The Anonymous Gospels

One of the criticisms leveled against Christianity is that our primary sources for the life and teachings of Jesus—the four gospels—are anonymous. In addition, critics often add that the gospels were likely written a long time after the events, at locations far removed from Palestine, by unknown writers who were not witnesses to the events.

Coming soon! Intelligent Faith Conference

In 2008 Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was hit with one of the worst floods ever in the United States. You might not have heard about it, because, unlike Katrina, Iowans didn’t whine and expect the government to come and rescue them. More than 5,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and there was $3 billion in damage to buildings and crops. From that great flood sprang a unity among the churches in Cedar Rapids. A Christian organization called “Serve the City” was created that united dozens of churches and ministries, and has continued to be the focal point for prayer and evangelism in the Cedar Rapids area.

Last fall I ran into a fellow at church, and told him about the campus apologetics (“defense of the Christian faith”) ministry of Ratio Christi, and how I’ve been speaking at apologetics conferences both in the U.S. and around the world. He was from Cedar Rapids, and he told me about a man, Charles Daugherty, who was the head of Serve the City, and who was the “go to guy” who might want to see an “Intelligent Faith” conference in Cedar Rapids. I looked up Charles online and sent him an email.

Two days later I received an email from Charles and another man who is studying apologetics, and they essentially said my email was an answer to prayer. I had conversations with Charles and sent him information on how to organize an apologetics conference. He took that information to his leaders at Serve the City, and they were all excited to have Cedar Rapids host an event. I was asked to be one of three keynote speakers, and helped them arrange for two others—J. Warner Wallace and Frank Turek, both nationally-known Christian apologists. Jim Wallace is a retired cold-case homicide detective and author of the book Cold Case Christianity. Frank Turek is co-author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and heads up an organization called “Cross-Examined.”

The Intelligent Faith Conference begins tomorrow, February 6, and goes through Saturday, February 7. Last I checked there were about 600 registered, and they are expecting more to sign up at the event. On Sunday I’ve been asked to preach at River of Life Church’s Sunday morning service in Cedar Rapids. It should be a great jammed packed weekend.

Please pray for effectiveness in my speaking this weekend. Cedar Rapids is listed by the Barna Group as one of the least “Bible Friendly” areas in the country (95th out of 100, below Las Vegas). There is a great opportunity to see Christianity blossom in Cedar Rapids, including reaching the campuses with their own chapters of Ratio Christi. The committee wants the apologetics conference to be an annual event. So much has come from that one idea from a guy I met at church. The Lord works in strange and wonderful ways.

Thanks for your support for Rolling Stone Ministries and Ratio Christi.

Farewell 2014

"...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I’m preparing to speak at our home church in Iowa this Sunday, the first Sunday of 2015, and I decided to use 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 as my text. Why? Because it succinctly tells us that in Christ we are new creations, and what better reminder for the new year?

As 2014 winds up, we look back with thanks for all the opportunities to serve the Lord. We anticipated traveling to West Africa, Canada and the Philippines, and ended up in all those places plus Kenya. 2015 should prove to be equally exciting with opportunities in our increasingly-hostile world that needs the Good News of God’s love now more than ever.

We have many open doors of opportunity, and we are only limited by (1) God’s direction, (2) finances, and (3) schedules.

 At Rolling Stone Ministries, we have a team. God works on #1, our supporters help us with #2, and Laurie and I work out #3.

Have a blessed New Year
John & Laurie Stewart

Rolling Stone Ministries 

Merry Christmas!

The “ultimate issues” of life include, “why are we here,” “what is our purpose,” and “what is beyond this life?” Answers to these issues unfold in the Bible, where we are told of the Creator’s intent to have a relationship with His creation. But mankind’s rebellion created a separation from the Creator that required a Redeemer to bring things back to how the Creator intended. That Redeemer is identified through prophetic texts that predict His miraculous conception (Isaiah 7:14), His birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), His suffering for our sins (Isaiah 53:1-11), and His resurrection from the dead (Psalm 16:10).

The story of Bethlehem marks the beginning of the Creator fulfilling His promises. The innocent baby, threatened from the beginning by forces of evil, grew up to fulfill His role as the Redeemer. Bethlehem led to Calvary, and the two cannot be separated. Jesus, the Redeemer, said, “The Son of Man came…to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

We thank God, our Creator, for giving us life, and giving us the chance for eternal life if we trust in Jesus. This Christmas season we celebrate the faithfulness of God, who has done everything necessary to answer the ultimate issues of life. What is it that our Creator now asks of us? What are we to do? Simple: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Merry Christmas!!
From John & Laurie Stewart
Rolling Stone Ministries

RSM 2014 Year End Summary

Greetings this Christmas season! It is hard to believe that 2014 is nearly over, but as we reflect back on it, it had been an eventful year of opportunity and blessings.

First, we thank the Lord for His goodness, protection and direction as we serve Him all over the world. Second, we thank Him for family, the blessing of having children we can love and pray for.
Finally, we thank Him for friends--those who encourage us, pray for us, and bring us joy.

So many things have happened in 2014 that I’d have to write a tome to do them all justice. I will try to give the highlights in order to keep your eyes from glazing over. Let’s start with international ministry opportunities.

West Africa
In February Laurie and I made a return trip to West Africa to teach Christian lawyers biblical peacemaking (Laurie’s task) and teach Christian leaders apologetics (i.e., defense of the faith, a species of evangelism) (John’s task). Just getting to West Africa proved to be an ordeal, as our connecting flight from Charlotte to Atlanta was cancelled, leaving us no way to get to Africa from Atlanta on time for our classes. In a near miracle, we were able to be re-routed through New York City, and our four suitcases full of books & syllabi made it, too.

Laurie initially estimated she’d have about 20 lawyers and judges willing to come to a weeklong, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. class. It turns out nearly 140 attended, and gave rave reviews of Laurie’s seminar. Now they want her to return for more training with a goal of opening up their own mediation center.

I had about 25 pastors and church leaders from across West Africa come to my week long class on apologetics. For the first time, in addition to providing the students with a 40-page syllabus, I used a power point presentation to teach the material, and brought my own projector. When the week was over, I was privileged to preach that Sunday in one of my student’s churches. There were about 1,000 in attendance, but what struck me was how the streets are blocked off on Sundays to prevent suicide car bombing, and how Laurie and I had to go through a metal detector to get onto the church property, monitored by an undercover policeman with a handgun in his back pocket. Those details are shocking to us Christians in America whose biggest concern on Sundays usually involves the weather and lunch plans. In some places in Africa believers constantly live under the threat of terrorism, and that fact is part of what motivates us to leave the safety and comfort of America to minister to them. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Africa.

I had the opportunity to speak at the largest apologetics conference in Western Canada in April. Now in its 4th year in Vancouver, B.C., the conference has grown so much that it has split into two locations, each with 1,000 attendees. I spoke about “Reaching Our Brave New Secular World,” and had a chance to “hang out” with some of the top apologists in America and Canada. I also made some great contacts for Ratio Christi (“Reason of Christ”), the campus apologetics ministry that Rolling Stone Ministries is partnering with, and for which I serve as International Director.

Philippine Islands
This July mission trip was the first extended trip I’ve taken without Laurie. I lead a team of four apologists from Ratio Christi to Manila to present an apologetics conference followed by an academy to train believers in the evidence for Christianity. A typhoon (“hurricane”) struck just before we arrived, but it only had a minor effect on our ministry. Our conference had several hundred attend, and the academy was well attended. I had a chance to meet with church leaders from throughout the Philippines, and they were all excited that Ratio Christi had come to establish a presence. From this mission trip we have been able to create a Ratio Christi chapter at the University of the Philippines, with up to 40 attending the weekly meetings, and three other campuses are in the planning stages of having chapters. A return trip to the Philippines is planned for 2015.

This was my seventh mission trip to Kenya, tenth to Africa, but my first to that continent without Laurie. I was invited to be a keynote speaker at an August conference at Lake Nakuru, about three hours from the capital of Nairobi. There were about 700 in attendance for the three-day conference. I spoke on “Biblical Faith,” “The Case for Jesus,” and “When Israel Strikes Iran.” My apologetic message on “The Case for Jesus” drew a standing ovation, indicative of the need in Africa and around the world for Christians to hear the evidence for the truth of Christianity. I was also able to preach twice in Nairobi after the conference was over, visiting one of our dear pastor friend’s church, and being blessed to see the joyful enthusiasm of our Kenyan brothers and sisters. Please pray for them, as the threat of terrorism continues.

United States
I had opportunity to speak at churches in Iowa, including our home church in Lake Panorama, at an apologetics conference in North Carolina, at Ratio Christi’s Symposium in South Carolina, at our old church in California, and at a banquet at Camp Berachah in Auburn, WA. It was great to speak again at the “Cutting Edge” class at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orange, CA where I taught for ten years. RSM was launched out of that class. Laurie and I are blessed to have those folks as friends and supporters.

WHO Radio
I was the guest host several times this year on the most popular radio show in Iowa on WHO News Radio 1040, Des Moines. It gave me the opportunity to interview guests on such topics as "life after death" and "are miracles real?" I had Christian scholars on to address these issues, and the shows were well-received even though it is a secular station.

Laurie has been practicing law in Iowa for over two years now to help make ends meet as I move into full-time ministry. Recently we obtained a building in our little town of Panora for Laurie to open her own law & mediation practice. The good news is this gives her more flexibility to set her own schedule.
I’ve concluded that I’ve hit the age where my body’s warranty has expired. I lost my reading glasses on my mission trip to the Philippines, and when I went to an optometrist to get new glasses he found cataracts in both eyes. Now I know why things look so blurry. After the first of the year I will go in to get the cataracts fixed.

I’ve been pouring myself into writing a book on apologetics, with a working title of “The Case for Christianity.” It is time consuming and tedious to write such a lengthy treatise, but it is an opportunity to lay out systematically the reasons why a thinking person should embrace Christianity.

My calendar is already starting to fill up for 2015. I am speaking in Cedar Rapids, IA during the first week of January, then again in February at an apologetics conference where I am one of the keynote speakers. I have been asked to teach in the doctoral program at Multnomah University in Portland, OR in June. It will be a week-long, modular course on apologetics involving 40 hours of class instruction.

Laurie and I are working on international trips. There are opportunities in Kenya, Philippines, West Africa, Uganda, New Zealand and Australia.  We look forward to seeing which doors the Lord will open for us. Thank you for partnering with us.

We hope you have a Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.

John & Laurie Stewart

New Opportunties

West Africa--Running to the danger

Fire causes most people to run. For those finding themselves within the danger zone of the fire, fear and common sense lead them to runaway. For those whose calling and training is to put out the fire, a sense of duty and desire leads them to run toward the fire.

So it is with the fire of religious persecution. Many who are in the danger zone of persecution flee, not wanting themselves and their loved ones in harm’s way. Yet there are some from outside the area of persecution who are called to enter the danger zone because they are called and trained to bring peace and truth.

Last December, with plans in place for Laurie and me to return to West Africa, a friend in Iowa asked whether we had any mission trips planned. I told him, “Yes, we are returning to West Africa early 2015.” He asked, “Is it safe?” I said, “No, not really. But there are thousands, if not millions, of Christians living there under the shadow of persecution every day. If we are invited to come and help them through our teaching and training, we go, because they are our heroes. Just going to church, or being a Christian in this country, puts a target on their back, yet that does not stop them from standing up for their Christian faith. Thus, when invited, we go, with our eyes open to both the needs and the dangers.” The friend did not know what to say in response, and silently walked away.

Since our trip to West Africa earlier this year, in which Laurie taught the principles of biblical peacemaking to around 125 lawyers, magistrates and judges, and in which I taught some 30 Christian leaders, pastors and evangelists apologetics, the threat from terrorist groups has grown. Hundreds of Christians have been slaughtered, being shot, beaten and hacked to death. On top of the intensified persecution, the deadly Ebola virus has emerged as a new threat.

With the increasing dangers in West Africa, what do we do when we are asked to return, to build upon our previous two mission trips, to teach and speak at large gatherings? For us, there is nothing to decide. We go. We believe that that message we bring, not guns and bombs, is the ultimate answer to the evil that threatens us. We are hoping to return to West Africa early 2015, and the plans include advanced training in biblical peacemaking and mediation, plus presenting an apologetics conference. For security reasons we will not publicize the details, but suffice to say we welcome your thoughts, prayers, encouragement and support.

National Apologetics Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 10-11, 2014
I will be speaking at the National Apologetics Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 10-11, 2014. I will be in the company of some of the top Christian apologists (defenders of the faith), including Josh McDowell, Gary Habermas and Hugh Ross, and about two dozen more. I will present “The Case for the Resurrection,” in which I proceed as if I was in court making an argument before a jury. I will explain how to make a convincing argument that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, thereby proving He is the Messiah (Christ), the Savior sent from God.

Ratio Christi Symposium, Fort Mill, South Carolina, October 9-12, 2014

Concurrent with the National Apologetics Conference in Charlotte, Ratio Christi (“the reason of Christ”), the apologetic student alliance for which I serve as International Director, will hold its symposium. I will be leading the teaching of college students (and some high school seniors) in apologetics training on October 11 and 12, including an all-day session on October 12. Ratio Christi will be hosting a fundraiser banquet on October 11, with Josh McDowell being the keynote speaker. Laurie will teach on conflict resolution.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Orange, California, October 19, 2014
We are confirming plans for me to speak briefly at the main (9:00 a.m.) worship service at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orange, then at 10:30 I will speak at the “Cutting Edge” Bible class on the church campus. I plan to give updates on my recent mission trips to the Philippine Islands and to Kenya, as well as bring a challenge to look outward and be part of seeing the world change for the better through the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa Apologetics Conference, February 6-7, 2015
I have been invited to be one of the keynote speakers at the Cedar Rapids Apologetics Conference, sharing the stage with Frank Turek, a national speaker on apologetics topics, and author, and J. Warner Wallace, a former homicide detective whose message “Cold Case Christianity” is a way of showing evidence that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We appreciate your partnership with Rolling Stone Ministries and your prayer and financial support as I spend more time developing the international ministry of Ratio Christi.

Off to Kenya in a few days!

I returned July 27 from the Philippine Islands where I lead a team of Christian apologists (those who give reasons why Christianity is true), conducting a conference in Manila followed by an academy for those interested in learning more.

Now that I have re-adjusted to the 13-time zone difference between the Philippines and Iowa, I am preparing for a trip next week to Kenya.

This trip to Kenya, my seventh, will be my first without Laurie, who is still getting her new office set up now that she has established her own law and mediation practice here in Iowa.

I will be a keynote speaker at a pastors’ conference at Lake Nakuru, four hours north and west of Nairobi. I am told they expect up to 1,200 pastors and wives at the conference, where I will be speaking about the certainty of Christianity in an uncertain age.

I’ve been invited to preach at a church in South B, a community that has middle class (for Kenya) homes on one side and a slum on the other. The last time I spoke at this church, there were about 700 people in a building that accommodates 600. It is a blessing to see such a desire for believers to come together for worship, even when there is standing room only for late arrivers. I do recall vividly my last time preaching at South B, because at the very moment I was speaking, about two miles away a church was bombed by terrorists, resulting in one death and many injuries.

With terrorism rampant in Kenya, and with bad water, bad roads, malaria and the threat of the Ebola virus, why go to Africa? The simple answer is “because I was invited, and because training Christian leaders to understand, proclaim and defend their faith is my calling.”

I don’t look forward to the 24 hours it takes to get to Kenya, nor would it be my first choice to spend another 10 days away from Laurie. But when given the opportunity to change lives and help change a country, I don’t see it as a daunting task, but rather a humbling privilege. Please pray for effectiveness as I challenge hundreds of Christian leaders to be ready to give reasons for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15) and open the door for the ministry of Ratio Christi (“the reason of Christ”) that places trained Christian apologists on university campuses throughout the world.

Thanks for your interest in and support of Rolling Stone Ministries.

Bwana asifiwe (“praise the Lord” in Swahili).

UPDATE: First [Ratio Christi] International Trip to the Philippines--A Smashing Success!

[From the Ratio Christi International Blog] 

We’re pleased to announce that our first international conference, held in Manila, the Philippines, was a victorious ministry for the Lord in mid-July! Ratio Christi thanks our own “Fantastic Four” International Team for this trip: John Stewart, Ramon Margallo, Abigail Hohenstreet and Jane Pantig. To see how the concept for this Philippines conference first took shape last October and the brilliant God-led qualifications of these four folks, here's our original article announcing the endeavor,“Certainty of Christianity in a Generation of Uncertainty.”

John Stewart, Ratio Christi’s International Director, shares: “Within three weeks of issuing announcements, we had more than 300 registered.” That was before even going!

Stewart gives us some insight into the schedule and great results of the conference:
“The conference was a huge success. Hundreds showed up for the first 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. event. We had two plenary sessions, a lunch break, and breakout sessions in the afternoon. My favorite part of the conference was our final session when the four of us took questions from the audience to close out the event.

Our weeknight academy was three hours per evening. Each team member taught a course for two hours and 30 minutes. This was also well-attended. The hunger for biblical truth was evident in the questions asked by the attendees – many of them budding apologists.

During the week we had the chance to address a combined chapel for Baptist Bible College Asia, with some 400 students in attendance. Ramon and I also met with key Christian leaders from the greater Manila area, and the excitement about Ratio Christi was genuine.

Before we left, there were preliminary plans for us to return and hold another apologetics conference at a larger venue, and there were at least five university campuses where an interest was expressed in establishing a Ratio Christi club! And Ramon, now acting as the coordinator for Ratio Christi Philippine Islands, has also identified key Christian leaders who may be willing to serve as point men in the Philippines for developing these chapters.

Our first Ratio Christi International apologetics mission was a tremendous success due to the dedication of our team and the sacrifice they made to go to the other side of the world to teach and inspire Christians and to reach out to unbelievers. The need for a campus apologetics ministry in the Philippines and other countries is as great as it is in the U.S.”

Stewart reflects on the need for Christ both stateside and internationally:
There is opportunity to reach the hearts and minds of believers and unbelievers alike before they are steeped in the skepticism, secularism and nihilism that are rampant in America. Pray for apologist laborers who will step up and help us address the needs on campuses throughout the Philippines and around the world.
Abigail Hohenstreet added some funny experiences from the trip and more conference accomplishments:

“God so blessed our time in Metro Manila and outlying areas. I have to mention the food. Without being fed some of the most amazing, fresh seafood I've ever had, I don't know how we would have found the strength to keep ministering as much as we did. We were all speaking at various engagements throughout the days and evenings. Our meal breaks and the fellowship with people really kept our strength up.

The Filipino people are incredibly laid back. During our trip, Jane and I accidentally set the dinner table on fire in the middle of a restaurant (courtesy of an unfortunately placed candle and a nearby napkin)! One of the ministers, Pastor Jun, helped me rush to pour water on the flame. Literally no one else in the restaurant even batted an eye!  The people are so nice that they won't even make fun of you.

On Thursday, while Ramon and John went to a breakfast meeting with a large group of indigenous leaders, Jane and I went to Alabang where we were able to speak to university students and faculty during their joint chapel services. On Friday, we joined with Christ Commission Fellowship, Greenhills Fellowship, and Megacity Ministries leaders as well as other evangelical pastors for a discussion about prophecy in light of current events. That night, Dr. Stewart gave a detailed address regarding Israel’s history, development, and present circumstances. We were challenged to think critically about how Christians are to respond to and interact with the difficulties of international affairs of our day.

About 500 people came to our first conference on Saturday, representing various churches, colleges, and provinces. Because it was open forum, some people attended who hadn’t before heard such information, and 20 people accepted Christ! On Sunday, our team attended the 20th anniversary for our hosting church, and a message on the four spiritual laws was preached because of all of the visitors. Another 45 people made professions of faith during the two morning services!”

The trip was extended to include more ministry. Hohenstreet continues:

“Last weekend, we led another conference in Quezon City, sponsored by a group called Jworx – a group of about 40 young professionals in various fields. We trained them in areas like biblical morality and ethical  impacts on jurisprudence; cultural engagement and understanding apologetics in public policy; scientific evidences for the existence of God; biblical peacemaking; historical and archaeological evidences for the reliability of the Bible; and much more! Many of our conference attendees said they left feeling equipped to serve God and others in their various influential vocations.

While John and I returned to the states, Ramon, his wife Nanette (“Nini”), and Jane stayed behind to do another week’s ministry to communities throughout the Philippines. Please also pray for our international team as we plan for the upcoming trip to Kenya that is to take place in August!”

In a previous Ratio Christi post on the team’s second day in Manila, Hohenstreet concluded:
There’s a theme that we hear from [international] believers that the American Church could learn from: ‘Everyone is a minister; every job is mine.’ They have a deep understanding of their responsibility - that becoming a follower of Jesus entails a commitment to study and show oneself prepared to help others in their truth quest; plus a willingness to give of time, talent, and treasure to serve in any capacity that’s necessary. It’s inspiring to see mission-minded servant hearts and strong leadership.