Friday, September 29, 2006
The Video-Pastored Church
Rick Mansfield has an insightful post on his blog: "The Video-Pastored Church: Is This Really a Good Idea?" Here is his conclusion:

Look, outside of extremely rural areas and in mission regions that are largely unchurched, I don't believe people should drive thirty minutes to church either. I've written about this before (see links below). I firmly believe that part of the reason that so many people feel disconnected from their churches and their local communities is that they've separated the two from each other. There's a great communal value from living in the same community--the same neighborhood if possible--as your local church. In fact, I suggest that your church should be within five miles of where you live. Then you can go to church with your neighbors and have random points of contact with your fellow church members throughout the week. This helps create a feeling of community on multiple levels, not driving thirty miles in the hopes of creating community with a bunch of people you see only once a week.

As I've said here, planting churches is a good thing. But if we want to build community, if we want to impact our cities and neighborhoods for Christ, we must worship locally and we must minister and be ministered to locally. The video-pastored church--the video-driven church, if you will--is not the answer.

I had a conversation this past summer with an older mentor to me in ministry whom I've known for quite a long time. The context of our discussion was not this subject, but he said something that certainly applies. He told me, "What we need in our churches today are pastors who are good communicators--without the ego--and have good people skills. It's that simple." I agree. And further, I agree that these pastors need to preach in person, not via an impersonal video screen.

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I'm on Baptist Press!
Late yesterday, Baptist Press posted an article about my trip to Belize: "Former Mormon challenges cults in Central America mission trip." Check it out!

And, be sure to stay tuned for what God may have in store for me and my family. . . .

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Thursday, September 28, 2006
Review: "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Straight Outta Lynwood"
This Tuesday, "Weird Al" Yankovic's latest CD was released. Of course, I purchased a copy of Straight Outta Lynwood the day it came out. At the same time, it has taken me a few days to digest it enough to be able to review it. What is my overall assessment? Buy It!!!

But for those that are looking for a more thorough review, the following are my thoughts on each song:

1) "White and Nerdy." A parody of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire. Obviously, this song is Weird Al's popular single right now. What can I say? Weird Al can rap! And the worst part is that I can identify a little too much with his character. . . .

2) "Pancreas." An anatomical song in the style of traditional beach music, reminiscent of "Trigger Happy." It makes me want to learn more about my pancreas!

3) "Canadian Idiot." A parody of "American Idiot" by Green Day. Hey, who doesn't like poking fun at our neighbors to the north? It also reminds me of "Genius in France" which appropriately skewers our "enemies" over in Europe.

4) "I'll Sue Ya." In the rapcore style. Who knew Weird Al could substitute as the lead singer for Rage Against the Machine? Maybe its my metal past coming out, but this song is definitely one of my favorites on the album!

5) "Polkarama!" Every Weird Al album has to have a medley of contemporary hits redone in polka. This album is no different. Nevertheless, I do appreciate a rendition of the chicken dance to start the song.

6) "Virus Alert." I'm not sure how to classify this song, but I do enjoy it. Of course, I am a computer nerd, so its not easy to go wrong with a song on computer viruses.

7) "Confessions Part III." A parody of "Confessions Part II" by Usher. A good parody, but I don't really get into this style of R&B. Regardless, there are some funny confessions!

8) "Weasel Stomping Day." Done in the style of jovial Christmas songs. But, instead of predecessors like "Christmas at Ground Zero" or "The Night Santa Went Crazy," Weird Al creates a new holiday. The song is comedically graphic--I guess it is not that different from "The Night Santa Went Crazy" after all.

9) "Close But No Cigar." Another Weird Al demented love song. Funny stuff. But I feel sorry for his wife!

10) "Do I Creep You Out." A parody of "Do I Make You Proud?" by Taylor Hicks. Hey, skewering these sappy love songs is always a good thing! I can easily imagine this becoming a love anthem for me to memorize.

11) "Trapped in the Drive-Thru." A parody of "Trapped in the Closet" by R. Kelly. Again, I don't get into this style of R&B. Imagine listening to it for almost eleven minutes! The lyrics can be humorous, but they stretch on too long. Reminiscent of the length of "Albuquerque" or "Genius in France."

12) "Don't Download This Song." I'm also an 80's nostalgic buff, so I really love this song done in the style of '80s charity music. You can even download it from Al's MySpace page. Get the irony?!?

Again: Buy It!!!

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E-Tithing?
Today's Los Angeles Times includes a fascinating article: "At Church, an 'ATM for Jesus'." Apparently, a pastor has begun a side business of installing ATM machines in churches, which began after their success in his own church. Here is how the news story begins:

Pastor Marty Baker preaches that the Bible is the eternal and inviolate word of God. On other church matters, he's willing to change with the times.

Jeans are welcome at Stevens Creek Community Church, the 1,100-member evangelical congregation Baker founded 19 years ago. Sermons are available as podcasts, and the electric house band has been known to cover Aerosmith's "Dream On." A recent men's fellowship breakfast was devoted to discussing the spiritual wages of lunching at Hooters.

It is a bid for relevance in a nation charmed by pop culture and consumerism, and it is not an uncommon one. But Baker has waded further into the 21st century than most fishers of American souls, as evidenced one Wednesday night when churchgoer Josh Marshall stepped up to a curious machine in the church lobby.

It was one of Stevens Creek's three "Giving Kiosks": a sleek black pedestal topped with a computer screen, numeric keypad and magnetic-strip reader. Prompted by the on-screen instructions, Marshall performed a ritual more common in quickie marts than a house of God: He pulled out a bank card, swiped it and punched in some numbers.

The machine spat out a receipt. Marshall's $400 donation was routed to church coffers before he had found his seat for evening worship.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006
MacArthur Retrospective on the Lordship Controversy
Today, Pulpit Magazine continues its series on Lordship Salvation with John MacArthur's "A 15-Year Retrospective on the Lordship Controversy." I do not plan on posting a link for every entry in the series, but I do hope people will continue reading MacArthur's thinking on this crucial issue. While I have posted a series on Lordship Salvation myself, no one handles this issue better than MacArthur. Here is an introductory excerpt:

Apparently, no-lordship doctrine no longer dominates Dallas Seminary the way it once did, but controversy over the issue is by no means dead. The past year or so has seen publication of a few new books touting the no-lordship view, attempting to revive the debate yet again. At least one organization, the Grace Evangelical Society, was founded in the heat of the controversy a decade and a half ago and regularly publishes a journal and a newsletter devoted to defending no-lordship theology. The question evidently remains unsettled for many.

My own views on “lordship salvation” have not changed, and if anything I now see the issue as larger and more far-reaching than I did when I first wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. Much more is at stake than just the question of how we proclaim the gospel. The lordship issue has serious ramifications for a number of crucial points of theology.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Underdog Movies
I have wondered why I am such a sucker for sports movies, especially since I am not really a sports kind of guy. I love everything from Rocky, to Rudy, to Remember the Titans, to The Rookie, to Miracle, to . . . well, you get my point.

In any case, today's USA Today includes an interesting article by Michael Medved on these movies: "In search of inspiration." I think he's hit the nail on its head. Here's an excerpt:

Beyond our undeniable national love affair with football, we have indulged an even longer-standing romance with underdogs and uplift. Americans clearly crave the experience of coming into a multiplex, plunking down our 10 bucks and then coming out of the darkness feeling better than when we entered. This should surprise no one, since most citizens of this country descend from imperiled voyagers who came here on immigrant ships or slave ships, clinging to unreasonable hopes and a stubborn belief in fresh starts and second chances. This nation remains the world center for overcoming obstacles and winning improbable victories that are by no means limited to the world of sports. In business, the arts, the military, even politics, prohibitive favorites regularly see themselves upset and surprised by disadvantaged nobodies from nowhere, the proverbial hicks from Hicksville. To some extent, that's the American dream that still inspires tens of millions of our unshakably optimistic countrymen, both native-born and immigrants, and in Hollywood's “Golden Age” in the '30s and '40s, the greatest filmmakers regularly celebrated these stirring underdog stories.

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Monday, September 25, 2006
John MacArthur on Lordship Salvation
Today, Pulpit Magazine posted "An Introduction to Lordship Salvation" by John MacArthur. It is a brief but helpful article that summarizes biblical beliefs which many of us hold dear. Here is how MacArthur begins:

The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. Our Lord’s words about eternal life were invariably accompanied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 7:13-23).

Present-day evangelicalism, by and large, ignores these warnings. The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow, while the portrayal of Christ in preaching and witnessing becomes fuzzy. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find evangelicals willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person’s behavior shows any evidence of commitment to Christ. In this way, faith has become merely an intellectual exercise. Instead of calling men and women to surrender to Christ, modern evangelism asks them only to accept some basic facts about Him.

This shallow understanding of salvation and the gospel, known as “easy-believism,” stands in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches. To put it simply, the gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority. This, in a nutshell, is what is commonly referred to as lordship salvation.

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Friday, September 22, 2006
Postmodern Epistemology in Light of the Bible
Matt Harmon has posted a short but insightful entry on his blog: "Knowledge in 1 John and the Postmodern Epistemological Crisis." Here is his conclusion:

To be biblical, we must embrace both the experiential and cognitive aspects of knowledge. Losing sight of either of these realities results in a distorted view of Christian knowledge. This is important today especially in light of those who, enamored with postmodern critiques of intellectual hubris, wrongly claim that propositional knowledge must be jettisoned as a relic of modernity. Furthermore, note the confidence and certainty that John claims Christians have about the reality/truth of these claims. There is no hint of the false humility of postmodern culture that abandons certainty in the guise of humility. This of course does not mean that Christians have absolute or exhaustive knowledge of such matters, but it does mean that Christians can have sufficient knowledge for certainty on fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. At the same time, these observations also serve to correct those who in their pursuit of propositional truth lose sight of the experiential aspect of knowledge, thus reducing Christianity to a set of beliefs devoid of personal, experiential knowledge of God.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006
Was C.S. Lewis an Evangelical?
The latest issue of "Think on These Things" by Gary E. Gilley is on C. S. Lewis. In his article, he attempts to answer the question: was C.S. Lewis an evangelical? He analyzes Lewis' beliefs regarding creation, total depravity, the scriptures, salvation, and miscellaneous issues. He also examines Lewis' views on substitutionary atonement, justification and sacramentalism, eternal security, and inclusivism. His conclusion?

A recent article in Christianity Today admits, “Though he shared basic Christian beliefs with evangelicals, he didn’t subscribe to biblical inerrancy or penal substitution. He believed in purgatory and baptismal regeneration.” His attraction to evangelicals may have been because of his evangelical-like conversion – “He had an evangelical experience, this personal encounter with the God of the universe.” His works actually fell out of fashion in the 1960s only to come roaring back more recently. In fact, sales of his books have increased 125% since 2001 and, since his Narnia series is being made into movies, his star will continue to rise for some time to come.

So how should we view Mr. Lewis? His ability to cut through the intellectual clouds and offer insightful analysis of human nature and our relationship with God perhaps has no equal. Most of us have gained much because of the writings of C. S. Lewis. On the other hand, he was no evangelical. His theology is deficient at best in the key areas of Scripture and salvation. He believed in neither sola fide nor sola scriptura, the two battle cries of the Reformation. Those who read him must keep these things in mind, filter his teaching through the grid of Scripture and hold him to the same standards that we are to hold all others. Because Lewis was a man with an incredible ability to package his insights in thought-provoking ways does not mean that what he writes always aligns with God’s Word. He was a man who had keen analytical abilities and incredible writing gifts. But he was a man who rejected or minimized many of the most important truths given to us by God.

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A Funeral Sermon
A week ago today, my wife and I received a phone call. It was a phone call we had been expecting but were not looking forward to hearing. Her father had passed away.

Before his death, my father-in-law asked me to officiate his funeral. I was honored by his request, but found myself nervous because his funeral would be my first.

Well, the time had come for my family to head back home. Last weekend we made the long trek in our minivan. On Saturday, the funeral was held.

My prayer is that I was able to comfort family and friends as we grieved our loss. I also pray that I glorified God as I gave my funeral sermon. For those interested, below is my outline:

Our Hope in Death
Romans 5:15-21

I. Introduction

A. As I stand here today, remembering my father-in-law, I am confronted with the reality of death. What should we think about death?

B. Death is not the way it is supposed to be. When God was creating this world and all that is in it, he said it was “good.” When he created the pinnacle of creation, human beings, he said it was “very good.” But something happened. In Adam, we turned from God and rebelled against Him, leading us to be separated from Him and to face death. Death is all too real for us today, but God offers us comfort. Death need not be the end. In God’s Word, we see two truths to help us as we face the reality of death.

II. First Truth: We Have Hope, vv. 15-17

A. God’s Gift Has Come, vv. 15-16

1. The Grace of Jesus Christ is Abundant, v. 15. It abounds to many. Our God is a generous God, and he loves to lavish us with his grace. What comfort we can find in Him!

2. The Grace of Jesus Christ Brings Justification, v. 16. While we deserve condemnation for our rebellion and separation from God, we can be justified! Even though we are guilty, God’s gift is that we can be accepted by Him as righteous!

B. Receiving God’s Gift Gives Life, v. 17. Here we have the contrast of death and life. We all face death, but it must not reign over us. When we receive God’s grace, when we turn from our rejection of God and embrace His Son and what He did for us, then life will reign through us in Jesus Christ.

III. Second Truth: Our Hope is Eternal Life in Christ, vv. 18-21

A. We are Righteous in Christ, vv. 18-19. Imagine being righteous in Christ, no longer being separated from God. What a wonderful and beautiful thing it will be to spend eternity with Him! Heaven with God awaits us in Christ!

B. Christ’s Righteousness Overcomes Death, vv. 20-21. As we’ve already seen, we can have eternal life. And then there is no reason to fear death, because we have eternal life. We will never be separated from God!

IV. Conclusion

A. What is God’s Word showing us today? Death is real, but it has been defeated! As the last book of the Bible promises, God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

B. The casket does not need to be the end of our story. In Christ, our bodies will be raised from the grave as we reign victorious over death. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-57) May we all look forward to that day.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Alistair Begg, "Power of the Cross"
One of my favorite preachers alive today is Alistair Begg. He recently spoke at an event hosted by Resurgence, and they have now posted both the audio (MP3) and video (MP4) online.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006
John MacArthur on Culture
Pulpit Magazine (the online magazine of the Shepherds’ Fellowship) has posted an interesting article by John MacArthur: "How to Confront the Culture." In it, he exposits Acts 17 to see how we should relate to culture today. Here is how he begins:

As a pastor in Southern California, I have the blessed privilege of mining the truth from God’s Word every week of my life. Doing that in Los Angeles only makes it more interesting, if for no other reason than the tremendous diversity of people, culture, and language here. When we take the gospel to our city, it’s amazing to watch God’s Word transcend the culture—and every false religion—to change lives. The message of salvation in Christ truly knows no hindrance.

If you think evangelism is a somewhat arduous task in that environment, you’re right. We face a culture that has rejected absolute truth and now considers it stylish to openly embrace and encourage degrading passions. The ecumenical, syncretistic spirit of the age recoils in horror at the exclusive claims of Christ. And popular, evangelical seeker-sensitive churches only make the task more difficult by refusing to confront sin in an effort to make the “unchurched” sinner comfortable.

Preaching today is clearly out of season (2 Tim. 4:2) and evangelism is difficult, but that’s nothing new. Paul faced worse challenges in his day. He faced an increasingly anti-Christian culture—there was no spirit of tolerance to shield believers from hostility. Still, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ—a hard, uncompromising message of repentance. That is best illustrated in Acts 17:16–34 where Paul faced one of the most intellectually erudite and morally corrupt audiences ever—the philosophers on Mars Hill.

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Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" Video
The latest from "Weird Al" Yankovic, "White and Nerdy," now has a music video. This parody of Chamillionaire’s "Ridin'" is great! Here's the video:

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Thursday, September 14, 2006
Mormons on Jesus Christ as Mediator

If you want to understand what Mormons normally teach regarding the role of Jesus Christ as mediator, watch this video made by Latter-day Saints. You will see how they themselves understand Jesus' mediation. Here's a sample of the main conversation in the story:

Mediator: I will pay the debt, if you will free the debtor of his contract, so that he can keep his possessions and not go to prison. You demanded justice. Though he cannot pay you, I will do so. You will have been justly dealt with, and can ask no more. It would not be just.

(Mediator Turns to Guilty Prisoner)

Mediator: If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?

Prisoner: Yes.

Mediator: Then you will pay the debt to me, and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way; you need not go to prison.

Additionally, don't miss the summary of the commentator:

And by eternal law, mercy cannot be extended, save there is one [Jesus Christ], who is both willing and able to assume our debt, pay the price, and arrange the terms for our redemption.

So, here is the fundamental question: does Jesus set and arrange the terms for our redemption, or does He actually accomplish out redemption?

Hint: Notice that they use the word mercy, but not grace.

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Taxonation Without Representation
In case you didn't know, Fox Trot is my favorite comic strip. I've always identified with Jason, the nerdy son (although I'm nervous about how much of my quirky personality is becoming known through my blog!).

Anyway, I found today's comic strip on the reclassification of Pluto to be hilarious. If you enjoy it as well, then consider adding Fox Trot to your feed aggregator (as I did long ago).

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Apologetic Approach Panel Discussion
As the leader of Southern Seminary's student organization Pros Apologian, I was able to bring together several of our school's professors to discuss their different apologetic approaches and how they relate to evangelistic encounters. This panel discussion occurred last week, and I really enjoyed our time together.

Now the event "Apologetics and Evangelism" is available online as an MP3 download. If you are interested in apologetics, then I suggest checking it out! The participants were:

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More from Resurgence
The Resurgence keeps adding great resources to its site. Here are two I enjoyed that were posted today:


Keep it up guys!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Darrell Bock on the Emerging Church
Darrell Bock has started a series of blog posts on the Emergent/emerging church (as he calls it). So far, Part 1 and Part 2 are up. Here is the end of his second post:

Let me explain and make a distinction that will be important for us. Much of the movement is driven by a desire to do a "rethink" or "reimage." That in itself is not a problem and on many issues such work is necessary, potentially doing the church a great service. Where that "rethinking" touches issues of church form and structure tied sensitively to culture, that is a perfectly appropriate question to ask and work through. In this area, tied as it also is to concerns about incarnating the gospel and being missional about it, such questions must be asked and pursued. However, there is a certain segment of this movement that is less well connected to the ancient roots it sometimes espouses when it comes to issues of authority (Biblical), leadership (Pastoral), and some aspects of theological articulation (esp the atonement--or at least death for sin-- and the uniqueness and necessity of Jesus for the plan of God in salvation). Now if this reply sounds a bit "schizophrenic" about the movement, that is because that is exactly what my reaction to it is. I find what this means is that I must listen carefully to each E/E speaker rather than generalizing about the movement as if it were a monolith. It also means that the engagement with it becomes complex, depending on what topic and angle is being taken by a given speaker or writer. So you will get no blanket generalizations from me in this series. I also advise that this is the best way to engage this movement and the discussion. That standard I hope to maintain as I pursue these blog entries.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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Weird Al's Takes on Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’”
"Weird Al" keeps preparing us for the release of his next CD: Straight Outta Lynwood. Now he's released his first single on his MySpace page: "White and Nerdy." Unfortunately, I find his description a little too close to home for my comfort! Anyway, here are the lyrics:

They see me mowin'... my front lawn
I know they're all thinkin' I'm so white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Can't ya see I'm white & nerdy?
Look at me, I'm white & nerdy
I wanna roll with... the gangstas
But so far they all think I'm too white and nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
I'm just too white & nerdy
Really, really white & nerdy

First in my class there at MIT
Got skills, I'm a champion at D&D
MC Escher, that's my favorite MC
Keep your 40, I'll just have an Earl Grey tea
My rims never spin - to the contrary
You'll find that they're quite stationary
All of my action figures are cherry
Stephen Hawking's in my library
My MySpace page is all totally pimped out
Got people beggin' for my Top 8 spaces
Yo, I know pi to a thousand places
Ain't got no grills, but I still wear braces
I order all of my sandwiches with mayonnaise
I'm a whiz at Minesweeper, I could play for days
Once you see my sweet moves, you're gonna stay amazed
My fingers movin' so fast, I'll set the place ablaze
There's no killer app I haven't run
At Pascal, well, I'm number one
Do vector calculus just for fun
I ain't got a gat but I got a soldering gun
"Happy Days" is my favorite theme song
I could sure kick your butt in a game of ping pong
I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on
I'm fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon
Here's the part I sing on...

They see me roll on... my Segway
I know in my heart they think I'm white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Can't ya see I'm white & nerdy?
Look at me, I'm white & nerdy
I'd like to roll with... the gangstas
Although it's apparent I'm too white and nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
Think I'm just too white & nerdy
I'm just too white & nerdy
How'd I get so white & nerdy?

I've been browsin', inspectin'
X-Men comics, you know I collect 'em
The pens in my pocket, I must protect 'em
My ergonomic keyboard never leaves me bored
Shoppin' online for deals on some writable media
I edit Wikipedia
I memorized "Holy Grail" really well
I can recite it right now and have you
ROTFLOL

I got a business doin' web sites
When my friends need some code, who do they call?
I do HTML for 'em all
Even made a home page for my dog
Yo, I got myself a fanny pack
They were havin' a sale down at The Gap
Spend my nights with a roll of bubble wrap
Pop pop, hope no one sees me... gettin' freaky
I'm nerdy in the extreme and whiter than sour cream
I was in A/V Club and Glee Club and even the chess team
Only question I ever thought was hard
Was, do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?
Spend every weekend at the Renaissance Faire
Got my name on my underwear

They see me strollin'... they laughin'
And rollin' their eyes 'cause I'm so white & nerdy
Just because I'm white & nerdy
Just because I'm white & nerdy

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Monday, September 11, 2006
The Washington Post on Brian McLaren
Yesterday's Washington Post included an article on Emergent leader Brian McLaren: "Evangelical Author Puts Progressive Spin On Traditional Faith." Here is an excerpt:

McLaren has emerged as one of the most prominent voices in an increasingly active group of progressive evangelicals who are challenging the theological orthodoxy and political dominance of the religious right. He also is an intellectual guru of "emerging church," a grass-roots movement among young evangelicals exploring new models of living out their Christian faith.

Progressives, who range from 11 to 36 percent of all evangelicals, according to various polls, are still overshadowed by the Christian right among evangelicals. But the steady popularity of McLaren's books over the past eight years signals an expanding diversity of thought in this important political constituency.

McLaren, 50, offers an evangelical vision that emphasizes tolerance and social justice. He contends that people can follow Jesus's way without becoming Christian. In the latest of his eight books, "The Secret Message of Jesus," which has sold 55,000 copies since its April release, he argues that Christians should be more concerned about creating a just "Kingdom of God" on earth than about getting into heaven.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006
Weekender -- Augustus Toplady on Conversion
Augustus Toplady:

One great contest, between the religion of Arminianism, and the religion of Christ, is, who shall stand entitled to the praise and glory of a sinner's salvation? Conversion decides this point at once; for I think that, without any imputation of uncharitableness, I may venture to say, that every truly awakened person, at least when he is under the shine of God's countenance upon his soul, will fall down upon his knees, with this hymn of praise ascending from his heart, Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but to thy name, give the glory: I am saved not for my righteousness, but for thy mercy and thy truth's sake.

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Friday, September 08, 2006
Baptists and Birthrates
Russell Moore posted a great commentary on the Henry Institute site yesterday: "Baptist Born? Baptist Bred?" In a day when children are seen as optional for married couples, even among Baptists, Moore points us back to biblical wisdom. Here's his conclusion:

This doesn't mean that we should equate fertility with spirituality. God is going to call some believers not to marry so that, like the Apostle Paul or Lottie Moon, they can devote themselves totally to Great Commission service. Others will not be blessed with large families, or with children at all. But, at the same time, can't we insist that our view of children be dictated by the Book of Proverbs rather than Madison Avenue or Wall Street?

Let's pray for churches that welcome children, embrace families, and seek to evangelize and disciple our little ones, and the little ones in our neighborhoods whose parents will never join them in the pew. Let's pray for churches that won't idolize the Dual Income, No Kids picture of success mirrored on our television screens. Let's teach our boys to want to be husbands and fathers, our girls to want to be wives and mothers, our families to be evangelists. Let's outbreed the Mormons and out-preach the Pentecostals. Let's press the gospel upon a new generation, win them to Christ, baptize them, teach them, and see the Lord call them to the pastorate, to missions, to lay leadership.

Let's pray for busy baptisteries and crawling cradle rolls. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how respectable we are in the community or how large our capital budgets are. Without a next generation, we'll just be Baptist dead.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006
My Trip to Belize
Below is a slightly revised letter that I sent out today on my mission trip to Belize. Hopefully, I can post some pictures soon!

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

By God's grace, about a month ago I returned from a week-long mission trip to Belize with the Centers for Apologetics Research (CFAR). And I can honestly say that God did some amazing things there because of your prayers and support. Thank you!

Now I'd like to share with you a little more about serving the Lord in Belize. My itinerary took me on a rapid tour of the country — two days in Belize City and two days in Punta Gorda, followed by two days in Belmopan (the capital) and two days back in Belize City. Everyone I met was amazed that I never visited the Cayes or the famous Mayan ruins, but there simply wasn't time.


Several things really stood out. The first was the Jehovah's Witness assembly hall, located right down the road from my lodgings in Ladyville (outside of Belize City). My Belizean friends informed me that it's the largest JW center in all of Central America! And I can believe it — the place is huge and bustling with activity. We'd often hear buses on their way to the assembly hall. Those buses were a daily reminder of the problem of cults in Belize, and it saddened me to see how many people were being deceived by the Watchtower Society of Brooklyn, New York.

Another thing unexpectedly burdened my soul as one of my hosts flipped through television channels one evening. I naturally expected to see the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and the Catholic station was no surprise. However, I was shocked to see a Seventh-day Adventist channel. You read that right — not just a SDA program or series, but an entire network dedicated to teaching the errors of Seventh-day Adventism. I was stunned by the pervasiveness of the Adventist Church, which claims one out of every ten Belizeans as followers.

But what saddened my heart even more was the tremendous ignorance among Christians in Belize (especially pastors) about biblical discernment and cults. Again and again I heard questions like, "You mean that Mormons aren't Christian?" All too often, their churches do not have the leaders that the Apostle Paul insists upon: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9). The pastors seemed so hungry to learn more about God's truth. As I spoke in churches, they would take rapid notes on what I was saying, and they often asked for more resources to help them combat these errors.

All of this came home to me as I was interviewed on a live, call-in cable television show the night before my departure. The host asked where local viewers could learn more about apologetics and cults. I could only direct them to Da Wata Fountin, a storefront outreach in Punta Gorda run by CFAR missionary Julia De Shong (too far away for most Belizeans to visit) and to CFAR's web site. So much more is needed in Belize and Central America. They are facing the same challenges today that the apostles struggled with long ago: "For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). I returned home seeing the difficulties and complexities facing the church more clearly than ever.

At the same time, I also saw glimmers of hope! In Punta Gorda, I spent some time with Gideon, a humble man who loves God's truth and desires to reach out to the cultists living in his community. Pastors I met with also were interested in defending the faith. I pray that God will use these men as well as other nationals with a heart for the truth to partner with CFAR in strengthening the church.


After coming back, I'm more aware than ever about the threat of the cults in Belize and around the world. Yes, the challenges are enormous — but we serve an all-powerful, all-knowing God. I trust in Him to work His will where His presence is desperately needed.

I now believe that God is calling me to serve Him in proclaiming His truth and exposing error internationally. As a result, my family is in the process of becoming missionaries with CFAR full-time after graduation. This has been an important decision for us, but after much prayer and counsel, we look forward to serving Him in this way.

However, this does not mean that our difficulties are behind us! I still have to finish my seminary studies. We will need to gain enough support for our family to minister overseas. Please pray for us! Of course, we welcome your comments as well. What do you think?

Additionally, Paul Carden is planning on a trip to Uganda to minister as well as assess its possibility as an apologetics hub for East Africa. If he comes back with a positive assessment, we may go back together in January to see if the Lord may want my family to serve there. His trip is from September 9-19, so please keep it in prayer as well.

Jude closes his letter with a wonderful statement of confidence: "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25). May God continue to bless and use my family and the Centers for Apologetics Research in the expansion and maturing of His kingdom


Because of His grace,
John Divito

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posted at 3:00 PM  
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Worship Together?
What can I say? Thompson Station Church exemplifies contemporary evangelical thinking. Just read the article from yesterday's Tennessean.com: "Mix of joe and Jesus geared to Gen X'ers." Here's how the story begins:

On an average Sunday, more than 1,600 worshippers pack the pews for Thompson Station Church's two services.

Which can be a little intimidating to a newcomer, particularly a young person.

So the forward-thinking folks at this rapidly growing church put their heads together and came up with a plan.

What would draw people, both single and married, between the ages of 25 and 35 to a worship service?

How about a cafe that offered premium coffee and bottled water, along with a hip, intimate atmosphere?

Yep, that would do it, they thought.

So, The Venue was born.

I like how Anthony Paul Mator summarizes this church's idea over at the
World blog in "age-segregated church":

Leaders at Thompson Station megachurch in Tennessee worried that their large sanctuary might intimidate young adults. Their solution: build a separate, cafe-style room with a high-definition video screen so gen-Xers can watch the service without having to sit in the presence of their elders. Does this tactic exemplify the Apostle Paul's desire to become all things to all people, or does it unnecessarily divide the church family? Are Boomers and Gen-Xers too different to worship together?

It's not too hard to know my thoughts here. We must end this "we're so different we must cater to our diversity" mindset. Where are we going to wind up with this kind of thinking?

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posted at 12:45 PM  
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R. Scott Clark on the Emerging Church
Westminster Seminary California has recently added a new featured audio message on its site by R. Scott Clark: "Whosoever Shall Be Saved: Emergent Church? Meet Christian Dogma" (download in MP3 format).

Since reading his book Truth and the New Kind of Christian (my review should appear in the next issue of the Reformed Baptist Theological Review), I have really appreciated the insights of Clark on the Emerging Church Movement. And the fact that he has become friends with Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village, demonstrates his desire to sincerely interact with them.

UPDATE: Whoops! I confused R. Scott Clark with R. Scott Smith. Thanks, Timmy, for pointing out my mistake! I guess I need a little more sleep.... In any case, I still suggest downloading Clark's message and reading Smith's book.

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posted at 7:30 AM  
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Forced Conversions
The latest Weekly Standard contains an interesting piece on forced conversions and the media: "A Conversion You Can't Refuse." Here is how the story begins:

THE KIDNAPPING in Gaza of two Fox News reporters, and the significance of their subsequent "conversion" to Islam at gunpoint, vanished from the front pages after their August 27 release. But their story shows three things--that we cannot trust much "news" from the Levant, that much of the media is still oblivious to religion, and that radical Islam is spreading and deepening in Palestinian society as elsewhere in the region.

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posted at 3:30 PM  
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Zoroastrianism Today
Today's New York Times includes a story on the challenges facing Zoroastrianism today: "Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling." Here is an excerpt:

There is a palpable panic among Zoroastrians today — not only in the United States, but also around the world — that they are fighting the extinction of their faith, a monotheistic religion that most scholars say is at least 3,000 years old.

Zoroastrianism predates Christianity and Islam, and many historians say it influenced those faiths and cross-fertilized Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and evil and a final day of judgment.

While Zoroastrians once dominated an area stretching from what is now Rome and Greece to India and Russia, their global population has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as 124,000, according to a survey in 2004 by Fezana Journal, published quarterly by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America. The number is imprecise because of wildly diverging counts in Iran, once known as Persia — the incubator of the faith.

“Survival has become a community obsession,” said Dina McIntyre, an Indian-American lawyer in Chesapeake, Va., who has written and lectured widely on her religion.

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posted at 1:45 PM  
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Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Edwards T-Shirt Coming
It is official: The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University will be manufacturing the "Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy" t-shirt featured on the cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today. While I am concerned that Calvinism and interest in Jonathan Edwards may be becoming faddish, I am personally edified by Edwards and count myself as one of the growing number of evangelicals enriched by his biblical wisdom.

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posted at 12:45 PM  
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Mormons on Gays
Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune came out with an interesting article: "LDS leaders discuss gay issues." It reports on the latest development of how Mormon leadership handles issues surrounding homosexuality. Here is how the news story begins:

The LDS Church's latest statements on homosexuality were not given over the pulpit at General Conference, in an article in the church's official publication, a pamphlet to be distributed to all bishops, a letter from the First Presidency or a press release.

Instead, they were quietly posted two weeks ago in the "newsroom" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Web site, www.lds.org, in the form of an interview between an anonymous public affairs official and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and Elder Lance Wickman, a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. The questions are wide-ranging and thorough; the answers complex and personal. The lengthy interview is, well, conversational. The two Mormon leaders - both lawyers - clearly represent the church's perspective but make no claims to divine or institutional authority.

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posted at 10:15 AM  
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Labor Day Family Fun
Yesterday, my family went along with some friends to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. We had a blast! It may not be the biggest park or have the most rides (after all, it is an independent theme park), but it has a family friendly environment and is the cleanest park I've seen! Plus, who can beat giving away all the free soda you can drink? So, if you're in the area (or if you're willing to make the trip), don't miss spending some time at Holiday World.

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posted at 8:00 AM  
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Friday, September 01, 2006
Great Outreach Bible
One of my favorite Bible translations is the English Standard Version (ESV). Now, they are practically giving away copies of the ESV New Testament for the purpose of outreach and evangelism through the Spread the Word! program. Simply go to your local Christian bookstore and buy them for only $.50 each!

I encourage all of you to take advantage of this opportunity (as I plan on doing). Additionally, to encourage awareness, I am going to add a Spread the Word! button to the side of my blog.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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posted at 10:30 AM  
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About Me

Name:
John

I am a former Mormon who has been saved by Jesus Christ. Now I am a missionary involved with the Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR). I seek to live in light of Paul's words: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21 ESV)

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