Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Let Me Fill Your Holiday Travel with My Blathering

So, I told you about my three podcasts. Yesterday, for the first time I updated all three of them at once, all with longer-than-usual audio.  If you've got  a long Thanksgiving drive ahead of you and you're looking for podcast eps with a certain “Zach going on and on” quality, let me point you to:

Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction, Chapter 19
In which I read from a platform-building satire and unload the next installment of Clinch: A Novel.

Judson Baptist Church Sermon, “Healing and Thanksgiving” 
In which I preach on Luke 17:11-19, Our Lord's healing of the ten lepers and the return of one to praise God and show his gratitude to Christ.

The Gut Check Podcast, Episode 83
In which Ted Kluck and I discuss a bunch of random stuff, including my new book Playing Saint | All Souls’ Day and savage the proto-Nineties faux-deep trash movie Dead Poet Society for being about nothing while simultaneously being bloated with self-importance.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

PODCAST WEEK: #3, Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction

Okay, so this "Podcast Week" is a week like Gut Check Literacy Month was a month. But anyway, here I am, highlighting my third (and final) podcast. This one is called Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction."

Every week, I talk about an aspect of writing or publishing, through the lens of my "writing journey" (ugh, I hate that phrase), including sort of a raw autopsy of my brief stint with the biggest of big publishers. Then, the second half of the ep is me reading a chapter from Clinch, a YA novel about a couple high school kids in a small town, one of whom is convinced God has called her to be a masked superhero. People seem to like it. You should check it out.

Name: Clinch: A Podcast of Fiction and Not-Fiction
Feed Location: www.zacharybartels.com/podcasts/clinch/clinchfeed.rss
Website: www.clinchpodcast.com
Updated: Every Wednesday

Friday, August 18, 2017

PODCAST WEEK: #2, The Gut Check Podcast

This week (and, I guess, into next week), I'm featuring my podcasts on my blog! Today, I bring you the Gut Check Podcast!

For the past few years, my buddy Ted Kluck and I have talked publishing, caffeine, cigars, and anything else that comes up. We spent a year and a half bringing you "Gut Check Literacy Month," in which we read an end-times satire called re:raptured. Once, we ate an entire box of tacos "on the air" and reviewed them. We also review gross energy drinks as if they were fine wines. It's not for everyone. 

You can follow on iTunes, and pretty much every other podcast app and aggregator, or on the web.
Name: The Gut Check Podcast
Feed Location: http://www.gutcheckpress.com/podcast/gutcheckfeed.rss
Updated: About every other week

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

PODCAST WEEK: #1, Sermons


This week, I'm featuring my podcasts on my blog! Today, let's look at the uber-creatively titled "Rev. Zachary Bartels' Sermons" podcast.  

Each week, I spend many hours studying a text of God's Word and prepare a message, which I preach at Judson Baptist Church. Thankfully, in this day of mass-communication and interwebs, those messages can be beamed off to the very ends of the earth.

I just started preaching through the book of Jonah (three sermons so far) and I'm really excited about it! You can follow my sermon feed on our church's iPhone or Android app, by subscribing in iTunes, through Feedburner, or via the web.
Name: Rev. Zachary Bartels' Sermons
Feed Location: http://www.churchlansing.com/audio/sermpodcast.rss
Updated: Ideally every week, although I sometimes let them get backed up

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Jets, the Sharks, and Jesus

“They’re like Romeo and Juliet.” 

I’ve heard that said when two people are deeply in love. What is meant, of course, is not that the two people in question are star-crossed lovers, destined to crash and burn as a result of their passionate feelings for one another. No, it means that they epitomize the timeless, starry-eyed ideal of the romantic love story.

But is Romeo and Juliet a timeless, romantic love story? I was reminded the other day that this uber-famous play is actually about “a relationship that lasted three days between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, which resulted in six deaths.” Well, when you put it that way . . . Romantic? No. Timeless? Only because we’ve made it so.

In fact, Romeo and Juliet has been told and re-told in countless different ways with as many different settings and backdrops (from Nazi Germany to wherever Porky Pig lives). One of the most famous re-imaginings of Shakespeare’s tale is the 1950s musical West Side Story (cue snapping), which is set in contemporary (then) New York and involves street gangs, knives, and zip guns (zip guns!). Another well-known retelling was a film called Romeo + Juliet that came out when I was in college, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and set in a fictional modern-day location called “Verona Beach,” which is probably in California. Car chases and gunfights ensue, but the story of two star-crossed lovers remains the same.
“Has anyone seen my zip gun? It’s this long. And it’s a zip gun.”

It seems that the setting is incidental to this story. It’s really about the relationship between these two families (or gangs or whatever) and how it affects two young people and their budding relationship. The rest is just backdrop, which can easily be replaced with another backdrop without harming the tale.

This switching out of backdrops for classic stories is pretty commonplace: Clueless is really just Jane Austin’s Emma plopped down 180 years later in a Beverly Hills high school and O Brother Where Art Thou is a loose re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey. Both work because these timeless stories can play before any backdrop. Georgian England or 90210 in 1995, the Trojan War or Depression-era chain gangs—these are just details not essential to the plot. Now, there certainly are stories where this doesn’t apply (for instance,Orwell’s 1984 ceases to make sense if you remove the backdrop of a tyrannical dystopia), but Romeo and Juliet easily survives a split from its historical setting.

Why do I even bring this up? Because our culture is viewing the world around us more and more in terms of narratives—stories. This is good news for Christians, since we have always viewed the world through the lens of the meta-narrative—the one Big Story of how God created us, we fell into sin, and He redeemed us through an incredible plan that climaxed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we speak in terms of stories, then, we’re speaking both the language of Scripture and the language of the culture, which can make for some pretty effective preaching and some rather naturally occurring evangelism in the workplace, the family, or among friends.

But we have to be careful how we tell the Story. I’ve previously shared with you the best advice I ever got about preaching: my homiletics professor told us, “Gentlemen, when you’ve finished your sermon and think it’s just about ready to preach, read it over and ask yourself this . . . Could this message still be true and make sense if Jesus had not died and risen again for our salvation? If the answer is yes, then throw it out and start over, because it’s not a Christian sermon. It’s self-help or life-coaching or tips for family dynamics, but it’s not a cross-centered message, which is what we are called to proclaim.” In other words, if you’re about to deliver a sermon or teach a lesson that is supposed to be rooted in the cross of Jesus, but you could swap out the cross of Jesus for the Koran or a book on etiquette or a self-esteem or productivity seminar (just as easily as swapping out Fair Verona for 1950s New York), then there’s something seriously wrong.

Well, the same thing applies to our very lives—our narratives. How is it that Jesus and his cross fit into your story? Is He part of the backdrop, a detail not essential to the plot? Is He a set-piece that could be removed or replaced without harming the overall story? Is the cross of Jesus like the setting of Romeo and Juliet (incidental and unessential) or is he more like the shark in Jaws? Think about it, you can do Jaws without Jets, but not without a shark. No shark, no story. Then again, we could replace the shark with a tiger or a huge snake or even a hurricane (after all, it’s a basic “man-versus-nature” story) and not lose too much, I suppose. The story of Scripture, though, is man-versus-God. And God Wins through His coming down in flesh to dwell amongst us and His dying for our sins, only to rise again. It’s the tale of God, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. You remove that and plug anything else in its place and you’ve lost everything.

Rather than being part of the background or a supporting character in our story (a character who might be written out at any time), God calls us to become a supporting character in His story, the Big Story of redemption that he is writing. That means that our whole existence is only meaningful in relation to the plot of the Jesus Story. To remove us from that and try to find any meaning apart from it would be meaningless, like trying to create a spin-off series for the Close Talker or “Frightened Inmate #3.” When we realize that our lives have meaning only because they are part of God’s Story (and not because He is part of ours), then we can say goodbye to much of the uncertainty and doubt that so often plagues us as Christians—doubt that we’re doing enough, doubt that our story is compelling enough. It’s not. But His Story is.

Just as a sermon should pass the “Would it make sense without the cross?” test, so should our lives. When we prayerfully reflect on each day, perhaps we should ask the question, “Would today have looked any different if Jesus hadn’t died for my sins and risen again for my justification?” If it would have been the same, take heart—God’s story carries on. Let’s repent of our attempts to make Jesus part of the scenery and ask him every day to make us part of His Story, which is timeless—not because it can be re-imagined in a number of different times and places, but because it spans all of time. And he’s cast you in the role of disciple. How could we possibly pass that up?


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Earn Your Seat at the Fire

I've told you about my boy Cliff Graham a few times (here, here, and here)—about how he's a friend of mine and I'm a huge fanboy of his. I'm super-stoked that I'll be headed to Israel with Cliff at the end of the month, and I'll surely be sharing some highlights of the trip with you.
But today, I want to tell you about Cliff's Gibborim training course.“Gibborim” is the Hebrew word for “Mighty Men” or “Men of Valor” (some of Cliff's most popular books are about King David's Mighty Men) and Cliff does an incredible job of grabbing hold of that ancient warrior spirit, while bringing a definitive modern warrior vibe to it.
I was honored to go to one of the first Gibborim training weekends last September and earned my place at the fire when the primary focus was on preparing for (and qualifying for) involvement in Cliff's rescue missions to help free women trapped in sex slavery. However, he is now opening it up to men who may or may not want to pursue that mission.
There is so much that I could tell you. Instead, though, let me just share an awesome video Cliff's people have put together:
If your life has needed some excitement, some testosterone, and some old-fashioned, Old-Testament cavod (honor, glory), consider taking part in the most amazing "men's retreat" you will ever attend—a simulated emergency rescue operation with a powerful spiritual component.
Cliff and me in San Antonio, September 2016
The Gibborim course is being held every month led by military and law enforcement experts. It combines physical challenge with mental and spiritual development and was truly one of the most rewarding and unforgettable experiences I've ever had. Scholarships and subsidized spots are available and there will be opportunities for Father/Son weekends and church men's retreats.. 
For more information, check out: www.gibborim.net

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thoughts on Killing Sin and Not Giving in This Lent

Click the images below to read a couple articles I wrote about resisting temptation and taking every thought captive this Lent.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Love of Christ and The Exorcist

So I've started pairing a picture with each of my sermons on our church website, because I find it gets more people to notice/click on the link and also because I find it fun. This week, my sermon was on 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 and called “Worthy of His Love.” Oh, and the picture I chose was from The Exorcist.

I wasn't necessarily trying to produce a click-bait effect, nor was I sloppily announcing the return of my Supernatural Movie Reviews (which I will be bringing back soon, promoting Playing Saint: All Souls' Day). So what does this floating demoniac have to do with a sermon on the love of Christ?

You'll have to listen. You won't believe point #3! (Just kidding. But if you have 25 minutes to spare, you can click here to listen.)


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cover Revealed: Playing Saint | All Souls' Day

I'm excited to reveal the cover to my next suspense title, Playing Saint | All Souls' Day. We did a proper reveal on Charity Andrews's book blog Monday, including round 2 of our "face off" (always hilarious) and a giveaway. You can still enter to win both Playing Saint (paperback) and the new one (hardcover, when it comes out). 450 people have already entered, but more than one will win.

The release date is October 30, 2017. In the meantime, you can also pre-order the book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Thoughts on Repentance and Ash Wednesday

They say that the Inuit language has, like, thirty-seven words for snow because Eskimos are so overly familiar with the stuff that it would be silly to just refer to “snow” in general.
That’s probably not true, of course, but it makes a good, broader point. There are many different types of snow, different kinds of love, different forms of stress, etc. and oversimplifying can lead to problems.
And, as we commence our observance of Lent in the Christian church (except those hardcore Presbyterians—it’s too “popish” for them), with a day that is traditionally associated with ashes, sackcloth, and repentance, we might stop to consider that there are different kinds of tears.


I’m sort of an expert on this (meaning, I read a Wikipedia article), so let me fill you in. You’ve got your basal tears, which are for lubricating your eyes and actually serve as part of your immune system. Then you’ve got your irritant tears. These are more reactive, like when a particularly nasty blast of wind comes your way, or you walk into a sand storm.
Then, of course, there are emotional tears, which actually have a different chemical structure from the tears used for lubrication. So if your buddy says he has “something in his eye” while watching Up, you could prove him wrong in a lab, with a sample of his tears, because emotional tears contain stress hormones.
So that’s the scientific classification, but we all know that emotional tears can be subdivided into many more categories. Infants have three kinds of crying: basic, anger, and pain. When we had a baby, I was told that I would eventually learn the difference between “hungry” crying and “diaper” crying, but I call shenanigans on that.


As we grow up, we develop more complex categories of tears. These are common to all humans and have been from the beginning. We even see them in the Bible. I would . . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love and Two Martyrs Named Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

Or if you're a purist, Happy Saint Valentine’s Day. Because, of course,  the Church originally set aside this feast day to honor two guys named Valentine (from the 2nd and 3rd Centuries), both of whom were killed as martyrs. (So if we want to be really pretentious, I guess we should insist on calling it “Saints Valentines’ Day.”) One was burned to death and the other, tradition tells us, was thrown to wild beasts. Yeah, I know—romantic!

Unlike most sacred-turned-secular holidays (which have slowly evolved from purely spiritual observances into vaguely cultural excuses to sit back, eat, and drink), Valentine’s Day was pretty much hijacked all at once by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century. Chaucer noticed that “on seynt Volantynys day…every foul comyth ther to chese his make.”  No, that’s not a reference to chickens making cheese, and Chaucer hadn’t been drinking. Turns out everybody spelled things all janky back then. What Chaucer meant was that, during mid-February, every bird chooses his mate. Ya know, early spring, when a young bird’s fancy turns to love and all that. . .

As a result, the day formerly dedicated to the Sts. Valentine instead became a day for men to pronounce their love for women by writing poetically-charged letters (eventually known as “Valentines”). The day has been so entirely secularized that, in 1969, the Catholic Church erased it from their religious calendar (even while they continue to make a case for St. Patrick's Day being spiritually grounded). These days, I would think it all but impossible to find anything pertaining to the original celebration of St. Valentine’s Day in any store amongst the $5 cards, lacy red underthings, and boxes of mediocre candy.

In a way, this is a picture of what the world has done to love itself. We’ve taken it from a spiritual act, which we are bound to apply to our families, neighbors, and our enemies alike, and turned it into sensuality—a “feeling” which may come and go, and which we follow around from person to person.

Case in point: I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” This passage is often trotted out at weddings and preached as though it is about how one should treat one’s soul mate. And, of course, this is how you should treat your soul mate. But it’s also how you should treat your boss, your annoying cousin, and that guy across the street who plays his music too loud, too late at night.

Of course, I Corinthians 13 has a context—a place in the flow and development of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth—and in order to really understand the chapter fully, you’ll need to read the whole thing and get your mind around its place in the whole. Still, we can benefit from looking at this composite picture (not exhaustive definition) of love and asking the question: as a Christian, is my life painting the same picture? After all, Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples because we love one another.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not self-seeking.” That pretty much drops a bomb on the cultural view of love as something we feel, something we follow around, that search for the “perfect someone.” Love doesn’t withhold until the perfect someone shows up. Love is patient and kind; biblical love is not discriminating, not focused on what I get out of the deal. Futher, “Love does not envy or boast” refers to the inward (“I want! I want!”) and outward (“I have! I have!”) manifestations of self-seeking. These things are foreign to biblical love.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.” When two people (whether friends, co-workers, or spouses) are always updating their mental grievance files, in anticipation of the day they can run down the list and announce, “Here’s all the horrible stuff you’ve done,” that relationship is not firmly based in love. Those lists exists solely for self-seeking. That’s not patient or kind.

Love does not rejoice in evil.” Most of what Hollywood calls “love” is the very opposite of love, because the silver screen continually rejoices in evil (the breaking of God’s Law) even while labelling that wickedness “love.” (This has led to the absurd situation where people who celebrate actual love are called “haters.”)  I’m always disgusted when a film or television show will present two people as having slept together for some time and then one of them finally takes the leap and says, “I love you.” And we’re all supposed to be touched. That’s not biblical love. Love is patient and love does not rejoice in sin, but in Truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” The current incarnation of Valentine’s Day lends itself to the culture’s version of love: flitting about, something we “follow,” rather than something we lead; something very transient and temporary, rather than something that endures all things and never ends.

Sure, romantic love is its own animal, and should probably be discussed according to its own attributes, but unless romantic love is rooted in sound biblical love—the kind of love that should mark a Christian’s dealings with everyone in his or her life—then it is not truly love; it’s not that thing which never fails, which always remains faithful according to Scripture. The kind of love that empowered two men named Valentine to go to their deaths for the sake of the Gospel.

Even as we enjoy the cultural aspects of a cultural holiday, let me encourage you to inventory your love life at large. Are you loving your friends, your neighbors, and your enemies with the kind of love we see in Scripture, that Christlike love that puts others first and self last? If not, what a great opportunity St. Valentine’s Day gives us to ask God to continue breaking our fleshly ideas about love and replacing them with the real thing.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How To Know You Should Write Suspense

Rapid Fire Suspense author Ronie Kendig recently put together a compilation of a number of suspense authors (including Brandilyn Collins, Colleen Coble, DiAnn Mills, Carrie Stuart Parks, Melody Carlson, and yours truly) taking a stab (heh) at identifying that one primary indicator that you should be writing suspense!

Click here to see the article.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Golden Rule (This Week's Sermon)

My sermon from New Year’s Day.

Matthew 7:12, “Golden” 

To download mp3 file, right click here and choose Save.