Note to Readers: My historical fiction novel Prester John and the Brigand King is once again available to read in full. Just click on the novel's title in the "Full Series" menu on the sidebar.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Matt's sermons now available online

You'll notice that there's a new link in the top lefthand corner of my blog--"Podcasts of Matt's Sermons." By clicking this link, you'll be brought to the website of the Second Baptist Church, where you'll see a list of recent sermons available for download. Most sermons are in .mp3 format, so they can be downloaded and played on most computer media players, as well as on any IPod or MP3 player. The Sunday morning services throughout this year have focused on a study of the Gospel of Luke, and the evening services have followed a study of some of the "Heroes of the Faith" from Christian tradition. We began with two early martyrs of the second century, Ignatius and Polycarp, and are now up to the High Middle Ages. These studies also include a set of notes in a handout, which you'll also find available for dowload in .pdf format. Enjoy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Update and Thoughts on Writing

Well, it's been a long time since I've updated my blog. No doubt my hordes of faithful readers have been pining away for another post for the past five months. But they say that "absence makes the heart grow fonder," which I'm sure is entirely untrue in this case.

During these past few months away from the blogosphere, I've been busy with quite a number of other things. First and foremost, there's another baby on the way, which is always exciting news. Soon there will be two little Burden boys running around. And pastoral work has kept me busy, as always. But it's pleasant work, and it affords me time to read and think and pray, and for that I'm grateful. A good deal of my creative energy has gone into a new sermon series for our Sunday evening services, focusing on the stories of various "heroes of the faith" from the pages of church history. It's a favorite topic of mine, and it's been fairly well-received by the congregation. Incidentally, I may be able to upload my sermons and talks as podcasts on our church website at some point, so I'll add a link to that if that ever becomes a reality.

And I've been working on writing, too. OakTara Fiction, my publisher, just put out a new edition of Freedom Cry (Book 1 of the Hidden Kings Trilogy). Having a second edition printed is usually an indication that sales are going well; but in this case the reverse is actually true. The great length of the novel was making the sale price too expensive to actually entice anyone to buy it, so the second edition was produced for the purpose of making the novel more marketable (ie, smaller font size equals less pages equals less cost). And as an added bonus, the cover art scheme has been revamped, as you can see in the photo on the side. I think it looks great. The lead character has grown quite a bit of hair since the first edition came out (he had kind of a buzz cut before, if you remember). If we ever do a third edition, he'll be in desperate need of a haircut by then!

We've also been working on getting Book 2 of the Hidden Kings Trilogy out--The Conqueror's Song. You can see an early sample of some possible cover art in the picture to the left, featuring a dashingly handsome young woodsman with a Bieber-esque haircut as the hero. I'm very excited about this book, and it should be out soon. I've had some great help from family and friends in the editing process and in the artistic design of the maps, and I'm tremendously grateful for that. Hopefully the novel will be coming out shortly; I'll give more updates as we get closer. This book is a bit of a change from Freedom Cry, because it actually jumps back over a thousand years and explores the legends of the mythic hero Warlent the Conqueror. Reaction from my early readers on this one was a bit more mixed than for Freedom Cry, partly because it does have a bit of a dark twist near the end. But never fear! It all works out in the end, and it sets up the plot of the final installment, Pathways of Mercy, for a wonderful wrap-up. Whereas Freedom Cry and The Conqueror's Song could each stand on their own as separate novels (although there are a lot of intriguing ironies for the reader of The Conqueror's Song if they're familiar with Freedom Cry), the third one is going to lean on both and bring them together into one single story. In Pathways of Mercy, we'll return to the cast of Freedom Cry and tie in some of the plotlines of that world's history that we learned from The Conqueror's Song, and with the whole trilogy in view, I think it will make a marvelous epic. So if you fell in love with the heroes of Freedom Cry, don't despair that book 2 will take you to a different story--we'll come back to them soon enough and tie it all together.

Anyway, it's all very exciting. But to tell the truth, I've been having much more fun working on a completely different story this summer. The trilogy is already complete on my end (it's just a matter of the publication process now), so I started work on a new project. It's shorter than any of my previous novels (at which news some of you will breathe a sigh of relief), and with much more of a whimsical flavor to it. It's called "Whispers of Adventure" (that's just a working title for now), and it's set up as a sort of Shrek-meets-Pilgrim's-Progress allegory of the Christian life. But not only is it a lot of fun, it also turned out to be quite a bit more substantive and edifying than I thought it might. I began writing it a few years ago as a tongue-in-cheek spiritual autobiography of sorts, and it took on a life of its own.

And that brings me to a complaint. One of the difficult things about being an author, at least in this early stage of my "career", is that by the time one of my novels gets published, it's already ancient history for me. I'm doing a talk at the local library about Freedom Cry this week, which is nice and all, and I'm very excited about it, but it's been four years since I finished writing the revised version of the novel (seven years since I started it)! The Conqueror's Song has been basically done for five years, and even Pathways of Mercy has been sitting around for a couple. So the book I'm most excited about now, "Whispers of Adventure," will probably not get out in print for a few years, either. Which is tremendously disheartening, because one of the great joys of writing is to have someone share in one's delight. When I write a book, I fall in love with the characters, the world, the story, with the sheer act of creation. And I want other people to love it, too. But I only have a few family members (my brother Josh, my wife Rachel, and my Grandma Burden) whom I pressure into reading my first drafts; everyone else often seems to prefer to wait for the published version. But by the time the published version comes out, my delight has waned and is already focused on another writing-project in the works.

Oh, well. I guess there's not much I can do about it. But if you're one of my family or friends who has read this and would like to share in my joy, just let me know and I can get you a draft-copy of "Whispers of Adventure." Or, in the meantime before it gets published (if it gets published, that is), you can support my hobby by buying copies of the Hidden Kings Trilogy. If you've read this far, I hope you've enjoyed these scattered thoughts/exultations/complaints about writing. I'll try to blog more regularly in the weeks to come.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In Praise of Church People

I was at a local pastors' meeting about a week ago, and the conversation turned to the topic of the people in our various congregations. And, as one might expect, there was some mutual commiseration expressed over the difficult people that we pastors have to deal with. And certainly, there's some truth to that. Pastors have to work very closely with a great number of people, and all people, suffering as we do from the same broken human nature, invariably disappoint us. This is especially true when they are being measured against an ideal standard of behavior like Christian morality. But it got me to thinking. One hears too much about the difficulties and personality conflicts and pettiness of church people. One hears too often about people getting "burned" by other Christians or by experiences at church. Naturally, it is the bad things that get talked about--the way that church people gossip and backbite and complain, the way they never seem quite able to "love one another" the way the New Testament exhorts.

And there is some truth to that. But there's also another side to this discussion, and it doesn't get spoken about often enough. As a pastor, I can honestly say that I count myself a very fortunate and blessed person. Why? Because I get to work with some of the best people in the world. I get to live and fellowship with people who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, people who are being shaped into the image of Christ, people who are becoming partakers of the divine nature. Yes, there are some people in church who act pettily from time to time. But there are also saints there, men and women of radiant virtue. I am continually amazed to see the depths of love, care, gratitude, and gentleness that flows from these church people, like rivers of living water. I have been blessed to stand in the presence of men and women who have been faithful servants of Christ for decades upon decades, who seem to overflow with the grace of God. I'll say it again, because I genuinely believe it to be true--church people, for all their failings, are the greatest people in the world, and I am honored to walk among them.