Books I’ve Read: January-June

At the beginning of the year, I resolved to read one book each week, picking up a habit I had formed several years ago but had neglected in the past year or so. I became aware that I was reading a lot of blogs and news articles online, but I was not reading many books. I could tell that my attention span was shrinking and that the way I processed information was changing, and I wanted to reclaim the ability to read for long periods of time and think deeply about subjects.

I intended to write each month about the books I read, but I ended up devoting more time to reading than writing. I would like to write longer reviews of some of these books, but for now, here are some short summaries and recommendations.

I’m going to just list the books in the order that I read them and not worry about classifying them at all.

January – 9 books (Note: I was on winter holiday for part of this month.)

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

The-ShallowsThis book explained why I felt like my brain was changing and how my reading was affected by the internet. I evaluated my online habits, cut back on the amount of time I was online, and increased the number of books I read. It’s not necessarily wrong to read blogs and articles online, but I value the long-term, in-depth reading and thinking skills more than the skimming skills that internet reading develops. I highly recommend this book; it was fascinating, enriching, and motivating.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian


I especially benefited from the first few chapters of this book, in which Tchividjian contrasts legalism and grace and exalts Christ as sufficient for all our needs; however, I thought the exposition of Colossians was a bit confusing in how he organized and explained the text. I also kept getting tripped up by some of the delineations he made between justification and sanctification, and I often didn’t quite agree with him. I’d have to re-read the book and take some more time to think through the doctrines to more clearly explain what I mean, but apparently I’m not the only one who had some concerns about this book.

1776 by David McCullough


McCullough expertly weaves details from primary sources into a gripping narrative of the people and events of this incredibly important year in America’s history.

The Dubliners by James Joyce


I taught Joyce’s story “Araby” in British Literature and remembered reading one of these stories (turned out to be “The Dead”) in a college-level class, so I was interested to read the entire collection. The stories can stand alone, as they were used in those survey classes, but they make much more sense in the context of the other stories. I understood the themes and appreciated the imagery more after reading them with the other stories. Joyce is a master at capturing a mood through vivid details and dialogue. That mood, however, is often melancholy, and the themes explore frustration and disillusionment with life, so don’t read this book if you’re already feeling a bit sad.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

the help

I watched the movie based on the book on the international flight home and promptly read the book as soon as I arrived. I loved the characters and dialogue in both the movie and the book, but of course, the characters are developed more in the book and I loved them even more for it. This book is about a particularly disturbing and evil time in America’s history, and the social and relational issues were not resolved neatly by the end of the book. One of my friends expressed disappointment that none of the story lines had happy endings, but I think the author intended this to be a book about life as it really is and not life as we wish it to be. I thought this was a tremendously moving book (I laughed and cried my way through it), and I highly recommend it (I’ll probably re-read it soon).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is an amazing novel–beautifully crafted, challenging themes, engaging characters, dialogues, and descriptions. The target audience is young adult readers, but I absolutely loved this book.

The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung


At the end of last semester, Dave preached a series of sermons about God’s holiness. This was an excellent follow-up book and it reinforced those truths in my heart and mind. This was a readable, fairly short book with great exposition of Scripture and specific, relevant applications.

Lit! by Tony Reinke

Lit by Tony Reinke

This was a great follow-up book, for me, to The Shallows. It further confirmed that I needed to focus on reading and cut back on forms of online reading and entertainment. I appreciated Reinke’s theology of reading, his style of writing, and all his recommendations and advice about reading. Honestly, though, if I weren’t already a reader, I don’t think I would have liked this book and I can’t imagine giving a book about reading to someone who doesn’t like to read (despite the glowing testimonials to the contrary on the back cover). All the people who read and recommend this book love to read already.

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell


I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and this compilation of articles from The New Yorker was no disappointment. I could go on and on about all of the things I learned in this book (I wrote 2-3 pages in my reading journal about it) and it has provided much food for thought and conversation this year. Highly recommend it.

February – 5 books

Forgotten God by Francis Chan

forgotten_godI knew that we were going to be studying the doctrine of the Holy Spirit this semester, so during the holiday I read this book. While Chan addresses the major texts on the Holy Spirit and deals sufficiently with the theological study, the strength of this book is its warm pastoral tone and devotional encouragement to recognize the way the Spirit works in our lives and to pursue a relationship with Him.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

Butterfield-The-secret-thoughts-of-an-unlikely-convertThis is a fantastic book that everyone should read! Rosaria Butterfield was a liberal, lesbian, tenured English professor in women’s studies, who through gracious interactions with a pastor and reading the Bible multiple times for a research project became a believer in Jesus Christ.

The first sentences of Marvin Olasky’s interview with Rosaria Butterfield are a good introduction to the author and provide a short summary of her book: “Rosaria Butterfield was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, until God used her desire to write a book on the religious right, and the friendship of a biblically orthodox pastor, to draw her to Christ. She became a voracious Bible reader, gradually saw that her new beliefs required her to upend her former life, and has now described what happened in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

Is There Anybody Out There by Mez McConnell

Is there anybody out thereMez McConnell, author of Is There Anybody Out There?, was a homeless drug addict and convict who was redeemed from his sins and now serves as a pastor of an inner-city church in Edinburgh. You can watch a short video of his testimony here.

What is the Mission of the Church?  by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

mission-of-churchThis is a great book–clear logic, tons of Scripture references to support their points, and  straightforward explanations of the gospel, missions, and the debates in the Church about how to carry out that mission. While I haven’t been caught up in those trendy discussions about “missional living,” I have read a bit on the blogs about these things and, as a missionary, I am interested in how people support missionaries and carry out evangelism in their own churches. This book served to reinforce what I already believed about missions and further clarified and confirmed in my mind what the Bible says about missions. I really enjoyed the authors’ style and could easily follow the flow of the book; I actually read and listened to it twice this month.

How People Change by Timothy Lane and PAUL DAVID TRIPP


This is a fantastic book about the Biblical process of sanctification, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have never worked through a book so slowly, so thoughtfully, or so deeply. I literally have 30 typed pages of notes and reflections on this book. And I still felt like I should re-read it as soon as I finished it.

I can’t begin to summarize the teaching in this book, because I just wanted to write short snip-its in this post, and I could go on for pages about it. But go out and buy this book and read it slowly and thoughtfully! God will change your life as you read this book and study His Word.

March – 3.5 books

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer: The Abduction by John Grisham

Theodore Boone The AbductionAfter all the deep reading I did in February, I was ready for a light novel. This was the second book in the Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series that I have read. I love almost everything by John Grisham, but I have especially enjoyed the Theodore Boone stories. Theo is a realistic character with emotions, limitations, and personality. He’s obedient, intelligent, and thoughtful–the kind of kid you would want your preteen to be like. The story lines are also realistic; Theo is called “the kid lawyer,” but he’s only able to defend friends in animal court and help friends with investigations that his parents, actual lawyers, have to defend in court.

Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service by Dan Emmett

Secret Service

A friend recommended this book because he enjoyed it, but honestly, I liked his enthusiastic summary of the book more than I liked the actual book. I thought Emmett’s writing style was dull and wordy, and he repeatedly built up the tension in a story only to say that danger was averted, which is a good thing when your job is to guard the president, but a bad thing when you’re telling a story. I did enjoy his behind-the-scenes accounts of working in the White House and his comparisons of the presidents he protected.

Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology by Andrew Naselli

let-go-and-let-god-a-survey-and-analysis-of-keswick-theologyThis was an extremely helpful book for me, but it’s a dissertation, so it’s not the kind of book everyone will want to pick up. I grew up with a church background similar to Andy Naselli’s and could identify with the salvation, assurance of salvation, dedication to Christian service kind of sermons and decisions that were emphasized in church, chapel, and camp services when I was growing up. I have also been influenced by Keswick authors and missionaries, such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and Andrew Murray. This book greatly aided in my understanding of sanctification and holiness, and it righted some wrong ideas I had about how God works in believers.

If you don’t feel up to reading the book (though it is remarkably well-written and easy to follow for a dissertation), I recommend that you read this journal article that summarizes the history and theology of the early Keswick movement.

(Read from, but did not finish) The Cross of Christ by John Stott

the-cross-of-christI read this book during Lent (though I don’t officially observe Lent, I find it beneficial to focus my reading on the gospel and Christ during the weeks leading up to Easter). I didn’t finish it because I was also studying the gospel of Luke, and I read the book slowly and carefully, using the study guide and taking notes. It was a thought-provoking book, and I look forward to finishing it next year during Lent.

April – 2 books (April was a rough month for me)

Desiring God by John Piper


I don’t know why I didn’t read this book earlier. I loved it and it was extremely beneficial for me to read and think through each issue. Piper’s basic premise is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” and he demonstrates from Scripture how that philosophy-theology touches each area of our lives. This is a comprehensive, philosophical, theological book that bears re-reading, thoughtful reflection, and careful application. I plan to read it again soon.

The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz

Hammer of GodOur group read the second of the three stories during our Wednesday night meetings. Each story in this book focuses on the pastor of a Lutheran church in Sweden. The stories are loosely connected, and each tells of the pastor’s coming to saving faith in Christ and of the implications that has on his ministry. Yes, you read that correctly. . . the pastor in each of these stories came to believe in Christ, after completing seminary and preaching in a church for several years. We had some great discussions as we compared the pastor’s situation to our own and talked about some common issues we have faced growing up in a Christian family, going to church, attending Bible college, and living with other believers. It can be very easy to just conform to expectations, and not make your parents’ or teachers’ faith your own.

May – 4 books

Shades of GrEy by Jasper Fforde

Shades of GrayThis book is in no way related to another book that has an unfortunately similar title. One of my friends said, “I thought it was rather bold of you to read that book out in public, but then I realized the title wasn’t the same.” First, I would never read That Other Book, and second, I hoped that people would know by my character that I wouldn’t read That Other Book. Alas . . .

I have read several of Jasper Fforde’s novels (all of the others are in the Thursday Next series, which I love!), and I love his style and humor and characters. This book is quite different from the Thursday Next series; it’s a distopia in which people can only see colors from one segment of the color spectrum and are known by that color family (the Reds, Yellows, Greys, etc). The families try to maneuver up to the coveted Violet end of the spectrum through arranged marriages and other political shenanigans. I was intrigued by the story, the distopian world, and the characters; however, in the last couple of chapters the story took a disappointing turn, and I’m not sure I’ll continue reading the series.

Don’t Waste Your Sports by CJ Mahaney

Don't Waste Your SportsI recently started to train for another half-marathon, so I decided to read this short book about a Christian philosophy of sports. It was a helpful, little book, but it only took a few minutes to read . . . literally, a few minutes. The audiobook is only 45 minutes, which is shorter than most sermons I listen to. I imagine the target audience is the stereotypical jock who doesn’t like to read, but I would have appreciated a little more depth (see Ryan Hall’s Running with Joy for a more in-depth Christian philosophy of sports); however it was a good reminder to do all to the glory of God, including running half-marathons.

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred by Carolyn McCulley (re-re-read)

Did I Kiss Marriage GoodbyeI’ve read this book several times–this time with the ladies for our Wednesday night Bible study. I enjoyed our discussions and this book has many practical, everyday applications.

This is the best book on singleness I’ve ever read. This is the best book on the Proverbs 31 woman I’ve ever read. If you are a woman, married or single, you need to read this book.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer


I especially liked the first few chapters of this book, in which Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap and costly grace. The next few chapters on the 10 commandments were also helpful.

June – 5 books

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper

fifty-reasons-why-jesus-came-to-dieThis is a great overview of Christ’s atoning work for mankind, and Piper examines this marvelous work of grace from many (well, 50) perspectives. Like a jeweler slowly rotating a diamond to look at every sparkle and facet of the precious gem, Piper dazzles us with Christ’s love, mercy, and grace.

Eyes Wide Open by Steve DeWitt


This is a fantastic book about beauty and how a Christian can enjoy God’s beauty through Scripture, Jesus Christ, creation, art (of every genre and form), and relationships. I loved the thought-provoking study questions and the lovely reflections on true beauty.

Fine China is for Single Women Too by Lydia Brownback

fine-china-is-for-single-women-too-lydia-brownbackHaving just read Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? this book was a bit redundant; however, it met a need in my life. I read this book in one sitting one morning during my devotional time. I needed this timely reminder to be content in Christ.

Writing Reminders by Jim Burke

writing-reminders-jim-burkeI’m revising our writing curriculum and turned to master teacher Jim Burke for some guidance. I’ve benefited often from his English Teacher’s Companion and this book was equally as helpful to me. If you teach English, you need to read Burke’s books!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently watched the new movie of the Hobbit (loved it!) and was inspired to re-read the book (loved it more!).

Total # of books read in 2013 thus far = 28

So, there you have it–all the books I’ve read so far this year! Overall, it’s been a good year of reading, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 books or so that I read this year.

A Month of Weird Weeks

After spending the month of September getting into a good routine, I spent the month of October adjusting to all the changes to my schedule. It seemed like I got to the end of every week and declared, “That was a weird week.”

The first week of October was the October Holiday (a.k.a. Mid-Autumn Festival), so we did not have school. I made five trips to downtown Shanghai and visited the water town Zhoujialou; three of these trips were with other teachers, and three were with groups of students. I spent only one day at home resting, so by the end of the holiday, I was quite tired.

The second week of October was filled with appointments with students. Before the October Holiday, we started an English speaking project with the second-year students that requires them to speak to an English teacher for twelve 30-minute segments. I spent many hours this week with students going to meals, walking around the track, answering questions about homework, and traveling to Zhoupu for dinner and shopping.

By the third week of October, I was worn out and got a bad cold and then a stomach bug, so I spent much of the week trying to get better. We also started choir practice for the Christmas play this week, so that is now part of my Monday schedule.

During the fourth week of October, I had to catch up on the grading that accumulated while I was sick. I stayed up late several nights in a row grading essays and then a test. However, the students had several tests this week, so most of my appointments ended up being canceled, and I had more time to grade.

Despite the craziness in my schedule this month, I am very thankful for the many opportunities I had to spend time with my students. Each appointment or “interruption” to my routine represented a chance to love my students and share Christ. And that is worth the sacrifice of a few hours of sleep and the occasional cold.

First Things: My New School

On my first Sunday afternoon here in China, I wandered around campus just before sunset and took some pictures. So, here’s a virtual tour of where I live and teach.

First, yet another view from my balcony. I’m sorry if you’re getting bored with this shot; I love how the view looks at various times of day and in different lighting.

The path that runs around our building. I had thought that I could run on this path, but the stones are slick, especially on misty mornings.

Dear Bob Jones University students (current and former), please notice that this school has barbed wire fences all the way around the campus. BJU is not the only school to do that, and BJU took down the barbed wire several years ago (from what I’ve been told .  .  . I haven’t done a walk-around inspection of the fences personally).

The canal looks prettier from a distance and at sunset. When you get too close, you can see bags of trash and other debris floating in it, and you start to wonder about the brown color of the water. . .

From this direction, the student dormitories are to the right. The students in our program live on the top floor, the 16th, of the tallest building. There’s no air conditioning or heat in the dorms, and you will usually see clothes drying on the balconies, because the students wash their clothes in the sink and hang them outside to dry.

The back of our building. Our offices are on the first floor. Our living quarters are on the third floor and our kitchen/dining room/living area/laundry room is on the extension that juts out of the main part of the building.

If you walk on the road beside the student dormitories, you will see the courtyard and our classroom buildings on the left. The American program nursing classes are taught in the building to the left, and the British and American English classes–as well as a variety of Chinese classes–are taught in the building to the right.

As you continue down the road, you’ll come to the track on the right and a classroom building is on the left.

The classroom building pictured above is gigantic and curves around a large courtyard.

From the arch in the center of the building, you can look back and see our building and then look toward the front of the campus and see the administration building.

As you walk back toward our building (Building 8), you’ll again see our classroom buildings on the left and the Chinese nursing program building on the right (which I apparently didn’t take a picture of on this tour around campus). I teach on the 4th floor of Building 6 (on the left).

If you walk into the atrium between the two classroom buildings, you’ll see a tribute to the international nursing program.

Here’s a picture of the hallway on the 4th floor where I teach.

The inside of one of the classrooms in Building 6.

The massive Chinese classroom building from center campus:

The front of our building from center campus:

The entrance to our building is on the right. There’s a good-sized lobby where we can meet with students and they can check in at the front desk. The hallway to our offices is to the left.

On the third floor, you can see our large meeting room/exercise room. The ceilings are vaulted and extend to the fourth floor; the acoustics are great, so our little group sounds great when singing in there. This picture makes the room and building look so warm and inviting.

The Last Great Grading Adventure: Days 2-4

Day 2

7:15 am – Move the grading operation back to school

12:30 pm – Someone must be praying for me, because I got more graded today than I thought was humanly possible after the late night!

5:37 pm – I arrive at home with a Macy’s gift bag. Are there presents inside? No, only more papers and projects to grade! (Some of these, though, are really cool poetry projects that are fun to look at and are easy to grade.)

8:43 pm – My friend Jo arrives to keep me company as we grade. I make popcorn while she reads a delightful story written by one of my students.

9:30 pm – We watch some of West Side Story and periodically stop to chat

11:30 pm – Jo blesses me by offering to read some papers for me

12:30 am – Finally done grading for tonight!

Days 3-4

I’ve been reading the seniors’ final journal entries and grading late work. The end is in sight! On Monday and Tuesday I’ll give scantron exams, so those will be easy to grade and enter. I should be done grading by next Tuesday afternoon.

The Last Great Grading Adventure

Day 1

8:00 pm – Get home from school with a huge stack of papers to grade and temporarily panic and dread the impending lack of sleep

8:30 pm – Avoid becoming a sniveling mess by listening to a message about contentment (\”Contentious or Content\” – Carolyn McCulley at the Grace and Truth Conference), by sorting out the mess, and by writing in my “Thankfulness Journal” about how thankful I am for my students who are represented by the stacks of papers

9:30 pm – Finish the first stack of test while listening to the song “You Never Change.” This verse ministers to me:

“Father of Peace

Help of the Weak

Though mountains fall into the sea

Though tempests may rage

The sun hide its face

Your favor will rest upon me”

And from the refrain:

“I will trust in You

All your faithfulness

For I know You never change”

11:23 pm – Finish the second set of tests. This is going to be a long night . . .

1:30 am – Decide to go to bed, even though I have not finished the third set of tests

Blog and life updates

I have been incredibly busy and have neglected this blog terribly. I have started several posts, and have especially worked on my current series, but I have not been able to finish them yet. I’m going to spend the next 30 minutes or so trying to update these posts, but then I probably won’t be able to write again for several more days.

These last few weeks have been busy with yearbook meetings, faculty recital, half-marathon training, and school work. I thought I wasn’t going to make it through this week, but the Lord was gracious and kept supplying His strength in my weakness. Again, this weekend is full (with the half-marathon and then a yearbook work meeting tomorrow, church on Sunday, and the yearbook deadline on Monday), and then I’ll have a ton of grading to do before the quarter ends on Friday.

I’ve been overwhelmed at many times, but I’ve also been clinging to God’s Word and trusting in Christ to deliver me and in the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and direction about daily activities.

Isaiah 12

2 “Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid;

for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation. ”

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4 And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the LORD,

call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples,

proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be made known in all the earth.

6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. “


Favorite Poems: “When I Consider”

This poem is one of my all-time favorites–a favorite in the favorite series! Sometimes when I’m teaching this poem, I have to fight back tears as I reach the end of the poem.

I can understand Milton’s frustration in feeling like his talents aren’t being used (to some extent–I’m nowhere near as talented as he was and certainly haven’t had the same difficulties as he). But the truth is God doesn’t “exact day-labor, light denied.” He doesn’t ask us to do something and then deny the resources; He’s not a hard Task-Master like the Egyptian Pharaohs who oppressed the Israelites.

Milton’s motivations are correct: “To serve therewith my Maker.” But while some angels are busy flying throughout the universe doing God’s work, others are standing around God’s throne worshiping Him (Rev. 5:10-12). Both the serving and the waiting are acceptable worship to God. I think that God sometimes allows us to go through alternating periods of serving and waiting because we need to learn different lessons during each season of life.

“When I consider how my light is spent” by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Favorite Poems: “How Soon Hath Time”

I’m teaching Stuart Renaissance poetry to my 12th graders this week and always love reading the sonnets by John Milton that are included in their anthology. This poem speaks of Time’s steady march forward and how quickly life passes us by. As Milton waited for his Task-Master to give direction, he continued to mature, develop his talents, and trust in God.

“How Soon Hath Time” by John Milton

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom show’th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endueth.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye.

Teaching and Preaching Notes

When I have a student teacher or when I’m talking with another English teacher about how I manage my classroom, I like to emphasize that my way’s not the only right way to do things. Teachers (and preachers) need to develop their own methods of researching, taking notes, and delivering lessons. When I was first learning to teach, my mentor encouraged me to be flexible and try various techniques until I hit on the one that worked for me.

I also learned much from looking at lesson plans on line; I realized that teachers organize their lessons in a variety of ways and develop different strategies for teaching the material. I also found that I always had to adapt another teacher’s lesson plans for my classroom, because the focus or style of the lesson wasn’t quite “me,” and, of course, directly copying the lesson would be plagiarizing.

I found it interesting to read this series of posts about the manuscripts of several preachers. I’ve heard most of them preach before and I’m a little bit nerdy about stylistic analysis, so I could have guessed at what their manuscripts look like, but I thought Keller’s was the most interesting/unusual and Driscoll’s was the most surprising (though, I’ve heard him speak at other times about his sermon preparation and it seems like sometimes he spends more time writing notes).