With the coming of Christmas, 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. They will wear out, become boring or break. Some 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, tools for our husbands and 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. Be honest— we all spend too much at Christmas, and giving ‘stuff’ has gotten out of control.
As my friend Jay Strack says, “You will be the same person you are today in five years 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 books. Good books to those you love. I have a library with about ten thousand books in it. I have books on theology, 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 videos and video games. We play instead of meditate. If our kids spent as much time reading good books as they do watching junk on TV 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 time in the home where everyone agrees to turn the TV off and read for at least a half hour a day. I believe it’s time for parents to significantly reward their kids for reading.
When Erin was in the 1 st grade, she had a teacher who encouraged reading and challenged children to read 100 books. Erin did it before the half-way point of the second semester. Along the way, when completing ten, twenty-five, fifty and seventy-five, there was a reward from her teacher. I can’t tell you the difference that one teacher made in her life.
With the latest technology, audio books can be downloaded unto a small i-pod. This certainly has more value than listening to a song by Bono or 50 Cent over and over again. We’ve got tunes in our head 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 or cause you to doubt. That’s why reading any old book will not do. You need to read good books. Manley Beasley said he tried to focus on books over a hundred years old because much of contemporary literature was just fluff. I’m tired of ‘sermon books’ with 90% illustration 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 19 th 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 or home library. If you don’t have them, give them to someone in the family for Christmas. Better yet, as an adult, make a list of the ones you want you want and let your family buy them for you. You may not find all of them because some are out of print. You can search www.abe.com and find many of these books used but 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
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
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
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
At least one biography on great men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Murray, C. T. Studd, Winston Churchill, Stonewall Jackson and others.
Hey, I’m into books. I’m looking for people who want to think, 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?
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.