christian

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

New Frontiers In 2016 by Michael Nichols

Hey, everyone! So, I've spent the past few months planning, praying, etc. And I've come to a decision. Beginning early 2016, I'm going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to begin recording an album that I'm hoping will be a defining move in my music career. If you've known me for any decent amount of time, you'll know that all I care about is giving back that which was given to me in 2007, when I first became serious about professional music, and when it began to have serious personal impact on me. I think God both made me for this and called me to it. All I can do is respond to that in the way that I best know how. So save this. Bookmark it. Find me on the interwebs. And pay attention, because I'm gonna start putting things together ASAP. Thanks for all of your support, and I'll be seeing you very soon.

Accuser Within by Michael Nichols

I've always struggled with risks. I think everyone does, though maybe not as much as others. If I know that there is something to be lost, I don't want to. Don't we all? Whether we acknowledge it consciously or not, we realize that we contain infinite value, endowed upon us by Jesus. We also experience fear when we're confronted with the possibility of loss. Everyone's looks different. Some people are afraid to take risks on career ventures. Others hate the idea of moving away and facing the unknown in that respect. My issue is with relationships, specifically the dating kind.

I'm not the only who has been hurt. I'm not the only one who has been scared. I'm not the only one who gets tripped up on words or will altogether avoid words when nothing seems sufficient enough to make enduring the fear worthwhile.

Unfortunately, inaction, in my case, has led to much, much more pain than action. You know, at least if you get shot down, you know you can change direction. And there can be a lot of reasons for being shot down other than it being, you know, your fault, something you did, something you are, heck, how you look.

But wait! How can you experience pain if you don't take a risk?

I'll tell you.

You see, it's equally as big a risk, if not bigger, to assume that something bad could come from your action, as it is to assume that something good could come from your inaction. I say this not to perpetuate the "follow your heart" mentality that has led modern day culture into a morally relativistic decadence, but holding back what's inside of you because you're afraid you might get hurt is like holding onto fire. You don't get used to it the more you hold it: you simply burn what's left of you the longer you hold it.

You're not protecting your heart by not telling people how you feel. You're actually poisoning it. You can always get back up from rejection, but you can't move past a choice you never made. I've avoided making a lot of those choices, and none of them have made living with the regret of what I might have missed any easier. I can think of a few instances in the not-so-distant past when I could have just told a person how much I cared for them, or let them see more of my real self, let go and just had fun with amazing people, but I didn't. I treated my insecurities as though they were for my benefit, like they could save me from being broken.

In reality, all I did was break myself before I let anyone else get to me.

What really eats at me is that every time, at least for the past several years, I've told myself I would stop avoiding what's inside of me, quit copping out of making the choices that I had to make. "This time" I'll say how I feel. After all, that's all I can do, right? After all, I have no control over what she does with that knowledge, right? And I haven't actually lost anything more than an idea, because until the feelings go both ways, I'm not actually "in love" with a person, right? And it's their problem if they can't get over the fact I might have feelings for them, even if I can get over them myself, right? So knowing all of that should make opening up easier, right?

I haven't. Not once.

Even as I speak these things, I realize I'm just finding more reasons to blame myself, as a dear mentor and friend recently put forth to me. And she was right. I'm not doing this for my own good, at least not anymore. Just the habit of repressing the person that God made you to be, even if you don't acknowledge that you're actually doing that, leads to the belief that God doesn't want good things for you, that you are beyond His love, His grace, a second chance, and that you might not even have any value at all.

Guess what. It's a lie. Your very existence, not to mention the whole truth and message of the gospel, is proof of that.

We all torment ourselves over something, but if it isn't making you a better person, it's not worth it. Whatever you're tormenting yourself over--and it doesn't have to be fear of rejection--isn't worth your time, your breath, your life, if it is a barricade preventing you from growing into the person God made you to be in Christ.

Easier said than done, right?

It's a good thing we have a powerful God going before us. Just trust that. Trust Him. Take a risk. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to, let Him carry you to the place He wants you to be, and trust that this place will be a beautiful one.

Arguing and Outreach by Michael Nichols

I just finished watching the new feature film God's Not Dead with a bro from my congregation. I had preconceived notions about what I would see. Most of those notions were pretty awesome. I expected it to be a well-executed movie. I did not, however, expect as much conviction from it as I got.

God's Not Dead, if you haven't seen it, is about a college freshman who is presented with the fearful challenge of defending his faith in front of his philosophy class. The reason? His philosophy professor required all of his students to write the words "God is dead," sign it, and turn it in. The alternative? Defend the antithesis. Argue/prove the opposing viewpoint.

The main character in the story feels that God is leading him to do this and not back down from it. In standing for his beliefs and for Jesus, he was discouraged by most of the people from whom he sought guidance. His girlfriend, one of them, actually broke up with him over it--to boot, she also professed faith, but was convinced that doing this would somehow wreck their future together.

It was a great example of what good can come out of being able to defend your faith. That having been said, watching the professor, who ardently opposed God in all ways, along with the general use of philosophy in the context of the Christian faith, made me think about philosophy's place in outreach.

Parallel to this story were several others being told throughout the film. Many of the stories had to do with people living with the backlash that comes with following Jesus, or conversely dealing with their own doubts and feelings/oppositions about God Himself. In addition, these parallel stories included the hardships that these people were going through. One person had cancer. Another had dementia. The professor--need I say more? Another freshman was kicked out of her home for following Jesus and not recanting. A minister was struggling with not feeling used.

I realize I've given you spoilers. Sorry. But I want to paint a picture for you. These people had real lives. It wasn't just the things they believed about God. They had lives that shaped those beliefs, and in turn their beliefs shaped their lives. Then there was also so much that was beyond their control! Isn't that true of life!

No matter how comprehensively you argue to defend the faith, no matter how convincing your speech is, no matter how many words you put in the correct order--simply put, a person cannot be convinced to believe. They must choose for themselves. That having been said, they're not going to choose something that they don't know about, or something that they believe is silly or bad for them.

We can argue all we want, but are we loving the least?

Are we lifting up the losers in the hallways of the school?

Are we ensuring that people know they're not alone?

Are we willing to sacrifice a little bit of time, effort, or money, just for the sake of being sure that maybe one person gets a meal for the day, or has proof that they really do matter to someone?

Do they know that Jesus died for you?

Do they know that Jesus' love for you has saved your life and given you the ability to live more fully than ever?

Do they know that the same is true of them?

Do they know that He's more than just some idea, but that He is 100% real?

Convincing people of the truth of Jesus is infinitely important...

...But has convincing people of the fact of it replaced our desire to really live it?

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal..."

--Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 13:1)

God's not dead.

Entering Rest (3): Deep Valleys by Michael Nichols

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the [valley of the shadow of death (KJV)I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." -- David, the Psalmist and King of Israel (Psalm 23 NIV)

An almost cliche Bible passage at this point is Psalm 23. It's the one we've probably all hear a hundred times over, whether we're followers of Christ or not. If you haven't heard it in church, you've probably heard it quoted on a crime show by a cop that's trying to keep his faith or by a mobster trying to justify his crime. I've heard it said that it's just a Psalm about the Lord guiding David through some troubles. I've also heard it said that it's a Messianic prophecy (in plain English, that it was a telling of Jesus sacrifice).

I don't bring up the passage, however, to dispute doctrines or theories. I just want to confront this thing called a valley. I hear the word most frequently used to describe a low point in a persons life, something external that they're going through and that they [hopefully] will emerge from on the other side. There is another word for low point that brings a much greater sense of despair (of varying degree and duration), though, that needs to be confronted: depression.

Depression is that cloud that hangs over a persons head for a long time, the storm that doesn't have wind at its back to move it along, the unshakable feeling that nothing is ever going to change, a constant lack of energy/motivation/passion or at the very least the presence of a vacuum slowly draining that energy, a desire for change but without resolve to make it happen, a fear of failure or personal endangerment or loss, a reclusion from reality, dreams without fruition, the fear/thought of not "getting by," a lack of desire to excel, often but not always masked by feigned apathy and even bitterness to protect the part with the pain from being damaged further (which can lead to an abnormal silence from the individual in question), not a simple imbalance of body chemicals, but a state of being in which a person believes he/she is caught in a endless loop which can lead to the exhausting sensation of chaos and insanity and in the end an amplified preference to rest constantly rather than work. This is at the very least how I would define it because I've lived with it.

It can be a monster, and the thing that make it so difficult to fight is that depression is constructed within our own minds out of the things that make up our own lives. Not just a monster, but a monster inside of a dungeon inside of a hole in the ground.

The easy path is to stop trying to fight it and let it have its way with you. Rest, and maybe you'll be safe. Heck, maybe it's just a nightmare to wake from. That's how I've felt about it, anyway (I dare not say "you" without really meaning "me").

The irony of it, though, is that it's exhausting. You're not resting. You're constantly working to keep the walls from falling down, to save yourself, to hide your heart. What you once thought was rest becomes the slave driver at your back.

It's a fact that things can bring us down, and a lot of times we don't want to get back up and feel insane for it. It's a fact that we can pretend not to care, to go silent, to protect ourselves. Do we really want that for ourselves, though? Wouldn't it be better to let go and truly be able to rest?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYuGuxr7MB0

Wood Chips of Faith -- Part 3: The Corinthians by Michael Nichols

The church at Corinth, spoken of in the writings of the new covenant, was a church undergoing a transformation. They, like myself, experienced an intersection of what they were told to trust and what they came to trust. A city of idols, when they were greeted by the apostle Paul, he recognised that the position they were in was foreign to the place from which he came. They had an established system of doing things, completely based upon the idols they worshiped. In order to reach them, he met them where they were, spoke to the place they were in.

In the beginning of his first letter, he talks about how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. That's a tough pill to swallow. Even the most basic of God's concepts defy the most complicated of man's. People tend to do what makes them feel good for the moment, but God tends to do things that do good for us and others.

This ancient church was one living by the will of the flesh. People involved in numerous sexual sins (including incest) were popping up. People were dealing with the collision of their old beliefs with their new beliefs. Some were abusing the rite of the Lord's Table (or Communion), while others still were merely confused about how spiritual gifts (prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and the like) were to be used. All of these things are important, yes, but his lead in is what caught my attention...

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

... He wasn't sent to complicate things. They just became that way, unfortunately. For Paul, yes, but mainly for the church at Corinth. Paul wasn't the one experiencing confusion but rather the one trying to help them through it.

Paul expounds upon his opening statement in the verses to come (click the indented text to see the rest) by explaining that the power of the gospel isn't in man's wisdom, but it is really found in the crucifixion, and after fifteen chapters of working through issues of internal division, issues about which they wrote to him first, Paul finally brings it all home. For the sake of saving space, click this passage: I Corinthians 15.

The key here, which you will notice in verse 12, is that they were divided over the most fundamental part of our faith: the Gospel itself. The Gospel centers around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, everyone dies. Some are burned, but some are buried, which Jesus was. They killed Him, put Him in the ground, like any other bloke... then He got out three days later, which other blokes didn't do. This proved that He is who He says: the perfect Son of God, the only sacrifice that could take our place and quell death for us... but the heart of it isn't as mechanical as that.

The heart of the resurrection is that it was the result of His love, and the result of the fact that He is worthy of our praise, our love, our hope, and most fundamentally our faith. What Paul said so many centuries ago, I reiterate now: If our hope in Christ does not surpass the bounds of death, we are to be pitied above all men. I admit freely that if there were no resurrection, our faith would be in shambles, and it would all be for nothing.

The truth remains that after the greatest act of love on earth was committed, miracles, voices of change, new and renewed lives, and a sense of community within and without adversity, sprang up, and despite fragmentation through generations, despite hypocrites, despite deviation, despite devastation, throughout history that same core has been carried down, and none of it has stopped... but it's not about the good things that you see being done, nor about the talents being used or who uses them, or any sort of mechanical movement of the God's chosen people: it is about the love that Jesus gave to us, and its about the love and the new life that is awakened and still awakening within us when we come to terms with the acceptance of Jesus.

Back to that story from two posts ago, the story about the friend at that youth conference, back in 2009 -- she saw the truth because she had this hope, this faith in the love of Jesus and the truth of it. It was her identity, and had it not been so, had she not been a friend to me in such a miniscule yet massive way, I probably would not be in the place I am today.

As we returned to the facility used for the conference, everything that was said before and after the break suddenly took on a new context. Now, I knew I was missing the point of faith, and I didn't really know what it was. Sure, I knew the concept like the back of my hand, but I didn't know how to trust. I don't know if my faith saved me before that day, but I do know that I walked away a completely different person with a completely different outlook, because I saw God's love in action, given to me through someone else He loved, to show me He loves me too, and that was enough to show me I didn't have to live in fear, and I've been getting over it ever since. Things haven't become easier, but I've definitely become stronger because now I have something lasting to live for.

The title of this blog, "Our Light Affliction," is a quote from II Corinthians 4:17-18 KJV, Paul's second letter to this same church. I adopted this because it hails back to the first letter, chapter 15. You can click the reference if you want to see, but it simply says that the pain we're dealing with now hides greater joy on the other side of it because the things we see here are fading away, but the things we don't see last forever. Love, hope, faith -- none of these can be tangibly seen, but they can be felt, and these things can be more real than the instruments through which we live them out.

The ultimate fulfillment of our faith is found in heaven, at the resurrection, when those who have given their lives to hope rather than to despair are given the blankest of slates and the freshest of starts, and no longer will anyone have to run from pain, push through adversity. That, my friends, is a hope worth living and dying for. Jesus thought so, and He lived it out.

Our faith in people and in God can go just as equally through the wood chipper because this world has grown so dark... but this world is not our home. I still have so many questions without answers but I don't need them all. I just need Jesus. I don't mean to go church mode, but if you're looking for something, whether or not you know what you're looking for, this Gospel is definitely a good place to start. Try it, and see whether or not it's worth believing.

Even if you do have faith, don't be afraid to get back to the basics every now and again. Remember where you came from, and don't lose heart when your doubts and faith collide. You're just experiencing life in a fallen world. It isn't the end of the world if you don't please every single person who claims to believe what you believe, nor are you a hypocrite for having questions or not having it all together. It's not a free pass to live recklessly, but we're all human, agnosto-Christian or otherwise. Life doesn't end here, so even when your faith goes through a wood chipper, it still comes out as your faith.

This is a letter to people of all faiths, Christian or not. This isn't a religious story but a testimony of what has been done for us all, and how that love sought me and found me. Who am I to stand in His way? I am dust, and I will return to the dust. Jesus, however, is love, and He lasts forever. That, my friends, is worth it. :)