2014 BOOK REVIEWS


TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2014





BOOK REVIEWS

habit

(#5 on my Top Five of 2014)

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

To be honest, this is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg explores “habits,” how habits are changed, how habits are formed, how habits are manipulated, and provides some amazing real-life examples of the power of habits (both good and bad) in life and business. Duhigg begins the book by introducing the pattern of habit. He says all habits have a cyclical process of cue-routine-reward. Habits form around this cycle. But more importantly, habits are broken through this cycle. One of the most important takeaways from this book is that Duhigg undercovers the way habits are broken. And he says any habit, no matter how addictive or how deeply entrenched in our minds, can be broken by changing the cycle. Duhigg uses examples of alcohol addicts to show how habits are transformed. Very powerful.

The second part of the book details habits of successful organizations. One of the most important ideas in the entire book, keystone habits, is found in chapter 4. It is keystone habits, Duhigg explains, that control the overall culture of an organization. It is these habits that must be identified and tapped. If the keystone habits are positive and healthy, the culture of the organization will be as well. Stories about how Starbucks builds willpower with their employees, how leaders manage (and embrace) a crisis, and how companies like Target use our habits to predict our shopping patterns are all used by Duhigg as testaments to the power of habit. The chapter on Target is the most fascinating 30 or so pages you will read in any book. Just check it out.

Duhigg then spends two chapters detailing the habits of societies. Ultimately, he concludes by saying we are responsible for our habits. And we have the power to manipulate and change them. We must follow certain steps, but they are malleable. This is very encouraging for all of us with bad habits. Duhigg explains how to overcome them.

This book compelled me from cover to cover. I enjoyed Duhigg’s writing style. I was enthralled by the stories. This book could be a game changer for many, many people. I highly recommend it.

MY RATING: 9.5 out of 10


overrtated

Overrated by Eugene Cho

Overrated is a refreshing and challenging book for any person serious about justice. In this book, Eugene Cho pushes back against people who might like the idea of doing good in the world more than actually doing good. Throughout, Cho urges readers to look at justice through the lense of the gospel. He also challenges the comfortable mindset of many Americans. For Cho, justice is rooted in a strong relationship with God, not a desire to be known (or even a desire to do good). Cho details his journey from immigrant to lead pastor of Quest Church. He also highlights the importance of a sustained marathon for God, as opposed to a desire for instant gratification, which never sustains.

The most valuable portion of this book is when Cho talks about the importance of self-examination and being an expert. We must constantly check our motivations and heart. For the next generation in particular, I believe Cho provides a prophetic word about the power of going deep in one area. The next generation is passionate about justice. But the goal is not to change the world. The goal is to make an impact. This, Cho argues, means we must become an expert in something. Devotion starts with our relationship to God and the Word.

Overrated is a timely book. The content is good, and Cho delivers the words in this book as a man who has experienced a lot. He is also very passionate about justice. Any person serious about justice and serious about making an impact in the world for the glory of God should read this book.

MY RATING: 7.0 out of 10


9781434700643_hi

The Jesus Life by Stephen Smith

The Jesus Life is a fresh approach to looking at our lives through the life of Jesus. This, of course, has a lot of counter-cultural implications. Jesus, as Smith points out, operates differently from us. His life is characterized by a consistent pattern of sabbath, obscurity, and community, among many other things. This book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is the premise of the book. Here Smith argues Christians have lost their way. They are far removed from the way that leads to life. Part 2 talks about the rhythm of Jesus. I found this section to be the most valuable part of the book. Smith pushes back against the false idea of a “balanced life.” God never called us to it, and he does not expect us to live it. Rhythm allows us to prioritize our schedule around the most important part of our lives…God. Smith gives some practical suggestions for living a life of rhythm. The book is worth purchasing for this chapter alone.

Part 3 details eight ways to find the life Jesus modeled us. Smith provides some great content here. Living daily for God, the value of obscurity, the parallel between family and God, the power of the table, the role of suffering, and several other very insightful topics are found in Part 3. This is, of course, the “meat” of the book.

Part 4 is a challenge to live the way of Jesus. The Jesus Life is a very timely, relevant book for the American church. Every Christian would benefit from reading this book. It is very easy to read, and Smith does a great job of providing practical application at the end of each chapter. This could be used as a small group study, church-wide study, or personal study. The way of Jesus is in stark contrast to the American way. And this is precisely why every American Christian needs to read it.

MY RATING: 8.5 out of 10


 

51TKq0rxmPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White

This book will be one I reference for many years to come. The Rise of the Nones is a book that highlights the largest religious affiliation in the country…NONE. In other words, more than any other denomination, people in America today are opting to choose “none” as their religious preference when asked. “Given the choice to label themselves as ‘nothing’ instead of ‘something,’ they prefer ‘nothing.'” White’s book is an important one for any Christian leader to read. The fact that Christianity is on the decline is not up for debate…it is fact. White paints a portrait of the average “none” in America. He expounds on three important terms as it relates to Christianity and culture: secularization, privatization, and pluralization. These three terms are shaping Christianity today. This is all in the first part of the book.

The second part is where the actual meat is found. White pushes hard against traditional Christians ideals such as the false understanding of growth, the lack of desire to reach out to non-Christian, and many other important issues. The chapter entitled, “If You Build It, They Won’t Come” includes some of the most insightful material I have read in a long, long time. White also has a chapter about the parallels between a foreign missionary and being a missionary in America. He believes (and I agree) that the time where America stands on the mountain and screams at the world is over. We must now speak the language of the culture around us if we want to reach those in the culture.

I do not have the space to detail all the great statistics and great points in Rise of the Nones. Just buy it and read it. I believe it should be on the shelves of any person who has a desire to reach the lost (and that should be all of us).

MY RATING: 9.0 OUT OF 10


the_next_christians___flat_cover_121924497The Next Christians written by Gabe Lyons

The Next Christians is a fascinating book about the changing cultural climate in the church and the country. The author, Gabe Lyons, has obviously done massive amounts of research. I believe he does a very good job of trying to paint a picture for Christians of where our faith is moving in this country. I also agree with him that (assuming this trend continues) Christianity as we know it in America is coming to an end. But one thing I appreciate about Gabe is the optimism he portrays throughout the book. In his mind, the end of Christianity in America as we know it is not a bad thing. This book is divided into three parts. The first part of the book is Lyons’ attempt to describe the current culture. He uses word like post-modern and post-Christian to describe the current climate. These are variables the church has never had to consider when it comes to philosophy of the mission. In this section he also introduces the word which frames most of the book: restorer. In his mind, restorers are ones that will shape the culture in America from a Christian perspective. Part two describes these restorers. They are provoked, creators, called, grounded, in community, and countercultural. Part three describes the new era in front of the Christian community.

Lyons’ book is important for several reasons. Number one: if Lyons is correct, the church must shift her focus. Christians must become missional. People will no longer be showing up at our doorstep. Cultural Christians will become less in number in the church because it will be less beneficial socially to be one. But what is left are committed, passionate restorers who want the entirety of their lives to give glory to God. I found this book to be extremely encouraging about the future of the church. I am a restorer. I believe Christians should have a restoration mindset. If you want to catch a glimpse of what is ahead for the church in America, I strongly recommend this book by Gabe Lyons.

MY RATING: 9.0 OUT OF 10


surprised-by-hope

Surprised By Hope written by N. T. Wright

Surprised By Hope is a paradigm-shifting book that explores the relationship between heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. As the book unfolds, N. T. Wright attempts to answer two questions, primarily: What is Christian hope? And, What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, and new possibilities within the world in the present? Wright sees these two questions as inextricably connected. How one answers the first question directly influences the answer to the second.

In the first section of the book, Wright attempts to clear up some of the muddled confusion about a Platonic view of heaven where everyone floats away into the clouds. According to Wright, this view of heaven is inconsistent with Scripture and creates a separationist mentality where God’s people are unconcerned with the issues and problems in the world. Instead of God transporting people to some ethereal place, He is going to bring heaven to earth. As Christians work, speak, evangelize, etc., in the world today for the glory of God, we are contributing to the work of the kingdom of God. Eventually, God will fully reign in the kingdom when he brings heaven to earth. Hope flows from the resurrection, and this is integral to Wright’s theology of Christian mission in the present. Because followers of Jesus are going to dwell physically in a new earth, everything done in the present is significant. The resurrection of Jesus does not save us out of the world, but saves us to engage the restoration of the world as we anticipate full restoration.

Surprised By Hope is a game-changer. I would recommend this book to any person, whether conservative or liberal, Christian or non-Christian. The contents of this book are both academic and applicable, which is remarkable for a man of Wright’s intellectual level. He gives his readers a fresh (and strongly Biblical) approach to life after death, hope, and how these two influence Christian mission. He presents a convicting explanation of the relationship between evangelism and mission, and he encourages Christians to look at all types of work in this life as valuable (which is refreshing).

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


Platform-189x300Platform written by Michael Hyatt

Platform is a great read from experienced, seasoned blogger, writer, and leadership guru Michael Hyatt. I have learned so much from Michael since I discovered his blog several months ago. I am an avid blogger and writer myself, so I naturally started soaking up a lot of his material. He introduced me to Evernote, and this particular book, Platform, has expanded my understanding of blogging and writing. I will need to make the disclaimer that this book has a specific audience, and that audience is writers and bloggers that have a desire to be noticed in a convoluted web of internet bloggers (although many of the principles in the book are adaptable to people that are not bloggers or writers).

In this book, Michael Hyatt covers important topics like the importance of having a specified writing style, going for it all and holding nothing back, building your home base for your blog, diversifying the types of posts on your blog, how to expand your reach by writing guest posts and embracing social media, and many other practical tips about starting and maintaining your blog and website. He encourages readers to invest in your website and your content by spending some money and buying your own website with your name (i.e. frankpowell.me is my website). He also encourages those serious about blogging and being a reputable writer to create an e-mail using your name (i.e. frankpowell@frankpowell.me is new default e-mail). I found this book to be very practical and helpful for me. A

lthough I do not necessarily agree with everything in this book, I thought the content is presented in a way that allows for any person to gather something and apply it. Most casual bloggers and writers are not going to use all of this material, but there are certainly practical tips for any person that wants to start blogging.

If you have ever considered blogging or writing, but you are unsure how to get started, I recommend reading this book. It is an easy read, and the layout of the book allows the reader to skip over certain sections if they are not applicable.

MY RATING: 8.0 OUT OF 10


STICKMade To Stick written by Chip and Dan Heath

Made To Stick is a fascinating book that highlights the difference ideas that survive and ideas that die. Again, some books that make the New York Times Bestsellers list baffle me, but this book deserves to be there. I recommend it, especially if you find yourself speaking in front of crowds often, or if you are in the business world looking to get an edge. As a minister who speaks to crowds weekly, many of these principles resonate with me, and there are countless stories, examples, and one-liners that are going to influence the way I prepare and present messages going forward.

Chip and Dan Heath believe there are six components of a sticky idea: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. The authors go even further and say there are basically two steps in making ideas sticky: Step 1 is to find the core of your message (one statement that summarizes everything you are about to say), and step 2 is to translate the core using the SUCCESs (the six core components mentioned in the previous sentence) checklist.

Throughout the book, Chip and Dan Heath highlight some fascinating real life examples that correlate with each component. Southwest Airlines using simplicity to become the most profitable airline in the world. Army commanders forcing simplicity into their battle plans. A certain elementary school teacher curing her students of racial prejudice (one of my personal favorites). NBA coaches creating an experience that brought the reality of AIDS to life with their players using specific, concrete means. The story of Jared’s rise to fame using Subway, despite Subway executives’ belief that people would not take to the Jared story.

Even stories about JFK and the state of Texas are included. At the conclusion of the book, the authors use a few pages to summarize the previous 275 pages of material for the reader. I found these pages to be extremely helpful and valuable. I struggle to find negative things to say about the work Dan and Chip have done with Made To Stick. The material in this book will benefit almost anybody, and even if you are not in a position where you might use the ideas, the stories you read will fascinate you.

Overall, this is one of the best books I have read this year.

MY RATING: 9.0 OUT OF 10


breakfastWhat The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast written by Laura Vanderkam

This book could almost be labeled as a pamphlet. It is very short which means it can be read in one sitting very easily (an hour or less). Although I did not find this book to be overly captivating, Laura Vanderkam did highlight some useful information for people that are looking to be more productive and more successful. She brings out principles of many of the most successful leaders in the world, and, strikingly, there is a strong correlation between the most successful leaders in the world and their routine.

For most of these leaders, their routines are very similar, and for all of them, their day starts early in the morning. One thing I took from the book was Vanderkam’s section on willpower. She has some very insightful things to say about the relationship between willpower and productivity. Willpower works like a muscle. As the day progresses, our willpower gets weaker because we have used more of it. This statement might be the one thing I take from this book,

“There seems to be a general pattern that major self-control failures and other bad decisions occur late in the day…Diets are broken in the evening, not the morning. The majority of impulsive crimes are committed after 11:00 p.m. Lapses in drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual misbehavior, gambling excesses, and the like tend to come about late in the day.”

Her point: the most productive people do their best work in the morning. Nights are a bad time to be doing meaningful work. I tend to agree. Some of my most negative thoughts, most stressful moments, and greatest times of temptation have all occurred at night. Vanderkam also does an admirable job of explaining to the reader how mornings can be used holistically. She points out that most successful leaders work out in the morning, meditate in the morning, and disconnect from e-mails and other types of media. Mornings are used to re-charge for the day ahead.

If you are serious about getting up in the mornings, I would recommend starting with Early To Rise (I wrote a review for this book earlier this year…you can check it out by scrolling down to the book here). This book, however, would be a good way to follow up after reading Early To Rise.

MY RATING: 7.0 OUT OF 10


whenhelpinghurts(#2 on my Top Five of 2014)

When Helping Hurts written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Some books are great for a relaxing afternoon at the coffee shop. Then there are books like this one. I will just be frank with you…do not even think about picking up this book without a highlighter, a pen, and an open mind. When Helping Hurts has rocked the foundations of my theology of helping others. It is my personal opinion that every American Christian should pick this book up and read it. It is that important to the future of this country and the world. Corbett and Fikkert challenge the church to re-think their programs and ministries related to helping the poor and broken. These two men build a foundation on the reality that in Christ we are all broken and we are all poor. Their central premise is this: “Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” Too many churches view the poor as inferior and beneath them. We are better than them, so we should show them how to fix their life. Unfortunately, our approach to fixing the problem is to throw money at the poor. By doing this, we are not helping these individuals overcome their situation, but instead we are creating a culture where they become dependent on our financial resources. “American Christians need to overcome the materialism of Western culture and see poverty in more relational terms.” Leading the poor out of their situation is not accomplished by financial means…it is accomplished through relationships. We often spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on coordinating local outreach and short term mission trips that have no lasting impact on the people we are trying to help. One of the best chapters in the book is the one about short term missions. So many American Christians go to foreign countries and spend an inordinate amount of money ($1.6 billion spent on short term missions in 2006 alone) to work for a week building houses, cleaning up, etc. Once we leave we have done more to cripple the people than help them. And if we are all honest, the purpose for many of our overseas missions trips is for us to pat ourselves on the back and be able to tell others where we went. I will admit Corbett and Fikkert are probably too pessimistic about short term mission trips, but their insight is invaluable. I can not stress enough the importance of reading this book, especially if you help coordinate or plan outreach, either locally or globally. This book will stay on the top of my list because of its importance to the future of helping the poor.

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


evernote for life

Evernote For Your Life written by Tyler Collins and Brandon Collins

This is the last book related to Evernote, I promise. I actually bought this book before I bought Evernote Essentials (located below) because this one was available on Amazon and had some great reviews. As it relates to Evernote, I found this book to be very helpful and informative. This short work is probably more “to the point” than Evernote Essentials, but it also contains some information about certain tools and functions not covered in Brett Kelly’s book (such as interface setup and creating a Customer Relations Management System). I do not think you have to make a decision between this book and Evernote Essentials.

Purchase them both. If you are serious about Evernote, they are both a great investment. Again, Evernote is a program that becomes more practical and useful as you begin to understand its power. Also, Evernote For Your Life is intended to be more of a practical guide (hence the subtitle), whereas Evernote Essentials is intended to be more comprehensive. At the conclusion of this book, there is a section entitled “99 Uses for Evernote” that is worth the price of the book by itself (the cost of the e-book is only 2.99 on Amazon).

I cannot stress the value of Evernote enough. It has made me much more productive and organized. Purchase this book and the one below before you get started.

MY RATING: 7.0 OUT OF 10


evernote essentialsEvernote Essentials written by Brett Kelly

So, I will admit…I have gone all in with Evernote. For a period of time, I struggled to figure out its value because I only used it for random things like class notes and sermon outlines. A few weeks ago, I decided to try it again. When I made the decision, I purchased this book. Evernote Essentials is the book that unlocks the unbelievable power of Evernote. It walks you through all the ways Evernote can be used for your personal life, work life, etc. From how to properly use the notebook and tag features to more obscure (but incredibly helpful) tools such as how to use the IFTTT (if/then commands), Evernote Essentials is the book to buy if you want to know how to use Evernote.

I will just say that if you decide to use Evernote (and I highly, highly recommend it), do not go in half way. Use it for everything. Use it to store pictures. Use it to store contact information. Use it to store business documents. Use it to digitize your life. Evernote will change the way you manage and organize your life if you use it to its full potential. Even though there are many books on how to harness Evernote’s power, this book is the one most recommended by some of the top professionals. After reading it, I see why. Brett Kelly is concise, yet comprehensive. He does not waste a ton of space going on tangents or going into elaborate detail. He highlights tools and functions, describes them, and explains how to best implement them. Nothing extra.

I will say from experience that if you decide to begin using Evernote, do not try to figure it out on your own. Consult others that have knowledge, and buy a couple of books. Start with this one.

MY RATING: 8.0 OUT OF 10


91Ng-oyVg6L._SL1500_Christology written by Daniel L. Akin

Christology is a study of Christ, and in this work Daniel Akin attempts to paint a broad portrait of the Messiah. He saturates the entire book with Scripture, allowing God’s word to tell the story of Jesus. He begins by tracing Jesus back to the Old Testament, trying to show that Jesus was the catalyst for God’s work from the beginning of creation through the time leading up to Christ’s birth. The redemptive storyline of Jesus does not begin with his birth in Bethlehem, but is threaded throughout the entire framework of the Old Testament. Akin then tackles the very difficult task of explaining the nature of Christ, who was fully human and fully divine. Akin also talks about the relationship between Adam and Jesus, and he attacks misconceptions about Jesus’s fully human/fully divine nature. Akin states that Jesus did not surrender his deity when he came to earth; He added humanity. Akin then moves into the life of Jesus, and highlights important events in His life, including the virgin birth, baptism, temptations, miracles and healings, etc.

The final chapters contain information about the necessity of the cross, theories of atonement, the reality of the resurrection, and the movement of the church and God’s people after Jesus’s ascension. I thought Christology was a good (not great) book. What I like about the book is that Akin used Scripture to explain the full breadth of Jesus’s impact on the world. I am thankful that he starts in the Old Testament, showing that it is impossible to fully understand the Messiah without understanding the Old Testament. The redemptive work of Jesus does not begin with his birth, but begins with the creation of the world.

Jesus is interwoven into every part of the Old Testament. I also like that this book is concise and short, allowing the “normal” reader to have an opportunity to hang in there with a dense, academic style of writing. There is not a ton of “new information” in Christology (which is not a bad thing), nor were there many places where I thought his explanation shed some new light on the subject.

As a whole, this is a good book with tons of Scripture that can be read in a reasonable amount of time.

MY RATING: 6.5 OUT OF 10


muscleMuscle and A Shovel written by Michael Shank

I feel an obligation to include Muscle and A Shovel on my list for this year because I read the book. At the request of several people, I finally decided to pick it up and read through it. The book is written in narrative style, so I was able to move through it in a few hours. After reading the book, I spent time in prayer and thought, and I have decided that I will not write a full review as I would with other books. Sharing my thoughts on Muscle and A Shovel does not benefit me or anyone else. A full review would only serve to further the divisiveness this book has created. I simply want to make the statement that I CAN NOT IN GOOD CONSCIOUS RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO ANYONE. I ultimately can not make a decision for you, but please know if you choose to read it, it is not as a result of my recommendation. I respect and love the author as a brother in Christ, but I believe your time is best spent reading other material. You live in ‘merica, however, so you have the option to choose how your reading time is best spent.

NO RATING FOR THIS BOOK


WebTransitioning the Church written by Zach Williams

The title of this book really intrigued me because of the condition the American church finds itself today. I will have to admit, however, that this book did not live up to whatever expectations I created for it. Maybe I was expecting something really profound because of the title, but I also am somewhat of a perfectionist. Little things bother me, and this book had several typographical errors. The content is not bad. Transitioning the Church is very practical and focuses on how the local church can shift from focusing internally to focusing externally. Please do not read this book, however, with the expectation that it will give you a fool proof manual for taking your insider-focused, institutionalized church and shifting it to a externally-focused, missional church. The book is pretty short (about 70 pages), so it is possible to read it in a couple of hours.

Zach did have a lot to say about criticism and being expectant of it once you begin the transition. This section of the book was good for me. The criticisms he faced were a reminder to me that some people are not going to understand why change is good. Be prepared for criticism when your focus shifts to the unchurched. I think Jesus faced some criticism too. Other than the typographical errors, it is a pretty good book.

MY RATING: 5.0 OUT OF 10

 


flesh

Flesh written by Hugh Halter

I really can’t say enough about this book. Flesh is a reminder to all of us that Jesus came to earth in the flesh, and therefore he experienced all the things we experience as humans. Hugh Halter tells his readers to walk in the footsteps of an earthly Jesus. I will admit there are portions of this book that stretched me. For example, Hugh completely destroys my traditional view of evangelism and Christian living. He doesn’t believe in Bible studies (at least not exclusively), which focus more on convincing, but instead sees evangelism as a natural by product of your life. Those around should look at your life and be drawn to God.

He also continually pushes back against being religious. Hugh encourages people to make their home a place for transformation. Hugh encourages Christians to pick fights (don’t draw conclusions about this until you read the book) and stay put in one place for a long period of time. Fruitful ministry occurs over time just like a fruitful marriage occurs over time.

Too many times, ministers and church leaders hit the road when times get hard. If we are determined that the true joy and fruit in marriage occurs long after the wedding day, it makes sense that we should conclude the same for vocational ministry. I will warn you…if you are reading this and do not enjoy having your views of Christian living stretched, this might not be the book for you. However, if you want some fresh insight on what it looks like to live an incarnational life where you are, this is a great resource. Hugh also has a section in this book on bi-vocational ministry, which is an interesting read for sure. In the end, I believe Hugh does a great job of reminding us that Jesus was a man like us. Jesus valued walking alongside people in their brokenness and he valued community. It would benefit us to value the things Jesus valued.

MY RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10


satisfied-jeff-manion

Satisfied written by Jeff Manion

Jeff Manion’s most recent work, Satisfied, is very timely and appropriate for a culture increasingly consumed with “stuff.” This book is a call to live a life not consumed with the constant accumulation of more trinkets and gadgets. In a culture that is inundated with a large house, name brand vehicles, and the best (you fill in the blank), Jeff calls people to something different. Jeff challenges people, especially Christians, to find a life of satisfaction and contentment in Christ.

The content of this book is helpful to us as Americans because it pushes back against a mindset that our worth is determined by what we have. It pushes back against a mindset that says you must accumulate more to have more joy. Satisfied also discusses some of the dangerous and destructive by-products of a discontented life, such as greed, envy, entitlement, and constantly comparing yourself to others. Jeff profoundly (and correctly) states that the ultimate solution to discontentment is generosity and selflessness, and these require corrective action on our part. They do not come naturally. Jeff understands that with increasing wealth also comes increasing temptation to gravitate towards self and towards pride. “As net-worth climbs, a strong dose of self-awareness and humility are required if the heart is to move God-ward.” Satisfied pulls from Biblical principles of God’s generosity and a Savior who made His life one of servanthood.

When we begin to reflect the image of our God, we will become more content. And contrary to popular belief, contentment in where you are financially brings an increasing joy to your life. I recommend this book. I think every American Christian would benefit from the words Jeff presents.

MY RATING: 7.5 OUT OF 10


2020 and Something written by BARNA & David Kim

20 and Something is part of a larger project produced by BARNA called FRAMES . If you are not familiar with the work BARNA does, I encourage you to google them. BARNA has changed the game when it comes to the world of statistical analysis and trends within Christianity and beyond. 20 and Something is a short book (around 90 pages) that typifies the work of BARNA. This book is all about the millennials. It provides an abundance of statistics and uses those statistics to investigate trends within things such as marriages, jobs, and social media. This book is really important because it helps those outside of this generation to know what drives the millennials and the reason for their negativity towards institutions, such as government and church, among others. The contributing author, David Kim, also scatters his insight based on years of ministering to this generation. Churches and church leaders that understand the contents of this book are much more likely to reach out to the largest generation alive today. This generation prizes authenticity, community, and change in the world. “When they (millennials) do leave the church, it is often because they are finding more hope for real change outside of it.” These are challenging words for the church to heed. 20 and Something is also a great resource because of its presentation. The goal here is not to convince the reader. The goal is to inform the reader. BARNA simply lays out the numbers, and David Kim provides some insight based on the research presented. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all here. From the lack of depth in relationships due to social media to the insatiable desire to do something great in the world to the reasons why many millennials are leaving church, this book covers it all. I recommend it. One more great thing…if you block off an hour, you can read the book cover to cover.

MY RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10


one-thing

The One Thing written by Gary Keller

What is the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This is the ultimate question one can ask according to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, authors of The One Thing. This book is about purpose, priority, and productivity. It forces you to ask some hard questions and it challenges you to live a life that makes a difference. Keller and Papasan believe the reason people never reach their potential is because they fail to narrow their focus. They also believe people are capable of doing extraordinary, even miraculous, things but they never find their passion in life and even those who find their passion often times fail to push themselves beyond their limits. The One Thing lays out six lies that prevent people from success, and challenges convention thinking when it comes to multitasking, disciplined living, and willpower. Keller and Papasan believe the people that are the most successful are able to define their purpose in life and spend time everyday fulfilling that purpose. People that are the most successful have a written down plan for their life and how they intend on achieving their goals. This book is invaluable for individuals looking for purpose and individuals needing to focus their life. Most importantly, this book is invaluable for individuals that want to be GREAT. This book is for people that want to go big. If you are content with living a normal life, stay away from this book. However, if your desire is to do something beyond yourself and start on the road to success, this is a great resource. The plan is controversial, mostly because it continually pushes against normality, but the method is proven for those wanting to be highly successful. The final chapter of the book is worth the entire purchase price. In the final pages, The One Thing lays out a challenging request to make a difference in the world and not to get to the end of your life and have regrets. “When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense. The best lives aren’t led this way.”

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


experiencing god(#1 on my Top Five of 2014)

Experiencing God written by Henry & Richard Blackaby

Giving an overview of this book is difficult given the massive amount of insight and transformative information. Experiencing God is a paradigm-shifting book because it challenges the reader to expand his or her understanding of God and his presence in our lives. Henry and Richard Blackaby go into detail about the depth to which God interacts with this world and the depth to which we should interact with this world. It is a reminder God is alive and working in our world, and if we fail to see this then we need to readjust our vision.

The contents of this book are a call to renewal and total surrender to the will of God. The works God has accomplished through Henry Blackaby are nothing short of miraculous, so he is not challenging his readers to give themselves fully to God without understanding what it means personally. God calls us to join in the activity he is already doing in the world. Joining in God’s work, however, means we re-orient our priorities, time, motives, and actions around God. If nothing else, I would strong encourage anyone to read this book for the continual challenge Blackaby presents to a traditional God who only speaks through the Bible and prayer.

My understanding of God was stretched because of this book, and stretching our view of God is never a bad thing. This book will stay close to me at all times, and I will refer back to it constantly in the years to come.

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


gladwell_david and goliath

David and Goliath written by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath is my first encounter with Malcolm Gladwell’s writings. It did not take long for me to understand why so many people rave about his books. He is extremely gifted, and he writes with a certain flare and persuasiveness that is unique. David and Goliath is Gladwell’s attempt to show that having a disadvantage, either physically or mentally, can actually serve to be a huge advantage.

The stories presented throughout the book made me think and expanded my perspective on perceived handicaps. I have never looked at life through the lense Gladwell presents, and I believe there is a significant benefit in reading the material laid out here. I will say that this book is more about changing perspective on what we view as disadvantages more than it is about “battling giants.” Gladwell combines statistics with real life examples to present a compelling argument for why the “underdog” often comes out on top. Many times, situations are not as they appear on the surface, and this is an important reality for every person to grasp.

This book has done more to expand my perspective and make me think than any book I have read in some time. In addition, if you are a follower of Jesus, it is important to note that through the journey of writing David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell rediscovered his faith in Christ.

There is one particular encounter highlighted in the book that served as the catalyst for this rediscovery. I will let you figure out which one :).

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


early to rise

Early To Rise written by Andy Traub

I will admit, I was drawn to this book because I want to turn over a new leaf in 2014. I have always heard the adage leaders rise early. The problem is I am not a morning person. In this book, Traub will give you tools to rise early and a solid philosophy behind getting up.

The content portion of the book is very short, but the e-book also includes the 30 day challenge. In addition, you get some “freebies,” which includes an audio portion to the 30 day challenge and some items delivered to your e-mail everyday. Traub believes there is a direct correlation between waking up early and being successful. He also says in the book the reason people do not get up early is because they “don’t like their lives that much. If you’re excited about your life you’ll stop sleeping through it.” Ouch! I tend to agree with him. I am making a commitment to work towards getting up at 5:00 a.m., and allowing my time in the morning to be the catalyst for the remainder of my day. I recommend this book to you because it is a challenge. I believe challenges are good for us, and especially challenges that can drastically change our lives. This is one of those books that you might not get anything from, but this is also a book that might forever change the course of your life.

MY RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10


the noticer

(#3 on my Top Five of 2014)

The Noticer written by Andy Andrews  

Simply put, the Noticer is a game changer. It will probably begin and end the year on my Top 5 of 2014 list. Andrews is an exquisite writer, and in The Noticer he highlights a man, Jones (not Mr. Jones, just Jones), whose gift is to provide individuals with a different perspective. Essentially, Jones intervenes in the lives of different individuals at their lowest moment and speaks life into them. He alters their perspective on the current state they are in. In the process, Jones provides the reader with a wealth of valuable insight as well.

Andrews continues to use the character Jones to re-enforce an incredibly important truth…we are not able to determine many of the situations that come our way, but we are able to determine how we will react to them. Many people look at unfortunate situations as negative, thus digging themselves into a deeper hole. It is those, however, that can change their perspective towards negative situations that will place themselves in a position to do something great.

This book will force you to re-think your mentality towards difficult situations and move beyond surface level thinking. I highly recommend this book. It is an easy read, but make sure your highlighter is handy before you begin.   

MY RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10


the-noticer-returns

The Noticer Returns written by Andy Andrews

Andy Andrews brings back Jones (again not Mr. Jones, just Jones) with his unbelievable insight and perspective. Along the way families are united and financial opportunities created, leaving us with powerfully simple solutions to the everyday problems we all face.  At the conclusion of The Noticer Jones informs those he has influenced that he will be leaving for a while.

Well, he shows back up in The Noticer Returns and has not missed a beat. He continues to pop up in the lives of people who are at their lowest point and speak life. I will admit, I enjoyed Jones more in The Noticer, but he also gives the reader several great “nuggets of wisdom” in this book. Wrapping story with solid principles, I find myself re-evaluating my life and looking at my thoughts and perspective in a way I never have before. Andy Andrews’ ability to captivate the reader cannot be understated. He is one of the best writers of this generation. Hands down. He writes in a way that is powerful and persuasive, yet he uses characters that are relatable and real. I believe you will agree with me when you read his material.

I highly, highly recommend both The Noticer Returns and The Noticer. Start with the first book and immediately read the second one. I recommend approach these two as though they are one book. You will be able to capture the full weight of the man, Jones.

MY RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10


searching for god knows whatSearching For God Knows What written by Donald Miller

Donald Miller is an extremely gifted writer. I would recommend anything he writes. Ever wondered what faith in Jesus is all about? Ever doubted the whole checklist approach to Christianity? Ever thought there has to be so much more to the Christian faith than what I see? Well, Donald Miller thinks so too. In this book, Miller takes the reader on a journey of faith.

In the process, he challenges traditional thinking (even amongst Christians), and he does a masterful job of laying out his ideals of the Christian faith. Miller gave me a reason to believe in God, and made my faith in Christ real and fresh. Coming from a background where Christianity was about what you did and a bunch of religious rules, Miller’s approach to the Christian faith re-invigorated my belief in God. I took so much from this book, and if you are a seeker, I would put this book at the top of the list. The expanded version also includes “The Genesis Theory,” which is a complex and fascinating take on the fall of humanity and the reason people cannot be satisfied today.

This is a book that I will refer back to in the future for a fresh perspective on Christianity. This book is more theological than some of his others, but no less captivating or interesting. In my opinion, Searching For God Knows What ranks as Miller’s best work to date.

MY RATING: 9.0 OUT OF 10