DAVIDRSTOKES.COM

The Office Site of Best-Selling Author DAVID R. STOKES

Here’s a question I hear a lot these days: “How’s retirement—are you keeping busy?”

Oh yeah, I’m keeping very busy.

In January, I retired after 41 years of pastoral ministry. Most recently, I served for more than 20 years as the senior pastor of a wonderful ministry called Expectation Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

For the past decade or so I’ve also been a published author, with more than 15 books in print, including a Wall Street Journal Bestseller.  I’ve written a couple of screenplays, as well, and a few other “treatments” that are currently making the rounds in Hollywood. One of my screenplays has, in fact, been optioned by award-winning actor Blair Underwood for development into a feature film. I am represented in Hollywood by producer Alexia Melocchi.

These days, while focusing my own writing (several projects in the pipeline), I’m also helping other would-be writers with their projects.

That’s right—I’m THE BOOK GHOST.

Whether helping leaders in business or politics, or even members of the clergy who want to turn their sermons into books, I work with carefully selected authors and projects.

It’s not really a “business” with me…it’s a passion.

And it’s just me, so I work from the quaint and quiet confines of my study at home, sometimes in my pajamas far later into the morning than should ever be allowed or disclosed.

But I always change before lunch.

I promise.

Okay, MOST of the time.

Actually I work out of two home offices, one in beautiful Northern Virginia, near our grandchildren, and one in the Orlando, Florida area.

Come to think of it, that one is often near those same grandchildren, as well (cue the Disney music).

Go figure.

A ghostwriter is a person whose job is to write a book or other work (feature articles, blog posts, white papers, business plans, e-mail campaigns, etc.) for someone else who is the named author.

It has been very common for decades for politicians (Hillary Clinton & John F. Kennedy), business leaders (Lee Iacocca & Jack Welch), and even novelists (James Patterson & Ian Fleming) to use ghostwriters.

Ghostwriters also help with short stories, newspaper columns, feature articles, white papers, and other projects that are less-than-book-length.

Do you have a great idea for a book, but you don’t have the kind of time it would take to produce 50,000 or 60,000 words?  A good ghostwriter can help you take that great idea to a published book.

If you would like to talk about your project, or even an idea you might have for one, send me an email:

david@thebookghost.com.

Tell me all about it and I’ll give you honest feedback and tell you how I might be able to help, and what that would look like. – DRS

 

 

 

 

I recently watched an interview featuring best-selling author Thomas Mallon on C-Span Book TV. The prolific writer of several highly-regarded works of historical fiction, his latest book is, Landfall: A Novel. It’s the final work in a trilogy, one that chronicles the presidencies of Richard Nixon (Watergate: A Novel), Ronald Reagan, (Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years), and now the administration of George W. Bush.

Mallon’s writing has done much to reinvigorate and further define political/historical fiction. And as I have been revisiting the genre lately, his work has been a confirmation of sorts that I am on a credible path.

Larissa MacFarquhar, writing in the New Yorker a few years ago, called historical fiction, “a hyrid form, half-way between fiction and nonfiction. It is pioneer country, without fixed laws.” My observation is that sometimes historical fiction leans more to the latter, other times to the former. It depends, I suppose, on the writer’s taste—in writing and for research.

One of the projects I am currently developing is in the political and historical fiction genre, but I am trying my best to be accurate and precise. You might think this to be oxymoronic, but I find myself seeking the same level of exactitude when it comes to details that I have in all of my nonfiction writing. And just as my current book is a work in progress, so is its author.

Bob Schieffer (CBS News), who wrote the forward to my book, The Shooting Salvationist (revised and released last year as Menace in the Megachurch: Politics, Arson, Perjury, the KKK, and Murder), was drawn to the original manuscript because of my attention to detail about his home town—Fort Worth, Texas.

That was pretty cool.

But, does this ultimately matter? Does being a stickler for historical precision actually help move the story forward? Not always. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of it might actually get in the way. I can almost feel the biting cynicism of a customer review on Amazon: “Stokes spends too much time on trivia that means nothing to us, unless we grew up in that town. Who cares what restaurant had the best blueberry pie in town.” But we are what we are. I will always be a sucker for that next pesky factoid.

So why write historical fiction—why not just stick with history itself and write a nonfiction account of something? I mean, David McCullough’s books aren’t so bad, and some say they read like novels. I agree, and I am a big McCullough fan. In fact, when I read one of his books, it makes me want to sell my computer and buy a set of bongo drums, knowing I’ll never be able to write like him. But here’s the thing—what about great stories, real ones, from history, where there is not enough material in the records to fill in all the blanks?

This is, I think, the greatest service the writer of historical fiction can provide for readers. Sometimes the only “story” we have is hidden in fragments. The DNA of the narrative is there, but not easily seen. Enter the practitioner of the craft of historical fiction. The writer builds a superstructure on the foundation of those fragile fragments, but always with an eye on all relevant facts and materials extant.

This was certainly the case with two of my books. Both were based on true stories, but there was insufficient material available to write the stories completely from sources. So, I followed the facts where they led me, then I used my imagination—largely for dialogue.  When it came to Jack & Dick: When Kennedy Met Nixon, I started with a well-documented but long overlooked story from when both future presidents came to Congress in the first election after World War II, where they both served in the Navy. They actually debated for the first time in 1947, before a few hundred people in a small Pennsylvania steel town. Then they shared a Pullman berth for the overnight journey back to Washington. In their respective biographies this incident is mentioned, but all we are told is that they stayed up all night talking.

So I imagined how that intriguing conversation developed between two future rivals and presidents. Voila.

In Jake & Clara: Scandal, Politics, Hollywood, & Murder, I found a true story hiding in plain sight (one that I discovered while researching the Fort Worth book), but opted to “dramatize” it, rather than just write a chronological/academic account. I wanted to make it a living story, not just dead history.

Think of it this way—you know how you see movies and “docudramas” based on true stories? They clearly begin with a cluster of facts and then add color. Dramatized history. Well, I look at writing political & historical fiction as eliminating the “middleman.” In other words, I attempt to write the stories the way a screenwriter might. I opt to “show” instead of merely telling the story.

A while back, there was a wonderful film aired here in the States on PBS Masterpiece Theater called Churchill’s Secret. It was about a stroke the great man had toward the end of his second tenure as Prime Minister of Great Britain. It was a true story—but it was dramatized, not just in film, but in the book on which the movie was based. The Churchill Secret KBO, and is classified as fiction largely because of “invented” dialogue and the creation of one composite character. It was a great example of the power and potential of political/historical fiction.

You remember the great movie, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth? I did pretty well. That, too, was a true story with fictional elements added in to enhance the story. This, to me, is the key. Any fictional parts inserted into a true story must serve to enhance the established facts, not merely to add drama or manipulate the emotions.

The late Irving Stone was a genius at this. Writing in the preface to The President’s Lady: A Novel About Rachel and Andrew Jackson, he said of the historical elements of the book that it was, “as authentic and documented as several years of intensive research, the generous assistance of the historians and librarians in the field, and literally thousands of books, magazines, pamphlets, newspapers, diaries, public records, correspondence and collections of unpublished memoirs and doctoral theses can make it.”

Then Stone dropped the other shoe: “The interpretations of character are of course my own; this is not only the novelist’s prerogative, but his obligation. Much of the dialogue had to be recreated, but every effort has been made to create it on the basis of individual character, personality, temperament, education, idiosyncrasy, as well as recorded conversations and dialogue, memoirs, diaries, letters and published accounts by relatives, friends, associates, even of detractors and enemies.”

To my mind, the late and lamented Mr. Stone struck the right balance and set a standard for all who dare to recreate the past. It’s one that I hope to observe with exacting care as I tackle my next five or six writing projects. Historical fiction based on real political events—from the recent or distant past—has a bright future.

At least, I hope so. — DRS

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man on so many levels. But he was first a pastor/preacher, erudite and eloquent, persuasive and passionate. He could also be controversial in the pulpit.

ap_mlk_memphis_mountain_kb_130403_wmainHad he lived, he would have recently celebrated his 90th birthday.  I wonder what he would think about our national journey since the day his powerful voice was so violently silenced?

A year to the day before his death in Memphis, Dr. King preached Riverside Church in Manhattan. The church, built against the backdrop of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s, was founded by Harry Emerson Fosdick and John D. Rockefeller Jr., a liberal preacher with a generous benefactor. Mr. Rockefeller initially donated more than $10.5 million, and his contribution grew to more than $32 million by 1959. It was a case of petro-dollars funding Protestant liberalism.

As Dr. King spoke to a crowd of nearly 4,000 on April 4, 1967, he said that as a religious leader he wanted to “move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high ground of a firm dissent.”

His subject was not Civil Rights – it was the Vietnam War.

Though careful to talk about America as his “beloved nation,” and not hesitant to address the crowd as “my fellow Americans,” he said that “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” was “my own government.”

At that time, polls indicated that nearly 75% of Americans supported the war.

Dr. King faced his own media firestorm in the immediate aftermath of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. The Washington Post described it as “unsupported fantasy,” and the New York Times called it “Dr. King’s Error.” U.S. News and World Report went even further, suggesting that King was “lining up with Hanoi,” and President Johnson angrily speculated that King had “thrown in with the Commies.”

Even legendary baseball player/hero Jackie Robinson came out against the speech and the NAACP adopted a resolution warning that King’s effort to connect the anti-war movement with civil rights was a “serious tactical mistake.”

Later that year, the annual Gallup Poll of the “Ten Most Popular Americans,” would not include the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—for the first time in more than a decade.

One long and very difficult year after his Riverside remarks, Dr. King was in Memphis. The night before his death, he was scheduled to speak at Mason Temple. There were storm and tornado warnings, and he was weary from travel, so he asked Rev. Ralph Abernathy to go in his place. When Abernathy got to the church, he saw thousands who had braved violent weather to hear King, so he called back to the Lorraine Motel and encouraged his friend to come over. King did go over, and he gave what was to be his last sermon.

During his 20-minute extemporaneous address that evening, he asked: “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher?” He then added a word of encouragement to the great number of preachers in the crowd: “I want to commend the preachers…and I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.” As he warmed to the crowd and his message he said: “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words.”

He called for the development of what he referred to as “a kind of dangerous unselfishness” and segued to a rhetorical comfort zone, the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. He used the famous story as the basis for his admonition: “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with greater determination…we have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Then he waxed personal, describing a previous assassination attempt by “a demented black woman” ten years before and how the blade came so close to his aorta that one sneeze would have ended his life. This was a familiar King story, one that he told many times with the refrain “If I had sneezed…” being repeated again and again for effect. At this point, other preachers on the platform that night became unsettled because this story was usually one placed earlier in a speech. The concern was that Dr. King might “miss his landing” and not end on a high note.

There is an old formula in the African-American tradition of preaching: “Start low, go slow. Rise higher, catch fire. Retire.” The concern was that King was not quite catching fire. Then, however, came those final moments as he talked about being to the mountain top and seeing the “promised land,” and the now famous and passionate ending: “So, I’m happy tonight! I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

As a preacher, King was Sunday-centric, always with an eye on the next sermon. So the next afternoon, Thursday, April 4, 1968, he placed a call from room 306 of the Lorraine Motel back to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and gave his secretary the title for his upcoming Palm Sunday sermon: Why America May Go to Hell.”

He never had the chance to preach that one. A few hours later his voice was silenced in a brief and deadly explosion of violence.

Dr. King is remembered more than 50 years later for his words and deeds. He is honored–-appropriately so—as a hero. It is, though, an interesting question: “What would Dr. King say today—and how would he be received?”

[For books by David R. Stokes, visit: www.davidrstokes.com]

While fires were still smoldering at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvanian pasture, malicious people conjured up an evil myth.  In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many in the Arab world believed that the vicious attack on America was not the work of Islamists, but rather was an Israeli-driven Mossad operation.   This legend soon developed muscular legs and is now widely regarded by millions of Muslims as the truth.

And why not?  For decades school children in Muslim nations (not to mention their parents at home) have been baptized in anti-Semitic narratives.  The opinions in their world about Jews in general, and Israel in particular, are concrete – thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.

The most persistent and pernicious ideas that have been accepted by millions as factual truth flowed from the poisonous pen of a guy named Mathieu Golovinski.

The spurious publication called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an Islamist must-read.  The work tells a story that fits the pattern of long-standing prejudices.  The words reinforce the visceral hatred Islamists have toward Jews.

 

Islamist anti-Semitism is not a new thing.  It didn’t begin with the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, or the Six-Day War in 1967.  It was around long before there was a Hitler – in fact, it grew up alongside Islam from the beginning.  It’s an enmity that can be traced back to Muhammad and what he said, wrote, and did.  And to those looking for ammunition to use against people they have been historically conditioned to hate, the often denounced and repeatedly refuted forgery is just what the evil doctor ordered.

In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, it is true that non-Muslims and non-Nazis have at times bought into the notions set forth by the Protocols – some even in the name of Christianity.  This is sad.  But it is also statistically rare these days.  Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan types apparently still peddle the book, but these people are the proverbial skunks at our national picnic.  And eighty years ago, there were a few prominent Americans (automobile magnate Henry Ford notable among them) who endorsed the writings.  But that was a passing, though very regrettable, thing.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion purports to be written evidence of a vast and secret Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.  It’s presented as a factual and detailed description of a late-nineteenth century meeting to plot international Hebrew hegemony through manipulation and treachery.  These ideas are at the root of the mother of all conspiracy theories for those who live in the bizarre world of alternative historical reality.

In fact, the publication is a forgery – probably the most sinister and infamous fake in literary history.

The year is 1898, and Nicholas II rules a Russia that’s beginning to experience the revolutionary stirrings of modernism.   The Tsar is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and tends to be easily led by strong people around him.   He tries to take incremental steps toward leading the nation away from its feudal past, but some in his court are alarmed.   Thus, evil men began to seek a way to short-circuit these liberalizing influences.

If only they could convince the Tsar that the voices of change he’s listening to are motivated by something other than the best interests of Russia – but how?  It was in this environment that the greatest of all anti-Semitic lies was born.  A threatening conspiracy would be manufactured – one that would bring Nicholas to his senses – and the Jews to their knees.

Mathieu Golovinski was living in Parisian exile at the time.  Though he was Russian, having been born in the Simbirsk region in 1865, he was forced to flee after repeated clashes with Russian authorities, usually having to do with his tendency to fabricate documents and evidence in legal matters.  He was a master of spin, innuendo, and dirty tricks.  He was also very skilled in the arts of forgery and plagiarism.

And he worked for the Okhrana – the Tsar’s secret police.

He was approached by agents’ provocateur from the Tsar’s inner circle about creating a convincing anti-Jewish legend.  They needed a narrative, one that would be seen as proof of a sinister plot behind the winds of change beginning to blow in Russia.  Golovinski was commissioned to fabricate the evidence.

He came across an old book, written in 1864 by an anti-monarchist activist named Maurice Joly.  It was entitled, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquie and was written as a thinly disguised attack on Napoleon III’s rule in France.  The book was suppressed by the French government and the writer was imprisoned.  He committed suicide in 1878.

A plan was hatched to borrow from this obscure book, changing some of its cosmetics and phrasing.  It would be recast, using Joly’s fictional dialogue for a model, as the actual deliberations of a secret cabal of Jews bent on taking over the world.   When the fake was finished, it was spirited back to St. Petersburg, and all that would be needed was a way to get it before the ruler of the realm.

Enter the other religious zealot in and around the court of the Tsar.

When most think of religious influences around Nicholas II, attention is usually given to Grigori Rasputin, the mad monk who haunted that scene beginning about 1905.  But often overlooked, and certainly more ominous as far as long-term impact on the world is concerned, is the influence of his cultic contemporary, Sergei Alexandrovich Nilus.  He was a writer on religious matters and a self-styled spiritual mystic.

 

And he is also the man who first published Golovinski’s sinister forgery.

Initially placing the Protocols as a chapter in one of his books, Dr. Nilus saw to it that the potentate was fully briefed and convinced about the purported Jewish threat.  And like Rasputin, he also had the ear of ruler’s wife – so the Tsar, never a man to have his own firm opinions, fell prey to the lie.  And in the days following his nation’s defeat at the hands of the Japanese at a loss of several hundred thousand men, not to mention overwhelming financial expense, circumstances were ripe for the rotten fruit of a compelling scapegoat story.

On January 9, 1905, the Tsar’s troops opened fire on protesters who peacefully marched near the palace in St. Petersburg.  This would become known as Bloody Sunday.  The Tsar and his inner circle saw in the Protocols the real reason for the unrest – it was a big Jewish plot to overthrow the monarchy.

So it began – the gargantuan conspiratorial lie that has reared its hideous head time and time again over the past one hundred years.  Jewish plotters were blamed for The Great War (1914-1918).  Then in its aftermath, when Germany was struggling to recover from defeat, the big lie was discovered by the greatest demagogue of the day, Adolf Hitler.   By the time the future German dictator was sent to prison in 1923, he was well versed in the Protocols and drew significantly from the forgery as he wrote his own hate-filled and delusional tome, Mein Kampf.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became, to men already filled with anti-Semitic ideas, proof positive of a sinister Jewish agenda.  To those who believed the lie, the writings were sufficient evidence for the indictment, condemnation, and eventual execution of these conspiratorial people.  The Protocols in many ways fueled the Holocaust.

Yet all along, reasonable people – scholars, journalists, and statesmen – have gone to great lengths to expose the fraudulent nature of the Protocols.  Beginning with a lengthy analysis in the Times of London in 1921, to a celebrated trial in Switzerland in 1935, to a report by the United States Senate in 1964, good people have said again and again: “the book’s a fake.”   Good people still do.

It’s the bad people who are the problem.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the biggest publishing hoax of the past one hundred years, is not going away.   This is largely because Islamists are using it, with great effectiveness, to fan contemporary flames of hatred.  In fact, it’s arguable that there are more copies of this lie-laden text extant, than ever before.  The forgery is used by politicians and clerics in the Muslim world to justify their distorted and destructive world-view.

Gamal Abdel Nassar, the late president of Egypt, recommended the book to his countrymen.  His Saudi contemporary, King Faisal, had the forgery put in hotels in his nation, like Gideon Bibles (he once gave a copy to Henry Kissinger).  The Ayatollah Khomeini, who took over in Iran in 1979, made the Protocols a national bestseller.  An entire generation of Islamic thinkers and scholars now aggressively promotes the forgery as literal fact.

Hamas owes Article 32 of its charter to these long-ago-discredited writings when it says things like: “Zionist scheming has no end…Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of Zion.” And it’s, of course, a perennial favorite with Holocaust deniers such as that wacky Iranian, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Islamist anti-Semitism is at the root of the so-called War on Terror.  The bad guys use the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as their proof-text.  It would make sense that if we really want to eradicate the symptom we must deal frankly with the cause.  Islamism isn’t an aberration.  It’s an ideology based on prejudices rooted in the distant past and lies that won’t seem to go away.

Shortly before his death in early 2005, the legendary pioneer of twentieth-century graphic art, Will Eisner, a man who spent much of his life debunking the infamous forgery, called the Protocols a “terrifying vampire-like fraud.”

Indeed. – DRS

Categories: Blog

hoffman7m112secondimageIt was the dawn of the television age—the beginning of an entertainment, information, and communication seismic shift. In living rooms around the country, the large radio, complete with it’s prominently displayed dials, would be exiled to elsewhere in the house and the furniture would begin to arrange itself around the new media kid in town…[read full post]

Categories: Blog

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The historian part of my brain is increasingly intrigued by moments in time when a dog did not bark. Of course, this is reference to a famous Sherlock Holmes story called, “Silver Blaze,” and how the fictional detective made a deduction based on the fact that a dog that should have barked at a stranger, did not. This told Holmes that the culprit was someone familiar to the dog.

So as a writer, I’ve wondered why certain people didn’t do the obvious thing. From there, my imagination takes charge. The book I’m currently working on—“The Churchill Plot”—is a great case in point. [READ MORE]

Categories: Blog

[As America began the day on Halloween back in 1938, the news of the day is what had happened–or hadn’t really happened–the night before. That was the night of the famous ‘WAR OF THE WORLDS’ hoax broadcast by Orson Welles. Below I’ve posted a chapter from my book, ‘HOW TO KEEP CALM & CARRY ON,’ which begins with the story of that night 77 years ago. — DRS]

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By the late 1930s, radio was a living room fixture in the majority of American homes. Furniture was arranged around the device, like big screen televisions today (which my wife still won’t let me have—sigh…). People back then were increasingly entertained, amused, and informed via the talking box. It was a great time for the imagination. Images were created in the brain, not on a screen.

Though radio news had been part of broadcast schedules for many years, the events in Europe leading up to World War II did for that medium, what the first Gulf War did for cable television news in the early 1990s. The marriage of medium to moment brought radio to critical mass.

In September 1938, the famous broadcaster of the day, H.V. Kaltenborn, made 102 broadcasts in eighteen days as the rumors of war in Europe reached fever pitch. That was during the Munich Crisis as British and French leaders persisted in denial and pathetically continued to try appeasement with Hitler.

More radio sets were sold during those eighteen days than any other similar period in history. People sensed war was coming and they wanted to be able to know the latest. Radio news became a major part of the line-up as the time allotted for news swelled to more than ten percent of total airtime.

As the world grew more dangerous, it was also getting smaller.

Of course, people also wanted and enjoyed the entertainment. There was no doubt about that. It provided a measure of escape from the challenges of domestic life in a time of economic depression (there was actually a 2nd Great Depression in 1938) and from a larger world that seemed determined to destroy itself.

There was comedy with Jack Benny, suspense with The Green Hornet, and even more suspense with The Shadow. Big companies would purchase blocks of time for advertisement. So some shows bore corporate names—sort of like a lot of sports stadiums today. For example, The Texaco Star Theater, debuting October 5, 1938, featured comedy and variety.

But the favorite entertainer that year—especially for boys like my dad and his older brother—was the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Never mind that even I could do ventriloquism on radio. the Stokes brothers never missed a Sunday night broadcast of The Chase and Sandborn Hour.

One Sunday that autumn, the Stokes brothers stayed a couple of nights at their Uncle Joe’s house in Detroit. The next night was Halloween and his neighborhood was a great place to fill their pillowcases with candy. So Jerry (my dad) and his brother Jim took their places on the rug near the big console radio in Uncle Joe’s living room at 8:00 p.m. and set the dial to WXYZ, which carried the NBC Blue Network.

They laughed at the opening bit, a typically hilarious Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy routine. Then their laughter turned to near instant boredom as some dumb lady came on and did a drama thing. Never mind that the lady was Madeleine Carroll, a famous British actress—the highest paid that year in Hollywood, earning more than $250,000. She became a big star via her recent performance in a popular Alfred Hitchcock film called The 39 Steps.

None of that impressed Jerry and Jimmy; they wanted to hear the funny stuff.

So they turned the dial back and forth and soon found some pretty cool music on WWJ, which carried CBS shows. Mercury Theater was scheduled to be on the air at that moment. So they left the dial there and tapped their toes to a band playing a Spanish-sounding song, fully planning to check back at WXYZ a few minutes later for more Charlie McCarthy fun. Possibly this is exactly the moment channel surfing was discovered.

But the boys never made it back to the NBC Blue Network that night. In fact, all across America in thousands upon thousands of homes, little boys and girls and all grown up adults glued their ears to what was being piped into their living rooms. It began like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity…”

Then all of sudden, it was back to the Spanish music as Jerry and Jimmy stared at each other. They called out, “Hey Uncle Joe, come here, something just happened on the radio.”

war of the worldsSimilar scenes played out all across the country that night. The music was interrupted again and again with more details about a spaceship crashing in a place called Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Something snake-like crawled out. Fields caught fire. All reported on the radio.

Forget that Hitler guy who wanted to take over some far away place called Czechoslovakia—these were Martians—and they wanted New Jersey!

Of course, it was all a hoax first dreamed up by a young radio actor named John Houseman (he grew up to become Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase) and brought to life by his boss, 23-year-old Orson Welles. It had been advertised right in newspapers earlier that day in the section where it showed the radio lineup for that night. There in plain sight it said: “Play ‘War of the Worlds,’ Mercury Theater. CBS Radio.” And the broadcast began with a disclaimer—which didn’t help all the people tuning in late.

The radio spoof became a textbook case of mass hysteria. In an instant, millions of people believed we were under attack by aliens.

Of course, H. G. Wells and Orson Welles were ahead of their times with their interest in aliens. These days you can find countless books and movies about the idea of odd-looking life forms coming from somewhere “out there” to do us harm. Just do a Google search on “Area 51” and you’ll find thousands of pages of theories about the subject.

Oh, and by the way, you’ll also be placed on an interplanetary watch list—just sayin’.

Yet according to the Scriptures, aliens have been on the earth for thousands of years.

Really.

The first real life alien was a fellow named Abraham. And he passed on his alien DNA to his son, and now there are millions of people with the “not from this world” gene in them. It’s called “incorruptible seed” in one place. And when you have this gene you are born again.

Cue the church organ.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews said this about Abraham and his heirs:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” — Hebrews 11:13

The words “aliens” and “strangers” are from similar Greek words meaning “belonging to another”—in other words, from somewhere else. Having done my share of world travel, I have managed to provoke the question loosely translated: “You’re not from around here are you?” This has also been expressed to me on occasion without the use of words—just a condescending stare.

Have you ever known someone who was really “different?”

Have you ever said of someone, “That guy must be from another planet?”

Better yet, has anyone ever noted such a difference in you because of your faith, that it just seems to them to be—strange?

Distraction and Detachment

The Bible reminds us in several places that one of the secrets to being able to Keep Calm and Carry On is to see ourselves as temporary residents of this world—just passing through. We’re here, but because Christ has redeemed us and lives in our hearts, we’re not from here.

“But our citizenship is in heaven…” — Philippians 3:20

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, STRANGERS IN THE WORLD (Emphasis added) scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” — I Peter 1:1

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as STRANGERS here in reverent fear.” — I Peter 1:17

“Dear friends, I urge you, as ALIENS and STRANGERS, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” — I Peter 2:11

There are two basic parts of this concept of being here, but not from here—being in the world, but not of the world, so to speak. First, we must understand the difference between godly and ungodly distraction.

In order to understand the concept of being an alien or stranger in this world, we have to understand our basic post-conversion relationship with the world. The Apostle Paul laid this out for us in his letter to the Galatians:

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” — Galatians 6:14

If you are saved, the world is crucified—in effect, dead—to you, and you are crucified to the world. There’s a divide. Something’s happened. It’s different. There’s a distinction. There’s a separation. In fact, separation is the essence of what the Bible means when it talks about death.

The cross of Christ has made the ultimate difference.

In practical terms, this means that we need to guard against being distracted by the world. What does the Bible mean when it talks about the world in this context? It means the basic principles that govern the world system. It can all be boiled down to one word—Lust.

Of course, most of us think immediately of sexual sin when the word lust appears—and there’s no doubt that such immorality is indeed driven by what the Bible calls lust. But the term is much broader than mere sex. Lust is an attitude and approach to any area of life that excludes God and idolizes aspects of this present world. It’s desire aggravated by heart rebellion. It’s desire that is “over the top.” It’s desire that has reached the point of obsession. It’s intense craving—particularly for something forbidden. This is why we are told not to love the world and its intrinsic lust:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
— I John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

But as we discussed in the earlier chapter about holiness, this is where so many sincere followers of Jesus Christ make a serious mistake. They are sincere about not being “worldly” and very much want to live above the various manifestations of human lust, so they default to a knee-jerk approach—rules, rules, and more rules. It’s easy to do because it sounds so simple. But does it really ever work?

No. Legalism short-circuits the spiritual power and joy of far too many Christians.

The truth is that the proliferation of rules to control behavior—even the most sincere efforts to legislate morality—is not really spiritual. In fact, it is the epitome of worldliness. That’s right, a legalistic and rule-driven approach to trying to be spiritual is—worldly. Paul talked about this in his letter to the believers at Colosse. They were enamored of the ascetic discipline of some false teachers and saw them as great spiritual examples. These teachers talked a lot about “defeating the flesh,” but their hyper-regulation methods were suspect:

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23 (NKJV)

Such legalists abound today in and around the Body of Christ. They are neo-Pharisees, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” They are like the usual suspects who harassed Jesus at every turn. And they frustrate current day followers of Christ with their rules. They have many more “standards” than the Bible has, often elevating personal preference to the level of absolute dogma. It’s quite toxic.

And it’s actually very worldly. Ironic, huh?

So if rules don’t work, how do we avoid being obsessively distracted by the world? It has a powerful gravitational pull that relentlessly tries to drag us down to its level, when we know that God intends for us to live above it all. We’re called to be overcomers.

The key is to counteract ungodly distraction with godly distraction. Now distraction can be a bad thing or a good thing. What do I mean by this? Did you ever hear somebody say, “Well, she is so heavenly-minded she is no earthly good”? They usually mean someone who is self-righteous or pious or impractical or whatever. But in a real sense, if you are a vibrant Christian with your mind fixed on God, you’ll be a much more centered person. Isaiah 26:3 (KJV) says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee…”

Godly distraction is when you’re distracted by something else—something infinitely more fascinating than anything this world offers. Focus on God. Want perfect peace? Think about the Lord and His goodness and His grace. That means you’re going to be thinking of heaven, thinking of a better place, and like the patriarchs of old, seeing them in the distance—your compelling future in Christ.

In other words, to the extent that you’re distracted by the big picture of what God is doing and wants to do, you won’t be distracted by the negative, drag-you-down, kick-you-around, stomp-on-you stuff of this world.

The second vital concept is detachment. You can live a defeated life driven by ungodly detachment. This happens when you’re so enthralled with the world and all its false promises that you disconnect from things associated with the Kingdom of God.

Economics. Entertainment. Culture. Power. People get really hung up on all these things. That becomes their lives. They live vicariously through their favorite character on television, or through some political leader, or through some other situation. They become detached from anything God wants to do.

God wants you, instead, to have a different kind of detachment—a godly detachment. He doesn’t want you to leave this world. He wants you to function in it. He doesn’t want you to be like an Amish person hiding out until Jesus comes. He wants you to live and work and be part of it, but to live in this world with a sense of detachment. It’s when we become indifferent to the world and its lusts.

What does this detachment, this indifference, come from? It comes because our hearts are in another place. To the Christian, home is heaven with God. That’s where our hearts should be. But we are still here and have work to do.

Reject Self-Destructive Attitudes and Behaviors

First Peter 2:11 in the King James Version says it like this: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul…”

Think of the soul as your personality, your mind, your emotions, and your will—the essence of you. We are to abstain from “fleshly lusts,” any strong desire in our lives that drags us down and short-circuits our spiritual strength. And remember, lust is any improper or inordinate or strong desire for anything outside of the will of God.

Self-destructive behaviors can involve physical sins. Christians struggle with physical sins. Peter says abstain. Just say no. I understand that this is easier said than done, but the first step is to just say no. This is accomplished when we remember—right there in the moment of distraction and temptation—that because of the cross, the world has been crucified unto you, and you unto the world. You actually can say no.

You may feel at times as if you are a slave to your habits, but you’re not. You’re to live in freedom. You’re not controlled by sin. You can overcome it. But you have to be decisive. This is why Jesus said, “If your right hand offends you, cut it off. If your right eye offends you, pluck it out.” Now if you read in Matthew’s Gospel where that comes from, Jesus is talking about divorce and adultery.

So let’s apply it to sexual immorality. I’ve had people come to me for counseling and say, “I’ve been involved in an affair. It’s not right, and I want to get my life right with God, and I want to break it off.” I will say, “Then do that, because that’s what you need to do.” This usually elicits a reply like, “Well, I feel like I need to meet with this person one more time for closure.” I counter, “No. It needs to be cold turkey.”

Are such decisions painful? Sure. Cutting your hand off is painful. Gouging your eye out is painful. But when it comes to dealing with clear sin in our lives, the best thing is severe action and drastic action. Don’t wait for the “opportune” moment. Your capacity for rationalization will see to it that such a moment never comes. And don’t pray, “O God, deliver me. Get me out of this!” God’s Word reminds us again and again that we must take the first step—then the promised power of God kicks in.

Practice Deliberate Goodness for God’s Glory

Peter wrote:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” — I Peter 2:12

Jesus said:

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16 (KJV)

What is your light? Your good works. Let’s dissect that. First of all, God is light. We have no intrinsic light. When we get saved, the light of God (II Corinthians 4) shines in our hearts. So we have light that comes from God but lives in us. How does this light shine through us to others?

Good works.

When you do good things for others, not for personal credit or affirmation, not to be seen by people and applauded, not to get your name in a church bulletin—or the wing of a hospital—you glorify God. It’s so people can be blessed by your actions and sense that the good things you do are because God is at work in your life.

That’s a powerful way to witness!

Relate to Secular Reality in a Spiritual Way

Note what Peter says in I Peter 1:13-17:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”

This is a passage that basically says be a good citizen. Don’t be a lawbreaker. But is there ever a place for civil disobedience?

Peter’s words parallel Romans 13, where Paul writes, “Obey the powers that be, the governmental leaders, because they are put there by God.” When Paul wrote that, and when Peter wrote this, they were under the Roman system, and do you know who was running the show? Nero—remember him?

It presents civil leaders as the sovereign, the king, or the emperor. In a republic, political leaders are not sovereign. I think leaders in office deserve our respect and our support, but the sovereign in America is the people. “We the people…” The United States of America is a constitutional republic (not a pure democracy, by the way).

So as we examine these principles, we need to bear in mind the political distinctions between then and now. Back then, people couldn’t go to Nero, “You know what I think, Nero, we ought to change this law. This is the polling I’m getting.” Roman citizens had certain rights, but they had no say.

We have both—just sayin’.

I think the thing we should take away from this is that followers of Christ should have great respect for authority. We’re not scofflaws. And when it comes to the practice of civil disobedience, we ought to think it through very carefully and seriously.

In 1954, there was a senator from Texas by the name of Lyndon Johnson, who later went on to other things. As the Majority Leader, he helped navigate a law through the Senate that went through the House. It was signed into law by President Eisenhower. The statute amended the IRS code for 501(c)(3) corporations (churches, non-profits). It says, “…no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation…and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. Nor shall the church engage in subversive or un-American activities.”

I think it’s a bad law, not because I want to get up in the pulpit and preach politics and tell the church how to vote. I’m never going to do that. I’m going to teach biblical principles, but your vote is between you, your conscience, your God, your family, and however else you feel about this. But the law, to me, inhibits pulpit freedom. Can you imagine telling Martin Luther King, Jr. that he couldn’t preach about politics when he was talking about Rosa Parks from the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1955?

I also think it’s an unenforceable law. When it has been enforced, it’s been done selectively, because at one end of the spectrum, there is a lot of latitude given to churches about political campaigning for particular individuals. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a lot more critique of it. I don’t think that’s fair, whether you’re a liberal or conservative.

Lyndon Johnson was getting ready to run for reelection in Texas when the law was drafted—and he had presidential ambitions. But in Texas, a lot of preachers were against him and they were talking about it in their pulpits all over the state. This had been going on there for many years. The practice of politicizing the pulpit started with the preacher I write about in The Shooting Salvationist (he was dead by the time LBJ pushed the law). J. Frank Norris of Fort Worth turned pulpits (for good or ill) into powerful political mediums. So Johnson wanted to tie the hands of preachers who would oppose him in the next election.

Now, I don’t think a preacher should ever get up and say, “Vote for A,” or “Vote for B.” I don’t, but I don’t have any problem if that local church thinks that preacher should, and that preacher thinks he should, and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t think there should be a law against it. I think it’s a matter of free speech. That’s their business to do, and I think the law is interpreted and applied unfairly, and I think it is a bad law. I think it should be rescinded.

But I will obey the law until it is rolled back. I will also work to see it overturned.

However, is there ever a law so bad that we become duty-bound to not only try to change it, but to disobey it as an act of conscience?

Certainly.

If they pass a law that says we can’t preach Jesus, I’m going to preach Jesus. If they pass a law that says we can’t preach the Bible, I’m going to preach the Bible.

And think about slavery. We fought a war over that. Part of the prelude to the war was the forming of opinion. Do you know the name Harriet Beecher Stowe? She wrote the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Harriet Beecher Stowe was a preacher’s kid. Her father was a very famous preacher in the Second Great Awakening, a man by the name of Lyman Beecher (Litchfield, Connecticut, and then Lane Seminary).

Harriet Beecher Stowe had a brother named Henry Ward Beecher. You may know the name now Harriet Beecher Stowe, but in those days, the name Henry Ward Beecher was much better known. He was the pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York, and he was the most famous man (not just preacher, but man) in America. He used to preach every Sunday against slavery and against any candidate who promoted slavery by name. He would bring slaves to the church platform and raise money to purchase them so they could grant them their freedom.

This was before the Civil War.

Change eventually happened because preachers like Henry Ward Beecher stood up and said something.

In the 1950s and 1960s, we had a civil rights movement in America. Do you know where it began? It was birthed in local churches. Preachers got up (even after this 1954 law was enacted) in their pulpits and indicated that they supported one candidate over another in particular local, statewide, or national elections.

The church as a force for cultural righteousness is a very important part of American culture.

But our default position is obedience to civil authority. Followers of Christ preach a revolutionary message, but we are never anarchists. We are to be people who, by and large, submit ourselves to God and obey God because we’re aliens.

If you’re understandably concerned about America, the answer to cultural problems is not going to be found in this world—not even the politics of this world. The answer is going to be found in a revived church and Christians being the shining lights they ought to be to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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