Friday, June 24, 2016


    As some of you know, in addition to being a novelist, a historian, a schoolteacher, and all the sundry other hats I wear, I am also a pastor.  I've mainly worked in small churches throughout my career: congregations of less than fifty, where I have often served as pastor, Sunday School teacher, youth director, and even church janitor!  I enjoy small churches: you know everyone, they know you, there is a close fellowship that binds the group together, and a joy that comes from loving and serving God and each other.

    In such a group, though, when death comes calling, it leaves an enormous void in its wake.  Small churches can be like families, and despite the hope we share in Christ, loss leaves us all hurting.  I thoroughly enjoy doing weddings - I've tied about forty or fifty knots in my time, and I've loved every nuptial service I've been a part of.  Funerals, though - that is another matter altogether.  No matter how early or late in life they were taken from us, presiding over the memorial service of a dear friend and church co-worker is very hard, not just for the family members, or the church family, but also for the pastor.

     About two and a half years ago, a short, stocky man with a crooked grin and a deep bass voice showed up at our church one Sunday.  He came one time and that was it: from then until two weeks ago, he was in our church every time the doors were open.  He was joyful, friendly, deeply compassionate, and involved in every aspect of the church's life from teaching Sunday School to working the Fall Carnival to going out on visitation nights and inviting folks to church.  His name was Matt Gurley, and he became a very close friend of mine.  His passion was bringing folks to church, making them feel welcome, and inviting them back.  His former pastor, when he heard that Matt had started coming to our church, made a point of letting me know what a great asset Mr. Gurley would be to us, and he was certainly right!

     A little over two weeks ago, Matt came to church on Wednesday, happy and laughing as usual, thrilled to see how much our youth program was growing.  He was so excited he went home and called one of our church members who hadn't been there and told them all about the service that night.  An hour later Matt began to suffer respiratory distress, and then his heart stopped.  Even though paramedics were able to resuscitate him, he never regained consciousness, and an EEG showed that he had severe and irreversible brain damage.   With that sad news, the family made the decision to turn off life support, and Matt's earthly vessel shut down.  Personally, I think his soul had already moved on the night he collapsed.

    He was a tireless encourager, not just for the church, but for me personally.  I will miss his deep bass voice on the choruses of our hymns, and his positive comments every Sunday after my sermon.  I will miss his simple but profound wisdom as a Sunday School teacher, and his gentle way of reminding me that we need to get out into the community more often and invite people to come worship with us.

     Some people make your life better just by being a part of it.  Matt Gurley was one of those people.  Rest in peace, my friend.  I'll see you again.

Friday, June 17, 2016

GUEST POST - "A Christian's Ode to Joy"

Those who have read my books know that I have a friend named Ellie who has given me a tremendous amount of support and encouragement over the years, because I have mentioned her on the dedication page of each novel.  This week I asked her if she would be willing to supply a guest post for my blog.  Ellie is a very gifted writer whose interests span multiple areas, so I had no idea what she would come up with - but this is what she wrote.  I hope you enjoy it!

1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him, and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”


Let me ask you something….


Between you and me, wouldn’t you like to experience joy in your everyday life?


When was the last time you did?


Have you ever felt the uplift of its presence?


If you’ve ever known joy, I’m sure you remember it well, because joy, my friends, is nothing less than the bright smile of God in human life, and a preview of that eternal condition we as Christians will one day inhabit. It is the euphoria of unblemished affection. It is God’s hand laid on our trembling shoulder, a window into an endless tomorrow, proof of the all-encompassing love that conquers dread. Joy is the mortar of the towers of Heaven, the chords in the angels’ songs, it is the golden glow of a dawn which, for those who know Christ, will never conclude. And as such joy is the right of every Christian to experience, not only in the hereafter, but every single day of our lives.


Perhaps, you ask, how can joy possibly be discussed in the context of this painful world? How can it coincide with the Orlando massacre this week, with Charleston last year, or with the tragedies which confront us every time we flip on our television for the evening news? With so much evil around us, is joy something a rational person should even realistically aspire to encounter?


Fair sentiments, but a great Christian once noted that painful as this earthly existence is, it is still the only Heaven a nonbeliever will ever know, just as for a Christian it is the only Hell that shall be experienced.


How can we know this to be so? Because we have Jesus’ word that for Christians a better life is coming, a life wherein every sorrow shall dwindle to non-remembrance, and so if we accept that our Lord was speaking truthfully to us, then a Christian can confidently consider these sacred promises and draw comfort from them, seeing the travails of this world as but the merest shadow of a passing cloud against the sunshiny fullness of eternity.


A generation ago Pope John Paul II laid down an inspiring two-word challenge to Christians of all creeds: “Fear not.” From Billy Graham, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the pulpits of churches worldwide, soon this unadorned truth was echoed time and again.


 Fear not!


So simple this manifesto, and yet so brimming with truth. Fear not, friends, for what grief is there in this life that will not one day be overcome by the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal happiness? And knowing this, how can we fail to feel joy, even in the midst of temporal darkness?


For there is no denying that in this existence there is pain. Who among us could ever say this life is anything but agonizingly difficult, since Jesus cautioned us it would be so? At no time in perhaps the last thousand years has our allegiance to Christ been so under assault, not only in our increasingly disapproving society here at home, but in Mid-Eastern killing fields, where those who commit to walk the path of Jesus often face a martyrdom every bit as brutal as that of those who gave up their lives under Nero some nineteen and a half centuries ago.


But even in the most grim of times it does not do for we Christians to lose touch with our divine joy, or forget that it too visits human life, an emissary to remind us of what lies ahead in Heaven.


Yes, joy! That blissful condition of radiant happiness, a state that transcends the mere everyday pleasures as day transcends night.


Joy! That sample of our Heavenly tomorrow, God’s generous gift that wordlessly speaks of what awaits those who accept Christ’s invitation to begin again as a person anew.


Because this is exactly the prize Jesus came to earth to lay before us, the chance to have perfect and complete forgiveness for our wrongdoings, a forgiveness that leads to peace, and with it the certainty of life unending in the company of our divine Creator, in a place that can only be termed our true home.


Is this a peace you already know for yourself? Is it a peace you would like to possess?


Then know that to a Christian joy is as much a God-granted right as hope, as comfort, or as love. Seek joy in good times and in bad, and when you feel it, let it sustain you like a candle in darkness, a shelter in a storm. Speak often of joy, and help others to uncover it, for little else transforms the spirit quite so fully as those shimmering sparks of purest light bestowed upon us when day-to-day challenges seem overwhelming.


And best of all, this gift from Heaven is absolutely free, if we but accept it for our own.


Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He lives always to intercede through Him.”


So let me again ask that question I posed a moment ago: wouldn’t you like to experience joy in your life?



Friday, June 10, 2016


As a lifelong Reagan Republican, I was so excited last year when this primary season started last year.  So many candidates, so much youth, talent, and enthusiasm on the GOP side this year, and the Democrats were stuck with two seventy year olds and three unknowns!  I had no doubt that they would eventually nominate Hillary Clinton, based ultimately on "well, she's waited and it's her turn" (we saw how well that worked out for the GOP with Dole, McCain, and Romney, right?) and also the whole "She's a woman, let's vote for history!" tactic that did work so well for Barack Obama in 2008.  As I looked at the Republican field, I saw sixteen talented and qualified individuals who were articulate and passionate, and I realized that we had a dozen candidates who would be able to beat Hillary Clinton, easily!  I was so excited for the year to come, I couldn't wait to see which one would come out on top and carry our banner in November 2016.

   Then there was Donald Trump.  At first I treated his candidacy as a bad joke - surely no one would actually support this unqualified, narcissistic windbag, would they?  And then I watched, in amusement at first, and then in horror, as this misogynistic bigot racked up wins in state after state after state.  Never mind that he never gave us the specifics of any of the stuff that he wanted to do, never mind his juvenile tantrums and name calling, never mind some of the frankly terrifying things he proposed doing in terms of foreign policy and our Constitution, and never mind the fact that he managed to alienate the three constituencies Republicans desperately need to gain ground with (women, Hispanics, and blacks) every time he opened his mouth.  He was going to "make America great again!" somehow, and despite his lack of any single realistic idea of how to do that, the Tea Party masses bought it hook, line, and sinker.  One by one the better candidates were spurned, and we wound up nominating the one man who makes Hillary Clinton seem likable and reasonable by comparison. Nothing he has done since winning the nomination has given me any faith that he knows what he is doing.  I was crushed, and I made up my mind then and there that I would NEVER soil my ballot with this man's name, PERIOD.

    Then there is the Democratic nominee.  Never mind the fact that I am opposed to so many Democratic policies and ideas that I can't even list them all - from their embrace of anti-police thugs, to their worship of homosexuality and their infatuation with legalized infanticide (abortion), not to mention their sheer hatred of those who succeed economically - even if I was inclined towards leftism, I would still have a hard time embracing Hillary Clinton as a candidate.  There is a slimy trail of corruption and scandal that has followed the Clintons throughout their political careers, starting in Arkansas forty years ago.  And, of course, Hillary Clinton was tasked with carrying out the foreign policy of Barack Obama for four years, a policy that has alienated our allies, emboldened our enemies, and left America more weak and isolated than we have been at any point since the 1930's.  Then, she capped it off with the Benghazi episode.  While I don't fall into the extreme camp of political accusations ("She murdered Ambassador Stevens!" - Really?  That's a ridiculous assertion.), it's pretty evident that she lied about the causes of the attack, and the delay in sending aid to our embassy was inexcusable.  Long story short, I'd rather gnaw my arm off than vote for Hillary Clinton.

    So what's a Reagan conservative to do in such a fix?  I cannot, in good conscience, support EITHER candidate.  Then I got to thinking - why do I have to support either?  I am over thirty-five years of age, I am a natural born U.S. citizen, I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy, I have taught government for fifteen years, and I am a lifelong student of the Presidency.  I know how the job works, I know why great Presidents have succeeded and lesser ones have failed.  I understand the world as only a historian can.  I recognize the necessity of compromise as well as the importance of having high standards.  In short, I am just as qualified as many of the men and women who ran in the early primary season.  So why not vote for myself?

   Then I thought - why not encourage others to do the same?  There are many principled conservatives like me out there, who cannot abide the thought of Donald Trump soiling the house where Lincoln and Reagan once lived, and yet are ideologically incapable of supporting Hillary Clinton either.  Doesn't the "None of the Above" crowd deserve a voice too?  If a billionaire real estate developer with the morals of an alley cat can run for President, why can't a schoolteacher, pastor, and novelist?

   So I am hereby announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.  No, my name won't be on the ballot, but there is a space for a write-in, so use it!  I already have over a hundred supporters.  Fifty million more, and we're there!  Join me, my friends! #smith2016 is our rallying cry!  It's time to school America!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Coming soon . . . My New Novel of Ancient Rome, LOVER OF GOD!

   I finished this one some time back, but since I had three novels published within a year and a half of each other (THE TESTIMONIUM in August 2014, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE in May of 2015, and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH in December of 2015), my publisher thought it would be wise to wait a while longer before releasing my next work.  But I did sign the contract this last week and get my official release date - April 11, 2016!  So, in less than a year from now, my fourth novel will be available for purchase.  "Come on, Lewis!" you say.  "We can't wait that long!" Well, unfortunately, you'll have to.  BUT, this week you can read the exciting prologue to LOVER OF GOD right here on my blog!  Check it out, enjoy, and remember to read my other three books if you haven't yet!


Rome:  October, 64 AD


          The last of the smoldering embers had been put out weeks before, but the city of Rome still reeked of smoke and death.  The Great Fire had swept across the city like a scourge from the gods, destroying three of the fourteen districts of Rome and severely damaging seven others. Tens of thousands were dead, and many others still missing, their charred remains buried beneath the fallen houses and shops that sprawled across the seven hills of the Tiber.  The Great Forum had been spared from some of the damage by the frantic demolition of the many wooden buildings that surrounded it, but still two temples had lost their roofs and some of the shops along the far edge of the plaza had burned to the ground.

          The Senate of Rome had gathered in the Curia Julia, the meeting hall built for them a century before by order of Gaius Julius Caesar, the Divus Julius that many Romans still worshipped as a god.  Barely begun before Caesar’s life was cut short by treachery, the Curia had been finished by his great-nephew and adopted son, Caesar Augustus, the first true Emperor of Rome.  The hall was crowded when the Senate was at its full capacity, but the purges and executions carried out by Augustus’ three successors had nearly reduced the Senate to its original size of three hundred members.

          The mood of the city was ugly, and the Senate’s mood reflected that.  No one knew for sure how the fire had started, but rumors had swept the city for weeks – and the most persistent rumors involved none other than Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the Princeps and Imperator of Rome.  Some said that he had set the fires himself, riding out incognito with a gang of young hellions that he enjoyed carousing with.  Others said that he had ordered his minions to set the fires, and then stood on the balcony of his villa and played the lyre, singing about the sack of Ilium while Rome burst into flames all round him.  The official story was that the Emperor had been away from the city, inspecting an aqueduct project in Antium when the fires broke out.  According to his Praetorians, the Emperor had rushed back to the city, organizing companies of firefighters and relief efforts for those rendered homeless by the blaze.  It was a measure of how much the people had come to despise Nero that very few people believed the official version of events.  There were stories that the young emperor had been jeered and even pelted with stones by an angry crowd in the forum when he last showed his face, a month before. 

So now this emergency meeting of the Senate had been called, and the Conscript Fathers of Rome waited impatiently for the Imperator to make his appearance. Laecenius Bassus, the senior Consul, shifted impatiently in his curule chair, glancing at his consular colleague, Licinius Crassus.  During the days of the Republic, the Consuls had been the highest elected officials of Rome, chief executives who commanded armies and conducted foreign policy during their year in office.  But since Augustus’ great reforms of Rome’s government, the Consuls had become senior magistrates who served at the Emperor’s pleasure.  Nero had initially restored some of the Senate’s powers when he inherited the purple at the age of sixteen, but in recent years he had become more and more arbitrary and tyrannical, and neither Consul dared call the Senate to order without him.

The tramping steps of the Praetorian guards echoed across the Forum, audible through the open doors of the Curia.  The murmuring of the crowds in the Forum swelled excitedly, and the members of the Senate turned their gaze to the bronze doors.  The marching boots came to a halt, and then the slapping of sandals mounting the marble steps announced the Emperor’s approach even before he reached the doorway.  The Senate stood in respect as he entered the chamber.

Nero, the ruler of a quarter of the world’s population, and the last surviving heir of Caesar Augustus, passed through the corridor that bisected the interior of the Curia Julia and took his place behind the two consuls on a raised dais. His marble throne was behind and above the curule chairs of Rome’s chief magistrates, but he remained standing for the moment, surveying the chamber nervously.  He was not a popular man with the Senate or the People of Rome, and he knew it.

Nero was twenty-six years old, and he had ruled over Rome since the death of his great uncle and adoptive father, Claudius Caesar, ten years before (some said Nero had engineered that death, poisoning Claudius with deadly mushrooms). Once muscular and athletic, his over-indulgence in wine and fine foods had added a sheath of fat to his waist, but he was still taller than the average Roman, and broad-shouldered.  His face had grown plump, and his nose was slightly reddened from too much drinking.  His toga, once gleaming white and trimmed with the Imperial purple, was stained with soot, ash, and wine spills.  His eyes constantly shifted back and forth, as if fearing an assassin’s dagger at any moment.  His mouth was always in motion, going from a grim, straight line that bespoke determination and cruelty, to a quivering, soft orifice that reeked of fear and a desperate desire for popularity.  His nose was not the proud, stern beak that Romans treasured, but rather was somewhat short and bulbous.  Nor was he clean shaven, as the previous Emperors had been, but grew a short, scruffy beard that swept from his shaggy locks and met under his chin.  Only the area immediately surrounding his mouth was devoid of hair.  The Emperor of Rome was a petulant, angry, fearful, neurotic child, and the Senate and People of Rome paid dearly for his insecurities.

“Conscript Fathers,” he said, his booming tenor echoing from the marble walls, “The auguries have been taken and the omens deemed favorable.  The pontiffs have given offerings to Vesta and Fortuna, to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and to the divine Emperors past, Julius, Augustus, and Claudius, imploring their blessing on the rebuilding of our great city, and their healing to the wounded hearts and bodies of our citizens.”

He shifted his weight from foot to foot, eyeing his audience to measure their response to what he said.  Surrounded by slaves, prostitutes, and sycophants for most of his days, he had lost much of the oratorical skills that his tutor, the Stoic philosopher Seneca, had taught him - mainly due to lack of practice.  But as he spoke, the words came easier, and he seemed to gain confidence.

“The destruction of the City of Romulus was a great crime, the blackest crime our fair city has known since the foul murder of the Divus Julius,” he said.  “I realize that there has been much speculation about the cause of the fires since that dreadful day in the month of the Julii when they began.  Some of those rumors are simply too ridiculous to merit mention in such an august assembly, but I can assure you that no one has been more eager to find out the truth of this matter than your own Emperor.  Ever since the last of the fires were extinguished, my agents have been scouring the city, seeking to find the culprits responsible for such massive destruction and bring them to justice.”

The Senators began to look at one another with interest.  Many of them half believed the charges that Nero himself had set the fires, or ordered them set – he was already measuring one badly burned out area to see if it was large enough to contain the massive villa he wanted to build for himself.  But, if not the Emperor, then who did set the fires?  They returned their attention to Nero as he continued.  His expression had grown more stern and commanding, as if he was remembering who and what he was.

“You notice that I say culprits, not culprit,” he said.  “No one man, not even your Emperor, could have set so many fires in so many places at once.  This was a vast conspiracy involving many evil men, and it very nearly succeeded in destroying our entire city!  Who could hate the citizens of Rome so much? Who could possibly wish to destroy our Eternal City?  Carthage tried and failed, the Gauls nearly succeeded once, four hundred years ago. The great Italian revolt during the Social Wars dreamed of bringing Rome crashing to the earth.  But they failed! They went down into Tartarus with their dreams of our destruction unfulfilled.  Even those Romans who have turned our own armies upon us – Lucius Sulla, Gaius Marius, and Julius Caesar himself! They marched on Rome not to destroy it but to capture it and win it over to their causes. So I ask again, who could hate the citizens of Rome so much?”

He cast his gaze around the chamber, his eyes narrowing above his pudgy cheeks.  He had the Senate’s attention now, and even some of those who had regarded him with contempt as he entered were now watching him with renewed interest. He smiled grimly and continued.

“It took all of my Praetorians, as well as the work of many of my other agents, to ferret out the truth,” he declared.  “The conspirators were diabolical in their cleverness, walking among us unnoticed.  Their fanatical creed had drawn slaves, freedmen, and Roman citizens into its secret rituals. Wealthy plebs and even a few Senators and patricians were counted among its members!  They did not speak openly of what they had done, but their attitudes and actions in the wake of the fires raised my suspicions, and vigorous interrogation brought out the truth. Now I have come to lay bare their foul plot!  For this crime was not just an assault on the Senate and People of Rome, but an attack on our very gods themselves! It was our temples that drew the ire of these animals, and their fanatical desire to blot out the worship of every god whose image can be shaped with men’s hands!”

The Senators began to whisper among themselves.  Could this be true?  Could the fires have actually been an attempt by a band of fanatics to destroy Rome’s traditional religion?  Nero watched their reaction and nodded to himself.  He had them now, he thought to himself.

“So who did this thing?” he asked rhetorically.  “Who tried, and nearly succeeded, in destroying our city?  Who longs to end the worship of our gods? Who resents every sacrifice, every offering, every temple, and every attempt we make to appease our spiritual guardians?”

His voice rang through the chamber, high and clear now, echoing from the marble pillars.  Seneca’s old lessons on oratory had been remembered, and the Emperor was putting on a powerful performance.

“It was the Christians!” he shouted.  “Members of a disgusting cult of religious perverts who worship a crucified criminal!  It is not enough that they engage in shameful orgies called “love feasts,” or that they eat and drink the bodies and blood of infants!  Those things are despicable enough, but now they seek to destroy the very gods of Rome!  So what shall we do with these animals, these monsters, these vile criminals?”

“Death!” cried one Senator.  “Proscriptions!” cried another.  The anger of the house had swung away from Nero and found a new target, and the Emperor smiled as he heard their angry cries.

“Conscript fathers!” he raised his voice, and the angry shouts died down.  “I call on you for a measure that has not been taken in a generation.  I call on you to pass an Ultimate Decree of the Senate and People of Rome, declaring all Christians to be hostis, their lives forfeit, their property confiscated and granted to whoever turns them in.  I call on you to name all Christians as enemies of the state!”

Loud shouts of agreement echoed through the chamber.  The Senate had become putty in the Emperor’s hands.  Nero’s mouth turned in a cruel sneer, and he held up his hands one more time.

“But, it is tradition, before passing such a decree, that I ask if there is anyone here who might object to it.  So I put the question before you now – will anyone here speak up for these degenerates? Is there any member of the Senate of Rome who will oppose the permanent criminalization of all Christians?”

Silence fell, and the Senators looked at one another for a moment.  Nero soaked up his triumph, and then opened his mouth to speak again – when he was interrupted by a voice from near the back of the chamber.

“I will,” said a middle-aged Senator as he stepped out from the ranks and into the aisle.   He was slim, but his shoulders were broad and he moved with the confidence that came with physical strength and grace.  A faded, worn crown of grass was wrapped around his bald scalp.  “I will speak for them!”

Nero shook his head and sighed.  “Marcus Publius!  I might have known,” he said.