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  • New Year - More Inspiration

    Posted on December 31, 2013 by John van der Veen


    During this time, every year, all of us look both backward and forward. Back at where God had brought us, and forward in thinking where the Lord will be bringing us. It's good to do. To have a plan. A plan with perspective.

    We know that our Heavenly Father has a specific plan for us. Mostly to be a worshipper. To be a person that lives "doxologically-minded." Beyond that, there is a lot of freedom.

    Here are some resources that may help in guiding us to that "closer walk with Him."

    Discover an innovative approach to achieving a healthy lifestyle in community. Built on a scriptural foundation, The Daniel Plan, from pastor Rick Warren, will help you learn how to optimize your health in the key areas of faith, food, fitness, focus and friends.

    The Daniel Plan teaches simple ways to incorporate healthy choices into a reader's current lifestyle and helps them understand the kind of foods God created to keep them fit and strong. These concepts encourage readers to deepen their relationship with God and offer inspiration as they make positive choices each and every day.

    Take an in-depth look at the first Christians and discover how generosity was the hallmark of the early church—how giving changed everything, drawing people to the most generous of givers, Jesus Christ. Generosity changed the world once; it could happen again. How to Be Rich: It's Not What You Have. It's What You Do With What You Have. by pastor Andy Stanley explores 1 Timothy 6:18, biblically redefining what wealth is, how to use it and helping you practice being rich so you will be good at it if you should ever be so fortunate.

    Is that how people in our communities would describe us today? How to Be Rich will force conversation and reflection around the topic of what to do with what we have. Jesus could not have been any clearer - it’s not what you have that matters. It’s what you do with what you have that will count for you or against you in the kingdom of heaven.

    Billy Graham’s devotionals are impactful and empowering. Now you can hear them paired with beloved hymns—recorded in a variety of styles, including symphonic orchestra to solo piano from beautiful vocals to the rich sound of a full choir. Exclusive gift set includes 100-song, 4-CD set with companion book of 100 devotionals from Dr. Graham.

    This exclusive gift set includes both Songs of Faith, 4-CDs of over 100 hymns coupled with and Words of Promise, a companion book of 100 devotionals from the writings of Billy Graham. Recorded in a variety of styles - from symphonic orchestra to solo piano and from soaring vocals to the rich sound of full choir - this treasury of music will inspire you every time that you listen. In addition, each hymn is paired with a devotional text to compliment the message of the song.

    Songs of Faith / Words of Promise celebrates the message and the power of Billy Graham's ministry throughout the years.

    After preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world for the better part of the last century, Billy Graham has one more message to share in My Hope America. In conjunction with his book, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation, Graham seeks to empower America to turn back to Christ and to eventually inspire the world through a genuine relationship with Jesus.

    Following a simple biblical model, My Hope America with Billy Graham combines the video programs with the power of personal relationships, encouraging people to share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues and neighbors through these videos featuring Billy Graham, dynamic music and testimonies.

    Learn how to be part of the effort to reach people across the United States with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This essential three-DVD resource—with more than seven hours of content—follows a simple biblical model using the life-changing testimonies and powerful message from Billy Graham.

    What is on your New Years list?


    This post was posted in Music, Books and was tagged with Featured, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Andy Stanley

  • The Storm Inside - Sheila Walsh

    Posted on December 18, 2013 by Family Christian

    Sheila Walsh

    The chaos of life can be overwhelming, and women seem to get a heavier dose. Each day comes with its own pressures, heartaches and disappointments that slowly erode the joy, peace and closeness to God every woman needs. Chaos always feels like the enemy as it rages around us and inside us.

    In The Storm Inside: Trade the Chaos of How You Feel for the Truth of Who You Are, bestselling author and Women of Faith speaker Sheila Walsh invites you into ten life-changing, hope-filled transformations where hurt and heartache are divinely redeemed into joy and faith. With insightful biblical teaching, intimate stories of her own storms and the chaos other women have faced and overcome, Walsh shows how:

    • Heartbreak can become strength
    • Shame can lead to love
    • Unforgiveness can find freedom
    • Restoration can undo rage
    • Courage overcomes insignificance

    In The Storm Inside, you will find strength in the most profound truths - that you are always a child of God no matter how you feel. This simple teaching will be the difference between a life of joy and one of despair. Walsh powerfully reminds us that God offers no guarantee of a life without storms, but He does provide the strength and grace to make it through them.


    This post was posted in Books and was tagged with Featured, Sheila Walsh

  • Blog Summary for November 2013

    Posted on November 28, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Here are some of the most popular blogs that have been read by our followers during the month of November.

    Liz Curtis Higgs - The Women of Christmas

    A sacred season is about to unfold for three women whose hearts belong to God. Elizabeth is barren, yet her trust in God remains fertile. Mary is betrothed in marriage, yet she is willing to bear God’s Son. Anna is a widow full of years, yet she waits patiently, prayerfully for the Messiah to appear in the temple courts.

    Following in their footsteps, you too can prepare for the Savior to enter your heart, your mind, and your life in a vibrant, new way this season. In The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, bestselling author Liz Curtis Higgs explores the biblical stories of these three women, unwrapping each verse with tender care and introducing you afresh to The Women of Christmas.

    Read the full interview here.

    Pulling No Punches - an interview with Lecrae

    From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.

    Read the full interview here.

    Phil Robertson. Father. Teacher. Theologian. Commander.

    If you have never heard of Phil Robertson or the Robertson boys, well, you must be living under a rock.  The Robertson family has taken American TV by storm, along with it the hearts of almost every person. Along with Phil, his wife Kay and their boys, the reality TV show Duck Dynasty has been a gathering place for the whole family. In other words, it's been a breath of fresh air.

    Phil Robertson was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana, a small town near Shreveport. With seven children in his family, money was scarce and very early on, hunting became an important part of his life.

    Read the full interview here.

    Question and Answers with Nick Vujici

    Being unstoppable is about believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents and your purpose and, most of all, in God’s great love and His divine plan for your life.

    Millions around the world recognize the smiling face and inspirational message of Nick Vujicic. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Nick has overcome trials and hardships by focusing on the promises that he was created for a unique and specific purpose, that his life has value and is a gift to others, and that no matter the despair and hard times in life, God is always present. Nick credits his success in life to the power that is unleashed when faith takes action.

    Read the full interview here.

    A Q&A with Capital Kings

    There’s no denying much of today’s music has the power to move the masses
    physically. Inventive beats and hooky choruses are the currency of the day. Now
    enter Capital Kings, a talented duo that blends pop, electronic dance music, and
    rap into an intoxicating musical mix that makes audiences want to move, and yet
    there’s a thought-provoking, life-affirming undercurrent. Capital Kings combine
    style with substance and introduce flash with a foundation.

    Read the full Q&A here.

    Clinging to Christ in the Middle of the Hurricane - Natalie Grant

    In the opening lines of “In The End,” the spirited but poignant unplugged track that wraps her latest album Hurricane, Natalie Grant puts it as plainly as she ever has in dealing with the troubling storms we all face: “Can’t catch a break/You’ve had your fill of old clichés…”. Emerging from a dark, spiritually challenging time in her own life, the multi-talented singer/songwriter—a Grammy nominated, five time GMA (Gospel Music Association) Dove Award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year – breaks through the well worn and cheerful, but not completely truthful, phrases that often leave those who are struggling in need of more.

    Natalie and I sat down (with her daughter, Sadie, on her lap) and talked about what went into her new album. The ups and downs of life. Times of depression. Times of joy.

    Read the full interview here.

    Operation Christmas Child

    1993, more than 100 million boys and girls in over 130 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse works with local churches and ministry partners to deliver the gifts and share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ.

    Twenty years ago, Franklin Graham made a promise to collect a few gifts for boys and girls in war-torn Bosnia. Today, Operation Christmas Child has become a year-round, international project, delivering millions of shoeboxes to children in nearly 100 countries each year.

    Two decades after it started, Operation Christmas Child continues to deliver shoebox gifts and the Good News of Jesus Christ to boys and girls around the world.

    Read the full story here.

    Taylor's Gift - An interview with Todd & Tara Storch

    It was the last run of their first day on the slopes, the beginning of another great family vacation for Todd and Tara Storch and their three children. But when thirteen-year-old Taylor’s life was tragically cut short in a skiing accident, the Storches were overcome by the devastating loss of their daughter. Still in shock, they were asked a question no parents ever think they will hear: “Would you be willing to donate Taylor’s organs?”

    Their answer would change their family’s lives forever and provide comfort during their darkest moments. It would also save the lives of five desperate people anxiously waiting for a heart, a liver, a cornea, a pancreas, and a kidney.

    Read the full interview here.

    Everfound - God of the Impossible

    The four brothers of the Russian-born band Everfound, who immigrated to Denver, Colorado when they were young children, have been inspired by their ancestors’ commitment to their faith in the face of oppression in the Soviet Union. Although their ancestors were not legally allowed to profess their Christian faith, Everfound has sung freely and clearly about Jesus on four independent albums, and they will do so again on their major label debut with Word Records, the self-titled Everfound.

    For this album, they wrote 75 songs and narrowed it down to the best 12, including the lead-off hit single "Never Beyond Repair." While these songs are intensely personal, they were written with the a generation in mind. Everfound’s goal was to write songs that would serve as the soundtrack to people’s daily lives.

    See the full post here.

    Mandisa - Finding Freedom by Overcoming

    Coming off her most successful album ever, Mandisa returned to the studio to record her new album, Overcomer. Her previous album, What If We Were Real, has sold over 270,000 albums and featured the breakout radio hits “Good Morning,” “Waiting For Tomorrow,” and the #1 hit, “Stronger.” The American Idol alum and three-time Grammy nominee continues to be a voice of encouragement and truth to women facing life’s challenges. Mandisa also continues to have unprecedented media exposure for a Christian artist including two recent appearances on Good Morning America.

    I sat down with Mandisa at a local coffee shop to talk about new music, coffee vs. tea, family and what it means to be an over-comer. What follows is a real conversation. Mandisa, some would say is a true artist. She is that for sure, but she is so much more. She is a warrior in a huge battle. She is a fighter - fighting for the truth of the Gospel. That can be summed up with one statement from her, "There is joy unspeakable!"

    Read the full interview here.


    This post was posted in Music, Books, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Lecrae, Nick Vujicic, Mandisa, Capital Kings, Todd Storch, Tara Storch, Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, Natalie Grant, Liz Curtis Higgs, Operation Christmas Child, Everfound

  • What New Books Are You Excited About? - A Vine Video

    Posted on November 7, 2013 by Family Christian


    This post was posted in Books and was tagged with Featured, Bonhoeffer, Andy Andrews, Kay Robertson, Billy Graham, Gavin MacLeod, Jefferson Bethke

  • Blog Summary for October 2013

    Posted on October 30, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Here are some of the most popular blogs that have been read by our followers during the month of October.

    Phil Robertson. Father. Teacher. Theologian. Commander.

    If you have never heard of Phil Robertson or the Robertson boys, well, you must be living under a rock.  The Robertson family has taken American TV by storm, along with it the hearts of almost every person. Along with Phil, his wife Kay and their boys, the reality TV show Duck Dynasty has been a gathering place for the whole family. In other words, it's been a breath of fresh air.

    Phil Robertson was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana, a small town near Shreveport. With seven children in his family, money was scarce and very early on, hunting became an important part of his life.

    Read the full interview here.

    Clinging to Christ in the Middle of the Hurricane - Natalie Grant

    In the opening lines of “In The End,” the spirited but poignant unplugged track that wraps her latest album Hurricane, Natalie Grant puts it as plainly as she ever has in dealing with the troubling storms we all face: “Can’t catch a break/You’ve had your fill of old clichés…”. Emerging from a dark, spiritually challenging time in her own life, the multi-talented singer/songwriter—a Grammy nominated, five time GMA (Gospel Music Association) Dove Award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year – breaks through the well worn and cheerful, but not completely truthful, phrases that often leave those who are struggling in need of more.

    Natalie and I sat down (with her daughter, Sadie, on her lap) and talked about what went into her new album. The ups and downs of life. Times of depression. Times of joy.

    Read the full interview here.

    One On One with Mark Batterson

    Mark Batterson serves as the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D. C. Recognized as “one of America’s 25 most innovative churches,” NCC is one church with seven locations. Mark’s blog and webcast also reach a virtual congregation around the world. He is the author of several bestselling books, including New York Times Bestseller - The Circle Maker and In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. Mark holds a doctorate degree from Regent University and lives on Capitol Hill with this wife, Lora, and their three children.

    Read the full interview here.

    Laura Story - I Can Just Be Me - Story Behind the Song

    Talented worship leader and songwriter Laura Story is best known for her inspirational hit "Blessings" and for co-writing "Indescribable," a Chris Tomlin anthem. Now, with her third studio album, God of Every Story, Laura returns to that deep place of vulnerability before the Lord and honesty with herself. Award-winning producer Ed Cash helmed the deeply personal project, and their shared Carolina roots led to the incorporation of acoustic and epic instruments into this worshipful pop album. Lyrically, God of Every Story draws from Laura’s own life. Her husband’s brain tumor early in their marriage led the young family down a painful path she wouldn’t have chosen, but one that deepened her faith and her music.

    Read the full post here.

    God's Not Dead

    God's Not Dead is a new film about faith and the limits one young man will go to in order to defend his belief in God. Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a freshman college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by an infamous and dictatorial professor. Dr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands that all of his students must sign a declaration that "God is dead" in order to get a passing grade. Josh refuses. But, he needs to take this class to meet his academic requirements. And so the professor strikes a bargain: Josh must defend his position that "God is alive" in a series of debates with him in order to stay in the class. If he loses, he flunks. When Josh accepts the challenge, he gets more than he bargained for -- jeopardizing his faith, his relationships and even his future.

    Read the full post as well as watch the movie trailer here.

    John MacArthur's Call to the Church - Beware of Strange Fire

    John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry.

    In 1969, after graduating from Talbot Theological Seminary, John came to Grace Community Church. The emphasis of his pulpit ministry is the careful study and verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible, with special attention devoted to the historical and grammatical background behind each passage. Under John’s leadership, Grace Community Church's two morning worship services fill the 3,500-seat auditorium to capacity. Several thousand members participate every week in dozens of fellowship groups and training programs, most led by lay leaders and each dedicated to equipping members for ministry on local, national, and international levels.

    Read the full interview here.

    Pulling No Punches - an interview with Lecrae

    From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.

    Read the full interview here.

    "Grace Unplugged" Film Soundtrack to Release in August

    Soundtrack Features Songs From The Film's Stars AJ Michalka And Jamie Grace, Also Includes Songs From TobyMac, Colton Dixon, Chris Tomlin And More

    Sparrow Records and Capitol Christian Music Group announce the "GRACE Unplugged" movie soundtrack, set for release on August 27th at both retail and online. "GRACE Unplugged," a Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions feature film starring AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollack, Jamie Grace and more, is slated to hit theaters nationwide October 4.

    Read the full post here.

    Question and Answers with Nick Vujici

    Being unstoppable is about believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents and your purpose and, most of all, in God’s great love and His divine plan for your life.

    Millions around the world recognize the smiling face and inspirational message of Nick Vujicic. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Nick has overcome trials and hardships by focusing on the promises that he was created for a unique and specific purpose, that his life has value and is a gift to others, and that no matter the despair and hard times in life, God is always present. Nick credits his success in life to the power that is unleashed when faith takes action.

    Read the full interview here.

    Liz Curtis Higgs - She's Smart. Witty. Serious. (And a cat lover).

    In her best-selling series of Bad Girls of the Bible books, workbooks, and videos, Liz Curtis Higgs breathes new life into ancient tales about the most infamous—and intriguing—women in scriptural history, from Jezebel to Mary Magdalene. Biblically sound and cutting-edge fresh, these popular titles have helped more than one million women around the world experience God’s grace anew.

    Her best-selling historical novels, which transport the stories of Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Dinah, Ruth, and Naomi to eighteenth-century Scotland, also have invited readers to view these familiar characters in a new light.

    Read the full interview here.


    This post was posted in Music, Books, Movies, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Lecrae, Laura Story, Nick Vujicic, John MacArthur, Phil Robertson, Mark Batterson, Grace Unplugged, Natalie Grant, God's Not Dead, Liz Curtis Higgs

  • Gary Chapman - Believing God in All of Life

    Posted on October 21, 2013 by John van der Veen



    Married more than 45 years to Karolyn, Dr. Gary Chapman is just the man to turn to for help on improving or healing our most important relationships. His own life experiences, plus over forty years of pastoring and marriage counseling, led him to publish his first book in the Love Language series, The Five Love Languages. Millions of readers credit this continual #1 New York Times bestseller with saving their marriages by showing them simple and practical ways to communicate their love to their partner.

    I talked with Dr. Chapman not too long ago and what I found was a man that was very concerned with followers of Christ being just that - followers of Christ.

    Gary speaks to thousands of couples nationwide through his weekend marriage conferences. He hosts a nationally syndicated radio program, Love Language Minute, and a Saturday morning program, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, that air on more than 400 stations. He also serves as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    John: Was The Five Love Languages your first book?

    Dr. Chapman: No, it was my third book. I wrote two books before that. One was called Toward a Growing Marriage, which was been retitled To the Marriage you’ve Always Wanted. Then I wrote Hope for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed, which is written to people who are separated but not divorced and encouraging reconciliation. Then I wrote The Five Love Languages.

    John: The Five Love Languages certainly has taken off and catapulted your career. I think it sold over 6 million copies. Has that book changed your life, has it changed your marriage in a sense? I mean obviously it has been quite a few years since you wrote that book, but has what you’ve done some years ago impacted you today?

    Dr. Chapman: My personal life, yes. In fact in my life greatly. My language is words of affirmation. My wife’s language is acts of service, so in the early years of our marriage, I would give her words of affirmation. I would speak my language. I would tell her how nice she looks. I would tell her how much I appreciate what she did. I would tell her a dozen times a day I love you but after a while she said to me one night, “You know, you keep on saying ‘I love you, I love you.’ If you love me, why don’t you help me?” I was blown out of the saddle because in my mind I was loving her. In her mind, if I loved her I would be helping her. I would be doing acts of service. Yeah, it radically changed my life and that’s why to this day, I’m vacuuming floors, I wash dishes; I start the dishwasher. I take the trash out. I live with a happy woman.

    John: That’s awesome. I just have a few questions, basic questions. From your experience of being a counselor, when God calls two people together, why is it that they forget, together to be married, why is, Dr. Chapman, that more often than not they forget that they are still sinners being called into that marriage?

    Dr. Chapman: I think, John, we don’t typically go around thinking of ourselves as sinners. We like to think of ourselves of being pretty good people. The reality is we are all sinners. That means that we are self-centered, which leads often to selfishness. Two people who are selfish will never have a good marriage because marriage has to do with love, which means we are looking out for the other person’s interest. I think just by nature we are selfish and we are more concerned about being loved than we are loving. Consequently, if my spouse is not speaking my love language I begin to feel like they don’t love me, then the differences arise, the irritations arise, and we get into conflicts and often into arguments about those things. Before long we don’t even like each other and we tend to blame the other person because they are not doing this, that or the other thing. Essentially they are not speaking our love language, but I think the root problem is always selfishness.

    I don’t know why, except I think it is just a good tool of the enemy to keep us focusing on the other person and it is their problem and consequently we don’t get around to looking at ourselves and where the real problem was.

    John: Dr. Chapman if someone is engaged to be married, what would you say is the single most important piece of advice that you would give them?

    Dr. Chapman: Well, I think that there are many things but if I have to choose only one… I would say that the foundation of spiritual unity would be the most important and the reason I say that is because I believe in God and I believe what God has said and I believe that how He revealed himself in Christ deeply impacts every other aspect of life. If we are not in unity on those key fundamental spiritual issues, we are far more likely to have severe problems in the marriage relationship. I wrote a book maybe two or three years ago called, “Things I wish I had known before we got married” which was my attempt to help singles by sharing with them 12 things that I know now that had I known before we got married would have made my marriage much easier. That is one of the things I will do within that book. I think the chapter title is I wish I had known that spirituality is not to be equated with going to church because so many people feel like we would both go to church. We are both Christians without really exploring what that means and what the real spiritual foundation is. I think that’s the one I would focus on.

    John: Do you think the Bible allows for people to marry an unbeliever?

    Dr. Chapman: I really don’t think the Bible encourages that. The Scriptures say, I asked the question can two walk together if they are not in agreement? I think the answer is something like, not very well and probably not very far. I just think that the fundamental issues, now let’s face it, there are many people who are married and one is a Christian and one is not a Christian. There are people who marry when either one of them is Christians and one of them becomes a Christian and the other doesn’t. There are certainly many marriages where one is a Christian and one is not, but if you are on the fly and looking at marriage I think the Bible would encourage you to discuss the spiritual issues and particularly one’s relationship with Christ and the nature of their relationship, the depth of their relationship, to make sure you are marching to the beat of the same drummer. I just think that’s fundamental.

    John: Dr. Chapman do you mind if I ask you a few questions about what you think about the church here in the U.S.?

    Dr. Chapman: No that’s fine.

    John: What do you think, are we in a healthy state when you look at … you obviously do a lot of speaking? You have a radio program. You are heard all over. There are many churches that have utilized your books. You probably know a lot of pastors as well and counselors at work in lay ministry. Do you think the church is as proactively seeking those that are having problems or troubles in their marriage and attempting to fix them as the church used to be?

    Dr. Chapman: I think, John, my short answer would be I wish we were doing much more. My goal has always been and I challenge churches to this, that every church large or small would have an ongoing marriage enrichment program; that is, that they are doing something all the time throughout the year to enrich marriages. Most churches, at least most smaller churches, a pastor will preach on marriage once a year maybe a two or three week series and that’s basically all that’s done. I just believe we’ve got to do more than that but even the smaller church can have one couple in the church who has a passion for marriage enrichment. You can send them to get training. Many marriage seminars provide them books and they can begin to lead a small group with maybe just five or six couples to start with, take them through some curriculum whatever curriculum and then one of those couples will say “Hey we can do this” and so now you’ve got another lead couple. I believe if we are taking our people through various curriculums during each year and people know in the church it’s always a place where we can go to get help in our marriage, I think they will begin to invite non-Christians to get into that kind of program. It can be a door into the church for those who are non-Christians.

    I wish we were doing much more. I think many of our larger churches do have members who are fostering marriage and family life programs in the church and I think that’s wonderful but I wish we were doing much more.

    John: Do you think the church has kind of stepped back from doing that because the church to some extent kind of follows what’s going on in culture, or do you think there is something else going on?

    Dr. Chapman: I don’t know that we’ve stepped back from doing it. I don’t think we ever did really a good job to be honest with you. Back when things were more stable in our culture, the churches I don’t think even sensed much of a need to be doing anything about marriage because the most famous were stable families, but it is as things have unraveled in our society and the family has become so dysfunctional in our society that the churches have begun to take it seriously and I think many of them are still taking it seriously. My priority would be that it would just permeate more of our churches and that more of our pastors would see the need for this. I think a part of it, John, is that pastors don’t have time to do it themselves and they don’t have quite the vision of asking God to give them a couple in their church who will have a passion for this. It just takes one couple who has a passion for it and they can begin something that will go on. I just challenge pastors to pray for that couple, look for that couple and then seek to empower that couple.

    John: Dr. Chapman you have a new book that’s hitting called Extraordinary Grace: How the Unlikely Lineage of Jesus Reveals God's Amazing Love. I can speculate about that book but I’d love to hear what your thoughts are going into it.

    Dr. Chapman: You know, John, that book grew out of a sermon that I gave at our church last Christmas on Matthew 1 on the lineage of Jesus, looking at the ancestors of Jesus who are listed in that chapter. It is very dry reading for most people. It is just the list of all these names, but I gave a sermon on that then pointed out that many of those people who were in the lineage of Jesus were people who committed really pretty bad things in their lives, experienced forgiveness and God used them and they are in the lineage of Jesus. The message of that book bottom line is I say, “Look. If God can use these people with the things that they committed, then God can use you. His grace is real. His forgiveness is real and God can use you.” I’m hoping that this book is going to help a lot of people who look at themselves and look at their history and say, “You have done this, this, this, and this … and God can never use me.” The reality is God can use anyone who turns to him in repentance and faith.

    In the book we kind of flesh out those biblical characters and just look at the real life they lived and used that as an illustration of the grace of God. I’m very excited about it. Chris Fabry my coauthor is someone, you might you know Chris. Chris is a great fiction writer and he was very instrumental in fleshing out some of those stories in the book.

    John: What do you and your family enjoy doing?

    Dr. Chapman: It is just my wife and I. The kids are grown and gone. We enjoy a lot of things. We both enjoy being involved in the life of the church. We were heavily involved in the life of the church. My wife is involved in the women’s ministry, in our music ministry. Of course, I’m still involved in counseling and various other administrative things in the church but a lot of our lives have centered around the church. We are in a large church and have a lot of staff members that we work with. I’m not the single pastor. I’m just one of the associate pastors. We enjoy that.

    We also enjoy our grandchildren. We have two and they are two and half hours away from us but we see them about every six weeks. I just took my 12-year-old grandson with me to Brazil. He wanted to see the rainforest, so my publisher in Brazil had asked me to come down. We just launched The Love Languages Devotional Bible in Portuguese and he asked me to come down. I said, “Okay, if you will arrange for me to have two days in the rainforest with my 12-year-old grandson I will come.” They did and we had a great time together.

    John: Was that your first time doing that?

    Dr. Chapman: Actually to go to the rainforest, yes. I’ve been to Brazil once before about four years ago but I’ve never been to the rainforest and so we had fun with marquees and the snakes, the alligators, mosquitoes and …

    John: Were the mosquitoes as big in Brazil as they are in North Carolina?

    Dr. Chapman: The mosquitoes were not what I had anticipated. They, maybe because it was wintertime there but still hot and is in the 80s, but maybe they have more mosquitoes in the summer time but we really didn’t have as many mosquitoes as I anticipated. Of course we took our yellow fever shot and our typhoid shot and all that. We were ready.

    John: Whatever may come.

    Dr. Chapman: That’s right.

    John: Dr. Chapman I thank you very much for the opportunity to chat with you today and we are extremely looking forward to Extraordinary Grace coming out.

    Personally speaking, I want to thank you for The Five Love Languages. You helped two scrawny very self-centered people, my wife and I. About 22 or 23 years ago we got your book and didn’t necessarily read it; got married and similar story, to be perfectly honest, as you and your wife. I was kind of doing my thing; my wife was kind of doing her thing. I kept telling her how much I loved her and she kept wanting me to wash the dishes or do something. We had a couple of kids and I continued to just tell her how much I loved her and I wasn’t necessarily taking an active role in that. You certainly helped her realize what her love language was and then she told me what her love language was and told me what mine was as well. Praise God we are still married and we have six kids and we are doing great. We are just so thankful for you and for many others who have counseled us through great books. Again I appreciate your ministry.

    Dr. Chapman: Thanks for sharing that John. I think that’s the story of a lot of people. I have just been so encouraged with the way God has used that book to help couples and I never tire of hearing stories like that. All of us, as we said earlier, are selfish. If we don’t find an answer to that, of course the answer is found in Christ, but in the practical sense of how do you express that love and love language concept really, really does help. Thanks for sharing that.

    John: You are welcome. God bless you brother.

    Dr. Chapman: Thank you. Goodbye.

     


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Marriage, Love, Gary Chapman

  • Liz Curtis Higgs - The Women of Christmas

    Posted on October 10, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
    Let earth receive her King;
    Let every heart prepare him room,
    And heaven and nature sing,
    And heaven and nature sing,
    And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
    —Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World,” 1719

    A sacred season is about to unfold for three women whose hearts belong to God. Elizabeth is barren, yet her trust in God remains fertile. Mary is betrothed in marriage, yet she is willing to bear God’s Son. Anna is a widow full of years, yet she waits patiently, prayerfully for the Messiah to appear in the temple courts.

    Following in their footsteps, you too can prepare for the Savior to enter your heart, your mind, and your life in a vibrant, new way this season. In The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, bestselling author Liz Curtis Higgs explores the biblical stories of these three women, unwrapping each verse with tender care and introducing you afresh to The Women of Christmas.

    Earlier this year, I sat down with Liz to talk about her new book. In reading this, you will notice a woman who is passionate about the birth of Christ and how it is the unveiling of a much larger start. The redemption of God's people.

    John: You have a new book coming out this fall called The Women of Christmas.

    Liz: Not The Good Girls of Christmas. (Laughs.) They are pretty amazing women.

    John: Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. Want to talk a little bit about that book?

    Liz: Sure. Of course they are in chronological order. Most people would say, "Well heavens, wouldn't you mention Mary first?" Not if you're going in chronological order. If you go in the order they unroll in the Bible, that's how it goes.

    It started as a message that I shared at a conference. It's fun to begin that way, because you get immediate audience response. You see what speaks to people's hearts and what you need to dig deeper on. One of the challenges of writing without having shared it anywhere else is you're like, "Well, I'm excited about this material, but will a reader be? Will an audience be?" I don't do it that way often, but that time it started with audience response and going, "Okay, I think there's something here." Then I blogged about it.

    I have a Bible study blog once a week. This summer I did the 20 verses you love most. I asked about 1,000 people to tell me their favorite verse in the Bible and then I tallied them up. So they're really my readers' favorites. You know, people I know as opposed to just a published list. So fascinating. We've done kind of a countdown style. Of course it still lives on the blog, so if you're curious what those 20 verses are, they're there.

    I just did a verse a week. You're thinking, "A verse a week? What would you say about a verse?" Oh dear, about 1,500 words of pulling it apart. I love to do that! Look at the different translations. Look what the commentators have to say. Though, before I ever look at a commentator, I look at the Word as it is, and ask God what He wants to show me. That's what I share. It's just been a pure joy.

    The Women of Christmas was five posts on my blog in December of 2012. Going a little deeper into their stories I thought, "Oh my word, there's so much here!" You've got angels showing up, the first one with Zechariah at the altar of incense, and then Gabriel next appears to Mary. We have Mary talking to Gabriel, then we have an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream, then the shepherds get one angel and then they get the Heavenly Hosts. Thousands, the Bible says, thousands of angels singing.

    Though I have to say, all the Bible says is "saying." It doesn't use the word "sing." But I think if thousands of angels were saying, "Glory to God in the highest," it would sound like music, simply because that many people trying to speak at once would have to have rhythm and movement. I think it must be a singing like nothing we've ever heard, a sound beyond anything human.

    So, you've got angels appearing. The Holy Spirit keeps showing up. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, that's how she knows that Mary is filled with Jesus. Then Mary bursts into song, and that song, those are not Mary's words. She was 12, 12½, uneducated and poor. Yet you look at The Magnificat, the words are exquisite. They're drawn from a deep well. You'll recognize little bits of Hannah and Hannah's words, and Isaiah's words in there. I mean it's a deep, rich well that had to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. It wasn't just this 12-year-old saying, "Wow!" It's really exquisite, beautiful wording.

    John the Baptist in his mother's womb leaps because he is filled with the Holy Spirit. That was an expectation promised by Gabriel, that the son would be filled with the Spirit even before he was born. Then later Simeon, by the Holy Spirit, sees that this is the baby Jesus, and Anna knows this is the Messiah she's waited her whole life for. We have angels, we have the Holy Spirit at work, we have unexpected appearances, we have visitors from afar. It's a remarkable story.

    You're going, "I know Liz. It's the Christmas story. We've all heard it 10 million times." It's the stories you've heard 10 million times that you need to look at most carefully, because we've had so many layers put on that story by culture, by movies. I mean, don't you always picture Mary riding in on a donkey just about to go into labor? That's how it's always shown, but that is not in the Bible. It never has her on a donkey. It never has her coming in at the moment of delivery. It just says, "While she was in Bethlehem, the time came to give birth." I know, I know. You're saying, "Liz, you just blew my image. My creche scene is already not looking right."

    John: What do I do with my nativity scene?

    Liz: That's right. What am I going to do with the scene? The wise men, when do they come? We don't know for sure. We know they come, but we don't know for sure when. We know that they're in a house when they come. The word that's used is house not a manger, not a barn or anything like that, so maybe it’s a little later than we're picturing it. I'm not trying to tear down Christmas or trying to tear down our image of Christmas. On the contrary, I want us to go as closely back to the real Christmas as we can, because in that is the power of the story that is so overwhelming. It's not red and green (laughs), but it is amazing. It's just amazing.

    These women in particular all touch Jesus. They all have an encounter with Jesus that brings out the most incredible things. When Mary walks in the house, Elizabeth is blown away. “How is it that the mother of my Lord… “My Lord”! He's, at most, two weeks in utero. “My Lord.” Wow. We struggle to commit to our Lord when He is a risen Savior and His whole story is told in the Word. I mean we have so much to go on.

    John: And she was right there.

    Liz: She was right there. That again is the Holy Spirit stirring in her. "I felt my baby move with joy," she says. It's interesting, the part about “with joy,” because babies can move for lots of reasons. She's six months pregnant at that time, so babies are moving around by then. You have what they call the quickening, the sense of life in you if you have something cold to drink or eat something sweet. Elizabeth knows it's joy. It wasn't, you know, a pomegranate. It was joy that moved her son.

    Amazing women. I'm so excited about this one. I'm so excited to do a real, I hope, substantive Bible study and to put it in a gift book so that it is gift-able. And for the one month of the year you can give somebody who doesn't know God, you can give them a book about Christmas and most people will receive it with joy. "Oh thank you, a book about Christmas." For whatever reason, they're not afraid of it as long as it's December (laughs). As long as it's December, you can give them a book about Jesus.

    I wanted a beautiful book. A book that would seem non-threatening. The Women of Christmas doesn't sound like, "Hi, I would like to change your life." But I would.

    Download the first chapter of The Women of Christmas by clicking here.


    This post was posted in Books, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Christmas, Liz Curtis Higgs

  • Liz Curtis Higgs - She's Smart. Witty. Serious. (And a cat lover.)

    Posted on October 3, 2013 by John van der Veen


    In her best-selling series of Bad Girls of the Bible books, workbooks, and videos, Liz Curtis Higgs breathes new life into ancient tales about the most infamous—and intriguing—women in scriptural history, from Jezebel to Mary Magdalene. Biblically sound and cutting-edge fresh, these popular titles have helped more than one million women around the world experience God’s grace anew.

    Her best-selling historical novels, which transport the stories of Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Dinah, Ruth, and Naomi to eighteenth-century Scotland, also have invited readers to view these familiar characters in a new light.

    Liz is the author of nearly 30 books, with more than 3 million copies in print. Her popular nonfiction books include Bad Girls of the Bible, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, Unveiling Mary Magdalene, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, Rise and Shine, and Embrace Grace.

    Liz is married to Bill Higgs, Ph.D., who serves as Director of Operations for her speaking and writing office. Liz and Bill enjoy their old Kentucky home, a nineteenth-century farmhouse in Louisville, and are the proud (and relieved!) parents of two college grads, Matthew and Lillian.

    Liz was traveling through the area and stopped by our offices. I had never met Liz before and honestly, I didn't really know what to expect. What I met was a genuine follow of Christ. Or, in other words, a sinner/saint. Liz is not perfect. She has a "past." But more importantly, she is a child of a Great King. She stands as a testimony of God's grace and mercy.

    Thankfully, Liz is now a friend. No, she's a sister. For that I am thankful.

    John: How is Jack, your cat? (In case you, reader, didn't know this, Liz is a lover of her cat, Jack.)

    Liz: Jack the cat is wonderful. Jack the cat has a story.

    John: Oh, does he really?

    Liz: Oh, yes. Well, when cats adopt you they always come for a reason. I was doing a book called Mine is the Night. The book, by the way, is based on the Book of Ruth but set in 18th century Scotland. The hero was going to be strong just as the Bible says Boaz is. In the Bible that means a man of warfare, a man of battle. But I wanted him softened by something, and I decided he would have a cat! I was all prepared to do a Facebook bit where I said to people, "Send me pictures of your cat, and I'll choose one to be Jack's, the hero, Jack's cat." Before I could, literally the day I was going to start the contest, a cat walked into our house.

    John: Oh, so you didn't go seeking him?

    Liz: I did not.

    John: He came seeking you.

    Liz: My husband is not a cat person. My husband walked in with this cat in his arms and turned to my daughter and I—we're total cat people—and said, "Have you ever seen this guy before? Because he's hanging around the back door like he wants to come in." We took one look at him and said, "Hello!"

    I have him on my website. He's so handsome. He really is. He's just a very handsome cat. I knew right away he was Jack's cat and therefore, his name really ought to just be Jack. So we have Jack the hero, but we also have Jack the cat. He is described verbatim in the book. I just used him as my example. It's just fun.

    John: I love it.

    Liz: Jack has been with us ever since, and he's the best cat I've ever had. Don't tell Big Cat, Tiger or Mac—cats of the past.

    John: Liz, you write fiction, non-fiction, children's literature, you're a speaker, you're a Bible study teacher, a Bible study leader, and you have DVDs out. You wrote a column for Today's Christian Woman for how many years?

    Liz: I think it was right at ten years for them.

    John: You're a mom. You're a wife.

    Liz: I am, and I sing alto in the choir (laughing). I do! When they let me.

    John: How does a mom with a couple of young kids at her feet, or a single parent dad who's in the midst of life, a business leader not look at you and think, "Look at everything that she's doing. She must have everything all together and everything seems to be always falling apart for me." What do you say to that person, Liz?

    Liz: Well, first of all, things always look like they're falling apart from where I'm sitting too. I feel like I'm juggling so many balls in the air, and some of them do slip out of my hands.

    I think the hardest thing for us to deal with, whatever we're doing, whatever our situation, whether our kids are younger, older or we don't have them, there's always the fear I haven't done enough or I haven't done it well enough. Those are the two big challenges for me: I haven't done enough or haven't done it well enough. This is when we rest. We just have to rest in, "I did everything I could with all the hours I was awake, and now I'm going to trust God with this and keep going."

    If you're a perfectionist—and I most assuredly am—it's very difficult because you're never going to be finished with a task. You're never going to be fully happy. I've never turned a book in where I've said, "Yup, nailed it," ever, ever. I'm always so anxious for the first draft to come back to me so I can write the second draft. Then I think at the end of the second draft, "It's better, but it's still not right." I'm always really grateful when I get it back again from another set of editors and I get to write the third draft. Eventually, you know, they just come take them away and they won't let you have them anymore.

    John: It's time to turn it in.

    Liz: Exactly, so that's the rest piece. You finally have to rest in this: "I did the best I could, and it was God's work anyway. If God is working through me, then I think He is at peace with this as well." So many times we deal with a nagging voice. Maybe it's just me, but I know that nagging voice. I know it's never God. God is not a nag. He will convict by the power of the Holy Spirit. He'll convict us when we need to go a different direction, when it's time to have ears to hear and eyes to see and do something different. But conviction is healthy. That's the Holy Spirit drawing you to God.

    The other voice is condemnation drawing you away from God, telling you you're not good enough, not finished enough, do better, this is terrible, all those kinds of messages. You're not a good enough father, you're not a good enough wife, and your husband deserves someone better than you. All that kind of condemnation is never from God.

    That leaves one other option: It's from the enemy of our souls. I think when we can hear the difference between conviction and condemnation, we can take the conviction as the gift that it is. It's a gift. God wants to change us. He loves us so much He wants to change us. As for the condemnation, you need to send the one dishing out those lies back where he came from, because it's untruth and we don't need any more untruth pouring into our ears. That's one thing I try to do is to discern the voice.

    John: Earlier today, you shared a short testimony about how you came to know the Lord. How did you move from that experience of saying, "Okay, Jesus and me together," to now, "I have a voice and I need to start sharing my life experiences with others”?

    Liz: The truth is you start sharing them immediately with the people around you. You're already moving from experiencing it yourself to sharing it with other people, because it's the most natural thing to do. If you see a movie you love, you are texting people before you leave the theater. If you read a book you love, you want everybody to hear about it. You jump online and leave a review, whatever your deal is.

    It is our nature when we have good news, any kind of good news, to tell people. When you get the best news in town, you tell people.

    The only reason we stop telling is because we hit some resistance, or we begin to become self-conscious about it, or people treat us a little differently and we're not sure we like that. We begin to grow quiet about the Lord. I know sometimes people will say, "I have a quiet faith," but I don't think we're called to be quiet.

    You have to find a way, and God will certainly show you, to share your faith in a way that is congruent with who you are. I mean, I'm loud and carry on and I'll stop complete strangers. I've had situations where I've gone into a restaurant alone, but I strike up such a conversation with the people in front of me that when the waiter comes over he expects to seat me with the people. He's sure I'm with them. Because it's just my nature to talk to anybody, anywhere; but that is not everybody's thing.

    Quiet people find other ways. Sometimes they become writers. Ann Voskamp is a most extraordinary writer, and that is how her gift happens, that's how her sharing happens—on the page. Other people are incredible servants, they are doers behind the scenes, but their actions speak more loudly than my words would ever speak because it's done with such grace and such humility.

    We all do have ways to do it, but I don't think doing nothing is one of the options. I think we all have to find a way to walk Christ out among the people around us.

    John: Liz, is there anything left on your bucket list?

    Liz: Oh, what a great question. I used to want to jump out of an airplane, you know, with a parachute attached. I've decided that, even with the parachute, it would be such an ugly thing to watch, that we're not going to be seeing that one in my lifetime (laughs). So, no jumping out of a parachute.

    There are many places in this world I long to go. As it happens, because I write historical novels set in Scotland, I just keep going back to Scotland. The truth is, I would love to get to Italy. I've never been there, I'm anxious to go. I mean I'd love to go anywhere. I'd love to go to Russia. I'd love to go to India, very high on the list. I've never even been to Ireland, and it's 20 miles across the Irish Sea from the coast of Scotland. So there are many places. My bucket list is full of travel.

    In our family, travel is what we do for each other. When the kids graduated from school, we never gave them stuff. We took them on a trip. That was the deal for graduating—a trip anywhere they wanted to go. It's so fun, because then you're making memories as well as expanding your understanding of the world and seeing what a small part of the world this country is. We kind of think we are big. We are big, but we're not the only game in town. It's so healthy to go outside our shores. Humbling, really.

    John: From Bad Girls of the Bible to Really Bad Girls of the Bible to Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, those books have certainly done well. Why do you think there is such an affinity towards identifying with those "bad girls"? When people look at Rahab or they look at any character in the Bible, they see themselves so well. Why is that?

    Liz: It's interesting, because every once in a while I'll take a little heat for focusing on the bad girls. I always say first of all I didn't put them there. They were already in the Word. All I did was bunch them up together. I did that I think because we do tend to gloss over the bad.

    At least in the "women of the Bible" books that I've seen, they tend to focus on the good girls. You know, Esther Lydia, Priscilla. I thought, "Well, the Lord has put these bad girls in the Bible for a reason." Of course I'm a former bad girl, so I'm coming from that very personal place of saying, "What does God want me to see in these women's lives?"

    I have to say this. In Bad Girls of the Bible, and for that matter in the other books as well, I found a bit of myself in all of them. You have to cut away the cultural differences. We eat different foods, we wear different clothes, we live in different kinds of houses and have different transportation than they did two or three thousand years ago. But the bottom-line stuff is the same whether it's lust or greed or whatever—any kind of sin you want to come up with. Pride is always the basic one. That hasn't changed at all. Human nature is the same as always.

    When we identify something about that bad girl that resonates with us, then we read her story with a different eye and we see how things turn out for her. It didn't turn out too well for Jezebel, who turned her back on the one true God and worshiped her daddy's god, Baal. It didn't turn out well at all. Shoved out a window, trampled by horses, eaten by dogs, such that there was nothing left that identified her even as woman, let alone as Jezebel. This is God's statement on what happens when you turn your back on Him permanently, when you have no interest in Him, when you shut Him out completely.

    She's a cautionary tale, but one worth looking at because it not only shows the big picture Jezebel, killing off the prophets, but her story in the Bible shows the small domestic scene with her husband, which for many of us who are strong-willed women will look really familiar. She kind of takes over: "I'll get you the vineyard. I'll take care of it. Give me your seal. I'll write the letter. I'll take care of it." Those of us who, as we used to say back in the day, like to wear the pants in the family—that's a funny phrase, isn't it?—we can learn from Jezebel. We can see the ugliness on the page and go, "I don't want to go there."

    I think there is something to be learned from all of them. Of course our favorite ones are the ones who are redeemed. Those are the ones that really give us hope. Those are the ones that prove you can't go too far. God's arm is not short. He's going to reach you. Those are the stories I tend to speak about from the platform.

    I'll touch on the other women, but hope is the main thing we offer our readers, our audiences, our friends. Hope! So the stories of the "Rahabs," and the woman at the well, and the sinful women of Luke 7 … incredible story. She never even speaks. She's kind of a little cage-rattler that one, because she never speaks, she never asks His forgiveness, she never prays the sinner's prayer, she never confesses her sin. Wow!

    Does it count? It must, because Jesus says twice, "You are forgiven." It's repeated twice, just in case, just to make sure. Then He says, "Your faith has saved you." Wow. I thought Jesus saved her. Yeah, He did. Her faith in Him saved her. "Go in peace." I love that story. "Go in peace."

    To my knowledge, that's what everybody in the world wants: peace. We take some pretty convoluted paths to get there. Jesus says, "My peace I give to you." He's the one who is all about peace.

    I love the women of the Bible, and I do especially love the bad girls. I won't ever be writing a book called Good Girls of the Bible. I'm asked a lot to do that. But the stumbling block for me is the Bible says in Jesus's own words, "No one is good except God alone." It's the truth.

    I mean even if I do a good thing, it wasn't Liz. It was God kindly doing a good thing through me. It's His righteousness, not mine. I just can't go down that road of finding all the good qualities in these women, unless I just pointed every one back to God. I could do that. Bad girls and I, we still have a little more ground to tread. I haven't done them all yet.

    John: There's more to come?

    Liz: Well, probably nothing called Bad Girls of the Bible in any shape, slightly, really, mostly, somewhat (laughs). I think we're done. There are still more women I want to write about. There's some that I've tucked in my pocket, thinking, "Someday." They're jumping out of my pocket now one by one. It's really fun.

    John: Who do you write for? Do you write for Liz, or do you write for the people you go to church with, or do you write for the people who have read your books before? Who do you have in mind?

    Liz: I have in mind Liz at 26. I came to know Jesus at 27, but I always think about Liz at 26. In other words, I make no assumptions about what people know or don't know about the Bible. I try and really spell it out. It might therefore come out as a little bit simplistic to somebody who's deep, deep, deep in the Word. But hopefully, because I also do tons of research and use about 40 English translations, there's also plenty of meat there for a believer who's been at it a while. I try to keep my language really accessible and not turn off Liz at 26.

    Actually, she's not the only person I write to because we write to more than one. There is kind of this group of people. I can see them, right behind my screen. There's Liz at 26 and there's my mother-in-law. I think about who she is. She's an avid reader, 84, so an older woman. Presbyterian her whole life. There's a particular something she's going to respond to. I'm also thinking about other women of other ages and stages, married and single, deeply in the Word, new to the Word. You kind of have this little group of women and they're all peering over the screen at me. "Got something for me?" And I say, "Here, this is for you, Liz at 26, and this is for you, Mary Lee. I know that you'll really resonate with this, and this is for you."

    John: Are you a reader?

    Liz: Oh, yeah. This, I don't know what this will do to my credibility, but what I read is fiction. I'm a fiction reader.

    John: Any authors that we know?

    Liz: Well, Francine Rivers has always been my hero. She's always written boldly. Redeeming Love was bold for Christian readership. She put it all out there. Actually, I read Redeeming Love in the original. She wrote it for the general market first. Then when she came to know Christ, she got the rights back and Multnomah was able to publish it for her. There were some adjustments made in the book, but it was powerful in either form for sure.

    I love fiction. I love historical fiction especially. Obviously, when I'm writing non-fiction I've got all sorts of research books around me. I love all the classics. I love Practicing His Presence, a book like that, small, powerful. Anything by C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity was really the book that spoke loudest to me as a new believer.

    Actually, before I came to know Christ, when I was on that journey of the sun growing brighter and brighter, it was just overwhelming to me because I come from a family who really values education so everybody has master's degrees and are just very impressed with being educated. Which is great, obviously. But Jesus asked us to come as simple as a child.

    To read Lewis, who's obviously brilliant and yet sees also the simplicity in some ways, just blew my mind. A man that’s smart thinks this is the answer? I was having a hard time arguing with him. Of course, he presents arguments so skillfully. He'll present the argument and then lay out 1 through 10, here's all the reasons why. You can't come up with 11. It's like, "I agree!" (Laughs.)

    John: You twisted my arm! HA!

    Liz: That's right. You have very effectively twisted my mind. You've taken this very intellectual journey and come to a very spiritual place. It's unique. Of course, I marvel that he wrote not for a Christian publisher, he wrote for the world. He did radio broadcasts for everybody.

    John: What has God been teaching Liz Curtis Higgs lately?

    Liz: So many things. It's hard to know where to start. One word He's pressing down so hard into me is "gratitude" and the responsibility that goes with all those gifts. I don't mean gifts as in talents; I mean just the blessings.
    To be really grateful and always expressing that gratitude, and never, never letting myself indulge in even a moment of, "Hey, I did a pretty good job there." We just can't go there. We can't say, "I did a pretty good job." You might say to yourself, "Wow, God. Wow, God, I had a sense of You at work there. How did I get to be a part of that? I don't know, but thank You." It's just so different.

    I heard an interview with an author on NPR and I learned so much and was greatly convicted. After every sentence the unstated was, "Aren't I brilliant?" "I did this, I did this, I did this." That's what I heard behind the words. It was convicting because I thought, "Oh, my word. I've got to go back and listen to my interviews and say, 'Is that what I was also saying? Aren't I brilliant?'" So, I'm not. I know that. I think that's the one thing God is trying to make really clear to me. That if there is any good thing, it's just Him.

    And Liz continues to write. To be an influence. At the time of this interview she was just finishing up her new Christmas title, The Women of Christmas.

    Liz is here to stay and for that we all can be thankful.


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, C.S. Lewis, Francine Rivers, Liz Curtis Higgs

  • Five Questions with Cindy Woodsmall

    Posted on October 2, 2013 by Family Christian

    Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA best-selling author of numerous works of fiction and one of nonfiction. Her connection with the Amish community has been featured widely in national media. She lives in the Foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with her family. Her new book, The Dawn of Christmas, is heart-warming tale of second chances.

    Below are a few questions for Cindy and her answers.

    What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of writing novellas?

    My favorite part of writing novellas is that I find them remarkably energizing and inspiring. If writing a novel were compared to running five miles every day during the dog days of summer, writing a novella is like a two-mile jaunt in fall.

    I think part of the reason novellas foster that feeling is the timing. I’ve been blessed to write two of my three Christmas novellas during winter, which includes Christmastime. Every morning, I would walk into my office, open the windows a little, and enjoy the rush of cold air with its aromas of evergreens and winter Daphne. Invigorating! I would get a large mug of hot chocolate, bundle up in a blanket, put my fingers on the keyboard, and slip into another world. There’s nothing quite like penning a Christmas story during that holiday season.

    As for my least favorite part, that’s clear in my heart too. The most difficult part of writing a short work of fiction is that I long to have at least three hundred thousand words to tell the story, which is what I have when writing a three-book series. When I’m writing a novella, I have to stop myself from allowing a character to fascinate me to the point of adding another subplot to the book. Without exercising restraint, I could turn any novella into a three-book series. For example, in The Dawn of Christmas, there’s a character named Andy. He’s the older brother of the main character, Levi Fisher. He doesn’t have any POV (point of view) scenes. But Andy’s story grabbed my heart and would not let go. So next fall a stand-alone novel of Andy’s story will hit the bookstore shelves. To be honest, even three hundred thousand words isn’t always enough for me to develop a story. Sometimes I need four hundred thousand words—which is why book four in the Amish Vines and Orchards series comes out this spring.

    Do you outline your books before writing or "wing it" as you go?

    I spend a lot of time outlining. A lot. Research is quite time consuming too. But while outlining for extended periods, I get my first glimpses into who the characters are, what motives them, what breaks them, strengthens them, terrifies them. And why. While outlining, I come to know the goal, motivation, and conflict for each character in each scene. I wish I didn’t need to outline. But even when an entire story comes to me through inspiration, I have to break it down into chapters and dig to uncover the background of each character. Once I start writing, the story doesn’t always follow my outline, certainly not as I hoped it would. But outlining is like planning for a child’s birthday party. You make meticulous lists and purchase all the items and make detailed plans for each activity. But once the party is under way, you meld the planned with the unexpected and enjoy it for what it is: exhausting and joyful.

    Is Sadie Yoder a real person?

    Sadie is based on a real person. With many brushstrokes of creativity, I used aspects of her personality as well as some details of her real-life journey. When it came time to write that first scene, I cried at the heartbreak Sadie Yoder went through. But with all of her overwhelming insecurities and her obsessive desire to please everyone, she found a way to blossom into someone God could use and someone she herself liked.

    Can you share more on the Amish and their view of foreign mission work?

    Most Amish don’t travel overseas to do mission work. It’s not unheard of, but it’s not a part of their traditional ways to do outreach ministry. At the same time, if an Amish person felt pulled by God to go, the church leaders would prayerfully consider it.

    The typical way the Amish minister overseas is through their Plain Mennonite neighbors. Plain Mennonites are heavily involved in overseas ministry. It’s expected of most Mennonite young people to spend a year or more in service, and that service is often overseas.

    So the Old Order Amish will join hands with the Plain Mennonites and sacrifice time and money to help get goods overseas. Miriam Flaud, a good friend of mine who’s Old Order Amish (and my coauthor of the only nonfiction book I’ve written), touches on this topic in Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women.

    The charity the Old Order Amish are most involved in is Christian Aid Ministries. Amish women make quilts, blankets, and clothes for poor people in other countries. They also gather clothing items and spend weeks washing, ironing, and mending them. They then go to a Christian Aid Ministries outlet and spend days or weeks boxing up the goods in individual packages to send overseas. (Think “shoebox” giving, only with larger packages.) Amish men help load the goods on trucks and also contribute money to purchase goods to send overseas—soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, books, etc.

    Because their hearts are very home oriented, the Amish rarely leave the US. However, they are extremely active in helping rebuild domestic communities after disasters. Whether they travel by hired driver, bus, or train, large groups of Amish will go to a devastated area to pitch in. As excellent carpenters and tradesmen, their help is highly valued. More men participate in these activities than women, because the women need to stay home with the children. But in a crowd of ten to twenty men, up to three women will go. They help with cleanup as well as provide meals and clean clothes for the workers.

    Every year or two, Amish districts work together to build a home from money the community members have donated. Once it’s built, they sell it for the best price they can get and give away all the proceeds, usually to families—either Amish or Englisch—who are dealing with overwhelming health issues and/or medical bills.

    What kinds of struggles do women who read your books have?

    From talking to readers over the years, I get the sense that they’ve experienced the wonders of love, the depths of grief, and everything in between. In other words, they’ve struggled with, either personally or through a loved one, every challenge my characters face. My readers seem to be very self-aware (able to see themselves for who they are and accept the beauty and challenges of this wonderful, difficult, fleeting life). They’re energized by faith, hope, and love, and they want to make a difference with their lives.

    I think that’s why they enjoy inspirational fiction. It reminds them of things they’ve experienced or heard about, but it takes them down a new path, opening their minds and hearts and bringing healing and understanding.

    For them, reading is similar to watching a heartwarming new movie that’s set in the hometown where they grew up or went to college. The experience feels both welcomingly familiar and yet fully original. And whatever their struggles, when they finish the book, they feel strengthened to walk or keep walking by faith. And to trust that there is hope in every battle.

    For more from Cindy's new book, The Dawn of Christmas, click here.

    For all of the books from Cindy, click here.

     

     


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Fiction, Cindy Woodsmall, Amish

  • Jefferson Bethke - Loving Jesus More Than Anything Else

    Posted on September 23, 2013 by Family Christian


    Jefferson Bethke burst into the cultural conversation in 2012 with a passionate, provocative poem titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” The 4-minute video literally became an overnight sensation, with 7 million YouTube views in its first 48 hours (and 23+ million in a year). The message blew up on social-media, triggering an avalanche of responses running the gamut from encouraged to enraged.

    Jefferson is quick to acknowledge that he’s not a pastor or theologian, but simply a regular, twenty-something who cried out for a life greater than the one for which he had settled. Along his journey, he discovered the real Jesus, who beckoned him beyond the props of false religion.

    I was able to talk with Jeff over the phone about his life. How he grew up. We chatted about what shaped him. Where the idea for the video came from and his plans for the future.

    John: Jeff, I'm wondering if you could give us a little bit of background information. Where did you come from and how did you get into the place you are now?

    Jefferson: I grew up in Tacoma, Washington—spent pretty much my whole life in the Northwest. I grew up in a really tough broken home with a single mom and welfare, stuff like that. Religion was something that we still did, or saw, as the cultural default. So we would go to church sometimes. I knew the songs, but I wasn't myself necessarily a church kid. That took me all the way to high school where I was defined by what I didn't do: I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, so you know, I was that “I'm better than you” kid. This was my identity.

    In my junior and senior years, the world became a lot more attractive than white-knuckling obedience. So I threw in the towel on that, went down more of a prodigal son path. That took me to college where everything just crashed down a couple of years in. I soon realized that lifestyle wasn't fruitful either. My girlfriend broke up with me, I got kicked off the baseball team, and I got put on academic probation all in one week. That woke me up and made me say, "Hey, what am I doing with my life?" That's when I opened the Scriptures and read about Jesus for the first time, the actual real Jesus. The man who was compassionate but did some interesting things, so you couldn't really put Him in a box. I remember just saying then, "That's a guy worth following."

    It wasn't an overnight process. I remember six months after reading and praying and loving this Jesus guy, I looked back and said, "Well, I guess that makes me a Christian now because I follow Him, I love Him, I read the Word and want to be a disciple." That was about five years ago.

    Fast forward to senior year of college. I was going to a non-Christian, really secular, liberal arts small school outside of Portland. It's very similar to Reed College in its atmosphere. I was just looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus. I remember posting a Bible study and inviting anyone, but only two people would show up. There was open mic on campus where once a month, any student can sing, dance, whatever, stuff like that. So I said, "Well, a couple of hundred people show up to that and there's only 1,500 students in the school, so it seems like a great opportunity."

    That's when I initially wrote the poem called "Sexual Healing." And then I wrote "Why I Hate Religion" for that open mic. I never performed the "Why I Hate Religion" because I graduated before the next open mic, but that's where that came from. That's the heart it came from: me wanting to share with a very post-modern college demographic—just a few hundred students. Then my buddy who was a videographer heard about one of them and was like, “Hey, let's put this on YouTube." We had no rhyme or reason, just maybe our moms or our friends would see it. We put up "Why I Hate Religion" and it got a little crazy overnight. That has definitely put me where I am today, in the sense of what I do now. I get to just be creative on a daily basis. I get to write stuff. I get to do videos, which is really fun. I get to study God's Word.

    John: Jefferson, were you making videos before "Why I Hate Religion"?

    Jefferson: No, not really. The "Sexual Healing" poem we did one video. We put that online, and that did pretty well. It got like 100,000 views, I think, in 6 or 7 months. We were kind of like, "Oh, we might as well make another one" but this time I had the platform to put it out on social media. So we decided to do the "Why I Hate Religion," the second video I ever uploaded to YouTube.

    John: Why do you think the "Why I Hate Religion" video struck such a chord with culture today?

    Jefferson: I think there are a million reasons, honestly. I think one of the main reasons is that religion means a million different things to a million different people. "Religion" is a very, very beautiful biblical word to people. And then at least in my context—a little more Seattle or Oregon context—that word becomes synonymous with "that stuff." It's a caricature, this idea that you have to earn God by what you do, and hate gays, and can't drink beer. And so that was part of it I think. I think putting "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus" in a title can get a little crazy when everyone has their own definition of that, right?

    We're in the middle of a cultural shift in America. I really do believe that. I think when I was a kid, America was predominantly Christian in thought. Now of course I'm not saying Christian nation, none of that stuff. I'm saying there was a worldview, when I was growing up, of Christian principles, Christian values. Now I would argue that America is post-Christian. Christianity no longer has power, authority, or influences our values, culture or society.

    Being in the middle of that shift, I think a lot of my generation resonated with that video because I think it was trying to pull from one shift to the other and say, "Hey, this is where we're at. This is what Jesus really says." Looking back and having thought about it for almost two years now, I landed in the middle of that zeitgeist of the cultural shift.

    John: Were you expecting the amount of criticism that you received?

    Jefferson: No, no, not one bit. Looking back, I was 100% naive and oblivious to any of that. I lived with 10 guys at the time I put the video up. We put it up online at night. We were joking around and took bets on how many views we think it would get in 24 hours. Whoever was closest would get dinner paid for by the other guys. I think the lowest bet was 2,000 views in 24 hours and the highest bet was 9,000 views in 24 hours. And I was like, "That is ludicrous; it'll never happen." And then in 24 hours it had 1.6 million views—just a little more than 9,000! And with that came all the criticism. And it was hard, the criticism. I don't want to relive those two weeks. I don't ever want to go back there.

    John: Do you think that to some extent you were exposing some people's false identity within the body of Christ, and that's what caused people to not like the video so much?

    Jefferson: Yeah. I would totally agree with that. I think when you read the Scriptures there's a level of Jesus being ridiculously pervasive, right? Offensive and pervasive and pushing back against certain paradigms and worldviews that had become stale, corrupt, stuff like that. So we have to recognize those are probably still there.

    When you tell the best people in the world, the most moral people in the world, i.e., the Pharisees, that what they're doing isn't good enough and what they're doing isn't working, and that Jesus doesn't approve of what they're doing, that's really offensive. A better way to say it is, they've missed it. If you go to those people who have dedicated their whole lives to doing X, Y and Z, and you say, “Hey, you missed it. It's actually about intimacy with your Creator and He desires mercy, not sacrifice," things like that, yeah that's offensive.

    John: Because all of a sudden you made it extremely personal then.

    Jefferson: Exactly. And that's what I thought was really interesting: Every denomination and almost every world religion took the video as offensive to them personally. I thought that was fascinating. There was a response from every religion. There was a Mormon video response, a Catholic video response, an atheist video response, etc. And then also a few denominations wrote critiques and responses. I never really mentioned any kind of cultural or denominational bent, and it was interesting that some people thought I was writing to them.

    John: As I was going through and reliving the video from a couple of years ago, I was also looking at some of those critiques and how they were coming from, like you said, both within the body of Christ—as far as a particular denomination—as well as those that would be outside the body of Christ—people that were maybe within a specific religion that would not be considered Christian. And I thought that was really ironic, because it was almost as if they weren't listening to what you were saying. They were more interested in protecting their own turf in a sense.

    Jefferson: Yes. That's a good way to put it, and what I think it turned into is everyone thought, "We have to respond with our version." In all honesty, I didn't totally lay my cards all out on the table, but that video was to Christians. That video wasn't really to anyone else. Maybe New Testament Christianity is just a little bit different than 21st century modern Evangelicalism in these ways. That was my thrust and heart behind writing it in the first place.

    John: When you look at the body of Christ today, Jefferson, are you excited? Are you hopeful? Do you have concerns over the church? You've been speaking both in churches and on college campuses since you put out the video—what have you seen?

    Jefferson: I'm always excited about the body of Christ. I think that's God's Plan A. There is no Plan B. And I think the promise He gave to Peter 2,000 years ago, that the gates of hell won't prevail against it, it's not going anywhere—that always excites me. No matter what happens, no matter what chaff might burn away, the body of Christ is always there and always changing the world and always moving and organic across the globe, making disciples. Yeah, that always excites me.

    This is a little bit more radical position, but I am excited about being in a more post-Christian society than a pseudo-Christian society, if that makes sense. Because I think there's a lot more opportunity for realness. You know whose team everyone is on.

    John: Well, there's a definite line between somebody who's standing up for the moral rights of an individual, or a group of people, and declaring that that is gospel, versus somebody that's saying what we find in the Bible is completely and radically different than what you're saying over here.

    Jefferson: Exactly, exactly. That excites me, because I think when you read church history, you see that when there's a little bit more purity of the body of Christ in a particular nation or society, then there seems to be a little bit more power. I think we're going to a place where the people who might only culturally want Jesus are falling by the wayside. It makes it a little bit easier for the gospel, too, because 15 years ago if you were to go up to anyone and say, "Let me tell you about Jesus," nine people out of ten would say, "I already raised my hand and signed a card. I don't need that."

    One thing that I think is a little scary for me is that the millennial generation is going to be the predominant generation here soon. I'm scared that when we get there, we're not setting ourselves up for success in the sense of community. I don't think my generation is very good at community. I don't think we're very good at vulnerability, I don't think we're very good at not living individualistically and submitting to others out of love. I think that can really come back to bite us in 20 or 30 years. That would be one thing that's scaring me about the future.

    John: Jefferson, would you consider yourself to be a theologian?

    Jefferson: I think technically everyone's a theologian; some people just have really crappy theology. I'm going to just say that bluntly because it's kind of true. But if you're asking in the traditional sense, it's yes and no. Yes, because technically everyone is. All that means is that you have studies about God and views about God and knowledge of God actually. But then technically, no, because I'm not a Ph.D. or anything of that nature. I do think there's a little bit of idolatry in America over degrees, over power of the Spirit, if that makes sense. Like if you didn't go to seminary, then don't talk about God. I just don't see that in the Scriptures. I do see education and knowledge and context, all those things being vitally important, but there's a little tension there.

    John: You're about ready to launch your first book, Jesus Is Greater Than Religion. Was that the logical next step?

    Jefferson: For me, book writing has always been my heart, always been my love, always been something I’ve wanted to do. It's something that's been a dream of mine.

    A lot of people don't know this, but poetry isn't really my—how do I say this?—it's not really my huge calling, desire, overarching passion. Those poems were written because I was trying to force myself to figure something out that would work on a stage to talk to a couple of hundred students at a specific university. You can't speak, you can't preach for 45 minutes at an open mic, and I can't sing or play instruments, so I thought I would make something rhyme and see how it goes. And when I first did it, I thought that would be the first and the last poem I'd ever write. Obviously it's snowballed since then, but I've only written five or six poems.

    My heart really is in teaching. Even outside of seminary or anything like that, I wanted to be a high school teacher, teach social studies and government. Now I really enjoy teaching the Word. I've always had that teaching bent. I think poems were one outflow of that, and so for me, a book actually feels more natural to me, in the sense of what I like to do, what stirs me. I hope based on how well this one does and the second one that I have to turn in next year, that hopefully I can do this for good and make it one of the predominant things I do for the next 50 years. But that could just be a hopeful wish. We'll see.

    John: When you do walk into a university, a college campus, or a church as a speaker, what are you speaking about? Are you dovetailing off what took place in the poetry and the video?

    Jefferson: It depends what they invite me for. For example, my wife Alyssa and I traveled

    Jeff & Alyssa

    to West Virginia a couple of weeks ago for a church camp. That was more like sessions where I'm walking them through certain things. I think I spoke eight times or something like that. If it's just one Sunday service, then people usually know me from the poem, I'll take that familiarity and say, "OK, this is what I was trying to do with that." And I'll speak on the prodigal son, or I'll speak on the difference between religion and Jesus and say, "This is my heart. This is what I think, where we need to go and how we convey the gospel from here on out."

    John: You and your wife are launching something new. How would you describe it?

    Jefferson: I'd call it a social startup or a social entrepreneurship.

    John: Tell us about it.

    Jefferson: I started it with a buddy of mine named Brett. He's the CEO and I'm the co-founder with him. He does a lot of non-profit work with development in Uganda and Ghana and all these different places in Africa. And then, me and a buddy of mine do a college ministry in town. We started to get this burden for non-profits. They're usually doing the best Kingdom work, but also struggle the most for resources and finances. They always have to do the same ask. Sooner or later they run out of money and have to go ask again.

    We said, "What would it look like if we entered the domain of business, redeemed that culture of business, did it differently as a Christian and showed that the gospel informs business just as much as it informs non-profit work? And then used that to give money, or to bring light and social awareness to different causes?"

    Our tagline is bring light to social injustice. We thought candles were really interesting symbols for a few reasons. They're in everyone's homes. You don't really have to be a certain age to be a candle person. I love candles. I know people that love candles. It burns for a long time, and so even as a symbol, it's remembrance. When you burn a candle, you're remembering something.

    What each candle represents is a different element of injustice. We have one that's called Peace, which is for child soldiers. We have candles for Food, Education, Water, etc. We have nine all together. Each time you buy a candle, there's a different tangible outcome. If you buy a small Food candle, it gives one meal to a child in need. If you buy a large Food candle, it gives three meals. If you buy the Addiction candle, it gives an hour session of counseling to bring people out of addiction.

    It's our way of bringing light to social injustice. We wanted the candle to be in someone's home where they're remembering they are in solidarity with humanity. They are supporting someone across the globe or in their backyard by that purchase.

    We didn't want to start something new in the sense of a non-profit; we wanted to raise awareness and funds for people who are already doing awesome stuff.

    John: That's very cool. All right, one last question, Jeff. You're a Pacific Northwesterner. So are you a coffee drinker?

    Jefferson: I am not just a coffee drinker, I am a coffee-IV-in-my vein-drinker. My wife and I love coffee. I just had a cup of coffee a second ago. We're those snobs who research how to make it perfectly, fiddle with temperatures, all that stuff.

    Do you remember watching the video?

    SIDE NOTE: Jefferson asked his friends and followers to submit videos in supporting his new book. Here is the winner. A powerful video indeed.

    What do you think?


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Jefferson Bethke

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