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If…What If? Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | May 22nd

Tell us about this book, “If . . . What If?” What inspired you to write it together? What was it like writing together as a father and son?

When he was around 10 years old, Daniel began asking fun questions around the dinner table that inspired conversations between everyone. Since his sister was four and his brother was 13, we realized there was something unique and special in how the conversation engaged everyone with interaction and laughter. We started writing those questions into a notebook, wondering if perhaps other families could benefit if we one day put them all out there.

Meanwhile, we had a related family challenge in having something strategic we could read that would genuinely bring us through the Bible together. While there’s no shortage of devotionals in the world, we couldn’t find one that helped us see the larger story of God within the framework of our everyday lives, and vice versa. We were also aware of how others we knew, such as our neighbors who had just started attending our church, were looking for something similar. Let’s face it—everyone has an idea about the Bible, but not everyone knows how to journey through it.

It took a year for those two values to overlap into what ultimately became “If…What If? Quirky Questions and Daily Devotionals to Feed Your Family and Your Faith.” As a pastor, public speaker and writer, Tony sought out wisdom from friends all over the country to better understand and craft something that would speak to what others were looking for as well. Once a partnership with Lifeway/B&H Publishing was formed, we knew that this book would become something special and inspirational for families, adults, teens and kids alike

To cap it off, writing together was its own gift. Using a shared app on our individual laptops and mobile devices, Daniel created a massive list of “If…What If” questions while Tony sketched out the daily devotionals. We played off of each other’s strengths, drawing inspiration from each other. Sometimes Daniel’s questions prodded a devotion, and other times Tony’s thoughts prompted Daniel to create on the other end. This intergenerational brainstorming formed something intergenerational in itself—a book with one-page chapters that anyone can engage with, from the youngest to the oldest reader. And we loved spending time together, including enjoying all the countless smoothies we drank as we did.

How did you come up with the devotional format and the topics covered?

If you’ve ever tried to read the Bible from cover to cover, it’s likely that you’ve stopped somewhere within the first five books. There’s also the hurdle of how the Bible is often taught in churches, as on any given week a teacher might be in one text without referencing its connection to the previous week’s passage. It’s caused us all to grow up with a somewhat choppy understanding of the greatest story ever. Most devotionals further this by promoting a theme that overpowers the story.

Ironically, the Bible has its own theme that if you stare at it long enough will emerge. That’s literally what we did. We wrote down notes on a whiteboard that we stared at for weeks, praying that God would show us what his story is all about. We were praying for something that the average person could remember, too, without short-changing any piece of God’s message. One day, it all became clear.

“There is hope.”

That is not only what God is saying, but how he says it:

  • Trinity: Before there was anything, there was a community of someone.
  • Heritage: God began everything and everyone in a good starting place so he could pass down his blessings to us.
  • Enemy: God’s people listened to a enemy and became an enemy—to God, each other and even creation itself.
  • Revolution: The Lord began his own uprising to turn things around by creating special covenants with his people meant to change the world.
  • Ego: When humanity as a whole lost sight of how far it drifted from God, he removed everyone’s sense of control by raising up a holy nation of people who descended from his revolutionaries and had his favor.
  • Identity: God’s people strangely tried to find their uniqueness by looking like everyone else, and so the Lord allowed many of their short-sighted decisions to play out while he spoke wisdom into them to bring them back to their true intended selves.
  • Shhh: For years, the Lord didn’t reveal himself in any way that was recorded but instead let his previous words be more than enough while creating the right timing for his arrival.
  • Hero: Jesus Christ came to earth to live among us, inspire us with truth, reveal his Kingdom, save us from sin and unleash us into a fully-alive life.
  • Opportunity: Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do but made it possible for us to seize the true life through him and the Holy Spirit.
  • Purpose: Just as Jesus had a purpose of transformation on earth, so has he given us the purpose of being his church and transforming the entire world.
  • Eternity: One day heaven and earth will come together forever, and God’s people will live with him forever.

There is hope. How many of us need to rediscover this message? Just as the story of God has an arc, we want families to know no matter where they’re at in life there’s more to it—hat there’s another chapter coming. There is hope.

And through this, we can teach families or individual readers about the Bible in a fun and educational way. As Daniel would put it, the Bible is super-imposing;it’s like going to Disney World without a plan and becoming overwhelmed. This book is a guidebook or tour guide to show you where the food is, where all the life is found, the adventures you can go on and the larger message the Creator is trying to help you experience.

How are devotions like this used in your family? How did your family grow from using “quirky questions” and “profound insights” like the ones in “If . . . What If?”

Since all of this emerged from our own dinner-table conversations, we were practicing the contents of the book before they became the book. After having access to it in its final form, though, we’ve found ourselves enjoying it with fresh eyes. We typically break it out once a day, taking turns reading the different parts in each chapter.

Our family’s youngest (who is eight years old) especially enjoys reading the last three questions, as she likes making sure we apply what we’ve learned (and it helps her to practice out-loud reading). Daniel’s older 18-year old brother, likewise, will catch us if we may be in a rush and potentially are going to skip grabbing the book, making sure we invest into each other. Katie (Tony’s wife / Daniel’s mom) has on more than one occasion stopped to note how engaged we all are every time we read.

As Daniel would put, it’s also fun to read things and remember how those chapters came to be. They show how the Bible doesn’t just offer one takeaway when you read it, but multiple ones.

But the greatest gain has been the overflow. Repeatedly in life as we connect with friends of all ages, the content of what we’re reading as a family regularly spills out. One of the greatest gains is when you take what you’ve been given and become outward-focused with it. We’re finding that it doesn’t just help us say something, but it has also helped us become people who have something to say—all because of Jesus.

How do you hope families with kids of all ages use this devotional? Who is it created for?

A little secret? Things that are kid-friendly are also adult-friendly. Just go to a movie theater for any family cartoon and you’ll see all ages watching it while munching on popcorn. You’ll even see it in churches that do a “kid’s sermon” before they’re dismissed to their classes. As the pastor or teacher shares a thought with them, the adults get to track and follow along with it. So on one hand, we were intentional with making sure we were kid-friendly with the content.

On the other hand, though, the Bible isn’t always focused on what we’d traditionally consider kid-friendly content. It’s filled with personal scandal, cultural controversy, family shame, awkward topics and uncomfortable moments. We didn’t want to sanitize any of that, nor did we want to set families up with surprises the average home couldn’t appropriately handle.

The good news? There is Good News. God’s story on its own speaks to everyone. That means because we stayed Bible-based we have something that kids, teens, parents, singles, retirees and small groups alike can draw from. The playfulness of Daniel’s questions help anyone and everyone to dive in, while the content of Tony’s devotions (although Daniel also wrote a few) make sure we stay on track with the larger narrative and personal takeaways.

So you can keep this by your dinner table (as we do) or bring it on vacation (as we have). You can pull it out with guests, take it on a hike, review it on your own, journey through it with friends and more—all of which we’ve seen fruit from in our household and people who share feedback with us. As one reader put it, “How I wish we had this book when our girls were growing up! Family devotionals were, let’s say, a little dry most of the time. One of the rules we had was that the girls could not lie down or recline at all or they would fall asleep! Sad I know! If we had had these devotionals we would have never had to make that rule.”

There’s also a “There is hope” thought on each page that is the type of short summary thought you could post on social media or go to for a quick reminder. We hope that not only do readers benefit, but others around them also benefit by proxy.

What do you hope kids, teens and their parents learn from this book?

We hope for the same thing God himself hopes for: a renewed relationship with him that everyone in the world is invited into. It’s the kind of thing that begins in each of us who responds to his calling and lets the transformation he makes possible impact others. Sure, there is something to be said about mentally understanding the Bible, but only learning the truth means nothing unless we let ourselves become a product of the truth.

In simpler terms, though, we have a heart for that busy parent, confused teenager, spiritually-hungry kid or everyday adult who would love to know how God is practically reaching out to them. Maybe one of the reasons so many church-going people settle for mere “religion” over a “relationship” is that no one has ever explained to them the difference between staring at the “ingredients in the cupboard” and “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.”

We also hope people learn how to be a family together through this, whether they are doing it across ages or are becoming a more rooted part of the family of God led by him. Spending time doing something meaningful like this only takes  10 minutes a day. The gains of that throughout your life, though, are timeless.

So that’s why we wrote this book. Everyone, everywhere, needs to know that THERE IS HOPE—and there is a fun, life-giving conversational journey you can go on with others in your household or relational circle to get you there. From a father and son (and family) who are on that journey (and intent on enjoying it as we do), we wanted to share something from the trenches that helps people see the breathtaking option God gives them to live in his story.