For those of you who are looking for presents for next Christmas or want to spend the Amazon gift cards, you got for Christmas here are the ten best books I read in 2016 and why you should read them too.
- Confessions – St. Augustine
Confessions is a Christian Classic and rightfully so. What is so profound about the book is that it is an autobiography from a giant of the Christian faith written in the form of a prayer. It is the story of a restless soul because of disordered love. How a restless heart found it’s home in Christ. Beautiful, timeless and life-giving. A must read at some point in every Christian journey.
- The Call to Joy and Pain. – Ajith Fernando
This book was a book that came into our home at the perfect time. Every year we as a church family read four books together that tie into our pastor’s messages for the year. This was one of those books. It was not just a book that my wife and I read out of obligation to our church community it was profoundly helpful as we walked through the joy and pains of cancer. It is by far one of the best books I have read on the topic of suffering in the Christian life and the pastoral vocation.
- The Rule of Love – JV Fesko
The Rule of Love is a deceivingly small book. I read this in preparation for writing our VBS curriculum which was centered around the Ten Commandments. Fesko brings the Decalog to life in such a way that you are convicted afresh by each command. You see each command in ways you have never seen them before. JV doesn’t just leave you there wounded and bleeding he follows each command with the all-surpassing beauty of Christ that moved me to worship time and time again.
- You Are What You Love – James K. A. Smith
Many books have recently been written about worldview. These books are valuable, and I thank God that they have been written because their value in a post-Christian America should only increase. What Dr. Smith has done in his Book You Are What You Love is complete the picture that the worldview arguments begin. So many worldview books are written from a rationalistic point of view. Smith writes this book to say our worldview matters but what matters most is what do you love. He says we are first and foremost lovers. And he is right. For all you Family Pastor’s out there he has a couple of chapters on teaching kids and raising kids that are killer. Such a great book.
- The Psalms of Jesus – Tim Keller
I am not sure that I have read a better devotional in my life. Keller’s devotional on the Psalms came at the perfect time as my wife, and I walked through this devotional daily as we faced the task of walking through cancer treatment a day at a time. I found David and Keller the perfect companions for a journey that had good days and awful days but in both days a never changing sovereign God who never let go.
- Christianity and Liberalism – J Gresham Machen
This book was written in 1923 and read like it was written in 2015. The Liberalism that invaded the Mainlines in the early twentieth century has invaded much of evangelicalism as a whole in the twenty-first century. Machen’s diagnosis is powerful and more relevant that you could imagine. It serves as encouragement and warning to the church today.
- The Pastor: A Memoir – Eugene Peterson
This is a book I will read again. It is the Autobiography of Eugene Peterson the pastor and author of The Message translation of the Bible. It was not at all what I was expecting in all the best ways you could imagine. His approach to the scriptures, church, and to life, in general, was mystical yet theologically grounded in the scriptures. Out of all the books, I read this year this one challenged more presuppositions and spoke to me in a language I needed to hear from a pastor I have come to respect because he just wants to be just a pastor in a world that is telling pastors they need to be relevant, famous and efficient.
- All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
I read this book because of the considerable hype by everyone online. It did not disappoint. It was a beautifully written historical novel set in World War II. I was a story of sacrificial love and hope that was well worth every moment.
- Reclaiming Conversation – Sherry Turkle
As a parent, this may be one of the more important books you can read. It is all about how do we reclaim conversation in a world that is increasingly nonverbal and overly electronic. Technology is not going away, and we need to be better at understanding and to leverage it in raising our digitally native kids so that technology enhances their world rather than destroying it.
- Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis has a way of making extremely complicated truth understandable. His down to earth orthodoxy makes him so unique that his books even though they are half a century old they are completely relevant and not difficult to read. If you can only read one book by Lewis, I would say it should be this one. Mere Christianity is the cornerstone of Lewis’ view of the Christian faith and life in general. For those who are new to the Christian faith, it is formative for those who have been a Christian for a while it provides much-needed language in which to communicate your faith to others.
A while back I did a blog post on the 6 things I tell every worship leader. I thought I would do one for every story teller. Our church is blessed to have story tellers who have done what they do for years, but what I have found is the things that make good story tellers great story tellers is they are constant learners.
Here are some practical tips I give our story tellers no matter how long they have been at it.
1. Internalize the script – I don’t tell them to memorize the script because I have found there is something so powerful and profound when people take the script internalize it and express it through their own experience and in their own style. I have one story teller that makes every week a production with actors props and scenery to boot, and the kids love it. Another finds incredible personal illustrations to highlight their point and still another uses props and vocal intonations to captivate the kids. Take the truth, leave it unchanged and add the uniqueness of you.
2. Maintain eye contact ALWAYS – Any time you look down at a paper in your hand you place an impenetrable wall between you and those you are ministering to.
3. Be over animated – you always come across more subdued that you really are.
4. Bring your Bible up with you – Put the sheet with the bible verse in your bible and read from that if you must but preaching from the Bible reinforces in the mind of the kids you are speaking to that these are more than stories.
5. Use peaks and valley’s – Few things create tension for a story then proper use of vocal inflection. Most people are comfortable with one particular vocal range. The problem is kids get used to your “normal” voice. If you want kids to be on their edge of their seats speak softly and then build to get much louder.
6. Elevate Christ – Elevate Christ make sure that every story points the kids to a place where they can see the greatness of God. Where they realize and recognize their need for a savior. When it comes to the application portion think of practical illustrations for young kids, and older kids, making sure that not only reference Christ but you help kids understand that Jesus is everything.
If I could speak to adult worship leaders or youth worship leaders most of the items on this list wouldn’t change. I actually have a theory that leading worship for kids is the most raw and most under realized way to develop future worship leaders. If you can’t lead worship for kids chances are you won’t be as engaging and successful with adults. Leading worship for kids strips away the showmanship than can creep into the practice of even the most accomplished worship leaders out there. Here are a few practical tips I constantly remind every worship leader in our kids ministry.
1. Smile – You don’t want to convey worship is painful (actually I have heard of kids pastors who have used worship as a form of punishment. “If you don’t stop talking we are going to worship for 5 more minutes.” I kid you not.)
2. Sing – Even if your voice isn’t that stellar having a vocal focal point helps kids enter in.
3. Make eye contact – When you are leading kids in small group, worship, or large group eye contact is huge. Eye contact is the time out chair of the soul. When kids are messing around eye contact does wonders believe me. If you don’t believe me ask a mother.
4. Make it personal – Share a scripture or something God is speaking to you this week – Kids learn by example be an example
5. Teach kids – Having kids in a kids ministry setting is a huge advantage. We can break down what we do and why we do it, something that will never happen in “Big Church” We need to take advantage of this opportunity to teach them the heart of worship.
6. Be a worshiper yourself – The best way to teach kids to worship is to show them how to worship with your life.
Yesterday I talked about the value of old things and how consumerism keeps us from understanding and seeing the value in redeeming something old rather than always looking for the rush something new provides. One of the mistakes many pastors (kids pastors, youth pastors and senior pastor alike) make is during Christmas we demonize culture rather than show people how to redeem it. If you attend church during Christmas in most churches, you will hear some form of this rant. “Christmas is not about stuff, or buying things; we need to put Christ back in Christmas.” While this is true, it falls short. The church for the past few years has done a good job of talking about what Christmas isn’t and haven’t done a good enough job describing the beauty of Christ.
3 Things Every Pastor Should Preach During the Christmas Season:
I am not Amish and don’t churn my butter. I actually love technology and new things but I think events like Black Friday and disposable everything does more damage to our society than good. We have this obsession with new. When is the last time you repaired anything? Everything we own is new until it’s not anymore then we discard it and replace it and not repair it. Why fix my TV for 200.00 when I can get a new one for 300? We have a society that no longer sees the value in old things. We even want a new version of our old things and call it retro. We live in a society that used to value “growing old” together, now it seems everywhere you turn people are cashing in relationships to chase new things they think will make them happy but what we don’t know is that this new relationship will eventually break and if we don’t learn to value old things we will never understand or experience the power of redemption. The long-term damage consumerism causes reaches farther into our lives than just our stuff, it erodes the fabric of our relationship because our desire to have new things slowly makes its way into the most important relationships in our lives.