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  • Mandisa - Finding Freedom by Overcoming

    Posted on August 6, 2013 by John van der Veen

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

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

    John:               I’m reading a quote, and I’m not sure where this was, maybe on your promo sheet or something, but you said, “I recorded both the song ‘Overcomer’ and the album to fuel faith and empower people; to remind those facing a battle that all for the strength and power they need is readily available to them. We are all overcomers.”

    So, my question is, why do you think people struggle with not seeing that identity themselves?

    Mandisa:       Because we are natural people. We have a supernatural heritage, but we’re natural people. We tend to only see our circumstances and not look beyond our circumstances. I was reading in Judges 6-8, which is the story of Gideon, and it was fascinating to me. If you look at the snapshot of who Gideon was and Judges 6, and then if you look at the end in Judges 8, it’s almost like two completely different people. He was really kind of riddled with fear; I just think it was a stronghold of his. When the angel came to him and said, “Oh, mighty man of valor, the Lord is with you,” Gideon’s initial response was, “Well, if the Lord is with me, then why is this happening?” That’s so typical of us, isn’t it? We hear that the Lord is with us but then we look at our circumstances and say it doesn’t feel like the Lord is with me. Once Gideon started to believe what God said about him, he started walking it out. It took him believing what the angel of the Lord was saying to him to make him really started walking as a mighty man of valor. It was a process.

    I’m convinced that when people start believing what God says about them, they’ll start walking it out. But God, He requires the faith at first. That’s why He says time and time again, “Believe Me, trust Me.” I love the man in the Gospel as He says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” God honors that prayer; it’s like, “Lord, I really want to believe and I believe you a little bit but help me in the areas where I don’t so much.” I think when we pray that, God says, “Okay, thank you for finally asking me.” Wham! “Here you go!” [laughs]

    John:               When somebody comes to you and says, “Yeah, but you have it all together.”

    Mandisa:       Ugh! Please. [laughs]

    John:               They may say, “I’m just a single mom raising three kids,” or “I’m a college student with the whole world ahead of me,” or whatever, and yet they can’t see anything going on in their lives spiritually. How do you say, look at Gideon or look at the man in the New Testament who said, “Help my unbelief”? What is your secret? Have you found a set of steps or something?

    Mandisa:       Totally. I say look at them and look at me. My last album was called What If We Were Real? That’s because God really sent me on a journey of taking the mask off. It was the mask that I would wear to try to tell the world that I’ve got it all together. He taught me to really let people see me as I truly am because I’ve found… I don’t know, I think so often in the Body of Christ we drive up to church, get in an argument with our family in the car, and then drive up and hit the church door and we’re like, “Hi. I’m blessed and highly favored.” We put on this veneer like I’ve got it all together and I actually think that God calls us to live more transparently, to live more vulnerably and to let our brothers and sisters in Christ see us as we really are. One, because in that way we can help one another know that we’re not alone; and two, it helps us to become more than what we are or were to start with.

    So, my last album was a process of coming to understand that, and I have just learned to be very transparent--almost to a fault on my social media sites. I posted earlier this week about a moment where I had to confess to somebody at a store—it’s a long story, you can read it on my Facebook [laughs] —I had to confess to somebody at the store that I lied to them and [groans] that is just never easy to do! But I did it because, well, the Lord told me to and he convicted me and the less you listen to the conviction of the Lord, the more you get numb to it. I just want to always follow the conviction and to repent when I need to and to receive God’s grace and forgiveness and to keep it moving.

    I just try to make it a point of letting the world know I do not have it all together.  I’m on this journey just like you are and let’s do this together, let’s learn from one another.

    At the same time, you have to recognize that you’re more than what you currently see. When God looks at us, He sees us as he created us. He sees us covered in the blood of Jesus, not as what we see when we look in the reflection in the mirror.

    John:               Is it scary sometimes when you get that vulnerable with people?

    Mandisa:       I think it used to be; it’s not so much anymore. It’s been a process, but I can thank Simon Cowell, in part, for that [laughs], for kind of putting me on blast, you know, on American Idol years ago. It helped me to not live hidden and not live hiding who I really am. Him making fun of my weight on national television put my weight story out there for the world to see, and that’s the main area where I was the most timid of letting people really see what was inside. So when Simon threw me out there, I was kind of forced out there, but it was a blessing in disguise because I feel like I’ve really learned a lot through it. I’ve helped several brothers and sisters along the same journey know that they’re not alone and that they—and I’m struggling just like they are—we have everything we need to fight and to come in victoriously.

    John:               Total sidebar, but do you still stay in contact with some of those people from those days?

    Mandisa:       The contestants I do.

    John:               Who won that year?

    Mandisa:       Taylor Hicks. He is in Las Vegas right now, and I know I’m a little bit biased, but I think that we had one of the more successful seasons. If you look at our Top 10, you’ve got Catherine McPhee on an NBC show, Kelly Pickler was just on Dancing with the Stars, and Chris Daughtry is a superstar. So many of the people on my season are doing really well, so that’s one of the great things about social media.  I can always tweet them and Facebook them and keep in touch with how they’re doing. Then when I get to their cities, I can look them up and say, “Hey, let’s go grab some coffee.” But no, I don’t hang out with Simon Cowell on a regular basis. [laughs again]

    John:               So let’s look at this: Each of your records seem to tell another chapter or story in your life; adding, maybe, another layer of who you are. When you put those songs together or create that album, are you thinking of Mandisa? Are you thinking of your personal friends… or your fan base? When you make a record, who’s that for?

    Mandisa:       I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question and I like it!

    My albums have been a journey of my life. True Beauty was first and that was coming right off of doing American Idol and really learning not to define myself by the standards of the world but by what God says about me. Freedom was when God started chipping away at the things in my life that I’ve been bound by, mainly my food addiction, and I began really letting Him teach me that true freedom is not the fact that I can eat these scones that are right behind me, but that true freedom is knowing that I don’t have to and knowing that I have the power to resist those scones and the chocolate cookies or whatever is tempting me.

    The third was What If We Were Real? That record was God chipping away at the layers and letting me show the world who I really am, and with this one, it was a combination of me looking at my life and how I’m overcoming not just the weight struggle, but also lots of other areas in my life.  I’m overcoming … I think for a long time I was very miserable being single. I call myself super-duper single because I think once you hit 30 you’re not just single, you’re super single. (Laughs)

    I’m just saying, once I hit 30. (laughter). I think I was so miserable in that for such a long time, and I feel like God has been helping me to overcome depending on a man to complete me. I believe that I’m called to be married; I believe that I’m going to meet my husband one day, but saying “I’m going to live my life right now and not just wait for the moment when I get married.” That’s a big overcomer story for me.So, I was thinking about myself in those areas and then I was thinking about some friends of mine. One in particular, whose name is Keisha, was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant and was undergoing chemo treatments while she was seven months pregnant. When I looked at her story, I went, “Wow! You were in the middle of this battle and had the greatest outlook!” I could just see how God was going to use this as a testimony. I was like, “Keisha, you’re an overcomer and we’ve not even seen the end of this battle.” For me, it’s about really studying the Word of God and coming to understand that an overcomer is somebody who has not even conquered their circumstances yet.

    The Bible describes an overcomer as, first of all, if you have the Holy Spirit inside of you, the Bible makes it really clear that those who believe that Jesus is Lord, are overcomers, because Jesus is an overcomer. Then, of course, in John 4:4, it says that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. So, it really isn’t about circumstances; it’s not about feeling like we’re an overcomer.  We’re an overcomer because God says that we are. Like I said earlier, once we believe that, I think that’s when we’ll start walking it out. But we have to believe it first.

    That’s what this album is, is it’s convincing both myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ to believe that you and I are overcomers. That we need to and can trust God, and that the One who is inside of you is greater than the one who is of the world. You can beat whatever it is that you’re going through, even though beating it may not look like we think it does. Keisha’s doing really well with her cancer. She’s had a double mastectomy and is still going through more treatments, but her baby was born perfectly healthy. We don’t know what the end is going to be, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s overcome this; she may overcome it by seeing Jesus face to face sooner rather than later. Or she may overcome it by God completely healing her, but what we know is that because Jesus lives in her, she’s an overcomer regardless of how we see the circumstances working out.

    John:               Is this record more personal for you?

    Mandisa:       I think all of my records have been personal.  This one is different in that where I am in my life is different than all of my other past albums. I just feel like I’m in a great place of contentment that I’ve never had before. I love being single now; there are many benefits. Let me tell them to you… (laughs)

    On Mother’s Day, I got a last minute flight to Charlotte where I got to support my friend Lisa who was speaking in her Church. She was speaking about something that was really difficult for her, and as I booked those flights with my miles, I was like, “If I was married and had kids, I probably couldn’t have hopped this flight at the last minute and gone to support her.” I can take my money and use it to benefit causes that are important to me. I can spend as much time in my bed as I want to and I get the whole bed to myself. I love my bed; I named my bed Rufus because I love it that much.

    I have the ability to do that without having to worry about somebody next to me pulling my covers, I love that. I think more importantly, I can spend as much time with the Lord as I want to. I can wake up on any given day, sit there in my bed, Rufus, and talk to the Lord all day long and study the Word and fellowship with my friends. You can’t really do that when you have different devotions to your children or to your husband.

    John:               It’s different.

    Mandisa:       It’s a different kind of a calling, but for right now I’m just appreciating that I have those things. So, yeah, in one area, that’s important, and I have a song, “I’m Praying for You” that I wrote with Chris August. That is a song to my future husband—who is not Chris August, by the way. (laughs) Let me just make that clear!

    So, I long for that day, but I’m not putting my life on hold. And I’ve got a lot of great workout songs on this album, just because that’s been important to me in the last few years. More than anything, there’s a lot of worship songs this time around because I’m just so loving the Lord and just so thankful for so much that that came out in my music. I’ve got a lot of songs that are like, “God you don’t have to do another thing, I just want to worship you because you’re that good.”

    Yeah, it’s different from my other albums. I think a lot of my other albums were more like, “Lord, when?” and “Help me,” and “I can’t get through this!” So now this one is a little bit more like, “Thank you, Jesus! I know that I can get through this!”

    John:               “Dear John”… Can you tell us about that song?

    Mandisa:       Oh, gosh! Do you have Kleenex ready? (laughter)

    John:               We can get some. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay too.

    Mandisa:       No, I’m happy to talk about it. Although I’ve never been able to talk about it without crying.

    John is my brother. He is not a Christian, and I really want him to be. And the reason I want him to be is not because I want him to live a life of rules and regulations. It’s because I know the abundant life that I have from a relationship with Jesus, and I simply want him to have that same abundant life. We’ve talked many times about faith. But right now he’s enjoying his party lifestyle, and he sees a lot of hypocrites—people who say they believe one thing and then their lives reflect another. So I think that’s just kind of been a way that the enemy has blinded his eyes. I pray for him on a regular basis and I have a lot of people praying for him. All of my Facebook and Twitter people know. Natalie Grant is a great friend of mine, and she has an alarm that goes off at nine o’clock every single day to remind her to pray for John. Here I go with the tears… (laughs)

    So, I played “Dear John” for him on Fourth of July weekend. It was the first time he heard it, and his response was, “You know, that’s a great song, Disa.” And, of course, my response that I wanted was, “What must I do to be saved?” and I know that that day is going to happen; it just hasn’t happened yet.

    So “Dear John” is a song that I wrote, if I were to write a letter about my desire for him to live that abundant life in Jesus and then if I were to put that letter to music, that’s what “Dear John” would be. I am praying first for his salvation, and hoping that as he listens to that song, he would put it on repeat without even knowing why, that he just keeps playing it and calls me up and says, “Okay, I’m ready.” Secondly, I’m also praying for every unbeliever who listens to it.  I just … I’m asking God to flood them with grace and forgiveness. I think so often people think that it is about, I don’t know, a list or something of things that you have to do. My brother’s enjoying partying and he likes going to bars and he likes women, and I just think that he probably has some shame there, but he’s just kind of enjoying that. But if I could just convince him, you don’t know what you’re missing! Jesus is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me and what you think you’re getting from these bars and alcohol and women, it does not even come close to the joy and the freedom and the satisfaction you get from a life with Jesus.

    So I’m praying that for him and I’m praying for every unbeliever as they listen to it that they’ll just receive a flood of forgiveness and grace. Third, I’m also praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ who have loved ones in their lives who don’t know the Lord, that God would just rise up like faith to talk to them, to maybe write their own Dear John letter and say “Hey, one of my favorite artists, Mandisa, has this song that I really want you to listen to,” (laughter) but before you listen, let me tell you about what Jesus means to me.

    I don’t know, I can just imagine people sending a letter with that song and then their loved one calling them and saying, “Okay, I recognize that you want this for me because you love me, so let’s talk about it.” I’m just praying that God opens up doors for conversations about Jesus to be had through this song.

    John:               Very good. Okay, so let’s see. We’ll kind of change gears a little bit. So talk about the record. Any new guest vocals?

    Mandisa:       Yeah, lots of guest vocals.

    John:               Is Chris on it as well?

    Mandisa:       He is, yes. I wrote with Matthew West. We wrote a song called “The Distance.”

    John:               Okay.

    Mandisa:       I wrote with Plumb, we actually wrote “Dear John” together.

    John:               Does that mean that Matthew is then singing with you?

    Mandisa:       Matthew was doing the background on “The Distance.”

    John:               Okay.

    Mandisa:       I wrote “Dear John” with Plumb, she’s singing background on that. I wrote “Praying for You” with Chris, he’s singing background on that. Then, there are a few people who aren’t singing on the album, but we wrote with… Israel Houghton on a song called “At All Times.” He lives in Houston, so we didn’t get those vocals. Then Cindy Morgan and Britt Nicole wrote a song that I did not write on called “Where You Begin,” and they’re not singing on it but they wrote that song.

    So, yeah, lots of guest appearances on this album and they’re not only some of my friends, but they’re also some of my favorite artists. So it’s just been neat to be able to come together on these.

    John:               That’s great! That’s cool.

    Are you a book reader? You are a book reader; what are you reading right now?  That’s okay if you mention like three or four.

    Mandisa:       Okay. I’m reading Captivating by John and Stacy Eldredge, just because as a single woman that’s a great book for me to have. I’m also reading through The 5 Love Languages because there’s kind of a new relationship in my life. I don’t know where it’s going to go but, shhh. (laughter)

    John:               And it’s not Chris August.

    Mandisa:       It’s not Chris August.

    Female:         He didn’t hear that part. (laughter)

    Mandisa:       I think it just kind of helps to know how people are wired. I’m really into my friend Tam here; she does radio at Capitol with me and we’ve been talking all day long about personalities and how different kinds of people communicate with one another. I’m just into stuff like that. So I’m reading The 5 Love Languages, as I mentioned, and I’m realizing what my love languages are and are not. I think it will really help me to be able to show love to whomever I marry; but not just in a potential marital relationship, but with friends and family and coworkers too. So I’m reading that. Then, I’m also reading through the Bible; my Church is reading through the Bible, the Scriptures both in the Old and New Testament, and I’m using the voice translation, which I absolutely love.

    Those three things I’m reading right now.

    John:               You are an author as well.

    Mandisa:       I’m working on a new one [book].

    John:               Really? Wow! When does that come out?

    Mandisa:       We’re just in the process; we’re meeting with publishers now. I have my preference, but we want to do an overcomer book. We want to do an overcomer book where people would compile a bunch of overcomer stories because I’m just convinced that when people tell their story in their testimonies, it helps them because the Bible says that we overcome by the word of our testimony. But it also helps people to hear it so I want to hear people tell their stories of how they overcame cancer because when people are going through cancer to read something like that, fuels their faith. So I want to compile these powerful stories about people in the middle of their battles, and also at the end of the battle. So, we’ll see.

    John:               What kind of music to you listen to now?

    Mandisa:       I’m a big CCM fan; the thing I love about CCM music, which stands for Contemporary Christian Music for those who don’t know, is that it comes in every style. You’ve got Christian Hip Hop and Rap and Country and Rock and Polka, probably! I don’t know. (laughter) I love that you can get all these styles, but the thing I love most about Christian music is that it’s not just something that makes you feel good, that makes you want to get up and dance, there’s a purpose and a meaning to it, and it helps you connect with the Lord. I love worship artists. My favorite worship artists are Israel Houghton and Jesus Culture, Meredith Andrews. I love the more current, more pop, hip hop styles. Capitol Kings I’m loving now. Then more pop artists like Britt Nicole and Natalie Grant. I don’t know; I love it all! If you look at my iPod, you’ll see a little bit of everything, but it’s pretty much all Christian music.

    John:               Last question, because we’re going to end here at three o’clock.

    Female:         Okay, we can leave a few minutes late too, because we came so late.

    John:               Well … What are you most excited about in 2013 besides Overcomer coming out?

    Mandisa;       I think the Hits Deep tour. We did it last year. It is tobyMac’s tour. He brings out a bunch of artists that are all my favorites. Last year it was Britt Nicole and Group 1 Crew were on it, but Britt and Blanca from Group 1 Crew are in baby mode right now, so they’re not on it this year. But we’ve added Colton Dixon who was on American Idol as well and is my label mate, and Capitol Kings who I just mentioned. I love them, they’re just really current. Then the people who were on it last year as well, like Brandon Heath, Jamie Grace and Chris August and Toby and myself. I cannot wait; it’s literally all of my favorite artists in one night.

    John:               Is that this fall?

    Mandisa:       It is. It starts in November and goes through December. Then in October I’m doing some more shows with Brandon Heath. We’ve been touring all year together; we did a 3-in-1 tour with Laura Story, and then we did a few shows called the Brandisa tour (laughs), because there was a rumor that he and I were dating so we just sort of embraced the name Brandisa. We are not, we are not dating.

    John:               Who started that rumor?

    Mandisa:       He did. (laughs)

    John:               Oh, he did?  (laughter)

    Mandisa:       He went on a national radio station and said that we’re dating. I was like, “Brandon, look, I know it’s all kind of fun and games, but as a single woman you are messing up my game by telling the world that we are dating!” (laughter)

    So we set the record straight. There’s a video on YouTube of him clarifying that we’re not dating. But, yeah, we’ve been touring together all year long.

    John:               So we need to pray for a husband for Mandisa, and for her brother.

    Mandisa:       You can pray for continued contentment for Mandisa and then the  husband will come whenever God is good and ready. (Laughs)

     

  • Hitting a "Home Run" with Carol Matthews

    Posted on August 5, 2013 by AlexMosoiu


    Carol Spann Mathews is an award-winning television and film producer whose work has been featured in theatres nationwide and on major television networks ranging from ESPN to the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN).

    Carol began her career more than 20 years ago in television marketing and advertising for clients including CITGO, Donald Trump Resorts, Sprint and Wilson Sports. She has since produced multiple television series that have aired on ESPN, EOE (ESPN Original Entertainment) and The Family Channel, as well as educational home entertainment for international brands like the "Dummies" publishers.

    Driven by a passion for faith and family entertainment, Carol has also produced numerous successful collaborations for major faith-based networks like Daystar, Inspiration and TBN—including TBN's top-rated show, "360 Life." Her resume also includes nationally syndicated documentaries such as "Death and Beyond" and the Angel Award-winning program, "Hymns," which uncovers the remarkable stories behind beloved hymns like "Amazing Grace."

    In 2011, Carol transitioned into feature films as executive producer and producer of "Home Run." The inspirational film, which celebrates the freedom and hope offered by Christ, premieres in theatres nationwide in April 2013. Prior to its theatrical release, "Home Run" was named Best Feature Film and Best Inspirational Film at CBA's Resonate Film Festival.

    That's when I caught up with Carol. It was the story behind Home Run that has intrigued us all. It's not just another baseball movie. It's much more than that.

    Alex:               Hi, Carol.  Can you tell me how you got started in the entertainment business.

    Carol:              I got started in the entertainment industry really with commercials and advertising first. I started with church commercials essentially in the faith community. I worked on church films, 35 mm filmed commercials that were syndicated to churches around the country, and then I went from there to longer form programming.  I worked on a couple of documentaries; one about near death experiences that was televised on what was at the time The Family Channel and other cable networks. Years later we did one on famous hymns, the stories behind “Amazing Grace,” “It is Well with My Soul,” and “Just As I Am. “

    In my career, I also kind of shifted and went to work at a production company that did work primarily for ESPN. I did behind-the-scenes videos for their original movies, and a couple of their television series. That was a really great learning experience for me. Eventually, I left there and went back to doing faith stuff.  There’s no replacing the joy and purpose you feel when every day you go to work, and you work on something where the outcome affects people’s lives, so I stepped back into that with doing television work. While Home Run is my first feature film, I’ve been doing television and productions for about 24 years.

    Alex:               Wow! How does working on a Christian project, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or those kinds of things, differ from working on a secular project? You mentioned it changes people’s lives, but speak more to that.

    Carol:              I think whenever you go to work every day, it’s invigorating to the day if you’re working on something that has a purpose beyond the moment it’s seen. If you could trigger a thought inside someone, if you could give them a perspective of the kingdom that they never had before, open their minds and hearts to something, it puts gasoline in your tank. You have energy to go to work every day. If it’s just for a momentary entertainment, I personally am not called to that, so it’s not as motivational personally.

    Alex:               That makes sense. How did the idea of Home Run come about?

    Carol:              The original concept belongs to a guy named Eric Newman. It was very simply a baseball player that returns to his small town. He’s a bad boy type and he goes to the small town and hooks up with kind of a mentor in the town, and he gets better. He sees the error of his ways and transforms, and this mentor was the one that claimed him to the Lord. It changed when we started believing that God was guiding us to do a film about addiction, so we just shifted our main character’s problems a little bit, and then when we hooked him with Celebrate Recovery, we realized that instead of having a mentor, a guy that kind of preaches at him, we decided to use the story to celebrate recovery to kind of propel our character forward. That was sort of the genesis of that concept of Home Run, and that was 2010, a long time ago.

    Alex:               Wow!  When somebody sees the movie, what do you want them to take away from it? What are some of the themes?

    Carol:              The main thing is that change is possible, that no matter what has happened to you, no matter what decisions you’ve made, you don’t have to stay in shame. It’s about the fact that you don’t have to continue to wrestle with that bad habit, and that your past doesn’t have to dictate your future. God can take those things and not only heal you, but take those very places of shame in your life and use them to glorify Himself and help others. I think that’s the most amazing thing. It is just the idea that God will take the places where we’ve fallen, and if we give it to Him, He not only heals us but He’ll allow us to use that to help others. So that change is possible, that our lives can be different from what they are right now in the areas that we want them to be.

    Alex:               That’s a very powerful thought. One thing I love about the movie is Scott Elrod’s character, Cory, after he has his little mishap and he gets kind of sent to the minors--not to the minors exactly, but he gets sent to coach the team. He eventually joins Celebrate Recovery, and you kind of watch him go through the journey. A piece of me, while I was watching it was thinking, man, I hope this just doesn’t… I hope he doesn’t just find Jesus and everything’s okay, and he gets his girl back and everything. I love the fact that you kept realistically portraying the struggle to overcome. Some people are delivered instantly, but others, it takes awhile; so I thought that was a very realistic portrayal.

    Carol:              Thank you.

    Alex:               How did you guys come to the partnership with Celebrate Recovery? What did that look like, and how did you integrate that into the script so well?

    Carol:              It was just one God thing after another. In my church, we have Celebrate Recovery, and every now and then--I knew very little about it--but every now and then on a Sunday morning, somebody from that ministry would get up and tell their story. And every single time that story was told in our church on a Sunday morning, it was so clear that God was at work in that ministry. It was just inarguable that you were hearing about the hand of God. I thought how great would that be to have story after story that I got in the movie, right? Where people are moved and responding to stories like the ones I heard in my church. So that’s the beginning.

    I started investigating, and next thing you know, I’m having breakfast with one of the Celebrate Recovery state reps, and she just happens to be very close friends to the founder of Celebrate Recovery out at Saddleback. That just gave me favor every step of the way. I’d love to tell you it was a really complex set of circumstances, but honestly, it was just one thing after another God just kept putting in our path. Even I was able to see the signals!

    Alex:               [Laughs] It’s amazing to see the level of engagement that people have with Celebrate Recovery. It’s the kind of ministry where you can be open and honest and transparent. You walk in going, I’m screwed up and I need help, and I don’t need to wear a mask because clearly, I can’t do it alone or else I wouldn’t be here; so it’s a very…

    Carol:              Yes. You just worded it so perfectly. You just worded it perfectly. The very first time I went to Celebrate Recovery was after I had breakfast with the state rep.  I’m like, can we use Celebrate Recovery in our movie? She was like, well, have you ever even been to a meeting (laughs)?  I was like, uh no; so I went to one, and consider this: I’m in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which for me is the heart of the Bible Belt. I mean, some cities fight for it, but we’re at least a contender.

    The Baptist church here in town is a longstanding large kind of pillar of the Southern Baptist community here in the town. This is where the Celebrate Recovery that she was a part of was. I’m there in that church, and the senior pastor of the church gets up, and in the Celebrate Recovery normal operation, you introduce yourself while you introduce the thing that brought you to Celebrate Recovery. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus who struggles with, whatever your thing is, alcohol, drugs, eating, abuse, whatever. Then you say, my name is.

    Here’s the senior pastor; he gets up, and he says, “Hi. I’m a grateful believer who struggles with deep-seated anger and lust, and my name is Seth.” I thought to myself, all right. This is different because the senior pastor revealed his struggles… and you know, he stood up there to make announcements. I mean, he was up there for no big reason, but the fact that the senior pastor is able to say he struggles with anger and lust, you know? I just think what possibilities opened up in that room that night for first comers like myself because the senior pastor was faithful enough to say his stuff. Does that make sense?

    Alex:               Oh, absolutely.

    Carol:              Anyway, I love Celebrate Recovery for that, and I knew, after just attending Celebrate Recovery a few times, that the script was going to change exponentially because Celebrate Recovery wound up being more beautiful and more impacting than I realized.

    Alex:               You guys released theatrically, and it had a good theatrical run, and it’s coming out on DVD here in late July. What do you hope that God does with this project?

    Carol:              There are so many hopes and expectations. My hope is that people don’t see it just as a movie or one-time experience, but as a tool--that they see the DVD as a way to do multiple things. For instance, perhaps there’s someone they love who is really struggling with addiction. That would be the most obvious thing, right? They might give them the DVD. Or maybe there’s somebody who is having trouble with some other life issue, and that person feels like “this is it.” You know, that this is the end for them and that they’ll never get better. They’ll always struggle, and maybe they get the DVD.

    Or maybe the DVD could be used because people are really looking for more authentic relationships in church. You know, we don’t mean to, but our church culture has propagated this thing that we have a hard time being real with each other because we feel like somehow or another, we’re going to be indicted for not being really “good” Christians.

    I don’t think it’s been ill intended; I just think it’s an outcome of people trying hard to be a good witness for the Lord. Consequently, what we’ve created is an atmosphere where people don’t feel like they can say, “I’m really struggling here.” Even worse, they feel like they’re all alone. They feel like they’re the only ones, because no one’s talking in church. So they’re not saying the things that are troubling them, like “I really want to leave my husband” or “I’m having an affair.” They’re not telling anybody because they’re thinking if anyone knew they had feelings or thoughts like, they would never speak to them again. They might be cast out. The reality is lots of people are struggling in our church pews; and if we started talking to each other, we would begin to see that one of Satan’s most paralyzing lies is that you are all alone. No one else in this church would understand; because if he can keep us in a secret and in our shame, then we are debilitated from being what we’re supposed to be in the kingdom.

    Alex:               That is very true. Let me ask you one other quick question before we go. You guys did a tremendous job on the casting. Tell us a little bit about how you got to work with those cast members.

    Carol:              Okay. These are such important stories to me because they are ... it’s just like we tripped and fell into the most amazing cast ever, but we went … David Boyd and I, we had a great casting director. He narrowed the field for us, and David Boyd, the director, and I went to Los Angeles, and we sat in a room during a cattle call, and the actors and actresses came in and auditioned. In a series of three days, we cast the movie. We had no idea how much God was in it until the stories began to unfold, and the actors began showing up and doing their thing, and we realized we could not have asked for more with our actors.

    We got David Boyd because of the beautiful script. Because of David Boyd, we attracted better than the normal quality of actors for this genre and for our budget. These actors wanted to work with David because he’s amazing. We were able to get people that typically we wouldn’t be able to afford, so we were blessed, blessed, blessed by the Lord in terms of casting.

    Alex:               Yes, and it definitely showed on the screen. It sounds like, I guess, in summing everything up, you guys had an idea of the kind of movie you wanted to make, God showed up and messed up all your plans, and Home Run ensued.

    Carol:              That’s exactly the truth (laughing). I love the way you sum things up. I’m going to start sending you things and then ask you to sum them up for me.

    Alex:               Do you know what, though? That’s a great testimony for all of us that we all have gifts, and talents, and opportunities, and God calls us to start moving in a direction; and then if He wants us to go in a different direction, the key is to be obedient to it, and let go of our plans, and use the gifts and talents He’s given us, and return them back to Him, and see what He does with it.

    Carol:              Amen to that! I never even planned to be in film. I never planned it. I would say to people, “Oh, film. Television is so much better because it’s so much faster,” and I’m right, but I just laugh because the Lord’s like, “Oh, whatever, Carol.  You’re going to be doing a film.” Yes. Amen to all that that you said, and thanks so much for interviewing me. I want to say one more thing. The DVD, using it as a tool; I do believe that there … my little boy at the time he was five went through a super hero phase, and he wore a facemask everywhere he went.

    When I tell this story in front of audiences, I say, my son; and then I always say he’s 18. Is that weird (laughing)? I am an old mom. He’s seven now, but he was five, and he was wearing a cape and mask everywhere he went, I mean everywhere: grocery stores, restaurants, whatever.  One day at the park, he was playing, and he was saving the world from impending doom. An older kid looked at him and said, “You’re not real.” This was so mean, right? I said to Sam, “Oh dude, I’m sorry he said that,” and Sam said to me, “That’s okay, mom. I don’t think he knew I knew that.” Right? I love that story.

    I think that there is a world of people outside the church who look at the church and say, “You’re not real.” The fact of the matter is, they don’t know we know we have problems. They don’t buy that once you come to Jesus, all your problems go away; and most certainly, any believer will tell you that they don’t.  We still are working out our issues, but we have a hope, and a grace, and a love, and a Father who’s helping us work them out. We’re not doing it alone. The fact of the matter is we’ve unintentionally put out there, again, this sort of Pollyanna look that if you come to Jesus, all your troubles melt away, and they don’t buy it.

    I think about using the DVD and handing it to our friends with addictions, and handing it to our friends that have something happen to them in life, and they feel they’re a lesser person for it, or giving it to friends that are sexually promiscuous or whatever. I love the idea of showing it to people who don’t know the Lord because it shows them a beautiful part of the body of Christ, and it’s the part of the body of Christ that is healing, and honest, and open, and transforming; and people really can change. I’ll tell you what, the world wants to believe in that type of Jesus, and I love that Home Run shows it to them.

    Alex:               Yes, and we’re looking forward to getting as many DVDs out in people’s hands as possible. I do think that taking that message into your home is probably a little more non-threatening than necessarily going to the theater, so I think this is going to have a huge impact, not only here at home but all over the world. We look forward to seeing what God’s going to continue to do. Thank you very much for your time, Carol.

    Carol:              Thank you. Thank you so much for believing in it.

    Alex:               Absolutely. We’re standing in agreement that God’s going to do something big.

    Carol:              Amen. Amen to that. Thank you guys so much. It’s a privilege talking to you. I really appreciate it.

    Alex:               Thank you, Carol. Bye-bye.

    Carol:              All right. Bye-bye.

  • Hope Runs in the Middle of Life - Claire Diaz-Ortiz

    Posted on July 25, 2013 by John van der Veen



    Claire Diaz-Ortiz leads social innovation at Twitter, Inc., and is the author of several books, including Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she is a frequent international speaker on social media, business, and innovation and writes a popular business blog at www.clairediazortiz.com. She holds an MBA from Oxford University and an MA and BA in anthropology from Stanford University. She is cofounder of Hope Runs, a non-profit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya. Claire has been called a "mover and shaker" by Mashable, "the woman who got the pope on Twitter" by The Washington Post, a "force for good" by Forbes, and "one of the most generous in social media" by Fast Company. She has been widely written about in such publications as the New York Times, Business Week, The Washington Post, and Forbes.

    I sat down with Claire recently and talked through her amazing life. How she, as it seems to have lived such great stories in such a short time. What unraveled was not just intriguing, but also thrilling. Here is a women who is constantly living out what it means to be a "hearer of God." Or - Claire is a women who hears God. Not in a audible way, but in the still small voice kind of way.

    Her story is filled with passion for the lost and lonely. Her story is filled with hope running wildly through the middle of life.

    John: Claire, I'm wondering, maybe before we talk a little bit about your new book, if you want to just give us a brief history of who you are and what you have done. I think I know what your current job title is, but maybe if you just want to give us a brief overview of where you started and what made you interested in social media, that would be a good place to start.

    Claire: Sure. In 2006, I went on a trip around the world. And the last stop on that trip--it was a yearlong trip--was Kenya, where I went to climb Mount Kenya. Someone had told me that there was a guesthouse near the base of the mountain, so I decided to stay at that guesthouse. It was very cheap. The day I went to the guesthouse, I realized that it was actually on the grounds of an orphanage. When I arrived, the orphanage elders invited me in to have lunch at the orphanage. I went in that day and in the middle of lunch, I was in the restroom and I heard God telling me that I would stay at that orphanage. And so I ended up living at the orphanage for a year. My foster son was a child I met that first day, who ended up coming back with me to the U.S. So this book ...

    John: On that trip?

    Claire: Yeah, we met on that trip.

    John: Oh, you met on that trip, and eventually ...

    Claire: We met on that trip. I stayed, living at the orphanage for a year, and then about nine months or a year after, I came back. We brought him to the U.S.

    John: So, just to clarify. You were going to stay there one day, and you ended up staying a year?

    Claire: Yes. And getting that kid along the way. So, the book, Hope Runs is our story. It's the story of Sammy's life before coming to the orphanage, and my life before coming to the orphanage, and then us meeting that day, living together that year, and then the five years that have happened since then, essentially. During the year I lived at the orphanage, I had a blog that was popular. Because I had this popular blog, I ended up meeting some of the folks that were starting a little weird social media thing called Twitter. And so they said, "Hey, you should try getting on Twitter. We think it could be really cool for you to tweet about things." And so, I started tweeting while I was living at this orphanage in Kenya. Obviously, there weren't a lot of people tweeting about their lives in orphanages in Kenya at the time, so I started to learn very early on how Twitter could be used for non-profit organizations and missionaries. Eventually, then, about a year later, I started working at the company where I still work today.

    John: So to some extent, your career or your life story has two different paths. Because it certainly is philanthropy on the one side, but then it's also this crazy social media world on the other side. How have those collided, or how have they been beneficial for you in your history?

    Claire: Sure. I believe that we need to extend access to more populations on the planet for us to gain the change we are looking for. And I think that Twitter is a great tool for doing that. I think the online world creates a level playing field for lots of populations, different populations around the world. So I like being able to work with non-profit organizations from a cool platform like Twitter.

    John: That's very cool. So, going back then to this trip. You decided to climb Mount Kenya. Was this the first time that you had an encounter with God, or were you kind of on a journey with Him before?

    Claire: Yeah, no, I've always been a Christian. I was raised a Christian but up until that day, I've never heard God so distinctly. I've never heard him saying to me so clearly that something was going to happen, and I had to keep my eyes open for me to know what that was going to be, essentially. You know, that day in the orphanage, I decided to... I said, "I'm not going to climb the mountain. I'm going to do a 72-hour fast and read the Bible. I read lots of books about things like that, bettering yourself and what not.

    John: Yes, I found your list for 2013, I was intrigued…

    Claire: So inside I’m saying, "Okay, I'm going to read the whole Bible, and I'm going to fast while I do it, and then I'm going to come up with my decision on if I'm going to stay in the orphanage for a year." And I like to joke that I fainted somewhere near Leviticus, and they took me to the hospital (literally), because I had actually fainted. They thought I had malaria. But at that point I already decided I was going to live at the orphanage for the year, so it was okay.

    John: So going through the book of Leviticus should convict someone [laughs]…

    Claire: Exactly, exactly. To do anything.

    John: To do anything. That's amazing. What do you say to the person who thinks that maybe, at some point in their life, God has spoken to them but they may have missed that voice or that sign? How does someone kind of look at their life and question whether or not God is speaking to them?

    Claire: It's interesting, because I've often questioned why did I hear God, so distinctly that day, and why haven't I heard him so distinctly since. I've obviously heard God many times in my life, but what happened that day was bigger than anything that's ever happened to me before since. And, I really think a lot of the reason that it happened was that I had a lot of space in my life for it to come in. I was in a moment of searching, I had some time, there was margin in my life, essentially, and that allowed me to hear. I think probably most of us live our lives so busy and so full that we don't allow time to hear. Maybe we have 15 or 20 minutes in the morning of our quiet time or something. But that's not a lot if you're looking for God to really change your life.

    John: That's very interesting and also very convicting. In talking about the margin, Claire, I just have to ask the question, because in social media, we have access to the entire world at our fingertips 24/7. How do you make time, encourage either somebody who's younger or older or getting into or feeling addicted to social media, be it Facebook or Twitter, whatever. How do you plan margin in your life?

    Claire: Well, I think it's funny. Some people have thought I've been kind of heretical to say, does working at Twitter mean that I take the digital Sabbath? But I do. I try to take 24 hours off in every single week. And I think it completely restores me in ways that would never happen if I just stayed online. I mean, it's just so easy for us to get caught up in the fast-paced world we live in. And then in the fast-paced world, if you're spending all your time online, it feels even more fast-paced than ever. So you need to step away eventually and just shut it off and pause and stop.

    John: Have you always been a writer?

    Claire: Yeah. In my head.

    John: Sure. But I mean, you haven't come out with a lot of books, right, but you've probably written...

    Claire: Yeah. Sure.

    John: You know, unpublished or like you said...

    Claire: Right. I wrote a book about Twitter that came out a couple of years ago. And, as I say, I've always been writing in my head or something. I have all the Moleskin journals to prove it.

    John: Well, that's good. Encourage somebody who's on the fence about either foster care or adoption. What signs should they be looking at to either dive in or maybe hold off for that? How do you approach somebody who's considering that?

    Claire: Well, I think it's interesting, because I'm probably overly encouraging of anyone who's considering it. I actually ...

    John: Which is okay.

    Claire: I mean, I want people to be in a stable marriage if they're married, or to be in a stable financial situation, a stable living situation. Those things are important. But, I think that emotional renaissance, or emotional insecurities about the decision to adopt or the decision to foster, will always exist. Just in the same way that many soon-to-be biological parents have insecurities. And I don't think that's ever really going to go away. I don't think a hundred percent of the foster adoptive parents in the world are running around saying, "I can't wait for him or her to get here this second." But I think they all find that love very, very quickly upon meeting your new kid, essentially.

    John: So it's said that expecting parents are never, ever ... Even before they're expecting, they're never ready for a child. Do you think the same is true when they're expecting an adoption or a foster care child?

    Claire: Absolutely. And I think perhaps, even more so. Simply because often times when you're adopting or getting a foster child, you're getting a kid at a different age than day one. And you never quite know what day 1,000 might be for a child. And that comes with its own host of challenges.

    John: What has been the best surprise about Sammy in your life?

    Claire: I think the best surprise about Sammy has been simply the way that when I do little things, I'm amazed by how much Sammy appreciates them. When we were in the process of writing this book, I learned stories I never knew about Sammy. I thought I knew things about him, I thought he knew things particularly about his life in the last seven years since I've known him. But I was learning all these new things and one of them was, the emotion he felt the first time my best friend baked him a cake. Because he'd never... She baked him a cake because we were celebrating. He had graduated and he'd never had a cake baked for him before. And he was just so overcome with joy at this little thing. I hadn't even thought that, I dont' even know ... I guess we had bought cakes for him on past birthdays, past birthdays, I don't even know. And then the fact that the cake had been baked by someone because they cared about him, he was just like, "This is amazing." And he wrote this story in the book, and I just couldn't believe it. I started crying just because I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that A) no one had baked him a cake, and B) that I never knew that was important, 'cause I would've baked the cake years earlier, obviously.

    John: What is God teaching you lately?

    Claire: God is teaching me an incredible amount of patience right now.

    John: And how is he doing that?

    Claire: One of the ways .. There are different ways in my life, but one of the ways is in relation to Sammy. You know my parents sometimes say I got kind of the hardest end of parenting 'cause I started this with a teenager.

    John: How old was he when you took ...

    Claire: I met him at 13. He came over at 14 and a half, 15. You know that is a challenge. I think any teenager is a challenge. A parent of a teenager faces challenges and I'm facing all that. So without having had the years to kind of set him up for success in many ways, we are tackling those things. And that's hard.

    About Hope Runs

    Sammy Ikua Gachagua had lost his father to AIDS, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. By age ten, he was living in a shack with seven other children and very little food. He entered Tumaini Children's Home seeing it as a miracle with three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clothes on his back.

    When Claire Diaz-Ortiz arrived in Kenya at the end of an around-the-world journey, she decided to stay the night, climb Mt. Kenya, then head back home to Maine. She entered Tumaini Children's Home seeing it as little more than a free place to spend the night before her mountain trek.
    God had other plans.

    Hope Runs
    is the emotional story of an American tourist, a Kenyan orphan, and the day that would change the course of both of their lives forever. It's about what it means to live in the now when the world is falling down around you. It's about what it means to hope for the things you cannot see. Most of all, it's about how God can change your life in the blink of an eye.

  • Alex Kendrick on The Lost Medallion

    Posted on July 18, 2013 by John van der Veen

    The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone is a feature movie coming to DVD & Blu-ray May 21st. This faith-based, family, action/adventure film will thrill children and tweens, six through fourteen, their parents and grandparents. When Daniel Anderson (Alex Kendrick; Fireproof, Courageous, and Facing the Giants) visits a foster home to drop off some donations he is quickly roped into telling the kids a story.

    The story he tells is about Billy Stone and Allie, two teen-age-friends, who uncover a long- lost-medallion and then accidentally wish themselves back in time. Will the experience give them a new understanding of who they are and what their lives really mean? Daniel finishes his story to the foster children with the Truth about their tremendous value to God, who loves them and created them. The story not only changes the children, but is bound to change all who see the movie.

    Here is a recent Q&A with Alex.

    1. How did you get involved with the Lost Medallion?

    My good friend Kevin Downes was a producer on the film and he introduced me to the director, Bill Muir. We began talking about the film and the fact that Bill thought it lacked something. I pitched the "foster home" idea to him where a story-teller shares the journey of the medallion with the kids at the home. In this way, the rest of the movie becomes the story that's being told, kind of like Princess Bride. We added deeper story elements as a result of this, and Bill asked me to play the role of the story-teller.

    2. When you were a child, did you have dreams of being involved in movies?

    I did. My parents were very careful of the entertainment we allowed in our home, but the few movies I saw really sparked a desire in me to make films one day. When we got our first video camera, we made more short movies than I can count. As I grew older, the Lord really turned my heart toward ministering through films, and it's been more fulfilling than I ever imagined.

    3. Do you feel more comfortable being behind the scenes of a movie or in front of the camera?

    I love most aspects of filmmaking. I enjoy the process of telling a story, from directing to editing. I've enjoyed playing a role, but also enjoyed just focusing on being behind the scenes (as I did in Fireproof). The joy comes when the movie all fits together and the story works. God has been incredible in turning hearts toward him through each story, and I'm thrilled he lets me be a part of it!

    4. What did your kids say the first time they saw you on the screen?

    They were very young and took it for granted. In fact, at one time they thought that I knew everyone in EVERY movie. They were disappointed when they learned that I only knew the people in our films. Today, they realize that not every dad has his own films.

    5. Are you a Red Bull fan, or is it coffee?

    Believe it or not, I've never had a cup of coffee in my life. I took a sip of black coffee as a kid and thought it tasted terrible. However, I have had a Red Bull or two. You have to be careful, though. Those things can send you through the roof!

  • New Suspense Fiction from Dee Henderson

    Posted on July 16, 2013 by John van der Veen

    In Unspoken, from bestselling author Dee Henderson, a family legacy brings Charlotte back to Chicago, where a reporter is writing a book about the kidnapping. The cops who worked the case are cooperating with him. Her options are limited: Hope the reporter doesn’t find the full truth, or break her silence about what happened - but her silence is what has protected her family for years.

    Charlotte Graham is at the center of the most famous kidnapping in Chicago history. The task force of FBI and local cops found her two abductors, killed them and rescued her, but it took four very long years. The fact that she was found less than three miles from her home, and had been there the entire time, haunts them. Now, she’s changed her identity, found a profession she loves, and rebuilt her life. But she’s never said a word - to the cops, to her doctors, to family - about those four years.

    Charlotte wants to trust him. She needs to tell him what happened. Because a crime cops thought was solved has only opened another chapter...

    Talk about suspense...

    We asked Dee a few questions regarding her new book, Unspoken.

    Is your new novel Unspoken related to Full Disclosure?

    Unspoken is Charlotte Graham and Bryce Bishop’s love story. Bryce Bishop is a good friend of Paul Falcon, so I took advantage of that fact and brought back Ann and Paul Falcon during the investigation within Unspoken. I like being able to continue on with characters and see the next chapter in their lives.

    Are you constantly creating new plot lines in your head?

    I work on one book at a time, but I’m a slow writer. It’s not uncommon for me to spend three months searching for an idea, writing down scenes until I find a good story spine. Then I spend about five months writing the story, and another three months fixing the story with the help of good editors. I’ll start that process with maybe ten or twelve ideas from my idea box. I write down every idea I have, even if I have to get up in the middle of the night and reach for a notepad. Ideas are like nuggets of gold, some I can use immediately, while others haven’t found a story yet. The ideas are accumulated in a box behind my desk. I think of that box as my security blanket. If I am really stuck, something in that box might generate a place to start.

    Who is your favorite author?

    Francine Rivers has written some beautiful and timeless stories. I like reading Nora Roberts—I love her characters. I’m currently reading all the Robert Parker Spenser novels; the early ones in the series are worth tracking down.

    What inspires you to create your art?

    God designed me to be a storyteller. It’s what I enjoy doing with my time. The hours involved in figuring out a story are a process of discovery. All the work involved is trivial compared to the joy that is that moment in time when story threads come together and I can see a book and how its components fit together. It’s a very unique point and something I look forward to with every novel. I’ll often mention to my mother, “I’ve got the story done. Now I just need to sit and write it down.” The rest of the job is tinkering to find the right words for a scene, to cut out what doesn’t need to be on the page and put down what does need to be there. Compared to every other job I’ve done, writing is the most absorbing and fun. I’m inspired to create stories because I want to write the end, and then tell God—I wrote another story, would you like to read it? And hope God likes it as much as I do. The stories are gifts I can give back to God that I hope He enjoys. And I can create them with only paper and pen, so I’ve been making those gifts for God since I was a little girl.

  • Holley Gerth. On a Mission to Inspire Others to Dream.

    Posted on July 8, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Holley Gerth is a bestselling writer, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her blog and books like You're Already Amazing, You're Made for a God-Sized Dream, and Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream. She's also cofounder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring Cards. Holley lives with her husband, Mark, in the South.

    I sat down with Holley to talk about how she began her career in the card industry and how that lead to encouraging so many people around the world.

    What I found is a lady who is more interested in having a cup of coffee with her followers than anything else. Holley is a passionate woman who is on a mission to point others to Christ.

    John:                Let's just talk a little bit about Holly and where you’ve come from. You're from Arkansas, right? Have you always been a Southern girl? What kind of inspired you to start writing?

    Holly:               Okay. I'm originally from Texas, which is like a whole different country, really.

    John:                It is.

    Holly:               My grandparents had a Christian bookstore when I was growing up in South Texas. I was the little kid with a big stack of books in the back room. I always dreamed about being a writer when I grew up. That's how I got started and began loving words.

    John:                Were there particular authors that you were kind of drawn towards when you were working at the store?

    Holly:               I was too young to work. I was in elementary school. I remember even in fourth grade, I had Kevin Leman's Birth Order Book. I was analyzing all my little friends on the playground. I would just go straight to the adult Christian living section and pull out whatever I could find and just read and read and read.

    John:                That's pretty funny. Does Kevin know or that he inspired you?

    Holly:               I don't think so.

    John:                No? Have you ever met Dr. Leman?

    Holly:               No. I haven't.

    John:                I think he's published by the same company that publishes you, isn't he?

    Holly:               There you go.

    John:                Maybe someday... That's pretty cool.  How did you come to know the Lord?

    Holly:               I was raised in a Christian family with, the grandparents having a Christian bookstore. I grew up learning about faith and Jesus. I remember just one time being in, it was actually in my grandparents' house, and they have a little Gideon Bible, my grandpa is really active in the Gideon's. I remember just kind of flipping through it. For whatever reason, that was the moment for me. I was about seven, I remember praying and just saying, "Okay Jesus, you know, I'm yours." I got baptized the next Sunday and have had ups and downs in my faith, especially when I went off to college. I had a little rebellious streak for a while. I was fortunate to have a family that was always a part of it.

    John:                 After this and being influenced by Dr. Leman and others, is this when you gave writing a shot?

    Holly:               Yes. Where I really got my start writing was at DaySpring Cards, a subsidiary of Hallmark. When I went off to college, just before Christmas break my freshman year, the DaySpring sales rep went to call on my grandma at their store and she said, "I have this granddaughter who wants to be a writer." You know nanas are irresistible, so the DaySpring sales rep, "She can send some things to us." I did that, clueless at 19 years old and all. But they actually did accept my writing samples and I connected with their editorial team and freelanced when I was in college and interned. Then I spent about nine years there as an editorial director.

    John:                That's pretty wild to think about the fact that your cards or what you have written have inspired and encourage probably thousands of people all over the world. That's pretty spectacular. From DaySpring then you kind of transitioned to taking a stab at writing?

    Holly:               Yes, I started a blog around 2008 when all of that was ramping up, and I loved being able to engage with readers in that way. Then a coworker of mine, Stephanie Bryant, and I co-founded the website (in)courage, with an “I” instead of an “E”. We're at DaySpring and DaySpring was like, "I don't know what you crazy girls are doing, but go for it." We were thankful for that, that they let us go ahead and do that as part of our jobs. That took off in ways that we never expected, it was a God thing.

    I always wanted to write books, but it felt like God was saying it's time to take that step at that point. I always thought I'd be at DaySpring and just felt called to transition into something new. My last day at DaySpring was on a Friday and Revell offered me a three-book contract on the following Monday, that I didn't even know was coming. That was a pretty good confirmation.

    John:                That sounds like a God thing. That's pretty awesome. Your first title ... I don't remember the title of your first book.

    Holly:               You're Already Amazing.

    John:                How did it feel transitioning from one avenue to another?

    Holly:               I had also written two smaller devotionals and published those. It was fun to actually do the kind of books that I read growing up, the longer chapter books. I love the team at Revell. Jennifer Lee, my editor, was awesome. There were a lot of times I was scared in the first go around, and she would say, "It's going to be all right Holly, just keep writing." I loved that.

    By that time, I had also got licensed as a counselor, and certified as a life coach. My life was just full of all these different voices of women, whether it was online through my blog, or face-to-face in a counseling office, or in a lot of other ways. I felt like the conversation was already going and so having a book come out of that just kind of felt like the next natural step. It's really just about what all women struggle with and how God's truth sets us free. It was really fun to take all of that and put it into a book.

    John:                When you write a book, do you think about writing for your audience, or do you feel like you're writing because this is what God has told you to write about?

    Holly:               I would say both. I always say I feel like the first reader of whatever I write, because I feel like that's how God speaks to my heart. My job is first to listen and then just listen to my audience also. I always say on my blog that I'd love to have coffee with all my readers. That's what I think of when I'm writing. It's just what would I want to say if this reader was right across from me and being able to listen to what she is saying is really helpful. I feel like my books really are, in a lot of ways, a conversation between my readers and I.

    John:                Do any of your readers try to take you up on that?

    Holly:               Yes. (laughs)

    John:                Have you?

    Holly:               Yes. Last night we did an event at a store. I got to have coffee with a lot of my readers and it was so much fun. Yeah, if I Facebook, "I'm going to be in ____" like we were in Southern California last week and readers were like, "I live there, let's have coffee." Whenever I can, I do because that's what I love the most, just hearing the hearts of women and being able to be a part of their lives in that way.

    John:                That's great.

    Holly:               Yeah. The coffee helps, too.

    John:                Coffee helps too, nothing wrong with that. I think it's very biblical. (Smiles) Your new book is entitled You're Made for a God-Sized Dream. Want to talk a little bit about that? What's behind that?

    Holly.               Yeah. I felt like I got to go on a God-sized dream journey in the whole transition through launching (in)courage and my work at DaySpring, and then getting to write books. I wanted to come alongside other women, who maybe knew what they were called to do, but were just feeling a little scared to step out, and really equip them to make that transition into their dreams. That's what that book is about. A God-Sized Dream isn't really about size at all; it's about what perfectly fits your heart because God created it for you.

    I love saying to women, "You know what, you can be a dreamer wherever you are. If you're called to stay home and raise your kids, awesome. That's a God-sized dream. If you're supposed to move to Africa and do a non-profit, awesome. That's a God-sized dream, too." Just saying, whatever it is that God's asking you to do, go ahead and say yes. I know it's going to be scary and hard, but it's also going to be amazing and full of joy and it's going to change the world. That's just what that book is, coming alongside those women who are just stepping into that dream that God has for them.

    John:                What do you say with you being a licensed counselor, how do you respond to a lady who comes up to you and says, "I feel like God has a dream for me 'here,' but yet I'm stuck 'here.'" What would you say to that person in attempting to fulfill something that they feel that they've been called to, but feel there are barriers there?

    Holly:               They're in a different season. I would say to start with whatever you can do today. Even last night, I talked to the ladies and I said, "You know what? A dream can happen in 15 minutes a day. So, if you're chasing toddlers and you have 15 minutes to sit down and write one page, that's enough." Dreams are always about a process. It's not about the finish line. It's about the journey along the way.

    Really the best part of a God-sized dream is just going on that adventure with Him. You don't have to wait for that. He's always willing to meet you, every single day, wherever you are. You can get up every day and say, "God, I'm going to pursue this dream. Whatever that looks like today, whether it's five minutes or I get to do it full time, because what I really want out of that dream is more of you." I tell them, "You don't have to ever delay. It's not probably going to be everything you'd like to be doing or that you might be doing one day, but there's something that you can do today." It's really just about living fully engaged and awake.

    John:                What is God teaching you right now, Holly?

    Holly:               God is teaching me that He's never going to stop asking me to get outside of my comfort zone.

    John:                What does that look like?

    Holly:               I think just ...

    John:                Can you share?

    Holly:               Yeah. I'm an introvert.

    John:                Really?

    Holly:               Yes.

    John:                I can't tell (jokingly).

    Holly:               On like the Meyers/Briggs, I'm like 90% introvert. I love being with people, but it's outside of my comfort zone a lot of the time. I feel like this journey is just very much about dependence on Jesus. I say the Help me, Jesus” prayer a lot.  "Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus." Every day, I just pray that He would give me words that are perfect for His daughters. "Give us this day, our daily bread," and "He's the Word," and "He's the Bread of life." I just have to continually go back and say, "I got nothing, but I have you and that's enough."

    He continues to expand, books do well and things, and new opportunities arise. I tell women, "The fear never goes away." That's just part of it. That's what keeps us leaning in and saying, "Okay, I can do this with you Jesus, but I could never do it on my own." I think that's a lesson I just keep continuing to learn.

    John:                Do you ever have a down day?

    Holly:               Yes.

    John:                HA! It doesn't sound like you do.

    Holly:               (laughing) Yes. I absolutely have down days, right? Mark as my witness (Her husband Mark is sitting, nodding his head in agreement). Yes. I get overwhelmed. I get scared. I struggle with depression and anxiety. Every once in a while, I just get up and I think,  "Oh, I don't want to do this anymore," or I'm having a really bad day and my life's a mess and I don't know what I'm doing and these people on my blogs seem to think I have it together in some way, and I don't. I try to tell them that, again. I think that's part of it. We all have down days. None of us are perfect. We all have struggles and we're not home yet. That's not going to go away until we're in heaven. I think it's knowing that we can be used by God even in those times when we feel inadequate or we're really depressed or something hard is happening in our lives. That's really comforting to me that He can use us in spite of us. That's a really reassuring thing to know.

    John:                I'm always amazed on how liberal God's grace is towards His children knowing how much He knows about us. Even when we feel that life is going great, He still sees all the crud in our life. He still says, "Yes, you are the one that I have chosen to be my child, my bride." Pretty spectacular. Do you have a favorite Bible passage that you continually go to?

    Holly:               I tend to have one that I focus on for each book. With this book, it's Matthew 19:26, "All things are possible with God." I love that because "with God" means it's a partnership with Him. That verse doesn't mean I can do whatever I want and God will make it happen. It means that if we partner with Him, and we're seeking His purposes for our lives then nothing is impossible for us. That's really reassuring to me that I can just show up and say. "Okay, I'm willing to be used and God will work out the rest and make His purposes happen.

    John:                What are your big goals for the rest of this year?

    Holly:               The rest of this year? I have another book coming out in September, a devotional companion to this book.

    John:                Is that finished yet?

    Holly:               It's Opening The Door to your God-sized Dream, it goes along with the most recent book that's coming out.

    John:                That's great. That's awesome, Holly. I appreciate you coming in here, bringing me coffee and taking the time to chat with us today. I'm excited to see what God has in store for you.

    Holly:               Thank you. I appreciate that.

  • Michael Landon Jr. - Leaving a Legacy in Film

    Posted on July 3, 2013 by AlexMosoiu

    Michael Landon Jr., son of the late television legend, Michael Landon, has been in the film business for over 25 years.  Educated at USC and a Directing Fellow graduate of the American Film Institute, he has worked in just about every capacity of the movie making process including film loader, 1st and 2nd assistant cameraman, stedicam operator, Director of Photography, apprentice film editor, production assistant, and actor.

    Our buyer of DVDs had a candid conversation with Michael on his upbringing, his work in the past and what he working on now.

    Alex: So we'll kind of start out with a general question about your background. How have you seen changes in Hollywood from your days in Little House on the Prairie to your dad's involvement in Highway to Heaven, and to where Hollywood is today? How have you seen it change during that time?

    Michael: Well, there have been a lot of changes that have taken place since the Little House days. So there are different aspects and components to the business, right? For example, when Little House was around, you had three major networks, and they controlled most of the content on television, maybe four networks. Now there are literally hundreds and hundreds of channels to choose from. So the idea of families sitting down together and experiencing storytelling, whatever that might be, is no longer around. Everybody has a TV in a different room. And since there's specific, narrower targeting of the audience--stuff for teens, little ones, grownups, etc.--no one's sitting down and experiencing storytelling anymore together. That's definitely one thing I've seen.

    The other side is all of the different avenues in which media is being fed to us. It's not just TVs. It's the Internet, streaming, iPhones and iPads. And so it's coming in every sort of way, and there's the emergence of these social media things like YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, and other ways that media is coming and pretty much bombarding our homes.

    Then there's the content issue. Programming content has radically changed, which to me is extremely unfortunate. Family programming is almost completely extinct. There are a few reality shows that I feel like are probably fine, the singing shows and the dancing shows and things like that, where the content is suitable for the entire family for the most part. But gone are the days of the Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven and Touched By An Angel, and TV series like that. Now, fortunately, I do have the opportunity to create a new TV series for Hallmark based on a very popular Janette Oke book, When Calls the Heart. That is actually Hallmark's second foray into TV series work. So at least now there's an opportunity for families to have an alternative to the very sexualized sitcoms or the gritty cop forensic shows that currently permeate the airwaves.

    Alex: So what do you think that the lack of family type of entertainment has done to the family unit, you know, the idea of sitting down and all watching stuff together on a regular basis? What do you think that that causes in a family dynamic?

    Michael: It's hard to probably calculate exactly what the repercussions are. I can't imagine it not having some detrimental effect to the family. I mean, technology is amazing, the way we use it, the way we can quickly disseminate information back and forth between each other. But at the same time, obviously, there is this fragmented aspect of being together, where everybody is in the same room and yet not really present with each other. They're on their phone and tweeting, or emailing or texting their friends. It's definitely breaking down the family unit in a way. It doesn't allow for intimacy to really grab hold of families. And also, I can't imagine that the increased and different content isn't breaking down the family unit as well. It clearly is. The messaging that's coming out of a lot of these shows sometimes is sexually promiscuous or shows a lack of respect for authority whether it be for parents or teachers or whoever. I mean, these are messages that our children are being bombarded with constantly--no holds barred. It seems nothing is really off limits. If you advocate limits, then you're against freedom of speech. It's always spun off in a very kind of negative tone.

    Alex: Michael, what do you think? Is life imitating art? Or is art imitating life in television and entertainment right now?

    Michael: Well, I definitely think they're pushing both, right? I think they're feeding off of each other. And I think we see that. I don't know the statistics, but I can just imagine in terms of the age of sexual contact between young people is getting lower and lower. The sexually transmitted diseases are out of control, from my understanding. Again, the respect issue for parents and teachers is completely falling apart in many areas. So, I think the media is feeding off society, and society is feeding off the media, and it's not good.

    Alex: So, let me ask you this, kind of along those same lines. You went to USC film school, right? One of the most prestigious film schools in the country, to kind of learn your craft. And obviously you grew up in the Hollywood business to some extent. What would you say, as a believer, what would you tell Christian parents whose kids want to grow up and be in the entertainment business in some way? How would you guide and direct them to be a part of the business?

    Michael: Right. Just a clarification, though. I did go to USC, but I was not in their film program.

    Alex: I guess I just assumed that.

    Michael: That was the game plan, but I ended up going to AFI for film studies.

    Alex: Got it.

    Michael: American Film Institute. I was a directing fellow there. It's a great question, because I think that many Christian parents see the business and they're terrified of what it will do to their children, and how it will affect them and the people that they'll come in contact with. It's a tough business. The film business is really, really tough. It's extremely competitive. If you're in front of the camera, your ability to make a living is very difficult, especially if you're going to keep your integrity in terms of the projects that you'll pick and choose. Because you'll see that it's a limited amount of family fare. A lot of it, especially in the younger category, is due to the fact that there are a lot of horror films out there, and teen party kinds of films. It's basically adults who run the business, and they know what teenagers want to see. So it's not an easy decision. I would say, however, at the same time, that the business is craving talented storytellers who want to tell stories that will be uplifting to families; ones that deal with issues of faith, forgiveness and love. So, I would probably still encourage a Christian family whose son or daughter is passionate about it—and they have to be passionate because this business is really tough. It's very competitive. If they're really passionate, you see signs of greatness when it comes to acting or writing, and I would encourage them to allow their children to become involved in that case.

    Alex: And so as a producer, or generator, I should say, both on the production and the directing end of Christian content, you're one of the most prolific people in our industry who generate content. How do you personally choose the projects that you get involved with?

    Michael: Well, a lot of it is generated by certain properties that I've purchased the rights to, for example, such as the works of Jeanette Oke, Beverly Lewis and Francine Rivers. The content is coming directly from like-minded storytellers, so that's definitely one avenue. Then there are other projects I'm generating, either through novels or I'm being hired to direct, for example, The Ultimate Life. So I, you know, it's a story that just needs to resonate, and then I'm going to try to either get the job or develop it. But the first thing that has to happen is that the story has to resonate with me deeply. I don't see myself as a Christian filmmaker. I see myself as a filmmaker who happens to be Christian. And I think there is a difference there.

    Alex: Talk about that difference.

    Michael: I think one main example of the difference would be that I see myself as someone who doesn't try to work outside the system, but work with the system. I don't try just to hire Christian actors and actresses. I try to hire the best actors and actresses to play the roles. That goes along with anybody else on my crew. I try to hire the best DP (Director of Photography). So I think that's probably one of the main differences. Not everything that I do has to be Christian, per se.

    Alex: Yeah, and I think from our perspective in the entertainment business, in any line of work that's what we're called to do as believers, right? Is to use our gifts and talents and apply them to being the best at that particular trade. So it's a good analogy, and I apologize for stating it the way I did. I should have stated that better. You don't find a Christian plumber and a Christian car repairman. You find a car repair guy who happens to be a Christian.

    Michael: That's right.

    Alex: For various reasons. You touched on Janette Oke. Obviously you had a lot of success working with the Hallmark Channel, starting with the Love Comes Softly series and that piece. And it's been several years now since that series started, and it had a very, very successful run. Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with Jeanette and that book series, and what that's meant to you in your career.

    Michael: Oh, Love Comes Softly was huge for me. The interesting thing about that particular property was that it took me 10 years to get made. Most people don't know that fact. But it was something that I championed for 10 years. When I started pitching it and shopping it around Hollywood, everybody just didn't get it from the title on down. They just thought it was too soft. You know, no one would be interested in this type of storytelling anymore. The Little House days are over. And then, so I knew that the next step was going to be, I needed to write the script. So I worked on it and co-wrote it with Cindy Kelly, who was a writer that I co-wrote The Velveteen Rabbit with, and had a certain amount of success with that. We wrote the screenplay and it still took a few years to finally land a home. Hallmark finally stepped up to the plate. Even they were a bit skeptical at the time, but when it aired, it ended up being the highest rated movie in the history of that channel by 40%.

    Alex: Hmm.

    Michael: And then the sequel, Love’s Enduring Promise, then became its highest rated movie in the history of the channel. Since then, Hallmark uses that particular franchise. They play that franchise more than anything they’ve produced, by far, and they've produced hundreds and hundreds of movies for that channel. So it proved the skeptics wrong, and obviously there is a powerful hunger and need for this type of family programming. To top it off, I formed a relationship with Jeanette Oke, who is really the pioneer of Christian romance fiction. She started that genre, and I have to say, she is one of the most beautiful, wonderful human beings I have ever met. Everything about her is so genuine and real. I'm honored that she has allowed me to use--and trusted me with--more of her material. I just think the world of her.

    Alex: Yeah, I've had the chance to meet her on a couple of occasions--certainly not on an in-depth level--but I would definitely agree with you that that's exactly how she comes across. So you're partnering with her again on this next project, When Calls the Heart. Tell us what that's about, the TV series idea and the movie piece.

    Michael: Yes, so the When Calls the Heart series has been a labor of love for us as well, my partner Brian Bird and myself. It is an offshoot from the original source material. The way the books are laid out, it wasn't conducive for a TV series. The setup is the same, which is that we start off with this very young, educated woman who has the desire to become a teacher. She's done all of her schooling, and she comes from this very wealthy family living in the city. She is challenged to take a job out West in kind of this unlawful coal mining town, where underprivileged children live. And she forsakes the comforts of home and goes on this daring adventure to teach these children. And so the pilot veers away from the book a bit, but thank goodness Jeanette Oke is completely in agreement with our take. The actual storytelling is in line with When Calls the Heart. But in order to keep a series going and create a world where we're not moving through the other books that we want to preserve of Jeanette's, the coal mining town that we've created, Coal Valley, is a piece of fiction that is separate from her novel. But the essence and the characters and everything are very much from Jeanette's imagination.

    Alex: Excellent. It sounds like both your fans and her fans will greatly enjoy that as well.

    Michael: I believe so.

    Alex: So you've had the chance to work with Jeanette Oke and then Beverly Lewis, which are kind of two very strong pillars in the Christian fiction community. You made movies so far out of Beverly Lewis' The Shunning and The Confession. So what attracted you to her writing, and what was different in portraying kind of that Amish lifestyle versus the more pioneer days in Jeanette Oke's books?

    Michael: Right. Well, you know, it's the fascination with the Amish. And obviously, Beverly Lewis has made an entire career out of that. I believe that the non-Amish all just have a certain sense of nostalgia for life without technology. It kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. In our culture, technology is integrated into nearly every part of our lives, whereas the Amish pretty much avoid all modern technology, including the car, the Internet and, in many cases, even having an in-home phone. And it's all to preserve that social cohesion within their community. And I just think that when you have the modern world spinning around them at this lightning fast speed and pace, these people in like a time-stopping universe becomes just fascinating. Totally fascinating. Beverly Lewis has captured the hearts and minds of readers, and has created compelling characters that push her stories forward.

    Alex: Excellent. So we talked briefly about The Ultimate Life, the sequel to The Ultimate Gift. Share a little bit about that project and why you took it on. What is it about the story of Red that attracted you to it, and what do you hope that somebody who sees the film gleans from it?

    Michael: The Ultimate Life. The producer, Rick Eldridge, came to me last year in November and asked me if I'd be interested in directing The Ultimate Life. He gave me the script, which centered on Jason, the heir to the estate. And it got into all the machinations and crazy scheming of the dysfunctional family, and the story took place in a courtroom for about 80% of the storytelling. And I just felt like this wasn't where the story needed to go. I think what people were going to be fascinated by was the character that influenced Jason so much, which was the Red character. So in November of last year I pitched to Rick that this be a prequel, and not a sequel, that the story actually revolves around how Red became who he was, what his early upbringing was like and how he ended up becoming a billionaire and how he had a change of heart. And thankfully, he agreed, and we quickly brought on a few writers and built the story.

    I usually don't like telling what the audience will get out of it, because I feel like there are different messages that will resonate with different people depending on where they are in life. I do, however, believe that there is something for everyone in the storytelling, the innocence of young love, of commitment. You know, something that was really joyful and one of my favorite parts of this movie is Red’s young love story. I just love the innocence. I'm not saying that the 40s and 50s were perfect. But it sure was really joyful to be in that time period. That's all I can say. Just the music, and kind of innocence of romance and everything. I'm wandering a bit right now.

    Alex: Oh, no, that's okay. Yeah, the brief time that I had on set, and the interactions that I've had with Rick and the scenes I've seen of it, definitely resonate the differences in time periods. Also the timeless things—the lessons or gifts--that no matter what time you interact with, it's still a very appropriate message.

    Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, one of the big themes is gratitude. The one conclusion I've definitely come to is that if you don't have a grateful heart, you can't be a happy person. And listen, I completely understand that there is a lot of struggling going on for a lot of people in this country. But when you look at other countries and what their struggles are, as a whole, we should be pretty grateful. I know we had worked together on getting the film Jamah out, you know, you look at worlds like that, and you see the spirit of those people, and their gratefulness for basically having nothing. It's just so important to try to have a grateful heart no matter what the circumstances are that you're going through.

    Alex: That is very true. Very true. In fact, I was talking to my kids the other day, and we were talking about the scene in Jamah of the little boy and the girl having to haul the coffin halfway around the country, and thinking, my kids are about that age. Boy, you know, I'm eternally grateful that they don't ever have to live that sort of thing. So you're right. Gratitude is such a very important thing.

    Michael: Yeah. And I just want to make sure I'm clear that I'm definitely speaking to myself when I talk about gratitude. Something that I constantly need to remind myself. If I'm acting spoiled or feeling down because something didn't happen right, I try to remind myself that it's ridiculous.

    Alex: Yeah, I got frustrated last night because my WIFI was down for 15 minutes at home--it was a meltdown—so, I know the feeling.

    Michael: Right? And then you just take a step back. You go, oh, my gosh, this is ridiculous. In reality I'm so blessed.

    Alex: Absolutely. So let me ask you one more question as our time winds down. We usually like to find one crazy, off-the-wall question to ask folks. So, if you were sitting down with an 18-year-old Michael, what would you tell yourself all those years ago?

    Michael: Oh, if I was sitting down with an 18-year-old Michael.

    Alex: Like with yourself, not just a random 18-year-old kid named Michael.

    Michael: With my actual self?

    Alex: Yes. What would you have told yourself when you were 18? What wisdom would you have imparted?

    Michael: I would have told him… Just trust in Jesus. Trust Him. Trust that He's going to bring you through to the other side, and don't try to do it on your own strength. And I mean that sincerely. This is not just to tell an audience of Christians. When I was 18 years old, I was a wreck. I was a wreck. My parents had divorced, and I was completely lost in the world. And I fought. I fought The Message. I fought it all the way, all the way. I didn't want to have anything to do with Jesus, nothing. Yeah.

    Alex: Excellent. Well, that sounds like very timeless advice. Michael, thank you so much for this time; we appreciate it. We very much look forward to partnering on these upcoming projects, and I definitely look forward to our paths crossing again.

    Michael: Appreciate that, Alex.

  • A Pastors Goal to Restore Manhood

    Posted on July 1, 2013 by John van der Veen


    The earthly crisis within manhood will be there until Jesus returns, but in Christ men are pointed toward the gospel as the vision for renewal. Manhood Restored by exciting new pastoral voice Eric Mason combines theological depth with practical insights, putting men in step with a gospel-centered manhood that will enrich every facet of their lives.

    John: I’m wondering if you could just give us some background information, Eric, where did you come from? What is your overall background? How did you become a Christian? A short synopsis on who you are and what brought you to this point.

    Eric: Short synopsis. I grew up in a quasi-Christian home, more non-Christian than fully Christian. I grew up in inner city Washington, D.C. and didn’t trust Christ until I went to college through my campus ministry on my campus. A couple of years later I received the call to ministry, went to Dallas Seminary and was on staff at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. I played some roles there in ministry. Took a pastoral role at a church in Houston for a couple of years and started to listen to the call to plant a church. I went back to Dallas for a while and then went through a program and fellowship in Little Rock with Fellowship Associates and got commissioned by a multiplicity of churches to plant.

    In Philadelphia, I have my wife and two sons. We’ve been married almost 16 years and the church is now six years old and we are a multi-ethnic church in the inner city of Philadelphia, and that’s where we are now.

    John: That’s great. Eric, you wrote a book about restoring manhood. And in the introduction you ask a rhetorical question, “Another book on manhood?” What drove you to write this book?

    Eric: Several things. I think people around me, the disciples. They’ve watched me make disciples for 20 years and have seen or heard when I’ve been to a conference somewhere ministering. Or just on a very, very personal level with people, feeling like there was a deep need to communicate the Word of God to this generation in dealing with humanity issues. They kind of connected with me and extracted and affirmed that’s what I needed to do through prayer and in getting with the Lord. That’s kind of how it came about, and the pandemic in our minds with the challenge of manhood and masculinity as it relates to Jesus Christ across economic lines.

    John: Eric, when you look at that topic, do you see this as a pandemic within our country alone, or do you think this is something that’s going on worldwide?

    Eric: Well, it’s interesting because I’m getting people from Australia, South America, Europe, all over the world contacting me about this. It has been not just an American phenomenon but it is also a global phenomenon in which manhood needs to be restored. I think that there are other contextual issues. I can’t personally say from every single country where it is, but everybody has attested to me from different backgrounds in a context that there is a pandemic need for men to be restored by the gospel.

    John: And Eric, where is this problem coming from? Where is it stemming from? Obviously we could easily quantify it and say hey, we are sinners. To some extent, do you think that’s been hitting a little closer to home in this last generation? First of all, let’s identify what is that problem and then is it associated specifically with today’s generation?

    Eric: Yes, I think that you really don’t see the impact, it’s just like being the president. A president can be in a presidency with a great economic upswing. But they say it takes eight years later to feel the economic impact of a presidency. I think that there has been a pendulum swing within our culture as it relates to manhood. And so I think that is what this generation is experiencing. We had the civil rights generation and their philosophy of America being as a hippie generation/black power/immigrant/bourgeois generation. And then after that we had the hip-hop/pop generation. We have what I call now the eclectic generation and I think that in light of all of those threads, there has really been a decline in manhood. And I’m talking specifically in America. There’s a good book on the father of the American economy, the kind of talks about the downswing of manhood over the last 60 years. It was written in the mid-90s and kind of gives some sociological forecasts that fatherlessness consists of not only being physically absent from the home, but can be presently absent as well. I think the fatherlessness issue is a big issue. I think there are some aspects of technology that play into man’s detached connection to the home, too. For instance, a guy that’s 35 years old and a deeper gamer, that kind of thing. And some of the quote-unquote urban context where there’s a phenomenal downswing of fatherlessness that has been a huge part of the crisis that’s in manhood today.

    John: What do you think is the biggest problem? Guys not seeking Christ or guys not seeking their wives well?

    Eric: Of course the bigger issue is Christ. Everything starts with that. Jesus says, “Apart from me you can’t do anything,” so I think that’s the main issue. I think it’s both an evangelical issue and it’s a branding issue. In relation to the world and in the Western culture, the church seems to be in the mind of the loss as more of an entity that there’s more robust females in Christianity versus men. So that detachment has created a lack of an apologetic for why the church can’t put a dent in this issue of fatherlessness. When seeking out why as a result to me, of having a robust relationship with Jesus Christ.

    John: Eric, did you write this book for the church, for lay leaders, or did you write this for individuals?

    Eric: I wrote it for both. I think the curriculum part of it is more for the church, and the DVD set. But the book I wrote for people who are not believers and believers so that, you know, I saturated it with Scripture because I believe the Word of God is alive and active in my mind. Whether or not they know that the verses are there, I think the biblical reasoning of the book can connect with the lost guy and the found guy. I wrote it for both, but I wanted it to be discipleship material that transcends the time. So that it can continue to be something of a tool in the hands of men to be able to walk with men, so we are not just pointing out a whole bunch of problems, but tooling this generation hopefully with solutions that are willing the person to work with Jesus Christ.

     

    John: Eric, you wrote and I think I’m quoting here, “Jesus is the prototype man for men. All of us men are only as manly as it relates to the standard set by Jesus.” Do you want to explain that statement?

    Eric: Yes, I think one of the things I didn’t want to do was alienate the fact that Jesus is an example for women. So my point isn’t to really alienate women because the book is on manhood I wanted to voice it, if you will, to men. And so it’s all about being the prototypical man. You know the Bible talks of him being the firstborn above among many and he’s the first fruit. Not only that, but it talks about the Word became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. There’s a Greek word in that verse which means to pitch a tent and to take residence, which points back to the Old Testament covenant of the presence of God being among men. And so Jesus Christ became the prototype of what the church based on 1 Corinthian 3 and 1 Peter 2 , was eventually going to be a house of God. And so, in light of that indigenizing that to men, what I see there is Jesus Christ being the prototype of what it means to be a man because he came to restore all things, but God chose to send him in a masculine form. And since Jesus is in every aspect of who he is based on Hebrews is the greatest of all. That would include him being the greatest man because God made him a man and he is the perfect man. Watching him in his incarnation, I wanted to extract principles from his incarnation that reflect a robust biblical masculinity.

    John: Do you think there’s, I want to be careful how to say this, but do you think that there is controversy in that statement because you’re telling guys to look at Jesus because he was a man. You talked about the fact that you’re not alienating women here. How do women look at Jesus? How was your wife or my wife supposed to look at Christ?

    Eric: This is like what the Scripture talks about. In relation to their was suffering. You’re looking at the first of Peter four, and it says and he left his example for us to follow. He’s not just talking to women. However, I think it’s very important that Jesus, there is a neutral part of his character that is applicable to both men and women.

    John: Yes.

    Eric: The other issue though, is because He’s a man, He directly images Himself in a way that helps men to see that Jesus Christ was a man and a real man. He didn’t come in the form of a woman. Now that doesn’t mean He’s better for men than He is women. It’s interesting that you asked what women are saying. It’s funny. I have had many women comment—either through Twitter or Facebook or through Instagram—that they’re buying the book for their husbands because they’re excited about it. I’ve had some people say some stuff on the Christian profile group, and the Christian Post did a great job discussing this. And of course, some of the comments are just from people that are in different places in their spirituality.

    The main point of what I’m trying to do is to encourage men to live up to their God ordained role. And it’s interesting. The Bible calls Jesus the second Adam. The fact that there was a first Adam who sinned, and what we have learned about our masculinity from that, well, we wouldn’t have learned it from Eve. We learned it from Adam. Jesus is the second and better Adam based on Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. As the second and better Adam, he’s a better man than the first. And since God made them male or female, in Genesis 1, he made them male or female, Jesus Christ is the remade, upgrade maleness of Adam and therefore, we would have learned masculinity from Adam, I think we can do so with Jesus Christ a lot better.

    John: Needless to say, you wrote the book to men. It’s about men and you wrote it to men. At some point, may be a year or a couple of years from now, you may write a book to women.

    Eric: Yes, I just finished a series on Eve this spring.

    John: Well, there you go.

    Eric: Yes.

    John: So the people that are reading this blog post, the women that you had just mentioned that are tweeting you and Facebook messaging you and are excited about it. If the lady is married to a gentleman who is not proactively seeking Christ, reading His Word, leading his family, what would you say, Eric, in that context to that woman?

    John: What would she do with her husband in that state? Is that what you are asking?

    John: Yes, if she comes to you, hypothetically, and says, “Pastor, my husband seems to be unengaged in all of those areas that you’re talking about.” How would you encourage her? What would you say?

    Eric: I think the Bible answers this question so simply. First Peter 31 talks about her serving her husband, respecting her husband and praying for her husband. That he may be one with the Word. I think that there can be some nonthreatening ways that God graces us to facilitate her to get this resource and I think this resource is, of course, engaging. And basically, everything in the book pretty much comes from pastoring people. And having heard that a billion times and having discipled men and telling her about that, that’s what I would let her know. For me, when you’re looking at a pastor’s husband, I think she needs to pray for him and then talk to him about some of the challenges. And we’re assuming he’s a Christian. I think if he’s a nonbeliever it’s a little bit different. I think that when it’s a believer, she needs to communicate, which women do. Communicate her challenges with her desire to see him be the man that God wants him to be in whatever way she can serve him. And then I would hope that she’s in the church, which hopefully they are talking to leadership and asking them to help facilitate the man being more effectively engaged. The last chapter of the book is on restoring man’s relationship with the church because I think the church has to be intentional about facilitating what it is for men to be fully engaged and be the men that God has called them to be. And when that gets in order, then I think by God’s grace, the women won’t have to push towards their husbands to beg them to lead them.

    John: Eric, who are you influenced by? What authors are you reading, what music are you listening to?

    Eric: You know, I’m a research reader but I’m also a real man. Right now, I’m deeply influenced by Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Carl Ellis and others. Those are spiritual fathers to me. All of them have influenced me. What am I currently reading? I’m currently reading Anthony Carter’s book, Blood Work, which is a phenomenal, pastorally theological work talking about the blood of Christ on our lives. That’s been helpful. And then I’m going back to a book by Richard Lovelace that’s called, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal. I’m excited about that. And then I’m going through the book of Esther as well. In Scripture.

    John: Eric, one last question here. You started an organization called Thriving.

    Eric: Yes.

    John: Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

    Eric: Yes, Thriving is an organization that we started in planning a First Peter fellowship in in a really difficult area in Philadelphia. God has graced us to see tons of people meet Jesus and to be able to really get stability, financially. It’s almost a full sustainability there, then seeing it be multiethnic and engaging our neighborhood and doing work over in Malawi and planting churches in difficult areas to bring the hope of the gospel there. And so as that began to happen, people began contacting us asking us how we did it, and it got so overwhelming to the point we, for the better of the Lord, thought that an organization to help facilitate training urban leaders to be able to engage contacts with the gospel so that churches can be planted and ministry can be done in places that people don’t want to go but has a rich potential with what’s needed to engage the unreached people groups in all areas.

    The redemption of manhood sets Jesus as the true standard of biblical manhood, looking to his perfect example to redeem and restore a man's life in the areas of sexuality, home, and work.

    Look for Eric's book by clicking here.

  • The Afters - Life Is Beautiful

    Posted on June 17, 2013 by John van der Veen



    The only true alchemy in this world occurs when trials turn to gold, the debris and heartbreak of life transformed and polished into shining beauty by a loving, unseen hand. We try to catch a glimpse of this remarkable change in action, yet human eyes fail us. However, once these storms of life pass, we see the afterglow through signs as sure as Noah's ancient rainbow. A loved one overcomes. Morning breaks after an impossibly long night. Grace thunders through spiritual drought with a mighty downpour of living water. All of this, and more, affirms the fact that yes, life is beautiful.

    Such was the thought going into the new album from The Afters. I sat down with lead singer, Josh Havens to discuss the lines between the lines of what made up life and it's beauty.

    Josh

    John: New record. Life is Beautiful. Josh, what is underneath the title? What is the theme of the record. When you guys are singing about the idea of life as being beautiful, what does that mean for you guys?

    Josh: Well, this record is really a collection of stories that comes straight from life. It's little vignettes that come straight from our lives. It's the beautiful things that we experience in life, the things we're thankful for and the good things, but also some of the pain and the struggles that we go through. What ties this record together is how God is present in every moment of it. He's with us on the beautiful sunny days and the good times in life, but he's also there when we face the valleys in life and walk through the harder things too. That's why the stories on this record are a real collection of some of the joy and the sorrow that we've walked through and just God's faithfulness through all of it. Ultimately, I think no matter what situation we find ourselves in, God can make beauty in anything. That's definitely been our experience as we were walking through the making of this record.

    John: Was there ever a moment in the recording process where either you, individually or the four of you guys together, after a lyric is written or a song is recorded, you kind of just step back and go, "Okay, this is a God moment." Where the song almost becomes outside of who you are and God is speaking to you?

    Josh: Absolutely. Yes, there's definitely been songs where it's almost like you blink and you're like, “Okay, where did this come from? Where did this song that did not exist just a little while ago come from, because there is no way we could have just done this ourselves?” There were moments for instance in the song called “Broken” where I remember looking up, and we were all in tears as we were writing that song. The subject matter was so personal to us, and you know, I think writing in a way is therapy for the people who did the writing because you're dealing with the harder things that you go through and you're facing some of these things that are sometimes difficult to confront. For instance, with the writing of “Broken,” we were all discussing different losses that we've been through. I had just come out of being in the hospital with my son. When my son was born he had some unexpected complications and had to spend quite a while in NICU, and that was a pretty crazy experience. We saw other children there who never left the hospital. Parents that never brought their children home, and it was a difficult thing to be there and see all the suffering. We also saw God do some pretty amazing things and he really did show us His faithfulness in those times. I remember being in the hospital and reading the book of Job for comfort and seeing a man who lost everything in his life. I mean he lost his family. He lost all of his possessions, and then in the midst of that loss and brokenness he shaved his head and took off his clothes so he truly had nothing left, and then he fell to his knees and worshiped God. I just remember being so inspired by that and just thinking, “Wow, that's the man I want to be.”

    John: You guys had the opportunity to partner with the Erwin Brothers on their film October Baby. Then you made a music video for the song "Life is Beautiful" that was in correlation with the movie. What kind of experience was that like seeing your song being such an integral part to the message of that movie?

    Josh: Well, the way that that all came about was pretty interesting. We were actually on tour with Casting Crowns and we were working on songs for the new record. Most of the venues were these sports arenas, so we would have stinky locker rooms that were basically our dressing room for the day. So we would bring out equipment into these locker rooms and set up kind of a little mini studio. The idea for “Life is Beautiful” is one that's been kind of in my head for a while. I've wondered about that song and thought even about maybe doing a record with that scene for a while. We started discussing the concept of it and it just flowed out. It was one of the fastest songs we've ever written. We had it written and demoed within a day. Sent it to our manager. It was almost like once we started talking about the idea of things that we're thankful for in life and things that make life beautiful and those little gifts from God, it just started flowing. I remember sending it to our manager the next day after we had demoed it, and he said, "I've got to send this to the Erwin brothers because they just did a movie that this would be perfect for." Well, they had already finished it and turned it in, but they actually pulled it back and asked if they could make a tweak on it and they put the song in the movie because they felt like it would be a perfect fit. Then we did the music video for it. They had a whole campaign surrounding this film called “Every Life is Beautiful.” They didn't know about our song and we didn't know about the campaign. It just happened to be the perfect blend of ideas and the right thing at the right time that got put in place. It's been cool to see. It's such a great film. It's been cool to have a song that was a part of it and see the lives that were impacted by that movie.

    John: Josh, are you always writing songs?

    Josh: Try to. Right now we're writing songs, but not necessarily for us. We're working with some other artists on some songs. I try to keep fresh. It's one of those things like a muscle. If you don't work it out it gets flabby and you've got to work it back up and tone it again. It's better to not get out of shape. Songwriting is the same way. You don't want to lose it because it seems like once you practice the songwriting muscle as they say, you get better at it and faster at it and you're able to collect your ideas a little better. I definitely feel like once we're in the songwriting groove it's easier to finish songs and to channel ideas. I try to stay up on songwriting. I heard Charlie Peacock, he said he writes a song everyday whether it's good or bad. I think that's a great discipline to have. I'm not that disciplined, but I definitely try to stay up on it.

    John: What does this year look like for you guys? You're going on tour?

    Josh: Yes, we just finished a tour that we did together with Francesca Battistelli, and then during the summer we're basically just traveling all over doing festivals and fairs and things like that. Then come fall, we're doing an exciting tour. We're partnering with our friends Building 429 and we're going to bring out Hawk Nelson, some good buddies of ours as well. We're going to do a big fall tour so that's going to be really fun.

    John: Awesome. Josh, when you look back at The Afters touring experiences through the years, through all of your records that you guys have done, is there a most embarrassing moment that comes to mind?

    Josh: Most embarrassing moment. We've had quite a few numbers of them. We've had a number of embarrassing moments. I think for me, I've had some pretty epic falls on stage because I'm pretty mobile. I move around a lot and I go into the crowd and I climb on my piano and things, and I've had a couple of instances where I’ve had some pretty big falls. One of which was actually collected on video and somebody put us on You Tube. That's always fun. I think just the shear length of time that we've done this, we've all had our fair share of embarrassing moments.

    There's been times when I walked on stage and said the wrong city’s name and that's something I think most singers have done at sometime or another, and that's always something that's hard to recover from. And it’s like, no really, I am glad that I'm in your city.

    John: Yeah, wherever we are.

    Josh: Wherever it might be.

    John: Have you ever broken a bone on stage?

    Josh: No, I've been fortunate to not break a bone, thankfully. I have broken equipment before. My guitar has suffered through my falls.

    John: What has God been teaching either you personally or the band in the last month? You had mentioned a few minutes ago in looking at some of the songs you guys were wrestling with the fact that God is present in all things, both good and bad.

    Josh: Absolutely.

    John: What about today? What would you say ... you're a married man who has children. Speak to other guys that are just kind of hitting the daily grind, attempting to love their wife well, love their children well, and pursue Christ. What does that look like on a daily basis for you, Josh?

    Josh: I think that the reality is we all struggle with very similar things. We all want to be better husbands. We all want to be better parents. We all lose our temper at times. We all say things that we regret. We all make mistakes. I think what God has really taught me on a family level here recently has really been showing me through having kids is a little glimpse of the picture of grace. It's kind of given me an understanding of grace that I didn't have before being a parent, because anyone with kids knows that kids can be rotten sometimes and I have great kids, but they can still be rotten sometimes. No matter how rotten they are, it's not going to change my love for them. If they lie or if they hit their brother or sister or if they do something that I've asked them not to do and are disobedient, that's not going to change my love for them and they can't make me love them any less than I already do, and they can't make me love them anymore than I already do because I already love them as much as possible. That's given me a little glimpse of what God's grace for us is like and His love for His children. That no matter what we do in life even though we can be rotten sometimes and we make mistakes, that doesn't change God's love for us. He loves us so much that nothing we can do can take away even a single bit of that love.

    John: Amen. That is a good word, Josh.

    Josh: On the band side of things, I think gratitude has been something that God has really shown us through the years. We feel really fortunate to have done this as long as we have. Matt and I have been playing music together for going on 14 years. As a band, we've been touring full time since 2004. So we feel really blessed to be able to do what we do. I always remind my guys, if there's a day where people are complaining or maybe the bus breaks down or we miss flights or things happen that make the day difficult, I always remind them even on the worst of days that we're living somebody else's dream and we're so fortunate to be able to do this day in and day out. We definitely feel gratitude. It's cool to be able to see the fruits of what we're doing because when you write music you never know how God's going use it. Through touring you get to see a little glimpse when people come up to you and tell you these stories. We'll never hear all the stories, but when we do hear those little glimpses of what God has been using the music for, it's definitely encouragement to keep going.

    So what are the beautiful things in life? Havens sums it up thus: "Our hope for our record—and a lot of heartache went into this album—is that it will encourage people to see how God is working in their lives. He's not just there on the sunny days. No matter what we go through in life, God is still with us and life is beautiful—God is beautiful."

  • Phil Robertson. Father. Teacher. Theologian. Commander.

    Posted on June 3, 2013 by Family Christian



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

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

    As a high-school athlete, Phil was All-State in football, baseball, and track which afforded him the opportunity to attend Louisiana Tech University on a football scholarship. There he played first string quarterback ahead of Terry Bradshaw. Phil's been quoted as saying "Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks." After receiving his Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education and a Master's in Education, he spent several years teaching. While his students claim he was an excellent teacher, spending time in a classroom brought Phil to the conclusion that his time and talents would be better spent in the woods.

    This year, Phil wrote a book (Happy, Happy, Happy) that shares about his journey, his faith and his family. I recently sat down with Phil to talk about those three things.

    John:    Phil, I'm wondering if maybe you can break down for us how you felt your sense of calling. I know in your life football is certainly part of your past. You have either served as a pastor, or certainly you have preached many times in your life, and yet you are also an avid hunter as well, and you have made a lifetime career out of that. How does one who is pursuing Christ identify a great calling?

    Phil:    Well, I think old Thomas Jefferson said it best, "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, and they've been endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty..." and that third thing there really caught my attention way back, "...the pursuit of happiness.” So, we have a god-given right to pursue happiness.

    In my case, you have to remember, John, it did my heart more good to get about 35 or 40 mallard ducks coming down through the trees in front of me, than it did to throw a touchdown pass. When I was playing ball over at Louisiana Tech, I said, "Bradshaw, you're a second-stringer and I'm ahead of you. I could play my last year and that would keep you back a year." I said, "What I'm gonna do is I'm going to start chasing ducks full-time when I leave Louisiana Tech here," and I said, "You can step up and go on to the NFL and let the good times roll." I said, "I'll be thinking about you down in the woods while them big bruisers are stomping you in the dirt, my man."  He laughed and I laughed.

    Amazingly, 44 years later I saw him the other day a couple of months ago, and he was … we met up, you know, after that little speech I gave him.  He said, "Robertson, you've done pretty good chasing ducks, man, you know, you have a television show." I said, "Well, you've done pretty good yourself, my man." We reminisced a little bit, you know. The bottom line is both of us ended up happy, happy, happy there.

    John:    Phil, do you appreciate preaching? Is that something that you enjoy doing?

    Phil:    Well, you have to remember I'm not ordained, like a bona fide, certified, preacher. I'm just a guy that builds duck calls. I do love God and I love my neighbor. I was converted at 28 years old, and before that I had never heard the gospel of Jesus, that God became flesh 2,013 years and died on a cross for my sins, was buried and raised from the dead.

    So I zoned in on all my rotten, filthy ways, all my sins being removed, and on top of that being raised from the dead. I looked at that and said, “You know what? I never had anything that I've ever studied or looked at that gave me the opportunity to have all my sins removed and forgotten and be guaranteed my dead body could be energized and raised from the dead.” It got my attention! I basically just went forth from there, from the time I was converted. Since I didn't know that until I was 28, I just tried to make sure that the people I come in contact with at least hear that story. I just go forth across America, amazingly even before the television show. Now, the audience is just far bigger.

    I've been going around all across America. They invite me to come, so I get on a jet and I go. How they all started inviting me to come is kind of beyond me, but I just started going across the country and still am. Now, all my sons do the same thing. We're just trying to infuse a little good into our culture, you know. We just think we're better off because of loving God and loving our neighbor, for crying out loud. We think the country needs it. We love them; that's why we do it. That basically is the story, and that is what the book is about. Just a family structure. I am the head of the family structure, Miss Kay and I, you know, grandma, grandpa, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. We eat together, pray together, hunt together, and that is just one little glimpse of one American family, my man.

    John:    You touched on your new book, titled Happy, Happy, Happy. Would you share a bit about that?

    Phil:    Basically, happy, happy, happy just describes the ultimate, rarest of commodities: peace of mind. That's what I meant by that phrase. I didn't know the little saying was going viral, John. You know what I'm saying?

    John:    Yes. I do know what you're saying.

    Phil:    You never know, man.

    John:    Basically, when you talk about the concept of the book, is that primarily looking at the family structure and how you guys have done things in your family?

    Phil:    Yeah. That, plus, you know, it's a family structure and a worldview. We just think society, our culture and our world would be better off if we just loved God and loved our neighbor and did what was right. You know, our founding fathers… you know, if you read, I have researched them carefully, and I'm on the same page as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. They all were godly men.  Someone told me one time, "Yeah, but they made mistakes." I said, "So have we.  We've all made mistakes." I said, "But they founded the greatest nation on earth and we didn't, and that's the difference right there."

    John:    Yes. When you look at the church here in the west, when you look at the Christian culture, what is your thought? Are we okay? Are we doing good? Are we loving our families well enough? Are men standing up and leading their families well?

    Phil:    I think we need some help in that area. I think, my view is, we sort of got zoned in into going to church. That phrase, "going to church," is not even in the Bible. So you say, "I wonder why that wouldn't be in the Bible," because everyone you talk to, they say, well, “we're going to church, yeah, we're going to church, we're going to church.”

    What's happened is we were so busy “going to church,” as we call it, the American model is you report in Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. You can be there every time the door is open, but, really, when you get to looking at 168 hours in a week, if you're in a spiritual setting only four or five of them—Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night—what's happened in my opinion, is we got so busy attending that our culture started disintegrating around us. And our family structures started being torn apart. We didn't infuse Christianity as much as we should have into our culture around us. The people we meet, where we work, where we play.

    My idea is, when I was converted, I just go forth, and I reach out to my neighbor, and it's far more than just going to a church building two or three times a week.  Do you see what I'm saying?

    John:    Yes.

    Phil:    We need to be more light for our culture, more salt, more leavening, though, in whatever vocation you happen to be. I'm a duck horn builder, but I made sure that all the people that I came in contact with I did in a nice way. I didn't beat them over the head with it, but I just want to tell them the good news about Jesus. That went … man, did that ever get … now the audiences, John, are like, you know, tens and tens of thousands at a sitting. So it went way past anything I could have ever asked or imagined. It just seemed like God just kept … the doors just kept getting ... the crowds kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

    What is amazing to me is that these large crowds now that we go to all started from just a little TV show with a prayer at the end of the show. You wouldn't think that would have that much impact on our culture but, man, there's probably 30 or 40 million every week that watch that. I'm having to put up a gate down here because there's hundreds of vehicles pulling up in my yard.  I was dumb enough, I've never turned on a computer in my life. I do have a master's degree from Louisiana Tech in education, but I've never turned on a computer here in my 67 years, and I don't own a cell phone.

    Someone says, "Well, Robertson, you're all over the Internet, you're all over the computer."  I said, "Well, how did I get there?" They said, "That is a good question, but somebody's putting you on there." The bottom line is, it just went beyond anything I could ask. I've never seen anything like it, I tell you that. I'm not quite sure what it is except maybe the Almighty is working in it.

    John:    Phil, do you think your life, or your wife's life, or even your family's life has changed since the start of the show?

    Phil:    Well, you have to remember, with us, simplicity is sort of the key. In other words, Miss Kay and I, we raised our boys to love God, love their neighbor. They saw us interact with so many people who had marriage problems and drug problems and alcohol problems that we'd invite them in, and Miss Kay would feed them and I'd tell them the good news.

    Well, my sons were standing around or sitting around listening to all that. The impact that we had on them, and we all gathered up as a family and thanked God for our food, we just kept life simple. Now that the fame has come, and the money... well, you got to remember, the way we operate, with the removal of sin from our lives, and on top of that being raised from the dead, trust me, my man, and this is one family group that believes that takes precedent over any kind of fame or money. Because money and fame can't raise you from the dead, my man. Only the Almighty can do that.

    John:    Amen.

    Phil:    You just keep the first thing, the important things the important things. Do you see what I'm saying?

    John:    Absolutely. Ten years from now, what do you want this whole thing to be? Where do you see yourself? Where do you see your family from now?

    Phil:    Well, at the end of the day, all you have when it's all over is your name and what you stood for. I'm kind of like old Patrick Henry. He said, "The United States was not founded on religions but by Christians." He said, "The United States of America was founded on the gospel of Jesus." I'm just carrying the good news forth. At the end of the day, that's about the only legacy I would care about, that they say, you know… someone asked, I think it was Daniel Webster, "What's the greatest thought that you've ever had in your mind?" He said, "My accountability to God." That's basically where I am.

    John:    Phil, besides the founding fathers of our country, what other influencers do you have? Are you a book reader?

    Phil:    Only the Bible. Very seldom do I read books or commentaries.  I just stick with the Bible itself, and I keep it within arm's reach. I have a set of encyclopedias and I have a dictionary from old Noah Webster, the father of public education. He's the one that came up with the dictionary, and it's still his heir, it's still here to this day. I have encyclopedias, a good dictionary, and my Bible within arm's length of myself. I always tell people, I said, "I'm just short-circuiting the computer world."

    John:    I love it. I love it. Would you share with me a little bit about what God has been bringing you through, maybe in the last week or month or so?

    Phil:    Oh, my goodness, what are you talking about? If someone had told me that at some point riches would come, fame would come, and the opportunity to go across the United States of America and proclaim the good news, I would have said, literally I would have said, "Impossible." So, man, look, I just look back at it.  All I can tell you is the audiences are getting bigger and bigger. This weekend I'll be at David Lipscomb University, and there will be about … I have to give three speeches because the building wouldn't hold but 4,500 at the time. They got three sellouts.

    First, they said do one. Then they called and said, "Mr. Robertson, we filled the building up again, can you do two?" I said, "Yeah." Then they called back and said, "How about three?" I said, "I'll do it." Basically, the opportunity is there. To answer your question, with all these things, we just are sort of like men with a mission.

    The good news is Alan, my oldest boy, goes out and does the same thing, and Jason does the same thing. By the way, Jase and Al are great speakers. Old Willie, and even old Jep, and as shocking as it sounds, even Si. Most people don't realize Si, as nutty as he is, Si is a very godly man. I mean, he's one of the godliest people I know. I mean, that guy is straight as an arrow, but it's beyond my pay grade to understand why so many women want to marry Silas Roberston. I said, "What are y'all thinking?" I said, "It's scary, Si, I tell you." He said, "Well, boys, you know, I've always blown a little smoke," he said, "but I never had some fool come along and say he'd pay me money to do it." He said, "They want some smoke, I'll blow it for them." Si is a very godly man. Most people don't realize that, and he is happily married up there on the side of the road.  It's been a hoot just kind of watching my brother, you know, and all my kids.  We've had a big time with it.

    It's just a good format for a family group, a functional family, which I think the United States needed to see.

    John:    Absolutely.

    Phil:    Face it boys, it's been a while since America saw actually a functional family who just loves God or their neighbor and hunts ducks. I mean, give me a break. I just don't see the downside of it. Evidently, there are at least 30 or 40 million who feel the same way I do, so there is still hope for America, boys. We're just trying to infuse a little good into our culture.

    John:    Amen. Phil, how can we be praying for you and your family?

    Phil:    Pray that the Almighty will continue to protect us, because you remember the Bible says that the gospel has divine power that demolishes strongholds. Looking at the world all around us and all the murder, the mayhem, and the mischief and all the immorality and all that, just remember this particular little family group literally is going into the teeth of the tiger. I would pray, if I were you, I'd pray for the Robertson clan as they go forth for divine protection and strength and boldness as we go forth. That's what I would pray. I would appreciate it, too, my man.

    John:    Absolutely.

    It isn't often a person can live a dream, but Phil Robertson, aka The Duck Commander, has proven it is possible with vision, hard work, helping hands, and an unshakable faith in the Almighty. If you ever wind up at the end of Mouth of Cypress Road, sitting face to face with Phil Robertson, you will see that his enthusiasm and passion for duck hunting and the Lord is no act- it is truly who he is.

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