The Gospel In Hard Times ~ a book review

Disclaimer: New Growth Press ( has sponsored this post by providing me a free copy of the book for review. I was not required to write a positive post. All opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC guidelines.

The Gospel In Hard Times

Hard times come to us all. Some are easy to see from an outside perspective. Others are not so easy to see. The Gospel In Hard Times for Students by Joni and Friends takes a look at suffering and how God works in the lives of those suffering. This small group Bible study looks at personal stories of how God can use suffering to bring His children closer to Him, deeper into their faith. How one responds to and reacts to suffering can have long-term, life-altering impacts and this study will help students see this reality.

“Why me, God? How can such tragedies be part of your plan? Looking back on more than fifty years as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, having endured chronic pain, as well as a battle with breast cancer, I can assure you that God isn’t afraid of our questions,” writes Joni Eareckson Tada in the book’s foreword. “In fact, he wants us to cry out—scream out to him if we must—because when we turn to God and his Word for answers, we’ll find a loving Father who promises to never let us out of his sight and who wants to turn our tragedies into triumphs.”


Designed with an eight-lesson format, this study will help students take a look at the hard parts of suffering through the eyes of many who have “been there, done that.” The real-life testimony is one part of the study. Combined with leader’s notes, discussion, biblical application, suggested video clips, and action plans to demonstrate how Jesus identifies with our sorrow, students will learn how God’s plan can be seen and followed, even through suffering.

The need to for strong, faith-based communities is another aspect of suffering that is explored in the study. Our brothers and sisters in faith not only meet our physical needs, they help meet our spiritual and emotional needs as well. Carrying burdens and helping to seek Biblical answers to the hard questions is something that is needed during suffering. This study will help students explore this need.

The age level for this study is junior high to high school. Set up in eight lessons, each lesson would take a minimum of 2 hours if you cover every section and utilize the videos. The time frame could possibly be longer with in depth discussions or less if you choose to not use some of the sections or the students are not very talkative in the discussion. However, you will lose depth and understanding if you leave out any of the sections.

My recommendation is to use the entire study, including the videos found online. (There is a link in the study guide.) You can either plan for long, possibly open-ended sessions or plan to break the lessons up over multiple sessions. A good way to use this is in a Sunday school setting by starting the lesson during Sunday morning class time and continuing it on Wednesday night class times. You would have to spend a bit of time refreshing everyone on what was covered previously or catching up anyone who wasn’t there before but it is very doable.

This study is quite appealing to teenagers. My 15 year old daughter is looking forward to finding a time where she can go through the study. The videos really bring the hardship and attitudes to life. As a video was playing on the computer for one of the lessons, both our 15 year old and our 13 year old became interested and sat down to watch the video. After it was done, they asked to watch more videos. These are high interest, personal stories that really enhance the study. Don’t skip them.

The study is a strong and much needed topic among our youth today. Joni and Friends do a good job with making the information relevant to the students. They take on a hard topic head on and students will really benefit from it.

Also available is a version of this directed towards adults and it is titled The Gospel In Hard Times: study guide with leader’s notes.

About Joni And Friends:
Joni and Friends is an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Founded in 1979, their mission is to communicate the gospel and equip Christ-honoring churches worldwide to evangelize and disciple people affected by disability.

The organization authors numerous books including the new releases The Gospel in Hard Times and The Gospel in Hard Times for Students (study guides about suffering in which participants are guided to look to Jesus to understand who God is in the midst of their own suffering and the suffering of others), God Made Me Unique (a children’s book helping parents and caregivers teach children that God creates every person in the image of God), and a series of minibooks providing personal insight & encouragement for tough circumstances.

You can learn more about Joni and Friends at

Lori, At Home.

Gospel in hard times



The Mission Centered Life ~ a book review

Disclaimer: New Growth Press ( has sponsored this post by providing me a free copy of the book for review. I was not required to write a positive post. All opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC guidelines. Mission Centered (1)

Most Christians see a part of their life as living for Christ, reaching out to others. Some  people are called to go abroad for this purpose but all of us can look around our own neighborhood and see a need for this. Bethany Ferguson has been abroad to serve others but has also seen the need to share her gained wisdom with those at “home” to do the same in their own lives.

The Mission Centered Life: Following Jesus Into The Broken Places by Bethany Ferguson shares many of the hard things Bethany has experienced in her mission work abroad. This Bible study has a gospel focus which means the study keeps the focus on Jesus and the good news of his love and power to save. The study will prompt you to go out to serve others, whether near or far.


This Bible study is set up with an introduction and then ten (10) lessons. The study can be done independently, though more will be gained from a small or large group study. Each participant will benefit from having their own book as some exercises have lists or charts and having the written discussion questions in front of you allows you to better consider answers and participate.

This is considered a topical study with each lesson approaching a different aspect of missions. Much of the scripture used comes from the book of John. I found that reading all the way through John before I began the study really helped me focus on the mission life being addressed. You can expect each lesson to take approximately an hour of group time, though I found I could easily spent close to an hour working through a single lesson on my own. I would expect, if I were working through this in a group, that it could be easy to spread each lesson out over two meetings or closer to an hour and a half.

Each lesson contains seven sections:

  1. Big Idea – summary of the main idea of the lesson
  2. Bible Conversation – reading and discussing a passage from the Bible, discussing what was read; this is intended to have several good answers for each question and to generate discussion
  3. Article – the main teaching section of the lesson, written by the author and including observations and stories from her life on the mission field abroad
  4. Discussion – questions following the article to apply the Big Idea to your own life
  5. Prayer – suggestions ideas and guidelines for a specific prayer time related to the mission aspect of the lesson
  6. Essay – a second article with additional scripture readings written by the author with additional teachings and reflections; can be used for personal study time
  7. Reflection – questions following the essay to consider more deeply the mission ideas addressed

The author’s purpose is to help the Bible student hear the call of Jesus for your own life. Hope is that you will see his love for you and the world, taking his salvation to others, joining his “life-giving mission.”

The mission aspects addressed include:

  • Going – article “Beauty and Brokenness”, essay “Beginning in Bundibugyo”
  • Identifiying – article “Who Are You Really?”, essay “Jesus Becomes Like Us”
  • Changing – article “A New Home”, essay “Believing in Jesus”
  • Praying – article “Daily Bread”, essay “The Bread of Life”
  • Seeing – article “Our Need to See”, essay “Seeing God’s Work In You”
  • Believing – article “Grief and Glory”, essay “Transformed Expectations”
  • Serving – article “Heroes or Servants?”, essay “A Life of Humility”
  • Suffering – article “A Mugging”, essay “Hope and Cynicism”
  • Repenting – article “Preparing the Way”, essay “Life in the Garden”
  • Celebrating – article “Grace and Celebration”, essay “Light and the Mission-Centered Life”

The ideas behind each of these articles honed in on challenging aspects of how a person who claims to be Christian lives their life. Reaching out to those around us is not necessarily second nature to us and this study will push us to push our own personal boundaries. It is a good study and the personal touch of the author’s experiences helps bring the ideas to life.

There is a good big of scripture in the study, though I do feel it would benefit from even more. That will be easy enough for the study leader to add while working through the ideas.

If you are looking for a challenging study about reaching those around you and around the world, consider taking a look at this study.

Lori, At Home.

mission centered life


I am writing this after the girls have gone to bed, at least one of whom probably is dreaming of snow. I just loved the look of magic and wonder on Miss J’s face this evening as she gazed at the snow. She is hoping it is not too icy tomorrow to be able to have her long-hoped-for snowball fight. We didn’t quite get the white Christmas that the movies all show but she is getting to have some of her magical snow. A wonderful and magical moment.

J looking at snow

To get to play in the snow was her holiday wish. And it is coming true.

What about you and your family? Did you have holiday wishes? Here’s hoping they came true for you all.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Lori, At Home.

Ruth: Redemption for the Broken ~ a book review

Disclaimer: New Growth Press ( has sponsored this post by providing me a free copy of the book for review. I was not required to write a positive post. All opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC guidelines. 


Ruth: Redemption for the Broken, written by Jared C Wilsom, was a Bible study I enjoyed quite a bit. The historical account of Ruth is one I turn to often. There is so much to be gleaned from the account. From provision to acceptance to redemption, Ruth is a beautiful story for one who just doesn’t “fit in.” From the perspective of Naomi, the telling of Ruth is one of faithfulness, loyalty, and love regardless of the circumstance.


A strong point of this study is the focus on the Bible account, not just finding the bits of history that are not included in the Bible that add to the story. While those things are interesting and can increase understanding, it is important that our primary source is God’s word. This study does this well by starting out with the Biblical account in each lesson.

With 8 lessons, this study is set up for a shorter time frame than is common with published studies of this sort. It is not, however, lacking depth of discussion and ideas to stretch the study a bit longer if needed. Each lesson includes 6 parts:

  1. Big Idea – the summarization of the main point of the lesson
  2. Bible Conversation – read a passage of scripture from the Bible and discuss it, using carefully crafted questions to draw your attention to the Big Idea and generate discussion
  3. Article – dealing with the Big Idea, this is the lesson’s main teaching section, written by the book’s author
  4. Discussion – a series of questions created to help apply the teaching to your life
  5. Exercise – an activity to help direct the application of the lesson to your life through varied individual exercises, the learning of which can then be shared with the group as appropriate
  6. Wrap-up and Prayer – a quick closing to the lesson that gives ideas for prayer and closing scripture

The end of the book also includes additional teaching notes for each lesson. These can be used as needed or desired by the teacher of the lesson, either in the teacher’s own preparation or read to the group during the lesson if this is done as a group.

The focus of the study of Ruth is on the final redemption of Ruth by Boaz as her kinsman. The lesson titles really show the way the story is studied.

Lesson 1 – Everything Falls Apart
Lesson 2 – The Blessing in the Bitter End
Lesson 3 – Things Take a Turn
Lesson 4 – Things Are Looking Up
Lesson 5 – The Plot Thickens
Lesson 6 – Getting to Work
Lesson 7 – Promises Coming True
Lesson 8 – It Ends With A Wedding

I used this study independently and studied about one lesson per day. Most days it took about 30 minutes. If it were used in a group setting, I imagine it would take closer to an hour to do the first four parts of the lesson. If you are shooting for an hour, you would have to break the study into two days. The last two parts of each lesson can really vary in the amount of time needed based upon how complicated the exercise is, how much introspection it take, and how much discussion occurs during the group time following the exercise.

I enjoyed this and was able to read well-written ideas that helped me consider the story in depth and in ways I had not necessarily thought before. It was a pleasant study and I can see this working well in a group setting.

This quote about the story of Ruth was interesting to me.

p 1 “Ruth is about God’s care in the midst of life’s disappointments, but it is also a story about family. There’s a legacy in this book, and an inheritance.”

Seek through this study of Ruth to learn about family, you being part of God’s family and redeemed, just as Ruth became part of Boaz’s family when she was redeemed. Embrace your redemption and your family. This historical account of Ruth with help you with just that.

Ruth study

Lori, At Home.

Other studies from New Growth Press on my blog include:

Grandparenting With Grace


These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Books! update

Just a quick update for you, my friends. We are going to take a couple of weeks off of Blogging Through The Alphabet for the holidays. We are going to spend time with family and friends. We will be back January 3-ish with the next post in the series – books starting with the letter M!

In the meantime, you can check out past sets of our Blogging Through The Alphabet Series (linked the Z post since it has all the others included) –

New Mexico Bucket List 

Texas Bucket List

Middle School Books

Random ABC Posts

A is for . . . 

I didn’t realize how many different series sets I had done. It was fun to look at them all. Hope you enjoy!


Lori, At Home.




Welcome, Not Just Invited


Do you think about the fact that there is a HUGE difference between being invited and feeling welcome? Honestly, I had not thought about it until a while back. There was something small that was being done at church with the youth group. My two older girls did not participate. When we got down to brass tacks on it, they both stated “we felt invited, just not welcome.”

So what makes the difference? What makes someone feel invited? What makes one feel welcome?

Invited –

The definition is “make a polite, formal, or friendly request to (someone) to go somewhere or to do something.”

Do you get that? Invited is formal. It is polite. It is something that is not necessarily personal. It isn’t warm. But it is kind. Kindness is a good thing and being invited is a good thing.

There are times, though, when it is not enough. We need to feel welcome and we need to help others feel welcome.

Welcome –

The dictionary. com definition for this says “very pleasing because much needed or desired.”

Welcome says you are needed. Your presence is desired. You are wanted.

Both invited and welcome are friendly but one implies that your presence will make a difference.

If you can’t do welcoming, then definitely make sure to do inviting. But wouldn’t it be better if we were striving for more than invited?

God’s word directs us to do things that build each other up, to encourage one another.

I Thessalonians 5: 11 – Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. . .

I Thessalonians 4: 18 – Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Hebrews 3: 13 – But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 

Hebrews 10:25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We also see the apostles sending others out to encourage the churches and exhorting those churches to be welcoming to those who are coming to them. Look at Ephesians, Colossians, and I Thessalonians for just a few letters sent along with someone to encourage churches in the first century.

I find it very easy to say “Yes, I am doing these things.” When in reality, it is taking every ounce of strength I have to be welcoming. But, that is the key isn’t it? Doing something for the building up and encouraging of the other person and not ourselves?

So, let’s get practical. How do we do things so that others feel welcomed, not just invited? I think it comes from the personal approach. When you have a large group and you say to the whole group “You all can do this thing,” we tend to be inviting. But it isn’t personal, is it? If we were to do the whole large group thing and THEN make sure that everyone has been personally asked, that would make a difference.

If something is being decided upon ahead of time, make that known in the large group invite but don’t assume that everyone knows. When decisions are made ahead of time and THEN you do a large group invitation, it is felt. Those who weren’t on the “decision” side of it feel left out and therefore, not welcome. Yes, decisions have to be made but we can ease that feeling of left out by the way we approach it and the way we word it. So, pay attention.

Acknowledge, also, that large group invitations are perhaps not the right way to make people feel welcome. They will feel invited and I will have done my part to “invite everyone.” But I won’t have made people feel welcomed. In this day of social media and electronic interactions, it takes being intentional and choosing relationship over ease.

But, in my life, I work at it. When our family has hosted devotionals, we have intentionally gone through and spoken to the people who were being invited. We did this in person or on the phone but we spoke to each person or family. When we are getting together somewhere with others, we talk to them; we do not send out group invitations that are impersonal.

We tend to host small get-togethers so that people feel like they are a part of it. When the girls enjoy an activity, they write letters that are personalized and hand-written to let others know that the activity was a hit and to encourage them to participate the next time.

We don’t do these successfully all the time but the point is that we try. At least part of the time, hoping to make a difference.

The key here, I think, is the personal interaction. I recognize that this is not possible for every single situation. But shouldn’t we try to make it? Aren’t we called to be family with those in the church?

One of the reasons I don’t like large gatherings is because of just this. I have worked really hard to not pass that feeling onto my girls. I guess I have not been successful in this. They don’t feel welcome, either. And that saddens me beyond words.

So, I am challenging you and myself – make it personal next time so that the person you are inviting to an event feels welcomed, not just invited.

Lori, At Home.

welcome pin

These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Books! L ~ Blogging Through The Alphabet


Little Women – Louisa May Alcott


This book takes place in the time period of the Civil War, in a family of six – Father, who is off fighting; Marmee, the loving mother; Meg, the oldest daughter, who is smart and ladylike; tomboyish Jo, the second oldest daughter; Beth, the sweet angel of the family; and the youngest, Amy, who is pretty, bubbly, and longs to do everything with her sisters. This book follows their lives as everything changes as they grow up, and trade childhood games for parties and suitors. But through everything that happens, the four sisters stick together to face their lives with love.

E – Mama read this book to us as well when I was about 10. I had had a hard time starting it by myself, but it was so much easier with someone reading it to me instead. My favorite character was probably a tie between Jo, because I think that I am a lot like her, and Beth, because I want to be like her. Altogether, it was a fabulous book, and a great read-aloud.

Lily Series – Nancy Rue


Lily is a sixth-grader in public school, desperate to find her “thing”. She has two annoying brothers – older Art, whose “thing” is music; and younger Joe, whose “thing” is sports. Lily feels awkward, like she doesn’t fit in her own family, and thinks that her fiery red hair makes her look ugly. First book, Here’s Lily synopsis – One day at school, Lily gets a compliment on her looks from a nice woman in the modeling business. The woman, Kathleen, is “searching” for kid models in in a fashion show, and she wants Lily to be a part of it. Lily throws her whole self into it, believing that this could be what she’s good at, and making other friends at school in the process. But when something goes wrong on the night of the show, Lily learns an important lesson, a lesson about true beauty and how God sees us.

E – This book appealed to me because I kind of feel like Lily sometimes. I want to figure out what it is that God wants me to do with my life, but there is so much other stuff going on that it can hard sometimes. Lily is an amazing main character and I feel like she is probably everyone’s favorite because she has such a personality that I think everyone can relate to at least one thing about her. I liked how this series showed a fun, friendly, God-fearing family, and the way they lived their life. I also liked how there were 14 books in the series that follow Lily as she grows up a little more, and then interactive companion books that tell a little more about the subject of that book for each one.


You know, Little Women and the following books have been favorites since my own childhood. I am so glad the girls followed in my footsteps with these particular books and Louisa May Alcott. Such wonderful stories.

Lori, At Home.

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