Tag Archives: Christian historical novel

Salutation: Philemon, Part Three

featurePhilemon 1-3

Luther said, “We are all God’s Onesimus.” It is true that, in this incident, we have a striking picture of our lost condition by nature and practice and of the activities of divine grace on our behalf. This letter sets forth, most beautifully, the great truths of forgiveness on the ground of the expiatory work of Another and of acceptance in the Beloved. Harry Ironside makes a strong case for this truth in a short gospel article entitled “Charge That to My Account.” We are presented with an excellent example of what God could do within both a householder and a slave in bringing them to Christ and causing the love of the Spirit to be manifested richly through them.

What a story the name of the writer calls to mind—Paul! It is he who presents the picture of that which we have just spoken. Allow all that you know of this man to roll through your mind. It was William Ramsay who speaks of the “Charm of Paul,” and indeed, when we think of Paul, we cannot help but be reminded of him as preacher, pastor, and man of prayer. He is self-described as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), yet he was one who met Christ and had his life radically changed with sins forgiven and redemption received. God chose this man to pen a large share of the New Testament Scriptures. Paul wrote to numerous churches and individuals, giving us a wonderful view into the very depths of his own heart. When he might have “pulled rank” on Philemon as “Paul the Apostle,” he, instead, appealed to his friend and brother in Christ on the basis of “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (v. 1), preferring to entreat him (vv. 8-9) as a “prisoner” than as an “apostle.” Paul’s tact and appeal are consummate. — John Duty

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Bond Brothers new coverExcerpt from Chapter One

Athens

The streets were crowded with an array of travelers and Athenians. Philemon put a protective hand on Archippus’ shoulder, and Onesimus flanked the boy’s other side, much to Philemon’s delight. Hagglers called to them as they picked their way through the filthy narrow spots, and Philemon was glad when the alley gave way to a wider street.

By the time they reached the Agora, it seemed as though every person in Athens was looking for something to eat! Philemon pulled several small loaves of bread from his sack along with a cluster of figs and handed them to his companions. The snack would hold them until their business was over and they were on the ship once more.

Philemon had decided on a small piglet for his sacrifice. It was not the biggest or most costly animal, but it was not the smallest either. The animal squealed as the young boy, presumably the merchant’s son, cornered it, picked it up by its hind feet, and handed it to Onesimus, who took the tiny creature and cradled it in his arms. Soon the squeals ended, and the tiny pig actually fell asleep bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

Philemon watched his son’s face knowing exactly what he was thinking before he asked.

“Father, must we sacrifice it?”

Philemon only nodded.

“But why do the gods require a blood sacrifice?”

His father put an arm around his shoulders. “Our gods do not require it son, but the sacrifice lets them know that we are serious about our request.”

“Do some gods require blood?”

Philemon was ready to change the subject, but he knew he needed to answer the question. “Yes, Archippus, the Jewish God requires a blood sacrifice.”

“Is that why Simeon is a butcher?”

Philemon chuckled. “Well, I suppose that is part of the reason,” he replied, thinking of their neighbor and friend. The thought stopped him for a moment. He had never really given much thought to any god. Even this gesture of worship was for his wife, not him. At times he wondered if the gods even existed.

Another thought came to Archippus, and he looked at his father with alarm.  “Is mother ill? Is that what the sacrifice is for?” He had seen her outside one morning, relieving herself of everything in her stomach. She had brushed him off, but the memory came back in vivid detail as his mind whirled in all the wrong places.

Philemon turned and stopped their procession. He placed both hands on his son’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. The boy had sprung up this past summer and was nearly as tall as his father. “No, Archippus, she is not in any danger. But you will have to ask her any more of your questions.” He knew the stern look would end all other inquiries.

As they drew near to the Areopagos, Philemon could see that a crowd was gathered. Someone was being pushed to the front. He was a short man, certainly not a Greek. Perhaps a Roman? No, his garments were more like that of the Jews. Philemon’s curiosity drew him into the crowd and the others followed.

“Tell us of this new doctrine of which you speak,” one of the elders of the city was saying. At the mention of doctrine, Philemon turned to go, but as the man began to speak, he felt drawn back. He turned and watched, now focused on the man’s eyes. There was something different about him, but Philemon could not understand what it was.

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” The man stopped and looked over the crowd as though seeing into the heart of every man. “For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”

The speaker was warming to his subject, and every person present stood silent, watching him as he gestured to the sky, urging them to pay heed. He hesitated for a moment, as though he knew that his next statement would not be well received. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Unknowingly, Philemon leaned forward, as though fearing that he might miss a word. The man’s voice dropped in volume, drawing even more attention from each listener. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” The statement struck a knowing cord among the crowd. Many were nodding their approval. This man is an incredible orator, Philemon thought. I have never heard such things! A yearning to know and understand gnawed at Philemon’s heart.

“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Somewhere further into the circle of people that were gathered to listen, a man laughed loudly. “You speak of the one they call Jesus, the Jews’ so-called Messiah,” the man mocked. He grunted and turned to walk away.

Archippus was turning to follow those who were leaving when he saw his father’s face. Philemon’s eyes were riveted to the speaker. It was as though their eyes were locked, sending messages that only those two could understand.

Dionysius watched the exchange, which was taking place between Paul and the man who had watched him so intently. He saw there the hungering that he himself felt in his soul. As the man turned to walk away, he felt an urging to meet him. Pressing through the crowd, he came beside him, not sure what to say; but as he considered his words, the man turned to face him.

“I could not help but watch you as our speaker shared his beliefs. They are quite unusual, would you not agree?”

Philemon could see the sincerity in the man’s eyes. He was obviously an elder of the city. “Yes, sir. I must say his words intrigued me.”

“I am hoping to have him to my home for the afternoon meal. Would you and your group care to join me? His words intrigue me as well.”

Philemon considered the offer. To refuse would be disgraceful to the man before him and a social indecency; however, if he accepted, it would mean an added night to their journey.      It was as though a war was battling within him. The greater part of his heart willed him to move on and forget what he had just heard, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the words UNKNOWN GOD vibrated over and over, creating questions that he ached to have answered. “That is very kind of you, sir. We have business in the city, but will be free by midday.”

“Good. Come when you are free.” He gave Philemon his name and directions and turned to find Paul.

Archippus looked at him questioningly, but Philemon ignored the look and hurried them to their task. As he passed the collection of gods and their altars, he decided upon Athena. After all, was not she one of the most powerful goddesses? To the Unknown God… Him I proclaim to you… Paul’s words continued to echo in Philemon’s mind, but he pushed them away. I must do this for Appia and our unborn child!

The priests were all too happy to accept and offer the little pig. Onesimus handed over the tiny animal, feeling some angst at the whole ordeal. As the priest chanted his incantations, the piglet squealed as though understanding its fate. However, it soon lay silent upon the altar, its blood oozing from its slit throat.  Philemon looked on, bowed his head and without a word walked away. It was done, but somehow, the entire scenario left him cold and empty. His pace quickened as he turned toward the Stoa.

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Pro-Choice

This month, we recognize two very sad days in America’s history. Oroe-v-wade-death-pie-chart (1)n January 22, 1973, our supreme court made its landmark decision promoting abortion. Since then, in the United States alone, 16,000,000 children have died because we gave their mothers choice to have it be so.

On January 27th, we remember the eleven million people who died because one man believed that their lives were somehow inferior: some because of their religious beliefs, others because of their sexual preferences, and still others because of their mental state. His beliefs concerning Nazi eugenics made the conclusion that these people were not fit to live, and Adolf Hitler led in the mass murder of millions of innocent men, women and children.

One man decides that his way is the best, and somehow, he is able to convince an entire army of Nazis to agree and carry out his plan—we call that insanity. Sixteen million men and women chose to end the life of their babies—we call iAuschwitzt pro-choice. The freedom to choose—it’s a powerful right, and I’m thankful for the rights that we have in America, even though many seem to be eroding away as fast as the moral fiber of this great land.

What can be done? Were there people living within ten miles of Auschwitz who felt as helpless as I do concerning the death of the innocent? Probably. Thankfully, we do have the power to vote.  This is not a political blog, so I’ll leave the rest to you, but think about it when you cast your ballot.

We can’t do everything, but we each can to something. I chose to write a book. It was the product of a heart filled with an unusual burden concerning the Holocaust. The research I needed to do for the book still haunts me, but the burden I carried for the Jewish people needed an outlet! Stepping away from the book, I realize that it also became a cry to any person who is very religious but lost.  Religion may be a powerful force in our lives; however, like Esther Ruth Raul, the main character in my book, each of us must realize that only the Living Water of Jesus Christ can quench the thirst of a parched and tattered soul!

Twelve Smooth Stones (also available as an ebook)tells her story of trials and tragedy which ultimately led her to redemption.  It’s a historical fiction. I hope you’ll take a look! In spite of all that, it is does contain a romance and is an easy read.  My purpose in writing it was not to expose all the grim details of the circumstances surrounding the Holocaust, but to focus on the people and their tenacity to live and overcome those obstacles.  Above all, it’s a book about the Gospel, because when it is all said and done, is there really anything more important?

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.

2 Corinthians 4:3

Twelve Smooth Stones – The Way of Truth

How do you write a story? Where do the thoughts come from?  I’m not sure how other writers answer that question, but for me, I believe with all my heart that the idea for Twelve Smooth Stones came from my heavenly Father, hence the dedication:

I dedicate this book to my gracious Heavenly Father, who gave me the idea in the first place and then led me every step of the way.

The idea was a combination of thoughts: what would a modern-day story of Esther look like?  What if an heirloom locket could be the means that would help to make the connection in a young Jewish girl’s mind from her heritage to the truth about Jesus Christ.

The following is the final excerpt from my book and was the spark that flamed into Twelve Smooth Stones.  It’s quite a long excerpt and perhaps some background is needed. Esther, taken from her home in Amsterdam and surviving Auschwitz, moved to Israel, hoping for a new life.  She is now in America and has long ago lost the beautiful locket that had been a family heirloom – the twelve gems each representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  She is presently living with the Porters, the family of a young Christian girl whom she befriended on the ship from Israel to New York City, and is working for the father in his hardware store.  She has a son, David:

The day was bright but cold, and everyone seemed to need paint. Esther was so tired by the end of the day that she decided that she would miss the Bible Club that afternoon. But when Gladys came through the door with Little David laughing and sharing some special secret, her feet suddenly didn’t feel so tired. Besides, all you do is sit and listen— Libby does all the work, she thought.

David was still giggling when Esther gave him a hug. “And what is so funny, young man?” she asked in mock sternness.

David saw the twinkle in her eye. “Aunt Gladys was just telling me about the time she—”

“Now hold on, partner,” Gladys said with a cowboy twang that had David in stitches. “Are you going to tell my secret?” David beamed. He adored Gladys almost as much as she adored him.

“Well …” he said as if considering his answer. Gladys pounced on him, tickling his sides. “You better not, or I’ll tickle you to death!” David was nearly rolling on the floor with laughter when Mr. Porter came over.

“What’s going on here?” He played the part of a disgruntled adult, but the sparkle in his eyes gave him away.

“My partner here was just about to tell this woman our secret,” Gladys said, pointing an accusing finger at the little traitor.

“Ah,” her father exclaimed, “a serious offence.” He looked down his nose at David and then bent down to talk to him face to face. “You know, we are nearing the time when secrets will be on every one’s mind.”

David looked curious. “What do you mean, Grandpa John?”

Mr. Porter leaned a little closer and whispered in the little boy’s ear, “Christmas.” David’s curiosity turned to confusion.

“What’s Christmas?” For all of Mr. Porter’s intuition, he completely forgot that David was Jewish. He looked up at Gladys, who was smirking at him, and Esther, whose eyebrows were lifted, and sputtered on. “Well son, Christmas is a very special time of the year when everyone gives presents.” He longed to tell the boy the whole story, but he knew it was not his place.

“But why?” came the innocent response. Gladys’ eyes softened, and Esther came to the poor man’s rescue.

“David, we will talk about that soon, but don’t you think we had better get to our Bible Club?” As if on cue, Libby came sweeping into the building, flannel board in tow. The usual crowd of youngsters began to arrive with a couple of new faces that Libby introduced as children from her Sunday school class. For some reason, the statement tugged on Esther’s heart, and she pictured Little David sitting among the men at the synagogue looking totally lost.

After the usual attendance, Libby flew into the memory verse with her usual flair. “Could one of you older boys find Galatians 4:4 and read it for me?” Several of the students furiously looked into their Bibles to be the first one to find it. A tall, red haired boy’s hand shot up in the air. “Danny, you read it, please.”

The boy cleared his throat and read with a heavy brogue accent. “ ‘ But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.’  ” He looked up and smiled. Libby obviously received much affection from these children— they adored her.

“Thank you, Danny. Now we have been learning a lot about the Old Testament, but today we are going to look at the New Testament. In fact, we are going to talk about heaven, and I have something very special I want to show you.” The excitement buzzed around the room. Libby often used objects to help the students have a visual picture to remember the lesson.

She went on to explain the verse, stating that all the Old Testament pointed to the time when God would send His Son to earth, made of a woman. “Who can tell me what holiday we celebrate that speaks of this wonderful event?”

Hands shot up, and one girl answered excitedly, “Christmas!” David looked back at his mother with wonder, his face shining. Esther would never forget the way that Libby spoke of the coming of the Messiah that day. She made everything so plain that for the first time, Esther began to understand.

“God told us exactly when, where, how, and why He sent us His Son.” Using each adverb as an outline, Libby swiftly moved through many of the Old Testament verses that they had studied, and then read verses from the New Testament where they had been fulfilled. “Can anyone tell my why God sent Jesus?”

Again, hands were raised, and another girl answered, “So we could go to heaven.”

Libby smiled. “Yes, Patricia. And that’s what we will be talking about in the next few weeks.” Her eyes were shining, and the children knew it was time for her surprise object. “Do you remember the beautiful stones that God used to decorate Aaron’s robe?” Heads nodded.The students had especially enjoyed the lessons about Moses, the tabernacle, and the high priest’s garments. Libby turned to Revelation.

“In the very last book of the Bible, God gives us a description of heaven. It also has twelve of something— twelve foundations— and they are not made out of just ordinary, ugly cinder blocks like our houses are here. They are made of beautiful gems, just like Aaron’s robe— jasper, sapphire, emeralds, and topaz, just to name a few. God used every color imaginable to make these foundations.” Her excitement swelled as she spoke of her favorite topic.

“Just imagine! Each foundation will sparkle and shine in twelve glorious colors. And God used pearls to make the gates and gold— pure gold for the streets. God wants us all to be in heaven with Him forever. Don’t ever forget that.” Her eyes twinkled as she turned around to take something from her bag. She put it into her hands so that no one could see it. “Can you guess what is in my hands?”

Several gave answers, but each time her reply was, “No.” Libby’s face grew serious, even wistful. “Someone very special gave this to me, and every time I see it, it makes me think of heaven— partly because of the twelve smooth stones, but mostly because the one who gave it to me is there right now.” She opened her hand and held out a locket with deep etchings and twelve colorful stones around its oval shape. It was a beautiful locket— it was Esther’s locket.

MacAvoy, Wanda. Twelve Smooth Stones (Kindle Locations 4911-4912). Kirkdale Press.

Twelve Smooth Stones – a Christian Historical Fiction

twelvesmoothstones-1200x1600Although Esther Ruth Raul, the main character is a fictional character, several other names are not: in particular, Oskar Schindler and Kurt Gerstein.

The combined actions of these two men are instrumental in saving Esther’s life: Kurt Gerstein, an SS Officer for the Third Reich, is disillusioned with Hitler’s “Final Solution” as he calls it, and seeks to save lives in any way possible.  Historically, he did bury canisters of the Zyclon-B chemical which was used in the gas chambers. Fictionally, he rescued young girls from the usual barracks where so many died of starvation, disease or the gas chambers by placing them in a situation none of them would choose.

The following is one of my favorite glimpses of Kurt Gerstein. The first excerpt takes place right after Esther arrives at Auschwitz, where she is chosen by Kurt along with several other girls.  They are taken to another building, showered, and then tattooed.  Their hair is not shaven due to the “profession” which they will be involved with; and until now, she has been able to keep her precious locket hidden:

Esther was ordered to stand by the door and wait for the other girls to finish, pain shooting up and down her arm from the tattoo. Finally, the last of the girls were finished, most of them whimpering from the pain and fear of what was happening. What next? Who cares, Esther thought morbidly.

As she leaned against the wall, to her horror, she felt her locket give way. She frantically clutched at it, but before she could grab it, it clattered to the floor at her feet. All eyes were upon her as the woman officer, who seemed to be in charge, looked at her with eyes of menacing steel.

She coolly and slowly walked over to Esther, standing inches from her; the woman’s hot breath blew from her nostrils into Esther’s face as she coldly stared into her eyes— pools of terror. Without warning, the woman struck a hard blow across Esther’s face, sending her reeling to the floor. She felt a shoe on her neck as the woman reached down to pick up the necklace.

“You little fool,” the woman spat at her. “Take her out of here!”

“You forget whose she is, Frau Stedder,” a voice as calm and cool as an Arctic breeze spoke. Esther could not see him, but she knew it was the officer who had taken her from the platform.

“But Officer Gerstein, you know the rules! She tried to hide this from us,” the woman whined, waving the locket in his direction.

Gerstein casually glanced at the locket and then back at the woman. “And are you more concerned with the rules or with keeping the trinket?” Kurt knew much of the Jewish jewelry never made it to the official stockpile.

Stedder would keep quiet, for she knew that he too would keep her secrets. She vehemently dropped the locket into his outstretched hand, spun on her heels, and returned to her desk for the tattoo order form. She curtly placed it in his hand and, without a word, continued her duties, dismissing him by her silence.

He turned to the girls, his eyes locking with Esther’s for just a moment. “Follow me.” Esther scrambled to her feet. As they all reached for their satchels, Gerstein simply stated, “Leave them.”

Later, while in Kurt’s room, she gets another glimpse of her Captor-Savior:

She could hear him locking the door. She walked to the other room and looked furtively out the window. There weren’t many people out on the walkway. She saw him hurrying down the road toward a building across a lawn, set back away from all the other buildings. She could see the brick building with the giant smokestack across the way. It looked ominous. At the moment, there was no smoke spewing forth. All seemed at rest. What time is it anyway? Esther wondered.

She had no way of knowing. The sun had long since set behind the western wall. Had it been a beautiful sunset? Somehow, she couldn’t imagine any beauty in this place. She turned back to her room. It was more pleasant than she would have expected. In the back room was a bed complete with sheets and a cover. A small table stood between the bed and the outer wall, which held a small lamp and a book.

Curious, she walked over and cautiously picked it up. It was a Bible. Her first reaction was to throw it down. It was a forbidden book to her. She would read her Ketuvim*. Then she remembered that her Ketuvim was gone— along with everything she held dear. Gabriel’s letters! The thought of them in a stranger’s hands made her heart ache.

(* A Jewish sacred book containing Esther through Song of Solomon.)

The book in her hand brought her back to reality. Had she not heard that part of this book was like her own sacred writings? She hesitantly opened the front cover. The first page bore an inscription:

To Kurt, With love, Father and Mother

Strange! As she continued to turn the pages, she realized that it was indeed the same as the Torah. With hope in her heart, she continued fanning the pages. The familiar books were all there— First and Second Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah— even Esther. Pulling the book to her chest, she fell to her knees and wept tears of joy. Oh Jehovah, how great thou art! She could speak no more; she simply allowed the tears to wash away all the horror of the day…

(several days later)

She was so absorbed in her reading that the rattling of keys in the lock startled her. She found herself holding her breath, hoping that it was Kurt Gerstein. He entered, quickly locking the door behind him. As he looked at her, his eyes fell again to the Bible. She awkwardly laid it beside her, absentmindedly smoothing the wrinkles from her dress. He walked to her and knelt before her, gazing directly into her eyes. They were brimming with emotions, but Esther couldn’t discern which ones. Not anger. Not pity. Perhaps just sadness.

“Esther, I don’t know what is going to happen to any of us, but while you are here, in this room, please know that it is your room. You may look at anything, read anything. I have no secrets— nothing too personal that I would not want to you see it.”

He picked up the Bible, and placed it back into her hands. “But especially this Book.” He hesitated, not wanting to startle her by his forwardness. “At Auschwitz, there is no time. We just continue blindly in our routines as if moving through a nightmare. We forget what real life is like.”

Again, he halted, and the silence in the room was stifling. His closeness made the hairs on the back of Esther’s neck rise; she could hear his labored breathing, as though his next words were costing him a great deal. “I used to read the Bible every night. Perhaps we could do that together.” There was a subtle pleading in his voice.

Before Esther could respond, he continued on in a different tone. “When we are outside these doors, I must treat you as if you are no different than the other girls. During the day, you will eat with them and work with them, but at night you will be protected. If the other girls talk about … their situation, it would be wise if you did not reveal yours.”

He was visibly shaken. He absently massaged his forehead between his thumb and fingers, seeking to drive away the pounding headache that had started at the office. “When you are finished for the day, you may visit with the other girls or come here, but do not have any of the girls come to this room. Lock the door behind you. And I would suggest that once you are in here, stay in here.”

He stood to his feet and walked to the door. He held the knob for a moment and then turned to face her. “Tonight will be very difficult for the girls. You may hear things. If I am not here, please do not open the door for any reason. Even if someone knocks and demands you to open, just ignore it. I cannot stress that enough.”

He was so urgent. He turned back to the door and paused, taking a deep breath and exhaling it slowly. The drooping shoulders squared, transforming his entire appearance. He looked like the SS officer his uniform portrayed. Esther would find herself wondering at his dual image: the stern SS officer and the kind gentleman caught in a web spun by the Third Reich called the Final Solution.

MacAvoy, Wanda. Twelve Smooth Stones (Kindle Locations 1130-1138). Kirkdale Press.

Twelve Smooth Stones is also a love story… 🙂