Favorite things may be a misnomer- these are all books! Which are, of course, my favorite things. I have read or re-read these in the last year. At some point in the coming year I hope to add a “resources” tab to the blog and include book reviews, among other things. In the meantime, here’s a Sow Love book guide for your Christmas shopping!
For the little ones:
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I wish this book had been around when my boys were babies. Everything about it is beautiful- the writing, the illustrations, the sheer joy with which Lloyd-Jones traces the story of Jesus through the Old Testament into the New. The whole book is about Jesus, and God’s love for us as demonstrated through Him. For example, at the end of the Daniel in the Lion’s Den story, she writes: “God would keep on rescuing his people. And the time was coming when God would send another brave Hero, like Daniel, who would love God and do what God said- whatever it cost him, even if it meant he would die. And together they would pull off the Greatest Rescue this world has ever known.” Any child raised reading this book would see God’s consistent and persistent love throughout the entire Bible. Radiant and reverent, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the good news about as well as any I have seen.
For the kids:
The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith by Champ Thornton
This is THE COOLEST BOOK. Written for kids ages 8-12, The Radical Book gives kids historical context and fun facts about the Bible, answering questions like: why did Paul write letters? What does a prophet do? What is God’s glory? One chapter details the weapons in the Bible and includes a how-to-guide for making your own (small!) catapult. Another discusses common foods, an explanation of “clean” and “unclean” animals and a recipe for Passover bread. Other chapters explore jewels, animals, and outer space. Thornton sets the Scriptural context into an historical, social context and engages kids with cool graphics on every page. It’s a hardback, sturdy and colorful. My nieces and nephews will get this from Aunt Anna this year.
Sidney and Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs by Phil Vischer (yes, one of the Veggie Tales guys)
This is an oldie but a goodie. I used to read this my sons’ Bible clubs when they were young (first-third grade) and it was a hit every time. Sidney and Norman live next door to each other, but neighborhood is all they have in common. Proud Norman does everything well-pretty much perfectly, in fact- and sad Sidney can’t seem to do anything right. Both pigs get an invitation to visit God, and what He tells them changes their lives forever. We are all either a Sidney, or a Norman, or some combination of both. This book resonates with every kid (and adult for that matter) because it teaches what we need to know most: understanding God’s infinite love changes our relationship with Him, with each other, and even with ourselves.
Written for adults, but teens might also like:
I sort of hesitated to have a “teen” category, because these are books that have tremendous depth. These are just books that I think would appeal to teens as well as adults. I got a lot out of both of them.
Befriend by Scott Sauls
The subtitle reads: “create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation and fear.” I am reading this one right now, and it is excellent. Sauls makes a powerful case for truly befriending people who are difficult or just different. He doesn’t just tell you why you should do this- because Jesus did- he also gives suggestions about how. He gives deep theological support to the imperative to make friends across political, economic, social, religious and sexual orientation divides. I think every American Christian, young and old, should read this book now. Sauls points us to the Healer, and we need his message.
This is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection by Sammy Rhodes
Sammy Rhodes is funny and charming (one chapter is titled: “Parents are a Gift- You Can’t Return Them”). He is also brutally honest about his teenage porn addiction and his Twitter plagiarism accusations. But he “genuinely believe[s] that our awkwardness and awkward moments are invitations to know more deeply the grace of God.” And finally, that is what this book is about: the grace of God in the awkwardness of forming real relationships, both with other people and with God Himself. Rhodes is a Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) pastor at the University of South Carolina, so this book would be a perfect gift for a college student or the parents of a college student, as well as anyone else who occasionally feels awkward and wants to know how to reach others for Christ in spite of it.
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
I am studying this book with a group of moms in my neighborhood, and we love it. A heads up: the cover is a girly blue with pink flowers, but the content is universal. Wilkin discusses ten different attributes of God: He is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. To each she applies the question: “How should the knowledge that God is _____ change the way I live?” The book is an extended exploration of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and she makes the powerful case that we often read the Bible to find out about ourselves, when we need to read it to get to know Him. “Don’t tell me who I am,” writes Wilkin,” until I know I AM.”
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
I just can’t get enough of this book. Many of you know it: A senior devil named Screwtape writes letters to his nephew Wormwood, who is in training to torment a recent convert to Christianity. Intended to instruct the fictional Wormwood, the letters instruct the reader about the tricks Satan uses to deceive, manipulate and confuse Christians, always with an eye toward rendering faith useless and ineffective. It’s funny but also very wise, and would make a great gift for a Christian who needs teaching about spiritual warfare (all of us).
Praying Through the Bible for your Kids by Nancy Guthrie
Tyndale has a One Year series of Bibles and devotionals, and the whole series looks excellent. The Bibles guide you through a year in Scripture, and are available in several different translations. Devotionals aim to cover varied topics such as grief, busy parenting, and seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. Disclaimer: I bought this one for myself this year, so I am recommending before actually reading. However, Nancy Guthrie is a rock solid Bible teacher so I am confident this is going to be a great resource. Each day contains four short passages from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs, and then a devotion and guided prayer. Guthrie says she wrote the book for herself: “I need the Scriptures to go to work in me to reshape my deepest longings for my child. I also need a daily dose of perspective, a daily infusion of hope, and a daily reminder of grace in regard to my parenting.” Sounds like a winner to me.
The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day) by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris
A wonderful friend gave me this three years ago, and I go back to it frequently because I love it. Developed by the same guys who created the Mockingbird website (if you don’t know it you should; mbird.com), the Mockingbird devotional is funny, challenging, and full of insight. The contributors connect Biblical truths to a wide array of pop and cultural expressions, demonstrating our universal yearning for God and need of a Savior. Just a few references include: the TV show Cheers, The Brothers Karamazov, the satirical “newspaper” The Onion, the 1980 movie Airplane!, G.I Joe- and of course they quote hymns and C.S. Lewis. The fun never impedes the gospel message, but instead celebrates creativity and God-given joy. Take August 1, a look at the parable of the persistent friend in Luke 11:5-10: “The parable… gives us assurance that God is a light sleeper. Like Motel 6- ‘We’ll leave the light on for you’- the door is always open. Our arrival at the door in the deepest reaches of our night is evidence enough, explanation enough that we need something, and our Friend meets us there, our needs in his hands, reminding us these weights are taken care of. With this, we can rest easy.” This speaks to the greatest strength of this devotional: it is always realistic about sin and persistently hopeful in God’s grace. You will be encouraged.
Get Your Story Straight: A Teen’s Guide to Learning and Living the Gospel by Kristin Hatton
Kristin is a friend of mine, and she knows how to reach young people with the good news of Jesus. She’s mom to two sons and a daughter, and she has led high school and college kids in Bible study for years. Relevant and pragmatic, Get Your Story Straight is divided into 52 weeks, and each week focuses on a particular passage of Scripture. Teens will spend 5 days each week exploring that passage, determining what it says about God and how that applies to the life of a twenty-first century teenager. I love it because the focus remains on God, rather than self- centered teens- whose story is it, anyway?- and this devotional is a very practical tool for teaching young people how to study Scripture. A friend of mine just bought two copies to give her daughter for Christmas, so they could work through the devotion together in 2017. I just might steal that idea myself.
Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim Keller
I don’t have to tell you that any book written by Tim Keller or C.S. Lewis is going to be packed with insight. Their writing and teaching are full of the Holy Spirit, and this little book doesn’t disappoint. Hidden Christmas examines several familiar aspects of the Christmas story and demonstrates how the cross was inevitably imbedded in Jesus’s life, beginning with His genealogy. The book is short but powerful because Keller confronts watered-down, picture-book versions of the birth of Christ; the incarnation exposes the depth of human need and confronts us with our sinfulness, and yet Light Himself enters the world on our behalf… Challenging and awe-inspiring, Hidden Christmas will help prepare your heart throughout the Advent season. Wrap this one and give it early, so it can be savored in the weeks to come.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
I include this one even though its primary focus is not faith, but because Bryan Stevenson’s work in the criminal justice system grows directly out of his faith. An attorney who started the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, Stevenson exposes injustice and inequality in our prisons and courts. He has argued all the way to the Supreme Court several times. Many of his clients are guilty, but unreasonably punished because they do not have adequate representation; others are victims of false accusations. The work is incredibly difficult and draining. After losing an particular appeal for a disabled client who dies in the electric chair, Stevenson asks himself why he keeps at it: “I do what I do because I am broken too…. I understood that even as we are caught in a web of hurt and brokenness, we’re also in a web of healing and mercy.” This book will challenge you and make you cry, but it is important for our country to face the issues Stevenson explores.
I also recommend other books I enjoyed this year:
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
(fair warning: she is radical and foul-mouthed and I do not agree with everything she says, maybe even a lot of what she says. But she ministers to people many churches don't know what to do with. I really hesitated to include this one; however, I believe her voice is worth hearing.)
Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning by Rebekah Lyons (for women, about dealing with anxiety and learning to trust Jesus)
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller (autobiographical; a longtime bachelor gets married)
Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko (a young pastor loses his five year old daughter to an asthma attack and learns to trust God with his grief)
Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin (exactly what the subtitle says- a good resource)
Looking back over the list, I see that I have an affinity for books with long subtitles. I hope this is a fun change of pace and helpful for holiday shopping! I would love to hear your suggestions and thoughts. Enjoy the season!