Over the course of my life, I’ve read a lot of books. Some for school, some for work, some for pleasure. Some have made a lasting impact, and some have only helped pass a little time. The book that has made the biggest impact on me is of course the Bible, but it would take much more than a couple of paragraphs to describe. Instead, I’m going to focus on three other books that have also impacted me, and I can honestly say have had a big influence on my personal life, and how I deal with others.

These books are Six Hours One Friday, by Max Lucado; Twelve Ordinary Men, by John MacArthur, and The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I’d also give Honorable Mention to Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men : An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self by Stephen Mansfield.

Each of these books gave me a greater and more personal insight into who God is and how He relates with us. Together, they have influenced my relationship with Christ and how I tell others about him.

Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado

I’ll begin with Six Hours One Friday. I’ve got a pretty good collection of Lucado’s books, but this was the first one I read and remains my favorite. Chapter 9: Cristo Redentor has always stood out for me. He opens this chapter talking about the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, but moves to the story from Chapter 8 of the Book of John about a woman caught in adultery. Most of us are familiar with the story, and have probably read or heard it many times. It’s one amazingly small comment by Lucado that has stuck with me for years: “He begins by diverting the crowd’s attention. He draws on the ground. Everybody looks down. The woman feels relief as the eyes of the men look away from her.”

It’s been debated for centuries just what Jesus was writing in the dirt when he knelt down. I had my own theories, but I wasn’t prepared for that one little statement: “He begins by diverting the crowd’s attention.” Suddenly, I saw this mental picture of this woman, dragged out into the street, probably naked, everyone staring at her. Even the possibility Jesus was trying to take the attention off of her and give her back even a little bit of her dignity was an awesome thought. I can’t even begin to remember the number of times I’ve used this to illustrate just how much God loves and cares for us.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

My all-time favorite Christian musician is Rich Mullins. His songs are honest, talk about struggles, and I can identify with his lyrics, personally. The movie “Ragamuffin” is the story of his life.

He referred to himself as a “ragamuffin” because of his relationship with Brennan Manning, author of “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” One rainy Saturday I watched the movie, and when it was over I remembered I had a copy of the book. I decided to give it a try, and in just a couple of minutes I knew it was the kind of book I was going to need a pen and a highlighter for.

I was two and a half pages into Chapter 1 when I read “Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if it is only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers that cheers when I show up for morning quiet time.” This was when I knew I needed a highlighter. The mental image of me reducing God to nothing more than a spectator in my life hit me hard, but the statement also rang with hope— the hope that comes from the knowledge that what God is doing is more important and more powerful than what I’m doing.

A few pages later Manning describes himself, and I knew without a doubt I could identify with him and his life and suspected I would be able to learn something from what he had to say. “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes,” Manning says. “I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games… To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole story, the light side and the dark.”

I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting. It changed forever the way I look at God’s grace for us. As I read his story I was reassured by the way God had worked in his life, in spite of his failings. His honesty was refreshing. His story gave me renewed hope that I wasn’t alone in sometimes feeling inadequate, and renewed hope that God still loves me. Over the years, I’ve probably given away 20 copies of this book.

Twelve Ordinary Men by John Macarthur

Twelve Ordinary Men tells the stories of Jesus’ Disciples. It talks about each one of them and relates the things we know about where they were from, what types of jobs they had, some insight into their personalities, and in short, what kind of men they were. In Chapter 1, MacArthur talks about them in total, and asks, “What qualified these men to be apostles?” Obviously it was not any intrinsic ability or outstanding talent of their own. They were Galileans. They were not the elite. Galileans were deemed low-class, rural, uneducated people. They were commoners, nobodies.

For almost five years I’ve been with Four Rivers Outreach, a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery program. Some of the men in our residential program have had pretty rough lives and have a hard time seeing themselves as someone God could love. When we study Twelve Ordinary Men, they get a chance to see Jesus picked some pretty tough characters to be His ambassadors to the world and build His church. When our men see what those men were like and the impact they’ve made on the world, it’s a little easier for them to believe they, too, have a purpose and can do great things.