Christmas is less than two weeks away. This weekend is our annual Living Nativity which has been hosted by our church family for many years. It comes complete with camels, a cow, a donkey, some goats, and, this year, some chickens. There will be some Roman soldiers who will announce that taxes are due to the Emperor. Shepherds and wise men will roam the hallways sharing their stories with any who will stop to listen. And all will be directed toward the stable where Joseph and Mary tenderly care for their little baby boy. This year we have added a main street to our Bethlehem, featuring a woodworking shop, the office of a scribe, and a food vendor offering the delicacies of the First Century. Last year we had over 1500 people visit Bethlehem and experience in a new way the real reason for Christmas. Here is my invitation to any of you living near Buffalo, MN: Come and join us this Saturday or Sunday evening. The Living Nativity is open from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The cookies will be home-made and the chocolate and coffee will be hot.
It seems that about this time every year I share with you some of the books that I have read and highly recommend. The winter months are great times to sit near a warm fire with a cup of hot cider and enjoy a good book. This past year the Church has celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Several biographies of Martin Luther were published. Eric Metaxas has written an outstanding biography of this Augustinian monk who dedicated his life to helping people understand that salvation does not come through any efforts of their own. It comes only through faith. Metaxas's book is titled, Martin Luther. I found the book to be a fascinating read. The author, at times, seeks to enter into the very mind of his subject to better understand why he did what he did. What I also appreciated about this book was the careful descriptions of those men who influenced Luther and were in turn influenced by Luther. For example, I was unaware that Luther never personally met the Elector Frederick who was responsible for Luther obtaining a position of teaching at the new university in Wittenberg and who protected Luther when the Church turned against him. And, of course, Metaxas does an excellent job of helping us to enter into the marriage of Luther and his Katie. What a remarkable woman she truly was. Not only will this book help you to better understand the life of this remarkable man, but it will also give you insights into the culture of the sixteenth century. If you were to read only one book about Luther, this is the book I would highly recommend.
A second book that is recommended is titled, Killing England. This is the seventh book in the "Killing" series written by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Over the past several years, I have devoted more of my private reading to better understanding the American Revolutionary times. I have discovered that there is a complexity about that era that truly defines it. In this book, which I must admit I had a difficult time putting down, the authors portray the ebb and flow of the Revolutionary War. Although the book does not purport to be written from an evangelical or even Christian perspective, the authors do point out those moments when Someone stepped in just when defeat seemed inevitable. As with all of the books in the "Killing" series, this book is well foot-noted for further referencing.
There is one other book that I highly recommend. It was written by Jim Putman and is titled, Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples. The Adult Ministries Pastor here at our church introduced many of us to this book. You know we spend a lot of time in our churches talking about being a disciple-making church. But what does that look like? How does a church make disciples who, then in turn, make disciples for Jesus Christ? This book begins that discussion. There is a 30-week training process that accompanies this book. I have been privileged to be part of that training process this year. We are near the half-way point. It has been refreshing to relate with two other men in my triad on a weekly basis. We are asking ourselves first, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, and then, how can we help others to become disciples. Discipleship is not a lecture that can be attended, or a course that one can graduate from. Discipleship flows from an intentional relationship, based upon truth, that I have with someone else. I have to admit that this book, and the accompanying training, has opened my eyes to see discipleship in a whole new light. I strongly recommend it for a small group that really wants to see God do something through their lives.
So, if you are still wondering what to put on your Christmas list, perhaps one of these books might be recommended. Reading will stretch your minds and also challenge your hearts.
May God bless you as you prepare your hearts for our Savior's birthday.