Category Archives: Books

Israel – The Only Mideast Country Where Christianity Is Growing

Last month I interviewed author Lela Gilbert about her new novel The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. I also reviewed the book, and said:

“The persecution of Christians around the globe, and particularly in the Muslim world, is an escalating terror. Yet too many Western Christians seem uninformed or, at best, aware but unwilling to do much.

“We need more educational resources, in all forms of media, that vividly portray the new reality. That is why novels like “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” serve such an important role. This is a novel that the church needs to read.”

Lela lives in Israel, so I was able to ask her a few questions about a topic that interests me, the state of Christianity in that country.

Is Christianity growing in Israel? If so, why?

Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is increasing – and is able to increase. This is not the case in the West Bank, however, because, under the authority of the Palestinian Authority, abuse of Christians by Muslims is usually overlooked or even exacerbated when reported. I wrote about this in my book “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.”

Is it easy to be a Christian in Israel?

Israel is a Jewish State and Judaism is much more a part of the daily life of many of the people here than Christianity is in a so-called Christian nation like the US or other Western countries. Judaism and “being Jewish” are the primary identity of Israelis, and tradition as well as faith permeates much of daily life. I have mostly Jewish friends and have been accepted with affection by nearly every one. I let them know I’m a Christian and that I’m a real believer, but I don’t engage in “God-talk” unless the subject arises naturally or I’m asked about my beliefs, etc. I do feel I have far more in common with Jews than with today’s Western nouveau-atheists who are so antagonistic toward all religious faith.

Might Israel become a sanctuary for Mideast Christians who are trying to escape Islamist persecution? Is this happening already?

A few years ago, Israel took in some 600 Darfurian Muslims who fled Sudan; they also took in a number of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. I am less inclined to think they will take in large numbers of Middle Eastern Christians seeking asylum. The population here is very sensitive to infiltrators, and a large number of refugees who are not Jewish and speak Arabic would likely stir up a huge amount of controversy. And, truthfully, many of the Middle Eastern countries who have refugees are exceptionally anti-semitic and anti-Jewish. They would, most likely, reject the idea of coming to Israel – even as a safe haven.

I believe increasing numbers of Christians are enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. Do you know why this is happening?

Numerous Evangelical Christians – at least in the US – are very attached to Israel and the miraculous regathering of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. They are also sensitive to the times, and many believe we have entered the “end times” or the biblical “last days.” Seeing the encroachment of so many vicious enemies has caused some Christians to review the biblical prophetic passages, to cast their lot with the Jews, and to fight alongside them. This is especially true of young men (and some women) from Jewish families who have become believers in Jesus as Messiah.

I have read about a new Israeli Christian political party, Bnei Brit HaHadasha (called, in English, Sons of the New Testament). Do you know anything about this?

Yes, there is a movement in the Nazareth area, led by a visionary Greek Orthodox priest named Father Gabriel Naddaf, that seeks to inspire young Arabic-speaking Christians to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces and to fight for the one country in the Middle East in which they can be full citizens – Christians who have full rights in a democracy. Most of these people are from ancient Christian churches that never converted to Islam and still speak Aramaic in their church liturgies. Rather than calling themselves “Arab Israelis” they identify as “Arabic-speaking Christian Israelis.” And yes, a political party has also been established.  I wrote about this phenomenon last year for Fox News.

Lela, thank you very much.

“The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Christian Persecution – A Book the Church Needs to Read

A harrowing report in the Baptist Press last year noted that Nigeria was, at that time, by far the most lethal country for Christians.

According to the article:

The publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year [2012] were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined. In fact, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 70 per cent of Christians killed globally. This makes Nigeria the most lethal country for Christians by a huge margin.

More recently the unfolding tragedies in Iraq and Syria have led to the slaughter and exile of innumerable Christians. Yet Nigeria remains a killing field for too many believers, and this is the theme of the exciting new thriller from Lela Gilbert, “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight.”

Short-term US missionary Nate Gregory was held by Islamic extremists in Nigeria, then rescued by an elite team of commandoes, working for a mysterious Israeli tycoon, David Levine, who is using his wealth to fight the jihad threat.

Nate’s book proposal ends up on the desk of publishing house acquisitions editor Karen Burke, and much of the story is told through her eyes, as she and Nate travel together to Nigeria. There, in several dramatic incidents that confront her with the reality of religious warfare, she is forced into the realisation that her views on the peaceful nature of Islam don’t hold up when extremists are burning down churches and kidnapping women in the name of Allah.

At the same time, she also finds herself becoming increasingly involved with Nate.

The words “ripped from the headlines” have become a cliché, but they describe abundantly this excellent book. It is well researched, well written and features all the drama a reader would want from an international thriller, including, it must be noted, violence and a modicum of (somewhat opaque) sex.

The persecution of Christians around the globe, and particularly in the Muslim world, is an escalating terror. Yet too many Western Christians seem uninformed or, at best, aware but unwilling to do much.

We need more educational resources, in all forms of media, that vividly portray the new reality. That is why novels like “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” serve such an important role. This is a novel that the church needs to read.

* The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. See an interview with Lela Gilbert here.

A Royal Partnership – Building Your Relationship With God

I became a Christian only at the age of 44. In addition, there were other big changes happening in my life at that time. I had recently moved with my family to Australia, from Tokyo, where I had been living for the previous 17 years. And I was in the process of trying to set myself up as a freelance author, with the writing of a book for non-specialists on how to analyze a company’s financial accounts.

As a new Christian I was attending a small Bible study group, run by a couple from my church – former missionaries in Africa – who had taken it upon themselves to mentor me. We studied the Bible and talked about the Christian life. And they encouraged me in my prayers.

I noted that when they prayed they always included some prayers for my financial accounting book.

What a waste of time, I used to think. Sure, we pray to God about the big matters of life and death, or for healing from illness, or for guidance with affairs of the heart. But, I reckoned, God isn’t going to involve Himself in a book on financial accounting.

That was my thinking for several months, and then something happened. One day I had a strong feeling inside me that I should pray hard for the book I was writing. Even as a new Christian I recognized that somehow this feeling probably came from God.

I did pray. At that time I was using a particular accounting text as one of the guides for my writing. And the very next time I consulted that book I found a whole series of passages that I had never noticed before – though I am sure I had read the entire text carefully – that directly addressed several confusing issues with which I had been struggling.

And at that moment I realized that God was intimately concerned with my book on financial accounting. In addition, I came to learn, He is interested in all other aspects of my life too.

Of course, knowing this is one thing, and adjusting your life accordingly is another, and even now, 20 years later, I know that I am still far from following Him as well as I should, or as well as I would wish.

That is where the book “Royal Partners” comes in. It is all about building a relationship with God.

The author, Larry Fox, is an engineer, and this is a practical book, based very much on scripture. The sub-title sums up the theme: “Learning to Work with God.”

The author makes it clear that God desires – even demands – such a relationship:

The Gospel of Matthew quotes a very disturbing statement Jesus made.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

That would have to be the absolute worst time to discover you were wrong! These people will think they served God and did His work, but they missed a critical point: their relationship with God was more important than what they did for Him. Jesus made it clear the problem was that He had no relationship with them: “I never knew you.” As a result, their works were dead — performed on their own without God’s involvement. Our works must be expressions or the result of our relationship with God; otherwise we might do all the right things for all the wrong reasons and our works would be considered dead.

He even seems to understand my own struggles:

As with everything else in life, there is a learning curve. Except this one lasts our entire life. We should never be content with our current spiritual condition or relationship with God. I’m convinced that we could never even imagine what God wants to do with us in this life. It’s simply beyond our ability to imagine because our perspective is still based on our earthly experience. We dare not limit ourselves to what we think or understand. Instead, we must commit ourselves completely to God, whatever He says, whatever He does, whatever He asks of us. Keep leaning forward and trust Him to do the absolute best thing. Our Father is Almighty God. Whatever He does is extraordinary and He wants us to participate in what He is doing. So get ready to learn.

And over some 200 pages the author teaches us how to develop a solid relationship, of the kind that God desires.

This is an excellent book that I highly recommend. It includes personal application questions at the end of each chapter, and is highly suitable for either individual or group study. It is difficult to imagine any serious Christian NOT benefiting hugely from all this guidance.

The book is available at Amazon, and you can read more about the author at his website.

Captive Reviews Shine a New Light

My first three novels were commercially published, but they received few reviews and have sold poorly, despite one being an Australian Christian Book of the Year finalist. So I decided I would self-publish my subsequent novels and promote them myself. I now have a total of 10 novels on the market.

Like every self-published author I am quite obsessive about getting reviews, especially on Amazon, as I know that these can make a difference to sales. I even have a spreadsheet on my computer and once a month I neurotically enter the number of Amazon reviews for each of my titles and the average rating (which is a pretty depressing thing to do, as your early reviews, mainly from friends and relatives, are glowing, whereas subsequent reviews inevitably include one-star and two-star dogs that gradually bring your averages down).

But now I suddenly find myself with a new stream of reviews that are among the most important and touching I have ever received. They put everything I have been doing in a new perspective. Amazon is no longer as important.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I am part of a group of Christian writers, the John 3:16 Marketing Network, whose 300+ members work to help promote one another’s writings. Though based in America, we are pretty international, with a globally diverse membership, including some here in Australia.

Recently the coordinator Lorilyn Roberts announced a new initiative, together with a Florida prison chaplain, Steve Fox, to take members’ books into prison to be read by the inmates, who would then write reviews, as part of a writing and job skills program.

I have recently received the first reviews of two of my thrillers, and they have thrilled me.

Here is Keith, reviewing “The Maria Kannon”:

I enjoyed the book, it had a good story and action. Also it didn’t drag with many pointless details, it just kept flowing.

And Lian (who describes himself as a Brother in Christ):

The main theme was that Christians should always act out of love, never vengeance. And at times some Christians must step up and do what is necessary to stop evil people from continuing evil….All in all a good read for an evening or weekend. I enjoyed it.

Of course, not all the reviews are positive. Here’s Robert:

The author has tried to twin the Japanese way of life and the Korean way of life into one simple life form, and it cannot be done. It is two wholly different life forms involved entirely upon God who in my opinion was not spoken of in a good manner….I have been to Japan myself and I have seen very little in the book to remind me of the Japanese people. I did not enjoy this book…

Coptic Martyr3But then, here’s William, reviewing “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo”:

The author seems to want to get across the importance of the persecution of the Christians around the world….This book was enjoyable. I had to rethink the way I see my faith according to a large view of what it is to be Christian.

Helping prisoners. Seeing people rethink their faith. Just what we as Christians should be doing. Thank you Keith and Lian and William and even Robert. Suddenly the mighty Amazon is no longer so important, as I view my writing endeavours in an altogether different light.

My Buddhist Journey to Jesus

I’ve published a new book, “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity.” It is the story of the years I spent in Zen Buddhism, when I lived in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.

Journey Out Of Nothing - CoverHere is the blurb I wrote for Amazon:

While in his twenties and thirties, international journalist and best-selling author Martin Roth, living in Japan, became deeply involved in Zen Buddhism. So much so that he co-authored a reference work on the subject, “Zen Guide.”

Now he explains the attraction of Buddhism to himself and to other young Westerners. He also recounts – often in amusing detail – some of his adventures.

He became possibly the first Westerner to complete a famous pilgrimage to thirty-three temples in northern Japan. On another pilgrimage he spent three days hiking through some of Japan’s holiest mountains, sometimes standing under frigid waterfalls in purification rituals. He stayed at famous monasteries, often participating in morning worship services full of dazzling ceremonies.

He introduces some of the fascinating people he met. These include the young priest who lived and meditated in a giant soy sauce barrel; the professor who devised “commuting Zen” meditation for his strap-hanging one-and-a-half-hour rail commute to work each day; and the American advertising executive who became head of his own Japanese Zen temple, a place where Caroline Kennedy, now US ambassador to Japan, stayed during her honeymoon.

But he also explains why his interest in Buddhism began to fade, and why, today, he is a Christian.

This short book (18,000 words), part travel adventure, part memoir, part spiritual odyssey, will entertain and inform.

Contents:

Introduction
Chapter One – First Steps
Chapter Two – Learning about Buddhism
Chapter Three – A Series of Newspaper Columns
Chapter Four – Writing a Book
Chapter Five – Zen Adventures
Chapter Six – Was I a Buddhist?
Chapter Seven – Kyoto
Chapter Eight – Heading North
Chapter Nine – Christian Zen
Chapter Ten – Buddhist Art
Chapter Eleven – Doubts
Chapter Twelve – Becoming a Christian
Chapter Thirteen – Buddhism and the Book of Ecclesiastes
Chapter Fourteen – Talking with Buddhists

The book is available, as a download or in paperback, at Amazon.

Encouragement for Christian Authors

Peter YounghusbandIt seems that everyone who has ever written a novel is uploading it to Amazon Kindle and launching a marketing campaign. No wonder that readers are dizzy from too much choice.

That is why we need gatekeepers, authoritative voices who can sort the good from the rubbish, and advise us accordingly with well written reviews that spell out the charms of the books they admire and recommend.

In the Christian fiction sphere one of the finest reviewers in my opinion is Peter Younghusband who runs the Christian Fiction Review blog. And yes, I am biased, because he has been very generously reviewing my books.

It is clear from his reviews that he loves novels, particularly those with a Christian theme, and he is enthusiastic about guiding readers to the best. More than that, he provides an enormous encouragement to writers.

It is a lonely job writing novels, even when you somehow feel that it is what you are called to do. Good reviews are great. But a good, long review is even better. I find that I learn from Peter’s detailed reviews of my books. I like to think that he is helping to make me a better writer, and for that I thank him enormously.

 

A Psalm for the Battle: Reflections on Psalm 18, Christians and Warfare

By Martin Roth

Psalm for the Battle - coverJust uploaded to Amazon Kindle, my new devotional, A Psalm for the Battle: Reflections on Psalm 18, Christians and Warfare.

Here’s the Amazon blurb –

What does God really think about war?

In this short devotional (7,600 words) best-selling Christian author Martin Roth uses the resounding words of Psalm 18 – in which David praises God for victory in battle – to examine some of the ethical issues of Christianity and warfare.

He asks questions such as when can a Christian soldier kill? How are we to understand some of the bloodthirsty passages of the Old Testament? Does God still provide guidance to military commanders, as He did in Old Testament times? What does a Christian do when ordered on a suicide mission?

And he provides some surprising answers. He includes testimonies from modern-day military leaders who have clearly heard God speaking to them at critical times of battle.

And did you know that some of the Japanese kamikaze pilots – who deliberately crashed their aircraft into American warships during World War II – were devout Christians? How did they reconcile their actions with their faith?

But ultimately this devotional is about the spiritual battle faced by every Christian. It is for all those who have been challenged by the stirring words from the Book of Ephesians:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.