Sunny with a Chance of Suffering

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , , | Posted On Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Easter is relatively late this year. That usually makes me happy. Not because I want to put it off or even because I need more time to prepare for Holy Week (although that never hurts), but because it means we’re that much more likely to have a sunny, bright, pleasant day for our Easter celebration. That’s good for family photos, it’s good for the people wearing new clothes, good for kids searching for Easter eggs. But most of all, it just feels right, doesn’t it?

The same way a White Christmas feels right. I get really bummed when there is visible grass on Christmas. Or (worse) cold rain or sleet. Or (worse yet) a giant ice storm that destroys the crab apple tree in my front yard. Christmas is supposed to be cold, but calm—snowy, pretty, pleasant, and of course silent. We have no idea what that first Christmas night (or morn or whatever) was like, but we won't stand for depressing rain or raging blizzards—not quietly, anyway.

Likewise, Easter is supposed to be warm, sunny, maybe a comfortable breeze. And, let’s face it, we’re borderline-offended if we have rain or, as was the case a couple years ago, thunderstorms. Why would God mess up his own party like that? That’s just weird.

But here’s the thing: when the baby Jesus was born, he didn’t enter a world that was idyllic, peaceful, silent, and serene. It was a world where power-mad kings who thought they were gods demanded that people make treacherous journeys so they could pay more crippling taxes, where governors who thought they were kings ordered the deaths of babies in order to protect their own thrones, and even the worship of the true God had become big business that mostly benefited a few corrupt individuals at the top. That sounds a lot more like a blizzard or an ice storm than a soft blanket of white snow.

And likewise when Jesus rose again—while he did indeed conquer sin and death—he certainly did not leave his followers to enjoy a perpetual nice spring day. In the wake of his resurrection came accusations, man-hunts, conspiracies and cover-ups, stonings, beatings, floggings, and all sorts of persecution. 

That may be worth bearing in mind as we celebrate these events.

Is it good to take some time to enjoy a peaceful winter night or a bright spring morning, gathered together, meditating on what Christ has done for us? Of course! But if/when the weather refuses to cooperate, perhaps that is just as well. Because it reminds us that Jesus’ first advent—his coming in the flesh, living a sinless life, dying a substitutionary death, and rising again on the third day—gives us life, not just when everything is perfect, but in the midst of our own storms, whatever they may be.

Naturally, I’m praying for sun, chirping birds, and all manner of pleasantness on Easter morning, but if the clouds burst, I pray I’ll be all the more thankful that our Risen King is still the Risen King in the midst of the storm.

Playing Saint Available for Pre-Order

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Monday, March 24, 2014 at 12:30 AM

Click here to visit the Amazon pre-buy page.

Nash-Vegas, Baby!!

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , , | Posted On Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Last week, I had the pleasure of heading down to Nashville for the sales conference of  HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson & Zondervan). It was an absolute blast, and I definitely didn't mind getting on the plane in 15° and ugly gray snow and stepping out to 75° and lots of SUN. 

The conference itself was also pretty impressive. It was held in a TV studio and looked quite a bit like a talk show set. My editor Amanda interviewed me for about ten minutes. Sarah Ladd (author of popular regency fiction) was also on hand to talk about her new book. 

206 days. Getting stoked.

Got It Covered

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , , , , , | Posted On Monday, March 17, 2014 at 3:00 AM

So the cover is complete. I'm pretty psyched about it. I'm thinking it will help the book jump off the shelf and grab people's attention in October when it is released.

Great New Books to Check Out!

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , | Posted On Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 11:56 AM

I will be unleashing some awesome news (and visuals) re: my upcoming book Playing Saint very soon!

In the meantime, here are some other great books to check out:

Great deal and a giveaway with the release of Terri Blackstock's latest thriller.

Lip Reading, the latest from Harry Kraus, about an impossible choice: save yourself or help millions?

And check out the ebook giveaway of Lynette Eason's Too Close to Home. FREE for Kindle and Nook.

Why It's Okay For Christians to See the Noah Movie Even Though It's Not Perfectly Biblically Accurate

Posted by Zachary Bartels | | Posted On Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 1:25 PM

It's just a movie.

Hell Frozen Over?

Posted by Zachary Bartels | Labels: , , , , , , | Posted On Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Last week, my son and I went to see Frozen in the theater. I'd only seen the teaser trailer with the living snowman and the dog-like reindeer, so I had little idea what it was about, but it looked like fun. It turns out it's about a misunderstood, quirky princess who feels like life in the palace is keeping her back from truly expressing herself (Cf. every Disney movie ever).

You should stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers, as I'm about to jump right to the climax of the film. The queen's magic power-slash-curse has frozen the whole kingdom in an eternal winter and accidentally frozen the heart of her sister, who is now about to die as a result. She's been told that only an act of true love can melt her frozen heart and save her life.

Of course, the guy she thought she was in love with is really pretty evil and the "fixer-upper" guy she's been adventuring with (named Kristoff) is clearly her true love after all. The snow clears just long enough for them to see each other, and they are closing in for the kiss.

That's when my pastor-brain clicked: what a great sermon illustration this would be! Not unlike The Matrix when the kiss of Trinity brought The One back after he sacrificed himself, this would be a picture of how Christ (duh, Kristoff as Christ a la The Truman Show) saves us from the terminal ice in our hearts, etc., etc.  But then Princess Anna saw her sister about to be killed by the Surprise Bad Guy and she veered off course, thrusting herself in the path of the sword, turning to ice just in time to stop the blade and save her sister. The sword shattered (for some reason), and my pastor-brain started trying to spin this in a way that would save the potential sermon illustration.

Before it could, though, Anna turned back into flesh and bone, saved by her own act of love, rather than the love of Christ(off).  Then the whole eternal winter (see "curse of sin," a la The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) thawed and everyone was saved. What a shame: another humanist message encrypted in a children's show, designed to teach kids that the Answer lies within themselves. It sucked that it turned out to be a borderline-satanic story because the music was amazing, the story compelling (by Disney standards), and the jokes side-splitting. Oh well; file it under "anti-Christian propaganda" with most everything else. Right?

My brain started filling in the details: the Ice Queen had created life (at least two sentient snow creatures) and we had seen her holding an orb and scepter, like many Gods (including Christ) have been portrayed, and her father wore a Maltese cross with a dove on it. All of this points toward: you don't need Jesus; you can save yourself. In fact, hadn't she kind of saved God? Now I was getting mad.

This all happened inside my head in less than a second. It doesn't take any time or thought because the neural pathways have been well-worn by a lifetime of similar paranoid thought all around me in the Church: from back-masking records in the eighties to sounding the alarm re: Harry Potter and such more recently. Everything that's not explicitly Christian in message is fair game to be called out as the very opposite.

But WHY? This is exactly the kind of revisionist reader hermeneutic the Church has been railing against in recent years; so why do we selectively reinforce it? Because here's the thing: much like AC/DC never stood for "Against Christ, Devil's Children" (in fact, the name came from the side of a sewing machine!), Kristoff was not named such in order to be a Christ figure, but as an homage to Hans Christian Anderson, who wrote The Snow Queen (along with Characters Hans and Anna). I was importing the very stuff that was raising my ire.

It would be just as easy to go in the other direction: Ilsa, the princess, has been cursed from birth with a dreadful disease that turns everything to ice. After fighting it for most of her life, she gives in to it and embraces it as her identity (singing, "I can't hold it in any right, no wrong, no rules for me...") only to find that this makes everything a million times worse. She is about to perish when she is saved by an act of self-sacrifice, followed by a resurrection. Well, from that angle, this sounds like a downright Christian story!

But it's neither. How about we just let stories be what they are, say what they want to say, and entertain us? If a story is well-told, it glorifies God who gives us the gift to write, read, and appreciate story. And unless it blatantly promotes sin or a false Gospel, we can probably enjoy it for what it is with profit. Rarely does children's fare stray beyond the odd fart joke and, honestly, the intentionally anti-religion stuff (like The Golden Compass, alt title: The World's Least Original Book/Movie) is so rare at this point that we can probably dial back the conspiracy-minded paranoia.

If you haven't seen Frozen, you should go see it soon, even though I already gave away the ending. We braved the epic snowpocalypse after church today and the whole family enjoyed it, this time in 3D! It was even better the second time. I'm glad I didn't let my pastor-brain run out of control on me and taint a really great story, even though we had to deal with a three-foot snow drift over the car upon exiting the theater. Worth it.

The cold never bothered me anyway.