Saturday, April 25, 2015


It's not like me to plug another person's book, but this one deserves all the praise I can heap on it!

I have known Cheryl Bramlett as a passing acquaintance for three or four years now - she and her husband, Tom, have frequently been set up near me at the Indian artifact shows we all love to go to. I knew that they were active in the ministry and that she had written a book, but I really did not know what it was about or any of her remarkable life story until my wife downloaded SEVEN SILENT WITNESSES onto her Kindle at Springdale this year. Patty was immediately captivated by this shocking story of the horrific child abuse that Cheryl and her siblings lived through and ultimately overcame. I didn't pick up the book for some time, but once I did, I finished it in three days.

    Cheryl's account of the sadistic treatment she and her six siblings suffered at the hands of her parents is eye-opening, saddening, and heart-rending. That any mother and father could be so brutal to their own offspring is beyond me; that Cheryl could find it in her heart to forgive them and love them is inspiring. For those who have suffered from abuse in the past, this book is a reminder that you are not alone, and that recovery can happen, and that even forgiveness is possible. Cheryl's faith in God sustained her through a darkness that I pray none who reads this will ever experience. That such a faith could remain intact in the face of such awful suffering is a gentle rebuke to those of us whose lives have been blessed with so many good things and positive relationships, yet tend to doubt or get angry with God from time to time.

    This isn't a flawless book - I can see a place or two where it might have needed another edit - but its strengths are so great, and its flaws so minor, that I am giving it the highest rating I can. If you have suffered from spousal or parental abuse, this book will be like a warm, comforting light that offers a chance to cleanse and illuminate your darkest past. If you are like me - blessed with a great Christian family and a life that has been filled with wonderful experiences, this book is a reminder how much you have to be grateful for.

    No child should have to suffer as Cheryl and her siblings did. But Cheryl's life and ministry are a testimony that God can redeem His people from the worst of circumstances and give them a light to shine into a dark world.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

April . . . A Month Full of History!

  Is there any month on the calendar more crammed with historically significant anniversaries than the month of April?  I was able to throw out, off the top of my head, a dozen pretty major April events on FB last week, and several of my friends chimed in as well.  Here are the ones that we managed to come up with - and I am sure that there are even more!

The crucifixion of Jesus most likely happened in April. Although there are disagreements as to the precise year, 33 AD is as likely as any.
The American Revolution began in April 1775.
 The Battle of San Jacinto ended the Texas Revolution in April 1836.
The Battle of Shiloh was on April 5-6, 1862.
Richmond, VA fell to Grant's army in April of 1865.
  The Civil War began in April 1861, and ended in April 1865.
 Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865.
Hitler was born in April 1889.
 The Titanic sunk in April of 1912.
America declared war on Germany in April 1917.
The Red Baron was shot down in April of 1918.
Hitler conquered Denmark and Norway in April of 1940.
The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was in April 1942.
The battle for Okinawa started in April of 1945.
 Hitler killed himself in April 1945.
Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of 1968.
The assault on the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco was in April of 1993.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was in April of 1995.
The Columbine Shootings were in April of 1999.
The Virginia Tech shootings were in April of 2007.
And, most recently, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

I'm sure that barely scratches the surface, but it's still a lot!

All of these events carry their own resonance to different people, but all of them changed the world to some degree, some more so than others.  The world we live in today may well have been shaped more in the month of April than any other month!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Week in the Birth of a Novel

   April is a crazy month for schoolteachers.  It's the Fourth Quarter; every moment of class time is devoted to trying to work in all the lessons you need to teach your kids before the year draws to a close - and yet it is also the most interrupted time of the year!  It seems as if every single day students are gone from class for SOMETHING - Science Fair, Track Meet, Baseball Games, Field Trips - and meanwhile, the calendar just keeps ticking on down.
   The calendar is also ticking down on two other things: the release date for my second novel, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE, which is set for May 19 - only 38 days to go!!! as of this writing.  The other thing rapidly approaching is the self-appointed finish date for my current WIP, LOVER OF GOD, which I told myself I would try to conclude by the end of this school year.  Problem is, I've been very lazy about writing for the last month or so.  This week all of that changed.
    Easter Sunday, after church,  I decided that I would not go to bed until I had completed Chapter 16, which I had been stuck on for two weeks.  So I came in, rested for a bit, and then sat and wrote until around 10 PM.  Marcus, my main character, had been sent on an inspection tour of Rome's provinces by Claudius Caesar, and then on a diplomatic expedition to Ecbatana, the capitol of the Parthian Empire, bearing a personal note from the Emperor to the High King of Parthia.  I had left off with Marcus returning to Rome bearing a very truculent reply from the Parthian King, and he was in the middle of his meeting with Claudius when I returned to the narrative.   I got that chapter wrapped up, with Claudius rewarding Marcus for his loyal service and getting the preparations done for Marcus' triumphal parade, celebrating his victory in the province of Pannonia over an invading horde of Osterlings. 
   By Tuesday, I was ready to start the next chapter.  Since I have the manuscript stored in a cloud, I can access it from anywhere, so I was able to start on it from work that afternoon and keep at it until Wednesday night.  Now my hero celebrates his triumph, returns to the Senate, and gets a marriage proposal from one of his old legal clients - actually, the client wants Marcus to marry his daughter, a 22 year old widow.  After meeting the lovely lady, Marcus agrees - so then I had to go do a heap of research into early Roman wedding customs in order to make the ceremony as authentic as possible.
   But the main story arc of LOVER OF GOD is Marcus' defense of the Apostle Paul before the Emperor Nero, which means that it was time for dear old Claudius to bite the dust.  Since I already had a full head of steam going, I began Chapter 18 Thursday and finished it last night.  Poor old Claudius got hold of a bowl of poisoned mushrooms, and on his deathbed calls for his old friend Marcus to help keep his two sons, Nero and Britannicus, from killing each other over the succession.  A tall order, since the poisoned mushrooms were most likely administered either by Nero, or his scheming mother, Agrippina. 
   So now my hero has to steer a narrow course between two ambitions teenagers, a scheming dowager Empress, and help the Empire deal with a coming war with Parthia . . . all that before I can even think about getting Paul to Rome for the novel's climax!

     Being a writer is fun, but it's wearing me out!  Twenty six pages of finished manuscript in a week is grueling, but I'm glad to have it done.

   In the meantime, I'll be posting a link to THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE as soon as it becomes available.  I hope you all will enjoy my second book as much as you enjoyed my first one.  And if you haven't read the first one yet . . . get on with it!!!!!!!

   Till next week, a blessing on you all!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

An Easter Sermon from THE TESTIMONIUM

In the first chapter of THE TESTIMONIUM, I took a sermon that I have preached many times in many churches, and had Joshua Parker's father deliver it for Easter.  This is the scene that introduces my main character, Josh, and explains the origins of the faith that sustains him throughout the many trials that he would endure during my story.  I post it tonight, the night before Easter, because it is especially timely now:

Dr. Joshua Parker folded his long legs under him and settled into the pew after the last song ended.  He picked up his well-worn New American Standard Bible and smiled as his father, Benjamin Parker, walked up to the pulpit.  “Brother Ben,” as Baptists in a tri-state area referred to his father, was a towering man in his early seventies with a deep booming voice and an accent that had never left the Ozark ridges where he had been born at the end of the Great Depression.  It was Easter Sunday, and Josh smiled at the thought that Dad’s new church was about to hear his signature sermon for the very first time.  This message lay at the core of everything his father had believed and taught over a ministry that stretched nearly fifty years.  Josh had heard the sermon many times growing up, and every year his father polished it a bit, updating the pop culture references to fit his current congregation before he let them have it on Easter Sunday.

          “This morning I want to talk to you about one of my favorite passages of Scripture,” he began.  “But it isn’t because it is my favorite that I want to tell you about it.  It’s because I consider it to be the MOST important passage in all the New Testament – arguably the most important passage in all of Scripture.”  As Brother Ben’s golden tones resonated throughout the crowded auditorium, the audience shifted its attention slightly.  Some leaned forward; others redirected their gaze from the people around them to the tall figure in the pulpit.  Obviously the new pastor, whom they had already come to respect and admire, had something important to say.

           Casting his piercing gaze around the room, Parker smiled, then lowered his eyes to the large print Bible before him – although he could quote this passage from memory, Josh knew he preferred to read verbatim: “From the Book of First Corinthians, Chapter Fifteen, beginning in Verse One:  Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,   by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.   For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,   and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,   and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;  and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.   For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

          Looking up, he posed a question: “Why is this so important? Simple.  It is, first of all, the earliest written account we have of those who actually saw the Risen Christ.  Most scholars think the crucifixion was in 33 AD.  Paul wrote these lines in 54 AD – twenty-one years later, and about ten years before Matthew, Mark, and Luke began composing their gospels.  Obviously, he placed great weight on these words, because he described them “as of first importance.” This simple account of the Resurrection was foundational to everything Paul taught the churches throughout his ministry.  Now let me draw your attention to an odd phrase here: “I delivered to you . . . what I also received.”  What does Paul mean?  Well, when rabbis used that phrase, it was to indicate that the teaching they were about to impart was something they themselves had been taught earlier.  The list of witnesses that followed is arranged in simple Greek verse form so it could be easily memorized. This wasn’t just a random bit of trivia that someone taught to Paul: it appears to be one of the very first catechisms composed by the early church.  So when would Paul have learned these lines about how many people witnessed the Resurrection?  What opportunity did he have to meet the disciples who were there in Jerusalem that first Easter morning?  The answer can be found in Paul’s first letter, which we call The Book of Galatians, written about 48 AD.  In his account of his conversion, Paul explains: “Three years later” – that is, after his conversion on the Damascus road – “I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.”  Now of course, Cephas is the Greek form of Simon Peter.  What makes this so critical?  The timing, my friends.  Paul was converted only a few years – maybe two or three at most – after the Crucifixion.  And three years after that, he is in Jerusalem, visiting Simon Peter.  That would place this visit about five or six years after Jesus was crucified.  Nearly all the eyewitnesses were still alive at this point! And not just the friendly eyewitnesses either.  The men who crucified Jesus were still present, and most of them still in power.  The members of the angry mob that arrested him were still around, as would have been some of the soldiers who guarded the tomb.”

          Parker paused, gathering steam.  From his pew, Josh watched with interest.  His dad had them now.  Every eye in the place was on the pulpit.  This was not just another tame old Easter sermon, this was thought provoking stuff!  The elder Parker continued: “Now, we have grown up in the church, most of us.  We have had the Easter story recited to us every year since we were toddlers.  And most of us have never questioned it. So the incredible import of what Paul is telling us here is easy to miss!  Let me put it to you this way: suppose that, around the summer of 1969 or 1970, I showed up in Dealey Plaza down in Dallas and climbed up on a soapbox and began to talk about what had happened there just six years earlier.  Suppose I said: “Yes, my friends, it was right here that President Kennedy’s motorcade passed through town.  And three shots rang out, one of which pierced his brain and took his life.  And he was buried in a lavish tomb in Arlington National Cemetery that Monday, as all the world looked on.  Then, three days later, he rose from the dead, and he appeared – first to Bobby, then to the Cabinet.  After that he appeared to LBJ, alone, then to the cabinet again, and then to over 500 witnesses at the same time – most of whom are still alive today!  Last of all, I saw him myself, right on I-30 between here and Texarkana!  How do you think THAT would go over?” he thundered.

          The audience was trying to process this.  Some of the younger ones laughed out loud, while many older ones scowled at the pastor, wondering what he was getting at.  Josh, who had heard this illustration many times before, was nonetheless moved by it all over again.  His father’s voice crackled across the assembly: “They’d start measuring me for a rubber room, wouldn’t they? Because they understood a fundamental truth in Dallas in 1970, just the same as they understood it in Jerusalem in 40 AD – dead people STAY dead!” 

Now they got it.  Many in the audience began to nod; others looked stunned as they processed what they were being told.  The church was absolutely silent.  Josh saw that his father’s words had made a visible impact on them.  As his father read the next passage from Corinthians Josh began to reflect about the many churches that had heard this message before.  Josh had been born in 1980, while his father was pastoring in Denton, Texas.  His earliest memories were of scorching hot summers and mild winters, of church fellowships and youth rallies, and of the fascination with the past that his father had shared with him.  They had scoured creek beds for fossilized shark’s teeth and arrowheads, and read and discussed biographies of presidents and kings long dead. They had gone to see every traveling exhibit of ancient artifacts from foreign cultures that came through the museums in nearby Dallas.  When he was ten, his father had been called to a church in Spiro, Oklahoma, and Josh had listened with wonder to old timers talk about the amazing Indian mounds that had stood there before treasure hunters looted them during the Depression.  One time, an elderly archeologist who had been there in those days had come to town and described how the central burial mound at Spiro contained a vaulted chamber with a ten foot ceiling, stacked high with rare and perishable artifacts never seen in any American site: feather capes still perfectly preserved, shell gorgets, wooden burial masks plated in copper, and thousands of turquoise beads.  It was at that lecture that young Josh had made up his mind to become an archeologist – to discover and excavate ancient treasures, to see them properly written up and curated, preserved so that future generations could gaze at them.  As he grew older, Josh became disgusted with the state of American archeology – politics had forced the science to pander shamelessly to Native American demands, so that beautiful and scientifically valuable relics were required by law to be put back into the ground, never to be seen again by anyone.  He then decided that, while his love of archeology was unchanged, his focus was not going to be the flint chips and pottery shards the Native Americans had left behind.  His faith was drawing him towards the Middle East, to the place where Christianity had been born, where traces of its origins could still be found today, proving that the Biblical record was more than just myth and legend.  Josh believed that Christianity was rooted in real, irrefutable history.  So he got his degree and then his doctorate in Biblical archeology, and participated in excavations at Qumran, Capernaum, and most recently at Ephesus, where he had helped discover the remains of a fourth century church built on the reputed burial place of the Apostle John.  Now he was home on a brief sabbatical before returning to Ephesus, to finish cataloguing and publishing his finds there.

          His father was reading the final passage of the day as he returned his attention to the sermon:  “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.   Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.   If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

          Brother Ben looked slowly around the room. “I put it to you today, my friends, that Paul got it absolutely right.  The world has been doing its best to put Jesus back in that tomb for two thousand years because they understand what many Christians forget: that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is based on a lie. Our belief is not in a risen Savior, but a desiccated corpse.   If Jesus did not rise from the dead on the third day, we might as well tear down the church and build a bowling alley, for all the good we are doing anyone!”  He paused for the last time. “But that isn’t the case, is it?  We serve a living, risen Lord!  And because He was powerful enough to conquer the grave two thousand years ago, He is powerful enough to handle whatever you are struggling with today!  He holds out His hand to you this morning, offering to take your burden, to forgive your sin, to cleanse your life, and to make you a new creature!  All you have to do – is TAKE IT!”

          The organ swelled, and the choir began singing the old hymn: “I serve a risen Savior;  He’s in the world today.  I know that He is living, whatever men may say!”  The congregation rose and sang along, and Josh joined them, his clear baritone ringing from the rafters.