Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's Almost Here!!!

Three years ago today, I finished the first draft of my first novel, THE TESTIMONIUM.  I was a history teacher and pastor with aspirations of becoming a published author, but I had no idea if those dreams would come true or not.  Honestly, all I knew at that moment was that I had written a book that I was proud of.  It took me over a year to finally find a publisher that was willing to take a chance on a complete rookie - I mean, a real royalty publisher, not a vanity press that wanted to charge me money to print my book.  I will forever be grateful to Jesse Greever and Chris Dixon, the wonderful team at Electio Publishing, who were willing to pick up a manuscript from a first time author.  I signed my contract with them in February of 2014.
    By the time THE TESTIMONIUM was published, I was putting the finishing touches on my second novel, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE.   Once the contract for my first book was signed and the release date granted, I sent them the next one.  To my joy and wonder, they liked it too!  It was released about nine months after THE TESTIMONIUM, in May of this year.
   But it's funny how writing gets under your skin.  PILATE was a historical novel, set in the First Century, linked to THE TESTIMONIUM only by the letter Pilate wrote to Rome about the Crucifixion of Jesus, which my modern-day archeologists had discovered in the first book.  But in my mind, I kept going back to that first set of characters I created - Josh and Isabella, Father Duncan and Luke Martens, with his young wife Alicia.  What happened to them after their remarkable discovery on the Isle of Capri? 
    So even as THE TESTIMONIUM was about to be released, I was hard at work on its sequel, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH.  In it, my team returns for yet another adventure.  This time the lovely Isle of Carpi is traded for the sands of the Negev Desert, and instead of a writing chamber, what they find is a tomb.  Not just any tomb either, for the ossuary that blocks the entrance is inscribed with a name familiar to every Christian:  "Matthew Levi, beloved scribe of his Lord."  Now in one week, this sequel to THE TESTIMONIUM will be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and ITunes, as well as a number of other online distributors.  If you liked THE TESTIMONIUM, you will love MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH!

    Now, for those who haven't read any of my stuff yet, I'm going to introduce the main characters here below and tell you a little bit of what they have been up to since they left the Isle of Capri.  First of all, there is Father Duncan MacDonald. A trained archeologist as well as a Catholic priest, he is employed by the Vatican as an archeological consultant, especially on sites that have some Biblical relevance.  He makes the initial discovery of St. Matthew's tomb in the Negev.  Then we have Joshua Parker and his wife, Isabella Sforza-Parker and their son, Giuseppe, who prefers to be called "Joey."  Josh is the son of a Baptist pastor and a professional Biblical archeologist.  He and Isabella met on Capri, where she was the supervisor of the dig that uncovered Pilate's "Testimonium" a few years before.  Romantic sparks flew between them immediately, and now they are married, living in America. and longing for a return to archeological field work after spending the last two years on a book tour.  Then we have Dr. Luke Martens, Josh's friend and mentor and a renowned classical archeologist in his own right.  He and his beautiful wife Alicia, an aspiring marine biologist, are also called in to help Father MacDonald excavate this remarkable discovery in Israel.
   Full of danger, intrigue, romance, and potentially earth-shattering discoveries about the truth of the Gospel accounts, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH is a fun, fast-paced Christian adventure story for readers of all ages!  Here is the short blurb I wrote for the back of the book . . .



It was supposed to be a simple bit of salvage archeology for Father Duncan MacDonald, the Vatican archeologist:

Check out an empty cave uncovered in the Negev Desert by an Israeli construction crew, to see if it had any archeological significance.  But then a false wall in the back of the cave revealed a basalt ossuary, inscribed with the name of "Matthew Levi, Beloved Scribe of His Lord."  Behind the ossuary - an ancient tomb with a human skeleton and a sealed jar. 

Finding the undisturbed tomb of one of the Apostles of Jesus leads the Israeli government to call in Duncan’s companions, the famous “Capri team” who had discovered the Testimonium of Pontius Pilate three years before.  When the three archeologists arrive in Tel Aviv, they discover an amazing document inside the tomb: the end of Matthew’s Gospel, written in the Apostle’s own hand!

Their excitement turns to perplexity when they translate the scroll and find the text varies drastically from every copy of the Book of Matthew in existence.  Have the New Testament Gospels been altered with since they were written? Has this tomb really lain undisturbed for two thousand years?  Is this ancient manuscript really . . .


One week away, guys!  Are you as excited as I am!!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reflections on the Paris Attacks

   Today my social media posts are lit up with friends and family urging us to "Stand with Paris" and "Pray for Paris."  Both of these are noble sentiments and I fully endorse them.  The terrorist attacks last night were barbaric, evil, and heinous in every possible definition of those terms.  I pray for healing and peace for the victims, and for swift and terrible justice to those who would plan and perpetrate such an act.  For the record, I will also state this - the French people are not a warlike bunch.  They love peace and friendship and prefer to avoid conflict when possible.  But they are also a proud people, and the humiliations of the twentieth century have left them with a certain determination to never be walked on again.  I think their response to these ISIS attacks will be far more ferocious and effective than the efforts of the feckless, na├»ve incompetent who currently occupies the White House.

   But what happened in Paris is symptomatic of something much larger.  I wrote about it on my Facebook page in these terms:
The morning after . . . done being shocked, at least.
There is a war on, my friends. It is not just a war on America, or a war on Christianity. It is a war on two thousand years of Western Civilization, on all freedom of expression, freedom of religion, on any rights whatsoever for women, on every single individual's right to decide for himself what he will believe, think, and say. We can close our eyes to it, we can ignore it, we can deny it, but it will still eventually
find its way to our doors.
This war is being waged in the name of Islam, and it represents a dark and bloody stain that has been present in that faith since Muhammad first fled from Mecca in 632 AD. From its inception, Islam has been a war of compulsion. Unlike Jesus, who never once picked up a sword, Muhammad led armies and put to death those who opposed his vision and commanded his followers to do the same. The bloody-handed monsters who slaughtered the innocents in Paris were following his commands and his example.
Not all Muslims are terrorists. Every Muslim I have known in person was a decent and peaceful individual, and the vast majority of Muslims on earth have made the decision to ignore the Quran's call for jihad. But for those who take the Quran literally, the command to "make war on the infidel" is absolute and unending. It's time for the Western world to acknowledge this threat for what it is and quit saying that it is "a perversion of Islam." Jihad is not the only thing Islam is about, but it is a huge part of the history and creed of that faith. Denying it will not change that. 
   I am sometimes accused of being prejudiced against Muslims.  That is not accurate.  First of all, my problem is not with individual Muslims.  Most of them I have known are decent and peaceful people, as I stated above.  I do have a problem with Islam, it's true.  But is it prejudice?
   I would say no.  What I perceive, at least, is "post-judice."  What do I mean by that?  It's a simple concept, really.
   There are two ways to judge a religion.  One is by the behavior of its followers, the other is by the teaching of its scriptures.  Now, it is certainly true that, judging by the former, Christianity has been a violent faith for far too much of its history.  The Inquisition, the Reformation Wars, the conquest of the Americas, and yes, even the Crusades (although it is worth pointing out that the Crusades were a response to Islam's initial two hundred and fifty years of jihad that wiped out entire cultures and subdued the entire Middle East at the point of the sword) were horrific to the extreme.  But did these things happen because Christians obeyed the teachings of Christ - or because they completely forgot or ignored them?
  That is where the second criteria comes in.  Did Jesus of Nazareth or his Apostles, in all of the teachings contained in the New Testament, ever once order Christians to wage war on other faiths, to harm other people, or to commit violence of any sort?
   The answer is no.  And therein lies the difference between the two faiths:  A Christian who kills in the name of his faith is absolutely violating both the teachings and the example of Jesus and His Apostles, and the clearly written teachings of the New Testament.  A Muslim who kills in the name of his faith is doing so in obedience to both the teachings and example of Muhammad.  I don't write this because I hate Muslims; I write it because it is historically accurate.  As long as the Western world chooses to ignore this aspect of Islam, this twilight struggle for the survival of Western Civilization will continue to be lost.
   And when the West falls, the world to follow will be a Dark Age like none we have seen before.

Friday, November 6, 2015

An AMAZING Opportunity!

Since I started this blog a year ago, I've talked here about my wonderful job - teaching in a private Christian school where I get to watch my students grow up year after year, my career as a writer (third book is coming out at the end of this month!), my crazy life as a husband, pastor, father, and artifact collector (when the rest of my crazy life gives me the chance to go and play!).  I've also shared a good bit of my political thinking (you guys may be getting tired of that by now, but politics fascinates me and always has, so I can't promise there won't be more to follow!) and my love of bad movies.

But there are three passions that really define me as a person, besides my love for my God, my wife and daughters.  First of these is my love of history.  I am a devoted student of the past, reading books and doing research all the time to learn more about the world that was before us, especially the civilizations that gave rise to ours - the mighty heritage of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian world.  I simply can't consume enough history to slake my thirst for more.

Second, my love of archeology.  The quest to find that elusive bit of the past and hold it in your hand; to know that someone in a previous generation of humanity made and shaped this little object long ago, and held it in their hand even as you are holding it now. Artifacts, whether Roman coins, jade carvings from China, flint arrowheads, or bronze figurines - they are a physical way of connecting with the past that mere study and book knowledge cannot match.

Last of all, my deed and abiding fascination with Biblical events.  I believe that the stories chronicled in the Gospels are literally true and factually accurate.  The "historical Jesus" IS the Jesus of the New Testament, for only the New Testament was written by men who knew Him and walked with Him.  So many archeological details discovered in the last hundred years have confirmed even the small details of the New Testament narrative that books can (and have) been written and the subject is still far from exhausted.

I have always dreamed of visiting the Holy Land and walking where Jesus walked.  To see with my own eyes the streets of Jerusalem, the waters of the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane.  To stand atop Masada, where the Jews made their last stand against the Romans; or to see the fortress where John the Baptist spent his last lonely days in prison; or to view the caves at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  What a journey that would be!

But it was just a pipe dream.  My wife and I have twin daughters in college and we pretty much live paycheck to paycheck.  There is no way that I could afford to go and visit the Holy Land, no matter how much I wanted to.

But last month I got the invitation from a fellow Greenville pastor.  With a small group of local history buffs and under the auspices of the Austin Graduate School of Theology's Biblical Archeology Class, on March 20 I will be flying in to Tel Aviv on a ten day archeological tour of Israel's many Biblical sites!  I still feel like it is all just a dream, but it's not.  The passport application is on my dining table behind me, to be filled out this weekend.  I have a copy of my itinerary already; we'll be seeing everything from the Dead Sea to the Negev Desert to the Sea of Galilee in those ten days.  I couldn't be more excited!

Paying for it is going to be a challenge.  All told, it's going to cost me around $3500 to make the trip.  I'm excited and nervous at the same time - that's a healthy chunk of dough from our household budget.  But one encouraging note is that many of my students and their families, as well as old church friends, have told me they want to help me raise the money to go.  So I did create a GoFundMe page where anyone who wants to can chip in a bit.  I know, I know, this isn't a life or death thing and there are many more worthy causes out there.  But, if you would like to help me achieve this lifelong dream, here's a link you can follow to do so.  In the meantime, keep me in your prayers, and watch this space and my FB page next spring for LOTS AND LOTS of pictures!  God bless you all - I'M GOING TO ISRAEL!!!!!!!!!