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The Challenge of Creative Work

I find myself in an interesting position. In addition to working on the expansion of Jesus’ Outsider Ministries known as Phase Two, I am back on the market as a freelance writer, voice artist, and media producer much earlier than planned. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything of this sort that isn’t related to ministry. This is only a part of what creates a challenge.

Working in creative mediums is very personal. A little bit of me is in every word I write, every syllable I speak, and every project I produce. I used to produce commercial scripts, marketing materials, and other sales tools with some ease. I could do that again but I’m finding the idea difficult. I am not the person I was when that was my focus. Although I know full well that those things are needed and great tools, I can’t bring myself to consider them important. It’s not even that I consider myself above all of it but rather that it’s just not who I am anymore. Those type of materials just don’t flow from my fingers as easily as they once did.

I love to write. I have mountains of unpublished writing projects that I did just for the fun of it. Short stories, articles, scripts, and even a few song lyrics fill sections of my hard drive. That’s not even counting the notes for books, ideas for more stories, and all the miscellaneous scraps that I’ve played with over the years. Each of them, whether a serious piece or something frivolous, reflects something of who I was when they were written. I feel the same way about voice work and media production.

As the ministry has grown, most of my efforts of the last few years have been totally focus on the podcast, occasional blog post, and teaching at events or with KMMG (Kodesh Mishkan Ministry Group). Because of that, I’m finding it difficult to make the switch to secular media production. I’m not convinced that I really need to do that to make a living.

In the position I held in a small, family run cellphone dealer, I was responsible for all of the media content on Facebook, Twitter, and on the website with its connected blog. The blog was easy to write. Most of it was reviews of apps or explanations of changes that were coming from the carrier, and other generic content. It was the advertising that I had a hard time creating anything effective. I’ve never stared at a blinking cursor so long in my life. Well, maybe that one time that my keyboard went out and I just looked at the screen in total frustration since it wasn’t even wireless.

Because I find the so personal, I find putting myself fully on the market to be a little daunting. My faith in Jesus and my work for Him have become the defining points of my life. How I approach everything including my marriage to The Lovely Bride, parenting my kids, and work is completely engulfed by His Word and presence. I can’t bring myself out of that place. Everything I produce is influenced by Him and my desire to bring Him glory through the gifts, talents, and skills I have been given.

Can God be glorified through doing the type of media I used to make? Certainly it can. That isn’t the question. There are men and women all over the world with strong faith in Jesus doing it every day. The question I have is can I do it? Have I changed so much that I can’t enter that world again?

That is the challenge. This isn’t like working in most fields, at least not for me. My creativity is an extension of who I truly am and that is a dedicated minister of the Word of God. That is the world for which I must create.

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The Value of A Conscience

In the last few years, the push for gay marriage has gained a lot of steam and political power. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling decided it was legal. For far too many people, legal means it’s also now moral. Legal also means that we must for forced to participate whether or not we believe in the practice.

The news is full of examples of businesses and individuals who have lost their businesses and jobs because of their belief in traditional marriage. Manny Pacquiao just lost his Nike deal over a comment he made about gays that he immediately apologized for making. Proponents scream discrimination and demand retribution from anyone who holds a different opinion and acts upon it. Many will say it’s anti-American to do anything but what they want. However, when the shoe is placed on the other foot, say having a homosexual owned bakery make a cake for a traditional marriage event, they get to scream obscenities at the one asking for the service and refuse to make the cake.

The many debates I’ve had on this topic all fall into the same pattern. Those who support gay marriage call it discrimination to oppose it because they believe opponents are turning away a person. Grasping that it isn’t the person that’s being rejected only the project seems to be beyond them. The level of deception is tremendous.

Here’s the problem: it can’t be both ways. In a free and civil society, a conscience is extremely valuable and needs to be respected. When one person is forced to act against their conscience and deeply held beliefs because it’s not popular, soon others will be as well as the whims of society change. We have a responsibility to stand up for all people to hold and live according to their conscience and beliefs, not just the ones that are popular or the most vocal.

In reality, all points of view must be respected especially the unpopular ones or those we find repugnant. For example, I would never ask a bakery owned by a KKK member to make a wedding cake for a black couple or, in their eyes what would be worse, a mixed race couple. I find their bigotry to be utterly disgusting but I respect their right to believe it. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t preach the Gospel to them in hopes of changing their beliefs but it does mean that I wouldn’t really spend my money with them.

To force someone to violate their beliefs is a great evil even if you strongly disagree with them. If you support gay marriage, great. You have a responsibility to allow others to hold a different set of values than you do just as we do to respect yours. Having the discussion is important but discussion dies once one side begins to persecute to opposing side. It’s wrong from both directions.

As Christ followers, we do need to stand up for our rights in this and the other battles we are facing. However, we must remember that our first mission here is the Great Commission not politics. We also have a responsibility to protect the consciences of the people we are called to reach. Loving people is our job no matter what they believe. If we want to live our beliefs, we need to respect other’s ability to live out theirs until the Gospel penetrates their hearts and they are transformed by the Holy Spirit. Remember, that’s what He does.


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Satan, Antihero?

Yes, you read that right. Thanks to the Fox Network, we now have a program with Satan as a crime fighting antihero. The tagline for the show is, “He gives bad a good name.”

Why did I say antihero instead of hero? Simple. He’s not entirely a good guy. He’s charming enough, smooth, and very carnal. He loves to punish the wicked. That’s the hook. We love to see the bad guy get what’s coming to him.

This is a growing cultural phenomenon. We seem to love characters that walk that fine line between good and evil. In the comics, The Punisher and Deadpool are two very popular antiheroes. When the Arrow series launched on the CW, the title character started out using deadly force. Fortunately, over time, the Arrow has evolved into a true hero that won’t take a life.

The first showed up in the late 80’s as a former FBI agent and Special Forces Vietnam Vet who lost his family to mafia hitmen who were trying to kill him. He snaps and goes after criminals with lethal force. He’s had three movies (none good). His white skull logo emblazons hoodies, tees, and hats. When it was announced that he would be in the second season of the Netflix series Daredevil, the internet almost exploded with excitement.

Deadpool, a.k.a. The Merc with a Mouth, The Regenerating Degenerate, is currently one of the most popular characters. He’s bizarre, over the top, and completely bonkers. He also enjoys killing a little too much for the rest of the Marvel cast of heroes. His humor, raunchiness, and his ability to kill while making jokes combine to make him a hugely popular character. His movie is one of the most anticipated films of this year and assuredly not for kids.

(For clarification, I get why you like these guys. I’m simplifying them for people who might not be familiar with them. I know they’re more complex than what I wrote, so please keep your hatemail to a minimum.)

Now add Satan. In the series, he solves crimes with a police detective he meets when he saves her daughter. Yes, you read that right. He saves her from a bully and punishes him. The series sets him up to take on the role that all these characters have in common. He is the ultimate punisher of the wicked. That’s why the series will do well.

The whole thing is based upon the bad theology and common cultural belief that Satan rules Hell and is responsible for torturing sinners in the hereafter. This is not a new idea. Dante’s Inferno holds to this idea and writings expressing it are much older. This is the most frequent depiction of Satan in popular culture. His job is to make certain that evil people receive what’s coming to them.

This isn’t even the first time that the enemy has been shown as good doing an evil job. In the 80’s, Piers Anthony released a series of books, The Incarnations of Immortality, in which Satan is portrayed as a good man serving as the current incarnation of evil. According to the series, Death, Evil, Fate,Evil, and even God (The incarnation of good), were once mortals who assumed their offices and serve the world as necessary to keeping everything in balance. Satan, the name chosen by the holder of the office of Evil in the series, was a powerful sorcerer who assumed the role with the help of a female demon. He has a conscience and even romances one of the other incarnations. At the time I read them, I wasn’t exactly a Christ follower and the idea of God and Satan as former mortals who could be replaced by someone else (God was replaced by a female ghost at the end of the series) struck me wrong.

Of course, we’re in a culture that is full of evil. The idea that there might be someone who deals out justice, even a twisted form of it, is very appealing. We want to see criminals get punished. The faith in the justice system isn’t very high on either side of the political aisle. I get that. So, of course, to a network executive who has no real grounding in the truth, Satan as a vigilante makes sense.

Combine the antihero angle with an ever increasing interest in the supernatural and this program will do well unless they really mess it up. I won’t be tuning in but I know people who will. Time will tell.

Please note: Protesting the show as unBiblical and Christian bashing won’t do a thing. We’re just not that popular anymore. If we were, this show would have never even been pitched. To stop it, hit your knees not the streets.

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Beginnings, Endings, and Beginnings

I don’t think I’m alone in being grateful that 2015 is over. In fact, from what I’ve seen on my Facebook newsfeed, I’m certain that there are a lot of you glad to be in 2016.

For us, 2015 was a rough year. It started very badly. At the first, my lovely bride suffered a stroke in her right eye. That caused a lot of turmoil for a few months starting the year along with a harder hit financially than we anticipated when we shifted gears. It was a horrible beginning to the year yet we were still optimistic about the future.

We put all of our energy into starting Freedom Church. We spent a lot of time and money doing what we thought the Lord had called us to do but to no avail. We looked at all sorts of reasons that we weren’t making progress except the one that was really the case, that the Lord wasn’t in that effort. The areas of Kingdom building He was in were allowed to slide in favor of the church. Finally, God got through to us and we pushed the pause button on the church in early December.

During the entire course of the year, we faced a number of setbacks, especially financial ones. At the beginning of the year, we planned out the year based upon the information we had at the time and set our need on a conservative estimate and some trends continuing into the new year. We were off and had some serious and unplanned expenses that really hurt us.

We did find some light in the darkness that was last year. When we finally surrendered out plans fully to the Lord, doors started opening and we saw a much greater response to our efforts in just making the adjustments than we ever did in the church. Focusing on the ministry the Lord had already given to us, one that we had neglected badly during the year, has given us a new sense of peace and renewed vigor. Our vision is clearer than ever and we see more of who we really are in Christ and His kingdom in the light of these changes. It was ultimately a good ending to what was causing so much stress in its failure.

Just as the breakthroughs were starting, the storm that was 2015 threw one last major assault on us. In one week, our studio computer died, a massive storm knocked out power at one of my jobs meaning I lost a lot of money that week, and we got hit with more unplanned expenses. Really, all this hit on the same day. It was very disheartening. In the end, 2015 was my Kahn. Just as it was beaten and failing, it quoted “Moby Dick” and activated the Genesis device to destroy our Enterprise. (Watch “Wrath of Kahn” if you don’t get that one. You won’t regret it.) It really made for a bad week. It put a hold on all of our work and put a ding on our income.

I admit, I got really down and angry. Just as things were starting to go forward, we got hit hard enough to slow down or even stop all of our work. It’s really an effort to see past the current situation and stretch out in faith and see what the Lord is going to do. I’m working hard to come to that place of peace trusting in the Lord to come through for us. To tell the truth, I came close to giving up but ultimately refused to surrender to despair. The soldier in me, the one that will not give up as long as the mission is yet to be completed, won the battle.

Even though a change in the date really doesn’t change the circumstances we’re in, there is something about the fresh start represented by the changing year that offers some hope. It’s still a beginning. Even though I am greatly limited by the loss of the computer, I can still do about 10% of the work without it. I can still write content, contact people, and do research so that when we are restored, I am ready. It’s a step of faith on my part to do what I can while I wait for the Lord to provide the rest.

As I said, I’m not unique this year. I’m not posting this so you’ll feel sorry for me. In fact, I’m posting this to speak to everyone else in the middle of a serious storm of their own. I didn’t post all the waves that crashed upon the shores of our house this year, especially the last month, but enough to show that with the Lord, you can survive everything the world has to throw at you. There’s an old truth that I’m sure most of you have heard before, “You’re either headed into a testimony, you’re in a testimony, or you have a testimony.” It sounds a little redundant but it’s true. Like us, many of you are in your testimony and, just like us, you’re waiting to see how the Lord is going to take you through to the other side.

Bad things happen and they don’t necessarily happen for a reason. Sometimes you’re guilty and sometimes you’re not. In other words, sometimes when you’re in a storm, it’s the consequences of your actions or sin but not as often as you think. Trials happen even when you haven’t done anything to cause them. Regardless of the cause, the Lord will carry you through them and turn your pain into a badge of honor in the Kingdom.

Whatever the world and the enemy throw at you, don’t give up. The Lord is for you.

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Please follow the link to our ministry blog. We are in a sudden state of need. The studio computer, the one ask design and production work is done on, is irreparably down. We can’t go forward with our ministry work until it’s replaced.

HELP! We’re Out of Commission! http://steelsoapbox.blogspot.com/2015/12/help-we-out-of-commission.html

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Trimming The Fat

Have you ever felt like a deck of cards being shuffled? That’s how I feel right now.

The few weeks have been earthshaking to say the least. Many of the pieces of my life have been rearranged and the process is still ongoing. I guess when you put it all on the table for the Lord to examine, things happen.

Two of them I’ve written about on the appropriate blogs. One was the need to step up my game with Jesus’ Outsider and the other on a conference on the Freedom Church blog. If you haven’t already read them, please take the time to do so before reading further. The rest of this won’t make much sense if you don’t.

I have been wearing myself to a frazzle for a long time. For all intents and purposes, I have been working four jobs for more than a year. I haven’t really done as well at any of them as they deserve. It’s not because I don’t care but because I’m tired. I haven’t been functioning well or thinking properly. I’ve done some resting in between projects. Some important work has been on hold so I can rest and pray. I fell into the trap of being too busy to spend as much time in prayer as I needed to keep a strong connection to the Lord. With prayer time restored to my formally normal habit, things are really happening.

I am in the process of doing a better job of aligning my life with the call of God on my life. Many years ago, I had a dream that was a part of a series of them that have turned out to be very prophetic. In this dream, I was looking over my own shoulder a I stood on a platform speaking to a crowd that went beyond the lights. I felt the presence of a huge crowd. I couldn’t make out what I was saying but knew it was the Word. I have always interpreted this dream to mean that I would be serving as pastor in a large church. I am no longer quite so certain.

I need to trim the fat from my life if I am to be effective. Some things are becoming more important while others are going to receive much less attention. There are certain things that the pause button is being pushed on until I receive further clarification.

The incredible sense of urgency I am experiencing to put on the Sex, Porn, And Freedom Conference is pushing a lot of other things aside and putting others on pause. As just announced on the Freedom Church blog, we are putting Freedom Church on hold until we have further direction from the Lord.

Our ministry focus is now media and conferences. Jesus’ Outsider is going to get a lot of attention that is long overdue and is will be more than just a podcast. Conferences that we put on, starting with Sex, Porn, and Freedom will be under the umbrella of Jesus’ Outsider Ministries with more coming as we grow. I will be making myself available as a speaker and evangelist on my personal site (currently being redesigned). It will also be my site as an author and writer, something I have felt convicted strongly to return to as a means of expression and source of income.

I have more to trim but I do believe I am closer to the mark than I have ever been. I know I often seem erratic and perhaps a little unstable but I assure you I am not. What you see is rather someone who absorbs responsibility like a sponge until I reach the point when I have too much on my plate. I see needs and they become my responsibility to fulfill them whether it’s my problem or not. Eventually, I either fail completely or get to the point where I have to get it right. In the integration of my passions and skills, Freedom Church doesn’t fit at this point. Is there a real need for the place I envisioned? Absolutely. Is it likely that I may be able to influence the church at large to understand that need and actually adopt some of the philosophy behind it as a speaker, writer, and media producer? I think it is.

Please, pray for me in this process. Although it’s really coming together, I need the strength and wisdom to keep things on track. I am building a board of directors/advisers to make sure I’m in the Lord’s will. Some are already on board and I have a couple others yet to ask.

More on the Sex, Porn, and Freedom conference soon!

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For The Exposure and the Business of Writing

I posted an article on my Facebook wall that caused a minor stir. The article entitled “Wil Wheaton and Why I Won’t Write for Huffington Post Anymore” was posted by a writer no longer willing to write for the exposure. He had been sending his articles to the Huffington Post without pay. He made the rational decision that if they wanted his content to help them make money, they should pay him. He’s right.

Here’s my original comment posted with the article, “I write my blogs for free when they’re on my sites but if someone wants my work, I quote Harlan Ellison, “Pay the writer.” I have been approached several times for submitting pieces for free to sites and magazines that are for-profit. I decline every time because writing for exposure rarely works out in favor of the artist regardless of their particular art. Bottom line, exposure doesn’t pay the bills. This is a very important article that echoes my sentiment very clearly. Other writers need to pay attention.”

Here’s the deal: I make media including writing. I have made money from my work. I learned a long time ago that if someone was going to make a profit from my efforts I was going to be sharing in that profit.

Let’s break down the business of writing so I can make myself clearer. For many people, when you say writer the first thing that pops into their head is books. However, that is the smallest portion of the business. Book authors often do all of their work for free because most of what they do is unsolicited. They have an idea and run with it. It’s their responsibility to for what happens with that work. Most authors never see publication. Books are a high risk business with high potential costs and risky sales. There’ s a reason I am so grateful for the people I know who have been published. It’s a wonderful gift and an encouragement for anyone working on their own book.

Writing a book is a real act of faith. I have several that are in various stages of completion ranging from collections of notes to large sections written and everything in between. I have faith that what I have spent all this time on is worthwhile and will be picked up by a publisher. This is essentially free work until that point. It’s up to the author┬áto market the idea to publishers and agents and sell it to them. If you’re writing a book and that’s all your interested in doing, go for it. The rest of this may apply to you anyway.

Most of the business of writing is not in books but in smaller projects. It’s in articles, website content, reviews, scripts, ad copy, and the like. These are the projects the article refers to not books. This is also where you find the most organizations happy to use your work to make a profit while paying the author nothing more than the privilege of writing for them for the exposure and experience.

I started writing professionally almost twenty years ago. In the early days, I did a lot of this kind of work “for the exposure” that I now regret. In truth, I gained nothing from these agreements. The exposure gained me no further work. It all came to a head a little over ten years ago when I was approached to help start a publication. Although it was a profit venture, the owners wouldn’t pay for content. Without content, there wouldn’t be a magazine to sell all those ads, about 70% or more of the space within the pages. That made me angry enough to take a hard look at things.

I have discovered that there’s a lot of publications, both online and print, that won’t pay the writers (or photographers, videographers, voice artists, etc) for their contribution. They only offer exposure as the payment is exposure and experience. Neither of those things pay the bills. I have a real problem with publishers and editors that make their living from the work of other people without paying the content providers. A workman is worth his hire. I think I read that somewhere.

Ten years ago, I made a decision to only write for free for those who will actually appreciate it. I will write to further the Kingdom, to produce my personal projects, or support someone I believe in enough to spend the time on. I have spent a lot of money and time over the years learning media production and writing. Those skills are worth something. Since then, I have done a lot of free work for ministries including scripts, ads, and other small projects. However, I haven’t done any of that or other assignments for free for any for-profit venture.

Does it make me less spiritual because I expect to be paid for my work? Not in the slightest. Why are my efforts as a media producer and writer different from my efforts on my day job? I won’t work for them for free so why are the skills I’ve worked to hard to gain worth less?

Do I need to do work for free to build my platform/brand? Absolutely. I write four blogs of my own including this one, create my own sites, and work my tail off on social media for which I make nothing up front. The key is that they are mine to produce. No one is profiting from my work except me unless they hire me.

I approach my writing as both a business and an art. Even is my books never see the light of day beyond my hard drive, I will still eat and make money from my efforts.

The bottom line, if you’re making a profit from an artist/writer, pay them. Their skills and talents are not their for your disposal without compensation. If you’re an artist of any stripe and are good at what you do, your skills are worth something. Only give them away by your choosing not the policies and choices of others.