A week ago, I joined almost forty other brothers in Christ from my church, including my pastor, on a trip to an island near Galveston, Texas. We had carpooled together in a half-dozen large trucks. After we arrived, we stayed in two houses built on stilts, both within sight of Crystal Beach.
We must have appeared unique: a group of dozens of males who were African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and various mixtures of the same, ranging in age from teenagers to seventy-ish-year-olds. Many came to fish, others to relax but everyone wanted to socialize with each other.
Actually, that was the whole point. Our pastor wanted as many men as possible from the church to have opportunity to spend time together, away from the distractions of day-to-day life or the responsibilities of their varying roles in the ministry. It was a chance to get to know each other better, to share experiences and testimonies. We got to see a different side of each other outside of church. It was nice to just be wearing t-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes and baseball caps.
We shopped for groceries in small groups and purchased ingredients to make our own food. That not only ended up saving a lot of money (from not paying to eat out) but also made for some tasty meals. As an extra bonus, we did a lot of talking while preparing and eating those meals.
I woke up at 5:00 am every morning. The first morning, it wasn’t intentional. A group of the brothers got up early to take the ferry to the mainland to catch a boat and go fishing. I decided to go ahead and get up and I didn’t regret it. The pre-sunrise morning light was extraordinary over the gulf waters and beach. A couple of brothers joined me on the deck and we had wonderful spiritual discussions.
It was such a peaceful environment, with the mild morning air, beautiful colors in the sky and the sea breeze. It was kind, safe and reassuring. It felt like a smile from the Lord. It felt good to be up for the sunrise. Even though it was cloudy the last day we were there, the clouds and breeze were still magnificent enough to take pictures and video with my phone. I was glad we had enough of an internet connection to allow me to post those to social media. (I am still a computer geek after all.)
I had so many conversations with so many different brothers, at all hours of the day. It reminded me of the trust we have with each other. I learned so much and shared an equal amount. It was very cathartic.
Now, throughout this article, I’ve been calling these men my "brothers." That's not only because we are brothers in Christ -- changed by His Love, the gift of salvation and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts -- but because they are as close as family to me. I do not have a biological brother, but I have many brothers in the Lord. There’s something special in that kind of bond. Just like in biological families, none of us are perfect, we make mistakes and sometimes have misunderstandings. But it is easy to forgive and move on. And in doing so, our Father in Heaven will forgive us.
Hebrews 10: 23 - 25 (KJV)
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Our pastor reminded us that “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” is not only about attending church; it is also about maintaining fellowship outside of church.
When we left to return home, everyone seemed satisfied. We had taken a brief vacation from our regular lives and were returning a little stronger than before.
This group had meant to share each other’s company and friendship. But there was an unexpected benefit to us all: at the same time we had been fellowshipping with one another, we had shared the company and friendship of our Lord and Savior. In doing so, we experienced the Love of God.
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.
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."
Writing can fulfill many purposes. Obviously, people create fictional stories and relay facts in books but that only shows you the end product. It’s what goes on “behind the scenes” during the writing process that can truly be fascinating. “The pen is mightier than the sword” has a degree of truth to it. Writing can be a weapon, if one chooses to use it that way. Or it can heal the deepest wounds.
I was born with amblyopia, a medical condition better known as “lazy eye.” Left untreated, it can lead to blindness. My parents had me undergo multiple corrective surgeries and physical therapy from shortly after birth through the age of twelve to strengthen that eye. Until that was remedied, I had poor depth perception, which made me terrible at sports. I experienced a lot of bullying from other kids, especially boys, particularly when I made any attempt to play sports.
Not wanting to be insulted or hurt, I isolated myself from most kids. I even taught myself not to react emotionally. My parents had taught me that fighting was bad and not to fight. So instead, I controlled my emotions as best I could. Between the ages of six to perhaps ten, I would come home from school and watch cartoons like most kids but I challenged myself to not laugh or get excited. Even with Saturday morning cartoons, which I really enjoyed, I made myself not react. I showed my emotions with my family and closest friends; otherwise, I was quiet, usually just observing situations. I wasn’t even aware that I had become a quiet student. No one prompted me to do any of this. I instigated it myself, probably to protect myself from even potentially being hurt.
Not surprisingly, I developed a lifelong disdain for sports of any kind (with a mild exception being soccer). Time and the Lord have lessened this feeling but I have no illusions about ever becoming a sports enthusiast.
Back on topic, I started reading and enjoying superhero comic books when I was eight years old. By the time I was ten, I had actually become something of a critic, knowing what I liked and disliked. One friend remarked “if you don’t like them, why don’t you make your own comics?” And at that time, in my little kid brain, I decided that was a great idea! I wrote and drew a comic book with original characters that formed a superhero team and fought supervillains. Then they began having relationships. In time, they even got married and started having kids.
In a unique way, I started living vicariously through my comic book characters and their experiences -- their triumphs, their tragedies and everything in-between. I started calling my comics my “therapy.” And in a sense, it was. By the same principle, if I was going through something challenging in my own life, some version of it would often find its way into my comics.
When I gave my life to Christ in January 1996, I had been married for a little under a year and was a new father. It gave me a new perspective. By 2007, my wife and I put together the “Due East” Christian webcomic about a multi-racial family trying to come back together and heal after a separation and divorce. While I had never experienced divorce, I knew plenty of friends and even a few family members who had. I understood some sense of how damaging it was, especially to the children. Because of the sensitive nature of the story, my wife and I had to lean on the Lord through prayer to tackle such a topic. We also sought His help with how to share our faith through a webcomic.
In 2013, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and make my first 50,000 word rough draft in less than a month. Through prayer and persistence, I took many of the characters from my first superhero team comic and some of the early stories and re-tooled them to work together to create Mindfire (coming Summer 2019 from Ambassador International). Along the way, a lot of elements of my personality and even my life ended up in that novel. It was exciting, terrifying and cathartic, all at the same time.
I think this is true in everything I write. Whether intentional or not, I imbue each novel with bits of myself. And in doing so, it is also a healing and release, opening my words up to intrigue as well as criticism.
But now, I don’t write just for myself. I try to reach people with a message of hope in the salvation and deliverance that Christ freely offers. I want to share the Healing only He can bring. I know what the Lord has done in my life. Now I want to pass it forward.
What makes a fictional work "Christian?" Is anything off-limits or "taboo?" Now, I realize this is topic is subjective, but I will share my opinion. I think any work that declares itself “Christian” should have a few things in common:
It should glorify God, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This should be the motivation for any Christian writer. A Christian book can be elaborate, exciting, funny, thrilling or even touch on things considered “dark,” but in the end, it should point to the Holy Trinity and give praise. There is hope, love and life in them.
They are not fairy tales or moral equivalency stories, somehow no different than any other religious or principled figure on planet Earth. They are alive with power and holiness, moving and shaping not just this world but the entire universe. They are not limited or finite. They simply are. And they deserve praise, worship and devotion for what they have done (and continue to do) for us. As Christian writers, we should be seeking Their Will for our lives and how to best represent it through the talent we have been given.
It should acknowledge Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. There are many ways to write a story. But a Christian story needs to point to Christ and what He did for all of us. He was born into this world, suffered temptation and persecution, was tortured and then nailed to a cross for the sins of the world. He died and was buried in a tomb. But on the third day, God raised His Son from the dead. He was seen of many witnesses over many days before He ascended back to Heaven. Now, He sits at the right hand of God awaiting the day of His return.
To a Christian, these should be indisputable facts. And not only according to the Bible, but the living power of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit working in our lives!
It should convey that the only way to attain salvation and eternal life with God the Father is through His Son, Jesus Christ. In this world, there are many people claiming to have the solutions to life’s problems. Every year, new trends and philosophies develop. Humankind has always been inventive, seeking answers to all kinds of questions. But whether someone (or a group of people) provides technological, psychological, medical or intellectual remedies, they cannot provide a permanent, all-in-one explanation for the only questions that have persisted throughout time:
How can I find true, lasting peace?
What happens to us when we die?
Will anyone ever love me?
The answer is the same to all of these questions: salvation through accepting Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives provides that love, peace and the confidence that we will be with Him in the presence of Almighty God when we die.
In Romans 10: 8 -13 (KJV), the Bible says “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
A writer doesn’t have to quote the scriptures all the time to make this point. They can use the actions of their characters or paraphrase through their words or the general direction or outcome of the story. As creative individuals, the Lord can show us how to best glorify Him. We just have to let Him. And that also means listening to the Holy Spirit, which will guide us and let us know if something is not edifying to the Lord.
I am no preacher but I know these things to be true in my life. I am a Christian who is also a writer. And these are the principles I live by when I write.
Thanks for reading this.
Both Mindfire and Jordan’s World have females in their early twenties as the main protagonists. Prior to this, several of my webcomics had similar leads. Some may wonder, how can a male effectively write the perspective of a female character? Personally, I think anyone can write any perspective, if they can both imagine it and have some point of reference and experience regarding that perspective.
In my case, I spent most of my childhood around my mother and older sister. My father was the traditional “breadwinner” and was away a lot due to his profession. We spent time together whenever possible but didn’t develop a truly close bond until I was in my early twenties. Even outside the home, some of my closest friends were females and I learned from their experiences. In many ways, I related to them better than males.
Males had been my childhood bullies, particularly those involved in sports. That’s why I chose creative pursuits such as making my own comics, which doubled as my therapy. Later, I would use music in a similar fashion, to vent my deepest feelings and express my hopes and wishes. I didn't have to be involved in sports or join a team, I could use what talent I possessed all by myself.
Writing allowed me the opportunity to take ideas and experiences and make them relatable to a wider audience, to share my characters’ triumphs and failures, loves and losses. For a large part of my life, I understood the female perspective better than the male one, so that's what I wrote in my comics. Sometimes, that's what I represented in my songs as well.
That said, I never thought of myself as female; I never wanted to be anything or anyone other than who I am. Interestingly enough, it was my mother who instilled a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in me. She wanted me to be emotionally strong enough to face whatever challenges life had to offer. And she succeeded. I have accomplished many of the goals that I set for myself.
But I could not have gotten to where I am now, either creatively (art/music/writing), professionally (in the I.T. field) and personally (as a husband and father) without the Lord’s intervention. He is the one who made me see my need for a Savior. Before then, I could do many things on my own -- except be truly content. Before giving my life to Him, I may have always pursued dreams but just as often, I would get in my own way. It was frustrating, even maddening, to be so close to what should have been "True Happiness," only to have it snatched away by a mistake or mishandling of a situation. And it would be my fault, whether I accepted that or not.
After the Lord saved me, I was able to relate better to my brothers in Christ and then men in general. Having the Holy Spirit to soothe and heal past hurts allowed me to see the world differently. And that made me a better writer, as I could impart more realistic male characters and provide a balance to my storytelling.
I do admit that I enjoy writing female protagonists and strong female characters. In recent years, there has been a lot of progress towards providing rewarding portrayals of female characters, ones who defy stereotypes or define their standout roles well, whether in print, on a screen or a stage.
It’s not necessary to overcompensate and under-portray the male characters. All you need is a balance. If the lead is female, then that’s fine. And vice-versa for males. What matters is good storytelling.
Will I end up writing male lead protagonists in the future? I’m sure I will, I just don’t know when. I’d like to think I’m up for the challenge!
So maybe you're wondering who is this "Allen Steadham" guy? Where'd he come from? Why did he start writing? Or perhaps why does he write Christian speculative fiction (i.e. science-fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, etc.)? I'd be happy to tell you.
It seems like I've always been writing. By the age of nine (in 1979), this Texas boy had become a big fan of comic books, mainly Marvel and DC superhero stuff. And I decided to make my own, hand-drawn comics, original superhero stories. As an ambitious ten-year-old, I even mailed a comic page submission to Marvel Comics. In return, I received the sweetest rejection letter possible, as I'm sure they could tell my age by the quality of the art.
That experience didn't discourage me, it actually inspired me to try and get better! I continued making those comics for years, even after I became involved with the woman I would marry. This crazy guy asked her to edit his comics (and she did)!
But in January 1996, I reached a crossroads in my life. One Saturday, I became extremely ill as a result of dehydration stemming from the flu. My wife, Angel, took me to a minor emergency clinic and they determined that I had lost half the (non-blood) fluids in my body. Every time the medical staff tried to give me fluids intravenously, my veins would collapse. This happened four times within a fairly short time. It forced me to contemplate the possibility of dying that day, which was terrifying!
Even though I had become disillusioned about attending church and "organized religion" in general when I turned 18, I had not stopped believing in God or Jesus Christ. In fact, I thought I was a Christian. But my life did not reflect that. I did not have a good understanding of the Bible nor of who Jesus really is, what He could do in my life.
I was a very different person then, a living contradiction: I was sensitive and cared deeply about my friends and family but I was vengeful, holding long grudges and a vicious rage in my heart. I was more scared of myself than anyone in the world. I aspired to be a journalist and wrote imaginative comics and had started teaching myself to play the electric bass guitar and keyboards but I had a wicked imagination. I cursed, smoked marijuana and when I did drink alcohol, it was Irish whiskey. I took tremendous risks to marry the woman I love, who is African-American, but we were too emotionally volatile for our marriage to succeed. Everything was heading for a disaster, even before I got sick.
However, Angel met a witness for Jesus at her workplace. They spoke with my wife (and later with me) about "living free from sin," salvation through God and His Son, Jesus Christ. She also told my wife about the church she attended and its pastor. Angel went to that church a few times and decided to give her life to Christ, shortly before our oldest son was born.
Over the next few months, I saw a real (and positive) change in the way Angel behaved towards me and the way she took care of our son. She would periodically ask if I wanted to visit a church service or Bible study. And I would always politely decline. I wanted her to be happy but I didn't want to change.
Though after I while, I thought to myself "What's the harm in going to a Bible study? She's been really good to me and I love her. This is a way I can show her that." So, I agreed to attend one. On the day of the Bible study, I started feeling very sick. Angel asked what I wanted to do. I asked her to take my temperature. I told her if I had no fever, I would still go...but if I had a fever, I'd have to stay home. She took my temperature and, even though I know I had a fever, the thermometer indicated the opposite.
I went to the Bible study. But once I got there, I felt so unwell that I couldn't eat any of the delicious food they served us beforehand. And once the pastor started the study, my back began to hurt...a lot. I pressed on, telling myself I was doing this for Angel, but it intensified throughout the night.
Something extraordinary happened in the midst of my growing pain: it forced me to concentrate on every word the pastor said. I had to look past any preconceived ideas and past doctrine. Doing so, I truly heard the gospel of Jesus Christ that night. The pastor spoke about how God and the devil war over people's souls. It was fascinating, illuminating and backed up by scripture.
By the end of the evening, I asked the pastor if I could come to his church that Sunday and give my life to Christ. He welcomed me to do so, but things would take a detour before then.
That evening, I had a terrible coughing fit which woke me in the middle of the night. I hacked and wheezed so hard that it threw something out in my back. Somehow, I managed to get some sleep.
I was still hurting the next morning and I asked Angel to take me to the emergency room. She agreed and then called the pastor to tell him what was going on and ask for his prayers. He asked us to stop by his house on the way to the hospital, so we did. He gave us $40.00 out of his own pocket and said he would be praying for us. We were very poor at that time and were grateful for his generosity. When we finished at the hospital, the insurance co-pay was $25.00 and the prescription for pain medication had a co-pay of $15.00 -- a total of exactly $40.00! We were amazed.
Unfortunately, the flu kept me at home that weekend but by Monday, I had recovered enough to return to work. Or so I thought. That Friday night, I was delirious and felt horrible again. Angel called the pastor and I believe that the combination of his and her prayers are what stabilized me enough to make it through that evening.
The next afternoon, I was at the minor emergency clinic, laying on a table and not knowing whether I was going to survive the day. I took a hard, honest look at my life and I didn't like what I saw. I knew that if I died right then, I would not go to Heaven. The Bible study lesson about God and the devil warring over souls returned to my mind. I contemplated Hell for the first time. I seriously considered how frightening it would be to spend eternity there. Desperate, I reached out with my thoughts and begged "God, if You save my life today, I'll go to church tomorrow and give my life to You!"
Just then, my fifth vein collapsed but the nurse told me that the IV had infused one liter of fluid into me beforehand (I needed two). She told me that I could either drink one liter of orange juice and see if I could keep it down. Or they could go for a vein in my ankle next. I said "give me the orange juice." I drank it and I kept it down. So, after a little while, they let me leave.
The next day, I kept my promise to God and gave my life to His Son, Jesus Christ. And He changed me. The old me died and I was spiritually born again. That was January 22, 1996.
Since then, I have not cursed, smoke or drank alcohol. The Lord took that vengeful spirit out of me and I can forgive. I am still growing as a Christian but the Lord helped me become a better husband and father. And I decided that I want to use my creativity for the Lord. Within months, my wife and I were both participating in music with the church. And within a year, we were asked to join a band, First Light, which we are still members of to this day.
I continued making comics but they were no longer superhero comics. I wanted to make a Christian comic with my wife as the co-writer and editor. We eventually made Due East and it became an award-winning (Best Spiritual Comic 2008, Most Profound Comic 2008) slice-of-life webcomic.
In 2013, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). I took many of the characters and a few story elements from my very first comic, updated them and gave it a Christian theme. Over the next three weeks, the first draft of Mindfire came together. It would take another two years to edit it but I self-published it on Amazon in 2016.
When I finished Mindfire (which I considered a fond farewell to my very first characters), I wanted to start from scratch on my next novel. Initially, I considered it a fantasy novel but as it progressed, I understood that the sci-fi elements actually made it a science-fantasy novel instead. And my wife edited the manuscript with me. Now, "Jordan's World" will be my first novel with my new publisher, Ambassador International, and I'm very proud of that. "Mindfire" will also be published by Ambassador International. Both will be available by Summer 2019.
Who knows what will happen from here? But this is who I am now and what I want to do. I hope you enjoy this journey along with me!
Please feel free to comment. Thanks for reading this.
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. 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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