Monday, March 31, 2008

Jesus Family Tomb

On Sunday, I mentioned that I would post an article debunking The Discovery Channel's progam in 2007 claiming that they had found the tomb and the bones of Jesus. Actually, The Discovery Channel debunked it pretty well itself with a program by Ted Koppel critiquing it. However, I don't have access to it any more.

Here is a link to some of my sermons. If you scroll down to the bottom, there is a sermon called JesusFamilyTomb. It has the information I mentioned, including footnotes. Below it, is the PowerPoint presentation that I used when I preached the sermon. It includes some images that might be helpful.

By the way, I often will preach "apologetic" type sermons, as I did on Sunday. Some may think that I am doing this for evangelistic reasons. That certainly is part of it, but only part. Richard Pratt, in teaching on 1 Peter 3:15, notes that apologetics are for 1) the glory of God, 2) strengthening the faith of believers, and c) answering unbelievers. In doing apologetic style sermons, one of my purposes is always to strengthen the faith of Christians, particularly younger people who are constantly finding their faith under attack.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter, Village Seven, and UPC

Did Bing Crosby sing "I'm dreaming of a white Easter"? Yes, we had a white Easter in Colorado. It started snowing Saturday afternoon and kept it up all night. It wasn't terribly cold. So, the roads weren't bad. But having a white Easter was a new experience for me. Of course, having a white Thanksgiving, a white Christmas, a white New Years, a white Valentines, a white Palm Sunday, and a white St. Patrick's Day were all new experiences for me as well.

The truth is, we have had lots of snowing days, but we haven't had any really bad storms. Even though it snowed Easter Sunday, today (Monday) it was in the mid-60's--downright Spring-like.

This also was my first Easter at Village Seven. Richard Hunt, our Worship Director, did a wonderful job of putting the service together. The orchestra rocked (can I say that? I just did). It was a beautiful service.

Easter made us think about our friends at UPC. Both Village Seven and UPC's Easter services are wonderful, but they are very different. UPC's Easter service is usually creative and energetic. Jonathan Noel pulls out all the stops. At Village Seven, the service is more majestic--a full choir and orchestra. Each are gloriously worshipful, but very different. I love that about the body of Christ. Both Richard Hunt at Village Seven and Jonathan Noel at UPC both are passionate about God's glory first and foremost. Music and the "performance" (bad word) aspects of music are a distant second to the goal of music -- worship. Yet, both do their jobs with excellence.

Speaking of UPC, I very excited that the Pastoral Search Committee is recommending Mike Osborne to be the next senior pastor. Mike was my Associate for a number of years. He was always very loyal, encouraging, and a faithful friend. Mike is a gifted preacher. Even more importantly, he understands the DNA and vision of UPC. UPC is a unique church that is well-suited to serve its community. Mike gets the mission and Mike can lead the church in being faithful to her mission.

My hope and prayer is that the people of UPC will love, support, and care for Mike just as they did for me for so many years. They were always patient with me, forgiving, and allowed me to grow. I trust that they will give Mike the same support and care.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I never know how to footnote in a sermon. I have footnotes in my manuscript, but no one else ever sees my manuscript. Sometimes I mention my sources. However, often that seems cumbersome. Generally speaking, if you hear me say something really profound, you can bet it is not original with me. Ask me, and I will tell you where I got it.

This brings up my sermon on Palm Sunday. I received a number of compliments on it and want to make sure I am giving proper credit. The background information that I shared could be found in a number of sources. So, I don't think anything I said was too unique to one particular source. However, one source that helped me tremendously and that I relied on heavily was N. T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus. He put the ideas all together for me and it influenced my message a great deal. I found the book to be very helpful and easy to read.

I hesitate to share this, not because I don't want to give him proper credit, but because I don't want to endorse a lot of what Rev. Wright has written. Particularly, his views on justification are very troubling. For all of the Wright supporters who want to tell me how I have misunderstood Wright, I will admit that I am no expert on the him or the others in the New Perspective movement. However, I have read enough from him, his fans and his detractors to be concerned and don't plan to spend a lot more time researching him.

However, even thought I disagree with Rev. Wright on Justification (which is a pretty big issue!), I still find much of his material helpful (as does one of his most ardent critics, D. A. Carson). He is a remarkable scholar and has a great ability to communicate clearly. He has been a staunch defender of the orthodox view of the historicity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. He also has done quite a bit of research on the period of time in which Jesus lived. So, we can learn much from him. However, I am hesitant to recommend him to a broad audience that might not be as discerning about matters of justification.

This brings up a challenge that I have as a pastor. There are a number of people whom I read--both Christian and non-Christian--with whom I differ on some very significant issues. However, I have learned from them and benefited greatly from them. I believe that my years of education, personal study, dialogue with other pastors, being part of a Confessional church, and a solid diet of Scripture and books with good theology has enabled me to be discerning so that I can read material (and benefit from it) even though I might not recommend it. I believe that I have a responsibility and privilege to read people from a variety of traditions, not just those who are Reformed. In fact, I think pastors and leaders who only read people in their own tradition are missing out on what God is teaching in other parts of the body of Christ. The sort of parochialism that keeps one from only reading people within his own tradition is both impoverishing and rooted in fear and insecurity. Yet, at the same time, I would not want less mature or less theologically grounded church members to read the same material.

All this to say, just because I quote a source or an author, that does not necessarily mean I am in agreement with all that author has said or even that I think that author is completely orthodox. In the case of N. T. Wright, I think he is making some very valuable contributions to Christianity. However, I find his views on justification (at least my understanding of his views) disturbing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Need for a Great Awakening

Several people have asked for the statistics about the decline of Christianity in America. I thought it might be helpful to post the information here.

Today, the Christian Church is experiencing its greatest expansion in history. More people are becoming Christians everyday than at any other time in history. Because of the success of the world missions movement, today there are more Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than there are in North America and Europe. Furthermore, the growth of the church in those regions is continuing at a staggering pace.

However, while the church throughout the world is growing, the picture is not as rosy at home. In fact, we are facing a looming crisis. If current trends continue, the evangelical church in the United States is in danger of becoming culturally irrelevant in fifty years. We will be like the Amish—together in our own little enclaves virtually ignored by the world around us.

Why do I say that? How can I make such an outlandish claim that the church in America is headed for irrelevancy? Because we are losing our young people and have so for the past few decades.

In my lifetime, the United States has moved from being a nation that was predominantly Christian, or at least a nation where the majority had a Christian worldview, to becoming a post-Christian nation. This is not just my opinion. Here are the facts:
  • There are 195 million unchurched Americans
  • For every one church being started, 3 are closing
  • In 1958, 50% of all people Americans attended church regularly. In 1996, that number had dropped to 37%.

When you break down the numbers by generation, the picture becomes even more disturbing.

Who Attends Church in America Each Weekend

Generation Birth Years % Attending Church
Builders (Born before 1946) 51%
Boomers (1946-1964) 41%
Busters (1965-1976) 34%
Bridgers (1977-1994) 29%

Over 70% of people between the ages of 11 and 28 do not attend church. Now, when we consider that 85-90% of people who become Christians do so before the age of 18, then it seems apparent that we have already lost, not one, but two generations of people.

Wait. It gets worse. Anywhere from 88%-95% of Christian young people abandon the faith during the college years.

We live in a post-Christian nation. Unless God sends a revival that surpasses that of the Great Awakening and the Protestant Reformation, things will get worse before they get better. Those of you who are older may not sense it as much because the majority of your peers are either Christian or share a Christian worldview. However, that is not how it is for our young people. They feel this everyday. They live in a world where Christianity is viewed, not only with skepticism, but with cynicism and deep suspicion.

Despite its reputation as a religious city, Colorado Springs is not immune to these national trends. Even though Colorado Springs is known for its religious institutions, it is more unchurched than either California or New York. The Colorado Springs Business Journal states “according to The Quality of Life indicators published recently by the Pikes Peak United Way, El Paso County has a lower rate of membership in religious congregations than does Denver County, Pueblo County, Colorado and the United States. Additionally, while other areas show an increase in membership from 1990 to 2000, only El Paso County residents’ and the U.S average membership decreased. That decrease, from 38.9 percent in 1990 to 37.1 percent in 2000, was much different than Denver County’s increase, 39.3 percent to 50.2 percent of members of religious congregations.”

Because the world has changed so radically from the 1950’s—or even the 70’s and 80’s—how we as Christians engage the world must look different as well.

Denis Haack, in his article, “Living a Magnetic Faith in a Post-Christian world” compares two cities.[1] One is Jerusalem. “Dominating the city was the Temple where priests offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jerusalem was home to the covenant people of God who defined its life and shaped its society. The calendar was marked by a series of feasts that celebrated God’s grace in the history of His people. The legal system was rooted in God’s revelation in the Scriptures, the law, and the prophets. Though non-believers lived there, every aspect of Jerusalem’s life and culture was centered on God and his Word.”

The other city was Babylon. “The greatest military and economic force of its day, it was a pluralistic society. Races and religions from every corner of the world could be found there. And, while God’s people were in the mix, they were given no advantage. They could achieve positions of influence, as long as they were careful not to offend the ruling elite. The art and literature of the Babylonians was pagan, colored by their belief in sorcery and magic. It was very different from Jerusalem, especially in the ways that matter most.”

He goes on to conclude that we live in Babylon. “Our postmodern world is profoundly pluralistic—far more so than ancient Babylon. The religions we used to hear about only when missionaries visited are now next-door, and growing. The public square is a cacophony of competing truth claims. Increasingly our closest neighbors and co-workers do not share our deepest values and convictions.” He goes on to say, living like we are in Jerusalem while we are living in Babylon will not work. Getting angry at the culture, judging the culture, or dreaming about the old days of our culture will not transform the culture.

Furthermore, the change in the American religious landscape means that we cannot continue on with business as usual. We must be more aggressive in reaching out with the gospel, engaging with people, and planting new churches. These have to be priorities for the church if we are going to be faithful to the mission that Christ has given us.


Some of these stats are slightly different from what I used on Sunday. I have seen different numbers from different sources--all very similar--these seem to be more reliable.

On Sunday, I said that no county in America has a higher percentage of Christians than it did a decade ago. I heard that at a church planting conference but have not been able to verify it. According to one source cited above, the percentage of people attending church in Denver has increased.

[1] Actually, he compares three. The third one being Samaria, but, in order to keep the illustration simple, I only am mentioning two.