Author Interview with Esther Smith

This week’s author interview is with Esther Smith. She is the author of our brand new release: A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts as well as Chronic Illness: Walking by Faith (31-Day Devotionals for Life).

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am originally from a small town called Darlington located in Western, PA. After college, I moved to Baltimore with my husband and we have lived in the area ever since. We have been married for 12 years and share our home with two huge cane corsos named Bella and Bug. 

I have worked as a counselor for the past 10 years and feel so grateful for the work I get to do every day. I recently began counseling through my own private practice and specialize in offering care to people struggling with anxiety, trauma, and chronic pain. I also teach online Christian meditation classes, which is one of my favorite things I get to do each week! 

In my free time, I enjoy cooking dishes from around the world and creating my own recipes from whatever happens to be in the fridge. I also love being outside any chance I can get, especially if my dogs get to come with me. And you can usually find me in the middle of a few books, some for work and some for fun. For pleasure reading, I like to read a wide variety of genres from science fiction and fantasy to memoirs, mysteries, and psychological thrillers.  

  • What inspired you to write this book, about this topic?

A lot of ideas converged in my counseling and ministry work that led me to write this book. I was first prompted to consider this topic when a friend invited me to speak on “taking every thought captive” at a church event. This talk left me wrestling with some questions. What does this phrase actually mean? Is thought change really as simple as getting rid of one difficult or unbiblical thought and replacing it with a true thought? 

At the same time, I was counseling people who were suffering with a wide range of challenging thought patterns. They would often lament to me that their attempts to replace difficult or untrue thoughts with what they knew to be true from Scripture weren’t effective. Many of the messages they had heard about thought change felt too simplistic for their complicated struggles and simply were not working for them. And I could relate. In my own struggles with feeling stressed and anxious and dealing with chronic pain, I felt like I needed more help for my thoughts. 

I began experimenting with a number of practical strategies to help people address their thoughts more specifically and more holistically. I also developed a personal Christian meditation practice that I began sharing with my clients. As I worked with more and more people, I found that with a lot of practice and customization to a person’s individual struggle, these strategies really worked. And these are the strategies that form the basis of this book that I hope will be helpful to many more people. 

  • Do you have a specific spot where you enjoy writing most?

I love to write outside. That usually looks like dragging my favorite chair out to a sunny spot in our backyard. My dogs might be playing in the background. I might have a drink to sip on. And I always move my chair little by little to follow the sunshine wherever it goes. 

  • Do you have a favorite author? Who is it and why? 

One of my favorite authors is Diane Langberg. She was one of the first authors I read who helped me understand how to be a professionally competent counselor who brings Christ into my counseling. The way she connected the gospel to helping people heal from the wounds of trauma was groundbreaking for me and helped me consider how to make similar connections in other areas of counseling work. I go back to her devotional for counselors time and time again because it is so relatable and grounds me in what really matters. 

  • What book are you reading now?

Right now I’m in the middle of a memoir by Daniel Nayeri called Everything Sad is Untrue. He is an expert storyteller and weaves his family history into a beautiful book that is hard to put down. 

  • How can readers discover more about you and your work?

NOW AVAILABLE — A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts

Amazon: $15.99

Christianbook: $13.29

P&R Publishing: $9.59

WTSBooks: $10.39

Kindle: $9.99

iTunes: $9.99


Author Interview with Ryan Kelly

This week’s author interview is with Ryan Kelly. He is the author of our brand new release: Calls to Worship, Invocations, and Benedictions.

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’ve lived in a number of states and usually outside of major cities: I spent my childhood near Chicago, my teens near Houston, two years near Oklahoma City, a number of years back in Texas, three years in Michigan, and the last ten years near Philadelphia where my wife Noelle and I currently live with our three daughters. Like many professional musicians, my career has spanned multiple disciplines. I work partly in the academic sector (I’m a professor of music at West Chester University of Pennsylvania) and partly in vocational ministry (I’ve spent decades as a music director and liturgist in churches around the country). Hobbies . . . I enjoy playing softball, smoking brisket Texas-style, composing music, and writing. 

  • Have you always enjoyed writing?

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was in my early teens when I started writing articles for neighborhood newspapers and regional periodicals. Though I speak publicly in many venues and enjoy doing so, I always feel I’m at my most persuasive when writing. 

  • What inspired you to write this book, about this topic?

First, I wanted to offer worship leaders a resource to help them plan worship—not solely a collection of calls, invocations, and benedictions, but a sourcebook that might help them match a theme, scripture, time of year, etc. I also wanted to offer some historical perspective on the development and liturgical function of these elements. 

  • Do you have an interesting writing quirk?

Years of computers crashing in the late-90s and early-00s instilled in me a habit of hitting “Ctrl-S” to save my work multiple times a minute, saving drafts of works in multiple files (in case one of them got corrupted), and e-mailing manuscripts to myself . . . all to ensure I had multiple backup copies in case of a disaster. One can’t be too careful!!

  • What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Teaching talented writers to improve their craft is difficult; teachers usually spend more time with struggling students than with those who aren’t. I found myself nearing thirty years old when one of my doctoral dissertation committee members gave me the lowest grade on a paper I’d ever received. I was upset because all their red marks were, in my opinion, stylistic; however, I was determined to learn. So, I set up a meeting with the professor. When I told them, “There are no errors in this paper,” they responded, “Just because there are no errors doesn’t make it good.” This short sentence tremendously impacted me as a scholar, professional, and writer. Lack of error is never the final benchmark for “good.” To aspiring writers I would say: Learn how to edit your own work. Bloat and redundancy kills readers’ receptivity to your message. Less is more. If you have to explain what you just wrote, then you didn’t write it simply enough. If you want to get better—ask a friend or colleague to meticulously criticize your work and learn from them!

  • Favorite flavor of ice cream?

German Chocolate Cake

  • The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia?

Can I change the question to Star Trek or Star Wars? Star Trek, hands down. Yes, I can name the supporting guest actors going back to episodes in the 60s. Yes, I have been to a Star Trek convention. Yes, I own Star Trek novels. And yes, I have been to the Star Trek Original Set Tour in Ticonderoga, New York. Oh . . . I forgot, you asked about Lord of the Rings and Narnia? I like both. But I don’t love them like I love Star Trek!

  • Tea or coffee? 

Coffee, black, very hot. 

  • Favorite sport to watch? Favorite sport’s team?

Chicago Cubs baseball forever!

  • How can readers discover more about you and your work?

NOW AVAILABLE — Calls to Worship, Invocations, and Benedictions

Amazon: $19.99

Christianbook: $15.99

CVBBS: $13.50

P&R Publishing: $11.99

PCA Bookstore: $15.59

WTSBooks: $13.35


The Heart of the Cross — NOW AVAILABLE

The Heart of the Cross by James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken

176 pages | Hardcover | Price: $17.99 $10.79 | SAMPLE CHAPTER

About

In twenty-one meditative readings, pastor-theologians James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken meet the troubled, skeptical, and restless. And, with insights both simple and profound, they draw us to the heart of our faith: Christ and his cross.

Reprint of the 1999/2005 book from Crossway

Endorsements

“This book is pure, undiluted gospel: biblical, accessible, and worshipful. I warmly commend it.”

—Dane Ortlund, Senior Pastor, Naperville Presbyterian Church; Author, Gentle and Lowly

“Ryken and Boice reveal how both the wonder and the work of Jesus impact time and eternity, informing our worship and our discipleship.”

—Ed Stetzer, Founding Editor, The Gospel Project; Editor in Chief, Outreach Magazine

The Heart of the Cross takes the reader on a personal journey to the real cross of Christ, where one stands amazed at the unfathomable grace of God.”

—Gary Chapman, Author, The Five Love Languages

“Here you find not only beautiful Lenten messages on the purpose and power of the cross of our Lord Jesus but messages that will enlighten and encourage you all year long.”

—Kevin M. Smith, Senior Pastor, New City Fellowship Church, Chattanooga

“Philip Ryken and the late James Boice have given us a timeless gift. Read it devotionally, and be enriched by the paradoxical glory and wonder of the cross.”

—Irwyn L. Ince, Executive Director, GraceDC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission; Author, The Beautiful Community

‘HOW GOD CHOOSES’ by James Montgomery Boice


How God Chooses

“Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7

In the first mention of David in the Old Testament, he appears not as a hero but as a youth who was for the most part overlooked by his family. This, of course, is a main point of the passage. For it is apparent, even in the most casual reading, that the author is emphasizing that the choice of David to be king was not man’s choice but God’s.

This is the first great principle of any spiritual blessing. The choice must be God’s. If the choice were left to you or me to choose Israel’s king, we would choose Saul or Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son. And we would choose wrongly. Only God can choose properly. Hence, we shall experience blessing only in those actions and those deeds that originate with him.

Some people question why God cannot bless actions that originate with man. But the answer is made perfectly clear in the story. It is because only God can see a situation correctly. God knows what is in the heart of man. God knows the end from the beginning.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” These words are not only a statement of the clearness of God’s vision and his capacity to judge; they are also a statement of our limitations. And, of course, this is the crux of the problem. It is not just that God can see clearly. It is that God alone can see clearly. At best we see only the outward appearances.

The choice of a person for any spiritual work must be God’s. Not only are you and I unable to see a man’s heart, there is also the fact that even if we could see it, we cannot assess it properly, due to sin. Like a bad camera lens, sin distorts and inverts our vision.

There is an application here that we should not miss. If we really cannot see as God sees, and if we cannot assess the heart as God assesses it, then it must follow that, when God chooses people for spiritual work, the people themselves may come from what are to us the most unexpected places. We will not often find them among the great of the earth or those who commend themselves to us for their intellect, bearing, or outstanding qualities of leadership. When we look for capable leaders, we look up. God says, “When I look for a man who is to serve me faithfully, I look low down” (see 1 Cor. 1:27–29).


This excerpt was taken from Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment by James Montgomery Boice.


SEVEN WORDS OF PERFECTION by Anthony J. Carter

Seven is a prominent number in the Bible. It is mentioned at the beginning, during the creation account in Genesis, when God rested on the seventh day. Seven is also referenced multiple times at the end, in the book of Revelation (regarding churches, angels, bowls, seals, and so on). Thus, from Genesis to Revelation, and in many places between, seven is an inescapable number throughout the Bible. As a consequence of its frequency, meaning has been given to this number. It is often referred to as the number of perfection and/or completion. And if this is the case, then we see the significance of the number again in the record of times that Jesus spoke while on the cross. Seven times he spoke—bringing the work of his life and mission to perfect completion on the cross. His words were precisely spoken and perfectly clear.

Amazingly, we see Jesus speaking these seven times even while enduring the shame and pain of the crucifixion. The physical and mental affliction of the cross would leave most people tormented and disillusioned. But not Jesus. He was coherent and clear. Despite the pain and in the midst of the shame, our Lord spoke words that point us unmistakably to the perfection of his obedience (see Phil. 2:8) and the completion of our great salvation (see Heb. 2:3). When Jesus spoke, his every word individually declared an aspect of our redemption—aspects that, taken as a whole, offer a perfected picture of the life he lived and the mission he accomplished on our behalf.

His last words remind us that his life and death guaranteed our forgiveness (see Luke 23:34). His words secured for us paradise and eternal life (see Luke 23:43). His words inaugurated gospel community (see John 19:26). He spoke reconciliation (see Matt. 27:46). He identified with our weaknesses and carried our sorrows (see John 19:28). He completed his mission (see John 19:30). He satisfied the will of the heavenly Father (see Luke 23:46). Seven times. Seven words. Each perfectly spoken as he completed the salvation for his people (see Matt. 1:21). 

It has often been said that seven is a lucky number. Yet it was not luck that sent Jesus to the cross. It was not luck that he spoke of from the cross. It was perfection— the perfection of our salvation. As we again reflect upon the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, let us remember that his last words were not luckily spoken but perfectly chosen to remind us that we are completely saved by a perfect Savior.


Table of Contents — Dying to Speak

  • Be Forgiven: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
  • Be Saved “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
  • Be Loved “Woman, here is your son!”
  • Be Reconciled “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • Be Refreshed “I thirst.”
  • Be Complete “It is finished.”
  • Be Satisfied “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Dying to Speak: Meditations from the Cross: $15.99 $11.99

Click HERE to learn more about this book.