As Christmas approaches, we’re all getting our lists together of what we will give to our friends and family. Most of what we will buy will have no eternal value. Things will a) wear out, b) become boring, or c) break. Some stuff will be out of style before we get the credit card bill. Much of it will be nice, but not necessary.
To be honest, most of us can’t remember what we got for Christmas last year. We tore the paper off, said thank you, and then went on to the next thing in the pile. We buy toys for our kids, perfume for our wives, and tools for our husbands, and we don’t know what to buy for our parents who have everything they need.
I would like to suggest a new tradition at Christmas. Obviously, you should think about giving to the church, to missions, and to others in need during the holidays. You might want to put some money in the Salvation Army kettle. You could (and probably should) think about cutting back on your Christmas spending. Let’s be honest—we all spend too much at Christmas, and giving stuff has gotten out of control.
As my friend Jay Strack says, “In five years, you will be the same person you are today except for the people you meet, the books you read, and the places you go.” He’s right. Whatever I am today, I am because of those three things. (Obviously I’m not excluding the work of Jesus Christ and His Spirit in my life…you get the point!)
My new tradition would be to give good books to those you love. I have a library of about 10,000 books. I have books on theology and doctrine and hundreds of commentaries on the Bible. I have books on prayer, grace, discipleship, holiness, the church, revival, and leadership. I have several hundred biographies as well has over two hundred books on history (if we don’t learn from the past, we will repeat it).
Reading is a lost art. We now spend our money on DVDs and video games. We play instead of meditate. If our kids spent as much time reading good books as they do watching junk on television or playing a mindless game they’ve played a thousand times, they wouldn’t be sucked into the culture so easily.
I believe it’s time to have some quiet in the home where everyone agrees to turn off the television and read for at least half an hour a day. I believe it’s time for parents to significantly reward their kids for reading.
When my daughter Erin was in the first grade, she had a teacher who encouraged reading and challenged her students to read 100 books during the year. Erin accomplished the goal before the halfway point during the second semester. At various milestones along the way, there was a reward from her teacher. I can’t tell you the difference that one teacher made in her life.
With the popularity of a plethora of electronic devices, books (and audio books) can be downloaded on your iPod, iPad, and even your cell phone! This certainly has more value than listening to a song by Bono for the 25th time. We’ve got tunes in our heads but no song in our hearts. We know words, but we’ve lost meaning. We know stuff, but it’s not transformational—it’s mostly trivial.
Reading is dangerous because it is so powerful. Books can change you. Books can destroy you or build you up. They can encourage you or cause you to doubt. That’s why reading any old book will not do. You need to read good books. Manley Beasley used to say he tried to focus on books over a hundred years old because much of what was written today was just fluff. I’m tired of “sermon books” that are 90% illustrations and 10% biblical content. I read the old writers like Morrison, MacLaren, Spurgeon, Tozer, Havner, and others because they had something to say.
In the early 19th century, 58% of men and 51% of women were illiterate. By the end of the age, 95% of both men and women were literate. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were strongly influenced by the writings of George MacDonald, a name most of us are unfamiliar with. I would dare say most believers aren’t familiar with names like George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and others of their literary stature. In 1882, Mark Twain asked MacDonald for a new copy of his book At the Back of the North Wind because Twain’s children had “read and re-read their own copy so many times that it looks as if it had been through the wars.”
I’d like to suggest that you have the following books in your personal library. If you don’t have them, give them to someone in the family for Christmas. Better yet, make a list of the ones you don’t have and let your family buy them for you. You may not find all of them, as some are out of print. You can search www.abe.com and find many of these used books in great condition at a discounted price. I would rather have a great used book than an average new book.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.
The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer
Your Life in Christ, George MacDonald
The Be Series, Warren Wiersbe (hardback edition of all the Be books)
When Heaven is Silent, Ron Dunn
Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something, Ron Dunn
Not Peace But A Sword, Vance Havner
Repent or Else, Vance Havner
A Hunger for the Holy, Calvin Miller
Listen to the Giants, Walking with the Giants, Warren Wiersbe
Just As I Am, Billy Graham
Any book in the “Leaders in Action” series, including books on Theodore Roosevelt, C. S. Lewis, Booker T. Washington, Patrick Henry, Winston Churchill, Robert E. Lee and others
Various books on prayer by Andrew Murray and E. M. Bounds
The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards
Shadow of the Almighty, Elisabeth Elliot
The Life of D. L. Moody, Lyle W. Dorsett
Prophetic Untimeliness, Os Guinness
The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis
Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala
At least one biography on great men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, C. T. Studd, Winston Churchill, Stonewall Jackson and others
Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper
The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley
Thinking for a Change, John Maxwell
Living by the Book, Howard Hendricks
Kingdom Education, Glen Schultz
As Iron Sharpens Iron, Howard and William Hendricks
The Myth of the Greener Grass, J. Allan Petersen
No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age, Os Guinness & John Seel
When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks
First Person, Second Person, Third Person (three books), Lehman Strauss
Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey
How about buying one of these books for your school’s library? Or, you could also buy someone a subscription to Christian History Magazine. Or, better yet, buy your kid’s school a subscription! You could buy a book for the New Orleans Seminary library here at our church for pastors to use. (Contact Tom Pollock (firstname.lastname@example.org) before you buy one and see if we already have it. Mainly they need theological books, and we could provide you with a list of needed books for the seminary library.) Any and all of these books would be valuable to Sherwood Christian Academy or a local Christian school in your town.
Hey, I’m into books. I’m looking for people who want to think and not park their brains in neutral in front of the TV and veg out physically and mentally. Who will join the “Leaders are Readers Club” this Christmas?
P.S. – I’m hoping I will see the day when someone will fund an annual scholarship that would be given to an SCA senior who writes a definitive research paper on how Christians need to take back the culture. The papers would be read by the Sherwood staff and the SCA Administration, with the scholarship winner announced at graduation. I would like for us to offer a one-time $1,000 scholarship every year to the University of Mobile for their contribution in fighting the culture wars. Why designate the school? The University of Mobile is openly and aggressively committed to Christian education that is Christian in more than name only. Not all “Christian” or “Baptist” schools can say that, and no secular university can say that.
I would hope that in a few years we could publish a book of position papers written by students from SCA as a thought provoker and discussion starter for other Christian schools. It’s just a thought, but I think it’s a good one.