Sabbath Reading: The Songs of Jesus

songs of jesusI realized in my recent post on Kidner’s Psalms books that I had forgotten to review Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. That’s unfortunate, because I loved the book and would highly recommend it.

Keller writes in a very accessible and yet deep way, and the short expositions in this book are uniformly thought-provoking while still being easy to read in a short sitting. Designed as a daily devotional, the book covers a passage from the Psalms each day, with many Psalms taking more than one day to fill the year.

I got so much from this volume, and felt like it really jump started my practice of reading/praying through the Psalms each year. The book makes a particularly great companion to Keller’s book on prayer, in which he goes into more detail about how and why to pray with the Psalms. In fact, I think you’d get more out of either book by reading them together.

If you’re looking for a great daily devotional, I’d recommend The Songs of Jesus. It has a great balance of depth and readability that make it a solid choice for all sorts of readers.

What are you reading this Sunday?


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Sabbath Reading: Psalms

Kidner 2If you’re looking for a fruitful book to study, you can’t go wrong with the Psalms. Pretty much anything you’re going through is probably a topic, and there is so much depth and richness and insight for who God is and what He’s like, how to worship, and how to live. This is probably my favorite book of the Bible, and I study it on repeat every year.

In 2017 and the first part of January 2018, I used Derek Kidner’s commentaries on the Psalms (Volume 1 and Volume 2to aid my study. I got a lot from the two-volume set. Although at times the style is a bit more academic than some people like (I don’t mind, and didn’t find it dry), Kidner’s insights are so piercing and insightful that I would recommend them to anyone.

The books are best read in small portions, which made them ideal for daily reading and study. I initially planned to do one Psalm per day, and then launch into another book on the Psalms, but so many of the Psalms wound up taking me more than one day to work through that I wound up going over the year a bit. You could easily space this out even more with Kidner–the entries for each Psalm are meaty. Or you could study one Psalm per Sunday if you have other devotional reading going throughout the week.

If you’re new to studying the Psalms, I’d recommend you read Songs of Jesus first, as it’s a lighter (albeit still excellent) overview, but then you could transition easily to Kidner’s books.

I’d highly recommend Kidner’s two-volume commentary on the Psalms, and plan to check out some of this other books.

Do you have a favorite book about the Psalms?


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Sabbath Reading: Living in the Light

living in the lightJohn Piper’s Living in the Light is a short but punchy treatise on how to keep God at the center of your life so that you can enjoy money, sex, and power as blessings rather than being enslaved to or worshipping them.

“The bottom of sin, the root of all sins, is a heart that prefers anything above God, a heart that does not treasure God over everything else, and everyone else.”

It’s a good distinction. As Christians, we’re not called to eschew any of these three things, just to keep them in their proper places. You see people (and by people I mean all of us, probably) fall off the horse on both sides with these issues–it’s just as easy to deny Christ centrality in your life in a more internal, subtle, religiously/socially acceptable way as it is to sin visibly in these areas. Piper wisely points out that whenever we’re looking to money, sex, or power for security or value or fulfillment or meaning or identity…and the list goes on…that is a problem. The book is geared toward Christians, and Piper spends time unpacking these areas for that audience.

“We fight as forgiven people trying, in the power of God’s spirit, to become what we are.”

I enjoyed Living in the Light’s hopeful tone and insight, and think it would be a quick, helpful book for a Sabbath read.

What are you reading this Sunday?


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Rest Assured

Rest-Assured-CoverIf you’re coming from a place of extreme busyness and you feel that your online life is out of control, you might find good food for thought in Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. But if you’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have made good progress in living your priorities, this may not be as rich of a resource.

The author clearly calls out social media use and online time wastage in general, which may be startling for 20-30 somethings. While I thought some of her points came across as biased toward life before ubiquitous internet-enabled devices, she did make a strong case for the fact that thoughtful technology use is now counter-cultural.

Of course, just because something is counter-cultural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While I personally have cut back substantially on social media and non-work internet use this year, I see that as something I’ve done for my own season of life and out of a need to honestly live my priorities, not a moral imperative others need to follow.

It is interesting to think about how we could develop a coherent theology of technology use, but I think this might be one of those areas where lack of deep thought leads people to take their own methods and try to apply them as universal standards. I think with technology especially there is a lot of grey space where we have to know ourselves and our attitudes and callings and honestly evaluate it for ourselves.  That takes a lot of work, and a checklist would be easier!  I do think this book offers some good points to think about, as long as you can approach them with an eye toward filtering the author’s conclusions through the lens of your own tendencies and personality and situation.

There were a few drawbacks to the book. I had a problem with the tone in several places.  In what seemed like an attempt to be funny the author often put others down in a way that was not actually humorous–it was needlessly mean and catty.  In other places, the author wrote in a way that made suggestions seem like imperatives and it took away from her points.

There is a lot of good material in Rest Assured, so depending on your interest level you might find it worth a read, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book in this topic area.


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Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity

restIf you are caught in an endless cycle of activity and really have no idea where to start on the concept of Sabbath or rest, Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity might be a good gentle introduction when more substantive and deep books might overwhelm you.  While not my favorite on the topic, the book contains some good points and reminders.

Kent recommends easing into the countercultural idea of taking rest, and she writes about a variety of ways you can do that.  The book avoids prescriptions so you won’t feel judged or bludgeoned into anything.  That said, in so doing it also avoids being particularly challenging or in-depth.  It’s a short book, and yet I kept feeling like I was re-reading a loop of the same points–I might have suggested tightening up the structure to avoid that problem.

Although I disagreed with Kent on a few points, I do think this is a worthwhile book, especially if you really are just beginning to think about the concepts.  After that, I’d recommend moving on to meatier books, with Dan Allender’s take being my favorite so far.

Does your family rest on Sunday or another day of the week?  Have you built any other rhythms of rest into your life?


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“Majah, minah, and mediocah” takes on Sabbath

In her book Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle remembers a talk by Mary Ellen Chase, who said that all of literature could be divided into “majah, minah, and mediocah.”  Sometimes books are so terrible you stop reading, but often they are “mediocah” and you keep reading for the small handful of sort of useful takeaways.

sabbathI ran across this phenomenon recently in Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.  I wanted to love it.  I love the concept of sabbath, and who doesn’t want more “rest, renewal, and delight” in her busy life?  I read the book in bits and pieces, finding a few things here and there.  I disagreed with Muller on lots of theological points, thought several of his metaphors were dreadful, and found the vast majority of his suggestions to be silly, the sorts of things that earnest people who are taking themselves too seriously tend to do when they want to be deep.

I think Muller meant well, and there were a few good insights in the book, but overall it’s not one that I would recommend since there are so many other great books on the topic.

If you’re interested in Sabbath, here are a few different books I’d recommend instead of this one (links are to my original reviews):

If you’re interested in the idea of Sabbath, I’d love to hear other book recommendations on the topic!


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2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.


  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)


  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.


  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!


  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

Sabbath as Resistance

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now is an interesting take on Sabbath as a halt to acquisitiveness and anxious productivity.  The author uses the Exodus account of Israelites being freed from Pharaoh’s coercion and brought into a new model of living that sanctified a day of rest.  The parallels with modern life were thought-provoking–our tendency to get caught up in churning over the “bricks” we need to make or made incorrectly or failed to make reveals our lack of trust in God as our provider.

The book is not really comprehensive in its treatment of the topic of Sabbath, but I do think it has a lot of good points to consider.  It’s more concerned with the attitudes of our hearts than with questions like what exactly we should or shouldn’t do on a given day.

I didn’t agree with everything the author concluded, but found the book good to think over.  I’m figuring out how to balance a heavier work load this fall–which is good and I am grateful–and it’s very, very tempting to consider Sunday one more work day.  And even when I do forgo the work, it’s also tough to refrain from being distracted by my list of “bricks” for next week when I’m supposed to be focusing on a sermon.  So this book was a timely read for me, and if you’re interested in the topic I’d recommend it if you’re reading other books as well.


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More Takes on Sabbath

As I continue to think about Sabbath–what it means to keep it and how to keep it–I ran across A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table.  The book is tied into Sabbath by an exposition of how hospitality, like the Sabbath, points to salvation and rest.  Author Tim Chester does a great job of writing a very scriptural exposition of how Jesus came “eating and drinking” and the implications it has for us as Christ followers attempting to become more like him.

I’ve been thinking of the concept of dinners (not dinner parties in the Martha Stewart sense, but sharing a meal with people from our church and community) as part of Sabbath, and have been considering how we might do that on Saturday nights as a start to our Sabbath.  This book really challenged me in the way I think of meals as mission.

Key strengths in the book are the author’s challenging discussion of modern pharisees in terms of the way we look at and treat hurting and marginalized people (versus how we would treat them if we truly grasped the grace given to us) and his honest and helpful insights on how correctly understanding our salvation should change the way we do hospitality and Sabbath, and what that might look like in our communities.

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table was an excellent and challenging book and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in topics like community, mission, hospitality, and Sabbath.
 Written by a doctor who now does full-time ministry, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life has a different perspective than other  books I have read on the concept of the Sabbath, and it was an interesting read, although perhaps less deep and compelling than the Dan Allender book I reviewed a while back.

In 24/6 you’ll get more anecdotal glimpses of the value of taking a day of rest, and some broad guidance into what that might look like.  As a doctor, the author is aware of the physical havoc being on the go nonstop can wreak, and he points out that this is another instance of God’s perfect plan for us being a blessing rather than a restriction:

“Honoring the Sabbath every week makes us more committed and serious about our relationship with the Lord.  This is even more crucial today, when things travel as fast as the speed of light.  God designed us to spend one day a week at the speed of stop.”

There were some good insights in the book, and if you’re interested in the topic of Sabbath keeping I’d recommend 24/6.  However, if you only have time for one book on the subject, I do think that Allender’s book on the Sabbath (link is to my review) covers the idea in more depth and will give you more to think about and work through.

What do you do to keep the Sabbath?  Are there any resources on the topic that you’ve found particularly helpful?

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Dan Allender’s thought-provoking book Sabbath will not:

  • Give you a list of things you can and can’t do on Sundays,
  • Give you a tool to pat yourself on the back because you’re such a good Christian for not shopping or eating out on Sundays,
  • Give you an easy out for keeping the fourth commandment.

What it will give you is a very nuanced, deeply thoughtful invitation to really meditate on and consider what the concept of Sabbath means at its heart and what God’s vision for it is, rather than seeing it as an unpleasantly fenced restriction or something you can brush off as an Old Testament thing.

Allender avoids easy prescriptions.  This deeply bothers some reviewers, I noticed.  I think sometimes we want an easy answer.  Just tell me that it’s OK that I go to church on Sunday and then kind of relax and get ready for my week, all right?  But Allender is not interested in that sort of thing.  Instead, he asks hard questions like are you being deeply refreshed and connected and invited to delight in God through the scripture and sacraments in your church attendance on Sunday?  And if not, why not, and what are you doing about it?  What would it mean to set aside a day each week as a dress rehearsal for the feast and celebration and perfect community we’ll experience in Heaven?  What would it look like to let go of worry and despair for one day and open yourself up to the risks of joy and really soul-soaring exploration of God’s gifts and callings for us, versus our day-to-day work that pays the bills and gets the laundry done?

These are the deeper questions of Sabbath, the ones that require us to feel uncomfortable and really devote some thought.  It would be much easier to read the passages of Scripture that pertain to Sabbath keeping and then construct a checklist.  That way is faster, cleaner, and doesn’t require us to get too close to God.  But I really appreciate that Allender took the opportunity to delve into the deeper questions.  Although I disagreed with some of his applications (not that he sets them out as prescriptive for everyone, and I think Sabbath might look different for different people, although it would have the same heart and motivation), I got so much out of the opportunity to look at concepts from a different angle than I had previously.

As I read, and then again as I took notes and digested the book further, I have to say that I got uncomfortable.  Allender’s descriptions of worry and despair hit a little close to home.  His description of joy and Sabbath hit worrisomely far from home.  I haven’t read a book this challenging in a long time and I’m still praying about and working through a lot of it.

Because it’s a thought-provoking rather than prescriptive book, what you get out of Sabbath will be linked to what you put into it.  It demands that you think as you read and that you draw your own conclusions.  But for that reason, I think it’s also an important and worthwhile book, and I would highly recommend it.

If you’ve read the book, or if you do in the future, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  This book BEGS for discussion and I would love to hear your thoughts!


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