I am enjoying the New Growth Press series “Ask The Christian Counselor.” It is packed with practical, comforting, and gentle encouragement. This week’s book is “Anxious About Decisions” by Michael Gembola. Gembola helps us understand what decision anxiety is and how it works. He explores the way people try to fix it and oftentimes fail. Then he addresses the topic of God’s will and how our decisions play into that. Once we grasp the problem, he narrows anxiety down into different topics like: moving into adulthood, family, marriage, vocation, as well as plans and purchases. I love when Gembola said, “In all of our decision making, the Holy Spirit never leaves or forsakes us.” We can be encouraged because we are never alone in making decisions. God is with us. Whether you struggle with decision anxiety or have a friend who does, I believe this will be book encouraging to you.
I love the goal of the book “God Made Babies.” While many caregivers can feel perplexed about how to answer, the “where do babies come from? question. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb wrote this book to help equip caregivers to have this conversation. This book draws from creation and looks at the reproduction system seen throughout God’s world. It highlights God’s goodness. This book has fun illustrations, biblically based truth for kids to think through, as well as a way to help caregivers.
That said, this book had more words than I thought it would, so I’d say it is for older kids like 4–8 years old. It would be a little over my three-year olds head.
As a parent, I know and you know this question is coming. I’d recommend caregivers have age appropriate answers ready, and I think this book will help equip parents to continue to talk to their kids.
When I picked up this book, I didn’t really think of myself as an inner escape artist. But woah! This book opened my eyes to realize that wanting to escape doesn’t have to be as big as literally running away or thinking about death, it can be as small as denial, distraction, and deflection. How often do we just stuff thoughts down and act like everything is fine? How often do we reach for our phones or turn on Netflix to distract ourselves from life’s problems? Are we so busy we don’t have time to stop and think? How often do we blame other people for our problems? All of these can be ways of escaping. Rush Witt masterfully crafted this book and explored the root cause of our desire to escape. Spoiler alert. This has gone on since the beginning–when Adam and Eve tried to escape God in the Garden of Eden. Witt didn’t stop there, but went on to help identify many common escape routes. He gave incredibly beautiful and moving imagery of how Jesus is with us in our struggle. Hope infused this book. It’s timely and packed with biblical encouragement and counsel. It’s inviting and pastoral. So take it up and read. I think this will help you personally and in your ministry. This book came out two days ago on September 26, 2022. Honestly check out the whole series. It been good so far! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This book came out yesterday. I love reading books on counseling. In a world that often divides things into either being scientific or spiritual, this is a question some people might like to ask a Christian counselor. In this book, it feels like Edward T. Welch pulls up a chair beside us and begins to answer with kindness and compassion.
What does Welch mean by psychiatric diagnosis? In this book, Welch covers anxiety and panic disorders, trauma, depression, and narcissism.
For some, a diagnosis may turn their world upside down and redefine how they once saw themselves. Welch empathizes. He answers many of our common questions, and more importantly he points the reader to Jesus, the one who can bring peace and hope.
I appreciate the value Welch puts on a diagnosis. He sees how a diagnosis can identify complex struggles. And I appreciate that he makes room for effective medical treatment where it is necessary. But in everything he writes, his highest priority is to show the reader Christ. He offers depth and knowledge of the Scripture. His counsel is helpful. My biggest complaint with this book was that I just wanted more. I wanted him to keep talking. That said, I also did appreciate that he kept the book short, so people won’t be overwhelmed.
So whether you yourself struggle, have family members who do, or are seeking to minister to the friends around you, this book is a short and helpful resource.
When you hear the word “hospitality” what comes to mind? For me, I instantly imagine a cheerful host opening the door of a big house. I see her Pinterest-worthy table and notice her ability to make amazing charcuterie boards. Then I’m flooded with all the reasons why I don’t think I can show hospitality. If you can relate, I have good news for you. Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining or impressing people. Hospitality is actually a mission to welcome the stranger. In this series we’ll look at what Jesus’s hospitality looked like, how hospitality is important in a hostile world, and how we can practically show hospitality to others. In this first post we’ll explore the Who, What, Where, Why, and When of hospitality.
What is Hospitality?
I love how Joshua Jipp describes hospitality. He says it is when “…the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of a guest.” In other words, hospitality can be seen as a “welcome.” Biblical hospitality is born out of experiencing the love and welcome of Jesus. In response it then welcomes others. (We’ll explore this more in the next post.) Hospitality is important because it can lead to evangelism, discipleship, and friendship.
Who Do We Show Hospitality To?
Believers are commanded to be hospitable to both strangers (Hebrews 13:2) and saints (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). Notice that hospitality is different from friendship. Hospitality is “the process of making space for strangers.” Friendship is “the result of hospitality to strangers.”
Listen to Jesus’s heart-revealing question: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:32–33). Christian hospitality transcends the natural impulse of interpersonal exchange for mutual benefit. In contrast to the hospitality codes of the ancient world, Christian hospitality gives with no expectation of anything in return.
Paul models hospitality to the saints in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. He says, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul models holistic hospitality. Alexander Strauch builds on this point, “Hospitality is a concrete expression of Christian love and family life. It is an important biblical virtue… Giving oneself to the care of God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.” Hospitality is a gift to the church in that it seeks to transcend “ethnic, gender, racial, cultural, and socio-economic differences among Christians.”
Why Care About Hospitality?
The short answer is because God cares about it. He sees our hospitality or lack thereof. God blesses hospitality and curses the inhospitable. Think about people in the Old Testament: the Ammonites and Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:3–4), Benjamites (Judges 19:15, 18), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and Churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:1–13; 36–42) were all brought to judgment because of their lack of hospitality.
Conversely, remember Abraham and Sarah “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). They were “rewarded for their pastoral hospitality with the promise that their son would be born within the year (Genesis 18:1–15).” They weren’t the only ones rewarded for showing hospitality. Remember how Abigail won herself a husband with her generous hospitality to David (1 Samuel 25:14–35, 39–42). And there was the widow of Zarephath gave the last of her food to Elijah and “was rewarded a jar of flour and jug of oil that did not fail until the famine was over” (1 Kings 17:8–16) Rahab hid the spies (Hebrews 11:31) and was spared the destruction that came upon Jericho. God sees our actions–– good or bad. Just as the inhospitable are cursed, so we see that the hospitable are blessed. I love Hebrews 6:10: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name…”
Where and When Should We Show Hospitality?
So maybe we catch the biblical vision of hospitality and our aim is to pattern our lives after a welcoming God, but where do we start? Start anywhere you see the need. Are there people in your church you could encourage? Are there orphans you could welcome? Are there single moms you could help? Look for the needs and there is your opportunity.
When sin entered the world, relationships became fractured (e.g., Genesis 3–4). Hospitality stands as an effort to mend these fractured relationships. Practically speaking, hospitality can serve to combat racism, social prejudice, and xenophobia (the fear of strangers). These social problems cause division; hospitality is part of the solution to restore love for God and neighbor. Hospitality is about welcoming others in the same way God welcomed us. True hospitality can be shown to both strangers and saints, and it’s encouraging that we can start wherever we see the need. In the next post, we’ll look at Jesus’s amazing display of hospitality.
News. Politics. Podcasts. YouTube. Sports. Instagram. We are consumed by an addictive stream of endless information. In this post–truth informational age, we need wisdom. Brett McCracken helps us in The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World.McCracken borrows the idea of the “food pyramid” for healthy eating. Just as we should manage our food intake, so we should also be disciplined in our information intake. McCracken teaches us to rank information, so that we will learn to foster spiritual health. McCracken rightly puts the Bible as the foundation of the pyramid. We need a steady diet of the Word. The internet and social media are the tip of the pyramid. We should consume these sparingly. Also on the pyramid are ideas about church, nature, books, and beauty.
The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 is our diagnosis. Specifically, McCracken identifies three problems: (1) information gluttony; (2) the perpetual search for novelty; (3) consuming things too fast. Part 2 addresses six sources of wisdom, namely, the Bible, church, nature, books, beauty, and the internet.
McCracken shows that the quality of our content matters. The information we take in everyday will either leave us healthy or malnourished. Because this book is so new, I hoped he would have addressed more of how to cultivate this kind of healthy living during a pandemic. Nevertheless, it is helpful because it pushes us to feed our souls on Jesus– the Bread of Life.
Are you looking for a lighthearted weekend read? If so I’ve found some fun books for you. A while back I was browsing the book aisle at Target, and I couldn’t help but pick up Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Dating Charade.
In The Dating Charade, Cassie Everson is an expert at escaping bad first dates. After meeting and running from several men over the years, Cassie is at her breaking point. She is ready to delete her dating account and give up on her dreams of having a family.
That is when she catches firefighter Jett Bentley’s eye. Jett remembers Cassie from high school. He cautiously decides to message her. And after a fun twist of events Cassie is back in the dating game.
Cassie is impressed by Jett on their first date. But when they go home they find three children dropped into their lives–each– and they must decide what to do. So naturally they do what any mature adult would do– they hide the kids from each other while trying to sort out their situations. What could possibly go wrong?
Melissa Ferguson weaves together a hilarious and heartwarming love story. I like that in the midst of a humorous love story, this novel mentions meaningful topics like social work, foster care and adoption. Rom Coms are definitely new territory for me, but this book made me smile. If you are looking for a fun, clean, fun Rom Com, The Dating Charadeis for you.
In this book Bree Leake does not want to settle down. She moves from job to job and she plans to keep moving when the curtain falls after her last performance at the Barter Theater. But she is stopped in her tracks when her parents make her an offer. If she stays put for a year, they will give her the one thing she’s always wanted–her grandmother’s house. That is when life starts throwing Bree some curveballs.
Chip McBride is Bree’s good looking and irritating next door neighbor. His stubborn streak rivals Bree’s. And she would do just about anything to get Chip off of her street. She pulls an elaborate prank on Chip in order to drive him away. Chip fights fire with fire and things quickly escalate. That is when the lines of love and hate begin to blur together. Their rivalry takes a hilarious romantic new turn.
This book would be perfect for a vacation beach read, or just for a lazy Saturday around the house. The Cul-de-Sac Waris lighthearted and perfect for relaxing. I appreciate that Melissa’s novels do not focus on the lustful side of romance, but instead offer us fun, enjoyable, satisfying stories. Faith and morality are sprinkled throughout the book.
Because I enjoyed Melissa’s books I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions:
Interview with Melissa Ferguson
Readers love relatable characters. How did you make your characters feel so realistic?
Because I do write them about real people. I just find some exasperating neighbor, slap on thirty years, give him an old bathrobe he forgets to close on his way to the mailbox each morning, and voila. Meet Charles.
Just kidding (mostly) 🙂
Before I even write the first word of a novel, I write out a thorough character description and overview of the whole story. With my first (still unpublished) manuscript, I had no idea what I was doing and just started typing (hence why it’s still an unpublished manuscript). But with every novel I’ve written since then, I’ve worked harder to flesh out the characters before I even type my name in the header. I may not have a clue what’s going to happen in Chapter 4, or 5, or 16, but if I know the strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and quirks that make each of my characters unique, lovable, despisable, and true, I know a story can unfold. I know my characters will be realistic—because they’ve already become real to me.
What is your inspiration for The Cul-de-Sac War? What should readers expect from the story?
One of the biggest inspirations from the story came from the setting. I live in the area where this book is set: Abingdon, VA. One of my favorite activities around here is to go to The Barter Theatre, the nation’s oldest live performance theater. One day while I was with my four-year-old daughter watching Singin’ in the Rain, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun (and funny!) to not only write a book about this adorable Hallmark town, but also write it from the perspective of a woman who just so happens to be a terrible actress at The Barter and only has a few weeks to learn how to tap dance for an audition, or else she’ll lose a fantastic opportunity?”
I hope readers come away from The Cul-de-Sac War with a smile on their faces, having laughed and enjoyed a little mental break from the world. But also, perhaps most importantly, my desire is that readers walk away with a sense of hope.
Which of The Cul-de-Sac War characters did you have the most fun writing?
I think of all the characters, I enjoyed writing about Bree’s grumpy housemate the most: Evie. She is the costume designer for The Barter Theatre and Bree’s frenemy. Because Bree’s grandmother left the house to both Evie and Bree, they are stuck living together until they figure out what to do with the situation. And, oh-so-conveniently, Evie (spurred by Bree’s nemesis neighbor, Chip), decides to attempt the ultra-hippie, minimalist lifestyle, and starts hauling off furniture, shutting off water, and doing so much more in a humorous way that makes Bree’s life miserable. I thoroughly loved writing about quirky, cranky, oddly-lovable Evie, and particularly enjoyed seeing her get her own happily ever after in the end.
What can we expect next?
Be sure to check out This Time Around, a collection of three sweet novellas by myself and two other authors (and as for my novella, it’s Theo’s story who is in The Cul-de-Sac War). And my next full-length rom/com is Meet Me in the Margins. It comes out next March!
Sometimes when we open up our homes, hearts, and lives to people we get hurt. Pain seems unavoidable in ministry. When our prayers become filled with groaning and tears, how do we keep from becoming cynical, frustrated, and resentful?
Whether you stand behind a podium, sit in a circle with a small group, or build blocks on the floor with a toddler, I believe God’s word has encouragement for you.
Metaphors are a gift to the suffering heart. Psalm 5 opens up a treasure chest and holds out a beautiful jewel: God is our shield.
Verse 12 says, “For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as a shield.”
What is God shielding us from? Words. Remember, “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). When falsities, destruction, flattery, and rebellion rise up against us, we need a shield. The people we serve may utter untrue things. Psalm 5 says some people may operate from a place of inner destruction. God’s word gives helpful imagery. Imagine a throat being an open grave (Psalm 5:9). Wickedness exhales. The mouth opens with words that seek to bury character. These words can do so much damage that things seem irreparable. Oftentimes this looks like abuse, slander, or gossip. It can even look like a flattering tongue. That oily slick tongue is described by Spurgeon as a wolf wetting a lamb before sinking his teeth in to devour him.
When we experience these kinds of words, it’s natural to want to shield ourselves. How are we shielding ourselves? Do we hold people at arms length to guard our hearts? Do we ignore pain by being productive? Do we numb out by scrolling on our phones? Do we hide behind knowing everyone and keeping a full schedule? The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains,“Having the right type of shield in battle could mean the difference between life and death.”
The good news is we can quit trying to shield ourselves, because Jesus is our shield. Psalms 3:3 says, “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
Jesus invites us to “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by” (Isaiah 26:20).
With God our “weeping has a voice–a melting, plaintive tone, and ear-piercing shrillness, which reaches the very heart of God” (Spurgeon). And even if our words are inarticulate mumbles, God comprehends them.
With Christ we have a safe place to lament, to be protected, and to be innocent. Matthew 13:43 reminds us that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
In Christ, we have a refuge. We have a place to rejoice. We have a place to worship. We have a place to love. We have a place to feel favor. God’s favor is our shield. (Psalm 5:12).
When every other word pushes us down, pushes us out, we have a God who invites us in. He protects us from every enemy. And even better, as we find refuge in this Jesus. He not only guards us from wicked people; He also shields us from becoming like them.
After 2020 does your heart feel a little dried up? Do you feel burned out? Do you feel broken down by life?
If so, I think Gretchen Saffles new book The Well-Watered Woman (releasing tomorrow!) will stir up your affections to love and enjoy Jesus. She invites you to be firmly planted in the gospel. In the midst of ever changing circumstances, Gretchen shows how “the Word of God never changes but it always changes us.”
Gretchen invites the reader to draw from the well of God’s Word instead of looking for fulfillment or satisfaction in other things. In the midst of changing seasons, Gretchen encourages us to continue to grow in God’s grace. The goal is not to make a little group of perfect women, but instead to look to Jesus, the sinless one. He is our righteousness, our right-standing before God. And as we encounter him again and again in his Word, we will become well-watered women who will bloom for his glory.
Gretchen’s book contains three sections: The Well, the Word, and the Way. She describes each encounter with Jesus in his Word as drawing from the “Well of fullness.” She describes him as giving “the Word of freedom” and showing us “the Way of fruitfulness.”
Gretchen weaves scripture and her personal story together to give us tangible avenues to enjoy, seek, and follow Jesus. You will find it refreshing. Gretchen promises, “One day, everything will be better than okay in him. Until then, let the thorns and thistles of life thrust you closer to him and pierce your heart with gospel truth.
Because I loved this book I thought it would be fun to ask Gretchen a few questions.
Interview with Gretchen Saffles
What first inspired you to write The Well-Watered Woman?
God has been weaving the message of this book together my entire life. I became a Christ-follower at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until my college years that I truly began to understand the depth, beauty, and power of the gospel in everyday life. After walking through an eating disorder, and then later trudging through the quicksand of depression and anxiety, I found myself wondering, “How do I follow Jesus in my daily mundane and pursue him in the hard seasons of life?” This question birthed the vision for the book.
I wrote this book for the woman who wants more of Jesus in her everyday life because, to be totally honest, I am that woman! I’m the woman who has run tirelessly in a race for a prize that is out of reach and unsatisfying. But I am also the woman, by God’s unmerited grace, who aches to spend my brief, numbered days here on earth chasing Jesus, the only prize worth pursuing in this life (Ps. 90:12;Phil. 4:12).
I have been the dried-up woman, and because of Jesus, I am the well-watered woman… and so are you. This book will take you on a journey from the dried-up life to a well-watered life that is abundant, whole, and free in Christ! This is the life he came to give, and this is the life he equips you to live.
My hope is that women will close this book and open their Bibles, not just once, but every day. I hope they will be set free from unrealistic expectations they’ve placed on their spiritual growth and walk with God to pursue him freely and fully right where they are. I want to show women that following Jesus isn’t a three-step program; it’s a lifestyle and it’s the road to full joy in our lives.
What is your favorite part of the book?
This is a tough one! God taught me so much through the process of studying for and writing this book. One of my favorite chapters is about abiding in Christ. A few years ago I did a deep dive into John 15 to understand what abiding really looks like in our day to day routines. I knew I should “abide”, but I honestly had no clue how to actually implement this rhythm and spiritual discipline. As I studied John 15, I noticed five major themes in this farewell discourse Jesus gave. I pulled them all together and created the ABIDE acronym, which is:
A: Accept Pruning
B: Believe His Word
I: Identify False Vines
D: Delight in Jesus
E: Endure with Joy
My prayer is that this acronym is something that is easy to remember as you daily walk with Jesus!
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Some days I have too many words to say, and others I have no words at all. Some days I sit down inspired, and other days all I can think about is the dirty laundry piled high or the errands I need to run. Writing is discipline and a skill that is honed, strengthened, and refined. I am my own worst critic when it comes to creativity, and learning to show up and be faithful has been key to following through with what God has called me to do.
Through writing The Well-Watered Woman, I learned the invaluable lesson that we cannot serve, write, or create on empty. We need God’s Word, every single day. Superhuman writers don’t exist, but our Savior, our God, our Mighty King does, and it is by His grace we write and create. This book wouldn’t exist without God’s grace fueling it.
When you feel empty and like your creativity reserves have dried-up, go back to the Well. God is the Creator of creativity, and it is by his grace we get to participate in creating beauty in this world.
How did you encounter the Lord as you studied and wrote the book?
Writing this book highlighted my neediness, my pride, and my desire to please. God took a scrubbing brush to my heart as I read his Word and sought his wisdom as I wrote. It’s easy to look on the outside of what someone is doing and only see the end product, but really, there is always so much more happening deep within. There were times when I felt completely empty, inept, and unqualified to write. In those moments, I’d often walk away from my computer and go on a walk to talk to the Lord. I can remember several moments where I felt utterly discouraged that God met me with his grace and gave me the words to write. I’ve learned that it is always a good thing to be needy for God. Needy I was as I wrote, and needy I will always be, and I am grateful to serve a God who is faithful to provide for those needs as I come to him.
In the book you mentioned that God is in every season. That is so timely with all that happened in 2020. What encouragement would you give to those who are still suffering?
One of the hardest lessons I have learned in life is this: Christians are not immune to suffering. The Bible doesn’t say “if” suffering or hard times come, but rather, “when” they come, we are to trust in God (see Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10, James 1:2-4). Last year I worked on memorizing Romans 8 and I cannot begin to tell you timely this passage was to hide in my heart! Romans 8 is a gold mine of gospel truth that never ceases to illuminate God’s goodness, grace, and the steadfast hope we have in him. Specifically, Romans 8:18 has been a comfort in the midst of suffering. Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” There is so much more to come, my friends. The suffering we experience in the here and now will not last forever. Hold onto hope as you hold onto Jesus who never changes and is always with you (see Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:8).
Extra Questions : I love how you use plants and gardening as a metaphor throughout your book. So I have to ask: What is your favorite plant?
While I love plant imagery and plants themselves, I must admit that I am still a bit of a plant killer! (Praise the Lord for Home Depot and garden shops that always have more!) However, there are three plants I have that hold a special place in my heart. First, my fiddle leaf fig has taught me the importance of slow growth and abiding. I named it Tevye after Fiddler on the Roof and love this plant! Second, I have a cactus that literally survived 6 months in a box in my parent’s basement. (You can read more about how this happened in the book!) It has grown a lot since its basement captivity and is a gracious reminder to me that God sustains us in desert seasons of the soul. Third, I love planting zinnias in the summertime! These flowers produce all summer long. The more you cut, the more they bloom! What an incredible picture of the Christ-centered life? Getting my hands in the dirt always changes my heart and shows me more of what it means to grow in grace each day as I seek Christ