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We are sometimes a little perplexed about what to suggest when folks in the shop ask us for graduation gifts for high school kids, especially if they are buying on behalf of their church. I have to admit that sometimes, over the years, we’ve seen some desperate folks needing to get a certain number of items, all the same, at a cheapo price. They really didn’t care what it was, they just needed to get the darn thing taken care of. I could have sold left-handed, bright red Saint Patrick’s Day beer steins if they had the word “graduate” on ’em and were under $1.99.
Picture of Wauconda High School grads from The Daily Herald.
Of course, most shoppers looking for gifts are a bit more intentional, seeking a good, if not wonderful, gift to honor and commemorate this huge time of transition. But it’s still weird – why do knick-knack companies promote tie tacks, knowing high school kids rarely wear ties? Car keys are a great gift for a 16-year old (speaking of life transitions the church should bless) but what does it say to a college student heading off to campus, usually without a car? And I don’t know about little inspirational plaques. We have our share of cute gift books with collections of happy thoughts that have 2016 in bold fonts on the front, but: really?
I know it isn’t easy to find the right thing. Believe me, I get it.
We think this is a time to double down, as they say, and make clear not only that the church cares, but that there is life-changing content to be shared. That the church stands for something and expects something, also from its young members.
It may be the last clear occasion to give everybody a book. Why not make it a good one?
You follow BookNotes, maybe subscribing so you get it in your inbox. We assume you are a reader, and know how a well-placed book in the right hands at the right time can change a life. Why not enter this conversation in your own church, or just think of a young adult you care about and order a book or two. We can even gift wrap and send it on your behalf. Just tell us if you want us to write a little note to include.
The picture of the young woman reading is from ParentMap.
(And, of course, he says parenthetically, if you need a book for college graduates, we have just the one-of-a-kind fabulous gift book about transitioning out of higher education and taking up vocations int he world. See my Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life. On sale, here.)
I know this can get pricey, but good books for a bunch of people but since many churches only have a handful of high school grads, why not hand select one for each honoree? We’re here to help you; as the home improvement store ads say: “You’ve got this!” Maybe they won’t read it (I know, I know) but maybe they will. And if you tell us what they are like, maybe we can help find something chosen just for them. Let’s not sell our youth short, and let’s use the occasion to invite them to a serious, thoughtful, lasting faith.
There are cool books and nice devotionals for high school youth, but this is in some ways a transition to adult faith. They aren’t going to be in the high school youth group, now, so a good gift for grads doesn’t have to be from the “youth” section. Any number of inspiring adult books will do (especially since so many are written these days with clever wit and a chatty tone, offering youthful passion and presented with slight graphic design touches that are appealing to younger readers. Many 18 – 20 year olds, we find, love books like Not a Fan by Kyle Idelman or Crazy Love by Francis Chan or It’s Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke or Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper or books by Lauren Winner or Donald Miller. Some college kids are eager to read Mere Christianity for the first time, since they undoubtedly have heard how important it is.)
Well, here are some quick ideas for high school graduation gift giving. Don’t worry if it doesn’t have “Happy Graduation” emblazoned on a garish faux leather cover. They don’t’ care.
All of these are being offered at a 20% discount. Happy (wonderful) gift giving.
Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning Derek Melleby (Baker Books) $12.99 I have raved about this before, written long reviews, and have said that there is – I am sure of it – nothing in print that is like it. It is short, handsome, interesting, clever. It mentions Hearts & Minds (come on, that’s a selling point among friends, no?) It is a great choice for students heading off to college. Youth ministry guru Chap Clark writes,
For years I have been looking for the right book to give to Christian high school grads: readable, honest, grade-focused, Christ-centered, and practical. Finally, I’ve found just the ticket – Make College Count is that book.
Or, listen to Steve Garber:
Make College Count is just right! What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most.
I realize that this isn’t appropriate to give to youth that are not on their way to college or some trade school. But if you know that a young person is heading towards further education this book will wisely set them up to ask basic questions about who they will be, what they will be about, with whom they will form community, how they will discern what God is doing in their life and what God is calling them to vocationally. This isn’t a dour warning or a bunch of sappy inspiration bromides. This is wise and profound and interesting and important.
Learning for the Love of God: A Student Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $14.99 If you are confident your young person knows God well and is mature enough to have thought through the foundational questions Melleby invites them to think about, this one would be the next best book. In Make College Count, Melleby offers guidance on questions such as why am I going to college? What do I want my life to be an influence? What do I really believe? Learning for the Love of God, though, fun as it is, goes deeper. It is, without a doubt, the most important book a young college student will read in the next few years. I have written at great length about why a winsome call to “academic faithfulness” and connecting faith and scholarship – that is, serving God in the classroom by how one studies and the perspectives one adopts in one’s course work . This lovely version of what some consider an “outrageous” idea – namely, God cares about our studies and future careers – will make the difference between a student that invites God into all areas of his or her life and one that does not. I can’t tell you how important I think this is, and it would make a great gift to a college student who likes to think and be challenged and hear stories of other students who started learning for the love of God. Optiz, by the way, is ordained in the PCUSA and is the Director of the chapel at Messiah College, so knows student life well. Melleby directs OneLife, an intensive one year “gap year” program for those transitioning out of high school.
All the Places To Go How Will You Know? John Ortberg (Tyndale) $15.99 I recommend unreservedly all of Ortberg’s many books. He is a lively communicator, a good thinker, and a funny guy. He preaches at a large church and is a great storyteller. Maybe you know his powerful book about Jesus called Who Is This Man? or his two wonderful paperback books on spirituality The Life You Always Wanted and God Is Closer Than You Think and the more recent handsome hardback called Soul Keeping. We recommend each of them, truly we do. He has one called Know Doubt and another called Love Beyond Reason. There is a great one on self-reflection and personal assessment called The Me I Want to Be that would make an apropos gift. A lot of people like his If You Want To Walk On Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. The one about community is called Everybody’s Normal and there is one about things that really count (not materialism and worldly success) called When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box.
Anyway, as you might guess, All the Places to Go How Will You Know? is about figuring out one’s life goals, how to pursue the adventure of following God, and how to discern God’s will “God has placed before you an open door” it says on the front. “What will you do?” Great for anyone in transition, and it is adequately whimsical and full of enough gripping stories to appeal to younger adults who aren’t keen readers.
Every Little Things: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are Deidra Riggs (Baker) $13.99 I so enjoyed this lovely and well written book by a thoughtful writer; Jennie Allen is right when she says “Deidra tenderly but swiftly leads people to Jesus and to a better understanding of themselves.” Does God use ordinary people like us — like the youth leaving your church, like the soon-to-be young adults you love — to make a difference? Does “everything thing” really matter? I suppose this is written more for women… Nicely done.
What Is Vocation? Stephen J. Nichols (P&R) $4.99 I suspect you might need something inexpensive, short and sweet, but solid and truly helpful. This handsome booklet is worth much more than this low price and it is our conviction that this too often neglected Christian doctrine is a foundational truth for anyone entering the work-world, a season of discernment about one’s future, and certainly for anyone heading on to college and future professions. I love this short book (it is only about 30 pages) about the goodness of work and how to nurture a sense of calling into one’s vocation. How many little books quote Martin Luther, Os Guinness, the movie Mr. Mom, Wendell Berry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin and, yes, that famous line of Michael Douglas from Wall Street? A gem.
Every Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians Benjamin Quinn & Walter Strickland (Lexham Press) $12.95 We have dozens of books on a Christian view of work, and there are any number of favorites that we commend. But for a high school student heading out into the work-world, I would guess a major treatise isn’t the kind of gift that feels right. This one is just about perfect: it is thoughtful and sober, but brief. It is a compact sized, hardback without a dust jacket, making it feel rather youthful and cool. This offers solid Christian cultural analysis, Biblical insight about our calling to work, and ideas about what it looks like to be faithful in the ways we work. Nicely done. By the way, maybe you recall us promoting Lexham’s matching Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Look soon for Every Good Thing: An Introduction to the Material World and the Common Good for Christians by David W. Jones. And handsome little trilogy.
Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human John Mark Comer (Zondervan) $19.99 I think this has been our biggest selling book within what might be considered the young adult market. We sold a bunch at Jubilee last February and para-church campus ministry groups like CCO and IVCF love it. Comer is witty and fun, upbeat and energetic, and without sounding heady or arcane, invites us into a Christian worldview that is based on the dignity of being human, the call to work, the goodness of cultural engagement, and the reminder to rest. Work, sabbath, meaning, life as we enter God’s story. What a book, good for anyone, but cool looking and quite attractive to young adults.
Be You Do Good: Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive Jonathan David Golden (Baker Books) $14.99 This book is great for young adults that are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be about. It offers a great story – the idealistic, up-hill, deeply moving tale of the guys who founded Land of A Thousand Hills ethical coffee company. What a read! What is so good about this inspiring narrative is not only how they succeeded against great odds, and models how to move forward doing good stuff, but it is rooted in a healthy Christian view of determining the will of God, listening to one’s passions and seeking out the ways of God’s Kingdom. This is energetic and exciting but in the telling one comes away with much wisdom and vision. For one’s own life. Cool.
Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work – A StoryCorps Book Dave Isay (Penguin Books) $26.00 I’ll admit, I’m not sure this is ideal for most young people, but it is a remarkable collection of testimonials, stories of those who have thought about and are able to articulate something about the purpose and passion of work. You may know some of the other great StoryCorp projects, oral history collections that are sweet and sad and thoughtful and amazing. Oh, how ordinary folks are not so ordinary after all when they are invited to reflect on the deeper meaning of their daily lives. In this new one, Callings, the stories are arranged by theme. The chapter headings are “Dreamers” “Generations” “Healers” “Philosophers” and “Groundbreakers.” The jobs described include everything from astronomers to chefs, building contractors to preachers, farmers to actors. There is a first responder and a nurse, a dentist and am ink removal specialist. How the people came to these callings is half the fun (especially, I thought, the ones who are doing what they were mentored into by their parents in the unit called “Generations.”)
Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian Martin Copenhaver (Eerdmans) $15.00 We have many customers who (perhaps because they serve more mainline denominational churches) are wary of any sort of evangelical lingo and don’t want to promote books on publishing houses that seem to aligned with conservative and non-denominational movements. Perhaps such readers will know Martin Copenhaver, president of Andover Newton Theological School and a United Church of Christ minister. I like Copenhaver for his being such a down-to-Earth thinker with a pastoral heart. (In fact, Walt Brueggemann, in a glowing foreword, notes that Martin “has put his bucket down in the local congregation.” This handsome paperback offers about 25 short reflections, not quite sermons, not quite essays, about what it means to grow into our Christian faith. Endorsements on the back come from Thomas Long (as respected and eloquent preacher and writer and scholar from Candler School of Theology) and the somewhat edgy, colorful Debbie Blue. There is much wisdom in the lovely little collection and it would make a fine gift.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Thomas Nelson ) $16.99 If you have been paying attention for even a little bit, you will know that many of us view Bob as a hero of sorts – fun, funny (or, better– crazy, hilarious) and a real “doer” of the faith. His story is one of whimsy and adventure as he invites readers to follow him, literally, all over the world. The section where he takes Donald Miller to Africa to help plant trees at the orphanage he started is worth the price of the book. Although, one could say that about any number of chapters – his stunt taking over the room of a young couple on their honeymoon, his days and days and days of pestering a dean of a law school to let him enroll, his taking his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state – all are truly memorable. My, my, what a wild ride, what a fun set of adventures, what a way to get readers on board daring to share the love of God with everyone, any way they can. Love does Goff reminds us. And what a blast it is reading about the way he does it. This book has sold millions and it is perfect to get kids hooked on this idea of enjoying Christian books. And may just inspire them to be secretly incredible, too. A winner!
Surprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People Michael Frost (NavPress) $4.99 What a great price for this pocket-sized paperback that will help young followers of Christ live out the Kingdom in all they do, becoming more intentional about sharing faith and grace in surprisingly simple ways. Frost is a high-powered and very thoughtful Aussie cultural genius, a maverick who wrote seminal books on the missional church, Kingdom discipleship, and the intersection of faith and ordinary life. Here, young readers will learn to bless others, see God in shared meals, listen well for guidance, stay close to Christ as we learn from Him as our leader and live into the great truth that we are sent by God — wherever life takes us. What a great little gift this would be. At our 20% off it’s just $3.99.
Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $14.00 This is a wonderful little book! What a blessing to listen in to Tom Wright talk about the Kingdom of God and the nature of Jesus — fully God, fully human, the one who died and rose — as he is described or understood in several key passages in the New Testament. We who follow Jesus can deepen our discipleship by dipping in to these messages from Hebrews, Colossians, Matthew, John, Mark, Revelation (and that is just part one.) Part two invites us to ponder six key New Testament themes that help us in our living faith. One reviewer called it “a beautiful meditative work.”
Unashamed Lecrae (B+H Books) $24.99 If you are involved with youth in your church then you probably don’t have to be told who Lecrae is; the Atlanta-based Grammy award winning hip-hop artist is hugely popular, exceptionally thoughtful, and this book has been greatly anticipated with notable excitement. It’s neat to see a book with endorsements from such diverse observers — from Nancy Pearcey and Metaxas to Josh DuBois of the Obama White House, from Andy Crouch and Gabe Lyons to urban Philly pastor Eric Mason. This is pretty cool, offering (among other things) a reminder that “if you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” There has to be a better way.
Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme Gabe Lyons & David Kinnaman (Baker Books) $19.99 I have promoted this recent book before, but want to quickly suggest it as a special leave-taking gift for serious young followers of Christ who are heading out to new vistas and new places. As presented here in very readable ways, research and social scientific data suggests that many, many people in American culture believes that religious faith is, essential, extreme, and, perhaps dangerous. It isn’t Lyons or Kinnaman’s goal to closely evaluate the research, but suffice it to know that they make a case that to be a person of even moderate religious convictions these days will take some extra effort and intentionality to navigate the misunderstandings and sometimes even hostility they will surely face. I doubt I have to convince you that students going off to college will meet more people then ever that do not share their values, let alone their faith, and that there will be some hostility and condescension, even from trusted professors, if it is known that they are devout. Good Faith does not overstate this, it isn’t alarmist; it not a “downer” sort of book. It is honest and even optimistic about how to live out real faith – by doing good deeds for the common good, for instance and forming honest, caring relationships with a diverse community. It shows how we can bear witness to God’s grace by living a healthy, attractive, good faith in the face of the negative assumptions our 21st century fellow citizens may hold. Sadly, some Christians are extremists and some hold to a head-in-the-sand faith that is irrelevant. But for most, our faith is neither extremist nor irrelevant. This book can help, with its wise principles and its tons of charming and inspiring stories.
Quiet Moments N.T. Wright (Kregel) $9.99 We get this from an outfit who imports it from the UK – a very handsome gift book, a smallish hardback with full color photographs and Wright’s moody, reflective prayer/poems. These eloquent words were previously published decades ago in four very small paperbacks, and are here combined in one lovely gift edition. I am not sure if young men who don’t know the significant of this world-renowned Bible scholar will love this – it has a certain “Hallmark” look, and will appeal to those who are attracted to this kind of sentimental style. It is good stuff, though: Tom Wright the praying poet. Yep.
It’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teens Faith Dan Dupee (Baker Books) $15.99 Okay, this isn’t a joke, and it may be one of the most important books on the list. This obviously isn’t for the departing young adult, the guy or girl who is transitioning out of high school and moving on to new things. Nope, this is for mom and dad, for the parents of the young adult. I raved about this in an earlier BookNotes review, noting that there is no other book so good for parents of older teens, especially those going away to work or college. Dan Dupee is a friend, former director of the CCO, so he knows this season of life well — he loves college students and is attentive to the ways families pass on faith to the next generation. Your older children still need you, parents, and you can still play an formative role in their lives. It’s not too late, friends. Get a bunch of this, form a group, get reading and take courage.
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