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Interviews

  • Diving Deep with Casting Crowns

    Posted on October 31, 2013 by John van der Veen


    "If I could just get to the weekend."
    "If I could just get through this semester."
    "If I could just get to the vacation.”
    "If I could just make it through today.”

    So many of us today are simply surviving.
    But we were not made to survive, we were made to Thrive.

    Like a tree planted by the water (Jeremiah 17:7-8) we should be digging into God's word to know Him and know who He has made us to be. We should be reaching out to the world and showing others who He is through our lives and our stories - knowing Him and making Him known.

    I caught up with Mark, Melody and Juan from Casting Crowns at a summer festival this year. I wanted them to feel me in on their new album and what has been going on in their life as a band.

    John: You guys just got done in the studio, recording the new record. Is there a title for this thing yet?

    Mark: Yep, the name of the record is Thrive. It's named after the thing we've been teaching our student ministry in our church for several years. It's just a picture of digging deep and reaching out, what a healthy believer looks like after Psalm chapter one.

    John: I love it. When does it come out?

    Mark: Comes out ...

    Melody: January 28th.

    John: January 28th, Thrive. New record from Casting Crowns. That's pretty cool. A little bit of background information then. When you guys record a record, do you actually go through the process of teaching, through all of the lyrical content of the record first, and then go, "Okay, you know what? Now, we have 12 great songs from these 12 great lessons we just went through." Or is it reverse? Do you put the record out in front of people then go, "Now we're going to hammer you all over again"?

    Mark: What happens is, we're just teaching what we're teaching. Just pouring into believers, it’s discipleship. Then when it's time to write, we go back and usually the things that have been resonating throughout the year, sort of start emerging on their own. It's not really ... I don't know how to say that.

    Juan: It starts out as Mark is saying something from the stage. I'm usually playing the guitar, always talking like, "Oh, it's pretty cool." Then, it becomes a Bible study on Wednesday night for the teenagers and students, and then it turns into a song, usually after that.

    Mark: And new book comes out in January, as well.

    Juan: Mark has a new book coming out in January, same title.

    Mark: The record is called Thrive, the book is called Thrive. It's a little easier to make the book happen, because I get to say everything I wanted to say for every subject. You got to turn these Bible studies into a song. That's why Crowns can't write a song under five minutes long, because we have preacher's writing. The book is coming out as well, and I also have a children's book coming out, and it's called ...

    John: This is your first children's title.

    Mark: Yes, first one. It's called City on the Hill. It's after a song in the last record about how we are all different before we come together to make the body, so I’m pretty excited about that.

    John: That is very cool. When you guys go and set out to write these songs, do you have specific people in mind when you write a particular song? Name a song, can you name a song from the new record?

    Mark: Sure. There's a song called “House of Their Dreams,” that we’ll actually do tonight. A song about a family. When we sing a song about a girl, it's a song about a girl. It’s in these things that are going on around us.

    Juan: These are real stories that you ...

    Mark: They're real stories. Because our church will hear them, sometimes I'll shift things around to protect people, but these are just real life situations. That's what's cool about them, it’s that God lives in real life situations. That's where the hope is.

    John: With that in mind, what do you guys hope that this record will do, once it goes out there next year?

    Mark: For me, we've been doing concerts for a while. All of our concerts are really to pour into that young believer. The gospel is obviously going to be shared every time we're on the stage. But I'm trying to pour in it, for those not just young in age, but a believer who's young in their faith, to help them grow a little bit. I'd notice, I would say things in the teaching moments, and people in the crowd looking at me like, "Where has this been? How do I do this?" I can tell I need to give more. This record, the goal was to take that Psalm 1 passage about us being a tree planted by streams of water, and just look at what a believer should look like. Instead of going out and trying to be an awesome Christian, let's just dig in our roots and let God define for us some things. Let Him define who He is, and let Him define who we are.

    Once we grow in our roots, fruit will begin to happen. Instead of something we try, it's something we let God do in us. Six of the songs are all about digging deep in your roots and understanding God. Six of the songs are all about reaching out, and leting God use you in the world. It's really ... I'm just trying to pour into this bigger church that we've been coming in contact with.

    John: These songs, did they affect you guys as a band? I mean, are you just as moved, as maybe your audience is? How involved are you in responding to your own music?

    Melody: I don't write the words, the music; Mark usually does that. Sometimes he’ll co-write with somebody, but I know who he’s talking about in a lot of the songs. That is a bigger connection emotionally. One of the songs in the new record is called “Broken Together,” and it's about marriage. It's about a couple of marriages of friends that are close to us, that are just going through really hard times. When he was recording it, I was already crying, because when you know who is about, it means so much more.

    Mark: For me, it usually takes a few times for some of these songs to get through. A couple of these like, “Broken Together,” I don't know. It would probably be a rough couple of concerts to get through...

    Melody: He cries, I cry and then...

    Juan: And then everybody's crying.

    Melody: I'm the band crier. I cry at the drop of a hat.

    John: Anything on your bucket list for this year?

    Melody: Bucket list? Just survive first grade.

    Juan: I’m a big C. S. Lewis fan. They're doing a thing, it’s a big event, and I have to get to London, is it the day before or day after my daughter's birthday. It'd be like a three day deal.

    John: What are they doing?

    Juan: They're erecting a memorial stone, and poets corner, Westminster Abbey, honoring C. S. Lewis, so it will be beside Shakespeare, and Alfred Lawrence Tennyson, all those guys.

    John: You think you're going to go?

    Juan: I don't know.

    Melody: You want to really bad.

    Mark: I stepped out in faith, and I reserved the ticket to be able to do that. It was free to register, so I don't know. I think I'll start in a kick-starter. Please, please, send me money.

    Melody: I love it.

    Juan: There’s always some great kick-starters out there. I want to go the Switchfoot concert. Kick-starter for that.

    Mark: Good idea.

    Melody: I just want to survive first grade.

    Everyone: [Laughing]

    Bonus: All You've Ever Wanted (Official Lyric Video)


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Casting Crowns

  • Brandon Heath on Being Thankful for Christmas

    Posted on October 31, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Brandon Heath has some hard and fast rules about Christmas.

    1) Christmas music always sounds better on vinyl.
    2) Parents should never lie to their children about Santa Claus.
    3) Decorating should never,ever commence under any circumstance until the day after Thanksgiving.

    Brandon has dreamed of creating a Christmas album for a long time, writing quite a few songs along the way in anticipation for a future holiday release. In the end, he wrote three originals that made the album, Christmas is Here. In the few months leading up to recording he enlisted some friends to make the process memorable. Sonja Isaacs, Ellie Holcomb, Andy Gullahorn and Matt Wertz to name a few. Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Matt Wertz) produced the album, which was recorded in mid-July.

    I sat down with the Nashville native on a warm autumn day. The leaves were just starting to turn some color and the hint of "Frosty The Snowman" was a long way off.

    John: Okay Brandon, we need to talk about your song "The Day After Thanksgiving." I’m sensing maybe there’s a little bit of angst in that song.

    Brandon: There might be a little angst. I really just wanted to make this Christmas record fit me, and I’ve been wanting to make one for a long time.

    John: Okay... We need to talk a little bit about that.

    Brandon: Yeah.

    John: Who wrote the song?

    Brandon: I wrote it with my friend Ross Copperman and Lee Thomas Miller.

    Brandon: I have a very strict rule about Christmas music in that I don’t listen to any Christmas music or want to see decorations, or inflatables, or anything until the day after Thanksgiving. Consumerism has just taken over Christmas, and I think I really just want … fall is a great time of the year.

    John: It is.

    Brandon: Pumpkins and apple cider, and football games, and …

    John: Candy corn?

    Brandon: Candy corn, absolutely. All those things are great things that we should celebrate about fall. The seasons are an amazing time, so it’s unfortunate to me that the mall forgets about the fall, or maybe they’re celebrating the fall in the summertime. You just fast forward to Christmas every year, and by the time Christmas actually gets here you’re kind of tired of it.

    John: Yeah.

    Brandon: I wanted to really kind of punctuate that, like a Christmas gift, there is a time to open the gift and I think it starts the day after Thanksgiving.

    John: Yeah. For you, the Christmas tradition … so post-Thanksgiving Christmas tradition, what would that be like in your family growing up? What are some of the fond memories that you have? Are you bringing any of those into who you are today?

    Brandon: Yeah. One of the most fond memories I think of about our family Christmases was really, honestly, the music. Whenever we listened to music, it was usually on vinyl, and so I really wanted to … I think we tend to adopt, as children, we adopt the music that our parents listened to for Christmas.

    Mine would have been Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin. Kind of the crooner-type of Christmas music with great arrangements, and so I wanted that to influence this record. I did “Silent Night,” a very close rendition to what Nat King Cole did, which is all choral. It’s just a choir in the background, a cappella, very free-flowing. There’s not really a meter to it. Then his version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” which is actually called “The Christmas Song.”

    John: Yeah.

    Brandon: He was the first person to ever record that song, and I think he did it the right way, so we basically borrowed from old Nat King Cole. Every time I hear that song, that to me, that song is the official beginning of Christmas when I hear that song.

    John: What do you think it is? You’re talking about this idea that a lot of people have in trying to go back to this childhood. One might say, "It was greater back then." What do you think that is? What draws us to that sense of thought, of ideal, of philosophy when it comes to Christmas? Why do we do that this time of year?

    Brandon: I think Christmas is personified by a child. I think we think about The Child, the baby. There's something about maybe even gift giving that kind of comes from the Three Wise Men. I think we have made a tradition of giving gifts at that time of the year because of the Christmas story in the Bible. There is something about tradition that I think makes Christmas really special to people.

    It’s a time when family comes together. It might be that the only time that you see your family is at Christmastime every year. It’s important to know where we come from and who we belong to, and I think the Christmas story certainly fits in all that. Jesus was born to remind us who we belong to. His life was to remind us who we are, and that we’re loved.

    I think that’s why, after all these ages, it’s still important, even though people would argue and even old Brandon Heath would argue that consumerism has really kind of come in and invaded Christmas. I don’t think that you can completely extinguish what it’s all about, and that’s the birth of Christ.

    John: How does someone in pursuit of Jesus during the Christmas Season, how do they continually have the heart that says, “This is what this time of the year is about”? How do you wrestle with that? On your record, you certainly have these great, very fun, sentimental Christmas songs that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the birth of Christ. You’re talking about Santa, “Mama don’t lie to me.” You are talking about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There’s that, but then there is this explosive idea of God becoming Man and just entering into humanity. How do we, as a follower of Christ … how do we transition to this idea of "remembering that God with us" is what it’s really all about?

    Brandon: Well, I think a lot of people think about Emmanuel, which means God with us. It helps us to feel not so alone, and it’s not necessarily as much an emotion as it is just the fact that God is with us. He is with us. I think that changes everything. We can live in confidence knowing that we’re not without purpose, and that we’re not alone. I think that that can really be a game-changer for people who have been looking for something to live for.

    When the Creator extends His hand and says, “This is who you are and this is why I made you; so that I could delight in you, and you could delight in Me.” It was the Trinity’s, not necessarily last-ditch effort, to connect with Man. The Trinity certainly could have chosen to start over. They, God, created us and He can choose not to have us anymore, but He does choose us. I think we should certainly celebrate that. I really wanted this Christmas record, it’s called Christmas Is Here, I really wanted it to remind people of their memories from a long time ago.

    I also wanted to bring in some new, fresh stories. There’s a story about the innkeeper that I took some liberties with. We don’t really know what happened with the innkeeper, but I wanted him to be remorseful. I wanted him to realize that, “Oh, I just turned away a pregnant woman; I could have helped her.” Then he finds out, “This was the Son of God that was born, I could have had a part in that. God gave me this opportunity, but I said, ‘No.’”

    In contrast, you have Mary, who could have said no but said yes. Isn’t it a great thing that she said yes? That God chose someone like her, a 15-year-old girl, who in our world would be a very unlikely character to carry out the birth of Jesus, but she did and in an unlikely place like Bethlehem, that’s where He was born. Any of us who say that we’re not qualified should think maybe twice about who God uses to carry out His great works.

    John: Do you think that God opens doors of opportunity, or windows of opportunity, towards us and many of us are blind to that?

    Brandon: Mm-hmm.

    John: You have had a lot of success in your life. You’ve had some great, very inspiring singles on the radio. You have toured very successfully. You seem to be a man who is walking into those opportunities that God has given you.

    Brandon: That’s key right there, what you just said.

    John: How does one discern God telling us, “Left, right, not this door, that door?” How do you pursue Jesus in your everyday life when it comes to stuff like that?

    Brandon: It’s definitely been a fun ride for me. I have had some success, but I’ve also had some failures and I’m really thankful for those. In the moment, I’m not so thankful for those, but in hindsight I’m glad that I have failures because then I can celebrate my successes more.

    I also am thankful for that because it reminds me that I’m not God. That I can’t govern what happens in my life but everything is by His Grace and His Power, and it’s His Plan. It kind of humbles you. How do you know which direction to walk? There’s really no way to tell that, but I think that … we were just talking about Mary and she just said yes.

    I think you kind of know when those doors open, you just have a feeling. It may not be an angel appearing to you and saying, “This is what God’s Will is for you,” but the ultimate reality is that all of our calling is to spread the Gospel. Everybody’s calling is to spread the Gospel. Now how you do that is gonna be different for each of us. My gift is music and I’ve known that for a while, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way that I can spread the Gospel. It’s certainly the most fun way that I could think of, and I feel like I’ve got a gift at it.

    It’s just applying the commandment to spread The Word, and applying my gift with that commandment, and it’s flourished. I guess in some ways I’m not surprised, but honestly I’m always surprised because somebody at the end of the day will say, “Your song did this for me.” I will never get used to that, that God’s used me in that way. I feel an immense amount of gratitude for that.

    John: What’s on your bucket list?

    Brandon: What’s on my bucket list? I would like to, and this is so typical, I’d love to summit a mountain 14,000 feet or above. I’d love to summit a mountain.

    John: How far up have you climbed before?

    Brandon: Seven thousand.

    John: Which was?

    Brandon: In British Columbia, Canada. There’s a mountain there called One Eye, it’s 7,000 feet. That was cool, but that’s going from sea level to seven.

    John: Oh, sure.

    Brandon: You think about in Colorado you’ve got 14,000-15,000 footers, but you start at 9,000.

    John: Right.

    Brandon: It was a long hike, but it’s an amazing experience. It’s about a 3-day trip, spending a couple of nights in the woods. You could take it slower if you want, but we packed really light so that we could do it pretty quickly.

    John: Yeah, that’s cool.

    John: Are you still riding the Harley?

    Brandon: I still ride, yup.

    John: Did you take it with you?

    Brandon: It’s not with me on this trip. I was telling somebody today it is 80 degrees in Michigan; it would have been a perfect day to ride but, no, I didn’t bring it with me.

    John: It’s all right.

    Brandon: Yeah, next time.

    John: Let's circle back to the new album. Christmas Is Here certainly encourages us to celebrate the memories, the traditions, the joy and the meaning leading up to December 25. There’s a reason you want us to hold out to celebrate. Isn't there?

    Brandon: Christmas is like a good surprise, like a present. You should wait and open it when it’s time instead of opening it as soon as you get it, and then there’s nothing special about it anymore,” he says. “I think you should restrain yourself and say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to fully engage in this until it’s time.’ And Christmas is one of those things for me. I want people to savor the moment...just wait.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Brandon Heath, Andrew Peterson, Matt Wertz, The Isaacs

  • 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

  • God's Unfolding Story In the Life of Laura Story

    Posted on October 25, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Now Martin is thankful he's alive;
    The doctors said he might not survive.
    That was seven years ago...
    What a miracle.

    And now there's this new baby girl
    And with one breath she's changed our whole world.
    Some say she looks like dad,
    But she looks like grace to me.
    Your grace to me.

    You're the God of every story,
    You see each tear that falls.
    We may not understand but one thing is certain.
    You are faithful, You are faithful.

    It’s one thing to write compelling, heart-stirring, emotionally rich songs of worship, praise and honor to Christ. People have been doing it for centuries, forming the backbone of faith traditions the world over.

    It’s another thing entirely to bare your soul, share your vulnerabilities and risk criticism and career success by challenging the mold and daring to say that God is not necessarily a God of happy endings.

    Instead, He is the God of every story. This is what Laura Story is learning day by day.

    On her new album, God of Every Story, Laura becomes the most vulnerable. In Great God Who Saves and Blessings we certainly heard the heart of who Laura is, but it was within the established relationship of artist and listener. With her new title, she attempts to bring those walls down, bridging the separation.  God of Every Story is an album where we don't just see Laura's heart in some sort of abstract way - from a distance, but she asks us to join her in seeing what God is writing in Laura's life.

    Mountains high. Valleys low. The ebb and flow of life. The daily grind. The spiritual high. Often in our own lives we get frustrated with the minutia of all that is around us. Be it the piling laundry, the undone devotions, the angry spouse, the undisciplined children... LIFE. Laura, in her tender way, gives us a glimpse into how a family deals with life. No pat answers. No this-problem-will-be-solved-in-a-30-minute-sitcom-on-TV type of thing. This is the real life. How do we deal with the here and now?

    John: Laura, you started your musical career with a band called Silers Bald that was signed with Essential Records.

    Laura: Actually, I left them six months before they landed the deal with Essential.

    John: Oh, you did?

    Laura: So, part of me was thinking … We did this process eating cheese food out of the back of a van and all of a sudden they get a record deal and I’m thinking, “Man, I really missed out.” But the truth of it was I feel like God let me leave right before all that happened just because I was supposed to finish school.

    I had gone to school part time for probably six years and I needed to go back and do one full year on campus in order to finish it up. It’s just something I had been meaning to do and I probably would have never done it if it hadn’t of been for me leaving that band.

    John: So you were part of this indie band out of the Carolinas and then you finished school and you started working at your church as a worship leader, is that correct?

    Laura: Well, not really. I finished school and wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I had gotten reconnected with my high school sweetheart, Martin. I played bass guitar for Silers Bald and then I met Andrew Peterson through that and I went on the road with Andy for a couple of tours. I continued to play bass, I was in a bluegrass band, I was kind of doing a few different things. Then Martin and I got married, so I did about a year of college ministry with him. That’s when we got the call from Perimeter Church and that’s where I have been serving for eight years now.

    John: You came out with your first record and it did incredibly well. “Mighty to Save” certainly was a song that you helped both catapult you on radio. Then you came out with Blessings and shocked the world again by having your song being played on mainstream radio. What has that been like since that has happened?

    Laura: Well, it’s been a little bit crazy, John. It’s been a wild thing. The thing with recording “Mighty to Save,” was just that it was so much fun because there was this church in Australia that was writing these fantastic songs that a lot of churches in the U.S. had been playing, but not all of them. So it was nice to get to be one of the artists who helped get those songs here to the states and to the church here in the United States. That was huge in and of itself. Then the thing with “Blessings,” was just that God used me as a songwriter to share about truly one of the most personal things that I’ve walked through with my husband and the fact that as I was processing everything with Martin’s health.

    What that’s looked like over the past few years is that I process all that through song form and all of a sudden it ends up on the radio. It was the most honoring thing, yet it left me… well, it’s a pretty vulnerable song. But what we found is the more honest we’ve been before God about our doubts and our questions--and admitting that sometimes faith is just an obedience thing, where you just trust God even when it doesn’t make sense--the more we are honest with other people about our feelings, the more we see God’s faithfulness in using those stories really to bless others. And that’s been a beautiful thing. It’s been such a beautiful thing to see how the trials that we’ve walked through (which we’re nowhere near the other side of), God has used through song-form to reach a lot of other people in the midst of their hard journey.

    John: When you have a song like “Blessings,” you talk about the vulnerability of something. Has that opened up a door of conversation with people that perhaps you would have not been able to talk to five years ago about?

    Laura: Oh, absolutely. I meet people at my concerts that don’t listen to Christian music. That never heard of me before, but someone at their workplace that was battling cancer would send them the YouTube link of a video that someone made with this song as a background. And all of a sudden, they end up at this event and they’re hearing this thing called the gospel. That there’s a God that is bigger than the here-and-now and that He has a plan for our lives that’s bigger than the pain we’re walking through in this life. The fact that we’ve been able to talk to people about that, that really weren’t interested in spiritual things at all, that’s just a pretty amazing thing.

    John: Yes, for sure. When you set out to write a song, Laura, do you feel like you’re writing a song to yourself, or do you have people in mind? Do you have your family in mind, or your church in mind? Do you have the faces that you see while you’re out touring in mind? Who do you write your songs for?

    Laura: That’s a great question. I’d say that it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes I’ll write songs just as a worship leader at my church. Like this past Easter, my Pastor was in a servant series and I knew exactly what kind of closing point it was going to be and I thought, “Man, I wish there was a song out that really could just allow people to soak in that truth that he’s going to land on right here.” So, I start looking through songs and kind of feel like God is saying, “No, no that’s a song you’re supposed to write.” And so, one of the new songs on my record is song called “You Gave Your Life For Me,” and it was written out of necessity. They needed a song in church that Sunday about that very truth, so a lot of times it is having the church in mind and it’s having other people in mind.

    There’s another song on my new CD called “Forgiven,” written for that girl in the very back row who doesn’t feel worthy to be in church. She doesn’t feel worthy to ever experience the love of Jesus. It’s a song declaring the heart of forgiveness and the grace of God, and the more you get into that song, you realize that each of us is that girl on the back row. None of us are worthy of God’s grace. And not to get too deep into the different songs on the record, but all of them are written for other people, yet they’re all written for me as well in a way. A lot of times people have this misconception of songwriters, that we have mastered this truth and now we’re going to bless everyone with it.

    That’s usually not the case--at least with me. It’s usually the truth of God that I’m struggling to believe myself. Those are the truths that God will sneak into these song formats and I myself sing them each night. Not as a truth that I’ve mastered, so much, that I want to share with others, but a truth that God is wanting to seep into the depths of who I am. The truth that God wants to be an anchor for my soul, and so I share it with other people, as one theologian said, “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That’s very much how I feel. I’m just another follower of Jesus trying to hang on to His truth in the midst of life’s trials. So yes, all the songs I’ve written, they’re for other people but they’re also always for me.

    John: Then there’s “God of Every Story.” You do look at those individual faces to some extent, and at the same time, you keep yourself in mind recognizing that there is this greater story going on. How did you come to the point of saying, “Okay, God, you are involved in every story going on here?”

    Laura: Well, that song is kind of a funny one how that came about. At the very beginning, before I had written any songs for this new CD, I came to Ed Cash, the producer, and said, “I want the whole CD to be called God of Every Story. And, I want to write a song called “God of Every Story,” and I want the whole CD to be about how every story finds their ultimate purpose within the context of God’s overall story. And if I’m trying to find purpose in my individual story, I’m just going to be frustrated because all of our lives are meant to be lived out like that bigger picture, that bigger story. So I came into it saying that, but then we never did it. We just wrote all these other songs and it ended up being a sweet CD.

    When we were at the very end of it and had two songs left until we were done, all of a sudden, Ed said, “Yes, it does feel like we were supposed to write that song called ‘God of Every Story.’” Literally, we wrote it probably a week before we turned the CD in and it so captured the theme of the whole CD that we actually, at the very last minute, changed the name of the whole CD to God of Every Story. So, I guess that’s kind of what the CD is about. It is about all of our individual stories, whether it’s those really fun, joyful chapters or the really hard, grueling chapters. In every single story, in every life out there, our stories find their greater purpose in the context of a bigger story. It’s this beautiful story of redemption when God is in the process of redeeming all people in all things. I know that’s probably too big to even talk about. I hope I’m giving you something helpful.

    John: It is and it is a huge story or a huge concept to behold, but I think as people are reading this blog, Laura, obviously everyone’s struggles in finding identity. And if they recognize that God is doing something in their life, hopefully they will be able to find themselves in Him.

    Laura: Yes, and the song “Blessings” was such a good example.

    John: Yes.

    Laura: That song was written by a wife struggling with her husband’s disability. It’s just as simple as that. Although I found people think it was some huge thing, it was nothing like that. It was just a life struggle with her husband’s disability, struggling with the unanswered prayer’s that I’ve prayed for the past 10 years. And being honest with people about that and I also suddenly just saw God through this beautiful thing, where he has used this song to help people mourn the loss of children.

    John: What was the writing and recording process like?

    Laura: Writing and recording this record, honestly, was a fantastic experience. I got to work with Ed Cash, who’s someone I have been friends with and done ministry with for the past 16 years. So it was kind of a natural thing that we would get to be working on a record about God being the God of every story because our families’ stories have been so intertwined just because of our relationships. And also, because he and I are both storytellers as well as worship leaders. So, it was just so easy to work with him and it was a great experience. There were a lot of wonderful co-writing experiences and yet some of those experiences on that album were just of writing some songs in my car by myself. Those real tender moments just alone with the Lord, it probably is the best experience making a record I’ve ever done in a long time.

    John: How is this different than Blessings? What do you feel like God is teaching you at this point in your life and how does that relate to the songs or theme of this record?

    Laura: The last record, Blessings… I like the record, but the song “Blessings” seemed a little out of place from the rest of the record. I tried to really figure out what it is about the song “Blessings” that seemed to stand out, not just in my heart, but seemingly in the hearts of so many other people. What I’ve been realizing is that I wrote the song “Blessings” from just such a vulnerable place. I was willing to tell a story that isn’t a finished story. It’s not a story where I understand every component of the story. It’s about God being faithful and blessing us in the midst of our open-ended stories.

    It’s not a story with Martin and I and his perfect health; it doesn’t have a tidy bow on it. It’s still very much playing out right now. And writing “Blessings” from that place of authenticity and vulnerability was a new experience for me. But in this new record, I really sought to write from that same place and even writing some songs about the new stage of life I’m in, which is being a mom. There’s so much about being a mom that impacted my songwriting. You know, writing about a father’s love for his kids that I understand a lot better being a parent now.

    John: Tell us the story behind the title track “God of Every Story.”

    Laura: “God of Every Story” is a song written about this life lesson I’m learning of seeing God in the midst of every story. Not just in my story, but in so many stories I’ve been privileged to hear over the past couple of years since the release of “Blessings.” It seems like I was unaware of how many people really felt that same way of struggling and pressing on believing that God is faithful and God is good in the midst of hard circumstances. And after hearing all of these stories, I became more convinced than ever that God is in the midst of every story--both in the joyful and in the hard chapters--and not just that He’s in the midst of every story, but that He has purpose for every story.

    A lot of times I feel like we get hung up in trying to find out the purpose for why things happen in our lives. As you look to the Scriptures, you see that God doesn’t necessarily promise us that our lives will make sense. He doesn’t promise that our stories will always have happy endings in and of themselves, but the thing He does promise is that our stories find their greater purpose in context of His story of redemption. It’s not so much that we’re supposed to figure out why this happened to us, but more, how might God use what’s happened to bring glory to Himself and to further His kingdom.

    I play a good many roles in my life. Worship leader, songwriter, artist, mom, wife of a disabled husband. And often I find myself trying to play the extra role of God. I find myself trying to take on tasks I was never meant to do. Not necessarily trying to part of the sea of Atlanta traffic, but I find myself trying to manipulate situations that are out of my control. That’s not just blasphemous; it’s futile. I would be a terrible God. I’m barely a decent me. I hate to appear that I’m needy, but I am a needy person because God created me that way. I’m learning just to submit and honor His role as God in my life.

    That’s the journey…the heart…the transparency that makes God Of Every Story more than just another album or great collection of songs. It’s more than eloquent words to an infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God.

    More than another happy ending…

    More than just another story.

    It’s every story.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Andrew Peterson, Laura Story

  • 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

  • Donald Lawrence - Leading Others in Worship

    Posted on October 18, 2013 by John van der Veen



    The man who wears many musical colors...

    Those seven words eloquently capture the multifaceted essence of who Donald Lawrence is. He is a songwriter. He is a producer. He's a composer, a music/choir director, recording artist, and the list goes on... The guiding force behind such No. 1 hits as “Encourage Yourself,” “Back II Eden” and “The Blessing of Abraham.” Equally at home in both the inspirational and contemporary arenas, the multiple Grammy and Stellar Award winner has collaborated with a diverse roster, including such marquee names as Karen Clark Sheard, Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, En Vogue and Mary J. Blige.

    The question is, "What is behind the eyes of such a talented man of God?" I sat down with Donald in search of the answer for that question in particular.

    John: Donald, I personally appreciate your history within our industry and the amount of talent and records that you have brought forth to encourage people in their walk with Christ. I’m wondering, Donald, if you’d be willing to share a few moments about how you were introduced to Jesus, or at least how you began your walk as a follower of Him.

    Donald: Okay. I think that we all have different journeys when it comes to our Christianity, our relationship. Me, I was brought up in a Christian household, so I’ve been in church since I was a little baby. I can never remember not ever being in church. I think you grow, and as you grow and as you mature, you look at your relationship with Jesus Christ differently. I can’t say I remember one particular time when I became a believer, because I never ever remember not ever being in church. Church was just part of my upbringing. It’s a part of my culture.

    However, I think that as you mature, you realize your purpose, and I think I started realizing my purpose when I was in my late teens. I realized that there was a calling on my life to do what I do, to inspire people, to help people live a better life based on biblical and spiritual principles, and that it was going to come through the music. And it has turned into something else as I matured, and I’m learning that, and I’m still learning to see my path as it continues to open up and becomes more visible to me.

    I would definitely say that me learning my purpose is really what I call the beginning stages of my relationship because that’s when I knew why I was put here. I really believe that everybody who is born, God sent here for a reason. The biggest reason is to restore the earth and to bring people back to Him. Once I learned that, that is what I considered, and still do, my connection, because then I know what my job is to do here. I would say definitely that was in my teens; since then, it’s just been listening and following my heart. God is in my heart, and that is just why you still have me here doing what I do now.

    John: Don, you’re a singer, a songwriter, a producer, a composer and a choir director. You are the epitome of a recording artist. When somebody looks at your life and says, “I want to be like that guy,” what would you say to them? Let’s say to someone who is in high school or college who says, “Hey, I want to … I feel like God has given me that purpose, that sense of direction, and I want to move into that same type of calling that Donald has.” How would you communicate with that person in their walk?

    Donald: I would really tell them, based on what I’m doing now and what I’ve studied now, that I do think that there are people who inspire us, that we may see ourselves in them, but we all have our own individualized grace, and our grace is our gift. So if you have a calling, if you have a gift in you, it might be similar to mine, but God has stylized us all to have our own thing. You’ll see people that will inspire you and make it wake up, and then you have to learn what your direct path is. What I would tell everybody is when you awaken and you realize that there’s this gift and it’s likened to someone else’s, let that inspire you, but listen to God because I think He’s given us all people that are assigned just to us and things that are assigned just to us. Listen and follow your heart, and don’t let anybody tell you or anything make you doubt what you know has been called on your life.

    I think that’s the time that we live in now that because, especially in the music business, because somebody thinks that this work, they’ll come to you and say, well, you don’t need to do that. You need to do this like that person, but that’s not my grace. My grace is to do this, and we have to trust the grace that’s been bestowed on us. If you do that, if you honor that, God will find ways to open up doors and paths for you that nobody can even close and nobody would even have thought of, and I’ve just learned to trust the grace that’s been put on my life, and that’s what I would tell anybody. Just be you. Be who God ordained you to be, and trust it.

    John: Donald, you sound like a theologian. You sound like a pastor. Do you feel like at certain times, God has called you into that ministry as well?

    Donald: No, I really don’t (laughing). I know that’s usually the typical thing that people will say when you can speak like that, but the one thing that I do feel like I am directed in is what I kind of think like would be more of a spiritual therapist. I think my music is like revelation music. It’s spiritual. It’s biblical principles and song, but it teaches you kind of how to live from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday with real life situations; so if there was anything that I would ever do, it would be a center where people could go talk to spiritual people like a therapist that maybe had a music component, so I see myself being more of a spiritual teacher, more of a person that is like a spiritual psychologist or with a music element. That’s how I see myself.

    I don’t see myself as a pastor. I don’t think that’s my path. I don’t think my path has ever been a normal path. It’s always had its own odd road, and that’s what makes me uniquely me, and I just kind of know that, so that’s why. I know that pastoring is what it seems like it should be, and counseling and pastoring is very much the same thing. I just don’t see myself with the church, and with the choir, and with the band, and with the praise team, and with anything like that. I don’t think that’s my path. I know that’s not my path, but I do think that being a spiritual teacher and a person that teaches people how to use biblical principles to live life every day is in my path but not the way somebody would think it would be.

    John: Donald, you have a new recording out called Best for Last. You’ve recorded basically a day and a half, and you decided to put one album out this fall and another album out next spring, correct or am I mixed up here?

    Donald: Actually, one in the fall and one next fall like …

    John: Oh, a year from now. Okay. It’s Best for Last volume one and then volume two?

    Donald: Best for Last: Donald Lawrence 20 Year Celebration, Volume One, Best for Last. Volume two might be titled something else like Donald Lawrence Celebration Continues, and then another title cut, but volume one definitely comes out September 24th. It’s featuring a lot of people. Actually, the title song, “Best for Last,” features Yolanda Adams, and I have a lot of guests who show up and join me: Kelly Price, Lalah Hathaway, Faith Evans, Hez Walker, Vanessa Bell-Armstrong, Natalie Grant, Karen Clark, Kierra Sheard; just a lot of people join to come in and celebrate with me these 20 years because I’ve worked with so many people. It was great to have a lot of them come back, and we’re going to still do it. Tri-City came back together to sing two songs on volume one, and they’re coming back together again to do more of a live thing on volume two, so we’re really excited about all of that.

    John: I’m glad that you brought up all the guest appearances that you have on the records. You certainly have worked with a lot of artists through the years both within the gospel community as well as out in the mainstream community. What is that like being a man of God, and how do you stay faithful to your calling and your purpose even though you may be doing a job per se out in just secular culture or mainstream culture?

    Donald: I think that everybody that’s on this planet does a job in secular culture, just about. If you work at McDonald’s, that’s not church. The post office is not at church, so secular culture is secular culture. Sometimes people put a different law on top of it when it’s music. I think sometimes people don’t think of music as an occupation, but what we have to realize is that when you have a call on your life, your call is for you to deal with whoever is assigned to you; and where some people might be assigned to more believers, there’s some people who are assigned to believers and people who potentially will be believers, people who are believers who are not necessarily inside the church.

    For me, I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as people, and God loves the whole entire world; so when I’m working with people, I just show them the love of God. That’s it. I don’t beat them over the head with a Bible. I don’t tell them what they’re not doing right or wrong unless they ask me my opinion. I just show them love, and love draws. I’ve learned that over time, so that’s how I can go work with anybody, come back out because when I go there, I’m going to be me; and when I leave, I’m going to be the same me that went in, and I’ve learned that since I was a younger person, and that’s why I don’t even think about it.

    I just look at it as people, and this is my assignment, and I’m going to go and do my assignment well. Pastor Winston says that, and that’s the pastor that I go to, Dr. Winston from the Living Word Christian Center. He said something so powerful for me, and he really, really spoke about how I am in life and what my path was. He says that there is a mechanism that’s not in the church that will ignite God’s glory inside of you. I just thought that was such a profound statement because God’s glory inside of us is His attributes. Usually, when His attributes, which is His glory, shows up in the earth, it shows up through something that you’re graced with, something that’s great about you like when a dancer dances a beautiful line. That’s God’s glory in the earth.

    We see something that is beautiful, and you just go, wow, that’s breathtaking! That’s an attribute of God; or when a tree grows or when somebody’s voice sings a great operatic note, you just go, wow! That’s His attributes. Whenever I go out and I get a chance to do something that I wouldn’t do or I learned something in a secular system that I can come back and apply in the kingdom, that is waking up something in me that wouldn’t have woken in church.

    You can’t learn how to produce great records in church because they don’t (or rarely) have studios. Sometimes the best engineers are not in the church. They’re somewhere else where you can go and learn great things, and you can come back and make the kingdom great. I’ve learned that, and that statement stays with me, that there’s a mechanism that’s not in the church that will awaken God’s glory inside you. That’s really what happened to me. I learned how to produce and be who I am outside of the church, and I got to do it with some of the top people because that’s where they were, and He needed to send me there so I could come back here and be who I am now. I just always thought that was a powerful statement.

    John: Donald Lawrence, 20th year anniversary. I’m excited. Congratulations, my friend, and may God bless you, and let’s hope for another 20 years.

    Donald: Thank you.

    John: God bless you, brother.

    Donald: God bless you as well.

     


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Hezekiah Walker, Karen Clark Sheard, Kirk Franklin, Kierra KiKi Sheard, Donald Lawrence, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, Natalie Grant, Vanessa Bell-Armstrong, Tri-City Singers

  • To Hollywood and Back - Colton Dixon

    Posted on October 10, 2013 by John van der Veen



    American Idol’s Season 11 finalist Colton Dixon’s powerful and iconic voice quickly earned him a loyal and enthusiastic fan following among the shows 20 million viewers that kept him from placing in the bottom three until his last week in the competition. Following a shocking early elimination, Colton hit the road with the other Idol finalists for the American Idol LIVE! Tour, where he performed in front of over 360,000 fans across the country.

    Colton’s musical journey has been a long time in the making, beginning with piano lessons at 7 years old. A lifelong fan of Christian music, he remembers his first concert at age 13 performing “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. That’s when he knew he had found his calling. With a humble spirit, he answered the call. To be a messenger for a purpose greater than himself.

    I caught up with Colton at a recent festival to talk about American Idol, the fast rise to fame, and keeping a mind on Christ.

    John: Colton you made it to Hollywood and back. You have a record out called A Messenger.

    Colton: A Messenger, yeah.

    John: And you are the messenger?

    Colton: Well, I mean, it comes from John 13:16. It says that “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” So I called the record A Messenger just because it’s not … I don’t want it to be about me. You know?

    John: Mm-hmm.

    Colton: God chose people to write down His Word, so His message is already out there. So now it’s just up to us to carry it to my generation and generations to come. And it’s so important, so I just wanted people to connect with that and realize that God’s the priority here, you know, not me. So that’s where A Messenger comes from.

    John: Mm-hmm. You’re probably sick and tired of answering this question, but what does your sister feel about all of the success that you’ve had since American Idol?

    Colton: That’s a great question. Man, my sister, Schyler, is so mature and so cool.

    John: Yeah, I’m sure.

    Colton: So she’s really proud and really excited for me. It’s funny. We normally have her out with us whenever we drive and have space. You know?

    John: Yeah.

    Colton: We were a little crammed in the van this time, but we bring her along, and she loves it.

    John: Yeah. I’ve heard she’s been on stage with you guys a few times.

    Colton: Yeah, so she loves meeting artists, just like I do. I was just hanging out with Matthew West a little bit ago, and it still blows my mind. You know? It’s crazy. So she’s loving it, and she’s riding coattails and enjoying it just as much as I am (laughs).

    John: Good. Great deal.

    Colton: Yeah.

    John: That’s great. Just a little bit about the idea of going to quote-unquote “Hollywood” and living to tell about it. What was that like? I mean, everybody who is within the body of Christ kind of looks towards the entertainment community and goes, “Wow, it would be really tough to be a believer, an outspoken believer, within that type of culture.” What type of pressures did you experience while you were with American Idol, on tour, with any of those guys? I mean, was it something that was hard to deal with, or …?

    Colton: Honestly, it’s like … Let’s take religion out of it for a second.

    John: Okay.

    Colton: Or my faith. It’s like with anything. If you think a different way from somebody else or whatever, it’s about being polite and respecting what they do, and in return, hopefully, they’ll respect you back. Now, let’s plug faith back into it. It should be the exact same way. You know? Don’t get me wrong. I came across people … my heart just broke for them knowing that they’re missing out on something bigger, but the thing I had to realize, too, is some of these people will never crack open a Bible. They’re never going to go to church, so I’m the only Bible that they’re ever going to see just by the way I’m living.

    So just realizing that and that I really have to watch everything I say, everything I do, not that I’m necessarily doing or saying anything bad, but just being set apart, which is what Jesus called us all to, in our actions and our speech and everything in between. So that just made things difficult, just that you’re under a really fine microscope. Then, when it finally gets out there that you’re a Christian, like the papers have a heyday, and it’s like Tim Tebow. People are waiting to see him fall, and I’m so thankful he hasn’t. You know? He’s really representing us well.

    But he was an inspiration for me while I was on Idol. It’s like, man, if he can do it, I can do it. You know? It’s possible. With God, anything is possible, so … Yeah, I think that was the hardest part, just realizing that, not only if I slip up, Hollywood and the press or whatever are going to have a heyday, but that the people looking at me, it’s like I may be the only Bible that they see. So, God let them see you and me. You know? Let’s use this opportunity for that.

    John: Yeah. Would you give the same answer, Colton, to somebody who’s in high school or college that just kind of feels pressure to kind of give in to the world? Maybe they feel like they’re all alone in their faith or in their walk towards Christ. How do you speak to that person who’s not in the limelight, per se, but certainly feels kind of all alone? I mean, they’re here in culture, but they’re just having a hard time living out their faith among people that are so contrary to them.

    Colton: Yeah, it’s the exact same thing.

    John: Is it the same thing?

    Colton: You know, there were definitely times where I felt alone or whatever, and not just in my faith, but in general (laughs) while on the TV show. There was little communication to anybody except for the other contestants and …

    John: Really?

    Colton: And after a while … I mean, they’re all phenomenal people. Don’t get me wrong, but you miss your friends and family from back home after a while, so that’s that. But as far as feeling alone in your faith, something that really was a light-bulb moment for me--and it inspired one of my songs called “Never Gone”—is knowing that God’s with you the whole time, and He’s all that you need. You know? Contrary to belief, God is really all that you need to get through a situation. So I would just encourage whoever it is who feels like they’re alone to open their eyes a little bit more, you know? Focus your mind on God, and He’ll reveal to you that He promises in His Word that He’d never leave us nor forsake us. So He’s been with us the whole time. So that was a light-bulb moment for me on the show, and I’m glad I was able to write that song because of it, to answer that question.

    John: Let’s change tracks a little bit. Go back to when you were five, six, eight, 10 years old or whatever. Did you ever dream that this is what you would be doing?

    Colton: That young, no.

    John: (Laughs). At what point in your life did you say, “Okay, I think God is doing something here in me. I kind of want to pursue this.”?

    Colton: Yeah, it’s actually younger than most. I was 13, and I knew without a doubt that this is what I was going to do. I didn’t know that Idol was going to be the door, but…

    John: Right.

    Colton: I sang in public for the first time when I was 13. I’d been taking piano lessons for several years, and my piano teacher just kind of set up a microphone and said, “I think you need to sing tonight.”

    John: We’re doing it.

    Colton: Cool. So I sat down, and I was supposed to play “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe that night, and instead I played and sang it, which was a very, very difficult song for a kid going through puberty. But I got through it, and it was just the coolest thing because I really just felt the Holy Spirit just telling me deep down, it was like, “This is it. This is what I made you for.” And I gave up sports for music when I was 15. I finally gave in. It took me a couple years, but I just continued to pursue and pursue and pursue, and I got a lot of people telling me, “Nah, you can’t have that sound,” or, “You’re not going to be able to look that way,” or whatever, telling me no over and over and over again. Then, finally, just God just opened the door to American Idol, and, boom, there it was.

    John: The rest is history.

    Colton: Yeah.

    John: Colton, if there is one artist that you would love to go on tour with, either you open for them or they open for you, who would that be?

    Colton: Oh, look at this. I would have to say Switchfoot.

    John: Really?

    Colton: And it would feel totally wrong if they opened up for me.

    John: (Laughs).

    Colton: I would want to open up for them.

    John: You never know.

    Colton: That would be too strange.

    John: (Laughs).

    Colton: I don’t think I would allow it. But I would really enjoy that. I met them for the first time a few months ago, and they were great guys. But as far as the rock side of Christian music, they were really one of the first bands that got me into it, and then I just got heavier and heavier as time passed with Skillet and RED and you name it. But I really just enjoyed “Beautiful Letdown” by them, and it seemed like every single song on that record was an anthem at one point in my life, so I really appreciated that record a lot.

    John: Cool.

    Colton: Yeah.

    For more from Colton, click here.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, MercyMe, Switchfoot, Colton Dixon, RED, American Idol

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

    Posted on October 8, 2013 by John van der Veen



    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.

    After reading this, you'll hear what Natalie has always been and still is passionate about. Christ and His work.

    John: Natalie, it’s been a while since you have had some new music. Would you mind sharing about your new album, Hurricane?

    Natalie: I’ve had a lot of life happen in those three years. I think if you look back just even at my releases over the past 14 years, I’ve never made records quickly. Those artists that can turn around records every 18 months, my hats are off to them. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve always usually gone about two years, but this is the longest I’ve ever gone between a release. I knew about a year ago that they were going to come to me and say, okay, it’s time to start making a record, and I literally at that point thought I’m just going to say, fine.

    Bring me ten songs. I’ll sing them, whatever. I just don’t have space in my world for this right now. What’s funny is that it sounds like such a cliché, but it’s so true that when we’re completely at our end and thinking, “I’ve got nothing, I have absolutely nothing in the well,” God shows up and always says, “Okay, I finally have you where I want you, and you’ve got nothing, but I’ve got something.” I ended up writing more on this record than I’ve ever written on any other record.

    John: I was going to ask, to say, I think I read that you wrote about eight songs or so; is that right?

    Natalie: About eight out of the ten tracks, yes.

    John: What is that like compared to other records?

    Natalie: It’s way more … I’ve always written about at least half, but to write 80% of the record is more than I’ve ever done before, and those songs--those eight--were really my songs. Sometimes I’d be in a co-write situation, and even though I was in this, these songs were really birthed out of my own personal journey over the last three years. I think when I came into this process so empty, I had given birth to my third child and went through a lot of post-partum depression.

    That’s something that I didn’t give a voice to for a long time because first of all, I think that there is a stigma—or was in my mind--that women want to stay in their pajamas and eat ice cream all day if say they have post-partum depression. But I soon learned that that is not true, that it is a real problem and a darkness that can overtake a woman, and oftentimes as a Christian. I think we’re so ashamed to say that we are struggling with depression, because somehow it’s going to reflect on our faith or our relationship with the Lord, but then throw into the mix being a Christian artist where you’re supposed to have your life together and get on that stage and sing your encouraging songs about the Lord. Where you’re expected to say all the right Scripture verses, and I think that I put some of that undue pressure on myself, but really, I think, I enabled myself to stay in that pit for longer than I even needed to.

    I really struggled with a lot of depression after the birth of Sadie and found out that a very close family member was struggling, not just with drug addiction, but with heroine addiction, which was tearing my family apart. Three months after that, my father had died of cancer. It’s been quite a journey the last three years and a testing of my faith like I’ve never faced before, and so these songs have really come from a deeply personal place.

    I feel like I’ve always had songs that have been like that for people that are connected because they’ve been about a real life story or journey, but typically, they’ve been about someone else’s story, like “Held,” which was written about a couple who lost their baby and “In Better Hands,” which was written about a little boy and a fire. All of them were personal stories, but they weren’t my story. These songs are my stories, and I think that’s what really makes this project different for me.

    John: Do you think, be it a man or a woman, married or single, that one has to go through some form of wilderness or hardship in their life to really understand what it means to be that close, to identify that closely with Christ?

    Natalie: Absolutely. I think that the challenge is finding the closeness when there isn’t the hardship, because in our human nature, we’re just wired in our fallen state to do it on our own, and we’re wired that when things are going well, somehow we don’t “need,” or we don’t think we need the Lord quite as much. We don’t recognize, I think, our need for Him in the good. In the bad, we cling to the Lord like never before. I think the more hardships we walk through, the more we experience our faith at a deeper level; it’s what helps us understand that faith when we’re actually on the mountaintop.

    John: Those are good words. I think a lot of people forget about that as they encounter Jesus. I think they think that to some extent, being a Christian is all kind of the rose-colored glasses syndrome, that everything is hunky-dory and fine.

    Natalie: I think that that could be an entire interview for another day. Honestly, my soap box is because there’s so much false teaching that’s prevalent in our culture and especially in our nation that if you just have enough faith, if you just are a good enough Christian, then you’re going to not have any health issues. You’re going to have a big house. Your marriage is going to be perfect, and if somehow those things are not well in your life that that has some reflection on your faith in Jesus. I think that that teaching, which is especially prevalent in the United States, has done so much damage to the believer’s walk with Christ.

    John: Natalie, as an individual, if I or my wife were to open up to a close friend, we know that a lot of times, what we share if I’m sharing with another brother in Christ, what I’m sharing is very personal, and it usually stays just between the two of us. It seems to me that what you have more or less outlined on this album is that type of conversation where you’re just kind of allowing everyone to see what’s been going on in your heart. What is that feeling like to know that people are going …

    Natalie: When you say it like that, it’s not so fine! [laughing]

    John: I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you, but to some extent, you’re throwing yourself out there to say, here I am. I’m a follower of Jesus, and I’ve seen that wilderness. What is that like?

    Natalie: Yes. You know, honestly, it has been very scary, and it would have been a lot easier just to have them bring me ten really nice, say all the right Christian cliché songs that would have pushed all the right buttons and gone number one on Christian radio, but I think there is so much beauty in the wrestle. Do you know what I mean? In the struggle. And in the dialogue of honesty, there is such beauty in that, and I’ve only discovered that in the last several years that the more honest and transparent I become, the greater connection people seem to have to my artistry.

    I feel like it started when I allowed myself to start talking about how I struggled with an eating disorder. I started to have this connection, which went so far beyond a song. I loved that. I thrived on that because I felt in that, I found my ministry more than just a musician but having something that I felt was going to be lasting fruit. I think that in finding my own voice, and I say this all the time, giving voice to the depression I was facing, that is when my healing started. I think that oftentimes, when we’re facing hardship or we’re walking through the wilderness, it’s almost easier to stay there than … I know that sounds backwards, but it’s … I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but …

    John: You are.

    Natalie: Sometimes it’s easier to stay in our mess than to actually get out of it, and the things that we know we need to do to get out we almost run from because we become so used to being a victim and all that. It’s just easier to stay there. For me, when I started to give voice to what I was facing and be honest and real in my own life, it became more than just, oh, I’d write some good honest songs. It actually is where I started to find my own healing, and I have to believe that having the courage to be honest will help others do the same thing.

    John: Now for the record, I’ve listened to the album I think three or four times since I got it yesterday morning. For the record, this album is not a sad album. This is not a dark album. You certainly are confronting those things, but there’s a string of hope that goes through every single song on this record, and it is powerful.

    Natalie: Thank you. I giggle when I hear that because it thrilled me because that is what I think is the mark of this record is that I’m going to say all the stuff that I went through. You’re going to listen to this record, and I think it just bursts with hope, and that’s what’s so, so just amazing to me about what God did through the process. I can say, listen, I have these songs that are full of light, even like full-on pop like “Closer to Your Heart,” the opening track, sounds like it could be on Top 40 radio, but the lyric says, “Here I am once again crying out on the floor,” so it still has this lyric that is this weighty heavy lyric to this really full of hope track and music.

    That’s what I wanted because that’s the result of hope to me. It’s not that in the moment everything is right and perfect, but it’s that’s why I’m singing these songs because that’s what I was living. I was singing these songs because that’s where I know I was going, and I was going to get there, and so I wanted the song and the record to reflect the truth that hope is what keeps the light on in our darkest moments.

    Hope is what keeps us taking one step forward and continuing to move. Maybe we’re barely crawling, but we’re moving forward. I feel like hearing you say that that’s what this record sounded like to you. It really does make me giggle with joy because that’s what I wanted it to be.

    John: That’s awesome. Natalie, you are a wife. You’re a mom. You’re Dove Award winning. You’re Grammy nominated. You’re an actress. You’re a philanthropist.

    Natalie: [laughs] Who are you talking about [laughing]?

    John: Natalie, some people look to you and say, obviously, you have it all together, and I think from the testimony that you just gave, you would say, hey, yeah, I am doing those things, but at the same time, I’m also normal. What would you say to the mom who has got babies at her ankles right now, and she kind of feels like she can barely get through just one day, let alone juggle small group, Bible study, nursery duty, church, all those other extra things?

    Natalie: For me, it’s one of the reasons as well that it’s important to me to be so honest and transparent, because I feel consistently in my life like there is this myth that surrounds me that I have it all together, and I get asked about this all the time. “How do you do it all?” I’m like, I have no idea because if you would have been at my house today, you’d clearly say that I don’t have it all together [laughing]. I might do a lot, but doing a lot does not mean that we’re doing a lot well.

    I feel like in my own life… I can only speak from my own experience… most days, I fall flat on my face and something struggles, something fails, something isn’t quite what I hoped it would be. I fall in bed at night, and by the grace of God, He wakes me up the next day, and I try it all over again, and hopefully what I learn is that I can’t do it without a personal relationship with the Lord, and that’s aside from trying to plug into the Lord with my husband or trying to make sure that my kids are learning the Bible verses.

    All of that aside, I’m talking about just me and Jesus, and if that means 15 minutes when I can hear my kids at 6:00 am in the morning on the baby monitor, for 15 minutes, nothing’s going to happen to them. If they’re kind of crying in their crib, if they’re talking, they’re going to be just fine. I’m going to take 15 minutes for Him, or even hit the floor to cry out to God and say, “Okay, I do not have the ability to do what I need to do today on my own, but if You called me to it, then You anoint me to be able to do it.”

    I have to believe that that’s true, and I have to believe that He’ll equip me to be able to do it. Some days, I feel like empowered like, yep, He did. Other days, I feel like He forgot me today. Clearly, He completely forgot about me today. You know, that is a daily process, and I think that right now in my own life, I’m figuring out that there are just some things that we just have to say no to and that that fear of disappointing someone or … I think that that’s a constant fear, especially in women, that oh, well, if I say no to this or that, well then this person will get upset. Whether it’s my kids or this or that, my job, or my husband. There are just some things that we have to learn to say no to, and I’m trying to learn that same thing right now.

    John: Good words. All right, real quickly, just a couple of bullet questions here. On “Born to Be,” you have a duet with Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts. What brought that about?

    Natalie: He was awesome. You know, I wrote the song with Brett James who’s a great songwriter. He wrote “Jesus Take the Wheel” and just lots of other incredible songs, and when we wrote it, also with my husband, I just immediately thought this needs to be a duet. I actually had somebody else in mind from the CCM world, and I was like, okay, I think this person would be great on this, and he said, “You know, I think that Gary from Rascal Flatts would be great.” I was like, well, yeah, that would be great, but I don’t know him [laughing]. What’s going to make him want to all of a sudden be on a Christian record? I didn’t really know his story about in the last couple of years, he has rededicated his life to Christ, that he, and his wife, and his mom, and their daughter all got baptized together just last year …

    John: Amazing.

    Natalie: And has had this real rebirth of his faith in his life, and his story, his testimony is really quite beautiful. Brett knows him well because he’s written a lot of Rascal Flatts songs, and so he sent the song to Gary, and he fell in love with the song. What I didn’t know is that he was a huge fan of my music, and so he said it had always been on his bucket list to sing with me, which just sounds funny, but it was so easy. I guess it was just meant to be.

    John: That is incredible! Natalie, what is on your bucket list?

    Natalie: [laughs] I want to see the Great Wall of China. I’ve never been to the Orient and … well, I’ve been to Asia because I’ve been to India, not really close to Asia, right? I’m a failure at geography, so don’t judge me.

    John: Join the club.

    Natalie: I want to see the Great Wall of China. That is near the top of my bucket list. Let’s see what else is on my bucket list. I would love to do a duet with CeCe Winans. She and Whitney Houston were my vocal heroes growing up, and I’m a huge fan of CeCe’s and just everything about her. My other bucket list item would be to really teach my children to swim [laughing]. I’ve put them in swimming lessons twice, and they still can’t so I think I’m going to have to get in the pool with them and really help them figure it out.

    John: That is so awesome. I love that for a bucket list idea. That’s great. Natalie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I really appreciate it.

     


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Mothers, Natalie Grant, Cece Winans

  • 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

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