Monday, August 20, 2018

Republishing Two Jack Daniels Stories

Bit of backstory...

At his open call invitation a few years back, a number of us writers jumped at an idea and collaborated with Joe Konrath and collectively wrote a number of stories that featured his spunky female homocide detective, Lt. Jack Daniels, while introducing our own main characters.

My private eye is Ava Jane (AJ) Rakowski, a mentalist of sorts, who is called into assist Daniels and her partner in a series of abductions and murders. I had a blast writing my two stories (Abductions and Beat Down), which Joe edited and added to. He then was kind enough to publish these collaborations and split the royalties with us authors 50/50.

This was actually before Kindle Worlds, but when Amazon launched that initiative, I think most of us agreed to put our stories in KW - and it was wonderful exposure. Over the last few years, I've had a steady (if smallish) income stream hit my bank account each month. Fun times!

Then Kindle Worlds closed. But Konrath, like Hugh Howey (of Wool fame), is an indie writer advocate and very generous with his IP. He encouraged us to re-publish our collaborations on our own. So with Joe's permission, I'm making available (on Amazon for now and then on other platforms like B and N, Kobo, etc.) the two short stories I wrote with him.

Here they are! Hope you enjoy them. (BTW, I wrote them under my pen name, Garth Perry, as they are a bit grittier than my usual speculative fare. Also below is another AJ Rakowski story called Drinking Games. I think you'll like this one too.)


A Jack Daniels/AJ Rakowski Mystery
by J.A. Konrath and Garth Perry

Psychic Investigator AJ Rakowski can't talk to the dead, but she can 'dial' into a dead person's vibes. Why this qualifies her as a consultant for the Chicago Police Department is a mystery to skeptical Homicide Lt. Jack Daniels, who has real cases to solve.

But when Rakowski is brought on to help stop a serial kidnapper from abducting his next victim, Jack is forced to work with AJ. A girl's life is on the line, and maybe if the two learn to accept their differences and join forces, they just might be able to stop the...ABDUCTIONS.

Kidnapping can be murder...

(Note: Abductions is a 9,000 word novella (about 35 pages) featuring JA Konrath's heroine Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels who is the star of more than 1 million books, and Garth Perry's new heroine AJ Rakowski. Features action, suspense, and a fair dose of dark humor.)

Available at Amazon.


Beat Down
A Jack Daniels/AJ Rakowski Mystery
by J.A. Konrath and Garth Perry

Psychic Investigator Ava Jane Rakowski, part time consultant for the Chicago Police Department, just solved her first crime. Her supervisor, Homicide Detective Lt. Jack Daniels, is skeptical. Good old fashioned police work would likely have tracked down the serial kidnapper, Raphael Ortega, in due time.

Unfortunately, Ortega is now out of jail because of an apparent clerical error. And when the brutal killings begin it doesn’t take a psychic to connect the dots. The only question is if they’ll find Ortega before he gives his next victim – which happens to be AJ’s best friend Tomen – a brutal BEAT DOWN.

Revenge can be murder...

(Note: Beat Down is a 14,000 word novella (about 60 pages) featuring JA Konrath's heroine Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels who is the star of more than 1 million books, and Garth Perry's new heroine AJ Rakowski. Features action, suspense, and a fair dose of dark humor.)

Available at Amazon.


Drinking Games
A Nbonivoy/Rakowski Short Thriller
by Garth Perry

More Mentalist than Medium, Ava Jane Rakowski has finally accepted the fact that she can't speak with the dead. That doesn't stop her from using her paranormal gifts to help the living - especially those in desperate need. From finding missing persons to solving homicides, Rakowski is on the case.

With each success, however, comes unwanted attention. AJ knows it goes with the territory. The occasional nut job will propose marriage. An oddball stalker will make a fool of himself. But when she captures the attention of a serial killer known only as Carlton, that's when the real game begins.

"Laugh out loud moments combined with real terror." - An Amazon 5 Star Review

Available at Amazon.

(Note: Drinking Games is a 12,500 word novella (about 45 pages) featuring mentalist AJ Rakowski, who appeared with JA Konrath's heroine, Lt. Jack Daniels, in two collaborations: Abductions and Beat Down.)

Monday, July 23, 2018

God of Love, God of Wrath

I'm preaching a summer series on "Tough Questions for the Christian" and we are currently exploring the topic of God's wrath. The question is: How can a God of love express wrath toward His creation?

Here's the outline of my sermon from this past Sunday.

1. God’s Wrath vs Human Anger
     a) God’s wrath (often translated as anger) is a position against sin, death, and the devil.
     b) Human anger is often an emotion that comes and goes based on circumstances.
       - See Ephesians 4.26-27 – “In your anger, do not sin.” That is, St. Paul admonishes us that our anger, when it occurs, should be more like God’s anger who takes a stand against injustice and evil. God’s wrath is never sinful or wrong. He is holy.
       - But if our anger is a result of an emotional flare up, then don’t let it fester. (“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.…”)
       - Why? It can give the devil a foothold (vs 27) in one’s life and thus opens the door to sin.
       - Anger as an emotion isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can lead to sinful reactions and actions.
      c)  God’s anger/wrath is different. It’s not an emotion. It’s an expression of his love.


2. God’s Anger and God’s Love – Not “Either/Or” but “Both/And”
     a) Both are a reality found within the scripture. “It is simply impossible to read the bible as a whole and not recognize the reality of God’s anger.” (Wright, p 130)
     b) It is equally impossible to read the bible and not see that God is love and has love for all.
       - 1 John 4.7-10 – Love is from God. God is love. This is love, that he sent his son.
       - John 3.16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…
       - Psalm 145.17 – The Lord is kind/faithful (expresses “covenant love”) in all he does.
     c) God IS love but God HAS wrath.
       - God’s love is eternal because God is eternal. Love is God’s very nature.
       - God’s wrath is temporary and will end with the destruction and elimination of sin.
       - Why? Because the only thing that arouses God’s wrath is evil (not his creation).
       - “The very essence of evil is to resist, reject, and refuse the love of God.” (Wright, p 131)

God’s wrath is an expression of his love. “It is precisely because God loves the world so much that he is angry against all who defy the goodness of what God wants for the world.” (Wright, p 133) That is, if God were not angry with evil, he could not really claim to love the world. (Think of the injustices of the world. Could God really just wink at them in doting love or benign neglect? NO! God is rightly angry at evil and injustice because of his great love for creation.)

3. Enter the mystery of the cross.
     a) The cross represents a host of wonderful metaphors (“pictures of reality”) that demonstrate God’s love: redeemed, reconciled, justified, adopted, healed, forgiven, cleansed, in Christ…
     b) But the cross goes beyond metaphor. There is an actual substitution going on – God’s love and wrath work together as God takes on the sin of the world (love) in order to eliminate it (wrath).
     c ) See John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. – “The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.” (as quoted in Wright, p 125)

Conclusion: 1 Thessalonians 5.9-11 (NIV)

9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Basic Theology for Christ-Followers by Vic Gordon
The God I Don’t Understand by Christopher Wright

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Closed Communion – Go Away!

(Note: I wrote this piece below as a FB post back in 2014. During that year I took a break from being a pastor and visited a number of churches looking for a 'home.' I was on a spiritual journey - still am! - and am still thinking about this topic, communion. In 2015 I returned to pastoral ministry and last year I wrote this piece on the Eucharist. Now I'm thinking about writing another reflection on how this issue divides believers; the following thoughts can serve as my jumping off point. So that's the context. Hope this is of interest.) 

March 23, 2014.

Visited another church today. As you might guess, I’m sort of on a journey to find a spiritual home, post-pastorate. Have recently experienced a few contemporary churches – which, although supposedly visitor friendly, left me dissatisfied. I’ve already ranted about the shallowness of band-centered worship and won’t go into that here.

So I went for the opposite end of the spectrum and worshiped at a liturgical church this morning. Lutheran – WELS. And, as is often the complaint of many who are unfamiliar with the liturgy, it wasn’t very visitor friendly. But not because I had to juggle the hymnal and lectionary.

It was because of communion.

Though we didn’t ‘commune’ (partake of communion) this morning, I doubt I would have been allowed to had the church celebrated it. Most conservative Lutheran churches practice ‘close communion’ – which I’d always thought was spelled closed. There’s a slight difference, and you can google it like I did.

But my take away is this: Want to turn away visitors? Card them.

That’s right. There was a card in the pew that I had to sign and give to the pastor before the service if I wanted to commune. I had to affirm that I belonged to a church that was in fellowship with theirs before I could share in the Lord’s Supper. (Oh, whose supper? Ah, just checking.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Communion’s not a free-for-all. But verbalizing that the meal is for serious disciples of Christ is one thing. Telling Christians they can’t participate in the Lord’s Supper unless certain hoops are hopped is another. I’ll tip my hand right now, I’m an advocate of open communion.

Here’s why.

First, communion is a picture of grace. It’s the body and blood of Christ offered freely to sinners. The meal is not for perfect people, it’s for repentant people. All Christians are sinners, therefore all Christians should be invited to eat at the table, regardless of church or denominational affiliation.

Second, communion is for the universal community of believers (called the communion of saints). Who determines membership in this communion? God’s Holy Spirit. Upon one’s confession of faith (Rom 10.9) one is saved and therefore an invited participant at the table.

To place non-biblical hurdles before the table isn’t just visitor unfriendly, it’s a misrepresentation to the seeker what God’s free offer of salvation is all about, imo. The Lord’s Supper is for Christians who want to be right with God and right with others – regardless of church/denominational standing.

Now, I get it. Those who advocate for close communion are seeking to protect the sacrament. But, you know, I just don’t hear God calling us to protect something he’s offering us free of charge.

Not that communion is for everyone - it makes no sense for a non-believer to participate in this spiritual activity. So really, if someone’s not a Christian, why would they want to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ?

But even then, that’s between them and God. I’m not a bouncer.

And I’m not going to card someone at the door.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Jesus Actually Taught

What did Jesus actually teach?

If you were to distill the teaching and preaching of Jesus into a few words or a short phrase, what would come up with? Love? Forgive others? Care for the poor?

Let me put the question like this: What theme in Jesus’s teaching and preaching is so crucial to understanding him that if you removed it from his lips, you wouldn’t have the biblical Jesus anymore?

You still like the answer of love?

Did you know Jesus only mentions love two times in the synoptic Gospels? He tells his disciples to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (referred to together as the greatest commandment; parallel accounts in Matthew 22.37-39 / Mark 12:30-31 / Luke 10:2) and love your enemies (also in two accounts, Matthew 5.44 / Luke 6.27). [BTW, you can use BibleGateway or Bible Hub to look up verses.]

Out of all the recorded words of Jesus, he devotes two lines to the topic of love.

Evidently, Jesus didn’t make love the hallmark of his preaching. Similar points can be made with other big themes we think are at the core of Jesus’ teaching: forgiveness, serving others, trusting God, helping the poor, defending the oppressed, etc.

Not that these themes are absent from the teaching of Jesus. Not at all. But they aren’t the core, they don’t summarize what is at the heart of the proclamation of Jesus. They actually flow out of his primary message.

Which is? For the biblical answer, we need to simply read what the Gospel writers wrote as their summaries of what Jesus was all about.

Let’s start with the Gospel of Matthew.
  • Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matthew 4.23)
  • Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 9.35)
  • He then tells his disciples: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 10.7)
Very clearly, at the heart of the teaching of Jesus – and the core message he wants his followers to proclaim – is the kingdom of God. In fact, in Matthew 6.10, we are to pray to God, “Thy kingdom come.” And in Matthew 6.33, we are to seek first the kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God?

The kingdom of God (or, often in Matthew, the kingdom of Heaven, same thing) is simply God’s reign. It’s not a realm (a place, like a physical dominion with borders), nor is the kingdom a particular people. The kingdom of God is God’s ruling power or authority present in this world.

Now this kingdom creates a people (those who submit to God’s rule) and impacts a place (where a particular location demonstrates the attributes of the God’s rule). But again, simply put, God’s kingdom equals God’s reign.

Let’s Continue with Luke’s Summary

From Luke 4.16-21, 43.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 
… He said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”
  • See also Luke 8.1 – Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.
  • And in Luke 10.8-9 Jesus authorizes his disciples to do what he has been doing: Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Finally, the Gospel of Mark

The most succinct summary of Jesus’s teaching is in the Gospel of Mark. He tells us right at the outset what the ministry of Jesus is all about.
Mark 1.14-15 – Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Three point message, the first and last highlight the core: The kingdom of God has come near.

Yes, love, forgiveness, care for the poor, serving others, etc. are part of Jesus’s message, but they flow from the heart of his teaching and preaching, which is the kingdom of God.

It’s still the core message of the church today: repent and believe the good news that the time is fulfilled and God’s reign is at hand.

For a better understanding of what Jesus was all about, watch the first 12 to 15 minutes of Gordon Fee’s lecture on the Kingdom of God. He explains it better than I just did. In fact, I basically summarized Fee’s points in this blog post. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Good Reads #2 - Review of Write it Forward

Write it Forward by Bob Mayer is a very extensive "how-to" book structured much like a self-improvement book, providing strategies (Mayer calls them tools) that take writers to their next level.

Whether it's writing, marketing, networking, etc., the writer can employ these tools to plan, do, then evaluate one's progress.

Mayer is a former Green Beret and so draws on that experience for illustrations, which are surprisingly relevant. I especially liked the use of SOPs - standard operating procedures - for each stage of the writing process.

The nine tools are what, why, where, character, change, courage, communication, command, complete. These form a 'circle of success' for when you complete the strategies in one area or at one level of your life (or writing), you cycle through them again to continue to improve and advance in your career.

The book is a bit repetitive at times, but I think that's intentional as the material covers so much ground it's good to cycle back and read something you learned earlier but then again in light of a greater context. Very practical. Recommended and not just for writers.

Mayer has a website ( where he blogs and gives away some free ebooks (I've read a number of his military thrillers and have enjoyed them). But he also provides some excellent slide-shows with great information on dozens of topics relevant to writers and life in general. Good stuff.

Peruse more of my #GoodReads.
Get yourself a free ebook.