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Tag Archives: Catholic

  • Joel Rosenberg. From VBS to CNN

    Posted on April 3, 2013 by John van der Veen



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Sure.

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

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

    John: Yes, I know where this is going.

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

    John: Oh yes, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: It’s amazing…

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

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

    Joel: Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Joel: Correct.

    John: The thrill continues.

    Joel: I hope so… and ends.

    John: It ends, and the good guy wins.

    Joel: This is the big finale.

    John: Yes. The good guy wins.

    Joel: Maybe.

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

    Joel: That’s true in the…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Joel: My pleasure.

    Damascus Countdown - Joel C. Rosenberg


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

  • Matt Maher. On Being Christian.

    Posted on April 1, 2013 by John van der Veen



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Really?

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

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

    John: Oh sure!

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

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

    John: Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Woo Hoo!

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

    John: Oh yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Yes.

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

    John: That’s a good point!

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

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

    Matt: Hmmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Amen!

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

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

    Matt: (laughs)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Matt: My son is 18 months.

    John: Eighteen months!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Is your wife rolling her eyes right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: I love a good cup of coffee!

    Matt: I still do too.

    Matt: Yes!

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

    Matt: Thanks! It’s been a pleasure!

     

     

     

    MATT MAHER INTERVIEW Edited by JLF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Really?

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

    John: What was his name?

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

    John: Oh sure!

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

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

    John: Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Woo Hoo!

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

    John: Oh yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Yes.

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

    John: That’s a good point!

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

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

    Matt: Hmmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Amen!

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

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

    Matt: (laughs)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Matt: My son is 18 months.

    John: Eighteen months!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: Is your wife rolling her eyes right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John: I love a good cup of coffee!

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

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

    Matt: Oh really?

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

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

    John: You were?

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

    John: You were that close man!

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

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

    Matt: It would’ve been great!

    John: Oh, well. Next time!

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

    John: Oh. Well, that’s cool.

    Matt: Yes!

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

    Matt: (laughs).

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

    Matt: Thanks! It’s been a pleasure!

    Burning In My Soul - Lyric Video


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

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