Inspirational gift ideas: Ducks, bears, study Bibles and music

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Everyone is thinking about giving the perfect Christmas gift to family and friends. We've compiled a list of new study Bibles, devotionals, books, Christmas music and new songs inspired by the message of Billy Graham. For the younger reader, there are storybook Bibles and a book that will introduce 'tweens to high-profile evangelist. You'll want to add these ideas to your Christmas list.


Christmas Worship
Fans of traditional Christmas carols and worship music will no longer have to choose which genre to enjoy after purchasing "Christmas Worship," a collaborative project spearheaded by singer-songwriter Paul Baloche. The three-time Dove Award-winning artist and worship pastor masterfully creates a project that pays homage to the cherished Christmas classics of old, while updating them with modern worship choruses.

Baloche said his goal was to create a Christmas album that would minister to and resource the church, while helping to center its people during the frenetic holiday season. The result is an album packed with accessible Christmas songs that help create a worship environment familiar to congregants and first-time visitors alike.

"We all love the content of Christmas carols, but often they don't facilitate a vertical expression of worship towards the Lord," Baloche said in news release. "So the idea of this album was to take classic Christmas carols that we all enjoy singing and combine them with modern worship choruses to encourage worship all throughout the Christmas season."

In a third of the songs, a classic hymn/carol is combined with a familiar worship chorus. In another third, lyrics of familiar choruses have been revised to reflect the Christmas season. The final third are brand-new, original songs to help facilitate congregational worship during the Christmas season.

Joining Baloche on the album are Aaron Shust on "Follow That Star," All Sons & Daughters on "King of Heaven," Kathryn Scott on "This Is Love," Onaje Jefferson on "Offering" and Jennifer Holm on "Prepare Him Room."  The album also features additional vocals by Rita Baloche, who wrote "Prepare Him Room" and "Follow That Star" for the album.

The track list also includes adaptations on such Christmas standards as "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Joy To the World/Shout For Joy," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing/King of Heaven" and "Oh Come Emmanuel." $11.99. www.integritymusic.com.


'Merry Christmas to You'
Cape Cod native and Grammy Award-nominated recording artist Jonathan Butler joins the Christmas album parade with "Merry Christmas to You," a 10-track offering that boasts his trademark cool jazz and gospel.

"Christmastime is a special time, and I wanted to record some of the songs that have been favorites of mine over the years," Butler said. "I hope the CD brings holiday cheer and blesses people as we head into the holiday season."

The track list includes "Sleigh Ride," "Little Drummer Boy," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "The First Noel" and "O Holy Night."  

Several of the songs feature South African vocalization, chanting, horns and rhythmic percussion, while others are stripped down to the acoustic guitar.

"These songs are beautiful on their own so I felt they didn't need a lot of instrumentation, plus, I wanted my fans to have a personal Christmas message from me," Butler said.

In addition to the eight traditional carols, the album features two original songs, including "Happy Holidays," described as an "ardent urban groove ornamented with riffs of cool jazz guitar." $10. www.jonathanbutler.com.


'Advent Christmas'
The Future of Forestry gets into the updating mode as well with the release of "Advent Christmas EP Volume 3," its own alternative interpretation of traditional carols.

To create the project, the band enlisted live violin, viola and cello musicians merging with world-music instrumentation such as hammer dulcimer, harmonium and kalimba. Even makeshift instruments such as coffee cans, kitchen pots and pans, drinking glasses, children's toys and an antique music box added to the distinct instrumentation.

"In all reality, the inspiration for this album came from each of the individual songs; each one evokes a different aspect of the Christmas experience to me," said Eric Owyoung, founder of Future of Forestry. "There are some key moments throughout the album where I had to interpret these songs so that they could exist in the dynamic and emotional ways I've always wanted them to."

The track list includes "Silent Night," "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," "Carol of the Bells," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Still, Still, Still." $6. www.futureofforestry.com


'My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham'
Looking beyond the seasonal collections, a new project—features some of the biggest names in Christian music—coming together in a tribute to "America's Pastor." "My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham," marks the celebration of the evangelist's 95th birthday and his latest sermon series, "My Hope America."

"Our sincere desire is that this collection of songs brings honor to Dr. Graham and the cross of Christ that he has faithfully represented over his many years of ministry," said Peter York, president of Capitol CMG Label Group. "This project was written and recorded out of great respect and appreciation for this incredible man and his message of hope to the world."

Participating artists, who all have a special connection to Graham, are Michael W. Smith, Israel Houghton, Kari Jobe, Newsboys, Matthew West, Tommy Coomes Band, Nichole Nordeman, TobyMac, Darlene Zschech, Amy Grant and Lacey Sturm. Featured songs include "We Believe," "The Cross is my Confession," "Be My Rescue," "Jesus Take All of Me," "Broken Pieces" and "City on our Knees."

In addition to the music tribute, the album coincides with the "My Hope America with Billy Graham" evangelistic outreach, which included a broadcast television special and "The Reason for My Hope" book." The album retails for $13.99. www.myhopethealbum.com.


The Wayfinding Bible
The people at Tyndale are hoping to ease the anxiety associated with diving into The Good Book with its latest resource tool, The Wayfinding Bible, which hit the streets in October. In a market inundated with specialized Bibles, this one provides readers with a three-path approach to study God's Word: the Fly-Over Route, the Direct Route and the Scenic Route.

For those seeking a quick introduction to the Scriptures, the Fly-Over Route unveils the most important events in the Bible in just 40 readings, offering a fresh overview of how these events tell the story of God's redemptive love. The next approach is the Direct Route, which provides 200 readings that will help the reader develop a better understanding of how God's story develops through history. Finally, the Scenic Route allows for the exploration of new territory while discovering a richness and depth in God's Word. Each approach uses a full-color visual guide to start the route.

Supporting features of The Wayfinding Bible include eight two-page articles called "Getting Your Bearings," which highlight major turning points of Scripture and are designed to help the reader stay on track; "Side Trips," which expound upon a concept in greater depth, and "Scenic Overlooks," which provide visuals such as maps, photos, infographics, and charts, all designed to aid in understanding the text.

The Wayfinding Bible, which has 1,520 pages, lists for $34.99.

For more information, visit www.tyndale.com.


Jeremiah Study Bible
Southern Californians familiar with the spiritual influence of Dr. David Jeremiah, senior pastor at San Diego County's Shadow Mountain Community Church and founder of Turning Point broadcast ministries, may have an interest in the bestselling author's most significant project to date: The Jeremiah Study Bible.

The Southern California pastor selected his favorite version, the New King James, on which to build the new study edition. This version is the one he uses to preach on each Sunday morning at Shadow Mountain.

The Jeremiah Study Bible is the culmination of nearly five decades of exhaustive study and focuses on three simple things: What does the Bible say? What does it mean? And what does it mean for you?"

"That's the most important thing, because if people walk away from the Bible and they know what it says and they know what it means, but they don't know how it works in their own life, they will see no change," Jeremiah said in a statement earlier this year announcing the pending release,

At 2,240 pages, the study tool includes comprehensive introductions to each of the 66 books of the Bible, more than 8,000 cross-referenced study notes meticulously compiled by Jeremiah throughout his ministry, and hundreds of articles and sidebars designed to equip the reader with supplemental information and application.

In addition to the introductions, notes, articles and sidebars, the study Bible also features numerous charts and maps along with geographical and archaeological information, a teacher's topical index, an 80-plus page concordance, and online digital and multimedia resources accessible through Quick Response Codes (QR codes) which include additional written materials and video introductions prepared by Jeremiah.

The Bible was scheduled to be unveiled Dec. 5 during a celebration gathering featuring Mercy Me at Madison Square Garden. Published by Worthy Publishing Group, the study Bible is available in seven distinct styles, including leather and hardback.

It lists for $49.99. For more information, visit www.worthypublishing.com.


Holman Study Bible, NIV
Modeled after its own award-winning HCSB Study Bible—which painstakingly tried to place each of its study helps on the same page as its related biblical text—the new NIV version also features 15,000 study notes, 141 photos, 62 timelines, 59 maps, a 40-page concordance, 20 articles and essays on practical and theological issues, 16 illustrations and reconstructions, and 15 charts. $79.99. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.


The MacArthur Study Bible, NIV
A popular study Bible for years, Pastor John MacArthur's resource tool is now available in the NIV translation. This study Bible provides more than 20,000  notes, charts, maps, outlines, and articles as well as an overview of theology, and an index to key doctrines. 2,263 pages. $79.99. www.thomasnelson.com.


The Bible Experience NIV Live
Nominated for Audio Bible of the Year, the package features readings from nearly 400 performers, including the winners of 23 Grammys, eight Emmys, five Golden Globes and three Oscars. Among the star-studded cast are Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Denzel and Pauletta Washington, LL Cool J, Blair Underwood and Bishop Eddie L. Long. It is compiled on 79 digitally mastered audio CDs. $124.99. www.mybibleexperience.com.


Christmas album, "Duck the Halls"
The wildly popular franchise—which logged the highest-rated season opener on cable TV a few months back—has proven to be adept at marketing with the advent of a host of other Duck Dynasty offerings that include the Christmas album, "Duck the Halls"; the film "Duck Commander," which chronicles Phil Robertson's journey from the first duck call to an entertainment dynasty; Jase Robertson's "Faith in the Duck Bind"; "Miss Kay's Duck Commander Kitchen" cookbook and several books by Uncle Si Robertson, Phil's philosophical-waxing and story-yarning brother.

Although the 400-page "The Duck Commander Devotional" bears Alan's name, the entire family, plus some of their employees, contribute to the motivational messages. Each day's entries feature an abbreviated message, Scripture and prayer.

The devotional retails for $16.99. www.imprints.simonandschuster.biz/howard.


'Whispers of Hope'
Whether intended as a Christmas gift for a loved one or a personal aide in improving our prayer life in the New Year, bestselling author Beth Moore offers a solid starting point with "Whispers of Hope," designed to walk readers through an easy-to-remember—and apply—method of prayer.

It also includes 70 daily devotionals and prompts on how to put her Word-saturated prayer method into practice. The goal of the book is to help readers better understand how devotional reading and prayer are central to a stronger relationship with God. Moore, a nationally recognized Bible teacher and speaker, is president and founder of Living Proof Ministries. $14.99. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.


'Wisdom for Everyday Living'
Finding inspiration to cope with life's ups and downs may become a little easier, thanks to "Wisdom for Everyday Living," a 365-daily devotional by Steve M. Woods. The devotional is designed to deepen faith and buoy spirits through reflections, insights and Scriptures that are provided by 100 diverse and respected leaders of prominent Christian churches, colleges and organizations.

Appropriate for personal study, family fellowships or group Bible studies, the devotional explores a wide range of topics, including enduring hard times, sorrow, or depression; struggling to break an addiction; forgiving self and others; having a thankful attitude; giving up the need to control the outcome; the importance of God's Word and fellowship with other Christians; being courageous; finding your God-given purpose; learning to wait on God; and the power of humility.

Contributing writers include Judy Douglass, author, Campus Crusade for Christ; Anne Graham Lotz, founder and president of AnGeL Ministries and the daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham; Bob Coy, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale; Dan Carroll, senior pastor, Water of Life Community Church; Brandon Cox, senior pastor Grace Hills Church; Chuck Booher, senior pastor at Crossroads Christian Church; and David S. Dockery, president of Union University.

Woods, whose undergraduate degree came from Biola University, is the chairman of Woods Mastery Learning Foundation Inc. Also an evangelist, and speaker, Woods' vision is to support students and schools that promote Christian family values. $19.97. www.hcibooks.com.


'Risky Gospel'
That pesky faith inhibitor known as fear is tackled face-to-face in Owen Strachan's "Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome." Published by Thomas Nelson, Strachan's book "encourages readers to be bold and embrace a Christianity driven by a great God, a powerful gospel, and a holistically courageous way of life," according to its promotional material. 

"We know God is good and real, but we struggle to really act on that belief in everyday life because our problems feel bigger than God's promises," Owen writes in the book, which he uses to highlight the Lord's unending presence and love.

He does so by explaining that the key to ramping up one's spiritual life is by taking God-driven risks. Those risks don't necessarily mean such radical actions as selling all possessions, quitting a job for full-time ministry or running a food pantry out of a home. Taking God-driven risks, the book argues, simply means approaching family, church, employment, free time, hobbies and goals with God's glory in mind. $15.99. www.thomasnelson.com.


Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible
The classically endearing Berenstain Bears, chronicled in stories since 1962, take on matters of faith with The Berenstain Bears Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition, a mixed-media set designed for children ages 4 to 8.

The Bible, illustrated by Mike Berenstain and his late mother, Jan, highlights 23 Old and New Testament stories, and comes with an accompanying audio CD that supplements each story, helping to guide little ones through the text as they discover God's message in the familiar Berenstain style.

The children's Bible is an update to an introductory one released last year.

The stories are told through the eyes of the cubs and include vivid illustrations, including the Lord's Supper. As the cubs listen to God's Word, they envision Bible characters to look and act just like them. Their imagination comes to life through playful artwork on more than 200 illustrated pages. $24.99. www.zondervan.com.


Jesus Storybook Bible
Children are treated to an animated rendition of God's Word thanks to recent updates to the bestselling Jesus Storybook Bible, now available in a four-volume video set.

Created by author Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrator Jago, the four DVDs— which can also be purchased individually—bring to life 21 stories from the Old Testament and 23 from the New Testament that appeared in the original Bible. David Suchet, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award nominee, narrates each chapter. The stories begin with the creation from the Book of Genesis and end with John's dream of heaven from the Book of Revelation.

The audio component is also complemented by short, animated video clips that help children appreciate and comprehend each lesson.

In addition to the Moonbeam Award-winning Jesus Storybook Bible, Lloyd-Jones has written two other bestselling children's Bibles, including the Gold Book Award-winning Baby's First Bible. She has also written many picture books, including "Song of the Stars" and, most recently "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing."

Each Storybook DVD runs about an hour. $39.96 for the four-disk set, $9.99 individually. www.jesusstorybookbible.com.


'Iesodo'
Christmas gift giving for children could go to the birds, courtesy of "Iesodo," a first-ever New Testament-themed animated children's series. Debuting in October with "Believe," the series, (pronounced "Yay-Sa-Doe)" introduces children to a cast of lovable, animated birds who share the teachings of Jesus through stories with the universal principles of loving one another, conquering fear, sharing and being kind.

The birds live in a cypress tree on the shores of The Lake (Galilee), where they follow the teachings of a particularly wise and insightful white dove named Iesodo, who is a representation of Jesus. Iesodo is a Japanese phrase that means "the Way of Jesus."

The Los Angeles-based Zaya-Toonz LLC is an animation studio dedicated to producing high-quality animated content to help enlighten, encourage and excite today's children.

The Zaya Toonz team has broad experience in animation, with credits on "Muppet Babies," "My Little Pony Tales," "Ed, Ed, and Eddy," "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2" and "A Bug's Life."

In addition to producing biblically inspired story lines, Zaya-Toonz desires to guide children, families and viewers on amazing adventures through the Holy Land as a way to experience the teachings of Jesus in a fun and creative way. As part of this, the producers used topographical photos of Galilee in animation backgrounds to stay true to the Holy Land setting.

Three new "Iesodo" DVDs are expected to be released through 2014. Each DVD focuses on an attribute Iesodo is trying to instill in his followers, captured in the themes of love, joy and faith. $14.99. www.iesodo.com.


'Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story'
Pre-teens are the target for a new biography of the most famous evangelist of our time. "Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story," by William Martin, is designed to introduce 'tweens to a man whose ministry has touched nearly 215 million lives worldwide through standing-room-only crusades and TV specials, but who retired from public ministry while many of the readers were just toddlers.

Though out of the public eye for most of the past decade, Graham hosted a nationally televised crusade special in early November to mark his 95th birthday.

 Martin, who authored the 1992 Graham biography for adult readers titled "A Prophet with Honor," adapts his previous effort to appeal to readers 9 to 12.  The book approaches its subject with a heartwarming look at the evangelist's life, global influence and the traits that make Graham so gifted—his unwavering faith, determination and compassion for people everywhere.

The biographer opens his latest book with a monumental moment in Graham's inspiring career: his successful June 2005 crusade event in New York that drew a record-breaking crowd. There Graham, slowed by age but still wise and alert, was moved to tears at the spectacularly diverse audience that came to hear him preach. Martin then traces the spiritual icon's life back to his humble beginnings as a young boy growing up on a dairy farm in Charlotte, N.C., with his parents and four younger siblings. From there, he details Graham's mission—which began at age 27—to provide faith to those in need throughout more than 185 countries over the course of nearly 60 years.  

The book also includes candid black-and-white photos and quotes from Graham's family, friends and colleagues, and other high-profile figures. $6.99. www.zonderkidz.


'The Perfect Christmas Pageant'
Noted Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who published her 100th book this year, turns her attention to the younger crowd with "The Perfect Christmas Pageant," the fourth offering in her Everyday Zoo children's series.

The book centers on the pre-pageant trials of Hayley Hippo, who discovers the logistics of leading a cast of artists isn't easy. Thanks to the wisdom of Pouch the Pelican, Hayley is able to recapture the essence of the Christmas story even as she creates a dazzling production.

The book is illustrated by Mary Sullivan, who specializes in child-oriented art. $15.99. www.joycemeyer.org.