Sometimes, certain topics have to be addressed with great care and caution, as they can affect a lot of people emotionally. And yet, they need to be addressed. This is one of those things.
Thoughts and prayers. With the growing number of public attacks, especially school shootings, I have seen a disturbing trend develop. Some people are saying “We’ve had (X) years of thoughts and prayers and that hasn't fixed the problem. We need to do something else (alluding to stricter gun control laws and measures).”
In my view, this statement has three negative connotations:
Thinking about people while intending sympathy or goodwill has never hurt anyone. It is human compassion being enacted. I’ll get more specific about prayer momentarily.
For the record, let me say that I have never owned a firearm of any kind and never will. My father never owned one, either for hunting or home defense. Even before I gave my life to Christ, I saw no value in owning a gun. That is a personal, individual decision.
But this isn’t actually about guns. We don’t have a gun problem. We have a sin problem.
What is “sin” really? Merriam-Webster defines sin as “an offense against religious or moral law” or “transgression of the law of God.” Dictionary.com defines sin as “transgression of divine law” or “any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.”
In the Bible, Jesus was more direct about sin when speaking to his disciple, Peter:
Matthew 15: 15 - 20 (KJV)
"Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Sin exists in people’s hearts. It is a more powerful weapon than any firearm. Sin leads people to abuse others -- or themselves -- through their words and/or actions. It pushes people to use any means to hurt others or themselves, even their bare hands. We are all born with a sinful nature and we have free will.
There is only one answer to sin, one escape: God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit can give us power to fight against sin in our own lives. Only He can change our hearts. And that comes through prayer to receive His Spirit, Grace and Mercy.
Through the Holy Spirit, prayer can lead to miracles, consolation and healing. Prayer can lead to protection and prevent bad things from happening. But as long as sin exists in this world, there will be harm and tragedies that result from it.
I know some people don’t believe in prayer, just like some people don’t believe in God. It is a choice everyone has to make. And everyone has the right to believe or not believe.
An increasing number of people probably have never heard God’s Word, the Bible. Others may have heard it and experienced someone professing to be religious but whose actions contradicted that. There are many bad examples, people who let sin control their actions. More importantly, they are not representing the Lord, just their own hypocrisy.
Jesus, who was a Jew, spoke against hypocrites often. He also gave an example for prayer:
Matthew 6: 5 - 15 (KJV)
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Answers to prayer are often not instant. Prayer is sincerely making your requests known to God. Only He can see everything and be everywhere at the same time. He knows what will best assist us and the ideal time to do so.
Some prayers may not be answered at all. Our prayers, whether we realize it at the time or not, can be selfish. And some things that we think will help us might actually do the opposite. God gives us what we need when we need it.
Prayer is for our benefit. It works towards furthering our relationship with God, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It is a way to get closer to Them.
In contrast, we are now more detached from our fellow human beings than at any time in history. The specific reasons are too numerous to list in this article. But generally-speaking, whether that divide is due to our use of technology (thus avoiding direct human contact), the ways we choose to entertain ourselves (often desensitizing ourselves to others’ suffering) or our growing disrespect towards other people’s viewpoints, it all has a cumulative impact on society.
Consider this: I’m not against technology, I’m a computer geek. And I’m not against entertainment, I write novels. I have to temper my own attitudes daily, often through prayer. All the time, people say and write things I consider offensive or express viewpoints I don’t agree with. This is life and we have to deal with it.
In conclusion, keeping people and situations in our thoughts and prayers is relevant. And it doesn’t rule out taking action. But before we step up and tackle something, shouldn’t we better understand the problem? Whether we encourage politicians to make new laws or change existing ones, we should acknowledge that legislation will not change human nature. It cannot eliminate sin in people’s hearts. Only God can do that, working through grace, faith...and prayer.
Thanks for reading this.
Whether planning a story on another planet or just an alternative version of Earth, a writer must consider several things. Is it for pure science fiction? Is it science-fantasy? Fantasy? Know the genre you want and stick to it. If your story is on Earth, what makes that Earth different? If your Earth's history is the same, has something physically changed? Is it the result of an alien invasion or some kind of natural or unnatural catastrophe, setting up a post-apocalyptic scenario? Or while physically more or less the same, does your Earth have a different history?
The next thing a writer has to ask themselves is “Why?” Why do you want to have your story take place on another world or in a post-apocalyptic setting? If an alternate Earth, why change history? If the your only answer you can give yourself is “because it’s cool,” that’s probably not a good enough reason.
The setting of a story has to play an active role in the story itself. It can set the mood and the characters will interact with it, so it is an essential element.
If the story is about characters surviving (or even thriving) in a harsh or unforgiving environment, then the setting is almost a character. It can be a foe fighting the characters or it can be a friend, offering something unique that no other setting could. As a writer, you have to choose. Ask yourself: what works best for the story?
Once you establish the setting, then you can plan what you want your story to do, how you want it to progress. Like most stories, it’s best to develop a beginning, middle and end. Is it a hero’s journey? What are you trying to say with your story? This is where themes can be created and expressed.
And the next step is coming up with characters. Who lives on this world? And out of all the population there, who are your main characters and why? What makes them special? What kind of character development would you like to see in them? How will the events of this story change their lives? And will those changes be for the better or worse? All of that should be considered before writing the prologue or the first chapter.
Developing worlds can be fun and exciting but it’s not easy. It takes a certain commitment to making good story, including setting and characters. It can be frustrating but, with diligence, it can be exciting and fun, too! So...what’s in your world?
This is a short update. I received the first-round edits for "Jordan's World" from my publisher, Ambassador International. I will be working on those for the foreseeable future. I am pleased with their edits and suggestions. I do think the re-writes will make the book better. Stay tuned!
Like many people of my generation (born in the late 1960s and early 1970s), I was taken to a Christian church as a child by my parents. I learned a little bit about the Bible and was told general things about God, that He had a Son named “Jesus” and that there was a Holy Spirit. I was also taught that they were all One Being. By the time I was a teenager, I had even memorized one scripture that I considered my favorite:
John 3:16 (KJV) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
At the time, we had attended a couple of different Southern Baptist churches. And along the way, I matured enough to go from having intellectual (or book-taught) knowledge of God to developing a belief in Him. I also believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I believed in the Holy Trinity.
But that’s about as far as it went. The churches I attended had plenty of nice people but there were serious issues with the way they were run. And while I didn’t fully understand what those problems were as an adolescent, I picked up enough to want to stop attending. However, since church attendance was mandatory for me and my sister when we were kids, I grew to resent church. I protested in what little, ineffectual ways I could. I may have been there physically but I chose not to sing and had little interest in being taught anything, especially the sermons.
Things changed when I turned eighteen. My parents now considered me an “adult” and gave me the choice of attending. By then, I was starting to understand the managerial problems at our church. The pastor had hired people to build a “mega-church” but in the process had incurred $2 million in debt. When the pastor asked his congregation to take out second mortgages on their homes to help cover that expense, I felt it was very wrong. And that’s when I left that church and gave up on “organized religion.”
Over the next several years, I would occasionally be invited to other churches and I actually visited a few. But I never felt like I belonged at those churches. I didn’t experience God’s presence, though I didn’t understand that at the time. What I did know was that it was disappointing. In truth, I did want to find a church home. I still believed in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. I was on a search and would not be satisfied until I found something “real.”
After I met Angel, the woman who would become my wife, a second time (our first meeting did not go so well, but that’s another story), one of the first things we discussed was spirituality. We soon found out that we both had attended churches and believed in God and Jesus. Even though neither of us had found true salvation yet, we had a common belief. That belief would help solidify our friendship and follow us throughout our dating period and engagement. We prayed together often. And when we said our wedding vows, we made them to God.
By the time our first anniversary came around, we had both given our lives to Jesus Christ and had found a nondenominational church home. Our faith grew through being taught how alive and present God, His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are -- not only in this world but the entire universe. We were taught about sin and that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live without it. It can be a daily struggle but with the Lord's help, sin can be overcome.
1 Corinthians 10: 13 (KJV) "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
We came to understand that the Bible -- through the Holy Spirit, which is present in our very beings after we ask Jesus Christ to come into our hearts and become our Savior -- becomes a living thing: God’s Word
John 1: 1 - 5 (KJV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
Studying and meditating on God’s Word, prayer, church attendance/participation and having a good relationship with one’s pastor and the ministerial staff all work together towards one goal: getting closer to God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It has taken me all my life to realize this. In the process, I have learned that God is the greatest intellect in the universe. He is also the greatest creative muse anyone could ever hope to have. I pray and ask Him to inspire me in everything I do -- and He does!
Perhaps equally important, He is the embodiment of fatherhood. In times of pain, loss or just great stress, I have turned to Him. I lean on Him when I’m alone or it’s the middle of the night and everyone’s asleep or I don’t know what to think (of a situation or problem) or pray for. And He is there. I can feel His presence comforting and reassuring me. And whether it’s right then or later, I receive an answer to whatever is hurting or troubling me.
There is much darkness in this world because of sin and unbelief, which tend to lead to one another. A whole generation or two have been actively taught that there is no God, devil, heaven or hell. Noted intellectuals and celebrity-like representatives of science treat belief in God as if it was the height of ignorance. Evolution is taught as fact when it is more theory than not. And people go to extreme measures, even killing themselves or others, thinking they are trying to "save the planet."
We can certainly do humane things to reduce or eliminate pollution and extend natural resources. These are common sense things that make life better for everyone. It's when people start using the issue of "the environment" to control other people (or nations) politically and financially or take it to extremes (the aforementioned suicides or murders) that problems occur.
To be clear, I am not in any way against science. It is a wonderful tool for exploring and understanding the world (and universe) around us. However, I am against the abuse of science. That is, when people try to use science to justify their beliefs that God does not exist and spirituality is somehow meaningless superstition.
Wars, genocide, mass and individual murder, terrorism. corruption, injustices -- all the evils visited upon the human race -- are manifested through sin, which starts in the human heart. As people turn away from God, they turn away from hope. And when people lose hope, things get worse. They may find a form of happiness but it doesn't last. People wonder why bad things are happening to them (and the world) but don’t find satisfactory answers. They may even blame God...but forget that they proclaimed they didn’t want Him.
It comes down to a personal choice: Do you want to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the Bible? And people have different reasons for not believing. Some have never felt His presence or love, even when attending churches. Many people have been hurt and/or betrayed by people claiming to be "Christians," those quick to claim the title but not live the life. It is understandable.
But God is the same today as He was in the Bible, thousands of years ago. He was the same when He created the universe. He has always had limitless compassion and more love than we can truly comprehend. He loves everyone but He hates sin. He knows each of us and wants to help us, to guide us in turning our lives around. But we have to believe in Him. We have to trust Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. But trust can be difficult when one has doubts or has been hurt before.
I will conclude this with the reason I believe in God: He is an active part of my life. Every waking moment, I know He is with me through His Holy Spirit. I can call on Him and He hears me. The Holy Spirit speaks to me. I commune with Him through prayer. He builds my faith, strengthens me, my marriage, my relationships with my family and friends. He inspires my creativity and fulfills my soul. I am a better person for not just believing, but having a relationship with Him. He is my heavenly Father. And I love Him for who He is.
He can be all of that and more for whoever is seeking Him, whether openly or just within their heart. He can send someone "real" to anyone and lead them to somewhere the living Gospel is being preached. And they can finally find hope.
Thanks for reading this.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a dreamer. As a kid, I dreamed of being a cartoonist, someday working for Marvel or DC Comics. As a teen, I dreamed of being a journalist then a musician, even recording a solo studio album. In my early twenties, I thought I might make it big in a rock and blues band. Nearing my thirties, I dreamed of reducing or eliminating weight-related prejudice in the world. In my forties, I decided to start writing novels in hopes of someday being published. And now, that dream is coming true.
To realize a dream, you have to believe it can come true. You have to have hope. You have to understand that you have value as a person. I was fortunate when I was growing up, since my parents, especially my mother, taught me to believe in myself. She repeatedly assured me that I could do anything I set my mind to. My father's life proved it to me. He was also very inspiring. I am well aware that many people are not fed such encouragement. This can lead to a lot of self-doubt, anxiety and potentially overwhelming fear of failure. Those feelings cause some people to delay or even sabotage their own dreams.
The little bit of advice I would offer to anyone who was not encouraged by their parent(s) or faced neglect or abuse in their formative years is this: There is still hope. God believes in you or He would not have made you. He let each and every one of us be born into this world, as challenging and cruel as it can be at times, for a purpose. He can help all of us achieve something special and meaningful. He just wants us to trust Him.
The song I included above tells the story of how I wished to fall in love. I knew I wanted to get married and have a family someday. That dream began when I was ten years old. I wrote “(There’s Always Time For) Dreams & Wishes” in 1990, after I’d experienced my heartbreaking first love. But I wasn’t discouraged. I knew if I fell in love once, I could fall in love again. I wanted to find someone who would share that love and make a commitment with me.
A year after I wrote that song, I met the woman who would become my wife. We had to fight for our love, being an interracial couple in Central Texas during the 1990s. But we persevered and did marry in 1995. Even so, it took the Lord to solidify that matrimony and give it a lasting foundation. My wife and I gave our lives to Jesus Christ and invited His Holy Spirit into our hearts -- and our marriage. This year, we celebrated twenty-three years of that union. We have three wonderful children, two sons and a daughter. They are the realization of my dream and I will be forever grateful to the Lord for them.
Time and reality taught me that some dreams are more realistic than others. As a kid and teen, I might have been interested in Star Trek and science fiction but I knew I was never going to be an engineer like the USS Enterprise’s Mr. Scott or a military captain like James T. Kirk. My medical issues made military service impossible and I did not have a passion for number-crunching or other related skills. I was more about creating stories: comics, news stories or songs.
And by the time I attended college, even my dream of being a journalist was shattered. I saw for myself that, even in 1991, what made the “news” was too often determined by political and business reasoning than the idealistic pursuit of the truth. And that's what I had always thought journalism was about, it drove my passion. Still, I never quite gave up my journalism skills, I just found different ways to use them. I contributed articles and design skills to an e-zine for years and then hosted or co-hosted podcasts and conducted interviews.
Dreams have a way of hanging on, even against tough circumstances. They only die if you let them.
Something I have come to understand recently is that all dreams have a price. It will always take time and effort. Sometimes you have to start over to reach what you want. Sometimes the cost is in relationships. It depends on the dream and the individual. To achieve my dream of being a novelist, I had to hand over my talent to God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It was never really “my” talent anyway, only what the Lord imbued me with.
When I sought the Lord through earnest and daily prayer, asking Him to inspire me, that is what changed my course and started me down this path. It started with the Mindfire novel in 2013. I knew my characters and the various comic book plots I had created over the years, but it was the Lord who organized everything and helped me focus. By the time I finished the editing in 2016, it had transformed from an interesting but admittedly so-so first draft to a powerful novel. Mindfire had something to say. And it stood on its own as something new and unique. However it might be received once published next year, I am proud of it.
I repeated the process with Jordan’s World. Only with this novel, I was starting from scratch. I had to lean on the Lord even more, every step of the way. And He blessed. Jordan's World has a different message than Mindfire but it points to the same God. And the two Jordan sequels will be handled the same way.
So, what am I trying to say here? You can dream, but be careful. Ask yourself what your dream will demand of you -- your time, your relationships with those close to you, your money -- or will the cost be to your soul, who you are as a person? Will it change you for the better or worse? How will you balance your dream with real life?
It takes confidence to follow a dream. What have you placed your confidence in? If it's only yourself, that's very risky and could exact a high price. Only God and His Son, Jesus Christ, can provide the inspiration, confidence and security to achieve lasting happiness. They can do anything, so the fulfillment of a dream is hardly a challenge. And when you place Them first in your life, they may give you a new dream that was better than what you originally wanted.
Matthew 7: 8 - 15 (KJV) “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Matthew 7: 24 - 27 (KJV): “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian. Happily interracially married since 1995 and the proud father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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