April 16

Book Excerpt: An Easter Sermon Gets Hijacked by the Spirit

This is an excerpt from the book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.

“Christ is risen!” I begin.  “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before.  But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’  What a shock that must have been!”

So begins my Easter sermon.  I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation.  They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.

That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning.  I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.

After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.

Then the moment comes.  I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.

Then I pause.  The next line won’t come out.  I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.

I’m not expecting what happens next.

“Christ is risen!” I repeat.  “He who was dead now lives.  Christ is risen in me!”

I continue in a softer voice.

“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”

“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask.  “Let’s be honest.  I fall short far too often.  How about you?”

I raise my hand.  About half the congregation raises theirs, too.

“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask.  “I do.”

I raise my hand.  More hands go up.

“Are we sinners?” I ask.

I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”

“Yes!” they reply.

“Yes,” I agree.  “But we found new life through Jesus Christ.  Amen?”

“Amen!” they reply.

“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why?  Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”

I pause, and see heads nodding.

“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue.  “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them.  And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.

“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask.  “They spent three years traveling with Jesus.  He was their teacher.  They saw Him after the Resurrection.  They saw the holes in His hands and feet.  Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?

“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.

Some people chuckle.

“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.

“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask.  “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life?  But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?

“It happened to me,” I say.  “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life.  I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it.  I should have gone to prison.  How could that be God?

“And it wasn’t,” I say.  “I did those things, not God.  Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus.  But he was.  They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger.  And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life.  That’s what it took for God to get my attention.  I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God.  Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?

“I am a sinner,” I say.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.  How many of you are willing to say that with me?”

“I am a sinner,” I repeat.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”

About half of the congregation says it with me.

“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.

This time, everyone joins in.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.  “His tomb is empty!”

Then, in a softer voice, I add, “And so is ours.

Steve’s Grace is available here.

July 13

Praise for Steve’s Grace

BookCoverPreview (1) front

Steve’s Grace has received its first two reviews on Amazon.  Both are 5-star.

One reader writes:

This is the story of a flawed character in a flawed world, trying to come to terms with the depth of his own failures. It is the story of one man’s search for redemption. Does he find it? We’ll leave that for you to decide…

This is a good read. It’s engaging, well-paced, and incredibly thought-provoking. Some books entertain and then fade away; some books stick with you long afterwards and make you think. This is one of the latter. Are there parts that made me uncomfortable? Yes. Were there situations and decisions that made me cringe? Absolutely!

Could I put it down? Nope.

Another says:

I couldn’t put this down. A very inspiring story. It really made me do some soul searching. I highly recommend reading this book!

Thank you both for your praise, and for taking the time to post a review!

Steve’s Grace is free on Kindle through Friday

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July 10

Steve’s Grace: Excerpt

BookCoverPreview (1) front

Steve’s Grace tells the story of a distinctly nonreligious man and his path back to faith.  He doesn’t plan to become religious.  But then, he doesn’t plan to lose four days in a blackout in Las Vegas, either.  Stranded and broke, burdened with shame and guilt, and certain he’s about to lose everything important to him, he winders whether he’s been too quick to dismiss God.

I’m already a day late getting home, and I’m sicker than I can ever remember being. My chest feels like there’s an elephant sitting on it.

I don’t know when I showered last. I probably reek of sex. I know I stink of sweat. And, with no money, I don’t see how I can clean up before I get home and face Susan.

I wonder how much longer I will have a family.

I cough again, a hacking death rattle that lasts for more than a minute.

I wonder if I am dying. Have I killed myself with this latest debauch?

I wonder if Vanessa is out running up my credit card, and how I will explain that to Susan. I should call Susan and have her cancel it.

But I can’t. In my compromised state of mind, I don’t dare even hint at the truth of what’s happened for fear that Susan will read whole story from my voice.

I unzip my bag and stare at the Bible sitting there. I can’t believe I have it. I’ve never owned a Bible, and have never read the Bible. I have never possessed one any longer than necessary to remove it from a hotel room and deposit it in a trash can.

Yet there it sits, like a hot coal in my bag that I’m afraid to touch. Will it burn me for all the disrespect I’ve shown it over the years?

I pick it up, and it does not burn me. I feel the gold inlay of the cover, as if reading it in Braille. I flip it open at random, and find myself reading Psalm 119:

My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word. Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously. I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.

The way of lying, I think to myself. Is there any way out of that for me? After what I’ve done these past few days, how can I possibly be honest?

I can’t even call my wife and ask her to cancel my credit card!

But here’s the real kicker. I’ve been berating myself because, one way or another, my wife is going to find out. I’ve been berating myself not for what I did, but for not lying well enough.

“Oh, shit,” I murmur, as I begin to realize how selfish my thinking has been.

I flip to another page, and find myself reading Isaiah:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

I slam the book shut, close my eyes, and lean my head back, holding the book in my hands on the table. Is it possible that God forgives even the worst sinner? Is it possible that there is a way out for someone like me?

“I can give you a ride,” says a gravelly female voice.

In my present state, she sounds to me like an angel, and my eyes flick open.

She doesn’t look much like an angel. Fiftyish and overweight, her mousey-gray hair is pulled back in a pony tail. She smiles, revealing bad teeth that have seen too many years of smoking.

Still, I smile.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Yep,” she says. “I’m headed for Long Beach.”

“That’s closer than here,” I observe.

She gazes at me appraisingly.

“You don’t have any money, do you,” she says.

I hang my head.

“No,” I admit. “It was a bad, bad weekend.”

She reaches in her pocket and pulls out a wad of bills. She peels off a few and hands them to me.

“Go take a shower,” she says. “Pay at the cashier, and they’ll give you a ticket. I’ll be right here in the food court when you’re done.”

I stare at her for a moment before taking the money.

“Thank you,” I say, gratefully.

“Oh, I’m not doing his for you,” she says, and chuckles. “We’re going to have five hours together in the truck cab. I’m doing this for me.”

Of course, the path to faith is rarely quite that simple. Steve’s doubt runs deep, and so does his denial. He’s quick to rationalize the events in Vegas as “not that bad.”

But as his memories begin to return, he realizes they were indeed that bad, and worse. He’s committed an unforgivable sin, something he never thought himself capable of. Unable to deny the horror of his actions, his brain shuts down, and Steve enters into a period of psychosis.

As he gradually heals, he explores what it means to follow God. But sometimes, the line between faith and insanity is not quite clear.

Steve’s Grace is available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

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June 22

Steve’s Grace is now available on Kindle

My latest novel, Steve’s Grace, is now available on Kindle!

Steve Grace isn’t a bad guy. But he’s not a good guy, either. He’s an accountant for a crooked company. He hates religious people. He cheats on his wife, but he thinks every husband does.

A trip to Las Vegas isn’t unusual, but this one goes far beyond anything he imagined. Haunted by shame and with his marriage in jeopardy, he wonders if he’s been too quick to dismiss God.

With the help of a therapist, Steve’s memories begin to return, and he realizes he did something truly unforgivable. Overcome with horror, he has a psychotic episode and loses all memory of the trip and the weeks since he got home.

A stay in the mental hospital brings his memories back. Confronted with the magnitude of his sin, he decides to give his life to God. He gives out sandwiches to the homeless, joins a church, and rescues a young prostitute. But is his newfound faith real, or is he still crazy?