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My Top 10 Books Read in 2020

If there is a silver lining to being at home for the vast majority of 2020, it is that I’ve been able to read and listen to more books. Whether to help make sense of the world, reinforce my faith, or just to have an escape from real life for a little while, I’ve read more books from more genres than ever this year.

While it was difficult to narrow down my favorite reads of 2020 to just 10 books, I was able to gauge the level of impact these top 10 had on my life and thinking in 2020.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite reads this year.

10. The Quotable Tozer

The Quotable Tozer

This is the most recent addition to my library, but it’s quick impact lands it at No. 10. I’ve read many of AW Tozer’s works over the years. They have all been impactful at various moments of my life. So when I found this little gem at a discount Christian bookstore, I had to grab it.

Author James L. Snyder compiles many of the most thought-provoking and convicting words of Tozer into one book separated by topics. It is a rich collection that has both challenged and encouraged me.

9. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

Writing Tools

With all the time I had at home this year, I decided it was time to recommit to my writing. This decision led to my consuming many hours of Roy Peter Clark. The man is a master of his craft.

I read three of Clark’s books this year, including Writing Tools, How to Write Short and Help for Writers. All three were incredibly helpful, but Writing Tools makes the list because of the actionable, practical help it provided me at the beginning of quarantine.

From instruction on sentence structure to a deep dive on literary devices, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the craft of writing.

8. Stay Positive

Stay Positive

Jon Gordon’s compilation of positive insights helped me refocus when the never ending stream of negativity coming from social media, the national media, and the federal government took a toll throughout the summer.

This is one of those books that you can pick up and quickly shift your mindset from darkness and negativity to one of motivation.

7. Crushing It

Crushing It

I read Gary Vaynerchuk‘s follow-up to Crush It early in 2020, before the world stopped due to Covid. When I’m looking for something to spark creativity and help me think outside the box again, I pop this book open. His insights on Instagram, blogging, podcasting, and more are well-thought and practical.

With updated information on the ever-changing social media landscape, Gary Vee’s enthusiastic outlook makes difficult things like building a brand or starting an online business seem easy.

6. Letters to the Church

Letters to the Church

If I had published a list in 2019, when I initially read this book, it would have been No. 1. Francis Chan‘s masterpiece to the Church is a 2020 re-read and it’s impact is powerful enough to remain on my top 10 for a second consecutive year.

Chan goes out of his way to be respectful of his peers while offering a new way to view the Church. Well, a new-old way to view the church. His vision is thoroughly biblical and sparks a desire within me to get back to the basics of New Testament thinking. This book should be required reading for anyone entering ministry.

5. The War of Art

After hearing reviews on this book from several different content creators, I had to read it for myself. And man, it did not disappoint. Steven Pressfield tells it like it is.

Whether you create content online or preach in a pulpit, The War of Art will give you a glimpse at what’s behind “resistance” in your creative process. It’s another mindset-shifter that will reinvigorate your process.

Highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a creative.

4. Dream Big

Dream Big

Bob Goff is perhaps one of the greatest encouragers I’ve ever read. He is a helper in every sense of the word. Reading Dream Big in the middle of such a fearful and contentious year took me back to the place of possibility.

Goff is a master storyteller, weaving teaching principles in and out of each story he tells.

You can also check out his podcast for more inspiration after you’ve finished the book.

3. Spirit and Sacrament

Spirit and Sacrament

I’m a lifelong Pentecostal. Prophecy, tongues, healing, shouting, exuberance in worship are all part of my church experience that I thoroughly enjoy. As much as I appreciate all of that, I’ve often felt as if something was missing. In 2020, with much of the Pentecostal experience being painted in a deservedly embarrassing light based on an uncomfortable marriage with politics, that yearning began to grow stronger.

Enter Spirit and Sacrament by Andrew Wilson. The author paints a picture of a spirit-filled expression that includes a deeper liturgy. Wilson points to the possibility of being Eucharismatic–a church distinctly Pentecostal, deep in scripture, and well-developed in theology and practice. Looking to this possibility gives me hope that the Pentecostal faith can once again be more than late-night prosperity gospel hucksters and “prophets” more concerned about their proximity to power than actually hearing from God.

2. The Rewired Brain

The Rewired Brain

This book came along at a time when I was trying to figure out what was going on inside my brain. Granted, that was much of 2020, but I read this book at what was probably the toughest moment of my trial with fear and anxiety. Author Dr. Ski Chilton does great job of explaining a complicated subject in a non-complicated manner.

Fear, religion, sexuality, food, and the impact of experiences from childhood are all discussed at length from the perspective of a scientist who also happens to be a believer. Chilton and Dr. Margaret Rukstalis break this book down into three parts–Reflect, Reframe, and Rewire. The book essentially read my mail.

1. Enter Wild

Enter Wild

Enter Wild was the most impactful book because of it’s timing and the author’s skilled ability to communicate. A fantastic storyteller, author Carlos Whitaker talks about his battle with health anxiety, fear, and unforgiveness.

Part confessional and part invitation to experience the wild nature of God’s presence, Enter Wild will challenge you to leave mundane faith behind for an abundant life with the Holy Spirit.

Carlos Whitaker has quickly become one of my favorite authors. He draws you in with his ability to deftly weave story with powerful spiritual principle. You almost feel like you’ve known the guy for years just by his writing style.

Loswhit’s Instagram account is also a must-follow.

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Advent 2020: Hope on the Horizon

The most welcome Advent season of my lifetime is finally here. Yes, I know Covid cases are rapidly increasing, as are deaths. I understand the whole election deal is still causing consternation and anger across the country.

Our freedoms are being limited and anxiety still has a hold on much of our nation. In spite of all of negative storylines, the Advent season reminds us that a King has come and indeed is coming again.

2020 seems like the worst year ever. Truth is, this world is a pretty crummy place and has been for a while. As long as there have been people there have been conflicts and viruses. 2020 is not the first year in human history that we humans approach the Advent season in a less than favorable position.

Lest we forget, the power of this season lies in its origin. The Christ child was born into an occupied nation and specifically to a hopeless people group.

John the Beloved, one of the Messiah’s closest disciples, refers to Christ’s coming into the world as a light shining into the darkness — “the light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Have you ever seen the sun rise over the horizon? It’s a breathtaking sight. What starts as a little pinprick of light in the vast darkness, slowly rises to reveal the brilliance of the only star in our solar system. Along the way, its light eradicates every dark shadow as the night gives way to the dawn. The higher the sun gets, the brighter it shines, and the darkness is dispelled.

When Jesus took on flesh and “moved into the neighborhood”, as Eugene Peterson so eloquently put it, He brought with Him a darkness-eradicating Kingdom that has no end.

The earthly ramifications of the Kingdom’s arrival were felt in the first century among various Middle Eastern villages as hope was proclaimed, and healing was provided.

The inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth threatened every power structure in its time. The simple phrase “Jesus is Lord” eventually turned empires and emperors into murderous maniacs.

Some 2,000-plus years later, the idea that there is a coming King who already rules over every Kingdom as we await his literal earthly coronation brings both solace and scoffing just as it did at the first Advent.

This is the messy middle. It is a time when hope has been realized, but hope’s fulness remains abstract.

Hope is on the horizon. We see its effect and understand its gravity. Even in the messiness of 2020, we realize something greater is coming.

This is Advent.

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Half-truths and cover-ups and conspiracies, oh my!

Scared yet? Well, you should be. After all, if the Coronavirus doesn’t stab you in your sleep first, the vaccines that we’re all about to get might very well have a chip which carries some code equaling to 666 which will damn all our souls to Hell. But that’s only if President-elect Biden has indeed won the election and President Trump is no longer there to hold back the forces of Beelzebub from devouring our nation… which is why the democrats stole the election because socialism and control or something like that.

Bet you’re really scared now, huh.

Ever noticed how fear moves us?

If an advertiser wants you to buy something, they try to scare you into it “because so much is riding on your tires.”

Political ads are quick to remind you that a vote for (fill in the blank candidate) is a vote for white supremacy or socialism.

When a ministry huckster wants you to buy his next book or teaching series on the apocalypse, he “prophesies” that future president Hillary Clinton is Jezebel reincarnated? And then he preaches against reincarnation when she in fact loses the election.

He might also “prophesy” that Donald Trump will in fact win every lawsuit, which will overturn the election results which will cause a civil war to break out in American streets. But you’ll only learn that in his post-election conference that he charged you $59 to attend virtually.

FEAR! ANGER! RAGE! Cha-Ching.

For a people whose revered holy scriptures explicitly and repeatedly state some variation of the words “fear not” we sure do like to cause people to fear things that aren’t really worthy of our fear.

In fact, those same scriptures direct us to fear God in holy reverence. We’re told in Hebrews 11:7 (NIV) that Noah “moved with godly fear” and prepared an ark to the saving of his household. That godly fear was led by a direct revelation from God that had nothing to do with Noah’s political affiliation and everything to do with his reverence for the God who spoke.

Let’s face it, we live in an age where Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and others are doing a better job of discipling Christians than most churches.

We feed our fear more than we feed our faith. Is it any wonder then that our social media accounts are filled with conspiracy theories and worst-case scenarios?

Biblical Illiteracy

We simply don’t know enough about the faith we profess.

I am Pentecostal. I love being Pentecostal. I have argued for the continuation of spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy since my high school days. And I still absolutely believe those gifts are for today. These gifts did not end with the apostles, but since the last New Testament apostle died, some of the gifts have been allowed to morph into something the New Testament church wouldn’t even recognize.

Scripturally, prophecy is utilized for strengthening, encouragement, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3) and it always bears testimony to Jesus (Revelation 19:10). That’s the New Testament prophecy that exists today. Somewhere along the way we got confused into thinking that the USA is ancient Israel and these fly-by-night prophets are playing the role of Isaiah and Jeremiah in foretelling the future.

If these ladies and gentlemen were forthtelling, that is bringing the truth of God’s word into our contemporary setting rather than forecasting the future based on their own political persuasion, they’d be completely in line with scripture. Unfortunately, they’ve missed an incredible opportunity to do so.

But here we are. Fear, anger, and rage are everywhere. Masks are demonized. Vaccines are harbingers of the apocalypse. Trump is our last best hope. Biden stole the election. And America is about to become the USSA.

At least you didn’t have to pay $59 to learn that info here.

What should be our response to these things?

Look, I get it. 2020 has been a crazy year. It has been one thing after another after another after another. And yes, some of us have missed it and failed to discern what God is doing, where God is at, and why He has allowed this season to happen.

God’s people have to realize His ways our higher than our own. We can absolutely trust Him.

We must understand that we’re getting nowhere fast by feeding our fear. That doesn’t mean we ignore reality. Rather, we see the real danger that we face, we trust God has a plan and we move forward.

Most of all, we must realize there is hope. And we have no choice but to be people of hope regardless of who is in the White House or who distributes the vaccine.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging
.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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Accelerating Hope

Welcome to my new blog! My name is Joel Barker. You can read all about my story on my about page, but I’ll give you a shorter version here in my first post.

Introduction

I’m a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have served in the Church as a youth pastor, worship pastor, teacher, outreach leader, and new church planter. I’ve written many messages, songs, plans, and papers in each of those roles. But it was sports writing that gave me an outlet for many thousands of people to read what I had to say. From 2008-2012 and then again from 2017-2019, I could be found on any number of sidelines or press boxes all over the southeast. And man, was it fun.

In 2013, I began to feel what I can only say is a calling from God to add more of His purpose to my writing. So I launched a ministry blog. While that venture was on-again, off-again for many years, I could not shake the desire to write with better consistency. After all, when He has given you something to say, you just have to say it. When I got back into sports writing after moving my family 115 miles away from the only community I’d ever known to plant a church, I figured God was going to use my voice and writing abilities to create momentum to start a new church. Well, that whole new church thing hasn’t happened yet.

And then came 2020.

2020: What a year

If you’ve been living on some remote island with zero connectivity to rest of the world for the past few months, you might be the luckiest person on the planet. However, if, like the other 99.8-percent of us, you haven’t found that remote island of respite, you probably know that this year hasn’t exactly gone to plan for pretty much any of us.

From the death of Kobe Bryant and the Coronavirus pandemic, to lock downs, economic downturns, and racial strife, to a bitterly fought Presidential election, 2020 has been quite possibly the most trying year of many of our lives.

In the midst of this extremely trying year, the stress of trying to start a ministry while raising four boys and holding down a full-time job working from home made life a bit difficult to handle. I began losing hope.

And why not? Of course, I’m a preacher and I’m supposed to have all the answers, but I kept struggling with the fact that as soon as I had the answer, the question would change. The news media said something one minute and something completely contradictory the next. National leadership was (and still is) unsure how to handle a virus that has claimed multiple hundreds of thousands of lives in our country alone.

As I began leaning into my relationship with Christ to cope with all that has happened in this seemingly never-ending season, I felt a burden for the epidemic of hopelessness and fear that has gripped our nation.

Coronavirus has a twin

I’m convinced that the Novel Coronavirus has a twin. The virus itself is awful. And I have zero qualification to combat it on an epidemiological basis. I even had to google epidemiological to spell it correctly. But Covid-19 definitely has a nasty twin. Boy, have I gone around the ring with that thing a time or two. I’ve preached about it. I’ve yelled at it. I’ve dealt with it on a personal basis. And quite honestly, I hate every single thing about it.

What is Coronavirus’s twin? Fear, which is also known as Anxiety.

Fear doesn’t wash off your hands with antibacterial gel or soap. Not even a mask cannot defend against it. This ugly twin doesn’t attack the body, it attacks the mind and spirit. And if not properly dealt with it can have an effect on the body as well.

So I started Accelerate Hope. A blog to accelerate hope to those facing fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and frustration.

I am absolutely not a professional counselor. I have no PhD. Too much reading and writing.

And no, I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn last night. Too many germs.

Here’s what I want to offer on this site:

  • Encouragement for every day life
  • A new perspective on the scriptures
  • Wrestling with difficult spiritual questions
  • Maybe even a how-to or three

If any of that sounds good to you, please check back often.

After all, we’re all in this together.