Sunday, January 13, 2019


     Not to blow my own horn, but I'm a reasonably intelligent and well-read guy.  I have a Bachelor's Degree in history and English, a Master's in modern European history, and I carried a 4.0 in graduate school.  I'm a voracious and eclectic reader, constantly devouring biographies, fascinated with archeology and history, well-versed on politics, and I'm a pretty heavy consumer of pop culture.  I know enough about current events to know what news stories are generally factual and which ones are manufactured by extremists and conspiracy theorists. I know a lot about the Constitution, because I teach it.   I am fairly well versed in paleontology, and I know local fauna very well, so I guess you can say I have a good grasp of natural history.  As my favorite T-shirt proclaims: "That's what I do.  I read books and I know things."

    Yet I also believe that the universe, and our own world, were created by an immortal, invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient God.  I believe that some two thousand years ago, give or take, this God incarnated Himself on this planet and walked among us in the person of a carpenter from Galilee.  I believe He taught his followers a divine message, that He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and even raised the dead. I believe He was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day.  I believe the twenty-seven ancient writings we call the New Testament accurately record His words and deeds, and the teachings He passed on to His disciples.  In short, I am a simple and unapologetic Christian.

   Many people would say that this means I have committed intellectual suicide, that I have sacrificed rational thought on the altar of faith, and that I am incapable of sound judgment for that reason.  They would say my "blind faith" is evidence that I am pathetically seeking comfort and purpose in a cold, Godless universe that gives us neither, at the cost of having a realistic view of life. Others would say this means that I must be a hundred per cent certain of my beliefs at all times, in all circumstances, no matter what, because that is what being a believer is all about.  Doubting, in any circumstance, they would call a sin, because to doubt is to admit you don't really believe at all.

   Both of those positions are wrong.

   First of all, one of the main reasons that I remained a Christian after growing up, leaving home, getting my education, and experiencing life is that Christianity is perhaps the most rational of all the world's religions.  As a historian, I recognize the Gospels as good, solid history.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a real, historical person; that He was a greatly influential teacher who amassed a large following in the Roman province of Judea.  There is no doubt that He was crucified by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, amid accusations that He was a political revolutionary.  There is also no doubt that, within a very short time of His death, His followers were proclaiming boldly, right there in the city of Jerusalem where He was executed, that He had risen and appeared to them.  Their belief in His resurrection was so strong that they were willing to endure hardship, pain, and even martyrdom for it without ever recanting.  The entire Christian faith rests on the foundation of an empty tomb.  Thus, when all the evidence and testimony has been evaluated, one question hangs huge in the air: Where did their belief in a Resurrection come from?  In the end, the only explanation that fits all the available evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.  And if He rose, He was God, pure and simple.  Once one arrives at that conclusion, everything else in the Scriptures falls into place.  In the end, Christianity makes more sense than any other religion in the world because its foundations rest on real, verifiable history.  It is NOT irrational, although many of its critics and detractors have resorted to incredibly irrational arguments trying to make it go away.

    But does that mean I never doubt?  Of course not!  The only believers who never harbor doubt are those who never really think about what they believe.  Let's be honest: Christianity is an incredible proposition.  We are wagering our immortal souls on the writings of a group of Jewish converts who lived two thousand years ago.  None of us were there; none of us ever saw Jesus in the flesh.  No matter how impressive the evidence from history is, accepting Jesus as savior is ultimately a leap of faith.  And here is a secret: Doubt is the eternal companion of faith.  John the Baptist, even after baptizing Jesus and seeing the Spirit descend on Him like a dove, doubted at the end, languishing in Herod's dungeon.  Thomas saw Jesus walk on water and call a man out of the tomb who had been dead for four days, yet when the other disciples told him Jesus had risen, he said: "Unless I see Him with my own eyes, and put my fingers in the nail prints in his palm and put my hand in the side where the spear pierced him, I will not believe."

   If such giants of the faith could had moments of doubt, who am I to say that I don't?  So yes, there are times that I wonder if I've based my life on a lie.  I see all the evil and hatred and bigotry that overruns the world, I listen to the arguments of the atheists and agnostics who make it their life's mission to ridicule all of us who believe, and sometimes a still, small voice in my head whispers: "What if they are right?"  Doubt is a natural part of life for any believer in Jesus.  We are human; we are imperfect creatures, and certainty is elusive in a broken world.

  But this is the key: Don't let doubts swallow your faith.  Thomas scoffed at the report of the other disciples that Jesus was alive, but when he saw Jesus face to face he fell to his knees and cried: "My Lord and My God!" John the Baptist's disciples brought back to him a personal message from Jesus, and an eyewitness account of the miracles Jesus was performing before the multitudes, to pull him out of his dark night of the soul.  When you doubt, go back and read the words of Jesus Himself.  Start with John's Gospel, the most beautiful and persuasive of all the Gospel narratives. Turn to the Psalms; their authors experienced anger, doubt, and heartbreak, too.  They cried out: 'How long, O Lord?' on more than one occasion.  Above all, pray.  Take your doubts to God, and lay them at His feet.  Ask Him for help, ask Him for the courage to believe; ask Him to help you find your faith again, and He will do it.  Doubts are inevitable, but they are not irreversible.  You can overcome them, and find your way to belief.  God rewards those who seek Him.

    I work among teenagers, and I know that it's a very tough time to be a young person and a Christian in America right now.  This next week, I am starting a new study group that will meet at lunch on Fridays.  I'm calling it "The Thomas Club."  I am encouraging my kids to come to me with their questions and their doubts, and I hope to guide them towards the answers.  It's a big undertaking, and I know that the consequences may be eternal.  But I have learned a few things about faith and doubt in fifty five trips around the sun, and I'm hoping to be able to pass along a few bits of wisdom that I have acquired, and above all, to point them to the One who shines above and beyond every doubt, every question, and every crisis of faith that the human mind can contrive.

   For you see, the flip side of doubt is faith, and faith is what gives us hope.
   So I hope.
   I hope kids will show up Friday.
   I hope the Thomas Club will be a success.
   I hope that I can answer the questions that are brought to me.
   I hope that these kids will realize that ultimately, hope is stronger than despair, and faith is stronger than doubt.
   I hope . . . because I BELIEVE.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Was a Pretty Good Year

    I had meant to write up this entry last night, on New Year's Eve, but we had a baby goat emergency that occupied a good part of the evening, and by the time I got the house settled and sat down at the PC for a bit, I was so tired I don't think a blog post would have turned out coherent, much less something people would actually want to read. (Said baby goat isn't doing very well; we did our best but I don't think she's gonna make it!)  It's customary at the end of the year to reflect on the achievements of the previous year and set goals for the year ahead.  2018 was an interesting year in my life, with a lot of positive developments towards my goal of becoming a successful novelist, as well as an interesting year in my professional life as an educator.

   Last year, at this time, I was a bi-vocational pastor struggling to maintain a small rural church and help it grow, working as a full time history teacher at Greenville Christian School, as well as teaching one night a week at the local community college, raising goats, sharing with my family the care of my 89 year old mother-in-law, and trying to launch a career as a novelist.  In short, I was juggling way too many balls all at once, and trying to keep them all in the air was affecting my health.  I weighed 280 pounds, my blood pressure was creeping up, and I was more irritable than usual.

   Something had to go, and after a great deal of prayer and soul-searching, I made the decision to resign from my responsibilities at the church.  I was much more of a preacher than a pastor anyway, and they deserved someone who could devote more time to them than I could.  So on the last Sunday of April, 2018, I stepped down as pastor.  My wife and I began a new stage in life as professional church-hoppers, and we've had the joy of visiting over 20 different churches since April.  Several of them have invited me to share my testimony and talk about my books, something I have greatly enjoyed.

    On the writing front, it's been a very exciting year.  May saw my fifth novel, THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, released.  I love this story a great deal and it's been fun getting out and sharing it with the public.  My Amazon sales haven't been what I'd hoped, but it's topped all my other titles at most of my book signings this year, and I sold out my initial order of 150 copies within a few months.  Readers have been overwhelmingly positive in their reviews, and let me say right now, if you haven't read this story yet, you are missing a real treat!

   But there were several other exciting developments in my writing career during 2018.  In January I met a professional publicist who volunteered to design and print some very professional brochures for me; before all was said and done, Dan had also set up a brand new website for me, with links to order all my books directly from my publisher, a page to list coming events, and a nice bio contributed by my long time friend and beta reader, Ellie R. of Ohio.  Then in July, I met up with local filmmaker Holly Rice, who began collaborating with me on a screenplay for THE TESTIMONIUM and also set up my YouTube Channel, which premiered in August and has now posted eight episodes with a ninth scheduled to release this week.

   Book signings are an exciting and fun part of any author's schedule, and 2018 was full of them!  I branched out in several new directions this year, and did signing events in Austin, Fort Worth, and Houston, as well as multiple events in my native Dallas/Fort Worth area.  I was excited to see a new bookstore open in my hometown of Greenville - a small shop known as The Wind, The Willow.  The owner, Mary Grace Rodriguez, has been kind enough to host me several times, and I know I will be making return visits this year.

     One positive step my wife and I took together was a decision to lose weight.  In June we started a new diet called Whole 30, and by Thanksgiving Day I had lost a total of 48 pounds and she had dropped nearly 30!  The holidays have put a little of that back on, but both of us are committed to losing more weight this coming year - my goal is another 20 pounds, and hers is another 15.  We feel better, look better, and my blood pressure was back down to 120/66 the last time I measured it.  The other day I was buying dog food and picked up a 40 pound sack, and as I lifted it into the buggy, I thought "Wow!  This is how much weight I have lost this year!"

    Professionally, it's been a fun year of teaching.  This year's senior class are a wonderful bunch, and to my delight and astonishment they have invited me to join them on their senior trip this year.  We'll be going to Washington DC, where I haven't been since I was 12, and then to New York City, where I have never been (except for an 8 hour layover in 2016 on my way to Israel, when I never got to leave the airport).  GCS is a great place to teach, and I have a wonderful, crazy, eclectic bunch of teenagers who keep me on my toes and keep me smiling most of the time!

    At home, life is still busy; we still care for my mother in law and Patty and I both still teach full time.  My daughters are both engaged and I have a feeling that there may be some wedding bells sounding in our near future, maybe this summer.  We are facing the prospect of retirement - scary thought, I still feel like I am way too young and WAAAAAYYYYYYY too broke to even think about retiring - sometime in the next decade or so.  What does the future hold?  Hard to say.  But 2019 is here,  and the future is now!

     Say, if you'd like to help me meet that goal of retiring in the next decade, there's nothing that would help more than your buying my books!  If you've already read them, buy a copy to give to a friend, or to donate to your local library or church or nursing home.  If you haven't read them yet - well, you're in for a real treat!  Here is the link: