Food for the Soul
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Audra Jennings

Audra Jennings is a publicist with Litfuse Publicity Group.

Posted 4/28/16 at 12:22 PM | Audra Jennings

The First Step to Healing is Giving Abuse a Name

From Penn State to the Catholic Church scandal, stories of sexual abuse are covered in the national media, but news reports do not reveal all the facts of how prevalent abuse is among males. “The standard statistic is that one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18 (1in6.org). However, Male Survivor recently reported one in four men has been sexually abused,” Andrew J. Schmutzer, co-author of Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel Publications/April 27, 2016/ISBN: 978-0825444005/$14.99), explains. “One thing to understand about these statistics is that they are largely based on self-reporting, so they have been historically hard to come by. As specialists know, men don’t readily talk about their abuse.” FULL POST

Posted 4/27/16 at 12:03 PM | Audra Jennings

A path of healing for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

A woman who was sexually abused as a child can wrestle her whole adult life with questions such as, Am I worthless? How can I move past the hurt? Do I matter to God? This internal turbulence can carve a deep hole in an already wounded soul. Crystal M. Sutherland’s own experiences as a child led her to write Journey to Heal: Seven Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (Kregel Publications/April 27, 2016/ISBN: 978-0825444012/$14.99).

With more than 42 million victims (both male and female) of child sexual abuse in the U.S. alone, the need for healing is enormous. While there is no simple formula for those seeking recovery, Sutherland believes the Bible contains essential guidance for moving toward peace. Journey to Heal is a practical and comprehensive study of seven steps specifically for female survivors who want to progress from simply coping with life to living abundantly. Calling her book “a road map to recovery,” Sutherland invites readers to process their stories, reject shame and discover God’s love for them.

Many of the lessons Sutherland shares in Journey to Heal were learned in the trenches of her own prayerful and painful recovery. Abused by a stepfather for several years as a child, she lived in a broken state. Acting out promiscuously in high school, she soon found herself in the midst of a teen pregnancy. Even after she married, started a family and reconnected with her childhood faith, she still attempted to mask her pain through food, shopping and staying busy all the time. After years of hiding, her world started to fall apart. She finally responded to God’s call to seek him and his word and found her path to healing. “As the Lord brought restoration into my life, I sensed He was encouraging me to share my journey with others so they too could experience the freedom His love brings,” she reveals. “Telling my story is a small part of this book. I share it so my readers know I am a friend who understands what they are going through.” FULL POST

Posted 4/25/16 at 5:08 PM | Audra Jennings

Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life

Part 1 of an interview with Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly,
Authors of Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices for
Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life

For far too many Christians, the idea of being part of a church simply means attending a Sunday morning service, maybe a small group or a sprinkling of special events each year. Is that what God had in mind for his bride, the Church, when he sent his son to save her? Pastor and church planter Jeff Vanderstelt, along with his co-author, Ben Connelly, invite readers to experience something deeper in their new book, Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices for Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Saturate/February 15, 2016).

Inspired by Habakkuk 2:14, which reads, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” Vanderstelt and Connelly wrote Saturate Field Guide to show believers how to allow the gospel to permeate every aspect of their world. This begins with understanding ministry isn’t just what pastors do on Sundays and discipleship is much more than a class or program. Instead, both are a 24/7 call for all Christians to live in absolute submission to the Lord, joining with others in a missional community, where each person sees himself or herself as a servant missionary sent to make disciples. FULL POST

Posted 4/19/16 at 12:28 PM | Audra Jennings

Become a Hope Hunter: Courage For Those Who Suffer

 Finding hope in dark times is not an accident. Sometimes it has to be hunted, and that chase takes great strength. Author Nika Maples wants to help others find the fierce bravery required to excavate hope from hardship with her new book, Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light (Worthy Inspired/April 19, 2016/ ISBN: 978-1617956652/$15.99).

Nika Maples certainly knows of what she writes: at age 20, she suffered a massive brainstem stroke that left her a quadriplegic. Doctors warned her loved ones she could have as little as 48 hours to live, and if for some reason she survived, she would never be able to walk or talk again. When Maples pulled through those critical hours, she awoke to find there was no hope on the horizon. So, she started to hunt for it. Today she not only walks but speaks to audiences all over the country about the power of relentlessly holding to faith when a situation appears impossible. FULL POST

Posted 4/8/16 at 12:21 PM | Audra Jennings

Ruth Logan Herne Reminds Readers they Can Always Go Back Home

An interview with Ruth Logan Herne,

Author of Back in the Saddle

Ruth Logan Herne, author of Back in the Saddle
Ruth Logan Herne

Family relationships are never easy, and loss, grief and greed can compound normal everyday tensions. Ruth Logan Herne offers hope for hurting families with the messages contained in her new book, Back in the Saddle (Multnomah Books/March 15, 2016/ ISBN: 978-1601427762/$9.99).

Q: Your latest release, Back in the Saddle,is a modern twist on the biblical parable of the prodigal son. Can you tell us a little bit about the story?

Take one smokin’ hot hero with a chip on his shoulder, turn his hard-won world upside down at the same time his estranged father is diagnosed with deteriorating liver disease and watch the sparks fly!

Colt Stafford grew up with resentment burned into his soul. His mother told him to trust God with all his little heart and soul, and when Colt lost her to a tragic car wreck, he realized that if God existed, he sure wasn’t anyone who could be trusted. He was left with a power-loving, money-hungry father who saw gold in establishing a new kind of beef empire, but Sam’s quest for world beef domination left little for his son. When he tried to rectify that mistake with more mistakes, their relationship dissolved.

But grown-ups see things through a different reality lens, and Colt’s return sets a new normal in motion. His presence disrupts the status quo for the better, and when he gets beyond his initial affront of having a woman running part of the show at the Double S, he realizes that maybe God does exist. And maybe, just maybe, that imperfect timing of his youth was pretty perfect after all.

Q: Your leading man, Colt Stafford, is a proud man who has to return home in disgrace after a personal misfortune. How did you tap into some of your own life experiences to paint his character?

Great question! I took that time I was crazy rich and gambled it all on one roll of the dice and rolled snake eyes. . . . OK, I wasn’t ever rich, and I don’t throw dice, but I have two sons living in Manhattan. I watched their skilled, brilliant friends get rolled under a financial bus with the crash of 2008, and examining the underpinnings of what went wrong, I saw an area ripe for character development.

And that’s where Colt came from. But the expert advice on pegging Colt in Lower Manhattan came from my youngest son, Luke, who is currently working in hedge funds. Fans of Michael Lewis books will recognize that Wall Street doesn’t talk easily or freely, so having an insider point of view was clutch for developing Colt’s career and his downfall with accuracy. I did buy Luke a lot of coffee out of gratitude!

Q: When you’re caught at a crossroads in life, such as a couple of your characters were, what process do you have for weighing your options and making a decision?

Then or now?

Because younger people might go at this very differently than a mother who’s raised six kids through various levels of Ivy League education while waitressing in a Greek diner.

When I was younger, I tended to jump first, ask questions later, and I was pretty sure I was right. Maybe for that time I was, because what working mother of six has time to think? So I acted often on instinct, but when faced with a particularly tough crossroads, I always turned to prayer and patience. The prayer was easy. Sitting back and letting God take lead? I have found that smart folks have a hard time with that initially, and when I finally broke through the “But I should be able to do this!” wall I erected, life got calmer. I got calmer. It wasn’t age; it was learning I don’t have to do it all. Sometimes, I can simply be an enthusiastic (or sad) bystander. And that was OK.

Q: For the Stafford family, marriages don’t seem to last a lifetime. What advice do you have for those who want a healthy marriage but didn’t have the opportunity to observe one in their own family?

Marriage is work.

Let me repeat that.

Marriage is work.

And in that work comes the essence of love, patience, grace, forgiveness (lots of that on both sides, I reckon!) and joy.

Now having said that, I think there is a formula. First, marry the right person as best you’re able. People don’t mature at the same rate, and the ideas of twenty-somethings are rarely the reality of thirty-somethings. That State Farm commercial “All the Nevers in Life” is a perfect example! What we say “no” to initially often comes back to be our new normal.

I believe faith is a huge binder, but faith alone can’t hold two people together. But faith, love, respect, flexibility, understanding and forgiveness go a long way. I’m a firm believer that you should always marry someone who loves different snacks than you do. For instance, if you like ice cream, marry someone who’d rather have something salty — such as potato chips. I’ll tell you why. At the end of the day, when you want that last half-cup of Chunky Monkey, and you’re tired and you’ve been thinking of it all day while eating celery leaves and twigs to fit into your jeans, working your job and tending kids, house, taxi service for sports and dancing, committees and shopping for the packaged cookies your kid needs for school tomorrow, it is in everyone’s best interest if your husband, when faced with a choice, wolfed down the half-bag of chips instead of the Chunky Monkey.

That’s all I’m saying.

Q: Sibling rivalry is one of the major themes in Back in the Saddle. What do you find is the best way to handle tension in family relationships?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

OK, now that I’m up off the floor, let me just say that the newly visible accidents of genetics should give us a much better idea of how diverse siblings are and how amazingly blessed we are when any of them get along!

“Daughters! You think it’s going to be like Little Women, and they’re at each other’s throats every day!” —Cora Crawley, Downton Abbey

Laughter. Honestly, give them a good faith base to help offset the chronic craziness of an instant gratification world around them, but beyond that, help them learn not to sweat the small stuff while expecting them to respect one another. They don’t have to be best buddies, but respect is a huge component. A dear friend of mine, a Sister of St. Joseph, once said that holding grudges in families is one of the most grievous of sins because how can we expect to change the world if we can’t forgive one another? I’ve always held that close to my heart. Forgive, put a smile on your face and move on.

Back in the Saddle by Ruth Logan Herne
Waterbrook Multnomah

Q: Despite all of the challenges the families face in Back in the Saddle, when push comes to shove, they stick together. How has the love of family been important to you?

Well, cowboy lore dictates that we might die separately but most assuredly we will all stand together, and I think that’s a good backbone for family dynamics.

I look at the good and the bad of the families I know, see and work with, then I try to build on the good and minimize the bad. That’s really not a difficult concept if you simply adopt it as your go-to methodology.

My children are a God-send, a huge blessing to me. I see their uniqueness, and I love their diversity. It makes me laugh that out of one set of parents, so many variances emerge. However, now that we can actually see gene sequencing, it makes perfect sense! They grew up in complete ignorance of my parents’ alcoholism and depression problems until they were old enough that they needed to know. I like a little bit of fairyland for kids so they can grow those imaginations. Reality hits all too soon, and I wanted them to have a chance to know and love the grandparents on both sides. If that meant I had to eat a little humble pie and do some strategic planning, that was OK.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your heroine, Angelina? Will readers find any parts of your own personality in hers?

That’s a loaded question! I like strong heroines. I like strong women. I like championing for strong women, and even if a heroine has reason to cave, my goal as an author is to show how she picks herself up and gets back on her feet. And if there’s a wonderful hero to make the picture complete, better yet!

There’s a little bit of me in every heroine, but I had to make Detective Mary Angela (Angelina) even more self-protective, defensive and tough than, let’s say, a kindergarten teacher. So I took a little bit of me, a dash of Kate Beckett on Castle, a hint of the household staffs from The Help and a smidge of Catherine Zeta Jones from Zorro. A woman cop, skilled in negotiation techniques and trained in undercover work, is the perfect setup for dealing with a huge, busy ranch kitchen filled with sometimes-clueless men. One of my greatest joys is how women are loving Angelina as a heroine because I was pretty much guaranteed they’d love Colt. But to have them embrace and cheer on a tough-girl image heroine, that’s awesome!

Q: Is there a way to balance meeting one’s own needs with the biblical principle of putting others first?

I think so. It’s called sacrificial love or selflessness. I think that’s a missing component in too much of today’s society, and worry about self and meeting our own needs is far too prevalent. How easily we talk about the sparrows and the birds of the air in Scripture and how readily God cares for them, but then we freak out if our iPhone breaks down or we have to wait 30 minutes for a doctor’s appointment because we’ve grown accustomed to here-and-now, instant answers.

We taught JOY to junior high kids in religious education classes — Jesus, others, you. The simplicity is perfect and mind-bogglingly easy, but it’s tough to do because we tend to be somewhat selfish creatures.

Q: You talk on your blog about your upbringing and how you were born into poverty. In what ways did your early life experiences shape the writer you are today?

I cannot even begin to say what a huge influence all of that was on my life as a wife, mother, employee and now author. I see all of that as God’s preparation for me for the job he and I both knew I would do some day: write books people love and help women see and build their inner strengths through faith and love.

It is so easy to blame the past and let it wither us. Far too easy. Parts of society actually encourage that.

No. Grab those bootstraps, avoid negative people, surround yourself with positives and thank God daily for all the wonderfulness in your life, no matter how big or how small! No matter how menial the job, do your best every day.

I’ve held a great many nametag and hairnet jobs in my time, and the blessing of that was a paycheck to help put shoes on my kids’ feet . . . and research for books! Take those down times and use them to minister to others.

Take the good and run with it. The rest is up to you!

Q: Other than writing, what are some of your interests? Tell us about your roadside vegetable stand back home in upstate New York.

My love for gardening comes straight from my grandma Myrtle Herne. It’s funny how things get passed down, but I could literally live in a garden if time allowed — and it hasn’t for many years. However, my husband is retiring this year, and he’s started up our truck farm again. We’d done it for a dozen years when our kids were younger, and that gave us lots of field hands when they weren’t playing soccer, tennis or baseball or running track-and-field or cross-country.

A truck farm is an old-school name for a small farm that trucks this, that and the other thing to roadside stands, so in front of our big, old farmhouse (160 years old, and when you fix one thing, you break two others!) we haul out the produce stand every spring . . . and it begins. We have a henhouse of nearly 50 laying hens I handle, and the initial farm work comes down to my husband, Dave, our son Seth, and son-in-law Jon. In the fall during pumpkin and squash season, it’s all hands on deck! A great pumpkin year is a wonderful thing, and there are no worries about staying in shape when you’re hauling 30-pound pumpkins from the field to the tractor path! It’s so pretty to fill the yard with hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins and watch folks drive in with little kids and fill their trunk.

When there’s time I bake bread and cookies for the produce stand . . . and the customers love it, so I don’t tell them that bread’s supposed to be bad for them!

Q: Can you give us a hint as to your plans for the Home on the Range, the next book in the Double S Ranch series?

I love Home on the Range! Oh, poor Nick, he is just so beside himself with what he thinks he wants and the image he’s tried so hard to portray of the modern-day cattle breeder with one foot in suburbia and one on the rugged terrain of the Double S. He was so sure he could do it right and best his father, but one marriage later and two very unhappy little girls means that somehow, someway, Nick’s got to get his life back in order.

Who better than an emotionally-tanked therapist, leading a reclusive life while hiding in the woods in a hobbit-style house because she can’t come to terms with life, to do it? It sure sounds like a match made in heaven to me!

Learn more about Ruth Logan Herne and Back in the Saddle at ruthloganherne.com, on Facebook (ruthloganherne) or by following her on Twitter (@ruthloganherne) or Pinterest (ruthyloganherne).

Posted 4/7/16 at 11:58 AM | Audra Jennings

Help Teens Understand What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Part 2 of an interview with Tom Gilson,

Author of Critical Conversations:

A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens

Critical Conversations by Tom Gilson
Kregel

Christian parents need to be prepared to answer the myriad challenges teens might hear in today's increasingly pro homosexual culture. Why shouldn't gays get married? Who says gay sex is wrong? Does the Bible actually say there's anything wrong with homosexuality? Don't you care that kids are being bullied just for being themselves?

To start the discussion in Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel/February 27, 2016), Tom Gilson provides a brief history of the issues beginning with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He explains how and why cultural attitudes have reversed on this subject in such a short timespan, leaving Christians scrambling for answers.

This is perhaps the most complicated and contentious issue Christians face in today's culture. Most churches are poorly equipped to handle it; parents are even less prepared. The good news is that parents need not have pat answers ready before they dive into conversations with their teens and preteens on this difficult topic. Learning together—parents struggling through these issues alongside their kids and leading them to biblical answers—has relational benefits.

Answers are important, though, so manageable, nontechnical answers to common questions surrounding this issue are provided, as well as a guide to further resources.

Q: Christians are often painted as being prejudiced and out of touch for their beliefs. Is there a way to speak truth about homosexuality without being perceived as hateful or homophobic?

There are actually a couple of questions that come before that one. Can we speak out about it without actually being hateful or homophobic? The answer to that is yes, certainly. We disagree with LGBT advocates, sure. But that isn’t automatically hateful or phobic. If it were, then they would also be automatically hateful and phobic for disagreeing with us. I don’t think they think that’s true of ourselves, and I don’t think that’s usually true of them, either.

The second question is whether we can speak out without being perceived as hateful or homophobic. I think in personal friendships we can often do this. In larger contexts, we’ll probably be perceived in all kinds of bad ways, and the best thing we can do about it is to make sure we’re living in Christian integrity no matter what people say about us. We can also make our case for our position respectfully, knowledgeably and with conviction. This book helps with that.

Back to the original question. Some Christians have unfortunately acted in hateful and homophobic ways. (I don’t usually like to use that term, but it does fit sometimes.) That’s a matter for increased knowledge and for repentance.

Q: Why is it such a popular belief that Christians hate homosexuals simply because they disagree with their lifestyle?

There has been an intentional, concerted campaign by homosexual activists to paint Christianity that way. This is not paranoia or conspiracy theorizing. It’s documented in their own strategy documents, which they have followed quite effectively. (I detail this in the book.)

Q: What are some ways parents can prepare their children for the possibility they could be bullied for their beliefs?

Kids need to be confident in their beliefs, and they need to see their parents living in confidence too. That’s the main thing.

It’s great if they can be part of a group of friends who share that confidence; it’s the best protection possible for them at school, and of course there’s a biblical principle of mutual support and encouragement involved there.

Q: How should parents coach teens on being wise in manner and timing when making a stand for their convictions? For example, when and where is the appropriate time and place?

It’s hard to advise on this from a distance. The more important thing, in my view, is for teens to have a solid, almost easy sort of confidence in what they know to be true. Then they can speak their convictions authentically when the pressure is off — in everyday conversation with friends, for example — or when the pressure is on, and their faith is being challenged. It’s a whole lot easier for any of us to assess a situation and respond to it appropriately if we’re confident in our ability to respond when the time comes.

Q: If you had to simplify your argument in support of biblical marriage into a few sentences, what would they be? 

God gave us plenty of good reasons in both the Old and New Testament to know that he designed sex to be for a married couple, and that he designed marriage to be for a man and a woman. It’s in Leviticus, in Jesus’ teaching on marriage and all over the Pauline epistles.

Marriage between a man and a woman is good. It’s a comprehensive human good that supports the nurturance of children and the growth of strong communities. Because children come out of marriages (normally), marital love is an outward-looking form of love, in contrast to the inward-looking and comparatively self-focused “just you and me, babe,” form of relationship found in non-marital sexual relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Children thrive in homes with a mom and a dad.

So there are both biblical and non-biblical (common experience) reasons working together to make the point.

Tom Gilson, author of Critical Conversations
Tom Gilson

Q: Describe the “Bible brush-off” and how parents can avoid it during discussions with their teens.

“The Bible says it. Believe it.” That’s the Bible brush-off. That’s not much help: You can’t command belief. (You can’t make a person believe by telling them to.) Parents need to help their teens understand how to know the Bible is true and how to know the Bible’s teaching is good too.

Q: What are the eternal and cultural implications for helping Christian young people understand this issue?

Let’s not be fooled here: The big question isn’t whether homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage is moral. The big question is whether Christianity is credible. Gay activists have tried to tear down Christianity’s believability. The more they succeed, the harder it will be for anyone to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Q: What should parents do if their child has questions about his or her own sexuality or gender identity?

The first thing is, keep on loving unconditionally, no matter what – which is what “unconditionally” means. If that is at all challenging for you, find the support you need so you can do it – support that’s steeped in biblical grace and truth.

Don’t think you can go it alone! Don’t even assume your pastor is fully equipped to help with this issue. Rely on your pastor, yes, but find a Christian counselor with specific expertise in this area. Parents should spend time with that counselor, learning how to handle their relationship with their teen. If the teen will see that counselor (or a different one, equally qualified), that’s great.

Even before that’s set up, though, parents should gently seek to find out whether their teens have friends who are encouraging them to “explore” their sexuality. If so, it would be wise to set a firm and loving boundary between the teens and those persons.

If there’s been abuse (which is a factor in some, though certainly not all, such sexual questioning), then get the law involved — and again, a qualified counselor.

Learn more about more about Critical Conversations and Tom Gilson at www.criticalconversationsbook.com or on Twitter (@ThnkngChristian).

Posted 4/5/16 at 1:49 PM | Audra Jennings

Do You Allow Your Job to Define Who You Are?

Song of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti
Abingdon Press

What’s the first thing mentioned when introducing two strangers? Typically, one person introduces another by saying the individual’s name, followed by his or her vocation. “This is my friend, Bob. He’s an airplane mechanic.” “I’d like you to meet Sally. She’s a triathlete.” It’s natural for people to derive their sense of self from what they do, not who they are. In her latest novel,Song of Silence (Abingdon Press/April 5, 2016/ISBN: 9781426791499/$14.99), award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti reminds us God takes a different approach when it comes to identity and explores what happens when identity can no longer be linked to an occupation or life’s passion.

In Song of Silence, readers meet Lucy and Charlie Tuttle who, despite their differences, can agree on one thing: They’re committed to each other for life. The trouble is neither of them expected life to look like this. Charlie retired early, but Lucy has been completely devoted to her long-term career as a music educator in a small Midwestern school . . . until the day she has no choice.

Forced into retirement because of school budget issues, Lucy can only watch helplessly as the music program her father spent years building disintegrates before her eyes. As the music fades and a chasm separates her from the passion of her heart, Lucy wonders if her faith’s song has gone silent too. When her grown children have to move back into the family home, new challenges emerge, and the musical score of her life seems to be missing all the notes. When a simple misstep threatens to silence Lucy forever, a young boy and his soundless mother change the way she sees — and hears — everything.

All authors put at least a hint of people they know into their characters, and Ruchti’s husband recognized himself in Lucy’s husband, Charlie. Although he was forced into retirement similarly to Lucy, his approach to retirement more closely resembled Charlie’s. Ruchti admits her reaction would have been more like Lucy’s. “What was only a minor interruption for my husband would have been more devastating for me.” Ruchti adds, “When Lucy’s occupation was stripped from her, she flailed and floundered. However, who we are, and whose we are, are because of who God is, eliminating long-lived identity crises. No matter our position, station, work, or lack of it, I know I am His beloved child and He is my loving Father. The rest are mere details.”

The author also drew from her own life when creating the main character, Lucy, whose name and influence were inspired by her fifth-grade music teacher. “Some teachers leave a lasting impression on our lives and on our souls,” Ruchti reflects. “Like the ‘Lucy’ I know, in the story Lucy taught the students entrusted to her not only the enriching importance of music, but its elegance and ability to communicate.” Ruchti’s father was also a highly-respected music educator, and he added to her appreciation for how music could convey deep emotions such as joy, peace, sorrow, and strength.

Ruchti hopes readers will not only find themselves lost in a compelling story, but will hear in the background notes an encouragement to hold onto hope even when life’s song is silenced, even when unexpected and unwelcomed pauses interrupt the music.

About the author

Cynthia Ruchti, author of Song of Silence

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope through her novels, novellas, nonfiction books, articles, and devotionals, drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry. Ruchti has 17 books in print, and her books have received numerous awards and nominations, including the RT Reviewers’ Choice, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year nominations, two Selah Awards, Christian Retailing’s BEST, and was an ACFW Carol Award finalist, among other honors.

One of Ruchti’s greatest joys is helping other writers grow in their craft. To that end, she has served as worship and devotions staff and faculty for the Write-to-Publish conference and teaches at other writers’ conferences across the country and internationally as opportunities arise. She also serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers.

Ruchti speaks frequently for women’s groups and serves on her church’s worship team. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren.

To keep up with Cynthia Ruchti, visitwww.cynthiaruchti.com. You can also follow her onFacebook (Cynthia Ruchti), Twitter (@cynthiaruchti), and Pinterest (cynthiaruchti).

FULL POST

Posted 4/1/16 at 10:07 AM | Audra Jennings

God Refines us Through Pain and Suffering

Part 1 of an interview with Sherri Burgess,

Author of Bronner: A Journey to Understand

Sherri Burgess, author of Bronner: A Journey to Understand
Heather Durham
Sherri Burgess

God teaches and refines us through pain and suffering. Author Sherri Burgess, wife of Rick Burgess of the syndicated The Rick and Bubba Show, knows this to be true. After the earthly death of her youngest son, Bronner, Burgess asked, “Why?” And God answered.

Journey with her through this powerful testimony of healing to understand the purpose behind the pain. With a reader’s guide in the back, this resource makes an empowering tool for book-club discussion or small-group Bible study. Bronner: A Journey to Understand (New Hope Publishers) is much more than a retelling of an inspiring story. It is a call to action!

Q: Your book is named after your youngest son. Tell us a little bit about Bronner and his short life on earth.

Bronner was the baby of the family, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and we adored him. He knew it too. Bronner kind of had that air about him like he knew he was a big deal. He was so much fun and super snuggly. He was like a cookie right out of the oven, and every morning was like Christmas morning with him. I couldn’t wait to unwrap each day with him. He was a two-and-a-half-year-old baby boy. You’d be hard-pressed to find much in the world better than that! He was curious, playful, spunky, loving, fun, precious and beautiful, and life with him was amazing. He was sunshine and a cool breeze kissing my face with life, and when I lost him I was utterly crushed and completely devastated. But God picked me up and gave me peace through understanding and hope for the things of the Spirit — things such as eternity, Heaven, God Himself and ultimately a greater understanding of who God is and why He allows such great suffering in the world.

Q: You write about the inexplicable moment of peace you experienced at the hospital shortly before you learned there was no hope for Bronner. Could you tell us about that experience?

I fell on my face in prayer as soon as we entered the emergency room, begging for Bronner’s life. I had been praying nonstop almost the same thing over and over and over again. “Please, God, don’t take him. Please give him back. Please, God. Please, please give him back to me.” I would look up at the heart monitor to see if they had gotten a pulse, then I would bow my head again to pray. That last time I looked up hoping for anything but that straight line, and then I bowed over a chair. I remember a nurse taking my hand and an instantaneous exchange with our eyes that seemed to contain all the grief and hurt and sympathy one woman could muster for another. As I closed my eyes again, I felt something rising up from deep within me. It was like I was hearing it in my mind, but I consciously said it. “Lord, not my will, but thine, O Lord, be done.” A peace came over me that transcends understanding. I stood up, looked at the doctor in charge and heard him say, “We’re going to have to stop.” I nodded my head and said OK. I’ve known from the beginning this was God’s will because that was what the Holy Spirit had prayed for and through me, but what took me a long time to figure out was why. Why would God will this? That is what my book is about.

Q: How has your marriage been impacted by your loss?

It’s given it weight. Our marriage is ultimately more important than it ever had been before. I needed Rick like I needed water. He was our rock, and he knew it. He had to hold it together so he could hold us all up. There’s a myth that has been debunked that the death of a child causes divorce. That is completely opposite of the truth. Studies show that people who have lost children divorce at significantly lower rates than the average. That’s because shared pain between two people bonds them like nothing else can. I remember that night in the hospital waiting on Rick to arrive. He was speaking at a youth retreat in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, when it happened. We had friends who flew him home as quickly as possible. My pastor, my music minister and his wife, and three other friends waited with me at the hospital, and they were ready with answers for me. I had lots of questions, but what I remember most about that wait was the uneasiness in the room. We were all distraught, but when Rick finally walked through those doors, calmness walked in with him. His presence put everyone at ease, especially me. His eyes went immediately to me, and he walked over and wrapped me up in his arms. I felt safe with him.

Bronner: A Journey to Understand by Sherri Burgess
New Growth Publishers

Q: How did you walk your other children through the loss of their brother? What advice would you offer to parents going through a similar situation right now?

We walked them through it Biblically. We taught them everything God was teaching us: the truth that even though bad things happen in this world now, it won’t always be like this. Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. My children know they’re going to see their brother again. They know an eternity with God is far better than any pain or suffering or hurt they have to endure in this life. They know their pain will end and a reward is coming that surpasses anything they’ve ever experienced before. My children know love never ends and Bronner loves them now just as much as he ever did. He remembers them just like they remember him. They look forward to that time just as Rick and I do.

To parents of children who have lost a sibling I would say, “They’re going to be just fine.” Children are naturally trusting. They trust God. They trust you to take care of them, and they need you. They are worth living for. I know it hurts to lose a child. I believe it must be one of the worst things a person could possibly have to endure in life, but I encourage you to gain strength and understanding from God so you can still be the parent you need to be for those you have left.

Q: When you had the pool installed in your backyard, you prayed God would not allow anyone to drown there and that He would use it for His glory. In what way did God answer that prayer differently?

Early on in this journey, as I was trying to understand God’s purpose behind the pain, I was desperately crying out for Him to tell me, “Why the children?” I said to God, “There is nothing worse than losing a child. I know You lost your Son, but You got Him back after three days! Three days!” I heard that still, small voice answer in my spirit, “But what about the others? They’re all mine. You’re going to get this glorious reunion with your child, but I won’t get that with all of mine.” I understood in that moment that God was using my temporary separation from Bronner to bring some of His wandering children back to Him forever. Maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God. God doesn’t delight in death — not real death, the kind that sends souls away from their maker forever. I decided I could do this for Him because I love Him and because I know what it’s like to lose a child. If I can help bring one, just one, back to Him, then I will. I know I’m not the only brokenhearted parent in this equation. My heavenly Father is a brokenhearted parent too, and He longs to bring all of us home. There’s room for us all in our Father’s heart. That’s why He waits. He’s gathering His children and creating for Himself a people who choose the good portion, the bread and living water, the Lord.

Q: How do you answer people when they ask you why God allowed Bronner to drown?

He did it for the lost souls that would found through it. He did it for the church: to provide a message that would ignite a fire within to be about God’s business in this world and in this generation because the time is drawing near. He did it to refine us, to humble us, to make us see our need for God, to make us holy, to create in us fearlessness and boldness for God and the things of God. He did it to bring us into a closer relationship with and an understanding of Himself, to fit us for Heaven and to clothe us in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He did it for love.

Q: After all your family has been through, do you still believe God is good?

I know Him to be. He was good before. He was amazing in the midst of it, and He is my constant and closest friend, my desire, my hope, my everything right now, today and forevermore. He changed me for the good by taking my son. I’m no longer in love with the world, and that is freeing. I’m unchained from the world with half my heart already in Heaven, and a person like that doesn’t live any longer for the shiny things the world has to offer. Instead a person like that lives for the will of God, for His delight and approval. I seek His joy, not my own. I live to make Him smile. That’s why I wrote this book: to please Him, to bring Him glory and to help people see His goodness and His purpose behind it all. People look around and see how bleak things can get on earth and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” I’ll tell you where He is. He’s right in the middle of it. He stands with outstretched hands, waiting and saying, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust me. It won’t always be like this.”

Learn more about Bronner: A Journey to Understand at http://newhopepublishers.com/2015/09/bronner/, and visit Sherri Burgess’ online home at burgessministries.com.

Burgess can also be found on Facebook (SherriBurgessAuthor) and Twitter (SherriBBurgess).

Posted 3/22/16 at 2:35 PM | Audra Jennings

Honest, Critical Conversations about Homosexuality

Part 1 of an interview with Tom Gilson,

Author of Critical Conversations:

A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens

Critical Conversations by Tom Gilson
Kregel

Parents of teens today may have a tougher job in front of them than parents of any other generation in recent history. While immorality has always existed in the world, the Western world has never seen such a time of moral confusion, especially regarding sexuality, gender and the definition of marriage. To help parents cut through the lies and political correctness and find a way to impart truth to their teens, Tom Gilson has written Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel/February 27, 2016).

This is one of the most complex issues Christians face today, and it’s rife with landmines. In Critical Conversations, Gilson describes the efforts by some to paint Christian beliefs as hateful, making many believers hesitant to speak truth for fear of being seen as homophobic.

Q: You describe the content of your new book, Critical Conversations, as the “perfect storm” of awkward parent-child topics. What elements combine for making discussions on homosexuality so difficult?

This topic opens up the threefold potential of intergenerational conflict, young people’s sometimes-accurate belief that their parents are out of touch and, of course, the awkward topic of sex. Conflict in particular can arise because young people are frequently far more accepting of homosexuality and gay marriage than people in their parents’ generation.

Q: Parents sometimes avoid addressing tough subjects such as homosexuality and gay marriage with their kids. Given how difficult it is to talk about, why would a parent even want to have these “critical conversations”?

Parents sometimes avoid the subject because it’s as awkward as it could be, and it’s a contentious issue, often with one generation pitted against another. Parents fear it will start out bad and get worse. Above all they’re not sure they have what it takes to explain why they believe what they believe.

There’s an awful lot at stake. Teens are typically suspicious of the way Christians treat LGBT people, and they see themselves as morally advanced on this topic, compared to their parents’ generation. Tragically, for many this separates them from their own church, from their parents and most significantly from belief in Christ himself. However, with proper equipping, these critical conversations can draw teens back into closer relationship with their parents and give them new confidence to stay connected with Christ and Christianity.

Q: How can a tough topic like this one actually help build parents’ relationships with teens?

Teens appreciate being taken seriously. If parents will talk with them respectfully about this topic, they’ll know they’re being treated seriously. If there are hard questions parents can’t answer, that’s actually OK — as long as the parents stay in the process and seek to uncover the right answer alongside the teen.

This depends, however, on parents being at least moderately well-informed. It’s no help at all (and it’s not respectful to teens) for parents to launch into a discussion in total ignorance! (Teens can tell.)

Of course, it also depends on the parents maintaining the proper position as parents. Teens still need someone at home to act as their authority person. Their need for that changes a lot as teens grow up, but it usually doesn’t go away until after the teen years. But a person who’s in authority should know what he or she is talking about — especially on crucial issues like this one.

Putting all that together, parents who are well-equipped on this topic are in a good position to act as real parents while showing genuine relational respect to their teen. That’s a great way to build relationships with teens.

Tom Gilson, author of Critical Conversations
Tom Gilson

Q: In what ways is parenting teens different today than 20 or 30 years ago? How did our culture decline so far, so fast?

There’s always been immorality, but never before such moral confusion. We’ve lost touch with the moral reality that sexual relationships are for a married man and woman, and that this is for our good. Right is now considered wrong, and wrong right.

In some ways the decline has been slower than it might seem, though. Same-sex marriage arose quickly in our culture, yes, but it came as a direct consequence of a long-term decline in heterosexual morality, by which sex — and even marriage — became practiced strictly for the pleasure and happiness of the couple. It was just a short slide from there to accepting gay and lesbian sex and marriage.

Q: What advice do you have for handling this topic in a way that’s age-appropriate for teenagers?

There’s no need to talk about the sexual mechanics. Most teens know everything they need to know about that already. What teens usually need instead is to be assured that Christianity is still true and still good in spite of the anti-Christian challenges put forth against them on the Internet, in music, on film and TV and even in the classroom. They need to know how to live as faithful Christians and being authentic friends with those who disagree with them, while keeping proper moral boundaries in place.

In short, they need to know what’s true with respect to this issue; they need to know why it’s true, and they need to know why it’s good that it’s true, and how to live in light of that truth.

Guidance of this sort can be immensely helpful to pre-teens, too, except they may not be ready for detailed explanations. My best advice in that case is to invite questions — lots of questions — and when an answer seems to be going past the pre-teen’s comprehension point, invite another question.

Q: Some parents may even struggle with understanding certain issues themselves. How does Critical Conversations help prepare parents for these difficult conversations?

First, this book explains the biblical and common-experience reasons for keeping sexual relationships within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. Through this, parents will know how to answer with more than just, “The Bible says so.” They’ll know how to explain the Bible’s teachings in a way that shows the Bible’s teaching is both true and good.

Second, there is an introductory chapter that briefly describes the social history of homosexual activism. It’s the kind of background knowledge that helps parents be confident they know what’s going on in this issue.

Q: How is the design of Critical Conversations different than other parenting books?

The book is written in three parts:

  1. Understanding the issues (reasons for biblical morality and a brief social history of gay activism).
  2. Navigating the rocky relationships: how parents can help teens live in the real relationships they’ll find themselves in.
  3. Practical help in handling the challenges.

This third part is where the book is really unique. It lists more than two dozen anti-Christian challenges and explains briefly where these challenges go wrong. But that’s not all. If it were, it would be just another piece of information for parents to absorb. Instead with each one of these challenges I include “Conversation Coaching,” advice for parents on specifically what they can say to their teens to help them deal with the challenge. It’s extremely parent-friendly and practical in that sense.

Q: To get a better understanding of the third section of the book, could you share a few examples of conversations that are included?

I give advice for parents on how to coach their teens when they’re faced with challenges such as:

  • “You’re homophobic.”
  • “If you disagree with homosexuality, you’re a hater.”
  • “You’re against marriage equality.”
  • “You’re on the wrong side of history.”
  • “The Bible doesn’t even mention gay marriage.”

Learn more about more about Critical Conversations and Tom Gilson at

www.criticalconversationsbook.com or on Twitter (@ThnkngChristian).

Posted 3/21/16 at 11:04 AM | Audra Jennings

Because the Marriage Matters Even More than the Wedding

Part 2 of an interview with Rob Green,

Author of Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong & Lasting Marriage

Tying the Knot by Rob Green
New Growth Press

Every engaged couple hopes to build a lasting and satisfying marriage, but it doesn’t happen automatically. In his interactive premarital study, Tying the Knot, author and counselor Rob Green explores how key issues such as conflict, communication, finances and intimacy are successfully navigated in a Christ-centered marriage. Green seeks to help a new generation of newlyweds build their marriage on the lasting foundation of God’s grace.

Q: Many brides and grooms spend more time planning their wedding day than planning for their marriage. What marriage plans should an engaged couple make before their big day?

In many ways, that is what this whole book is about. I tell couples as sweetly as I can I care a little bit about the three hours surrounding their ceremony and reception, but I care a lot about the 50+ years they will have after those three hours. I understand there are many tasks involved in preparing for the wedding day (not to mention the financial commitments), but when the party is over, two people must learn to love and live with one another.

Time spent together on improving their personal relationship with Christ will pay huge dividends after the wedding and help them love one another.

Please don’t hear me say I don’t care about the “big day.” It is a big day, and I want them to enjoy every minute of it. I just want them to spend as much time thinking about their walk with Jesus as they do which invitations to choose, which dress to buy, and what type of food will be served at the reception.

Q: In your counseling experience, what is the number-one issue that trips up young couples? How do you address it in Tying the Knot?

I have had the privilege to teach an adult Bible fellowship class of young couples (married for five years or fewer) for 10 years and have seen all sorts of challenges. Some struggle with sexual things, whether it be intimacy with one another or with issues such as pornography. I have seen some struggle with problem-solving while others have struggled financially. While there is not one single issue that occurs more than others, the root of those issues is that one or both do not live for Christ as they should. When that happens, they become very susceptible to all sorts of issues. That is why throughout the book, in relationship to all topics, I write about putting Jesus at the center.

Q: Why do you write so candidly about intimacy? That is a subject most people do not like to discuss.

I used to be the same way. I was afraid to speak about intimacy. However, I have found a large number of couples struggle with intimacy during their honeymoon. Despite our society worshipping at the altar of sex, not everyone has bought into that thinking. So for one person, or maybe both, there is a little fear about how the sex part of their relationship will go. It is important for them to understand sex is not about performance but about relationship. Why did God say all sex was wrong outside of marriage if it were not first a relationship issue? If sex was exclusively for pleasure, then God could have opened the floodgates on sex.

This is a very simple and yet profound point in Scripture. Sex is wonderful in the right context. Couples will be on a journey together. It might be that the couple will never look better than on their honeymoon, but it will not be the time for their best sex. That comes as the relationship develops and matures.

Q: What was the biggest lesson you and your wife learned during the early years of your relationship?

As with any couple, in our early years of marriage we experienced some unexpected things no one could have prepared us for. These were things we simply had to live through. What helped us was remembering our lives were first dedicated to God. Stephanie could not be my hero and nor could I be hers. God designed us to be husband and wife, not each other’s saviors. Stephanie could never be all I needed nor could I be all she needed. Instead, we both understood what we needed is what the Lord provided. As long as I thought that way, I could freely give, love and serve.

In some moments, I did not believe Jesus was all I needed, so I demanded love and service from her. When that happened, it would result in conflict. The more we saw Christ at the center of our life, the less we relied on our spouse to be our savior, and the more we were able to love, give and serve each other.

Q: A lot of young people are cynical about marriage. What would you say to convince them it is still one of God’s greatest institutions?

Some young people are cynical about a lot of things, not just marriage. I believe cynicism, in part, is driven by the lack of great role models. Who wants a marriage if your parents had a lousy one or you were carted back and forth trying to figure out how to make dad happy at his house and mom happy at hers? The media is full of stories featuring marriages coming to an end.

My response is first, “I get it. I completely understand why you would not want marriage.” But I also believe there are two more important mitigating factors.

First, we cannot “do what we do” simply by watching others. The Word of God provides the standard. The more focus on Scripture, the more we will be convinced marriage is an institution designed by God to bring him glory and to give us blessing.

Second, just because you have seen some bad examples does not mean they are the only examples. There are people around us who are enjoying marital bliss. The news and tabloids do not talk about them, but they are there. They are trophies of God’s grace. They have learned to love Jesus first and thus are fully prepared to love their spouse.

Q: How is your chapter on finances different than the classic financial counsel?

I am interested in couples pleasing God with their money, not just working out a system where income is more than expenses. Some of the classic rules like “do not spend more than 28% of your income on housing” are not important to me because they are not based in Scripture. The Bible addresses issues of the heart.

It also is concerning to me that some couples have accumulated a lot of debt, which can be crippling. While the decisions that put them into debt may have been made before I speak with the couple, we can at least begin to discuss a strategy to get out of debt.

Rob Green, author of Tying the Knot
Rob Green

Q: Why do some couples struggle with problem-solving?

There is a natural tendency in all our hearts to want to blame others for conflict. We believe conflict would never have happened if “the other person had not done _________.” This kind of thinking never leads to problem-solving; it just creates more problems. Jesus taught we have to consider our own part (Matthew 7:3) before we think about the part others might play.

Some couples ignore conflict because they are in love! While there is something healthy about that, there is also something very dangerous. It is healthy because we do not have to make a big deal about every little detail. At the same time, it is dangerous because we do not want to develop the habit of ignoring problems. So helping couples learn to solve problems really helps them avoid bitterness.

Q: You cover eight key topics, including love, conflict, expectations, communication, finances and intimacy in Tying the Knot, but if you had to give just one piece of advice to engaged couples, what would it be?

I had the privilege of doing a Ph.D. in New Testament under a man named Dr. Rod Decker. He was a true scholar and a very kind man. He wrote a paper about the time Jesus was questioned by the Sadducees regarding marriage. Their point was to prove that the belief in the resurrection was silly. They said a woman married a man who died. His brother fulfilled his obligation to marry this woman and he died. And so the story goes that the same woman married all 7 of the brothers before she died. They ask Jesus who will be her husband in the resurrection? Jesus said marriage is not part of resurrection life.

As I reflected on my mentor’s paper it dawned on me — marriage is for now. Marriage is a blessing God gave us to navigate through this sin-cursed world together. We may not know what is in store for our lives, but marriage is a part of God’s care. He gave us marriage to make the challenging life on earth better while we wait for the coming of Jesus where our concern will be more about him than it will be about us.

So what would I tell them is, “Enjoy every minute of your marriage. God gave it to you as a blessing for the here and now. Every minute you spend feuding is a minute of blessing you are missing.”

Learn more about Tying the Knot and Rob Green at www.newgrowthpress.com.

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