There’s a story behind each book I write, and I thought you deserved to know some of those stories.
When I was 35 years old, my father told me this:
Back in the 1800s, in the backwoods of Maine, the Wakefields and the Cloughs were at war. They were having a genuine Hatfield and McCoy feud. As sometimes happens with these sorts of things, a young Wakefield woman began a romance with a young Clough man. The two married, much to the dismay of their elders. They had two sons, but the young woman’s mother could not forgive her daughter for marrying a Clough. So, when she got the opportunity, she poisoned her daughter. There wasn’t much law in those days, so this crime was never prosecuted.
Men were considered unsuitable parents for young children, so, after their mom died, the two boys were shuffled from relative to relative, but, of course, because of the feud, nobody wanted them. As they grew up, they had only each other. But, tragically, that ended when they were young men, as one of the boys died on Christmas day, leaving Harvey, the other son, completely alone.
From that point on, Christmas was a day of mourning, not a day of celebration for Harvey. And Harvey is my dad’s father.
Is the story true? I don’t know. But I know when I was growing up my dad always seemed like he was trying to recapture what he never had as a child—a joyful and abundant Christmas.
And I guess I inherited my dad’s love for Christmas, because every year it fills me with wonder.
Over the years, I’ve tried to share some of that wonder with my readers. In 2017, I decided to put some of those writings together into a beautiful full-color book, called A Beautiful Christmas. My friend David says he thinks it’s the best book I’ve ever written. I don’t know. But I think you’ll enjoy this reading of a portion of it:
By the way the little girl I talk about in that video—the girl on the swing—she was behind the camera filming this. Liza is a graduate of the School of Digital Filmmaking, University of the Nations, Kona, Hawaii.
Back when I was a young man, I used to go around asking Christian leaders troublesome questions—questions like, “What is the purpose of the church?” “What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?” And so on. The response I usually got was a polite version of “Go away and bother somebody else.”
So, I’ve been troubled with questions over the years. Questions like these:
- Why do people “pray the prayer,” but their lives don’t change?
- Are we all dirty rotten sinners?
- If God’s “plan of salvation” is so simple, why does Jesus use a different approach every time He talks to someone?
- What’s keeping us out of heaven? Is it guilt? Or is it something else?
- Is “try harder” the only prescription we have for the struggling?
- If we’re hurting, does Jesus care? If He does, how does that help?
- Why doesn’t the Bible line up with my theology?
- What is the “good news” in the gospel?
For decades I wrestled with questions like these. Finally, after many years, I feel like I have answers—answers that satisfy me, and answers that seem to bring a great deal of comfort, clarity, and encouragement to others. That’s why I think the most important book I’ve ever written is What It Means to Follow Jesus. I plan to release it in early 2018.
When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a fantasy fiction writer like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein or Ursula Le Guin. I loved the idea of creating a whole world where someone else could live—at least in their imagination. I have an imagination that runs 24/7, and I always hoped God could use it to build something worthwhile. The problem was, whenever I tried writing fantasy, it sounded more like James Thurber (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) than John Tolkein (Lord of the Rings).
For about a year and a half back in the mid-1980s I worked on a fantasy novel, The Nagas Gambit, about two brothers who take over a planet. (I never did publish it. It ended up in a box where it survived a garage fire. A few months ago, I gave the manuscript, charred around the edges, to my novelist daughter, Liza, and invited her to rewrite it, if she’s interested.)
In the middle of writing The Nagas Gambit, I got the idea to write a story about a neurotic talking dinosaur who has a conversation with a boy hunter. On Valentines Day 1986, I wrote the entire book, and printed it out on my old dot matrix printer. I sent it out to a few publishers and an agent who rejected it (just like Harry Potter was rejected—multiple times). Then it too sat in box for a long, long time. I got it out, to let my kids read it. They loved it, and asked me to get it into print. Okay. A couple years ago, I dusted it off and put it into print.
Tom, the boy hunter, tells stories to the animals to lure them close enough to the edge of his spear. But now he’s on the other end, listening to Malcolm, the tyrannosaurus who wanted to be a vegetarian. What does Malcolm know about Tom’s dad who disappeared long ago? Can Tom really help Malcolm? Or is the T-Rex just toying with him? Will Tom become Malcolm’s next meal?
Risk and love. Uncontrolled appetites… and wonder.
Which book is my favorite? I think I had the most fun with The Man from Sun Prairie. I still laugh and cry every time I read it. (Maybe that’s because it’s my autobiography disguised as a fantasy novel. That’s right; a couple years ago, I decided to give fantasy fiction another try.)
Straight Arrow (yep, that’s his name) is in trouble. He tried to save the life of the president, and now he’s found himself in an alternate reality: the Kingdom of Arken. There he saves the life of the king, and discovers that his almost girlfriend, Dove, carries the Gift—everyone she touches hears the voice of God. But now the king’s daughter and Dove are missing. All eyes look to Straight Arrow. Is he a hero? Or is he the most treacherous villain ever to enter Arken?
By the way, I’m working on a movie, One Last Chance. “When his wife is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Roger must wade through broken water heaters, powerful neighbors, and his own deepest desires to come to the truth that he cannot save her, but that doesn’t mean nobody can.” I just thought I’d throw that in there. If you know anything about making films and would like to help, contact me.
On September 13, 2001, my life changed. While I had been a devout Christian for many years, I faced real challenges in my life. One of those challenges was our marriage. I felt like there was a thick glass wall between my wife and myself. I was crying out as loudly as I could on my side of the wall, but Kim couldn’t hear me. And she was doing the same on her side, and I couldn’t hear her.
On Thursday September 13, 2001, two days after 9/11, we sat down in Steve’s office—an angry and discouraged man, a desperate and anxious woman. I spent the first hour grilling Steve. After that, I stepped out for a few minutes while he prayed with Kim. Something happened in that prayer that I never expected. (I didn’t even know Jesus could do that kind of thing.) The Gift of Transformation is my story of what happened—how that meeting set us on an amazing journey that changed everything.
I felt like people needed to hear this story. Here was a God I didn’t know existed doing things I didn’t know He could do.
I tease people that I wrote The Gift of Transformation for men—I took out all the unnecessary words; you can read the entire book in just over a half hour. But like someone said, “You can spend 40 minutes reading the words, and 40 days pondering their meaning.” This is probably my most popular book. People tell me their lives have been profoundly changed by its message.
For a long time I used The Gift of Transformation to introduce people to Christian transformation and transformational prayer. But I felt it leaves many questions unanswered. How and why does Christian transformation work? What is it good for? What do you need to do to experience this transformation? When I say it changes everything, what exactly do I mean?
I figured these questions deserved answers, so I decided to write a book with those answers. At first, I was a little reluctant to do so. After all, an excellent text already existed, and I didn’t want to rewrite what someone else had already written. But the existing book was written from the perspective of Christian counselor, and I wanted to write this up a different way to reach a different audience.
I spent a year writing Spiritual Self Defense. It’s set up like a textbook—full of graphics, diagrams, study questions, learning aids—but people tell me it’s easy to read, easy to understand, full of discoveries. I also created a DVD to go with it. (That was a journey—I never knew how hard it was to produce a three-hour DVD!) And then I took all the content from the textbook and the DVD, plus more and created an online course. If you want to know exactly what needs to happen for you to experience a God who will walk with you to defeat anxiety, anger, addiction and all kinds of bullies, Spiritual Self Defense is for you.
Back in 2001, as I started on my own transformational journey with Jesus, I was learning so many new things about life, about God, about the Bible, that I started sharing these discoveries in a daily email called, appropriately, Discoveries. People wrote to me from all over the world telling me how Discoveries encouraged them—readers from Colombia, Saudi Arabia, the USA, England, India, Kenya, and more.
(By the way, I’ve written part or all of several devotional books for the Snapdragon Editorial Group. These books have been published by Bethany House, Summerside Press, and others. One day I was searching for myself (have you ever done that?) on Amazon, and I discovered a book of my writings that I didn’t even know existed. Hmm.)
I noticed that something changed over the years I sent out those Discoveries. It used to be that if I made reference to Bartimaeus, the burning bush, the fiery furnace, the march around Jericho, or any of a thousand other biblical references, almost everybody knew what I was talking about. Nearly every Christian read the Bible. Sunday Schools and Bible studies were common.
No longer the case. And so I ask myself, why aren’t people reading the Bible? The answer? The Bible is a very tough book to read. Especially if you start at Genesis and try to plow your way through to Revelation. It takes a pretty determined soul to get beyond Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Most of us don’t have the cultural and historical background we need to understand what message those books have for us today.
For years I’ve been obsessing about how to make the Bible more approachable. A few years ago I came out with The Easy Bible®, a series of books designed to make help someone find their way into the Bible for the first time, or give a Bible veteran a fresh look at scripture. Each daily reading included not only a fresh rendering of a passage of scripture with background notes and study questions, but also one of the daily Discoveries that I had sent out as emails for seven years.
I had a wonderful time leading a small group study for folks in recovery centered around The Easy Bible®. Beautiful people, a powerful group—one of the best experiences in my life. When that group came to an end, I felt like the Lord wanted me to give a gift to the people who had made such a difference in my life, so I wrote, “What I Believe About You,” a one-page affirmation of who we really are, deep down, underneath our struggles. That paper was later expanded into a book with the same title. For a while, I worked on starting a church, and I gave copies of What I Believe About You away to people who came to our meetings. The church didn’t pan out, though I did start an online church that continues to today.
Anyway, a whole team of people volunteered their time to help me promote The Easy Bible®. We worked hard to get it out there, and nearly everyone who bought it and read it, loved it. But when you compare the time spent promoting to the actual money I was making, I was making pennies per hour—if that. In addition, someone else holds the trademark for Easy Bible®, so I pay him a royalty every time I sell a copy of The Easy Bible®. And that’s fine; no problem. But I decided I wanted to redesign the content anyway to make it even easier to read. When I did that, I decided to rebrand it under a different name: Rediscover God. So everything you find in the first two volumes of The Easy Bible® (the story of Jesus plus some other important Bible passages) is contained in Rediscover God. In addition, I’m working on a web-based rendering of scripture—this project is in its infancy—but it will be located at ABibleWeCanUnderstand.com
One thing is for sure: Most people aren’t going to get through the Bible reading Genesis straight through to Revelation. So I designed and posted an alternate reading plan which I posted on my free resources page. In this plan, you read the entire Bible, but in a different order—one that makes more sense to people in our culture today. The reading is structured around seven 7-week daily readings. Each section is centered around a person:
1. Jesus, Author of Life
2. Paul, Transformed Leader
3. Moses, the Man Who Built a Nation
4. David, the Man After God’s Own heart
5. Solomon: Magnificence to Decline
6. Isaiah: A Towering Vision of God
7. Daniel: Rebuilding After Disaster
Now I’m working on seven books, one for each section, that will supplement the readings, help you study as a group or individually. Big job. Just started. But I believe it will help many people.
I should put in a good word here for my son Hans. He’s a graphic designer, and he helped me with several book covers. Usually it works like this. I start working on a book cover design; he looks at it and tries not to laugh; then he makes some suggestions, until finally he sits down in the chair and takes over. Of the book covers he has worked on, my favorite is the one he did for The Man from Sun Prairie.
If you’re an aspiring author, let me share this with you. The hardest book I ever wrote was my first. I wanted it to be perfect. Of course, looking back, it wasn’t. But I got it done. I put it out there. And now, every book I write is both easier and, in my opinion, better. Weathering Storms was my first self published book. It came out in 1999. Since then, I’ve grown as a person, as a writer, and as a book designer, but this book still contains the powerful “Little Vial of Light” story (which won a national award)—the story of my wife’s first miscarriage. It also contains one of my favorite writings, “A Letter to My Little Girl.” Weathering Storms spoke deeply to readers, and my kids love it. I only have a limited number of copies left, but if you’d like to read an open, honest journey of faith, this book is for you.
Two things you’re never supposed to discuss: religion and politics. You can already see that I’ve violated the religion rule. I talk about it all the time, in nearly all my books. What about politics?
I honestly try to keep my mouth shut on politics (usually a smart idea), but I’m so troubled by the polarization I see that I gotta say something. It especially troubles me that people who call themselves Christian hate one another because of politics. A few years ago, I wrote and published The New Middle, hoping to just get these concerns off my chest once and for all. But that didn’t quite do it. So I wrote Dove for President, starring Dove Fogico, the woman from The Man from Sun Prairie. Sometime after that, I spent every spare moment fantasizing about what I would do if I were elected president. So I wrote, a political fantasy: How We Stole the 2016 Election. (No, it doesn’t have anything directly to do with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.)
I hope my books will help people to ask themselves questions like these: Who is the real enemy? Am I just parroting words given to me by some journalist or some politician, or am I looking honestly at the issues and thinking for myself? Am I taking the time to understand people who disagree with me? Am I looking at the big picture? Am I wanting what’s best for everyone, or am I just concerned about what’s in it for me? Can I value and respect people whose life experience is different than my own? If Jesus returned to earth tomorrow, and took over all the nations, what would He do differently? Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Am I a peacemaker? Or am I just a pawn in somebody else’s political war? Am I being deceived? Who am I in bed with politically? Am I able to see their faults as well as their virtues? What about people on the “other side”? Can I see their virtues?
About 50 years ago, I began my Christian journey as a new believer. I was ten years old, living in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Back then it was dirt roads and alligators. We went to the Carolina Beach Community Church (I tell this story in Weathering Storms.) One of the things I loved about that church was the Sunday night testimony service. We got together and told the stories of what God had done in our lives. That was a huge encouragement to me in my newfound faith. Since then, I’m always on the lookout for a great God story.
Sometime around 2001, I wrote a letter to the alumni department of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Why not put together a book, I said, telling the story of what God has done in the lives of some Moody alumni?
They liked the idea, and so did Moody Publishers, so Dr. Tom Shaw and I got a commission to interview influential Christian leaders. We told the story of defining moments in their lives—moments when God showed up and changed them forever.
I interviewed Love Languages author Dr. Gary Chapman (that story sneaks up on you—have Kleenexes ready!), missionary pioneer George Verwer, Left Behind author Jerry Jenkins, missionary statesman Forrest Zander, and others.
Moody published Amazing Faith in 2003, and I still have a few copies here. I love reading—and telling—the stories of God showing up in our lives. Ultimately, deep down, I think that’s what every story is about, isn’t it? Every good story points us back to the One who is writing the story of our lives.
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