“But the fruit of the Spirit is joy…” Galatians 5:22a
Joy is the juice that flows from the fruit of the Spirit. It is tasty, delightful and delicious. Joy from Jesus gives strength for the journey, endurance to obey and enjoyment to relationships. It offers hope for the future, optimism in the present and it reflects on pleasant memories from the past. Spirit-filled joy is a faith-filled attitude that is contagious. It converts frowns to smiles, cranks to encouragers and inertia to energy.
Joy gives fuel to our faith and it allows us to fuel the faith of others. It lights up a room with its genuine gladness and delights to hear another’s heart. Indeed, our countenance stays soft and kind when joy, like emotional lotion, has been applied to our face by the Spirit. Just as sunblock protects us from overexposure to harmful rays of light, so joy shields our soul from the lies of defeat and depression. Joy in Jesus generates gladness.
“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:2
We worship the Lord with gladness when we reflect on the gift of His son Jesus. How can we not explode with joy when we celebrate our eternal salvation in Christ? Praise to God releases our soul to lift up and proclaim joyful songs to our Great Shepherd, our Great Savior and our Great Spirit—the Godhead, three in one. Gladness in God can’t help but give Him glory. We are recipients of blessings that transcend our temporary trials.
Therefore, be a joy giver—not a joy killer. Joy givers smile—joy killers scowl. Joy givers build up—joy killers tear down. Joy givers laugh out loud—joy killers sneer inside. Joy givers see opportunities—joy killers see obstacles. Thus, be an agent of joy on behalf of Jesus. Perhaps you take yourself less seriously and the Lord more seriously. Laugh at yourself, sing in the Spirit and extend encouragement. A smiling soul molds the mouth.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I be a conduit of Christ’s joy to those I encounter.
As Scripture notes, the body of Christ is made up of many members – each with unique talents, callings and a critical role to play. Stephen Mansfield’s role is especially significant. With wisdom and a distinct passion for instruction, he helps us to see truth in a progressively-darkening culture. We caught up recently with Stephen to discuss his new book on the topic of Mormonism in America and how we can maintain a Christian world-view in the face of rapidly-changing times.
Family Christian: Before we talk about The Mormonizing of America, we’d like to learn a little bit more about who Stephen Mansfield is.
Stephen Mansfield: Sounds great. Probably the most defining experience of my life prior to becoming a Christian and then going to college was that I was raised in Europe, the son of a U.S. army officer, who was an intelligence officer. We lived in Berlin, Germany during the Cold War. Most of my youth was spent overseas. I became a Christian at eighteen, went to a Christian college [then] began to pastor. I pastored for twenty years and always had a fascination with how faith impacted the real world, leadership, politics, history, etc… I earned a couple of master’s degrees and a doctorate along the way. In 2002, I transitioned out of the pastorate and almost immediately had the opportunity to write The Faith of George W. Bush, which I’m sure we’ll talk about. I had written some books before on Churchill. I had been asked by the governor of Tennessee to write the history of Tennessee for the bicentennial of that state. I’ve written some other books, but The Faith of George W. Bush was my first big international hit. I live both in Washington DC and Nashville. I’m married to an amazing woman, Beverly Darnall Mansfield, who’s a songwriter, producer, also works with me in publishing matters. She’s [also] produced tours for Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. We’ve got two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth. One of them is at college at Belmont University, and Jonathan, the older, has just started a business in Chattanooga, Tennessee. That’s the best overview I can give you. (laughs)
FC: So you mentioned being a pastor for a season. Where was your church?
SM: I had two 10-year stints of the senior pastor in two different churches. One was in Abilene, TX because apparently I sinned in a previous life. Ha, I’m just playing. I was a kid raised in Europe and went to Abilene, Texas right out of college and pastored an interdenominational church that did well. We had a great time. We ministered to the poor. We had the most multi-racial church in town. As you can imagine, west Texan culture was a little much for me having been raised in southern Europe. And then my second stint of about ten years was in Nashville, Tennessee. And I was first the number two guy, and then the senior guy at the historic Belmont church on music row in Nashville. Transitioned out of that in 2002.
FC: As a pastor, where did the idea begin to start writing books? You mentioned The Faith of George W. Bush, but that was not your first published title. What steered you toward becoming an author?
SM: I think probably, not to take it back too far, but most of the people who write about writing say that there’s a voice that forms in our head that begins about the time when our parents read to us, and that’s the narrative voice you begin to hear. So thankfully I grew up in a reading home. [But] we certainly weren’t geeky. My parents were outgoing social types, and our home was filled with books. My parents read a lot and discussed books. And living in Europe, of course. As time went on, especially as I went to college and went into the pastorate, it was really the level idea that came next. I’m preaching and I’d think, “Well Churchill said something about this…” Or I’m teaching and I’m intrigued with what Cromwell said, so it grew into the world of ideas and language. I was unusual as a pastor because I would refer to a lot of non-Christian [quotes or analogies], outside of church leadership, outside of church history examples for things on the pulpit. In 1994, an editor heard me talk about Winston Churchill as an example of some spiritual principles. He was editing a series of books called Leaders in Action and he gave me a chance to write the book on Churchill, which was not only my first book, but the first thing that gave me international attention or even getting close to earning any awards. That’s really how it evolved. Early literary home that lead to language and ideas, then non-religious history as an illustration of religious principles. That’s how it progressed.
FC: The book that you wrote, Faithful Volunteers, did you co-write that with George Grant?
SM: Yes. George is a dear friend of mine. We had a great time writing that. As a matter of fact, he’s the one that was editing the series called Leaders in Action, which I wrote three books for, one on Churchill, one on Booker T. Washington, and one on George Whitfield.
FC: So from there, you leapt into the political realm. You wrote about George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Barak Obama and even Oprah Winfrey, which is not necessarily a book on politics, but certainly the other side of a conservative value. It seems that your books have a tendency to stir up controversy. What is your goal when you set out to write a new book?
SM: That’s a great question. I don’t think it would be correct to say that I try to be controversial. If I wanted to do that I’d probably attack or criticize. I’ll have to tell you that most of my calling [to write about these topics] comes from my orientation as a teacher. My wife will tell you if we’re driving to Chicago, at some point I’m bringing up the cattle industry and Carl Sandberg in their contexts. Teaching is the way I’m oriented naturally. When I think about, say, Mormonism, like now, we’ve got this “Mormon Moment” [happening in our country] as Newsweek has called it. So I start talking to people on the streets and realized there’s a huge gap of knowledge. I think I can articulate this, I think I can understand it. Let me make it fun, make it cool, and it ends up being controversial even though I didn’t intend it to be. That’s really how I got into the George W. Bush thing. Whatever you may think of him as a president, he just was not articulate about his faith. He would make cryptic statements. I asked him who his favorite political philosopher was, he would say, “Jesus Christ, because He changed my heart.” Well that was wonderful for me as an evangelical, but what does it mean about what you believe? What’s your worldview? Of course it was easier for us evangelicals to understand, but the outside did not understand it at all. So I would try to step in and educate, and I would end up articulating what people needed articulated. Sarah was a little bit controversial, but mainly it was just a teaching function I was trying to fulfill. Really, I’ve only written a few books that were sort of warning books. Maybe the Oprah book was more of a warning book, but mainly my goal is to educate.
FC: Let’s briefly talk about your book The Search for God and Guinness. It definitely hits on an issue that Christians feel strongly about, with multiple viewpoints. How do you feel the book was received?
SM: I’ve not had any personal negative feedback for the Guinness book. Nobody’s hammered me for maybe assuming I was encouraging alcohol. I think that’s for several reasons. First of all, I don’t drink beer and I say so in the very beginning of the book. So, it’s not an issue of me advocating for alcohol. Second of all, I make it very clear that it’s perfectly biblical and fine to abstain. I also believe it’s fine to drink, but you must drink to the glory of God and you must drink within proper boundaries. And all of that I think is said in the first ten pages. So anyone looking for license, anyone who’s looking for support for an “anti” kind of perspective is not going to find it. Maybe people just don’t come up and talk to me or tell me when they disagree. I’ve had even some say from their pulpits of their large churches, “Great book on biblical principles in a company.” The focus of the book—sure, I explore beer and I explore the times and such, but mainly what I’m doing is talking about how a company can do good in the world, rooted in a Christian worldview, without all of it being summarized in a Bible study on Tuesday mornings on the factory floor. I think people get caught up in that intention and the rest of it goes away. So I’ve not had anything negative happen.
FC: Stephen, as you’ve written these books and, in a sense, become very close to the individuals that you’re writing about, were you ever surprised by what you found out about them? Did you, after your research, find that you either were more favorable or less favorable toward them?
SM: Let’s limit it to living people that I’ve written about. I was surprised. There were not many surprises with George W. Bush. I pretty much knew what was going on there. I had met him and so on. I think the two surprises that I have had—one was with Barak Obama. I was fully prepared to explore the fact that he was anything from a cultural Christian to a liberation theologian kind of Christian, and what I found was what got me in trouble a little bit, which is that I think he’s confused about the application of his faith when it comes to public policy. I don’t think he’s really had a chance to think that through, but is there a genuine (as far as he understands), commitment to Christ? By all the evidence, there is. This is not what I expected to find. For example, I spent quite a bit of time at United Church of Christ, his former church before he was president, and while there were a hundred things I disagreed with about theology and even worship, when it came down to preaching the gospel and calling people to Jesus, it was the kind of call that Billy Graham would make to repentance and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. So that was surprising to me. I think our whole country is still trying to process what the guy believes and exactly who he is religiously. I think the second surprise to me was, when I wrote the book on Sarah Palin, I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive and I am making no case for her, believe me. Of course, the wrap on her is that she’s not very bright. She does horrible interviews. She stumbles over her words. Gets facts wrong; she can’t nail it down. But, the reality is that she, by all accounts is very well-read. Very intellectual background. [She] has at many times as governor of Alaska taken a moderate, learned, reasoned stance on something that was a hot-button issue in the culture. So, the surprise to me was that I couldn’t reconcile the Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Sarah Palin of her family background with the Sarah Palin of the Katie Couric interview, which is hard to watch. So, those are probably the two biggest surprises in the writing of the biographies.
FC: I have one question about Where Has Oprah Taken Us?and then we’re going to talk a little bit about your new book. Is there a danger in followers of Jesus watching Oprah Winfrey in your estimation?
SM: Well, I’d have to say there’s not inherently a danger in followers of Jesus watching Oprah only. Because one day she might be doing an interview with, who knows, Billy Graham? The next day she might be doing something about women’s underwear that helps heavy set women or whatever. None of that is an inherently moral or immoral position. The problem is when they watch Oprah uncritically. When they listen to all of Oprah’s religious “mixture” and they do so uncritically, then, yes it becomes dangerous. I would never make the statement that just watching the show inherently is immoral or wrong or a sin. The problem is having millions and millions of church-going women who have either just turned off their minds, or never had a distinctly biblical base, so they [don’t have] an antidote for what Oprah is preaching from her show. (The word preaching, by the way, is her word, not mine. She considered her show her ministry.) So for those to watch and listen to her without having their critical faculties, their Christian filters turned on would have been a big mistake.
FC: Would you agree that this, to some extent, is the same type of warning that a follower of Jesus should have in watching any television show?
SM: Absolutely. Other than out and out porn or horror stuff or violence, I don’t know that it’s inherently a sin to watch anything on television, but again, moving to the obvious extreme edge. But to watch even a cartoon with your Christian filters or Christian discernment system turned off, obviously you’re going to end up in trouble. That can be watching Band of Brothers on HBO or it can be watching West Wing. All of that falls in the same category if you’re going to take it in uncritically.
SM: It comes back again to that educating function. I’ve been teaching world religions for years. I’ve been deeply disturbed by what Christians do not know about the religions of the world, particularly American Christians, and that’s because we don’t tend to teach this material in schools, meaning largely public schools but also private, even Christian schools. And we don’t teach an apologetic for it. Whereas scholars maybe forty years ago might have said we would be living in a post-religious, post-Christian era [by] now. Instead, we’re living in a more heatedly religious era than in (maybe) a century or more. So I first came to it because I realized that Mormonism was on the rise. Mormons, by virtue of a number of factors, were taking prominent positions in society. Again, I saw an opportunity to educate. I saw an opportunity to help people understand what was going on in their society. And an opportunity to help Christians think more critically about what was going on in the world. All of that was before Romney became the likely nominee. So, that’s what started it. I’m always wanting to teach people and help them understand the faith, meaning the faith-interpretation of their times.
FC: Do you think the church here in the U.S. is in danger of anything as we encounter the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or interact with them?
SM: I think my answer would almost be the same as it was about watching Oprah. Are you inherently going to be tainted by interacting with Mormons? No. If you turn off your Christian discernment, your Christian biblical faculties, your biblical world view and the filters it gives you, then yes. The more exposure you have to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the more opportunity for confusion sets in, the more the opportunity for [the] blurring of your own lines. I do not fear a Romney presidency. There are only seven million [Mormons] in America. That’s not very many. It’s just about the same as the number of Jews. If you’ve seen the book, you’ve seen that I make some parallels. I think it’s about as many people who subscribe to Good Housekeeping. The bottom line is that they know their theology, they know what they believe, and most Christians don’t. The pew forum polls regularly show that particularly conservative-leaning, evangelical Christians don’t tend to know their Bibles, their history, their doctrine. And so in that sense, I’m concerned about any Christian who doesn’t know why they believe what they believe, or have the ability to give a reason for the hope that lies within them. Getting too much exposure to these stronger religious movements that are unbiblical in their basic doctrine. It might sound like I’m dodging the question but I’m really not. I’m just saying—do I have concern about you, for example, spending time with a table full of Mormons? No. Do I have concern about the average, pew-sitting, evangelical American, who does not know what he believes, sitting with a bunch of well-trained Mormons over lunch? Yeah, it’s a little situational.
FC: Peeling back the layers of Mormonism, did you discover a significant number of them existing outside of Utah?
SM: In 1950 there were one million and they were basically in Utah. There are seven million now. The majority of that growth, four to six million, has been outside of that area. There are astonishing numbers in New England and the east coast. Yes, I’m surprised by the growth that has occurred and has taken them way beyond where they were centrally-based just sixty years ago. I’ve been surprised at how intentional they are at Brigham Young University. They host training dinners for their students so they will know how to make introductions, which is the dessert fork for use at those White House or congressional dinners. They are preparing nineteen year olds to do this. While reviewing historical documents and preparing to write this book I was surprised by how charismatic and pentecostal they’ve been through their history. How speaking in tongues was and is a big thing, praying for the sick to be healed, times where the Holy Spirit “fell” and people were passed out on the floor speaking in tongues and shouting prophecies and all that kind of thing. It is all through Mormon history. I spoke to some of the scholars and even some of the more priest-level leaders in the Mormon church and they said yeah, once a Mormon trusts you, they’ll tell you about that – it’s a very common experience in our churches. So that surprised me, I had missed that somewhere along the way.
FC: As we’re approaching November, it seems like there’s a question in the church about how to vote. I know in your book you don’t tell people how to vote, but how should a Christian approach politics and their faith?
SM: There is a certain amount of our expectation – we hope – that as followers of Jesus we’ll have a candidate who is also a follower of Jesus that we can vote for. This is the legacy of some of the fathers of the religious right like D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell - fine men, but they certainly stirred in people a desire (I think for the most part a righteous desire) to have people who reflected their values in office. What it could lead to and in some cases has, is “perfectionism”. That if we don’t have a man who aligns with our values almost entirely, we shouldn’t vote for him. I’ve written recently for Christianity Today and have long said (regarding politics especially), hold your nose and hold your nose tighter. You’re not choosing between Jesus and the devil, you’re choosing along a sliding scale of good, bad and ugly. And I’m not sure that the religious right or a lot of writing and teaching about Christianity and politics (most of which I’m with) prepares people for the more difficult choices that are not between the ideal and the non-ideal. So when they look at Mitt Romney, of course they see a man who is in what evangelicals would consider a cult that changes/perverts/undermines almost every major Christian doctrine. They have a hard time promoting that man while at the same time they agree with him on almost every current and pressing issue of public policy. It’s a very hard thing. I’ve had people break into tears with me at the dinner table over this issue. And I understand their struggle. But I think what’s going to have to happen is a bit of maturing in the body of Christ, to not [expect that level of] perfectionism. If we could realize that if you’ve got a candidate who is an atheist but he’s pro-religious liberty and for all of the things that most evangelicals are, then he’s the guy you’re going to have to vote for whether he agrees with your theological assumptions or not. And let me say quickly on the heels of that, that I would also say to the evangelical world, while there certainly is nothing wrong with voting for Mitt Romney, [just] be prepared for what comes next, which is the heightened visibility of the Latter Day Saints, which is a theological challenge to evangelicalism. I think we’re going to have to “man up” (so to speak) within our churches, within the teaching of our doctrine and in knowing what Latter Day Saints and a lot of other non-Christian religions believe, as we live in this world. Overall I think it will be a good thing for Biblical Christians – I think they’re going to have to mature a bit, but I certainly understand the struggle in the meantime.
To purchase Stephen's book, The Mormonizing of America, click here.
For other books from Stephen, click here.
For more on Stephen, is work and ministry, you may go to the Mansfield Group by clicking here.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22a
Love leads the list of nine character traits that constitute the fruit of the Spirit. Love, the greatest commandment—is God’s gold medal for His children who run the race of faith. This authentic affection for the Lord and people sets the tone for the following eight character traits. Love is foundational, because it keeps motives pure and it builds trust that delivers truth. Like a loving mom, love looks for ways to give care and comfort.
Love gets behind enemy lines with the determination of a Navy Seal. It is the tip of a sharp arrow that slices into the hardest of hearts. Delicious love is an appetizer and entrée we can offer to hungry souls. It is attractive to acquaintances and it retains friends. We love when we initiate interest, refrain from retaliation, give grace and take responsibility. Love listens, gives, helps, forgives, perseveres, serves and sacrifices. Love is a verb.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14
Your love ties together all other virtues with its eternal elasticity. It doesn’t divide, it unifies. It doesn’t take, it gives. It is not selfish, it is selfless. However, it is the Holy Spirit that dresses you each day in the garment of God’s love. You are not capable to love beyond human effort without strength from the Spirit. He is the source of your power to love like Christ: you love your enemies, embrace your critics and forgive all who hurt.
How do you know if you are growing the fruit of love in your life? You begin to know and understand details important to your spouse, children and friends. Prayer needs, birthdays, anniversaries, interests, pain points and joy factors all arouse your memory when you are around those in your circle of influence. Your love may courageously ask for help on behalf of another who finds himself in a desperate situation. Love is action.
Furthermore, undeserved love may be the highest level of love. You love an addict even though their capacity to love is numbed and they only have pain to give back. You love a proud person, so they see a model of humility that reminds them of Jesus. You love someone who does not love you, because your heavenly Father did this for you, before you fell in love with Jesus. Your Spirit filled fruit of love shares the gospel and your life.
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-8
Prayer: Heavenly Father, who needs my listening ear, my tender touch or my time and trust?
Whether it's growing up with 18 brothers and sisters or journeying through her father's cancer diagnosis, Karyn Williams has stories to tell through her music. And that's just what she does on her debut release, Only You. Karyn recently talked with us about her music, the importance of family, and what God is teaching her now.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you begin to pursue music full time?
From a young age, I knew that I wanted to surround myself with music; it's the only thing that has ever really made sense to me. Growing up, my dad spoke in churches a lot and my mom would travel with him and sing. One night when I was about three years old, I begged my mom to get up and sing with her. She reluctantly agreed thinking I would probably hide behind her skirt the whole time, but when the music started, apparently I grabbed the microphone and took over the song. She sat down on the pew in the front row (laughing of course) and watched me finish! I was hooked and music became my thing.
In the summer of 2007, I felt the Lord tugging at my heart to move to Nashville and pursue a ministry in music. I was absolutely terrified, but I packed my car, said goodbye to my family in Orlando where I grew up, stepped out on faith and made the move. It was the scariest experience of my life, but it was also the time when Philippians 4:7 came to life for me. Even though I cried the entire way to Nashville, I also had a peace that I couldn't understand or explain. I didn't know anyone or anything other than the fact that if the Lord was leading this journey, I knew I was in good hands.
I made a promise to the Lord on the drive that day that I would walk through every door He opened, as long as I felt it was from Him. I have kept that promise and the doors He has opened led to signing a record deal at Inpop Records in 2011, paving the way for me to release my first full-length album.
From the minute I walked in to Inpop, it felt like a big family hug and I'm beyond thankful to have such a great team of people around me who have true hearts for putting out music that will encourage people in their walk with the Lord! I'm so excited to have put together a collection of songs for this record, Only You that speak truth about the hope of Jesus; that's really the only thing that matters to me. The Lord has used music as a powerful tool in my own life to draw me close to Him, and my prayer is that these songs will do the same for other people.
What do you hope people come away with after listening to your songs?
As I have traveled and shared music over the last few years, there is one thing that has become very real for me: people are hurting. Sometimes in a very big way and sometimes in ways they don't show. There is something we are all carrying around or walking through every day of our lives that is difficult, unfair, or something we don't understand. We have gotten very good at putting smiles on our faces, walking out the front door and going about our day when sometimes we're dying inside.
If there's one thing I want people to take away from these songs, it is hope. Real hope! We as humans can do without a lot of things in our lives, but hope is not one of them. Many of the songs on Only You were born out of a very personal (sometimes painful) place, so the journey of writing for this record has been very healing for me. I believe the Lord has allowed experiences in my own life over the last few years so that I can share this music in a way that encourages someone else walking through the same thing. Sometimes all we need is someone to put their arm around our shoulder and say, "Hey, I know you're in pain right now. I've been there, and you're gonna make it through." Music has a way of healing and encouraging in a way that sometimes nothing else can.
For me, being a Christian artist is the biggest honor in the world and it is even bigger than just the songs on this record. Ultimately it is about helping people connect to God in a deeper way and trying to provide real hope for real people living in the real world. The only thing that matters to me is that I spread hope and encouragement everywhere I go and the fact that the Lord has allowed me to do that through music…well that's the ultimate dream come true!
Your first single, "Rest in the Hope" was born out of your dad's cancer diagnosis. How has God used this song since its release to radio?
As songwriters sometimes we have to go searching for great song ideas, and then sometimes they fall in our lap. "Rest In The Hope" was a song that fell in my lap, but not in a way I ever expected or wanted.
On February 4th, 2011, my dad called me with news that would change both of our lives forever. He shared with me that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma, a blood & bone marrow cancer that was "incurable" and there was "no surgery" that could be done. I was devastated. I mean devastated. My dad has always been my rock, my hero, and then somewhere along the way to adulthood, he and I became great friends. We've done 7 marathons with each other, wrote a book together; he's just my favorite guy in the world. So this cancer news rocked me to my core and I walked around for many weeks in a complete fog trying to understand it and figure it out.
I had a lot of questions for God, most of which started with the word "Why?" Those first weeks and months were extremely tough: lots of treatments, countless doctors appointments and lots of tears and uncertainty.
After a few weeks, I remember collapsing on my bed in tears and asking my husband, "Am I ever going to feel normal again?" It was in that moment that I realized I was exhausted trying to figure it all out and I had to lay this down and allow God to be the One in control of this situation. When we don't understand something, our human nature is to wrestle it to the ground and try and figure out what God's doing in our lives. The truth is, we won't always understand, and His ways aren't our ways so we have to trust and rest knowing that He is still in control, no matter what we're walking through.
Not long after my dad’s diagnosis, he said, “I thought I was close to the Lord before, but now I feel like I’m sitting on his lap hugging Him around the neck.” I thought that was such a beautiful picture of resting in the arms of Jesus and that is really the statement for how "Rest In The Hope" was born. When I realized this would be my first radio single to the world, I was overwhelmed.
This song is personal for me in a way that’s hard to explain after walking through my dad’s illness. It is a song of comfort and hope, and my prayer is that whoever hears it will realize that the Lord is right there in the middle of whatever they’re going through. He knows right where you are and is walking with you every step of the way. We have a hope beyond measure and we really can rest knowing that He we belong to Him.
Rest In Hope
How have you and your family learned to "Rest in the Hope" since your dad's diagnosis?
Well, cancer will definitely teach you to rely on the Lord in new ways! I will never ever forget the devastation of learning that news. It has given me a new understanding and a new respect for what people go through when someone close to them is diagnosed with cancer. Everything stops.
Although I cried every day for weeks, I finally made the decision to lay it all down. I had no other choice. God is still God even in the middle of circumstances we don't understand. Cancer or any other difficult situations in our lives is not God punishing us; it is simply something He's allowing us to walk through as a chance to mold us, grow us and help us learn to rely completely on Him.
I can remember the moment when I finally said, "Ok Lord, I may never understand this…but I'm not going to question it." We tend to only thing that we are "blessed" when things are going well in our lives. But I believe the Lord allows us to be in different situations in order to share His name. Sometimes we don't like those situations, but ultimately, the only thing that matters during our time on earth is that we shared Jesus with everyone we came in contact with. Whether that's done from a hospital bed or a pulpit – we all have a ministry to share right where we are.
And how is your dad doing now?
He is in remission! Praise the Lord!!! At his age (71 when diagnosed) getting his cancer in remission was going to be a challenge. He has always been a health nut and has always taken extremely good care of his body. He used to say, "I'm getting in shape for old age." Now he says, "I didn't realize it, but I was getting in shape for cancer." It was an extremely grueling process of treatment, but because of his good health at the time of diagnosis, he did a lot better than the doctors expected! It's a good lesson for all of us - skip the pizza and eat greens, and tomorrow morning, hit the gym instead of the donuts!
Adoption is a central part of your family's story. How has adoption impacted you?
I was four years old when my parents started adopted children, so I don't remember much before my brothers and sisters from different nations started joining our family. I have siblings from Romania, South Korea, Brazil and the Philippines and I wouldn't trade it for the world. My unique upbringing has definitely shaped me into the woman I am today; you learn a lot as the big sister in a family of 19 kids!
My parents did a great job of keeping things running smoothly and stressing the importance of responsibility at a young age, so we all had morning and evening jobs that were age appropriate as we grew and matured. We were all very involved in sports, art, dance, cheerleading or whatever it was we were passionate about. If you came into our house on any given afternoon you'd find us outside playing basketball, swimming, sitting in the library reading a book or out back playing a family game of whatever we could come up with. Hanging around playing video games or staring at the TV was NOT an option! My mom ran a pretty tight ship; my dad used to joke that she wore sergeant stripes on her pajamas!
When I was 12 years old, I traveled with my mom to Romania to bring home one of my little sisters, Gabriela (Gabi). I saw the orphanage where Gabi had spent the first five years of her life, and in an instant, my perspective changed. We have so much that we take for granted here in America, and seeing those conditions as a pre-teen really impacted me. All I've ever known is brothers and sisters who didn't look like me, but I have learned that if we put the color of our skin aside and get past our language barriers, we all have one thing in common and that is our universal need for God. No matter what side of the world you are from, God created us all with a void in our hearts that only He can fill.
I am so thankful for everything instilled in me because of the diversity of my family. Growing up with so many people around, I learned quickly how to get along with different personalities and how to look past the color of someone's skin. I've seen what it means to give of yourself, and how to work together as a team. I also learned pretty quickly that life didn't revolve around me! There were a lot of kids to worry about, so we all had to pitch in, help where we could and we learned pretty quickly how to be self-sufficient.
Watching my parents taught me what it means to open your heart to someone in need and I've seen firsthand the rewards that God has waiting for us when we do. My dad used to say, "I have 19 children, 14 of which are adopted but I forget which 14." I always loved hearing him say that because he never saw any difference in my biological siblings and adopted siblings.
Because of his example, we all followed suite. From the minute a new child joined our family, we were so excited and tried our best to welcome them into the fold. As a longtime NBA Executive, my dad could have done a lot of things with what he and my mom were blessed with. But instead of building a bigger kingdom for themselves or going on more expensive vacations, they chose to invest in the lives of children in need. We are all adopted into the family of Christ and in some small way, I think what my parents did is a beautiful picture of the way God opens His arms to us and welcomes us into to His family.
What has God been teaching you lately?
The biggest thing the Lord has taught me this past year is to rely completely on Him. We read about it in Scripture and hear it preached in sermons all the time, but learning how to effectively do that is hard sometimes. As humans, our nature is to control things and many times we think we are in control. But these last few months for me between my dad's cancer diagnosis, walking through the process of making a record and so many other personal things in my life, the Lord has really helped me understand what it means to rely on Him in new ways. He is in the One driving my life and I have found it works a lot better that way!
The Scripture that I have made my life verse is Galatians 1:10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?" Decisions are easier with that mindset. We get so wrapped up and stressed in the busyness of our lives, and sometimes we forget that there's really only one thing we were put here to do and that's honor the Lord in everything we do and tell everyone we can about His love. The title track for this record, "Only You" was born out of that verse and the experience of doing this record has brought me to a place of knowing who my complete dependence is on.
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Being unstoppable is about believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents and your purpose and, most of all, in God’s great love and His divine plan for your life.
Millions around the world recognize the smiling face and inspirational message of Nick Vujicic. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Nick has overcome trials and hardships by focusing on the promises that he was created for a unique and specific purpose, that his life has value and is a gift to others, and that no matter the despair and hard times in life, God is always present. Nick credits his success in life to the power that is unleashed when faith takes action.
Nick took some time out of his busy schedule to do a little Q&A with us.
FC - You came to Christ at a young age; have you ever felt despondent enough (as a Christian) to consider taking your own life?
Nick - I gave my life to Jesus at age fifteen when I read in the Bible that Jesus knew that the works of God would be displayed through the blind man in John 9. However, before having faith in Jesus, I was angry at God and blamed Him for my lack of limbs and the fact He didn't seem to care. I thought He’d forgotten me or wasn't real at all was because He didn't answer me when I asked with much faith for limbs miraculously. Neither did He answer me when I asked why He had done this. Because of being bullied at school, experiencing a lot of negative attention, feeling like I was a burden to my parents, and not seeing a right future, I attempted to commit suicide by drowning myself in a bath tub. As I was in the process, the thought of leaving my parents with much grief helped me to not go through with the suicide. It was by God's grace that I am still here, and I can hear the words ring true in Jeremiah 29: 11-14.
FC - What advice can you offer to other people who are mentally or physically disabled, and feel like their life is "over" and worthless?
Nick - Any negative lies and thoughts that come in are not from God if the statements are not in-sync with the Word, the heart of God. Every day, we must pray that the Lord guards our hearts and minds as we battle with principalities and powers of darkness. We have the truth. Remind yourself of the truth of your identity, purpose and destiny in Christ. Put on the full armor of God. Ask God for the gift of faith to believe every loving word of the Bible and the discipline to have time in worship or prayer or reading of the Scriptures to further the growth of your faith. Take one day at a time. We all have a fear of being lonely. Some have been abandoned, but Jesus is with you. Trust Him, and if you don't know Him, seek Him.
FC - Describe an average day for Nick? How long it takes to get ready in the mornings?
Nick - As a teenager, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be independent, and it would take me an hour to get ready, brush my teeth, go to the restroom, shower and dress myself. These days I like to focus on what gives me more joy and save my energy for the things that are truly rewarding after proving to myself that I could be independent. So, I have caregivers who take care of me and get me ready especially when traveling.
FC - How did you meet your wife?
Nick - My wife Kanae and I fell in love at the top of a Bell Tower in McKinney, Texas at the "Adriatica.” The fully story is in my book, but it was at a night where I only spoke to 16 people, and we watched the Butterfly Circus. I shared about the ministry's goals and heart in reaching the world. Fireworks were in our minds and hearts when our eyes connected that night... and for the rest of the story, get the book.
FC - What qualities or characteristics attracted you to her? Do you plan to have children soon?
Nick - She is my best friend, and I adore her. She has unimaginable grace, love, patience and meekness. She is such a focused and gentle giver. We are hoping to have children in a few years, but you never know what the Lord wants.
FC - Where do you live/attend church?
Nick - With living in Southern California but traveling quite a lot over the years, it has been difficult to find a home church that we truly see our children growing up in long term. But we genuinely enjoy the fellowship of the Apostolic Christian Church in Pasadena and love their hearts in valuing the family-style congregation.
FC - You minister around the world to children, churches and businessmen. What message is on your heart at the moment?
Nick - In such a world and generation, there is so much information and entertainment and vicious pressure to be someone you're not yet or to get something you don't have yet. The message to preach is the truth. To know our true worth, knowing that we are all loved, and we are here for a greater purpose.
FC - Tell us about your book - what inspired you to write it, what do you hope it will achieve, who is it for?
Nick - Before writing Unstoppable, I personally went through two major life-changing experiences that I learned so much in and through. I went through a personal crisis in December 2010. Then I met my wife and started courting her at the end of 2010. That's why I wrote Unstoppable. I love how God lets us go through difficult challenges to help each other and encourage one another. I want to communicate a message of hope and love that continues to evolve as I walk closer to Jesus.
Bonus: Check out Nick on a recent sky diving excursion.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:24-25
The Holy Spirit fuels spiritual living. This is where freedom resides and where fruit bearing takes place. The flesh is pre-conversion to Christ living; it is reliance on self to secure security. The Spirit is post-conversion to Christ living; it is reliance on God to secure earthly and eternal security. The Spirit and the flesh conflict, but the flesh has been put to death by faith and the Spirit has come alive. Spiritual living submits to Christ.
Spiritual living thrives as we daily surrender our soul to Jesus. The way we became a Christian—by grace through faith—is the same way we continue as a Christian. Yet, the flesh tries to flaunt its old habits as teasers for us to not trust God. But we know better—it’s better not to boast in the flesh, but to be humbled by the Spirit. When we walk in the Spirit we are empowered to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Galatians 5:16-17
The Spirit brings wisdom, when we consider ways that are unwise. The Spirit brings conviction, when we begin to drift from our convictions. The Spirit brings comfort, when we struggle with discomfort. The Spirit leads us into God’s will, when we are tempted to follow our own will. The Holy Spirit is heaven’s secret to spiritual living. When we walk by the Spirit we are everything, but if we ignore the Spirit we are nothing.
Are you looking to love better, rejoice more and be at peace? If so, allow the Spirit to grow love, joy and peace in the soil of your soul. God is your Gardener, whose green thumb of grace always grows an abundance of fruit. Forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are all seeded by the Holy Spirit to produce the Lord’s luscious fruit that remains. Fertilize with faith and then water with God’s Word.
Invite the Holy Spirit to pull out any weeds of sin from your heart. And like a kudzu plant climbs, coils and covers in a hot and humid climate, the fruit of the Spirit covers your life in Christ-like character. Your part is faith and His part is fruit. Your part is surrender and His part is victory. Your part is prayer and His part is answers. Your part is humility and His part is a harvest of righteousness. Spiritual living lives by the Spirit’s power.
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” Romans 8:9
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I surrender to Your Spirit’s empowering me to spiritual living.
His Christian music career may span more than twenty years, but tobyMac is as relevant as ever. While his music’s packed with uncompromising truth, cut-to-the-quick beats and unforgettable musical hooks, our recent chat quickly revealed he doesn’t even flinch at making himself vulnerable about his own faith-journey. From our discussion and what we’re hearing about his upcoming record, Eye On It, we can’t help suspecting that just maybe his best days lie ahead.
FC: Let’s kick things off with a couple of questions submitted by our Twitter and Facebook followers. Do you have an all-time favorite Bible verse, or one that’s currently really speaking to you?
toby: I’ve always really loved Isaiah 43:19 which basically says God is doing a new thing in the land, it springs forth, do you perceive it? I love a lot of things about that but [especially] the thought that God can do something new. If you’re a parent, or a husband or a songwriter or all of the above, in all those things God can do something new or something beautiful. You just have to be ready to perceive it – to be looking for it.
FC: Such a good reminder. The second question is – if you were not doing music, what would you be doing?
toby: (laughs) I have no idea. I’ve thought about that a few times… I used to think I had some administrative-type skills back in the day when I used to organize for DC Talk. But nowadays… the longer you’re an artist the more those responsibilities are sort of taken out of your hands. (laughs) I think I would be working with youth culture some way. I don’t know if I’d be a youth leader or a writer or a speaker or something, but I definitely think [it would be] where the Gospel and the Kingdom meet youth culture – that’s how I think.
FC: Speaking of DC Talk, it seems like you, Kevin and Michael have periodically thrown out various bits of info about getting back together. Do you think that’s really going to happen?
toby: The truth is I don’t think there’s any reason that we wouldn’t do something sooner or later. I mean [here’s] the main thing – is there any barrier that would cause you to not be open to it? I can honestly say – from all three of us, no. Nothing negative. The only thing that would be a barrier are positive things like Tait’s success with the newsboys, or me doing my solo record or whatever Kevin’s got brewing up, whether it’s his book, whatever it may be. I will say that when it happens, I think it will be because it is right for all three of us. Not because it’s right for one or two of us, and I wouldn’t want to do it at a time other than that. I wouldn’t want to feel like I’m forcing somebody into it. I mean, is that going to happen? I don’t know. I can’t predict it, but I know I’m not opposed to it when the timing’s right.
FC: Since you’ve gone solo, are there certain elements of being in the band that you miss? Like having collaboration versus being on your own?
toby: Well I think I’m always a part of collaborative efforts, it’s just the way I’m wired. It’s probably is part of my neediness as an artist, as a songwriter, as a showman, as a guy that shares the Gospel through music. I’ll admit in those things, I’m a needy man. Obviously not only for God to breathe through me – desperately needy there – but also I’m very needy when it comes to the people around me. I do songs with Chris Stevens and David Garcia or David Wyatt or Jamie Moore and we are literally in the trenches just pushing or pushing each other. I’m not a one-man show, I’m not a mastermind. I mean, I might have vision for something, but I need people that are great at what they do. I am a needy man - whether it’s [working with] co-producers or the way DiverseCity (my band) puts together our shows, whether it’s the way Amanda and I raise our kids. I’m not the kind of guy to say “I’ve got this, gimme the ball.” I’m a team player so I’ve always been collaborative from DC Talk to today. I think my band and I – as far as climbing a mountain together [goes] – as much as an artist can include a band in that, I do. It still is a tobyMac CD, but I know my band feels very much a part of what we do and we all win if it succeeds. Something that I’ll never live through again and I hold very dear is three guys packing up a U-haul, moving from their dorm to Nashville, sharing an apartment together and trying to make a ‘go’ of something. I mean, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to go, working in the crew all day to get to do one or two songs [that night]. I mean, there’s something about that that brings people together. That joint vision, that making $10,000 the first year we moved to Nashville, ya know, there’s something about that; you can never re-trace it. Even when I started doing solo I remember I was playing in the afternoons, barely able to rent a bus and there was a rebuilding process but there’s nothing like the hunger and desire to share your music with the world for the first time. There’s nothing to compare to that.
FC: We don’t want to spend a ton more time talking about DC Talk because that was part of your past, so we’ll close that portion with this… There was something SO unique about how with each record your popularity swelled. What do you think was it about the group that made it so special?
toby: First of all I would say, we can’t leave God out of the equation – God IS the equation. I think when God chooses to shoot something through and it connects with peoples’ lives, it’s bigger than we are. If any of us took credit for masterminding that thing it would be a mistake. Just like I know when I wrote City on our Knees I know God breathed that song through me. There’s no doubt about it, I believe that with all my heart. I think that we have to realize that it’s bigger than us if God chooses to do that. We can make our best plans and work really hard and be as passionate as we can be – but at the end of the day the thing that connects with peoples’ lives is beyond our humanness. Especially if it changes their path spiritually – it’s beyond what I could write, or conjure up. I’m ready to acknowledge, to recognize that. I think that [our] different personalities played a role in that [too]. I [also] think there was enough depth when it came to the vocal-thing. It was interesting vocally because it was complex. It was not just a one guy standing in front of a band singing or another guy rapping. It was complex because you’ve got this African American guy that sings soulfully for sure, but he’s also really a rock singer and then there’s this other guy – he’s a rock singer too but he can sing R & B like nobody’s business when he wants to. And then you have this other guy that came up rapping and writing songs… when you combine those things! [Also] at that time it was either a rap song or a singing song. There were very few things that ever did what hip hop does today – and that’s have a vocal hook but a rap verse. It just didn’t happen much back then. There was one group that really did it and it was my favorite group, called Houdini. There were kind of these chant-y sung choruses with rap verses and I always loved that. I thought, people love to sing a melody– why wouldn’t you put that together with rap? Then you have something. So I mean, there was that aspect of it too. I could talk about this stuff all day, but really it was God. I think the three of us having different styles and different tastes appealed to different people. It was literally like having three front men. I think the complexity of it made it interesting, I guess.
FC: Through all of your music, it’s easy to start picking out some overarching themes. Transitioning to your new record, Eye On It, what is the overarching message that you hope to come across with?
toby: I think there’s a kind of decisiveness about this record that I like. I do think that the themes of my life and the way I write are not going to venture too far because they’re foundational to my life. But what a record is to me is, you take those foundational themes and you rub them up against the world, what the world is doing to you. Whether I’m 26, 36 or 46, that world is ruffling me in different ways. I’m being hit in different ways but the foundational themes stay the same. So the perspective of continuing to fall back on what I know to be true in the midst of this world coming at me is what these records end up being. I am singing about my spirituality and my faith in Christ as it relates to this world because that’s what I see, what I walk everyday. As I grow in age I also hopefully grow in wisdom and temperament, so it’s all these things coming at me – I’m also looking at how it’s coming at my 13 year old son Truett. I’m writing in these dynamic ranges, these wide frequencies and I think that I continue to draw back to my foundation. My life, as it relates to my writing has been – I’ll write songs like “Tonight” all the time because I’m always re-deciding that I’m going to walk strong and fall passionately into my pursuit of holiness. But then two months later (or even two days later) I’m in the midst of grabbing things of the world and trying to let them satisfy me, so then I decide again, it starts tonight! (laughs) I know some people might just ride out this spiritual life really well and consistently, but for me I feel like it’s always a struggle. I think it comes out in lyrics. There are other themes [too], but there’s this foundational knowledge that we’re supposed to love people well and love God well as we walk on this earth. [Also about] how loving people encompasses all races and denominations and inviting everybody. Instead of arguing, why can’t we just meet at the cross? It’s all these things that have bugged me to death. I’m not really into debating scripture but I know there’s a need for it. I know we need people out there on the cutting edge of that, but I’ll be my own little part of the Body and continue to try to help us to get it right by loving each other well and loving God with all of our heart.
FC: So you’re not just an artist - you’re the co-owner of Gotee Records, you’re a father, a mentor to hundreds of artists and a youth leader to thousands (if not millions) of people. How does one like yourself (who we suspect views himself as a normal, average follower of Jesus), go through your life in a godly manner in all of those aspects?
toby: I think first of all my life revolves around trust – trusting God and the promises that He offers us. Amanda has this really intimate walk with the Lord that sometimes I’m jealous of. It’s real intimate and I love that about her. Me, it’s almost a little more that I just completely trust God. It might not be as intimate as I wish it was sometimes, but so far (thank God) it’s just been unshakable trust. I guess I’m just aware of how much I need Him and how much I don’t have the skill set that I need to make it in this life without Him or without friends that tell me the truth. They are living examples of people that love God more than I do! When you surround yourself with people who love God more than you, those people inspire you to love Him more, to walk more humbly, to walk more meekly and depend on Him more. Not only am I surrounded by amazing talent, but I’m surrounded by people who love God with all of their heart. They’re so willing and care enough about me to tell me the truth about myself. They’re willing to tell me the things I’m missing about myself that I need to hear, and also encourage me when I need to hear it. I’d say that’s exactly how.
FC: Thanks for the honesty there. Ok, let’s transition to a few “bullet” questions, just one or two word answers.
toby: If I can manage that. (laughs)
FC: Ha! Ok, so what is your favorite cookie and why?
toby: I don’t know what it’s called, but that peanut butter cookie with the Hershey’s Kiss on top; that’s my stuff right there. I have a friend of the family that makes them for us sometimes and she knows I just look forward to that day. (laughs)
FC: Favorite restaurant?
toby: Oh man… In Franklin (TN) we have one called Red Pony. It’s, uh… the chef would probably kill me if I called it an American bistro, but it’s a local restaurant. If you want something that more people could relate to outside of Franklin, believe it or not, Whole Foods is way out there. (laughs) Just go to the food section and dine like we did last night. I also love Asian food.
FC: Have you ever been cow tipping or snipe hunting?
toby: I’ve been snipe hunting. I got absolutely bamboozled on the snipe hunting – I was ALL in. I have been cow tipping, but we couldn’t find any cows.
[For more Four Questions With... blog series, click here]
FC: Are you a book reader?
toby: Yeah, I just finished The Hunger Games series and I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I love that book. I’m just kicking it a few pages at a time, but it’s rocking my world.
FC: What music are you listening to?
toby: We listen to a lot of reggae at my house. And of course I love to go back… The Police, the things I loved growing up, Hall and Oates. Currently in regular rotation at my house would be anything from modern worship to Mat Kearney. It’s kind of just on. [What’s playing just] depends on who has the wheels of steel in their hands.
FC: Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today and for being so vulnerable. We really appreciate you.
toby: My pleasure. Thanks so much.
Bonus - Toby talks about his new single, Me Without You
Lyric video for Me Without You
Are you as excited about Eye On It as we are? Prebuy today and get a special premium offer. Keep your eyes peeled for the release August 28th.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” Exodus 3:5-6
There are seasons when a servant of the Lord Jesus will engage the glory of God in an intense fashion. Yes, His glory is all encompassing, all the time, but these less frequent, intimate encounters are especially revealing. God’s glory goes to places in the heart where humans fear to tread. Only by faith and brokenness can a Christian experience this deep commune with Christ in the middle of pain, uncertainty, prayer, worship and transition.
Moses, in reverent awe, worshiped God in His glory during his burning bush experience. In humility he took off his shoes and bowed in submission to his King of Glory! In these very meaningful moments we listen for the voice of the Lord and we do exactly what He says. If He says go, we go. If He says stay, we stay. If He says wait, we wait. The voice of God does not stutter, nor should our faith. We obey, because His glory is our guarantor.
“As for me, I will be vindicated and will see Your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing Your likeness.” Psalm 17:15
Are you emboldened or intimidated by experiencing God in all His glory? When you feel overwhelmed by His majesty, be motivated to move forward by faith. Allow your fears to transform into trust based on the fear of the Lord. His glory will eclipse your afflictions and deepen your affections. It is not a path to prominence, but a call to servitude. Once the glory of God governs your heart, He takes you to places only His special friends go.
Experiencing and embracing the glory of God is the passageway to friendship with Jesus. Lordship leads to laughter. Awe enables amusement. Fear facilitates freedom. Intimacy brings inspiration. Glory gives grace. You are a friend of God, because of the glory of God. Indeed, His glory eclipses your earthly challenges and invites you to be called friend. Wow, what a privilege to walk with Jesus and worship Jesus at the same time!
“The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Exodus 33:11a
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I want to see Your glory, so I can display Your glory in my life.
Even though he has a new record on a new label and is dad to a new baby, Mark Schultz is returning to his roots in so many ways. With his soon-to-be-released album All Things Possible, Mark is rediscovering what’s at the heart of his faith and ministry – the unconditional love of God… a love that makes all things new, and well… possible.
Family Christian: So, it’s been a few years since your last album. You came out with an instrumental record Renaissance that was exclusive to Family, but the last one that you did with Word was back in ’09, correct?
Mark Schultz: Yes, I think it was 2009.
Family: So since you’ve had a quieter couple of years from the music scene, what has been keeping you busy?
Mark: Well, we had a baby—number one. My wife Kate, who’s an OB-GYN has had like eight years of schooling, school then residency. She told me after her first week of residency where she worked 100 hours, “You might as well just find something to do for four years and just come back and see me when I’m done because I don’t think I’m going to see you ‘til then.” So that was a busy touring time and record time and we knew she was going to be busy. Well she’s now done with that and has her own practice here in Nashville, and so for the first time, we’ve gotten to really hang out with each other since we’ve been married anyway. In some ways it feels like we’ve been married for seven years, but in other ways it feels like we’re newlyweds, which is nice. And we’re about five months into a new family with Ryan here. I would say since my last record, this season has been very family-oriented, which has been pretty awesome.
Family: So when you wrote your last record you were married, but moving into this one you’re in a new season of parenthood. Do you feel like the writing process has changed a little?
Mark: I do. When I was a youth director, my most productive time was like five o’clock in the afternoon until about eleven o’clock at night. I’d just go to the chapel and lock the door and make a pot of coffee and write songs. I realize now that we’ve got a child and my wife works regular hours, that 5-10 pm is when people hang out. So I’ve had to adjust that a little bit and realize that now I’m not just a singer and a songwriter, now I’m a dad and we’ve got kind of a normal family structure. I’m just kind of learning how to balance all of those things together.
Family: You’ve written some pretty impactful “love songs” through the years. Now that you’re married and a dad are those songs still part of your repertoire? Do you still find yourself writing those songs?
Mark: Interestingly enough for this new record, I wrote a song for my son, Ryan before he was born. It talks about what all went on before he arrived. Like, I talk about marrying his mom and about us getting ready for him to come. And how excited I am. I can see his smile, and his mom holding him and how it’s really great. And the chorus is that I’m imagining these things. So it was kind of fun to write that for my son. Someday when he gets old enough to hear that song and appreciate it, I think that’s going to be a cool thing. I’ve never had that in my life before. Usually I’m writing songs for other people. And then I wrote a song called “I Will Love You Still,” which is the last song on the record, which I actually wrote with my wife. Funny enough, a lot of songs I write with my wife because I’ll be walking through the kitchen, and I’ll get stuck on something – I can get stuck on it for three months. I’ll be singing it and she’ll just say, “What do you need?” I’ll tell her and she’ll just come up with a line. And I’ll be like, “Hey, where were you three months ago?” She’s a great songwriter. But we actually sat down and wrote this one together, and it turned out really neat. So that’s fun as well. This is more than you asked, but I’ll say even in a broader sense, when he was just a few weeks old, I was driving somewhere – I think we dropped his mom off at Target so she could go get some baby stuff. She said, “Hey, just drive around the block a couple times. I’ll be right back.” So I did, and my song “I Am” came on the radio, and man, I got choked up as I was driving. I looked in the rearview mirror and said, “Hey Ryan, it’s your dad singing.” And for the first time I realized that, “Oh my gosh. He doesn’t even know that this is what I do” you know? And it was really neat for me to share that with him even though he’ll never remember it. For me, it was kind of a neat moment.
Family: Tell us a little about the thematic elements of All Things Possible. We can obviously hear those three words and a few Bible verses come to mind, but what does Mark Schultz think about when he hears those words “all things possible”?
Mark: Well, I’ll tell ya. I came up with that idea a few years ago. I was riding my bike across the country. I tell this story in my concert sometimes. I feel like God was with me when I first started, even though I was a little out of shape and everything. I dipped my back tire in the Pacific Ocean and started down California and I knew I was heading to Maine, and I felt like, “Hey, God’s with me.” I got about 20 miles into the trip and I thought, “Yeah, He’s with me. He’s not trying as hard, but He’s still with me.” And then I got the top of my first mountain and it just wore me out. And I was like, “Okay, He left me for a little while.” And we got to the first church for the first concert to raise money for orphans and I remember there were about 400 people at the church and I said, “Hey, I thought you told me that this was packed.” And they said, “It is. It only holds 400 people.” But as soon as I started talking about being adopted and what I was doing and threw out the set list and just started singing, man, my heart just opened up and poured out for orphans. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I felt like God was taking over. At the end of that night they took up some money that we had raised and took an offering. The minister came over and said, “Hey, this isn’t bad for our little church. I’m not sure what you’re used to.” Well, we hadn’t done it before, so I wasn’t used to anything. That little church of 400 people had raised $20,000 for orphans that night. I remembered a quote from Bono of U2. He used to say, “God bless my records, bless the singles.” And then he had a friend tell him, “Hey, why don’t you quit asking God to bless what you’re doing and just do what God’s doing because it’s already blessed.” And, of course, I wrote for The James Fund, and The James Fund having the verse [about how] true religion is taking care of orphans, and it hit me that night after that concert riding my bike across the country, “Man, God said true religion is taking care of orphans, so if I’m riding my bike for that cause and I’m doing concerts for that cause, I’m not in control of it anymore because it’s God who’s doing it and I’m just following along with Him in what He’s already doing.” And that’s how we raised all the money for that. I thought, “I want to live like that. I want to live for God’s purposes, not my own purposes ‘cause I know they’re already blessed.” I know the Bible verse, “With man it’s impossible. With God all things are possible.” And that’s where this record took root.
Family: What a great story. Do you find that statement resonating in every area of your life?
Mark: It’s interesting. We just had a meeting about this this morning as we were talking about the record. I think what’s so interesting is people might have a time when they experience God and say, “That was impossible without God. I know that was God that did that.” But our memories are short-term when it comes to those things. We’ll say, “Oh, we’ll never forget this mountaintop experience where God has done these things.” And it feels like we get about a year away from that and we’re like, “Ya know, I just haven’t felt the presence of God in anything.” And then He does something again and we’re like, “Oh, I do remember.” We’re called to remember, ya know? And so I just start thinking about all these things. I have a great example. I did a tour and made the last record. We were in Italy, and I was just [feeling like], God’s forgotten me a little bit and I need a place to play the record. And I just feel like I need a place to play the piano. And my wife said, “We should pray about it.” So we did, and later than night we went out to get something to eat and we walked down the street. And here we are in Florence, Italy and she looks over and says, “Hey, is that a church?” I looked, and I said, “It is.” We walked in the church, and there’s all kinds of art on the ceiling and everything. And my wife is like, “Oh my gosh. That’s awesome!” But it didn’t mean anything to me. Then I saw a grand piano and I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s awesome!” I went and talked to the minister, and said, “Hey can I play this piano sometime?” And he said, “Sure. Come tomorrow and play it.” So I went the next day to play the piano. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon, and about five kids came in. They were American kids that were studying in Florence. The minister said, “Hey, will you play a song?” And I said, “Sure.” And they were like, “Hey, will you play another song?” And I was like, “Sure.” So I played about four or five of my songs. And then one of the kids raised his hand and said, “Hey, you play an awful lot of Mark Schultz songs.” I said, “Listen, I’m a big fan.” But, I stayed there for the next few weeks that we were over there and became their praise and worship leader for those five kids and their youth director. I just loved it. Then by the time we were finished with the record and were leaving there, there were thirty kids coming to that church. They were excited and they felt like they [had] won. I was excited and felt like we’d won just from the experience of being there. I feel like that was a moment for me when God said, “Hey, you know what? I’m with you, and you can do ministry anywhere.” It doesn’t have to be what you’re used to. I think about that. I think about the bike trip. I think about meeting the youth minister on accident that I ended up working with for ten years, who’s still my mentor, just running into him at a restaurant one day. I tried so hard to get into the music business when I first got here and I was going nowhere fast. And then I ran into a youth minister who was just crazy enough to hire me from being a waiter. It really changed the direction of my life.
Family: So before you started your musical career, you were a youth pastor and it still sounds like it’s in your blood. Do you miss that to some extent?
Mark: Oh man! I really do. At some point in time I want to get back into that because I feel like I became so energized when we were over in Italy. The kids would come in and we were so excited to see them, and hug them, and encourage them in what they were doing. It’s so interesting. My wife comes away from really deep one-on-one conversations and that energizes her. For me, I’m more of the guy who’s slapping high-fives with people and hugging them and encouraging them and showing up at their events. That energizes me and that wears her out. So having deep conversations for too long with me starts to wear me out. We’re “opposites attract” in that way. Man, I love being involved with youth, whether it’s the college age or high school age. Plus, I think when you’re writing songs and telling stories, you kind of run out of material for yourself. And it’s so refreshing to see what God’s doing in the lives of others and their families and with them personally. I think God sets things in our hearts that make us come alive. Definitely, hanging out with youth and leading them and helping them grow spiritually is a thing that is awesome for me. It makes me come alive.
Family: Let’s talk a little bit more about the record, then we have some quick bullet point questions for you. It seems like there’s always a song that’s put on a record but for some reason or another, you never hear it on the radio. What song is that from All Things Possible?
Mark: I hope it’s not most of them. (Laughs) It’s true, there’s always a song that you go, “Hey, that didn’t turn out how I thought it was going to.” I always kind of think of songs as kids. Like when you’re first writing them they’re young and just being born and you’re so excited. And you hope they grow up and go out and reach their full potential. That’s always exciting to see. There’s always some of them that over-achieve, and you’re like, “How in the world did you become president?” And there are always the ones that you just knew great things were going to happen [from] and they’re never heard from again. So I think writing songs are kind of like being a parent in seeing how your kids are going turn out, not knowing. But I’ll tell you one song that probably won’t be a radio single, but one that I just absolutely love [called “One Day”]. The genesis of it happened when I was doing a concert. I was playing the song “I Am,” and it was just me and the piano and I was singing. I look out in the audience and people have their eyes closed and a lot of people are singing along with the song. I look about half-way out into the audience and there was a row where there are a couple kids in wheelchairs. As I hit the chorus for “I Am,” I look out there and this boy is smiling with his head thrown back and both his arms straight up in the air celebrating, making fists and pushing them straight up in the air like he’s just watched somebody score a touchdown. I’m singing “I Am,” and I just get choked up. I have to stop. I thought to myself, “That kid gets his own song.” For him to hear these words about who God is and what God can do and people thinking in their seats that they’re trusting God and loving God. But for this kid, in my mind he’s thinking, “You know, someday I’m going to meet God face to face and I’m going to kick this wheelchair to the curb. I’m going to start running and I’m never going to turn around and look back at this wheelchair again.” The chorus is “One day we’ll touch the Healer’s hand. One day we’ll be whole again. One day He’ll take every sorrow and wipe our tears away. One day.” When I started writing this song and thinking about that kid, man, I gotta tell ya, it reminded me that there are things in my life that I know God could touch and heal. People with cancer, He can touch and heal them. And what that day is going to look like compared to what this world looks like. I love singing that song in concert. Like I say, it may never be a single, but I think about that little boy with his hands up in the air in his wheelchair, knowing that better things were coming when he gets to heaven.
Family: Mark, what are you listening to currently?
Mark: Whatever my wife has on her computer. I wish I could be better at telling. I’m like a radio guy. So I listen to whatever’s on the radio and I hop around a lot. I wish I could be the guy that tells you, “Hey, here’s my favorite artists that I listen to.”
Family: Well not necessarily your favorite, but currently, who are you listening to? And if you can’t think of one, that’s okay.
Mark: I will say this. I’m real encouraged. I think, and I could be wrong, but I think Christian music, as far as artists that are singing, as far as their voices and everything, I think they’re getting better. I think they just keep getting better. Now, of course, I can’t think of any of their names, but (starts singing) “there’s got to be more to life.” No, not that one. That’s like ten years old. I’m thinking about two girls. The one that sings the song about the rip in her jeans and the dent in her fender.
Mark: Oh my gosh! Dude! You can find any of those girls on mainstream radio. They would compete with anybody in my opinion. I think they’re unbelievable. The Afters. When I hear a great song on the radio, my antenna goes up. I just go, “That’s a great song.” I’m a big fan of those artists for sure. And as well, I listen to country and I listen to pop and I listen to talk radio and it’s just whatever’s on the radio. I just switch back and forth.
Family: Are you a book reader?
Mark: I am getting to be more of a book reader. My wife has a problem with book reading – she loves it so much. I’m just joking but, when she was in residency, she had to study medical books like all day long, so to relax she would just get a novel and read it before she went to bed. I was like, that’s hard for me to believe someone can do that. But I do enjoy books, especially when we’re traveling. It feels like we’re always delayed or something’s going on. If you’ve got a book in your hand, you’ve got a better way to pass the time.
Family: Alright, these are short questions. I don’t know how short the answers will be, but what is your favorite cookie?
Mark: (Laughs) You mean, you’ve got short questions, and I just go on for fifteen minutes about my favorite ingredients ever?
Family: If you want…
Mark: Man, I need to be careful what I say about this because somebody might bring me one to a concert. You know what? I really love chocolate chip cookies. I’ll just be honest with you. I do. And, here’s where I start to get longer on my answer, my mom makes these, they’re kind of peanut butter but they got the Hershey’s Kiss in the middle. My mom makes those for Christmas every year so I tell her those are my favorites, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and say that.
Family: Those are the bomb. What is your favorite restaurant?
Mark: Favorite restaurant, you know what? I would say it’s Bin 54 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They’re all about steaks and French fries. I love ‘em!
Family: Have you ever been cow tipping or snipe hunting?
MS: (Laughs) I think I was involved in snipe hunting without knowing about it when I was younger. I have an older brother and cousins, so they had me do several things where I made a fool out of myself, so snipe hunting was in that I believe. I lived in Kansas and never tipped a cow, my whole life. So, no, I’ve never tried. I never wanted to tip a cow, just for reasons of not wanting to get hurt.
Family: If Family Christian invited you on a cow tipping trip, would you come?
Mark: (Laughs) If I were to be officially invited to a cow tipping, I would have to believe that I would give it a try. I was never formally invited, but...
Family: One last question, and Mark, you sort of answered this, but in a concise answer, what is God doing in Mark Schultz’s life right now?
Mark: Man, that’s an interesting question. I would say this, and let me think about where I… oh yeah, I remember. My wife and I have been watching sermons from Andy Stanley in Atlanta, and he just did a series. I’ll never forget, this happened just a few months ago, but this is kind of revolutionary in my life, to realize that I’m accepted by Christ and that I’m loved unconditionally. And I gotta tell ya, most of the music artists that I know or just in general, really are approval-seeking people. I know I am. I’m a big approval seeker. Like, I would rather not have any conflict at all. I would just rather people just like me and be really happy with me. That’s a hard way to live your life. When you’re reinforced on the stage, when you write a song and people clap, it’s reinforced. You say, “They like it. I did something that people like.” I don’t know why it’s taken this long to realize that I’m loved unconditionally and accepted by Christ, that that’s the highest order. That’s the thing that I focus on. And I gotta tell ya, I’m glad we’re talking about this because I have to go do something right after this conversation to remember this. But I think that’s the biggest thing, living my life free of people’s opinion. Their opinion of you can go up and down as the day goes on, but knowing that I’m accepted by Christ lets me live a little freer and a little happier and a little not so much walking on egg shells around hoping everybody likes me. You know what I mean?
Family: To be perfectly honest, Mark, it’s not just artists. It’s everybody. We all have that problem. Don’t you think that every person struggles with selfishness and pride, at times?
Mark: Yeah. I think that’s right. Ya know, there’s something in a study where I’m thinking I’m accepted by Christ and loved by Christ that, in a weird way, it kind of takes the pressure off me to have to be everything to everybody or feel like I need to live up to this great standard or to not let anybody be mad at me. And just say, Hey, you know what, some decisions are tough to make, but knowing that if I’m living fully for Christ, if I’m wanting his okay more than man’s okay, ya know? I think it’s all that wrapped up together. But, man, when I’m not focused on that, it gets to be a huge trap. It’s a huge trap to fall into.
Family: You hit it right on the head. It’s understanding that Christ loves us. Christ took our sin and so He comes to us and says, “You know what? I see it all. You don’t understand how depraved you are and I do… but this is how much I love you.” The more we can contemplate that, it seems that some of those battles with pride and self-worth tend to dissipate.
Mark: Yeah. I know when I first heard these words, when I first watched that sermon and I really let it set in, I felt more peaceful than I had in a long time. You know, because you’re making a record, especially this record, and you want people to like it and you want radio singles and you want the record label to like it. You want your family to like it. There’s so much pressure and you feel like you have to live up to this and you don’t want to let people down. I remember having almost a moment with God one time when I was praying several years ago and I was like, “God please help this record to sell. Let it have a great single. Let it be great.” And I felt God saying to me in my heart, “Hey, do you love to write songs about Me? Do you love getting up in the morning and writing a song about Me? And then go to bed at night still excited about that song and excited about the next one tomorrow? I’m not going to stop you at the gates of heaven and say, ‘If you’d only sold 10,000 more records I’d think about letting you in.’” He goes, “You were born to do this, so I just want to cheer you on. I want you to love what you do and love what you’re doing. I don’t care about the record sales. I’m not keeping tabs on that. I’m just keeping tabs on your heart and are you being true to who you are?” And it took me back to that moment and was just really freeing for me.
Family: Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We so appreciate your wisdom and your honesty here. You’ve really encouraged us, and we’re so thankful for that.
Mark: Oh, thanks to you too. I love it.
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"So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!” Exodus 3:3-4
The glory of God is revealed through humility, not pride. He chose a humble thorn bush, not a proud oak tree. It's to the lowly lovers of the Lord that he shows Himself in His regal righteousness. Indeed, the fire of the Holy Spirit burns brightly in a life combustible for Christ. The fire of faith will not be extinguished in a humble heart that burns for God.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be His humble servants. It is not the places of honor that we seek, but the place of dependency that we desire. The lower the status of self is relegated, the higher we look up to our Lord in reverence. Christ is within us for salvation and companionship, but He is above us for worship and praise. He is our confidant and our Lord—our Savior and our Master. We are His friend and follower.
"Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me." John 8:54
When you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you glorify your Father in heaven. When your behavior follows the behavior of Christ you bring Him glory. God reveals His glory through your humble service in your home. Your gracious attitude at work is a commercial for the Lord's glory. His glory is revealed when you revel in His forgiveness toward you and are gracious to extend forgiveness toward others.
You are the Lord's light that carries His glory. The enemy tries to extinguish your eternal illumination, but your integrity shines forth. He wants to hide your light under his bushel of disbelief, but you add fuel to the fire by quoting Christ's transforming truth to him. God's glory is your rear guard, your covering overhead, and your torch for Him to guide your next step. He reveals His glory in you and through you for His own glory!
"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6