"Something to Read"

 Jared Segerstrom

 Awhile back I heard someone recite a little poem which helps family members know what items to buy for kids. It goes, “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” I have found this little poem helpful in thinking through what to give our own family for Christmas. I think teens could also benefit from receiving items in that list, especially “something to read.” But if you have walked through Barnes & Noble lately or scoured the list of books on Amazon, the mission of buying books for teenagers can appear impossible. I want to offer a few suggestions for books which would suit every teenager this Christmas.

 

BIBLE

No, I am not trying to pull a fast one on you. If we truly believe that our sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews should be reading the Bible regularly, then we ought to give them a quality Bible of their own. I remember receiving my first study Bible for Christmas my freshman year of high school and it helped me tremendously in my walk with God. There are many good Bibles available for teens:

Study Bibles:     The ESV Student Study Bible, which reads at a 10th-grade level, offers thousands of notes along with 80 maps, illustrations, and dozens of character profiles. At about $30, the ESV Student Study Bible offers quality without breaking the bank. If you think your student would benefit from a slightly more readable version, I would recommend the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, which reads at a 7/8th-grade level. As a word of advice, when given the choice, go with a bonded leather instead of a hardback edition of a study Bible. Though they cost a little bit more, bonded leather Bibles handles the wear and tear much better than hardback Bibles.

Journaling Bibles:    Another great option for teens is a journaling Bible. My wife received a journaling Bible for Christmas a few years ago and has enjoyed recording notes and observations as she studies the Word both at church and at home. This Bible is especially helpful for artistically-inclined students. The ESV Journaling Bible comes in a variety of attractive styles and patterns and costs around $45. You can also buy an NIV Journaling Bible for a comparable price.

 

Devotional Book

While we never should give a devotion book as a substitute for Bible reading, a quality devotional book can be a big encouragement in the spiritual life of a teen. The best devotional books are those which point the students’ attention toward the Bible says, not away from it. One excellent resource for young teens is the book God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation, which walks teens through the book of Galatians. Each of the forty lessons offers the Bible passage, a connection to the gospel, and discussion questions which build on Paul’s teachings. God’s Mighty Acts is a great resource for a middle school student.

Though not strictly considered a devotional book, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? by Ed Welch is an excellent resource for teens. The author designed the book so that students answer pointed, heart-examining questions as they read. By the end of the book, teens will have been challenged to develop a biblical view of God, self, and other people. I went through What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? with one of our teens this past summer and both of us found it to be encouraging and transformative. I recommend this book for all students, but especially those in high school.

 

Book to “Get the Ball Rolling”

Perhaps the teen on your shopping list shows little-to-no interest in reading. You want them to read, but they don’t want to read. What are you supposed to do? No one wants to be that person at Christmas who gives a gift for which the recipient has no interest, but still gives the obligatory “thanks” and hides the gift away to collect dust (I have less-than-fond memories of a cassette tape of harmonica music I received in the late ‘90s). 

Giving books to non-readers requires two things. First, it requires discernment.  As you shop, you will inevitably need to delve into a topic or subject you might not be acquainted with. Skim through books before you give them. Look online to see if Christian book reviews are available for a particular title.

Second, giving books to a non-reader requires knowing the teen. You need to take time to learn their interests and passions. There is a book out there for everyone if you look hard enough. For the Star Wars fan, find one of the many novels based on the story and give it to your young Padawan. For the budding entrepreneur, give him or her a book on business or finances. For the gaming wiz-kid, find a book on the history or development of video games. For the sports fan, find a biography of a famous athlete (I recommend a biography of a Christian athlete like Tim Tebow or David Robinson). The possibilities are truly endless!

• • •

One final thing to remember in giving books as gifts is that reading begets reading. By that, I mean once students get into the routine of reading things they enjoy or find fascinating, they will then be more willing to embrace more difficult, but enriching books.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to suggested reading for teens. The task of buying books for teens is a tall one, but I hope you can use this list as a starting point. Happy Shopping! 

 

Finger-Pointing at the Mirror

Each morning I wake to an unwritten, yet very regimented routine. 

I shut off my alarm, check my phone for notifications, tiptoe past my toddler-aged daughter’s bedroom to the bathroom, shower, get dressed, and make my way to the living room. 

When seated in the living room, I unlock my iPad, read my Bible, and check social media. It seems every time I scan Facebook or Twitter, I’m either disappointed, discouraged, or disheartened by what I read. Disappointment comes by reading a post from a family member or classmate who grew up hearing the gospel, but has now abandoned the faith. Other times my stomach is turned at a headline announcing an unthinkable act of evil or a devastating natural disaster. I find myself frustrated at the division and unrest in our country.

After closing my iPad and getting up from my chair, I make my way to the kitchen to brew coffee. As I wait for the water to heat up, I contemplate what I just read. I think, “I can’t believe how evil some people can be” or “What is our society coming to?” Sometimes these questions are valid reflections on evil in the world. But way too often, my thoughts reveal a self-righteous heart. I want to blame society for the evils in the world without ever considering that I am a part of society. In fact, our evil, sinful culture is simply an accumulation of many evil, sinful persons, including myself. 

James addresses my self-righteous attitude in his letter to dispersed Christians. He asks them this rhetorical question: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” (James 4:1). I know how I answer that question. Most of the time I find myself in a disagreement because of another person’s unreasonableness or ignorance. Other reasons include a long day at work, a poor night’s sleep, or an empty stomach. 

But that’s not what James says is the reason we sin and engage in conflict. He answers his question: “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” James says that the reason I fight and quarrel is because my desires are out of control. I want to have things my way more than I want to love and serve other people. I can’t blame the society around me for my sinful thoughts, words, and actions. I can’t blame my upbringing, my genetics, or my environment for my sinful responses. Instead I have to point the finger at myself.

While it might seem depressing to place the blame for sin on myself, ironically that’s where hope is found. You see, I can’t change how other people treat me. I can’t change my genetics, upbringing, environment, or society at large. But God CAN change me. He uses His Spirit, His Word, and His people to change my sinful heart to better reflect His heart. This change is slow and painful at times, but it is a joy to know that God is working for my good to change me into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29).

Based on this renewed understanding of who I am and how God works, I’ve decided to add one short step to my morning routine. After I tiptoe past my daughter’s room and before I brew my morning coffee, I’m going to look into the bathroom mirror and point my finger at the drowsy face I see. I’m going to tell that face, “You’re the most sinful person I know. The reason you sin is because of your out-of-control sinful desires, not society or your environment. But Jesus died for you. He took your sin, so you don’t have to be slave to it anymore. God can change you. Trust Him, and stop blaming others.” 

With that short, but valuable addition made to my morning routine, I can humbly, joyfully (and quietly) proceed to the kitchen and brew a delicious cup of coffee.

 

By Jared Segerstrom