I continue to be very excited about my debut novel Playing Saint, which is now available at bookstores everywhere and at pretty much any online bookseller you can think of. I'm going to be sharing some of the early media I've done on the book over the next few days. I'm ecstatic about the chance to spread this story and this message:
To kick it off, here's an interview I did with Burke Allen on BlogTalk Radio, in which we talk about the modern megachurch movement, secret Vatican operatives, relics, and the theology of the cross.
So, the publicity team at HarperCollins excitedly sent me the following review last night, from RT Book Reviews.
“Bartels’ debut novel is a page-turner from the very beginning. His excellent use of foreshadowing and his glimpses into the past create a story that readers can’t put down. In the vein of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, Bartels weaves the supernatural into the natural in ways that are gripping and realistic, adding a shocking surprise that will leave readers stunned. ★★★★½” —RT Book Reviews
So my last post was a little swipe at the boringness of football season, so maybe I'm trying to cosmically make up for that here.
My church is having a "Kickoff Sunday" this week, celebrating the return of Sunday school, choir (oh yeah, we still have a choir), and our Wednesday evening activities. In order to
try and cement this into their collective minds, I have been running at a
football each Sunday morning, while announcing the date and festivities, only
to have my lovely wife pull it away at the last minute, causing me to fall down, just like sad-sack
comic strip character Charlie Brown.
Some have expressed concerns that I was going to
break a bone if I kept this up. Others have politely hinted that, at some
point, the congregation at large will begin to doubt my intelligence if I continued
falling for the same gag. Hopefully all the bruises have been worthwhile and we
will have a great turnout on Sunday.
Either way, no regrets. After all,
pratfalls are funny. Always have been, always will be.
But have you ever thought about the theological
ramifications of this recurring gag? Not surprisingly, I have. And not surprisingly, I'm going to share my insights. Let's just start here: you can’t pin all the blame on Lucy because
Lucy can’t help it. Look at the above graphic; she’s taking no joy at all in what
she’s doing. It’s just her nature. If you look into dark void of the soul of
Lucy Van Pelt, you’ll see nothing but a fierce hunger for nickels, for affirmation of her
own beauty, and for making Charlie Brown fall down in front of a lot of people.
And, while it’s easy to blame Chuck himself for being such a stupid kid
(albeit a “good man”),falling for the same trick again and again, we should
be careful not to be too smug. Because we do the very same thing.
Sure, it's pathetic (and kind of a blockhead move) for Charlie to fall
for the same old lie (“This time, I’ll actually let you kick the football”) for
like fifty years of newspaper run, but you’ve got to remember that in those
fifty years, Charlie Brown did not age. Therefore, he (ostensibly) gained no
actual wisdom. What’s our excuse?
Ultimately Satan only has one lie. He uses the world’s
values and the desires of the flesh to prop it up, but “This time, it will be
different” has been his mantra from the beginning. “Yeah, God said that you
would die if you ate that fruit and every single thing he’s ever said has come
to pass, but this time, following the
appetites of the flesh will end with you gloriously kicking the game-winning
field goal (or something equally satisfying).” “Sure, the last time you gave in
to rage, bitterness, lust, drunkenness, or covetousness, it ended with a rift
between you and God—a rift that damaged more than one relationship and grew
until you finally repented, but this time
will be different. This time, we’ll keep it under control. Just a little bit of
hate, a little glance, a little taste. It won’t end with a huge, painful fall
onto your back.”
It’s easy to frown and shake our heads when we see the obvious manifestations
of this behavior, for example, when addiction blinds people to reality. The gambler who
thinks this time she’s due for a
pay--out while she spends the mortgage money, the alcoholic who insists he can
have just a couple shots and keep it under control. But the fact is that all of us tend toward
Charlie Brown stupidity when it comes to our own pet sins. Everyone. Even the
Apostle Paul describes his own feeble struggles against his Charlie Brown
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do
not do, but what I hate I do.And if I
do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no
longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.I know that nothing good lives in me, that
is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot
carry it out.For what I do is not the
good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on
doing.Now if I do what I do not want
to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does
it.What a wretched man I am! Who will
rescue me from this body of death?Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord!(Rom 7:15-20, 24, NIV)
Not only does the apostle artfully and fully describe the
problem in that passage—he also identifies the solution: Jesus Christ, who
gives us the victory. As we lay there on our backs, looking up at Lucy, it’s
easy to say to ourselves, “Next time, I’ll remember how badly this ended, how
awful I feel, what damage was done.” But we won’t. The solution is not to keep
doubling down on our inner Charlie Brown, giving him more and more
responsibility. It’s to saturate ourselves—our thoughts, the firstfruits of our
time, our attitude and motivations—in Christ.
Did you spend less than ten minutes praying that you would
not fall to temptation today? If so, you may as well have put on a yellow
T-shirt with a black zig-zag because you’re setting yourself up to go down in
the most sad-sack possible way. Has it been two weeks since you’ve really been
in the Word? May as well shave your head to go with that T-shirt and start
embracing the sort of “Everything In touch I ruin” ethos of old CB.Because, in our own strength, we will fall
again and again, while continually chiding ourselves for stupidly believing
But if we are in Christ,
we can rejoice with Paul, as he proclaims, “I can do all things through Christ,
who strengthens me!” That verse is so often ripped out of its context. Paul was
not talking there about living out his dreams, being victorious and successful,
or “making it” from a worldly perspective. To get the context right, just go
back a few verses, and read these words: “Finally, brothers,
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy-- think about such things.” (Phil 4:8).
We are to have the same mind in us as Jesus—the same grace,
love, holiness, and forgiveness. How can that happen when we are so prone to
fall for that same old stupid lie? The answer: Thanks be to the Lord Jesus
Christ, who has given us the victory. We can do all things in him!
An award-winning preacher and Bible teacher, Zachary Bartels has been serving as senior pastor of Judson Baptist Church for nearly a decade. He earned his BA in world religions from Cornerstone University and his Masters of Divinity from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He enjoys film, fine cigars, stimulating conversation, gourmet coffee, reading, writing, and cycling.
His writing, with its combination of clean prose, tight action, and cutting humor, has been highlighted by The Grand Rapids Press, www.speculativefaith.com, uber-popular blog TeamPyro, and elsewhere. His next two books (both supernatural suspense novels) will be published by Thomas Nelson and will hit stores in October of 2014 and July of 2015, respectively. He lives in the capital city of a mitten-shaped Midwestern state with his wife Erin and their son.