Wednesday, January 31, 2018


     "I DON'T READ."

     As I travel around North Texas doing book signings, it's a rare day that some customer doesn't answer my sales pitch with some variation on those three words.  And every time I hear it, it's like a dagger to my heart. I LOVE to read.  I read constantly.   I have read, on average, some fifty books or more a year for my entire adult life.  I often have two or three going at once, everything from a huge anthology of human atrocities (THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS) to a biography of some figure I admire (CAESAR: THE LIFE OF A COLOSSUS) to a collection of my favorite comic strips (THE FUZZY BUNCH). Anytime I am sitting still and not on a computer, I open a book.  I keep one next to the tub, another next to the toilet, yet another on my desk at work. If I make a road trip, I have one in the car so I can read over lunch, or dinner, or breakfast.  When I go on vacation, I always take a book or two with me. I cannot conceive of life without books.  Neither should you.

     "But I don't like to read!" some people say.  Do it anyway.  "Reading is hard!" Yes, it is, but there is no other activity that will open as many doors in life as the ability to read well.  And you can't open those doors by being a resentful, I-only-do-this-because-I-have-to reader.  You have to reach into yourself and tap into a love of reading.  Being a lifelong reader is the first step to being a lifelong learner.  Yes, you can learn in other ways and many do.  But no other activity exposes you to a broader, more eclectic range of knowledge than reading.  Reading is the gateway that will take you to destinations you can't even begin to dream of.

     I recognize that there are physical and mental issues that can make reading difficult, from poor eyesight to processing disorders like dyslexia. (As a father of twin dyslexic daughters, I am VERY aware of that last!)  But reading is a learned skill, and even dyslexics can earn it.  Both my daughters can read well and one of them has become an avid reader.  As a teacher, I tell my students that cultivating a love of reading will take them further in life than any other activity they can learn in  school.  Written information is the key to virtually every academic discipline, and being able to read quickly and proficiently is the baseline skill on which virtually all other skills depend.

     How can I learn to love reading when I don't even LIKE to read?  I get this question from students pretty often, and also from adults.  My first suggestion is find a topic you CARE about.  You like cars? Start with automobile manuals, or maybe a biography of your favorite racecar driver, or a history of NASCAR.  Love war movies?  Start reading biographies of some of history's greatest warriors.  You think dinosaurs are cool?  Try reading some of the great publications on those giant reptiles by leading paleontologists!  The thing is, there are books out there about EVERYTHING.  There are books arguing the case for God, and books arguing that He never existed.  There are books about people and books about animals.  There are books about love and books about sex (and some that deal with both!).  The point is, whatever topics you find interesting, somewhere out there is a book about it.  Start with that.  It may take  some getting used to.  You may have to look up some words.  You may struggle with some names ("Just say 'buttermilk' and roll on!' is one of my church members' way of dealing with long names in the Bible!).  Just keep reading.  The more you read, the easier it gets.  The more you learn, the more you want to learn.

     Then, when you have exhausted your favorite topic, move to something else.  It might be something related, it might not. Find stories that are fun, fast-moving, and written at a level you can follow easily.  You don't have to just read history and technical books, or just biographies.  Read fiction!  Read teen fiction, science fiction, historical fiction.  Find something that trips your trigger and binge-read on it.  Hang out at your local library or book store.  Ask other people what they like to read, what stories they recommend.  You will open up worlds you had no idea existed!

     I don't mean to put down other disciplines when I place so much emphasis on reading.  Science is important, history is important, health is important, even math is important (although if anyone tells my colleague Tom Witt I said that I will deny it to the high heavens!).  But reading is the key that unlocks every other form of learning.  If there is one single skill you can take out of high school and into the world, let it be a love of reading.  If you have struggled with reading your whole life, you can still learn to read better and more often.  If you have given up the struggle long ago. you can take it up again.

     In my classroom at GCS, I have a whole wall of books. Upstairs at home, in the alcove between my bedroom and my daughters' lair (a scary, dim-lit tunnel composed of dirty laundry and Dr. Pepper cans leading to two beds), I have three double-sided bookshelves crammed with titles of all sorts.  I haven't read them all, but I have read most.  There are more books scattered all through the house, on the dining table, on the coffee table, on the floor next to the sofa.  Every time I open one, I am transported somewhere else.  I can ride along the smooth, well-cobbled roads of the Roman Republic carrying messages to Caesar's legions, or past the bloodshed and carnage at Antietam in the wake of Lee's retreat.  I can hobnob with kings, emperors, elves, dwarves, and dragons.  I can visit any time, any place, any event in this world or even on worlds that have never existed.  I can see them all, experience them all, visit them all, BECAUSE I READ.

   In the words of Tyrion the Imp: "That's what I do.  I read, and I know things."
   Learn to read.  Learn to love reading.
   Do it for yourself.  Do it for your family.  Do it for your kids.
   Do it for the sheer love of books.

You'll never regret it!

And hey - if you are looking for a good book to start with, you can always order my newest novel:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

An Exciting Excerpt From My Newest Novel!

  I started working on THE EMPEROR AND THE APOSTLE in Dec. 2016.  This book is the final volume in my "Ancient Rome" trilogy that began with THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE and continued in THEOPHILUS: A TALE OF ANCIENT ROME.  This installment is set at the end of the First Century AD, when John is the last surviving apostle of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Empire is ruled by the intelligent sociopath Domitian, a ruthless opponent of Christianity.  I am about four chapters from ending this story, but tonight I thought I would share with you a morsel from several chapters back.  Domitian has been warned by John that his reign would end violently in its fifteenth year.  Unwilling to take the word of a hated Christian 'cultist', Domitian summons Rome's most famous fortune teller to see if what John told him is true or not.  Here is what happens next . . .

Domitian might hate Christianity, but at the same time, he feared the wrath of the Christian God now.  He also brooded constantly over what John had revealed about his future fate.  Would he truly perish in the fifteenth year of his rule?  He had been Emperor now slightly over three years, and he was only thirty-two.  Surely his life could not be cut so drastically short!  Finally, unable to sleep due to worry, the Emperor summoned the famous Greek astrologer Thallus to inquire as to the veracity of John’s prophecy.

The Greek was an ancient, withered figure who was ushered into Domitian’s presence with fear and trembling.  Domitian assured Thallus that he would not be harmed, no matter what he predicted – the Emperor only wanted the raw and unvarnished truth about how and when his life would end.  After multiple assurances and being paid in a hefty bag of gold sesterces, the old stargazer finally agreed to tell the Emperor’s fortune.

Once committed to act, the old man’s fears seemed to vanish.  He called for a brazier and pulled some ancient, dried leaves out of his pouch and burned them, deeply inhaling the bitter, aromatic smoke that curled up from them.  Then he studied the Emperor’s palm closely, tracing its lines with his withered fingers.  He reached into another compartment of his pouch and drew out a handful of animal bones, each one carved and inscribed with runes in a language that Domitian could not recognize.  Thallus cast the bones three times, jotting down which characters came up each time.  Then he unrolled a tattered scroll that was covered front and back with sketches of the constellations.  He studied it long and hard, comparing it to the runes he had written down from casting the bones.  Finally, he had the servants bring in a freshly captured owl, hooting and screeching in protest.  He deftly wrung its neck and then produced a sharp knife made of flint with which he sliced open its abdomen from neck to tail, pulling the rib cage apart to study the heart and lungs as well as the entrails.  Only then did he turn and speak to Domitian, who had been watching with a combination of anxiousness and revulsion.

“I must observe the stars tonight, Caesar, in order to ratify my predictions.  I shall return to you on the morrow and tell you all that I have learned,” he said, his voice wheezy and asthmatic.
Domitian badgered the old man for a hint, but Thallus was firm: he must watch the stars overnight before he could predict the Emperor’s future.  Domitian watched the stooped, wrinkled form leave his audience chamber, and then sat for a long time, lost in thought. . . .

The next morning Domitian sent a message that he would be calling the Senate into session that afternoon; he wanted to lay his trap for Sabinus while the idea was still fresh in his mind.  He had almost forgotten about Thallus when Leonidas came into the chamber to announce the seer’s return.  Domitian felt the pall return as soon as he heard the man’s name.  Did he really have only a dozen years left?  His apprehension heightened as he heard the tap of the old seer’s cane on the marble floor.

Thallus looked terrible; the lines in his face seemed deeper and the circles under his eyes darker than the day before.  Was it simply lack of sleep, Domitian wondered, or something more dire?

Ave, Thallus,” he greeted the old man.  “What tidings do you bring your Emperor this day?”

“Dark are my tidings, Caesar, and grim are the portents that I would reveal to you.  The stars spoke volumes last night, and when I finally slept, my dreams were stranger still.  Indeed, I hesitate to reveal to you all that I have seen, for fear that you shall punish the one who bears the message of the gods to you,” Thallus said, his voice trembling.

“I told you from the beginning, wise one, that what I required of you was simply the truth, with no sweetening applied.   Give me what I requested, and you will have naught to fear,” Domitian told him.

“I was afraid you would say that,” said the withered seer.  “Then hear, Oh Caesar!  Hear the message that I read in the bones, that the stars whispered to me, that the gods screamed in my ear as I slept.  I do not know what all of it means, only that it is a prophecy of doom.” 

Thallus swallowed hard, and spoke: “Twelve are the months of the year, and twelve are the Caesars who have ruled this city.  Twelve is the number of the greater gods, and twelve are the apostles of the God to come.  Twelve are the years remaining in your life’s thread, for twelve days before the Kalends of October, blood shall shine on the moon as she enters the house of Aquarius.  Then, ere the fifth hour of the day is done, your thread shall be cut short, as the hand of those who share your household shall be raised against you, and vainly shall you cry for succor.  For you have offended the god who is to come, who even now spreads his wings over the heavens, and his message across the earth.  The gods of Rome wither and die, and piteous are their wails as they fade from the pages of history!  I see the temples of Jupiter and Vulcan and Minerva crumble to dust and ruin, and the line of Emperors fail. I see our city sacked and burned again and again.  I see centuries of darkness, followed by light too bright to behold, and shining in the heavens above the city of Romulus I see a cross of gold, as bright as the noonday sun, and the face of the one crucified thereon is too terrifying to behold.  Beware, O Caesar!  Beware the fifth hour of the twelfth day before the Kalends of October, twelve years hence!  Beware the dagger that flashes in the noonday sun!  BEWARE THE CRUCIFIED GOD!”

As the old man spoke, his voice grew in volume, the rheumy tone giving way to something deeper, louder, and more profound, until that last terrible sentence seemed to shake the very foundations of the Emperor’s palace. The noonday sun seemed to darken, but an aura of light surrounded Thallus, growing brighter as his prophecy grew louder.  Domitian stopped up his ears, for it seemed the booming voice issuing from the frail old man’s throat would shatter his skull.  When the last words were spoken, Thallus stiffened, his eyes widening as the power of his vision consumed him.  Then his body went limp, and Rome’s most famous fortune teller crumpled before the Emperor’s throne, dead before he hit the ground.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


  My dear bride Patty celebrated her birthday this week (I won't say how old she is, but she is one month younger than me, so now we are the same age again!).  She recently posted this on her FB page, and I was quite impressed with it.  Patty is a woman of deep faith and deep thoughts, and she occasionally shares these in the form of online devotions like this.  So I figured I would share it with all of you.  Read on and enjoy!

                                                       ONE WAY OR MANY?

I have had several instances recently where people say things like it would be unfair of God to only accept those who believe in Jesus. Or that all the ways and religions lead to God. I thought I would explain in my limited view why I believe it is both right and fair that Jesus is the only path to God.
It all begins with the love of God for his creation. God, who knows the heart of man, looked at his creation, who was created to have fellowship with God, in His very image... and eternal, and saw great wickedness. In his love for His creation God mourned. God did not seek revenge, did not seek to punish. He just deeply mourned the loss of His creation that had removed themselves from God's presence by pursuing wickedness. 

A system of sacrifices did not suffice to permanently restore a relationship with God. It could not depend on what men do, since they do not have the ability to stay pure 100% of their lives. There would be moments of weakness and moments of doubt. Man contemplates temptation and thinks on wickedness even if he might not show it. Man's salvation could clearly not come from man.
Therefore God himself, emptied himself of his "Godness" came to earth and was born to grow up a human in a modest and humble home. GOD, called Jesus, did live a life without wickedness. There were no moments of weakness in faith or doubts. He did not contemplate sin. In other words, Jesus did something man cannot. He lived a perfect and righteous life if God's eyes. JESUS, in full knowledge of what the price would be (His death in a very brutal way) offered himself, our very creator, as a sacrifice for our wickedness to forgive all past and future sins and to once and for all restore a relationship with Himself that is eternal for all who choose. 

  THIS IS AN ACT THAT DEMANDS A RESPONSE. This is God, who died for you and for me. Not a surrogate, not a prophet, but God. He did not send a messenger, he did not remove our free will and force a response. He died, to offer us a way, demanding nothing from us except that we believe and honor His sacrifice on our behalf. 

 Jesus is the only way, because it was God who came down and allowed Himself to be tortured and murdered for each and every individual on Earth. I don't know of another path or religion that has God personally act to save every person. Jesus is the only way, because all other ways pale in comparison, and pale in forgiveness' power. No other way i am familiar with has a single act forgive past present and future sins for believers. None other require nothing from man outside of belief . If man could not save himself, forcing God to take on the entire burden of out salvation, then man can't do it today either. It is not unfair for God to make this single event the way He chooses to judge. After all, He died for you, what more do you want. It is fair, because God did all the work and requires nothing other than for us to acknowledge what God has done for us.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ten Reasons to Believe the Gospels Were Telling the Truth

   I take a lot of smack-talk from my various atheist friends over why I would place so much importance in a two thousand year old book, so much so that I stake my immortal soul on its truth.  While I do recognize that belief in Christianity is ultimately a step of faith, I also believe that faith doesn't have to be blind.  I think that history and archeology make a strong case that the Gospels are telling the truth about who Jesus was and what He did.  I first wrote this a couple of years ago, but I have recently updated and expanded it - so here you are:


(with a couple of new bonus reasons added free of charge!)


1.  First of all, they were written well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life.  The Rylands Papyrus fragment (about 6 verses from John 18) is reliably dated to 125 AD.  Considering that it was found in the Egyptian hinterland, hundreds of miles from Ephesus, where it was written, this would certainly seem to indicate that John's Gospel was composed a decade or two earlier - which would put it in the 90's AD, which is exactly when tradition has always claimed it was written - by a very aged Apostle John.

2.  The Diatesseron - the first ever harmony of the four Gospels - was composed around 178 AD, which shows that not only did all four Gospels exist at that point, but that all four of them were already regarded as authentic and authoritative by that time.  Neither the “Gospel of Thomas,” nor any of the other Gnostic Gospels, were included in this work, only the four New Testament Gospels.

3. The earliest Christian writings outside the NT - I Clement, the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the writings of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius - all contain recognizable quotes from the canonical Gospels. They quote these Gospels as authoritatively as they quote history.  All four of those works date from the period of 90 AD to 160 AD.  The Gospels must have existed for a considerable period of time and been widely recognized as Apostolic in origin for the Church fathers to regard them as the go-to source to settle doctrinal disputes.

4.  The Magdalene papyri (several verses from the Gospel of Matthew) are now generally dated to the end of the Second Century, however, one paleographer has made a very convincing case that the handwriting on them is much closer to First Century than late Second/early Third Century writings.  This could place these three papyrus fragments as early as 70 AD.  If so, they would now be the earliest known pieces of the New Testament.

5.  Papias, who died in 130 AD, left an account of the origins of all four canonical Gospels.  Although his full works are no longer extant, he is widely quoted by later Christian sources, most notably Eusebius.  He linked every one of the Gospels to an apostolic source.

6.  Josephus' testimony about Jesus, although almost certainly interpolated by later Christian copyists, is still considered authentic by a strong majority of scholars, as are his references to the death of John the Baptist and James the Just - and while details vary, all three citations generally corroborate the NT narrative.

7.  The recent discovery of a fair-sized fragment of Mark is reported to date to approximately 70 AD, although the scholarship on it is, as yet, unpublished.  If authentic, this would be the strongest piece of evidence yet that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony. (Two years later, there has still been nothing published about this find, so it may prove to be either a hoax or else wrongly dated – or else the analysis is simply taking longer than was originally thought.)

8.  Paul's account of the Last Supper in II Corinthians, a book universally recognized as authored by Paul around 54 AD, follows Matthew's account of the event very closely.  No serious scholar disputes that Paul wrote this; therefore, Matthew’s version of the first Communion was already in circulation by the mid-50’s AD.

9.  Paul's list of the Resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15 also follows the order and general outline of the Gospel accounts. 

10.  Finally, the Anti-Marcionite prologue, written around 150 AD, defends the authenticity of the four Canonical gospels while condemning Marcion's rejection of Christianity's Jewish roots and his dismissal of Matthew's Gospel. 


BONUS:  The fact that the mainstream church rejected about two dozen pseudepigraphical Gospels written in the Second and Third Century but universally accepted the four Canonical Gospels as authentic shows that they were of considerable antiquity and long-established credibility, long before the later councils of Nicaea and Hippo formalized that recognition.

BONUS THE SECOND:  None of the four canonical Gospels have ever been attributed to another writer.  But three of the four Gospels were linked to very minor figures in the New Testament narrative (Mark, Luke, and Matthew). This is a strong argument for their authenticity.  After all, if you were writing a forged account of Jesus’ life, why not attribute it to one of the heavy hitters among the disciples, like Peter or James?  Why attribute them to men who are barely even mentioned in the rest of the NT – unless those men were the actual authors?