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What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 ESV)

Many of us are very familiar with these verses and others similar. But I think they are just beginning to pierce my own heart. It started last Sunday with a discussion about Hudson Taylor and how the missionaries of the late 1800s were not merely sacrificing their own lives by going but the lives of their own families. Hudson Taylor lost 1 wife and 7 children in China. Adoniram Judson lost 2 wives and 7 children in Burma. William Carey lost 2 wives and at least 3 children in India. These are no light losses. These also were not surprising to these men. Adoniram, when desiring to court and marry his first wife, Ann, wrote this:

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

Shockingly, the father consented and left the decision to his daughter! Adoniram was right, though. Nearly everything in his statement above came true. So where is the line? Were men like Taylor, Judson, and Carey foolish to put their families in such a harsh environment? Were they in sin? Should they have taken better care of their families? Was it worth the cost? It’s likely that over 2 million Burmese Christians can trace their spiritual heritage to Judson. Who knows how many with regard to Taylor and Carey? Who knows how many other missionaries there would be without Carey? Was it worth it? How do we, as fathers, know when it’s right to do the same for the sake of the gospel? It’s a hard question! But as we discussed this, one thought came to mind as I was praying: God willingly gave up His only Son! How profound is that? God the Father did this for His enemies (us!) nonetheless.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

Think about it for a second. We were utterly lost in sin. We did not love God but lived for ourselves and for Satan’s purposes (Ephesians 2:1-10). We spit in God’s face. He was barely a thought for us. All our intentions and deeds were bent away from Him. We were dead.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

Do we understand what God did? Who of us would sacrifice our own lives for our friends? Maybe. Who of us would lay our own lives down for an enemy? Nope. But God didn’t mere do just that. God laid down the life of His only Son for his enemies! If given the choice, even the worst of the worst parents would take a bullet for their child. Any of us parents would gladly lay down our own lives for our kids given such clear choice. But would I give up the life of my own son for even a friend? As ND Wilson says: Hell no.

It’s a joke to even think about whether I would let my own son die for my enemies. I would think myself a bad father! To lose a child is crushing. To yield a child to die is unfathomable. Yet this is what God did. He didn’t make it easy either – sending His Son into our world in poverty to then later be crushed and tortured and to be executed in one of the worst ways ever invented. This would seem evil for God to do except that we know Jesus was willing and endured for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12). Jesus said, “I will go and walk in their shoes, be betrayed, take the 40 lashes, and painfully die for them!” Jesus did this for me. The Father did that for me. How ridiculous is it for me to ever question His love and good for me! How much does it grieve my heavenly Father when I doubt His love or His intentions? Our Father sees us, knows our hurts, and says, “I sent my only Son to the cross for you! What more can I do to show you my love?” Our Father is for us. He willingly gave His only Son for our sin. He loves us.

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Here are 11 of my favorite books of all time. I base my choices on 2 main criteria. First, was it a paradigm shift for me when I read it? Did God use it to redirect me in a significant way? Second, how much of this book has stuck with me? Was its impact on my life short-lived or do I still think back to it? Here there in alphabetical order by author:


To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson (Published in 1956)

An engrossing read about the life and tribulations of the first American missionary, Adoniram Judson. I first heard of his life through this sermon and, soon after, roughly 5 years ago, this book fell into my hands. This man is one of my heroes. His story stirs me and moves me to tears when I get into it. From rejecting the faith of his pastor father in college to how God pursues him and restores him to an authentic radical faith to many deaths he suffered taking the gospel to the Burmese people that rejected him so many times, God speaks to me through Judson’s life. I want to be like this man and I want to imitate his faith. I want to be a missionary like he was. The other part of this story that moves me is his relationship with his brother. It’s a minimal piece of the book but what is there and how God uses their relationship just pierces my heart.

The fact was, any inhabitant of Burma – even of a border of a seaport such as Rangoon – lived at mercy of a despotic governor. Everything depended on his whim. Officialdom was unspeakably corrupt. Treaties meant nothing. The Burmese had no conception of trade, and only contempt for foreigners. Missionaries would have to live like rats in holes, unable to teach the Gospel, exposed to arbitrary torture or execution if discovered. For a man, life would be difficult; for a woman, impossible… Let them go back to America, or anywhere else in the world – but forget Burma.

Judson did not forget Burma in 1813 and he suffered everything that was predicted and worse. But he thought all of it worth it for the sake of the glory of God and the Gospel. The fruit of this man’s life is roughly 2 million adherents within the Baptist Convention today.


Victory Over the Darkness by Neil T.Anderson (Published in 1990)

Many Christians are living under half a gospel… For some unknown reason, we have left the Resurrection out of the gospel presentation. Consequently, we end up with forgiven sinners instead of redeemed saints.

This book helped me a ton early in my walk in the mid 90’s. It helped me to start to grasp what it means to have freedom in Christ, what it means to have a Christ centered confidence, and the power that God has given me in Christ over the power of sin. Anderson can be a bit psychological at times, but he’s pretty grounded in the Bible and his main purpose is to help you understand who you are in Christ. My theology and leanings are very different than when I read this book but it was such a help to me at that point as a young believer trying to figure out this walk with Jesus thing. This book very much aligns with a series of talks called “The Meaning of Fatherhood and The Difference Dads Make” given by Mark Darling.


Experiencing God by Henry T. Blackaby (Published in 1994)

You will never be satisfied just to know about God. Really knowing God only comes through experience as He reveals Himself to you.

Like Victory Over the Darkness above, this was another book I read very early on after I came to Jesus. This book covers numerous areas of our walk with Christ but the biggest help to me was in understanding how personal God truly is. God is not far off and wants to speak to us through prayer and through His Word. This was a major concept for me to get as a young believer.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Published in 1880)

Why have You come now to hinder us? And why do You look silently and searchingly at me with Your mild eyes? Be angry. I don’t want Your love, for I love You not. And what use is it for me to hide anything from You? Don’t I know to Whom I have been speaking? All that I can say is known to You already. And is it for me to conceal from You our mystery? Perhaps it is Your will to hear it from my lips. Listen, then. We are not working with You but with him – that is our mystery.

Considered one of the greatest novels of all time by many, it is special to me because of the circumstances in which I read it. I first read this great work while in my senior year of high school. I did not know Jesus. I did not see any of the Gospel in this book. I was apathetic and the Gospel was just words and foolishness to me. I came to Christ less than a year after reading this book and proceeded to read it again a few years later. I was dumbfounded by how pervasive the Gospel is on these pages. Dostoevsky had to know Jesus to write what he writes. This is a man who wrestled with the depth of sin as well as the unending extent of God’s redemption. Alexei, Dmitry, Ivan, and Smerdyakov are living characters because they are us. To even name the depraved, foolish, disengaged father after himself is quite troubling. It’s meant to be. This book is about all of our wrestling with God and who He is and who we are. Writing this makes me want to pick this book up yet again! I love Dostoevsky. His fiction is second only to CS Lewis in its impact on me. Brothers Karamazov stands out to me as a testament to the change that God has worked in my life. I can pick it up and think back to the blindness that I had. God had to intervene to remove it in order for me to see Him and for the Gospel to be more than just foolishness to me. I read this and I know, without a doubt, that I was blind and now I see. This is a long book but well worth the time it will take you to engage with it. I don’t know anyone who knows Jesus who writes like this today.


Living By the Book by Howard Hendricks (Published in 1991)

This book is the gold standard in how to read and study and engage with the Bible. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything else come out that is better. This book will encourage you as well as overwhelm you because of all the training and tools he gives you. The workbook that you can get with this book is fantastic and worth purchasing as well. Don’t be intimidated by the table of contents and let Hendricks teach you how to trust God for more when you approach His Word. Hendricks essentially teaches you how to read in this masterpiece.

The Bible was written not to satisfy your curiosity but to help you conform to Christ’s image. Not to make you a smarter sinner but to make you like the Savior. Not to fill your head with a collection of biblical facts but to transform your life.


Perelandra by CS Lewis (Published in 1943)

I love CS Lewis’ fiction more than I love the rest of his writings. His depth of thinking about our walk with God and genius in communicating it through story stirs my heart. Perelandra is the second book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy. In the series, Lewis uses the question of “What if there were life on other planets?” to illustrate and draw out Gospel themes. Perelandra takes place on a Venus where creation has not yet fallen and where the first Adam and Eve have just been given life. They get separated and the battle for Eve’s heart begins. Two individuals are sent from Earth: Ransom, the main character, representing God and Weston, a representative of Satan. It moves from there. From the unfallen world Lewis imagines to the dialog and Satan’s path of deception, this is well worth the read.

I almost included Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” but I had to narrow it down. Perelandra is better but the audio dramatization of The Screwtape Letters from Focus on the Family is very well done and extremely enjoyable.


The Great Divorce by CS Lewis (Published in 1945)

Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.

This is probably my favorite fiction book ever. It’s a short read, easy to get through in one sitting. Even now, I’m not quite sure how to describe this book without doing justice to its depth. Lewis uses a main plot about a journey from hell to heaven to dig into what matters to us. What is our one thing? How does that one thing hold us back from pursuing joy in God? Can we let go of it? I’ve read it once or twice every year since college (10 years) and it simply gets better every time I pick it up.


Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 1 by Josh McDowell (Published in 1972)

This first apologetics book that I was exposed to and given to me by a very good friend (his short note in the cover still encourages me today). It’s more of a reference book but it is a very thorough reference book regarding the validity of the New Testament and the evidence that Jesus truly did rise from the dead. McDowell actually wrote this book in his own journey to believe in Christ. A must have reference book in any Christian’s library. There are a million books demonstrating evidence and arguments to believe in God but not too many like this one which details references and notes, building his argument for the resurrection of Jesus so simply and conclusively.


Mortification of Sin by John Owen (Published in 1656)

This is the most recent read of any of the books on list but quite likely the biggest paradigm shift I’ve had in how I approach my battle with sin and what it means to grow spiritually. This is a book I wish I had read 15 years ago instead of just 2 years ago. This book is a must read for any believer. Owen effectively nukes every method you ever had for fighting sin and directs you Biblical to how to kill sin and push to victory. Sounds fun but reading this book the first or second time through is like having Owen do open heart surgery on you without any anesthesia. Also, be forewarned, this book is not about some simple step by step method to fighting sin. Owen does not yield to recipe theology here and you will be forced to wrestle with your own sin and how to see it rightly.

The basic characteristic of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. He who is able to swallow and digest daily sins in his life without conviction in the heart is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.


Desiring God by John Piper (Published in 1986)

The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Honestly, the book did not impact so much as this one sermon that explains the main message of the book! The concept of “Christian Hedonism” was an idea that blew my mind and put the pieces of the Bible together like nothing I’d ever heard before. If you read one book on this list, read this one. Once you get the vision that Piper is attempting to help you connect with, your perception of the way things are will change. Listening to that sermon, and understanding the main points of Desiring God, rerouted almost my entire theology. That is no understatement; ask anyone who is close to me.

This is the great business of life – to “put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.


Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr & Mrs. Howard Taylor (Published in 1932)

Never shall I forget the feeling that came over me then. Words could not describe it. I felt I was in the presence of God, entering into a covenant with the Almighty. I felt as though I wished to withdraw my promise but could not. Something seemed to say, “Your prayer is answered; your conditions are accepted.” And from that time the conviction has never left me that I was called to China.

This is the first missionary biography that I read not long after I came to know Jesus and right in the midst of spending a summer in China back in 1997. It impacted me deeply. I wanted to be a missionary and still do and this book got me fired up to go. I ended up taking a year off of school in 1998-1999 to go back and I think this book was a piece of what stirred me up in zeal for pioneer missions. I love his life and the unbelievable sacrifices he made and the faith that he demonstrated over and over again.

My Top 3?

My top 3 out of this list would have to be Mortification of Sin, Desiring God, and The Great Divorce but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by any of these books.

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Books I briefly review in this post (click to jump to a specific book):

My Top 5

Teach Them Diligently by Lou Priolo

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton

Hidden Smile of God/Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper

What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert


Other Interesting Reads

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

Freakonomics/Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner


Teach Them Diligently by Lou Priolo

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” Ephesians 4:13-15

This might be the best parenting book I have ever read. I’m not exaggerating! Priolo is helpful and practical and yet not overwhelming. Here are his key points:

  1. Use the Bible in instructing your children!
  2. Teach in the moment!
  3. Convict using the Word. Use Scripture to demonstrate to your children where and how they are in sin.
  4. Correct: Intentionally hone in on your children’s sin and work with them to seek change.
  5. Setting good habits for your children is not to be underestimated and requires grace giving training.
  6. Use of the rod must always include reproof, always with the Word of God.

I was convicted through Priolo that I have not been using the Word to make things clear to my older 3. I have even been lazy and have been using unbiblical terms and language, like “frustrated” or even “fussing.” I also think I can take short cuts during times of discipline with my kids and short change them in teaching them and helping them grow. I appreciated how Priolo’s book managed to simplify parenting for me. Parenting and life in general, can feel so incredibly complex most of the time. It’s not complex. Biblically, it’s not. In parenting, Scripture is the primary source and guide. It’s not an option to not use it. Scripture is not simply a tool but a bit more than that. Priolo even outlines how in the NT the use of the Word to bring about change and godliness parallels the Holy Spirit’s work in us. Compare Ephesians 5:18-6:9 and Colossians 3:16-4:1. I highly recommend this book and wish that I would have read it 5 years ago!

‘Oh, it’s not that He [The Holy Spirit] is unable to work if you don’t cooperate. It’s that He has not promised to work apart from the Bible.”


Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

“The human heart is indeed a factory that mass-produces idols. Is there any hope? Yes, if we begin to realize that idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced… What we need is a living encounter with God.”

This book surprised me. I read Prodigal God at the end of 2009 and was just destroyed by it and the fresh complete exegesis of Luke 15:11-32. Counterfeit Gods might be better. Keller walks you through different idols we tend to wrestle with in modern America and parallels these struggles with men and women of the Old Testament. Keller gives you a new perspective on Abraham, Jacob, Leah, Jonah, and others. His final chapter with his closing thoughts on Jacob is alone worth the cost of the book. Keller is thorough when it comes to the idols we battle and then he keeps coming with the gospel in response.

“Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralyzing and overwhelming.”


Here I Stand by Roland Bainton

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” – Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, 1571

Bainton gives us an informative, seemingly complete, and very entertaining biography of Martin Luther. What a stirring and yet encouraging read! If you only have a cursory knowledge of Martin Luther as the catalyst of the Reformation and maybe even the story of how God saved him, or even if you know more about Luther, you have to read this book. Bainton paints Luther as one of us, a man who definitely sought God with all he had but a man with sin, not perfect, who struggled often just as we do. Luther was not the #1 catalyst of the Reformation. Jesus was. Luther can’t even be accurately cast as the #2 catalyst of the Reformation, you have to give that credence to the Vatican who so vehemently and publicly responded to Luther’s 95 theses that it more than blew up in their faces and we were given an unprecedented access to the Bible and renewed faith in Jesus as the center of our salvation and hope.  Luther’s life is a story of a man very much in touch with his own sin and Jesus’ death for it all whom God used in a huge way, a man whose thoughts reverberate with us to this day.

The Hidden Smile of God/Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ by John Piper

“The question is not whether we die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.”

These two books are #2 and #5 in John Piper’s “The Swans are Not Silent” series which are based on annually given biographical sermons at Desiring God’s Pastor’s Conference. The Hidden Smile of God deals with the topic of the fruit of suffering and depression in the lives of John Bunyan (late 1600s, wrote Pilgrim’s Progress), William Cowper (late 1800s, poet, friend of John Newton), and David Brainerd (early 1700s, knew Jonathan Edwards). Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ deals with the cost of bringing the gospel to the nations in the lives of William Tyndale (early 1500s England), Adoniram Judson (1800s, first American missionary), and John Paton (late 1800s, Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides cannibals). Both are worth the read simply to get an introduction to these men of God and their trials and struggles. Judson and Paton are 2 of my heroes, men who laid down their lives in pioneer missions. Hidden Smile surprised me in how much it encouraged me. Bunyan was an unbelievable testimony to the Holy Spirit and Cowper and Brainerd are helpful in the reality of their struggles with melancholy and depression.

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.”

-William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”


What is the Gospel by Greg Gilbert

“The Bible is the story of God’s counteroffensive against sin. It is the grand narrative of how God made it right, how he is making it right, and how he will one day make it right finally and forever.”

God, man, Jesus, response. The Gospel is that simple but you can’t leave any of those out and still call it the Gospel. Gilbert does a great service with this book, systematically simplifying the Gospel for us and then digging into the essentials. It was a good refresher for me in what the Gospel is and in the importance of sharing the words of the Gospel with others. You cannot read this book and then decide to sit back and keep the knowledge to yourself. Gilbert stirs you in the essential truths of the gospel and to walk in confidence in living it and sharing the gospel with those who do not know it or understand it. This book is a short read and good giveaway to others, good both for building up a believer and for a friend wanting to understand the heart of the Bible.

“There could be nothing healthy at all in Christians who couldn’t care less how we define and understand the gospel.”


Other Interesting Reads

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

“Everything belonged to him [Kurtz] – but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.”

I finally picked up this book, the masterpiece that Conrad is known for, about a man’s journey to the heart of Africa in search and in expectation of a confrontation with one man, Kurtz. This story is about his journey but truly about Kurtz, the man he is to meet and confront and Kurtz’s descent into darkness and madness. The first 40 pages dragged a bit for me, it was very difficult to get into, but then the book takes off and you, like the narrator, are just anticipating the meeting with Kurtz and seeing him face to face. An extremely good read. We identify with the narrator, Marlowe, but like him, we grow to identify with Kurtz. Would we do differently than Kurtz? In the deepest part of our hearts, the darkness in our flesh, I think we have to be honest and say we find a Kurtz. That’s the beauty of this story. You’re fascinated with Kurtz but the journey is Marlowe’s.

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

Yes, I did plow through all 4 books this past Spring. My thoughts are here and here for my recommendations and why I think this series is so polarizing and so engrossing.

Freakonomics/Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

“Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicate world much less so. If you learn to look at data in the right way, you can explain riddles that otherwise might have seemed impossible. Because there is nothing like the sheer power of numbers to scrub away layers of confusion and contradiction.”

Freakonomics can be summed up by one word: incentive. What are we motivated by? What incentives work? How does this affect our society? From cheating sumo wrestlers and teachers to prostitution to gang finances and accounting, the first book is a fun and interesting read about practical economics. I love how the notion of innocent altruism is simply wrecked by research and experience. We were made to seek reward! The question is in what? Not in this world. The authors don’t give a solution but definitely infer how many different ways of satisfaction we seek and how it never ends. Freakonomics to me is all about how the world is broke and unsatisfying and yet how thirsty and seeking we truly are. Super Freakonomics did not measure up to the first for me. It did not have the same depth and just was not as fun of a read as the original. Read the first, don’t bother with the second.

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