Friday, July 11, 2014

I'm Back!

Yes, it's true, I am resurrecting this blog. For a few reasons: first, I have started to put some of my work out there, and this will be a convenient place to keep those who are interested updated on what I'm doing. Also, I miss blogging. It was fun, and I need to train myself to write things regularly. No, this will not be extensive. I will be updating ONCE a week, and it will basically be an update on what I've been doing, how life is going, and any new projects I have going on. And of course, every once in a while, I'll actually write something poignant or something like that.

It's good to be back.

P.S. Here's the short story I just put out on NoiseTrade: give it a look! :)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pulling Out The Stitches

Last week, I got away from it all. Away from the noise, the rush, the stress of life. The last hurrah of the summer--the Student Leader Camping Trip. Nothing but me, the people I love, and God's creation for miles. And it was amazing.

Most of my summers are crazy, packed full of events, trips, and performances. This summer was the craziest so far--I barely had a week to myself before it was time to get ready for the next big thing. But the camping trip slowed me down, made me stop, relax, think. After two and a half months of craziness, I was so ready to get away from everything.

Now, you might say that spending a week with twenty weird (and I mean really weird) teenagers doesn't sound very relaxing, but the truth is, being with my friends is what relaxes me the most. It's what puts everything into focus. Makes it all clear. We can be some of the strangest people you've ever met, but through it all, we're just happy... and content.

When I'm with the people I love, I am at peace with the world--and that's what happened at Cloud Lake a week ago. I was at peace.

I had been dealing with my own struggles, and I was getting so tired by the time the Student Leader Camping Trip rolled around. But God knew exactly what I needed--rest. And so He timed it perfectly so I could go camping with all of my friends for a week--because He's awesome like that.

I needed to heal. I'm not saying that I had some big thing in my life happen that was super hard or anything, I just needed to be put back together. So as I sat in God's creation, I laid down all my stress, problems, struggles, and failures and just let God heal me.

Too often do we take for granted this blessing we have--to rest, to be still in God's presence and have Him make us whole again. We're too busy, too stressed to worry about anything but the next appointment. All the while, God is trying to heal us, revive us, but we won't stop moving. Our savior is sewing us back together, and we're pulling out the stitches.

So I challenge you--be still. Let God recharge you, heal you, put you back together again. Only then will you be able to look at the stress, the problems, and the failures with a mind focused on Him.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

After All

I use to be scared of the future, and to an extent I still am. But something significant has changed in my life.

I use to think to myself, "Wow, the world is so messed up. No one is following God, and even those who say they do are compromising on very important issues. America is going downhill." I would get depressed thinking about trying to be a Christian in a future America,let alone trying to raise a godly family in that sort of environment.

This past year, my outlook has begun to change. This week in particular has really made me reevaluate my thinking.

All throughout history there have been ups and downs--periods where the majority of people in a given country have followed God and have been blessed for it, and then periods where darkness has become the status quo, and the church compromises and gets to a low point.

But it always returns--there is always a rejuvenation in the culture, and life is breathed into the world again. No matter how dark it may get, the light of a single candle is all it takes to pierce it. And through it all, God never leaves us. His promises are true in the dark times and the times of joy.

Statistics say that only 10% of the people in a society have to believe passionately about something for the culture to begin to shift. I fall of us, as Christians, stood up for Christ and DID something about the state of our country, it could change overnight. But we sit on our butts and let the 10% in charge of society right now dictate where we are headed.

This past week I’ve been at a Christian camp in Montello, Wisconsin,pouring out myself and being poured into at the same time. I’ve been humbled,strengthened, and blessed beyond anything I thought possible.

This year’s camp theme was God’s creation. Our culture has been indoctrinated with atheism and evolution for years and years, slowly being pulled away from the truth of Earth’s history and being brainwashed with revisionist history and what many would call, “scientific fact” but what is really just a bunch of assumptions believed through blind faith. The truth about the special design of the universe and how everything points to it has been all but erased from popular culture.

I have heard this topic dozens of times—my dad has taught the subject at youth group often, as well as at camp seven years ago, and we as a family are always reading about it and learning more about what the Bible has to say about the beginning of history. But this time, I came away with something new.

A determination.

The world is messed up right now, it’s true. But that doesn't mean it can’t change, it doesn't mean we can’t be the ones to do something about it, and it DOES NOT mean that God is any less true or any less good. We, as Christians, have a responsibility to the world to show it the truth,to be salt and light—preserving and illuminating—for a depraved generation. And the time to do this is not in twenty years, or in one year—it’s now.

“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12

We, as teenagers, and yes, even those that are younger, like the kids I worked with at Kidz Camp this past week, are not the generation of tomorrow—we are the generation of TODAY. If we start today, if we have the courage to stop nodding our heads at the things we know are wrong, if we have the humility to give ourselves fully to Christ and live a life pleasing to him,if we have the faith to go boldly into the future with God at our side—nothing can stop us.

I admit, that scares me. Even as I write this, I am challenging myself with the same concept. I said I was ALL IN at a youth conference in Chicago this April, but did I mean it, and am I willing to actually live it?

Yes. Yes, I am. I have struggled with many things throughout my young life—sins, attitudes, procrastination—but as I sit here in my house after being gone for a week, being filled with the Holy Spirit countless times,and really FEELING God’s presence throughout that week, I really am ready to take that step.

I look down—my shoes are red. A reminder to myself that it will be a hard road. Blood will be on this road, dirt will be on this road,pain, heartache, weakness, and despair will be on this road. But my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is on this road. And so shall I be as well.

God breathed life into me, and it’s time I gave him that breath back—all of it. I owe him that much, at the very least. After all the pain and suffering He went through to save me from an eternity of separation from Him, the holy God of the universe stepping into his creation and dying for it—I have to realize that fact. I belong to God, and if I don’t live my life for Him, then what else is there?

Nothing. Without God, there is no purpose—and that’s why this makes so much sense. The world is too beautifully created to be an accident. Everything points to that fact. And though some would willingly ignore and reject God, I won’t be among their ranks.

You know that fence we all hang on at one point or another,the one that divides the followers of God from those who reject him? I just kicked it down. Yes, it hurts. Yes, giving up things I know are not godly is going to make me bleed, but it is so worth it. The blood on my shoes is a reminder to me.

A reminder that Jesus bled for me. I can do the same for Him. It will never measure up to His sacrifice, but I owe him too much to not try.

The last night of camp I prayed. Prayed more diligently and purposefully then I think I ever have in my life. And I promised God and myself that I would take the first step. That if I was the only one in this generation who would follow Him, I would do it.

But that’s what’s amazing—I’m not the only one. I have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding me, my friends, my family, my church. And together, we can change the world. This generation can change EVERYTHING.

We can be the candle in the dark room. We can be the fire that burns pure. We can be the hope that this broken, fallen world desperately needs. But we can’t do it without God.

And so we are stepping out. I take a step forward, and I look around. Who will join me? Am I alone in a crowd of people that don’t care about the truth? But then I see it. Their feet—they have the same shoes. Red shoes, like mine. They have bled. They have trusted. They will fight.

An army steps forward.

I’m not saying we won’t stumble. I’m not saying we won’t be angry at God sometimes, or be hurting so much we want to give up. But I am saying we will keep each other accountable. I am saying that we will lift each other up, and strengthen each other, and love each other. I am saying that we will give everything we have. For we have seen the light at the end of this broken road we walk, and it is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen.

And so there we shall go.

“Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.” –Proverbs 4:25

That is my prayer for all of us. That we focus our eyes on Jesus and never look back. The army takes another step. And then they begin to sing.

“Hosanna, we are found after all. You are holy.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

In Awe

It amazes me, God's love for us.

We do everything wrong, and somehow the Creator of the universe still values us, and says we are worth it. Even if we have gone through our entire life rebelling against him, all it takes is for us to repent, and God wipes our slate clean. And even worse--if we have claimed to follow God, but continue to fall into things we know are wrong, He still forgives us.

That amazes me.

I, unfortunately, have fallen under the last category for a sizable portion of my adolescent life. And yet God still forgives me every time I ask him to. He never fails to give me hope, courage, and new life when I've hit rock bottom.

I am in awe.

That reminds me of some lyrics from the amazing poet and rapper, Propaganda.

But worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality
But by the length for which the owner would go to possess them
And broken and ugly things just like us are stamped "Excellent"
With ink tapped in wells of divine veins
A system of redemption that could only be described as perfect
A seal of approval, fatal debt removal
Promised, prominent, perfect priest
Brilliant designed system, redemption for our kinsmen
Can only be described as perfect with excellent execution
And I'm in awe, the only One truly excellent
The only source of excellence
We are declared excellent only by His decree with His system
The only accurate response is awe
I absolutely love this song, "Lofty", and it's message. We do not deserve God's love, or His son's redemption, or the Holy Spirit's peace. But the God who breathes stars from his mouth gives it to us anyway.   All we have to do is ask.

I am in absolute awe and amazement at the realization that God loves me despite of my flaws, despite of my weakness, despite of my rebellion, and despite of my foolishness. He sees worth in me, and has a plan for my life far greater than anything I could ever hope to dream up on my own.

I don't deserve it. Yet he gives me it anyway. We don't deserve it, but He lavishes His love on us despite it all. And so I pray we take this chance, this one millionth, or one billionth chance we have, and do great things  with it. I pray we let God guide our lives, and allow Him to take us somewhere we could never get to on our own. And I pray that we would just surrender... that we would put aside all that the world has to offer... that I would put aside all this world has to offer, surrender everything I am... and follow Him.

I am determined.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writing and Representation

For people wondering why I am intensely interested in writing fantasy (as you can probably tell from just reading a few of these blog posts), here are some clarifications.

Well, to put it simply, I love it. Fantasy is my favorite genre of fiction, and has been for a long, long time now. I read fantasy almost constantly, and enjoy the possibilities and intricacies of the genre immensely.

For those of you who don't know, what my friends and I have done is created a fantasy universe with an overarching story in which to separately write different books in said universe. We all have our separate novels and series' planned, all set in the same galaxy and connecting to the larger story.

And we have magic. Contrary to popular belief, magic in fiction is not evil. Obviously, magic in the real world is a bad thing, because God expressly forbids it--and because there are demons behind it. But "magic" in the fantasy setting we've created (and almost every fantasy setting ever created) is simply a way of having the characters do things that normal people can't do. It isn't evil--it's simply a part of their world.

Now, there are demons in the setting as well. They aren't really demons in the real sense of the word, rather a race of beings that was corrupted by the main baddie of the universe, a guy we named Chaos. But these demons represent the real thing, and are an active and dangerous part of the universe, tempting and corrupting people. It is established very early on that these demons are evil, and the powers they give people are also evil.

The premise of the story is a battle between Good and Evil. The fine details of the plot have yet to be put in stone, but the basic story revolves around this battle. "God", as in the real God that is the Creator of our universe, is not in this galaxy (at least, I don't think so, we haven't actually ironed out the details yet), but we have set up our books to be allegories (though very subtle ones) about different spiritual truths and moral problems.

For example, one of the worlds in the galaxy has a type of magic that revolves around truth and lies. The basis of the novel written on that world is going to be focused on the morality of truth. My own series, The Proanadi, is built to be a representation of the journey of redemption, along with a lot of other spiritual truths about friendship, revenge, and other things.

As a Christian, I understand that the only thing that really matters in this world is serving Jesus, serving others, and telling others about Jesus. And I want to do this by writing books. I want to give people good entertainment, but get them thinking about spiritual truths and moral issues, as well as allegories that represent things about Jesus and other spiritual things. And I want to write fiction in which the junk that permeates our society now is nonexistent. I want to show people that you can write books without swearing and sex scenes. And that it will actually be better without it.

But that's just me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Red Shoes

Last weekend I went to Dare2Share's Follow Tour conference, along with dozens of other teens from our church. It was an amazing experience, as Dare2Share always is, but this year, is was different for me. I have my struggles, and at that point in my life they seemed like they would overwhelm me. I absently noticed that the logo for the Follow Tour was a pair of red shoes, with the words "all in" written on them. Cool, I thought to myself. That makes sense. Little did I know that those two words--and those red shoes, would make a world of difference.

We arrived at the Sears Centre in Chicago more or less safely, and after putting on the bracelets that would stop security from tackling us when we tried to walk in, made our way inside to join thousands of other teenagers in worship. If you've ever been to a conference like this, you know what I'm talking about. The experience was incredible--thousands of voices singing together as one, all to Jesus.

As I stood there, worshipping, something distracted me. I had been wrestling with myself for the past week, trying to decide if I was doing these things for the right reasons. If I was being a Christian, worshipping, serving, not because my parents did it, or because my friends did it, but because I believed that Jesus had done what the Bible said He had done. I didn't want to be singing to God because it was what everyone else was doing, I wanted to make sure that I was doing it because of what God had done for me.

The conference continued, and I struggled with that. Now, I grew up in a Christian home, as a pastor's kid, surrounded from birth with the Bible and Jesus. I learned many different things about how to defend my faith, how to win others to Christ, and how to serve God and others.

But was it really my own? Did I own my faith? I asked myself those questions last weekend, and luckily I found an answer.

It was nearing the end of the conference, and Greg Stier, the founder of Dare2Share, finished with a message that impacted me tremendously. He began to talk about what the words, "all in", really meant, and I found out the significance of the pair of red shoes that was the logo for the tour.

You see, Jesus went all in for us. He became human, humbling himself and walking among us. He put on his own footwear, a pair of dirty sandals, and did as we did. He felt what we felt, he hurt as we have hurt. And finally, after a long, brutal walk, which smeared his sandals with blood and dirt, He died for us.

Greg Stier called a kid up from the audience to come on stage. He asked the kid to take his shoes off, and to sit on a chair that had been set there for him. "You represent everyone here," Greg said, pulling out a pair of red shoes with the words, "all in", written on them--identical to those on the logo. "In a moment," Greg continued. "I'm going to ask you to put these on, but first--" he looked out over the crowd. "--I want to ask everyone with red shoes to come up here on stage."

As you all can probably see, I'm wearing red shoes right now. And I was wearing these at the conference too. For a moment, I couldn't believe it. I was like, "that's me!" I looked around at my friends, saying, "I have red shoes on!"

Finally, one of them looked at me and said, "Go!"

So off I went.

I will always remember running--and almost tripping--down the stairs to the floor of the stadium below. I will always remember running alongside dozens of others as we all headed to the stage.
I will always remember being surrounded by hundreds of others, all wearing red shoes, as we stood around or on the stage, watching as Greg turned back to the kid sitting in the chair.

"You represent everyone here," the speaker said. "Are you willing to put these red shoes on, and go all in for Jesus?"

I wanted to scream YES! Luckily, I didn't.

The boy nodded. "Yes."

Greg put the shoes on him.

It all made sense. My faith was my own. It wasn't my parents' faith. It wasn't my friends' faith. God spoke to me that night in Chicago, and he asked me a simple question. "Are you all in? Are you ready to stop playing at your Christianity, and start to live?"

Yes, I answered silently as the worship band came on stage to finish out the conference with a final song. Then we worshipped.

I will always remember being surrounded by hundreds of others in red shoes, worshipping the Lord.

God calls us to go all in. He calls us not to worship him because we have to, or because everyone else is doing it, but because we are in awe at the sacrifice Christ went through for us. He calls us to put on red shoes--to willingly follow Him even though there will be pain, even though there will be heartache--and to go ALL IN.

So I ask you, are you all in? Christ died for you. Are you going to live for Him?

Friday, April 5, 2013

History, Mythology, and Maps

I know I haven't updated this in forever, but that's mostly been because I've been involved in other writing--and heavily involved at that. As I near the finish of the first part of The Proanadi, I realized that I needed to really nail down the history and mythology of the races and kingdoms involved. There were plenty of sections when I hinted at both events in the past and various gods, but most of that, I admit, was made up on the spot, and all of it wasn't very well thought out.

So for the past few weeks I've been really digging into the past and the religion of the kingdoms that take a major role in The Proanadi, and what I've found is pretty cool. For one, I made a comprehensive timeline spanning from the beginning of civilization as the world knew it to the present day--well, more like ten comprehensive timelines, each from a different kingdom's viewpoint. I'll put them together soon, with all of the events of the nations in one place.

Second, I made the various pantheons of deities that each race pays homage to. The way gods work in the world of The Proanadi is similar to the way Tolkien's world of Middle Earth and the Undying Lands works. A higher power created the gods and set them in the world as stewards, each watching over a particular aspect or function in the world. In the misty past of Serragon, the world on which The Proanadi takes place, groups of stewards who were like-minded gathered together and made races that also shared their mindset. These races split into groups themselves, and the stewards split with them, until a few dozen separate groups of cultures, with their own gods, had developed.

Now that I had this foundation in mind, the things I wrote in my novel had meaning. The things the characters were talking about had depth, and the gods that they spoke of had history and a foundation in the culture of the kingdom. It was pretty cool.

Not only that, but I've also updated my world map--extensively. Originally, the two areas where the book takes place in (Torius/Azatharia for Nimlar, Daelis, and Striker; and Umhati for Poddle, Daegoth, and Tahlavel) were miles and miles apart. I had a big problem trying to figure out a way to get them going towards the same place.

But a month or two ago, I had an idea. I started a hotseat game of Civilization V, in which every civilization represented one from my story. The map that was generated--with a little tweaking--was absolutely perfect. It landed the Crossroad Kingdoms just north of Umhati--solving one problem--and gave me great locations to set the various nations in.

Since then the world has really come alive with history, mythology, sociology, and geography. And I love it. This is one of my great passions--creating a race's culture and constructed their past. I find it immensely satisfying to build the backstory for a story's world, almost as much as I like writing the story itself.

Well, that's my update. Sorry that there's nothing mind-bogglingly monumental in this post--I'll try to think of something a little bit more stupendous for next time.

Thanks, and good reading!