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

    Posted on October 3, 2013 by John van der Veen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Oh, does he really?

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

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

    Liz: I did not.

    John: He came seeking you.

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

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

    John: I love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: It's time to turn it in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: There's more to come?

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

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

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

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

    John: Are you a reader?

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

    John: Any authors that we know?

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

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

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

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

    John: You twisted my arm! HA!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • The Mysterious Apology of Derek Webb

    Posted on September 30, 2013 by John van der Veen



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Absolutely.

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

    John: So you were being very kind to us?

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

    John: I don't know, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: You didn't have an altar call?

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

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

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Jefferson Bethke - Loving Jesus More Than Anything Else

    Posted on September 23, 2013 by Family Christian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jeff & Alyssa

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

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

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

    John: Tell us about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Do you remember watching the video?

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

    What do you think?


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

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

    Posted on September 9, 2013 by John van der Veen


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

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

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

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

    Nicole:           A hymns album, yes, it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John:               That's for sure.

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

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

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

    John:               Do you have that planned?

    Nicole:           Not yet.

    John:               Not yet.

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

    John:               You've been to other countries.

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

    John:               Just Israel was not on there.

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

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

    Nicole:           No, I'm a water drinker.

    John:               Water.

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

    John:               H2O.

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

    John:               The drink of heaven.

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

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

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

    John:               All right.

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

    John:               Oh, yes, I'm sorry.

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

    John:               This is at your house?

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

    John:               That is cool.

    Nicole:           I love it. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Posted on August 27, 2013 by John van der Veen


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

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

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

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

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

    John: This was a family process then?

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

    John: I appreciate your honesty here.

    Pat: Maybe someday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: What do you call that filing system?

    Pat: I call it priceless.

    John: [chuckles] Priceless, I love it.

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

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

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

    John: What has God been teaching you lately?

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

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

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

    John: I love it.

    Pat: I appreciate that very much John.

    John: Great talking to you.


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

  • The Life, Legacy and Music of Bill Gaither

    Posted on August 21, 2013 by John van der Veen


    The pages of history have been written by ordinary people who had something extraordinary to say with their lives. Bill Gaither is just such an individual… an Indiana-born kid with an insatiable love for music who grew to become an industry leader who would change the course of gospel music history through the songs he has written and through his influence as a mentor for other artists.

    An avid fan of gospel quartets throughout his childhood, Bill founded his first group, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956, while he was a college student. He began teaching English in 1959 because his musical aspirations couldn’t support him full-time… yet. In 1962, Bill did one of the best things he has ever done. He married Gloria Sickal, who became the best writing partner Bill could have found anywhere. The couple spent the first five years of their married life juggling full-time teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967.

    That's where it all started.

    I had the privilege to sit down and chat with Mr. Gaither. It was more-or-less a walk down memory lane more than anything.

    Mr. Gaither:   It was the music that really caught my attention first. It would be in the late '40s, and I would listen to the radio and I heard a gospel quartet. I just loved four-part harmony, the below base singers and the tenors and how that all worked and it got my attention. Later on I found out what they were singing about, but the first time I heard it, it was just their singing that I liked.

    John:               Do you remember that first artist that you heard?

    Mr. Gaither:   They're the group called the Big Four Quartet. Nobody knows much about them.

    John:               I'm sure there are a few that still do. What was the first concert that you went to?

    Mr. Gaither:   I went to their concert. They were appearing at our little town. They were from Indianapolis and were on a 50,000 watt pure channel station, so they traveled throughout the Midwest. They came to our little town of Alexandria and I went see them.

    John:               At that time, Mr. Gaither, it seems like traveling gospel groups certainly had the ability to tour maybe a little easier than what they do now. Was that a simpler time?

    Mr. Gaither:   They were in smaller venues and didn't require a lot of amplification. It required some, but it didn't require the kind amplification you have to have in arenas these days. It was good. It was just a car so they weren't carrying around a lot of equipment. I think they always carried some product too, to sell.

    John:               Growing up there in Central Indiana, you had your eyes set on being a school teacher, right? Or did you always think that maybe at some point you would be involved in the music industry?

    Mr. Gaither:   When I was a kid I thought I could do something in music, but after I got out of high school I've realized that that's a tough road to go. I went to college, and majored in education and worked as a teacher for the first 10 years of our professional life.

    John:               Were you always a song writer? Were you writing songs all the way through that time? Did you write songs in childhood, et cetera?

    Mr. Gaither:   No. I didn't start writing songs until I headed out of college. I started writing songs because we were running out of material that our group could sing. We were just running out of material that we could do.

    John:               How could that be? Running out of material, that is rather ironic. How many songs you have written through these years?

    Mr. Gaither:   We've probably written about 700 or 800 songs. I’m not sure, but the copyright department keeps track of all of that.

    John:               That's incredible. You're still writing today?

    Mr. Gaither:   Yes. Not as much as we did in the early days, but I think we're writing good quality stuff at least.

    John:               Absolutely. At what point then when you became a schoolteacher—you said you were doing that for the first 10 years of your gospel career—at what point did you make that transition…?

    Mr. Gaither:   When my night job overtook my day job. I wasn't being honest and fair, I don't think, to the school system that was paying me. I was writing a bit and we were travelling quite a bit, and I can remember the day I went to the principal, and he said, "I knew this day was going to come. I hate to see it come." I tell him, I said, "I can't keep pushing this on both ends." He said, "Man, we hate to lose you as a teacher, but you've always got a job in case you want to come back."

    John:               That's great. Mr. Gaither, going back to the songs that you and your wife have written through the years, when you go through your catalog, what do you think is the most important song that you guys have ever written?

    Mr. Gaither:   That's hard to say from our perspective because we've got some pretty important songs that never really got into top. When I'm asked that question, I usually go back to the songs that the people ask for and the songs that seem to rise to the top. Among these is “Because He Lives.” We've got that from all over the country and all over the world. We just went to Norway last year in an arena with 8,000 people singing “Because He Lives” in Norwegian too. We just went down to Brazil, Sao Paulo, and 8,000 people down there were singing “Because He Lives” in their language, in Portuguese. We go over to Hungary and the same thing happened there with “He Touched Me.” That song is always at the top of the list of songs that people know that we've done. There's something about that name.

    John:               When you looked at all of the hymns or gospel songs that have been written from centuries ago, has there been one that you or Gloria continue to go back to that has definitely impacted your heart?

    Mr. Gaither:   There'd be several there, and they would have to be the category of hymns. “How Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is always a very meaningful lyric and the lyrics of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” would be one I back again too. Some of the gospel lyrics too, like “The Love of God could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made. Songs like Hamlin's “Until Then My Heart Will Go On Singing.”

    John:               Mr. Gaither, when you look back at your ministry through the years what sticks out in your mind as maybe one of your greatest achievements?

    Mr. Gaither:   I don't know. In fact, I hope I brought some people together. I think ... I hope we've done something to unite the body of Christ. There are so many things that they divide it with today, but I hope that we have united some folks. I told somebody the other day that ... what are you doing? I think I'm a bridge.

    John:               That's a fantastic statement. What do you think, kind of running down the rabbit trail here a second Mr. Gaither, what do you think of the church here in the United States here in the West recently? Are we in trouble? Are we on the right track? Are we continually focusing on the centrality of the gospel?

    Mr. Gaither:   I'm quite encouraged with the church at this day in effect. I think as a whole the church is doing a lot of doing of significant things in the community.  I think with the dawn of this century, we've become more of a light. I learned a little chorus in Sunday School, I think it's a very important chorus. It goes, “This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.” I hear people talk about we got to fight the darkness. I'm not sure we fight anything. I think what we do ... the only way to fight the darkness is let your little ... let your light shine and I think if you get enough lights shining, the darkness dissipates. I think I see that more and more all the time. I think the church is finally coming of age and realizing it's more than just talking, it's more than rambling all the time about what we're about. It's about being and being the Body of Christ and being the extension of Christ in the culture and I think we're making a difference.

    John:               Just thinking back over what immediately flooded into my mind when you said that, was one of the times that I was at a Homecoming show. I don't know if you guys still do it, but remember those little flashlights that you had and at some particular point all the lights go dim and everybody starts shining these lights and it's incredible. The whole arena is then lit up with these tiny little lights and it's fantastic. I think what you just said, that picture in your live show is a clear, very visible example of what the church can and should be.

    Mr. Gaither:   I think we have to talk less and walk better.

    John:               That's a good statement. Wow. Mr. Gaither on that note, would you be willing to share what God has been teaching you lately?

    Mr. Gaither:   If I'm on anything here lately it's been on theme with being ... by being viral. By that I mean being what we say we are and doing on a day to day basis by the way we treat the waitress at the waffle house. There's so many different ways to let that light shine and I guess the biggest thing that God is teaching me is just finding more ways that I can be and that I can live out the Scripture.

    John:               Amen. Mr. Gaither, what's on the horizon? What do we have to look forward to for the second half of 2013 from the Homecoming team?

    Mr. Gaither:   I'm 77 years old. I don't even buy green bananas anymore. I'm not sure. I really take ... I don't live much in the future and I don't live at all in the past. I really live in the moment. I live in the day and I take the doors that are opening for me today and try to make as much out of them as I can. I might say today first is I'm just spending most of this day preparing for a trip that we are doing in Indianapolis on November the 30th this fall with Wheeler Mission. It's going to be a major benefit where hopefully we're going to raise close to half a million dollars for the homeless in Indianapolis where our mission has been being the evangelist and outreach for 67 years. It's already there, I don't have to organize them. All I have to do is help them do what they do better. I find myself at this point being preoccupied with that.

    John:               What's the name of that organization?

    Mr. Gaither:   Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. Been there for 70 years feeding the homeless, taking in the homeless.

    John:               There is a ... let's see. I'm not sure if I have the title correct but there is a Women of Homecoming album coming out this fall, is that correct?

    Mr. Gaither:   Yes, this fall. We just taped it earlier and it's ... all of the videos up to now had been a mixture of both males and females but this is just the women singing and the women's issues are pretty much the same as the male issues but they're wonderful themes about responsibility and themes about commitment, themes about forgiveness, reconciliation, love, trust, hope in a different call of times. The songs are wonderful. Praise and worship. It's going to be a wonderful video.

    John:               Name some of the ladies that will be on the album.

    Mr. Gaither:   Sandy Patty, Kim Hopper, Teranda Green, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant and some of the newer names, like Jamie Grace.

    John:               Quite a selection.

    Mr. Gaither:   Yes.

    John:               Fantastic. I love it. I'm excited already. When you look at the Homecoming albums or videos through the years, how many of them do you think are surrounded around a theme?

    Mr. Gaither:   Many of them are, many of them are not. The theme in the early days was honoring some pioneers who had gone before, which I think was a good thing to do, and then they took on a theme or a life of their own. We had two that we had at Thanksgiving on being thankful and a couple ... we did about three or four with a theme of honoring the Graham organization and the music that's come out of it, with Billy Graham even involved himself with interviews and talks. Then where we have traveled internationally, we did one in Australia, one in England, and one in Africa. It takes on various themes depending where we are. When in New York City at Carnegie Hall that was more of a peace rally thing.

    John:               One last question here for you Mr. Gaither. When you and your wife sit down to relax, who do you listen to?

    Mr. Gaither:   My reading or my listening is all across the board. I still love classical music and would listen to a lot of classical in my car, at the house. I like early country. I'm not real crazy about the current country but I like some of the early country singers. I like a good gospel song.

    John:               Anyone in particular come to mind or just a nice variety?

    Mr. Gaither:   It's pretty much across the board. Now I enjoy listening to the Vocal Band.

    John:               As you well should. There's nothing wrong with that.

    Mr. Gaither:   Of some of those [GVB] projects, I’ve said, "We were better than we thought we were, weren't we?"

    John:               I'm sorry. I said that was my last question. I would follow that up with how about books? Do you and Mrs. Gaither read a lot?

    Mr. Gaither:   We read a lot. We read a lot of ... I read a lot of biography myself. It's interesting to learn from the lives of other people. Things they did right, sometimes things they did wrong but that's always an interesting way. I love history books, I'm quite a historian, and I love good spiritual help books.

    John:               Mr. Gaither, I want to thank you so much for your time today. I know you have an extremely busy schedule and I am so honored to talk with you today. You have been even from a distance such a great example of a godly man and a godly grandfather to me and to my family through all these years, so I'm very grateful for that. I'm thankful that you were able to take my call today.

    Mr. Gaither:   You're very, very kind and we'll look forward to the Women of Homecoming video ... it's very special and it will minister to a lot of people.

    John:               I'm sure it will.

    Mr. Gaither:   Glad to speak with you, my friend. You have a good day.

    When it's all said and done, I am not sure if there is a stopping point for this man.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Bill Gaither, Gaither Vocal Band, Amy Grant, Jamie Grace, Natalie Grant, Gloria Gaither, Gaither Homecoming, Bill Gaither Trio, Sandy Patty, Kim Hopper, Teranda Green

  • 1GirlNation - Taking Over the World

    Posted on August 15, 2013 by John van der Veen



    Talent, passion and youthful exuberance are always a potent recipe for great music, but when you add message-driven lyrics, a finely tuned sense of purpose and five fun-loving girls, therein lays the foundation for an explosive new entry on the cultural landscape. 1 Girl Nation delivers an ear-grabbing, effervescent sound that uplifts audiences by merging engaging melodies with substantive yet catchy lyrics, packing a one-two punch with considerable impact.

    1 Girl Nation is made up of five talented young women, each possessing a strong, distinctive voice and tons of personality. The group includes Kayli, who grew up on military bases all over the world due to her father's career in the Air Force, settling in Orlando, Florida; Lauryn Taylor, a 21-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama who heard about the opportunity from a friend who works inside the music industry; Kelsey, a Chicago, Illinois native with a degree in music education; Carmen, a singer/dancer who grew up in the Nashville area and attended famed Belmont University and the youngest member of the group, Lindsey, a pastorís kid who hails from Jacksonville, Florida.

    John: You ladies are new to the scene. Five of you - put together. Was this kind of a competition thing that you guys were part of, or did you all grow up going to kindergarten together?

    Lauryn: No, we actually didn't know each other. This was an audition process. They kind of found us, I guess.

    Carmen: We were all working on solo careers before. About a year ago there was an audition call for a girl group through Patton House Entertainment, and we all sent in audition videos, and the top 15 girls came to Nashville and did an audition week where there were solo auditions, dance auditions and group auditions. There was a recording day and they narrowed it down to eight and then five, and here we are!

    John: Did you know that it was going to be five?

    Carmen: We had no idea who or what. It kept it interesting for sure. They made us work hard.

    John: You were scared during that experience?

    Carmen: Yes, it was very nerve racking. We got there and none of us are really used to being close with a lot of girls. You came to the process of you're staying with all these girls in this apartment and everyone's beautiful and talented and loves the Lord. It was very intimidating, but everyone was rooting for each other, I’d say. It was a really good experience.

    Kelsey: It was a positive environment, for sure.

    Kayli: I was surprised because I was expecting, you know, it was a competition, so girls are going to seclude themselves or be mean, but everyone was so nice. It was such a great experience.

    John: That's cool. We probably should have done this at the beginning, but let's go around and we'll say names and where we're from and who our biggest influences are.

    Lindsey: Oh, start with me. My name is Lindsey. I'm 20 years old. I'm the youngest. I'm from Jacksonville, Florida. A big influence in my life has always been Amy Grant and Jump 5.

    John: Oh, yeah.

    Lauryn: I'm Lauryn Taylor, and I'm from Birmingham, Alabama. I'm 21. My biggest influence just in life is my mom because we are like the same head on two bodies. I've learned so much from her, and she's my best friend.

    Carmen: I'm Carmen. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee. Musical influences growing up… I listened to a lot of Point of Grace. That was kind of what I was raised on. Vocally, Kelly Clarkson is my girl.

    John: A little soul.

    Carmen: Yes, I kind of learned a lot from her.

    Kayli: I'm Kayli, and I'm from Orlando. My influence in my life would be my sister. Musical influence would be Mariah and Whitney and all the powerhouse vocals.

    Kelsey: My name is Kelsey. I'm from Chicago, Illinois. I'm 23. Probably my biggest life coach would also be my mom and my grandma. Wonderful influences in my life. Probably musically I would have to say Rachel Lampa. I've always been such a super fan of her, growing up listening to her and trying to sing her stuff. I can't do it, but I still try.

    John: Have you guys ever met any of the artists? Have you met Jump Five or Amy?

    Lindsey: I met Amy and about passed out. I wasn't expecting it. I was going in for a write and she was, there was the guy I was writing with in the building and she was writing with someone else in the building, and she was leaving as I was coming in. I wanted to say so much that nothing got out. It just ended up being uh, uh, you're, you're, and I just started getting giggly and weird. She was just like, "I'm Amy Grant." Then she just hugged me. It was just awful. There was so much that I wanted to say, but I was so star struck that I couldn't say it.

    John: That's awesome. How about you guys? Have you ever met Kelly Clarkson?

    Carmen: I would pass out if I met Kelly Clarkson. I would be like Lindsey.

    Lauryn: This girl is her number one fan right here.

    Carmen: Seriously, I'm the number one fan. We got to actually meet Point of Grace though through the audition process. They came in one day and did a morning session devotional with us, which was really cool. I teared up. I was crying.

    Lauryn: They gave us a lot of advice on how to just live together, be together and how to make it work.

    Kelsey: We grew up listening to them. We were really honored to meet them.

    John: That's cool. Have you ever met Rachel?

    Kelsey: No, but one of her really good friends did our makeup for a couple different shoots. She's always posting pictures of she and Rachel, and I'm always like if I could just squeeze in there for one picture. I'm hoping to meet her though.

    John: What would you say to someone who is 13 or 15 that kind of has that star struck look that either looks at somebody that has either been in our industry for a long time like Amy or the POG girls or looks at you guys and says, "That's what I want to do?"

    Kelsey: I would say you can never dream too big. I think for me, being an artist and being a singer and being on the road was always something that was so not attainable. It was such a far-fetched goal for me. Always something I wanted, but never something within reach I always felt like. God is a God that makes dreams come true. If they're aligned with His will, then I think that there is never a dream that's too far to reach. That would be my encouragement to that 13-year-old aspiring artist: that you never know what God can do if you're just willing. If you're willing and ready to take a step of faith.

    Lauryn: Mine would be to always seek God's will first, because no matter what, He knows what's best. Like Kelsey, I was always shy growing up. I never thought that I would actually be able to get up on stage, but God just continued to open doors and I would walk through in faith. It led me here.

    John: With the record coming out later this summer, what other big things are you guys looking forward to for 2013?

    Lindsey: We're looking forward to a tour called Secret Keeper Girls, which will be all over the country. We're really, really excited to be a part of that and partner with them.

    John: That's with?

    Lindsey: Bob and Dannah Gresh, yes. We're doing that and ...

    Carmen: That's actually a big part. We'll be on the road nonstop with them.

    Kelsey: We're also looking forward to our single being out. It just released and we're super excited.

    Lindsey: I'm really excited just about—back to the tour—I'm really excited about the hands-on ministry we get to do in the tour. We get to really work face-to-face with a lot of little girls. We're privileged to be able to do the altar calls and one-on-one time with girls, and then to do a little bit of worship and, of course, some of our songs. We're really excited to be all hands in and really just do this whole ministry thing. That's a big part of all our hearts. We grew up leading worship in different churches. I think it's going to be really cool to get to do everything that we feel like God has given us a heart for in this tour.

    Kayli: We're excited to share our stories. We all have very different stories and love to hear everyone's stories. That's where it opens up for us.

    Lauryn: Through that, we're all so different that I feel like the girls in the audience can at least relate to one of us and one of our stories.

    John: I'm sure that will take place.

    Carmen: This is a unique tour, I think, touching on what Lindsey said. We do get to be all hands on deck. We get to be part of the set up, the tear down, and learning how to serve is going to be a cool thing for us. We've all grown up in the church serving and doing ministry, but I think that what we do as 1 Girl Nation, such a small part of it is performing and the rest of it is sharing our hearts and being able to connect with girls on a deeper level than that, so that what they see on the stage is the same as what they see off the stage. The conversations that we have and the difference we get to make in their lives through conversation through just relating our stories to theirs is going to be the biggest thing that we take away from that. That's super exciting for me, and I know for all of us.

    Lauryn: I think they're going to teach us a lot more than what we think. I'm really excited to figure out what we learn from them.

    Kayli: We think we're ready.

    John: How would you guys describe your music?

    Carmen: I would say Toby Mac meets One Direction. It's that group feel, but girls. It's very current sounding, but with a great message.

    Kayli: Top 40 sound with a very bold Christian message.

    Lauryn: I really feel like it's kind of funny… the sound is kind of like that, but we're kind of our own thing. I don't think we could really even be compared to anything secular. We've kind of just gone with what each one of our hearts is. Our voices are all completely different. They're completely distinct, and it's really cool to see how God can take five different voices and make it work into one project. We're really hoping that will be a big part of our message too, that, look what five completely different people can do together.

    John: That does stand as a testimony. Who produced the record?

    Lauryn: We had actually a group of teams. We had Jason Ingram, Casey Brown and John Smith. That was one group. Another one was John White from Capital Kings. Then we had Josh Silverberg and Kip Williams.

    John: Awesome.

    Lauryn: Great minds.

    John: Each of them have their own kind of unique talents as well in various styles of music.

    Lindsey: It's a good amount of different kind of flavors and spices all throughout the album.

    John: Yeah, I would assume. Did those guys stretch you, or did you walk in and it was very comfortable?

    Carmen: We started out with a worship song. I think the best way to unite a room of people or a group of people is to just worship together. I really think that's something that's always helped connect hearts. We were just singing and worshipping, and I think that was a really good start for us. We'd always start in prayer so there was kind of a peace. Whenever we're in the studio and we're singing and they're like, “No, go again. You can do better.” I felt like it was a sport.

    Kelsey: We learned so much from them. We recorded the album in nine days start-to-finish. The days in the studio were long and exhausting, but I think what we learned and experienced in that short time was a lifetime's worth.

    Lauryn: I wanted it to last longer.

    Kayli: We made it fun. We brought strobe lights and candy. Every time a song was finished, we'd turn on the strobe lights and eat candy and just dance to it.

    Carmen: We wanted to make it a party every time.

    John: That's cool. One last question here. Well, maybe a few more. We'll see. What has God been teaching you guys either collectively or individually as of late?

    Lauryn: I can talk about this. I think for me God's been teaching me that it doesn't matter what your past looks like. It doesn't matter the things that you've been through. It doesn't matter the mistakes that you've made. God sees who He has created you to be. The things of the past, the mistakes that you've made, the sometimes dark paths that you've walked down do not define who you are. Your identity is found in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. For me that's been such a, it's a hard pill to swallow sometimes when you think about how did I get here? Why did God choose me for this incredible ministry. I'm not worthy. I'm not adequate. I'm not equipped for this ministry.

    The beauty of that is that God uses broken people and God uses imperfect people and that's kind of overwhelming to me. I think that what I've been learning the most and taking away the most lately is that I am valuable. I'm loved. I'm treasured by Christ. That's pretty overwhelming day-to-day for me. That's something that I have to tell myself every day, remind myself every single day that“God loves you. Here's who you are in him. Here's who he has created you to be.” I think that probably everybody at some point of time in their life needs to get back to that place. It's not about me. It's not about what I've done. It's not about who I was in the past. It's about who I am now and the direction that I'm heading now and the person that God is creating me to be now.

    John: What an important message. Timely for so many people today, especially young girls. Anybody else?

    Carmen: I've just been humbled. I tell the girls a lot that I thought I had this great plan for my life and great goals for myself, and then God walks in and completely goes, "I have something even better." I'm like, what? Not selling myself short in just being humbled completely. Every day I thought I was so great, and it turns out I'm not at all. That's what I'm learning.

    Lindsey: I think God has been teaching me, I grew up as a pastor's kid and was really hands-on in the church, and I think in my life there's been a lot of good that has come out of that because it's been such good accountability. God has taught me what it's like to work and to do things for him and stuff like that. I have such a heart for worship. That's just a big part of what my family has taught me.

    Another side of that is that when you're under the spotlight and you're always a leader--at 12 I was leading worship and running the kids' ministry--there's so many things I had to do because whenever your dad is planting a church or starting one, your family is, we are the staff, you know? I found myself kind of losing who I am and losing that I can't struggle anymore and I can't look like I have something wrong. When I hit the doors into the church I've got to look like I've got it all together because people are depending on me, and you know that pressure. Through that I feel like I was the most miserable person and I felt like I was lost.

    I found myself writing songs. Looking back now, I found myself writing songs to people that are struggles I was going through to other people. It was things that I was dealing with and things that I couldn't come face to face with anymore. Through this whole girl group thing and stepping out of that and meeting these girls for the first time, I felt like I have accountability of my own. God has really taught me just to be real with Him, and that whenever I'm real with who I really am and what I'm really struggling with, that's when I can be free. That's when He can show me new things and show me who He is and what His love really looks like to the fullest. That's been a really cool thing for me. It's been recent and it's not easy.

    Sometimes it's easy, especially in this industry, to walk in and put that face on and go back to who I was and what I need to look like. Every time I do that, I don't see God work near as much as whenever I'm vulnerable and whenever I'm open with what I'm struggling with too. It's been a really good lesson and it's really changed who I am.

    Lauryn: We've just been challenged lately on so many levels.

    Carmen: I keep calling it a crash course. God is putting us through the fire so he keeps refining us, refining us, refining us.

    John: Alright, I said that was the last question, but I have one more. Black coffee or fru-fru coffee?

    Kayli: If it doesn't taste like cake, I don't like it.

    Lauryn: I'm not that bad. I'm a happy medium.

    Kayli: If I want it to work, I'll drink black. When I go to Starbucks, I ask for extra caramel on the caramel macchiato. I'm like just pound it in there. That can be half the cup. I don't care.

    1 Girl Nation wants to encourage and inspire its audience, but ultimately they want to lead them to the source of all power. "The whole point of everything that we do is to bring more people into the Kingdom of Christ," says Kayli. "We were given these talents, abilities, tools, opportunities and platforms to get people to know the name of Jesus and that's the only reason why we do what we do. It's a fun life and we get to play out our dreams because of the talent God has given us, but it all goes back to Him."

    To find out more about 1 Girl Nation, click here. To hear their single, click here.


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, TobyMac, Capital Kings, Amy Grant, Dannah Gresh, Rachel Lampa, 1 Girl Nation, Jump 5, Point of Grace

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

    Posted on August 7, 2013 by John van der Veen

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

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

    John and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four adult children: Matt, Marcy, Mark, and Melinda. They also enjoy the enthusiastic company of their fifteen grandchildren.

    John is type of author that evokes emotion in the reader. Some try to avoid his books and others can't stop reading them. His prayer would be that emotion would drive one to a specific place - the foot of the cross. Or, simply put, the Gospel of Jesus.

    In his new book, Strange Fire, John lays out a call for the Church to repent of it's "casual" approach to worship. After reading Strange Fire, one can understand that worship is a serious matter. God is to be enjoyed for sure, but in the direction that He gives.

    In our recent conversation, I asked Dr. MacArthur about his new book and what I found is a man still living under conviction. While in his mid 70's, there is a fire that burns in this man. Strange it is not. For it's a passion for the glory of God.

    John, I am curious, when you set out to write a book, who do you write your books for? Are you writing for a particular group of people? Are you writing for your church? Or are you just writing for the evangelical community altogether?

    John M.: Yeah, primarily, I'm writing for the broader evangelical community; in particular, the pastors and leaders and influencers. When I write a book, particularly a political or issue-oriented book, I do that for the benefit of the church: to make a truth clear to the church, to warn the church. So the audience is typically the broader evangelical community with a focus on those in leadership to help them understand the issues and the impact that they're having on the church.

    John: So, would you say that you're writing in response to something that's happening in church culture, or are you kind of thinking, "Hey, maybe this is what could be happening in church culture, so it needs to be addressed…"?

    John M.: You know more often than not, John, I react. I look at my books, or many of them anyway, as kind of a correction, a clarification, some discernment applied to an issue in the church that the church needs to be aware of. That might be more frequently my motivation but not exclusively. There are times when I think the church just needs clarity on a doctrine or an issue, and so I’ll write more from a positive affirmation side. That would be the lesser of the common motive, though, as usually I'm looking at the church feeling concerned about the direction, the lack of understanding or the church's exposure to something that is dangerous--something the church needs to understand more clearly to fulfill its ministry. So, I'm usually coming off of something that I think needs clarity or needs correction.

    John: Before we jump into your new book, "Strange Fire," I'm curious, John, have you ever written anything that you wish you would not have written? Have you ever changed a viewpoint on something that you would have liked to go back and refute?

    John M.: I would say no. I've never written anything that I would like to get back. I think the Lord really prepared me through my training and upbringing with a sound framework of theology so I kind of have the borders pretty much in mind for the truth and sound doctrine. Obviously, I've understood things in a clearer way. There are certain verses I would interpret differently now. There are some details maybe in handling the word of God that I might express differently. There's been a lot of refinement and a lot more clarification, but there's really nothing through the years that I would say would reach the level of "I wish I'd never written that."

    John: So, you have a new book coming out called, "Strange Fire.” I am curious, is this a follow-up to "Charismatic Chaos"?

    John M.: It is definitely in the same category and the same genre. It is addressing the charismatic movement, but it isn't that book. It isn't like that book, "Charismatic Chaos," which by the way is still in print--I just received the final word on the publication of that book in Chinese. So that book has been consistently in print since it first came out. But it addresses the same movement; only it addresses that movement in its current form. The "Charismatic Chaos" book is ... I don't know how many years old, but it's 15 years old or more, and the movement has morphed and changed and gained momentum on a global level. So while the same issue is addressed, which is the charismatic movement, this is a completely independent book that has nothing to do with the prior book. This one addresses the movement in a way that is consistent with its present form and, of course, since the time that I wrote that book, the prosperity gospel has just gone like a wildfire and so that's an element, and there are other elements as well that have changed.

    John: "Charismatic Chaos" was and is a fantastic book, and I have recommended it many times to many of my friends and I'm sure you have seen many comments by people who are being challenged by it. So hopefully we will see the same thing with "Strange Fire" as well.

    John M.: I will say this John, the book through the years has had an amazing ministry in helping people come out of that movement, and I would say that is the manifest impact of that book, letters upon letters, tens of thousands of them through the years coming to our ministry, the people in multiple languages reading that book, and coming out of that movement. This book is directed more at the leaders of that movement, the purveyors of that system, false miracles, false prosperity gospel, misrepresentation of gifts and all of that kind of stuff. This book really goes at the leadership and exposes the movement at that level, as well as its aberrations on a popular level. So, I'm praying that it will be an indictment whereas the "Charismatic Chaos" book was not so much an indictment of the leadership, but that it will also at the same help people to come out of that movement to the truth.

    John: You start "Strange Fire" with a story, the fantastic story of Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron. They are both priests, as you know, part of Israel. They, as you clearly point out, understood the teachings of God, were highly regarded, etc., and then the unbelievable happened, they went within this context of worship for them to present a, in a sense, sacrifice to God, and they did it in a wrong manner. God responded by sending fire and consumed both of them, both of these brothers. My question John is, do you think to some extent, the greater evangelical community, or at least maybe the charismatic community is in danger of doing the same thing?

    John M.: I think the charismatic community does the same thing. I think it offers strange fire, that's the point I make. In the ninth chapter in that same context, an offering was given to God appropriately and rightly, and God burned up the offering, and immediately after that, the offering was made inappropriately and God burned up the offers, and what that does tell us is that God feels very strongly, even judgmentally, against false worship. That is, worship which dishonors him; and I think the charismatic movement is filled with that.

    Now, I understand, we're not living in Old Testament times. God doesn't open up the ground and swallow up false prophets. God doesn't send a bear out of the woods to shred young men who mock a prophet. Obviously, God doesn't bring judgment the way he brought judgment in the Old Testament era; but he has the same attitude, and while judgment may not come in a temporal way, it will come, because God feels exactly the same about unacceptable worship. In fact, if you go back to the Ten Commandments, the first commandment and the second commandment are about no other God and how we come to God, how we approach God. The Old Testament is clear that we are to fear God and that we are to worship Him in a way that is consistent with His decree and His will and His commands.

    So, I just think--and it's a sad thing--that these charismatic churches and charismatic groups are full of people who do not understand that they can't play fast and loose with this kind of supposed worship. They can't say the Holy Spirit is doing something He's not doing, or saying something He's not saying. They can't ascribe to God fake miracles or fake revelations and make up things and say that God said them and the Holy Spirit said them.

    This is the most serious kind of conduct, negatively speaking, that any human being can commit. It is to blaspheme God, it’s an affront to God. I say in the introduction of the book that Jesus said the leaders of Israel had attributed the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan, and I draw a parallel, kind of an inverse parallel, that the modern charismatic movement attributes the works of Satan to the Holy Spirit. There are so many things that are obviously not of God at all that are being attributed to the Holy Spirit. This is very, very serious, and that's why the book doesn't hold back because the seriousness of dishonoring approaches to God demands a serious confrontation.

    John: So my mind goes in a couple of different directions here and there based on what you just said. Is God adhering to His forbearance then, as He approaches the Christian community, the charismatic community?

    John M.: Well, first of all, yeah, we have to understand that God is always forbearing, and He doesn't give us what we deserve when we deserve it. We are all alive because of His grace, and God by nature as Savior, even temporally, He withholds his judgment, He is merciful, He is gracious. I think many of these people aren't Christians, they're false teachers, false prophets, charlatans and frauds, and many of the people that follow them are nonbelievers who are deceived and duped, and certainly the Lord withholds judgment on them. Obviously, their judgment is the judgment of eternal condemnation when it does come.

    But even among believers, you know, there are many sins that believers can commit and do commit, and there are many unfaithful believers who don't have the ground open up and swallow them or who aren't struck down by God, although that can happen because we know from the New Testament, there is a sin of the death and there can be a sin in the life of the believer that will cause the Lord to take him home.

    But I think that's correct; I think God is patient even toward his own, and that's one of the functions of pastors. Paul, you remember, said to the church in Acts 20, "I have not ceased for three years to warn you with tears and to warn you that of your own selves perverse men will rise up, will lead you astray and from the outside wolves will come in with deceptive teaching." Paul writes his letters to churches and continually talks about error, and he said to the Galatians, "Having begun in the Spirit, are you perfected in the flesh? Please don't fall into legalism." All of those epistles have warning sections. Thessalonians, you know, warns about misunderstanding the second coming and believing lies. That's just part of ministry.

    So, we would say that while the Lord is forbearing with His own people who truly belong to him, it is the role and duty of pastors and leaders of the church to expose the false teachers, to expose the false doctrine and to preach sound doctrine. In fact, you shouldn't even be a leader in the church unless you are capable of exposing error. According to Paul's standards for leadership, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, you have to be able to recognize error, expose it for error, and teach sound doctrine. That's part of being a leader in the church. It's not necessarily popular in this kind of environment where everybody calls for tolerance and acceptance. And nobody has screamed louder for that than the charismatics, because they have to have that in order to succeed. They have gotten what they wanted, but it's true that the Lord is patient, especially with His church. But that raises the importance of those who are leading His church to speak the truth and warn the people.

    John: In the book, you suggest a few questions to help test the authenticity of true works of the Spirit. You ask the readers to ask five questions. One, does it exalt the true Christ? Two, does it oppose worldliness? Three, does it point people to Scripture? Four, does it elevate the truth? And five, does it produce love for God and for others?

    Now, when I am reading those questions, my thought is, to some extent, we could have a pastor or a leader within the charismatic movement, being asked those questions on one side and John MacArthur being asked those questions on one side and both of them and looking at the acts of what's happening in the charismatic movement would answer those questions in the affirmative. Does it exalt the true Christ? They would answer yes. Does it oppose worldliness? They would say yes. How does someone within a Christian community approach then these two conflicting viewpoints and say, "Well, wait a second here, you both can't be right. I hear someone on TV telling me that what they're doing is truly of God, and yet I have MacArthur on one side telling me no, what they're doing is not of God, it's of the devil." How do we reconcile that, John?

    John M.: Those five questions basically came from Jonathan Edwards, and he was using those five things to evaluate the legitimacy or illegitimacy of certain things that were happening in the great awakening, and in every case it all depends on how you define the terms. If I ask the question, "Does it honor Christ?" the guy can say, "Of course, it honors Christ." A Mormon can say Mormonism honors Christ, A Jehovah's Witness can say Jehovah's Witness ministers honor Christ, but that begs a definition of Christ. Who is Christ? And what does honor Christ? That is the compelling issue.

    For example, when Kenneth Copeland says that Jesus on the cross became a sinner, died and went to hell, and was punished for three days, that's heresy. He may ask somebody, do charismatics honor Christ? Does Kenneth Copeland honor Christ? Sure, off the top of their head, they would say, “Yes,” but when you look more deeply, to say that Christ became a sinner and went to hell to pay for sin for three days and then God raised him, that does not honor Christ.

    So, all those questions then have to be defined. The terms in all those questions have to be defined. Before you can answer the question, "Does it honor Christ?" you have to show who Christ is, what Christ has done, and what the Bible says honors Christ, and then see if based upon the biblical definition of honoring Christ, they are honoring Christ; so in every case, a superficial answer, we expect that. We expect them to say, "Oh yeah, this demonstrates love for God, this demonstrates love for others." But upon closer examination, when you compare how the Bible defines those terms and what the charismatics do, it is not hard to answer the question.

    John: So, context defines the meaning here.

    John M.: Context and definition is everything. Sure, you could say to a Muslim, "Do you love God?" and he could say, "Yes," but he better talk about who you're talking about, what God you’re talking about and what you mean by love. So yeah, all those words beg for explanation, and in the book, those questions have a very carefully laid out biblical context in which they have to be answered.

    John: Yeah, they do, they do.

    John, the question was asked once of a TV preacher, "Why do amazing miracles like people being raise from the dead, blind eyes being opened, lame people walking again happen with greater frequency in places like Africa, and not here in the U.S.? So now I'm asking you John, would you agree with that statement, and then how would you answer that question?

    John M.: I would answer it by saying who said that and based on what evidence? I have absolutely never seen any legitimate evidence of anything like that going on anywhere in the world. People being raised from the dead claims, sure. People have made the claim that that has happened, that they have seen that happen, but there is literally no evidence, no genuine evidence for things like that. You have near-death situations where people come near to death and maybe are revived, we would all understand that, but nobody goes to a funeral and raises somebody out of the casket after they have been embalmed.

    So, you know, those kinds of claims are basically meaningless. They’re as meaningless as all of these claims about people going to heaven and seeing Jesus and seeing the Holy Spirit as a blue fog and Jesus riding a rainbow horse. That's why Paul said to the Corinthians, "I was caught up to the third heaven," but it's not profitable to talk about that, because it's not verifiable. They love the unverifiable. They love to make claims that no one can ever substantiate. People have done vast studies trying to track down the supposed miracles of well-known healers and all the evidence has come in through the years that there's just nothing there.

    John: What do you hope happens? I mean you kind of answered this at the beginning, but what do you hope happens as this book launches, as it goes out into the Christian community? Just what do you hope the response is going to be?

    John M.: First, I hope that those people who are sitting in these environments and know something is wrong but have been intimidated, that they have open minds and know this isn't right. That they know they're dying of cancer, they've got heart disease, they're going through a divorce, they're struggling with sin, they're not getting rich, and they're questioning why the guy at the top of the Ponzi scheme pile has a jet and two Mercedes and they can barely exist—or even can't exist. I hope those people who are full of anxiety and doubt will find reason to run and reason to flee the error and see and expose it for what it is.

    Secondly, I hope people will understand the danger of the influences that they're under. When Jesus was denouncing the Pharisees, he said they produce sons of hell. It’s an amazing indictment of those that the populous of Israel felt was representative of God, and what Jesus said is they don't produce sons of heaven, they produce sons of hell. I think it was more on Jesus' mind at the end of his ministry, in the final discussion he had before the cross with the disciples and the populous of Jerusalem that they flee from false teachers because they have such deadly influence. So, I hope people will see the corruption. If you start with Charles Parham from whom the movement came and see that he was arrested for sodomy and you just progress through the scandals of the movement, I hope it exposes the corruption that's at the top of the movement.

    The third thing that I would hope and pray for is that the movement would receive such a blow that it finds it difficult to recruit. And that's asking a lot because it's a big wide world and most of the Christian world doesn't even know I exist, but I would love to have this book slow down the growth and then obviously I would hope that even those that are fully convinced in the movement and fully convinced leaders in the movement, God might see fit to rescue them from it.

    John: We're going to jump off of topic of the book here. The tagline for "Grace to You" is Unleashing God's truth, One Verse at a Time. You have been a proponent for expository preaching, obviously for a long time. I'm curious, do you believe that's the only way to proclaim Scripture?

    John M.: Well, I believe initially the only way to proclaim anything from the Scripture is to interpret it correctly. So let's just say that however the sermon comes out, whether it's a theological sermon, or a sort of exhortational sermon, or an exposition of a given passage, or whether you're dealing with a biblical theme, the end product of what you preach has to come from rightly dividing the word of God. So, it's not that every sermon has to be a sort of word-by-word, verse-by-verse exposition, certainly as tight and as defined maybe as I would do it, but when you say this is what Scripture teaches, you can't truly say that unless you've rightly divided the truth.

    So, even when I preach, say, a message on a theological theme, a biblical theme, a doctrine of Scripture or give an overview, the message at the end of the day has to reflect the Scripture rightly interpreted. So, in that sense, all preaching has to be expositional. Sound theology is the product of accurate exposition. I prefer Bible exposition. I think it's the right way to preach because it's the only way that covers everything, and I don't think God simply gave us big ideas. I think He gave us truth down to the very smallest phrases and words, and if you're going to get the full richness of Scripture, that's the way you're going to get it.

    John: Do you think to some extent by avoiding expository preaching, it has allowed growth for the charismatic movement? I mean, do you think that's why to some extent everything that "Strange Fire," the reason why you wrote that book is because of the fact that expository preaching has not been held in high regard?

    John M.: If expository preaching dominated the church, and if that expository preaching was accurate interpretation of Scripture, the movement couldn't survive. That's absolutely correct. All false doctrine survives in an environment of ignorance or tolerance, and in evangelicalism in our day, you have a lot of ignorance, a lot of people who just think about church growth and whatever, and not about the truth in its detail. And you certainly have the personal kind of movement in Christianity, which conveys the idea, “What does the Bible mean to me?” and whatever I think it means and feel it means, and whatever the Lord shows me it means, that's what it means.

    So you not only have no exposition of Scripture based upon a scientific pattern, but you don't even have Hermeneutics, you don't even have rules for interpretation. If the Lord shows you what this means intuitively, like a pain in your stomach or a notion that pops into your head, now you've got an alien approach to Scripture. So, whether you have the Bible interpreted intuitively or interpreted personally or not interpreted at all, of course then anything and everything flourishes.

    Interested in reading John's new book? Click here for more information.


    This post was posted in Books, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Worship, John MacArthur, Kenneth Copeland

  • Mandisa - Finding Freedom by Overcoming

    Posted on August 6, 2013 by John van der Veen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mandisa:       Ugh! Please. [laughs]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mandisa:       The contestants I do.

    John:               Who won that year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John:               Is this record more personal for you?

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

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

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

    John:               It’s different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mandisa:       Yeah, lots of guest vocals.

    John:               Is Chris on it as well?

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

    John:               Okay.

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

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

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

    John:               Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

    John:               And it’s not Chris August.

    Mandisa:       It’s not Chris August.

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

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

    Those three things I’m reading right now.

    John:               You are an author as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John:               Is that this fall?

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

    John:               Who started that rumor?

    Mandisa:       He did. (laughs)

    John:               Oh, he did?  (laughter)

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

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

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

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

     


    This post was posted in Music, Interviews, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, TobyMac, Britt Nicole, Matthew West, Brandon Heath, Jesus Culture, Group 1 Crew, Chris August, Israel Houghton, Mandisa, Capital Kings, Colton Dixon, Meredith Andrews, Jamie Grace, Plumb, Natalie Grant, John Eldridge, Stasi Eldridge, Gary Chapman

  • One On One with Mark Batterson

    Posted on August 1, 2013 by John van der Veen

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

    His new book, All In: You Are One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life is available now.  His publisher has this to say about it: "The Gospel costs nothing. You can't earn it or buy it. It can only be received as a free gift compliments of God's grace. It doesn't cost anything, but it demands everything. It demands that we go 'all in,' a term that simply means placing all that you have into God's hands. Pushing it all in. And that's where we get stuck---spiritual no man's land. We're afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer. It's not true. The only thing you'll miss out on is everything God has to offer. And the good news is this: if you don't hold out on God, God won't hold out on you. Readers will find Batterson's writing filled with his customary vivid, contemporary illustrations as well as biblical characters like Shamgar and Elisha and Jonathan and . . . Judas. No one has ever sacrificed anything for God. If you always get back more than you gave up, have you sacrificed anything at all? The eternal reward always outweighs the temporal sacrifice. At the end of the day, our greatest regret will be whatever we didn't give back to God. What we didn't push back across the table to Him. Eternity will reveal that holding out is losing out. The message of All In is simple: if Jesus is not Lord of all then Jesus is not Lord at all. It's all or nothing. It's now or never. Kneeling at the foot of cross of Christ and surrendering to His Lordship is a radical act of dethroning yourself and enthroning Christ as King. It's also an act of disowning yourself. Nothing belongs to you. Not even you. Batterson writes, for many years, I thought I was following Jesus. I wasn't. I had invited Jesus to follow me. I call it inverted Christianity. And it's a subtle form of selfishness that masquerades as spirituality. That's when I sold out and bought in. When did we start believing that the gospel is an insurance plan? It's a daring plan. Jesus did not die just to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous.'"

    That sparked our curiosity, so we emailed Mark to share with us about life.

    1. In your book The Circle Maker, you encouraged believers to pray "big" prayers to God. What is your goal with your new book, All In?

    The Circle Maker was all about the power of a single prayer. One prayer can change anything, change everything. But you can't just pray like it depends on God. You also have to work like it depends on you. You can't just draw the circle. You also have to draw a line in the sand. The most promising thought in All In is this: you are one decision away from a totally different life. I absolutely believe that. All In challenges readers to identify the one decision that will make the biggest difference in their lives. Of course, I believe that starts with the decision to go all in with God. I think many people think they are following Jesus, but the reality is that they've invited Jesus to follow them. They have inverted the gospel. But the true adventure begins when you completely surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is not Lord of all, then you cannot claim Him as Lord at all. It's all or nothing.

    2. What is it like being a pastor in one of the US's most dangerous cities?

    Washington, DC is a tale of two cities. We live less than a mile from the Capitol Building--the symbol of freedom and power. But one mile in the other direction are some crime-ridden communities in desperate need of God's love. We'll actually open a Dream Center in one of those neighborhoods in the next year. We want to show the love of Jesus in practical ways. We feel like the needs around us give us an opportunity to put Matthew 25 into practice--feed the hungry, clothe the poor, house the homeless, adopt the fatherless.

    3. Earlier this year, your church hosted a conference called "City Fathers." Can you tell us a bit about it?

    We live in a culture that celebrates fifteen minutes of fame. I think it's high time we celebrate a lifetime of faithfulness. So we invited five pastors, City Fathers, to share their heart and vision for our city.

    Between the five of them, they had 167 years of pastoral ministry in DC.

    Honestly, the rest of us are reaping the seeds they sowed. I just felt like we needed to sit at their feet for a day and glean wisdom. We also needed to give honor where honor is due! That's what we did. It was a historic day for DC. It didn't just foster unity. It's created synergy.

    4. What is it about the corn-hole game that you love so much?

    When I was a kid, I spent about two hours a day trying to shoot a basketball hoop through the basket. Now that I can't jump like I used to, I guess corn-hole is the old man's version! It stokes the competitive fires. Consider this an open invitation to all challengers!


    This post was posted in Books, John van der Veen and was tagged with Featured, Mark Batterson, Corn-Hole

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