I've read and listened to hundreds of books over the years, some better than others. Some are written like a thesis paper and are hard to get through and others are written in a common vernacular that seems to speak like a wise friend giving advice. While many of the books I've read have provided insight, learning, and growth - I tried to narrow a list down to ten books that I know have had a profound impact on my life (besides the Bible of course.)
Some of these were just timing, the age I was at or the season of life I was in, while others have proven to be timeless classics that I often re-read. It was difficult to narrow the list down to ten but these are the ten, for me personally, that influenced me at various times in my life. They are listed in no particular order.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
I was blessed to be able to attend a conference by John Maxwell on this book back in 1999. I was in my mid 20's then and just starting to take on real leadership roles. Maxwell uses these 21 "Laws" to illustrate attributes of successful leaders. Maxwell helps the reader understand that leadership is a privilege and should be used to help others, build teams, and advance the organizational goals. Maxwell uses the idea of Servant Leadership, casting a vision, and influencing others to follow you not because of your position or title but because they believe in you as a leader and the cause you are working towards. Now, I often give this book to leaders as they start out in life or when starting a new venture.
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
People either love this book or hate it. Manning was a former Franciscan Priest turned alcoholic who very openly and transparently explains his discover of God's redeeming Grace. Manning rejects the idea of earning salvation or Christians who try to grade others by a list of Do's and Don'ts. He uses powerful literary illustrations to show the reader our own personal biases and paints the picture that Christ died for all of us, even those we may detest. Coming from a conservative Christian or Catholic background, this book opens the reader up to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrine that we are saved by grace, through faith alone. "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."
Twelve Ordinary Men by John F. MacArthur
On my bookshelf, I have an original copy of the 1871 book The Training of the Twelve which is one of the most in-depth books on how Christ discipled His chosen 12. Twelve Ordinary Men was originally a sermon series by MacArthur that finally became a book. This is probably the most in-depth study of the 12 original apostles of Christ taken from Scripture and known church history, to include their final fates. This book truly illustrated to me how Christ chose (and still chooses) ordinary people to fulfill His mission. Christ did not choose religious scholars but men from varying backgrounds and even some with questionable pasts, to ultimately lead his Church after he was gone. Not only is this a great historical account of the apostles, but it may also spark a fire in you that God can use you right now, where you are, to fulfill His Great Commission.
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen
This book was given to me by a Chaplain as I prepared to go to combat for the 4th time. I was initially skeptical as Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest but within the first few pages, I realized that this book not only had solid theology, but was a lifetime of wisdom and obedience wrapped up in an easy to read few hundred pages. Nouwen touches on Christian community, accountability, and realizing our limitations and boundaries. In the ultimate act of a servant of God, Nouwen left a prestigious position at Harvard and ended up ministering to a handful of mentally challenged individuals. He left prestige for obedience. This book is for those who are still searching, still wanting to grow and mature in the faith. However, if you tend to compartmentalize your faith and not live it out openly on a daily basis, this book will be difficult for you. However, if you are ready to get a healthy dose of what sanctification truly looks like, read this book a few times through and soak up the wisdom.
Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
I've read countless books on marriage, been to many marriage retreats, and even attended marriage counseling during some rough patches in the early years of my marriage. However, Love and Respect was when the idea of unconditional love finally sank into my thick skull. Although we don't want to admit it, often times we hold back in our marriages, we keep a count of the times we were wronged by our spouse, and we argue with our spouse to win the debate rather than trying to seek understanding and maintain the peace. This books taught me that no matter what my spouse does, my job is to love and support her unconditionally, with 100% of my effort, at all times. Even if my needs are not being met, even if she is not intimate with me, even if she is mean or disrespectfully to me - I will love her and show her my love every single day.
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
Most Christians have read this classic apologetic on the Christian faith. While John Stott, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, and Wayne Grudem have probably provided a more elaborate and in-depth examination of the Christian faith, Lewis is still a master at rhetorical argument for and depiction of the Christian faith. Lewis asserted that he was not a theologian, although he was trained in philosophy, therefore Mere Christianity reads as a "common persons" thoughts on faith. It's not going to convince the skeptic to jump on the Christian ship, but instead lays out the basic tenants of the Christian faith in easily understandable terms.
The Millionaire Mind by Thomas Stanley
In the Spring of 2000, I saw this book on a display at a local bookstore. Being young and thinking that money will solve all my problems and make me happy, I bought the book hoping to learn the unknown secrets of millionaires. Instead, I was introduced to Stanley's research and interviews with "real millionaires" (not people who buy expensive cars and big houses on credit to look wealthy) but people with 7-8 figures or more in semi-liquid assets. What I learned from this book is that the average million doesn't "make it rain", vacation on exotic, private islands nor did they go to Ivy League schools. The average millionaire lives below their means, buys quality or second hand, and invests their income in their own businesses or assets that put money in their pockets. They are normally B and C students with a strong work ethic, high integrity, but they are willing to take calculated risks like starting their own business. Stanley's research in this book will flip your ideas (and hopefully your habits) into what it takes to actually become a real millionaire.
The Christ Files by John Dickson
As a former atheist, I really loved this book. The Christ Files goes a step further than Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ by illustrating the peer-reviewed academic, scientific, and anthropological evidence for the New Testament and Jesus Christ. What I love is that Dickson draws his research from unbiased historians who have little interest in debunking or defending Christ or Christianity. These researchers are interested in historical accuracy and treat the writings of the New Testament as they would any other historical documents. Dickson also explains some of the tools historians use when authenticating historical documents such as coherence, dissimilarity, and multiple attestation. Dickson covers dating the Gospels and the New Testament, the accuracy of oral tradition in anthropology, why the Gnostic gospels and other early church writings were not included in the final Canon. Dickson also introduces other historical writings of the time, outside of Christianity, that write and speak of Jesus and his following. This book is a great primer for historical accuracy and authenticity of the Bible.
Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel
I discovered this book when my kids were almost school age, after reading it, the book changed my entire parenting philosophy. Kimmel highlights two popular extremes in parenting—legalism and permissiveness. Kimmel also discusses many popular parenting fads - micromanaging children's lives, focusing too much on academics and sports - and teaches readers about the three driving inner needs of every child, how to develop character in children, and how our parenting practices need to be Biblically balanced between truth and grace. Grace Based Parenting uses the example of Jesus and how He discipled others as the primer for this parenting philosophy. Grace Based Parenting focuses on an overall parenting philosophy not necessarily a step-by-step formula. I highly recommend parents combine this book with Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp and Parenting by Paul David Tripp for a well rounded parenting strategy.
If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg
I read this book while I was in Europe in 2006 and it uses the story of Peter walking on the water with Christ to illustrate how God can use us if we trust in Him and get outside of our comfort zones. Far too often Christians "stay in the boat" and play it safe in life rather than answering the call to advance God's Kingdom and fulfill the Great Commission. God has repeatedly asks ordinary people to engage in acts of extraordinary trust for the glory of His Kingdom, this is getting out of the boat and walking towards Jesus. This book highlights that you don't always need to have all the answers or need to have a 5 year plan in place, often we need just enough faith to walk towards Jesus. Ortberg notes that the water was scary, getting out of the boat took courage and faith but the water is where Jesus is and Peter was the only one who walked with Christ on the water. Jesus is waiting to meet you in ways that will change your life forever, deepening your character and your trust in God...You just have to get out of your boat.