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  • Michael Sweet. A Rock Singer Pursuing Christ

    Without a doubt, Stryper is one of the top Christian rock bands of all-time, and certainly the most celebrated Christian metal band of all time. Comprised of Michael Sweet (vocals/guitar), Oz Fox (guitar), Tim Gaines (bass), and Robert Sweet (drums), Stryper has been rocking since 1983, and is responsible for such '80s metal classic albums as 'Soldiers Under Command,' 'To Hell with the Devil,' In God We Trust,' and such MTV hit singles/videos as "Calling on You," "Free," and "Honestly."

    After a sabbatical for much of the 1990's, Stryper returned strong in the early 21st century. But it was not until their 2011 covers set, 'The Covering,' that the aforementioned definitive Stryper was reinstated, as the band welcomed Gaines back into the fold.

    Recently, I sat down with Michael to talk through what had transpired in the previous months until now. What I heard amazed me. Michael and his band mates have continued to be on a mission for over 30 years. To point people to Christ. In this interview Michael shares what is on his heart. He is honest and real.

    John: Michael, just to kind of start… you guys have a new record out now called Second Coming—which certainly brings back a lot of amazing memories, probably for you guys as well as for us as fans. I want to go back to the beginning. When it all began, when it was you and your brother and a couple of other guys with long hair. You guys wanted to change the world. Take us back. When was that? Was it 1983 or ‘82 when you guys formed the band?

    Michael: It was 1983 when we officially formed—the four of us: Tim, Oz, Rob and myself. Robert and I had been doing it long before then, of course, but when Tim actually came and joined forces with us, and the four of us decided collectively to pursue the Stryper thing, that was 1983. And it’s been virtually nonstop since then, with just a few detours along the way.

    I left the band in 1992, and then we didn’t head out on the road again until 2003. That was over ten years later; and we didn’t officially reunite again until 2005, and that wasn’t even with Tim. Tim did the ‘03 tour, but he didn’t reunite with us when we did it officially in 2005. He wanted to pursue other things, so we wound up going out with a different bass player. But then Tim came back to the band in ‘09 and we’ve been going with him ever since.

    It’s been the original line-up since then, and that’s what you get on this record, Second Coming—which is really unique and rare, I think. Most bands that are 30 years old don’t consist of the original line-up, so this feels really good to us as a group. In fact, we’re very proud to be able to say that.

    Michael

    John: I’m sure! I mean it certainly has been a remarkable story, following your career and seeing how you guys, in a sense, went separate ways, but then somehow came back together again.

    Michael: Well, you know, I think that’s one of the misconceptions about the band. I think because we are a band that consists of Christian guys (we’re four Christian guys who have deep faith), people expect us to be perfect and to not have any issues, and to get along 100 percent of the time and that’s just not the case. I mean, we wind up going through ups and downs and relationship issues with each other, even to the point where we need breaks from one another. We really do need time away from each other sometimes. That might sound odd to people when they hear it, but those are the facts. It’s just kind of how life is. And the beauty in that, because of our faith, you know, is that God always restores and heals. So with a little bit of time away, we come back restored and revived, and God works through the band again and incredible things happen.

    It’s really been quite a unique story and to be a part of it, I’m blessed. I’m so blessed.

    John: How does that transpire? Do you guys just kind of call each other on the phone and say, “Hey, I think we have something again?” How did things start moving in that direction, where God orchestrated the four of you to shift toward coming back together again?

    Michael: Well, just speaking for myself… I’m sure if you ask that question of us individually, you might get a different answer or a different reaction, maybe similar but different. But, my answer to that is I’ve always wanted God to lead the way. I felt from 1992 to 2003 like it wasn’t time. He didn’t want me to be a part of it. He had other plans for my life and other things that he wanted me to do, and to fulfill that did not mean at the time rejoining Stryper.

    I just followed His lead, or at least I felt as though I was following His lead. I know there were some fans who were upset about it, and couldn’t understand why we split up. Even my brother didn’t really understand. When I left the band, he was probably the most hurt out of the bunch, and it didn’t necessarily make sense to him. He always thought brothers would stick together no matter what, through thick-and-thin. Yes, that does apply in the private life—it should apply—but not always in terms of business—and that’s the thing, we’re a ministry, but we’re also a business. So sometimes when you’re in business with family, as you know, if you’ve ever experienced that, it doesn’t always work.

    You kind of need to step back and say, “Okay. I’ve got to clear my head here, because (and not a lot of people know this) we went bankrupt.” I mean, we never incorporated the band, and because of that we were just a partnership. And we wound up building up and racking up this incredible debt, basically spending more than we made night after night for years, all to put on this production and what not. We wound up having this huge debt and as individual partners we had to file bankruptcy. There were a lot of things like that, which I’ll talk about in the book I’m working on. It’s an autobiography, and I get into all the details of those things. So there were a lot of reasons why I needed to clear my head and get away from it all; so much so, that I moved from the West coast to the East coast. Not only did I need to get away from it, but I needed to get as far away from it as possible. So, that’s what I did for a while.

    John: To say that there’s new life in Stryper is kind of a misnomer though, isn’t it?

    Michael: There is new life in Stryper, and that’s because of Christ. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but there really is.

    John: That’s not a cliché. That’s the truth.

    Michael: It is. It’s the truth, and only God can do that. Only He can restore and heal, and change men’s hearts—only Him—and that’s what happened. After some time away, healing took place and we were able to come together again. Not only come together, but to love each other more than before, and to work together better than we ever did. It’s really incredible. It demonstrates what God can do and is a powerful testament to His love.

    John: I can’t remember what year it was, but I saw you guys a few years back. You played the Wild Horse in Nashville TN, and man, it was as if you had not missed a beat. I literally was standing there going, “I feel like these guys have never left.” Like you’d always been playing together, all four of you guys.

    How have you honed your craft as a group in all of these years? How have you guys stayed on top of the game? I mean, you guys sound great!

    Michael: Well, thank you, first of all. Thank you very much. I think a lot of that comes from, first, the fact that is Robert and I are brothers. There is something that comes with that in terms of meshing, and we just lock. He goes for a cymbal, I know he’s going to go for a cymbal and I’m going to go for a chord and he’s going to hit a kick and I’m going to stop with his kick. We just kind of know what each other’s going to do. I’ve heard this from other brothers in the music business as well: Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen, on and on. There’s something to be said for that connection, and not just with brothers, sisters or siblings, or what have you. There’s just something to be said about that. So that’s the first thing, and then secondly, we all went to high school together. We all grew up together pretty much.

    Even prior to high school, we knew each other. Oz and Robert and I, so growing up together in the same time, in the same area, I think, plays a big part in it too. We just know each other so well, and we know what we’re going to do musically, that we could play it in our sleep. There’s a certain chemistry that happens and so a lot of it’s just instinctual.

    John: You guys decided to come out with the Second Coming. You do classic songs—is that the right word to use? Do you like that word?

    Michael: Yes, I think so. I mean I would call them classic. They’re certainly fan favorites, and they’re old. Some of those songs date back to 1981.

    John: How did you go through and pick those songs?

    Michael: That was really easy. The reason, or purpose, rather, for this record was solely for our publishing company. We were going to re-record a handful of the songs—as many as we could afford to and that we had time for—so we could retain the rights to the masters so that nobody else would own them. We would own them, and the publishing company would come directly to us and say, “Hey, we got this movie Mark Wahlberg is in, and we want to use ‘Loud and Clear.’” We’d say, “Cool” or something like that, and the deal could be done in one phone call, versus them having to go to Disney and Hollywood and trying to get someone on the phone for two weeks. Because once they do that, then they would have had to go talk to their boss, and get back to them in two weeks. And then when they finally do get back to them after a month has gone by, the deal has either gone south, or they don’t want to do it, or they want too much money or something.

    This happened time and time again, and we got fed up with it, and said, “You know what? This is silly. I mean, let’s just go re-record these songs and make it simple and cut out the middleman.” And that’s why we did it. Once we went and started recording, we kept that in mind. We figured we’d do the favorites. So we did the most popular tunes and tackled the first three albums, and then our mentality was we’ll get to the other albums later.

    John: Yes.

    Michael: When we have the time and the money, that’s what we plan on doing. Right now, we don’t have any set time frame. We don’t know when that will take place; maybe in two or three years we’ll do another Second Coming or a re-record. We’ll hit albums like, In God We Trust, Against The Law and maybe even Reborn and Murder by Pride.

    John: You were thinking of all the fans, like, “Hey, these are the songs these guys want,” and I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s fantastic!

    Michael: Well, I’ll tell you, honestly, we weren’t initially thinking of the fans at all, because we had no plans to release it to the fans. It was only being done for our publishing company.

    John: Well, on behalf of your fans, Michael, thank you. Thank you so much.

    Michael: You know what, we’re really pleased that it worked out that way, and that we were able to release it to the fans too. We wound up hooking up with a great company, Frontiers, who has a vision for what we’re doing. They had a super high belief level in Second Coming and they got behind. They made it happen, and they released it and God bless them. We couldn’t have done it without them, no way.

    John: So is there a tour planned?

    Michael: At the moment, believe it or not, no tour is planned. Here’s what’s going on. This year, we’re going to do a handful of select dates across America starting in June and going through September. But first, we’re going to make a new record. We signed a three-album deal with Frontiers, and they put some pretty heavy deadlines on us. We’re okay with that, though. They’re going to release another record this year—coming out in either September or October. It’s going to be an all-new, original 12-song album. You’ll need to put some head gear on, John, and get in the boxing ring, though, because it’s going to punch you in the face about 10 times, or 12 times I should say!

    John: I love it.

    Michael: It’s going to be real heavy. We’re going back to our roots, which is exactly what people expect from Stryper, I think. I really believe it’s going to be our best album to date. People are going to hear it and hopefully think, “What in the world? How is this possible?” We’re really excited about that.

    Then we’ve got those dates that I talked about from June to September, and then we’ll to do another album, probably a live recording of our rehearsals in Nashville in November. That’ll come out early next year, in the first or second quarter of 2014.

    John: You certainly are not very busy, is what I’m hearing. (laughs)

    Michael: You know what, brother? I’m overwhelmingly busy! I have a solo record coming out, supposedly this year, with a book. I’ve been asked to sing for another band too (which I actually can’t really talk about at the moment), and maybe do some touring with them in October. It’s been kind of crazy, really. I think about it, and I don’t remember a year in the history of Michael Sweet ever being this crammed full of stuff. It’s just ridiculous. I guess that’s a good thing. I’m very, very blessed.

    John: Michael, as we’re kind of nearing our conversation here, I just want to touch base on that. Obviously, I was kidding you in saying that you’re not very busy. As a man who pursues Christ, how do you challenge either your peers, or the people at your church, or others you come across—like those reading this blog—in the midst of life’s busyness, to stay focused on Christ? What is your process in going through that, and how can we learn from you?

    Michael: Well, not only do I challenge everyone, but I challenge myself more than others, because I’m guilty of not doing this. That is, when you put your feet on the floor in the morning, and when you lay your head on the pillow every night, I’d say thank God. Talk to Him, and develop a relationship with God through a simple prayer, a long prayer, meditation, or even going into a closet or into a room and closing the blinds, if you have time. If you don’t, do whatever you can to make time for Christ. For connecting with Him. I think so many times we visualize God as being somewhere else, being distant in heaven, far away, but the fact is that he’s right here in front of us and around us daily at every moment.

    I think if we come to terms with that part, that He is with us all the time and as close to us as anyone can be, it might help us develop a close relationship with Him and talk to him more. I try to include him more and to think of him more. Unfortunately, daily life often robs us of that one-on-one time with not only God, but with anyone else who might be close to us. The people we love, unfortunately, kind of get thrown out the window, and we wind up focusing more on our business and the tasks at hand and what we have to do today. It’s the old To-do list. Then we realize after 30 years passes, how much time we’ve wasted, that we didn’t use to focus on loving God and our family.

    I would just share with people to just love God with all your heart. Put Him first, and then put your family second, obviously, above all the other stuff that just truly doesn’t matter.

    John: So, here are two slightly random questions coming from a few followers, a few friends of ours here. You did a stint with Boston, the band, is that an ongoing relationship?

    Michael: It’s not really. I’m in touch with them, mostly with the co-lead vocalist, Tommy Decarlo, I’d say. He and I are dear friends and have stayed true friends over the years. I’ve kind of lost touch with Tom and Kim, Tom’s wife, for no particular reason. I wound up deciding to leave them almost two years ago because I wanted to focus on Stryper. I felt like there were too many distractions, as we were just talking about, from my priority band, the band that I started building as a kid with my brother. I just wanted to focus on that, instead of working with the inconsistency of not knowing when we were going to do this or that, and being a little more on and off, if you will, with Boston.

    I just felt like it wasn’t the ideal way for me to conduct my affairs or scheduling, at that point. So I left that, even though some people might think, “What? Are you crazy? And some might think I was crazy for joining Boston in the first place. I mean, I got some flack for that from the Christian community. Like maybe I wasn’t a Christian or something because I joined a secular band. So, you hear all this kind of stuff, and you just think, “Wow. Okay, I guess that’s what determines your Christianity and your faith to some.”

    John: Is there ever a moment, Michael, where you or Stryper will not be under the microscope when it comes to the Church?

    Michael: I don’t think so, because we’re just so different. We weren’t raised in the church. We were raised in Hollywood on Sunset Strip, and because of that, I don’t think we’re ever going to really fit in or be a part of “the club.” We love our Christian brothers and sisters, don’t get me wrong. Man! We love them to death, and some of my best friends are into that, but Stryper’s just always done things their own way. In saying that, I don’t mean that we do things our own way in the sense that we don’t listen to God. We absolutely 100 percent listen to God. We pray about everything. We wait on everything, and we do everything according to God’s lead. But it doesn’t always line up with how other Christian artists or people in this industry are doing things. So, because of that, we get a little flack. We’ve taken some beatings over the years and that’s okay. We’ve got tough skin. We’re okay.

    John: As we close here, I’m wondering, I’m sure you’ve had some embarrassing moments on the road with the guys? Is there something that comes to mind?

    Michael: Most embarrassing moment, let’s see. I talk about this in the book. For me, it goes way back to a time when some guy was banging his head in front of my feet at the bottom of the stage. He was banging his head so hard that his glass eye popped out.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Michael: It was at my foot. I didn’t know it was a glass eye and he kept yelling at me and I bent down and flicked the eye. I didn’t know it was an eye! And it went through the audience, and then he was obviously livid for the rest of the show. It was in Australia, and it’s one of the most surreal, oddball stories I’ve ever told, but it’s real. It’s a true story that actually happened. It was crazy.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Michael: I was very embarrassed and it was difficult, but I had to get through another 45 minutes of the set with this guy yelling at me and wanting to jump on stage, and probably give me a good slap across the face, but hey.

    John: Wow. Unbelievable.

    After listening to The Second Coming, many times, I have to say that I have pleased. This band still rocks. Michael can still hit those high notes. Both Robert and Tim still have rhythm. Don't get me wrong, these guys are not some grandpas trying to sound relevant. They are a rock band that has stood the test of time. They sound great.

    For Stryper tour information, click here.

  • Skillet - American Noise (lyric video)


    If you haven't heard yet, Skillet has a new album coming this June.

    Rise is a gripping coming-of-age narrative that stands as Skillet's first concept album. The album tells the story of a typical American teen coming into adulthood and trying to figure out who he is in a world riddled with problems both within and outside his control.

    The result is a wildly ambitious work as heady as it is visceral. Sonically, Rise sees Skillet expanding their musical palette, integrating natural, acoustic instruments like accordion, mandolin, dulcimer, harp, tympani and bells to their trademark slashing electric guitars, strings, churning synths and pummeling drums.

    Track Listing:

    Rise
    Sick of It
    Good to be Alive
    Not Gonna Die
    Circus for a Psycho
    American Noise
    Madness in Me
    Salvation
    Fire and Fury
    My Religion
    Hard to Find
    What I Believe

    The lyric video for American Noise has just become available. Watch it here.

    What do you think of the song?

  • The Friendship Challenge

    Lysa

    "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?" Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 (NIV)

    What makes a woman tender also reveals her vulnerabilities.

    What makes a woman transparent also exposes her wounds.

    What makes a woman authentic also uncovers her insecurities.

    And there aren't many women who enjoy being revealed, exposed, and uncovered. But establishing real intimacy with another person requires pushing past the resistance—past the fear.

    Friendship is risky.

    To be known is to risk being hurt. But friendship can be beautiful, and worth the risk.

    We can look to the Bible for examples of monumental friendships. In 1 Samuel 18 we learn about the special friendship between David and Jonathan, an example of a true bond. When Jonathan's father, King Saul, threatened David with death, Jonathan risked his position in his father's household and warned his friend.

    Jonathan and David's friendship lasted their lifetime, and because of Jonathan's loyalty to David, the Lord blessed them both. David eventually became king, but by then Jonathan had died. David inquired, "'Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?'" (2 Samuel 9:1b NIV).

    Don't miss this beauty: it was customary for the present king to put to death any of the former king's family. However, because of his and Jonathan's strong friendship, King David tenderly provided for Jonathan's son. "I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table" (2 Samuel 9:7b NIV). "So Mephibosheth ate at David's table like one of the king's sons" (2 Samuel 9:11b NIV).

    Awesome. Inspiring. Friendship.

    Yes, friendship is beautiful. The Lord gave it to us. He knew we would need each other to get through this life.

    Think about a friend you can make an investment in.

    Not the friend with whom you feel most comfortable. But rather one who might benefit from seeing a little more of your tenderness, transparency, and authenticity. Someone who might be worth a risk.

    Someone in your sphere of influence is desperate to know someone else understands.

    Might we take three steps and give ourselves a friendship challenge? Here are three things you can do to invest in a friend:

    1) Have a conversation with her in which you honestly admit one of your vulnerabilities. Chances are she'll reveal something to you as well. Then really commit to pray for her. Maybe wear a watch or bracelet and every time you're distracted by it, use this as a prompt to carry her burden in your prayers.

    2) Buy or make this friend a gift. Just because. It doesn't have to cost much. But make an investment of time to think of something that would personally delight her.

    3) Write your friend a note to attach to the gift. In the letter, tell her at least three things you admire about her and some way she's made a difference in your life.

    Then deliver this little "just because" gift and note to your friend. This friend who sometimes feels a little vulnerable. Wounded. Exposed in some way.

    Your honesty and thoughtfulness will be such a sweet investment.

    For her.

    For you.

    For your friendship.

    Are you up for taking the friendship challenge?

    Dear Lord, thank You for all of the friendships and beautiful blessings You have placed in my life. Help me to see this challenge as a sweet reminder to show Your love to those around me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Related Resources:

    For more on how to maintain strong, healthy friendships through clear and honest communication, check out Lysa TerKeurst's new book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices In the Midst of Raw Emotions.

    Reflect and Respond: Write down the name of the friend or friends you chose for the friendship challenge. Don't wait until later. Your friend will thank you!

    Power Verses: Proverbs 17:17, "A friend loves at all times ..." (NIV)

    © 2013 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org

  • Good Among Bad

    Boyd

    The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. Matthew 13:24-25

    God sows good seed in the world. We see the Lord’s good seed all around us: churches, ministries, hospitals, orphanages, families and individuals that love and obey Christ. Law abiding citizens, honest taxpayers, hard workers, generous givers and studious students all sprout from the good seed of our Savior Jesus Christ. Moreover, the sowing of God’s good seed never ceases. He will grow up preachers, missionaries, church planters, diplomats and executives for His glory.

    However, while God is sowing good seed around you, Satan is sowing bad seed. He is creating evil influences that seek to thwart the plans for good. Evil will mingle with the righteous until Christ comes to separate the wheat from the tares. Thus, psychotic and/or demon possessed people rampage among innocent children with rapid and murderous gun fire. The sons and daughters of disobedience look for ways to steal, kill and destroy. Bad seed grows among good.

    In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2, NKJV

     

    Furthermore the bad seed resembles the good seed, its real nature is not revealed until it bears the fruit of its true intent. This is how two people can both attend church together, while one is going through the motions and the other is a dedicated disciple. You can be a church member, but not be a child of God. The good seed of salvation is sown along with the bad seed of hypocrisy. But we wait for Christ’s judgment and pray God’s grace has His transforming affect on the lost tares.

     

    We are not the judge of someone’s soul, He is, but we can model what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus. For example, as we encounter conflict at church we can remain calm and express our concerns with a voice of reason and grace. Our role is to represent Christ in our conduct and conversion. It’s the Holy Spirit’s role is to examine motives and expose evil intent. So, celebrate God’s sowing of good seed and prayerfully trust in Christ’s judgment of the bad.

     

    This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ. Romans 2:16

     

    Prayer: Heavenly Father thank You for Your good seed that grows and bears great fruit.

    Related Readings: Matthew 3:12; Ephesians 5:6; 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 20:4

     

    Post/Tweet today: Bad will mingle with the good until Christ comes to separate the wheat from the tares. #judgment

    © 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry

    info@mail.wisdomhuntersdevotional.com / www.wisdomhunters.com

  • Revealing Jesus U.S. Tour Launches Today in San Diego


    Tour Features Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton With Special Guest BJ Putnam

    World-renowned worship leader and best-selling author, Darlene Zschech, and five-time GRAMMY Award-winner, Israel Houghton, open their U.S. “Revealing Jesus Tour” in San Diego today (April 16) followed by events in Las Vegas (4/17), Phoenix (4/18), Irvine and Rancho Cucamonga, CA (4/19), Houston (4/20-21) and Dallas (4/21). In addition to new music from Zschech and Houghton, the events will feature special guest worship leader and songwriter BJ Putnam. For all the latest tour detail and ticket information, go to www.darlenezschech.com.

    Christians across continents are joining in the call to worship presented through Zschech’s Revealing Jesus live CD/DVD and 365-day devotional hardcover gift book from RGM-NEW BREED Music / Integrity Music and Bethany House Publishers, respectively. Released March 19 amidst international acclaim, her long-awaited new recording was produced by Houghton and features special guest appearances and song co-writes with Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe and Houghton. The first video from the Revealing Jesus DVD is “Victor's Crown.”

    Dr. Chuck Fromm, founder and publisher of Worship Leader Magazine / Song Discovery says, “Among today’s hymnwriters and music creators, Darlene Zschech is a pioneer, mentor and vital contributor with worldwide impact.” Charisma Magazine says, “Zschech, with Houghton’s direction, has crafted one of the finest live worship projects in recent memory, which serves as a bridge for those raised on early Hillsong music who want to sing a new song.” CCM Magazine says, “In her classic fashion, worship leader Darlene Zschech brings her A-game once more in this newest release.”

    In addition to the 12 new Revealing Jesus CD/DVD worship anthems, bonus tracks in custom versions of the album will include fresh takes on such internationally acclaimed songs as “Shout to the Lord,” “Hosanna” and “Worthy is the Lamb,” as well as the Houghton-penned “Jesus at the Center.” The custom versions include a “deluxe” CD/DVD combination.

    The companion Revealing Jesus book was poured out from the pages of Zschech’s personal journals. Honest, raw, and beautifully written, the devotional contains meditations and Scriptures revealing the heart of Jesus. Worship Leader magazine says the book is “beneficial for those who may feel stuck in a rut in their prayer life or for those who may not know where to start, overwhelmed by the vastness of the Bible…[it] will help readers to gain a fresh perspective and renewed hope for each day, deepening their understanding of God and drawing them closer to Him.”

    To listen to song samples from Darlene's newest album, click here.

  • When Helping Others Helps Us

    Renee

    "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

    I don't like open heights. I can't stand narrow balconies. And when driving across a bridge, you'll find me hugging the rail along the inside lane. A few years ago, our friends John and Laura tried to help me conquer this fear of heights by inviting our family to an indoor rock-climbing center. My heart raced as we entered the doors and faced the highest peak at 25 feet.

    The instructors assured me that a web of ropes and harnesses would hold me tight. Before I could say "no thank you," I was signing an injury waiver and getting strapped in.

    After a few practice rounds, I started to climb. Little by little, I went higher and higher. But I never could get past my fear of climbing to the highest peak of 25-feet. I needed something to help me overcome my anxiety and this high rock wall! Our friend's eight-year-old son Steven needed help too.

    Towards the end of the day John asked Steven if he wanted to climb to the highest peak. Steven wasn't crazy about heights either, but he loved a challenge.

    With admiration I watched as Steven started the climb with confidence. He made it to 10 feet, then 15. But as he inched past the next face of the wall, he looked down. Realizing how high he was and how far he still had to go, he insisted he couldn't do it.

    By this time, Steven's dad was consoling their very fussy 3-year-old and his mom was feeding their hungry infant daughter. My brave husband was not close by, and I quickly realized the only one standing there with a free hand to do something was me!

    Suddenly courage and strength surged through my body and I called out, "Don't give up buddy. You can do it. I'll help you!"

    In record time, I reached Steven to encourage him, reminding him of how far he'd come. I told him he could make it up to 25 feet with God's strength and that it would be worth it if he'd persevere. Remembering Joshua 1:9, I encouraged him, "Be strong and courageous Steven. Don't be afraid; God is right there with you and I am too."

    Filled with new confidence, Steven turned his eyes and his thoughts toward the reward of getting to a place he had stopped believing he could reach.

    And the same thing happened in me. The voices of my own fears were silenced by focusing on helping someone overcome theirs.

    In that moment, I realized the promises I had claimed for Steven were true for me, too. My anxiety could be overcome and my fears conquered with God's strength.

    Each day we have the same opportunity. Like God did with Joshua in Joshua 1:9, and like He does with us, we can come alongside each other in some of life's hardest challenges and highest peaks. We can remind others of this truth from God's Word too.

    Isn't it amazing that when we take our eyes off our fears, doubts, and struggles to focus on someone else's needs, we somehow forget our own? And in believing the power of God's promises for others, our confidence in His promises for us increases.

    Let's look for ways to encourage and help someone else today, knowing we may just help ourselves in the process.

    Jesus, Your words give me courage to become who You've created me to be-to go to places You're calling me to and to reach heights that seem out of my reach. Thank You for encouraging my heart. I want to pass that on to someone else today. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

    Related Resources:

    Give yourself {or a friend} a gift of life-changing encouragement you'll find in Renee's best-selling book, A Confident Heart. Chapter by chapter, you will learn how to conquer self-doubt by relying on and living in the security of God's promises in your most important roles and relationships.

    Reflect and Respond: How has someone's encouraging words or God's words of encouragement helped you do things you never thought you could?

    Encourage someone today with one of God's promises and a prayer. It could be the very thing they need to overcome doubt, discouragement and defeat.

    Power Verse: Psalm 10:17, "You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry." (NIV)

    Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." (ESV)

    © 2013 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org

  • Heart For God

    But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

    A heart for God is nurtured by the word of God. Just like the stomach receives good food to grow the body, so a healthy heart receives nutritious morsels from a meal of Scripture. Indeed, the spiritual development process begins with a heart hungry for God. A soft soul, like moist dirt, takes in truth and gives it time to deepen its roots in righteousness. Tests of trust come, but a humble heart stays true to its commitment to Christ.  Faith perseveres and retains God’s word.

    Beware of Satan’s attempt to snatch away the seed from your pathway of faith and obedience. Your acceptance of Christ by faith and your obedience to His commands by grace, hide the seed of God’s word from the snare of the enemy. Truth applied to your life cannot be taken by the devil. He trolls the surface of your thinking trying to steal away the Word. However, when you hide Holy Scripture deep in your heart you are safe from the thief’s clutches. You are saved!

    Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 1 Samuel 3:7

    Yes, the word of the Lord allows you to know the Lord. Therefore, pace yourself in the grace of God, so you continue to grow in your faith. It is not how early you start with God, but how far you go over a lifetime. Do not allow trials to take away your joy in Jesus. You can still smile on the inside, even when you are suffering on the outside. The tests of your faith teach forgiveness and grace in your relationships. Life lessons learned make you more effective in how you love.

    Cares of this world mustn’t block us from learning the Bible and becoming better followers of Christ. Worry can keep us from the Word of God, or the Word of God can keep us from worry. Therefore, it’s imperative that we quietly meditate on Scripture, so the Spirit can clearly speak to our heart with reassuring words of hope, wisdom and encouragement. Once rooted and grounded with a heart for God, our Heavenly Father multiples the fruit of our faith in other faithful lives.

    We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. Hebrews 2:1

    Prayer: Heavenly Father may my humble heart be fertile ground to receive Your word, so you can grow my faith and the faith of those I influence for You.

    Related Readings: Psalm 18:30; Matthew 4:4; John 8:51; Acts 12:24; 1 John 2:19

     

    Post/Tweet today: Worry can keep us from the Word of God, or the Word of God can keep us from worry. #WordofGod

    © 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.

    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry

    info@mail.wisdomhuntersdevotional.com / www.wisdomhunters.com

  • Life is Beautiful for The Afters


    Life is Beautiful even in the midst of a hectic tax week.

    At least it is for The Afters who release their fourth studio album today, April 16. The chart-topping foursome delivers their much-anticipated release to a sea of high praises after more than two and a half years since their last studio album. The project plays anthem to the heartbreaks and life experiences that lead to the album’s appropriately titled affirmation – Life is Beautiful.

    The band kicks-off the release of Life is Beautiful with a week-long media run in New York City with visits to Billboard Magazine, FOX News Radio, Guideposts Magazine, Liberty Treehouse, Sirius FM and Star99.1 FM, among others. In addition, The Afters will perform their infectious lead single, “Every Good Thing” on the highly acclaimed morning show, The Better Show. Their interview and performance will air on the nationally syndicated lifestyle TV program next Monday, April 22. The single is also making impressive gains at radio, breaking into the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot AC/CHR Chart and jumping to No. 7 on the Billboard Christian Audience Chart.

    Check out a few of the glowing praises on Life is Beautiful:

    "Four albums into its hit heavy career, The Afters are continuing to craft hook heavy material with thought-provoking lyrics, which in this particular case, seek to encourage and enrich fans’ faith journeys while giving glory to God for even the simplest blessings."

    -gmcTV

    “This album challenges us to dive into our own lives and make sure that the beautiful moments aren’t forgotten. Life Is Beautiful encourages us to live our lives head on to experience the wonder and beauty set before us.”

    - Indie Music Vision

    “Filled with fun, encouraging and several heart-touching moments, Life Is Beautiful is easily one of the must-own albums of 2013. If there was any time to discover The Afters, it's now. “

    - New Release Tuesday

    "In the midst of discouragement, disappointment, and overall disarray, an album like Life Is Beautiful speaks directly to these injustices"

    - Jesus Freak Hideout

    "This is The Afters’ best work to date... It speaks to the being of humanity, God's greatest creation, that Life Is Beautiful."

    - Christian Music Zine

    The Afters are currently on the Hundred More Years tour with Francesca Battistelli, Love and the Outcome and Kyle Sherman. For more information on tour dates and tickets click here.

  • Hillsong UNITED's Joel Houston Appeared on FoxNews LIVE

    Joel Houston

    Hillsong UNITED's Joel Houston appeared in studio April 14th on FoxNews LIVE talking about their recent release Zion as well as their upcoming US tour. In case you missed it, watch below to view the interview.

    In the interview, Joel talked about how UNITED has grown over the years in their mission, "Our music has found a voice and given us the opportunity to take the songs places we could never have imagined. Our main cause is to unite people around common causes in the name of Jesus."

    And UNITED's new studio album, Zion, has done just that as the international worship band earned its highest ever Billboard 200 debut at No. 5 .

    In June, Hillsong UNITED will debut their USA summer tour, "WELCOMEZION." UNITED will be appearing at 12 venues across the nation including the famed Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver. Tickets for all dates are currently on sale here.

     

  • Gina - A Foster Mom with a Passion for Missions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Braiding

    Gina: Since 2008.

    John: 2008 and how many children have you had?

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

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

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

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

    John: [Laugh] We thank you for that!

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

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

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

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

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

    Friends

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

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

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

    Gina: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gina: Yes.

    John: You felt a connection with these ladies.

    Gina: Yes.

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

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

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

    Gina: Yes.

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

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

    John: We do.

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

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

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

    Gina: Yes, not real talented.

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Wonderful, Gina, thank you so much.

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

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Proclaim the Good News | Mark 16:15
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