Books

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Posted 11/3/17 at 12:34 PM |

New book addresses major reason religious “nones” left their faith

A recent Pew Research Study discovered that one of the main reasons religious “nones” – people who do not identify with any religious group – left the church or faith in which they were raised was that there are “too many Christians doing un-Christian things.” In his new book “When Good Samaritans Get Mugged: Hope and Healing for Wounded Warriors,” Pastor David Stokes addresses this issue head-on. Stokes shares practical strategies for overcoming the depression, anger, and discouragement that people deal with when they are hurt by Christians.

“I often refer to myself as a ‘church survivor,’ having been in church since I was eight-days old,” says Stokes, who currently pastors a church in Fairfax, Virginia. “My father was a pastor. My mom really didn’t enjoy being a pastor’s wife—she got hurt a lot, so I saw things like this early on. The key is to learn how to truly forgive, and to learn what that means and what it doesn’t mean. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation, because that takes all parties. And forgiveness doesn’t mean broken trust is immediately restored. I’ve forgiven many people I will probably never be able to trust again.” FULL POST

Posted 10/27/17 at 12:58 PM | Audra Jennings

'Rule of Law' based on real-life inspiration

Part 2 of an interview with Randy Singer,
Author of Rule of Law

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

Tyndale
Rule of Law by Randy Singer

Inspired by real events involving American contract workers detained in Yemen, Singer wrote Rule of Law to address what he describes as critical issues lurking on the horizon. “Is the president above the law in matters of foreign policy?” Singer asks. “Should the CIA be fighting shadow wars with drones and special forces in countries where we have not declared war? What happens when the lives of service members are sacrificed for political gain?”

To avoid getting bogged down in political polarization, Singer assures readers his fictional president, cabinet and Supreme Court bear little resemblance to the current administration and Court. He does, however, anchor the story in reality with historical references — political, military and legal — based on actual events. He also has great respect for the sacrifices made by the Navy SEALS and their families, some of whom attend the church where Singer serves as a teaching pastor.

Q: While you made sure the characters such as the President and members of the Supreme Court in Rule of Law were not based on anyone in the current presidential administration, you did have real life inspiration for the book. Can you tell us about the people who did inspire you and the story?

Two remarkable people inspired me to write Rule of Law. They are both clients of my law practice.

Rule of Law begins with a SEAL Team raid of a prison camp in Yemen where the Houthi rebels are housing two important political prisoners.

Mark McAlister was working for the United Nations on October 20, 2015, in Yemen when he was captured by the Houthi rebels (who believed he was working for the CIA). For the next six months Mark was confined to a small, windowless cell where he was abused and interrogated. Through it all, he never renounced his faith. On the contrary, he boldly told his captors that he was a follower of Jesus. After they took his Bible, Mark would pace his small cell, praying and reminding himself of the miracles of Jesus.

“Lord, if you can walk on water, you can get me out of this cell. Lord, if you can heal the blind, you can get me out of this cell. Lord, if you can come back from the dead after three days, you can get me out of this cell.”

Six months into his captivity, Mark was miraculously released by his Houthi captors. By then, he had won their respect and developed a relationship with them. I had Mark share his testimony with my church which can be accessed, along with the message I preached that day, here: Lord of the Nations.

The second person who inspired this book was Dana Wise. She is the widow of a former Navy SEAL who attended the church I pastor and who was killed by a terrorist in Afghanistan. Dana’s grace and class in the midst of tragedy have been an incredible testimony to so many people. The main character in this book is a young female lawyer who is on a mission to avenge the death of her boyfriend, a Navy SEAL killed in the line of duty. The strength and class of Dana served as a great model for my protagonist. Dana shared her story on Memorial Day at our church, which can be seen, along with my message, here: Greater Love.

In Rule of Law, I want readers to experience triumph in the midst of tragedy, and justice rising out of pain.

Q: Your church serves many servicemen and women. How did your work with military families influence you as you wrote Rule of Law?

Rule of Law begins with a tragic ending to a military mission. As part of my duties as pastor, I have been called on to minister to families who have lost loved ones in battle. The valor of these gold-star families is amazing. Rule of Law is, in many ways, a tribute to them. Additionally, just being around a military community and having friends who can answer my questions about how things would work (and I had tons of questions) helped make the book more realistic.

Randy Singer, author of Rule of Law

Q: You are a lawyer, a pastor and an author. How do all of those roles work together in writing Christian legal thrillers?

Writing Christian legal thrillers is the ideal intersection of my “lives” as pastor, lawyer and author. I believe I can write more realistic legal thrillers because I am still in the arena—trying cases in court and experiencing the kinds of emotions, victories and defeats that my characters experience.

I would also say that my three lives collide a fair amount. My writing is inspired by cases I’ve handled. My wife reads my initial manuscripts and gives me feedback. My daughter and I practice law together. My law partner is an elder in my church. My sermons are influenced by the storytelling tools I’ve learned as an author and the persuasive skills I’ve developed as a lawyer. Everything bleeds together and feeds off everything else.

To my church members, I’m a pastor; to my clients, a lawyer; and to my readers, an author. In today’s specialized society, it seems like it should be hard to juggle all three. But if you look at it historically, it was not at all unusual for one person to fulfill numerous roles. I think it helps me to be better at each one. As a pastor, I know what my church members go through in the “secular” world each week. As a lawyer, I can help bring a spiritual perspective to bear on my client’s biggest challenges. And as a writer, I can draw from both of those other wells for inspiration, experience and ideas.

Q: In the midst of tragedy, what does it mean to rely fully on God to get you through?

There are times in our life when we can hardly find the strength to take the next step. Friends tell us God can turn even this tragedy into something good, but we are hurting so much that we can’t find the faith to believe that. It is in those heartbreaking and gut-wrenching moments that we discover God’s amazing grace and the truth that Jesus is enough no matter the circumstances. I have found God does not give us the grace and strength ahead of time but that He always gives us exactly what we need for the next step, even when it feels impossible. We do not serve a Savior who is above our suffering; we serve one who suffered himself and who walks through tragedy with us, one who fully understands the pain of loss, abandonment, rejection and injustice. He is also a Savior who promises the power of the resurrection — that God can restore and redeem something hopelessly broken and lost.

Q: Rule of Law uses the platform of fiction to bring a true-life message to a wide audience. What is the message you hope readers gain from reading the book?

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

I also want to remind them that God will give us the courage and strength even in our darkest days to do what He has called us to do. The same power that brought Jesus back from the dead is alive in us. Ephesians 1:19-20.

Learn more about Randy Singer and Rule of Law at www.randysinger.net.

Posted 10/26/17 at 1:55 PM | Audra Jennings

When a mother-daughter relationship is strained

Part 1 of an interview with Kim Vogel Sawyer,
Author of Bringing Maggie Home

WaterBrook Press
Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. When secrets from the past are involved, the best of intentions can be entirely misunderstood. Bringing Maggie Home (WaterBrook/September 5, 2017) by award-winning author Kim Vogel Sawyer explores the hearts of three generations of women whose lives have been shaped by the 70-year-old unsolved mystery of 3-year-old Maggie Blackwell.

Q: Bringing Maggie Home explores the relationships between three generations of mothers and daughters. Do the relationships mirror your own relationships with family members in any way?

I think it’s inevitable that personal experience finds its way into every story because writing is an intensely personal activity, and we tend to write from the view of our own “life’s glasses.” I didn’t have the privilege of a relationship with my grandmothers — they both died when my parents were children — but I had Tantie, a dear woman who was an important part of my life until her death on my 16th birthday. She filled the role of “grandma” for me, and much of the advice Hazel gives to Meghan are gems of wisdom passed from Tantie to me. Diane (Hazel’s daughter and Meghan’s mother) tells Meghan at one point, “I did the best I could with you, and everything I did was out of love.” This is so true for me with my three daughters. I loved them endlessly, but that didn’t mean I made no mistakes with them. We enter any relationship with the best we have to offer, and we pray it will be enough.

Q: When there are strained relationships in families, someone often gets put in the middle as a mediator. In what ways is this unfair to the third party involved?

Oh, poor Meghan. She loved her mom and her grandma, and the great divide between them was more painful for her than it was for Hazel and Diane.

Can you imagine being the “rope” in a tug-of-war game? Being trapped as the “middle-man” is no less uncomfortable, and it really isn’t fair to the individual because they end up less a mediator (guiding two opposing sides into agreement) than a complaint department for both parties. All a middle-man can do is defend one side or the other; they can speculate but not really know the problem at its root. It’s best for the two differing parties to come face to face and talk things out—not in an accusatory way, but to illuminate the issues and eventually find a way to forgive and start fresh.

Q: Carrying guilt and fear can be detrimental to ourselves, but how can it overflow to those around us?

I’ve heard it said we all are products of our past experiences. For instance, after being bitten by a dog, most people are uneasy around dogs. They would then, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey that fear to others, who become uneasy around dogs, too. Thus, a person who might have loved having a dog as a pet, misses the opportunity because of someone else's fear. We learn by our own experiences, but we also learn from observing others’ actions and reactions. Healthy fears as well as unhealthy ones are passed on in this observation process.

Q: Hazel was a child when her younger sister disappeared one day when they were out together, and she has always felt responsible for what happened. How did she overcompensate for that loss when raising her daughter, Diane?

Hazel vowed never to be so irresponsible again, and she kept careful watch over her precious Margaret Diane. This, in itself, was very loving — she wanted her daughter to be safe. However, the “careful watch” was viewed by Diane as an overprotectiveness that smothered her. When Diane became a parent, determined not to imitate her mother’s cloying presence, she did the opposite and gave Meghan free rein . . . so much “free rein” Meghan sometimes questioned whether her mother really cared about her. Extremes in any behavior have the potential to result in the opposite of what we intend. This was seen in the relationships between Hazel and Diane, and Diane and Meghan.

Kim Vogel Sawyer, author of Bringing Maggie Home

Q: How did what happened in Hazel’s childhood impact her granddaughter, Meghan, and in turn Meghan’s relationship with both her mother and grandmother?

Hazel’s experiences colored her means of parenting; Hazel’s means of parenting prompted Diane to choose a different pattern. Meghan was exposed to what she perceived as indifference from her mother and lavish affection from her grandmother. Although she loved both women, she felt more loved by her grandmother and wanted to spend extra time with her, which of course stirred jealousy from Diane. It’s interesting that both Hazel and Diane loved Meghan fiercely, but they chose very different ways of expressing it. Each of the women had a different opinion about the way she showed love. We are all unique!

Learn more about Sawyer and her books at www.kimvogelsawyer.com, on Facebook (KimVogelSawyer.Author.Speaker) or by following her on Twitter (KimVogelSawyer).

Posted 10/26/17 at 1:14 PM | Audra Jennings

Lori Benton reminds readers of God’s power and perfect timing

Part 2 of an interview with Lori Benton,
Author of Many Sparrows

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

WaterBrook Press
Many Sparrows by Lori Benton

Set in 1774 and based on historical facts, Many Sparrows depicts the harrowing account of a young mother who will stop at nothing to find and reclaim her son after he is taken by a native tribe. Clare Inglesby, a settler of the Ohio-Kentucky frontier, finds herself in a perilous situation when an accident forces her husband to leave her alone on a remote mountain trail with their four-year-old son, Jacob. Her precarious circumstances only intensify when Jacob is taken by the Shawnee under the cover of darkness. Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone and in labor.

Clare will face the greatest fight of her life as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. However, with the battle lines sharply drawn following a conflict between the Shawnee and new settlers, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. Frontiersman and adopted Shawnee Jeremiah Ring comes to Clare’s aid and promises to help her recover her son. However, his deep familial connection to the Shawnee makes his promise more complicated and the consequences more painful than either party could anticipate. Can Jeremiah convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do — be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

Benton deftly handles the moral complexity of the two ways of life that clashed against each other as colonists encroached upon Native American territories on the Ohio-Kentucky border. “I was inspired to write it by my research into the 18th century and also by what God’s been doing in my own heart in recent years,” Benton shares. “I hope to convey [in Many Sparrows] a picture of what it means not to rely on our own understanding and strength, but wait on the Lord to work on our behalf.”

Q: Have you always enjoyed studying history? What drew you to writing specifically about 18th-century America?

I had no particular interest in history as a subject until around my sophomore year in high school, when I discovered the Sunfire Young Adult historical romance series (Jessica was my favorite) and Christy by Catherine Marshall. That’s all it took to engage my interest, although it wouldn’t be until I started writing historical fiction I began what I’d call studying history.

What drew me to write about 18th-century America in particular was nothing more profound than a liking for men’s knee breeches. I’d seen the movie The Patriot (starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) and for the first time, for some reason (Mel? Heath?), paid attention to what the guys were wearing. I’d been thinking of trying my hand at historical fiction and suddenly knew that if I did, I’d want my male characters wearing knee breeches. A quick Google search told me the fashion began disappearing around 1800, so I zeroed in on the late 1700s as I began hunting for a time and place to set a story. Little did I know I’d taken the first step on a journey that has lasted nearly two decades. I discovered a passion for 18th-century Colonial and early Federal American history I certainly didn’t see coming when I sat down to watch that movie.

Q: What inspired the storyline for Many Sparrows? How much of the book is based on historical fact?

Story ideas set on the 18th-century frontier are constantly spinning around in my head as I research whatever novel I’m presently writing — too many to write in one lifetime. The initial kernel/idea for Many Sparrows dates too far back to recall it specifically. For years I had a file going called “The Frontiersman” because I knew I wanted to write about one. From time to time other ideas began sticking to the bits in that file, and eventually I saw the beginnings of a story forming about a man who lived his life on both sides of that frontier. I wasn’t really sure yet why. Still on the backburner, I began thinking about what sort of woman I might add to my frontiersman’s story. Why would she be on the frontier? What might compel her to cross the line, and in what way might my frontiersman’s path get tangled up with hers? As I asked such questions, Clare Inglesby eventually formed. At the same time I started looking at what was happening on the frontier at various points before and after the Revolutionary War, seeking the exact year for the story’s setting.

I landed on two incidents that occurred in 1774, one to use as the inciting incident from which the rest of the story flows, and the other much deeper into the story. The Yellow Creek Massacre formed the book’s opening scene. The murder of nearly the entire family of the Mingo warrior, Logan, on the banks of the Ohio happened April 30, 1774. It and his subsequent revenge is part of what escalated the brutal conflict between Native Americans and white settlers along the Ohio that year, culminating in Lord Dunmore’s War and the Battle of Point Pleasant in October. Numerous other incidents portrayed in Many Sparrows are drawn from the historical record, but Logan’s tragedy and Virginia Governor Dunmore’s campaign against the Shawnees are the most prominent.

Q: Can you tell us about the research that went into writing this book?

Like most of my story research, there was a lot of book-reading. My primary source for the historical timeline of 1774 turned out to be a slender volume in the Osprey campaign series, Point Pleasant 1774, by John F. Winkler. Though I spent half my life on the east coast and have nearly 25 years of memories to draw from, I now live 3,000 miles away from the settings of my novels. However, while writing Many Sparrows I was able to take a road trip with a fellow historical fiction author. We covered a lot of ground in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, including spending a night in a hotel on the east bank of the Ohio across from Yellow Creek on the spot where Logan’s family was murdered.

Lori Benton, author of Many Sparrows

Q: There are many things we never learn in history class, and it seems as if students are taught less about history today than ever. What are some lessons from history during this time period that would be beneficial for us to know, especially from a cultural standpoint?

If I could change anything about the way history is taught in school (or was taught when I was coming up), it would be to add historical fiction to the curriculum. Facts, figures, dates — none of that translates to caring about what people in the past experienced or the choices they made that have shaped who we are as a nation. If you can see the past through their eyes — even fictional eyes — it comes alive in a way that actually makes an impact on our thinking (perhaps on our own choices).

What I’ve learned in my study of those who lived in the 18th century is, like us, they were flawed human beings, whatever side of the frontier they happened to be born. Men and women on both sides of the 18th-century frontier made selfless choices, and they made cruel and grasping decisions. Brutality isn’t limited to one skin color or another, and neither is grace and love, forgiveness and friendship, or the capacity to have a heart changed and a life transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the only One who can with any finality disrupt the cycle of enmity that has been in play across the face of this earth since Cain turned his hand against Abel.

Q: It is well known that traveling west was a dangerous endeavor, and many lost their lives not only to the elements and illnesses, but to native tribes. What added dangers did a pregnant woman face?

Childbirth was one of the riskiest things a woman in the 18th century could experience. Death in childbirth was common, even in the best of circumstances. Couple that hazard with heading into the wilderness perils you mentioned, and I’m amazed any woman, such as Clare Inglesby in Many Sparrows, survived at all.

In truth, I know of at least one woman in a similar situation to Clare’s who did survive: Mary Draper Ingles. Mary was pregnant when she and her two young sons were taken captive by Shawnees from her frontier home during the 1750s. She went into labor during the long march to the Shawnees’ Ohio villages. She survived childbirth, the march, months of captivity, an epic escape and retracing a journey of hundreds of miles back to her Virginia home. The courage, strength and fortitude women in far less desperate straits than Mary had to possess to venture westward to settle the frontier is astonishing to consider. I’m thankful they did it and I don’t have to.

Learn more about Benton and her books at http://loribenton.blogspot.com. She is also active on Facebook (@AuthorLoriBenton), Twitter (@LLB26) and Instagram (@lorilbenton).

Posted 10/18/17 at 11:42 AM |

New book about peace birthed in the midst of incurable cancer diagnosis

When Dr. David Butts, long-time Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, began writing his new book “Prayer, Peace and the Presence of God: A 30 Day Journey to Experience the Shalom of Jesus,” he didn’t know that the words he was writing after six months of study would soon become desperately needed in his own life. Barely one week into the writing process, Dr. Butts was diagnosed with Stage IV Mantle Cell Lymphoma, an incurable cancer. It was devastating news to his family.

“My wife, Kim, often tells people that we have not shed a single tear over cancer, but many tears over the love shown us by so many people,” says Dr. Butts. “There’s no doubt that the cancer diagnosis caused us concern, but I have to say firmly that we never lost our peace. I had been studying Scriptures on peace for over six months in preparation for the writing of my book, and those scriptures had prepared my mind and my emotions for this jarring intrusion into normal life.” FULL POST

Posted 10/10/17 at 11:15 AM | Audra Jennings

God has a plan in the messiness and confusion

Part 2 of an interview with Cindy Woodsmall,
Author of Gathering the Threads

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

WaterBrook
Gathering the Threads by Cindy Woodsmall

Cindy Woodsmall’s latest series, Amish of Summer Grove, introduces readers to two young women, one Englisch and one Amish, who were switched at birth and follows them as they discover what their lives would have been like had the switch never taken place. In Gathering the Threads (WaterBrook), Woodsmall deftly weaves complex issues of identity into the story. What makes us who we are? Are we simply a result of our genetic ancestry? Does our family determine our future . . . or is there something more to identity?

Q: Skylar experienced a culture shock when she arrived in Summer Grove. What lessons did she learn from her new Amish family that helped her overcome her battle with drug addiction?

Oh, my, where to begin when it comes to Skylar! I’ve had readers contact me, sharing they felt she was unredeemable and wished I wouldn’t waste any more time on her and just toss her to the side to focus on Ariana and her Amish family. That surprised me, and it hurt because I have someone in my life who once had many of Skylar’s traits. We can’t give up the fight. Everyone wants the sweet, stalwart child. However, like winning the lottery, reality doesn’t give us everything we want.

Skylar lives a selfish life unchecked. Her desires for admiration and drugs are a bottomless pit of hunger, but despite those things, when Ariana was forced to live with her biological parents, Skyler was the only person who had the ability to save Ariana’s café from going under. Skylar is smart and talented, but her addiction threatens to ruin her life before it can really get started.

It was quite a battle for Skylar to get clean, and she fought with her Amish family to leave her alone and let her be an addict. One Amish sibling fought back, saying, “Don’t let something that cares nothing about you control your life. It will make you as apathetic as it is. Fight, Skylar. Decide that you, your family and your future are worth more than these stupid pills!”

Other things came into play concerning Skylar and her addiction, but Skylar finally understood the value of life. She began the battle to get clean and stay clean.

Q: What lessons in hope and faith do you hope readers takeaway from reading Gathering the Threads?

Metaphorically, we often have an idea or vision or number in our heads of what life and people are supposed to add up to be. In reality life is messy and confusing, and it’s rarely what we thought it would be. Even God doesn’t always add up to our ideas or dreams or that elusive number, and we can’t make ourselves, others or God add up. We must accept and believe despite all the messiness and confusion. In the series, Ariana realized there were many translations of God’s Word, and it seemed to her there needed to be more grace and less legalism about exactly how to live. That’s the theme. Hebrews 13:9 says, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace.”

Q: Is there a subtler, maybe even hidden lesson you hope readers consider as well?

I think there are many. A fictional story has the power to slip into a reader’s skin and enable her to see nuances of understanding that make life as broad and beautiful as God intended. I didn’t intentionally write hidden lessons, but when readers slip into a character’s world, they often discover things the author didn’t see. As readers, personal insight is our superpower.

Q: Some people who have never read Amish fiction usually have a certain perception of the genre without giving it a chance. What would you say to encourage new readers to branch out and try the Amish of Summer Grove series?

I would say they may be missing out on some of the best reads of their lives. In any genre, there are different types of books. I’d like to think this series goes deeper than most and leaves readers breathless, thinking they were going on one journey and discovering they went on an entirely different one. I enter the Amish world and lift the veil of presupposition, not showing readers what they expected to see, but showing them a very different reality — one I hope builds faith inside their own lives.

The Amish way of life challenges us to consider more than the mantra of self-discovery and self-rule. When we get a peek into their way of life, we can begin to understand how and why they put sacrificial action behind their beliefs. At the same time, we take a journey into a world that struggles to uphold all the previous generation upheld. The heart cry of the faithful in every generation, whether Amish or Englisch (non-Amish/non-Plain), is to do what is best for the family, the faith community and those we influence. We learn how the Amish pass their faithfulness from one generation to the next while we see the weaknesses of trying to have too tight of a grip on the next generation. The determination and struggles of the Amish are a clear depiction of our struggle with the world around us.

Cindy Woodsmall, author of "Gathering the Threads"

Q: Gathering the Threads is the third and final book in your Amish of Summer Grove series. Is it difficult for you to end a series and leave the characters behind?

Yes and no. After three books there are many pieces to put together and many facets of the story to juggle and remember. It’s a bit of a relief to get to start a fresh story, but at the same time, it feels like I’m saying good-bye to close friends. How can I not write any more about Ari, Quill and Skylar? Possible spin-offs about their future lives fill my mind when I close my eyes at night, even though it’s not feasible to bring those to the page right now. The good thing about book-friends is they are always there on the page and in my heart whenever I want to visit them.

Q: Can you share a little bit about the book you are you writing next?

I just finished writing my first non-Amish novella with my daughter-in-law, Erin. It comes out in October and is titled The Gift of Christmas Past. I’m currently writing a full-length non-Amish book that will release in the fall of 2018. Its working title is Soft Dusks and Noonday Fire, and the setting will be the beautiful St. Simons Island, Georgia. I have an amusing, spunky cast of characters I think my readers will enjoy getting to know.

Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall).

Posted 10/5/17 at 11:09 AM | Audra Jennings

Have you invited Jesus to His party?

Melissa Spoelstra helps readers make over the Christmas season and celebrate with purpose

Abingdon Press
Total Christmas Makeover by Melissa Spoelstra

In the bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy to get swept up in all of the things to do: decorating, cooking, socializing, and shopping. However, it is important to pause and remember the priority should be to spend time celebrating Christ’s birth and not forgetting to invite Jesus to His own party. In Total Christmas Makeover: 31 Devotions to Celebrate with Purpose (Abingdon Press/October 3, 2017/ ISBN 9781501848704/$16.99), Melissa Spoelstra provides a practical approach for helping families learn what it means to truly celebrate the Savior.

“A total Christmas makeover doesn’t mean scrapping all your holiday traditions or adding ten more to your list. Instead, it is a personal time of reflection to evaluate how your Christmas practices align with some biblical concepts of celebration,” explains Spoelstra. “Passover, festivals, and feasts were instituted by God to help His people remember who He is and what He has done. While we have no such specifics given for our celebration of Christ’s birth because it comes from church history rather than biblical mandate, we can glean some important principles about celebration from Scripture.”

As Spoelstra studied the Book of Numbers while writing her Bible study on the topic, she noticed three elements included in the festivities and began thinking about how she could apply them to her personal Christmas celebrations. She shares those revelations with readers and devotes a section of the book to each:

Ritual: Special activities out of the ordinary routine were planned to help remember what God has done.
Relationships: Time spent together preparing special foods, eating, gathering in holy assembly, and explaining traditions to children.
Rest: Regular work set aside for planned times of celebration and rest from activity to allow for reflection on God.

The 31 reflections in Total Christmas Makeover focus on prioritizing the rituals, relationships and rest that will draw readers nearer to Christ while celebrating His birth. Each reading contains key scriptures, thought-provoking questions to ponder, as well as practical ideas to implement, helping to reimagine the holiday and then prepare for the year ahead. Mindfully taking the time to listen to how God continues to speak through the Gospel narratives centered around the birth of Jesus provides encouragement and revelation concerning the love of God and His wisdom for us today.

Christmas is far more than a celebration of an event from long ago or a modern holiday centered around shopping. However, that doesn’t mean the gift-giving aspect of Christmas doesn’t have meaning. “The wise men brought gifts, and Jesus is the greatest gift to us,” reminds Spoelstra. “Giving gifts is a tradition to remind us of our generous God. Dialoguing about the tradition of gifts and taking time to include our families in being generous to others help realign us in remembering the greatest gifts usually aren’t bought in a store. People, peace, contentment and forgiveness are all gifts. Shopping for a needy family, reading about missionaries and starting traditions of gratitude help us rediscover the joy of giving and receiving.”

A Christmas makeover doesn’t mean changing all traditions and habits throughout the holiday season to completely adopt new ones. However, it might mean prioritizing the traditions pointing to Christ’s birth, rediscovering the intent behind treasured practices, or incorporating new rituals to help share God’s message of love.

Advance Praise

“Christmas is meant to be cherished and celebrated, not barely survived due to stress. Total Christmas Makeover will help you focus on Jesus, directing your heart to the loving Savior who came to earth. With many practical applications, your Christmas season will become much more meaningful and rich after reading Spoelstra’s book.”
~ Arlene Pellicane, speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom

“Are you tired of just letting Christmas happen at your home — and praying merely to survive? No more! Now you and I can be absolutely intentional about embracing all the fun, faith, family and friendships of this amazing holy season. Melissa Spoelstra’s Total Christmas Makeover gently guides us through everything seasonal around music, food, scripture reading, extended family gatherings, serving and especially how to rest in the midst of it all.”
~ Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author of Ordinary Graces and Dwelling Places

“How many times I’ve said, ‘This Christmas I want to keep my focus off of presents and onto His presence, off of the craziness and onto the stillness, away from commercialism and nestled in the arms of God.’ Melissa Spoelstra has given us the perfect 31-day companion to make this desire a reality.”
~ Laurie Polich Short, author of When Changing Nothing Changes Everything

About the Author

Melissa Spoelstra, author of Total Christmas Makeover

Melissa Spoelstra is a popular women’s conference speaker, Bible teacher and writer who is madly in love with Jesus and passionate about helping women of all ages to seek Christ and know Him more intimately through serious Bible study. She has a deep, abiding passion for studying God’s word and teaching others to do the same.

Spoelstra holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology from Moody Bible Institute and enjoys teaching God's Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is the author several Bible studies, including Numbers: Learning Contentment in a Culture of More, First Corinthians: Living Love When We Disagree, Joseph: The Journey to Forgiveness and Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World. She is also the author of two books – Total Christmas Makeover: 31 Devotions to Celebrate with Purpose and the Mom's Choice Award-winning Total Family Makeover: 8 Steps to Making Disciples at Home.

Spoelstra describes herself as a small-town girl from East Texas, but she now resides Dublin, Ohio, with her church planter/pastor husband of more than 20 years and their four children.

To keep up with Melissa Spoelstra, visit melissaspoelstra.com. You can also follow her on Facebook (AuthorMelissaSpolestra) and Twitter (@MelSpoelstra).

Posted 10/4/17 at 12:38 PM | Audra Jennings

Randy Singer’s latest release is equal parts legal, political and military thriller

Part 1 of an interview with Randy Singer,
Author of Rule of Law

Tyndale
Rule of Law by Randy Singer

In a world of political accusations and threats of war, what does the public need to know, and what is better left unsaid for our own protection? Are our leaders following the Rule of Law or acting outside it? In his latest legal thriller, Rule of Law (Tyndale House Publishers/September 5, 2017), award-winning author and attorney Randy Singer weaves a gripping page-turner that explores the inner workings of the White House, the CIA and the State Department in dealings with foreign governments. Drawing from one of his own recent cases, Singer gives readers a glimpse of what is really going on behind the headlines of today’s international events.

Q: In the author’s note of Rule of Law you explain you wrote the book to address some critical issues lurking on the horizon. What are some concerns you have that Americans should be aware of? FULL POST

Posted 10/3/17 at 10:28 AM | Audra Jennings

Of more value than many sparrows

Part 1 of an interview with Lori Benton,
Author of Many Sparrows

WaterBrook Press
Many Sparrows by Lori Benton

Understanding why some things happen the way they do is impossible, but as Christians, we must remember God is in control and His timing is perfect. His purposes are deeper and broader than we can imagine. These are lessons Clare Inglesby must learn in award-winning author Lori Benton’s latest historical novel, Many Sparrows (WaterBrook).

Set in 1774 and based on historical facts, Many Sparrows depicts the harrowing account of a young mother who will stop at nothing to find and reclaim her son after he is taken by a native tribe.

Q: Without giving away too much of the story, can you share where the title Many Sparrows comes from? FULL POST

Posted 10/3/17 at 10:19 AM | Audra Jennings

How would your life be different if you grew up in another family?

Part 1 of an interview with Cindy Woodsmall,
Author of Gathering the Threads

WaterBrook
Gathering the Threads by Cindy Woodsmall

How different would your belief system be if you grew up in a different culture? Would your faith in God be the same if you were raised in a different family? New York Times best-selling author Cindy Woodsmall poses these questions in the powerful conclusion to the CBA and ECPA bestselling Amish of Summer Grove series in Gathering the Threads (WaterBrook/August 15, 2017).

Q: The Amish of Summer Grove series introduces readers to a pair of girls, one Englisch and one Amish, who were switched at birth. What are some of the challenges each faced when pushed to experience the life she would have lived had the switch never taken place? FULL POST

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