Monday, January 29, 2018

From Paul to Saul to Paul

Image result for saul paul

Have you ever noticed how fond Jesus seems to be of paradoxical statements?

"But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."

"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."

"Blessed are they that mourn..."

"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad!"

"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first."

"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant."

A lot of these sayings don't seem to make very much sense to our natural minds. But spiritually, seen from God's perspective, they make all the sense in the world.

Among these principles runs a common thread of the greatest vs. the least. And it seems clear that the qualification to being the "greatest" in Jesus's eyes is humility...servanthood...smallness.

The grandest stories are oftentimes due to the overwhelming odds facing the small protagonist. It's why we love stories like Rudy, David and Goliath, Gideon, the 300 and the Hobbit.  One thing I think that draws people to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the hero shaping huge events isn't of the great races of men, elves, dwarves, wizards or ents. It's the small, insignificant, unimpressive hobbits who are the greatest heroes.

J. R. R. Tolkien writes:

"Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

I believe there is an essential spiritual principle we must grasp hold of here.

As I was praying a few months ago for revival, the thought that kept coming to me was that God delights in working among the simple, weak and small. That in order to have great things happen amongst us we must see ourselves as small in our own eyes. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. It brought to mind a lesson I learned in one of the first Bible studies I participated in.

We were studying the book of Romans, and as we often do, we brushed by the first couple verses to get on to the "good stuff" but the teacher stopped our reading at verse 2. 

"Don't rush by this!" he cried out, passionately. "You don't realize what lessons we can learn from these verses...every word is important!"

I laughed. "So we should stop at the first word, 'Paul', and analyze it?" I asked, somewhat incredulously. 

"Yes!"  he insisted. "Look at what it says...'Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.' What do you know of this man?"

I briefly recounted what I knew about him.  That his name used to be Saul as he persecuted the church, believing that he was doing God a service by rooting out this heresy and protecting Judaism, until God appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Saul realized that this Jesus whose followers he was persecuting was the God he claimed to serve.  Saul was converted and became the greatest missionary the world has ever known, changing his name to Paul and writing two thirds of the New Testament.

"So why did he change his name?" the teacher asked.

I shrugged.

"Do you know what those names mean?"

I shook my head.

"Paul comes from a Latin word meaning 'little'.  'Saul' comes from a Hebrew word which means 'desired'."

As he explained a light dawned in my mind. He was one of the brightest minds in the Jewish faith, training under Gamaliel. As he explained himself in a letter to the Philippian church much later in his life:

Philippians 3:4  Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 
5  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 
6  Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 

In terms of the flesh, his credentials in Judaism, he was aptly called, 'desired'.  But when he had his revelation from God, he ceased thinking of himself as 'desired'. From then on, he started calling himself 'little'. All of his accomplishments and desirable elements faded in light of God's glory...he writes of this also:

Philippians 3:7  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 
8  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 

It's interesting that of the two most famous Biblical figures named Saul, they seemed to have had opposite journeys. One went from Saul to Paul, but the other seems to have gone from Paul to Saul.

Saul was selected and anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king over Israel. At first he hid among the stuff, but as he grew more and more used to the kingdom, he started trusting his own judgment and several times he broke God's commands to do what he felt more expedient. When the Lord takes the kingdom away from Saul, Samuel goes to the root of the problem.

1st Samuel 15:17  And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel? 

Saul's success came from the Lord when he was little in his own sight. But when the success came, so did the pride and Saul grew larger in his own sight than was good for him, and the Bible says that the spirit of the Lord departed from him.

This is the danger we all face. Not to confuse God's blessings as accomplishments that come through some personal credit in ourselves. In contrast, we can see this attitude of humility in David's prayer after Nathan the prophet tells him the Lord's message that he can't build a house for God but his son will. Check out this prayer...

2nd Samuel 7:18  Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?
19  And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD? 
20  And what can David say more unto thee? for thou, Lord GOD, knowest thy servant. 
21  For thy word's sake, and according to thine own heart, hast thou done all these great things, to make thy servant know them. 
22  Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 

So how can we maintain the attitude of humility that is essential to walking with the Lord?  I love this quote from Phillips Brooks:

"The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is."

I believe the psalmist was doing this when he proclaimed:
Psalm 8:3  When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4  What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 
So what about you? Where are you at on the Saul-Paul scale? If you were small in your own eyes once, but now see yourself as inherently desirable, perhaps it would be wise to get into the presence of God and see what the real smallness of your greatness is! To realize where all your value comes from...and then God can use us for great things!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Why I Wrote a YA Novel

That's right!  In case you haven't heard, I am now a published author!  I've entered an interesting new stage in which people I haven't seen for a while come up to me and ask, "So you've written a book?"  

Some people think it means I have instant wealth now that I'm a successful author, failing to realize that the terms "successful" and "published" are not synonymous and I still have quite a few books to sell before I make any return on my initial investment.  This is compounded because of the type of book I've written.


A novel.

About spiritual warfare, starring a skateboarder as the main character.

For young adults...teenagers...who are notoriously not fond of reading.

So now a more appropriate question might have entered your head... "Why on earth did you decide to invest money and time to write a young adult fiction novel?"

The answer is really simple.  God has given me a heart for youth...ever since I was 12.  If you don't know my story, I'll give you a few of the highlights that led up to the publishing of this work.

I was saved at 10 years old, but I really started walking with the Lord in earnest, answering His call and living in relationship with Him when I was 12.  Why the Lord chose me out at such a young age is a mystery except that His strength is made perfect in weakness and I was weak enough to display His glory.  As for why I answered the call, I think it was because enough things had happened to me by that point, (such as my dad dying, and our family being rejected by a church) that had matured me enough to realize how much I needed Him.

Anyways, as I began seeking the Lord as a 12-year-old, God placed an unmistakable burden in my life for our youth group.  There were so many times in prayer when I would just weep and sob over them and it was as if I could feel His heart for them and His longing to have a relationship with each of them.  So as a result, I decided to start a youth Bible study.  I was dumb enough to not be dissuaded by the obvious obstacle that I was 12 and was planning on teaching a Bible study to a group of kids that were all older than me.

Remarkably enough after a couple of rough attempts, several of the young people actually began consistently attending!  I would study a chapter in the Bible, pray and then do my best to communicate it to whoever showed up.  Sometimes it was just one, other times there were eleven or twelve, but a lot of times it was four or five youth that would come.  As it happened, they began asking me questions or arguing with me about certain surface issues...standards, as I called them, that their parents insisted they live up to.  How to dress, what entertainment was acceptable, etc.  I would go round and round with them on some of these issues, but gradually, through prayer (as I was frustrated at not being able to get through to them) I came to realize that the problem lay deeper and if I wanted to get anywhere with them in my Bible study I had to address the root issue.

The root issue, as I came to see it, was that they really didn't believe that God loved them and wanted a relationship with them...that they couldn't really grasp how much He cared.  If they got that, then all the other issues would work themselves out.  But how could I get them to see that all the standard arguments we were having were just smokescreens distracting us from the real problem?  As a storyteller at heart, I decided to write something from another character's perspective to try to show them what was really going on.

That is how the first chapter of Darkened Eyes was born.  I came up with a character--a teenage skater who was rebelling against his mom's Christianity, and fought hard against all the rules, but really just didn't believe God loved him.

By the time I wrote this little short story, I was 14.  I only intended to write those couple of pages, just to introduce the idea that was in my head and communicate it in a different way, but as I was writing, the storyteller in me got the best of me, and I threw in a sinister, suspicious character behind a tree, watching the skater, with a deeper, darker purpose.  I'm not even really sure where the idea came from, because it just occurred to me to throw it in there out of the blue, but once the concept was on the table I wanted to play around with it and see where it took me.

Thus, I began writing a story, chapter by chapter, that would eventually become a published novel.  My sister (who was 11 at the time) would read each chapter as I finished it, give me feedback and push me to write the next one.  Without her promptings I don't know that I ever would have completed the project.  Over the next several years, I wrote the story, and finally actually finished.  The question then was: "Now what?"  Suddenly I had a finished novel manuscript sitting on my computer doing nothing.

Practicality told me that there was no way it would be good enough for publication since I was a teenager writing a book for the first time.  But whenever I got the chance, I would send it to friends or other writers who would as time went on edit it and give me feedback.  I went to a writer's conference purely to get advice, and was actually told by the publishers I met who read the little bit that I'd written that they thought it was good enough to be published!  But it was still in the metamorphasis stages, constantly changing and adapting as I got different types of feedback.  When I went to college, several of my English major friends jumped in the mix with edits and suggestions.

Finally after multiple drafts, proddings and attempts, I found an agent that would represent me who connected me with Axiom Press, who published my first novel!

But again, why go to all the trouble and expense to finally get the novel published?

Well, aside from the creative process itself being fun and invigorating to me, I really do have a heart for young people, especially in our culture.

We are waging war whether we realize it or not.  We are daily engaged in a supernatural conflict, in which very real spiritual sources are trying to influence, corrupt and claim us.  And I personally believe that teenagers are prime candidates for this war.  I believe each soul has value and that the Kingdoms of both God and Satan struggle over winning young people to their respective causes.  I wanted to write a book that would depict that.  A story engaging enough to keep a young person's interest, but that would also reach down to the root of the issue and address the battle that is happening in the mind and heart of the person reading.

I don't know how God will use my literary offering.  I am super inexperienced in areas of marketing and promotion and feel like I'm constantly floundering trying to figure out what to do next.  However, my prayer is that whoever will most benefit from this book, God will get it into their hands.  If you know someone you think could benefit, or if you're struggling personally with issues of the problem of evil in the world, whether or not God loves you, or why there are so many rules in Christianity...if you're an adult who is trying to reach into the world of teenagers and impact them for the kingdom of light...if you're a young person who has grown up in the church but struggles with some of the teachings...I pray that this book blesses and impacts you.  (And, of course, any help you can give me in getting the word out is greatly appreciated!)

Ultimately, my goal is expressed in Acts 26:18, which gives a hint at the reason for my enigmatic title: 
Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 
May this book aid in some small way in accomplishing this purpose!

Darkened Eyes is available on Amazon or in any local bookstore to whom Ingram distributes (like Barnes and Noble or most Christian bookstores).  You can also purchase a signed copy directly from me at

"I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because the author used a story that almost everyone can relate to, made the reader wonder what's going to happen next by letting the suspense build, and used many elements to grab the reader's attention." (Paige, age 14)
"I wasn't sure what to expect but I definitely didn't expect to cry, laugh, roll my eyes and feel genuine fear for this imaginary character. The story in itself is interesting as the author brings you believable and relatable characters that go on an unexpected adventure, but the deeper journey that it takes you on is what got five stars from me. I did not except to pause and re-evaulate my life from a youth book about a skateboarder." (Emily, age 24)

"Darkened Eyes is a great action-packed YA novel featuring a relatable protagonist. The story has a great plot with lots of twists to keep things interesting. Be aware that there are very overt religious themes in the book, but since the story is essentially about angels and demons battling over souls of humanity, that is to be expected. The glimpses into the supernatural realm that the author depicts are vivid and compelling." (JD, Christian pod-caster)
"I just finished reading this book! It held me captive right from the start. Great read, suspenseful, and a great depiction of humanity and the unseen battle for our souls. Thank you Michael Schroeder for using your God given talents for His glory. Now everybody who needs good reading especially for a young person who likes adventure buy this book." 😀 (Michelle, Author of Legacy of Grace)📕"

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I Want Deliverance NOW, Daddy!

With July 4th, Independence Day, still fresh in our minds, I thought I would post some thoughts on the freedom we have in Jesus!

This is something I've shared with a few people lately who have struggled with the concept of deliverance and overcoming sins that seem to have a hold that won't let go.  And this is a concept that has helped me a lot even as I've taught it, so I figured it might help a few other people as well.

This post is for those of us who know what we're supposed to be doing, how we're supposed to act, what a disciple of Jesus looks like, but find ourselves falling seemingly uncontrollably into the captivity of those things that have a hold on us over and over again.  It could be something like smoking or drugs, or a sexual sin like pornography or homosexuality, or it could be something like an uncontrollable anger or apathy or laziness.  But whatever it is, we know it's not right and that Jesus died to set us free from it.

I believe there are two parts to deliverance.

#1: We have to accept our identity of being delivered.

This was brought to light for me so clearly by a phenomenal sermon preached by my Pastor recently.  (You can watch it on YouTube here.  It was one of those rare sermons that fundamentally changed my way of thinking, so it's certainly worth a listen.)  The point of it was essentially that Jesus has already paid the pride...we just have to receive what He has already bought for us.  We have to possess it and take ownership of it, much as the children of Israel had to do to conquer Canaan.  God had given them the land...they simply needed to take possession of it.  (I realize you may be thinking "that's not as easy as it sounds", and I grant that, but the main point to take away here is that it is already ours, even if there are some battles to fully take possession.)  Reference Scriptures like 2 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 2:24, Ephesians 2:6, Ephesians 2:13, Romans 8:17, and many, many more, and notice the past tense nature of these promises!

Romans 6:11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

This verse is key to our understanding of our own deliverance.  As long as you continue to define yourself as someone who's gay, or who just can't control his temper, or can't help the way she feels, you will struggle because you are in a battle against what you believe to be inherent in your nature.  But if you can separate yourself from the behavior rather than being identified by it, and realize that you have a new identity in Jesus, you will have come a long way towards beating the sin.

But what about the struggle that then ensues?  You may hesitantly accept that God has given you the inheritance, but there are still those giants and cities with large walls in the land.  What do you do about them?  How do you overcome?  That's where the second principle comes in.

#2: Don't stop dipping in the Jordan until you're delivered!

Now what in the world do I mean by that?  Some of you may understand that reference and some may be lost.  I want to hasten to say that it doesn't mean you keep getting baptized until it takes...just as Jesus only had to die once for it to be efficacious, there is only one baptism, and when you identify yourself with His burial through it, it's done.  You have been born again into a new identity.  So what do I mean by this?  Look back with me to a story in 2 Kings.

2Ki 5:1  Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. 
2Ki 5:2  And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. 
2Ki 5:3  And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. 
2Ki 5:4  And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. 
2Ki 5:5  And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. 
2Ki 5:6  And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. 
2Ki 5:7  And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. 
2Ki 5:8  And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. 
2Ki 5:9  So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 
2Ki 5:10  And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. 
2Ki 5:11  But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 
2Ki 5:12  Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. 
2Ki 5:13  And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? 
2Ki 5:14  Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 

I want to point out a couple of things about this story...

First of all, Naaman was a mighty man of valor.  He didn't lack the courage it would take to be delivered.  It was simply out of his own power and ability.

Second, no amount of money or appeal to a person of power could deliver him of what ailed him.  Only God could.

Thirdly, when he finally DID turn to God by going to the prophet, what was his expectation?  Did you notice verse 11?  He thought Elisha would simply wave his hand over him, say a prayer, and he'd be instantaneously delivered!  At the snap of the man of God's fingers!  I want to spend a minute on this, because I feel that's how a lot of people expect God to deliver them of their sin.  They want a preacher to pray a prayer, wave his hand over them, and experience instantaneous deliverance.

Is that an unreasonable request?  Isn't God able to do it?  Of course, He is.  I've heard stories where a person came to an altar, laid down their cigarettes or alcohol or drugs and never had a desire for them again.  It can happen.  But, God in His wisdom, doesn't always do it that way.  Many times He wants us to struggle for it.  He wants us to take Canaan piece by piece.  I don't have time in this blog post to delve into all the reasons why, but a thorough study of Scripture will show this sometimes frustrating but always loving aspect of God's sovereign hand.

Psalm 1:3 talks about a prosperous life lived for God.  But there's an interesting phrase in the verse...
Psa 1:1  Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 
Psa 1:2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 
Psa 1:3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 
When does this blessed tree bring forth fruit?  In his season.  It has to ripen.  It has to mature.  It comes in his season, as he continually takes in the nutrients of the river of God's Word, by which he or she is planted.
I know it's tempting to demand like Veruca Salt, "I want deliverance NOW, Daddy!" And pout when he doesn't immediately produce the fruit of the Spirit in us overnight.  But the ripening of the fruit of the Spirit takes time, and only produces in his season.  We want God to wave His hand over us and magically make all our problems go away.  But a lot of times it doesn't work that way?  So how DO we get the deliverance?  Let me continue with my observations of the story.

Fourth, Namaan WOULD have done some great thing...he just didn't want to do the humbling, degrading thing that was asked of him.  Namaan could think of a lot cleaner, easier ways to accomplish what the prophet wanted.  His servant points out that he would have done some great thing had he been asked to earn his deliverance.  That is also true with us, a lot of times.  We will do some GREAT thing if we're asked!  We would do almost anything...except for the degrading things God asks of us like humility, confession, accountability...etc.  That's too dirty...too common.   There are better ways.  But those aren't the ways God has chosen to use.  "Wash and be clean" is a little too simplistic and naive and easy for us.  That doesn't cure leprosy.  And we could quote all kinds of statistics and studies to show why that old-fashioned way of thinking simply doesn't work.  And would seem that God demands this humility...which brings me to the next observation.

Fifth, Elisha didn't even come out when Namaan came.  He is an honorable captain in the enemy's army, and Elisha sends a messenger with his simplistic message.  How degrading!  How uncouth!  How socially unacceptable!  What a sorry excuse for a man of God who won't even come to the door to recognize me AS I DESERVE!  I don't care if I'm a leper!  Show me some respect!  But sometimes we have to receive the message through quirky people with bad manners or social awkwardness or low society.  Are we still willing to listen, if it means we'll be made clean if we do?

Sixth, sometimes the people in our lives who live with us constantly, like the little maid from Israel who knew about the prophet and had simple faith, or the servants who were bold and trusted enough to speak their minds to their master about his childish temper tantrum, are the only one who can see our blindspots and will have the courage to point out to us what is obvious to everyone but us.  Listen to those people.

Seventh, and I purposely put this observation seventh because did you notice how many times he was supposed to dip?  Seven.  SEVEN!  Without getting too deep into numerology, why so many times??  Couldn't I just dip once or twice?  No.  Dip seven times into the dirty Jordan.  Wash in it seven times and THEN you'll be clean.  I know seven is the number of completion and all that, and I do believe that's the reason for that amount of times because you have to complete the process, but laying aside the specific number for a moment, I want us to think about how we could apply that to our lives.  You may dip into the degrading, humbling washing once, and not come out clean.  If you stop there because you're discouraged or humiliated you'll still have your leprosy.  BUT DON'T STOP.  Dip again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Seven times, if necessary.  Seventy times seven times if necessary (which, incidentally, IS how many times Jesus said we need to forgive our brother in Matthew 18).  But don't stop till the process is complete.  I know it's embarrassing.  I know it's humiliating.  I know it's frustrating and depressing.  But keep dipping into the Jordan until you're completely clean with skin like a newborn baby!  Adopt the attitude of Micah...check this out:

Micah 7:7  Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. 
Micah 7:8  Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. 
Micah 7:9  I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.

Grab hold of those words in your soul.  Look!  Wait.  God will hear.  Even when I fall, I SHALL arise!  I will bear God's indignation, understanding I've messed up and there are consequences, but I am fully expectant that, as my advocate, my paraclete, he will plead my cause and execute judgment, bring me forth to the light and I WILL see HIS righteousness!

If you're in the thick of the battle for the inheritance of God, today, remember these principles.  God is for you.  And if HE is for you...who shall be against you?

In conclusion, I believe this old hymn says it well:

  1. I’m pressing on the upward way,
    New heights I’m gaining every day;
    Still praying as I’m onward bound,
    “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
    • Refrain:
      Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
      By faith, on Canaan’s tableland,
      A higher plane than I have found;
      Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
  2. My heart has no desire to stay
    Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
    Though some may dwell where those abound,
    My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
  3. I want to live above the world,
    Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
    For faith has caught the joyful sound,
    The song of saints on higher ground.
  4. I want to scale the utmost height
    And catch a gleam of glory bright;
    But still I’ll pray till rest I’ve found,
    “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Think You're Special?

1st Peter 5:6  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

There are times when we all have to wrestle with our own pride, and I have found that pride is one of the sneakiest vices of all.  "More subtil than all of the beasts of the field," if you will.  It creeps up in ways that we rarely expect, and is hard to notice in ourselves and even harder to deal with if someone else notices it in us.  It's one of the most interesting character flaws, in that, as C.S. Lewis, pointed out, the more we have of it in ourselves, the more we detest it in others.

A commencement speaker at Wellesley High School made an incendiary statement in his speech at the high school graduation: "You are not special."  How does that hit you? The statement rubs our millenial, impact-addicted generation the entirely wrong way, and runs contrary to what parents and other high school graduation speakers tell their children constantly.  His point was to affect a little realize that even as the earth is not the center of our solar system, and the solar system isn't the center of our galaxy, we are not the center of our world.  We are not entitled to anything, really. Hard work, dedication and principles are still required.  If everyone is special, no one really is runs along the same lines as if everyone receives a trophy, trophies become meaningless.

God spoke to Baruch through Jeremiah the prophet at a time when Judah, the nation God had chosen for Himself, and Jerusalem where He had chosen to put His name was suffering the worst defeat it ever had.  In the midst of all this, Baruch seems very focused on himself, which prompts this rebuke from the prophet:
Jeremiah 45:5  "And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest."

There's more at stake here than just you, Baruch.  There's more going on in the big picture than your specific troubles.

I have wrestled at various times in my life with the feeling that I'm not doing enough, stemming from the belief that I am capable of far more than I'm producing!  The proverbial carrot in front of my nose is that next big thing around the corner that will fulfill me and have a huge impact on the world.  But when I'm asked to define what I would want that to be, I have a hard time nailing it down.  I just know that it's something bigger...better than where I am now in my life.  And yet, time after time, I get the sense that God is tempering me, and shutting doors, and placing me in places I don't want to be, doing things that I feel others could be doing.

Now before I continue with this post, I do want to provide a clarifying caveat.  I am not encouraging laziness, inaction or apathy.  I am not suggesting that we should just settle with a sub-par life doing menial work with mediocre results.  I am 100% with William Carey's maxim, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."

My only concern is that we let smaller opportunities go by in search of THE BIG THING.  That illusive great thing that will fulfill and complete us.  Sometimes, I get the sense that when we turn in our resume from God and He gives us a job, we turn it down because it's not quite big enough and we feel that we are slightly overqualified for the position.

I want to work on that in my own character.  The story of Korah and Dathan and Abiram from Numbers 16 convicted me the other day.

Numbers 16:1-3 (KJV)
(1)  Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
(2)  And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
(3)  And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

We COULD construe their statements as, "Everyone is special...why do you think YOU are?"  Which is really an odd question when you think about it.  Their point, however, was that they felt they could do the job just as well as Moses, and why did he think he could be in charge?  They wanted something greater.   They thought Moses took too much upon himself, when anyone could have done his job.

The part that really got me though was Moses's response to them:

Numbers 16:4-11 (KJV)
(4)  And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
(5)  And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
(6)  This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
(7)  And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
(8)  And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
(9)  Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
(10)  And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
(11)  For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

First of all, Moses turns it around on them.  In the very act of accusing Moses that he had taken too much on himself, they were in turn, taking too much upon THEMSELVES.  But then it gets more pointed.  Verse 9 really hits home...

"Seemeth it but a small thing unto you...?"

It's almost like Moses answered their question of "You think you're special?" by asking, "You think you're not?"

God had already chosen the tribe of Levi and these leaders in particular for a very important task.  They were already set apart from the rest of the congregation because God had chosen to bring them near unto Himself to do the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord!  But that wasn't enough for them.  They wanted to be more separated.  THAT calling wasn't enough.  They wanted a greater calling.  But guess what?  Calling isn't based on skills and abilities.  It's based on God's choosing.  God's anointing.

There's a song the Jews sing at Passover called "Dayeinu" that repeats the phrase, "It would have been enough."  A few of the verses go like this...

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )
If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.
If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.
If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.
If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

I think most of us acknowledge (if we have any sense) that just by redeeming us from sin, God has already done so much for us that He is under no obligation to bless us anymore.  But we don't really live or pray like that.  We DO expect certain things from Him.  And, again, I DO believe we should take God's promises seriously and, as the widow with unjust judge and the mandate in Isaiah 62 teaches, not give God rest until those things which He has promised has been fulfilled.

However, it's just possible that we need to step back and evaluate our expectations to see if they are really in line with God's promises or moreso to heap upon our own lusts.

Let us not neglect the seemingly trivial assignments, or the character development that is incumbent upon us in menial chores by virtue of the illusive "greater" thing we are looking for.  David knew he as going to be king, but he didn't refuse the sheep-watching, harp-playing, armor-bearing, giant-slaying, troop-leading, cave-dwelling tasks God gave him in the meantime.

An interesting statement in Numbers 18, just after God has proven His point about whom He has truly chosen, He makes an interesting statement to Aaron about the role of the Levites...

Numbers 18:6  And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. 

God gave the Levites to Aaron and his sons as a gift, (which was ultimately to give back to the Lord for HIS purposes and service), which is all fine and dandy if you are Aaron or his sons.  But what if you are the gift that God is giving someone else who is in a higher position than you?

Are we willing to fulfill that role?  It's still special.  It's still necessary.  It's still a work for God.  We're just not the top dog anymore.

Hopefully this blog post gives us pause to evaluate our view of ourselves.  These are the thoughts I've been pondering.

As a closing thought, no matter what season you are in, coming out of, or going into; no matter what role you are fulfilling; no matter what stirrings are in your restless heart, let it all be strained through the filter of what God wants, and what His plans are for you.

1st Peter 5:6  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

FREE Audio Drama!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have decided to release for your listening pleasure...drumroll please...a FREE audio drama!

A few years ago some friends and I decided to produce a short pilot radio drama for a local radio station with the intent of turning it into a series if the drama was accepted.  Pulling from local acting talent, and writing and sound design talent nation-wide, we produced a three episode pilot story.  Unfortunately, I never got around to actually submitting it to any radio stations, and so, the project sat untouched and unlistened to for the last several years.

However, as I was thinking about it the other day, I reflected that it would be a shame for all our effort to go to waste just sitting there on my computer, waiting for it to crash.  So I have published these three episodes onto Soundcloud to be freely available for any who wish to hear it!

You can access these gems here: Free Audio Drama!

Here is the description of these episodes as I've posted on SoundCloud...

Three children find a mysterious spyglass and a book and are instantly transported to another world and thrown into an adventure involving an evil lord, a lost king, a spunky princess and tax-evading pirates.
A few years ago, a group of creative-minded people decided to get together and create a short audio drama. We decided to do a series of three pilot episodes with opportunity for further adventures to develop. Up till now, it has not been introduced, but I have decided to make it available for free here on SoundCloud! Enjoy this free entertainment!
Hopefully this brings a little joy and entertainment to ya this holiday season!

(A special thanks to those who helped put these together...our actors: Gary Kiwimagi, Carrie Kiwimagi and Alisa Hickox, our writers: LaJoie Lex and Laura Beth King, our music composer: Jonathan Zuniga and our sound designers: Giovanna B-Cabrera and Cody Campbell!  I also helped with all these aspects, and anything smacking of lousy quality is entirely my fault!)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Stirring in the Mulberry Trees

"The stirring in the mulberry trees..."  Sounds poetic, doesn't it?  But as I am decidedly NOT poetic, you don't have to worry about me going all Anne of Green Gables on you.

Actually, I'm referring to a concept I feel that God is trying to teach me these days, but that I'm constantly messing up.  Maybe you can relate. ;)

The title itself comes from a story in 2 Samuel 5.

David was just anointed king, and the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight against him in the valley of Rephaim.  But, as is a consistent pattern through the life of David, you notice that before he does anything he inquires of the Lord to see if he should do it.  That alone is significant to me.  He inquires of the Lord first.

As it so happens, the first time he inquires, the Lord tells him to go fight them and promises victory.  This happens, and everything is great.  But then, the Philistines gather again.  Now before we go any further, let me ask if you would inquire of the Lord again at that point?  Likely many of you would, but I have to confess that I would be tempted to make the ol' Joshua 9:14 mistake.  I know that I might because I've done it before.

I'm a very rush-to-action type of person when it comes to spiritual things.  If it makes sense to me Biblically, and in my head there would be no hindrance, I'm very quick to start a new program, initiate a new idea or commit to something without praying first.  After all, why wouldn't God want a Pet Owners Ministry or for me to plan an elaborate outreach to the homeless?

Furthermore, if I've already done something similar for the Lord before and had success, why should it be any different this time?  I've made this assumption in many Bible studies.  Having prayed and agonized and studied my brains out and having success, and then when a similar situation comes up, winging it "because I've done it before and know how to do it."

Well, not David.  David inquired of the Lord again.  But this time, the Lord's response is a little different.

2nd Samuel 5:23  And when David enquired of the LORD, he said, Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. 
2nd Samuel 5:24  And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.

This time, the Lord told David NOT to go come up behind them and wait...wait till he heard the sound of the wind in the tops of the mulberry trees because THAT'S when the Lord would go out before him to win the battle.

And I feel like that is what the Lord is cautioning me in as well lately.

I realize sometimes when you have a battle to fight or an idea or event or whatever it's a simple, clear, go-ahead and God doesn't lay out a point-by-point strategy, but just expects you to go in and take action and do your best.  And many times He has already made His will clear (as I've written about in a previous blog post).

However, that being said, I am feeling that God wants me to hold back and wait on Him for this time.  To inquire of Him and wait till I sense where His moving is at to take any action.

My problem is always that I have so many ideas!  I have trouble relating to people who aren't sure how to serve God in their communities...there are so many opportunities! I'm always overflowing with ideas for what direction we can take the Sunday school ministry, or youth events and activities or outreach things into the community or new convert classes and specialized classes or Bible studies in various cities our campus outreach programs or skits in the park or missions trips or...well...all kinds of things!

But none of those mean anything without God's anointing.  I don't want to move forward in ANY of those areas if God's anointing isn't on me.  If God be for us who can be against us?  But how do we know that God is with us?

We wait.

We wait for the sound going in the tops of the mulberry trees.

Do we see the moving of the Spirit?  Or are we just rushing ahead into our own good idea?  Whether it's beginning a new relationship, starting a small business, switching careers, beginning a Bible study, starting a church, planning an event, adding a program to the we see the stirring in the tops of the mulberry trees?

David is my hero in this.  I began a study on his life in one of the youth Bible studies I do, and my theme was how to find God's purpose for your life (based off of David's life).  So as I began my study, I started looking for how David discovered God's calling for his life...but to my surprise, I realized David DIDN'T find God's calling.  God's calling found him.   When we open up his story in 1 Samuel 16, it's with God singling him out from among all Israel, calling him from the sheep fields.  And even after his calling, David never usurped his authority.  Not when he had chance after chance to knock off Saul...not when his own son, Absalom, mounted a rebellion against him.   In each case, David stepped back and let God take the lead.  His reasoning seems to have been, "If God has called me to the throne...if He wants me there...He will both place and keep me there."  David waited on the Lord.  He inquired of the Lord.  He let God take the lead.  Oh, that I may have the heart of David and learn to do that in my life!  If God leads, that's when the miracles happen.  That's when the anointing flows.  That's what I want.

One final example that David Wilkerson pointed out in a message I heard recently is of Paul (Saul, at the time) and Barnabas.  Notice the wording in this account...

Acts 13:1  Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 
Acts 13:2  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 
Acts 13:3  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 

Notice that Paul and Barnabas didn't just choose what they wanted to do.  The Holy Ghost chose.  He chose as they ministered to Him and fasted...that strikes me.  The great Apostle Paul's missionary journeys didn't begin with his passionate initiative...the work of evangelizing the entire Gentile world began with waiting on the Lord and fasting, and God separating out two vessels that HE wanted to use.

"So what are you trying to say, Michael?  How does this apply in my life?"

I don't know.  I don't know how it applies in your life.  And that's the point.  The Holy Ghost has to lead you and I will support you.  As for me, my desire is to wait on the Lord.  To see the wind blowing where it listeth, not knowing whence it comes or wither it goes, but sensing when it is time to move because HE instructs me.  That requires time in prayer and time getting to know Him.  It requires waiting on the Lord.

Psalm 25:1-5 KJV
(1)  A Psalm of David. Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.
(2)  O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
(3)  Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
(4)  Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.
(5)  Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Power of Stories Part 2

The Power of Stories from a Psychological Perspective

People have been using stories to pass on information and wisdom since the beginning of time.

This ancient tradition of using stories extends from ancient nomadic oral cultures that do not even have a written language to the board meetings of the top CEOs in the world (Parkin 1). 

We can see the impact of stories historically, as well.  From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which communicated important values about abolition, to Subway’s commercial campaign using the story of Jared who lost over 200 pounds on his Subway diet (Heath 3094-3114), stories have impacted our society in powerful ways.  

People use stories to pass on the principles that are most important to them, and to motivate others to action.

Stories play a role in the psychological development of humans from the time we are very young (Gottschall 7).  Children spend the large majority of their time playing make-believe, and inventing creative imaginary stories.  

Something about stories grips us in a way that few other things do.  Even as adults, whether it is a story communicated through a song on the radio, in a book or magazine we read, in a TV show or movie we watch, even in a commercial, or just gossip at the office, stories impact almost every area of our lives, and they can be very effective in teaching and influencing people.

Peter Guber, who has a long list of accomplishments in the entertainment and business world including chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures and Mandalay Entertainment Group, as well as the co-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, a longtime professor at UCLA, contributor to the Harvard Business World, and a well-traveled speaker, wrote, 

“The Trojan Horse was a delivery vehicle in disguise.  So, too, are purposeful stories.  They cleverly contain information, ideas, emotional prompts, and value propositions that the teller wants to sneak inside the listener’s heart and mind.”  (23).

There are two distinct psychological advantages to telling stories.  

  1.  Stories engage your audience and...
  2. Stories help the audience remember what was said.

Both are important to communicate Biblical truth in our world, both to believers and to those who are lost.  

We want to communicate the gospel, but how do we do that?  

Two things need to happen if we are to engage our culture.  We have to get their attention and keep it. Stories can play an enormous role in both of these intentions. We have to communicate in an interesting, memorable way that will effectively communicate truth. 

If you want to grab and keep someone’s attention to communicate a message, tell a good story. 

Margaret Parkin mentions that because interactively listening to stories involves both hemispheres of our brain (the logical, analytical left side, and the feeling, intuitive right side), 

“Stories can somehow help us to bypass our normal, analytical functions; we actually become less critical, and more receptive to change and new ideas.”  (103)  

People like stories.  They are engaging.  You can communicate truth through a story to people who may not receive it any other way.  John Wayne once told Bodie Thoene, a well-known author of Christian fiction: “You can tell people what they need to hear, what you want them to hear.  But you gotta put it in a good story.” (Eble 156)

Of course, you could grab someone’s attention using techniques other than stories.  The value of stories, though, is in their ability to reach an apathetic, distanced or even hostile audience.  

Hitting a person with direct, cold, hard information right up front (which generally stimulates only the left-brain) makes the people in the audience immediately tune out if they are apathetic, or begin mentally judging, analyzing and arguing the information if they are hostile.  Stories, on the other hand, come in the back door, using Guber’s Trojan Horse method mentioned earlier.   

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath use the example of Stephen Denning who used stories to spur people on to action in his job at the World Bank.  
“If you make an argument, you're implicitly asking them to evaluate your argument—judge it, debate it, criticize it—and then argue back, at least in their minds. But with a story, Denning argues, you engage the audience—you are involving people with the idea, asking them to participate with you.” (3292-3294)
In their book called Speaking to Teenagers, Doug Fields and Duffy Robbins highlight the importance of illustrations in communicating the gospel by comparing straight content to spraying thirsty teenagers with a fire hose because they need water, or giving them glasses of water so that they can sip (132-133).  

In essence, that is exactly what stories do.  They package the content people so desperately need to hear in a receivable way.   Jesus is described as the Word become flesh in John 1:14.  Stories put flesh to the words and message we want to communicate so that people can understand the ‘invisible’ concepts by ‘visible’ examples.

Stories draw people into what speakers, communicators, and teachers are saying and engage them, but there is an additional benefit to using stories.  

A person is more likely to remember a point or lesson if a story is connected with it than if the point is stated by itself.

Speechwriter Jack Bergen in his foreword to Jim Holtje’s book, writes, 

“Because stories engage both the intuitive and the logical—the left and the right—segments of our brain, we are more likely to absorb and remember lessons via storytelling than through facts alone.”  (Holtje xvii)  

Holtje goes on to describe the effectiveness of using stories in the business world.  He speaks about the way we are hard-wired for stories, and since stories connect with us on a deeper level than facts or figures, even in a business context, people are more likely to act on and remember stories (2-5).

This is easy to test out.  Try to remember the sermon you heard on Sunday, and compare that to how well you can repeat the information in that, as opposed to how well you can repeat the information you saw in a movie you watched last month.  

Wilkinson highlights the fact that often we do not remember the three points of a sermon, but we remember the story (256).  Lessons are much more memorable when there are stories attached.

Peter Guber, in recounting the way he had used stories to influence in his colorful career, recalls, “I was stunned to discover how clearly I still remembered these stories, in some cases after forty or more years!  The precise dates and circumstantial details may have blurred in my memory, but the stories themselves remain resonant, clear, and actionable.  That alone is a tribute to telling to win!”  (15)

In The Seven Laws of the Learner, Bruce Wilkinson mentions that there are some universal receptors God has placed in all mankind to help us retain information (254).  

These receptors are transformational and cross-cultural, and one of them is presenting information through stories.  “Therefore,” he states, “never underestimate the value of stories and illustrations and parables.  Recast your information into a narrative and you may have made it indelible.” (256)  It works, not because we are tricking audiences into learning by telling stories, but because using stories is one of the primary ways God has designed our brains to remember information.

“God’s use of symbol and metaphor gives us a way to make connections and gain a deeper understanding of His truth.  When we write stories, we follow His model.” – Sharon Hinck. (Olson, Sjogren and Smith xvii) 

Some may think that it is a Christian virtue to stifle creativity when communicating the gospel, favoring plain speech over creative attempts.  However, one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind is creativity.  Christians are called to share the gospel with the world.  The Biblical examples and the psychological research that shows how stories engage listeners and foster better retention are clear reasons Christians should use stories as a means to communicate God’s truth to the world, both believers and nonbelievers.  There are many mediums Christians can use to do this: illustrations in teaching, fiction novels, biographies and autobiographies of strong Christian men and women, stories told through radio drama, books, and movies are all ways to reach out to the world through one of its best-loved diversions.  The results will be enough to demonstrate the undeniable power of story.

Works Cited:
The Holy Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Marketing, LLC, 2011.  Print.  King James Version.
Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
Guber, Peter. Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story. New York: Crown Business, 2011. Print.
Parkin, Margaret. Tales for Change: Using Storytelling to Develop People and Organizations. London: Kogan Page, 2010. Print.
Eble, Diane. Behind the Stories. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002. Print.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New York: Random House, 2007. Kindle ebook file.
Robbins, Duffy, and Doug Fields. Speaking to Teenagers: How to Think About, Create, and Deliver Effective Messages. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. Print.
Holtje, James. The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince, or Convert Any Business Audience Using Stories from Top CEOs. New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.
Wilkinson, Bruce. The 7 Laws of the Learner. Sisters, Or.: Multnomah, 1992. Print.
Olson, Kathryn S., Caleb Sjogren, and Erin E. Smith. A Novel Idea: Best Advice on Writing Inspirational Fiction. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2009. Print.

Speaking of stories, check out the My Choice Mini Adventures Facebook page to find some fun interactive stories where the readers make the decisions for the characters!