Recommended Read: I Can Only Imagine

If you’re like most of us at Gracepoint Berkeley church, you saw the movie¬†I Can Only Imagine this past spring, and either cried a lot or cried a lot “inside.” I think I sat next to the person who wins the “Most Tears Shed” prize — you know who you are! ūüôā

i can only imagineBUT did you know there’s a book? It came out a month before the movie, and I confess at first I was like…nah, even though I’m a sucker for memoirs. But I both read the book and listened to the audiobook (read by the author himself, which I always love) and recommend it for youth and adults alike! It is a quick read, written in a down-to-earth voice, but like the movie, it is a tear-jerker.

It is Millard’s fuller memoir and includes a lot more than what the movie could portray in 2 hours. It includes significant relationships in his life — for example, with his older brother (were you one of the people confused by the other guy in the family picture at the end of the movie?), as well as Kent, the friend from Glorietta Camp, who played a much more prominent role in his life than the movie was able to show.

And as can be expected, it goes into more depth of each person’s back story. Most notably, you get a fuller picture of Millard’s dad and how and why it is that he became the way he had been towards Bart and his brother. This book is excellent for developing empathy as you get a glimpse into each person’s story.

The movie played with the timeline of events, perhaps to create a more cohesive storyline, but Millard’s father fell ill while he was still in high school, so it was actually in his senior year that he was his father’s primary caretaker, and that they reconciled their relationship only to lose him so soon after.

I was reminded of this coming off of the Youth Ministry Training Retreat, where one of the big lessons we came away with was the power of listening and just being there and being with our youth, each of whom has a story, a world of struggles and realities beneath the surface. And actually, Millard’s youth group was instrumental in providing safety, stability, acceptance, and love amidst his tumultuous life. His youth group became a stable family for him, when he felt so unwanted, unloved, and unworthy. And they were there with him as he dealt with the loss of his father.

After reading the book, I felt like Millard was my friend. He was so vulnerable and real in sharing his struggles with self-worth and how he continues to build up his self-worth as a redeemed child of God. As I found out about his life story, I understood why MercyMe’s songs are often about these themes, and I could appreciate how his songs are born from the lessons and seasons of his own faith journey.

Anyway, wanted to add yet another book to your “to be read” list. This is a perfect one for bedtime reading, but be warned, you might stay up all night in order to finish!

 

 

 

 

Recommended Read: A Practical Guide to Culture

This past weekend, some of us across our Gracepoint Ministries gathered at Gracepoint Berkeley church for a Youth Ministry Training Retreat. It was a powerful time of raising our awareness of the world we and our youth are living in, as well as recognizing the role of the local church and youth ministry in bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the next generation.

practical guide to cultureOne book I want to recommend, not just for people involved in youth ministry, but any Christian living in the 21st century is called A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World by John Stonestreet (of Breakpoint) and Brett Kunkle (of Maven). It is, like the title states, a practical guide to culture. ūüôā

I read a lot of books on Christian Worldview and Gen Z, but what I appreciate about this book is that it is even-handed in its treatment of culture. The authors aren’t overly alarmist nor naively “let’s just go with the flow” either. Before getting into the hot topics we might anticipate in a book about today’s culture, they provide an entire framework for understanding what culture is and how it is we got to where are currently.¬† And one of their main points is that living in a post-Christian world, we need to go back to the Bible, the inspired word of God, as our authority on all the big questions of who we are, what our purpose is, and more. The authors point us to the Bible to reclaim the narrative, to the real story told in four chapters: Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. And they get practical, focusing on 8 “cultural waves” of today — Pornography, The Hookup Culture, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Affluence and Consumerism, Addiction, Entertainment, and Racial Tension — all in the context of God’s grand story. So while much of what we learn about our world leaves us heavy-hearted and burdened, they keep coming back to “hopecasting” that is possible only because of the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I look forward to discussing some of the issues with many of you, whether you’re a parent, a youth or children’s worker, or just someone who wants to think Christianly about our culture. You can find physical copies of the book at the GP Berkeley bookstore now!

Recommended Read: The Action Storybook Bible

Hey, Gracepoint Berkeley church and beyond! You probably forgot about this here blog. I confess I kind of did too…until my *mom* mentioned to me that I hadn’t posted since last October. (Shout out to Mrs. Kim for reminding me to keep spreading the love of reading!)

I don’t want to make any promises, but I realize I should just write some posts about the books I most often recommend to people. Today I’ll start with a relatively new book from the super popular¬†Action Bible franchise. As many of you who have read and love The Action Bible know, there are some intense parts (Valley of Dry Bones, anyone?). It might not be appropriate for younger kids, but at the same time, it’s a great way to get kids excited about reading the Bible. It’s awesome to see kiddos who come to Bibliopolis devouring The Action Bible, and reading it cover to cover multiple times.

Action-Storybook-Bible-3D-coverEnter The Action Storybook Bible: An Interactive Adventure through God’s Redemptive Story¬†which¬†came out this past October. It is designed for children ages 8 and under, and it is, as the subtitle states, an interactive reading experience.

I have one testimonial from a mom of a kindergarten boy here at Gracepoint Berkeley who said that her son asks to read it each day! There are questions to stop and talk about at the end of each section, so it can become a devotional type of experience for you and your child(ren) to share together.

So if you’re looking for a good book to go through with your child, or a good gift to get for the child of a friend or relative, I recommend it! We are carrying a limited number in our bookstore now. ūüôā

Do you have an Action Storybook Bible testimonial to share? 

 

A Picture Book to Supplement Course 101?

To continue the picture book theme I started (see my post on Halfway Herbert), today I want to feature The Big Red Tractor and the Little Village, another book by Francis Chan that was written in 2010 and I just discovered recently.

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Holly, Lydia and I took turns reading this one together. Their smiles speak for themselves. ūüôā¬†

I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say that Farmer Dave discovers a special book that changes everything for the people who live in the little village. It’s reminiscent of the illustration of the cars at the car convention from¬†Course 101, the Christian Foundations course we developed at our Gracepoint Ministries churches.

If you want a preview before purchasing the book for yourself, you can see this animated video version.

Profile of the Lukewarm: Halfway Herbert

In my quest for good Christian books for kids and teens, I recently happened upon children’s books written by Francis Chan. Turns out¬†Halfway Herbert has been around since 2010 (longer than some of the Bibliopolis kiddos have been alive), and a bunch of them have read it already.

Here’s a photo of Chloe (2nd grader) reading the book aloud to some of the 1st graders. They were cracking up at the story of Herbert, who does everything — including brushing his teeth, doing his homework, and telling the truth — halfway. But the girls quickly saw how this halfway disease was not good.

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Throughout all of our Gracepoint Ministries churches, we have been going through Revelation as part of our¬†DT (Devotion Times), and as I listened to the book, I couldn’t help but think of the recent DT on Revelation 3 and Jesus’ message to the lukewarm Laodecians. I was also reminded of the “Profile of the Lukewarm” chapter in Chan’s book¬†Crazy Love.¬†

I thought the book was a great way to talk about what it looks like to follow God with your whole heart, and if you or your child haven’t read it yet, I recommend it for a family read aloud!

 

Recommended Read: 31 Days of Power!

Today’s book recommendation comes from Susanna from Gracepoint Berkeley church.¬† Awhile back she recommended two other books for intercessory prayer¬†that have enriched many parents’ prayers.

Before you read on, just wanted to make sure you don’t get today’s book recommendation mixed up with the recommendation for 31 Days of Praise, by Alice from Gracepoint Minneapolis church. Same author, different book. ūüôā

41lnkABu9iL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_I would like to recommend Ruth Myers’ book¬†31 Days of Power: Learning to Live in Spiritual Victory¬†if you need some help being daily reminded of the spiritual warfare that we are in, and how to articulate “faith-filled” claims and responses, as Pastor Ed preached yesterday.

I came across this book when I was sort of losing perspective during the toughest part of chemo side effects and did a search on other books that Ruth Myers wrote, and this prayer book helped me to gain proper perspective and turn my eyes away from my situation to see God’s cosmic picture.

Last night I prayed over the flaming arrows of Satan’s accusations that I hear so loudly at times. Today’s prayer from this book was “Safe from Accusation.” Wow, I felt personally loved by God as He wanted to nail that point for me as a follow-up to yesterday’s message.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s prayer (Day 7):

“I want to give You abundant thanksgiving and praise that I’m Your chosen one, and therefore the enemy cannot succeed in accusing me before You. He may try to bring a charge against me for my sins, but he will fail, for they’ve all been forgiven — past, present, and future. ‘Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for me, Christ rose for me, Christ reigns in power for me, Christ prays for me.’” […] “You have cleansed me, given garments of righteousness and praise instead of despair. So day by day I can rise up, put on those beautiful garments, and worship You in holy array — in the beauty of holiness.”

Here’s an excerpt from the prayer for Day 8:

“You are my strength every morning, my salvation in times of distress. You’re the stability of my times. So I clothe myself with my beautiful garments of praise. I treasure the safety You’ve provided from my crafty attacks by the enemy — from anything that would not be for my ultimate good or for the advance of the Good News. Even when You allow severe trials in my life, You know my path; and when You have tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

I personally dubbed this book as the “manly” version of¬†31 Days of Praise,¬†as some brothers might prefer this book more.

Just so you know, copies of the book will be arriving at the bookstore at Gracepoint Berkeley church by next week. ¬†I’m looking forward to powerful times of prayer (see what I did there?) and invite you to enhance your personal prayer life too!

 

How to Satisfy Your “Hunger” for Dystopian Novels

I’ve been so busy reading that I’ve once again neglected to post here. But recent conversations about¬†The Hunger Games¬†(hereafter referred to as THG)¬†have prompted me to write this post.

It’s hard to believe almost ten years have passed since the first book in the popular dystopian trilogy was published. It’s safe to say THG¬†sparked the glut of dystopian fiction that flooded especially the young adult literature market. We couldn’t escape, though I’m happy to report the craze has died down in the last couple of years.

Before you read on, I want to make clear that I love me some dystopian literature as much as anyone! There is something very powerful about the genre to cause people to consider the ways in which echoes of these dystopias might be in our current world, and to begin recognizing social structures, and so forth.

The dictionary defines “dystopian” as follows:

relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

The challenge with dystopian fiction for younger readers, however, is to build a world in which these unpleasant or bad consequences of a totalitarian state are explored in an age-appropriate way.

And here is my beef with THG. The target audience is 6th or 7th grade and up, but I disagree it is age-appropriate. Some teachers introduce the books as early as 5th grade, especially for reluctant readers, but I actually do not recommend the series at all (gasp!), for young and old alike. Why?

It is not just violent, but brutal. It is disturbing to read graphic descriptions of teens killing each other in hand-to-hand combat with all manner of weapons. Granted that is Suzanne Collins’ point — to disturb readers and to critique aspects of this bleak and twisted society. I get that she is not condoning this kind of violence. In fact, there is some “deep stuff” about government control through propaganda, about consumerist culture, media saturation, and about human nature.

However, most of the readers of the books do not have the framework to consider these deeper issues. They get engrossed with the plot because it appeals to 1) our sense of rooting for the underdog, 2) our baser attraction to drama and even violence (like how everyone runs towards not away from the fight at school), and 3) you and I know that half of the readers of the books got into the series because of the love triangle.

I don’t know how many students I had who said they hated the third book because it was “boring.” That’s because the focus was decidedly political and it is also the most violent of the three. I’m not naive and know you can’t avoid romantic business in young adult literature, but it goes beyond crushes and the Harry Potter level of stuff, and we’ll leave it at that.

So…what’s a teen to do?

Here are my recommendations. Read some of the books¬†THG is borrowing from and inspired by. Some of the OG dystopians. The cool thing about this genre is that it’s timeless. In fact, some of the ones written long ago end up being even eerier, because you can see the ways in which we are actually like the futures the authors imagined. Yikes!

Four dystopian novels I recommend, from most recent to oldest:

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993).¬†A lot of people don’t realize it is part of a quartet of books, so you can get the series fix. It is a great dystopian novel to start out with, dealing with issues of identity, and causing us to consider how we track people in our schools and society. Don’t watch the movie first…I’ve heard it is disappointing. (Recommended age: 6th grade and up.)

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). One of my absolute favorite dystopian novels, and in my top 10 favorite overall books. It deals with censorship and with the power of knowledge, among other themes. Chances are you’ll be asked to read this at some point in middle or high school, but it is totally accessible and enjoyable of a read on your own. He wrote a bunch of other great short stories that get you thinking as well. (Recommended age: 8th grade and up.)

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954). This is probably THE dystopian novel contemporary dystopian novels borrow from the most. (Being stuck on an island and trying to survive might also remind you of some shows.) It has the violence (though far less graphic than THG), memorable characters, and definitely a great book to discuss human nature and the different ways we tend to organize groups/societies. There are also a lot of biblical allusions, or references, so this makes for a favorite to teach symbolism.  (Recommended age: 8th grade and up.)

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945). Another popular book read in English as well as History classes in school, Orwell uses what seems like a story about farm animals to critique Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. People love this book because it is super SHORT! It is also relatively easy to understand, and hilarious in a eerie way. It’s definitely memorable.¬†(Recommended age: 8th and up.¬†But read it again in 10th grade, when you take World History!)

If you read these four, you’ll see that you’re not missing out by not reading THG.

What’s your take on THG and its age appropriateness or merit as a dystopian series?¬†I would love to hear your thoughts about any of the books featured in this post.


Oh, and for a Suzanne Collins alternative, I recommend The Underland Chronicles, which has stronger characters, themes, and world-building. And is age-appropriate.