claiborne as the guest speaker. At the end of the service, Claiborne creates space for people to leave behind the shoes they walked in with because later that night, he was going to take them to the local homeless community. Both Brandon and Jen were so struck by this unconventional offering. It seems to me the idea for Barefoot Church was birthed from this experience. Brandon shares about the journey he and Jen took as they left their previous safe Christian world (much like Jen wrote about in Interrupted and embarked on a church plant dedicated to being both a gathering and a sending church community. This book is not a model for how to do church. Rather, it’s a story of their church planting experience. I took away some valuable insights and overall, enjoyed this book.

So that’s it! It’s been a good year of great reads!

Here’s a list of what I’m currently reading followed by what’s next on my list.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

The Christmas poem, In the Bleak Mid-Winter, was written by Christina Rosetti in the 1870s for Scribner’s Monthly magazine. The haunting verse was set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906 and remains one of the most beautiful and truest expressions of the miracle of Christ’s birth.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.

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A Christmas Carol and the Power of Art

Art has the ability to inspire us and captivate our imaginations like nothing else can. You experience this when seeing a particularly powerful film, where the story and characters take you to a different emotional place. Whether viewing a classic like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or a current movie such as Martin Scorsese’s Silence, you are affected viscerally in a way only art can prompt. A painting can be transcendent as well. Henri Nouwen was so moved by Rembrandt’s visual interpretation of The Return of the Prodigal Son that he wrote a book based on the impressions he saw in the work.

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Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible

I'm excited to tell you about the newest book from Bruce & Stan, Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible. We don't pretend to have all the answers (never have, never will), but we do know how to wrestle with doubt. In this new book, we ask some of the most important questions people have about God and the Bible. Here's an excerpt to give you an idea of our approach.

The world is full of questions. Whether the topic is politics, race, relationships, the environment, or religion (especially religion), there seem to be more questions than answers. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite good. In past generations, asking questions was considered rude or disrespectful, especially when it came to God and the Bible. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me” was the response Christians were supposed to have. Anything more and you were labeled a Doubting Thomas. People were reluctant to ask questions about God out of concern they would be considered un-American (we’re not kidding).

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No God But One

Nabeel Qureshi’s 2014 memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, described his heart journey from Islam to Christianity and became a New York Times bestseller.

Now he recounts his intellectual and theological journey in the follow-up book entitled, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Zondervan).

Qureshi details how an analysis of the history and theology of Christianity and Islam reveals stark differences between the world’s two largest religions.

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The Power of Books

Two events occurred this past week that bring to mind the power of books. On July 25, Tim LaHaye died, and six days later, at precisely 12:01 am on July 31, the eighth Harry Potter book was released.

LaHaye, of course, was the creator and co-author of Left Behind, a series of 16 books published between 1995 and 2007 that became the bestselling series of Christian fiction books in history, with 80 million copies sold to date.

The first Harry Potter book was published the year the last Left Behind novel was released. In the nine years since, more than 450 million Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, making J.K. Rowling’s iconic books the bestselling general fiction series of all time.

For its part, Left Behind had an enormous impact on Christian publishing and bookselling, showing that fiction books with biblical themes could find a wide audience, while bringing new customers to Christian bookstores at a time when the retail landscape was changing. Harry Potter encouraged a new generation of readers and spawned countless films, ancillary products, even a theme park.

That’s pretty powerful stuff, and it all started with two series of books.
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Play with Fire

Play with Fire is the debut book by dynamic speaker and Bible teacher

Lauren Daigle Garners "Top Christian Album" Award

Lauren Daigle, Centricity Music artist, took home “Top Christian Album” How Can It Be at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards held at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas. Facing competition from fellow artists TobyMac (This Is Not A Test), Joey + Rory (Hymns That Are Important To Us), Chris Tomlin (Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship), and Hillsong United (Empires), Daigle was also nominated for “Top Christian Artist” along with Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Chris Tomlin, and the winners, Hillsong United.

“Music is changing my life more and more each day,” says Daigle. “I'm recognizing the value in being able to communicate through a language that every human on the planet can experience in some form. It's such an honor to see the response of those who have listened and connected with the sounds. Seeing this transfer of communication is priceless. Thank you, Billboard, for allowing the opportunity!”

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Midnight Special film review

This review is by Jacob Kindberg, a film director known for Sing Over Me, a documentary about worship, identity, and the transformative power of the Gospel.

With “Midnight Special” internationally renowned indie director Jeff Nichols makes his first foray into the Sci-fi genre, and for the most part it is a groundbreaking success. The film is smart, unpredictable, and thrilling, but its emotional resonance is hindered by its obscurity and a fumbled third act. With strong performances across the board, a taut script, and incredible visuals, it is a good film that might have been great.

Nichols regular Michael Shannon turns in a typically stellar turn as Roy, the father of Alton, a young boy with mysterious powers played by Jaeden Lieberher. The story follows father and son as they run from multiple groups interested in the child’s unique abilities, including a religious cult and the federal government. Rounding out the incredible cast is Adam Driver, who plays an NSA specialist, Joel Edgerton, a childhood friend of Roy who helps the duo flee, and Kirsten Dunst, Alton’s mother.

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Learning about God from my Son: Create vs. Copy

My two year old son Justice is really into cars and trucks lately. He can race his cars around the living room floor at what I am certain he imagines is lightening speed. "Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!"

Like all kids, his imagination is so alive and active, I’m pretty sure he has enough energy to run a marathon. He's constantly exploring and seeking newness and adventure. And I love to watch him play and figure stuff out. He's curious and not afraid to try new things. Seeing his desire to learn causes me to want to show him more, teach him more, encourage him more and ultimately create space for him to flourish into the daring, dangerous, compassionate man I pray he becomes.

Because I know, and so do you, creativity and imagination tend to get shoved down and left behind as we grow up and go about our day-to-day lives with domestic duties, job responsibilities, family care, friendships and so on. We lose the excitement of imagination and the energy to dream of what could be. Some would argue creativity and imagination are for children. How many of us have thought of ourselves as a dollar short in the creativity bank? I certainly have!

In his third book release, titled, Create vs. Copy, author Ken Wytsma rekindles the creative flame we were all created with. In his own words, Ken says, "this book is meant to encourage you about the good news of your God-given creative capacity and how to harness it to take charge of your life, flourish, succeed, and find innovative and exciting ways to navigate the circumstances of life.”

Did you catch the part about "God-given creative capacity"? If we have God-given creative capacity, then we have God-given creative capacity! Having an active imagination and being creative isn't set aside for energetic toddlers and kids. Likewise, being creative isn't just for artists.

In the first half of the book, Wytsma draws attention to the creative attribute of God. He is creative. God creates. It’s who He is. And because God creates and He created us in His image, we too are creative. Wytsma puts it this way, "I like to say that when we're being creative, it's as if we're taking the image of God in us out for a walk."

You are creative! You were born a creator. "Creativity is a human trait." If you are the person who has said, "I don't have a creative bone in my body", I completely get it and this is good news for us!

We’re not just talking creating art here. Being creative runs so much deeper than paint strokes on canvass. Being creative means fully recognizing issues or problems around us, dreaming up ways to correct the issue and then innovating to change the issue. This is huge!

“Embracing creativity is about leaning into who we are as children of a creative God, whose Spirit and power move in our lives as we respond to Him and endeavor to make space for life.”

Which leads me to the second half of Create vs. Copy where Wystma provides practical application on practising creativity via awakening the child like creativity we all innately inherited from our Creator God.

It’s important to keep our imaginations active. Authors and story tellers such as C.S. Lewis understood this and ran with it.

“Imagination not only helps us see more clearly what is, but what should be.”

You don’t have to go far to see, to know and to experience the brokenness of the world.  Things are clearly not what they should be.

As the redeemed and healed body of the Church, the followers of Jesus, we can live lives that reflect the what should be; even in the midst of the what is. Jesus taught us how to live in the what should be by how he treated people and by the illustrations he taught through the parable stories.

Our God-given creativity allows us to recognize the broken pieces of the universe and our imaginations help us dream up what should be. So we ought to create, to try new things, to move into some form of action in an attempt to take steps towards a dream made reality in our spheres of influence.

“Creativity makes space for life to flourish.”

“Our creativity most closely approximates God’s creativity when our ultimate purposes align with his.” I love this!

Prayer, wise counsel, and a supportive, encouraging network help us then innovate and bring our dreams into reality. Here is where change takes place and we step into the life God intended for us. And it’s never just for us. God uses each of us to share His love with those around us.

For 7 or so years now I’ve had an idea floating around my head. I’ve learned, collected a lot of information and feel compelled to write. Yet, it was only recently I began actually writing. I felt ill equipped and unprepared, yet the idea and the desire to just get it out and write has only grown.  As my pastor told me, “Carrie, this is either your thing, or it’s the thing you have to do to get to your thing.” So I’m writing more. Guys, I’m being creative! I’m intentionally creating space to write. I’m blocking out chunks of time to write. I’m just going for it. I also have a few trusted friends helping with it and a lot of pray around it.

And I have no idea what or how what I’m writing may be used. But that’s the exciting part. The unknown. With God, nothing is impossible! So my friends, create, create, create! It’s you are. It’s what you were made for! Create space for others to flourish and you will too.

Create vs. Copy releases tomorrow (March 1). Grab your copy today on Amazon. My hope for you is that you flourish into all of who God created you to be! Check out the book trailer too.

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