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!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Power of Stories Part 1

The Power of Stories from a Christian Perspective
“God made Man because He loves stories.” – Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest (Gottschall)
The forest was dark.  Cautiously, gripping his sword a little tighter, he took a step forward, underbrush crunching beneath his foot.  He reached into his pack and pulled out the scroll.  He was just unfurling it when a flash of light suddenly blinded his eyes, and the clash and clamor of men and weapons sounded in his ears.  John jumped back, startled, as a large, burly man stepped into the clearing.

The man had a bushy black beard and an eye patch over his left eye.  In one hand, he held a lantern, and in the other, a large, double-edged sword.   The man sneered, and the light reflected off a gleaming gold tooth in the front of his mouth.

“Yer surrounded, young man,” he growled in a voice rougher than nails.  “Doncha even think about tryin’ to escape.”

Now quick: where were you just now?  Yes, you…the reader.  Were you noticing the chair you are sitting on, the computer screen or paper you are reading these words on?  Or for a brief moment, did you allow yourself to be transported to a dark forest where someone named John was being hindered from his mission?  

If you allowed your mind to take you to the location of the scene, to the point where you were seeing details that were not described by the author (the color of John’s hair or eyes, the size of his pack, the way the scroll looked and felt, the details of the surrounding forest) you just experienced the power of story.

It is universally acknowledged that humans love stories.  

Stories play a role in every culture in the world, in the development of children, and in the daily interactions in the mind of every single individual.  Jonathan Gottschal writes in his book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, which examines from a scientific, secular perspective the power that stories hold over us, that: 

“We are, as a species, addicted to story.  Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” (xiv)

How are Christians supposed to view stories from the perspective of a Biblical worldview?  
Are stories a guilty pleasure that many people partake in, which should be shunned as an instrument of the flesh, or are they tools that God delights in that can be used for much good?

Clearly, the answers to these questions depend on the kinds of stories that a Christian is reading or telling.  The focus of this writing, however, is to examine the potential impact stories can have on believers and nonbelievers alike when used in the right way.  The purpose of this blog series is to first show that stories can be used to enrich and spur on faith in the life of a believer, second, to show that stories can be used as a tool to reach the lost and third, to examine why and how stories can be so impactful in these ways when used correctly.

The testimony of Scripture is the first thing a Christian should take into consideration whenever assertions such as the preceding are proposed.  

The example of the style in which the Bible itself was written, perhaps even more so than the actual teachings in it about this subject, may be the best argument for the effectiveness of story.

The Bible is a collection of many different types of literary styles.  
  • Didactic teaching (which is purely to relate in a straightforward, instructional way)
  • poetry
  • genealogies 
  • prophetic literature
  • songs
  • epistles
These are all ways the Bible speaks its message. But one of, (if not THE,) most prevalent ways the Bible teaches and uses literary genres is the Bible’s use of stories

If one were to separate the material in the Bible that is straightforward teaching, and the writings in the Bible that tell a story, even a quick comparison shows a revealing contrast.  Much of the Bible is dedicated to telling stories—whether of the creation of the world, the kingdom of Israel, select individuals, the life of Jesus, or the birth of the church—story is clearly a well-used medium to convey truth Biblically.  Why would God do this?  What purpose was there in dedicating so much of the Bible to telling stories, rather than just laying it out straight-forwardly and didactic for us?

Kathy Buchanan, a counselor and writer, who has most notably written various things for Focus on the Family, including scripts for the popular children’s radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey, put it this way when she was teaching at the Lamplighter Guild for Creative Disciplines: 

What is more impactful?  To say, ‘God is faithful’?  Or to tell the story of the children of Israel wandering in the desert, and how God continually provided for them and protected them over and over again, even though they complained and murmured against Him, to the point of almost utter frustration?”  

It is one thing to say something, and make a statement like, “God is love,” or “God is faithful.”  It is another thing to show, demonstrate, or illustrate that fact.  

As human beings, we connect more with stories, because they illustrate abstract concepts in a very real and concrete way that didactic teaching does not.  It is one thing to say that God loves us and wants to save us from our life of sin and destruction.  It is another to tell the story of Jesus dying on the cross, which illustrates the characteristic of God much more clearly than any simple statement ever could.

Clearly, the instructional style used in the Scripture is vital for our spiritual growth.  The poetry and other forms of literature are very beneficial for us to understand how God operates.  Oftentimes, however, even these forms of Scriptural writing impact us powerfully solely because we understand the stories of the people behind them, or because we are able to connect them with our own story.

  • Psalm 51 takes on an added meaning when we learn that it was written by King David after his horrible failure of sin in his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband.  
  • The teachings in 1 Corinthians are somehow easier to swallow when it is understood that these are not just unattainable principles laid out for certain high-minded intellectuals to live by, but were written for an actual real church, with real people, and real problems, facing some of the same kinds of situations that we face today.  
  • The father writing to his son in Proverbs 7 recognized that, while it was important to tell him the principles of keeping himself pure, it may be more effective to communicate that principle through the story of someone who did not follow the same advice.
  • Jesus’ own example of the way He taught is a testimony to the power of stories.  The Bible says that He never taught without a parable (King James Version Matthew 13:34).  
Countless people across the world connect to the principles taught in these fictional stories in a way that transcends the memory capacity that would be possible if it was presented as sole teaching.  Almost anyone recognizes the concepts behind the mentions of a ‘prodigal son’ or a ‘good Samaritan’ in reference to the stories Jesus told. 

Yet, Jesus also makes something clear when explaining to His disciples why He teaches in parables.   

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (King James Version Matthew 13:13)  

Jesus’ parables acted as a screen for those seeking truth.  Not everyone understood His parables, because their hearts were blinded.  

Nevertheless, oftentimes even those who disagreed with Him understood what His points were as He related spiritual things to those things easily understood by the common people (Matthew 21:45).  

The power of stories comes when a person recognizes a connection between the truth in the story and how it correlates with their own lives, and has a willing heart that is ready to receive correction and to change.

Sometimes, though, a person can be so blinded by their own situation and the details of what is going on around them that they may need a change of perspective to see things as they really are.  By stepping away from the situation, and observing the same thing in another person, it is often clearer to see a truth about the situation than we could in our own lives, because our flesh, rationalizations, and pride muddle our viewpoint.  

It is like being lost in the woods, and trying to solve the problem by just looking at your surroundings.  If you are already lost, continuing to look at your own circumstances likely will not help you.  Getting perspective of the area from a different vantage point like a map is more likely to give you a good indication of where you are.  Stories can give us a “bird’s eye view” of life, by taking us out of our own situation to look at someone else’s situation, and by doing that, we often recognize ourselves in it.

Nathan the prophet used this technique in 2 Samuel 12.  King David was entrenched deep in his sin.  How could Nathan get through to him?  David was the king.  He had already clearly justified himself in his mind, and taken extreme measures to cover up what he had done.  A straightforward statement would likely not do much good.  Nathan had to first bring David outside of his own perspective so that the king could see things as they were without being muddled by his own thinking.  Nathan used a story with characters David could relate to before revealing David within the story.  David first had to look at it from the perspective of the story, and see the sin for what it really was before Nathan could make his declarative statement, “Thou art the man.”  (2 Samuel 12:7

Scripture is replete with many more examples of significant people using stories to impact a person or group, but in summary:
  • Storytelling is an incredibly effective way to communicate a message. 
  • The Bible itself is a testimony of God’s belief in the power of stories. He did not just give us didactic material to study, but gave us stories of men and women of God that we could relate to. 
  • A teaching has so much more impact when there is an example or story to illustrate it. 
  • When a story is attached, suddenly the point becomes relatable. 
  • Messages stick more firmly in people’s minds when they hear a story, than when they are simply told something. 
The secular world also recognizes the incredible power of stories psychologically, which we will discuss more fully in the next post.

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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Choice Mini Adventures Launch!

Tobbians: The Key in the Bottle by [Schroeder, Michael]

I am excited to announce the launch of a project I have been working on in conjunction with Kiiai.

My Choice Mini Adventures is a series of interactive stories, in which the reader makes decision for the characters as the story progresses.  As you read, you come to a cross-roads, a decision, a choice, and then follow the path that your decision takes you down!

It has been a lot of fun to collaborate on this project.  It seemed simple enough at the beginning, though I'll confess it is a lot of work (even for an overactive imagination!) to plot all the different possible paths that make up this adventure!  It has also given rise to some interesting thoughts about the play between the character's choice and the author's designs...(perhaps I'll write more about that later).

I would love for any and all who read this blog to visit the Amazon store and purchase one or both of the books and write a review about it!  The completion and publication of the e-book is only half the we enter the dreaded marketing stage (which I don't know too much about, in all transparency) and it would be much appreciated if you would like the Facebook page, and like and repost updates and announcements!  (And, as I mentioned, purchasing and reviewing on Amazon is even better!)  Our official launch date is Cyber Monday, and up through that we will be running a free giveaway promotional deal, so if you're cheap like me and would like to save your money, that is another way to get your hands on it.

So far, there are two books in this series, one by me, as you can see in the graphic above, and the other by Azakalia Sant.  The books are unrelated except in format and style as a "My Choice Mini Adventure".  Warble's Beginnings is a sci-fi fantasy story in the style of Star Wars or Star Trek and Tobbians: The Key in the Bottle is a fantasy book, in the character of The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings, meaning that my story includes things like knights, dragons, cave trolls, dwarves, delves, and the ever-mysterious Whisps.

As you may know if you have read many of the posts on my blog or attended any of my Bible studies or classes, this sort of writing and story may seem like a strange departure for me.  I will be transparent in that, while I write from a Biblical worldview, and make allusions to Scriptural concepts and ideologies, these stories do not contain overt preaching or presentations of the gospel, and there may be those who wonder why I would write such a thing if I do not intend to reach people with the gospel through it.

It's a good question, and I would like to answer it by publishing a research paper I did while at college on the power of story.  Since it is lengthy, I will publish it in segments on my blog over the next few days.

But to answer in brief here, I believe that all we do should be for the glory of God.  When I build fences, I may not be presenting the gospel verbally to every customer I interact with, but I intend to live my life in such a way as to point to God and the work Jesus has done in me through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  Sometimes this leads to an overt, verbal presentation, and sometimes it doesn't, but everything in my life is done with that intent in mind.   I believe our art should be reflective of that concept as well.  This project is an experimental, fun project that a group of us is attempting.  It is both a creative and business endeavor.  Some may simply enjoy the story for what it is.  Others may have a door opened in their heart to see something deeper and yearn for something more.  That is what I pray will happen.  Either way, I intend to point people in whatever small way I can to the power and glory of our Creator.  I love stories and my next several posts will give systematic reasons for why.

In the meantime, check out My Choice Mini Adventures on Amazon and let us know what you think!  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sir Nameless: Extra Ordinary

First of all, let me reassure everyone that this is not a self-pity post.  I'm aware that people know my name if they've made it to this blog. ;)  Obviously, I want people to know who I am :P  I think most of us do!

If you think of every motivational speech you've ever heard, you'll come across phrases like:

"Follow your dreams!"

"You can do whatever you put your mind to do!"

"Do great things for God!"

"Go big or go home!" (My baseball coach's fave.)

I have that desire burning within me.  I want to do great things for God!  I want to go into huts in Africa and terrorist camps in the middle east and orphanages in South America.  It's more than just wanting fame and notoriety.  It's just doing something big.  It's doing something with significance and importance.  I want to travel, work with world-wide ministries, rub shoulders with influential people, make an enormous impact on everyone around me and those who are far away from me!  I want to write books and go on speaking engagements all over the world.  People have told me that God has BIG plans for my life and I'm destined for BIG things!

Like I said, I think most of us want that.  It has been drilled into us to go do things beyond our wildest expectations.  (At least, that's what I hear at every high school graduation.)  We aren't supposed to live ordinary lives.  We're supposed to be extraordinary.

But is that the right desire?  The right goal?

I do think that's a desire that has been put into all of us by God.  And oftentimes it IS framed in the right context!  We want God to call us to something great!  To use us in some mighty way!  To give us some ministry or calling or passion or platform that will bring glory to HIS name!

But what if God calls us to something ordinary?  What then?  Will we accept His call on our life then?  We generally think of the call of God as powerful and mountain-moving and earth-shaking!  But if we really want to answer the call of God, will we resist like Naaman the Syrian?  Would we need the reproach of those who are truly servants to remind us: "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?"

What if God is only asking us to wash in the River Jordan? ...And not asking us to do some "great thing"?  Are we submitted to His call enough to do it?

God has been dealing with me about this a lot, and hopefully I can convey the heart of what He's been speaking to me.  To do that in this post, I want to borrow from two Lamplighter books (sales rep for life!) simply because they make the point so clearly.

One is Sir Knight of the Splendid Way, and one of the chapters is called "The Adventure of Sir Nameless" (hence the title of my blog post).  Look at the description of this knight in the allegory.
"When he was a young knight, he was eager-hearted as the young should be, fired with the hope of youth and fortified by the courage of faith.  He dreamed of high adventure, yet not for his own glory but for the King's.  What men had dared he could dare, what men had done he could do: so he set out, desiring some great charge in which he might prove himself worthy. 
"But hear the wonder of the story of Sir Nameless.  In a few days he found among the hills a lonely outpost of the King's, so lonely that its guardian's heart had failed and he had gone away.  But it seemed to Sir Nameless that the post must be held, and he resolved that he would hold it till another guardian came.  But no guardian came to hold it, not that day nor the next, nor through many days: and since the post might not be left, it came to pass that this good knight held it alone for many years, unknown and unregarded.  Other men he saw go by to do the great deeds that he might have done, but for him there was no release, no call to nobler duty.  So passed the years of his strength and prime, till his force as spent, and his youthful hopes abandoned.  Nay, better had he forgotten them, for their memory was a torment to an eager and stormy heart, a question that he could not answer.  But never for a day was that lonely post left unguarded.
"Sad indeed, as men see it, was the lot of Sir Nameless... But I have told it only as men might see it.  Now hear how it seemed to the Great King, for that lonely outpost was His, and He had chosen Sir Nameless to be its guardian.  'Here is a lonely post,' He had said, 'set upon a rocky road and overshadowed by gloomy hills, so cold and cheerless that the guardian has wearied of his duty.  Yet it is a guardian post for many leagues of the road.  The need here is for a knight keen of honour and immovable in courage.'...  So the King had chosen Sir Nameless, knowing his name full well, and had shown him the lonely charge: and he had kept it faithfully, despite the torment of an eager and stormy heart, despite the daily assaults of the Black Knight, never so dangerous as when he comes disguised as High Desire and Noble Purpose."
Sometimes the King calls us, not to the fame of battles and triumphs and spotlights, but to the need in lonely outposts and far from any grateful eye.

The second book that drives this home is a tiny little volume called The Hidden Years of Nazareth by G. Campbell Morgan, in which he clears up one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible.

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing in the eighteen years between our brief glimpse of him as a 12-year old in the temple and the dramatic start of his ministry at the baptism of John when he was 30 years old?  There are, of course, fanciful accounts and so-called gospels that paint elaborate pictures of this period and we imagine him doing a sort of childish version of all the miracles that we know him so well for...but John's gospel tells us his first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana.

What was he doing during those illusive 18 years that we hear nothing of and that the Bible doesn't address?

I believe G. Campbell Morgan has the answer.

He makes an interesting point that we generally think of Jesus in his public ministry when he was travelling around with huge crowds, feeding over 5,000 people and teaching in the temple, because that is the portrait we get from the gospels.  However, most people of the world don't identify with that life.  (Which only lasted 3 1/2 years, by the way.)  Says Campbell:
"It is not given to every man or woman to serve God in public places; the great majority must live their lives outside any prominent sphere, and as part of a very small circle of relatives and acquaintances. Men will not hear even the names of the great mass of the people who are living their life throughout the world to-day."
Yet we neglect to realize that for 18 years Jesus lived in obscurity Nazareth!  What was he doing there?  We have a couple verses to give us clues...

Luke 2:51  And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 
Luke 2:52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. 

Mark 6:3  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. 

Luke 4:16  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 

Mark 1:11  And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Campbell makes the case that those 18 years of Jesus's life were composed of two things: work and worship.  What can be gleaned about these 18 years with certainty?  "Jesus was a carpenter who pleased God."  He went to the synagogue every Sabbath and, as a child, was subject to his parents.  Interestingly enough, Joseph isn't mentioned in the Bible again after Luke chapter 2.  I think it likely that Joseph died while Jesus was still young and the burden fell on him to care for his mother and siblings.  Jesus!  God manifest in the flesh had to work to provide for his living and to provide for his family?  Yes.  That suddenly brings him on a level with every simple, working man.  The carpenter who pleased God.  Not just the son of the carpenter...for Jesus to gain the title "The Carpenter", means he had to have done his work well and earned a reputation in Nazareth on his own.  You notice they didn't know him as "The Preacher" or "The Miracle-Worker" or even as "The Son of God."  They were surprised when he showed back up and demonstrated all of these things.  They simply knew him as "The Carpenter."

Notice what Campbell writes here:
"Does it not look hard and arbitrary that God should have put that saintly soul to such common labor? Why not have let Him face the conflict and get the victory, and hie Him back to heaven? There was a deep necessity in the whole arrangement. Let me put it superlatively, and say, Calvary's cross would have been nothing but the tragic ending of a mistaken life, if it had not been for the carpenter's shop! In that carpenter's shop He fought my battles. My hardest fight is never fought when there is a crowd to applaud or oppose, but when I am alone. Now, that was what Jesus was doing for eighteen years. There was no crowd to sing "Hosanna" ; no other crowd to cry " Crucify Him"; but alone He did His work and faced all the subtle forms of temptation that beset humankind, and one by one He put His conquering foot upon the neck of them."
Does that not encourage you in the perhaps menial work God has called you to for this time?  It may not be meant for you to simply rush past it all and get to the good what you perceive as the "real" reason you're here on this earth.  Maybe this time of consistency and apparent monotony IS why you're here.  To work a job in seeming drudgery in order that you might be conformed into the image of the Son of God and develop a character to become more like Him.

This point was driven home to me recently in a situation that was disappointing to me.

I was expecting to go to Bangladesh on a missions trip and help out with a youth camp. People were donating and praying for me and wishing me well and nervous because of the possible dangers of the trip.  But I was excited and ready to go.  I was ready to get away from all the normalcy and tediousness of get out of the quagmire of American culture and really focus on the will of God for a few weeks!  At least, that's what I thought.

Unfortunately, a few days before the trip the horrible hostage situation in Dhaka hit the news stations.  Brave young people were held hostage in a restaurant and many killed by ISIS terrorists.  Immediately my phone started buzzing with people telling me I shouldn't go, that it was too dangerous and I should stay home, and everything within me bristled against this.  Should I shrink back from danger?  Was this the attitude of the apostles who preached the gospel and turned the world upside down?  This was when the people of Bangladesh...and particularly the young people of Bangladesh...needed the ministry of Jesus in their lives the most.  This was when they needed the gospel and the love of God shown to them the most!  People were shaken up and vulnerable and may be in a position to think about eternity like never before!  We NEEDED to go!  Why fear those who can kill only the body but after that have no more that they can do?  To live is Christ and to die is gain!

A lot of people didn't share my sentiments.  While I was praying that the missions organization would not cancel the trip, others of my friends and family were praying that they would.

So when I got the email that the trip organizers had made the tough decision to cancel the trip, my first thought was, "God listens to their prayers more than mine!"  

In all seriousness, I WAS incredibly disappointed.  The terrorist situation had almost increased my desire to go.  This was something big.  Something worthwhile!  An amazing opportunity for God to really move in a demonstrative way!  There was an alternative offer to go to New York/Connecticut to help with a church plant.  Not exactly as exciting as confronting terrorists in Bangladesh, but still an opportunity for God to move in mighty ways.  But as I was praying about the decision, I got the very strong sense that God's will was for me to stay in Colorado.  (It would seem more often than not that one of the sure signs of God's will is that it so directly contradicts my own will.  A lot of times that's when I know I've hit on what He actually wants and am not confusing my own voice with His.)

Again, I was disappointed.  Why, God?  You want me to stay here and build fences and teach Sunday school and small group Bible studies?  That's really what you have for me?  I'm willing to go ANYWHERE in the world for You...and You stick me in my comfort zone?  Doing things that others can do?  I want to be out on the front lines for You...and I feel held back at base camp.

But that's when God's gentle Spirit started speaking to my heart.  "What if that's where I want you?  You say you're willing to go anywhere for Me...will you stay here if that's what I want you to do?"

Will I?  Will you?  I feel a twinge of embarrassment when friends get done telling me all the amazing things they're doing...travelling to other countries, hosting radio shows, writing, running camps, working with high-end businesses, getting Master's degrees at prestigious colleges, starting their own companies, curing cancer, etc, etc., then ask: "So Michael, what are you doing with your life?"

"Oh!  Um...I'm er...building fences."

"Literally or spiritually?"

What does that even mean?  "Um literally.  You know, with screws and wood and concrete and stuff.  I have decided the highest aim of my life is to keep people's dogs in their yards."

Obviously, I'm being a little facetious. My point is that sometimes God asks us live through the daily grind, making a living, showing compassion, making a difference...and that that's okay.  Of course, I'm NOT saying you shouldn't strive to do great things!  All I'm saying is that the priority has to be doing God's will.  What He wants.  And the rest will fall into place.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Online College vs. Campus Experience

I know I haven't written very much on my own blog lately, but ironically, I HAVE written on another blog!

Pop over to the Verity College Blog, if you are so inclined, to check out my 3 Reasons I Chose a Campus Program Over Online for College post!

As the obvious name implies, I give a couple reasons why I decided to go on campus, and why I think it can be beneficial.  And check out some of the other posts while you're there!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When God Asks You to Fight a Losing Battle

I knew I had to get off the couch.

I needed to get ready for Bible study.

But my head was pounding.  I was burning up and I kept getting chills.  If I can just stand up and get myself going...  I stood up and instantly felt dizzy.  I took a few halting steps towards the kitchen and then figured I needed to lay back down, at least for a minute.  I'd thought coming home and resting for an hour or so would prepare me.  Apparently it wasn't enough.

I'm not above calling my mom to ask for advice when I'm sick, so that's what I did.

"Well," I told her, "my symptoms are that I'm getting chills but I'm also really hot.  And when I stand up I get dizzy.  But I need to go to Bible study..."

"Michael, I recommend cancelling the Bible study.  You should stay home and rest."

"Yeah but...yeah, I guess you're right."

I hung up the phone, but I felt defeated.  Usually I could push through tiredness or lack of food or slight headaches or coughs or sore throats...but this time I felt like I couldn't physically make it happen.  There were visitors coming.  I was going to be out of town the next week too.  I felt like a lot of the young people were in a critical place, spiritually.  No one to fill in or take my place on such short notice.  And I was stuck on the couch with a fever.

I had been looking over the passage of Scripture I was supposed to teach on during my "resting" time, when I couldn't fall asleep, and now one of the verses came blaring back into my mind.

"Hosea 10:9  O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them." (KJV)

Maybe it was because I was physically worn down and exhausted.  Maybe it was overreaction.  But the verse seemed to slam against my soul and I broke down.  I admit it: I started crying.  Memories of every failure and every person I had ever tried to help or minister to spiritually who had ended up rejecting the truth and/or love of God that I tried to present to them came flooding into my mind.  I had failed over and over and over again in the battle against the kingdom of sin.  I couldn't think of many successes I'd had in all the Bible studies or all the people I had ministered to.  In the battles God had asked me to fight, I had done a lot of losing...and not a whole lot of winning.

Now I know you're probably thinking: "What in the world?  Of all the obscure verses to react to and wimpy ways to act when you're feeling sick...maybe I should find the blog of a sane person to read."

Hear me out, and I'll explain the verse and hopefully encourage you in the process.  But have you ever felt worn down like that?  Like God has asked you to fight a battle that you keep losing?  If so, I believe it will be worthwhile to take a look at the story about the days of Gibeah.  But before we do that, a couple warnings...

*WARNING*  We are about to look at one of the R-rated stories of the Bible, and it's pretty disturbing. Most people don't make a habit of discussing this one very frequently.  Parents you may want to peruse this one before reading it to your kids as a bedtime story.

*DISCLAIMER*  I realize other translations take a different view of Hosea 10:9 than I did in my delirium, but the story of Gibeah speaks for itself, and the point I took from the verse in Hosea can be gleaned separately from the story about Gibeah, so don't take me the theological whipping post for my particular King James-inspired interpretation. :)

Okay, now that that's out of the way, what is all this stuff about Gibeah?

Herein lies a story that should both shock and disturb us and make us feel more than slightly uncomfortable. It took place in the days of the Judges (as did several other of the strangest stories in the Old Testament) when, as the last verse of the book says, there was no king in Israel and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.

Against this backdrop of no central leader or government, Judges chapter 19 tells about a certain Levite (a member of the tribe of people God had set apart specifically to serve Him out of all the tribes of Israel) had a concubine. Already a little weird.  The Bible tells us that "she played the whore against him" (in other words she was messing around with some other guy) and then took off to her dad's house.  As her "husband", the Levite went to win her heart again and bring her back home with him.  Her dad was thrilled, and after they spent some time together, the Levite set out on the journey home with his concubine.

Here's where the story heads down the path that makes our stomachs turn.  They get a late start heading back home, and night comes upon them before they've reached their original destination, and it becomes clear that they'll have to stop somewhere for the night.  One of the servants wants to go to into a Jebusite city, which is close, but the Levite is worried about what these heathen might do to them and insists that they stop in a city that belongs to Israel (ironic, as it turns out).  Unfortunately, they choose a Benjamite city called Gibeah.  (Were you wondering when Gibeah would come into the picture?)

When they reach the town, they meet a guy who's from the same area, and who graciously offers them a place to stay, and is a little oddly very determined that they won't stay in the street.  As the story progresses we find out why he was so worried about that prospect for them.  They're having a good time drinking wine and stuff, when some evil men from the town whom the Bible calls "sons of Belial" surround the house, and begin beating on the door, demanding that the host bring out his guest so they can have their way with him.  In our day and age it should be easy to fill in the blank about what that means.

In a despicable turn of events, the Levite's concubine is offered up instead.  The evil men rape her, and when the Levite comes out the next morning, he finds her dead on the doorstep.

A horrible story.  But it doesn't end there.  The Levite is shocked that the men of his own country could do such a thing, so in an effort to shock the 12 tribes, he cuts up the concubines body into 12 pieces and mails a piece to the leadership of each tribe.  It works.  The people of Israel are incensed that something so wicked would happen amongst their own people.  They call a big meeting and decide that the men of that city must be punished.  Such an atrocity must not be permitted.  The people of Israel demand that the tribe of Benjamin deliver up the men who committed the crime so that they can be put to death.  Benjamin refuses.  Things escalate quickly, and soon Benjamin is preparing for war against the other tribes.  Civil war has erupted in Israel.

We could say that the people of Israel were overreacting.  But they didn't charge headlong into the fight.  They went before the Lord and sought counsel from God before proceeding with anything.  They even asked which tribe should go up first, and the LORD answers.  "Judah."  Everything seems to have fallen into place.  God has ordained this battle against a clearly wicked sin that must be punished.  He has given His approval and He has always fought on Israel's behalf before.  The odds are good.  400,000 men of Israel versus 26,000 men of Benjamin.  If God has spoken to the children of Israel to go to battle in a battle that is clearly good versus evil, would you not expect the good side to win?  Seems pretty straight-forward to me!

Want to know the only problem?

The men of Benjamin are strong, particularly the men of Gibeah.  Gibeah, the hometown of those wicked sons of Belial, has 700 chosen men, who are all left-handed, and of whom the Bible says "every one could sling stones at an hair breadth and not miss." (Judges 20:16)  Those are some strong numbers on the evil side!  The children of iniquity were powerful and strong.  And you know what?

The good side loses.

They lose 22,000 men.  The men of Israel go to battle against Benjamin, Judah going up first...and they lose.  After God told them to go.  What?

Stunned by their defeat, the children of Israel go up before the Lord, weep and once again ask His counsel.  "Shall I go up again," is the question of Israel, "to battle against the children of Israel my brother?"  Maybe they made a mistake.  Maybe they heard God wrong.  Maybe they missed some instructions.  But you know what God answers? "Go up against him."  God tells them to go again!

Surely they'll win this time!  The people of Israel encourage themselves and set out again. And you know what happens?  18,000 men are struck down by Benjamin...and Israel loses.  Again.  For the second time in a row.  In a battle the Lord told them to fight.

There they stood.  The battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.

I imagine there were a lot of questions that night.  God knows the end from the beginning, doesn't He?  God could have helped us win the battle, couldn't He?  Why didn't He then?  Why did God send us out not once but TWICE to fight a battle He knew we were going to lose?  At the cost of 40,000 men??

I think we feel that way sometimes.  We're fighting a battle that we know God wants us to fight.  Maybe it's in prayer for a lost soul.  Maybe it's a battle against an addiction like smoking or porn or homosexual inclinations.  Maybe it's a fight against the devil trying to destroy your family.  And you know God has ordained the battle.  He's told you to fight it.  But you lose.  Multiple times.  Does God really want you to keep fighting?  Even though He knows that the outcome will involve multiple losses?  I think the story of Judges shows us that yes...He does. Sometimes He asks us to fight those battles, even if we lose.

Now, there are probably a lot of theories on why God would do this. In fact, if you have any theories about why this happened in this particular story in Judges, I would love to hear them, because, to tell you the truth, I'm confused about why God would ask them to fight a battle He knew they would lose.  But for the moment, let's not focus on the why.  Let's just acknowledge that that indeed happened.  What are the children of Israel supposed to do now?

The Bible tells us: "all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 27 And the children of Israel enquired of the LORD, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?" (Judges 20:26-28)

I love that they went before God again, fasting, and weeping, and giving offerings, and yet again, inquired of the Lord. And the answer came.

"And the LORD said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand."

And finally, the third time they went to battle...they won.

If you want to read the details of the battle and the strategy they employed, take a look at the rest of Judges chapter really is a fascinating account.  But for the moment, let's draw back and look at the overall picture.

Sometimes we get the mentality that if God asks us to do something, it's going to be smooth sailing.  And that if it's hard, or if we fail, then it must not have been God who directed us into it.  However, to me, this story in Judges indicates clearly that that's not the case.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, God expects us to fight and fail and lose and fight again.

What do we do when we're in that scenario?

We fight again.  We go before God.  We seek His counsel.  We fast.  We weep. We pray.  We make offerings.  We inquire of Him.  And then we fight again.

What we can't do is give up.

What we can't do is give in and walk away.

You may have failed the first two times...but if God is in it, the third time, you will win! You may fail the first ninety-nine times!  But if God has directed you to fight the battle, keep fighting, and the hundredth time you'll win.

When everyone else is leaving God, the best attitude to have is that of Peter.  When the Lord turns to us and asks, "Will you go too?  Are you also giving up on Me?"  I want to be like Peter and say, "Lord, where will we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.  Jesus, I may not understand all this stuff you've been saying about eating your flesh and drinking your blood, but I know YOU.  And I'm with You till the end. No matter where you lead us."

Remember I said some other translations have a different view of Hosea 10:9 than the discouraging view I took in my sickness? (And by the way, somebody filled in for me that night at Bible study.)  The ESV has a much more positive translation:

"From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?" (ESV)

Eventually, the war against the unjust WILL overtake them.  The question is whether you'll keep fighting.

If you feel like you're in a losing battle today, but you know God wants you to fight it, I want to encourage you: Don't give up.  Don't give up on your family, your church, the lost, overcoming personal sins or addictions. The Lord is with you. And will win.