One of the things I am most thankful for is my job. While about 6% of our nation is jobless, I have one. But that is not the apex of my vocational thankfulness. I work for a great Christian man, whose generosity and integrity shine brightly in the work we do. But that isn’t the part I am most thankful for. That I work, and where I work are secondary to the actual work that I do. I get to market products that can change a person’s life for a living.
I get paid to help connect consumers with books, Bibles, music and movies that may draw them closer to their Creator. The diversity of those products is as expansive as the diversity of the population. And a product that hits one person between the eyes will never be considered by another. So needless to say, I do not get to simply promote my favorite books and CDs for a few reasons. First, the best way to hit the vast majority of the consumer audience is to aim at the high part of the bell curve, focusing on the popular. Second, marketing dollars do not allow for the promotion of even all the bestsellers. And finally, and possibly most pertinent, is the fact that I am drown to some of the less-popular titles that are available.
But here, I can throw the populace aside and get to the heart of some of the products that have impacted my life the most this year. As you begin your Christmas shopping, maybe consider a few of these life-changing gifts.
There are hundreds of books on spiritual formation, so I would understand the easy dismissal of this book. But what a shame it would be to overlook this beautifully written, honest, and poignant look at living a disciplined life. Do not expect to blow through this book in a couple of sittings; this book is to be savored, allowing plenty of time for Yankoski’s words and observations to simmer as you learn to apply these ongoing disciplines to your spiritual formation. You won’t look at apples or cemeteries or silence the same way. It’s a good guide to a monastic life for those of us who are not monks.
I’ve said that I think this book should be required reading for anyone who claims to follow Jesus. I Still believe that, although I know it’ll likely never happen. Yancey’s premise for his new book is quite simple: although Christians have been saved by grace, they generally do a crappy job of showing grace to others. That’s the primary reason so many like Jesus but hate his bride. What’s not so easy about this book is seeing yourself in the mirror that Yancey holds up. Thankfully, a bit of a path is revealed to take us out of this current state of affair, and into a fresh awakening of grace giving. This is probably the most popular of the titles on this short list, but not one to be overlooked.
There is a certain formula to Christian music (or any pop music for that matter) that bores me. The redundancy runs rampant, both musically and lyrically. One of the problems is that everyone thinks they need to write worship music, even if they are not worship musicians. Another problem is that radio has certain narrow criteria for what they will play. So what if a group of musicians didn’t care about radio play or formulaic music, and instead to the pleading of their heart and set them to the music that ignites them? That’s exactly what Young Oceans did. An overflow of corporate worship, the band started as a collective dedicated to the subdued nuances of Psalmic petitions and prayers. The music is hauntingly simple; electronic and acoustic instrumentation colliding in pool of post-rock. I can’t count the times this record has been the perfect plumb-line in my day. What starts as background music quickly forges its way into the foreground. This is a meditative experience that rises far above whatever popular worship record you have in your car right now.
Yes, a kid’s book made my list. Fritz book is, first of all, visually stunning. The black & white drawing that illustrate this short tale are captivating and perfectly complement the story. Ah, the story… What a brilliant take on sin, sacrifice, and redemption. I was surprised by the emotions this story brought out of me! There is a depth to this story that isn’t out of place, although rarely found, in children’s literature. Please note, this is the first of three books from Fritz that encapsulate a full story revealing God’s love, plan, and perfect care for His children.
Okay, I do have a bias towards The Choir. Ever since I first saw them live in 1986, I have hung on their every word. If you have listened to the popular City on a Hill CDs from years gone by, you have been acclimated to The Choir, as their creativity was behind and woven throughout those projects. Shadow Weaver is not a neo-worship record, though. Here, personal introspection has never been so universal. The pain of seeing your kids grow up and start new lives of their own; the dichotomy of natures within us and those we admire; the ease at which we forget to follow through on the slimiest of things. This is pure poetry, bot lyrically and musically. Not a note or word is out of place, as The Choir reveals our fallen nature and our need for a Savior.
So many daily devotionals follow the same formula” random verse pulled out of context, warm and fluffy thoughts about that verse, and a trite prayer that replaces your own outpouring. This is why I am not generally drawn to devotionals, although I do know that millions of people draw inspiration from them each day. For me, though, I look for more depth. And depth is what I found in Tripp’s devo. Depth without being unattainable. Every single devo I have read in this collection forces me to take a different perspective of God and the way I try to live for Him. This is one devo that will cling to you long after you close the book and set it back on your inn-table.
That’s just six of the books or CDs that have stopped me this year, making me reflect and respond. There are dozens more that I have engaged with. But these six will likely stand the test of time for me. Although I can’t offer a “money-back guarantee” or anything, I do think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the nuggets you’ll find in these. They may not all be popular, bestsellers – but they are worthy of more attention than they will likely get. And I hope they bug you throughout the coming year as they have with me this year.