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Interviews

  • Gina - A Foster Mom with a Passion for Missions

    Posted on April 15, 2013 by John van der Veen



    To say that Gina is ordinary is certainly an understatement.  She is most certainly not. Gina is an extraordinary woman who has a passion for God. And orphans.

    I recently sat down with Gina to talk through a recent Good Goer mission trip that she had been on.

    John: Gina, what led you to the point of wanting to go on a mission trip in the first place?

    Gina: I guess, I am trying to think, I guess in general, I feel that I try to make the big decisions in my life based on Jesus saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and I feel that I have been given much by … I have two wonderful parents and I also have come to know the Lord, and He has given me amazing peace and joy, and so for me, I am specifically interested in missions that focused on orphans.

    I feel that I was really, really fortunate to grow up in a home with loving parents, and for many kids in our world, they don’t have any parents, much less loving parents, so I have always just been passionate, I guess, towards ministering to orphans. The reason I chose to do something, like you said, mission-based rather than Peace Corps-based, is because as I have come to know the Lord, I just realized the peace and the joy He has given me. I feel that truly, truly the best gift I can give anyone, would be how to have a relationship with Jesus and experience that peace and joy for themselves.

    John: That’s awesome. Was there something in your life that drew you specifically to orphan care? What all of a sudden made your head, or your heart rather, move into this orphan care?

    Gina: Through loving parents, I guess. I am just trying to think, I should have asked in advance what the questions were going to be. I honestly can’t really pinpoint a time as far as when I became interested in taking care of orphans. I feel that, most of my life I’ve always been for the underdog. I worked in adolescent group homes for a number of years in Wisconsin, and I worked with, some of the kids there were court-ordered to the group homes because of delinquencies and some of them were wards of the state. For whatever reason, foster care wasn’t working for them. Sometimes they were so damaged they couldn’t form a bond with the foster families; sometimes it was their own behaviors that drove some away, and I remember, in particular, one young lady.

    She was having a real hard time. It was right around the holidays. Her behavior was outlandish, and I remember looking her in the eyes and saying, “What can I do to help you?” and she looked me back in the eyes and said, “You can’t do anything, all I want is a family,” and that broke my heart, and that led me in the road of foster care. Like I said, I just have always been driven, I am sorry, I can’t tell you specifically why I became interested in orphans. I read a lot of books, my heart beats for Africa, just through reading, I guess.

    John: Gina, how long have you been doing foster care, or at least participated in it?

    Braiding hair

    Gina: Since 2008.

    John: 2008 and how many children have you had?

    Gina: I have had two full-time foster daughters live with me and I've had 17 kids stay with me. The county I live in has what is called a Rough Bits program, where some of the kids need a place to stay for short-term, like usually a weekend. Sometimes it's like a Rough Bits for the foster home. The foster parents are going out of town or they are burned out, they need a break, and I’m a licensed foster home that children can come to, and other times, there's definite issues going on at home and the kids and the parents need a break from each other, and they come by me for Rough Bits. Some of the kids have just come one time or a couple of times just ... they live in a foster home and the foster parents needed a break.

    Other kids will come every other weekend during a month or every other weekend for nine months due to strain at home. Another girl just started out living at home, then she moved into a foster home, and she came every once a month for three years. It's for a variety of needs and lengths of time. Like I said, two girls actually lived with me long-term.

    John: Yes, and then you somehow discovered either Guatemala, or you discovered Good Goers.

    Gina: Yes, I discovered Good Goers. I had gone just on an independent service trip to Kenya about a year ago, and my cousin had contacted me to see, she was going to have some time off from work this winter, and wondered if I wanted to go back to Kenya. As much as I would love to go back to Kenya, it wasn’t an option at the time. For me, it was time off from work and what not, with travel back and forth to Africa, and ... but I asked if she'd be interested in going somewhere else and she said she would, and I had remembered getting some information ... I'm an avid shopper of Family Christian in the stores…

    John: [Laugh] We thank you for that!

    Gina: No problem, and this summer they had asked me if I wanted to give one of the bears for the James Fund, and at that time, I just ... sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, and I did it, and the associate was putting away papers and I was like, “Wait a minute, do I have to pay for the papers, too, or can I still get the papers?” and she said, “No, you can get the papers,” and I took the papers and it had information about Good Goers on it, and I just put them away.

    When my cousin and I were looking for a destination for a trip, a mission/service trip, I pulled out the papers and looked up the destinations and Guatemala just seemed to fit. One of the priests at the parish where I grew up, he had done missions in Nicaragua, and it was always on my heart to go to Central America and my cousin felt the same way, so we signed up. I think there were three spots available when we signed up and we were thrilled to be selected right away and we went together to Guatemala and it was just fantastic. We loved it.

    John: Did you say that you have been to Central America before or you had a heart for Central America?

    Gina: I had a heart for Central America since I was in elementary school.

    John: This is your first time in Guatemala; this is your first time in Central America. Your first thought getting off the plane, how did you feel?

    Friends

    Gina: Oh boy, I am trying to remember. It was neat. We found out, I overheard a conversation when we were waiting to deboard the plane, and it turned out that two of the people in the row in front of us were on our team, so that was fun. My cousin and I met, it was a mother and daughter, we met them right away and walked through the airport following the rest of the team.

    For me, it was just exciting to be part of a team. The first trip that I went on was more of an independent trip that I went with--an organization that I had found online. I had to send my picture in that one and I got picked up at the airport independently, and so this was really neat. I liked the feeling of being part of a team. There were other people with the same mission as me.

    John: Through the week, were you able to continue that bonding?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: What was the best experience that you participated in while you were in Guatemala?

    Gina: That’s a great question. I would say when we went in to do the home visits with the families. When we did home visits and improvements in people’s homes. To me, generally speaking, that was the best experience, because I love culture. I like seeing, upfront, how people live and so I really liked that. And then specifically, we ministered to this one family where, I had asked in advance if is ok to bring some craft supplies and we were told by Marilyn that yes, I could bring craft supplies, and so I brought all this … had them in my backpack for when we got to families' houses, and this one family, they had a couple of little girls who were really interested in the crafts. They were interested in attention, I should back up, and I noticed the women in the family were kneeling on the porch, kneeling, with weaving looms attached to their backs, just making beautiful, beautiful needlework.

    I was pretty humbled by that, and I was half-guilty and half-furious. I silently said “I am not taking the crafts I brought out of my backpack. This will be embarrassing. These women are doing beautiful work,” but the little girls had plenty of attention so I was like, “Okay.”

    I reluctantly took the yarn projects out of my backpack and the girls absolutely loved them, and then the adult women came over and were looking at them, too, and one of them asked me, “Cuanto cuesto?” so I figured out in quetzals how much a skein of yarn would have cost, and I told her 40 quetzals, and she walked away, and … first when she said “Cuanto cuesto?”, I said “They from United States,” and then, “Si, cuanto cuesto?” and that's when I figured it out in quetzal and told her, “40 quetzal,” and then she walks away and then I thought, “Oh no, she must have wanted to buy some.”

    I walked over to her, took some extra yarn out of my backpack and handed it to her and told her it’s for her, and she had the biggest smile across her face, it was just amazing. When I had told my team leader about that experience, he was like, “Wow, you probably just provided her with material to feed her family for a month.” That really hit me, being I like doing a lot of crafts and it’s just something that I enjoy, but it really hit home for me, I guess, that it’s something that I do for fun and it’s something that they do out of necessity. That was really eye-opening for me and also a neat way to connect.

    John: Just to paraphrase, then, do you think on some level, because of those crafts that you took along with you, Gina, there was … the language barrier, in a sense, went away?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: You felt a connection with these ladies.

    Gina: Yes.

    John: Did you have an opportunity, and I don’t mean to put you on the spot here with this question, but did you have an opportunity to communicate the Gospel specifically to anybody while you were down there?

    Gina: No I didn’t, and in a sense, part of me would say that was disappointing, but the other part of me would say that I understood that it wasn’t going to necessarily be part of the trip. I feel that what we did indirectly allows the Gospel to be shared. Because I feel that what we did supported Manos de Jesus, which is the partner ministry we were with. And I can say, from being on the back end when I worked at group homes, from the service thing that different groups would come in and do things for us, it allowed us more opportunity to focus on the meat and potatoes of the program, if you will. I feel that even though I did not get the chance to share the Gospel, I am hopeful that some of the service that our team did, hopefully set the ground work for a full-time ministry.

    John: That’s awesome. Looking at the future, Gina, without trying to pin you down to anything, do you think you would ever go on another Good Goers trip?

    Gina: Yes.

    John: Is there a particular country that you would go to or do you think you would actually end up going back to Guatemala?

    Gina: I would either go to Kenya because that is ... honestly, my long-term goal to do more missions in Africa and I know Good Goers has a trip to Kenya.

    John: We do.

    Gina: Possibly … I've scanned through the website. I am also interested in the Haiti trip, specifically because you stay right in the orphanage and that’s something, to me, that’s really attractive. I would like to feel what it’s like to actually stay there.

    John: Gina, you are an inspiring person. I hope that when folks hear of you they will be inspired. Inspired to go on a mission trip.

    Just to hear you talk about the ease of sharing those crafts with those families down there is basically, to some extent, a talent. How qualified do you need to be to go to Guatemala to share crafts with somebody?

    Gina: Yes, not real talented.

    John: I'm sure you are, but you know what I'm saying, that you just need to love on people.

    Gina: Absolutely. That's where we're at.

    John: Yes, absolutely. Gina, it is great to talk with you. I am so glad that I had this time and you had the time for me to chat with you today. God bless you, sister. I am so glad to have met you finally.

    Gina: You're welcome, John; thank you so much, and I just have to put in one more plug for the Good Goers trip, two more plugs just from my experience.

    One is I really, really liked how, as a team, we gathered, we ate dinner together, and we gathered for the picture of the week, and it was just really nice bonding and feeling like I got to know my team. And then the other thing I had alluded to earlier, there was a mother and daughter on our team, and to me, that was just really, really impressive. To see, obviously, them as individuals, but it was just neat that Good Goers makes accommodations for that and allowing it to be a family trip.

    John: Wonderful, Gina, thank you so much.

    For more information on how you can be a part of a Good Goer mission trip, click here.


    This post was posted in Interviews, Missions and was tagged with Featured, GoodGoers

  • Get Lost with Dannah Gresh

    Posted on April 15, 2013 by John van der Veen

     

    Dannah Gresh is the best-selling author of eighteen books, including And the Bride Wore White, Lies Young Women Believe (with Nancy Leigh DeMoss), and What Are You Waiting For? A popular speaker nationwide, Dannah has long been at the forefront of the movement to encourage tweens and teens to pursue purity.

    Dannah's new book, Get Lost, she traces God’s language of love through Scripture to help you pursue your heart’s deepest desires and seek love the way God designed it to be. Because once you identify your true longings and let God answer them, you’ll know just how to respond when romantic love comes along.

    I exchanged a few questions with Dannah recently and wanted to share them with you.

    What made you interested in being an author?

    I have loved writing since I was very small. Entered a national poetry contest when I was in first grade and won. Haven't stopped since. The catch is that when I was a teenager I dreamed of being a fiction writer. If only! God calls me to write the truth of my life transparently so that others can learn from my hurt and heartache without taking the field trip themselves!

    What books are you reading?

    I have a dozen books on my nightstand at any given time. A few favorites this past year have been One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. I'm counting the days to summer because I have [Frank] Peretti's Illusion waiting for a day on my hammock under the shade trees!

    Who is your biggest influence?

    My mom! Her faith led me to Christ and she has been a prayer warrior for me through the years. I long to have her selflessness and purity of heart.

    What does your family do to relax?

    We live on a hobby farm with horses, peacocks, llamas, fainting goats, chickens, dogs and cats. Relax might not be the right word, but we like loving them. (Translation: We muck stalls, throw hay and herd them when they get loose).

    Coffee or tea?

    I'm a tea girl, but everyone on my tour team drinks coffee so they are slowly winning me over. I'm up to half a cup of coffee with half a cup of milk in it! Of course, they say I am a wimp.

    Click here to download a chapter from Get Lost.


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Frank Peretti, Dannah Gresh, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Ann Voskamp, Katie Davis

  • Amy Grant - The Wife/Mother/Singer/Songwriter

    Posted on April 10, 2013 by John van der Veen



    There’s nothing like life experience to provide a deeper, richer emotional palette for a songwriter to draw from when crafting new music. For Amy Grant, it’s been 10 years since her last full studio album and it’s been a decade marked by soul-shaking milestones. As she’s always done, Grant has embraced both the triumphs and challenges, distilled them to their essence and poured the lessons learned into songs that ache with honesty and reverberate with gentle wisdom.

    How Mercy Looks From Here is the soundtrack of a life well-lived. “A lot of major life changes happened during these past few years.” Grant says. “So on this record, there’s zero filler. Every song has a real story behind it.”

    In chatting with Amy, I saw, again, that here is a woman of deep faith. Deep love. Love for family. Love for art. Love for food. Yes, food. And love for God.

    John: Before we talk about the new record, do you want to talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing over the last 10 or so years since the last new record? Is that too big of a question?

    Amy: I’ve been… Ten years is a lot of life!

    John: That’s a lot of life.

    Amy: It’s not that I haven’t made music in 10 years. I’ve toured and just from a work standpoint, I never stopped working. Just had a little less energy for being in the studio. In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from four kids under the roof to one. It’s a big change. I have two daughters living in New York now, a son who’s getting his engineering and applied mathematics degree and then a lot of personal changes that you just never know when those things are going to happen.

    There was the death of some good friends and my mom. A fellow musician, Will Owsley, who I’ve made a lot of music with. A good friend of mine who’ve I’ve played music with, my gosh, for 15 years, passed away in 2009. Anyway, I think there are times that are just sort of more creative, and there are times to just hunker down and be in life.

    John: When you go through the process of creating art, is that something you more or less feel compelled from your own heart, where it just kind of flows from you? Or is it more structured than that? Do you sit down, and take the time to say, “Okay, now I have to work here.”

    Amy: As far as song ideas, those just appear because they’re triggered by something. I might hold onto a song idea for quite some time before I sit down to put it into a song. Probably what makes me focus on an actual project is a deadline. I don’t know how you are in your life, you’re clearly a writer, but I don't know much time you make to sit down and just write for art’s sake. Since this last year I knew I had a record due and sometimes the responsibility of a deadline makes you disciplined. I consider it a gift.

    John: Do you know how many songs you have written?

    Amy: I don’t write 100 songs a year or anything like that. I’ve written only a couple songs some years, but I’ve done this for a long time, so I don’t know. Maybe a couple hundred.

    John: Amy, you are a singer, you’re obviously a songwriter, you’re a musician, you’re an actress and you’re an author. How do you encourage some of the people that are reading this now, who feel like they have too much on their plate and they don’t have time being a wife or a mom or a daughter or a co-worker? How do you manage all of life?

    Amy: I have to go back and say that I would use the term actress very loosely. I can’t speak for a man, but for a woman it might feel like we’re juggling all things at all times. But I think in reality that different things take priority, kind of in a revolving pattern. If you’re a working mom, there are times that a deadline at work forces you to put that on the front burner and there’s no rest until it’s done. I think maybe it’s good to say occasionally what matters the most, either to write it down or to talk about it with a good trusted friend.

    If how you’re spending your time never matches up to what your priorities are, then I think we need to be honest and say, “This is my priority.” If something is a priority and it never matches up with the time that you’re spending on it, there needs to be a change in how we’re spending our time. I have done all those things, but someone told me that one time. Everybody’s life is so different that it’s hard to say what’s going to give someone more time.

    The list of things I’ve done doesn’t tell you how I spend my time on a daily basis. For instance, we don’t eat out very much. You might think I do. Maybe it’s because when I’m on the road, I’m never digging into my own refrigerator. But I think the kitchen is the hub of the home. And because I travel so much with work, when we’re home, I’m almost always cooking something. I’m not a great cook, but I’m decent, so I always make sure there are good things in the refrigerator.

    When I get really overwhelmed with work or I feel very scattered, I will go into the kitchen and start cooking. Easier said than done sometimes, I know. For someone who has a 9 to 5 job, that might not work so well. But you can do it on the weekends. I find that when I start cooking, I have time to think. People walk through the kitchen because they smell something good, and they go, “Hey, what’s that smell?” So there’s the social side of it too. And if you don’t have an idea at first of what you’re going to cook, just cut up some onions and put them in a little olive oil in the skillet and then it starts to smell good. My family may ask, “What is it?” I go, “I don’t know. I’m just buying time.” That’s just for me.

    Cooking’s a very centering process. Somebody is always hungry and I’m cooking in mass, and so I know one of my friends is not going to have had time to make dinner or somebody I know might be sick, but I will just go, “Oh, man. I am feeling so scattered and really sad. I feel like I’m untethered. I can’t figure out what’s wrong,” so I start cooking. We all have our trigger points. For me, if I can start cooking, it gives me time to think, and then people come into the kitchen. My daughter will come in, sit on the kitchen counter and we just start talking. Anyway, those are some of the reasons I like it.

    John: Who’s the better cook, you or Vince?

    Amy: He only really cooks one meal a year, Christmas breakfast for the whole family. He loves to eat and so it’s nice to cook when you’ve got someone in the house who loves to eat.

    John: Does he make the same Christmas meal every year?

    Amy: It just kind of anything breakfast-y that you can think of.

    John: He goes beyond just, “Here’s bowl of cereal.”

    Amy: Yes. It’s like sausage, bacon, sometimes waffles, eggs. He started doing that years ago. It’s so nice to just sit there with a cup of coffee and watch him work. I like that.

    John: That’s a nice gift. Amy, let’s talk a little bit about the new record, How Mercy Looks From Here. What went into that title as a theme?

    Amy: It’s the title of one of the songs. I had that phrase floating around in my head for quite some time. I was anxious to write a song. I think the great thing about living for a while is that the longer you live, the less quick you are to say, “This is a good thing, this is a bad thing.” I just say, “Well, this is what it is, and now we live with this.”

    John: In one of the lyrics in that song, I think you sang, “I would have given up drowning in my tears if it wasn’t for your voice all these years.” What’s behind that?

    Amy: That song originally came from a really difficult time. I think the idea for that song was born in the first week of May, 2010. A lot of really awful things happened that week, and some really beautiful things as well. But with each extreme, what I experienced alone and what I experienced with my family was that we encountered a kind of gentle grace and mercy.

    Some within, with each other. I’ll tell you what happened that week. It started off on a Friday, Will Owsley, a good friend of mine, a musician, killed himself. It was awful and I went to his home that night. His mom and dad had come up from Anniston, Alabama and we were all just in shock. Then it started raining on Saturday, the next day. The biggest flood that’s ever been in recorded history hit Nashville. I guess it crested on Monday. Like a lot of people, we were not physically hurt, but we lost a lot of things.

    A lot of guitars that were at a storage facility and a rehearsal hall called Sound Check; probably all of our road cases and guitars. Of course in the wake of Will’s death, that seemed like nothing, but it was actually very difficult to even get in the car to go to his funeral because the roads were still flooded. Then it was also beautiful being with his family. And it was beautiful watching the community of Nashville come together to help each other out with the flood.

    Then, as a family, we were anticipating the wedding of our oldest daughter, Jenny, which was that Saturday. We were forging ahead with this outdoor wedding in our yard and making those plans, putting up tents. The woman who was the wedding planner, and handles all the decorations, said her home was completely destroyed. She was living out of a hotel and we said, “What can we do?” She said, “You know what? I can’t get home until the water recedes.” Her car was, I mean, the whole thing was under water. She said, “I’m living in a hotel and I just want to lose myself in this celebration. At the beginning of a married couple’s life and I’ll just deal with the mud later.” Watching that, we were going, “Oh, my goodness!” It was the most beautiful, joyful coming together. All week there were preparations and it was just so great. My mom and dad were over every day. Then on Thursday, a cousin of mine was killed in Afghanistan. Friday morning I’m at their home mourning again. Extremes.

    We were just talking about what a blessing he was. And his four siblings had sat around and made this recording with a friend of ours for several hours, reminiscing about family history. Just the timing of it was so merciful. Everybody was thankful for Skype, and that it hadn’t been months or weeks since they’d seen Adam’s face. Just processing, but feeling this sense of love and the mercy in the middle of it.

    Then that night, we had Jenny’s rehearsal dinner in our front yard because the location had been rained out for her rehearsal dinner. Our house is at the top of a little hill on the street. She got married in the front yard, I mean the rehearsal dinner’s in the front yard and the next day the wedding was in the side yard and the reception was in the backyard. I got to tell you, that was such an emotional rollercoaster week, the whole thing. I came away from that week saying, “I feel like from every angle I have seen how mercy looks. “ It took a couple of years to write the song, but I kept going, “I’ve got to write that song ‘How Mercy Looks From Here.’”

    John: I don’t want to say that all of your other records are not spiritual, because they certainly are, all of them are, but there are songs on here that go really deep. The one you were just talking about, “How Mercy Looks From Here,” which is the title track, and the first single “Don’t Try so Hard,” are quite spiritual. Has there been a spiritual awakening or a deep rootedness you’ve felt? You obviously have been talking about the various things that have happened in your life in the last few years, has God done something amazing?

    Amy: Well, I think He always does. Whether you’re writing about it or not. I think that on this record, in particular, I wanted every song to matter. That came directly from a conversation I had with my mom. My mother passed away in April of 2011. It’s February, I was home from a road trip, kind of an extensive tour with Michael W. Smith, from Fall 2010 to the Spring of 2011. Anyway, I had gone by to see my mom and dad, they both suffered with dementia.

    My dad’s still living and he has full blown dementia, but my mom … If you’re going to have to vote for a kind of dementia to have, Lewy Bodies is a good kind to have because it doesn’t change your personality. It just changes your relationship with reality. Sometimes it comes and goes, sometimes it seemed almost like she was in time travel or something like that.

    One time my niece was visiting her and my mom was so excited. She confided in my niece that she thought she was pregnant, which would have been a nightmare since she was 78. But she was so excited about … My aunt Gracie said, “Doe, you’re 78. There’s no way you’re pregnant.” My mother’s like, “I am? That’s awful.”

    And there was the time I had gone to see her in February. It was nighttime and we had our visit and then I said, “Mom, I’ve got to go pack and get back on the bus.” And she said, “Oh, you’re getting a bus.” I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to do a show. I’m traveling with Michael W. and I’ve been singing so much this year.” She went, “Ah, you sing?” Okay here we go… I said, “I do.” I’m so used to that pattern of her being there and then not being there. I said, “I do, I sing.”

    “What kind of songs do you sing?” she asked. I told her and she asked, “Will you sing something for me?” So I did and she was so adorable. Then she said, “Can I go with you?” I pictured my mother crawling into one of those bunks and I said, “Maybe not this time. We’ll talk about it when I’m back in town.” I kissed her on the cheek and I was heading out the door and she said, “Hey, will you do me a favor?” I turned back and I said, “Sure, what?”

    She said, “When you get on that stage, sing something that matters.” I said, “I will do that.” That was not our last conversation, but it was in the last eight weeks of her life. I’m dedicating this record to her. Gloria Napier Grant. I believe that was probably a driving force in the song choices. They’re not all of the spiritual nature, but they all matter.

    John: Amy, on the song, “Deep As It Is Wide,” you have some quest vocals.

    Amy: Yes, but that’s the only song on the record that I was not a part writer on.

    John: Who are the other singers?

    Amy: Erik Paslay. He wrote that song six years ago and I have loved it. I’ve had a copy of it for four years. I’ve loved it.

    John: It’s a great song.

    Amy: I’ve listened to it incessantly in the last months of my mom’s life. He is the one that gave me the permission to sing it with him. He wanted to do a group thing. Erik and Sheryl Crow and myself. I’m just crazy about that song and they’re both dear friends of mine. Erik and I were both at the studio, because we were working simultaneously with the same producer, Marshall Altman. I said, “Erik, either say yes we can do the song or no we can’t.”

    He was really dragging his feet because so many people had asked him to record that song. Little Big Town wanted to record it, Lady Antebellum wanted to record it and he kept saying, “No.” I said, “Just say no, it’s okay.” He said, “No. I think I want you to be singing on this song,” and I said, “Okay, well great. What else? Do you want it to be like a group of singers?” He said, “I guess so.” As a songwriter, what you write, those are your gems. That’s clearly a great song. Erik will, hopefully, have a great career in country music.

    I have good audience in the Christian music community and so I said, “Why don’t we ask Cheryl, because she’s more of the rock-n-roll background. That way we’re really speaking to three different communities. He said, “I like that. I like that.” Because really it’s about the song, especially that song. We called her up and she said, “I’m getting ready to lie down for a nap. I’ll listen to it as soon as I get down, and I’ll call you back.” She called back and said, “How did I get lucky straw to get to sing on this song?”

    John: That’s great. Amy, do you have a passage in the Bible that you’re particularly close to right now?

    Amy: That’s a good question. I spend a lot of time memorizing Scripture. I would say the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is swirling around my head currently. Really the whole thing, I think, because it dove tails with this book that I’m reading right now called The Epic of Eden. Who’s the author of that? Let me see. Sandra Richter is the author. She’s a professor at some seminary.

    The songs on How Mercy Looks From Here represent a season of growth, yet as personal as they are, they are also universal. Everyone can relate to love, loss and the passing of time. “At some point in life you realize that some things really matter and some things don’t,” Grants says. “Living matters. Celebrating life matters.  Seeing the value in hard times matters.  Relationships and people matter.  Faith matters.  I feel like that’s where my head has been while writing and recording his project.  I feel this is a very positive record. I hope it is life affirming. Life prepares us for the journey. You don’t know what’s ahead and that is one of the great things about getting older in a framework of faith.  Faith is the one thing that stands the test of time.”

    Amy Three Caregiving Tips
    In this video, Amy talks about caring for her father who has profound dementia and what families can do to make this time one of meaning and spiritual growth.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Hebrews, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Death, Dementia, Christian Music

  • Joel Rosenberg. From VBS to CNN

    Posted on April 3, 2013 by John van der Veen



    Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels—The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, Dead Heat, The Twelfth Imam, and The Tehran Initiative—and five nonfiction books, Epicenter, Inside the Revolution, Implosion,Israel at War, and The Invested Life, with nearly 3 million copies sold. The Ezekiel Option received the Gold Medallion award as the "Best Novel of 2006" from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Joel is the producer of two documentary films based on his nonfiction books. He is also the founder of The Joshua Fund, a nonprofit educational and charitable organization to mobilize Christians to "bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus" with food, clothing, medical supplies, and other humanitarian relief.

    Joel's newest book, Damascus Countdown is available now and one scan of the description will put you on the edge of your seat.

    All eyes are on the Middle East. Israel has successfully launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads - and causing The Twelfth Imam to order a full-scale retaliation. U.S. President William Jackson threatens to support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish State for unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression.

    Meanwhile, CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived the attack and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. In danger not only from the ongoing missile strikes on Iran but also from the increasingly hostile and suspicious governments of multiple countries, David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

    With Damascus Countdown, bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg returns with another adrenaline-charged political thriller - a gripping tale snatched from future headlines.

    All that to say, it's amazing what God has brought Joel through. Certainly God has had his hand on Joel and has allowed him to make the story of Christ bigger through fictional writing.

    John: Joel, I’m wondering maybe if you could give us a little bit of background information as to just who Joel Rosenberg is? I know that you were born into a family where your father is Jewish, was Jewish, and your mom was not. Is that correct?

    Joel: It’s true. My father still is Jewish, he still believes in …

    John: Of course.

    Joel: Jesus as the Messiah, but he was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. His parents and grandparents escaped out of Russia as Orthodox Jews in the early 1900s, when the Czar was leading the war and encouraging the pogroms--those terrible waves of anti-Semitism against the Jewish people. Their family was able to escape, and eventually got to the United States, and like any good Jewish family, they set up shop in Brooklyn, which is where my dad was born and raised.

    My mom was raised in upstate New York in a little town called Rome. You might expect that it was a pretty Catholic town, being called “Rome.” My grandfather—her father—was Catholic, but her grandmother was Protestant Methodist, and unfortunately her father was a very violent, alcoholic, abusive man and eventually left the family and divorced my mother’s mother.

    My mom was now an only child to a single mother in the ‘40s and that was a tough place to be. My mom was raised in the church, but she was not particularly religious. She never heard the Gospel in her particular church, and of course, my father never heard the Gospel growing up. They were both pretty much agnostics when they met and married in the mid-60s. A few years later, in 1967, I was born, and our whole family’s story began to take an interesting turn.

    John: You said you were born in New York State?

    Joel: Yes, I was born in Syracuse. That’s where they met. My father was an architect, working at his first job as an architect. My mom was doing graduate work at Syracuse University, and they met at a party and fell in love, and my father proposed. Though, I have to say that my Jewish grandmother was so upset at the idea that he was going to propose to a Gentile woman that she offered to buy the engagement ring back from him, at a profit to him, if he did not do this, but he went for it anyway.

    John: Joel, how does Christ enter into your family?

    Joel: My parents were seekers. They really were lost and it was the ‘60s. They weren’t really counter-cultural, but they were newly married in 1965. They were trying to establish a life for themselves, but they felt lost. They felt sure that there was a God; they just didn’t know who He was. When they looked back at my father’s background in Orthodox Judaism, it surfaced a lot of painful memories for him. Now, there are many wonderful, warm, loving Orthodox Jewish families and communities. My father did not live in one, however; so he didn’t think that digging into Orthodox Judaism was going to help him. My mom’s experience with her violent Catholic father left that option without any particular appeal. And since she had grown up in what was, quite honestly, a dead little Protestant church that hadn’t taught her the Gospel, she didn’t have much hope for that either.

    They read the Koran. They got confused. They didn’t find it that interesting. They read the Bhagavad Gita and looked into Hinduism. They didn’t really get that either and didn’t have any draw there. They tried to read the New Testament, but they just didn’t get it, honestly, and so they’d go for long walks, talk about, “Do you know God? How are we going to find God? Does anyone know God?”

    One day they happened to visit a church and they were sitting there and the pastor wasn’t there, but some visiting young couples had been asked to lead the service that day--an atypical scenario for that particular denomination. As it happened, and these couples were saying, “We were raised in the church, but honestly we never knew that we had to be born again, and that you couldn’t just go to church and then know God, you had to accept Him in your heart, you had to receive Christ by faith.”

    My mom began to sit up a little, and leaned forward. She had never heard of verses like John 3:16 or John 14:6. She literally didn’t know the Good News, that Christ had died for her to forgive her, to adopt her into His family. As an orphaned kid essentially, an abandoned kid--in her min--from a broken family, the idea of God adopting her into His family was a game-changer! She just was electrified, and she thought, “How do you do that?” Well, they explained how.

    They said, “Afterwards, when the service is done, if you want to come forward and ask some questions, great. If you’d like to make the decision to receive Christ, then you’ll really start to know God because He’ll be living inside of you.” Her response was, “Yes!” So she went forward, prayed to receive Christ, and assumed that my father was right next to her sharing her enthusiasm, but he wasn’t. He was finding coffee out in the lobby.

    Anyway, he basically said to her, “Listen honey, I know we’re on this search, but I’m Jewish. Jews do not believe in Jesus, it’s not going to happen. I’m happy for you, but I don’t believe that. No.” To his credit, he was willing to go to a small group Bible study that my mom wanted to join. There, they were going to go through the Gospel according to Luke and study it, chapter by chapter. My father thought, “Look, any good, red-blooded American ought to know the New Testament. I tried to read it; I didn’t understand it. Sure I’ll go just so I will know the basic plot, that’s fine.”

    After six months of listening carefully, two things stunned him. First, he was stunned by really reading the Word of God, because he never had done that. He had never just sat and read the Word of God, certainly not in English; he read some in Hebrew, but he didn’t understand it. To read the Word of God was electrifying to him. Confusing, admittedly, but there was something about it. I guess I don’t have to tell you, your readers or your staff this, but God’s Word is powerful!

    Well, it began to affect him. The second thing that was transformative was something he never knew as a Jewish person, which was that Jesus had actually claimed to be the Messiah. He knew that Christians thought He was the Messiah, but he didn’t realize that Jesus Himself had been challenged on this point and said, “Yes, that’s exactly who I am.”

    When he came across verses like that in Luke, he was shocked and thought, “Wait a minute, wait just a minute. If you claim to be the Messiah and you’re not, then I can’t call you a good teacher anymore.” This has been the classic C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell logical analysis. My father hadn’t ever heard of those two men, but he was an architect. He had an engineering mind--a logical mind--and he said to himself, “If Jesus claims to be the Messiah, which He clearly does, and He isn’t one,” which is what he thought, “then either Jesus knew He wasn’t the Messiah and was just lying to people, or He thought he was the Messiah and He’s just crazy.” But as he continued to study through Luke, he could not come to the conclusion that this person, Jesus, was a liar or a lunatic. Six months after they started in that study, he came home one day and said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I received Him by faith today on the bus coming home from work.” That was the beginning of a very serious revolution in our family, both my parents within six months of each other coming to faith in Jesus as Messiah.

    [All that to say,] I was growing up in a lost, agnostic house and suddenly my parents were saying they believe in Jesus and started dragging my sister and I off to church every week. I can’t say I was a big fan of that.

    John: Tell us a little bit about that journey. Obviously, if they are the ones that certainly made this decision, something was changing in the family dynamic. How did you and your sister approach this new idea?

    Joel: Differently. We approached it very differently. I was a little resentful at first. I didn’t like having to go to church. I didn’t like being put in a Sunday school class where the kids seemed to already all know the Bible stories. Literally, the pastor’s son and some of the Elders’ daughters were there, and the class wasn’t that big, but everybody knew the Bible stories and I didn’t know any of them. Then they had, I don’t know if you used to force, I mean, “encourage” your kids to do sword drills?

    John: Sure.

    Joel: "Hold up the Bible and say, “John 3:16,” and whoever finds it first gets a Wiffle ball and bat." That’s what they did in our class to encourage study of the Bible by, let’s say, friendly competition. I just was embarrassed because I would lose every week. They would say, “John 3:16,” and I was like, “I see a Mark, a Johnny, a Gary, a Nancy, I don’t see any John, who’s John?” I’d never read the Bible. I had never looked at the Bible. I don’t think I’d ever held a Bible.

    Over the next few years, my parents got me a little pocket New Testament. It might’ve been a Gideon Bible; certainly it was along those lines. It was funny; it was one of those Bible New Testaments that have the Psalms and the Proverbs in the back. One day they said in class, “Ready? What’s the last Book of the Bible?” I looked up first and I got my hand up before everyone, and everyone was shocked because I never won. I never even played basically.

    John: Yes, I know where this is going.

    Joel: He said, “Oh, wow! Joel, what’s the last Book of the Bible?” and I said, “Proverbs.”

    John: Oh yes, of course.

    Joel: They just laughed. They said, “No, no, it’s Revelations.” I said, “Not in my Bible,” and I’m pointing it out to them: “It’s right there, black and white, give me that bat, give me that ball.” But, of course, they wouldn’t do it. I think I’m still a little bit bitter. I’m working out my angst on that one.

    The bottom line is, I wasn’t a big fan. The only thing worse than Sunday school, to me was the fact that in our church we had VBS. We get to the end of the school year, and there was no Sunday school for summer. We had summer vacation, so I thought, “Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” Then I was like, “Oh no, my parents are making me go to Vacation Bible School …” And every day too. That was a disaster. The short version of that was, I really resented that because I’m not a big fan of singing, or wasn’t at the time, and I don’t like crafts, and that’s basically all you do in Vacation Bible School. At least that’s the way it was where I was raised, in the little town of Fairport, New York. It was terrible. I did like those stories about Jesus, though, but I thought, “I can think of a lot of better ways to spend my summer morning than gluing elbow macaroni to burlap to write out ‘Jesus loves me.’”

    It was through that process, and honestly, prayer--the prayers of my Sunday school teachers, the lady around the corner that had VBS in her basement, parents—and the model of seeing my parents changing that I changed too. That year, when I was eight years old, I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart as my Savior. I believe I really truly was born again at that moment, even though I didn’t understand it all, and was able to receive this as a child by faith.

    It was a number of years before it began to become truly, deeply transforming to me. It had an effect early on, but it wasn’t really until high school that I had to wrestle it through more deeply and then began to take it more seriously. That’s the short version of my process, my journey.

    John: Needless to say, all of the workings or the activities that your Sunday school teachers and your VBS teachers had done for you specifically, Joel, they didn’t really have much effect. It was something far…

    Joel: No, I would say it did, but it wouldn’t have looked that way to them. The answer of that all, the conclusion is, they did have an effect, it’s just that I didn’t look like a kid that was responding. Their faithfulness, teaching the Word of God, praying for me and loving me, being patient with me, did open my heart. In effect, it only took a few years, so in the grand scheme of things it didn’t look so difficult.

    The heavy lifting was God saving my parents. I’m grateful for those Sunday school teachers and that Vacation Bible School teacher. In fact, I was teaching once at a church a few years ago and I was telling that story. People were laughing and I was maybe milking it a bit, and lo and behold, who should show up in the lobby but the lady who was running the VBS class. She was like, “Wow, it was that bad?” I said, “No, yes, I guess that’s the way I felt, but you heard the end of the story, it worked! God’s Word works.” I was very grateful and was able to tell her face-to-face.

    John: It’s amazing…

    Joel: Thank God for all the patient Bible school teachers out there.

    John: Absolutely. It’s amazing the tools that God uses to bring people to Himself.

    Joel: Amen.

    John: Joel, so then in high school, you understood the reality of God’s grace towards you and you received Him as your Savior? At what point did you start leaning towards writing?

    Joel: That same year that I was eight years old that I prayed to receive Christ, that same year I remember having a real interest in either writing and making movies or writing novels. Basically, I wanted to become a storyteller.

    Looking back, perhaps it’s fair to say those two moments converged. Obviously, it took a long time to play itself out. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I took my faith particularly seriously and started sharing my faith in high school. I started a Bible study and tried to reach everybody in my high school with the Gospel. I really got electrified halfway through my junior year, and I’d always been interested in writing, and ended up going to film school at Syracuse University.

    Years later, actually, the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin to write my first novel and who knew, it became a New York Times Bestseller.  This was the book, The Last Jihad, which released in November 2002. Usually when you write your first book, you just hope that your mother can find it in a bookstore within a hundred miles of her house, not that it would become a bestseller. I couldn’t have anticipated that.

    That was a long time away from my early dreams of being a writer, but, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I think He did a lot to refine those desires and take me through some other paths and to prepare me for what was coming. My goodness, I can’t say either my wife or me anticipated that if I made a pivot in my career, from politics to writing novels, that that would be successful.

    John: Joel, in writing these books, the Lord certainly has used you to open some very significant paths in conversation. You’ve had the opportunity to be on numerous television news programs, and radio as well. You’ve been on ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC; you’ve talked with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many others. When you walk into those settings and you are in an environment that is certainly different than the one that you and I are in right now, how do you go about it? What is your goal in that type of conversation? What do you hope to accomplish as they are trying to figure out what you stand for and what your books have been doing as well as what’s going on over in the Middle East? What is your goal in that process?

    Joel: It’s a great question. Maybe the simplest way to answer it is to tell the story, just briefly, of what happened when the first novel was released. In other words, in terms of my novels, yes, my objective is to write geopolitical thrillers that are heart-pounding, edge of your seat, can’t put them down, stay up all night-type thrillers. I want to entertain. I want to grab people by the collar and pull them in on an adventure ride that they can’t let go of and that they finish to the end.

    That’s the first objective. In that, I want my characters to show a whole range of different emotions and ideas, and I want some of them to be on a spiritual journey. Being on a spiritual journey has been a significant part of my parents’ life and my own life, and I think this is the most eternal point. Not every person who reads one of my novels is going to necessarily going to react well to some of the spiritual sub-themes; but they’re there and they’re important to me.

    I think the novels stand on their own as geopolitical thrillers, but I also want them to spark some thinking on a range of issues, one of which is, “What about this? Where am I going when I die? What is my future and can I have a relationship with God that’s personal?” Those are my objectives, and so, I certainly hope when I walk into a radio interview or a TV or print interview, that those types of conversations will come up.

    What’s amazing is that they do come up. Not every time, but when I first released The Last Jihad, that novel, from the first page, puts the reader inside the cockpit of a jet plane, which has been hijacked by radical Muslim terrorists and is coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city. That’s how the book begins and I wrote that nine months before September 11, 2001. As The Last Jihad continues, it leads from this kamikaze attack on an American city to a war between the United States and Saddam Hussein over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. All of that was written before 9/11.

    When the book, The Last Jihad, released in November 2002, believe me, no one had ever heard of Joel Rosenberg, no one had ever heard of The Last Jihad, and honestly nobody really cared. When that book came out, people were so intrigued with the plot, not with me, not with my faith, not with my parents’ spiritual story growing up. What they were interested in was, “Wait a minute, you wrote about a kamikaze attack on the United States by Muslims nine months before it happened and about a war between the United States and Iraq and now we’re debating whether we should have that very war? How was that possible? How did you do that?” That was the conversation we were having.

    I was on 160 radio and television programs in less than 60 days, from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas and early January of that year. I remember one of the interviews very early on, it might have been the second day of the media tour, someone was asking me, the radio host was asking me, and actually he was from my hometown, Rochester, New York, and he was asking me, “How could you do this? How could you write a book that seems to be true, but it’s fiction?”

    We talked about that and he said, “What do you think is going to happen next, if you’re so insightful about the future?” We talked a little bit about where I thought we might be going in terms of a war with Iraq and how that might happen and why. Then he said, “I don’t understand, Joel, your name is Rosenberg?” I said, “Right.” He said, “That’s Jewish, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, it is, on my father’s side.” He said, “But your characters, some of them in this book, are talking about Jesus, aren’t they?” I said, “Yes, they are.” He says, “What are you, an Evangelical? A born again?” He thought that was nutty. I said, “Yes, I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah, so yes.” He said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?”

    I was not prepared for that question. It’s a nice question to be asked, and I’ll own that question, but I did not imagine it would be asked on day two of this Last Jihad book tour. I was a little flummoxed, honestly. Perhaps I was not always prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that was in me, which is not good, but nevertheless I was just caught off-guard.

    I said, “Sir, it’s an interesting story, but I am sure that we don’t have time for me to explain it to you on your radio show.” He said, “Are you kidding?” He said, “It’s one thing to have a guy on my show who writes fiction that seems to come true. It’s another thing to meet a Jew who believes in Jesus. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’m going to have you on after the break and you can tell your story.”

    That began what has continued for 10 years now, not on every show, not on every interview, but with a lot of them, where people ask about the spiritual themes or the biblical themes or about my own personal life. Somehow they ask, they get interested, and I love to answer those questions, much like when Jesus was hanging on the cross and one of the thieves said, “Remember me.” It was the thief who started that spiritual conversation. I love to start a spiritual conversation if I can, but sometimes they get started by other people and I have an opportunity to respond.

    John: Joel, I love that story. It’s amazing to me to think how often God has put you into these very, and perhaps sometimes precarious, situations for an amazing task. What a splendid opportunity that God has called you to be a part of. Joel, I’m wondering, oftentimes, I don’t want to say that it’s specific to the Evangelical community, but obviously that’s what we live in, so that’s what we’re going to talk about, oftentimes, within the Evangelical community, people will take a book and apply it to their own life, as if it is the Word of God itself. In other words, they might take a book and not necessarily claim that it has the same authority as the Word of God, but they will hold almost very close to it.

    Within Christian fiction writing on occasion, various books have had that type of approach. People have looked at books such as yours in a biblical or prophetical fictional writings and said, “This is how things are going to pan out.” How do you, as a follower of Jesus, how do you approach someone with that type of thought behind them?

    Joel: That’s a good question. I can’t say that I have met a lot of people, in person anyway, that have taken my books and thought that my novels were the way it was going to be. That could be happening. They’re not writing to me and I’m not meeting them.

    One of the things that fiction allows me to do is play out a scenario of what could happen, and therefore be able to raise a concept, an idea, a scenario in the minds of readers that they may not have thought about. For example, one of my novels, The Ezekiel Option, which was released in 2005, is about a Russian dictator rising to power and forming an alliance with Iran and a group of other Middle Eastern countries. Then they try to attack Israel. That novel is based on a prophecy, the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39, which is what Bible scholars call the War of Gog and Magog.

    What really has fascinated me personally is Bible prophecy, and when I started studying the War of Gog and Magog, I was intrigued. One, because I’m from a Russian background, my family escaped out of Russia. Two, I had an opportunity to work for Benjamin Netanyahu, who, of course, is the current Prime Minister of Israel. Three, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and a student of the Scriptures, and all of those things are elements in Ezekiel 38 and 39, Russia, Israel, the Word of God.

    I wrote a novel that said, “Listen, I was thinking to myself, I don’t know exactly how that prophecy is going to happen, and I can’t say that that prophecy is going to come true in my lifetime, but what if it did? What a novel allows me to do is ask what if, and in this case, what if this prophecy comes true in our lifetime, and what if it happens this particular way? Not to say that it will, but what if it did? What would that look like? What would that feel like? What might happen? What might be the implications, personally and then nationally and internationally, if those prophecies came true in our lifetime?”

    That totally intrigued me, and I think it’s intrigued a lot of people. We’re almost at three million copies of these books sold, so I think it’s reasonable to say people are also interested in those questions, “What if?”

    I think any good novel, certainly a political thriller, for example, the genre I’m working in, ought to start with a very compelling “What if?” scenario and if it’s compelling enough, people will read it, not because they think, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but they think, “Gosh, what if it did?” It gets a ball rolling to have people asking themselves, in this case, “Is Russia forming an alliance with Iran? Is there any evidence of that? Does that prophecy say that? What does that prophecy say? What do other people think about that prophecy? What do I think about that prophecy? What does that prophecy mean to me?”

    It’s a prophecy most people have never spent any time thinking about. In fact, Tyndale (publisher) didn’t even want to call it The Ezekiel Option, because they thought the word Ezekiel just sounds boring. It’s supposed to be a thriller. I found it thrilling and they were ultimately persuaded.

    I hope that’s helpful, at least in my perspective, on how I hope readers are looking at my novels, as thought-inducers. I can see that some people might be out there, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but I’m trying to… I don’t buy into that. I don’t accept that, and that’s not the goal.

    Middle East Expert Joel Rosenberg Analyzes Israel/Gaza/Iran Tensions on FOX News
    Published on Mar 21, 2013

    John: Now you have The Damascus Countdown. This will be book three of this last trilogy, is that correct?

    Joel: Correct.

    John: The thrill continues.

    Joel: I hope so… and ends.

    John: It ends, and the good guy wins.

    Joel: This is the big finale.

    John: Yes. The good guy wins.

    Joel: Maybe.

    John: Joel, you don’t want to give anything away here and I completely understand. Real quick here, we’re getting close to the end of time, or at least our time…

    Joel: That’s true in the…

    John: In the big scheme of things, that’s very true.

    Joel: Who knows exactly when that ends? No one knows that day or hour, but you in your case, yes, okay, we know that.

    John: Yes. Joel, you are much more than an author and a speaker. You have also been doing some unique things with the country that your father would hold dear with Israel as well. Do you want to explain a little bit about the Epicenter Conference that you did?

    Joel: Sure. A few years ago, we noticed that there was so much interest in the books that people wanted to talk about these issues and talk, not about the fictional side only, but also what’s really happening. “Joel, you did work for a Prime Minister of Israel, for a Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Natan Sharansky, and for others, you interact with generals and intelligence officers and so forth, what do you see really happening in the Middle East? What is coming? What are the timelines?”

    We put together a conference called the Epicenter Conference. People can learn about it at epicenterconference.com. We’re having another one, for example, this summer in Jerusalem. Sometimes we have them in Israel and sometimes we have them in the United States. Most of the videos of the speakers from the last number of years are online at epicenterconference.com, so people can watch them for free.

    The short version is, they give us an opportunity to look at some of the key issues, the geopolitical issues, some of the economic issues, but also the spiritual issues, “What is God doing? We see what the enemies of the Bible are doing in the Middle East, building weapons, terrorism, and so forth, but what is God doing?” We’ve interviewed Jewish believers, Iranian believers, Arab believers, former terrorists. It’s given us a forum to talk about what is really happening in that part of the world, not just from a geopolitical angle or an economic angle, but also through what I call the third lens of Scripture.

    That’s now tied together, these conferences, with the ministry that my wife and I started seven years ago, called The Joshua Fund, which is a ministry to mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus. We educate people around the world, mostly Christians, about what’s happening in Israel and the Middle East, and what God’s plan and purpose is for the people of that region, but we also then do practical work. We provide food and clothing and medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to the poor and needy. We do that mostly through local believers, though we also are connected to government, mayors, and welfare agencies and so forth.

    The idea is to help Christians understand what’s happening, but then give them a chance to make a difference. We also teach the word of God. We do pastors' training, trying to strengthen the local believers to be a light in the darkness. The bottom line of that, John, is that I don’t want to just write novels about what might happen or what will happen but we don’t know exactly will happen. I don’t want to just write fiction. These things are real. People are really in the midst of war and suffering. I want to try, as best I can to, mobilize people to make a difference, to be a blessing, to be a witness for the Lord in the place where He’s going to come back to anyway. That is an important element of what I do.

    Fortunately we’ve got a great team that God has helped us build, and so I don’t have to do all that myself. It’s been exciting to help build that team and lead it, even as I try to keep my focus primarily on the writing of these novels.

    John: Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk.

    Joel: My pleasure.

    Damascus Countdown - Joel C. Rosenberg


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, C.S. Lewis, Catholic, Joel Rosenberg, Methodist, Josh McDowell, ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, 9/11

  • Matt Maher. On Being Christian.

    Posted on April 1, 2013 by John van der Veen



    Matt Maher's newest album, All The People Said Amen," fuses the popularity of his vibrant live show with several new studio cuts, offering fans an assortment of writing and performance styles.

    “This project,” offers Maher, “is a real collage of who I am musically. You’ll hear intimate worship songs, anthemic praise tunes often sung and shouted aloud together in unison, and celebratory songs that inspire the whole church.”

    I chatted with Matt on cold winter day.  What follows is a conversation on who Matt is, what he hopes to accomplish and how he just wants to sing about Jesus.

    John: So, Matt … hey man, again, thank you for talking with me. I’m wondering if you could give me a little bit of background information on who you are. I know you spent some time in Arizona as a worship leader, but before that, where did you come from?

    Matt: I grew up in Newfoundland, Canada. I was involved in the Northeast, and I lived there for 20 years. I was born and raised there. I grew up in St. Johns, sort of a small harbor town with a population of about 250,000. I worked there when I was 19. My parent’s got separated and my mom’s American. So, she moved back to Arizona. Her father was a naval pilot and her parents retired in Arizona. I wasn’t going to church at the time. I was born and raised in the Northeast. Like a lot of people 20 years ago, you grew up definitely in one of the main lines of denominations: Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal or what have you. I grew up Catholic with Catholic schooling and all that, and had a lot of great experiences. From a very young age, my parents did a great job of instilling a general faith in God, in Jesus. Going to school, you hear the story of the incarnation and salvation, but I didn’t really get all the person of Jesus. I grew up like a lot of people, sort of educated somewhat in my faith but not really getting to have a moment where I made a decision to follow this person, Jesus, who did all of these amazing things for me. Not only gave the universe and gave me life but also died for all my sins and the sins of the whole world and guaranteed me a place in heaven.

    I think what happened was, I moved … I was 19, my parents were getting divorced, I was a Music major in college already, studying music. I wanted to do film restoring. That was my childhood dream! I figured, well I moved to Arizona and L.A. is an eight-hour drive. I could get a job working part-time. Then I thought about it and I was like, “You should really finish your degree.” Then I applied to Arizona State University and got accepted! I didn’t realize that it was two months after the admission deadline and somehow I still got accepted and met the people for the school of music and had to do an audition tape. They were like, it’s obvious you’re meant to be here but we don’t have any scholarship money available. You are an American citizen, so why don’t you come here and live here for a year and then we can get in the tuition and we can figure out what we can do for you then. So I did!

    I took one credit hour. That’s all I could afford! I worked at a coffee shop down the road, but more importantly, I had a cousin there who was my age. I had been in Arizona for six weeks, and she was really involved with a youth movement called “Life Team” which is kind of like “Young Life” in the Catholic Church. It started at a church in Arizona and now it’s in more than 1,600 churches in the U.S. and all over the world.

    Basically, what they were doing is they were taking sort of the historical traditions and the doctoral teachings of Catholicism and presenting them in a format that helps kids understand that the foundation of it all is having a relationship with Jesus. So, I started hanging out with her because I didn’t know anybody else my age. All her friends were helping out with the youth group. I had met them a couple of years ago because when I was in high school, like I said I went to Arizona and I went on a couple of the youth trips and it seemed kind of cool.

    So, I’m 19 years old, my parents are divorced and I realized that I had a lot of questions about life and about who I am. I wondered about my real purpose and the meaning behind all of it and that kind of stuff. I was in that time frame when people are asking those major questions, and what I realized is that I was going to everywhere but God for answers. I think that by being in a community of not just people my age, but in one where young people, older people, families and everybody was sort of living out their faith, it gave me permission to do the same thing. So in a very short period of time, I started going to church again every week. That summer I was prayed with to receive Jesus, and I started participating in my Catholic faith again, but this time in kind of in a more personal sense. I had never experienced anything like that before growing up.

    I started helping out with the youth group and started playing piano at our masses and services. All of this amazing stuff happened. I found … like I said, I found a job and my mom got an apartment a mile away from ASU and a mile away from the church, and it just became very apparent to me that God had a plan all along. I helped out at this church for a year and then I actually ended up at another church. I got my job there because of Rich Mullins.

    John: Really?

    Matt: Yes. Back to the story … Like I said, I had been in Arizona for about a year and a half and I got a phone call from this guy named Tom Boos who was sort of a contemporary Catholic music guy, worship leader, more liturgical of sorts.

    He was the music guy for “Life Team” and basically Tom started mentoring me. He was casting a musical that Rich had written, called “Canticle of the Plains.”

    John: Oh sure!

    Matt: The church that he worked at—St. Timothy’s, which is in Mesa—did a performance of it. He asked if I would play a character. He goes, “I’m doing a musical that Rich Mullins wrote and I think you’d be perfect for it. He was actually thinking … I was praying and I felt like Jesus told me that I was supposed to cast you.

    It was like the worst … well, not the worst, that’s probably a bad word, but it was the most amazing type of typecasting. I played a character who was best friends with Frank, who’s modeled after St. Francis and his name was Ivory, we’ll just nickname him or Ira was his name. He played piano in a saloon. What was crazy was I paid my way through the first three years of college in Canada by playing piano in a hotel bar.

    John: Wow!

    Matt: I spent about a month, on and off every other week, a couple of days with this guy Rich Mullins and the only song I knew that he wrote was “Awesome God” which I didn’t particularly like the verses. I thought it was so strange, but to hear this amazing chorus ...

    I got to know Rich, and during that time a job opening came at St. Tim’s and so I took it. Rich would periodically come down. He developed a really good friendship with Tom who was my mentor. Tom actually co-wrote the song, “Nothing is Beyond Jesus” with Rich and Mitch McVicker. I kind of ended up joining this other church then for 13 years and during that time I graduated from college and discovered modern worship music. I discovered that there were a bunch of guys my age doing what I was doing, but in the denominational or the Baptist world. I was led to Christ by sort-of charismatic Catholics, so I was much cooler with that bit of musical expression anyways. For me, hearing music such as the Delirious and Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, all of a sudden I was like, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. There was this period where I was meandering and I was trying to figure out what am I supposed to be doing? I was just writing music primarily for my church for the youth group I was part of. We started doing a weekly worship night, kind of like a Wednesday night. It was primarily geared towards kids in the Catholic Church and I think what changed was in … are we good so far? Do you need me to stop?

    John: I’m really enjoying this Matt. I have hours and hours and days and days. You can talk as long as you want!

    Matt: Oh, good. In 2002, no 2003, I wrote your “Grace is Enough” and I remember when I wrote it, I was going through a bit of a dry spell, spiritually, you know like most people that work at churches do. You know, you just get burned out. You give a lot of yourself, you know, and a friend of mine once said, “Look, if you allow her to, Church will suck the life out of you!” The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few!

    I wrote that song, and later that same year, I played it at a youth specialties convention. They came to my church and they were so flipped out that there was this Catholic Church in Arizona doing not only youth ministry but using contemporary music, like in a mass. They were like, “You need to come sing that song! That song’s amazing. I was kind of oblivious and I was like, “Okay, cool!” I knew who Chris (Tomlin) was and I was familiar enough with the Passion ministry. I used to go to a Family Christian store and buy CDs when I worked at the church.

    John: Woo Hoo!

    Matt: So, what happened was that Chris backed me up with that song; him and his band. He, I guess, I guess he really, really liked it and a couple of months later I ran in to him again and he said, “Hey, do you have a copy of that song? I’d really like to show it to somebody and I was like, sure!” Well, what I didn’t realize was that that somebody was Ed Cash, who was his producer.

    John: Oh yeah!

    Matt: The next day or that Saturday or Monday I got an email from him that said, “I’m going to record this song. Are you cool with me putting it on my next record?” He wanted to make a couple of arrangement changes and stuff, and so we talked on the phone and I was like, “Absolutely!”

    I remember when I read that email, where I was … I was in the house across the street from my church and that’s where all the worship staff worked and I remember reading it and I think I even screamed out loud! It wasn’t so much that Chris Tomlin was recording my song, as much as it was that I felt like I was staring at the screen through words on a screen, sort of looking into my future. And I felt like God was just saying, “I’m opening a door here and there’s a new sequence of life coming.” Chris recorded that song, obviously, and it was on “Arising,” and I think that started a relationship, which has really turned into a friendship. Chris, to me is just a great friend. He’s a wonderful man of God and I think that’s blossomed over the years; that sort of collaboration. In fact, kind of what happened after that was that he asked us to come to a Passion conference and lead in a small community group. We did and I was the token Catholic; that’s what people were talking about. I think all of us kind of looked at it like what is happening? Why do we all connect?

    During that time, I just kind of started to feel like the Holy Spirit was downloading into me a vision for ministry that was less focused on denominations and more about trying to bring the Church together. Not ignoring the disagreements that we have, but more so saying the things that we agree upon are just far greater, and that that’s something that the world desperately needs to see. It needs to see the Church standing together in solidarity.

    John: Matt, let’s talk a little bit about that. You’ve had a unique role in walking in to both Catholic as well as Protestant circles with that ideology behind you. What do you think... where others have attempted that before you but for some reason, there is something with your songs that are resonating very well. Not to say that they’re two camps but just to kind of break it down to some extent that there are two camps. What do you think that is? Why is it that God is using you in this particular moment in time to do such a thing as that?

    Matt: Well, I think and here’s what I’ve learned, that as a songwriter, you can write songs about your faith, you can write songs from your faith. I think a great example of that is just in the test of time in great songs of the Church that we all sing, because of our denominations. I think that when you look at those songs, those songs weren’t necessarily written about doctrines of faith as much as they were written from doctrines of faith; the difference of that being that I realize that early on in my writing I was writing songs about my Christian faith from a Catholic perspective. I think over time as my faith became more and more integrated just to know who I was, I realized that I didn’t need to do that. I just needed to write songs from my faith, and so I think when you do that, there’s a timeless element of core Christian truth that shines through regardless of disagreements. I think people just start to go … I mean, “Amazing Grace” … that song isn’t about justification. It isn’t about subsidiary atonement or sensationalism. It’s a song about grace! It’s a song that comes from a deep personal perspective, and in a way from the gospel. It’s not about the gospel.

    I think that’s the difference. I think writers more and more are realizing that. “10,000 Reasons”… some people could say it was a theological speculation about the multitude of reasons that a redeemed sinner would have to bless God, or you could just simply say that it’s an amazing prayer that comes from a heart of somebody who knows Jesus. Do you understand what I’m saying?

    John: Yes.

    Matt: I think part of it is the realization that I don’t major in the minors!

    John: That’s a good point!

    Matt: Like Matt Redman and I wrote a song about communion together. He comes from an Anglican or Evangelical background and I came from a Catholic background. We have completely different doctoral teachings about communion and about the Eucharist. Does that mean that we can’t write a song together about the importance of communion. Or that when Jesus says in the Bible, “Remember me … do this in remembrance of me… that we can’t. What we can say is let’s try to serve the Church with a song that somehow reflects truth and leaves a little bit of room for the mystery of faith. I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with my music. Particularly I think the corporate songs … the songs specifically for churches to sing on Sunday. I have definitely tried to do that in those songs.

    John: When you look at the catalog of songs that have come through Christian-dome in the years, down through the ages, what is a song or two that continues to move you and make you go, “That is a song that drives specifically to my heart and makes me fall at the feet of Jesus”?

    Matt: Hmmm.

    I think for me I definitely do … I liturgically sort of … coming from a liturgical mindset and as a believer … I’m a firm believer in seasons and so I would say it would depend on what season we’re in. I think “It Is Well” is just to me such an awe-encompassing, amazing hymn that I think the more you grow in your faith and in your life, you know, being single and following Jesus is one thing but being married and being a father and following Jesus it completely changes. Particularly as you get older in life, you just start noticing this thing where people around you, their bodies just start breaking down. It’s like I have had more family members or friends suffer with illness or disease or heart problems or diabetes or all of that. I think that combined with just the climate of everything going on in the world. Well, we don’t have a pope, we’re currently sequestered and the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. If you don’t have anything to pray about, just go ahead and pick one of those!

    I think a hymn like that speaks volumes because it’s very real and it addresses a lot of the human experience. It’s like we have mountain top moments that are fleeting and small, and they inspire us to walk through the valleys, so that even in the valley’s we can continue to be a joy for people and say it as well.

    It’s so funny because when you immediately said it, I thought of “Oh Holy Night”. We sing that song once a year but for a lot of people, the lyrics just fly right by. Truly He taught us to love one another, His name is love and His gospel is peace, chains shall He break for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppressions shall cease … the problem is that we only sing that song once a year so it doesn’t get enough scrutiny.

    I think of a hymn like that and a song like that and how it defines a singular moment. I mean if you hear “Oh Holy Night” you knew everybody, even the un-churched can think of an experience of being in church and hearing that song, hopefully sung well. I think that is powerful. Those are two examples. I think it’s so funny … I just love the fact that a melody that was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago, we’ll still sing it and that’s just a really neat prospect.

    As a songwriter, to think that you might eventually stumble upon something that you’ll get to hand down to the church and the point isn’t that you wrote it, the point is that it gets to get handed down and to me, that’s exciting.

    John: I’m going to ask you a personal question and again, all of these are fair game. If you don’t want to answer any one, it would not offend me at all.

    Matt, how does somebody who is in your role, who’s known possibly all over the world for leading people to Jesus … how do you kind of step out of that and say, it’s not about Matt, it is about Jesus when you happen to be in front of a couple thousand people at that time?

    Matt: Well, I would say that wherever you are in your life, God has used the years prior to that to prepare you for that moment and that season. I look back on the 13+ years of doing ministry in the local church and not being known and kind of being taken for granted. I asked God for moments in my life where I could be part of relationships and communities where I am a little bit taken for granted; not in a negative way but in a positive way. To be seen as part of the body of Christ and not the head. There’s only one head. That experience of being active in the local church—not just leading worship on a platform, but being in community with people and having your relationships with young people, teenagers and playing at funerals and playing at baptisms and playing at weddings and participating in the life of the body of Christ—those things stay with you. I think that has definitely been part of it. I had very small beginnings; the first thing I ever really got to lead worship for was a Bible study … no that was actually on a good night … it was with about 15 teenagers. That’s where I started falling in love with leading worship. The biggest fear I had was playing for 65 kids one night and it might as well as been with 65,000 people. I just think for me, that’s where my heart was formed and God definitely poured a lot into me and spoken a lot of things in those years that have stayed with me. For example, I remember being in a conference and God saying, “All you’re doing is standing up and supporting what I’m doing. Don’t worry, you’re not doing anything!”

    Because you do … you get in there and you’re like, what if I make a mistake or what if I mess up or you know? You fall victim to your pride and think like … look at me, I’m so great and I just remember God saying I’m doing all the work and it kind of comes from second Chronicles when the Lord leads that small army … he said, “Go and stand up on this hill and I want you to watch, I’m basically going to kick it!” I remember reading that early on and then carrying that into worship one night and God saying, that’s all that you’re doing. You and your little band of people are going to go stand up on the mountain and watch and look down and watch me take care of everything! Being married helps a lot!

    John: Amen!

    Matt: You know, my wife isn’t impressed at all by musical ability. It’s not that it doesn’t matter anymore, it just doesn’t woo her anymore … that’s all!

    John: I may need to have a part II interview with her pretty soon!

    Matt: (laughs)!

    John: Let’s talk a little bit about your new record. You have a new record coming out next month. “All the People Said Amen” and in listening to it, it’s a little bit different than your previous records. Do you want to talk a little bit about what went in to the making of it?

    Matt: Sure. I was on tour with Third Day and talking about what’s next, and I started sharing that I wanted to double-down on the experience of being with people. I discussed how I pray a lot with the church and love writing songs, but that I love watching the church sing them even more. So, when you record songs live, there are a couple ways you can do it. You can record a specific night’s performance or you can take it on the road and just see what you get. I was formed so much by live worship albums like “Delirious” and some of that stuff that was really spontaneous, that I wanted to do more of that. So we were like, “Let’s get going and do that then! Let’s try to capture some live moments. And some of them were worth shipping, and some of them were a little more like a jam session, but I think that kind of reflects what happens out there on stage. We had one weekend where we realized we had a perfect representation of what my ministry looked like, which was we were playing in a non-denominational church at a sports bar at the University of Notre Dame campus, right on campus …we’re talking across the street from the football stadium! A Franklin Graham crusade and a Catholic church in Detroit. I thought, this is it! This is what I do! This is kind of where I go. I go wherever the Lord leads me.

    We tried to record everything that the Franklin Graham crusade, the weather was really bad that night and so that night kind of got messed up and we didn’t get anything from it. We had those three nights and it was great! The night at Notre Dame was so special. I mean 500 college students showed up and God’s been doing stuff on that campus. There are kids there who are hungry and are running after Jesus and are trying to lift him up in that place. It was just amazing to be able to go there and all of a sudden I’m singing “Your Grace is Enough” and I realize that everybody has their hands in their air! I’m like, they’re not just singing any more, they’re worshiping God!” It was really, really amazing. We recorded that weekend and then we worked it out where we could record our set every night when we were on tour with Brandon Heath and we said, “Let’s just try to capture ‘moments’!”

    I think the cover of the new album is indicative of the music and the ministry that I do and it’s just mismatched. It’s a collage of a bunch of different stuff that reflects a lot about who I am. I’m a worship leader, but then I’m a songwriter who studied jazz in college. There is a mismatched component to all of it and it was exciting. I got to use my studio… I got to use my band that I play with live. I was able to use them in the studio for the first time for actual studio tracks and that was significant for to me. You don’t always get that opportunity, to record music with those you actually play live! It was great fun to be able to do that.

    I think ultimately what I’m trying to do is just help the Church remember who she is! She’s a work of art. She’s the bride of Christ. She’s the body of Christ. We have all this art … you know we have all these photos of religious art and photos of churches and buildings on the cover—and my life’s in the middle of it from my perspective—but the church is a work of art. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s handiwork created for his good work which he has prepared for us in advance. That is the heart behind this project.

    Also helping people that maybe haven’t yet heard me sing live, but have heard songs on the radio. I wanted to create an experience that would make them say, “Man, I want to go see this guy live now.” Not just to see me, but more so that we could maybe have an encounter with Jesus together.

    John: Wow, that’s really awesome, Matt. So, now tell me. Who are you a fan of, Matt?

    Matt: I’m obviously a friend of all the guys from the Passion movement: Chris [Tomlin], David [Crowder], Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill and everybody else. In fact, Louie came up to me and has mentored more worship leaders just through his sermons online and conferences than anybody else. I call them friends now but God used them early on. I feel a certain level of gratefulness. I was a huge fan of “Delirious” when they were around.

    Honestly, musically, growing up, I was huge a fan of the Beatles. A huge fan of Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Nirvana. I kind of grew up listening to everything. My dad listened to Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson when he would cook dinner. My mom listened to instrumental music. I played in youth orchestra and concert bands and jazz bands. I kind of grew up literally listening to every style of music.

    I would say right now that the newest album I’ve been listening to … I’m trying to think … it’s so funny, when you become a parent things change. I listen to the Backyardigans channel on the Pandora station… that’s what I listen to when I’m home with my son. Ha!

    John: Funny. But of course. How old is he?

    Matt: My son is 18 months.

    John: Eighteen months!

    Matt: Yes. I just started listening to Bach in B-minor again to kind of get reacquainted with it. I had to listen to it in college because I was getting graded on it and I kind of got out of classical and plugged into listening to whatever was current, and then I was writing a lot of music.

    I mean going back and listening to Bach... or classical music in general… Bach and more on a contemporary level, Erin Copeland, who’s an American composer, it’s pretty fantastic.

    And of course, there are certain popular bands that everyone’s listening to right now. With the advent of shared music services. This is funny… I used to go to record stores to find new music. I would go to a Family Christian store and go to the listening station and spend 45 minutes to an hour. I discovered Audio Adrenaline and Underdog that way. It’s weird. It’s changed now.

    John: Do you think that you’ll ever do a film score?

    Matt: It’s kind of one of those things that’s in the back of my head, that I say to God, “Well, whenever you want to get around to that, just let me know.” And if it’s meant to be, just give me enough time in advance so that I can maybe take a couple of theory classes again to get myself ready.

    John: Or you could do like Smitty did. He didn’t call them film scores but basically that’s what they are… when he did his two pieces.

    Matt: Yes, the inspirational… I think I would probably do most of it. If I was to do a film score now, I would lean toward the sound from the Social Network movie, which was a weird combination of instrumental, electronic and acoustic music. I think that’s what I would probably go for, mostly because of budget. Recording with a huge orchestra cost a lot of money! Anything’s possible though, especially if God desires it to happen. If He wants me to do a film score with a symphony orchestra, who am I to turn that down!?

    John: Is your wife rolling her eyes right now?

    Matt: No, no. She’s upstairs playing cards with our son, but if she was downstairs she probably would be rolling her eyes!

    John: I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said that!

    Matt: That’s alright. You’re obviously tuned in. That’s good!

    John: Matt, I’m assuming because you used to work at a coffee shop, you are a coffee-snob?

    Matt: I’ve gone through phases. My wife and I have been married for almost three years, and I remember for the first Valentine’s day, she brought me a hand-grinder. I embrace the whole thing; I was hand-grinding beans and using beans from a certain mountaintop in Ecuador or El Salvador, but you know, when you have a baby, all bets are off! Whatever’s in the cupboard that doesn’t have mold on it, just pour hot water over it and put a paper towel underneath it.

    At this point … black with one Sweet’N-Low or Stevia and I’m good to go!

    John: I love a good cup of coffee!

    Matt: I still do too.

    Matt: Yes!

    John: Hey, Matt, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today and I’m excited. I’ve listened to the new record, and I love it. I think it’s fantastic. I have your other records.

    Matt: Thanks! It’s been a pleasure!

     

     

     

    MATT MAHER INTERVIEW Edited by JLF

    John: So, Matt … hey man, again, thank you for talking with me. I’m wondering if you could give me a little bit of background information on who Matt is. I know you spent some time in Arizona as a worship leader, but before that, where did you come from?

    Matt: I grew up in Newfoundland, Canada. I was involved in the Northeast, and I lived there for 20 years. I was born and raised there. I grew up in St. Johns, sort of a small harbor town with a population of about 250,000. I worked there when I was 19. My parent’s got separated and my mom’s American. So, she moved back to Arizona. Her father was a naval pilot and her parents retired in Arizona. I wasn’t going to church at the time. I was born and raised in the Northeast. Like a lot of people 20 years ago, you grew up definitely in one of the main lines of denominations: Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal or what have you. I grew up Catholic with Catholic schooling and all that, and had a lot of great experiences. From a very young age, my parents did a great job of instilling a general faith in God, in Jesus. Going to school, you hear the story of the incarnation and salvation, but I didn’t really get all the person of Jesus. I grew up like a lot of people, sort of educated somewhat in my faith but not really getting to have a moment where I made a decision to follow this person, Jesus, who did all of these amazing things for me. Not only gave the universe and gave me life but also died for all my sins and the sins of the whole world and guaranteed me a place in heaven.

    I think what happened was, I moved … I was 19, my parents were getting divorced, I was a Music major in college already, studying music. I wanted to do film restoring. That was my childhood dream! I figured, well I moved to Arizona and L.A. is an eight-hour drive. I could get a job working part-time. Then I thought about it and I was like, “You should really finish your degree.” Then I applied to Arizona State University and got accepted! I didn’t realize that it was two months after the admission deadline and somehow I still got accepted and met the people for the school of music and had to do an audition tape. They were like, it’s obvious you’re meant to be here but we don’t have any scholarship money available. You are an American citizen, so why don’t you come here and live here for a year and then we can get in the tuition and we can figure out what we can do for you then. So I did!

    I took one credit hour. That’s all I could afford! I worked at a coffee shop down the road, but more importantly, I had a cousin there who was my age. I had been in Arizona for six weeks, and she was really involved with a youth movement called “Life Team” which is kind of like “Young Life” in the Catholic Church. It started at a church in Arizona and now it’s in more than 1,600 churches in the U.S. and all over the world.

    Matt: Basically, what they were doing is they were taking sort of the historical traditions and the doctoral teachings of Catholicism and presenting them in a format that helps kids understand that the foundation of it all is having a relationship with Jesus. So, I started hanging out with her because I didn’t know anybody else my age. All her friends were helping out with the youth group. I had met them a couple of years ago because when I was in high school, like I said I went to Arizona and I went on a couple of the youth trips and it seemed kind of cool.

    So, I’m 19 years old, my parents are divorced and I realized that I had a lot of questions about life and about who I am. I wondered about my real purpose and the meaning behind all of it and that kind of stuff. I was in that timeframe when people are asking those major questions, and what I realized is that I was going to everywhere but God for answers. I think that by being in a community of not just people my age, but in one where young people, older people, families and everybody was sort of living out their faith, it gave me permission to do the same thing. So in a very short period of time, I started going to church again every week. That summer I was prayed with to receive Jesus, and I started participating in my Catholic faith again, but this time in kind of in a more personal sense. I had never experienced anything like that before growing up.

    I started helping out with the youth group and started playing piano at our masses and services. All of this amazing stuff happened. I found … like I said, I found a job and my mom got an apartment a mile away from ASU and a mile away from the church, and it just became very apparent to me that God had a plan all along. I helped out at this church for a year and then I actually ended up at another church. I got my job there because of Rich Mullins.

    John: Really?

    Matt: Yes. Back to the story … Like I said, I had been in Arizona for about a year and a half and I got a phone call from this guy named Tom Boos who was sort of a contemporary Catholic music guy, worship leader, more liturgical of sorts.

    John: What was his name?

    Matt: His name was Tom Boos. He was the music guy for “Life Team” and basically Tom started mentoring me. He was casting a musical that Rich had written, called “Canticle of the Plains.”

    John: Oh sure!

    Matt: The church that he worked at—St. Timothy’s, which is in Mesa—did a performance of it. He asked if I would play a character. He goes, “I’m doing a musical that Rich Mullins wrote and I think you’d be perfect for it. He was actually thinking … I was praying and I felt like Jesus told me that I was supposed to cast you.

    It was like the worst … well, not the worst, that’s probably a bad word, but it was the most amazing type of typecasting. I played a character who was best friends with Frank, who’s modeled after St. Francis and his name was Ivory, we’ll just nickname him or Ira was his name. He played piano in a saloon. What was crazy was I paid my way through the first three years of college in Canada by playing piano in a hotel bar.

    John: Wow!

    Matt: I spent about a month, on and off every other week, a couple of days with this guy Rich Mullins and the only song I knew that he wrote was “Awesome God” which I didn’t particularly like the verses. I thought it was so strange, but to hear this amazing chorus ...

    I got to know Rich, and during that time a job opening came at St. Tim’s and so I took it. Rich would periodically come down. He developed a really good friendship with Tom who was my mentor. Tom actually co-wrote the song, “Nothing is Beyond Jesus” with Rich and Mitch McVicker. I kind of ended up joining this other church then for 13 years and during that time I graduated from college and discovered modern worship music. I discovered that there were a bunch of guys my age doing what I was doing, but in the denominational or the Baptist world. I was led to Christ by sort-of charismatic Catholics, so I was much cooler with that bit of musical expression anyways. For me, hearing music such as the delirious and Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, all of a sudden I was like, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. There was this period where I was meandering and I was trying to figure out what am I supposed to be doing? I was just writing music primarily for my church for the youth group I was part of. We started doing a weekly worship night, kind of like a Wednesday night. It was primarily geared towards kids in the Catholic Church and I think what changed was in … are we good so far? Do you need me to stop?

    John: I’m really enjoying this Matt. I have hours and hours and days and days. You can talk as long as you want!

    Matt: Oh, good. In 2002, no 2003, I wrote your “Grace is Enough” and I remember when I wrote it, I was going through a bit of a dry spell, spiritually, you know like most people that work at churches do. You know, you just get burned out. You give a lot of yourself, you know, and a friend of mine once said, “Look, if you allow her to, Church will suck the life out of you!” The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few!

    I wrote that song, and later that same year, I played it at a youth specialties convention. They came to my church and they were so flipped out that there was this Catholic Church in Arizona doing not only youth ministry but using contemporary music, like in a mass. They were like, “You need to come sing that song! That song’s amazing. I was kind of oblivious and I was like, “Okay, cool!” I knew who Chris (Tomlin) was and I was familiar enough with the Passion ministry. I used to go to a Family Christian store and buy CDs when I worked at the church.

    John: Woo Hoo!

    Matt: So, what happened was that Chris backed me up with that song; him and his band. He, I guess, I guess he really, really liked it and a couple of months later I ran in to him again and he said, “Hey, do you have a copy of that song? I’d really like to show it to somebody and I was like, sure!” Well, what I didn’t realize was that that somebody was Ed Cash, who was his producer.

    John: Oh yeah!

    Matt: The next day or that Saturday or Monday I got an email from him that said, “I’m going to record this song. Are you cool with me putting it on my next record?” He wanted to make a couple of arrangement changes and stuff, and so we talked on the phone and I was like, “Absolutely!”

    I remember when I read that email, where I was … I was in the house across the street from my church and that’s where all the worship staff worked and I remember reading it and I think I even screamed out loud! It wasn’t so much that Chris Tomlin was recording my song, as much as it was that I felt like I was staring at the screen through words on a screen, sort of looking into my future. And I felt like God was just saying, “I’m opening a door here and there’s a new sequence of life coming.” Chris recorded that song, obviously, and it was on “Arising,” and I think that started a relationship, which has really turned into a friendship. Chris, to me is just a great friend. He’s a wonderful man of God and I think that’s blossomed over the years; that sort of collaboration. In fact, kind of what happened after that was that he asked us to come to a Passion conference and lead in a small community group. We did and I was the token Catholic; that’s what people were talking about. I think all of us kind of looked at it like what is happening? Why do we all connect?

    During that time, I just kind of started to feel like the Holy Spirit was downloading into me a vision for ministry that was less focused on denominations and more about trying to bring the Church together. Not ignoring the disagreements that we have, but more so saying the things that we agree upon are just far greater, and that that’s something that the world desperately needs to see. It needs to see the Church standing together in solidarity.

    John: Matt, let’s talk a little bit about that. You’ve had a unique role in walking in to both Catholic as well as Protestant circles with that ideology behind you. What do you think... where others have attempted that before you but for some reason, there is something with your songs that are resonating very well. Not to say that they’re two camps but just to kind of break it down to some extent that there are two camps. What do you think that is? Why is it that God is using you in this particular moment in time to do such a thing as that?

    Matt: Well, I think and here’s what I’ve learned, that as a songwriter, you can write songs about your faith, you can write songs from your faith. I think a great example of that is just in the test of time in great songs of the Church that we all sing, because of our denominations. I think that when you look at those songs, those songs weren’t necessarily written about doctrines of faith as much as they were written from doctrines of faith; the difference of that being that I realize that early on in my writing I was writing songs about my Christian faith from a Catholic perspective. I think over time as my faith became more and more integrated just to know who I was, I realized that I didn’t need to do that. I just needed to write songs from my faith, and so I think when you do that, there’s a timeless element of core Christian truth that shines through regardless of disagreements. I think people just start to go … I mean, “Amazing Grace” … that song isn’t about justification. It isn’t about subsidiary atonement or sensationalism. It’s a song about grace! It’s a song that comes from a deep personal perspective, and in a way from the gospel. It’s not about the gospel.

    I think that’s the difference. I think writers more and more are realizing that. “10,000 Reasons”… some people could say it was a theological speculation about the multitude of reasons that a redeemed sinner would have to bless God, or you could just simply say that it’s an amazing prayer that comes from a heart of somebody who knows Jesus. Do you understand what I’m saying?

    John: Yes.

    Matt: I think part of it is the realization that I don’t major in the minors!

    John: That’s a good point!

    Matt: Like Matt Redman and I wrote a song about communion together. He comes from an Anglican or Evangelical background and I came from a Catholic background. We have completely different doctoral teachings about communion and about the Eucharist. Does that mean that we can’t write a song together about the importance of communion. Or that when Jesus says in the Bible, “Remember me … do this in remembrance of me… that we can’t. What we can say is let’s try to serve the Church with a song that somehow reflects truth and leaves a little bit of room for the mystery of faith. I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with my music. Particularly I think the corporate songs … the songs specifically for churches to sing on Sunday. I have definitely tried to do that in those songs.

    John: When you look at the catalog of songs that have come through Christian-dome in the years, down through the ages, what is a song or two that continues to move you and make you go, “That is a song that drives specifically to my heart and makes me fall at the feet of Jesus”?

    Matt: Hmmm.

    John: If I put you on the spot there, I apologize.

    Matt: I think for me I definitely do … I liturgically sort of … coming from a liturgical mindset and as a believer … I’m a firm believer in seasons and so I would say it would depend on what season we’re in. I think “It Is Well” is just to me such an awe-encompassing, amazing hymn that I think the more you grow in your faith and in your life, you know, being single and following Jesus is one thing but being married and being a father and following Jesus it completely changes. Particularly as you get older in life, you just start noticing this thing where people around you, their bodies just start breaking down. It’s like I have had more family members or friends suffer with illness or disease or heart problems or diabetes or all of that. I think that combined with just the climate of everything going on in the world. Well, we don’t have a pope, we’re currently sequestered and the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. If you don’t have anything to pray about, just go ahead and pick one of those!

    I think a hymn like that speaks volumes because it’s very real and it addresses a lot of the human experience. It’s like we have mountain top moments that are fleeting and small, and they inspire us to walk through the valleys, so that even in the valley’s we can continue to be a joy for people and say it as well.

    It’s so funny because when you immediately said it, I thought of “Oh Holy Night”. We sing that song once a year but for a lot of people, the lyrics just fly right by. Truly He taught us to love one another, His name is love and His gospel is peace, chains shall He break for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppressions shall cease … the problem is that we only sing that song once a year so it doesn’t get enough scrutiny.

    I think of a hymn like that and a song like that and how it defines a singular moment. I mean if you hear “Oh Holy Night” you knew everybody, even the un-churched can think of an experience of being in church and hearing that song, hopefully sung well. I think that is powerful. Those are two examples. I think it’s so funny … I just love the fact that a melody that was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago, we’ll still sing it and that’s just a really neat prospect.

    As a songwriter, to think that you might eventually stumble upon something that you’ll get to hand down to the church and the point isn’t that you wrote it, the point is that it gets to get handed down and to me, that’s exciting.

    John: I’m going to ask you a personal question and again, all of these are fair game. If you don’t want to answer any one, it would not offend me at all.

    Matt, how does somebody who is in your role, who’s known possibly all over the world for leading people to Jesus … how do you kind of step out of that and say, it’s not about Matt, it is about Jesus when you happen to be in front of a couple thousand people at that time?

    Matt: Well, I would say that wherever you are in your life, God has used the years prior to that to prepare you for that moment and that season. I look back on the 13+ years of doing ministry in the local church and not being known and kind of being taken for granted. I asked God for moments in my life where I could be part of relationships and communities where I am a little bit taken for granted; not in a negative way but in a positive way. To be seen as part of the body of Christ and not the head. There’s only one head. That experience of being active in the local church—not just leading worship on a platform, but being in community with people and having your relationships with young people, teenagers and playing at funerals and playing at baptisms and playing at weddings and participating in the life of the body of Christ—those things stay with you. I think that has definitely been part of it. I had very small beginnings; the first thing I ever really got to lead worship for was a Bible study … no that was actually on a good night … it was with about 15 teenagers. That’s where I started falling in love with leading worship. The biggest fear I had was playing for 65 kids one night and it might as well as been with 65,000 people. I just think for me, that’s where my heart was formed and God definitely poured a lot into me and spoken a lot of things in those years that have stayed with me. For example, I remember being in a conference and God saying, “All you’re doing is standing up and supporting what I’m doing. Don’t worry, you’re not doing anything!”

    Because you do … you get in there and you’re like, what if I make a mistake or what if I mess up or you know? You fall victim to your pride and think like … look at me, I’m so great and I just remember God saying I’m doing all the work and it kind of comes from second Chronicles when the Lord leads that small army … he said, “Go and stand up on this hill and I want you to watch, I’m basically going to kick it!” I remember reading that early on and then carrying that into worship one night and God saying, that’s all that you’re doing. You and your little band of people are going to go stand up on the mountain and watch and look down and watch me take care of everything! Being married helps a lot!

    John: Amen!

    Matt: You know, my wife isn’t impressed at all by musical ability. It’s not that it doesn’t matter anymore, it just doesn’t woo her anymore … that’s all!

    John: I may need to have a part II interview with her pretty soon!

    Matt: (laughs)!

    John: Let’s talk a little bit about your new record. You have a new record coming out next month. “All the People Said Amen” and in listening to it, it’s a little bit different than your previous records. Do you want to talk a little bit about what went in to the making of it?

    Matt: Sure. I was on tour with Third Day and talking about what’s next, and I started sharing that I wanted to double-down on the experience of being with people. I discussed how I pray a lot with the church and love writing songs, but that I love watching the church sing them even more. So, when you record songs live, there are a couple ways you can do it. You can record a specific night’s performance or you can take it on the road and just see what you get. I was formed so much by live worship albums like “Delirious” and some of that stuff that was really spontaneous, that I wanted to do more of that. So we were like, “Let’s get going and do that then! Let’s try to capture some live moments. And some of them were worth shipping, and some of them were a little more like a jam session, but I think that kind of reflects what happens out there on stage. We had one weekend where we realized we had a perfect representation of what my ministry looked like, which was we were playing in a non-denominational church at a sports bar at the University of Notre Dame campus, right on campus …we’re talking across the street from the football stadium! A Franklin-Graham crusade and a Catholic church in Detroit. I thought, this is it! This is what I do! This is kind of where I go. I go wherever the Lord leads me.

    We tried to record everything that the Franklin-Graham crusade, the weather was really bad that night and so that night kind of got messed up and we didn’t get anything from it. We had those three nights and it was great! The night at Notre Dame was so special. I mean 500 college students showed up and God’s been doing stuff on that campus. There are kids there who are hungry and are running after Jesus and are trying to lift him up in that place. It was just amazing to be able to go there and all of a sudden I’m singing “Your Grace is Enough” and I realize that everybody has their hands in their air! I’m like, they’re not just singing any more, they’re worshiping God!” It was really, really amazing. We recorded that weekend and then we worked it out where we could record our set every night when we were on tour with Brandon Heath and we said, “Let’s just try to capture ‘moments’!”

    I think the cover of the new album is indicative of the music and the ministry that I do and it’s just mismatched. It’s a collage of a bunch of different stuff that reflects a lot about who I am. I’m a worship leader, but then I’m a songwriter who studied jazz in college. There is a mismatched component to all of it and it was exciting. I got to use my studio… I got to use my band that I play with live. I was able to use them in the studio for the first time for actual studio tracks and that was significant for to me. You don’t always get that opportunity, to record music with those you actually play live! It was great fun to be able to do that.

    I think ultimately what I’m trying to do is just help the Church remember who she is! She’s a work of art. She’s the bride of Christ. She’s the body of Christ. We have all this art … you know we have all these photos of religious art and photos of churches and buildings on the cover—and my life’s in the middle of it from my perspective—but the church is a work of art. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s handiwork created for his good work which he has prepared for us in advance. That is the heart behind this project.

    Also helping people that maybe haven’t yet heard me sing live, but have heard songs on the radio. I wanted to create an experience that would make them say, “Man, I want to go see this guy live now.” Not just to see me, but more so that we could maybe have an encounter with Jesus together.

    John: Wow, that’s really awesome, Matt. So, now tell me. Who are you a fan of, Matt?

    Matt: I’m obviously a friend of all the guys from the Passion movement: Chris [Tomlin], David [Crowder], Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill and everybody else. In fact, Louie came up to me and has mentored more worship leaders just through his sermons online and conferences than anybody else. I call them friends now but God used them early on. I feel a certain level of gratefulness. I was a huge fan of “Delirious” when they were around.

    Honestly, musically, growing up, I was huge a fan of the Beatles. A huge fan of Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Nirvana. I kind of grew up listening to everything. My dad listened to Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson when he would cook dinner. My mom listened to instrumental music. I played in youth orchestra and concert bands and jazz bands. I kind of grew up literally listening to every style of music.

    I would say right now that the newest album I’ve been listening to … I’m trying to think … it’s so funny, when you become a parent things change. I listen to the Backyardigans channel on the Pandora station… that’s what I listen to when I’m home with my son. Ha!

    John: Funny. But of course. How old is he?

    Matt: My son is 18 months.

    John: Eighteen months!

    Matt: Yes. I just started listening to Bach in B-minor again to kind of get reacquainted with it. I had to listen to it in college because I was getting graded on it and I kind of got out of classical and plugged into listening to whatever was current, and then I was writing a lot of music.

    I mean going back and listening to Bach... or classical music in general… Bach and more on a contemporary level, Erin Copeland, who’s an American composer, it’s pretty fantastic.

    And of course, there are certain popular bands that everyone’s listening to right now. With the advent of shared music services like Spotify; this is funny… I used to go to record stores to find new music. I would go to a Family Christian store and go to the listening station and spend 45 minutes to an hour. I discovered Audio Adrenaline and Underdog that way. It’s weird. It’s changed now. You know? Now you go to sites like Noise Train, and find that a lot of independent artists are giving away their music.

    John: Do you think that you’ll ever do a film score?

    Matt: It’s kind of one of those things that’s in the back of my head, that I say to God, “Well, whenever you want to get around to that, just let me know.” And if it’s meant to be, just give me enough time in advance so that I can maybe take a couple of theory classes again to get myself ready.

    John: Or you could do like Smitty did. He didn’t call them film scores but basically that’s what they are… when he did his two pieces.

    Matt: Yes, the inspirational… I think I would probably do most of it. If I was to do a film score now, I would lean toward the sound from the Social Network movie, which was a weird combination of instrumental, electronic and acoustic music. I think that’s what I would probably go for, mostly because of budget. Recording with a huge orchestra cost a lot of money! Anything’s possible though, especially if God desires it to happen. If He wants me to do a film score with a symphony orchestra, who am I to turn that down!?

    John: Is your wife rolling her eyes right now?

    Matt: No, no. She’s upstairs playing cards with our son, but if she was downstairs she probably would be rolling her eyes!

    John: I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said that!

    Matt: That’s alright. You’re obviously tuned in. That’s good!

    John: Matt, I’m assuming because you used to work at a coffee shop, you are a coffee-snob?

    Matt: I’ve gone through phases. My wife and I have been married for almost three years, and I remember for the first Valentine’s day, she brought me a hand-grinder. I embrace the whole thing; I was hand-grinding beans and using beans from a certain mountaintop in Ecuador or El Salvador, but you know, when you have a baby, all bets are off! Whatever’s in the cupboard that doesn’t have mold on it, just pour hot water over it and put a paper towel underneath it.

    At this point … black with one Sweet’N-Low or Stevia and I’m good to go!

    John: I love a good cup of coffee!

    Matt: I still do too. If you ever come to East Nashville, there’s a great coffee shop right around the corner from my house, and I will gladly take you there. It’s a really fantastic cup of coffee.

    John: I may have to take you up on that. I used to live down in Springhill.

    Matt: Oh really?

    John: Yes. I was there for six years but now I’m back up here in Grand Rapids.

    Matt: That’s funny. I was in Michigan last weekend!

    John: You were?

    Matt: Yes. I played … where was it Friday night? Flint, and then Saturday in Holland.

    John: You were that close man!

    Matt: I know! I actually flew out of Grand Rapids airport Sunday morning!

    John: We could have chatted face-to-face!

    Matt: It would’ve been great!

    John: Oh, well. Next time!

    Matt: I’m going to be back. I know I’m going to be back in April with Chris August and Bella Reid.

    John: Oh. Well, that’s cool.

    Matt: Yes!

    John: Hey, Matt, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today and I’m excited. I’ve listened to the new record, and I love it. I think it’s fantastic. I have your other records. I don’t have your Indie records so maybe one day I’ll try to find those somewhere!

    Matt: (laughs).

    John: The records that you have done, honestly man… terrific!

    Matt: Thanks! It’s been a pleasure!

    Burning In My Soul - Lyric Video


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Brandon Heath, Third Day, Rich Mullins, Michael W. Smith, Audio Adrenaline, Matt Redman, Divorce, Louie Giglio, Young Life, Ed Cash, Matt Maher, Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Mitch McVicker, Delirious, Franklin Graham, Kristian Stanfill, Bach

  • Four Questions with Britt Nicole

    Posted on March 28, 2013 by John van der Veen

    So Britt...

    Britt Nicole

    1. Your song, ‘All This Time,’ seems to be dealing with the loss and brokenness of this world and God’s grace to overcome it. Would you mind sharing the story behind the lyrics?

    This song is very personal to me, but people relate to it in all different ways. For me the song is all about the moment that I realized I was not alone, but that God was right there with me. I was seven years old and my family was going through some hard things and I didn't know what to do, or where to go. I remember running to my room, with tears rolling down my face, and grabbing my bible. My grandfather is a pastor and he told me that Jesus would always be there for me. The song talks about how God sees our heartache, He sees our broken dreams, and how He's right there with us through it all, It's a reminder that we don't have to walk alone, God is right there and He always will be.

    2. In your song ‘Ready or Not,’ you did a collaboration with Lecrae. What was that like?

    I really look up to Lecrae, for his talent but even more for who he is. He is truly speaking into the lives of young people all over the world, so it was amazing to be able to work with him! The song is one of my favorites on the record.

    3. Britt, you’re an entertainer, an evangelist for the Gospel, a wife, a soon-to-be-mom; how do you handle “life?”

    Ummmmm..... Sometimes it's crazy! :) No, honestly by the grace of God and taking one day at a time. I focus on not worrying about tomorrow but trusting that God knows and has everything I need for today, whether that is joy, patience, rest, a pedicure..... He knows, haha! Life has only gotten sweeter since I have become a wife, and I can not wait to be a Momma! :)

    4. Who are your influences? What authors do you follow? What artists do you listen to?

    I look up to people like Heidi Baker, Mother Teresa, Esther in the Bible.... These are woman who changed and are still changing the world. The courage, grace and love that they have for people and God is hard to put into words, I just know that I want to learn from their life and be that hope for my generation that they were for theirs!

    I listen to a lot of worship, Jenn Johnson, Bethel, and Hillsong United are a few of my favorites.

    Britt Nicole - Gold


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Lecrae, Hillsong, Britt Nicole, Heidi Baker, Mother Teresa, Jenn Johnson, Bethel Music

  • Jeremy Camp on Family, Art and Fame

    Posted on March 28, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Jeremy Camp’s seventh recorded studio album Reckless needs a warning sign: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

    Jeremy

    Camp explains the concept of recklessness through the life of Paul. In Acts 14, Paul returns to Lystra to share the gospel—a city where he had been stoned and left for dead just days before. Sounds crazy that he would return to a place like that. But as Camp explains, it’s more reckless than crazy, and there’s a difference. “[Paul] wasn’t being crazy for crazy’s sake, saying ‘I don’t care what’s going to happen. I just want to go.’ No, when you feel God calling you to do something, you have to be obedient. And that’s the difference. Paul was just obedient. That’s what reckless is.”

    I caught up with Jeremy before one of his concerts. Sitting across the table from this man, you can certainly see his genuineness.  He is a real man that has a heart for God. For his wife. For his kids. And for the church.

    John: We’re here to talk with Jeremy Camp about the new record coming out, Reckless. But before we talk about the record, I just want to hear a little refresher on who you are today and what’s been going on with you. We know you’re married, that you have three kids, and that life is good and that you’re basically having fun.

    Jeremy: Yes, and this has definitely been a year of reflection for me. I’ve got three kids now. One of my daughters is eight, and she’s rocking the piano and even writing songs. She’ll sit there and I’ll walk in, and she’s singing worship songs that she’s learning. It’s unbelievable.

    John: I was going to ask, are any of the kids going to be future singer/songwriters? I mean, they have two artists as parents.

    Jeremy: Yes, I think so... My oldest is more of a Type A personality, but she’s creative too. Kind of like me. It’s the Type A personality with a creative side as well, and so she’ll be putting together the songs. She’ll sing harmonies and be the more structured one. Then Arie, my six year old, has the voice where she does the vibrato at the end already. I’m like, “Holy cow!” When she’s messing around, she does all these things with her voice. But she’s too goofy right now to really do it in seriousness, which is okay, of course. Let her have fun!

    John: She’s having fun.

    Jeremy: Yep, so I don’t care. But wow, I could hear her in a few more years when she actually wants to start singing... I could see the girls working together. Bella writing the songs, structuring things out, her singing the lead, and Arie holding down the fort and singing harmonies. That’s kind of what I see. but we haven’t pushed them that way.

    John: And your son on percussion.

    Jeremy: My son, he rocks! He likes to dance, so he gets down and he does this jig thing and then he’ll clap his hands. I mean, every once in a while he’s on beat. It’s because it just happened to be that way, not because he’s really on beat. So, I think it’s definitely something that has to naturally happen. We haven’t forced my girls to play anything or do anything. My daughter just goes in there and wants to practice, so I’m like, cool. Because I’ve always said, I want them to do what they feel like they are called to do. Not, “Hey, you should do music because we did.” So, that’s been a joy watching my kids grow up. It’s really cool to have a boy that I can play football with too. He loves watching me. He can’t grip the football, even the little kid’s kind yet, so he gives it to me and just wants me to throw it. He’ll get it for me and wants me to throw it again. So he enjoys that, you know, he’ll watch football with me and if I turn it, he gets kind of bummed. Which is sweet, because I love it.

    My wife is doing great. She’s home-schooling and a super mom. She’s been huge, just in the season too of saying, “Honey, let’s just do it. Even if we move somewhere random. If that’s what God has, I don’t care.” And these are her words. She told me, she said, "Listen, I’ll live in a shack somewhere, if we’re just ministering as we’re going, I don’t care." And she meant it.

    The Camp family

    It’s like one of those things that you just don’t say, right? Unless you mean it. And you’re like, I’ll do this. She’s like, “I really at this point, I just want to be completely in God’s will. Because I want God’s perfect will and we can step into that. Because I already know what I can be doing practically, but I want to be willing to move if He says move or go here if He says go here.” So, it’s been neat to watch my wife be so on fire, and it’s great that we’re on the same page. Whatever the Lord is leading us to do, I feel we can let each other know, and we can pray about it and that’s where we’re at.

    John: That’s really awesome. Putting your artist hat aside, how do you feel that both you and Adie have changed or grown by having kids?

    Jeremy: Oh man. We definitely understand, I know it’s very cliché to say, but it’s just true. The heart of a father. And for me I always understood Jesus as my Savior and I’m in desperate need of the Savior. And even His comfort and understanding when you read about Him washing His disciples’ feet and all these different things, but there is something to the heart of the father, the protector, the comforter, the encourager. And Jesus does all of that too. You know what I’m saying? It’s all one. You’ve got the Father, you’ve got the Son, you’ve got the Holy Spirit, but there’s that nature of God the Father that helps me see things when I make mistakes. How it’s not discipline and anger, or discipline and frustration. It’s like, “Hey, I’m disciplining you because I love you, because I don’t want you to make these mistakes.” I tell my kids, "Girls, the reason why daddy is disciplining you is not because he’s angry or frustrated, it’s because when you grow up, if we don’t instruct you in these ways, it’s going to be very difficult for you. If you don’t understand authority and stepping under authority, you’re going to have a very rough life. We’re helping you in the future because we love you. We want you to grow up and understand how to step into the world, and understand how to walk and how God wants you to walk." And so that’s a huge perspective that we have to have.

    John: Definitely. So, your new record this time is obviously about living out a “reckless” life.

    Jeremy: Right.

    John: Why don’t you briefly explain what that means, and let’s just start there. What does that mean to you to live a reckless life?

    Jeremy: I think it’s giving up all your rights and saying, “God, my life is not my own; it’s yours.” And I think there are so many times in the Bible that we see people that were used by the Lord in a great way. They made mistakes. Look at David. He did some crazy things. And you have Moses. He was like, "I don’t want to speak and God, I can’t articulate anything." And God is like, fine, he is arrogant, but God still used Moses and led him into the wilderness. And Moses is like, “All right God, here we go. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know I’m supposed to be going to the Promised Land, but there’s the Red Sea, there’s no food, there are all these different things.” Even people creating idols. I mean, all throughout the Bible we see people that just had this faith of, “All right Lord, I’m just going to recklessly abandon myself to you.”

    And so, I think what that means is: “God, I’m willing to go and do whatever it is—despite the consequences and what it looks like.” That is what faith is to me. You look at Esther. She’s like, “I’m going to go to the King because if my people don’t bow down they’re going to get killed. So, I’m going to go and say this is an awful thing. I’m one of those people. I’m just going to walk in, even uninvited.” And so she walks in. She could have been killed, but she didn’t care. She knew she needed to do it. And what happened? Something good happened in that case. But good things don’t always happen, of course. But here we have these people in different parts of the country that were willing to be martyred for their faith—that’s truly being reckless in the best sense! People don’t like hear that who live in America where it’s very comfortable, without much of challenge. But I’m not necessarily saying that in order to be reckless, we have to say, “I will die for my faith.”

    As I was saying earlier, it could be. I mean, I know people that right now are going into places in Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan that are saying I literally could die for my faith, but I know God is calling me. Not that they should do it because they want to die for their faith, or just being crazy for crazy sake. But because they are being fully obedient even without knowing what’s going to happen. Paul was such a great example. Because how do you truly do that when we live in a bubble here in America. (Not that there’s not great things happening here, but it’s just a fact.) I live in it and get caught up in it. I get distracted. I am selfish and all that, but Paul is like, “Hey, my life’s not my own anyway.” That’s the whole point to being reckless.

    John: Yes. I think, to some extent, there are a lot of people within the Evangelical Church that when they go to church Sunday morning or Sunday night, Wednesday night, or what have you, like when they’re in a bible study, they’re more than willing to live their life in a reckless way there. How do you challenge them both as a Pastor and as a singer/songwriter to say, “Well, that’s good, but let’s move outside of that bubble”?

    Jeremy: Here’s a couple of things people say: “Okay, I’m ready to go do something, but what do I do now?” Well, the Bible clearly states—and this is what I love—the Great Commission, to go into all the nations and preach the gospel to every creature. So, whether it be in your community, your neighbor or others, we can actually just step out and invite them over and give them the love of Christ and preach the gospel. There are practical things we can be doing.

    Or, they’ll say, “I want to go and take six months of my life and go to this mission field—whatever it may be.” So, it’s another practical thing we can be doing. Well, the Bible also says to make disciples. That’s what Jesus says. There are things He says that we can be doing. So take that person that is Saved, and raise them up and encourage them; take time out and pour into them. Walk life with them. That may be rough. You may feel the pain that they may be going through. Because when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.

    James said it. It’s from the heart of the Lord. It’s what is pure and undefiled religion to take care of the widows and the orphans. So, what do I do? I don’t know, Lord. I don’t know how to be of use. He tells us of practical things we could be doing all the time. I think we just have to step outside of our comfort zone sometimes and ask, “What’s the situation?” Like the people who are in church doing things, possibly even when they could be stepping out of their comfort zone. It might be a little rough trying to do that. I don’t know how to even do it. But, it’s okay. Be loved by the spirit. If you have a heart and spend time with the Lord and that heart is there, then He’s going to give you the wisdom and the ability to do things for Him. So, there are practical things we can be doing. Then, there are things that I think He might say personally to you. Give this up or go here and I do believe those things too. He just wants a willing heart.

    John: And sometimes those things are not huge, necessarily, like going to the other side of the world...

    Jeremy: Right. It doesn’t make you more spiritual either to do that. I mean it‘s just being obedient when he calls you to. Sometimes you don’t know what that really is, but He knows what it is. So, you just go, and that’s where being “reckless” comes in. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and it may not end up great. Paul kept having these struggles. But, it’s okay because our life is not our own anyway. It’s easier said than done, I know, trust me. I say this stuff and God’s challenging me with, “Okay, are you willing? “

    John: Yes, and the second half of that promise in the Great Commission is the fact that Christ, himself, goes with us. I mean, how beautiful is that? He’s not saying, “Go! Now I’m going to leave you alone.” He promises He’s going to be with us.

    Jeremy: Yes, take heart. “I’m going to be with you.”

    John: You have had many songs that have made a big impact on people. And, at times, I guess the things that people tend to do is put an artist like you on a pedestal, and make much of you. When you are at a show and people see you perform, there’s a tendency in a lot of hearts to worship Jeremy Camp. Up on the stage, how do you steer the audience away from that and say, “This is not about Jeremy Camp. This is all about Christ.”

    Jeremy: That’s a challenge, because you know people will say, you have a new CD coming out and I want to see you do that. It’s a reality, and you have record companies saying this too. So it’s like this: How do I get stuff out there but not make it about me? And still prompt them to go out and get the record or the ticket? It’s a challenge. But God gave us Scripture for this, and in Isaiah 42 it says, “I’m the Lord, that’s my name, and I will not share my glory with anyone else” (nor praise to idols).

    So once you realize this, you have to walk a very fine line, knowing He won’t share His glory with anyone else. I think the best thing we can do is to steer people away from their natural tendency to worship me, as an artist, and get them into Scriptures and point them that way as much as I can. You can’t control what people do, but you can control what you do as much as you can.

    If I can share Scripture and try to leave them in a good place at the end of the night, then it was a great show. I know I can always count on the Lord. The biggest thing for me is that we have prayer time before we go on. Asking the Holy Spirit to move and do the work in our hearts and those of the people in the audience, allowing us to just be the vessels He flows through. People are going to be what people are going be. You have to do the best you can to point them to Christ, and let the Holy Spirit move letting God do His thing; all the while, praying that hopefully artist worship won’t happen. It’s part of the business, and honestly, it’s not always easy.

    John: Well, I’m sure you’re tempted along that road as well.

    Jeremy: For me, the temptation is more about how the song is doing on the radio? And how the album sales are coming along. If those things are doing well, it feels good because it seems to solidify what you’re doing—even though that’s not actually the case at all! But there’s still a battle. I still have that battle. So, it’s not that I want that praise on stage, but that I like to see them engaged, and hopefully I’m letting the Holy Spirit move. I think that can be a challenge.

    You can’t find your worth in how many sales you have or how a song on the radio is doing. You have to find your worth in Christ, so that those circumstances won’t determine your joy or happiness. Joy should always be there—in Christ. Your happiness can sway back and forth. If your worth is in Christ, those things won’t matter. Not that I always say to myself, my worth is in Christ, so it doesn’t matter ever. I battle it too, and that’s why every single day I pray and go, “All right, I blew it again Lord,” and I let that bother me. So it’s a constant battle because we live in a fleshly world and a fallen age where we do daily battle.

    That’s the hope of Heaven too. Personally, I can’t wait to not have to battle this anymore. I can’t wait until none of that matters anymore. So, I’m moving towards that the rest of my life, but I’m going to have to keep battling those things. That’s why we need Jesus. If we didn’t have those battles, we wouldn’t be desperately going, “I need you Lord.” That’s why we need Jesus. God kept showing people in the Bible that they couldn’t do it on their own. He pointed out, “See where you turn when you think you can do it by yourself? You start making idols. You start worshiping a calf!” He constantly shows us that we can’t do it on our own. It’s kind of discouraging to always face this struggle, but it actually just comes down to understanding that we need Jesus every day, desperately.

    John: What is the most important song you’ve ever sung for you?

    Jeremy: Honestly, I think “I Still Believe.” Because, here’s the deal. There’s honesty that we have to have, and David was very honest in the songs. How many times has he said, “Why are my enemies prospering? Why is this happening to me?” But he always resolved it. So, he was honest in what was going on because he went through struggles and saw things happen, but his resolve was this: “Your loving kindness endures forever. Your mercies are new every morning. You’re good. You’re a faithful God.” All these things are resolved at the end of that.

    So the reality of us in our lives is that we’re going to go through struggles and we’re going to say, “Why is this?” And that whole song asks questions in the verses. But I still believe that you’re faithful. I still believe that you’re true, and I still believe that your Word is still here. Even when I don’t understand, I still believe. It’s a truth that we can always hold onto, but the honesty of what happens in our life being here on this earth—the goodness—is that He is still faithful. That His Word is still true and that we have to hold on to that.

    John: It is a great song. And I think, to some extent, Jeremy, whether you would agree with me or not, that’s okay, but I think the idea of living a reckless life is a continuation of that song.

    Jeremy: Absolutely.

    John: Because the whole world is telling us to give up. Just like the wife of Job. She’s saying, “Just give up, curse God, and you’ll be fine. And to some extent that’s what the whole world is doing to us. But I think your call in this new record to live a reckless life is for us all to continue to believe.

    Jeremy: No matter what the circumstances. Amen.

    John: Who are your influences, authors, pastors, singer/songwriters, artists? Who speaks to you?

    Jeremy: My dad was a big influence to me growing up, and I also see a lot of things when I go out and meet a lot of great people. But to live with my father, of course growing up, and see him love on people and to see us have hard times, but then to watch him stay faithful was the greatest teacher I could ever have—because he was someone close to me. Nowadays, people like John Corsin, a pastor in Oregon, influences me. He went through losing his wife to a car accident and then two years later his daughter in a car accident. So two major tragedies. So those types of people speak into my life because I understand the pain they’ve been through. When they speak things, they speak through experience. As far as singer/songwriters go, I like Tim Hughes and Matt Redman with their worship songs because there’s just something different there. It seems deep. Or Steven Curtis Chapman. If you hear some of his songs and really listen, you can hear that he has a walk with the Lord. He gets it. And so I think there’s some good influences throughout the years that I have had, with musicians and others who I respect and have gleaned experience from.

    John: Jeremy, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

    Jeremy: Thanks for having me.

    For more on Jeremy and his career, click here.

    Jeremy Camp - Living "Reckless"


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Jeremy Camp, Matt Redman, Steven Curtis Chapman, Tim Hughes

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

    Posted on March 26, 2013 by John van der Veen

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

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

    What follows is a candid conversation about how all of this transpired. It's raw. It's honest. It's real. What follows is a story of how God is continuing to heal a family.

    John: I’m wondering if maybe you can give us a little bit of background information about who the Storch family is. You mentioned that you’re from Dallas. Give us kind of a breakdown: kids, where you guys are profession-wise, just a little snippet into your life.

    Tara: Okay, I’ll start with that one. Looking into the Storch world, to me, Todd and I met at Texas A&M University, and we’ve been married 20 years. Moved to Coppell, Texas, mainly because of the school system, knowing that we were going to be starting a family at some point.

    In ’96, Taylor was born, our first-born daughter. In ’98, came Ryan, and in 2000, came Peyton. We had them right in a row.

    Todd: Girl, boy, girl.

    Tara: Todd had always been in media, working in sales and radio stations. Then moved up the ladder there, being general manager of stations and then started getting into consulting. After he left the consulting side, he started working with media companies all over the nation, consulting for them with a company, a small company called Center for Sales Strategy.

    I have always been a stay home mom since ‘96 doing little side businesses here and there to get some mad money and help with vacations. Main profession before all this happened was that I was a home stager where I did home decorating, interior design and the like for houses being sold.

    When everything happened with Taylor, life really came to a halt. Todd and I really had this strong pull that this is what we need to be doing. It was almost like, I remember Todd sitting with me saying, “This is … I feel like if I don’t try to do this, then I’m going to be disobedient.” From there, we decided to make a career change and make this our life mission.

    Todd: Tara, I mean, it’s crazy, thinking back and meeting at Texas A&M our sophomore years, and we started dating our senior year. She was just something special. We got engaged maybe nine months after we graduated. Thank goodness she said “yes” when I asked her to marry me.

    The career thing? We are very much like a typical family. We thought we had it all figured out and Tara being a stay home mom, and that’s what we had always wanted for our family.

    I began the career chain and working at big companies and trying to do what was best for the family. Sometimes you can look at life and get to the top of the ladder, or you’re climbing a ladder and you can look and realize that you’ve been climbing the wrong one. A lot of times we saw that and just tried to adapt with what was going on with our family.

    Of course, with the biggest change in our lives, with the loss of Taylor, brought lots of intentional decisions that we had to face and brought lots of …

    Tara: Questions.

    Todd: Lots of questions and …

    Tara: About our purpose.

    Todd: Really challenged our faith and strengthened our faith. That’s a little bit of a history. We could talk a lot about this for a long time, but I’m sure that you have questions.

    John: Sure. Let’s talk a little bit about things before Taylor’s accident. As a family, structurally wise, how did you guys lead your family toward Christ? Were you active members in your church? What was that like and how did you participate in walking with Jesus?

    Tara: You know, it’s always been our priority to put God first, family second and everything else third. That’s how we’ve lived our life. We really try to be an example for that in the kids and the fact of just really leading by example with our marriage. We knew that we are constant examples to our children, of what marriage should be like. Marriage is a holy sacrament that we have, and we are a living example to them of a beautiful, holy moment.

    Todd and Tara

    We’re very involved in our church, St. Anne’s Catholic Parish, very involved. We teach Sunday school, teach religious education. Todd’s been involved in lots of programs, been asked to sit on boards. We have our hands in church a lot, it’s our second family.

    When everything happened, that really, oh gosh, just brought it all up. We’re so thankful we were surrounded by faith and surrounded by people who were going to walk with us no matter what. It’s very challenging. Todd had mentioned our faith was strengthened. We walked on this path differently, and the fact is, my faith was very shaken when all this happened. It wasn’t broken, but it was very shaken because ifs or whys roll around and just collapse you.

    Back to your question about how we led our family, we had this beautiful rhythm going. We were the perfect five-piece puzzle. We had this perfect, we thought, great rhythm in our family and God was the center of it. Prayers have always been part of our children’s lives, always. Since they’ve been little, it has been part of their nightly routine. God is who we go to when we’re struggling, trying to remind them to keep their eyes on him and not of this world. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy, but we’re trying to do the best we can.

    John: Let’s talk a little about the accident, and then I want to bring up this "shaken" part again. You guys were on a family vacation, is that correct?

    Todd: Yeah. It was March of 2010, and it was our spring break. It was the first time we, as an entire family, had gone on a ski trip and we were on that ski trip vacation.

    John: Then, there was an accident, obviously.

    Todd: Yeah. We headed off to Beaver Creek and were just really excited about it. My son and I, Ryan, used to ski every year with a father-son group. I grew up skiing. Tara and I had gone a few times before we had kids. This was the first time we all went as a family.

    We headed off on just a fantastic trip. We drove; we had a really long drive from Dallas to Colorado and were just having a fantastic time. It was a fun road trip, with a lot of neat things to look forward to. A client of mine was up there, and we got to stay there.

    Our very first day on the slopes, we had everything planned out. Tara and Taylor and Peyton went to ski school. Taylor was just an unbelievable athlete, amazingly athletic—a volleyball player, which was her passion. They went to ski school and after we picked them up in the afternoon, we always remember the ski instructor said, “Taylor’s never skied before?” We’re like, “No, this is her first time.” “Well, I have to keep moving her out of the classes because she just skis circles around these kids.” She was skiing with these high school kids. Taylor’s face just beamed; she was just very excited. She was tall and athletic and really starting to develop as an eighth-grader, as a young woman.

    Tara: I remember the ski instructor said, "You should’ve been skiing on greens and blues all day. Y’all are going to have a great time."

    Todd: Oh, yeah… so, toward the end of the day, it was about 3:30 pm and we had about an hour left, and Taylor wanted to go up and ski. Ryan, my son, he can ski 24 hours a day. Me, Ryan and Taylor went up the slopes. Peyton, being the youngest, was really tired and exhausted, and Tara was pretty tired too from the long day. I told Tara, “We’ll meet you down at the resort at 4:40 pm,” or whatever time it was. I said, “We’ll be back in an hour.”

    Taylor

    We went up and the kids planned a route down. Ryan just couldn’t wait to ski with his sister and Taylor was just beaming. We got all the way down to the final run before we came in. On that final run, it’s when Taylor lost control a little bit and I was right behind her and filming and taking pictures the way a dad would do. She went into the trees and from that accident, this eventually would cause her to pass away.

    John: In that moment, what makes you cling to Christ all the more? How does someone in such a desperate situation look to Christ? Tara, you mentioned the fact that your faith was shaken. Describe your reaction in that moment.

    Tara: The reaction in that moment is your panic and shock, and you beg, is what you do, for God to save your child. Todd and Ryan were both with Taylor when this happened, so not only are they dealing with grief, but they’re dealing with trauma. It’s a whole different level of shock … of how your body handles it… I just don’t think a human is meant to go through despair like this.

    Your question of how you deal with something like that, how do you keep Christ in the center? Well, it completely throws you off. You feel like you have this complete strength, this, "I can go through anything. God is with me by my side." It’s really going good because everything in your life is going good. You feel like you have this great relationship with Christ and you’re walking along and it’s not a bumpy road. You feel good about everything. Then, this throws you off into the darkness and then you feel like you’re completely grasping.

    How you deal with it is that you beg and you cry out to Him, and he doesn’t always answer your prayer. He didn’t answer our prayer—His answer to us was, “No.” When we begged him to save Taylor and he said, "No," then how do you deal with that? You deal with it with the only little faith that you have, and at that very moment, for me, it became very little. I was so shaken in my faith. I was very upset with the answer or … the question of “why?” Why in the world would God take our child?

    It doesn’t make any sense, and this is something you have no control over. Before, I was happy; you do feel in control. I always felt I had this great rhythm with the kids. I was in control of their social, athletic and school schedules. Todd was in control of his work schedule, and when he was going to travel, we felt in control.

    This is something that completely knocked the wind out of us—the fact that we had no control. That’s where you find your faith, because you realize you never had control from the beginning.

    Todd: What we also felt blessed with is that our heads and our hearts were open enough to make the choice of faith because we all have it. Every single one of us have it. Tara and I grieved completely different as most families do, as most people do just because grief is just an individualized thing.

    I will tell you that we are just so blessed that we had the wherewithal, the ability in that free will moment, to whether it was conscious or unconscious, to say, “You know what Lord, I’m going to follow you here.” We eventually got to the point at different times where it wasn’t a question of “why,” it became a question of, “why not.” There’s just some things we have to accept.

    Tara: The keyword that I think came to us, John, was the word, “surrender.” We had to surrender it all over to Christ.

    John: Obviously, when we read through Scripture, we see the patriarchs of faith certainly moving in that direction. As a follower of Christ in the here-and-now, to be called to do just that, that is a very hard transition. That’s certainly something that I’m hearing both of you guys say today.

    Todd: It’s just so beautiful how God works. Again, the decision of, as a father in the real world, I had the immediate decisions that face a husband and someone that’s working as, "Okay, what is this going to do to my family? What are we doing tomorrow? What does the next week look like?"

    Tara: Try to fix it.

    Todd: What do I fix? How do I get this done? How do I make this pain go away? All those things that seem natural to a protectionist father and man, it can be so exaggerated. God programs us that way, but there are times we take over and it can be harmful.

    I somehow made the decision, because it wasn’t mine, but somehow I came to the decision that I’ve got to surround myself with people that know me better than anyone, and I’ve got to stay close to them. I’m going to stay faithful because my job right now is to figure out how to keep my family together in what I can imagine is the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to us.

    Choices became easy. Those aren’t the right words. It’s hard to describe it, but there was almost this discernment as to what I had to do as a father. That discernment became, "God, where are you in this, and will you just please show me what my first step is, my second step and …"

    Tara: Your first instinct was to run.

    Todd: Yeah, my natural instinct, and we talked about this, my first natural instinct was, “I can get away from this.” I traveled like crazy, had a great job. My mind started racing to places I needed to be in the next few weeks, and it was like, “You know what, I can escape.” That’s what I remember—the memory of just how, of what that escapism looked like and how that would just separate me from God and my family. Thank goodness I recognized it and that it scared me into other decisions.

    Tara: You know, we had a choice. Like Todd said, it was a free will or fate. God gives us that free will. We had a choice to either crawl up in the grief of it all and live in the darkness, or we try to find the good—and we knew God was in the good. It wasn’t easy. This is not something like a light switch goes on and you go, “Okay, I think I’m going to be okay now. I’m going to find the good now.” It’s a struggle and people say to take baby steps, and that’s exactly what it is.

    God has an invisible rope tied around your waist, and He’s just slowly pulling you toward him. He pulls and carries you through it because you can’t walk on your own.

    Todd: You know John, it’s also important to point out that Tara and I have a perspective now. We have a perspective now that as a couple, as a married couple, we’re at a place where we can reflect on this and have been for a little while, but we’ve got to be completely honest. This type of conversation, Tara wouldn’t be capable of having this conversation a while back. There’s just times that it wouldn’t be possible. So it’s really important to the reader, to anyone that understands our story, to know that there’s not a prescriptive path to get through something like this.

    This is our path. God wanted me to do this, and God wanted Tara to grieve this way and we were going to come together at this time. For other families, for other individuals, they have their own individual paths. It’s not like if you follow the Todd and Tara Storch 10 steps to recovery, it’s going to work.

    What’s constant in all of this is the communication with your wife, the communication with your friends and family. The most important one is faith, just being open to the communication that you have to have with God and how you can get through it.

    John: Todd, Tara, the interesting thing, and maybe this is the grace-filled thing, was within that moment, you guys made some very interesting decisions in regards to Taylor’s organs. As parents, did you have that in the back of your head all these years? Explain how you guys decided to donate her organs.

    Todd: First of all, we talk about this very freely. Here we are as organ donor advocates right now. We’re very open that the conversation about organ donation never was a part of our family, we never had any conversations about it. We never had family meetings or talked about it around the dinner table.

    I think when I was 16, I checked “yes,” but I don’t have any recollection of it. When it was that moment in the hospital room and the organ procurement organizations, the physicians, told us that Taylor was an excellent candidate for an organ donor, I knew immediately inside of me that it was right. I immediately turned to Tara and we just communicated through our eyes—and the answer was “yes,” it was like “absolutely.” Tara and I both just knew immediately.

    That’s part of what is fueling the work that we do with our Foundation, Taylor’s Gift, which is it could have been so simple and so easy for us to say “no.” Wracked with grief, we’ve got too much to deal with, how dare you come in here and talk about that, all the things that you can get wrapped in. For some reason, we had the ability to say “yes” immediately. From that decision, so much beauty and greatness has come from that—through lots of pain, of course, but we’re an example of that.

    Tara: Yeah, it gave us purpose. It gave us purpose in the pain, is what it did. Out of all the decisions we were making and that the world had stopped, that was the easiest decision. You know what, it gave us control over something. We knew, because of who Taylor was—the giving child, the wanting to help others kind of kid—we knew this was something she would’ve wanted. Although we never had the conversation, it was impressed on both of us that “yes” was the answer. It was one of those moments that we had to hang on to. People had asked us if it had given us any sort of peace to make that decision, or if it had given us any sort of peace to have connected with her recipients. We always say it never gives us peace. It’s not like, “We’ve met you, I’m better now.” What it does, it gives us strength. It gives us strength to get out of bed in the morning and to keep going and knowing that this is part of God’s purpose for us, whether we like it or not.

    When Todd and I were sitting outside, he told me, “The quote of my grandfather keeps going in my head, that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react to it that does.” We had a choice of how we were going to react. That’s why we decided, and it is a choice, to look for the good and to walk towards the light. We knew that Taylor is with God. So the farther we are from God, the farther we are from her, and that’s not where we want to be.

    John: Tara, you mentioned some of the recipients of Taylor’s organs. What was that like, and how soon did you start meeting these people?

    Tara: We connected … there’s a process you go through, supposed to go through where you … I would write a letter, it would be sent to the middleman who is the OPO, which is Organ Procurement Organization. They will read it to make sure there’s not too much personal information in it like I’m throwing in my address and phone number in it. They send it to the recipient. If the recipient wants to write a letter back … they’re like the middleman.

    Todd: It’s a good procedure because of the things surrounding it.

    Tara: We’ve met, connected with our first recipient on Facebook. This was probably four weeks after we got home. Todd was on the computer, and he goes, “Oh, my gosh! I think I have just been connecting with the daughter of the person who has Taylor’s kidney and pancreas,” as if “Go reach out to Todd over at Facebook and say, “I believe my father has your daughter’s kidney and pancreas.”

    Through us calling the OPO and trying to work through how we’re going to connect with them, going through the procedure of it all, we decided that we were going to connect. Taylor passed away in March, and in June, we met Jeff, who has her kidney and pancreas. He had diabetes for 40 years, and was insulin dependent. He was doing dialysis because his kidneys were failing and he got Taylor’s kidney and pancreas. He has since given away all of his insulin, and is no longer diabetic. He has given away and sent back all of his dialysis equipment. He’s living a life that he hasn’t had. It was a blessing to hear that and connect with him.

    John: Yes, what is that like…?

    Tara: It is so bittersweet, because it’s a position we’d never want to be in, but then it’s a position we sort of do want to be in, making a difference.

    Todd: It’s every emotion, it’s every single emotion, the ones you weren’t able to talk about, the ones you haven’t felt before. It’s excitement, it’s fantastic, it’s love, it’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s everything. Ultimately, it’s been amazing.

    Tara and I, we also realize, how blessed we are. For us to be able to connect with just one recipient is a complete blessing. For us to have connected with four of the five, is …

    Tara: Very rare.

    Todd: Very rare. We don’t take that lightly. We’ve met so many families in our position that would give anything to meet a recipient. We don’t take it lightly.

    Tara: We’re so thankful that the recipients have allowed us in their lives. There’s so many emotions on their side when it comes to guilt because our daughter passed away for them to survive. I mean, there’s guilt, there’s fear, there’s feeling responsible in a way, of making sure in a way that they’re taking care of her. You go through these emotions of praying that the person that receives this sees it as precious. We’ve been very blessed to meet and connect with these people who truly know that their gift is precious.

    John: Todd and Tara, I am amazed at your story. I think you would probably agree with this that it’s just not your story or Taylor’s story. This is really a God story.

    Tara: Yes.

    Todd: Yes.

    John: The moment that I first heard about this, my mind went to the promise that is found in the book of Ezekiel, where in somewhat of a similar manner, God says to his children that he will give them a new heart.

    What a beautiful gospel representation that your family has gone through that has the ability to share ultimately the gospel story with people. What a beautiful story this is, and my prayer for the Storch family is that, like we just said, this is not to make much of you guys, but hopefully to have made much of Christ and what He is doing and has done through your family. What a beautiful family and beautiful story. I’m so thankful for this time.

    Tara: One of Taylor’s favorite Scripture was Luke 18:27, ”What’s impossible with man is possible with God.” We have lived by that, because there are so many situations in our life that are completely impossible; ones that we thought we could never survive… like this. It should be impossible for us to survive the death of our child, but with God it’s been possible.

    Todd: Again, we just really appreciate this and the Scripture and what you just read. It’s one of the beautiful reasons we connected with Max Lucado. He wrote the foreword and just that connectivity of receiving Christ, receiving a spiritual heart transplant, it’s a beautiful connection. We know how much we’re loved, and we are fortunate to be reminded of that, not just with friends and family, but just of how God has just wrapped us up in the Holy Spirit and just clothed us with love to get through this.

    The whole reason of even doing this book is, it’s not about Todd and Tara. It’s truly a love story of how we, through this tragic story, show others just how much hope and inspiration is out there for people, no matter that tragic situation. You don’t have to lose your daughter to have tragedy in your life. We just feel obligated through these blessings to help others by sharing it. We appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and just really appreciate it and thank you for doing it.

    John: Thank you very much you guys. I so appreciate this time. God bless you both and your ministry, and thank you for the opportunity to chat today. I appreciate it.

    To read an excerpt of Taylor's Gift, right click and download here.

    To purchase the Taylor's Gift book, click here.

    Taylor's Gift by Todd Storch and Tara Storch

     


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, Todd Storch, Tara Storch

  • A Q&A With Finding Favour

    Posted on March 22, 2013 by John van der Veen

    Gotee Records signed the south-Georgia band, Finding Favour. On their new ep, they  collaborated with acclaimed producers Rob Hawkins (Building 429), Christopher Stevens (tobyMac, Sanctus Real, Mandisa) and Dustin Burnett (Kingsfoil) to produce the six-track release.

    1 - What is your background? Where did you guys grow up? What made you interested in music?

    My background is similar to what I do right now actually. I'm from a place called Vidalia, GA (the sweet onion capital of the world!) and I grew up singing in the church with my family. We traveled almost every weekend singing southern gospel music and that's where my love for music and ministry started.

    2 - What are your biggest influencers? Musically and spiritually?

    Spiritually some of our biggest influencers have been our families and pastors. We're actually pretty careful about letting any and everyone point us in a thousand different directions. In all things we try to be led by the Holy Spirit for our decisions and actions. Musically our influences range from Collective Soul to Chris Tomlin with everything else thrown in the middle!

    3 - What does your live show look like?

    Our live show are always a work in progress. We try to bring energy and honesty to the platform every single night with stories, songs and a corny joke here and there.

    4 - Coffee or Mountain Dew?

    Definitely coffee!

     
    Slip On By (lyric video)


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews and was tagged with TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, Sanctus Real, Mandisa, Finding Favour, Building 429, fea

  • Q & A for Dr. Alister McGrath, author of C. S. Lewis—A Life

    Posted on March 19, 2013 by Family Christian


    Alister McGrath is one of the world's leading Christian theologians. He is Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King's College London, and Head of its Center for Theology, Religion and Culture. Before moving to King's College, he was Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.

    Like Lewis, Alister was born in Belfast, and became an atheist as a young man, before rediscovering the Christian faith at Oxford University. His deep knowledge of Christian theology, history, and literature allowed him to interpret Lewis against a broad backdrop, presenting a fascinating portrait of the development of Lewis's mind and his impact on western culture.

    1. What stimulated your interest in writing a new biography of C. S. Lewis?

    I started reading Lewis in the 1970s, when I was a student at Oxford University, and my admiration for him has grown over the years. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and it seemed right to mark the occasion with a new biography.

    2. Describe the parallels between your own spiritual journey and that of Lewis.

    Lewis and I have many things in common. We were both born in Belfast and spent our childhoods there. We were both students and then dons at Oxford University. Both of us were atheists who discovered Christianity at Oxford. And we both try to defend Christianity against its critics. I think these parallels made it easier for me to understand Lewis.

    3. You note that in the late 1940s, the famed “Kilns” where Lewis and his brother, Warnie, lived had become a dysfunctional household. What created the tension, and how did this affect Lewis’s writing?

    Lewis shared The Kilns with his brother, Warnie, Mrs. Moore, and her daughter, Maureen. Maureen left home after her marriage in 1940. Shortly after this, it became obvious that Warnie had become an alcoholic, and Mrs. Moore began to develop dementia. By the late 1940s, Lewis found himself acting as a full-time nurse to Mrs. Moore (who could no longer look after herself) while trying to cope with his brother’s frequent absences on alcoholic binges in Ireland and their aftermath. It was unquestionably one of the darkest periods of his life.

    4. Lewis was regarded by many of his academic colleagues at Oxford with suspicion or derision during that same period. Why did he experience such academic hostility?

    There were two sources of concern to Lewis’s academic colleagues at Oxford in the 1940s. The first was Lewis’s explicit commitment to Christianity, which irritated the more dogmatic academic atheists of his day. Yet the evidence suggests that this was not the major concern. Academic hostility towards Lewis really began to develop in the early 1940s, and largely rested on the perception that he had become a populariser rather than a serious scholar. This impression arose primarily as a result of The Screwtape Letters. These were seen by many of his colleagues as academically frivolous and lightweight. Lewis would probably have got away with this, if he had produced some major academic works around this time. But it was not until 1954 that Lewis produced a really serious piece of scholarship, which restored his academic reputation and helped secure his appointment as Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University.

    5. One of the most compelling aspects of your research involves the redating of Lewis’s conversion to theism. What led you to reexamine this chronology?

    I did not expect to raise questions about the traditional dating of Lewis’s conversion to theism. Yet the method of research I used forced me to this conclusion. In preparation for this work, I read everything that Lewis wrote in chronological order. After I had read everything for 1929—the traditional date of his “conversion”—I was puzzled. Nothing fundamental seemed to have changed.

    Yet beginning in February 1930, his writings show obvious signs of some kind of reorientation. I then examined the evidence for the traditional date of his conversion in minute detail, and concluded—for reasons set out clearly in the biography—that his conversion must have taken place a year later than everyone had believed. I think this is the most significant finding reported in the biography.

    6. In the course of your research, you conducted a complete, chronological analysis of the entire collection of Lewis’s letters and archives. How long did this take you?

    This took me fifteen months and involved long periods of reading and note-taking. But it was fascinating, seeing how Lewis’s ideas and style developed and how his authorial “voice” emerged. I took the view that you simply could not write a biography of Lewis without reading his total output.

    One result of this is that I quote from Lewis more than many of his earlier biographers so that my readers can hear Lewis’s voice, and not simply my own. I also explored archives, mainly in Oxford, and was able to turn up some important material never used by Lewis’s biographers that casts new light on his life, especially during the 1910s.

    7. Many readers are fascinated by the love relationship late in life between Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham. You quote her son Douglas as stating that his mother originally went to England with one specific intention: “To seduce C. S. Lewis.” How did he come to assess the situation in that manner?

    Douglas Gresham bases his judgment on his memories of his mother from that time. We don’t know quite what led him to that judgment, but the evidence now available confirms his suspicions. It is clear from some of Joy’s writings of the period—especially a collection of “Sonnets” that have only very recently come to light—that she actively set out to seduce Lewis. We can hope to have some fine new biographies of Joy from significant scholars in the near future which will explore this matter in much greater detail.

    8. You write that Joy’s marriage to Jack was, in Lewis’s view, purely a marriage of convenience at first. At what point did Lewis’s feelings for her begin to change?

    Lewis initially saw his clandestine civil marriage to Joy as a chivalrous act which would enable her to remain in England and develop her career as a journalist and writer. The evidence strongly suggests that Lewis’s feelings towards Joy began to change when he became conscious that she was seriously ill. The realization that he might soon lose her seems to have triggered a deep sense of compassionand care, resulting in a romantic love for Joy that doesn’t seem to have been present earlier. It’s hard to date this development, but it’s clearly reflected in a letter Lewis wrote to the novelist Dorothy L. Sayers in June 1957.

    9. The friendship between Lewis and Tolkien cooled as the years progressed. Why did Tolkien’s views about Lewis darken?

    The relationship between Lewis and Tolkien was of major importance to both throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s. The cooling seems to have taken place mainly on Tolkien’s side, reflecting three issues. The first was what seems to have been jealousy on Tolkien’s part about the growing influence that the novelist Charles Williams had on Lewis in the early 1940s. This was alleviated somewhat with Williams’s death in 1945. The second emerged in the early 1950s, when Tolkien began to suspect that Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia borrowed some of his own ideas without due acknowledgment. Third, Tolkien regarded Lewis’s views of marriage as inadequate and was dismayed by Lewis marrying a divorcée and hurt by the fact that Lewis failed to tell him about it. In any case, Tolkien cordially detested Joy personally. Yet Lewis always respected and admired Tolkien. One of my discoveries in researching this biography was a hitherto unknown letter in which Lewis proposed Tolkien for the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature, which clearly reflects this high regard.

    10. Lewis’s death on November 22, 1963, was overshadowed in the media by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. How are we to judge Lewis’s life and legacy fifty years after his death?

    The most important thing is that more people read Lewis today than at any point in his lifetime. Although many—including Lewis himself—believed that his influence and reputation would quickly fade after his death, Lewis has bounced back. Partly this reflects the imaginative appeal of the Chronicles of Narnia, particularly now that some of the novels have been turned into major movies. But there is also substantial interest in Lewis’s literary and religious writings, some of which have established themselves as “classics.” My biography provides a solid base for future exploration of Lewis’s legacy, which I think is going to be significant for some considerable time to come.

    To download and read the first chapter of C.S. Lewis - A Life, just right click and "save as" here.

    A CS Lewis Biography


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews and was tagged with Featured, C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, Dorothy L. Sayers, Tolkien, Narnia, Nobel Prize, John F. Kennedy

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