We had the pleasure of interviewing John J Murray Jr. He is the award-winning author of Better Than Our Dogs. He leads Bible study groups with members from across the country. After leaving private practice as an attorney, John won the League for Innovation in the Community College Excellence Award as the Paralegal Program Director and law instructor at Alvin Community College. He lives in Texas with his wife, Lana, and their dog, Chloe.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview
Hi John, Great to have you with us today! Please share with our readers about your books.
Hi, there are two books I’d like to share with you. The first is Better Than Our Dogs. We all know what we expect from good dogs. They are loyal, loving, and kind, listen to their masters, they follow directions, listen, and don’t bark without a good reason. Better Than Our Dogs takes these expectations and uses them to illustrate how we can be better people and followers of God if we would just live up to what we expect from our dogs. While it is premised in the book of James, many readers, religious or not, love it because it is not preachy. It has a very positive message. That’s probably why it won the Grand Prize in the Fall 2020 Xulon Press Christian Author Awards, a national writing competition for Christian books.
The second is Man Na: A Daily Guide to Becoming the Salt God Intended. While readers may be familiar with the word “manna” as bread that God provided to sustain His followers during their time in the desert, Man Na takes the concept of a daily devotional one step further. Unlike many devotionals that attempt to feed us each day temporarily, this book recognizes that lasting fulfillment comes from becoming salt (Na is the symbol for salt) for others. Through a relatable weekly message that is explored throughout the week, Man Na, is not a book that sits on your nightstand waiting to be read. It is also a call to action through service, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, gratitude, humility, and love.
What is the primary benefit that your potential reader will gain from reading this book?
Better Than Our Dogs asks readers to determine for themselves what dog they are and what kind of person they want to be. Are they like Socrates, who eats a blue toilet cake out of spite, or are they Darby, who was a light to everyone around her? By using real dog stories as an anchor for each chapter, readers can consider what type of person, friend, and follower they are in a non-confrontational way. They can choose to be better in places the book of James states we really need to focus on to be the best we can be.
Where Better Than Our Dogs can be read on the weekend, Man Na is designed to be used as a daily devotional. However, I wasn’t interested in just writing another devotional that collected dust and left people moving toward being unfulfilled as the day progressed. Instead, there is a section called Daily Bread that will give readers a chance to reflect on the weekly message and take action to be salt for those around them throughout the day. This book is for readers who want the inspiration of a devotional, and real, concrete ways to walk in faith for lasting fulfillment.
If you had to compare this book to any other book out there, which book would it be?
For Better Than Our Dogs, I would say the style is like your favorite Mitch Albom book. At least, I hope so. I always enjoy how his books are relatively short but pack a punch and tell a good story. A book doesn’t have to be 300 pages to make someone think or bring about real change. A Christian book also doesn’t have to remind you every two lines how much you fail or how bad of a person you are. I like to allow the reader to laugh, cry, and get caught up in the story. Show me another Christian book that has a dog pooping blue for a week as a focus of a chapter! Better Than Our Dogs finds us at our weakest and at our best. Readers respond to that type of story.
For Man Na, I would put it up against any devotional because it is different from them. Often, devotionals seem like a great idea, but soon their messages start to sound the same, or readers don’t remember what inspired them just a few hours or days prior. Imagine, in comparison, the transformative difference you will feel when Man Na has a week on gratitude, and you are asked to contact someone who has had an amazing impact on your life. Being salt for another will give you (and the others you touch) experiences you will never forget. It’s not enough to just tell someone to “be grateful,” “be happy today,” or “be kind.” Real inspiration and fulfillment are when those calls to action are actually put into action. Man Na gives readers that opportunity with easy-to-accomplish suggestions each day.
Hundreds of thousands of books come out every year. Why should someone buy this book?
Better Than Our Dogs won the Christian Author Awards and was a Finalist in AmericanBookFest’s 2020 Best Book Awards for Christianity: Religion. It won LoveReading’s Indie Books We Love Award. As an attorney and college professor, this book provides readers with my creative storytelling ability and unique gift of making complicated topics easy to digest. It will tug on your heart and feed your soul at the same time.
As a leader of many Bible study groups, I know how to relate to people who are searching for answers and trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. I see the struggle in just trying to follow the Christian life and looking for a direction to do so. Man Na is a devotional that is written for the everyday person by the everyday man. I can totally see myself working through the weeks of Man Na, myself, as the issues they confront are real, important, and ongoing for all of us. Who doesn’t have a regret, a person they would like to thank, forgiveness that is overdue, or an area where humility is needed? Man Na confronts the tough issues of our day but encourages each reader in ways other devotionals cannot.
Who is your target audience?
Better Than Our Dogs appeals to a wide audience. If you are a dog lover, the stories will resonate with you. If you are a Christian, the Biblical references and overall theme of the book will capture you. If you are someone who wants to read funny and engaging stories with a Christian tint or want to learn more about the Bible in a nonpreachy way, this book is for you as well.
Readers often buy new devotionals each year. Some have stopped buying devotionals because they all seem the same as the ones they already have on their nightstand. Man Na should be your purchase for this coming year. In addition, Man Na can have an even larger impact if you work through it with family members, friends, or a Bible study group. Each week and each Daily Bread are different. You will never get bored with this devotional.
Did your environment or upbringing play a major role in your writing, and did you use it to your advantage?
I’ve always loved writing. In grammar school, I won a Young author’s competition, and I’ve always had a knack for writing poems. As an attorney, I was especially known for writing briefs that often made a difference in the cases I worked on.
It’s a great challenge to take a book from idea to completed project. I believe many parts of my life helped give me the education, perseverance, dedication, creative spirit, and pursuit of perfection required to produce a quality book that others enjoy reading.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to my Tuesday night Bible study group. I have the fortune to lead a group of people from across the country who started out as strangers and now consider each other family. I have seen the power of prayer and demonstrations of faith through action come to life in this group. Our weekly study together has built Man Na from the ground up.
Please tell us your most rewarding experience since publishing your work.
With books like Better Than Our Dogs and Man Na, I love reading reviews from readers who were inspired to get closer to God. These books are my way to be salt for others, just like I encourage all readers to be in Man Na.
It’s amazing and humbling when I see a review from someone who posts that they will never be the same just because of a book I wrote. It makes the incredibly long hours, doubt that authors experience in the journey, and the expense of publishing a book worth it.
How would you describe your writing style?
I know people relate and remember stories. In my writing, I like to give a story that draws a reader in before telling the reader what the purpose of it is later in the chapter. To me, this is especially important to do in the Christian arena. I do not want readers to think I am preaching to them. That is not my purpose. I want readers to know I relate to the struggles and triumphs I bring to them throughout the book. Together, we can fight the fight. Together, we can become better.
What lines from Better Than Our Dogs and Man Na best capture the spirit of each book?
I think we have to go to how both books end:
Better Than Our Dogs
“Don’t wait to look up. Don’t wait to be obedient. Don’t wait to be humble. Don’t wait to be kind and show love. Don’t wait to be better than our dogs. Don’t wait. Be better today.”
“Lastly, I’m proud of each of you. You took a chance on a different type of devotional, and you finished the race. From that initial New Year’s resolution to now, you kept the faith that this book could fill your spirit and propel you to be salt for others.
In the end, my hope today is that you are His satisfied servant. Helping you run and complete this race has been the greatest honor of my life.
Thank God for Man Na.”
How can our readers get in touch with you?
Thank you so much, John, for giving us your precious time! We wish you all the best for your journey ahead!