Tuesday, October 20, 2020

BOOK REVIEW - SACRED PATHWAYS BY GARY THOMAS

 


Before reading this book, I've labored at worship time, having a preconceived notion on what private worship looks like. Then, I discovered this book and read it. This would be one of the five most influential books on my life.

In the first chapter, Thomas introduced the concept of spiritual temperaments -- some might consider it psychological, but I don't. He closed that chapter with a description of the nine temperaments he noticed. The following nine chapters each look at one of the temperaments, giving Biblical examples and ways to develop it, weaknesses of that temperament, and a six question quiz on how strong you are on that temperament. The final chapter encourages you to compare the scores on the tests, and gives some admonitions, such as not judging those with a different temperament.

Thomas does an excellent job of dealing with each temperament. He admits he's stronger at some than others, and tries to give a fair and accurate view of each one.

Allow me to tell a story how this book has positively impacted my life. I started reading this book as my wife and I were planning on a vacation. She always wants to get away from the city for our trip, while I'm not as excited about it. As I read this book, though, I had a hunch she was strong on the naturalist temperament (wanting to get into nature) and had some leanings to the ascetic temperament (wanting structure and solitude). So I realized her desire to get away was connected to her worship temperament, and as a result I was more prepared to encourage that kind of getting away.

I recommend this book to every Christian to understand yourself. I also believe this will help you understand your wife and possible your children (not having any kids doesn't make it easy for you to understand them). I also believe a pastor or church leader may benefit from this book to help the services be varied enough to help any temperament worship.

Allow me to add some thoughts focused on apologetics. One might assume that the activist and intellectual temperaments are the ones best suited for defending the faith. But is it possible that each temperament is capable of defending the faith in a style directed by the temperament?

If you've read this book, what temperaments are your strongest? Mine are intellectual, enthusiast, sensate, activist, and traditional in that order.  


Sunday, October 18, 2020

ARE THERE IDOLATROUS PRIESTS IN OUR CHURCH? (Zephaniah Part 3)

 


"I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, The fish of the sea, And the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land," Says the Lord. "I will stretch out My hand against Judah, And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests-- Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; Those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, But who also swear by Milcom; Those who have turned back from following the Lord, And have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him." Zephaniah 1:3-6, NKJV  
 
 
Looking at this following section, we see the scope of God's judgment on Judah and Jerusalem. (If I forgot to mention, Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah.) But notice who he narrows in on?
 
In Zephaniah 1:4, God states He'll cut off the names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests. But aren't the two the same? Not necessarily. The pagan priests are the official priests of pagan deities. The idolatrous priests are those who are supposed to be serving the Lord but are actually worshiping other gods as well as the True God.
 
One thing that is helpful in looking at the Minor prophets is to realize if they're speaking to the Northern Kingdom as Hosea and Amos focused on or to the Southern Kingdom as Zephaniah is when they're discussing priests. When the Kingdoms divided, Jeroboam of the northern kingdom allowed anybody who wanted to be priest become one, while the Southern Kingdom maintained the Levitical priesthood. 
 
Let me give you an example to distinguish pagan priests from idolatrous priests. If a secular politician is promoting secular humanism or a New Ager is propagating New Age teaching, they are the equivalent of a pagan priest. If a Christian minister stands up behind the pulpit and teaches the same secular humanism or New Age beliefs, he's an idolatrous priest.
 
Verses five and six list three specific steps taken, starting from the most pagan to the least, but all refer to an idolatrous heart.
 
First are those who worship the host of heaven on their rooftops. The Law forbade such a practice. Here is complete and blatant disobedience.
 
Second are those who worship and swear by the Lord. They, unlike the first group, are saying they serve God. But that's not enough. They also swear by Milcolm (aka Molech). They are worshiping God, but not only the true God. But is this truly worshiping God?
 
Finally, there are those who have turned back from following the Lord and do not seek Him. They are not trying to balance serving false gods with the true God, but they've stopped following the true God. In other words, they are trusting in the Lord with none of their heart but leaning on their own understanding.
 
We may not serve Baal, but do we worship Ball, as in FootBall, BaseBall, BasketBall? We may not have a golden calf carved out, but is there a golden donkey or elephant or porcupine in our hearts? We may not be trying to serve both God and Milcolm, but are we trying to blend Christianity with Freudian psychology or scientific theory?
 
Is there any secret idols in our heart? And if Judah didn't escape, should we expect to?

 
 
 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

DOES THE PLOT DIRECT THE CHARACTERS OR DO THE CHARACTERS DICTATE THE PLOT?

 

One definition of "Writer's Block." Courtesy of Terri Main and Wordmaster Books.

 

Last week, I spoke of different approaches in writing, both in "blank paging" vs. "outlining" as well as how much details of the characters the author allows the reader to decide on. But let me pose a question here - is "blank paging" more of structuring the story through the characters, what they believe, what they're struggling with, and how they respond? 

One thing that's true is sometimes the characters can be mutinous when you're writing. Maybe they don't want to say the words your putting in their mouth or they'd do things something different. I've heard authors mention that happen. 

Mark White in a contribution to Spiderman and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry, he mentions the "One More Day" storyline where Aunt May is dying, and Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) makes a deal with Mephisto (Marvel's counterpart to The Devil) that she will live on the condition that history is rewritten and Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson never existed.

White mentions that story-line didn't sit well with the fans, and for good reason. Who in their right mind would suppose Peter Parker would make a deal with the devil? That's completely out of character for him!

Last week, I mentioned that mystery writers tend to be outliners. But that's not how I wrote my mystery. I did have a schedule of events that formed the skeleton of the plot, but I had no idea until halfway through the writing who the murderer was. And then it hit me.

One reason? I had a detailed sheet for each character. It helps me remember details such as how many children they have and their ages. But I also found that the more detail I gave to the character, the more they help you write the plot. 

I know, I know. I sound like an expert when I'm not a published author yet. But I'll tell you what I'm putting my characters through for my next story so I have more rounded characters. I'll leave out what you'd expect (e.g. appearance, marital status and history, favorite foods and sports).

  • Myers-Briggs Personality Test. This was not an original idea - I attended a writer's conference several years ago where the teacher mentioned this to determine which of 16 personalities each character has. Why not?
  • T-Shirts, Bumper Stickers, Refrigerator Magnets, and the Like. That idea came to me when I noticed a couple of T-shirts people wore and what it revealed about the people. In fact, years ago I wrote a blog on it titled "Ye Shall Know Them By Their T-Shirts" - I put a link to it. Jill Williamson has a character in her Mission League series who has an awesome T-shirt collection.
  • Term papers, Seminars, and Items They've Written. Many of my characters from my mystery are published authors.  Papers they wrote and workshops they attended will tell you about their interests and areas where they have some expertise.
  • "The World's Smallest Political Quiz."  This is a ten question quiz which determines not only how they fit on the conservative/liberal continuum, but if they are more Libertarian or Statist. If you want to see that test, you can click here.

If the characters are Christian, I have a couple more tests for them to take.

  • A Spiritual Gifts Questionaire. I'm not sure which one I'd use, but the point is if they're a Christian, they'll have a Spiritual Gift, and that might affect their approach to life as well. In the previously mentioned series, Jill Williamson had the spiritual gifts of the characters show up in the plot.
  • The Spiritual Temperment Test in Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. The author lists nine spiritual temperments. My characters will have these as well. 

 Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? But of course, I don't have to include all the information for each character in the book. 

Are there any characters in a story you've read that stand out, and would character charts be a key in their standing out?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: THE MISSION LEAGUE SERIES BY JILL WILLIAMSON

Is something wrong with me? My all-time favorite series is about a group of people young enough to be my children, and close to being young enough to be my grandchildren!

Or I can put it another way: I'm a fan of a group of Christian teen-age James and Jane Bonds! 

The story focuses on Spencer Garmond, who is being raised by his grandmother after his mother dies, allegedly by the hands of his father. He is recruited during his freshman year of high school into a group called The Mission League, which his parents and grandparents were a part of.

Except Spencer is the rare non-Christian in his group. He's not used to hanging around "churchers", and isn't certain at first he wants to. Still, he joins the group (it beats the option of being sent to military school). He just hopes it doesn't mess with his dreams of playing Division I Basketball.

Then, he learns he's a possible "Profile Match" for a prophecy people in the group have had for decades. Additionally, he sees similarities between a cult group and a successful movie series.

The course of the book follows his years in high school and trips to Russia, Japan, the Alaskan wilderness, and Cambodia. Of course, he has normal everyday experiences like being chased by wolves, interrogated at knife point on who "The First Twin" is, facing multiple kidnapping attempts, and rapelling down a cliff with a pair of young ladies on a single harness.

This series - consisting of four full novels and a pair of novellas - is aimed for a young adult market. One could debate if it's a straight adventure or if it should be considered speculative with the emphasis on prophecy, but whatever you want to call it, it's exciting and enjoyable. And did I mention this was my all-time favorite fiction series?

Since the focus of this blog is spiritual and deals with apologetics, I'd like to deal with an interesting theological concept in this book. When a recruit joins the league, they are given a spiritual gift inventory so they know what their strengths are. 

But would a non-Christian like Spencer have spiritual gifts? The predominate view would be no; this novel takes a different view. Not only that, but Williamson chose not to give him gifts one might easily allow an unbeliever to have prior to faith like mercy or leadership or teaching. No, she gives Spencer the gifts of prophecy and discernment.

So, for those of you who enjoy answering the questions I leave at the end of my blog, do you believe God gives people who will be Christians Spiritual gifts prior to their rebirth or at least abilities and interests that will develop into Spiritual gifts following conversion?

Also, anybody else read and enjoy this series? And if not, when are you going to remedy that?

 
 

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

IS GOD REALLY GOING TO JUDGE THE EARTH? (Zephaniah Part 2)

 

 "The Great Day Of His Wrath" by English painter John Martin, 1851-1853.

Last week I looked at the first verse of Zephaniah last week, which merely introduced Zephaniah. As far as geneology, it was the most detailed of any prophet, but not much more than that. So what is Zephaniah's message?

 "'I will utterly consume everything From the face of the land,' says the LORD." Zephaniah 1:2, NKJV.

First question is what this is referring to. Is it talking about the near event of Babylon conquering Jerusalem? Or is it describing God's ultimate judgment on the nations in the last times before He returns as King? I believe the answer is yes.

Psalm 24:1 states the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. In both Testaments, it deals with God punishing the nations as well as His chosen people. God is capable of bringing catastrophic judgments on the earth.

But most people fall into two groups. One are those who believe a God of love cannot cast the lost into hell or send physical judgment on the earth. Others believe God will punish the wicked (meaning our enemies) but not His people (that's us).

Peter tells the believers to "conduct yourselves throughout your stay here in fear (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul wrote that we should "cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

Whenever we hear about fear from most preachers and teachers, it is to tell us to fear not, quoting "God has not given us a spirit of fear" (2 Tim. 1:7) and "Perfect love casts out all fear" (1 John 4:18). It is true through the Scripture we're to trust God to protect us and that is to not fear.

But then we read repeatedly we're to fear God, and so we take the encouraging message to not fear and apply it to those texts to say it doesn't mean what it seems to say but is really telling us to be reverent and honor Him. So we end up letting our conceptions dictate the meaning of Scripture.

The reality is that we sometimes have no fear for God in the literal sense, which may result in not having fear in the sense of reverence either. Many who oppose eternal security/"once saved always saved" claim the adherents of that view are saying we can do anything we want and still be saved (and unfortunately some of those adherents have that mindset). 

We don't expect chastisement (Heb. 12:5-11) and don't seem to tremble at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:10-17; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). As an eternal security advocate, I don't fear losing my salvation, because this is a judgement of works, not sin like the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). But believe me, my knees are knocking at giving an account of my life before my Lord and Savior.

I do believe that while there are applications of Zephaniah 1:2 and following having taken place when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the complete fulfillment will take place in the future. Both believers and unbelievers will face the consequences of their answers.

So if we believe that God will someday judge the world, how will that affect the way we live? What effect will it have on how we relate to others?

 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Issue Of Sovereignty In Novel Writing.

I remember when I was doing critiques as an ACFW member. I was reading one novel where the male lead was knocked out and put in a death trap inside a house. He made it out unharmed but still bound. 

Then, he heard footsteps. Was it the bad guys to make sure there job was finished? No! God was good: it was his buddy who came to see if he was okay.

The author then submitted their synopsis of the story for feedback. When it got to the scene I mentioned, the author again mentioned God is good in allowing the hero's friend to come instead of his foes.

Is God good? Absolutely. And in the novel itself, the hero was definitely saying God is good. However, the fact that good guy showed up instead of the bad guy had nothing to do with the goodness of the Lord, but the goodness of the author. (Unless you are such a strong Calvinist that you believe every word a novelist writes has been predestined.)

In a sense, could a novelist/screenwriter be viewed as a small 'g' god? They have the ability to create a world with people in it. The places may resemble real life places (e.g. my novel takes place in Indianapolis.) Or the places are fictitious but still operate in our reality (such as my favorite coffee shop which closed half a dozen years ago in real life but still is open for business in my novel.) Or the writer is a sci-fi or fantasy writer where you have your complete world with creatures that you don't have here.

The first two books I read on Christian writing were How To Write (And Sell) A Christian Novel by Gilbert Morris and Writing For The Soul by Jerry Jenkins. Morris made it clear from the start that we shouldn't just start writing but in advance divide the book into parts and chapters. Likewise, he has a detailed list on what each character looks like as well as other info. 

Jenkins has a completely different philosophy. You may or may not know that when he and LaHaye started writing Left Behind it was supposed to be a novel, not a series. It didn't turn out that way. He also likes getting interesting characters in a room together and see what happens. Jenkins tells readers that he didn't kill off a character - he found them dead. Likewise, he keeps the descriptions to a minimum, allowing the reader the honor of deciding what a character looks like.

Now, there are times descriptions help. Remember the story I mentioned at the top of this blog? The hero's friend was named Billy Bob.  How many of you have a picture of a white guy? I did. The author was creative in having an African American with that moniker. 

However, the story I was critiquing was a sequel to a published novel. She mentioned Billy Bob's ethinicity in the first book; she forgot to mention that in book two. So I had an incorrect picture of the character as I was reviewing the second story, before I had a chance to read the first one.

Another writing book I read was Writing Killer Fiction: The Fun House of Mystery And The Roller Coaster Of Suspense by Carolyn Wheat. She mentioned that most mystery writers plot it out like Gilbert Morris, while suspense authors are more apt to just write without planning ahead.

So let me close this with two questions. The first is how you'd write. (And if I'm blessed to have any authors as regular blog readers, please tell me about your writing). The second is from those who know me which one you think I would lean towards. I'll answer the second question next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN OTTE

 


I have yet to interview Allistair MacLean or Agatha Christy. Possibly because they exited from the earth's scene before I started doing author interviews. However, when I get a chance to interview on of my favorite authors, it always turns out to be a blessing, and this interview with John Otte (pronounced Ought-Tee) is an example.

I'll admit - if I ever get my murder-at-an-apologetics-conference-mystery published, John would be high on the list of people I'd like to write a blurb. One reason is because he's a very good author. The other is he's a Lutheran minister. I've had the privilege of reading both his novels and his theological non-fiction.

*        *        *   

JR: You are one of those writers that I'm not sure which I admire more: your night job or your day job (Lutheran minister). How much overlap is there between these two ministries? How does one strengthen or challenge the other?

JO: I’d say there’s a fair amount of overlap between the two. In terms of how being a pastor (specifically a Lutheran one) informs my novel writing, since I’ve primarily written Christian fiction, I definitely bring my “theological baggage” along with me in writing those stories. There are a surprising number of Lutherans in Christian speculative fiction specifically and Christian fiction in general, but we have a unique “flavor” to our theology that can serve as a counterpoint to the prevailing viewpoints that you find in Christian fiction. It’s not that I set out to layer in Lutheran stuff, it’s just a part of me and my worldview so it’s naturally going to emerge.

As for how the crossover flows in the opposite direction, members of my congregations, both past and present, will tell you that I’m an inveterate storyteller. If I can put a story in a sermon or Bible study, I’m going to. And being a writer means that I’m going to show a little more care in telling those stories, especially if it’s one that I’ve made up.

JR: While not the first novel you wrote, your first published fiction is the Failstate trilogy (also including a pair of e-book novellas). I absolutely loved that series, but I also found that the final one brought up some theological questions concerning parallel universes. What inspired that series?

JO: I didn’t originally plan for that to be a trilogy at all. I wrote the first book as a stand-alone novel. But I was certainly open to writing more. The first book was inspired by a situation at a writers conference where I felt very much like Failstate in the first novel: the loser outsider who felt that life should be treating him better, envious of other people’s successes. As I was processing my experience, my wife suggested that I should write a superhero story for our oldest boy (he was about three or four at the time, if memory serves). Everything just kind of gelled and the result was Failstate.

As for the rest of the trilogy, I originally pitched three other books with the middle two being a slow burn to what would eventually be known as Failstate: Nemesis. My publisher at the time wasn’t impressed with what I came up with for books two and three and suggested we condense it down into one. So I had to cherry pick the details that had to be in there and invent a story that they could be included in. My agent suggested including zombies. And thus Failstate: Legends came to be.

JR: You also have a two novels (I don't know if it should be
considered a series) dealing with a universe ruled by the Ministrix and the Praesidium. (Numb, by the way, was the above mentioned first novel; The Hive was written afterward.) How far are we from that basic concept in our society? What problems does our divided society face and what answers are there?

JO: I fear that we’re getting closer and closer to it each day. I see many Christians who are heeding the siren call to political power and influence, especially as our place as the center of Western society has slipped in recent years. That makes us nervous and uncomfortable and, when people get anxious, they tend to do whatever they can to find stability and security. While I’d like to think that most Christians wouldn’t fall for the Ministrix’s pitch, I worry that a surprising number might. And while I don’t think many people would be satisfied with the completely antireligious state of the Praesidium, I fear that parts of our society may be inching in that direction as well.

I’m no prophet, so it’s hard for me to diagnose the division and chart a course forward. I would say, though, that the best solution for Christians is to remember two things: our privileged position in society is an aberration and not intentional. We were always meant to be outsiders and countercultural. If the world is shifting away from us, that’s fine. We remain what God calls us to be: salt and light.

JR: A series you wrote that I enjoyed as much was a non-fiction blog titled the Lutheran Difference. Could you tell us about that? 

JO: Like I said earlier, I know that in certain pockets of American Christianity, Lutheranism is kind of a mystery. People know who Martin Luther is and they acknowledge his contribution to the Protestant Reformation. But then they try to lump us into groups that we don’t fit in, such as Protestant (technically, we’re not) or Calvinist (no way) or Arminian (the fact that I had to look this up to make sure I spelled it correctly should tell you how well we fit in this group also). We don’t hold to what many would consider “typical” American Christianity’s beliefs about conversion or baptism or communion or any of that stuff.

So I figured that, since I’m in sort of a unique position being a Lutheran pastor on the one hand and a Christian author on the other, that gave me a unique opportunity to share a little of who we are and the theology that shaped me and continues to shape us. My intention wasn’t to argue with anyone or try to convince them to become Lutheran. I just know that there’s a rich diversity of theological thoughts and traditions; it’s always helpful to understand them to enrich your own faith or, at the very least, understand where people are coming from.

JR: Thank you for your time, John, and may the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless your ministries.

JO: May the Lord bless you as well! This was great!

 

Reader, have you seen any situations where fiction and theology blend?




 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: THE BENEDICT OPTION BY ROD DREHER

 


I first read this book the better part of two years ago. Immediately I re-read it so I could write a review on it. Why? because I thought this was a book that needed to be read. And I've just read it a third time.

This is one of the rare books that I want to recommend others to read so I can sit down and discuss it with them. I don't agree with everything author Rod Dreher proposes. But this is an important book that I want to learn how to work it into my life. Some who disagreed with this book point out it's more Orthodox/Catholic than Evangelical, but I don't consider that a problem. Rather, it is a call to stand against the real and common enemy. 

Dreher sees five historic events from the past seven centuries as being not causes but influences to the current time, culminating with the sexual revolution. He sees the solution as one more influenced by Benedict's monasticism than the typical political activism we see today. It is not that Dreher recommends withdrawing from society, but it is more on Christians unifying into strong communities in a society that marginalizes us. He deals with important issues like politics - he feels the emphasis should be local, but the major national emphasis should be on religious liberty - education, church life, community, sexuality, and not being dependent on technology.

I showed this book and another with a similar theme to one of my best friends. That friend said by looking at the back cover he could tell the other author was mad at the church and that he didn't need to read that. Not true about this one - my friend said that he thought it was worthy of reading.  

Allow me to look at this book from an apologetics persepective. I believe this strongly recommends defending the faith through orthopraxy. You are probably more familiar with the word "orthodoxy" which means "right thinking;" "orthopraxy" refers to "right living." A lot of times our priorities and worldview as Christians is too much like the world. Dreher's approach is encouraging the church to be the church, to be the alternative to society's mess.

 

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

IF YOU'RE FAMILIAR WITH ZEPHANIAH, RAISE YOUR HANDS! (Zephaniah, part 1)

 If you're like me, you probably never heard a sermon preached on Zephaniah, and probably have never covered it in a Bible study or Sunday School class. I taught on it in Sunday School almost 20 years ago because I wasn't familiar with it, and memorized several passages, and learned to love this book! So I'm sharing this on Sundays over various weeks.

I'm sure that a prophet often feels like this addax from the Louisville Zoo - all alone in the open, vulnerable to attack on any front. (Okay, in reality this antelope does have some off-camera companions, and in the zoo there's no predators to worry about, but let's go with this analogy.)

One thing about the prophets (in this blog, I'm considering Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and the 16 writing prophets) is we don't know much about the prophets. 

With some, we're not sure if we know them by their name or just by a description - for example, "Malachi" means "messenger."

Occupations? We know Ezekiel was a priest and suspect Jeremiah and Zechariah were as well. Daniel was one of Babylon's wisemen, and Amos was a shepherd and fig picker. Otherwise, we're not sure.

Marital status? Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea were; Jeremiah and Daniel weren't. The other fourteen? Some are assumed to be unmarried but there's no definite record.

Finally, how about geneology? Looking at the nineteen considered prophets, we know Zechariah's grandfather's name. We know the father of nine others, and nothing about eight more. 

This brings us to Zephaniah. No, we don't know if he was married or what he did for a living. Zephaniah was definitely his name (and that of others in Scripture), but we're not absolutely certain of its meaning - it can be translated "Yahweh has concealed, "Whom Yahweh has hidden," or "Yahweh lies in wait" (which fits Zephaniah 3:8). But we do know his geneology, which goes back five generations.

The word of the LORD which came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. -  Zephaniah 1:1, NKJV

 Zephaniah has the longest lineage of any of the prophets. It also lets us know that he's of royal lineage: his great great grandfather was King Hezekiah. True, it doesn't say for sure, but to me its logical that considering it's the last name given and that it's a recognized name, as well as the time span - reigning king Josiah was Hezekiah's great grandson - it seems likely.

I mentioned the reigning king. Josiah was a good king who led in a reform. However, most consider those reforms to be superficial. Josiah had three sons (and a grandson) become king after him, and none followed his example, and the people didn't seem to be bothered.

I did make a comment of prophets feeling isolated like the addax pictured above. Zephaniah may have felt that way in his ministry, but he did prophesy in the same time as Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Urijah whose short and tragic ministry is described in Jeremiah 26:20-23).

So what was the message God gave through Zephaniah. You can wait until next week for Part 2. (Or you can read the book of Zephaniah - it will take 15-20 minutes to read the whole book.)



Saturday, October 3, 2020

WHEN FICTION READING IS WORK


 For the most part, I enjoyed my reading assignments in High School. But I remember a Room 222 episode when I was in 6th grade where the students wanted to read Catch 22 instead of Silas Marner

Plus, I said for the most part. I had a class on Sci-Fi/Literature Of The West in High School. I enjoyed reading the assigned short stories from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology (and also read the unassigned ones). I struggled more with the two novels from the Western side of the semester. Both of them were deep in themes, and I found the latter pretty depressing.

I am sure being a professional book reviewer would not always be fun. I'd probably be expected to read books that don't interest me or that make my blood pressure boil.

For the most part, being a book influencer is fun. (A book influencer receives free books for the purpose of reading and then posting an unbiased review.) Yes, I put a priority on that novel so I can get the review posted early enough. But the authors that I am regularly an influencer for are ones I'd read if I wasn't doing that job.

But then there's reading for research. Most of the time, one thinks that research takes place in the non-fiction section of the library. 

However, this year I read a trio of Hercule Poirot novels back to back to back. I have seen the David Suchet adaptations of all the Poirot novels (as well as the six by Peter Ustinov and the Murder On The Orient Express adaptions featuring Albert Finney and Kenneth Branagh, but those aren't relevant to the topic). As I was thinking about part 2 of a mystery trilogy I'm writing, I realized there were some slight similarities to three of the Poirot stories. So I read the original to see what Agatha Christy did, noting the similarities and differences between what I'm doing and giving me food for thought.

In submitting book proposals, one item is a comparative analysis, where you mention what books are similar to yours and why yours is unique. I struggled with my first novel's proposals because mine is unique in theme. But it leaves me wondering if I should read two books that I never believed was worth my time reading: Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and Jonathan Cahn's The Harbringer. Personally, I have no interest in either. But will reading them help me get my novel published?

Yes, I did have a different mindset on reading the Poirot trio I mentioned, but more often than not, I enjoy the reading that does more closely resemble work than fiction reading normally is.

Have you ever read fiction where it was to some degree a chore rather than just fun? How has that benefitted you?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER SCHMITZ

JR: Welcome, Christopher. You have edited a pair of devotionals out in the Faith In Fiction series. What inspired these books, and how did you line up the topics and authors (including Kerry Nietz, who I interviewed for this blog recently)? Also, are there any more of these in the works?


CS: There are definitely more in the works. It all came together as an idea that I had while at a writing conference and thinking about collaborating with authors for networking. I belong to a few writing groups and had some ongoing devotional conversations with some other writers; most of these folks I only know in an online capacity, but some of them have attended the same events as I have and we wind up getting together in real life at events (just did a few days ago, in fact.) I do as many shows as I can. I was pretty pleased to get to know Kerry and reached out a while back when an author friend (who is somewhere on the spectrum between athiest and agnostic,) mentioned that the Amish Vampires series gave him real hope and genuine interest in faith-based fiction. Kerry did the foreword for the first book and then contributed in book 2. A third book is underway as well.

JR: You have written several novels, most recently including Rise and Fall of the Obsidian Grotto, Book 1 of The Esfah Sagas. Would you like to share anything that you've written that might be used
as an example in the above mentioned devotional series you're editing?


CS: I write. A lot. So many books… and I might never get to all my ideas. Currently I’m writing Book 6 in that series and co-writing Book 5. The Esfah Sagas is actually a continuation and rerelease of an old fantasy series from the 1990s that I was a fan of and which was put out by TSR (Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, etc.) and I secured the rights usage earlier this year making this the only TSR fantasy property not owned by Wizards of the Coast. In the series I lean a little more Tolkien in how I present good and evil and use archetypes… what I really mean is that it comes from the faith-based worldview that I possess, but is not directly religious. My Kakos Realm series, however, is overtly Christian in nature.

Part of what we did in the Faith in Fiction devotionals is use an existing book series with a large following/fanbase and write a series of devos around themes, characters, events, and concepts from the books which aren’t necessarily faith-based themselves. For example, in the second devo, I wrote a series of pieces on concepts from Dune (knowing that the Villenvue movie is releasing this year). Secondly, authors wrote a second set of devos around the series that they wrote. My second set, following the Dune entries, draw on my ongoing my Sci-Fi series, Dekker’s Dozen. One reviewer said “it’s like Firefly and Farscape had a baby!” Which is neat since I’m a guest at a SF convention next month where an actress from Farscape is also a guest.

JR: You also have some non-fiction titles, such as the just released Muzzling Jesus: Liberty, Faith, Politics, and the Mask Debate. I am definitely interested in hearing about this book, but I'd also like to know the similarities and dissimilarities of your approach to writing fiction and non-fiction.


CS: My nonfiction comes out from issues that I feel need to be addressed head-on and have a lot of supporting data or research that is being ignored. I originally published my first novel (The Kakos Realm 1: Grinden Proselyte) with a traditional publisher, and then set fiction aside for a long while. I was doing ministry and went back to seminary for a few years. Through a few years I had been collecting data about pastoral attrition, job retention, and transition (all christianese for pastors quitting or getting fired.) That turned into my return to writing with Why Your Pastor Left which blows open some secrets that churches keep swept under the rug. Then I launched back into fiction again.

Muzzling Jesus is borne from two things: 1) my frustrations over COVID and the illogical ways it is being used to advance political, economic, and personal agendas and 2) the theology leanings that I’ve been building upon these last 2 decades I’ve been in active ministry. I am very much an advocate of freewill and the power of choice. The book has a few word studies, lots of scripture, and something like 70 news articles cited that demonstrate the lunacy and hypocrisy of them times we live in. It’s a book that will probably make me more enemies than friends, but that just means I’ll have more time for writing J

JR: What lies in the future? Also, anything from your past writing that you'd like to mention?

CS: My magnum opus is still on the way. While I’m still continuing my Dekker’s Dozen series and the Esfah Sagas, my Shadowless series will come soon. It’s very much like Stephen King/Ted Dekker’s writings and I describe it like City of Ember meets I Am Legend. In a post-apocalyptic world where only a few hundred humans remain, they live in an underground bunker with miles of tunnels covered with light panels so that not even a shadow exists: mankind is that afraid of the dark. And then… the lights begin to go out.

JR: Thank you for your time, Christopher, and I hope you have a blessed day.

CS: Thanks for reaching out! I’d love if people checked me out on Amazon or at my website www.authorchristopherdschmitz.com

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: AGAINST ALL FIERCE HOSTILITY (MONASTARY MURDERS BOOK 6) BY DONNA FLETCHER CROW

 

This is a well-written murder mystery that also expands one's knowledge of church history, as one would expect in this series.

The story is not as fast paced as other mysteries and suspense tales, but it is well worth your patience. When it gets going, it's like a train traveling from one end of the continent to the other. There are plenty of mysterious occurrences starting in England and through out a train trip across Canada. As far as the mystery, you have no idea who to trust. No, let me rephrase that. With the exception of the lead characters, there is no one above suspicion. In addition to the main story, you also hear several stories of church history - enough for you to know it's not a boring subject.

This is the sixth part in a series, but if you haven't read the other books, you can still enjoy this one. Likewise, if you read this first and want to read the earlier stories, this novel doesn't spoil its predecessors.

There are books that I enjoy sitting back with a warm cup of coffee (though Father Antony and Felicity might recommend tea instead), and this is one of them. I highly recommend it.

One thing I'm going to do on this blog in my reviews is to look at the value of the book apologetics wise. One theme developed in this book is the balance between a unity of the whole body of Christ and standing firm on its convictions. A regular feature in this series is Father Antony sharing stories of church history, and included this are illustrations of standing in the face of death and not being willing to renounce one's faith.

I received a copy of the book from the author for my unbiased review.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

INTERESTING COINCIDENCES?

In 2006, I discovered two Christian legal suspense authors who had four or five books out each. 

The first I read was Randy Singer's debut novel, Directed Verdict, which included praise on the back cover from fellow attorney Jay Sekulow. It started out with a single, unsaved, male attorney successfully defending a person charged for blocking access to an abortion clinic. That client then referred a friend, and that case became the major emphasis of the plot.

Immediately after that, I read Craig Parshall's debut novel, The Resurrection File, which included praise on the back cover from fellow attorney Jay Sekulow. It started out with a single, unsaved, male attorney successfully defending a person charged for blocking access to an abortion clinic. That client then referred a friend, and that case became the major emphasis of the plot.

Two things to point out.

  1. The two novels went completely different directions after that point and had little similarity to each other. In fact, I enjoyed one much more than the other.
  2. I wouldn't be surprised if the authors' mutual friend Jay Sekulow suggested the above opening and see how different authors do completely different things with the same starting point.

Years later, in an ACFW class on point of view, a Romantic Suspense writer told of a novel that used four Point of View characters. After reading that novel, I picked up another novel by a different author - this one being pure suspense. Out of curiosity I checked out the number of POV characters. Yes, it was once again four. Not only that, but the female leads had different spellings of the same name (one with a C and the other with a K), and they both ended up shooting the villain, but not fatally in either case.

A few years later, I read a cozy mystery about a female character who had a struggle with her mother about career choices and had a phobia of clowns. Next novel I read was a romantic suspense by a different author. In this one, the female character had a struggle with her mother about career choices and had nightmares of being chased by a clown.

Okay, again there was nothing else in common. The daughters had completely different careers. The reason for their fear of clowns were both from childhood but for completely different reasons. Still, the similarities amused me.

Of course, there's only so much you can do in a genre. Except for fantasy. In these worlds, you will find each novel has a completely unique world and situations. Right?

I read in a short span four different fantasy series (one being a Sci-fi Stars Warsish fantasy) where one of the minor characters was in love with the female lead but knew her heart was with the male lead, so he decided not to create a triangle and let the other guy win. The funny thing? I haven't seen that work that way in any other genre I read!

Then, there's the king that marries someone that scandalizes the country - I saw several of those. Then, there's when either the male or female lead dies but doesn't stay that way.

The most recent case? Two novels I read close together (in this case, I read one in between the two) happened to have the same last name for the villain. Pure coincidence. Villain #1 was introduced in the first chapter, and you realized he was the villain in the first chapter. Villain #2 was introduced later in the book and you didn't know he was the bad guy until the climax.

Any chance they were brothers? Maybe, and if so, Villain #2 would have been scared by Villain #1. Or it would seem that way. You see, villain #2 already has planned how he's going to kill his brother.

Have you read novels close together that had coincidental similarities? 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

INTERVIEW WITH VISUAL ARTIST/CHURCH PLANTER KERRY JACKSON

Title: Everyone loves a rose, but are you grateful the the thorns?" 

Besides being a novelist, I have written a whole batch of songs in the past. My favorite classes in high school were Creative Writing and Art. I attended Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus my first year out of high school and took classes including Ceramics (2 semesters), Art Theory and Design, Drawing, Stained Glass, Photography, Creative Writing, and a Poetry Workshop. (I also took English, Economics, and Literature of the Bible.)

Did anybody know I'm an artist?

Thus, it excited me when I attended the Indiana Southern Baptist Convention several years ago and looked at the board promoting church planters. I got excited when I noticed a card for a couple that was working specifically with artists. Becky and I were able to get to know Kerry and Twyla Jackson as a result.

Kerry has a ministry called Drawing On The Rock, which he describes in the below interview. He was at Arlington Avenue Baptist Church and did the below picture (pardon the reflection of the lights and window. I've included a link to a video of that ministry at the bottom of this blog.

 


JR: Greetings, Kerry. Let me start with asking how you got interested in the arts. Are there any favorite painters who were an inspiration?

KJ: Hi Jeff, thank you for the opportunity to share a little about myself and my ministry. I honestly can’t remember exactly how my interest in art began. I’m old and it’s been a very long time! However, it may have all begun with my childhood interest in comic books. I was fascinated by them and would try to draw and replicate the storyboards. I was always drawing as a child. I find it ironic that when I was sitting in church as a young boy and drawing on the bulletins, my mom would lightly slap my hand and tell me to pay attention. Little did she know that years later I would be drawing and painting in churches and getting paid to do it!

Besides being influenced by comic books, or graphic novels as they are called today, the artists of Mad Magazine influenced me a ton! As I got older, I can say that Michelangelo, Andrew Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell influenced my style and subject matter choices.


JR:
Could you tell us about your ministry Drawing To The Rock?

KJ: Drawing to the Rock is a ministry God blessed me with over 30 years ago. It involves the creation of art with a spiritual message or a testimony of my faith journey. It also involves traveling around the world leading in what I call “visual worship.” I bring a creative element to church worship services. I create a large piece of art in front of the congregation while music is played. I also take my ministry to Christian schools and outdoor evangelistic events. I’ve even done a few corporate events.

JR: You have done church planting with the focus on the artist community. Here in Indianapolis, the church met in the Art Bank (a gallery) and Indy Fringe Theater (which sounds like the type of place people typically plant churches). What doors has your artistic ability had on outreach ministry? 

KJ: Yes, for eleven years I was involved in church planting among Cultural Creatives in Atlanta, GA and Indianapolis, IN. I can honestly say that church planting is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to accomplish. Yet, God in His power, did some amazing things in the lives of our little congregations. We saw lives changed and artists from all kinds of creative disciplines come to the understanding of how their art and their faith connect and intertwine.

As a professional visual artist, most other artists I meet first see me as a colleague. Then as our relationship begins to grow, they look past my talent and begin to see who I truly am. They begin to see me as a Christ follower and my role sometimes turns to that of a “chaplain.” Eventually, if God so leads, I become their pastor. My spiritually themed art has always been designed to invoke questions. I can’t tell you how many times my work has led to spiritual conversations. When asked to explain my work and the subject matter, the chance to share my faith and what God has done in my life comes so natural and non-threatening.

JR: What are your current endeavors, both on the ministry side and as an artist?

KJ: Well, the Coronavirus pandemic shut my live performances down completely. All of my remaining 2020 bookings were cancelled after everything locked down last spring. So, I’ve been collaborating with a fellow minister to make some s

hort videos based on some of my pieces and posting them on social media. I call them “Art Devotionals.” I’m just trying to keep my ministry in front of folks. I’ve also been blessed with a few commissions to help bring in some income during this period. I also teach art to high schoolers at a local Christian academy.

JR: Thank you for your time, Kerry. May the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless your ministry.

KJ: Thank you Jeff! I really appreciate your friendship and the way you’ve supported and encouraged me through the years. God bless you and Becky.

 

Again, below is a link to a video for Drawing On The Rock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9cK3SBhs9s

 What ways have you used art in teaching or defending the faith?

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: THE TRUE BLUE K-9 UNIT SERIES (VARIOUS AUTHORS)

 


 Starting with this note - I have read six of the ten parts of this series. I missed the opening prequel and first novel as well as the final two. The ones I read were:

  • Act of Valor by Dana Mentink,
  • Blind Trust by Laura Scott,
  • Deep Undercover by Lenora Worth,
  • Seeking the Truth by Terri Reed,
  • Trail of Danger by Valerie Hansen, and 
  • Courage Under Fire by Sharon Dunn.

I find novel series fall into three categories:

  1. A series of stand-alone novels that have a common setting and recurring characters where you can read them in any order and still enjoy them.
  2. A series where each book is an installment that stands on its own with an over-arching story that connects the three into a unit.
  3. One big story broke up into several different books.

This series is somewhere between one and two. Each is a story with its own hero, heroine, main villain, and K-9 star, with a clear resolution at the end. However, this series also deals with the murder of the unit's chief, Jordan Jameson, and the search for his missing dog Snapper. That big story picks up more and more steam starting with part 6 - Seeking The Truth. Also, you see the same characters pop up through the series, and each story ends with a hint of what the next story will deal with. Considering its 11 stories are written by 9 different authors, you have a well done set.

One fascinating thing is that there are several different breeds of dogs throughout the series: German Shepherds, a Beagle, a couple of Labs, a Springer Spaniel, a Bloodhound, and a Rottweiler in the mix. No, these dogs don't have the same responsibilities as each other. Some are trackers, some sniff for drugs or explosives, as well as those who catch and bring down the crooks.

Yes, you have a male writer who is hooked on Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense. But I really have enjoyed this series.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

ENTERTAINMENT VS. PROPOGANDA

 Anybody else here familiar with the 1982 Oscar nominated "Missing" starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek? 

For those who aren't, the story takes place during the Chilean coup of 1973 and the US' involvement. It focuses on a man who disappears and the efforts of his father (Lemmon) and wife (Spacek) to find him. 

SPOILER ALERT. At the end of the movie, they find the body of that individual. The father tells the embassy that he's going to sue the US government over it, where a worker replies, "That's your right."

"No," the father replied, "it's my privilege."

The first thought that crossed my mind was "Good for you, standing up to those bullies." My second thought was "And that's what the movie's director wanted me to think." I left the theater feeling manipulated.

True, the director was on the left end of the political spectrum. However, my ideological opponents don't have the monopoly on playing emotional puppet master. I've seen some videos recently which are promoting a message I whole heartedly agree with that are poorly written and unashamedly try to play on one's feelings.

Many sermons are designed to trigger an emotional response. There's a popular Christian song that left me feeling my feelings were used. I've read a couple of Christian novels recently where the faith element seemed to be included for the sole purpose of the book being for the Christian market.

Can you get a message across without that manipulation? Yes. I read the novel Jurassic Park. By the time I finished it, I got the strong feeling that author Michael Crichton had written the story as a warning against genetic engineering. But his appeal went to my mind, not to my emotions. It made me think; it did not make me react.

I am an artist, but I'm also a preacher at heart. My creativity is channeled through my Christian worldview and has a purpose to communicate as well as to be quality product. So I do have the concern of trying to get the message to the brain as opposed to tugging and playing with one's heartstrings.

In the novel I'm writing, I have characters with different viewpoints. One way to keep from manipulating is to present more than one perspective and to avoid to stereotypically have the good guys agree with me and the bad guys disagree. 

Are there examples where you feel manipulated by a work of art or a non-fiction book or reporting? Are there examples where your thinking is challenged but where you don't feel manipulated?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Interview With Kerry Nietz



Late October 2013. With less than a week before posting date on the Hoosier Ink blog I then contributed for, my scheduled interview fizzled at the last minute. What do I do?

I then remember seeing an ad for a book that just came out that not only sounded interesting, but it also fit the Halloween season. This novel, the first of the Peril in Plain Space series, was Amish Vampires In Space, written by Kerry Nietz (pronounced Neets). So I contacted Kerry and a week later I posted one of my favorite interviews.

I've read several of his novels as well as his auto-biographical Fox Tales: Behind The Scenes Of Fox Software, and thoroughly enjoyed each one. He also is a contributor to a devotional series which I'll mention later. So here's my interview with Kerry Nietz.

*    *    *

JR: I believe your most recent project is a contribution to the second volume of the Faith In Fiction Devotionals (you also wrote the foreword in the first volume). That series is exactly what I'm trying to deal with in this blog. Could you tell us about that series, and are there plans for more?

KN: I’d be happy to, Jeffrey. The Faith in Fiction devotional series is the brainchild of author Christopher Schmitz and is geared toward the large segment of Christians out there that enjoy science fiction and fantasy. About a half-dozen authors contributed. Each of us created devotions based on speculative stories we’ve enjoyed in the past (e.g. The Hunger Games or Dune) along with our own stories. In my case, I took some of the short stories that have stuck with me—by classic authors like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Jack Finney—and connected them to Biblical wisdom to form, I hope, concise inspirational messages. I think it’s a fantastic series. I’m glad Chris asked me to be part of it.

JR: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing your best-known project is Amish Vampires in Space. One thing that impressed me in the Peril in Plain Space series is the emphasis on our responsibility to community and that our community may be larger than we think. How do Christians develop a stronger community, especially dealing with pandemics, protests, and political division?

KN: Wow, good question. The times have certainly made many aspects of community more difficult. I know I find myself, even when I’m outside the home in public spaces, wanting to isolate and withdraw. Just putting on headphones and going about my business, oblivious to those around. (Plus, it’s hard to communicate when everyone is wearing masks!)

Even online community can be difficult. There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and anger out there. It’s tempting to withdraw from that altogether—and for a season that might not be a bad thing, especially if you have people nearby who you should be connecting with. In Acts 1:8, Jesus talked about first reaching those closest to you and moving outward in your witness from there. I have younger kids, and I know I’ve enjoyed hearing and seeing more of them during these otherwise trying times—especially since I know they won’t always be this young. My oldest just signed up for drivers training!

I guess if I had any advice, it would be to be sensitive to those God puts in your path—either in your local vicinity or online. There’s a lot of hurt and insecurity out there. It’s a great opportunity to put faith in action. Find ways to serve and console!

JR: Maybe it's just me, but I also believe your dystopian works (the Dark Trench Saga, the Dark Trench Shadow Series, and the stand-alone novel Mask) also point to community in a more hostile society. (Does that mean vampires, zombies, and werewolves are less hostile?) Any lessons we can learn from Radial, Sandfly, and ThreadBare?

KN: I think the wisdom there too is to thrive in whatever environment you find yourself in. Be the encourager and the problem-solver. Steer clear of the negative as much as possible. Resist complaining and squabbling. Find like-minded folks and work toward a common, righteous goal.

One advantage Sandfly, Threadbare—and to a lesser extent—Radial have is that they are in near-continual communication with their support team. Whenever there’s a problem, there’s always someone available to talk to. Normal humans like us are invited into something similar with God himself. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all situations.” If there’s one thing I think the world needs more of right now, it’s prayer.

JR: I know Amish Werewolves of Space came out late last year. What else is in the pipeline?

KN: I just sent a story off to the publisher. I’ve written a handful of stories in the Takamo gaming universe over the last couple years. It’s fun, because their universe is so vast that there are a lot of story ideas to play with. (Takamo started as a by-mail game in the 80s and is now being developed into a massive multiplayer online game.) It’s pure escapism. So far, my stories have revolved around a society of aliens that look like man-sized rats. This latest entry involves them too, but there’s a bit of an alternative history angle.

JR: Thank you very much for your time.

KN: You’re welcome, Jeffrey. Thanks for inviting me. May God bless all your endeavors! 

 *    *    *

Who do you consider your community? Are there those who you should consider part of your community you tend to overlook or ignore? How do you get them involved in community?