love

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_/

The Irony of Sad Songs by Michael Nichols

For those of you who don't know, I'm making a record in 2016. I'm really excited. I've spent the past two months recording some basic demos for 14+ songs while I wait for responses from potential session musicians and make plans for the crowdfunding campaign. Since my vocal coach got a hold of me in the beginning, what was once just a passive and casual outlet that was little more than a mimicry of my favorite bands at the time has become something much more.

I've been on one of the longest journeys of my life since the middle of 2009 when my walk with Christ really got underway. But things got especially bad in the beginning of 2011. A lot of the song that are on this record were either written about that time, during that time, or because of that time.

One song in particular has been difficult to write, but was one of the first ones I wrote after probably the most significant event, the one that started the 2011-present time period. I'm not just talking about the song was mechanically hard to write. I'm saying it took everything out of me. I poured out more pain into that song than I've ever poured into any other song.

It's called "Closure (If You're Hearing This)." The whole premise of the song is that after a falling-out, it's really easy to just leave things unsaid in the same place that we leave the people who've hurt us... Okay,  should say that the whole emotional premise of it is that. But the story is bigger.


I believe that we will all stand judged before the Lord one day, and that everything that is hidden will be revealed. So, say that I left things unsaid. If I did, eventually, that truth will be revealed, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. Things left unsaid will be said. That is just when it's the Lord doing it.

It starts out very sober. Single piano hits that hold for a measure at a slow tempo. Lyrics that are very objective, factual, stating the likelihood that she would never hear these words until we were both dead and in God's hands. The "chorus" sees a change in the chord progression, still with the same single hits, same tension, but now posing a question: "Was I wrong to react the way I did? Was I capable of more hate for those who hurt me than I'd previously believed?"

Then the mood changes. The undercurrent of legato cellos, the pulsating beat of the piano, gently, yet tensely. I say how enamored I was to begin with, and how devastated I was at the fact that I was abandoned because of my feelings for her. As the second chorus begins, I solidify with certainty that my pushing her away was the only way to protect what was left of my sanity and self-esteem.

But as the bridge begins, the piano notes ascend, a slower pulse with more suspense, acknowledging that my distress, turned to hate, had turned me into something I never wanted to be. Made to feel despised, I despised everything.

As the bridge begins to build, I exclaim that I felt helpless, without an alternative. I never wanted to push her away or let her go, and that if doing so hurt her, I was sorry, without regard to my own personal feelings.

The ending is a sober plea for things to return to the way they were. The tension lessens, and the tempo slows at the very end. The music itself ends with a bit of optimism, a lot of longing, and no resolution.


 

I began the song in late 2011-early 2012. Even if the story behind the song had not seen two friends reconciled, I'd still have kept the song. I was allowed to feel that pain in order for God's strength to show through an inherently weak man.

As I've begun wrapping up the orchestration to this song, the pain hasn't fully subsided. Memories fade, but never completely. Even healed scars are still visible.

I've found a sweet solace, though.

Sometimes, it's good to think about the past and feel the pain of it so we can remember why it stayed there.

Imagine what it would be like to bury someone alive, who couldn't die. A scene from Heroes comes to mind, in which Hiro Nakamura digs up the grave of Adam Monroe, a man whose superhuman ability to regenerate allowed him to revive on his own upon exhumation. That's what happens when we bury our experiences. It's not really a memory that we've buried: it's us. You can't bury a memory without burying the pieces of your heart that bear its weight.

I think that's what makes sad songs so sweet, ironically. They allow us to open up the ground above us and let in new air, allow the healing of the soul to begin. The tension, the suspense, the animosity, resonates with the parts of us that feel the same way.

But it's not that we listen to songs about pain in order to perpetuate it. It's like magnetism. We use magnets in compasses to tell which direction we're going, because the earth is also magnetic. How else can you find people who are in pain? How can you expect to reach people who are in darkness, yet refuse to acknowledge darkness, refuse to bring light into the dark? It won't just magically show up. They won't simply wander out of pitch black.

Just north of here is Mammoth Cave. On several of the tours, once you're deep enough in, all of the lights that have been installed in the cave are turned out for a moment so that tourists can experience what it might have been like for the original explorers to wander the depths with only a torch. For a brief moment, before a tour guide's flashlight comes on, you experience total blackness. Nothing. No point of reference. No way out.

It's terrifying.

It's even more terrifying that you get used to the dark, so much so that you have to adjust to the light.

It's comforting to hear voices calling out to you, telling you that you're not the only one down here.

It's electrifying to see dim rays of light bouncing around the corner.

It's overwhelming to see a map in the hands of your rescuers.

Songs like "Hymn For The Missing" and "Pieces" by Red, "It's No Secret" and "I Found My Way Back Again" by Nevertheless, "Wrapped in Your Arms" and "All I Need To Be" by Fireflight, "Breaking You" and "Run Forward" by Audrey Assad, and many, many others... they've saved me more times than I can count. Most of my own sad songs, including "Closure," have been the most therapeutic to write. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited to share them with you in 2016.

If you're like me, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's okay. If you know the darkness, it's okay. But there is a way out. We're calling out to you. Jesus is calling out to you. He knows. My God, He knows darkness. Let Him come find you. Call back to Him.

Someone's Blood, Everyone's Hands by Michael Nichols

Refugees and terrorists. Three words in, and you're probably already polarized, if you've already formed an opinion.

A lot of us are self-professed realists, but no realist is really a realist (and that sentence melted half my brain). We just apply our worldview to whatever "-ist" we are, and call it truth, whether or not it's true. Man does what's right in his own eyes, so every idealist, optimist, pessimist, probably thinks he's a realist, at least on some level.

But, let's be really real for a minute, and look at what has happened in the world recently.


Paris.

The Mirror reports a death toll of 129 from Friday night's (local time) bombings, now known to have been planned by a Belgian ISIL activist. Hundreds more were injured.


Beirut, Lebanon.

A double suicide bombing kills 43, reports The New York Times.


Nigeria.


Syria.


Baghdad.


My God, help us.

It seems that humanity becomes bloodier and bloodier with age, and it hurts. My God, it hurts.

I've had my opinions, mixed or otherwise, about the world since I was first given a glimpse of how savage we can be. In the fourteen years since 9/11, I'm honestly surprised that we haven't been attacked again. I don't know why. Yet, for all the times we could have been attacked from the outside, it seems like we're doing a disturbingly efficient job of it from the inside. The past few days of watching my mostly American friends segregate according to their perceived appropriate reaction to the tragedies that have befallen and continue to befall the world, has made that quite clear.

Let me be clear. I hate that.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

--Jesus Christ, son of the living God

I hate that we are so at war with ourselves, yet so blind to it that we think that we have room to speak to the problems of the world.

But we do have some advantages. The freedoms we've been allowed in the United States have given us space for heartbreak and conscience in the wake of tragedy.

That being said, we're also terrified as is evidenced by the accumulating number of state governors refusing to accept refugees. That fact in and of itself is polarizing.

I couldn't have put it better or more straightforwardly than one of my favorite musicians, Audrey Assad...

Now, I'm not entirely sure whether that was referring to U.S. nationalism that I <sarcasm> love </sarcasm> so much or a militant form of nationalism that has unfortunately resulted in ISIL. Either case is valid. I read it the first way, though. Much as I love America, we get stupid when faced with both the possibility of war (with ISIL) and the necessity of servanthood to those in need (Syrian refugees).

I also couldn't have put this better...

...because, well, you know, not everyone can do everything about every piece of the world. I'd love nothing more than to drop what I'm doing and go where people need help. But I can't. I don't know what I would do when I got there. I don't have the funding to do it. I have responsibilities here. And that's okay because there are people who know what they're doing, and who can afford to do so. Thank God for them.

Unfortunately, Audrey's is one of the few positive voices I've heard during this crisis. The following redacted images are from sources on Facebook. I in no way endorse or condone the messages conveyed by these items.

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So let me get this straight. Muslims reside in every country, so we should nuke every country? Or just the ones known to harbor terrorist cells. For one thing, we might as well walk up to the doors of the surrounding nuclear powers and ask them to nuke us for contaminating their nations. Not to mention what would happen to the ecosystem worldwide, because we have even bigger nukes than we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not to mention that we were the only reasonably viable nuclear power. Not to mention that would be all the excuse ISIL, North Korea, Iran would need to retaliate.

And it get's even <sarcasm> better </sarcasm>...

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So, Saudis are to blame for a Belgian terrorist slaughtering Parisian citizens? Have you even met someone from Saudi Arabia? Or Iran? Or Iraq? Or any of the surrounding nations? I may not be of that culture, but anyone I have met, has been fantastic company. Including any that may happen to have been Muslim. Doesn't mean we see eye to eye on a lot of things, but on a lot of things we do. And I've never once been mistreated or condescended to by any of them.

This is not to deny that there are people out there who would murder for their faith. But there are also those who would murder for nothing. It say more about what is inside a person than what religion they follow, and although I think both factors are important, they work in tandem. One person full of rage can pursue Islam as a means to destroy the world, and a peaceful person can pursue Islam as a way of peace. That doesn't mean I accept every tenet of Islam as truth, so don't mistake love or compassion for agreeance, but both things have happened with Islam as much as they have happened with Christianity during and immediately following the Crusades, at the beginning of the reformation, and in Salem, not to mention the many cults that have cropped up over the millennia. Bear in mind that "the untaught and unstable distort [...] the Scriptures, to their own destruction." The same is true with Christianity, even though I do believe it to be complete truth.

It's this kind of blatant rashness and racism that infuriates me on behalf of the Gospel that is for the reconciliation of all men to Christ. (Understand that I'm not one of those people who cries "racism" every chance he gets.) Do the same lips that breathe forth the gospel to civilized culture withhold it from ISIL, or other world adversaries? Is there some difference between my need for Christ and theirs? Or Mussolini's, Hitler's, Ted Bundy's, O.J. Simpson's, anybody's? Whether or not the sins of a person pile up, they were all nailed to the cross of Christ, and we cannot in good conscience deny that to anyone, no matter what they have done. We also cannot in good conscience refrain from protecting the world from such people.

My point is this. Make no mistake. Raw war, annihilating an entire people, is not the answer. It never has been. It has never worked before. It never will. Certainly, only for the sake of the safety of the world, we may have to go to war. I don't like to say so, but it may be necessary.

But let's get one thing straight: someone is going to die should the Lord delay His coming. Someone innocent (and for the love of sanity, don't start the argument about man not being innocent, because I know and I'm sure you get my point) will die.

And that's not just in a wartime scenario.

The potential is there due to the simple fact of what we're dealing with.

Another thing Audrey said--and I admire her humility for this--will call to memory the Boston Marathon tragedy...

The simple fact is that in the wake of the movement of Syrian refugees, ISIL follows. But it's not just refugees. ISIL would be moving regardless of whether or not refugees were in the mix. Terrorists terrorize, and they find a way to do it wherever they can, and taking down refugees with them, causing them more grief in their perpetual displacement, simply adds to their self-defined victory. Make no mistake: before the Western "Christian" world was ever attacked, they turned first toward their own countrymen. It is the war within Syria that has led the the displacement of so many battered souls. Don't in overzealous American nationalism forget the common struggles all of our kind has endured, nor neglect what you can do about it.

As for the whole "put veterans first" thing, yes, ideally, that would have been taken care of long ago. But it hasn't. And now we have a brand new problem. The unfortunate truth is that both problems exist irrespective of "who got there first." The world is full of evil, and evil does not care who you are or where you came from or what you might have contributed to the world. Evil will continue to chase humankind until the day of the Lord. Both groups of people need help, even if we have failed miserably up to this point.

So, all being said, let's say we accept the refugees into our country. Probably some terrorists are going to find their way in.

But, let's say we reject the refugees. Refugees suffer more, and the terrorists are still with them.

No matter which path is chosen, the refugees suffer.

What if you could do something about the suffering, but do nothing?

Then blood is on your hands.

But what if, because of our mercy for the refugees, America is terrorized?

Then American blood is on your hands.

What if we go to war against ISIL and fight them wherever they are? Hopefully, we will keep the world safe, but undoubtedly innocent lives will be lost along the way.

Then blood is on your hands.

What if we bomb the tar out of suspected ISIL hideouts, completely ravaging the Middle East? Don't forget about collateral damage. It still exists.

Blood is on your hands.

What if we nuke the Middle East? Even more collateral damage, to the whole world, not to mention nuclear retaliation from the surrounding nuclear powers.

Blood is on your hands.

In every scenario, my Lord and my God, is there not blood on our hands? Was it not for this that You died for us before the foundations of the world?

The same word of God says these things:

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

--the Lord God Almighty through Isaiah the prophet

Yes. We must be on the defensive against injustice and ruthlessness, but justice and compassion are not mutually exclusive:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

--Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God

Whether we stand by and do nothing, or we make the most foolish errors in war against the enemy or in mercy for the weak, you will have to live with it.

The question is simple. What can you live with? And what does that say about your heart?

I know I've ignored love too many times to count. What does that say about 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.

The Hunger by Michael Nichols

One of the most powerful bodily impulses is hunger. It should be, right? Without food, we go unnourished, and the body begins to wither and shut down. Sure, we can go with an empty stomach for a little while. God designed us to know we need food, but He also designed us to be able to live without it for a little while. That being said, you can only starve so long before you stop caring what you eat or what you have to do to get your food.

But it's not always food... I'd dare say it's usually not food we hunger for.

I spent much of my life not believing in love, yet wishing I had it when I needed it, chasing it without a reason, without an understanding of what I was chasing, therefore never feeling confident enough to apprehend it and not knowing how. When finally I understood what it was like to be loved by another person, then lost it, I became the addict without a fix. Not only did I need love, but I would do anything to get it: lie, cheat, betray... But eventually, people grow up, and they get fed up, and aren't willing to wait for you to do the same. We lose touch with each other and push each other away.

But that's not actually love. That is a tranquilizer. That's a shot of sedative in the base of your skull. Love takes work. A tranquilizer just takes a squeeze on a syringe. But that's modern love, reduced to chemicals intoxicating the brain, rather than realizing that love is more. It's a choice and a commitment. And it's absolutely true that love itself is intoxicating. But that's not all it is. It's man's greatest potential. Without love, we are nothing. When we take chemicals rather than giving love, we're no better than meth heads roaming the street, and drug dealers defending their district in the name of all they can take for themselves. We're addicts. We're addicted to ourselves.

That was me. And it wasn't all that long ago.

Now, I live in the lonely shadow of withdrawal from a mindstate that can only take, and only Jesus can save me. Jesus has saved me. He hasn't let me go since I was stricken with a craving for companionship. I hope that I can deepen our companionship because I know His love is the only truly lasting love. I must believe He heals me. I have no other choice. I don't want to die this way. And I must believe I can still find companionship with a human. I can love and be loved. But I must love Jesus first.

The problem with addiction isn't that addicts want to achieve some transcendent bliss. It's that they seek normalcy without realizing that being subject to agony is normalcy in a fallen world. In turn, when an addict seeks recovery, it's not a matter of becoming better than the addiction but of accepting the fact that it's okay to hurt. You cannot kill your pain by drowning your thoughts, feelings, and senses, nor does the avoidance of pain lead to the assurance of happiness. The surest way to find normalcy again is to accept it for what it is rather than deny it. So even if it takes time, and plenty of it, I'm okay with that now. I want real. I don't just want high. Not now. Never again.

Head Shot: Alone by Michael Nichols

Do we alienate people because we hate them or because we hate ourselves?

Is it better to be surrounded by oblivious, apathetic souls, or to be alone?

At the end of the day, can you live with pushing everyone away for the sake of staying safe inside, free of criticism, free of failing others, free from the hurt of missing those absent?

...or is failure found in the alienation of everything and everyone we ever deemed important?

No. Failure means that there is no hope to change.

Is it worth the effort to believe and hope that genuine albeit imperfect love exists between two human beings? Is fulfilling our calling in Jesus' name a greater gain than the connections we lose in defying those who deny the dreams we've been given? Is victory over our own soul's shadows worth the struggle?

Yes. Undeniably, yes. It is worth it.

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.