FREE!!! FIRST CHAPTER

Below is the Prologue and first chapter of my exciting new thriller, How Great Is the Darkness. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, click here to go to my Amazon author page.

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How Great Is The Darkness

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

Jamie D. Greening

Copyright Jamie Greening, 2016.  All Rights Reserved

http://www.butchgregory.com

http://www.athanatosministries.org

ISBN:  978-1-936830-83-1

The cover art for this novel is a 1599 painting titled Judith Beheading Holofernes. It was painted by the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and is currently located at Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini in Rome. This is the painting Monica Bennett studied in college that would inspire her later in life.

 

PROLOGUE

People receive inspiration for their behavior, whether good or bad, from all kinds of places. Take, for example, the story out of the Apocrypha about the brave woman named Judith.

The Assyrians had come to conquer Israel, just as they had conquered every other nation in the region.  The Assyrian general Holofernes brought his troops against the Israelite town of Bethulia. The Israelites were feckless in their defense, and all seemed lost. A beautiful young Jewish widow named Judith understood what was wrong. The Israelites inability to stop the Assyrians was a result of their unfaithfulness in following God’s laws as given to Moses. In her frustration, the heroine takes matters into her own hands with subterfuge that would make a Cold War spy envious.

She and her unnamed servant girl pretended to be willing to betray the Israelites, feigning the Assyrians and Holofernes with promises of secrets and strategic information. She ingratiated herself to the general, and so he lowered his suspicions of her. Holofernes got drunk and passed out under her seductive wiles. In this defenseless state, Judith and her servant beheaded him, sneaked out of the camp, and then carried the bloody trophy back home to the Israelites. The Jews received inspiration from Judith’s bravery, thus they defeated the Assyrians.

The story is a morally ambiguous Hebrew novel designed to teach the importance of purity, law, faithfulness, and bravery in the midst of a polluted culture that stands in opposition to faith.

Monica Bennett first heard the story of Judith in an art history class lecture during her first year of college. It soon became her favorite story, as well as the inspiration for her terrible deeds.

 


Chapter One

A Phone Call

 

Frosty air shot out of Michael Westgrave’s mouth. He glanced behind him to see if someone followed. He didn’t see anyone, but he couldn’t tell because of the darkness.

His breath quickened. The nighttime fog was heavy. November raindrops formed and fell to the earth. Michael ran off the trail.  He sprinted across the shadowy baseball field in the middle of the park, then toward the lot lights. There was a tiny break in the hedgerow in front of him, and he slid through it, emerging into the parking lot where his Lexus sat. He pushed through the gap in the hedge and transitioned from mud puddles and wet grass to slippery pavement. When he did, his footing gave way. He fell to the ground.

Michael popped back up, wiped off his pants. There was a slight tingle in the right foot, like it might be sprained. He realized his left hand was throbbing. The humming overhead lights revealed blood gathering in the palm of the hand. Loose gravel had dug into him like burrowing worms. It burned. The crystal on his Omega Seamaster wristwatch was smashed, a victim of gravity and other forces of physics like momentum, velocity, and the crushing power of mass.

There was no time to worry about a little blood or broken glass now. Michael limped as fast as he could to the opposite side of the lot where his car waited for him.

Inside his car, he felt safe—safe from the darkness, safe from the people chasing him, safe from his own bad decisions. Michael Westgrave was smart enough to know the feeling of safety was an illusion. The interior of his luxury sedan was only a temporary sanctuary, a momentary elixir for the panic ripping his insides apart. Eventually he would be found, or found out, and then nowhere would be safe. Not even his car.

He needed to do something to fix this problem, and fast.

But what? They had trapped him like a wild beast, like a circus animal whipped into submission, forced to perform tricks at the sting of a lash. He had lost his freedom. Michael Westgrave was no longer the master of his own fate. He was a slave, and the realization made him sick.

Michael didn’t drive home. Instead, he drove from the park to his office on the other side of town, the money side, of Sydney, Washington. He found a large dishrag in the office kitchen. The gravel clanked against the porcelain sink when he pushed it out of his flesh. He wrapped the rag around his oozing hand. He hobbled back to his desk.  Once inside, he took off his shoe to check his ankle. It had swollen but didn’t appear to be broken or too badly damaged. It felt so good to take the wet shoe off that he took off the other one, along with his socks. Michael Westgrave let his feet relax in the luxurious carpet so richly provided for his study.

His watch, however, didn’t make out as well. He took it off his wrist. He stared at it, snarled, and laid it on his mahogany desk. The destroyed timepiece looked out of place on the immaculate desktop, where everything was tidy and perfect—an opened organizer that only had his secretary’s handwriting in it, a fancy desktop pendulum he bought years ago at Sharper Image, leather-bound books he’d never read, and an oversized lambskin Bible, positioned perfectly in the middle of the desk, opened, as it had been for almost five years, to the same page of Scripture.

The picture perfect desk told an idealized story about Michael’s life. It was the life he wanted others to believe he lived, a life of order and stability, grounded in wisdom with an appreciation for the sophisticated blessings of life. Michael worked hard to cultivate the image of success.

The smashed watch told an altogether different story of Michael’s existence. This was the life he worked so hard to keep hidden, a life of broken beauty, destroyed by carelessness and arrogance, clutched to a past that, if known, would ruin him.

Neither story was authentic. He’d lived both lives, but neither one was who he really was. He was somewhere in the middle; he lived between two worlds, at home in neither.

Michael opened the bottom drawer of his large desk. He pulled out a glass tumbler along with a half empty bottle of Macallan twenty-one-year-old scotch. He poured out two fingers, then savored its complex flavor and texture. He took another sip, then read the Scripture that was literally opened to him almost every day, but which he’d not read in years. It was the Twenty-Third Psalm, written in Petersen’s popular modern translation.

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.

The irony of the passage cut his soul, dividing it as a sharp knife divides a slaughtered animal. He felt anything but security. He had caught his breath, though, and he did have a good drink. However, Death Valley felt close and he didn’t think it was God’s beauty or love that were chasing him. It was demons that chased him, vile demons that used his past to threaten his present and future. The Bible talked about heaven. The succubus promised him hell.

There was no escape. He was trapped.

Reaching down again to the same drawer that held the booze, he pulled out a SIG Sauer 9mm pistol. Maybe he could just go ahead and live in the House of God now.  He’d really rather not give his enemies a chance to ruin him or hurt his family. His career and life would never be revived in this lifetime. He had managed to turn the cup of blessing into a bottomless brew of curses. It would be quick to end it all right here, right now.

Michael Westgrave grasped the custom rosewood grip, squeezed the cold steel, racked the slide to chamber a round, then put the barrel of the pistol in his mouth. His finger was on the trigger.

The thought that he should at least finish his drink before he pulled the trigger sparkled inside his mind. It felt like a good thought to him, so he put the pistol down beside the broken watch. Swirling the drink around in his mouth, he looked at the photographs on the wall. A sad smile swept across his face as he beheld the various photographs of him, his fashion-model-looks wife, and their three blonde children. There were other pictures as well. One of him with the governor at an awards ceremony for community service. There was a picture of him on K2, water skiing in Hawaii, and the obligatory photo from his African safari.

Taking his drink with him, he walked to the gallery wall. One particular picture captured his imagination. It was taken two years earlier at the dedication of the new children’s hospital on the south side of town. Some of his colleagues were there:  Stuart, John, Allison, Terence, Fred, Calvin, R. T., and several others he’d never gotten to know. There at the end, though, was Butch.

Michael took a drink.

Could Butch help him? Of all the people in the world, Butch Gregory was one of the few he trusted. Butch had been refined by fire. Maybe he could help Michael get out of the fire?

Sitting back down behind his desk, he set his drink down, pulled out his phone from his leather jacket.

“Michael, how are you old friend?” said the voice on the other end.

“Hi Butch. I’m okay—I guess?”  Michael took the last drink from his glass tumbler.

“Then what’s up?”

“Well, I guess maybe I’m not okay. Do you think we could talk tomorrow, I mean, do you have time in your schedule? I know that tomorrow is Wednesday and all, but if you’re able, I’d like to talk to you about some things.”

“Yeah, Michael, absolutely. I’ve got an 8:00 AM breakfast appointment, but other than that my day is open. When do you want to get together?”

“Is the morning too soon, say around 10:00 AM?”

“Sure,” Butch said. “You want to meet at Starbucks for coffee? You can buy me a cinnamon dolce latte and a blueberry scone.”

“Butch, I’ll bring you a latte and a scone, but I’d like,” he paused as he put down his empty glass, “no, I need to talk somewhere more private than a coffee shop. Is it asking too much for you to meet me here at my office? I don’t want to be around a lot of people right now. It’s inconvenient, I know, but is that okay, to meet me here?”

“Yeah Michael, that’s fine, but are you sure you don’t need to talk tonight?”  Butch paused and then exhaled, “It seems to me like there is a bit of edge to your voice, not that I’m trying to overanalyze you. It’s just that it seems like something is wrong. It wouldn’t take but a few minutes for me to come meet you now.”

“Butch, something is wrong, but now is no good. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow. For now, I’m going to go home and go to bed. I want to be with Celeste and my kids. I suddenly miss my family very much.”

“If that’s what you want, okay, but . . .”

Before Butch could finish the sentence Michael ended the call. It was enough for Michael that he would see Butch tomorrow. He could feel the strange and encouraging feeling of hope on the horizon, or at least on his calendar. He had hope, a hope that his friend might somehow show him the way out of this mess. Butch Gregory would rescue him. Everything was going to be okay.

Michael put his shoes back on, but he threw the wet socks into the garbage can. He hid the bottle of scotch and shot glass safely in its usual bottom drawer, away from any janitorial or administrative prying eyes. He left the broken wristwatch on the desk, but put the pistol in the inside pocket of his jacket.

No sense taking any chances.

He turned the light out in his office. His wet shoes squeaked all the way across the hall tile to the front door of the building. It could have simply been the alcohol, or it might have been the decreasing levels of adrenaline dissipating from his bloodstream, but Michael felt optimistic as he opened the door to the administrative complex and stepped outside. It was probably because he trusted Butch, and even though Michael didn’t have any idea of what he could do to escape the situation, he believed Butch Gregory would. God was with Pastor Butch Gregory, recent history showed that, and everyone in Sydney knew it.

He punched the code to lock the door, then he walked down the sidewalk to the small parking lot behind the building. Just as he turned the corner, he heard the rush of footsteps. His movements were a bit slowed, so he didn’t completely get turned around before the metal rod smashed down on his head.

 

HOW GREAT IS THE DARKNESS–OFFICIAL RELEASE

51TKg6zYCtL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I love the cover. It is a Caravaggio, and yes, it is plot-centric.

Today is the official release day for my new novel, How Great Is The Darkness. To say I am overjoyed would be an understatement. If you love me, you should buy ten copies right now.

Darkness is a continuation of Pastor Butch Gregory’s story. It is not a sequel, because sequels pick up the same basic story arc as the previous installment. Darkness has some of the same characters as earlier stories, but it is not the same story. This is the fourth publication in the Butch Gregory series and the second novel.

There will be no spoilers here, but the book is about a conspiracy to solve the problem of immoral pastors in the most dramatic way possible. I use this plot to address two different problems I perceive among churches today. One is the very serious issue of pastors who do not live gospel-centered lives. The other is the problem of misunderstanding the difference between the theocracy of the biblical word and the grace of the new covenant.

The “bad guys” in this book are women. This was an early, intentional choice on my part because of equality. In The Little Girl Waits I made Amber a central heroic figure because it always seems to be men who are the heroes in most stories. If a woman can be the hero, then it stands to reason a woman can also be the villain.  In this case its plural.

I have recycled some characters such as Lucy and Wyoming Wallace. I have also brought back an old character. The key law enforcement figure in Darkness is Detective Wright. Careful readers will notice he is the same person who interrogated Amber after her brother’s death in The Haunting of Pastor Butch Gregory.

Aside from the creepy violence of building the religious cult, the most fun I had was in creating Terence Harrison, Butch’s new-old friend. I think there might be more of me in Terence than there is me in Butch. Terence is a bookish introvert who balances Butch’s practical extroversion.

I also explore in this novel Butch’s assurance of his rightness. In TLGW Butch knows he is acting in the will of God. In this story, Butch thinks he is acting in God’s calling, but I leave it open to the reader whether he is or not. I hope the answer is a little muddled, because I find life to be like that sometimes.

I have uploaded what I think is the best trailer. You can buy the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other outlets. It is available in paperback and ebook formats. I will likely blog a free first chapter tomorrow, so be waiting for that.

AIRPLANE MODE AND OTHER ADVENTURES

This going to work every day again has been a difficult adjustment. The biggest adjustment has been reacquiring some skill sets that I previously had mastered, but lost due to atrophy. It is true–use it or lose it. Here are some things I need to work on:

1. The important skill of remembering to turn your iPhone to airplane mode if you intend to use it to read scripture during a worship service. Easter Sunday it was still dark (and rainy) when the sunrise service began, so I thought myself clever using my iPhone to read the scripture because of the backlight. In the middle of Isaiah my phone asks me if i want to update. I tell it no. It asks if tonight is good. Rather embarrassing.

2. I had forgotten how hard announcements are. I flubbed them up royally yesterday, and even had to rearrange on the fly. Once upon a time announcements were seamless to me and I spoke the language of “put on your calendars” and “you will not want to miss” as if it were my mother tongue. Now I stammer and stutter all the way through.

3. Time management is the hardest. I grossly overestimated how much time I had between small group and worship service yesterday.

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Another skill to reacquire is keeping my eyes open while preaching.

The result was we started everything several minutes later than we intended, thus pushing everything late.

4. Temperature control, for me, is vital. If I get too warm when I am preaching my throat gets hoarse, I cough, and then I feel myself losing energy. That happened yesterday because I did not make certain the thermostat was set at the right temperature. By the time I left the building, I was in need of hydration and a throat lozenge. I used to be on top of things like that, but somehow along the way I’d forgotten.

5. I didn’t make it to the back of the building quick enough on any of the first three weeks. That has got to change, because I have found, through the years, that a lot of pastoring happens at the back of the door after a worship service.

There are other things I’ve got to re-learn, but these are the ones that are bothering me on this Monday morning.

PASTORAL ADVICE

I’ve written several blogs of late on “advice,” varying from money, marriage, children, and a few other things.  One thing I know a little something about is pastoring, so today’s blog is advice for pastors about pastoring.  So that probably makes for a smaller audience, but hey, it’s what I know so here we go.

1.  Make certain your children live in as normal a home as possible.  A pastor has a special responsibility to safeguard his or her children and spouse from the crazy, erratic, and emotionally depleting world they have to work in every day.

2.  Take a sabbath day once a week.  Sunday and Saturday do not count because you work very hard on those days.  I always took Friday, most people take Monday.  Monday never worked for me because I always felt so drained on Monday that when I took that day off I didn’t feel like enjoying anything.  That is when I decided to go on into work on Monday.  If I was going to feel bad I might as well not do it on my own time.  On your sabbath refuse to answer the phone, and train your spouse not to answer her’s/his either because they will call her/him to get to you.  I wish I’d had the strength to hang up the phone immediately whenever I answered and they said, “I know it is your day off but . . . ”   It always ruined my day.

3.  Read books, but don’t read so many churchy books.  I regret spending so much of my time reading one ‘how to do church book’ right after the other.  Maybe pick about five of them that others recommend and then stop, perhaps then reading one more every other year.  Instead read literature (Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Wilde, Shakespeare) and current best sellers.  I also wish I’d read more history and thrillers and less about church.

4.  Accept the fact that church is a broken institution and live in the midst of that brokenness.  People are messed up (including you) and that makes it impossible to have the perfect church system, so stop trying to make it perfect.  You are only wasting your time.

5.  Work hard at pastoring on two fronts.  The most important front is learning to pastor the system(s) of your church.  I know that is counter-intuitive, but trust me it is the most important aspect of what you do regardless of your church’s size.  You have to learn to think systemically and then fix, repair, change, grow and adapt the systems of the church you lead.  The second front is learn to pastor people in their crisis moments.  It is faddish today, especially among those untucked goateed Calvinist pastors to neglect classic pastoral ministry but it is vital for the long term health, credibility, and integrity of people of faith.  Learn how to do a funeral the right way.  Go to the hospital.  Visit the nursing home.  Show up unannounced at a home in crisis.  Dedicate babies.  Learn some liturgy.  Conduct marriage counseling.  Be a pastor, not just a CEO.

6.  Watch your back, at all times and really, I mean this, trust no one.  If you want an example, just read the Bible.  My small group right now is learning about Moses.  Yeah, you see how the people he led treated him.  They will do no better by you.  Love them, but don’t trust them.  Jesus didn’t trust the people around him either (John 2:24).

7.  Learn to say no.

8.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

9.  You’re not the solution to every problem.

10.  Make decisions and stick with them.  One of the greatest defects I saw in pastors and in churches was their inability to make a decision about most anything.

11.  Never use shame, guilt, or manipulation to get people to do things.  That is not how the Kingdom of God works.

12.  One more–enjoy what you do, this divine calling that is also our daily work, or else it will become a bitter pill.  I decided a long time ago that I would have fun, always, because I couldn’t control other people’s enjoyment level anyway.  Therefore, I might as well have a good time.  Yeah, there will be hard times and difficult moments but there must be a level of satisfaction, deep in your soul, that the work you are doing matters.