worship

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)

Bring Out Your Dead by Michael Nichols

One of the most difficult things anyone can do before they die is admit they were wrong about things. We all do it, right? You make a math error in class or in your checkbook, or you misread a bill and pay it late. You're repairing a car part and misplace a screw. Anything. Small or big.

I've had this dream of playing music before audiences, releasing CDs, writing, opening a label or recording studio, designing music tech, teaching music -- music stuff. My greatest passion out of these things is to sing and write as the front man of my own band, playing alternative rock gospel music (gospel being applicable to the lyrics and not the southern genre). I've done that. I'm no celebrity, obviously, but I've achieved some of these goals with my band. Unfortunately, however, we recently agreed that it was time to disband.

We started strong, then life happened. We got jobs, we faced issues. It became difficult to remain coherent... yet that was never the issue because we somehow always knew how to find a way. Through it all, we've always managed to play shows and even released an EP. Mechanically, everything seemed fine, dandy. The more I've thought about it, though, and contemplated my walk with Jesus, I've realized that even if the band isn't the problem, and even if our circumstances are making it difficult for us to do what we love, and even if I've got my motives straight, I've realized that I need to give it up because God still has things for me to do and learn first.

The "dead" I'm bringing out is not just my band but the soul that carried it. In 2009, I was awakening, and as I took in the day, I shouted about the night to say that I had come out of it and that one day we will all be going into a greater one. I was one of those young believers who was ready to go all-in, and in ways, that's what I did. Don't misunderstand -- I'm not tooting my own horn in any way. I was also inexperienced and naive. I was willing, and I was ready to run headlong into whatever I needed to do, or so it seemed; but in reality, I was ill prepared, and the next five years of my life were spent learning that. I learned how much I was willing to compromise, how unstable, how raw, how inexperienced, and how hollow my devotion was to anyone let alone God.

I had no idea how much growing up I had to do, how much I had to go through to do it, and what God had in store for me after all of that; and honestly, I'm not sure that He's even done. Sure, in a way, He'll never be done, but I feel like I'm just now wading into deep water. Again, don't misunderstand -- there was a point in my life where I was drowning in its depths, but this time is different because I'm learning to swim, and being taught that only He can make me walk on water.

I've said a million times to Him, "If you want me to give up music, I will," but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was just my lips talking. Music is my solace, my release, my offering, my way of not feeling alone, and my way of making sure no one else ever does. That having been said, if I had to give that up to somehow reach someone, would I really? Not too long ago, I'd have said, "Yes," but I'd really have meant, "No," and that has helped me uncover the reasons behind a fact that has disturbed me for a long time: I find it very difficult to worship. It's not that I can't, but it often times takes so much effort. I've wondered why. Again, the past five years have taught me that I haven't had my priorities straight. I've had my sights set on things that can't satisfy me or save me like He can.

Even though I want to serve God, and I want Him to be in total control, if I'm being honest, I really haven't done the best job relinquishing that to Him. In effect, He has allowed me to go through things so that I can genuinely see the state I'm in, and by seeing that state, I can finally truly let Him have His way with me and let go of this arrogant chasing after things that fade. For me, that means musical success, romance, social prowess, and more (not to say these things are evil, but my lust for them tainted me). This arrogance is the ingrowing of oneself: selfishness, empty ambitions. By growing inward too much and not growing up to soak up God's light, eventually, our souls start to in-grow and die.

You can only spend so much time in a box before you start to grow into yourself, just like that. There must be a Sabbath, a season of rest. The music must stop for a second for you to truly bask in the glory of the Lord and remember why you're even allowed to do what you love to do. When you step out into that light, you have to be honest about what things in your life you've let die -- that's the only way they can be brought to life again, maybe even with a new name and a new face.

Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead. I bring me.

Writing on the Mirror by Michael Nichols

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A mirror is a place we use to examine ourselves to see if we're prepared to go out, to see whether or not we look decent, be sure the hair is laying right or that you don't still have tomato sauce on your face from that delectable lasagna. It's also a place where we a lot of things wrong with us, question ourselves, and often times can be a source of negative self image (or pride on the flip side, if we're unwilling to see the important flaws).

I've never really been 100% confident in the way I look. I'm always asking for advice on different clothing, different hair. It may be that way because I used to be ridiculed for my face, for my slender figure (which isn't typically a man's desire, but hey, that's the way I'm built naturally). It doesn't help that I'm susceptible to the occasional anxiety attack. I don't know whether they are a result of the ridicule or if the ridicule I used to face simply exacerbated the anxiety that may have surfaced eventually.

About a week ago, I suffered one of these attacks. This one was triggered by my tendency to base my feelings about my relationship with God on my ability to make good choices and also to abstain from sins that are particularly tempting to me. When I have an anxiety attack, the worst symptom I experience is the racing thoughts. They just don't stop. They are many. They are negative. They are violent. The are self-deprecating. They are scary. They are also false. Even if there is something wrong with you, they are false and scary because they destroy.

... But why? Why do these thoughts happen? If God is good, why do I have the spirit of fear? Either one of two things must be true: either God is not good, or someone else gave me the spirit of fear. So I remembered something that I should not have let become trapped in a dark, unregulated corner of my mind: the enemy comes to destroy. Jesus comes to give life! So I prayed, "Lord, protect me from demons, protect me from the enemy."

The racing thoughts dissipated immediately.

I'm nothing special, but sometimes, the enemy tries to put us in a place where we think we're worthless because we're sinners. Jesus begs to differ. He died and lives for us. He knows what we need when we need it, so when we as His adopted and highly dysfunctional kids are scared and need Him, He will step in and say, "Child, I love you, and I will keep you safe from the enemy." I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that the One who's in me is greater than the one that is in the world. At that moment, I needed a miracle, and I wanted Him, my heavenly Father, back.

So since then, I've had this thing where I write on mirrors with dry erase marker. I write my sins, insecurities, and my remedy. There's something powerful about that to me. Maybe the words over my reflection help me to see myself in the context of Christ's love and truth. By doing what He did a week ago, He gave me a reason to give back into His Spirit and fight the spirit of fear in Jesus' name, because even though I'd never lost the reasons or lost my faith, I lost my fight and gained some doubts and baggage. But praise God that He is greater than any anxiety and greater than anything I see in the mirror.

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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)

Bidding the Images to Shift to Vividness by Michael Nichols

On the way home yesterday evening after a band practice with One Renown, I found myself captivated by the appearance of the darkening day. The sun had already set, but the sky was still filled with an orange glow. I saw the waxing crescent of the moon, surrounded by a very few of the brightest stars that had become visible. The road was empty as were the fields serving as space between properties. The thing that caught my attention though was a shift in my perception of the world around me: everything was extremely vivid.

No, I wasn't high as a kite. No, it wasn't necessarily the beauty of environment around me despite the fact that its beauty was undeniable. No, my perception shifted. Why?

After the band practice I had just attended had concluded, I stayed and talked a bit about the link between creativity and skill. One thing that I shared was that my experiences have led me to conclude that in music (and really any form of art), it is not the musician that plays the instrument, but it is the instrument that plays the musician. It is as much a part of us as the blood in our veins and the breath in our lungs, so when some say that "music saved my life," rest assured that they mean it.

The same thing happens during worship. As God fills you, like blood in your veins, He works His way through your whole body. Enhanced clarity of Him translates into a difference in the clarity of the world around you. He is a fundamental essential to our well being. He is not just an idea; after all, ideas are useless without someone to deploy them. He is, however, the perfect embodiment of some of the most unfathomable ideas known to man. When we get a clearer picture of Him, we begin to understand these ideas a little more - ideas of eternity, love, darkness, and so much more.

Lately, I have been struggling to understand the nature of this vividness that comes with walking closer with Him, why for so long I have lived in a fog, the world around me obscure and blurry. I fall short in my understanding this cacophonous in two ways: firstly, in my understanding of what creates the fog and how it came to me or vice versa, and secondly, in my understanding of how the fog clears. Here is my thought.

Have you ever experienced a panic attack? I have. Shallow breathing, savage thoughts of impending silence, an urge to scream at the top of my lungs in frantic distress, and the desire to simply shut my eyes to shut out everything else. In a word, it is what happens when fear enters the body. When fear enters the body, nothing else matters but safety, isolation, escape. Do not misunderstand me: these three things are not bad in the slightest, not that I need to inform you of that. In fact, they are essential... but they are not God, and neither are we; therefore, attempting to provide for ourselves something that we have none to give is futile at best. This is the nature of fog, blurry vision, inability to see past ten feet around you.

Do not be afraid. Where light shines, darkness flees. Christ is love in the flesh, and He is already casting out fear. The fog is lifting. You are not alone. God goes before you, and He is faithful to either bring you out of the fog or dispel it like a shadow. The one who makes you fear will soon be crushed under His feet. Our war is not with men but in the Spirit. Deception is greater than flesh and bone, and so is the remedy.