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Interviews

  • 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

  • The Mysterious Apology of Derek Webb

    Posted on September 30, 2013 by John van der Veen



    What is an a apology these days?  We are all guilty of cheapening the phrase "I'm sorry." We say it a lot. A lot a lot.

    So what does it mean to be really sorry for something? And how do we go about in reconciling the wrong that was made? Some of us would tend to try to sweep our past mistakes under a rug and have them forgotten. But truth-be-told, they have to be dealt with. This is not just that that humans can reconcile with each other, but it's so that it shows a much greater story of forgiveness. Namely forgiveness found in God showing grace and mercy to wretched humans. Showing forgiveness.

    But the question remains. How do we apologize to each other? How do we seek forgiveness in the relationships that we have? Derek Webb is attempting to answer these questions and many more. His new album, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You shows a vulnerable side to this man. For many would call him a cynic, or a stone-thrower, or a I'm-going-to-make-my-art-and-I-don't-care-who-I-hurt-or-step-on-or-push-in-the-process type of artist.

    I sat down with Mr. Webb over a cup of coffee after we enjoyed a great meal. I mention this because it's important to point out that a meal was shared. This meeting was intentional. Not just for an interview with a large retailer, but truly to make a statement on Derek's part.    A statement that says "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" or "I really do love you guys."

    [Spaced throughout this blog post, there are live, acoustic version of the songs from I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You]

    John: I think the biggest question that we need to start with, Derek, is: What are you sorry for?

    Derek: What am I sorry for? I need to start by saying that growing up, I always heard that the three things you had to learn to say to anybody to keep a relationship going were, "I was wrong, I'm sorry, and I love you." Those were the three things you had to learn how to say in a marriage, in a church, in a family, in a business relationship. Coming out of the last five years for me, creatively, from Stockholm Syndrome to Feedback to SOLA-MI to Ctrl, It's been a really experimental, very abstract, three, four, or five years that I think have been pretty challenging to my people.

    It just felt like here at the 10-year mark for my solo career, it felt like the right moment, not to restate anything, but to clarify. I've never felt the burden of having to restate anything I've said previously to justify saying new things. I think that's been challenging for some people, because they'll hear me say things that seem in contradiction with things I've said previously. So they assume I don't believe those things anymore.

    The rule should be that I'm always building upon whatever I've said previously. I started with She Must and Shall Go Free and I've moved out from there. Unless you hear me clearly recant something I have said previously, assume I still believe it, even if it seems complicated in light of what I'm saying currently.

    I realize you can't only agitate people. You have to also make sure that you're resonating with people, too. I feel like I have been really erring on the side of doing the part of my job that involves trying to find creative ways to disrupt peoples' ideas. I have to balance that with saying things that resonate with them, not just poking at people and not just questioning. I need to allow myself a moment for some encouragement and for some hope. There's been a lack of that for the last five years or so.

    I don't like to go back. I like to go forward. But this did feel like a moment to clarify and say, "Whatever it is you've heard me say over the last 10 years, 20 years even, let me clarify and give you the context of why I was saying it or what I would hope to have communicated." The posture from which I've tried to say it is being open to being wrong, asking for forgiveness, and communicating love and care.

    That is the motivation behind anything I've ever done. It's less of a specific apology and more the modeling of a posture of this is how we do this, this is how we, as diverse members of one body, survive in a room together and build a kingdom together. We have to learn how to tell each other that we're sorry and that we're wrong and that we love each other. That's hard work, but that's what it is.

    John: When you left Caedmon's Call, do you think you set out to start poking fingers?

    Derek: I don't feel like I knew enough about myself as an artist to have been terribly intentional about that. When I left Caedmon's, the band was putting out a record maybe every 18 months or 2 years. I was writing half of every one of those records, five or six songs every eighteen months. That's just not enough to really find your voice yet. It was enough to educate myself in the craft a little bit in terms of songwriting, but I didn't know who I was as an artist.

    That's why I've been so grateful for my first record. We've just crossed the 10-year anniversary of that album, and I toured as a celebration of it. I realized what a kind of prophetic statement that record was for the rest of my career. It had songs like "Wedding Dress" on it, which made it a really complicated fit into the market. But for me, it was really honest and felt really important and it was hyper-confessional.

    My conscience was very clear in terms of putting the song on that album. I had the support of my pastor, who knows me, my wife, my friends. I asked questions like, "Is this cavalier, or could this be helpful? This is a hard word, but do you think it's worth it?" Everybody resoundingly said, "Yes. We support you. We think you should. We know it's going to be hard, but you should do this."

    I could not have known the trajectory of my career was that I was going to become known for that. I didn't know I was going to find myself as one that was really wired to do that: looking for the bits that need discussion I didn't know I would be in this fortunate position, coming out of 10 years in a really successful band, bringing support with me. It gave me a really unlikely strength as a debut artist.

    She Must and Shall Go Free is an unlikely debut record. Any debut artist's first record out of the gate would have gotten dropped after that. But because I had this incredible support coming out of Caedmon's, I was able to push it through. Then I was able to move on from there.

    Caedmon's started that way. We wanted to be disruptive. We wanted to say hard things to people and challenge the status quo. We were young, but that's what we were in it for. After a few years, as we started to get successful at it, we became our own worst enemies.

    The two worst things for an artist are success and failure, and especially in that order. For us, we did really well really early. Then the things we never wanted in the first place, we weren't getting anymore in terms of industry accolades. It made it really hard to not want to put our hands on the controls and start to tinker with it, manipulate it a little bit.

    What happens is, as you get further into it and you have that success at it, the platform just gets higher. You're out in front of more people and the platform gets higher. After a while, your full-time job is working on the platform, strengthening it, being careful with it, and making sure it is steady. You're either working on your platform or you're standing on it, and you just can't do both. For us, we wound up getting off the platform, securing it, working on it, building on it and trying to make it steady.

    The higher it gets, the higher the stakes get, and the less likely it gets that you're ever going to get up on top of it. For me, the trajectory for my career has been like a cycle of self-sabotage. I have tried to protect my career against big moments of success. I don't want them. When the label says, "Go do this thing, because it's going to open it up, and you're going to get discovered, and it's going to be this thing, you're going to sell a million records," I will not do it. I will do everything I can to sabotage it.

    Any time the label has thought I had a big song for radio, I will produce it in a way that sabotages it to make sure they cannot put it on the radio, because I don't want that. I've had that and I know what happens. My goal is to stay low to the ground. I don't want to get very high, not in front of very many people. I want to stay low to the ground so that if I get knocked off, I can get back on fast.

    The platform exists so I can build it back really fast. I want to be tenacious and I want to be able to be faithful. Success and faithfulness are two different things, and it's good to learn the distinction. For me, I don't want to have the high platform. I want the low platform. If I sold a half-million records next year, my career would be over. I'd be miserable. I want to find who resonates with my particular point of view, and how can I really faithfully provide language for them to confess things they wish to believe?

    John: What if you found a half-million people that resonated with that?

    Derek: There could be a half-million people out there who resonate with what I do, but I don't want them if they come in any less than 10 years. I want it to take me 10 years to find them. If they all come in overnight, then that's not good news. That's bad. I've seen it too many times.

    John: On She Must and Shall Go Free, the song "Wedding Dress" uses the word "whore." You would not necessarily attach that word to the church, although in honesty, that is who we are.

    Derek: That's who we are told we are in Ezekiel and Isaiah.

    John: Absolutely.

    Derek: With much harsher language than what's in "Wedding Dress."

    John: So you were being very kind to us?

    Derek: I can make people blush with "Wedding Dress," but I can clear a room with Ezekiel 16.

    John: Were you not setting yourself up to be within the four walls of the church, saying, "Hey, there are issues here."

    Derek: Yes.

    John: You're essentially saying, "You're looking at some sort of lofty expression of who you think you will become one day, or you're turning into this bubblegum Christian." How did you decide to start moving within that realm, but yet at the same time, attempt to reach out to those outside of the four walls of the church?

    Derek: In Caedmon's, I was always the least comfortable one out of the seven of us when we would play at a church. I was always the one that was like, "Man, isn't there a neutral venue in this town? Do we have to play in place where the building itself alienates people? Why can't we be in a normal place where people come and hear music that has no worldview prerequisite to walk in the door, that has no physical structure to it that draws in memories for people of ways they've been wounded?"

    I never imagined being a solo artist. All through my life, I've been playing music. And I have always loved collaborating. I've always loved being in bands. I've always loved being somebody's guitar player or somebody's background singer. If I ever did think about what I'd do, I definitely thought I would escape, I'd move out of the ghetto, like I don't want to stay in Christian music or whatever.

    I don't believe in Christian music. The word Christian, when it applied to anything other than a human being, is a marketing term. But when I was writing the songs that led to my first record, I realized I had a lot of questions about if church was necessary. Do I have to go to church? Is church a necessary part of this experience? If it is, what's my role in the church, and what's the church's role in this culture? How does all this work?

    I have a lot of questions after 10 years in Caedmon's. I think we had been really careful not to bite down too hard on the hand that was feeding us for a lot of those years. I think what finally turned the corner was when I got married and felt a little stronger, a little braver. I started to write songs that really were going after what I was seeing, thinking, "Why is nobody talking about this? Everybody knows about this and nobody's talking about this. Why?"

    The band's reputation couldn't bear that at that point, and they were rightfully protective, I think, of what they were building. But they also thought my new songs were important. They wanted me to play and record them. They knew that there's no way I could do it and still be in Caedmon's. That was too demanding.

    It felt more like them sending me out. It wasn't like a nasty division. They're still some of my dearest friends in my life. They always have been. I was surprised as anybody when that batch of songs I had at that moment were all very much about the church.

    I had always imagined that if I got a record deal on my own, I would go and do it with a normal mainstream company. Then here I am, sitting on a record full of songs about the church. I thought, "This is exactly what some people call Christian record labels do best." It didn't make sense to go outside of the Christian world and then market it back in.

    I wanted to be a voice from the inside. I had spent 10 years in Caedmon's, so that seemed subversive to me in a way that I thought was good. That's when I started my relationship with (then INO Records and now) Fair Trade.

    I've seen my friends, who have really good, healthy, disruptive things to say—I've seen them push too hard, too fast, for too long and get relegated to having to do that from the outside. I'm not interested in that. I would like to stay, because I am in this community. I am a member of the church.

    Even though I feel like over the years I've had things to say that didn't squarely speak to that community only, the fingerprints of my worldview are all over the art that I make regardless of my intention. It's the grid through which I'm looking at the world. My faith in Jesus is on everything, regardless of whether it's an intentionally Christian record or not.

    John: Going back to what you were talking about earlier: You would then say there's never been a point in time where you regretted what you said previously.

    Derek: No. Not at all. I'm really proud of all the work that I've done, and I'm really proud of all the risks that I've taken.

    John: Do you think, within the context of what you've done in the last 10 years as a solo artist, that you have stayed within the four walls of the church because there have been alliances with individuals or organizations that are loosely related to mainstream Christendom?

    Derek: Yes.

    John: Do you feel that even during those times, you were still within the very core of what being a follower of Jesus is?

    Derek: I personally do, but I have a unique perspective on this.

    John: I'm sure you do. (Laughs)

    Derek: I feel very much like a double agent in that regard. I think what people wouldn't guess about me is that I am probably more theologically conservative than the most conservative of my crowd. I've also wanted to err on the side of recklessly over-loving than fearfully under-loving people. For that reason, I think I have appeared very much on the exterior like some one of these Christian liberals, one of these Christian hipsters. I don't know what you call these people now.

    John: I don't know, either.

    Derek: Whatever it is, I've been called it all. I don't identify at all with that. I understand how they get there. I just know it's not true. But I'm also more than willing to be misunderstood if it means doing my job well. My job is not to be perceived correctly by some anonymous group of people on the Internet who demand answers from me and want me to clarify my beliefs on things to justify statements that I made. I am not beholden to them. It's not that I don't care in a way that's unfeeling; it just does not influence the decisions I make when I know what the important decisions are.

    I'm not interested in drawing lines and speaking in categories, but if people are going to do it, I want to find myself standing where I believe Jesus would have stood. That is on the side of the disenfranchised, the alienated, the oppressed, the under-loved, the complicated.

    Jesus recklessly over-loved people with no regard for His reputation. That is a model I'm trying to follow. As a result, I think I've gotten broadly painted a handful of different ways, and none of it really bothers me. It actually kind of makes me feel like I'm doing my job. When I go to particular festivals or conferences, the people who are bringing me don't know that they have secretly invited a staunch theological conservative. I'm happy to be the sheep in wolves' clothing, but I think there's been a real disconnect, mostly because these are no conversations. I'm not willing to try and give a simple answer to a question for which there's no simple answer. That is very much against the grain at this point in culture. Everybody wants simple answers. They want something you can sum up in 140 characters. They want you to give an answer publicly for things that don't have good public answers because of the way information is taken out of context and spread around.

    If anybody wants to stay after a show, talk to me for an hour and question me on things they heard me say that they don't think squares with things I've said previously or things that they think that I believe, I will stay for that hour. But I will not make those statements on the Internet, for instance.

    I have no responsibility to those people who demand answers, these nameless, faceless people on the Internet, who demand an answer because what I'm saying makes them uncomfortable. I don't have to give them one, and I'm not going to, not if it takes me out of the role of being able to do my job well.

    John: Someone once told me that a good artist is a stubborn artist. Are you stubborn?

    Derek: Oh, yeah. Do you have that sense yet? I'm tenacious and I'm stubborn.

    I barely got out of high school, so I've always had a chip on my shoulder about my education. I've put myself through seminary over the years with a lot of mentors and a lot of books. I used to love to debate after shows. I loved it too much. My most dense years of theological study were also my most dramatically unloving years. I loved really poorly during those years when I was so closely studying the Bible. I don't do that anymore. There are much more important things to me.

    If what you believe about God and about people does not eventually inform how you love and treat people in God, then it's doing you a real disservice. You're probably a ringing cymbal or a clanging gong if your theology does not ever become ethics. For a long time, my belief was not informing my behavior. I was being really unloving and loving the fight, because I'm a fighter. But I don't love the fight anymore. People have to be more important than ideas at the end of the day.

    Yes, I'm stubborn, but I'm much more interested in the points of unity now than I am over the points of division. I used to really have an eye for those points of division. I wanted to get all into that, get all into the history of it, and get into why I know more about what you're saying than you do. Now I have a lot of grief and regret about who I was for a lot of years and how I treated people and what an unbelievably confusing witness it was to the things that I was trying to convince them of at the time.

    John: Does that then correlate with the apology side of it?

    Derek: Yeah, but only to some extent, because I feel like I've been trying to say that for a long time. I could take you through every record and show you.

    John: Is that what these last four records have been?

    Derek: For example, a song like, "I Don't Want to Fight" on The Ringing Bell was basically the result of this experience. I played a show one time, and a group of guys came up to me and said something about, "Yeah, man, we've seen concerts at this church before, and these people are crazy and their theology is this, that, and the other, and we came here just to see you get up there and give it to them." They were really disappointed that I didn't "give it to them," that I actually just did my thing. They were almost acting like when somebody's upset when you had an opportunity to share Jesus with someone and you didn't do it.

    John: You didn't have an altar call?

    Derek: I didn't have a theological altar call. I hadn't done whatever they were expecting, and as a result, they were mad. They were like, "Dude, what was that?" They actually wound up wanting to fight me about it. And I remember being in the car on the way to the hotel that night writing the song "I Don't Want To Fight."

    Following the Prince of Peace, living in peace with people around you is not something you do suddenly. You do it preemptively, you plan for it. If I'm serious about living in peace with people, it has to start right here. I just didn't want to fight anymore. It seemed like a bad mechanism by which to talk about the love of God while being violent to people, which is essentially what I was doing intellectually for a long time.

    I think the last four or five years, I've been experimenting with and leaning into the creative side of my job, loving that side of it, but I have been making statements that were starting to get so nuanced and shrouded in poetry and extraction that it got to where people couldn't really find me on the records anymore.

    John: You mentioned earlier that both in Caedmon's and as a solo artist, you felt like your art has always been a disruption. That has been the goal, right? You want people to stop and grapple with what's being presented in front of them and then have them process through that.

    Derek: Yes.

    John: When you look at the definition of a prophet in the Old Testament, they had that same type of mindset, whether they would use that or their ideology behind that. Would you say for the last 10 years, 15 years, Derek Webb has been a prophet to the church?

    Derek: When I think about the word "prophet," what that means to me is a radical truth teller. I think artists, in general, have a real prophetic office. They can have a real responsibility for being radical truth tellers. There's almost no other role where you can do it the way you can in the arts. You can do it, but you can soften the blow with a melody. I've always taken that really seriously.

    I've had no master plan. I have been, if anything, following coordinates along the way. I don't have them in advance. I'm always as surprised as anybody at what I do next, what the records are, what their content is, what the sound of it is. My records have proved to be more prophetic to me than they have proved to be anything else. Songs that I did not know how much I needed to hear I have to sing.

    That is nowhere truer than on my new record. My new record is so particularly prophetic for me where I am in my life right now. That makes those songs really hard to sing. I'm really grateful to have them, because ultimately, that's the role that art can play. That's what I love about old hymns. That's what I love, in a broader sense, about the liturgy and about responsive reading and creeds and confessions.

    Every week at my church we recite the Nicene Creed. It's good to do it because I forget it in the week that elapses between then and the last time I said it. What I love about hymns and liturgy is that they provide for me a language with which to confess things that I wish to believe. I don't walk in the door believing the various bits of the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds. I don't walk in believing the contents of our readings from the Bible. I don't walk in believing any of that stuff, and a lot of times, I don't believe the contents of my own music.

    I don't believe the things that I'm saying, but I wish to. It's no wonder they're the songs that I have to sing. You might have to listen to them a couple times. You might have friends that make you listen to them, or you might spend a few weeks with my record and listen to it and then not listen to it. I have to sing these songs every night, so apparently I need it more than anybody else does. That's where I've been grateful. They provide language to confess things that I wish to believe.

    I would not try to tell you that you could listen to any of my records and find my system of beliefs holding steady, even at this moment, as much as you will find the things that I long to believe.

    John: Last question. What's the epitaph at the end of your life?

    Derek: This is not an answer to your question. Charlie Peacock, who is a legend in this business and a mentor to me, we have discovered we're wired very much the same way in terms of how we see the world. He said to me one time that he imagines his gravestone saying, "Here lies Charlie Peacock, the man who saw too much." I feel very much the same way. I feel like I have just a hyper-intense eye for justice and for detail. I'm not wired like an artist in that way. I'm not a big, broad thinker. I just see things all over the place, a lot of which I wish I didn't.

    I wish I couldn't tell you the contents of the three conversations that were going on at all the tables around where I was sitting at lunch today. My brain can't not hear and see everything. It's part of how I'm wired. I think it's informed much of what I've done in my job. Maybe that's the reason I see the things people don't see or refuse to see. I see it and I can't pretend like I don't—just like I can't pretend that I can't imagine every dangerous scenario when my kid is about to climb up on a bookcase or stand on the back of a couch. I can immediately see all 10 scenarios of everything that can happen.

    I can't pretend like I don't see the church, when we are saying things in the culture and we are treating groups of people a particular way, when we are fumbling with the words of Jesus and being a very bad advertisement for Him.

    Maybe some people just don't have that perspective. They don't see it, but I do and I go make art about it.

    So is Derek sorry? Listen to the album. Watch the video (above) and see for yourself. I think so.
    For more on Derek and his albums, click here.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Derek Webb, Caedmon's Call

  • Jefferson Bethke - Loving Jesus More Than Anything Else

    Posted on September 23, 2013 by Family Christian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jeff & Alyssa

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

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

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

    John: Tell us about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Do you remember watching the video?

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

    What do you think?


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

  • Nicole C Mullen on Life, Family, Ministry, and Worship

    Posted on September 9, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Few artists in any genre of music possess a more diverse resume than Nicole C. Mullen. From her early days as a background vocalist/dancer/choreographer to writing and recording such classic hits as “Redeemer” to mentoring young women through her Baby Girls Club, Mullen’s creativity and compassion have fueled a life of ministry that has had global impact.

    Nicole's newest album Crown Him, contains hymns old and new like, "All Hail The Power," "It Is Well," and "Redeemer" along with a new song "Teach Me."
    Nicole C. Mullen just happens to be one of the most inspirational communicators of our time. Her ability to captivate an audience by telling a story, sharing from the scriptures or singing a song has earned her many awards as well as bringing her into the company of greatness. Nicole’s gifts have allowed her to travel all over the world, and they have brought her many accolades. She has won multiple Dove Awards, for Song of the Year ("Redeemer," and "On My Knees"), Female Vocalist, Contemporary Song of the Year ("Call on Jesus"), and the first African American to win Songwriter of the Year. She has also been nominated for two Grammy awards.

    I joined Nicole for a quick minute to catch up on "all things" with her life.

    John:               Nicole, you have a new record that you are coming out with, with Family Christian. And it is a hymns record.

    Nicole:           A hymns album, yes, it is.

    John:               A hymns album. How much, what would you say would hymns be a part of your background? I mean, how much were they a part of your life?

    Nicole:           Oh, we grew up singing hymns a bit. Not all hymns, because I grew up in an African-American nondenominational church we borrowed from a lot of different styles of worship, so hymns were a part, but not a huge part. I grew up hearing hymns because my parents knew them and my grandparents were singing them at their churches. As a songwriter, one of my goals is to write songs that will not just affect people today, but will affect people in their worship tomorrow and in future generations. Because of that, one of the subtitles is ‘Hymns Old and New’, but the main title is ‘Crown Him’, and it comes from the hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” because we crown Him Lord of All. I'm very excited about people hearing it!

    John:               Yeah. You mentioned, Nicole, that you're a songwriter. You certainly have written a lot of songs. Is it easy for you to write a song? Or does it just kind of flow out of you? Because that's what it seems like it would.

    Nicole:           Ish. I mean, sometimes an idea will come and it flows immediately. Then other times it's kind of laborious. It takes a minute. Redeemer took me a year to write. There are other songs that I've written in an afternoon. So it kind of varies. For me, getting the idea and the melody is normally easier part for me. But the part that really takes work that I'm probably the most anal over, are the lyrics, what's being said. And so I want to make sure that I am conveying the message and the sentiment that I'm going after with the right words. I want to paint the picture correctly. And so that can take time. And so, again it varies. Sometimes it's a short period of time, and sometimes it's forever, it seems. But at the end of the day, for me the litmus test is not, was it a number one single? It's not if it did great on the charts. But really, did it move someone's heart to worship Christ. Did their heart, eyes and focus to turn toward Him? To bow low and worship Him’? If that answer is yes, then I feel as if my mission has been accomplished.

    John:               When one looks through your discography, your catalog of songs, there are a lot of songs that seem to be very personal to Nicole Mullen. When you set out to write songs, do you have yourself in mind? Are you thinking of your family? Are you thinking of your church? Are you just thinking of a broader audience? Who are you writing songs for?

    Nicole:           All of the above. Oftentimes, though, when I'm writing, I'm thinking of the wounded, the abused, the hurt, the discouraged. You know, people that I meet often, whether I'm in a grocery store or I'm in an autograph line at the end of the night. These are the people's faces that I see, and that when I'm writing a song I'm thinking of them. Like, how do I convey this message of hope to Angela, to Ellie, to Melissa, to Lisonja. You know, how do I convey this message of hope to them. And so that's where I have to go back and I ask the Lord, "What is it that you want me to say? What is it that you want to convey? What message do you want me to deliver to your people that will heal them, that will lead them to you?" And so then it's a process of listening and writing. And so often I feel like I'm His secretary, or I'm the mailman. I'm called to deliver what He wants to say to them. And so these are the faces that I see when I write.

    John:               A lot of your songs have literally been . . . Let's see, how do I phrase that question. So many of your lyrics have contained passages of Scripture. The way you talk, when you're live on stage, you incorporate Scripture throughout your entire show. Every single one of your songs has Scripture in there. What do you say? And I'm going to lead you down a road here, and I think I know what you're going to say because I know you. But what would you say to the person who is attempting to walk out their faith in a daily life, and is not a songwriter. They're not a professional singer. They're just a mom, or they're a single dad, or they're in college right now. What do you do to get through life, in a sense?

    Nicole:           For me it starts with first of all having a personal relationship with Christ, and then being in fellowship with Him by talking to Him, which is prayer, and listening to Him. And then getting to know Him through His Word. In the Bible there are . . . I tell people all the time, if you want the supernatural, it's in there. If you want romance, it's in there. If you want, even like blood and guts, it's in there. The Bible was not rated G, just so you know. It's not rated G. But it is fantastic, and it's for everyone. It's E for everyone. But there's something for everyone. But really this is a formula for life for me. Successes will come and they will go. Good days will come. They will go. And love will come, and it may go. The Word of God, the Person of Jesus Christ will remain steady throughout life, throughout eternity. And so it is Him that we build our hope upon and our lives upon. So when it's all said and done, for me, it's Christ. And it's getting to know Him--not just learning about Him or meeting Him, but getting to know Him. And we get to know Him by inviting Him into our daily life, our every day life, whether we're doing the dishes, driving or having a conversation in Walmart. He is a part of everything that we do. And His Word is our standard. It's our guide for how we live life and how we treat people, and how we worship God. That's what I know. I'm not perfect at it. I haven't mastered it. But I when I fall off, this is the standard for which I get back on track with. In regards to where people are right now in their walk with Christ, whether they are one with Him, my urge would be, get to know Him. Give your life to Him. If you know Him and you've fallen away, or you're kind of doing this, get back on the path. Get back into His Word. Get back into fellowship with Him by talking to Him, and listening. And then do what He says to do. And so that's really the only formula for a successful life that I know and that I've seen that really actually works. So that's what I know. Jesus.

    John:               As a songwriter, what would you say is the most important song ever sung?

    Nicole:           Oh, that's a hard one. That's a hard one. And people ask me often, "What's your favorite song that you've written?" I can't pick. It's like picking your favorite child. That could get you in trouble.

    John:               That's for sure.

    Nicole:           Not like the songs are going to get me. But it's like on different days, there are different songs that really speak to me differently. Some days it might be “It Is Well,” which I didn't write. Other days it might be “ShooBee,” you know, in which I wrote, I believe in Jesus and I won't apologize. Some days it might be “Redeemer.” Other days it might be “Homemade Love” or “Wholly Captivated.” There are different songs that speak to me in different places and in different times in my life and different seasons. And so for me, the criteria for a song being my favorite for the moment is something that it is one that moved my heart, my attention and focus closer to Christ. And I don't want to sound redundant, but for me, that's the only thing that has any weight. I don't want songs that just entertain; I want to sing songs where, at the end of the day hopefully you didn't just hear a good beat, or weren't just moved emotionally, but my heart is that you'll be moved spiritually toward the One who is worth our worship, and that's Jesus. And so those are the kind of songs I like to listen to as well. And something that's well crafted, I love well crafted songs. Yeah.

    John:               I agree. What's on your bucket list?

    Nicole:           Probably to go to Israel. I don't have many things on there, but probably Israel would probably be one of them.

    John:               Do you have that planned?

    Nicole:           Not yet.

    John:               Not yet.

    Nicole:           Not yet. I mean, I have had it planned.

    John:               You've been to other countries.

    Nicole:           I've been all over in the world. Yes, I have.

    John:               Just Israel was not on there.

    Nicole:           Not yet, but I would love to go there. And I don't have very many places. I mean, I love going wherever God calls me. So if you hear me speaking and you're from another country, I want to come to your country. But Israel is one of those places that just, ah, I would love to. At the right time and the right season, if it's the Lord's will. And if not, hey, when we come back with a new Jerusalem, I'm going to be there anyway.

    John:               Are you a coffee drinker? Tea drinker? Red Bull?

    Nicole:           No, I'm a water drinker.

    John:               Water.

    Nicole:           I'm really boring. My daughter works at Starbucks, so she's a, she drinks coffee and tea. My husband's a coffee drinker. H2O people.

    John:               H2O.

    Nicole:           H2O, yeah, that's la-la.

    John:               The drink of heaven.

    Nicole:           Yes, the drink of . . . Ah! I love that you said that.

    John:               Cool. Well, that's great. Thank you again.

    Nicole:           Oh, but let me tell you. Wait, wait, wait, wait! Oh, I've got to tell you something else.

    John:               All right.

    Nicole:           Okay. Wait, wait, wait. I've got to tell you what I did for real, okay?  I know most of you all know me as the singer and all of that.

    John:               Oh, yes, I'm sorry.

    Nicole:           Let me tell you how I really feel about what’s important in my life, okay? This is like, I love this season of life, too. I love singing. I love writing. We're in the studio working on albums. I love that. But, let me say this. This is part of my fuel. During the week, about four days a week, we have two mentorship programs, mentorship and discipleship. One is Baby Girls Club, and it's for girls only. And I'll tell you a little bit about that in a second. Then we have Team NCM, which is Nicole C. Mullen. Team NCM is a group of kids that have to audition every year at the beginning of the year. They're between the ages of 8 to 18. They have a bent in singing, dancing, arts, drama. They audition. They have to love Jesus Christ as well. They audition. We get together twice a week after we've chosen them. We practice, practice, practice. We memorize Scripture. We do Bible study. We laugh. We giggle. We eat. We do all kinds of crazy things.

    John:               This is at your house?

    Nicole:           No, this is actually at a place called the Clubhouse, up in Tennessee. Because you know, I live out in the boonies. Nobody's coming out there. So we get these kids together, and a lot of them have traveled all over the world with me. A lot of kids from Team NCM, not necessarily currently, but we've had many years. So that's one of the discipleship programs that we have. And we're discipling kids who will, in turn, disciple other kids. And other people, because it could be their elders that they're discipling. Then we have another group called Baby Girls Club, and that's for girls only. And it's more of a whosoever will. You don't have to be a believer to come, but you're going to hear about Christ. We have a wide range of economically influenced kids. Some are from the haves, and some are from the have nots. Probably more from the have nots. We bring kids in from housing projects. We get them after school. We sing. We dance. We do Bible study. We memorize Scripture. We eat. We do conflict resolution, which is that we break up fights. We do all kinds of things. We are, me and some other women, it's not just myself. We're in their lives. It's our way of investing in them with the hope of Christ. And we've seen a lot of these kids give their hearts to Jesus. And as a response, some of their family members, their parents, have given their hearts to Jesus as well. Last year we had some of them get baptized, and it was just really great. So we've seen the Lord work in that. And even now from the Baby Girls Club, we've had people all over the world now who are asking us to help them set up theirs. We've actually started one in the country of Belize, so we have the Baby Girls club there. We have a place in Kenya. They're asking us to help them set up theirs. In South Africa, help them set up theirs there. In Burundi there's a request for us to help them there. Even in our own country, the people are asking throughout the United States. So, we're praying that the Lord will continue to give us wisdom as to how to facilitate this, and to really help them in the right way. I believe right now we have a great opportunity to effect the future of our nation and the future of our world. Because whoever gets the seed, gets the tree, and gets the fruit. So if we can influence the seed of these young lives for Jesus Christ, then He will get their tree and their fruit off the tree. And they're the ones who are going to be affecting nations and generations. So we have a great opportunity. And so we get to do Mondays through Thursdays, and that's where I am, hugging, loving on kids, doing Bible study. Just Stephanie and I, we're like mamas, and we love these kids. These are our babies. Then we have another girl, Karen, she's in Belize helping over there. I'm really excited about that aspect and would love to just have people to pray for us. When they think about us, pray for us. If they want more information, they can go to my website, nicolescmullen.com and they can find out about it there. Or babygirlsclub.com.

    John:               That is cool.

    Nicole:           I love it. Yeah.

    John:               That is so cool. I'm so glad that you shared that as well. That's great.

    Nicole:           They sing with me, too, so they inspire me. They do.

    John:               That's so awesome. I love that. This is great. Because it says so much more than just, I'm an artist and that's what I do. This is what I really do.

    Nicole:           Ministry starts when you get off stage. Ministry's not just about what you do on stage. It's when you take those steps off that stage, the real question is are you going to live it out, or are you just going to talk about it. And we're called to live it out. And Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations." So it's not making coverts that we're after. We're after making disciples, and that's messy. It's time consuming. That costs money. It costs energy. But that's what he called us to do. And so that's our aim. When it's all said and done, we're not looking for pats on the back. We're looking for Him to say, "Well done. You were faithful at what I called you to do." And then we can go forth and say, "Lord, you've given us five talents. We've gone out and we’ve multiplied it. We're bringing back 25, 25 lives," or whatever it might be. So yeah, that's what I do. I love doing that.

    Nicole is excited about this new season in her life and sharing the worship songs on “Crown Him.” “My mom told me a long time ago ‘when you sing, never sing to the people, always sing to the audience of One and invite the people to worship along with you,’” Mullen says, “and so that’s my new aim these day is to sing to the ‘Audience of One’ and hopefully it becomes so contagious and the melody becomes so soothing and so inviting that people will want to sing along.”


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Nicole C Mullen

  • Pat Williams on Adoption, Basketball and Living Life with Passion

    Posted on August 27, 2013 by John van der Veen


    Pat Williams is a basketball Hall-of-Famer, currently serving as co-founder and senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic. As one of America’s top motivational speakers, he has addressed thousands of executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies and national associations to universities and nonprofits. Clients include AllState, American Express, Citrix, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Disney, Honeywell, IBM, ING, Lockheed Martin, Nike, Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Tyson Foods to name a few. Pat is also the author of over 80 books, his most recent title being The Difference You Make: Changing Your World Through the Impact of Your Influence.

    Pat and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of 19 children, including 14 adopted from four nations, ranging in age from 26 to 40. For one year, 16 of his children were all teenagers at the same time. Currently, Pat has 12 grandchildren and counting…with twins due in July. Pat and his family have been featured in Sports Illustrated, Readers Digest, Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Focus on the Family as well as all of the major network and cable television news channels.

    I sat down and talked with Pat about his legacy as a father. To find out what motivated this man.  What follows is a candid overflow of his heart. This man is truly living with a passion.

    John: Pat, you certainly have had quite the legacy within both the basketball industry and within the sports community, but then you've also had a legacy over on the adoption side of things as well. Can you share a little bit, before we get in and talk about your book, can you share a little bit about how you and your wife were introduced to the concept of adoption or foster care, and why you as a family have pursued that?

    Pat: For the first 10 years of our marriage, my wife talked non-stop about adopting children that didn't look like us. She talked about almond eyes and I just couldn't fathom it. We had three birth kids and life was good. Finally at the 10-year mark, it became a major issue. Big issue. I realized that I had to take the initiative and get moving on this. Long story short, we learned about two little girls from South Korea who were available. We talked to our children and let them vote.

    John: This was a family process then?

    Pat: Family discussion and a vote. The vote was unanimous, let's do it. What an adventure that was. On September 12, 1983, these two little girls, two and three years old, arrived from Seoul, escorted by a couple of off duty flight attendants. There they were in the Philadelphia airport, handed to us, the new parents of two Korean girls. That launched it. Then I caught the bug. I kept thinking we can take two more. What's four more boys, or two little girls from Romania. At the end of 10 years, we had 14 adopted children. People ask all the time, "Was there a master plan here?" There wasn't. We just kept hearing about these children and felt God saying, "I'll provide." He always did, amazingly. We had enormous food bills and clothing, it was just massive. But to this day, God has always provided what we've needed to get the children raised and educated. I think there's a verse in the book of James. He's very, very big on widows and orphans. God has a special heart and these obviously were orphaned kids that we adopted. That promise is that if you take care of the orphans, God will make sure it works. That's what I've learned. I wish I could tell you that we've got a whole bunch of widow stories, but I don't at this point.

    John: I appreciate your honesty here.

    Pat: Maybe someday.

    John: Someday. Do you think, Pat, that adoption and foster care, the idea of looking at James 1:27 and putting that verse as a stamp on your family, has that influenced the work community that you have been participating in? Have other people within the sports category approached you or they been influenced by that type of methodology?

    Pat: Well, let me just say this, John, when we adopted these children, as years went on, we certainly were not reluctant to do media events. We did many of them, even though the kids were not all that thrilled about it. Nevertheless, we did a great deal of television and newspaper work. My thought was, let’s get the word out and see if we can inspire some other families to get into this whole adoption world. There are millions of kids that need homes, not all of them are available, but there certainly are a bunch of them. That was really the method behind the madness there. We did everything we could to spread the word and inspire other families. From time to time, we will hear from somebody, either with a letter or in person, who said, "We heard about your story, that was the trigger for knowing we needed to go and adopt." They'll talk about their two adopted kids from somewhere in the world. That always makes me feel good, real good actually.

    John: You've inspired, I'm sure, countless others. You have a new book coming out, called Coach Wooden's Greatest Secret. Why don't you just give us some background information about that. What is it about?

    Pat: Coach Wooden was a real hero of mine, as well as for millions of others. He let me into his life in the last decade of his life. I wanted to write a book called, How to be like Coach Wooden. He gave me his blessing, which I was thrilled about it. We did that book. I interviewed about 800 people who knew him or were in his world. That was all encompassing. Then, three years ago I had an idea, which we ended up doing. It was called, Coach Wooden, The Seven Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours. That goes back when he was in the eighth grade in a little country school in central Indiana. His father gave him a card with a seven-point creed on it. Coach Wooden lived his life by those seven points. That's the meat of that book. This latest book, called Coach Wooden's Greatest Secret, comes from having dinner with him one night years ago. I said to him, "Coach, is there one secret of success, perhaps, that you feel is preeminent, or really most important?” He thought for a minute, and then, in that understated way, said, "The closest I can come," (he wasn’t one to ram anything down your throat), "The closest I can come to one secret of success, is that it’s about a lot of little things done well." That was his little message over dinner that night at the Valley Inn near his home in Encino, California. As we begin thinking, I began to put together all these thoughts about where little things pay off. Little things done well really does make sense, if you do enough of them over a lifetime, it's going to be a pretty successful life. It's a good little reminder, I think, to people to focus on the little things, to do them well, patiently, and in the proper sequence. You really build a good foundation that way.

    John: What would be one of those little things that you have held close and dear to your heart through all these years?

    Pat: I think it would be the way I write books. I save everything, whether it's a story, a little quote, an antidote, or something I read in a book, I’ll mark it. For 30 years or so I've been doing that, just collecting daily something that might be valuable in a book somewhere along the line. If you were to come into my office and the credenza, you know, with the eight drawers that come out, I would think there're probably at least a million cards, which a woman types for me. She takes my material and types it on a card, which is really the research I do for books.

    John: What do you call that filing system?

    Pat: I call it priceless.

    John: [chuckles] Priceless, I love it.

    Pat: If you had ever told me 30 years ago that this would be the result of that accumulation, with no end in sight, but just day-by-day, little by little, I would have been amazed. I've been writing books for 30 years in my head, and these cards make it a reality. There they all are, by category, just capturing one day at a time--a little every day. I think Coach Wooden really has hit it on the head. Successful people just do what is right in front of them, however small; they just get it done. Then John would talk often about making each day your masterpiece. “Make each day your masterpiece.” I think about that a lot. The importance of taking each day—each simple, little day—and maxing it out. Draining the cup dry today. You can't change yesterday and tomorrow. Absolutely, suck the marrow out of the bones today. We can do that.

    John: Coach, as we're sitting here, you're kind of sitting on the edge of your seat, your kind of moving around, you are a passionate man. As I'm just noticing you, you seem like you are full of a passion towards something. What is the one thing you are most passionate about?

    Pat: I think I'm passionate about a number of things. Obviously, my family is a huge passion. I'm passionate about the Orlando Magic basketball team. I'm passionate, always, about the latest book. I'm passionate about my speaking world, my public speaking world. I'm passionate about Jesus. I'm passionate about my Christian walk. It will always be consistent and leave an impact on people. I'm not passionate about golf. I'm not passionate about fishing. I'm not passionate about stamp collecting, I'm passionate about those, maybe five areas of my life, and I stay pretty close to them.

    John: What has God been teaching you lately?

    Pat: That life isn't always the way we plan it. Two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which I'd never heard of. It's cancer of the bone marrow, actually the blood in the bone marrow. That came out of nowhere. Obviously, it rocked my world and the family's world. I've been dealing with that for the last two and a half years. Responding quiet well to the treatments, which have gone well. I feel good, and am able to keep my full schedule. When an illness like that comes into your world, and you begin to think, "Lord, this is me, your buddy down here. You know, I've got a lot more to do for you, what's the deal here with this?" That was the initial reaction. Then, I realized that God was calling me to another ministry here in the closing years of my life, and it's a ministry to the world of cancer, which is such a huge issue in our country. Huge, one out of two men will deal with it in their lifetime, and one out of three women. Suddenly I'm in a fundraising position. I'm a hospital board member... I'm into things, who would have thought? At least once a day there's a phone call or an email about somebody who's struggling with some form of cancer and needs to talk. Needs a word of encouragement, just to hear that there's hope. I've been called into that world. I never saw that one coming.

    John: Coach, how can we be in prayer for you?

    Pat: Obviously, I covet prayers for my health. For a complete healing. People have prayed so consistently for me. I couldn't begin to thank them all. I'm so grateful. An old ball player, my good friend Bob Boone, who I've know for many, many years, called several months after all this happened and just said, "How are you doing, how are you doing?" I told him, "I'm really responding well; the doctors are pleased. I'm on the road to healing." And Boone, he said to me, "Boy," he said, "This prayer stuff works, doesn't it." That was pretty direct, wasn't it? I appreciate prayers for my health. I also really hope that this next book will impact people. We have so much to learn from the life of John Wooden, who lived till he was 99. He would have been 103 in June. He got close to 100. He was far beyond just a great coach, too, he was the greatest coach of all time. There’s so much wisdom there. So hopefully we're able to capture that in these books that I've done on him. This next one, Coach Wooden's Greatest Secret, is one I’m especially eager to see do well. We also covet prayers for our family, with that many children, 19, and now the grand children, which are coming pretty consistently. We've got 12 grandchildren and two more on the way in July, twin boys. There are a lot of moving parts in the Williams family these days.

    John: I love it.

    Pat: I appreciate that very much John.

    John: Great talking to you.


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Fathers, Adoption, Pat Williams

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