Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Alpha & Omega Part Two--The Real Jesus



Somewhere along the way an artist really screwed things up for Christians. An artist commissioned to paint a portrait of Jesus confused a person from Nazareth with a Nazarite vow and gave Jesus long hair (not true). He (or she) then inexplicably gave Jesus blue eyes and fair skin because obviously the artist had never actually seen a person from Palestine. Thus, a tradition was born that taught Christians that their king, teacher, priest and savior looked like the lead singer of an '80's hair metal band. No wonder most Christians are wimps. They seek to model their behavior after a Jesus that they believe looked like Jon Bon Jovi circa 1987.

A few years ago a group of forensic archaeologists used 1st century Palestinian skeletal remains to reconstruct what a typical Jewish man in the time of Jesus looked like...hence, the bubba on the left. Yes, Jesus looked more like this than Axl Rose. Jesus looked like a guy who changes your oil, hunts deer, watches NASCAR and could actually take another dude in a fight. Indeed, Jesus grew up in a hick town and he worked a blue collar job for most of his life. The one who was, is and will come again was not a sweet wuss who wants to give everyone a hug but a man who will not blink twice before sending billions of unrepentant sinners to hell. Deal with it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Alpha & The Omega--Part One

The great 4th Century Christian thinker Augustine wrote that one day in class a fellow student asked the teacher what God was doing before He made the world? The teacher responded, "making hell for people who ask such questions!"
Well, I don't know what God was doing before He created the heavens & the earth (or even before he made hell for overly inquisitive seminary students) but I do know why He created it.
This weekend I am preaching on The Alpha & The Omega. According to the prologue to the Gospel of John, the world was created through and for the Son, i.e. Jesus. It was made for him and by him. It is his. Jesus is the Lord of all creation (including hell but more on that later this weekend). So, if you're in Portsmouth, Ohio this weekend (and who isn't!) then stop by Christ's Community Church on Saturday night at 5 or Sunday morning at 10:30 and I'll yell for thirty minutes about the Alpha and Omega. Will post more on the Omega this weekend but don't fear, I'm not a dispensationalist so no rants about Israel and Iran complete with charts, etc.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

God is Good.


Nine years ago, the most beautiful woman in the world married me and and nearly five years later God gave us the most beautiful child in the world. God is good.
Here they both are at the Ritz in Laguna Niguel last year. Eat your heart out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Building A Theological LIbrary--Part Three



What is Acacia wood? Who was Zadok and why did the Jews of Jesus time care? These are the burning questions that only a good Bible Dictionary can answer and the New Bible Dictionary, while becoming dated, is a good solid, evangelical choice.

If nothing else, buy one so that you can ask your pastor these type of questions unless, that is, your pastor is me. Try that I'll let everyone know how little you actually tithe.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Building A Theological Library for Christmas--Part Two



It still amazes me how little the average Christian knows about their own faith. I have worked in 6 churches in 4 states and have yet to find a large group of non-seminarian Christians who can accurately define key terms like "justification" or "righteousness." Well, now for the low, low price of $19.95 you can be the first disciple on your block to actually know what the Apostle Paul was talking about!

Mounce's Dictionary is a readable (if you're a raging geek like me, that is) and easily accessible tool for conducting word studies. Mounce, former prof at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the entrepreneur behind the Zondervan-Teknia Greek library, has updated Vine's Expository Dictionary and thank God for it. Vine's is so dated that if I dared cite it on a seminary paper then I was automatically docked a letter grade by my profs!

So, if you are one of the millions who can't really define "justification" then run and by this book the second a store opens on December 26th. Until then, have a great Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joel Osteen...What a Tool!


This morning on Fox News Sunday, "Smilin' Joel" Osteen was asked by host Chris Wallace if he considered Mitt Romney, a Mormon, to be a Christian. Osteen said, "Yes" and explained that Romney had publicly stated that he believed Jesus to be "his savior", so that was good enough for him! Osteen then said that he didn't worry about "the details" (i.e., the stark differences between Christianity and Mormonism).
Wallace also asked Osteen about his critics' contention that his preaching is theologically shallow. Osteen replied that he doesn't dwell on "theology" or something like that. Thanks so much for once again proving your critics point, Joel!
UPDATE: Here is a portion of the transcript from Fox News:
WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I've got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?

OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.
-------------------

Building Your Theological Library (Part One)



After buying a good study Bible for yourself or someone else then you can take your Christmas cash and/or gift certificates and begin building a good theological library. Along with a good Bible, most pastors recommend a good concordance, which is a book listing the occurrence of every word in the Bible and where it appears. A concordance is a good way to begin doing word or thematic studies (more on this later). Thanks to good software (like Logos or Pradis) and websites like www.biblegateway.com, a concordance is no longer an absolute essential but is still handy.

It is important to buy a concordance that matches your main study Bible. Because the NIV is the most popular among Evangelicals, I recommend the Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance from Zondervan (who are head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to basic Bible study tools). My favorite translation is the ESV and, unfortunately, there isn't a great concordance for it but the Crossway Comprehensive Concordance of the Holy Bible is pretty strong. The NLT Complete Concordance is a very good companion to the best thought-for-thought translation on the market. More later.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Gifts?


Need to snag a last minute Christmas gift? Try a Bible.
Okay, okay, so you don't want to be the "crappy Christmas gifts person" like one of your grandparents who buys you socks or that aunt who buys you sweaters with forest animals on them.
I'm not suggesting that you buy some cheap, imitation leather King James Bible with bad illustrations complete with a Jesus that looks more like the lead singer of an '80's hair metal band than a 1st century Jewish guy from a hick Palestinian town.
If you know someone who is a Christian or is thinking about becoming a Christian or at least doesn't gag when you say "Christian" then check out a Bible like the ESV Journaling Bible from Crossway (its what I want for Christmas...hint...hint). It has plenty of space for notes and comes in a cool package. I would definitely recommend engraving it because then you guilt trip them into keeping it rather than throwing it up on Ebay.
Also check out the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, The Holman Christian Standard Apologetics Study Bible, The ESV Literary Study Bible and the New King James (revised without the "thous" or "begots") Maxwell Leadership Bible. I'll post a translation philosophy chart and reading level chart for popular translations tomorrow to help you pick. Have fun fighting the other late shoppers at the Bible bookstore and watch out for the Nazarenes...they can throw down!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Have Faith In "Billy Ball"

I was raised by two Kentuckians who are rabid UK basketball fans. Despite the "handicap" of being born in Ohio, I also caught the UK B-ball bug at a young age. If any of you follow college basketball then you know that UK is off to its worst start in years and many blame the new head coach, Billie Gillespie but this is a mistake.

Former head coach Tubby Smith headed north just as he saw the once great UK program falling apart under his watch. Tubby is a fine man but he was a terrible recruiter, a poor disciplinarian and an awful offensive strategist. Coach Gillespie is simply playing the crappy hand he was dealt. The only bright light on the whole team is phenom Patrick Patterson who came to UK largely because of Billy G. I can't even imagine what kind of program it would be without Patterson and with Tubby! Yes, my fellow Wildcat fans, it will be a long season. In fact, it will be the worst since Pitino's 1st season when he took over a program under NCAA suspension but it will get better. Billy G. is a gifted recruiter with a gift for turning programs around (just look at what his Texas A&M team is doing right now!). Now, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (and I work for a non-profit) but although the immediate future is bleak, I predict that a great few years lay ahead of us! I am a believer in Billy Ball! We now return to our regularly scheduled blogs pertaining to theology and politics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heroes


I applied to law schools while attending seminary at Abilene Christian University's Graduate School of Theology (or ACU). I was invited to attend Cornell Law School and jumped at the chance (especially after being wait listed by Harvard!). After all, Cornell is an Ivy League School and I'm the grandson of Kentucky share croppers!
A year later I became the president of the Cornell chapter of the Christian Legal Society, and through it, came to know David French.
David had been a professor at Cornell the year before my wife and I arrived in Ithaca, New York. He was a David Lipscomb alum (a church of Christ school like ACU. In fact, we shared a great prof in Randy Harris) and a graduate of Harvard Law School. At that time he was working for a law firm in Lexington, Kentucky. Later, he would run FIRE (a religious 1st Amendment organization) and then joined the Alliance Defense Fund (or ADF for short).
I went looking for David because a friend had an important 1st Amendment question and he recruited me to join ADF as an allied attorney. The first time we met in person was last summer at an ADF training session. David then told me this story. He had served on the admissions committee the year I applied to Cornell. My application package had been shipped to the committee to review. David scanned it and wondered why I had not been automatically admitted but then he noticed the comments from Cornell personnel: "Too conservative"; "Don't need a member of the god squad"; "a Bible thumper!" David boldly proclaimed to the committee that they were discriminating against me because of my religious beliefs. They backed down and 3 years later I graduated from Cornell Law in the top half of my class (missed the top 1/3 by .01).
This past week, I accepted an offer to work full-time for ADF but while I prepare for orientation in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona, the man who went to bat for me is bravely serving our country in Iraq (hence, the picture).
David and his wife Nancy support former Governor Romney's presidential bid (as do I) and Nancy is one of the frequent contributors to the web page Evangelicals for Mitt. This week Nancy asked for help in collecting care packages for David's squadron. I plan to do all I can and encourage you to do the same for the brave man who stood up for me and all the selfless men and women who are standing up for all of us everyday. Check out the link and sign on now!

Monday, December 17, 2007

What The...?


Abilene Christian University's Graduate School of Theology (my Alma mater) recently hosted University of Chicago prof Margaret Mitchell to lecture on "The Christian Right in Modern America." I listened to the lecture this morning on my way to a hearing several hours away and I nearly spit coffee all of the windshield and lapsed into a fit of profanity that would rival the leader of a Turret's Syndrome support group.
First of all, Ms. Mitchell, like many liberals who purport to objectively study the Christian Right either has no idea what she is doing or is so biased going into her "study" that the outcome has already been determined. As a former congressional staffer during the Gingrich years who worked with groups like the Christian Coalition (during the Ralph Reed years no less) and Concerned Women for America, I don't even recognize the"Christian Right" she claims to have surveyed. And heck, I wasn't even a Christian at the time! I was just "Right." Like Robert Jewett and other wingnuts on the "Christian" Left, Ms. Mitchell carefully selects the sources which fit into her preconceived notions and ignores truly influential and careful thinkers like Richard Neuhaus at First Things or Professor Wayne Grudem at Phoenix Seminary or Retired Yale Law Professor Robert Bork, etc. It's sad that this type of drivel passes for scholarship.
Second, what in the *%@# is ACU doing hosting such a liberal quack? Beyond the faux scholarship, have my former profs truly lost sight of their audience and, more importanty, their benefactors? This is the kind of thing that will certainly take a zero off my annual alumni check!
For those of you who truly want to read careful, thoughtful leaders from the "Christian Right", check out the journal First Things at http://www.firsthings.com/. Members of the Christian left might want to consult a conservative to explain the "big words" to them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pastor-in-Chief?


Ok, Romney's slow downward spiral in the polls due in part to his religious beliefs may be old news to most of you but mind if I ask if we are electing a President or a Pastor-in-Chief? Personally, I don't understand Mormonism but the faith hasn't prevented the man from excelling at everything he has done (business, overseeing the Olympics, the state of Massachusetts, etc.).
I understand that many conservatives object to Romney's so-called primary eve conversion to the pro-life position but, as many commentators have noted, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan experienced similar conversions and proved faithful stewards.
I wouldn't mind a Huckabee or even a Thompson presidency but, at least on paper, you have to admit that Romney is impressive and many evangelicals have taken note. For example, check out the following link: http://www.evangelicalsformitt.org/

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wright Said...

Bishop Wright was interviewed by Said at Southern.com after his series of lectures at Asbury College last month. I finally found time to listen to it (as I'm nursing a cold...or worse). As always, very interesting and challenging but, by and large, he dismisses many of his critics out of hand (as he has done again and again). At some point, Wright needs to counter his critics at a linguistic as well as a historical-systematic level. Still, well worth listening to. http://saidatsouthern.com/nt-wright-interview-mp3/

Friday, December 14, 2007

Where Did Huckabee Come From?


Garrison Keiler has an interesting article on the sudden and wholly unexpected rise of Mike Huckabee in the polls. Check it out--

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tim Keller Mania



Tim Keller mania has hit Reformed circles hard over the last few years and for good reason. Keller took Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan from a few old fogies in the late eighties to a megachurch that has planted dozens of churches throughout NYC. Keller is also one of the finest preachers working today. Unfortunately, Redeemer does not post his sermons on iTunes but there are a few free ones out there and you should download them RIGHT NOW. Like Fred Craddock before him, you can bet that these sermons are being "re-preached" in pulpits around the world. The following link is a mildly amusing homage to "Keller mania":

(http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/2007/12/judge-rules-in.html).

Christianity Today's Response to "Unchristian"



The Editors of Christianity Today have posted an interesting assessment of Lyons' & Kinnamman's book "Unchristian." On the one hand, CT warns the church not to craft their theology based purely on the views of the unchurched, as history has taught us that this is a disastrous move, but, on the other hand, they caution:

"While we think we're standing for righteousness, we often come across as judgmental. While we think we're trying to apply Christian ethics to the social scene, it comes across as mere politics. While we think we're paragons of virtue, others see deep moral flaws in us. These are not merely image problems, but character issues that get to the core of what the church is and should be."

It is true that a number of outspoken Christians need to soften their rhetoric and remember that, according to Scripture, the harshest criticism is reserved for those within the church. That being said, it may be impossible to stand for the unborn and not appear to many as "political" and and the only Christians I know who see themselves as a "paragons of virtue" are arrogant, liberal emergents rather than orthodox Christians who, by and large, see themselves as nothing more than sinners saved by grace.


http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/december/23.21.html

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scholar Frauds Are Coming To Town!


New Testament Professor Darrell Bock has a good article over at Christianity Today Online about how to react to the annual holiday spate of wing-nut theories on "the real Jesus." Check it out:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/december/22.40.html

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whoever Hates His Brother Is Still In Darkness

According to media accounts, Matthew Murray was home schooled by faithful parents, briefly attended a missions training program and has a brother at Oral Roberts University where he himself considered recently applying to, but then, last weekend, Matthew Murray took the lives of four followers of Christ in Colorado because, according to Fox News, "he hated Christians."

Why did Matthew Murray walk in darkness and reach out from it to rob good families of their loved ones and his own family of their reputation and, most importantly, their child?

Murray either quit or was thrown out of the missions training institute where he killed two young people and then, apparently still filled with rage, drove 65 miles to Colorado Springs to the campus of New Life Church, which has already had a turbulent few years, and took two more lives before being gunned down by a volunteer security guard.

Murray's parents are said to be in shock. Who can blame them? Of course, the media will comb through their trash for "warning signs" but what parent looks into the eyes of their own child and sees "a killer"?

There are no real answers to be found here--only the reality of the darkness.

The great pulpiteer Fred Craddock tells the story of a Native American woman who once wrote a weekly column in broken English for a newspaper in Oklahoma. After the assassination of President Kennedy she wrote, "I have no words today. I have no words to say. I walk around the house all day saying (painful sigh)." Craddock said that it is a sin to put words into the mouths of those deeply aching and he was right but, regardless, all I can think of is:

"How long, O Lord? How long?"

May God wrap these families in comfort until the trumpet sounds and time and tears are no more.

Down with NPP

For the last 10 years I have read the Bible through every year in a different translation (NIV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NEB, NASB, JB, ESV, The Message, and the NLT). Next year, however, I think I'm going to try something a little different.

I am going to focus solely on Paul's Epistles and simultaneously read widely on both the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the classical Reformed perspective in order to nail down the pros and con on each side as well as to memorize the Book of Romans.

I will not enter this "Year with the Apostle" objectively. I have serious issues with the idea that church is just now getting the doctrine of justification right (See N.T. Wright) and that first century Judaism was just as much a religion of grace as Christianity is (See E.P. Sanders) but I will commit myself to taking these arguments seriously.

I have already read quite a few of the works in the NPP field but I'm going to slowly read them again along with Luther's lectures on Galatians, Calvin's commentaries and modern tomes by Moo, Piper, Westerholm, etc.

Should be a fun year.

For an introduction to the NPP, check out the largely pro-NPP The Paul Page (http://www.thepaulpage.com/) and more critical links at Monergism.com (http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/New-Perspective/).

Should be an interesting year.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Nativity Flap and The Real Meaning of the 1st Amendment

Here in southern Ohio over the last week there has been a serious fuss over the removal of a nativity scene at the Shawnee State Forest Lodge. Management received a single complaint from an atheist in Columbus that the "holiday display" represented only one faith. The self-proclaimed "offended atheist" wanted to add a Hindu Swastika, among other things, to the scene. Instead of fighting, management simply took down the nativity scene altogether which prompted an uproar from local citizens. Governor Ted Strickland, to his credit, ordered the state lodge to put the nativity scene back up immediately.

The controversy reminded me how far we have strayed from the vision of our nation's founders and how poorly most of us know the history and meaning of our own Constitution. One of the best resources online is Wallbuilders, which is a ministry dedicated to fighting revisionist historians. Check them out at http://www.wallbuilders.com/ and their radio show www.wallbuilderslive.com which is only 30 minutes and one that I listen to every day. Be sure to hit the archives and download the shows from October 24-25 as they focus on the so-called "separation of church and state." All of their presentations are culled from original sources (i.e., the very debates over the Constitution or letters from the founding fathers, etc.). Great stuff and very informative.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Emergent Village Idiots Part 4--Rob Bell on Tour

Christianity Today Online's Out of Ur blog recently focused on Rob Bell's latest "sermon on steroids" tour entitled "The Gods Aren't Angry." I listened to Bell speak about the tour a few weeks ago on the XXX Church podcast. Bell's main argument appears to be that despite mankind's long, intuitive sense that God (or the gods) are "mad at us", Jesus came to teach us that this is not true.

But Bell is only half right. The Bible clearly teaches that God is angry at us (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; 11:5; Hos. 9:15). God hates sin (Proverbs 6:16-19) and considers the unrepentant sinner his enemy (Rom. 5:10) BUT that the propitiation (hilasmos Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10, etc.) of Jesus Christ appeased His anger towards those who have placed their faith (i.e., belief, trust and loyalty) in His son. However, the wrath of God remains on those who do not place their faith in His son (John 3:36).

Funny that man who teaches at a place called Mars Hill BIBLE Church tends to ignore...the BIBLE!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Because God Can Do Anything...

Remember the media buzz over the life and slow death of Terry Schiavo? Why didn't the media pick up on this?


ADF attorneys help reverse hasty decision to end hospitalized war veteran’s lifeInjured man is responsive, will be transferred from hospice care to rehab facility

PHOENIX — Jesse Ramirez will have an opportunity to recover after attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund helped reverse a hasty decision that would have ended his life. "Everyone deserves a chance to recover from an injury, and now Jesse has that chance," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Byron Babione. "Jesse put his life on the line for us during the Gulf War. The least that should be done for Jesse and his family is to give him a chance to recover."

ADF attorneys helped secure the restoration of food and water to the Gulf War veteran earlier this month after he suffered multiple injuries in a car accident on May 30. After just 10 days in an intensive care unit, his food, water and antibiotics were withheld and remained so for five days. Food and water was restored shortly after ADF filed a lawsuit, and now Ramirez will be transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Jesse was recently examined by a neurologist. The guardian at litem stated in open court Tuesday that Jesse is now responding to voice commands, knows who he is, and knows who his family is. "The decision to withhold food and water was hasty and wrong under Arizona law. Jesse had only ten days--about 240 hours--before his feeding tube was removed," said Babione, who argued before an Arizona judge on behalf of Ramirez’s sister, Marlene, on June 14. The hearing Tuesday in the case Ramirez-Oliva v. Ramirez was held at the Superior Court of the State of Arizona in Maricopa County.

UPDATE: Mr. Ramirez walked into the ADF offices to thank everyone last week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

By The Time I Get To Arizona...

I'm jumping on a plane to Arizona this afternoon and won't be back until Thursday night, so probably no posts for a few days.

In the meantime, check out some great audio links over at Faith By Hearing (http://faithbyhearing.wordpress.com/) including a great sermon/lecture on imputed righteousness by John Piper at the last Evangelical Theological Society meeting.

Also, be sure to click on to Bethinking.org and peruse their library of apologetics resources including a couple of new lectures by Tim Keller. (http://www.bethinking.org/index.php)

God bless,

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Alliance Defense Fund

One of the organizations that I am proud to affiliate with is the Alliance Defense Fund. I have been one of the volunteer allied attorneys for a year and a half.

Recently the Alliance Defense Fund (or "ADF") has won a couple of important victories around the country. For example, the ADF successfully filed an injunction in the state of Washington to forbid the state government from forcing pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing drugs. The ADF also recently helped vindicate a Georgia man who was arrested for passing out religious tracts. The Georgia officials claimed the man was violating a "parade ordinance" which required individuals to obtain a permit before engaging in such activity. The ADF led the charge to have the law repealed as unconstitutional.

The ADF has even been busy in my own backyard. Recently in Boyd County, KY a student was reprimanded for stating that he believes homosexuality is wrong. This was after the school system required students to engage in "homosexual diversity training."

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ADF and overruled the school noting that the student had a Constitutional right to state his opinion as long as it wasn't interrupting school business and that kids do not have to attend diversity training if their parents object.

Many of my younger Christian friends believe these kind of actions are misguided. They do not think Jesus would "fight for his rights." Yet, it is important to note a couple of things--(1) It is Biblical hermeneutics 101 that you must address changes in context. You cannot blindly apply Jesus' teaching (such as the Sermon on the Mount) to oppressed Jews in the 1st century who had virtually no rights under Roman law to a democratic republic where all have equal say. If you try then you must also forbid a woman to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34) and demand that she cover her head while she prays (1 Cor. 11: 5-6). Why don't churches command women to be quiet and cover their heads when they pray? Because we recognize the difference in contexts; (2) The Apostle Paul (who was Jesus' own "chosen instrument" Acts 9:15-16) did not hesitate to invoke his own rights as a citizen (Acts 22:25-29; 25:8-12), so why shouldn't we? I won't get into a detailed discussion of hermeneutics (but I encourage you to pick up a book like "Grasping God's Word"), but the difference in contexts here is much slimmer and easier to apply today.

So check out the ADF at http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Podcasts

I get a lot of questions about podcasts. There are so many on iTunes now that many have a hard time finding those worth listening to, so, in my opinion, here are a few that are well worth your time:

1) Andy Stanley at North Point. I don't always agree with him and prefer expository preaching but generally he is very good at taking fairly difficult concepts and converting them into sermons that nearly anyone can understand. Few dislike him and seminary nerds like me can learn from his approach and style.

2) Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill. Driscoll is Reformed, Evangelical and direct. He preaches through books of the Bible and his sermons last for an hour or more but its great stuff.

3) John Piper at Desiring God. Piper is the man. Passionate and intelligent. A true pastor/scholar (he has a Ph.D. in New Testament from a respected German University and taught Biblical theology at Bethel Seminary for more than 5 years). Check it out. He yells almost as much as I do!

4) Ravi Zacharias at Let My People Think. A half-hour weekly podcast normally part of a lecture series from the master Christian apologist. I love it.

5) Allister Begg at Truth for Life. Great Scottish preacher. Half-hour podcasts posted daily. Check it out.

There are many others worth perusing like Francis Chan at Cornerstone, Erwin McManus at Mosaic, Matt Chandler at the Village, Joshua Harris at Covenant, etc. But the first five are good places to start. Enjoy and may God bless,

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Album of the Year

My favorite album of the year by far is Demon Hunter's "Storm the Gates of Hell." I received the deluxe edition CD a few weeks ago and have not stopped listening to it.

The guys in Demon Hunter are an interesting lot. They are gothed out and tatooed up. They are also MTV2 Headbanger's Ball faves (did you even know that Headbanger's Ball still exists?). In fact, they look like the last dudes you would want to run into late at night.

However, they are actually deeply committed Christians. Some members even engage in prison ministry.

Check them out at http://www.demonhunter.net/ and as friends on my MySpace page http://www.myspace.com/mrrrawlings (the extra "r" is for righteous!).

They also grace the cover of the latest HM magazine (i.e., Heaven's Metal. Do you have a subscription?...I do!).

If you grew up with Metallica in your tape player, wore black tees, ripped jeans and dangly earrings but have repented from looking as though you do all your shopping at Spencers yet still crave metal then check out Demon Hunter.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Emegent Village Idiots Part 3

I was listening to missiologist/church planter Ed Stetzer speak last week and he referred to a stream in the emerging/emergent church as the "Pajama Jihadists." He was referring to spoiled brats, living in their parents basements or dorm rooms, who have never worked a real job and spend their "free time" (which is abundant) attacking orthodox Christians. Mark Driscoll was more blunt a few months ago at Convergent referring to them as "bloggers who live with their moms."

I have to concur. I'm not one who usually encourages ad hominem attacks (even though I enjoy them!) but perhaps one must fight fire with fire. You see, the overwhelming majority of "leaders" in the more liberal stream of the "emerging conversation" (i.e., Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, etc) do not engage in healthy conversations with those outside of their own "tribe." They simply attack. When Bell has been challenged he has responded with "You don't have the right to ask that question because..." or "I'm just upsetting your power structure." Tony Jones has "responded" by attacking his interlocutors mode of thinking or half-responded to criticisms such as the radical postmodern denial of objective truth with "I do believe in truth" but when asked if he feels anyone know that they know the truth he ducks the questions and falls back on attacking the mode of thinking (despite the clarion call by most leading philosophers in Europe that post-modernism is dead!).

Now, as many of you know, I am a former member of the "liberal emergent stream of the emerging church." Its not all bad. There is something to be said for reading the signs of the times and challenging old assumptions. There are also fine thinkers like Miroslav Volf, Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright within this "stream." I may not agree with most of what they assert but they are well worth your time. I still read everything Walter Brueggemann writes even though I think he's a total spaz. Yet, a "conversation seeking truth" is useless if it is limited to a select group with pre-conceived notions and shared prejudices who grab their ears and hum like children when challenged by "outsiders", who in this case are orthodox Christians.

So, until the Pajama Jihadists grow up, get real jobs and are mugged by reality, they had better learn that when you engage in cheap ad hominem attacks that they tend to boomerang right back at ya'. BUT if you truly want to "converse" about important theological concepts then brew the coffee, light the candles and let's go. I'll take real coffee black while you kiddies sip your lattes and mochas before hustling back to mom's basement or your dorm room.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peace in the Middle East?

Christianity Today online reports that eighty evangelical leaders have signed some sort of petition calling for a "fair" two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wow! If only someone would have thought about this before?!? (Note sarcasm).

This is another example of well-meaning people not know what they are talking about. Ironically, theologians often complain that people who have barely read the Bible or spent less than a few minutes thinking about a complex issue have the temerity to lecture them about the Bible or said issue. Yet, these same theologians have read hardly anything of any depth on foreign policy, economics or even modern history.

A liberal rabbi wrote a piece in The New Republic about seven years ago arguing that peace between Israelis and the Palestinians will not happen until there is a true consensus among both people for peace. Heads of state can sign anything they want but without the support of the people it will come to naught. In other words, yet another top-down agreement will simply vanish like vapor in a matter of months or years. There must be a strong majority in each "state" before peace is possible and such a majority does not exist at the moment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

Morgan Spurlock (the mutton chops behind the documentary "Super Size Me") has produced a new flick entitled "What Would Jesus Buy?" http://wwjbmovie.com/ The film follows the Rev. Billy (no, he's not really a minister or even a Christian) and his Church of Stop Shopping as they crusade against box stores and consumerism in general.

WWJB has received favorable reviews although it has raised the eyebrows of many Christians who think that the Rev. Billy is making fun of their faith. For the record, Billy, the son of a Dutch Calvinist minister, insists he is only making fun of televangelism (which is fine with me) while making a political point.

I will probably watch WWJB (even though I thought that Supersize Me was overrated...if you want to see a truly funny documentary then check out Michael Moorer's Roger & Me (1989)) but its premise is ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong, I'm against materialism but the idea that stopping box stores, etc. will actually help America has proven false time and again. A return to a high-tariff, protectionist, so-called "fair trade" approach will also fail to fix any of our country's ills (and we have fewer fiscal ills than any other country in world) and will hurt the economies of poorer countries. Ask a person in New Delhi what they think about making $5 American a day? I have. You might be surprised by the answer.

Don't get me wrong, I think they should be paid more too but poverty has dropped in these countries because five American dollars goes a lot further in a third-world country then it does here.

It still amazes me how few so-called well read Americans have actually perused a book on economics. Try Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics or even P.J. O'Rourkes "Eat The Rich" or, heaven forbid, something truly weighty like "The Road To Serfdom."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Save Me From This Book

I was really looking forward to reading Brian "Head" Welch's autobiography "Save Me From Myself" but boy do I wish I had the time I wasted on that book back!

For those of you who don't know, Brian Welch (or "Head") was the lead guitarist for the nu-metal band Korn. He left the group just as they were about to sign a huge multi-million dollar deal because he had become a Christian and no longer felt that he could write and play the type of music that made Korn famous.

His conversion was world wide news as was his dramatic baptism in the Jordan River. He stated in interviews that once he accepted Christ, his addictions to alcohol and speed disappeared as did the constant depression that once enveloped him.

I was a huge Korn fan. They are heavy, unique, talented and boast the best bass player since Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged in the mid-80's. It was exciting news that one of them had been saved and I eagerly looked forward to reading the book which has sat in my "To Read" pile for months.

Yet, the book is a major disappointment. The first half is the typical Behind the Music fodder that has just become boring and the second half is clearly the rantings of a very immature Christian. To be fair, he has only been a Christian for a few years but that's why there are ghost writers and/or co-authors! Head, his nickname comes from childhood taunts about having a disproportionally large noggin', arrogantly advocates praying in tongues and searching your dreams for prophetic announcements rather than studying scripture and engaging in other spiritual disciplines. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against tongues and certainly if God wants to speak through dreams then that's His business, but many secular Korn fans who pick up the book may be misled by Head's version of charismatic legalism.

I certainly am glad that Head has come to Christ and, as a former Korn devotee, I eagerly await his debut Christian Metal album (which is already well overdue) but do yourself a favor and skip the book. Hopefully in 10 years he'll write another one that's a little deeper and more reflective.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Need for Atonement

The dishonoring of God's holiness by our sin merits death. Eternal death. A life must be given in order to avert God's great wrath. The blood of bulls, goats and lambs as required by the Sinai Covenant was not enough (see Hebrews 9-10). Thus, the very son of God became THE Passover Lamb. Jesus' sacrificial death is described by John, Paul and the writer of Hebrews as a "propitiation", which means "a turning away of anger" (Rom. 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, etc.). Christ not only took the sin of the world upon himself, he also took all of God's wrath upon himself. This is a necessary component of the doctrine of "the atonement" or the bring of God and us "at-one."

The prophet Isaiah stated that it actually pleased God to offer His son to be "crushed" (Isa. 53:10). Again, not easy teaching and one we will return to later.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

We Are Sinful and This Angers God.

The Bible teaches that all people have sinned. There are a number of Greek and Hebrew words that we translate as "sin." Sin is rebellion. Sin is evil. Sin is darkness. We all sin and this angers God. In fact, God hates sin so much that the unrepentant sinner (i.e., one who wallows in sin without attempt to turn from it) becomes God's enemy and is cast into eternal torment.

Paul Washer preaches that God tells the planets to spin and they obey. He tells the stars to explode and they obey. He tells the mountains to rise and they obey. He tells the seas to stop at the shore and come no farther and the seas obey. But he tells us to obey and we say "no."

Such a response dishonors God and is an affront to His great Holiness. Such an affront carries the death penalty.

Not an easy teaching but a true one.

More later.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Holiness of God

There is no harder theological task then accurately describing the "holiness" of God. Various Greek and Hebrew words are translated as "holy" and each word can be used various ways depending on context. Holy can be mean "separate" or "not common" or "morally perfect" or "unblemished", etc. but none of these really does the job.

God's holiness is such that it creates earthquakes when His presence intensifies, evokes such fear in an individual that he or she instinctively falls to their knees and hides their faces (hence, our normal posture for prayer) and even strikes those dead who dare to dishonor it.

God is holy and there is no concept more difficult to understand until we stand at the throne.

More later here and from CCC this weekend as this subject is the second prong of my sermon on "The Lamb of God."

Hope to see you there.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Lamb of God

Sometime in the first half of the first century A.D., John the Baptist was out in the sticks of Israel yelling at people (I'm not the only one whose loud when they preach) and then holding some of them under water when he saw his cousin Jesus walking by and screamed:

"Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29b

John is most certainly referring to the sacrificial lamb offered during Passover. During the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Abib (roughly April), a Jewish family would buy a spotless lamb and take it home. For 4 days, this lamb would hang around their house. Maybe they would tie it to a post in their back yard. The kids would want to play with it and pet it and feed it. Then on the 14 day of Abib the family would take the lamb to the Temple, lay their hands on it, pray over it and then slit its throat over a basin.

Horrific huh?

Why? Because God is holy, we are sinful and the product of sin is death. More on this later. Preaching on it this weekend.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful

I'm thankful for so many things this year. My salvation is always first and foremost. My beautiful wife and amazing son are second and not far behind are my parents (better known as Scott & Alice Kaye). My parents have worked so hard to escape poverty and near poverty, respectfully, put 5 kids through college (and in some cases grad school) while serving as God's instruments to build a church of 1000+ attendees in a town of roughly 20,000 (that's a better percentage than Smilin' Joel Osteen).

More importantly, they have modeled Christ for me (and many others) for decades. They have taught me that life is not about degrees or material goods but about shining the light of Christ into the darkness and standing before the throne as loyal warrior of God (albeit still relying on grace through the cross).

I am thankful not only for the grace of the cross but for the great grace of having been born into a home where Christ is rightly viewed as King.

Which reminds me, many people ask me when my parents are going to slow down and retire into the "good life." I tell them that I hope they never retire! Their ministry may change but they should never stop (On this topic, see John Piper's great book "Don't Waste Your Life"). Perhaps my father will hire an executive pastor and do nothing but preach and teach or maybe the opposite (I don't know of anyone who is better at running the day-to-day operations of a church) or who knows what God will call him to do. Perhaps my mother will oversee a team of women's ministers or take up some type of social justice or outreach ministry but God forbid they ever retire! They have been called by God and need to follow that call all the days of this life.

Don't be surprised if 20-25 years from now they're sitting in wheel chairs with Bibles in hand teaching in a "retirement community" like Francis Schaeffer did up to the day he went to worship before the Throne.

Praise God for them both.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Preaching This Weekend

Everyone have a happy Thanksgiving. I'm taking the day to hang with the fam esp. my son and lovely wife but then will be back at it Friday as I prep to teach Acts 5-6 at the Early Morning Men's Bible Study and preach on the Lamb of God this weekend.

Everyone have a great one and God bless,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Leondard Sweet Predicts the Future

Check out Phil Cooke's podcast from last May featuring Leonard Sweet on what the church will be facing 5-10 years from now. I listened to it last night on my way to Columbus and thought 1/3 of it was goofy but that 2/3 may darn near be prophetic.

Take a listen here (episode 4: Reach 2007 episode):

http://www.philcooke.com/podcast

Monday, November 19, 2007

Piper Rocks! (part two)

I was listening to John Piper preach this morning as I rolled into my law office and was amazed at what I heard. In 2003, Bethlehem Baptist Church, where Piper preaches, averaged 2700 every weekend. In 2006, the weekly attendance increased to 4000. Two weeks ago, Bethlehem hit the 5000 mark.

Think about this--a 60-year old Calvinist preacher who preaches for 45 minutes after a service with an old school choir, etc. has led a church in one of the 3-4 most unchurched areas of the country to nearly double its attendance in 4 years.

How?

Missional training, multiple campuses and, of course, great expository preaching about the Holiness of God, the sinfulness of man and atonement that can only be found in Christ.

I'll say it again, Piper rocks!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Speaking of Fasting...

Yesterday, I spoke to CCC's youth group about fasting and then ran across a book review of "Starving Jesus" by the Craig Gross (co-founder of the XXX Church) and J.R. Mahon over at Relevant Magazine's web page. The book documents their 40 day fast and Starving Jesus Tour. Check it out--

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life_article.php?id=7504

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Strengths and Weaknesses of N.T. Wright

I have a love-dislike relationship with New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. What I appreciate about Bishop Wright is his vigorous defense of the historicity of the Gospels (esp. the resurrection), his emphasis on the Kingdom of God and his strident attempts to see the Bible as one, continuous narrative (not to mention his refusal to latch on to pacifism, which is an over reading of the Gospels, an under reading of Paul and a total refusal to deal with the Hebrew Bible).

However, Bishop Wright's theology is not without its problems. His push for "mono-covenantalism" (contrasted with the classical Reformed bi-covenantal position or the dispensational view--see earlier post) has led him to embrace the so-called New Perspective on Paul, which wholly redefines the Church's 2000 year old understanding of "justification" (see Thomas Oden "Justification: A Reader" and Alister McGrath's "History of Justification"). Wright has also embraced a modified post-millennialism in which the church will redeem the world. One can even argue from works such as "The Crown and the Fire" that Wright somehow sees the Lord's Supper as the "Second Coming." Such positions are naive and so radically different from historical orthodoxy that one wonders why Wright doesn't see the serious theological problem of asserting that the church's eschatology has been wholly misguided for two thousand years.

I praised Bishop Wright this morning at Bible Study and someone asked me which one of his books they should read and I recommended "Simply Christian" with some hesitation. Not since Karl Barth has a theologian been so powerfully on target and woefully misguided at the same time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Village Idiots Part Two

As I confessed in a previous post, I once considered myself a part of the "emerging church movement." I hung around in coffee shops discussing books by Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Marislov Volf, etc., dissing "narrow minded evangelicals" and cussing up a storm.

I, like Mark Driscoll, now realize that I was a part of these "cohorts" because it felt trendy and different = more "authentic" because it is "mine." In other words, it was pure arrogance. As far as I can see, the overwhelming majority of "emergents" still fall into this category.

I also used to believe that the "emerging/post-conservative/post-liberal/post-modern" church was THE future. Rob Bell's success in Grand Rapids and Tim Keel's success in Kansas City seemed to confirm this belief.

Well, that was then and this is now.

Outreach Magazine's latest "101 Fastest Growing Churches" list was published last month (thank you, Mike Peters for the head's up) and not one "emerging church" made the list. Four years ago, Mars Hill Church was near the top of the list having grown from 3000 to 12,000 weekly attendees in about 5 years. Now Mars Hill has not only fallen off the list but appears to have lost roughly 2000 members as its pastor, Rob Bell, continues to embrace every theological fad that blows through seminaries and "spiritual" book stores.

This has occurred while many conservative (even Reformed) churches have exploded. The most impressive may be the church that Jerry Falwell built in Lynchburg (Thomas Road Baptist) whose membership had slowly eroded sadly along with the elder Falwell's health. His son, who is just as conservative, has ascended to his father's puplit and led the charge to increase its attendance by roughly 4750 over the past year.

Most impressive, according to missiology guru Ed Stetzer, is that many of these churches are reaching the unchurched while Emergent Cohorts continue to "explore" heresy and recruit angry Christian kids who never got the chance to properly rebel in high school.

101 Fastest Growing Churches & 100 Largest Churches

Outreach Magazine Updates List of Top 100 Largest & Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches

Hispanic megachurch Iglesia Cristiana Segardores de Vida in Hollywood, Fla., has been named the fastest-growing church in America on the Outreach 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches list, published Sept. 27, 2007, exclusively in Outreach magazine's second annual Outreach 100 Special Issue. The magazine's cover features Ruddy Gracia, co-pastor with his wife, Maria, of Segadores de Vida. Since the Gracias launched the church in 1992 in their apartment living room, Segadores de Vida has grown from a small group to almost 6,000 attendees. From 2006 to '07, the church grew by 2,800 attendees.

This year, Outreach partnered for the first time with Dr. Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and missiologist-in-residence, who served as the researcher for the report. Stetzer and his research team contacted more than 20,000 churches to gather the self-reported data used to compile the lists.

For the first time, a new methodology was used to calculate the Outreach 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches list. This year, the list rankings reflect an amalgamated number, factoring in both numerical and percentage growth. Previously, growth ranks were determined by numeric growth alone.

"We believe this change increases the list's utility and meaning," said Lynne Marian, executive editor and publisher of Outreach magazine. "While numerical growth in large churches is an important factor, percentage growth in attendeesis also critical. The change in methodology provides a more accurate picture of a church's growth."

The corrected Fastest-Growing list reflects changes in the growth rankings of the churches; however the numerical growth figures and percentage growth figures remain the same as on the original list. All of the numerical growth figures are correct and reflect self-reported data from the churches on the list as of June 2007.

The growth rankings are based on an average of the numerical and percentage growth figures. The sortation of the original list was incorrect, and the error was not caught until after the issue was printed. Some church growth rankings remain unchanged; however most have shifted from their positions on the original list, some significantly. Rankings shifted both up and down.

The length of the list has also changed from 100 to 101 churches. As a result of the new rankings, one church moved onto the list. The Largest U.S. Churches list published in the same issue remains correct with no changes."Outreach magazine strives for accurate, responsible journalism and it is in this spirit that we now report and amend the list," said Lynne Marian, publisher and executive editor of Outreach magazine. "On a personal note, I am grateful that attendance figures, list rankings, or even embarrassing publishing errors cannot diminish God's work in and through His Church. It's our privilege to share these stories in each issue of Outreach in hopes that they will inspire churches to reach their communities for Christ--and we will continue to do that."Marian continued, "We also stand by the good work of our research partner Dr. Ed Stetzer and our friends at LifeWay Research. Together we are investigating this problem and will ensure accuracy of our report in the future."

In addition to the publication of the Outreach 100 lists, Outreach's special issue also includes a report on the trends driving today's megachurches (2,000-plus attendees) and a comprehensive analysis of the growth trends represented by the two Outreach 100 lists.The issue also features profiles of four of the churches on the Fastest-Growing list, offering transferable principles and insights into their growth. These churches include Segadores de Vida in Hollywood, Fla. (No. 1); Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif. (No. 52); Salem Baptist Chicago (No. 50); Central Christian Church in Las Henderson, Nev. (No. 20) and our One to Watch: Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. The growth rankings reflect the corrected list.

In his analysis, Dr. Stetzer identifies five key church growth megatrends that will continue to impact churches of all sizes across the United States:Megatrend No. 1 – Rapid growth Megatrend No. 2 —Multi-site technology Megatrend No. 3—Political action in new ways Megatrend No. 4 – Ethnic diversityMegatrend No. 5 – Return to discipleship.

Fast Facts on the Top 100 Largest & Fastest-growing Churches in America (includes revised growth rankings)1) The state with the most churches on the Largest list (22) is California. Texas has 16.2) Some 1,016,926 people are represented by the combined attendance of the Outreach 100 Largest U.S. churches. More than a half-million people attended a Fastest-Growing church in 2007.3) The youngest church on the Fastest-Growing list is Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C. (No. 8), founded in 2006. 4) The youngest churches on the Largest list are Gateway Church, Southlake, Texas (No. 74); NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C. (No. 50); and The Rock Church, San Diego (No. 76). All were founded in 2000. 5) The oldest church on the Largest list is The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral, Jamaica, N.Y. (No. 20), founded in 1837.6) 11 churches on the Largest list have sites in different states than the church's main campus. 7) One church on the Fastest-Growing list has an international site: Flamingo Road Baptist Church, Cooper City, Fla. (No. 10), opened a site in Lima, Peru.8) The 101 churches on the Fastest-Growing list grew four times faster than the 100 churches on the Largest list grew. 9) From 2006 to 2007, the average growth of the 101 churches on the Fastest-Growing list was 1,385 attendees.10)

The largest increase in attendance at any one church on the Fastest-Growing list was 4,750 attendees at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. (No. 9).Top 10 Largest U.S. Churches 1) Lakewood Church, Houston Texas, Joel Osteen, pastor (47,000)2) Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill., Bill Hybels (23,500)3) Second Baptist Church, Houston, Ed Young Sr. (23,198) 4) Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., Rick Warren (22,000)5) LifeChurch.tv, Edmond, Okla., Craig Groeschel (19,907)6) Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky., Dave Stone (18,013)7) North Point Church, Alpharetta, Ga., Andy Stanley (17,700)8) Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va., Jonathan Falwell (17.445)9) Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Bob Coy (17,000)The Potter's House, Dallas, T.D. Jakes (17,000)Top 10 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches (includes revised growth rankings)1) Iglesia Cristiana Segadores de Vida, Hollywood, Fla., Ruddy and Maria Gracia (numeric growth: 3,050, percentage growth: 109%)2) Community of Faith, Spring, Texas, Mark Shook (growth: 2,200, 163%)3) Valley Bible Fellowship, Bakersville, Calif., Ron Vietti (growth: 3,600, 52%)4) Community Christian Church, Naperville, Ill., Dave Ferguson (growth: 2,230, 81%)5) The ROC (Richmond Outreach Center), Richmond, Va., Geronimo Aguilar (growth: 2,100, 100%)6) New Life Church, Conway, Ark., Rick Bezet (growth: 2,000, 108%)7) Living Hope Church, Vancouver, Wash., John Bishop (growth: 2,223, 75%)8) Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C., Steven Furtick (growth: 1,965, 444%) 9) Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va., Jonathan Falwell (growth: 4,750, 37%)10) Flamingo Road Baptist Church, Cooper City, Fla., Troy Gramling (growth; 2040, 51%).

The 2007 Outreach 100 report on America's largest and fastest-growing churches appears in the Outreach 100 Special Issue of Outreach magazine. Issue copies are available to news media on request.San Diego, California-based Outreach magazine offers the ideas, insights and stories of today's outreach-oriented church. First published in January 2003 by Outreach, Inc., Outreach is one of the fastest-growing periodicals for church leadership based on circulation. Outreach is available by subscription or in many Christian and general periodical retailers through Ingram Periodicals Distribution. For information, subscriptions or advertising, visit www.Outreachmagazine.com. The Outreach 100 lists were compiled by Dr. Ed Stetzer in association with LifeWay Research and include only Protestant churches--as defined by the American Religious Data Archive--that opted to participate in the study. All ranks and attendance statistics based on self-reported data from denominations/networks and individual Protestant churches compiled June 2007. All rights reserved. Outreach 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches. All ranks and growth statistics based on average of self-reported annual numerical and percentage growth compiled June 2007. All rights reserved. Revised List publication Oct. 8, 2007. Research compiled by LifeWay Research. Outreach and LifeWay are not responsible for errors/discrepancies in self-reported data or churches not opting to report.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Far Have We Fallen?

Need more reasons to attend church and learn to be a missional Christian? Driving down Route 23 tonight I witnessed a man openly relieving himself by the side of the road and a man on an electric wheelchair pulling a dog in a child's wagon through a carry out drive-thru. How far is Southern Ohio from this?

http://www.nbc10.com/news/14585860/detail.html

This and many other worthless stories can be found over at one of my favorite Chrisitan sites--Relevant magazine.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Village Idiots

There are only two movements within Christianity that are attracting young people ages 18-35. One is the new Reformed movement (kind of a younger, hipper Evangelical Calvinism) and the other is the Emerging Church movement with its most liberal wing led by an organization known as The Emergent Village. Check out the following links to learn about it. The first is the obligatory Wikipedia article and the second is a talk given by pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Driscoll is part of the New Reformed Movement but was a leader of the "emerging church" at one time (at one point, I considered myself part of it as well but we have both since repented). Oh, and as far as my thoughts on Emergent...be afraid...be very afraid.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_Church

http://www.sebts.edu/chapel/chapelMessages.cfm?filter_sortdirection=DESC&filter_semesterid=0&Page=3

Monday, November 12, 2007

John Piper Rules!

Pastor-Scholar John Piper is a former professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, the Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, the head of Desiring God Ministries and an award winning Christian author. The web page for Desiring God was already one of the best web sites on the net featuring an extensive archive of audio resources and articles by Piper but now many of his award winning books are online as well. Among the free titles available for download are "Desiring God", "What Jesus Demands from the World" and "Don't Waste Your Life."

They are all well worth reading although some of them, like "The Future of Justification," is tough going if your not familiar with the current state of Biblical studies.

Check them all out here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Golden Compass That Only Points South?

While I'm blogging about movies, I guess I might as well weigh in on The Golden Compass. The film, which is to be released in December, is an adaptation of author Phillip Pullman's novel of the same name. Pullman is an outspoken atheist (and a preacher's kid...what is it about them!) and his "Dark Materials" is a series of stories that the author has all but admitted are a secular humanist reaction to C.S. Lewis' pro-Christian children's books.

The novel The Golden Compass questions the validity of belief in God but the film's distributor, New Line Cinema, promises that these elements have been stripped from the movie's screenplay. One of the stars, Nicole Kidman, has also stated that she would not participate in an anti-Christian film as she is a practicing Catholic. Some evangelical leaders have asked their fellow Christians to take a "wait and see attitude."

Other Christian leaders, however, fear that, regardless of how the film is scripted, the movie will lead to increased sales of Pullman's books, which will not be redacted--this seems to me to be a well grounded concern. My son will not watch the film and the book will never set page in my home.

However, all of the controversy has generated buzz for the film which will undoubtedly lead to increased ticket sales. I'm not sure how to address the issue without "stirring the pot" but it is an unfortunate side-effect.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Pro-Life, Pro-Family Chick Flick

The new film "Bella" has received standing ovations from test audiences and praise from men such as James Dobson because of its pro-life message. The movie is a tear-jerking "chick flick", so take your better half and a wad of tissues. Read more about it here.

http://www.bellathemovie.com/

Friday, November 9, 2007

Unborn In The USA

A documentary on abortion just released on DVD promises to be the first truly fair, even-handed treatment of the subject. "Unborn in the USA" can be ordered now (ask your video store to carry it or go the Netflix route like I do).

An interview with the filmmakers can be found at Christianity Today's Movie page. Link below.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/interviews/thompsonfell.html

Check it out.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Meet Pastor Tim Keller

To the left are videos featuring Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in NYC. Pastor Keller has managed to help build a megachurch of largely single, unchurched young people in Manhattan. His insights are invaluable. I also encourage you to download a few of his sermons from Redeemer's web page. You can find the link to your left as well.

If you missed last month's video, "The Good Soldier" featuring Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church then you can easily find the video on Youtube.

God bless,

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ben Stein to the Rescue

Actor, comedian, law professor, pro-life activist and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein is helming a new documentary on the prejudice proponents of intelligent design face in acedemia and elsewhere. Checkout the link

http://www.expelledthemovie.com

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Small Group Shepherds

Brothers,

As we discussed, please check out the videos to your left, esp. the first video "The Good Soldier" by Pastor Mark Driscoll. YOU are the men that have been chosen for the task, the message is 1 Cor. 15 and the mission is the redemption of Scioto County for the glory of God!

Please also check out the resources contained in the links to the lower left.

Study the Word, pray for wisdom (James 1:5), fast (Matt 6:16ff) and prepare yourselves for the spiritual warfare ahead.

Please do not hestitate to ask any question. My personal email is matt_rawlings_33@hotmail.com.

May God bless you, May He keep you from the evil one and may He guard you from temptation.

In Christ,

Matthew

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Will We Be Judged By Our Works? Part Two.

The classical protestant view is that we are saved by faith not works, but lately Bishop N.T. Wright and well known author & mega-church pastor Rob Bell, as well as many others, have argued that while we are admitted into the body of Christ purely by grace, we stay there by doing "good works." This has evoked howls of protest from the likes of Calvinists such as John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll and John Piper. Yet, there are passages of Scripture like Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus casts into Hell all those who call Him Lord but do not care for "the least among us and 2 Cor. 5:10 which reads "For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil." On the other hand there are passages of Scripture that clearly state that we are justified by faith not by works (Gal. 2:16). So what’s the deal?

In order to accept Bishop Wright and Pastor Bell’s arguments, you have to totally redefine justification from the eternal declaration by God that a repentant sinner has been declared forgiven to the declaration by God that a repentant sinner has been declared forgiven for now but tomorrow is another day. Such a definition doesn’t seem to square with most of the New Testament or more than 2000 years of church tradition. So, how do you harmonize what Paul writes in Gal. 2:16 with what he writes in 2 Cor. 5:10?

John Calvin was one of the truly brilliant interpreters of Scripture the church has ever known and he saw this "dilemma" roughly 400 years ago. In his theological masterpiece, The Institutes of the Christian Religion he writes:

"For we dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them. This alone is of importance: having admitted that faith and good works must cleave together, we still lodge justification in faith, not in works. We have a ready explanation for doing this, provided we turn to Christ to whom our faith is directed and from whom it receives its full strength." (Institutes. III.16.1)

Calvin argued that the "predestined elect" are justified by faith and then we grow in holiness or godliness through the work of the Holy Spirit within us (often called "progressive sanctification") and that this is demonstrated by "good works." Therefore, if a person does not demonstrate "good works" then he or she never received the Holy Spirit which means they were never justified which means they were never saved!

But what about all of this stuff about receiving our just due in Heaven for what we have done whether good or evil?

Biblical scholar and theologian Wayne Grudem, following Calvin, argues that all Christians will receive rewards or "treasures" in Heaven (Matt. 6:1-24) for doing "good works." What are these rewards? What does a believer get for his or her "evil"? Will there be some type of punishment in heaven? The Bible simply doesn’t say.

As much respect as I have for Bishop Wright, I don’t think his view of works (and especially of justification) is correct. However, whether you agree with Bishop Wright or with Calvinists like John Piper (who is set to publish a formal response to Wright next month), it is clear that works matter. Whether you believe that "good works" are a sign of salvation or a means of retaining your salvation, it is clear that our Savior and King demands that we care for the "least among us." May we do so joyfully and to His glory.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Will We By Judged By Our Works?

Judgment day. The trumpet sounds, Jesus somehow reveals himself to the world and God creates a new Heaven and a new Earth. The nations are arraigned before the Son of God. Among them are many people to Jesus' left who have attended church, dropped checks in the collection plate and sang countless hymns. They wait for the King of the New Creation to announce to them that because of their faith alone they are forgiven. They take deep breaths in great anticipation for the words from the throne "well done good and faithful servant, enter my Kingdom." They watch as the Christ turns to his right and tells all of the people gathered on the opposite side that they are blessed and may inherit eternity because they fed Jesus when He was hungry, gave Him something to drink when He was thirsty, welcomed Him when He was a stranger, clothed Him when He was in need, cared for Him when He was sick and even visited Him when He was in prison. The throngs to the Messiah's right look to their King in shock. Some murmur to themselves while others just yell out, "Lord, when did we do these things?" Jesus responds with a warm, appreciative smile, "What you did to the least among you…you did for me!"
Christ slowly turns to look to those at His left but his countenance has changed. He looks mad! Jesus says in a very strong, passionate tone, "You, on the other hand, are cursed! Away from me because you didn't feed me, welcome me, visit me, clothe me or take care of me." The crowd at the left scream in desperation "BUT LORD! When did we see you hungry or in need or sick or in prison…!" Jesus responds in a croaked voice tinged with both anger and sorrow, "what you didn't do to the least among you…you didn't do for me!"
Sound weird? Not what you were raised to expect from Judgment Day? Yet, this is exactly the picture presented by Matthew 25:31-46 (and anticipated in Matt. 25:14-30). BUT what about Jesus telling Nicodemus that one needs to be "born again" in order to be saved (John 3:3) or Peter telling the Jews gathered in Jerusalem that they need only to repent and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38) or Christ telling the thief on the cross that, apparently because of his simple confession, he would join Jesus in paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43)? For goodness sakes, what about Paul telling the church that we are justified not by works but by faith alone (Gal. 2:16)?
Yet, there are also passages of Scripture like 2 Corinthians 5:10 ("For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.") and Revelation 20:12 ("And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done.") as well as Romans 2:6-10; 1 Cor. 4:5, etc.
So are we saved by faith or by works? This question stands at the center of a very heated and important debate going on in churches and seminaries across the world as we speak. It is important to note that it is not a debate between liberals and conservatives but largely conservatives versus conservatives. Evangelical scholars like N.T. Wright and megachurch pastors like Rob Bell have embraced a form of what is known as "The New Perspective on Paul" which teaches that Christians all enter the Kingdom by faith and the grace of God but that they stay there (or "keep the new Covenant") by "good works." This has drawn howls from very influential conservative Christians like John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Professor Don Carson.
So, who has the better argument? What do folks like John MacArthur do with passages like Matthew 25:31-46? What does N.T. Wright do with Galatians 2:16? Do most Christians need to get out of their chairs and start feeding the poor to stay out of hell? Is it fair that a serial killer like Ted Bundy can "come to Christ" on death row and go to heaven and sit right next to Mother Theresa? If so, then what do you tell someone on their death bed who truly regrets their life and wants to accept Christ? Sorry, too late! Better pack sunscreen! And what about the poor who try to take advantage of you? Doesn't Paul say to the Thessalonians that those who don’t work, don't eat (2 Thess. 3:10)?
All I can tell you is to pick up your Bibles, start reading and click on this blog in a few weeks for more. Happy Bible wrestling!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Will We Be Judged By Our Works?

Coming soon...check back and God bless.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Justification & Righteousness--The Classical Reformed Perspective

In classical Reformed thought, justification and righteousness fall within the parameters of "bi-covenantalism." This is roughly how the story goes: (1) our very great grandfather Adam, who corporately represented all of humankind, disobeyed God's law which brought a curse upon the earth or "imputed" his sin to all of us; (2) God then sends Jesus, who, like Adam, represents all humankind but, unlike Adam, was fully obedient. His "passive obedience" on the cross resulted in the sins of the members of the church (for those who adhere to limited atonement) being paid in full. His "active obedience" (i.e., His sinless life or "righteousness") fulfilled the law and is imputed to us as well; (3) Thus, Christians are relieved of the unpayable debt of sin by Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross and then declared "righteous" by way of Christ's obedience and our faith in Christ. This is the great Reformed doctrine of "Justification by Faith Alone."

The first schema involving Adam (and Israel) falls within a covenant of works (i.e., obedience = blessing and disobedience = a curse) while the second system is a covenant of grace (i.e., because we cannot pay the price, Jesus pays it for us and because we cannot obey, Jesus obeys and imputes his righteousness to us).

I am in the midst of re-reading all of Bishop N.T. Wright's works in order to outline his theology in full. Included in this outline will be his controversial re-definition of "Justification" and "Righteousness." Check back soon and God bless!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blessed Podcasts

A brother in Christ recently purchased his very first iPod and asked me to recommend podcasts. Fortunately, there are a number of great (and free!) Christian podcasts that are available and that I listen to on a regular, if not a weekly, basis.

Check out (by typing into the iTunes store search engine):

1) Mars Hill Church. Not to be confused with Mars Hill Bible Church (where Rob Bell preaches and is drifting farther left every week), this is where Mark Driscoll preaches. Mark was immortalized by Donald Miller in his book "Blue Like Jazz" as the "Cussing Pastor." Mark, however, doesn't drop any F-bombs or anything during his weekly sermons that are uploaded on-line (sorry to dissapoint). Mark is, in my opinion, the best "emerging" preacher out there in that he is, in his own words, "theologically conservative but culturally liberal."

2) Relevant Magazine. A weekly podcast featuring the editorial staff of Relevant Magazine (which you should subscribe to!) pontificating on news of the weird, pop culture, etc. A lot of fun. I never miss it.

3) "Dirty Little Secrets" by the XXX Church. A weekly 1/2 hour podcast featuring Craig Gross of the XXX Church which is a ministry geared to converting those in the porn industry and ministering to those addicted to pornography. A great ministry that is shining Christ's light into the darkness. If you are a dude then go to their website (google it) and get their software which blocks porn on your computer. No reason to even have the temptation in your house. Also consider buying Bibles for them to hand out to those at porn conventions or buying their shirts which supports their ministry and feature slogans like "porn sucks" and "Christian Men Don't Masturbate." But be warned, these guys work for Christ in the gutter and their language reflects it.

4) Wallbuilders. A daily podcast featuring David Barton and Rick Green and focusing on a wide range of public policy issues from a theological and historical point-of-view. Fantastic stuff!

5) Desiring God. John Piper's weekly sermons and Piper is the MAN. 'nuff said!

If you are a theology geek like me then be sure to check out podcasts from Dallas Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. Both feature deep theological discussions and/or Bible classes online. Great for a nerd like me.

There are many others that might interest you. Just click on "Podcasts" then "Religion & Spirituality" and then "Christianity" for a list of the top 20 Christian podcasts. You'll find some great stuff!

May God bless your downloads!

Be sure to check 'em out and tell them that Pastor Matt sent ya'.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

When Fired Upon?

During the last few years my hometown's political climate has changed drastically due to the rise of a handful of very vocal "bloggers." Generally, they seem to have concentrated on Portsmouth city politics (and esp. the city's purchase of the Martings Building) but every once in a while they shift their focus beyond the goings-on at the municipal building and lately they have targeted my own family.
The bloggers are upset with my Father's recent Scioto Citizen editorial in which he opined that many of the bloggers are mean spirited. In a humorous turn, that seems to have escaped them, the bloggers responded to my father by attacking him!
Among the "arguments" floated by the bloggers are that: (1) Christ's Community Church exists to financially benefit my father and his family; (2) the church is really a front for the Republican Party; and (3) my father is hypocrite because there are unconfirmed rumors of extramarital affairs.
Now, the last one is so absurd that those who have known my father for close to 40-years actually burst out laughing and it would be funny if it wasn't in fact slanderous and actionable. I have personally volunteered to file suit several times on behalf of my father but he has always dismissed it by stating that falsities have been floated about him ever since he arrived in Portsmouth and that unless it hurts the church it isn't even worth acknowledging.
The first two are equally absurd and demonstrate that the bloggers may be passionate but they are not exactly Woodward & Bernstein because they haven't done their homework. What most people don't know is that my parents worked in the private sector for decades and they saved their money wisely. My mother quit her job as a remedial reading teacher and opened two children's clothing stores before selling them both after being offered a great job by a corporate insurance agency located in Columbus. My father also landed a series of good gigs in the steel industry.
My mother commuted to Columbus every weekday for 10 years. I remember getting up for school between 6:30-7am just as she was jumping in her car to be in her office by 9am. She usually returned home around 7:30pm and immediately began cleaning house or fixing a late dinner if we hadn't eaten. She was tireless, good at her job and a wise investor.
My father, on the other hand, travelled all over the country and, eventually, the world. I remember him going on business trips with his good friend and colleague Bob Carver, to Salt Lake City, Wheeling/Pittsburgh and even India to sell raw materials to steel mills. He too worked very hard, made good money and saved a great deal of it. Trust me...I was always asking for it and usually getting "the look" in response ("the look" was given in lieu of stories of their poverty...and thank goodness because they did grow up in poverty).
Thankfully, while Mom & Dad were working their tails off in the private sector, the great staff at Christ's Community Church (then Rick Clark, Paula Bailey, Dick Duduit, and Herb Bussa--a former union official and vocal Democrat by the way) "held down the fort", so to speak.
So, the bloggers look at my parent's home in Rosemount (which is nice but not exactly Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu) and think that my parent's must be milking the church but don't know anything about the decades they spent working 70-80 hour weeks to save the money to buy their house or their two "new cars" (Toyotas--not exactly the Jim & Tammy Fae life!).
Thankfully, they have both since "retired" from the private sector but still work 70 hour weeks, just at CCC. Coincidently, the tremendous growth at CCC coincides with my father's return to full-time ministry.
Now, they both do take a salary from CCC but the last time I checked the average salaries of pastors from churches of similar sizes, their salaries are roughly 1/10 of what their colleagues make. Yet, unlike many pastors, my parents still tithe at least 10% of their gross income back to the church!
So much for the $ argument.
The Republican Party or Vast-Right Wing argument is another tired, old accusation that has been around for years. Ignore the fact that many vocal Democrats have been pillars of Christ's Community Church (late County Engineer Jim Weaver and the aforementioned Herb Bussa being two that come immediately to mind) or that my father has openly supported Democratic candidates like Jim Weaver and his successor Clyde Willis, Mayor Jim Kalb (over Republican Trent Williams) and, of course, the late, great Speaker Riffe (who despite what one blogger stated did in fact help bring many non-state jobs to Scioto County and always kept his word to my father). The simple fact is that my father was raised a Democrat (as was my mother) but both felt alienated by the party's embrace of a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights agenda. Both have stated that they have absolutely no loyalty to the Republican Party and if the party ever softens its support for life and/or marriage then they will simply register as independants. My parents base their belief in their reading of Scripture, which is the end-all-be-all for them. The bloggers may disagree with their views or even their interpretation of the Bible but then they should either agree to disagree or engage in a helpful debate instead of just casting aspersions.
Now, I could go on and on. Despite what the bloggers state they have very little in common with Charles Colson, their intepretation of the Constitution and Constitutional history is poor (and to toot my own horn, I did earn one of the highest grades in the subject while attending Cornell Law and the subject is one of my passion's) and the last time I checked the various recalls they have led have not produced the dividends they promised while the folks at CCC are keeping the homeless shelter afloat, assisting hundreds of single parents every fall, weathing dozens of local houses every summar and underwriting psychological counseling for members who need it (not to mention the hospital visits, accounts at local grocery stores for the needy, etc., etc.).
To be fair, obviouslly, I am not totally objective. I love my parents and am very proud of them. They stood by me when I was the a-typtical rebellious preacher's kid, then a mouthy & arrogant political hack, and later when I was diagnosed with cancer and finally became a Christian. They helped put me through college, seminary and law school.
But as their son, I also certainly know their faults better than most (and inherited many of them). They can be overly stubborn, short tempered, talk too much, listen too little and say things they shouldn't. You can certainly say all these things about them (and me) but no one can truthfully say that they are not hard working, passionate, honest and sincere.
So, guys, blog away but please try to be fair even in response to what you see as an unmerited attack.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

River City Redmption Project Coming Soon

Check Back! Will be coming soon.