Thursday, October 8, 2015

Porn & Worship?

Yeah, it's a click-bait title, but it's not really misleading.

This is another article I wrote for The Blazing Center, which has pretty much become my favorite website over the last year or so. It's the brainchild of Stephen Altrogge (an author and songwriter who's got songs in our new church hymnal!) and Barnabas Piper (John Piper's son, who has written some great books, including the newly released Help My Unbelief). I'm planning on contributing  regularly to the site, because it is awesome.

Remember the “worship wars” of the Eighties-and-Nineties? Churches were split over whether they should start a “contemporary service” or perhaps jump into the deep end and “go contemporary” altogether. People got mad . . . like, mad. Christians turned on each other over whether we should keep singing “Sweet Beulah Land” with the organ or start awkwardly clapping along with an acoustic guitar while sort of half-knee-bouncing our way through some “Songs from the Loft.”

I was one of the few to spend time in both trenches in this particular skirmish. Full disclosure: in college, I was in a Christian rock band called “Dead Ostrich.” Yes, I know it’s a stupid name. No, I didn’t choose it. It meant something about rejecting ignorance and apathy or . . . something. Anyway, we had a song that touched on the worship wars. The lyrics included these gems:
There you sit with your hands in your pockets
Afraid to show a little emotion.
Your friends may not approve
Your family may not approve
Your preacher might not approve[1]
But I guess it’s up to you

You really make me sick
You’re such a typical Baptist

Aside: we gave a copy of our CD to Rob Bell (yes, that Rob Bell) and sat in his living room while he explained that, while he really liked the song “Typical Baptist,” we shouldn’t play it at our concerts if we were trying to reach the lost for Christ. Life is weird.

Dead Ostrich


A few short years later, as the nineties and the worship wars wound down, I—hip-deep in cage-stage Calvinism—did a one-eighty on the topic. My reason for abandoning my college angst in favor of a premature middle age grumpiness was again rooted in emotions. Having embraced a full-on Sola Scriptura stance as well as affirming the total depravity of man, I just didn’t trust them anymore. Extreme emotions threatened to get between God’s Word and me and gum up the works. Better to stick with dusty, albeit doctrinally sound, songs that would engage my mind but little else.

In the ensuing 15-20 years, my personal pendulum has, of course, swung back from the extreme position once again. I found myself having what could be described as “emotional experiences” while worshiping God, and being almost embarrassed about it. With more study, discipleship, and maturity, I’ve come to embrace emotional worship (along with those dusty hymns), while still being on guard against some of the aspects of emotionalism that caused Calvin and Luther to scowl beneath those weird aviator-slash-scholar caps they always wore. (Note to self: get one of those caps.)

Allow me then to offer four reasons to be a little leery of emotionalism in worship and one big reason not to be . . .

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article . . .

Monday, September 21, 2015

Improving on God's Plan

I wrote the following for The Blazing Center.

Joshua: Okay, everybody quiet down. It’s time to start this elders meeting.

[Din of talking continues among the seventy elders]

Joshua: Seriously, shut it!

[A beat]

Joshua: Alright, then. So tomorrow begins our big siege of Jer— . . .  Seriously, Jehoiarib? I see you passing that note. Stop it. Put it down. No, not in front of Tola; put it . . . You know what? Give it to me. It’s mine now. I keep.
[Note is handed down comically long line of elders, to Joshua who reads it, frowns with, like, a sort of old-lady frown if that makes sense, and then crumples it up.]

Joshua: [to Jehoiarib] You know, just because I’m a super-spy-slash-mighty-warrior who hides in the homes of high-end prostitutes, escapes out windows, slaughters the enemy, and is basically the James Bond of the Ancient Near East doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings, man. Comments like this [slightly hefts crumpled note] still hurt.

Jehoiarib:  [Studying his feet, mumbling] Sorry.

Joshua: So anyway, I’ve gotten the plan for the attack, direct from Adonai, and it is incredible. He is obviously going to do something huge and miraculous in our midst!
[General din of anticipation, which sort of sounds like some people saying “murmur murmur” under their breath while others say “watermelon, watermelon”, also under their breath]

Joshua: You all know that Jericho is straitly shut up because of the children of Israel; none go in and none come out. But God has given the city and their king and their hardest-core warriors into our hands. Here’s the plan: all the men of war in Israel will surround the city at once . . .

Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Podcasts! Everywhere!

You may not be aware that I host a weekly podcast, together with prolific author Ted Kluck, called the Gut Check Podcast. It's a niche-of-a-niche humor type thing, in which we also talk about publishing (including promoting our own books) and skype in with a motley crew of regulars (some famous) to discuss whatever happens to be on our minds that day.

Without any research (not even googling), I'm going to assume that we made podcast history when Ted and I played a double-header with NYT bestselling novelist Cliff Graham. Cliff has been on our show before (and by "show," I mean two guys talking into USB microphones), but what made this unique is that, immediately after recording the Gut Check Podcast with Cliff as a guest, we proceeded to record Cliff's Good Battle Podcast with us as the guests. I know—groundbreaking.

Here are the links:
The Gut Check Podcast, Episode 24 - The Cliff Graham Episode  
The Good Battle Podcast, Episode 18 - Zachary Bartels & Ted Kluck

In addition, I was happy to pop up in Noah Filipiak's “Behind the Curtain Ministry Podcast” recently. We talked about self-promotion as it relates to writing and to being a Christian.

You can find that link here:
 Behind the Curtain Episode 7


Friday, September 4, 2015

I'm Just Like Jesus, They Tell Me...

My son and I just finished the Gospel of Luke. Ideally, we read a few chapters of the Bible together every night, but it's actually more like three to four times a week. Still, we've made it through three
books of the Bible now. He loved the story of Jesus and he remembers details I would never expect a seven-year-old to retain. He loved the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so much (especially the road to Emmaus) that he has opted to read John next and get the story of our Savior from another angle.

So, anyway.

A new Christian bookstore opened today in an outdoor mall near our house, so he and I went to check it out. As most authors are wont to do, I wandered by the fiction aisle and was pleased to see that they had a couple copies of The Last Con and one copy of Playing Saint. Just then, an employee happened by and said, "Can I help you find anything?"

Thinking I'd be clever or cute or something, I said, "Have you ever read either of these books?"

"No, I don't believe I have," she replied.

"They're amazing," I quipped, planning of course to aw-shucksingly reveal that I had written them after building them up to a ridiculous degree.

"Amazing? Really?"

"Oh, yes," I said. "Maybe even brilliant."

"What is?" called another clerk asked from behind the counter.

"These two," clerk #1 said, carrying my books over to her.

At this point, my son called me over to look at some comic books we don't yet have. (Aside: Kingstone Bible Comics are the money!) I kind of forgot about the whole shameless self-promotion thing until we got up to the counter and saw my books sitting there.

"Thanks for the recommendation," the clerk said. "I'm going to pass it on to my husband."

In a little too deep to come clean directly I just nodded and expectantly handed her my debit card, which, incidentally, bears my name. She didn't notice.

As we left the store, my son says, "Huh. You're kind of like Jesus."

"How?" I asked.

"You know, pretending to be someone else."

Yeah. That's one way to look at it.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why Baptists Should Use the S-Word (This Week's Sermon)

To many, it’s a dirty word. But when we understand it correctly, even we Baptists may start using it. This week’s sermon was delivered on a joyous day when we observed both Baptism and Holy Communion and is about what both sacraments mean to us as Christians and as a church.

“Living Pictures,”  
A Sermon on the Sacraments

(Click here to download this one as an MP3. As always, you can access many more of my sermons on the church website,



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Autographed Book Sale

I've got a couple big boxes of books in my closet, making it hard to reach my vast assortment of ties, most of which I don't where anymore because they're kind of '90s, but will still never get rid of. Anyway.

In the interest of getting books out of my way and into the hands of readers, I'm offering a limited number of signed copies of the following:

The Last Con - $11

Playing Saint - $11

42 Months Dry - $10

The Christian Gentleman’s Smoking Companion - $9

If you're someone I see regularly, knock $3 postage off the price and I'll just hand it to you. Also, feel free to tell me who to sign it to or even what to write. You can Paypal me below.




Thursday, July 16, 2015

Family Fiction Double-Edged

When Playing Saint came out, I was super-jazzed that Family Fiction Edge put me on the cover of their October issue. Well, they were among the first to interview me about the new book as well. Click the pages below to see the full issue.