Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ordination Service for Justin Irving...

Today was Justin Irving's ordination service at Immanuel Baptist Church in South Minneapolis. I have served this past year as Justin's teaching assistant at Bethel Theological Seminary in the Transformational Leadership department. Immanuel Baptist Church is located on the corner of 26th Street and 36th Ave in South Minneapolis. The address is:
3620 East 26th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406

I was asked by Justin to participate in this service and read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 to open the service. This is a beautiful passage, and contains one of my favorite segments of scripture in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Dr. Mark McCloskey gave a charge to Justin from Ezra 7:10 and Romans 1:16 that was outstanding. His four main points were:
1) Set your heart to study God's word
2) Practice it - Practice what you study - do it - live it out (2 Tim 4:2)
3) Teach it - Defend it
4) Spread God's Word - Missional Evangelist (Acts 13)

Pastor Brent Nelson also gave a charge to Justin from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Reprove, Rebuke, and Exhort. His four key points were:
1) Preach to yourself first.
2) Preach to your family second.
3) Preach to the church third.
4) Preach to the world fourth.
He included a good quote from Richard Baxter.

We arrived to the church later than I had hoped to this morning because the directions given by Google Maps are wrong unless you drive a flying car. There is a set of train tracks that run between 27th and 26th Streets that is not indicated on Google Maps. So I had to drive around the neighborhood looking for a way over or under the tracks. Of course I chose the wrong direction and went West first. After circling around a few blocks and seeing no way across we headed back East. When we Got to West Mississippi River Road we went North and were able to drive under the tracks. A bit more stress than I wanted before having to get up in front of an unfamiliar church and read God's Word. I also didn't want to add any stress to Justin's day by being late (we were still 10 minutes early, but that is when people start sweating if you are showing up or not).

It was clear early on that the influence of John Piper was deep and wide in this church. It oozed out of all who were there in their language, especially in prayer. After the service I discovered that the church is a daughter church of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Brent Nelson worked with Bethlehem before getting Immanuel off the ground. Many in the congregation shared the vision and joined in on starting this neighborhood church. Justin Irving has also served at Bethlehem Baptist in various capacities in the past. I dug around the Desiring God site and found a message from Dr. John Piper where he even mentions Pastor Brent Nelson and the starting of this church.

If you are in South Minneapolis, or anywhere near Minneapolis for that matter and are looking for a church home, this is an excellent choice. The theology is going to be the same as that of Bethlehem Baptist Church, but the church is much (MUCH!) smaller. They are doing great things and are reaching their neighborhood. I pray that God richly blesses this congregation and this neighborhood through its ministry.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Increase in Religious Behavior

(from FotF's Pator's Weekly Briefing)

Bible reading, small group participation and adult Sunday school attendance are religious activities that have seen an increase in the last decade, according to The Barna Group's annual tracking of religious behavior, which can be found at

The most prolific jump in activity relates to Bible reading. Bible readership plummeted to a 20-year low of just 30 percent in 1995. But after several years of stalled growth, it has now hit a high of 47 percent of adults reading the Book during a typical week, other than when they are at church. This is the highest readership level achieved since the 1980s.

Church attendance has increased slowly in recent years. While we have not returned to the 49 percent of adults who attended in a typical week as recorded in 1991, there has been a significant rebound from the 37 percent recorded in 1996, climbing to 47 percent in 2006.

Involvement in small groups that meet for Bible study, prayer or personal relationships — other than Sunday school or Christian education classes — has reached a new high in 2006. Currently, nearly one out of every four adults (23%) is engaged in such a gathering during a typical week. A decade ago, one out of every six adults (17%) did so.

Church volunteerism has returned to its 1991 level of 27 percent. Volunteering at a church has been one of the more stable measures during the past 15 years, ranging from a low of 20 percent to the current high.

Adult Sunday school attendance has risen in recent years from 17 percent (recorded in 1995 and 1996) to 24 percent in this year's tracking survey.

The only two religious behaviors which did not reflect significant change were prayer — slightly more than four out of five adults claimed they had prayed in the past week — and evangelism — with six out of ten Christians claiming to have shared their beliefs about Jesus with someone whom they knew believed differently.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Georgia's Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down

A state constitutional amendment to protect marriage, that was overwhelmingly approved by Georgia voters in 2004, has been struck down by a judge who ruled that the measure violated the state's single-subject rules for ballot questions since it addressed issues other than gay marriage, such as civil unions and the power of Georgia courts to rule on disputes arising from same-sex relationships.

"People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place — although not marriage," said Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance Russell, who made the ruling. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he was let down by the decision, and that he would call a special session of the Legislature to propose another amendment to ban same sex marriage. "I am very disappointed by this decision to countermand the people of Georgia's voice in defining marriage in our state as a union between a man and a woman," said Perdue. "The people of Georgia knew exactly what they were doing when an overwhelming 76 percent voted to support this constitutional amendment."

Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, said that the ruling underscores why it's important in the planning stage to make sure the language in a marriage amendment will survive a court challenge. He also stressed that this ruling reminds us why there is a dire need for a federal marriage-protection amendment.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Are you going to church?

(from FotF)

Church Attendance Revisited

The results of a new study which were released this month by the Gallup Organization, reveal that members of the Church of Christ are most likely to attend worship services most often. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came in a close second.

The research, which was based on Gallup interviews conducted between 2002 and 2005, showed that 68 percent of Church of Christ members said they attend services at least once a week, or almost every week and 67 percent of Mormons said they attend as often. When all religious bodies in the study are factored in, including Catholic and Jewish, only 33 percent said they attend religious services weekly or almost weekly.

Other research that has been done in recent years suggests that actual church attendance may differ greatly from the level of attendance that is reported to a pollster. Year after year, about 40 percent of Americans tell researchers that they attended religious services in the last seven days. Some studies, which looked into denominational membership and attendance statistics, as well as estimates of membership and attendance for independent congregations, found that actual weekly church attendance may be as low as 20 percent. Research has also shown that asking people what they did the previous weekend produces very different results than asking if they went to church. Those who see themselves as faithful church members and "weekly attenders" find it difficult to report that they did not attend services. Some believe that many studies have simply revealed what people believe they should do, rather than what actually took place when questioned about church attendance.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Relevance Conference at Eagle Brook Church

(pictured L to R: Bob Merritt, Amy Anderson, Dale Peterson, Scott Anderson, and Jason Anderson)

Thursday of this past week I had the opportunity to attend the 2006 Relevance Conference put on by Eagle Brook Church of Lino Lakes, MN. Eagle Brook is technically now a multi-site church, as it still has services and other on-goings at it's original White Bear Lake campus as well.

The conference was wonderful. While there was no bad part, the part that really hit me the most was the times of corporate worship led by Matt Berry and Steve Duede, along with a band and worship team singers. I am constantly amazed at the collection of talent that has assembled at Eagle Brook Church. They would be the first to tell you that they are fortunate to have either Matt or Steve, and they have both. As I have stated on this blog before, they use mutiple elements to create a wonderful experience during their times of worship. First, the sound is without peer. It's clear wherever you sit. No echos or muddied sounds. The highs are crisp, and the lows rumble out of their generous subwoofers. Second, they use lighting better than any other church I have been in. Everything from simply raising and lowering lights, to colored lights and focused lighting to set a mood appropriate for the musical selection. Third, the musical selection is always incredibly well chosen. Fourth, the skill of the musicians is astounding. Fifth, they play for an audience of One. What they are doing reaches people in deep and meaningful ways. Most churches are simply satisfied with hoping the music doesn't drive people away.

The idea of the Relevance Conference is for Eagle Brook to share with surrounding churches what they are doing and what has and has not worked. They do this very openly to help build up neighboring churches, with the mindset that churches are NOT in competition with each other. I agree, and appreciate their investment of time, talent and finances to see this through. They share with whoever comes, answering whatever questions you might have. It is their hope that you can take things from the conference and modify them to fit your setting. They aren't telling you how to replicate what they are doing, this is not a "buy our program" type of event. The leadership team (pictured above) all present different sessions throughout the day, meaning you get to hear from the very top level people, the ones making decisions and effecting change in the church. A very good value for $40 (I think that is what registration was anyhow).

The first session of the day was led by Scott Anderson, the Executive Director of Operations. Scott's talk was titled "Can we paint that?" He gave some very good insights into how to go about making changes in a church (or really anywhere for that matter). His key point was that people need to understand the "why" if you are going to be able to make the needed changes. You have to discern if it is the right decision, if it is the right time for the change, and then get your stakeholders buy in before rolling the change out. To shortcut any of those steps can be disasterous.

The second session was Dale Peterson talking on "Can we do that?" Dale is the Exectuvie Pastor of Ministries, and he directly oversees the White Bear Lake campus on weekends. He talked about reducing the "whack-factor"- the unexpected part of change or of the impact of change. Dale went over the prioritization of beliefs, then values, purpose, mission, strategy, and goals all building one each other. He harped on the fact that you never change your beliefs and values, but that your strategy and goals will be constantly evolving. Dale also spoke about creating ownership in the people of your church, and that without that, you will struggle to accomplish anything of lasting significance.

The third session was led by Amy Anderson, Executive Director of Worship Ministries. Amy's talk was likely the most immediately impactful of the day because her topic was very concrete things. She spoke on "Can we see that?" and the main thrust of her session was figuring out where we can improve our weekends as churches. Can we improve in quality, creativity and relevance? We must. She highlighted 4 areas - video and media, music, technical area, and production. The one thing that she said that probably created the largest "stir" in those in attendance was the fact that at EBC they NEVER have more than 3 announcements from the stage. I didn't sit in on her break out session later in the day, but I would guess she fielded a number of questions covering that. I agree with all of what she said, and I appreciate the level of quality that EBC has on weekends. Their standards are higher anywhere else I know of, and it shows in every area of their worship services. They have grown over 3000 people in the past 4 months. This is not an ego thing for them, they don't run around bragging about this, but clearly God is moving in signficant ways in this church. The weekend worship services are so outstanding that people are nearly begging their unsaved friends, co-workers and family members to come to church with them. How many churches could benefit from this?

The fourth session was led by Senior Pastor Bob Merritt. Bob spoke about the four things that their staff have intentionally worked on to increase the effectiveness of their messages. His first point was that they have raised the risk factor in their messages. They don't shy away from things that will offend people, because the Gospel is offensive in its very nature. There is simply something about the truth that will offend people, and the Bible is Truth with a capital "T". His second point was that they insist that there be humor in all of their messages. It causes people to let their guard down, it disarms them. It gives you permission to deliver hard truth that people would otherwise be shut up against. The third point was to search for story. In our media driven age with very short attention spans, people connect well with story. Furthermore, it is the form Jesus primarily chose to communicate, and we likely can't improve on what Jesus has done! They use what they call "topositional messages" which combine both topics and expositional development of the topics. The fourth point was that every sermon gets the imput of a team as it is being developed. They get together on Monday afternoons after the person has been writing the sermon all morning and brainstorm off of what has been developed to that point. They come up with illustrations, stories, quotes, songs and video clips to name just a few things. These are drawn on by the sermon writer to create a better message. There are a few subsequent spots of refinement, but this is a key one to their sermon writing process. I can vouch that this system is really working, they are crafting some excellent messages.

The fifth and final session was Jason Anderson speaking on how they are stepping out in faith as individuals, as a team and as a church, and how God has been blessing them for that. The remainder of Jason's session was a Q&A with the full leadership team, with questions coming from the audience. From that came the info that their target audience on weekends are people who have a church background but have left the church somewhere in the past, and those who have never been in the church, balanced with those aready in the church (erroring on the side of the seeker). They discussed how they out source all counseling beyond pre-marital counseling to nearby Christian counseling services. They also staff their church in such a way that people are able to get breaks. They all work long and hard, and they need time off to recharge and reconnect. Another important thought that came out of that session was the idea that we as leaders need to create a "stop doing list" if we are ever going to regain or create margin in our own lives. We must prioritize and pare things down to increase our overall effectiveness.

The day ended with breakout sessions, where I was in with the church Leadership people (primarily Sr. Pastors) where Bob Merritt, Jason Anderson, and board member Duane Vik primarily answered questions and added in more info on a few points from earlier presentations.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

A new BBQ Grill!!!

This past Monday I purchased a new BBQ-Grill. We do already have two Weber charcoal grills (a full sized one, and a mini one), but I've been wanting a gas grill for a number of years. We put this high on our priority list for our wedding gifts, and so when the one we wanted went on sale, I got one. It is a Kenmore four burner, 48,000 BTU LP Gas grill that offers extra large side shelves, electronic ignition, stainless steel tube burners, porcelain coated Savor Plates™, porcelain coated steel cooking grids, double wall stainless steel lid, control panel and doors.

* 48,000 BTU LP Gas stainless steel grill with pre-assembled grill head
* Independent cooking zones ideal for direct and indirect cooking
* Porcelain coated steel cooking grids offer easy cleanup
* Savor Plates™ with porcelain finish reduce flare ups and help to evenly distribute heat
* Four stainless steel tube burners with 10 year warranty
* Easy to start electronic ignition and premium temperature gauge
* Two extra large side shelves
* Full cart base with double doors
On the way home from Sears with the grill, I stopped and got some steaks (saw Amy Anderson of Eagle Brook Church there as well) and some corn to grill. I couldn't have a new toy and not play with it! It took a bit of assembly before I could use it, as it was too big to fit in my truck with the topper on. I rubbed some spices on the steaks, threw on some cobs and corn, and just a little while later I was in food heaven. The steak was perfect, needing no sauce, the corn very good for being this early in the season. The only bad part was mid-grilling a storm rolled in and it started to rain. I pull the grill under the over hang of the garage, and finished it up. If all goes well we'll be using it again tonight before heading to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis to hear CJ Mahaney preach.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Relevance Conference 2006 - Eagle Brook Church

I spent today at Eagle Brook Church in Lino Lakes, MN for their Relevance Conference for local churches. It was a great day, and hopefully tomorrow I'll have some time to fully post my thoughts and some pictures from the day. I was again reminded of how God is moving in this church. I was also reminded of how much I LOVE their worship team, who create the best worship environment I have experienced. While I realize worship is a lifestyle and not something that is done at church, they nonetheless are excellent at making the portion of my life spent on their campus as a time of enormous worship and joy. The whole conference was good, but I think the music was the highlight for me today.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Protesters cry discrimination at Christian colleges

Bus Stop


Friday, May 5, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

Two weeks ago, the Soulforce Equality Ride Bus came to Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. The 33 mostly young men and women stopped at Bethel for a day, as part of a tour of 19 colleges that, in their words, "ban the enrollment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students." Using as inspiration the Freedom Rides of the early '60s (in which groups of activists would ride buses through the deep South to protest segregation), the Equality Riders say they want to raise public consciousness and effect policy changes at these schools so that LGBT students can feel more welcome and "affirmed." Soulforce is an activist group, named for one of Gandhi's teachings, whose mission is to change the minds of religious leaders about homosexuality.

The schools targeted by the Equality Ride are mostly evangelical Christian ones such as Wheaton College in Illinois, Eastern University in Pennsylvania and Bethel, but the bus has also stopped at the Air Force Academy, Texas A&M and Brigham Young.

Some of the schools barred the riders from their campuses completely. Others allowed them to mingle with students but did not permit the riders to speak in public forums. (Equality Riders were arrested at six of the 19 stops, when they set foot on campus or otherwise defied the schools' policies.) Still other schools, including Bethel, where I am a dean, decided to accommodate the Equality Ride, allowing for discussions in large-group forums, individual classes and dining halls.

On April 18, a white bus painted with slogans such as "LGBT rights," "END Religion Based OPPRESSION!" and "Learn from history" arrived on campus. After giving the riders name tags and information about our school, Bethel representatives took them on a short campus tour.

Equality Riders made three formal presentations to the Bethel community: "Letters to Mel," in which actual letters received by Soulforce's founder from LGBT people and their supporters thanking him and from opponents condemning him were read aloud; "History of Violence," which chronicled cases of abuse against gays and lesbians; and a panel discussion in which participants from both Bethel and the Equality Ride debated biblical teachings on homosexuality, academic freedom and the treatment of LGBT students at Bethel.

Only 12 students attended the first forum, but 1,200 were present at the third, where the presentations and questions from the audience were animated but polite. Riders were also invited to classes and two luncheons. They were even given a table in a commons area, where many Bethel students stopped by to pick up literature and talk.

"Overall, we accomplished our purposes," said Bethel President George Brushaber, "helping students deal constructively with some of the most profound issues they will face living as Christ-followers in a broken, diverse and pluralistic culture." Riders told moving stories of their own experiences of rejection and violence, and they were greeted with empathy. Bethel students asked the riders how Christians could respond to them in more loving ways but also challenged them on their understanding of key passages of Scripture.

Despite the cordial exchanges, profound differences endure. At issue for Bethel is its very nature as a religious institution, including its right to define the guidelines within which members of the school community will live. Contrary to the riders' claim, most of the targeted campuses do not "ban" LGBT students. Most are like Bethel, which has a "Covenant for Life Together," derived from the Bible. Among the covenant's affirmations is the following: "We view sexuality as one of God's good gifts. We believe that sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity are reserved for monogamous, heterosexual marriage." And Bethel is completely up-front about its policies; all members of its community--students, faculty, staff and administration--agree ahead of time to abide by these rules when they come to Bethel.

Our school does not ask applicants about their sexual orientation. Contrary to the implicit claim of the Equality Ride--that these schools do not treat students "equally"--all students at Bethel live under the same restrictions. As Mr. Brushaber explains: "We formulate our principles of ethical conduct as a result of our faith commitments, grounded in the Scriptures, not on the basis of . . . personal preference or dominant cultural themes." Alas, such sentiments are hard to fit on the side of a bus.

Mr. Howard is the dean of the Center for Biblical and Theological Foundations at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. He was also a professor of mine, and is a man who clearly loves and lives Jesus.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Megachurches Profiled

At the latest count, there are 1,210 Protestant churches in the United States with weekly attendance over 2,000 — nearly double the number that existed five years ago. This is one of the many significant finds in the Megachurches Today 2005 survey conducted by Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Leadership Network.

The majority of megachurches belong to a denomination: Only 34 percent are nondenominational. Based on entire megachurch population, the Southern Baptists have 16 percent of all megachurches, other Baptists have 10 percent, with Assemblies of God following at six percent on down to Foursquare, Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran and Vineyard at one percent. According to the survey, many of the megachurches downplay their denominational affiliation. It is likely that many of these churches, at least for 20 percent in the past and nine percent in the last five years, will change their name, often dropping the denominational label.

Typically, the survey shows, megachurches draw younger people and families with contemporary programming and conservative values, notes the Church Report. They also commonly have contemporary worship services with electric guitars and drums.
As a region, the South has the largest share with 49 percent. California is the state with the most megachurches at 14 percent.

(from FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Trust and Obey...

No Other Way but to Trust and Obey

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a steward is faithfulness: "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (I Cor. 4:2). Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience. God knows that you cannot control other people, so he will not hold you responsible for the ultimate outcome of a conflict (Rom. 12:18). What he will look at is whether you sought his strength and guidance, remembered the freedom and power you have through the gospel, and obeyed his commands and wisely used the resources he has given you. If you have depended on him and done your best to resolve a conflict in a loving and biblical manner, no matter how the situation turns out, you will have earned that marvelous commendation: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matt. 25:21a).

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict

by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 40.

Food for Thought

Just because it looks like faith, doesn't mean it is faith.

"Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience." Ken's statement boldly shows just how contrary the spiritual life is to what so many of us are living. In practically every area of our lives, results matter. Consider your job. It matters whether or not you complete a project by a due date or have your stats in place for the next project meeting. Consider your family. It matters whether or not your kids are bringing home A's and B's or C's and D's. Consider your physical health. It matters whether or not all your efforts on the treadmill are translating into a better heart rate or reduced waistline. Results matter. And of course, this mentality profoundly affects our churches.

But this may be why true faith is so rare. It runs completely contrary to the way most of us spend our days. "Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience." Whoa! What was that word--dependent? Maybe that's where the real rub begins, for faithfulness is about being dependent. Not a little bit. Not every once in a while. But daily, hourly, minute by minute.

When you check the boxes on your tax forms for dependents, you're usually listing your children. Faithfulness is about becoming as a little child (dependent) and walking hand in hand with the Father. Jesus said something about that, didn't he? And he added that those who didn't approach him that way wouldn't enter the Kingdom (Luke 18:17). Now that sounds like a result that really matters.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Republicans love Howard Dean...

(from FotF)

Church and Politics

The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee said he thinks churches should either pay taxes or be silent when it comes to speaking out about political issues. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Howard Dean said "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax-exempt or involved in politics."

In contrast, Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with the Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, said pastors can voice support for issues like the proposed marriage amendments from the pulpit and churches can assist in petition drives without fear of reprisal from the Internal Revenue Service.

"In respect to their Internal Revenue Service tax exemption, they have a lot of liberty and leeway to support a ballot initiative," McCaleb told Baptist Press. "As long as what they do is an insubstantial amount of their total budget, they're pretty much free to do whatever they want in support or opposition to the ballot initiative."

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Punch Neapolitan Pizza...

Not a big fan. Ate there a while back with my wife. I understand what they are trying to do, it just doesn't suit my pizza desires. I want a big wheel of cheese coated goodness, and that is decidedly not the aim at Punch. The wood fired oven that they use is quite interesting, though I wonder what it does to the air temp of the restaurant during the summer. It cooks the pizza in something like 90 seconds, and it runs at something like 800+ degrees F. The oven is huge, and is the focal point of the entire restaurant. They built the oven, and then the rest of the store around it. I especially disliked their tomato sauce they use instead of pizza sauce. I understand what they are doing, making a traditional Neapolitan style pizza, but I don't like it nontheless. I appreciate that there are other people who do like this type of pizza, and have included a counter review below. One good thing about Punch's pizza is that it is fairly healthy compared to other pizzas.

Twin Cities Restaurant's Review:
Punch Neapolitan Pizza

This is an old favorite and an appropriate way to start things out. The food is excellent and the price is reasonable. Punch makes pizza in the Neapolitan style with an authentic wood fired oven. The oven is so hot that the pizza only takes a few minutes to cook. Pizzas are about the size of a large plate, and are just right for one person. The light, thin crust and sparse toppings make it the perfect meal. There are only a few authentic Neapolitan pizza places in the United States, and Punch is one of them. If you're eating on the cheap, skip drinks and appetizers and enjoy a great meal for $10/person. If you're feeling more liberal, have a glass of wine and one of their superb appetizers. The mozzarella and tomatoes or the Punch salad are two favorites. Top things off with a nice Espresso. The service is usually good at Punch, but could use a little improvement sometimes.