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Francine Rivers

Francine Rivers is the bestselling author of REDEEMING LOVE, THE LAST SIN EATER and THE SHOE BOX, as well as the Lineage of Grace and The Mark of the Lion series. In this Faithful Fifteen interview, Rivers discusses the final installment in her Sons of Encouragement series, THE SCRIBE, and describes some of the spiritual questions that inspired her to write about the men who served some of the greatest leaders in the Bible. She also details how she found her faith despite being raised in a Christian household, explains the effect that this conversion had on her writing and names some of her spiritual mentors, who range from Sunday School teachers to relatives and friends.

Francine Rivers Answers The Faithful Fifteen

October 2007

Writing Could you give a brief summary of your latest book?

Francine Rivers: My latest book is THE SCRIBE. It’s the last of the five novellas in the Sons of Encouragement series and focuses on the life of Silas. I had more liberty to imagine Silas’s life because we know very little from Scripture about his personal life and I felt free to imagine his (personal) story. What we do know from Scripture is that Silas was a leader in the Jerusalem church and served on the Council. He was personally requested by Paul as a traveling companion and helped the Apostle establish many churches. He was a prophet and teacher and worked with Timothy in Ephesus. And he traveled with Peter to Rome. Silas is called a secretary, and yet he was so much more. He must have been both strong and humble and able to adapt to very different personalities. I hope I did him justice. What role does faith have in the book? What inspired you to write it?

Francine Rivers: Silas’s story is all about faith, or rather the struggle to hold on to it. I always start with questions. Here are a few: What if Silas saw Paul beheaded and Peter crucified? How might that have affected him? Where did Silas go after Paul and Peter were martyred? What did he do? Who might he have met and how would they influence his life? I don’t want to go into too much detail and give the story away.  

The Sons of Encouragement series came out of working on AND THE SHOFAR BLEW. While researching and writing that novel, it struck me how important the men behind the scenes are to helping the leader stay focused on God. When I finished that project, I wanted to tell the stories of men who walked alongside great leaders in the Bible, and how they helped encourage the one who stood before the nation of Israel. We need these quiet men of strong faith now, men who walk in faith, who ask nothing for themselves, but serve the leader by encouraging, advising and, when necessary, holding him accountable before God. Too many churches in America today follow a man in the pulpit instead of the Lord on high. What do you feel your calling is as a writer?

Francine Rivers: To use my writing as a way to worship Jesus. The Lord is using writing as a way to teach me about Himself. I hope the stories I write will encourage readers to dive back into Scripture and draw closer to Jesus. Do you have any favorite stories of encounters with readers?

Francine Rivers: While attending Bible Study Fellowship classes, I met a lady in the hallway. We chatted as we headed for lecture. She glanced at my name tag as we talked. And then she said, “Isn’t it funny that you have the same name as the author Francine Rivers?” And I said, “I am the author.” She was a little startled and surprised that I was taking classes. The truth is I’m still a “beginner” --- as a Christian and as a writer. I will always have more to learn. I think that’s true of all of us, and what makes life exciting.

Spirituality Tell us about your personal faith journey.

Francine Rivers: I had Christian parents and grew up in the church, but I had head knowledge and not heart knowledge. It took a lot of years, lots of mistakes and considerable heartache before my stubborn stone heart became moldable clay. Rick and I tried churches. In several, “Jesus had left the building.” Also, we didn’t know we weren’t Christians (you don’t inherit that identity) until we moved to Sebastopol. A little neighbor boy invited us to church, and I was just desperate enough to try anything at that point --- even church. When I walked in, sat down and listened, I felt I had come home. Hearing Scripture read and taught changed my life from the inside out. Rick and I opened our home to a Bible study, and not long afterward, we were baptized together in May 1986.

Right away, my life changed. First of all, I could no longer write. Not that I didn’t try --- I had a successful career in the general market writing steamy historical romances and was unwilling to give it up. However, God had other things in mind. Suddenly, nothing I wrote made sense. That “block” lasted almost three years --- until I realized writing had been an idol in my life and God wanted all idols removed. When writing ceased to matter, and Jesus was the only thing that did, everything changed again. We had begun a study on the minor prophets. When we came to the book of Hosea, the last defenses I had raised against Jesus’ Lordship of my life crumbled. The prophet’s story broke my heart. I was amazed at how much God loved me, how much He loves each one of us. During that study, I felt Jesus nudging me (rather strongly) back into writing. This time the romance was all about His love for each of us. The result was REDEEMING LOVE. I consider it my statement of faith. Since then, I have continued to use my writing as a way to worship Jesus and draw closer to Him. Who are your spiritual mentors?

Francine Rivers: Looking back over my life, God provided me with many mentors, the first of which was my mother. She was always active in church, always finding ways to serve. I wish I was more like her. I know, also, that my paternal Grandmother was a strong Christian. My father gave me her Bible shortly before he died of cancer, and I found my name written into the margins. She died while I was very young, but I know she prayed for me to become a Christian. And my maternal grandmother was also a strong Christian who remained active in helping others until a few weeks before she passed away from a stroke. There are many other mentors as well, from my junior high school Sunday school teacher, Marion Bonde, to friends I’ve met over the years who shared their faith and struggles with me openly. Peggy Lynch, for one. She is a woman of faith I admire very much. Considering all the help I have had over the years, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people God placed in my life. I hope that I am a spiritual mentor to my children and grandchildren, as well as an encourager to those I meet along the journey home. What is your current church community involvement?

Francine Rivers: My husband Rick and I continue to host the home Bible study. It’s been going on for over 20 years, and we love it. We hope to keep it going as long as we’re on this side of Heaven. I serve on the Women’s ministry committee and help where I can, but Rick is far more active in the church than I. He is an elder. He’s always on the go. He is also a lay counselor at the Lytton Springs Salvation Army Rehabilitation center. What are your Scripture reading habits? Prayer habits?

Francine Rivers: Our daily schedule is: rise early, read the Bible together (we both read the One Year Bible every year) and pray together. We read the newspaper (never good news, but plenty of reasons to pray!), have breakfast and tackle our day. I study for an hour or more before I begin writing. Right now, I’m using a workbook on Abraham, but usually I pick a book of the Bible and use the inductive method of study to go through it. The Lord always has lessons for me that pertain to my life as well as the project on which I’m working. As to prayer, that goes on pretty much all day. I talk with the Lord as I work. I talk with him while I’m in line at the grocery store, or running one of a thousand errands. Wherever I am or whatever I’m doing, I try to listen and watch for evidence of His Presence and any “instructions” He has for me. I believe God is always speaking to us. The difficulty is hearing His still small voice in a noisy world. If you had one message for Christians today, what would it be?

Francine Rivers: Proverbs 3:5-6. Live it, one day at a time, for the rest of your life.

Life Tell us about your family. Spouse? Kids?

Francine Rivers: Rick and I have known one another since fifth grade. We became good friends in high school and started dating while he was serving in the Marine Corps (recently returned from Vietnam) and I was in college. We married soon after I graduated. When he completed his service, he returned to college and graduated from UC Berkeley. We started our family shortly after that. We’ve been married for 38 years, and each year gets better. We have three children, all married, and four grandchildren. Do you and your family have any special traditions?

Francine Rivers: We celebrate Christmas together on Christmas Eve. Of course, that may change with time. We are fortunate to have our children close geographically right now, but times are changing and they may have to scatter to find better job opportunities. We started having family vacations two years ago and hope to do that as often as we can. Sometimes traditions have to change, and young families need to establish their own traditions. We are a close-knit family and will stay in touch wherever we are. What are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?

Francine Rivers: Rick and I both love to read and to travel. I also enjoy taking walks.  I get a kick out of riding on my Exercycle while watching “Clean House” or “What Not to Wear” or anything to do with nature. What are your media habits? Television? Movies? Music? Etc?

Francine Rivers: I love movies but prefer to watch them on DVD rather than in a theater. That way I can fast-forward through any scene I don’t want to see. I enjoy all kinds of movies (from The Sound of Music to The Lord of the Rings), and we have a sizable collection. I have an entire cabinet full of nature programs, "Plant Earth" is a favorite, but I grind my teeth when narrators talk about evolution. God is so evident in His creation! I also love “chick flicks” --- Jane Austen and Catherine Cookson movies, as well as BBC mysteries series like “Rosemary and Thyme” and “Foyle’s War.”

I spend a lot of time on email. Too much, perhaps. It’s my way of keeping in touch with family, including my children who live within a few miles. With busy lives, sometimes it’s the only way we have time to talk. I also have a lively correspondence with my brother and one cousin. I keep telling my brother he should write a column about a city boy living in the country. His letters are hysterical. As to music, I love all kinds, from classical to country to rock. I work with music in the background --- often to encourage creativity. What excites you about life?

Francine Rivers: That every day is new, that there is always something more to learn, something more to see. God willing, when I am too old and tired to explore on my own two feet, I will be able to sit in my rocker and watch my children and grandchildren go forth and tackle life --- even if that rocker (or wheelchair) is planted in front of a computer screen and “seeing” means reading email and watching a home video.

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Francine Rivers Answers The Faithful Fifteen

April 2004

Francine Rivers was named to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Hall of Fame in 1997. She published a number of novels in the general romance market until 1993, when she released her first book in the Christian book market with Tyndale House Publishers. The Mark of the Lion series has sold half a million copies, and her total book sales are over one million. Here Francine talks about her early church experiences (which were turbulent), the importance of Scripture in her everyday life and how her prayer habits have changed over the years.

1. What kind of testimony to your faith are you demonstrating in this book? If you are writing fiction, do you write fiction that is based upon your faith or that has a message for the reader? Is your goal to demonstrate your faith in your writing?

Francine Rivers: THE PRIEST is the first novella in a series of five on men who were encouragers of great Bible leaders. This novella focuses on Aaron, brother of Moses, who became high priest of Israel. My goal is to whet readers' appetite for Scripture and show how the people of the past have many lessons for us today. There is a Seek and Find section in the back written by Peggy Lynch that will encourage deeper thinking on a personal level, and hopefully, discussion with others.

2. When did you come to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Where are you today in your walk? Is your faith an important part of what you do?

Francine Rivers: I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus when I was twelve, but I didn't ask Jesus to be LORD of my life until I was in my late thirties. That is when the transformation began, the upheaval, renovation and redirection of my life. I think many people accept Jesus as their Savior, but struggle for years (as I did) before they surrender to Him. I had to be on my knees and acknowledge I had no control over my life before I was willing! My husband and I were both baptized together May 6, 1986. I ask Jesus each day to mold me and shape me into the woman HE intends me to be --- and that process will take the rest of my life. The Christian walk isn't easy. Every day has its battles. And also its joys.

3. Tell us about your church experiences, how you grew up (or maybe didn't grow up) in the church. Where do you attend services now? What is your involvement in your local assembly?

Francine Rivers: I grew up in a mainline denominational church. It went through two firestorms that I can remember which caused problems that made me wonder if I even wanted to be a Christian. Let's say many of the Christians I saw in action were not behaving the way Jesus did. I was young and focusing on people who created and stirred trouble rather than Jesus. I didn't attend church for years. Then my husband and I started attending a church in a denomination different from the one in which I grew up. We felt this constant hunger and didn't know what was missing. When we moved, a little boy invited us to Sebastopal Christian Church. The minute I walked into SCC, I felt at home. I was ready to listen, and this church teaches straight from the Bible every Sunday. We have hosted a home Bible study for eighteen years. My husband is an elder and chairs the missions committee. I serve with him in whatever way I can.

4. Tell us about your current church family/fellowship. How does it influence your work?

Francine Rivers: There is never a Sunday service that I don't learn something. I go with excitement and the expectation that God will teach me through the sermon, the music and the friends who come to fellowship. I believe this is true with everything in life. The Lord is constantly attempting to teach us. I try to keep my eyes and ears open wherever I go.

5. Who are your spiritual mentors? Your professional mentors?

Francine Rivers: When I look back over my life, I count the blessings in the people who have influenced me for Christ. My mom and dad were strong Christians, also my Grandma Wulff with whom I spend a great deal of time. Another who is very special to me is Marion Bonde, my junior high Sunday School teacher. Peggy Lynch (who contributes the Bible study to my novella series) is a spiritual mentor. When I first became a Christian, she and another friend, Cheryl Merchant, prayed that I would give my writing to the Lord. She didn't tell me about that for a number of years, because I did not give up my writing willingly. God took it from me for three years. I needed that long to come to my senses and to realize my priorities were all wrong. He showed me what He wanted me to write.

6. Discuss your calling/mission --- as a writer and as a Christian.

Francine Rivers: My mission is to write stories that illustrate Christ and the Christian walk, to address difficult problems and write realistic stories. I start with questions for which I have no answer and trust God will teach me His perspective during the course of writing the book. I'm worshipping HIM as I write. I want people to dive back into Scripture the way the Bereans did, and to check out what I've written in relation to God's Word. I want to encourage and challenge people to surrender their lives completely to Jesus Christ.

7. What are your Scripture reading habits?

Francine Rivers: Every morning my husband awakens me (with a kiss and a cup of fresh coffee), and we have our special time, as he reads to me from a book we've chosen together. Right now, we're reading Anne Graham Lotz's JUST GIVE ME JESUS. We pray together and then Rick goes to work. When I'm alone, I spend an hour or more each morning studying Scripture. I like to use the One Year Bible or the One Year Chronological Bible. I also attend Bible Study Fellowship (which involves homework). I strongly believe that it's important for me to begin each and every day in Scripture --- especially before I write. I want HIS Word to shape everything I write and everything I say.

8. What books have most influenced your work?

Francine Rivers: The Bible is what most influences my work. I recall Robert Benson teaching at a writers' conference that "writers read for two reasons: information and formation." The Bible is where I get my information for the stories I write, and I want Scripture to form me and my work.

9. Do you read secular fiction at all? If so, who are your favorite authors and why?

Francine Rivers: I try to read a minimum of 35 books a year that are not related to what I'm writing. It's important for me to know what is going on in the world and how other people think. I read all kinds of books --- Christian and secular, historical, contemporary, classic and post-modern. Right now, I'm reading E. M. Forrester's A PASSAGE TO INDIA. I'm also a member of a book club that my daughter, Shannon, began. We just finished reading Lloyd C. Douglas' THE ROBE, and have just begun reading Ernest Gaines' novel, A GATHERING OF OLD MEN.

10. What are your other media habits --- television, movies, music, etc.?

Francine Rivers: I love music and usually have something playing when I write. I don't have a favorite genre. Music depends so much on mood. I enjoy all kinds, even rock and heavy metal. I listen to lyrics for clues about where people are in life and how they're struggling. So often, I can find counterparts in Scriptures. Whenever I'm driving, I'm listening to KLOVE radio or one of my many CDs. Television, it often seems to me, is a wasteland, but I love HGTV (Home and Garden). My husband and I watch FOX news together, plus the History Channel and anything to do with nature. And I thoroughly enjoy movies.

11. Do you and your family have any special faith-based traditions?

Francine Rivers: We reared our children in the church and we continue to celebrate Christmas together, but we've made changes over the years as to how we celebrate. For example, we no longer exchange presents (but do give them to the little ones.) Having time together and worshipping together as a family is the most important thing. One of our traditions is to watch Ben Hur during the Christmas season.

12. Tell us about your prayer life and habits.

Francine Rivers: I am praying constantly. I started out with a "God Box," writing out my prayers, and putting them in the box, because I had a tendency to hang on to problems and to try to fix things myself. This was a practical way for me to "let go and let God" work things out His way. He always did, but seldom in ways I expected. My God box was a faith-builder for me. Later I kept a journal, but as I was concerned someone might read it (and it often contained very personal issues and prayers for others), I would make a point of burning it at the end of the year. Now I just pray. I just talk to God and listen. I pray whenever someone comes to mind. And I talk (silently) to the Lord throughout the day.

13. Describe what you believe the role of writing in religion is.

Francine Rivers: There is a difference between a Christian who writes and a Christian writer. I am a Christian writer. Therefore, everything I write must glorify Jesus Christ. My purpose is to use my writing as a form of worshipping the Lord, of giving word pictures to readers, so that they too will worship Him. Jesus is at the center of every story I write.

14. Tell us about one or more of your favorite encounters with readers.

Francine Rivers: I always am touched when a reader comes to me (in person or through an email or letter) to tell me that something I've written has had an impact on their lives. I know that impact has nothing to do with me, but is the Lord. It is such a pleasure though to know that God is using my work for His good purpose. The Lord can use anything and anyone to reach into the hearts of His people. I want to encourage readers and often readers encourage me in turn, and it all shows how Christ is at the center, always working and making His Presence known. He is binding us together in HIS love and teaching us to minister to one another in numerous ways.

15. Would you share a story about someone you've brought to Christ or share how your writing has helped someone?

Francine Rivers: I have never brought a single soul to saving faith in Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do this.

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  • The Mark of the Lion Series
    • Boxed Set
  • THE LAST SIN EATER (A Gold Medallion recipient)
  • A Lineage of Grace Series
  • The Sons of Encouragement Series
  • REDEEMING LOVE (Multnomah Publishers)

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