recommended reading

A Very Midtown Advent Book List [updated]


[The following post has been updated as of November 28, 2018.]

I am prone to be dull, spiritually drowsy, halfhearted, lukewarm. That is the way human beings are, including Christians, even about great things…What you and I need is usually not a brand-new teaching. Brand-new truths are probably not truths. What we need are reminders about the greatness of the old truths. –John Piper

For those of you looking for some additional daily readings during this Advent season, here are a few that we would recommend:

Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
Piper’s Good News of Great Joy contains twenty-five short devotional readings beginning December 1st and going through Christmas Day. This book of advent meditations aims to put Jesus at the center of your holiday season.  Our Staff read this together several years ago and found it to be a helpful tool as we anticipated the celebration of Christ’s birth. And even better news: a free downloadable version of the book is available! (Click here!)

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper
Structured identically to Good News of Great Joy, this book contains twenty-five different scripture passages and devotional readings. Piper reminds readers that Christmas is about the coming of Christ into the world and it is his hope that these daily devotions will serve to focus our hearts on adoring Jesus, which is essentially what advent is all about. Free downloadable version is available! (Click here!)

Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp
Tripp’s advent book contains one devotion for each day in December with the intent of helping its readers slow down, prepare their hearts, and focus on what matters most: adoring Jesus. Each devotion starts with a gospel-centered thought followed by an extended meditation for the day. At the end of each daily reading there is a brief devotion for parents and children featuring one central theme from the Christmas story and related scripture verses. 

She Reads Truth (and now He Reads Truth) Advent Studies
Each year, the online resource She Reads Truth puts out a daily Advent Study that begins on the first Sunday of Advent. These studies are free through their website (and available for a fee through the She Reads Truth App). While 2018 will not come out until December 2nd this year, 2015, 2016, and 2017 are still available on their website.

For those not familiar with the She Reads Truth study format, each day consists of several scripture passages to read on your own followed by a blog post written by either a She Reads Truth blog contributor or a guest writer. These readings are definitely more “blog post” in style and should be read as such. In order to get the most out of these studies, we recommend reading and possible journaling and/or praying through the scriptures on your own and then reading the blog post as a follow up to that.

Advent 2015: Born is the King
Advent 2016: Christ Was Born For This
Advent 2017: Joy to the World

Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller
While not a daily Advent reading book, this one is just too good not to include. Keller’s goal in writing this book was to “make the truths of Christmas less hidden.” Keller takes readers on a journey into the surprising background of the nativity. By understanding the message of hope and salvation within the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth, readers will experience the redeeming power of God’s grace in a deeper and more meaningful way. This is a great one to read on your own and we’ve also seen it be beneficial to read alongside with someone who does not yet fully grasp the meaning of Christ’s coming. It’s perfect for gospel-conversations and questions!

related read: “A Very Midtown Children’s Advent Book List” blog post

A Very Midtown Children’s Advent Book List [updated]


[The following post has been updated on November 28, 2018.]

Build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children. –John Piper

As Advent approaches, we wanted to provide parents with some additional resources that may be helpful as you seek to build God-centered anticipation and excitement in your homes.

But before we begin, just a little reminder from author Elyse Fitzpatrick: 

Above all, please don’t make this a way to earn righteousness or “make a tradition” that will somehow save your children when they, like you, are “prone to wander.” Traditions don’t save us, the Christ-child does…Don’t worry if you don’t get this done every day or in the right order. We tell you not to worry because you’re not the one bringing Christ to your children. The Holy Spirit does that. He may use you as a means to accomplish His work….or He may not. You can pray and then trust that He will use this season and your entire life in just the way He chooses.

So with that in mind, here are some helpful resources to help you point your family’s heart toward the advent of God’s Son this Christmas season:

Daily Advent Books:

Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
If you aren’t familiar with The Jesus Storybook Bible, it is one of our favorites all year long as each story whispers His name, pointing readers to Jesus. And there just happen to be exactly twenty-four Old Testament stories leading up to the birth of Jesus in the narrative. Start on December 1st, and you will reach the story of Jesus’ birth right on Christmas day. 

Check out this website for a free download of illustrated cards from the Storybook that match each daily reading. We recommend printing these on cardstock, laminating, and hanging one each day after reading the corresponding story for a great visual reminder of our waiting for the coming King. We’ve seen families turn them into Christmas ornaments or create a simple banner to hang from the mantle.

Unwrapping the Greatest Christmas Gift by Ann Voskamp
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is Ann Voskamp’s interpretation and extension of the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree. Similar to The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent plan, the Jesse tree uses Old Testament stories, this time, tracing Jesus’ family tree. As Voskamp describes in her opening: “The tree we really need to understand and be astonished by is the family tree of Jesus Christ. Because this is our story—your story…He adopts all the messy and broken and imperfect people into his tree and he gives us his family name.” Unwrapping the Greatest Gift begins on December 1st. Each day contains a scripture reading, a family devotion, one to three questions to discuss as a family, and additional optional family activities. 

Many families choose to make their own “Jesse trees” in conjunction with their reading. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, check out Pinterest for lots of ideas for making your own daily Jesse tree ornaments as a family. Or, if family crafts aren’t your thing, check out Etsy for many sets of Jesse tree ornaments ready to purchase. Feeling particularly thrifty? Voskamp provides a link to free downloads of pictures you can cut and use as ornaments. Use code “Jesse.” 

Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Geared towards elementary aged children, Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles (by author of Give Them Grace) is certainly the least frilly of the Advent bunch. Be prepared to look past a few typos, but what you will find is a sweet devotion that allows families to rest and rejoice in the Advent season. Each day contains a scripture passage to read as a family, followed by a mini devotional specifically for parents and then a devotion to read as a family. 

Each week also contains an additional family activity set up to tie in with that week’s study. As Elyse mentions in her introduction, each weekly activity requires a bit of prep work and she encourages parents to think through the best day of the week to complete the activity. 

Why Do We Call it Christmas? Reading Plan
Connect modern traditions with the birth of Jesus in this 10-day reading plan. Each day contains a short video clip from Phil Vischer’s (Veggie Tales) Buck Denver Asks- Why Do We Call It Christmas?, scripture reading, and short reflection with prayer prompts.

Picture Books:

Who Is Coming To Our House by Joseph Slate
Marketed Age: 1-3 years old
Available in board book or paperback, this simple book describes how the animals prepare a cozy home for the baby Jesus. The repetition of the book is immediately appealing to young children. While there’s room to be cautious about nativity books from animals’ perspectives, this sweet story provides age-appropriate anticipation of the birth of Christ, keeping His coming at the center of the story as the animals join in celebrating the newborn King. 

What is Christmas? by Michelle Medlock Adams
Marketed Age: 2-5 years old
Michelle Adams’ warm humorous text lists all of the things that Christmas might be about, only to conclude that it is truly about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. The whimsical art and rhyming fun-to-read verse draws young children in and serves as a great tool for helping young children process all that makes up the holiday season. And if the book ends up being a hit in your house, Adams has an entire series of similar books worth checking out! 

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Marketed Age: 4-7 years old
A personal favorite, author of the Jesus Storybook Bible creates a beautiful picture book that captures the moment that Christ arrives. The book contains the refrain “It’s time! It’s time” as creation whispers a secret: the long-awaited child had arrived! Lloyd describes the quiet celebration of creation in a way that will leave you and your family praising God as you celebrate that “the one who made us has come to live with us!”

The Christmas Promise by Alison Mitchell
Brand new this year (and by the same publisher as The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross which we are huge fans of) comes a captivating retelling of the Christmas story with adorable illustrations showing how God kept His promise to send a new King, a rescuing king, a forever king! This book helps children discover exactly how God kept His Christmas Promise.

related read: “A Very Midtown Advent Book List” blog post

Recommended Reading: Fiction Edition

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting books that have been enjoyable to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Brandon Clements, who oversees our pastoral care and Recovery. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

Reading good fiction has long been one of my most healthy outlets as a person, and there are particular books that have been incredible spiritual encouragements to me. I would argue that the books that follow fall into the category of character-driven, likely-spiritually-encouraging fiction for believers. They are not necessarily thrillers (so don't approach them looking for The Hunger Games), but rich stories that echo the heart of God in some fashion or another.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Marilynne Robinson is probably my favorite novelist. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 and is a moving story of an elderly preacher in rural Iowa going through his last years with his family. You probably won't read this book fast, but if you do finish it, I bet you'll enjoy it long after it is over. Robinson has a way of making words and characters sink into your bones that I am envious of.

Home by Marilynne Robinson I told you I loved her. This book is set in the same town and is a vague retelling of the prodigal son story. I think I like it even more than Gilead, if that's possible. Robinson also released another novel tied to the town of Gilead called Lila, but I haven't finished it yet.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger This book tore a whole through me when I first read it. It's a moving story of a father's love for his children, and it wraps up with one of the most beautiful and compelling metaphoric depictions of heaven I've ever seen outside of Scripture. I will never forget the end of this story.

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor Flannery O'Connor is known for dark Southern fiction with religious themes, and this novel by her certainly hits the mark. Here you will find a character (a traveling evangelist) whose reactions to his own brokenness will haunt you and challenge you to think about the ways in which you respond to the darkness inside of you. If you've never read Flannery O'Connor, be prepared for weird. But life is weird, amiright? I also have enjoyed many of her short stories that she is more widely known for.

I hope these get you started and if you check any of them out, I'd love to know what you think!

Recommended Reading: Adam Gibson

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Adam Gibson, who is one of our lead pastors. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

Reason for God by Tim Keller Keller deals first with the main objections that Westerners have with Christianity, then builds a case for Christian belief. I have never read a more helpful book when it comes to dealing with my own doubt, as well as being helpful in answering the common questions of friends who do not know Jesus. I try to read it at least once a year to stay fresh on its content.

When the Church Was a Family by Joseph Hellerman This book gives excellent scriptural insight into how category-shifting it was for a first century person to be told that Jesus intended for his followers to operate like they were family. It changed the way I read the Bible and has been profoundly influential in our church's philosophy, operating practices, and teaching.

Recommended Reading: Kent Bateman

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Kent Bateman, who oversees our communications. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges Often books that talk about living by grace say beautiful, theologically rich things, but fail to help us see what living by grace looks like on a day-to-day, rubber-hits-the-road basis. This book does a great job of doing both. If you're a new Christian and trying to figure out what in the world the Christian life looks like, or just always find yourself drifting towards works and legalism, this is a great book for you. It's been so helpful for me, I try to re-read it at least once a year.


by the Desiring God team

This one very much fits in with our

What's Killing Me

series. Each chapter tackles a different topic like pride, envy, anger, or lust. Each deadly sin is explained, helpfully diagnosed, analyzed, and then pointed back to the gospel for help fighting against it. I found the chapter on anger especially insightful. The guys at Desiring God do a great job with each one, and I think you'll find a lot of practical help fighting sin with this book. As if that weren't enough reason, it's also free in PDF, Mobi, and EPUB formats!

Recommended Reading: Brandon Clements

In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Brandon Clements, who oversees our pastoral care and Recovery. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller I've never read a more practical, helpful, and encouraging book on prayer than Miller's A Praying Life. One of the most helpful parts for me was that he addressed a lot of the reasons we tend not to pray as Christians--one of them being the cynicism that builds up in us when our prayers aren't answered the way we hoped they would be. It is an aggressively honest and pull-no-punches kind of book that was deeply encouraging to me.

Ultimately, it is the gospel applied to our prayer lives. We don't have to perform in prayer--we are freed by the perfect righteousness of Christ to bring our messy, half-hearted, and cynical prayers to the throne of God. If you've ever struggled with prayer (which is probably all of you), you should check it out.

The Big Story

 by Justin Buzzard

One of the things that tends to get lost in the everyday humdrum of life is the fact that we are a part of the biggest and most compelling story that has ever been told--the story of God and His work to redeem all of creation. This book helps you zoom out and see your life as it is--part of this grand story of God. It helps you see everything--work, family, hobbies, church involvement--from a much bigger and more helpful perspective. Your life is not just a series of random events, but a part of this giant and redeeming tapestry of a story that God is telling.

Recommended Reading: Jay Hendricks


In this series of posts, each of our pastors will be suggesting two books that have been helpful to them on various topics. In this post, we hear from Jay Hendricks, who oversees our music, Gatherings, and production. To find out more about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.

With by Skye Jethani

While this book may not be mind-blowing on the theological terms, it was extremely helpful for correcting my perspective on God's relationship with us. I was around Christianity my entire life, however, I had wrongly shaped my view of who God was, and my role in our relationship. Skye Jethani helps give examples of our missteps when applying the gospel to our lives, and how we view our relationship with the Lord. Specifically, Jethani presents the gospel in a what that helped me realize that my role in life is not to live life "for God" or to get life "from God" but that reality is that I get to live life "With God," and thats the prize–that's the gospel.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien Potentially my favorite fiction book to read. There is something about the characters and the storyline that connect deeply with me, and draw me in every time I pick it up again. While the author historically dislikes much of the allegory that the readers try to tie into the story, the fact remains that there are beautiful glimpses of, broken humanity, our need for salvation from evil, and the gospel story throughout. As you read, don't feel the need to tie it all in a perfect bow back to the bible. Instead join the characters on this addictive story, that I personal feel like I'm actually a character in each time.