Archives For January 2018

If you’ve ever tried to make a playlist for a College Ministry meeting, you’ve found that it’s not easy to find fun songs that are clean and that appeal to an ethnically (and spiritually) diverse college student audience.

Notice any pattern in the Top 50 songs?

According to Newsweek’s article How Songs with Explicit Lyrics Came to Dominate the Charts, more than 2/3 of the Top 100 songs in 2017 featured explicit lyrics (interestingly, Spotify is to blame – previously songs were made for radio broadcast and had to be somewhat appropriate). Even among the “non-explicit” songs, it is reported that 92% of the Top 100 songs were sexual in nature.

As I’ve said before: while cool, upbeat music may be #27 on the list of important things about a Christian meeting, it’s important nonetheless.

What’s the first thing students encounter when they come to your meeting? The music that you’re playing before the meeting.


So here’s a playlist I call Good Clean Fun.

Within Spotify, click “Follow” to add it to your sidebar of playlists.

Full of upbeat, fun songs that are clean and that appeal to an ethnically diverse college student audience – it’s a mix of Christian rap, dance, popular music, indie rock, and a handful of songs in Spanish. I looked up lyrics for all of them (even the Spanish songs!) and there’s no sexual stuff, cussing, no taking the Lord’s name in vain (i.e. – “oh my g__d”; I’m looking at you Taylor Swift – Shake it Off), etc.

We use this playlist at our Cru (Fort Worth) Winter Conference, Cookouts, and Weekly Meetings.

Play them in order, just hit shuffle, or drag songs over to new playlists you are making.

Would love to hear if you have upbeat, clean songs that you like that didn’t make the list!

Top Songs of 2017

January 14, 2018 — Leave a comment

An annual tradition on my blog – My Top 100 Songs of the Year.

To further explore amazing music, here are my Top Songs from the 2010’s (click “Follow” at the top of Spotify if you want to add any of the playlists to your sidebar of playlists)


If you follow indie music at all, you’ll find that most “Top Songs of The Year” are trying really hard to be cool and prove their hipster-ness. My Top Songs list is Indie Music for the Masses – Indie Music that’s actually enjoyable to listen to.


My 3 Top Albums of 2017:

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (click to play on Spotify) – beautiful, complex music. So many good songs on this album. Mandy and I had the opportunity to see them in concert this fall which was amazing.

The National – Sleep Well Beast – another great album from probably my favorite band of all time. Brooding and quiet, but moving. The lead singer co-wrote many of the songs with his wife which adds vulnerability as they wrestle with their marriage.


Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording (OK, I know this didn’t come out in 2017, but my family fell in love with this 2 and a 1/2 hour “album” in 2017). Pretty much all we listened to all fall, culminating with a trip to Chicago to see the play this past December! This play is brilliant songwriting.



Here are my 100 favorite songs of 2017  (click to play the full list in Spotify): 

100 The Silence by Manchester Orchestra

99 Stroll On by Mutemath

98 Deflect the Light by Vessels, The Flaming Lips

97 Starlight (Goldroom Remix) by Jai Wolf, Goldroom

96 Goodbye Soleil by Phoenix

95 Cruel World by Active Child

94 Hold Me Down by Yoke Lore

93 Good Luck by The Undercover Dream Lovers

92 The Castle by The Flaming Lips

91 The Passenger by Hunter As a Horse

90 Silence by Marshmello, Khalid

89 Stars Last Me A Lifetime by Cut Copy

88 Oslo by Anna Of The North

87 This Song by RAC, Rostam

86 No Promises by San Fermin

85 Good Love by Zola Blood

84 Darling by Real Estate

83 Fleur de Lys by Phoenix

82 Only You by Yoke Lore

81 Ran by Future Islands

80 Anymore by Goldfrapp

79 Light Outside by Absofacto

78 Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers

77 Your Love by HAERTS

76 Cave by Future Islands

75 I Saw You Close Your Eyes by Local Natives

74 Only You by Selena Gomez

73 Change My Mind by JR JR

72 Into Waves by A Little Nothing

71 Work It on out by Haiva ru

70 Jupiter by James McAlister, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner

69 Signal by SOHN

68 Strange or Be Forgotten by Temples

67 Hot Thoughts by Spoon

66 Proof by SOHN

65 Utopia by Austra

64 Love by Lana Del Rey

63 Die Young by Sylvan Esso

62 No One’s Here To Sleep by Naughty Boy, Bastille

61 The Only Thing by Zola Blood

60 Right Words by Cults

59 The Only Heirs by Local Natives

58 Thunder by Imagine Dragons

57 Of The Night by Bastille

56 Black Out Days – Future Islands Remix by Phantogram, Future Islands

55 Punk Drunk & Trembling by Wild Beasts

54 The Driver by Bastille

53 Sum by Loney Dear

52 I’ll Still Destroy You by The National

51 oh baby by LCD Soundsystem

50 Believer by Imagine Dragons

49 Electric Blue by Arcade Fire

48 I Don’t Know Why by Imagine Dragons

47 Fallss by Bayonne

46 I Took Your Picture by Cults

45 Goodpain by Yoke Lore

44 Cut-Out by Grizzly Bear

43 Mercury by James McAlister, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner

42 Guilty Party by The National

41 Third of May / Ōdaigahara – Edit by Fleet Foxes

40 Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man

39 Nobody Else Will Be There by The National

38 Hard Liquor by SOHN

37 Spiral by Wye Oak

36 We a Famly by The Flaming Lips

35 Wasted Acres by Grizzly Bear

34 Venus by James McAlister, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner

33 Role Model by Phoenix

32 Four Cypresses by Grizzly Bear

31 Visions of Gideon by Sufjan Stevens

30 Now & Then by Sjowgren

29 On Our Way Home by Empire of the Sun

28 Everything Now by Arcade Fire

27 Aquarian by Grizzly Bear

26 Asido by Purity Ring

25 The Moth by Manchester Orchestra

24 Day I Die by The National

23 Easy Tiger by Portugal. The Man

22 Read My Mind by Geographer

21 Deadcrush by alt-J

20 Hit Parade by Mutemath

19 Saturn by James McAlister, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner

18 Wave Is Not the Water by Wye Oak

17 Mourning Sound by Grizzly Bear

16 Born to Beg by The National

15 Offering by Cults

14 Slip Away by Perfume Genius

13 Number One (feat. Richie Havens & Son Little) by Portugal. The Man, Richie Havens, Son Little

12 Tell Me Why by Nine Pound Shadow

11 The Gold by Manchester Orchestra

10 Abandon by Charles Fauna

9 The Alien by Manchester Orchestra

8 Neighbors by Grizzly Bear

7 Cassius, – by Fleet Foxes

6 The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National

5 Rennen by SOHN

4 Losing All Sense by Grizzly Bear

3 Empire Line by The National

2 Three Rings by Grizzly Bear

1 Beige by Yoke Lore

Would love to hear – What were your favorite songs from 2017??

My Top Books of 2017

January 2, 2018 — 5 Comments
Dr. Albert Mohler in his book The Conviction to Lead describes the irreplaceable benefit of reading in the life of a leader:

“There is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead. Leadership requires a constant flow of intelligence, ideas, and information. There is no way to gain the basics of leadership without reading. We simply cannot lead without a constant flow of intellectual activity in our minds, and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to producing this flow.”

I’m constantly on the lookout for book recommendations from friends who read a lot. I get to benefit as they filter out the best of the best for me to read. So in the spirit of “do unto others” I typed up my favorite books I read this past year.


I thought it would be helpful to rank my favorites in genres. Because how do you compare Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch with To Kill a Mockingbird or The Blood of Emmett Till? They were all deeply moving on completely different levels.


I split Christian Devotional and Ministry into two lists. The Ministry books were particularly helpful for my job as a college pastor. The Devo books changed my heart and moved me closer to Jesus. I also split non-fiction into Historical and Leadership/Modern non-fiction. The latter helped me be a better leader in that they are purely Leadership books or they better helped me understand our times we live in.


So here they are, ranked in order of amazing-ness.


Top 10 Christian Devotional Books

  1. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation – John H. Sailhamer
    • This is the book of which John Piper said “Sell all of your Piper books & buy this.” I’d keep all your Piper books, but… I found Sailhamer’s book to be incredibly enlightening and truly groundbreaking (as in – I’ve been studying God’s Word and listening to Biblical preaching for 20 years and Sailhamer shares hundreds of things that I have never heard taught nor have seen for myself in Scripture). Not an easy read. Boring at times. But fascinating. What I wish: that someone would take this book and edit it to be readable by the masses. It’s unnecessarily repetitive and dense. Definitely written to seminarians. But those willing to plod through it will be rewarded with gold. He is thorough in his exegesis and I never found myself thinking – “well, that is a bit of a stretch.”
    • Everything you think about the Old Testament and the Pentateuch is wrong. It was “not written to teach Israel the law. The Pentateuch was addressed to a people living under the law and failing at every opportunity.” Read the free (50 page!) intro and have your mind blown! As a (seminary grad) friend commented – “Just reading the Introduction left me feeling like I had never read the Pentateuch before!” REALLY long and kind of difficult. But so worth it. Great to read during your quiet time over a couple of months.
  2. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity – Francis Chan
    • As one reviewer put it “A bait and switch but in the best possible way.” Not really on marriage – but about living on mission as a couple and family.
    • “There are plenty of marriage books that will teach you how to get along and be happy. This is not one of those books. Those books don’t account for the fact that you can have a happy earthly marriage and then be miserable for all eternity. We’ve made happy families our mission. That’s not the mission Jesus gave us. God has entrusted you with children so you’d make them into disciples who will go into every part of the world & make disciples. Our parenting is not exempt from the command to make disciples. Your marriage exists to make disciples.”
  3. The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
    • Haven’t read this in years. This book is so foundational to understanding Christian growth that I plan on re-reading it regularly.
  4. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture – John Piper
    • Not a real easy read. But perfect to bite off a piece every morning in Quiet Times. Not difficult to understand, but just very detailed and methodical. I can think of few authors who are better than Piper at laying out a logical argument from Scripture.
  5. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Tim Keller
    • I’ve read over 20 books on marriage/dating/sex and this is by FAR the best (yes, better than the #2 book on my list. I’d recommend this book first as a marriage book. And then You and Me Forever as a follow up. You and Me was just more impactful for me personally this year). Cannot recommend highly enough. Incredibly practical and insightful. Especially helpful for singles to read pre-marriage and even pre-dating.
  6. The Holy Spirit- Sinclair Ferguson
    • Incredibly insightful on a topic(person!), I confess, I don’t understand very well.
  7. Mere Christianity – CS Lewis –
    • Ever feel < as a Christian (believing the world- ‘only foolish, uneducated people believe those old myths’)? Read Mere Christianity and be swept up in the beauty and intellectual viability of the Christian Truth. CS Lewis makes you proud to be a Christian. His arguments are compelling AND beautiful. Makes you WANT to believe them. Not just because they are logical and sound. But because in Christianity the world & life finally makes sense.
    • I hadn’t read Mere Christianity since college. I had put off reading it because I assumed it would be a difficult read. It is not at all. That is not to say that there weren’t some parts that were over my head. There are logical arguments that will probably take 10 readings before I really get them.
  8. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters – Sinclair Ferguson
    • A LITTLE difficult to read (if you got it free via, RESIST the urge to listen to it. It’s too difficult to take in as an audiobook). But a good book to read bit by bit in your Quiet Time. Ferguson answers “how do the law and grace relate?” He asserts that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites but “nonidentical twins from the same womb.” “The cure for both legalism and antinomianism is the gospel.”
  9. The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
    • Mixed feelings on this book. I set out on my pilgrimage to read the book because many great Christian thinkers list it as the book that has most influenced them (apart from the Bible). I did NOT think I would be recommending this book. But as it gets going, you get used to the Old English (if you can’t get over that, there ARE modern English versions). For some tips on how to read it see my full review over on GoodReads
  10. The Mortification of Sin – John Owen
    • Owen puts on a master class of how to study the Bible and ask questions of a passage – most of this classic book being an extended meditation on one verse – Romans 8:13. Owen is difficult to read but not impossible.


Top 10 Christian Ministry Books

  1. A Grander Story: An Invitation to Christian Professors
    • liked it so much, this fall I started doing some ministry focused on Professors. Great mix of vision and practical ministry tips.
  2. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South
    • A game-changing book that explains how the heart of Christianity is in the Global South. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South and it makes me hopeful for the future of Christianity, led by these Global Southerners.
  3. Dedication and Leadership – Douglas Hyde
    • A friend of mine on staff with Cru read 25 books on Movements. This book was in the top 2. (The other: Movements That Change the World by Addison). A former Communist who becomes a Christian, looks at what we can learn from Communism. The book is a case study in how a small minority can literally change the world: “It is probably true to say of the Communists that never in man’s history has a small group of people set out to win a world and achieved more in less time.” Caveat: The book is 100% not gospel centered! Definitely “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “if the communists can be so dedicated and sacrifice so much for a lie, how much more so, Christians…Come on Christians! Try harder!” But… taken with a grain of salt, the book is VERY thought provoking. Particularly relevant for my line of work – college ministry- as the book focuses particularly on how the Communist Party mobilizes young people.
  4. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry
    • A little technical but very helpful on a difficult topic. Written to youth pastors but easily translates to college ministry.
  5. The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study – edited by DA Carson
    • Very helpful for my understanding of ecclesiology.
  6. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World – Tim Keller
  7. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
    • The only non-Christian book in this genre. Though a secular book, the content is incredibly relevant for those in ministry (especially college) on the power of community, especially in times of difficulty. My favorite type of book – concise and insightful.
  8. Discovering God’s Will – Sinclair B. Ferguson
  9. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place – Andy Crouch
  10. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion – Tim Challies
    • Imho – much better than Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. When I first read this in 2011, it truly changed my life. Opened my eyes to my iPhone addiction and how it was affecting me, my relationship with God and my family. The two chapters on distraction and the flood of information are worth the price of the book. Distraction is the biggest threat to my walk with God and deep thinking. “More information may lead to less wisdom.” I need to take in less information and seek more wisdom. “We need to devote more time to less things.”


Top 10 Historical/Biography

  1. Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow
    • I may be biased because my family LOVES the Hamilton play that was based on this book. But I found it absolutely fascinating.
  2. The Blood of Emmett Till
    • This should be required reading for every American. The story of the horrific death of a young black boy, and more widely, the civil rights movement.
  3. Churchill- Paul Johnson
    • From what I researched, this is the best short biography of Churchill. What an amazing man who almost singlehandedly saved civilization!
  4. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
    • It’s only by God’s grace that we haven’t nuked ourselves into a nuclear holocaust by now.
  5. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.- Paul Johnson
    • It’s long and ambitious. But Johnson brilliantly provides a thorough education on the twentieth century and plainly explains complex issues.
  6. How the Irish Saved Civilization
    • I’ve often heard references to CS Lewis’s warning against chronological snobbery. But I didn’t really believe him. And now I think I understand why- I think it comes from a false view of history as linear and progressive. Reading How the Irish Saved Civilization was eye opening. For 1,000 years knowledge and human learning trended straight upward – great works of architecture, reasoned works of literature, great cities. And then in 500 it all crashed. And all of the wisdom of Western Civilization would have been lost if not for the Irish.
  7. Undaunted Courage: Lewis and Clark’s Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier
    • Fascinating book. Name a more iconic duo. Now name one fact about them other than that they were the first to explore the west. I knew nothing about this famous duo before reading this. Their passage across the virgin west is fascinating – their discoveries, their courage, their leadership. I won’t spoil anything but I was truly shocked by the ending – mostly that I had not heard any of it before.
  8. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
    • Truly seems Providential that Winston lived long enough to later save the world.
  9. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation – Michael Reeves
    • Easy and fun to read summary of the Reformation. Interesting note: college campuses figured prominently in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Puritans)
  10. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
    • Great book by one of my favorite authors. Reads like a novel but is 100% historical.


Top Leadership/Modern Non-Fiction

  1. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge
    • HIGHLY recommend this unfortunately named book. From the title, I assumed it would be a book about how to have good work/life boundaries.It is not at all about personal boundaries. It’s one of the best leaders books I’ve ever read. In some ways a best of the best book – bringing together ideas from some of the best leadership books out there – Thinking Fast and Slow, Death by Meeting, 4 Disciplines of Execution. Dr. Cloud is concise and very practical. One thing Dr. Cloud addresses like no other book I’ve read: The Emotional Climate that a leader creates. This one makes a great audiobook.
  2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
    • Knight is incredibly honest, not skimming over his regrets and mistakes. And I was surprised by the amount of spiritual searching throughout Knight’s life. The audiobook is particularly good. Have recommended this to many and all have loved it.
  3. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance – Senator Ben Sasse
    • How do you turn children into adults? Senator Sasse is incredibly accurate on his diagnosis AND his prescription. I’m voting for this guy when/if he runs for president. [Update: just found out he was a student leader in Cru at Harvard and his wife used to be on staff with Cru. I knew there was a reason I liked the guy!]
  4. Next Generation Leader – Andy Stanley
    • A small book packed with incredibly leadership insight. Best insight I’ve ever seen on how to lead in the face of uncertainty.
  5. Team of Teams: The Power of Small Groups in a Fragmented World – General Stanley McChrystal
    • This book accomplishes a rare feat – combining incredible insight while being an easy/fun read. It’s the story of how the military had to totally restructure to fight Al Quaeda in Iraq. Which, by itself, makes for fascinating reading. But on top of that, the authors have great insight into how sharing ideas is THE key to managing complexity and achieving organization-wide focus. I particularly liked their insights on how to build trust/sharing when resources are scarce.
  6. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies
    • This is more like an extended blog post than a book. But lets be honest, I wouldn’t take the time to read a series of blog posts on productivity. That’s the beauty of books. Books force you to slow down and consider – to think deeply on one topic. And because this book is so incredibly practical, I feel like it will actually change my life more than other, better productivity books like Essentialism and What’s Best Next. My advice: read Essentialism and What’s Best Next first. To change your heart and beliefs. To convince you of the need to: focus/prioritize (Essentialism), understand the Biblical and God-honoring motives for productivity (What’s Best Next). Then read Do More Better to actually start making real changes in your schedule and life.
  7. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson
    • How the Jim Crow south forced southern African Americans to migrate to the north and west. Long but really eye opening.
  8. Elon Musk: Inventing the Future – Ashlee Vance
    • About the fascinating founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
  9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
    • Would have been all the more powerful if she could have trimmed it to a concise 200 pages rather than a repetitive 300. Nonetheless it was incredibly eye-opening and I’m very glad to see that it has effected change. I’d never say this with most books – but you’d get the same effect from watching the movie/documentary – 13th on Netflix. This book makes you wonder what in the world our government is doing (when compared to other modern states) – appalling and immoral.
  10. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football
    • Great (and shocking) read for any college football fan. Basically the story of how deeply flawed young men act when given absolute power.


Top 10 Fiction

  1. Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
    • Outstanding novel based on real events in Communist Russia in the 1950’s. Really helped me understand the mindset of communism in a way no other book has. As an American, I’ve always discounted communists as idiots. Koestler’s account is not favorable to communists but it does show the very intelligent rationale behind brutal communist policies. Makes me want to learn more about the worldviews of the 20th century (which is why I read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times).
  2. Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry
    • This book was good for my soul. I value efficiency and speed and productivity. Wendell Berry describes community in an age before TV’s and cell phones – a life of slowness and anti-efficiency. I think I want what they had. It truly made me consider what life is about – work/productivity or relationships. Makes you contemplate the brevity of life and what truly matters – what you will leave behind. Apart from the theological and interpersonal insights, this book would be worth reading just to wonder at Berry’s writing ability. Like Jared Wilson said – “Reading this book is like laying in cool grass under a spring sun by a lazy brook.”
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird
    • Not much I can say about this classic that hasn’t already been written. As you can see from my list, I’m trying to go back and read the classic novels and, I must say, enjoying them FAR more than I thought I would. I thought they would be difficult and dry. They’re Classics for good reason. They have great plots and great writing. The best of the best.
  4. Silence – Shūsaku Endō
    • A fictional book but based on true events. Enthralling and challenging novel based on the real life persecution of Portuguese missionaries in Japan.
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front
    • Man. What a great, gripping & thoroughly depressing book. I think I was forced to read this book in high school. A good friend, John Majors, recommended the audiobook to me recently. I echo his thoughts on the book: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better performance on an audio book (the narrator was Frank Muller). There were many times I was completely gripped by the drama of the story. I had read this a few years ago and enjoyed it, but it didn’t have near the affect of the audio book. Definitely put this on your listening list. The quality of the writing is among the best of all novels I’ve experienced. And the way he captures the thought life of the soldier is art at its finest.” Loved all the classic books on this list.
  6. Jane Eyre
  7. The Great Gatsby
  8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  9. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

I just got on this year and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Great way to track your reading progress, set goals for yourself, and see what other avid readers are reading. Would love to connect over there.

What were your favorite books you read in 2017?