My Top Reads of 2016

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.~ Mark Twain

rarebooks-1-2Every year’s end I post a list and summary of my top ten reads for the previous year.  In doing this I have to be selective in what I post because I read significantly more than ten books in a year. (Sorry if that sounded arrogant. No, I’m not sorry.) I will list the title, the publisher’s summary and a comment or two.

So here goes my top reads for 2016 in no particular order:

Reading Your Life’s Story, by Keith R. Anderson

Spiritual mentoring is a particular kind of friendship in which, according to Keith R. Anderson, “two or more people walk together in heightened awareness of the presence of yet Another”—the Holy Spirit.

“Spiritual mentoring is not a complicated process that requires technical training and complex protocol,” Anderson continues. “It is essential, authentic, and maybe even natural human speech that is focused, disciplined and nurtured by training for one of the hardest natural things we do: listening reflectively to another. It is sacred companionship as life is lived and story told. Available to almost all, it requires deliberate recruitment, preparation and practice.”

These pages unfold a vision for mentoring that invites us to read our own lives as narrative and to learn how to enter the narrative of another life. The book covers the scope of the mentoring relationship through various seasons, offering helpful and inspiring metaphors for mentoring. All are invited to enter the mentoring story.

My comments…

I’m currently working on certification program through Potter’s Inn in Divide, Colorado. I’ve had to range far and wide in my reading for that program. It has been wonderful. But this book is one of the best books on Soul Care and mentoring I have ever read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I will give it away to others and read it again and again for years to come.

Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson

First released in 1995, this spiritual classic continues to be a best-seller, as thousands each year accept Marjorie Thompson’s invitation to the Christian spiritual life. Offering a framework for understanding the spiritual disciplines and instruction for developing and nurturing those practices, Soul Feast continues to be a favorite for individual reflection and group study. Many new additions, including a new chapter on keeping the Sabbath, make this newly revised edition of Soul Feast a must-have.

My comments…

This book fed my soul very deeply. I found the prose very readable and the content extremely practical. If you want to give yourself some really good tools to deepen your walk with Jesus, this is a great book to help you on that journey.

A Public Faith In Action,  by Miroslav Volf

Christian citizens have a responsibility to make political and ethical judgments in light of their faith and to participate in the public lives of their communities–from their local neighborhoods to the national scene. But it can be difficult to discern who to vote for, which policies to support, and how to respond to the social and cultural trends of our time.

This nonpartisan handbook offers Christians practical guidance for thinking through complicated public issues and faithfully following Jesus as citizens of their countries. The book focuses on enduring Christian commitments that should guide readers in their judgments and encourages legitimate debate among Christians over how to live out core values. The book also includes lists of resources for further reflection in each chapter and “room for debate” questions to consider.

My comments…

The three worst days for our country in my life time:

November 22, 1963

September 11, 2001

November 6, 2016

2016 saw the election of Donald Trump. Many people I love very much voted for him. I shiver at that thought. I may have even lost a few followers on my blog when I wrote about why my wife and I could not vote for him. Decency still matters to us.

How do we then live? Miroslav Volf is one of the brightest and most dedicated Christian thinkers of our day. This book has helped me find a language to think about my faith and how it should shape my public discourse. If you are looking for red meat on your particular “hot button issues” this is not your book.

I love this book.

Rebuilding Your Broken World, by Gordon McDonald

What happens when your ideals and desires, plans and strategies, all go awry? From what sources might one find the resolve to begin a rebuilding process? “The fact is,” writes Gordon MacDonald in Rebuilding Your Broken World, “the God of the Bible is a God of the rebuilding process. And not enough broken people know that.”

No stranger himself to brokenness, Gordon MacDonald draws from personal experience and discusses the likely sources of pain, the humiliation, and the long- and short-range consequences of a broken personal world. And he offers encouraging answers to the questions everyone asks when their worlds fall apart: Is there a way back?

My comments…

As a broken world person and pastor this booked helped me in so many ways. My broken world was many years ago, and there was limited resources available to help guide me as Humpty Dumpty (me) began rebuild my life. I owned this book back then, but had misplaced it and suffered through the restoration process without it. Now, in God’s providence, I dusted it off and re-read it and found it resonating with my soul more now than it might have even back 17 years ago when I broke my world.

There are many really stood out but the two that spoke particularly to my heart where I am not this side of the mess were: Chapter 14 and 15 “The Peace Ledge Principles, and Chapter 18 “Rebuilt”

Today I am trying to position myself to help restore, or to use the author’s term, rebuild broken souls. This is a powerful, practical and inspiring guide in that restoration process. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Someone you know needs this book. Maybe even you.

A New Heaven and a New Earth, by J. Richard Middleton

In recent years, more and more Christians have come to appreciate the Bible’s teaching that the ultimate blessed hope for the believer is not an otherworldly heaven; instead, it is full-bodied participation in a new heaven and a new earth brought into fullness through the coming of God’s kingdom. Drawing on the full sweep of the biblical narrative, J. Richard Middleton unpacks key Old Testament and New Testament texts to make a case for the new earth as the appropriate Christian hope. He suggests its ethical and ecclesial implications, exploring the difference a holistic eschatology can make for living in a broken world.

My comments…

A man told me recently that he didn’t pray for peace in the world because his eschatology teaches that things have to get bad before they get better and he didn’t want to pray contrary to God’s will for the second coming of Christ.

My jaw hung open.

Our culture is in desperate need of a hopeful eschatology, properly interpreted from the ancient book that we love. Don’t be a “Panmillennialist.” (I’ll all pan out in the end.)  Eschatology impacts our culture, geopolitical strategies, and even environmental perspectives.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham

In this brilliant biography, Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush. Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times. From the Oval Office to Camp David, from his study in the private quarters of the White House to Air Force One, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War to the end of Communism, Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed.

My comments…

George Herbert Walker Bush has become one of my favorite POTUS. He was a good man. Perhaps a man born out of season. He would have been a successful leader in a more patrician age. But, alas, time waits for no one.

This is a good book about a decent and much more complicated man than you might imagine.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant , by Ronald C. White

In his time, Ulysses S. Grant was routinely grouped with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the “Trinity of Great American Leaders.” But the battlefield commander–turned–commander-in-chief fell out of favor in the twentieth century. In American Ulysses, Ronald C. White argues that we need to once more revise our estimates of him in the twenty-first.

Based on seven years of research with primary documents—some of them never examined by previous Grant scholars—this is destined to become the Grant biography of our time. White, a biographer exceptionally skilled at writing momentous history from the inside out, shows Grant to be a generous, curious, introspective man and leader—a willing delegator with a natural gift for managing the rampaging egos of his fellow officers. His wife, Julia Dent Grant, long marginalized in the historic record, emerges in her own right as a spirited and influential partner.

Grant was not only a brilliant general but also a passionate defender of equal rights in post-Civil War America. After winning election to the White House in 1868, he used the power of the federal government to battle the Ku Klux Klan. He was the first president to state that the government’s policy toward American Indians was immoral, and the first ex-president to embark on a world tour, and he cemented his reputation for courage by racing against death to complete his Personal Memoirs. Published by Mark Twain, it is widely considered to be the greatest autobiography by an American leader, but its place in Grant’s life story has never been fully explored—until now.

One of those rare books that successfully recast our impression of an iconic historical figure, American Ulysses gives us a finely honed, three-dimensional portrait of Grant the man—husband, father, leader, writer—that should set the standard by which all future biographies of him will be measured.

My comments…

This book. This man. I’ve read a couple of biography’s about Grant. I know his story, but I never get used to the way he died. So brave. So heroic. Here is a man who failed at everything he ever tried to do except about three things: His marriage. (He had one of the great marriage in our country’s history. War. He was a great leader of men in the Civil War. Writing. He wrote the definitive autobiography of any POTUS. All other memoirs of presidents are measured against Grant’s. They all fall short, according to historians and writers.

This is a great book about a great man.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My comments…

Reckon if you read this book you will say, “That’s you, Joe Chambers.” Maybe that is why I was attracted to it. A friend recommended it to me and I was mesmerized by the tender love story and the humor of the author. If you want to laugh and cry, sometimes in the same paragraph, then read this book.

The Hero of the Empire, by Candace Millard

At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament.  He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield.  Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.

Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner.  Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape–but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.

The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.

Churchill would later remark that this period, “could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life.” Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.

My comments…

This book of history reads like a good fiction. Most of us know the elder Churchill. The goat of WWI and the hero of WWII. But this is a fascinating look at a young and precocious 24-year-old Churchill.  You can see he had stuff of greatness even at that age.

Good read.

The Aviators, by Winston Groom

Written by gifted storyteller Winston Groom (author of Forrest Gump), The Aviators tells the saga of three extraordinary aviators–Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Jimmy Doolittle–and how they redefine heroism through their genius, daring, and uncommon courage.

This is the fascinating story of three extraordinary heroes who defined aviation during the great age of flight. These cleverly interwoven tales of their heart-stopping adventures take us from the feats of World War I through the heroism of World War II and beyond, including daring military raids and survival-at-sea, and will appeal to fans of UnbrokenThe Greatest Generation, and Flyboys.

With the world in peril in World War II, each man set aside great success and comfort to return to the skies for his most daring mission yet. Doolittle, a brilliant aviation innovator, would lead the daring Tokyo Raid to retaliate for Pearl Harbor; Lindbergh, hero of the first solo flight across the Atlantic, would fly combat missions in the South Pacific; and Rickenbacker, World War I flying ace, would bravely hold his crew together while facing near-starvation and circling sharks after his plane went down in a remote part of the Pacific. Groom’s rich narrative tells their intertwined stories–from broken homes to Medals of Honor (all three would receive it); barnstorming to the greatest raid of World War II; front-page triumph to anguished tragedy; and near-death to ultimate survival–as all took to the sky, time and again, to become exemplars of the spirit of the “greatest generation.”

My comments…

I love how the author overlays these heroes of flight. A quick and easy read. Hard to put down.

How Great is the Darkness, By Jamie Greening

Pastor Butch Gregory is a quiet man who only wants to serve the Lord and the small congregation he loves. His dream of peaceful ministry is shattered by a murderous conspiracy. One by one, pastors in his small Western Washington town fall victims to murder. What is going on? Why? Things get worse when it is apparent the murderers have targeted Pastor Butch for death. Pastor Butch, his colleague Terence Harrison, and an old familiar face try to find the killers while they also fight to stay alive.

My comments…

What a great read! The pace and character development kept me reading. The author balances a wholesome book and redemptive qualities with a very dark subject matter: corrupt clergy and a vigilante group of “Christians.” Nicely done. For me the star of the show was Wyoming. I really liked his street smarts and edgy character.

There were so many others that I could have mentioned, but this is already longer than most of you will have read. I hope you will go to a library, or your favorite bookstore and get your hands on some of these books.

You will be the better for it.

About Joe Chambers

I am the beloved of the Most High God. I am an avid reader and writer and have been a continuous learner since my college studies in Ancient Literature and English. I live at the base of Mount Princeton in the Colorado Rockies with my wife of over three decades. I believe I have been put here to tell people that God is not mad at them and to show them the way Home. I am the father of three sons, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. I love to read, tell stories, and spend time in the wilderness with my friends and sons.
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