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Family Christian

  • Five Questions with Cindy Woodsmall

    Posted on October 2, 2013 by Family Christian

    Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA best-selling author of numerous works of fiction and one of nonfiction. Her connection with the Amish community has been featured widely in national media. She lives in the Foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with her family. Her new book, The Dawn of Christmas, is heart-warming tale of second chances.

    Below are a few questions for Cindy and her answers.

    What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of writing novellas?

    My favorite part of writing novellas is that I find them remarkably energizing and inspiring. If writing a novel were compared to running five miles every day during the dog days of summer, writing a novella is like a two-mile jaunt in fall.

    I think part of the reason novellas foster that feeling is the timing. I’ve been blessed to write two of my three Christmas novellas during winter, which includes Christmastime. Every morning, I would walk into my office, open the windows a little, and enjoy the rush of cold air with its aromas of evergreens and winter Daphne. Invigorating! I would get a large mug of hot chocolate, bundle up in a blanket, put my fingers on the keyboard, and slip into another world. There’s nothing quite like penning a Christmas story during that holiday season.

    As for my least favorite part, that’s clear in my heart too. The most difficult part of writing a short work of fiction is that I long to have at least three hundred thousand words to tell the story, which is what I have when writing a three-book series. When I’m writing a novella, I have to stop myself from allowing a character to fascinate me to the point of adding another subplot to the book. Without exercising restraint, I could turn any novella into a three-book series. For example, in The Dawn of Christmas, there’s a character named Andy. He’s the older brother of the main character, Levi Fisher. He doesn’t have any POV (point of view) scenes. But Andy’s story grabbed my heart and would not let go. So next fall a stand-alone novel of Andy’s story will hit the bookstore shelves. To be honest, even three hundred thousand words isn’t always enough for me to develop a story. Sometimes I need four hundred thousand words—which is why book four in the Amish Vines and Orchards series comes out this spring.

    Do you outline your books before writing or "wing it" as you go?

    I spend a lot of time outlining. A lot. Research is quite time consuming too. But while outlining for extended periods, I get my first glimpses into who the characters are, what motives them, what breaks them, strengthens them, terrifies them. And why. While outlining, I come to know the goal, motivation, and conflict for each character in each scene. I wish I didn’t need to outline. But even when an entire story comes to me through inspiration, I have to break it down into chapters and dig to uncover the background of each character. Once I start writing, the story doesn’t always follow my outline, certainly not as I hoped it would. But outlining is like planning for a child’s birthday party. You make meticulous lists and purchase all the items and make detailed plans for each activity. But once the party is under way, you meld the planned with the unexpected and enjoy it for what it is: exhausting and joyful.

    Is Sadie Yoder a real person?

    Sadie is based on a real person. With many brushstrokes of creativity, I used aspects of her personality as well as some details of her real-life journey. When it came time to write that first scene, I cried at the heartbreak Sadie Yoder went through. But with all of her overwhelming insecurities and her obsessive desire to please everyone, she found a way to blossom into someone God could use and someone she herself liked.

    Can you share more on the Amish and their view of foreign mission work?

    Most Amish don’t travel overseas to do mission work. It’s not unheard of, but it’s not a part of their traditional ways to do outreach ministry. At the same time, if an Amish person felt pulled by God to go, the church leaders would prayerfully consider it.

    The typical way the Amish minister overseas is through their Plain Mennonite neighbors. Plain Mennonites are heavily involved in overseas ministry. It’s expected of most Mennonite young people to spend a year or more in service, and that service is often overseas.

    So the Old Order Amish will join hands with the Plain Mennonites and sacrifice time and money to help get goods overseas. Miriam Flaud, a good friend of mine who’s Old Order Amish (and my coauthor of the only nonfiction book I’ve written), touches on this topic in Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women.

    The charity the Old Order Amish are most involved in is Christian Aid Ministries. Amish women make quilts, blankets, and clothes for poor people in other countries. They also gather clothing items and spend weeks washing, ironing, and mending them. They then go to a Christian Aid Ministries outlet and spend days or weeks boxing up the goods in individual packages to send overseas. (Think “shoebox” giving, only with larger packages.) Amish men help load the goods on trucks and also contribute money to purchase goods to send overseas—soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, books, etc.

    Because their hearts are very home oriented, the Amish rarely leave the US. However, they are extremely active in helping rebuild domestic communities after disasters. Whether they travel by hired driver, bus, or train, large groups of Amish will go to a devastated area to pitch in. As excellent carpenters and tradesmen, their help is highly valued. More men participate in these activities than women, because the women need to stay home with the children. But in a crowd of ten to twenty men, up to three women will go. They help with cleanup as well as provide meals and clean clothes for the workers.

    Every year or two, Amish districts work together to build a home from money the community members have donated. Once it’s built, they sell it for the best price they can get and give away all the proceeds, usually to families—either Amish or Englisch—who are dealing with overwhelming health issues and/or medical bills.

    What kinds of struggles do women who read your books have?

    From talking to readers over the years, I get the sense that they’ve experienced the wonders of love, the depths of grief, and everything in between. In other words, they’ve struggled with, either personally or through a loved one, every challenge my characters face. My readers seem to be very self-aware (able to see themselves for who they are and accept the beauty and challenges of this wonderful, difficult, fleeting life). They’re energized by faith, hope, and love, and they want to make a difference with their lives.

    I think that’s why they enjoy inspirational fiction. It reminds them of things they’ve experienced or heard about, but it takes them down a new path, opening their minds and hearts and bringing healing and understanding.

    For them, reading is similar to watching a heartwarming new movie that’s set in the hometown where they grew up or went to college. The experience feels both welcomingly familiar and yet fully original. And whatever their struggles, when they finish the book, they feel strengthened to walk or keep walking by faith. And to trust that there is hope in every battle.

    For more from Cindy's new book, The Dawn of Christmas, click here.

    For all of the books from Cindy, click here.

     

  • Going Solo

    Posted on October 2, 2013 by Lynn Cowell

    Lynn

    "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? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

    The toll of an emotionally draining week had reached its peak. Though I was trying to use various diversions to clear my mind, my thoughts were overpowering. All I wanted was to curl up in a ball and fall apart. Worry was winning.

    My husband sensed the pain that was showing from my welling eyes. Like any good friend, he asked, "What's going on?"

    Determined to keep my composure, I chose to fight my battle alone. "I'm okay" slid out before I caught my lie.

    Minutes later he asked again, "What's wrong?" My resolve couldn't hold up any longer and I blubbered, "I just can't get past this anxiety." Greg listened as the thoughts swirling in my mind came out. After I emptied my heart, he shared a story from Scripture, which helped me override my stress with thankfulness and trust.

    I am so glad the Lord preserved stories in the Bible of those who had issues as well. During this hard season I was in, Greg reminded me of Elijah. Like Elijah, sometimes when I struggle, I opt to struggle alone.

    In 1 Kings 19:3, even after seeing God work miracles, Elijah was undone by a threat. A queen was trying to kill him and he decided the way out was to run.

    We get a look into his thought process in 1 Kings 19:3-4, "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.'" (NIV)

    I don't blame Elijah one bit for running when trouble hit. I have that instinct myself some days. Running to social media or a chocolate goodie when my emotions are a jumbled mess is the easiest way out—at least temporarily.

    Where Elijah missed it, and I did too on my bad day, was when he chose to go solo.

    Elijah had a servant who was traveling with him, but he left the servant behind. He went farther into the desert alone, where his emotions only turned darker.

    Elijah and I both could have used the truth in Ecclesiastes 4, "Two are better than one ... if either of them falls down, one can help the other up." When we share our troubles with another godly friend, she can often help us to see what we cannot. Her different perspective opens a new way of thinking that can lead to hope and faith and away from despair.

    When you add the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to that friendship, Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us our relationships become "... a cord of three strands... not quickly broken." Our pain, when shared, can be transformed to peace. Strength can take the place of sorrow.

    I eased my stress that difficult week by sharing my worries with my husband. Thankfully he directed me to God's Word where I found hope and encouragement in the midst of my anxiety. Is there a burden you are carrying that would be lighter if you shared it with someone? Make a way today to allow them to help you handle your load.

    Jesus, thank You that You have given us the gift of relationships. Give us the wisdom to know when and with whom to share our personal problems. Please strengthen us so we can help strengthen another. Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    Who is your "go to" friend who lifts you up when you fall down? Give them your thanks today!

    If you need a friend who makes you stronger, ask the Father to give you the type of friend described in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

    Power Verse:
    Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron; so one person sharpens another." (NIV)

    © 2013 by Lynn Cowell. All rights reserved.

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

  • Uniquely Gifted

    Posted on October 1, 2013 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    I wish that all of you were as I am.But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 1 Corinthians 7:7

    Our generous Heavenly Father uniquely gifts His children for His glory. It may be the gift of service, encouragement, teaching, mercy or administration. Regardless of one’s role, all gifts are necessary in the Body of Christ. One may quietly serve as a prayer intercessor behind the scenes, while another may boldly proclaim truth in front of the faithful. Yes, the Lord specially equips individuals for His good works. God’s gifting is His distinctive stamp of value on each one of us

    What do you do well? How can you discover your sweet spot of service for your Savior Jesus? One way is to develop abilities that come natural for you and engage in activities that energize you. The Spirit wires you in a way that brings both of you pleasure when you exercise your gift. For example, a generous giver finds great joy in giving and an evangelist is ecstatic when they share the gospel. An administrator is not content until everyone and everything is in its place.

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

    You may be an analytical thinker who loves crunching numbers, managing data and interpreting trends from both. Your gift of linear deduction is critical for business, finance and engineering. Perhaps you are great with people. People love your company, because they sense you know, understand and care for them. Thus, your ability to network, convene and lead others is valuable for accomplishing a big vision or executing a strategic initiative. Yes, steward well God’s gift.

    Moreover, seek to marry your passion with your giftedness. For instance, if you love to see someone encouraged, use your gift of writing to convey God’s love to their hungry heart. If you love children, use your ability to nurture and train, as a conduit for Christ’s truth. If you love sports, use your teaching gift to lead athletes in Bible study. If you love travel, use your aptitude for business to help entrepreneurs here and abroad. Be who God has uniquely gifted you to be!

    We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:6

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, use my gift from You to bring you glory. Marry Your gift with my passion.

    Related Readings: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, 14:12; Ephesians 4:11-12

    Post/Tweet today: Develop abilities that come natural for you and engage in activities that energize you. #uniquelygifted

    © 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhuntersdevotional.com / www.wisdomhunters.com

  • God's Not Dead

    Posted on October 1, 2013 by Family Christian

    God's Not Dead is a new film about faith and the limits one young man will go to in order to defend his belief in God. Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a freshman college student, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by an infamous and dictatorial professor. Dr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) demands that all of his students must sign a declaration that "God is dead" in order to get a passing grade. Josh refuses. But, he needs to take this class to meet his academic requirements. And so the professor strikes a bargain: Josh must defend his position that "God is alive" in a series of debates with him in order to stay in the class. If he loses, he flunks. When Josh accepts the challenge, he gets more than he bargained for -- jeopardizing his faith, his relationships and even his future.

    Watch the trailer here:

    The movie stars Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda, Soul Surfer), Shane Harper (Good Luck Charlie, High School Musical 2), Willie and Korie Robertson (Duck Dynasty) and features a concert appearance by Gold Record award-winning and Christian super-band Newsboys. The movie also stars Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and David A. R. White (Evening Shade, The Moment After 1 and 2, Jerusalem Countdown).

    Listen to the new song from Shane Harper here:

    When your faith is tested, can you explain what you believe?

  • Laura Story - I Can Just Be Me - Story Behind the Song

    Posted on October 1, 2013 by Family Christian

    Talented worship leader and songwriter Laura Story is best known for her inspirational hit "Blessings" and for co-writing "Indescribable," a Chris Tomlin anthem. Now, with her third studio album, God of Every Story, Laura returns to that deep place of vulnerability before the Lord and honesty with herself.

    Award-winning producer Ed Cash helmed the deeply personal project, and their shared Carolina roots led to the incorporation of acoustic and epic instruments into this worshipful pop album. Lyrically, God of Every Story draws from Laura’s own life. Her husband’s brain tumor early in their marriage led the young family down a painful path she wouldn’t have chosen, but one that deepened her faith and her music. The resulting songs show God’s love and grace intersecting with real life, making this album a wonderful reminder that despite our questions or circumstances, God is the ultimate author of our story.

    Below, is her new story behind the song, I Can Just Be Me.

  • Voices of Accusation

    Posted on October 1, 2013 by Melissa Taylor

    Melissa

    "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1 (NIV)

    Do you ever hear the whisper of condemnation? It hisses: you're not what you should be ... your past sins define you ... you'll never change.

    Unfortunately I do. Self-condemnation is a default for me. If I let it, it can wipe out my confidence as a woman, wife and mom.

    Thankfully, I'm just as familiar with God's truth as I am with Satan's lies. My heart has heard Jesus' gentle reminders of His love and goodness, like "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

    Although I know this truth God speaks over me, I've learned it's up to me to respond correctly. If I don't keep my ears tuned to His voice and my mind set on His thoughts, I forget God's truths.

    Condemning thoughts come back and drown out the confidence I have through Christ.

    One morning I was struggling with self-condemning thoughts when I read these words written in my morning devotion: "Do not listen to voices of accusation for they are not from Me [God]."*

    I opened my journal and responded from my heart:

    Hello Lord, I often feel disappointed in my decisions and who I am and call myself names. But my negative thoughts aren't the only ones I hear. My feelings have been hurt by someone else's comments that cut me down and stole my confidence. Instead of feeling worthy, I feel like a loser. I hear You telling me not to listen to voices of accusation. Thank You for this reminder right when I needed it.

    The devotion continued, "Pause before responding to people or situations, giving My Spirit space to act through you. Hasty words and actions leave no room for Me."

    Again, I reached out to God:

    Lord, I spoke unkind words back to my friend. Thank You for gently reminding me to "pause before responding." You are so faithful to remind me of what You want from me.

    If left to defend ourselves from self-condemnation or the condemnation of others, we'd be defeated every time. Thankfully, we have the greatest defender in God and His Word. His truths re-build the confidence that condemnation breaks down.

    Our part is to know God's promises and believe and apply them! Staying saturated in His Word and taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit is the best way to overcome condemnation. We can supplement these through reading devotions, digging into books on our specific area of struggle, and participating in Bible studies. All these things help re-build our confidence that is in Christ.

    As we take the time to listen to Him today, let's ask God to remind us that He is with us; He loves us, and His Word is true: "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." That means you and me!

    Dear Lord, when I forget, please remind me that because of the cross and because You are my Savior, I am not condemned. Help me keep my eyes and thoughts on You. And to accept Your Word as truth so my confidence stays strong in You. In Jesus' Name, amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    What condemning thoughts do you believe about yourself?

    What are some of God's promises you can use to replace your accusing thoughts?

    Power Verses:
    Exodus 14:13-14, "Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm." (NLT)

    Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (NIV 1984)

    * Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young

    © 2013 by Melissa Taylor. All rights reserved.

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

  • Game of Thorns

    Posted on September 30, 2013 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

    Satan sends messengers to inflict thorns of temptation into the most spiritual followers of Jesus. His timing is shameless, as he attacks those most susceptible to spiritual pride. Perhaps a significant prayer has been answered or a loved one has just come to faith. Be on guard for the tormentor does not sit still when we experience special moments with the Lord and His people. Satan tempts mature believers, so if they fall they fall far,  disillusioning the faith of novices.

    It is these thorns in the flesh the Lord uses to keep us humble and faithful. Pride yearns to take credit and feed conceit, but humility gives all credit to Christ and remains meek. What’s best for us is not the removal of our afflictions, but the integration of God’s grace into our heart and mind. We can plead in prayer for relief, but not grouse in disappointment when our condition remains the same or worsens. God’s grace is sufficient in our weaknesses to perfect His power.

    I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

    Furthermore, health issues can be the thorn in your physical flesh that challenges your faith. Fatigue and feeling bad wears you down and demoralizes your determination. You weary over time as you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Chemo can kill your spirit in the process of killing your cancer, thus you cling to Christ and trust Him in your torment. Turn treatment and therapy into a platform of God’s grace to share with your caregivers. Trust in God triumphs over thorns!

    Above all, look to the cross at the crown of thorns Christ wore for you. Each drop of His precious blood was shed for your soul’s salvation and for your hope and healing. Thorns in the flesh are not foreign to your Savior. Indeed, He suffered through their pain, but rose victorious from the grave. You win the game of thorns when you rest in the sufficiency of God’s grace. He makes you the most powerful for Him, when you feel the weakest within. Bow at His throne of grace, unperturbed by a thorn of disgrace. Yes, God’s glory shines through your surrendered life!

    And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10

    Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me to appropriate Your grace in the middle of temptations and trials.

    Related Readings: Numbers 33:55; Job 1:6-12; Matthew 4:10; John 19:2-5; 2 Corinthians 4:15

    Post/Tweet today: God’s grace makes you the most powerful for Him, when you feel the weakest within. #gameofthorns

    © 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhuntersdevotional.com / www.wisdomhunters.com

  • The Mysterious Apology of Derek Webb

    Posted on September 30, 2013 by John van der Veen



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Absolutely.

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

    John: So you were being very kind to us?

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

    John: I don't know, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: You didn't have an altar call?

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

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

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

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

    Derek: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Me and My Mama Mouth

    Posted on September 30, 2013 by Karen Ehman

    Karen

    "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." (Proverbs 31:26 ESV)

    The other day my son, a smart preteen, was up to the challenge of washing the dishes. He didn't give me an attitude when asked. He wasn't disrespectful. He didn't drag his feet. So why was I battling the urge to harshly point out how he was doing it all wrong?

    Because he wasn't doing it my way.

    He started with the grimy pots, then moved to the plates and silverware. Finally, he had to bubble up more water to spit-shine the glasses. While working, he stacked plastic cups in a pyramid.

    Irritation welled up. An unkind reaction was itching to come out. I could easily have let my momma mouth take over: It uses way more water to wash the dishes in that order. Plus the water is filthy now! Stop playing with those cups while you work. You're so slow.

    I wanted to be a control freak. I wanted to fire off the unkind words hidden in my unspoken thoughts: The only way to do the dishes is my way. I see different as wrong. I interpret a preteen being a preteen—with a slight distraction of fun—as "slow."

    But when I unload on junior, or anyone, it has the potential to damage our relationship and plant mental seeds of his mom's view of him, whether verbalized or implied (lazy, wasteful, distracted, and slow). It does not, as Proverbs 31:26 states, come close to resembling a woman who "opens her mouth with wisdom and speaks with kindness on her tongue."

    It's better if these potentially frustrating scenarios play out differently. So let's replay that scene with a Spirit-controlled response.

    As I see my son doing the dishes, I can make a mental note to explain how to do it next time in a way that will save water, money, and time. I can praise his efforts, keeping in mind his age and abilities. I can acknowledge his unique method. I saw the clever way you stacked those dishes. You always make work fun.

    I can ask myself questions that will help keep my mama mouth in check. Questions like: Does it matter now or will it matter tomorrow? Will it affect eternity? Is God trying to teach me something? Can I pause and praise instead of interrupt and instigate? Is this really an issue that needs addressing? Am I being a control freak? Do I need to let it go?

    The interaction wouldn't damage; it would nurture. It would be wise. Kind. And there would be no lost time, regrets, or need to call in the United Nations peace-keeping forces for intervention.

    This mama would be less control-freakish and more Proverbs 31-womanish. It might not come easily—trust me, it usually doesn't—but with the Holy Spirit, it is possible to speak with kindness.

    Dear Lord, may I purpose to temper my words with Your Holy Spirit as I interact with my family today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

    Remember
    My mouth can be a powerful tool of encouragement or a weapon of destruction.

    Reflect
    Which of the questions posed in the devotion (Does it matter now or will it matter tomorrow? etc.) do you most need to ask yourself when tempted to over-control?

    Respond
    Think of an incident from the past where you did not use your words in a way that was kind or loving. Revisit the situation. How could you have spoken in a way that would honor God? Could you have used a different tone of voice? Word choice? Timing?

    Power Verses
    Psalm 139:4; Psalm 37:30

    Taken from Encouragement for Today: Devotions for Everyday Living by Renee Swope, Lysa TerKeurst, Samantha Evilsizer and the Proverbs 31 Ministries Team. © 2013 by Proverbs 31 Ministries. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

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

  • Teachable Heart

    Posted on September 29, 2013 by Boyd Bailey

    Boyd

    “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying God is one and there is no other but him.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,
    “You are not far from the Kingdom of God…” Mark 12:32, 34a

    Jesus affirms a teachable heart, for He knows it has potential to learn and understand the things of God. Thus, a teachable heart is positioned to receive truth, and has an attitude with more questions than answers.
    However, a teachable heart does recognize truth when it comes knocking. It invites truth in to be examined, understood, and applied. Truth invigorates the teachable heart, and there is a rush of spiritual adrenaline when it intersects with an open mind and heart. Pride plateaus in its learning, but a teachable heart continues to scale the mountain of truth. Thus, when God discovers someone who is teachable, He calls him wise. Wisdom comes from God; therefore, a teachable heart learns the ways of God. God is not offended by teachability, though there is a tension that arises when truth begins to facilitate changes in behavior and attitude. This change of heart seems somewhat innocuous from the outside looking in, but most of us do not like to be told what to do.
    Change doesn’t come easily, even as you understand that God has your best interests in mind. But the transformation is telling. Your character and behavior fall more in line with Jesus' and your spouse and children notice something different; your patience, rather than your intimidation, becomes dominant; your bad beliefs are replaced with good ones; so let your teachable heart start first with God.

    God is one. He is not many gods, but one God. He is not a mini-god, but the great and glorious God of the galaxies. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all one God. His oneness is to be worshipped and celebrated. Thus, your love relationship with the one true God is not to be rivaled by any other gods. Any acceptance of other gods is unacceptable to God. He is jealous for you. Your love for anyone or anything will pale in relation to your love for Christ.
    To love God is to make room for God in all aspects of your life. You love Him when you love others, when you give sacrificially, when you strive for excellence in your work, and when you pray for and forgive others. Love is action; therefore, love Him and allow Him to love you.
    Let His expectations mold yours, because what God thinks trumps any other thinking. The Holy Spirit within you has the answers to the questions that consume your thinking. Follow His internal promptings, not the external clamor. What you believed yesterday will be dwarfed by what you learn tomorrow. Know God, love God, and learn of Him. He affirms a teachable heart as one who fears the Lord.
    The Bible teaches, “Assemble the people—men, women, and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12). Stay teachable in your understanding of God.

    Post/Tweet: A teachable heart is positioned to receive truth. It has an attitude with more questions than answers. #teachableheart

    © 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
    Wisdom Hunters Resources / A registered 501 c3 ministry info@mail.wisdomhuntersdevotional.com / www.wisdomhunters.com

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