encouragement

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)

Love And Fear: Campaign Update 2 by Michael Nichols

We're about to close the first half of our crowdfunding campaign! If you haven't heard, I'm making a record with some amazing musicians and friends, and we're raising money for gear. When you pre-order the record for just $10, you'll get an instant download of one of the singles, "Find You In The Light." We're currently at 12% of our goal, which is amazing! When we first launched this campaign, I was as nervous as ever. Correction: I am nervous! But the response so far has been great, both in feedback about our music and in the generosity of friends and family. We've raised $580 of the $5000 we're shooting for to make this the best record it can possibly be. We actually crossed that 10% mark by the end of week 2!

As awesome as that is, we've hit a pretty big slump since then.

We have barely over a month left to go, so if you can help by preordering our record "Love And Fear," picking one of our perk packages (including anything from downloads to signed CDs, to t-shirts, posters, and microphones), sharing the campaign on social media, and most importantly praying that God will make a way for this to happen and that His will would be done.

As much as we love making music and having fun, though, this is our ministry above all else. We want to reach a world that is afraid by offering them the love of Jesus Christ. We're just looking for the means to do that the best way we know how. :)

ALSO, here's some exciting news! A fantastic friend of mine asked to interview me about the new record. She has an amazing devotional account on Instagram, so head over there and check out @shinejesus_ for some excellent words from the Father, and watch out for the interview, coming soon!

Be sure to check out our campaign on IndieGoGo and head over to SoundCloud to listen to our brand new track, "Find You In The Light."

Thanks for all of your support! :)

--Michael

https://igg.me/at/loveandfear/x/9877524

https://soundcloud.com/mnicholszero/findyouinthelight

https://www.instagram.com/shinejesus_/

Love And Fear: Campaign Update 1 by Michael Nichols

Hey guys! Thanks to all of you so far who have supported our campaign to fund our new record "Love And Fear." We had a pretty strong day out of the gate. I was surprised in the best of ways. While we still have just under 2 months left to go, we've already started seeing that momentum slip a bit, and that time is going to fly by, so we reeeally need your help to get that momentum back! Here are some things you can do!

1: Pray! Pray, pray, pray! Nothing is impossible for our God. His will be done. If we get funded, He is good. If not, He is good.

2: If you are led to contribute financially by preordering the record, go for it! We're not asking for you to do anything you can't do, so if you can't, we completely understand. It will mean the world if you can, and it'll be a huge stepping stone for this project. You'll be supporting local music that may move on to bigger things, but we have to start somewhere, right? :)

3: Spread the word! Social media is an amazing platform for communicating with people all over the world, something that has changed the way all of us do things. If you could share the campaign link and/or any updates we send out, that would really help. Even if you can't contribute financially, you'll be helping to get our music out there and maybe even find people who *can* contribute financially. Also, a great way to spread the word is to tell people at your church, organization, or venue. We'd love to come tell you more about what God has been doing with this record!

I can't tell you how grateful we are for the support so far. Let's do this! :)

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/love-and-fear-the-album/x/9877524#/

Every Thought About Every Person All At Once by Michael Nichols

It's really interesting to see where your relationships with people go. If you're like most people, you see friends, enemies, in between, come and go. Some stay longer than others. Some just go. Some, defying all odds, seem to stick around. It's really cool when that happens. I've been blessed to spend the past almost-seven years with the same group of people consistently in my life in some way or another. My immediate church family is especially hugely important to me, along with a ton of the people I've met as a result of meeting them, even the ones who have moved away or I don't get to be in touch with as consistently. There still always seemed to be consistency there.

It's a fantastic feeling, welcomeness, wantedness, neither of which are actually real words. It's an awesome contrast to my life before. I won't say I had no friends. That'd be a lie, but they were few and far between. I look back on that time, and I'm glad I'm not there anymore. It makes where I am so much sweeter. Knowing that the people you've chosen to surround yourself with don't have some agenda, some mold, some criteria for you to fulfill in order to be kept--people who don't just want to use you--is liberating in so many ways I can't even list them all, and I'm just getting started with the list myself.

Not because intend to be this way, but it's taken me longer to grow closer to some than others. But it's happened, and I'm grateful. These are people that I will cherish for life.

After a while, the people who deserted you start to fade in the glow of Christ in the people who chose to stay. I will always remember the feeling of being alone, and that will be valuable in ministry to people who have felt the way I have, been treated the way I have, and those who will. I'm totally fine with that. It's not that I resent the past. I just have no reason to dwell in it.

The thing about that glow, is that it leaves an impression. By abiding in light, darkness seems darker when it comes, at least at first, if you don't get used to it.

People leave impressions. I'm so glad for that, but the whole idea about an impression is that it stays with you. So when I say that I've got a lot of people on my mind, it's an understatement. It's not that it hurts. It's a beautifully diverse picture full of tons of different people who have each meant something to me. I'm not unaware of the blessing of brothers and sisters that I have.

But sometimes, it does hurt. Eventually, you get around to those people you miss. Sometimes, you miss them a lot. Sometimes, life has you too occupied to dwell on it, which can be sweet relief, but it can make you question how much you care. It probably shouldn't. Or maybe it should. I guess it depends which is actually true.

The contrast between the time in my life before people kept me around just for me, and where I am now, just makes everything seem a bit more vivid. The joy of loving and knowing I'm loved is even clearer because I know what it's like to not know I'm loved, or to know what it's like to be hated, or worse, dismissed and ignored. And with such a vivid joy comes an equally vivid sorrow when those who light your life aren't near.

Don't get me wrong. I refuse to live consumed with either blind joy or blind despair, but they're both there. They're both present at all times, warring against each other. At least that conflict makes sense, even if it doesn't help.

It's times like these that the over-quoted words "the joy of the Lord is [my] strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) pop out of the mouths of people who seek to encourage you. It's good to have people who try to encourage you. They are gold. But I'm not convinced that most people think through the implications of that statement.

A lot of people claim "the joy of the Lord" in an attempt to make you (or them) happy. But that's not what it's really about. The joy of the Lord is not my happiness... okay, sometimes it is. I'm grateful for those times on a level I cannot convey with words. But let's not get it twisted. It can bring happiness, but that's not what it is.

The joy of the Lord is strength. It's not that you feel better, or your situation changes, because you have the "joy of the Lord." It's not a magic, cure-all happy pill. It's strength, meaning that when your mind is in chaos, when your heart is shredded, when you've been betrayed, when you're lonely, when you're longing, when you miss those you care for, when you hurt for those who are hurting, Jesus strengthens you. He stays with you "so that you will be able to bear" the weight you carry (I Corinthians 10:13).

It's okay if it doesn't go away. It's okay to feel joy and pain at the same time. It's okay if you have a lot of people and stuff on your mind. I do. All the time. All at once. And it's actually okay. It really doesn't feel like it sometimes. I don't always feel okay. But even that's okay, because somehow, I make it through, and that is joyous. I know my Father is with me, always, and that good will come of all things that face the people of God.

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.

Renewed Life (3): For Thou Art With Me by Michael Nichols

I usually tie one of these in with the previous issue of "Entering Rest," but there really isn't much more to say. If you're having a difficult time lately, if you're going through a valley, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord is with you and that the valley has two sides. You will come out of it. You don't have to deny the darkness you're in to accept the day that is to come.

Beyond the Logic of Sin and Insecurity by Michael Nichols

The movement of the Holy Spirit is a funny thing. He's not just our heart rate during worship, nor is He just the force behind an armada of supernatural events, nor is He simply your conscience when your own sense of reasoning fails, nor is He just the lifeline that God throws to us when we're drowning in the world's system. He is all of these things and more. What I'm about to explain is what happens when we don't latch onto Him when He moves.

Like anyone, whether it's in my own mind, radiating through my fingertips, or lashing out through my tongue, I have, and, as certainly as the night will come, will deal with sin. Will every thought be corrupt? No. Will every thought be pure? No. Thankfully, I have a Heavenly Father who trains me daily in the way I should go despite me, and who reprimands me clearly yet lovingly when I need it.

I've said so before, but I'll say it again: I micromanage myself sometimes, especially with spirituality and sin. I'm hypersensitive and hypercritical of what I do and how I feel and what I think and believe, often times to my detriment. That having been said, it's easy to justify the sin, the distance, the lack of direction, the lack of passion -- really, without wanting to admit it, the lack of Him, in an attempt to quell hypersensitivity with insensitivity.

The fact about me -- really all of us -- is that I desperately, utterly need Him, but I don't always run to Him. I tend to make excuses, to justify what I sometimes do so that I won't feel as guilty, but the cover up that we impose upon ourselves is worse than whatever sins and insecurities we hide. We only start to make excuses when we run out of reasons, to rationalize when we've done the irrational, to justify that which is unjust, to fabricate false answers for the ones we refuse to humble ourselves to seek out... and after all of those simulations of salvation fall to pieces, we are left to either accept the truth or scream in its face.

When you get past the reasons, the justifications, the excuses, and finally dismantle a sin, and you can finally see it for what it is, something will happen. You'll ask yourself, "Why do I do these things?" to which you will quickly reply, "I don't really know." But since when was the purpose of sin to be understood? Sin exists for one reason: to kill you secretively. When all of the other "reasons" we ascribe to it fall away, it's okay to say, "I don't know," because that's the moment you realize you've fallen and need help to rise to your feet again.

Don't panic. You can rise to your feet again. To do that, we must latch on to God's hand. Sin's purpose may be to kill you, but your purpose is to kill sin, and the victory is already won. We often define our chances in life as the sum of our sins and insecurities, but these things are small, and they collapse eventually -- the Lord doesn't. Don't tell God how big your chances are; tell your chances how big your God is.

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." -- Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NIV)

Renewed Life (1): It Starts With NO by Michael Nichols

A million things vie for our attention every day, things and people that want our soul in a way that only the Lord can truly handle it. A person can become overwhelmed. Personally, I find myself extremely susceptible to this for many different reasons, but one stands out more clearly than the rest: a tendency to experience anxiety attacks.

It's one of the least enjoyable experiences I've had -- the shallow-yet-quick heart rate, the racing thoughts, the fear, the silence. To be clear, I don't have them often, and I know that people have them with greater severity than I. When they do, though, I don't really know what's happened until I've come out of it for a while. One thing I do know is that many times, for me they are self-induced.

What that looks like is that some thought will be in my head, and that will connect to another thought. That's just my nature -- super-analytical [sometimes to the extent of self-micromanagement]. The ugliness appears when one of those thoughts that my mind is tearing through, like a child through wrapping paper on his birthday gifts, leads to another that is painful, like a bad memory from elementary school, or something from home that I try to forget, or maybe some inconsiderate and heartless thing someone did to me as an adult, or maybe it was a mistake that I made that I can't seem to let myself live down... All of that to say that a lot of it is self-induced for me.

To realize that a lot of the extra pain we feel is self-induced is to accept that fact that it is our responsibility to learn the solution. If Jesus died for me, lives again for me, is headed back here for me before or after I die, then that means that He loves me -- if you took conscious effort and energy and time to make something, you probably love it -- and puts a value on me and on all of us.

If you read the last issue of "Entering Rest" (see end of this article for a link), you'll remember that the things that vie for control of our soul will weigh us down, try to make us drown, and that only by letting go and calming our mind can we be saved from ourselves and from the water and gravity. Erik wanted revenge so badly that he was willing to die to get it, but maybe he really didn't believe he'd die, not until Xavier came along and convinced him otherwise, pulling him from his demise... but Charles didn't force Erik's hand to save him. Erik had to say NO in his own mind. Say NO to immediate gratification and thereby NO to death.

In the same way, when we feel like things are out of control (which is probably honestly most times) and we are being pulled in a million directions by people and things that have no interest in us besides what we can do with/for them, including all the sins with which we all struggle, we must say NO. I am a child of the KING. I am NOT perfect. I am NOT capable of playing god in any and all aspects of my life... BUT I AM loved. I AM saved by grace through faith. Jesus did pay for my crimes against Him, others, and myself. I am free. I AM NO LONGER a slave to sin. I AM NO LONGER bound to choices that other people have made. I AM NO LONGER measuring my value by things that are temporary but by things that last forever.

So NO, you may NOT have your way with me, world. You may NOT have your way with me, my own crippled mind. You may NOT dictate my every actions, old heart. NO.

That's where it starts. It's sure to get a lot more complicated for each person. Saying NO takes on different forms for each person and what they're going through, but with Jesus, we have the power to say NO.

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

-- Isaiah the prophet

[CLICK HERE for the full passage.]