The Friday Briefing 13 (3 August 2018)

Why catechesis now? Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways.” He concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

”Do this in remembrance of Me” Bernard Bell gives us a brilliant overview of the Lord’s Supper.

The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender Brett McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Aging in hope! Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see.”

The virtue of unread books Scott James writes, “. . . the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They’re there to show us what’ s possible, not venerate what’ s already been.”

Why catechesis now?.

Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways. . . . . This is not the first time the church in the West has lived in such a deeply non-Christian cultural environment. In the first several centuries the church had to form and build new believers from the ground up, teaching them comprehensive new ways to think, feel, and live in every aspect of life. They did this not simply through preaching and lectures, but also through catechesis. . . . . In the heyday of the Reformation, church leaders in Europe again faced a massive pedagogical challenge. How could they re-shape the lives of people who had grown up in the medieval church? The answer was, again, many catechisms produced for all ages and stages of life. . . . . But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost.” Dr Keller concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

Read the whole article HERE.

For a helpful summary of what catechesis is, read Joe Carter’s article 10 Things You Should Know about Catechesis available HERE.

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”Do this in remembrance of Me”.

Bernard Bell explains the Lord’s Supper clearly, simply and comprehensively in this sermon preached at Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino. He writes, “We focus our attention today upon Communion. Although the whole Church acknowledges the central importance of communion, there is tremendous confusion over most aspects of the event. . . . . . . . I want to attempt to bring some order and understanding. I will do so in three stages. First we’ll look at the Last Supper which Jesus ate with his disciples, then at how the New Testament shows the early church repeating certain aspects of that meal, and finally at what the Church has done with the meal in the past 2000 years.”

After quoting Matthew 26.17-30, he explains, ”Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples in Jerusalem just hours before he was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish authorities. The meal was significant for three reasons: it was a fellowship meal between a rabbi and his disciples; more specifically, it was a Passover meal; and during the meal a new covenant was inaugurated.”

In his conclusion, Bell sums up what the Lord’s Supper means, ”Communion is a fellowship meal between Christ and his people. We are welcome at the Lord’s Table to eat his Supper. It is not the ‘right people’ that Christ has invited to his table, but us, the last, the least, the lost and the dead. The meal spread by him consists of bread and wine, which symbolize unseen realities with which we identify by faith. They require us to tell a story: why at this table do we eat the bread and drink the cup? Because by the body and blood of his servant Jesus God redeemed his people from bondage, bringing them out into freedom to be his people. With the poured-out blood of Jesus he sealed a covenant with us, and invites us to the table to eat a meal in his presence, a meal which demonstrates the reconciliation between God and man. By drinking the cup we participate vertically in, we have koinonia with, the blood of Christ. By breaking the one loaf we participate horizontally, we have koinonia with, the one body of Christ which is his Church. We have communion with Christ and communion with one another.”

Read the whole article HERE. (Near the top of the page there is a PDF icon – clicking this will download a nicely formatted 4-page printout of this sermon.)

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The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender.

Brett McCracken writes, ”When God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), he did not just create a clone of Adam. He created a complement. God’s solution to Adam’s “not good” problem was not two of the same flesh, as if company was all Adam needed. It was a one-flesh union, two distinct halves together making a whole. As much as contemporary Western culture tries to suggest otherwise, the difference of male and female exists and matters. And it is not just random difference, but complementary difference—a difference that indicates the two were made for each other. Woman and man are sort of like a lock and key. A lock and a key are meaninglessly different unless they are made to go together. But when together, their difference opens something up, unlocking something fuller and deeper about the human experience. . . . . We see the beauty of male-female complementarity not only in marriage but also in how the two sexes interact in other relationships, whether in the church, workplace, community, or extended family. As Barth suggested, there is a sense in which the fullness of being ‘male’ is realized only in relationship with ‘female’, and vice versa. Marriage is a powerful way this fullness is manifest, but it is not the only way. Male and female are not fluid, easily interchangeable constructs we fashion from below. Rather, they represent a complementary unity from above: one that goes beyond bodily or even gendered polarity. It is a complementary unity that reflects the structure of the wider world and the God who created it.”

McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Aging in hope!

Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19.32).  . . . . In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both “advanced in years” (Luke 1.7). They are the instruments of God’s purposes and the first interpreters of God’s saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2.22-38). . . . . As people who have clung to God’s promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God’s ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless.”

Tangelder comments, The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That’s why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The virtue of unread books.

Scott James writes, “My oldest son stood spellbound in front of shelves that must have seemed endlessly high and wide from his small vantage. The Study was a familiar room to him, one he often requisitioned for all manner of creative projects and mischief. The surrounding mass of books had been nothing more than background scenery. I’m not sure what triggered it, but today he took them all in spine by spine. . . . . Just when I began to self-indulge in the sentiment of the moment, he posed the question that had been brewing in his head. “Dad, have you actually read all these?” There was no effort whatsoever to hide his incredulity. . . . . Taking the accusation in stride, I confessed that no, I have not read every book in our library. Sensing his disapproval, I felt the need to defend myself use this as a teachable moment.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Friday Briefing 12 (6 July 2018)

What I’ve learned from preaching through the Book of Revelation Sam Storms writes, “This past Sunday, June 24, 2018, I concluded a series of sermons in the book of Revelation. There were 38 of them! As I reflected on my time in this remarkable book, ten truths stood out to me above all else.”

The violent showdown: the Exodus in Isaiah Andrew Wilson gives us a dramatic, insightful overview of the Exodus theme in Isaiah. He writes, “Isaiah is a prophet of the Exodus. His rich and beautiful prophecy contains a dramatic exodus triple-whammy, as he promises first rescue from Assyria, then redemption from Babylon, and finally redemption from sin itself, in a fashion that echoes the exodus but turns it completely on its head.”

5 reasons why visitation is vital for your pastor Andrew Roycroft shares 15 incentives to keep going at pastoral visitation.

Five simple steps to mentor new believers (without overworking the pastor) Karl Vaters writes, “If you’re not happy with your small church’s discipleship program (or it may not even exist), I have some good news. . . . . After a few hit-and-miss attempts, our church has discovered a simple five-step process that can work for any small church. And it looks suspiciously similar to what Jesus, Paul and many other early church leaders did.”

The essence of femininity – a personal perspective Elizabeth Elliot, pioneer missionary and author, wrote “Feminists are dedicated to the proposition that the difference between men and women is a matter of mere biology. The rest of us recognize a far deeper reality, one that meets us on an altogether different plane from mere anatomical distinctions.”

It’s time to teach the Bible in public schools [i.e. state schools] David Marcus writes, “The Bible as comprised of the Old and New Testaments is, simply put, the most important and seminal work of literature in Western Civilization. While for millions of people it is also the revealed word of God, for everyone it is an indispensable font from which springs the art, history, philosophy and governmental structures of our society. Biblical literacy, which is to say a basic, functioning knowledge of the stories of the Bible, is essential to have a full understanding of how our society works and why it differs so dramatically from others. This is why it must be thoroughly taught in the public schools.”

What I’ve learned from preaching through the Book of Revelation.

Sam Storms writes, “This past Sunday, June 24, 2018, I concluded a series of sermons in the book of Revelation. There were 38 of them! As I reflected on my time in this remarkable book, ten truths stood out to me above all else. Unlike some, the things in Revelation that had the greatest impact on me had nothing to do with numerical symbolism or 666 or the Beast or the Great Prostitute or the millennium. Here are the primary lessons I learned.” Storms concludes, “So remember: although some will tell you that you are wasting your time reading and meditating on Revelation because it is too difficult and obscure, Jesus tells us otherwise: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). . . . . This book is not beyond your ability to understand it and believe it and obey it. Don’t miss out on the blessing that is promised for those who keep what is written in it!”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The violent showdown: the Exodus in Isaiah.

Andrew Wilson gives us a dramatic, insightful overview of the Exodus theme in Isaiah. He writes, “Isaiah is a prophet of the Exodus. His rich and beautiful prophecy contains a dramatic exodus triple-whammy, as he promises first rescue from Assyria, then redemption from Babylon, and finally redemption from sin itself, in a fashion that echoes the exodus but turns it completely on its head. Those who know the story of Moses and Pharaoh, plagues and Passover, will recognize the shape of what Isaiah prophesies—but they will also be astonished by the way he presents the denouement. . . . . The arm of Yahweh, as we know, is about strength, power, even violence: the mighty hand and the outstretched arm that rain hailstones like fists and split the ocean. So as Isaiah begins to celebrate Judah’s redemption, we are not surprised to hear that it comes about because “Yahweh has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations,” and that his servant will be “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 52:10, 13).”

Wilson continues, “Here it comes: the violent showdown we have all been waiting for. We can hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries beginning in the background. But the orchestra goes silent. Suddenly, the concert hall is deathly quiet. . . . . The only sound we can hear is a plaintive cry, and as we peer at the stage in astonishment, we notice that it is coming from a manger, or the graveside of a friend, or a hillside garden, or even a cross. . . . . Here, we learn, is what the arm of Yahweh actually looks like in person: one who bears our griefs, carries our sorrows, is pierced for our transgressions, and is crushed for our iniquities (53:5). That is how Israel will be accounted righteous. . . . . We didn’t think the new exodus would look like that at all. We were so busy looking for God in the plagues or chariots hurled into the sea that we missed him in the fragile baby drifting downstream in a basket, and in the lamb’s blood smeared across the doorpost, and in the two goats who face death and exile to take away the sins of the people.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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5 reasons why visitation is vital for your pastor.

Andrew Roycroft comments,”Recently Thom Rainer posted some reflections on church member visitation, providing 15 reasons why those in pastoral ministry ‘shouldn’t visit much’. While the risk of being viewed by one’s congregation as a sanctified social worker or life coach is ever present, and while some local churches impose utterly unreasonable visitation demands on their Pastor, there are also significant dangers in neglecting this vital work. Here, rather than critiquing Dr Rainer’s reasoning, I share 15 of my own incentives to keep going at pastoral visitation. I read Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor once every year, and am forcibly reminded from its pages just how far short I fall in this area of ministry. The following are, however, offered as aspirational statements.” Not all churches, of course, have pastors in the sense Andrew Roycroft uses that term. But these 15 reasons apply to all those who exercise spiritual oversight of a local church.

Read the whole article HERE.

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Five simple steps to mentor new believers (without overworking the pastor).

Karl Vaters writes, “If you’re not happy with your small church’s discipleship program (or it may not even exist), I have some good news. You don’t need an expensive, staff-heavy curriculum to do great follow-up with new believers. And it doesn’t need to kill your already-over-busy schedule either. After a few hit-and-miss attempts, our church has discovered a simple five-step process that can work for any small church. And it looks suspiciously similar to what Jesus, Paul and many other early church leaders did.”

For example, the third step is this: “Connect them with a mature believer and the right resources.” Vaters explains: “Right now there are a handful of new believers in our church who meet regularly with mature believers to learn, grow and be discipled. Each one of them does it differently, depending on their circumstance.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The essence of femininity – a personal perspective.

Years ago, Elizabeth Elliot wrote these words – words that are not only as relevant now, but doubtless need to be heard and heeded even more urgently. She wrote, “Feminists are dedicated to the proposition that the difference between men and women is a matter of mere biology. The rest of us recognize a far deeper reality, one that meets us on an altogether different plane from mere anatomical distinctions. It is unfathomable and indefinable, yet men and women have tried ceaselessly to fathom and define it. It is unavoidable and undeniable, yet in the past couple of decades earnest and high-sounding efforts have been made in the name of decency, equality, and fairness, at least to avoid it and, whenever possible, to deny it. I refer, of course, to femininity-a reality of God’s design and God’s making, His gift to me and to every woman-and, in a very different way, His gift to men as well. If we really understood what femininity is all about, perhaps the question of roles would take care of itself.” She concludes, “To gloss over these profundities is to deprive women of the central answer to the cry of their hearts, “Who am I?” No one but the Author of the Story can answer that cry.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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It’s time to teach the Bible in public schools.

David Marcus writes, “The Bible as comprised of the Old and New Testaments is, simply put, the most important and seminal work of literature in Western Civilization. While for millions of people it is also the revealed word of God, for everyone it is an indispensable font from which springs the art, history, philosophy and governmental structures of our society. Biblical literacy, which is to say a basic, functioning knowledge of the stories of the Bible, is essential to have a full understanding of how our society works and why it differs so dramatically from others. This is why it must be thoroughly taught in the public schools. Sadly, almost two decades into the 21st Century, biblical literacy is slipping away from us.”

Marcus concludes, “But it is no longer enough to rely on social osmosis or home study of the Bible to give our children the framework needed to study our culture and civilization. Our school systems needs to . . . provide students with the Biblical literacy needed to be ‘decently educated’. Our culture has roots that are powerful. They exert influence on almost every aspect of our daily lives; they nourish our social fabric. No root runs deeper than the Bible, our kids to need to know and understand it.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in writings quoted from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 11 (1 June 2018)

The Friday Briefing is now appearing monthly rather than weekly, on the first Friday of each month. This will allow more time for revision of some existing material on this site, and for further writing projects.

10 things you should know about being reconciled to God Sam Storms asks, “What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God?”

The New Testament, the ring of truth, and the difference with mythological legends J.B. Phillips (1906-1982) produced a translation of the New Testament, entitled New Testament in Modern English. In a memoir, Phillips wrote : “I found again and again that the material under my hands was strangely alive; it spoke to my condition in the most uncanny way. I say ‘uncanny’ for want of a better word, but it was a very strange experience to sense, not occasionally but almost continually, the living quality of those rather strangely assorted books.”

The local church as a counterculture Brett McCracken comments, “The local church was never meant to be a cultural, comfortable, bourgeois social club . . . . On the contrary, it was meant to be a counterculture, a set-apart community embodying a radically different vision for human flourishing. What would it mean for local churches to embrace their countercultural identity?”

How history’s revivals teach us to pray David R. Thomas writes, “From 1949 to 1952, . . . . . . . a spiritual awakening swept across the islands of Lewis and Harris, . . . . . . . I met 11 eyewitnesses—in their 80s now—who agreed to interviews in the sanctuary of the very church where the awakening began. . . . . They told of the attitude of brokenness and desperation that stirred Christians in that day, a spirit of necessity and audacity, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. . . . . A stream of this manner of praying flows from the early church all the way through the Reformation. . . . . But travailing prayer finally found a widespread voice at the dawn of the Great Awakenings in America, . . . .”

Rescuing Christian masculinity Alastair Roberts writes, “It is profoundly depressing to witness the tendency to respond to the Church’s failures to engage men with some puerile masculine rebranding exercise. . . . . Behind all of these things, it seems to me, there lies a deep crisis in contemporary masculinity, which in turn is a symptom of a crisis of contemporary society. Unfortunately, few people have put their finger upon this.”

10 things you should know about being reconciled to God.

Sam Storms writes, “We hear and say much about redemption justification and adoption and forgiveness of sins. But when was the last time you heard a sermon about the doctrine of reconciliation? What does it mean to say we are reconciled to God? What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God? In this post we’ll look at ten things we all should know about this glorious truth.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The New Testament, the ring of truth, and the difference with mythological legends.

Justin Taylor writes, “J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) . . . was . . . a periphrastic Bible translator, working from the Greek text to put the New Testament into a breezy, British, mid-20th-century vernacular. . . . . In 1958 he published the entire New Testament in Modern English with revisions in 1961 and 1972. In 1967 he wrote a memoir describing the experience, entitled Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony. In it he [wrote] “. . . for years I had viewed the Greek of the New Testament with a rather snobbish disdain. I had read the best of Classical Greek both at school and Cambridge for over ten years. . . . Although I did my utmost to preserve an emotional detachment, I found again and again that the material under my hands was strangely alive; it spoke to my condition in the most uncanny way. I say ‘uncanny’ for want of a better word, but it was a very strange experience to sense, not occasionally but almost continually, the living quality of those rather strangely assorted books. To me it is the more remarkable because I had no fundamentalist upbringing, and although as a priest of the Anglican Church I had a great respect for Holy Scripture, this very close contact of several years of translation produced an effect of ‘inspiration’ which I have never experienced, even in the remotest degree, in any other work.””

Read the whole article HERE.

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The local church as a counterculture.

Brett McCracken writes, “Friedrich Nietzsche was perhaps the most towering figure among 19th century philosophers and thinkers, those whom Richard Lints has called “secular prophets.” . . . Neitzsche leveled new critiques against religion and positioned Christianity as a sort of idolatry—a made-in-man’s-own-image mythology to cope with the challenges of existence. . . . . He called Christianity the “religion of pity”—or, worse, the “religion of comfortableness.” . . . . Certainly we must admit that in many times and places in history—like in his own 19th century European context—Christianity has been rather comfortable, uncourageous, and unwilling to truly embrace the costly call of Jesus Christ. And for many in the American church today, Christianity is indeed a religion of escape and comfort, a faith that doesn’t ask much and doesn’t cost anything. It’s a religion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. So in that sense, perhaps Nietzsche’s critique is right. But Nietzsche is wrong to suggest there’s something inherently comfortable about Christianity, that it in its very essence Christianity is a convenient, disingenuous system of consolation for the weak people of the world. . . . .”

McCracken comments, “The local church was never meant to be a cultural, comfortable, bourgeois social club that affirms people in their idolatry and helps them along on a journey to their “best life now.” On the contrary, it was meant to be a counterculture, a set-apart community embodying a radically different vision for human flourishing. What would it mean for local churches to embrace their countercultural identity?”

Read the whole article HERE.

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How history’s revivals teach us to pray.

David R. Thomas writes, “From 1949 to 1952, the unthinkable unfolded on Scottish islands known as the Hebrides: revival! Seemingly out of nowhere, a spiritual awakening swept across the islands of Lewis and Harris, . . . . Some historians believe this was the last genuine awakening in the western world. When I came across a book detailing the Hebridian Revival, I wanted to know how a community was transformed from spiritual freefall to stunning renewal. So I booked a flight to Scotland, hoping to meet anyone who might remember what happened in those days. To my amazement, I met 11 eyewitnesses—in their 80s now—who agreed to interviews in the sanctuary of the very church where the awakening began. . . . . While they admitted strong preaching and other measures had played a role in the revival, to a person they described something more essential when God moved: a kind of spiritual posture among those at the core of the awakening. They told of the attitude of brokenness and desperation that stirred Christians in that day, a spirit of necessity and audacity, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. . . . .”

“A stream of this manner of praying flows from the early church all the way through the Reformation. . . . . But travailing prayer finally found a widespread voice at the dawn of the Great Awakenings in America, introduced primarily by Jonathan Edwards, colonial America’s greatest thinker. . . . . The First and Second Great Awakenings overflowed with stories of an agony in prayer, of petitioners becoming unrelenting in their heart cries. . . . . Most important to the leaders of awakenings was that none of this audacity and determination in prayer could be self-generated. An outpouring of the “spirit of prayer” was to them the key spiritual gift, the essential charism, of awakening: God himself, by his Spirit, providing the discernment and faith, the energy and language and very breath of awakening. . . . .”

Thomas comments, “I must admit that all this has occasionally left me feeling guilty about my own praying. Who of us, if we’re honest, doesn’t deep down feel like we could be praying more, that we should in one way or another be praying better? . . . . My encounter with travailing prayer moved me closer to what I believe God is looking for.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Rescuing Christian masculinity.

Alastair Roberts writes, “It is profoundly depressing to witness the tendency to respond to the Church’s failures to engage men with some puerile masculine rebranding exercise. We are told that we need MAN hymns and MAN faith, just as we need MAN crisps, or MAN chocolate bars, . . . . Behind all of these things, it seems to me, there lies a deep crisis in contemporary masculinity, which in turn is a symptom of a crisis of contemporary society. Unfortunately, few people have put their finger upon this. . . . .”

“It is important to see, I believe, that the malaise of masculinity is a symptom of a deeper and more profound contemporary social and existential malaise, a malaise that affects everyone. It is one of the principal effects of a maternalistic society . . . . This society infantilizes us in many ways. . . . . In order to sustain this social order, masculinity must be domesticated and infantilized. . . . . Any masculine urge for world-engaging and world-changing action must be expended in the ersatz realities of sports, entertainment, games, and porn, thereby reduced to impotence. . . . .”

Dr Roberts concludes, “This spiritual malaise in the Church, just as in the wider cultural order, depends in large measure upon the emasculation and domestication of men. As I have argued in the past, a strong male—and masculine—pastorate can have the salutary effect of bringing to light spiritual realities that the modern order seeks to exclude from our vision.  . . . . In our concern to recover a lost masculinity, we easily forget that masculinity will only ever be recovered indirectly—as we recover the reality that masculinity was about. The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe. It is only within this moral universe that a healthy Christian masculinity—far from the macho posturing of many contemporary parodies—will thrive.”

This is a penetrating commentary on this pressing issue.

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Friday Briefing 10 (11 May 2018)

The Friday Briefing will now appear monthly rather than weekly, on the first Friday of each month, starting Friday 1st June. This will allow more time for revision of some existing material on this site, and for adding further material to this site.

What we miss when we skip the prophets Ryan Higginbottom writes, “Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos Leo Smits writes, “. . . ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. . . . . More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2.”

This world is not my home Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation.”

Reading together, early Church style New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish. He asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century?

“We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history” Lucinda Borkett-Jones reports on the story of the growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are becoming Christians.

What we miss when we skip the prophets.

Ryan Higginbottom asks, “From what Biblical book is your pastor preaching? What are you reading in your devotional times? What book of the Bible are you studying in your small group? Let me guess: An epistle? A gospel? An Old Testament historical book? Some of the Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.)? I’d bet very few of you would answer Ezekiel, or Micah, or Zechariah. . . . .”

“Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos.

Leo Smits writes, “It is well known that there are references in the Gospels, that are an allusion to the Old Testament. . . . . This is also the case in the gospel of John. . . . . Various New Testament scholars have already seen a reference to the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 in various parts in the Gospel.” He then gives some examples and continues, “These examples show that ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. But could it not be that the writer in his gospel not [only] occasionally returns to this theme in his gospel, but that whole gospel encompasses this? After long and thorough examination, I am of the opinion that this is the case. More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. . . . .”

In his conclusion, he says, “John sees Jesus as the Re-creator, and at the same time as the second Adam, who recreates the world (and especially humans) in (initially) the six days of creation, and subsequently, by his death, to enter the Sabbath and on the new first day (eighth day) to stand . . . as a new creation.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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This world is not my home.

Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation. . . . .”

“Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, speaks clearly to this matter. . . . Paul affirms the goodness of the fallen creation (v. 4), the purpose of God in creating these things to be “received with gratitude” (v. 3), and the propriety of Christian believers using these gifts “by those who believe and know the truth” (v. 3). . . . . But there is more to it than this. There is a priestly activity involved in the believer’s use of the everyday blessings of this creation. Because he receives these gifts of God with thanksgiving and in the knowledge that they have come from Him, even these common things become holy. It is consecrated (sanctified) by the Word of God and prayer. . . . . The only valid category which remains for the Christian is the lawful/unlawful one. If God has permitted it, it is lawful; if He has forbidden it, it is ‘off-limits’.”

Smith concludes, “What a wonderful door to life is opened with this truth! I am now free to live, free to obey, free to use this world, free to give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. I am, in a word, free to be human in the fullest sense of the word! So, while we look for a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells, we live out the days of our pilgrimage here in training and anticipation of this, and we live as priests, acknowledging God in the whole· of our existence. . . . . Let us, then, replace “This World Is Not My Home” with something finer.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Reading together, early Church style. New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish.

Caleb Lindgren interviews Brian J. Wright, who has recently published Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus. Lindgren writes, “Brian J. Wright first experienced communal reading more than 15 years ago, which led him into the field of textual criticism . . . . . . . . But when he began PhD work, Wright wanted to step back and ask who was reading what in the first century. . . . his research revealed a vibrant and active culture of communal reading in the first-century Greco-Roman world. . . . .”

Wright explains, “It would have occurred in many different ways. It could have been friends sharing literature. It could have been public figures actually having something at a theater or auditorium. They happened in both formal and informal venues: apartments, temples, synagogues. They were happening everywhere, courtrooms, private homes, schools. . . . . Also notable is the type of reader, that it’s not just the elite. All sorts of people were reading.” Christians, too, were reading communally. Wright says, “. . . Christians encouraged communal reading not as an end in itself but as a way of comprehending the text, promoting unity, of forming spiritually, of becoming like Christ. . . . .”

Wright comments, “Christians are no longer bookish, like the earliest Christian communities. Christians are more self-focused than communally focused, unlike the earliest Christian communities. And so I hear people saying all the time, “I don’t need to go to church.” I think my book provides yet another way of countering that argument because there was extensive interaction among Christians in the first century. There was a broad circulation of Christian writings. . . . . I mention in the book a few communities like that in Jude or in 1 Peter. These would have been bookish communities that were reading literature outside of the Bible, apocryphal literature, Enoch and others.”

Wright asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century? As I was doing my research, I saw that communal reading was a powerful discipleship tool because it aided understanding. It fostered community. It promoted a healthy interactive discussion of our common confession.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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‘We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history’.

Lucinda Borkett-Jones wrote (in 2015), “Despite the daily news of the persecution of Christians around the world by Islamist groups, there is another, lesser-known story of growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are turning to Christ as Lord. Missionary David Garrison’s book, A Wind in the House of Islam, charts this phenomenon, which he says demonstrates that “we are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history”. The book is the result of two and a half years of research and involved travelling more than 250,000 miles to conduct interviews with more than 1,000 people around the Muslim world. In the study, a ‘movement’ of believers is defined as a group of more than 1,000 baptised believers or 100 new churches within a Muslim community. In total he found 69 movements that had started in the first 12 years of the 21st century, in comparison with virtually no voluntary movements of converts to Christianity in the first 12 centuries of Islam. . . . . So why is this turning to Christ happening now?” Read the whole article HERE.

Click HERE to access David Garrison’s website, A Wind in the House.

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The Friday Briefing 9 (4 May 2018)

Christ Ascended for Us Jesus’s ascension will be celebrated in a few days’ time – on Ascension Day, Thursday 10th May. His ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article, Jesus’s ascension is hugely important.

The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow This remarkable little book can transform the way you think of Jesus’s ascension.

Gerrit Dawson: Jesus is still a Human Mike Feazell interviews Dr. Gerrit Dawson about the importance of Jesus being human even after His Ascension. As well as teaching about the Ascension, Dr. Gerrit – himself a pastor – also brings a pastoral perspective on what Jesus’s Ascension means for us.

The True Tabernacle In John 1.14, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” can be literally translated “lived in a tent” or “tabernacled’. Mike Moore writes, ”In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.”

Wanted: people to lead us in the way of wonder Trevin Wax writes, “In an age of disenchantment, a world in which people are starved by superficiality, we need . . . .  . . . theologians and pastors who combine their desire for theological accuracy with the desire to showcase biblical beauty, until we stand in awe—of this world in all of its haunted goodness and of the gospel in all of its long-awaited surprise.”

The film you have been waiting for: Puritan A new documentary, PURITAN: All of Life to the Glory of God, is due for release early next year. This release includes, as well as the documentary, up to thirty short lessons on Puritan people and Puritan themes, a workbook, and another book introducing the Puritans authored by Michael Reeves and Joel Beeke. Joel writes, “Why would we do this, and why should you be interested? The answer is that, in the providence of God, the Puritans are colossuses in church history. . . . . By the Spirit’s grace, the Puritans will enrich your life as a Christian in many ways . . . .”

Christ Ascended for Us by Nick Needham.

Jesus’s ascension will be celebrated in a few days’ time – on Ascension Day, Thursday 10th May. His ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection.

Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article (which I reviewed some while ago) Jesus’s ascension is hugely important. When He returned to His Father at His ascension He didn’t stop being a Man. Being human wasn’t just a temporary condition that He assumed whilst on Earth and divested Himself of on His return to Heaven. He is still a Man, and will remain so for all eternity. There is now a Man – a Member of our own human race – in heaven. And Jesus still has a physical body. His body is glorious, incorruptible, perfect. But it is a true physical body nonetheless. This has staggering implications for each of us individually, and for our human race as a whole – as Dr Needham brings out so well in his article.

Dr Needham’s original article is available HERE. My review is available HERE.

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The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow.

This remarkable little book can transform the way you think of Jesus’s ascension. His ascension may simply seem like a postscript to His life here on Earth. But it’s a vital part of His saving work for us. As the authors point out, “Atonement was not complete until Jesus stood before God on our behalf.” Jesus is our ascended Priest and King, our ‘Man in Heaven’ at our Father’s right hand, enthroned in absolute authority over Heaven and Earth!

Our calling and destiny as God’s people is to be His royal family, made in His image to rule over His creation. The authors explain that the ascended Jesus has realised this destiny: “The ascension of Jesus is the foretaste of the ascension of a new humanity to our royal status.” And through His ascension, He has secured that destiny for every one of God’s people: “Those in Christ will . . . be what we were meant to be and what we were born to be.”

Perhaps the authors’ greatest achievement is to set Jesus’s ascension squarely into its context in the whole of God’s redemptive plan from creation to the new creation.

And Jesus’s ascension inevitably raises questions. Where exactly is Jesus now? Jesus is in heaven, yet He’s present with His people. We live here on Earth, yet we’re seated with Him in the heavenly realms. How does this all work in our universe of space and time? Where exactly is heaven and how does it relate to our own world? And what happens when Jesus returns to Earth at the end of the age? The authors guide us through this mysterious terrain.

Read the publishers description of the book HERE.

Read my original review HERE.

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Gerrit Dawson: Jesus is still a Human.

Mike Feazell interviews Dr. Gerrit Dawson about the importance of Jesus being human even after His Ascension.

Mike Feazell begins the interview by asking: “Let’s begin by talking about Jesus’ incarnation and especially, his incarnation after his death and resurrection – a lot of people think of Jesus as being God in the flesh while he’s here on earth walking and talking and breathing, but once he’s crucified and resurrected and ascended and at the right hand of God, we don’t think of it quite the same way. We think of him, now he is fully God again, but not fully human as well. What’s wrong with that?”

You can see the interview, or read the transcript HERE (read the transcript by clicking ► Program Transcript (click to view): lower down the page). Gerrit Scott Dawson received his D.Min. degree in 2002 from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is currently senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As well as the theology of Jesus’s Ascension, Dr. Gerrit also brings a pastoral perspective on what Jesus’s Ascension means for us.

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The True Tabernacle.

“The only building ever constructed upon this earth which was perfect from its very beginning and outset in every detail, and never again needed attention, alteration, was the tabernacle in the wilderness … Every single detail was designed by Almighty God, every part had a prophetic, redemptive and typical significance.” (M.R. DeHaan, quoted by Philip Graham Ryken in his commentary on Exodus, Crossway Books, page 813). Mike Moore writes, “The Tabernacle was the house of God. It was the meeting place of heaven and earth. In Exodus 40, as the Tabernacle was raised and dedicated, the glory of God descended and entered the Holy of Holies.”

“In John 1:14, John tells us, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John chose his words carefully. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled” among his people. John intended to show us in his Gospel that the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Word of God, and that Jesus is in fact the true tabernacle in whom the glory of God shines. In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.”

Read the whole article HERE. A formatted PDF version of this sermon is available HERE.

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Wanted: people to lead us in the way of wonder.

Trevin Wax writes, “In an age of disenchantment, a world in which people are starved by superficiality, we need writers and pastors and artists who can feed us with the wonder of existence. . . . . We need theologians and pastors who combine their desire for theological accuracy with the desire to showcase biblical beauty, until we stand in awe—of this world in all of its haunted goodness and of the gospel in all of its long-awaited surprise.” Read the whole article HERE.

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The film you have been waiting for: Puritan.

Joel Beeke writes, “I am excited to announce that Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Reformation Heritage Books, Media Gratiae, and Stephen McCaskell are together creating PURITAN: All of Life to the Glory of God. This includes a feature documentary, up to thirty short lessons on Puritan people and Puritan themes, a workbook, and another book introducing the Puritans authored by Michael Reeves and me. Why would we do this, and why should you be interested? The answer is that, in the providence of God, the Puritans are colossuses in church history. . . . . They were imperfect, largely seventeenth-century men seeking to live faithfully in and through very difficult circumstances.”

”By the Spirit’s grace, the Puritans will enrich your life as a Christian in many ways as they open the Scriptures and apply them practically, probing your conscience, indicting your sins, leading you to repentance, shaping your faith, augmenting your prayer life and meditation, guiding your conduct, comforting you in Christ and conforming you to Him, teaching you how to live through affliction to God’s glory, rebuking your pride, increasing your reliance on the Holy Spirit, and bringing you into a more robust assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the triune God for His great salvation.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 8 (27 April 2018)

Reading the Bible as one story Michael Goheen writes, “If the church is to be faithful to its missionary calling, it must recover the Bible as one true story. If the story of the Bible is fragmented into bits it can easily be absorbed into the reigning story of culture rather than challenging it. A fragmented Bible can lead to a church that is unfaithful, syncretistically accommodated to the idolatry of its cultural story, or in the words of Paul, a church “conformed to the world” (Romans 12.2).”

10 Bible translations you’ve never heard of Jost Zetzsche introduces ten lesser-known English translations, all but one of which were translated by individuals. He writes: “My hope is to pique your sense of adventure to seek out these or other translations and immerse yourself in them.”

The rise of comic superheroes and our longing for one Eric Geiger writes, “An unprecedented 20 superhero movies are expected to come to movie theaters between 2018 and 2020. Superhero movies are on the rise and people rave about the heroes in Black Panther, Avengers, and Spider-Man. Where does our longing for superheroes come from?”

Paul Young’s “Lies We Believe About God” Dismantles Precious Truths from Scripture Randy Alcorn writes, “Last year, Paul Young, author of The Shack, had a book come out called Lies We Believe About God. Ironically, many of the doctrinal concerns that I and many others expressed about his novel The Shack (and in response, were told “it’s just fiction” and “this isn’t theology” and “that’s not what he’s saying”) have proven to be true. This book clearly reveals the author’s actual theology.

Mission through meals Following on from last week’s review of Tim Chester’s book A Meal with Jesus, here is a video in which Tim explores the power of meals as a context for building community and sharing the gospel.

Reading the Bible as one story.

Michael Goheen writes, “All of human life is shaped by some story. . . . . For those of us living in the West, basically two stories are on offer: the biblical and the humanist. As [Lesslie] Newbigin points out: “In our contemporary culture . . . two quite different stories are told. One is the story of evolution, of the development of species through the survival of the strong, and the story of the rise of civilization, our type of civilization, and its success in giving humankind mastery of nature. The other story is the one embodied in the Bible, the story of creation and fall, of God’s election of a people to be the bearers of his purpose for humankind, and of the coming of the one in whom that purpose is to be fulfilled. These are two different and incompatible stories . . . .”

“The story of the Bible tells us the way the world really is. It is in the language of postmodernity it is a “metanarrative”; in the language of Hegel, “universal history.” Thus, the biblical story is not to be understood simply as a local tale about a certain ethnic group or religion. It begins with the creation of all things and ends with the renewal of all things. In between it offers an interpretation of the meaning of cosmic history. It, therefore, makes a comprehensive claim: our stories, our reality must find a place in this story.”

Michael concludes, “If the church is to be faithful to its missionary calling, it must recover the Bible as one true story. If the story of the Bible is fragmented into bits it can easily be absorbed into the reigning story of culture rather than challenging it. A fragmented Bible can lead to a church that is unfaithful, syncretistically accommodated to the idolatry of its cultural story, or in the words of Paul, a church “conformed to the world” (Romans 12.2). Much is at stake in reading the Bible as one story. Students who want to be faithful pastors or scholars would do well to master this story so that they might help others indwell it with them.

Read the whole article HERE.

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10 Bible translations you’ve never heard of
.

Jost Zetzsche writes, “English readers have access to more translations of the Bible than readers of any other language. The American Bible Society estimates that there have been around 900 full and partial biblical translations into English.” Jost introduces us to ten lesser-known English translations, all but one of which were translated by individuals. He writes: “My hope is to pique your sense of adventure to seek out these or other translations and immerse yourself in them. . . . . When it comes to having access to a richness of Bible translations, no other readers of the 7,000 or so world languages are as privileged as English readers. So why not use that resource? . . . . In the original preface to the King James Version of 1611, its translators wrote ‘that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.’” Read the whole article HERE.

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The rise of comic superheroes and our longing for one.

Eric Geiger writes, “An unprecedented 20 superhero movies are expected to come to movie theaters between 2018 and 2020. Superhero movies are on the rise and people rave about the heroes in Black Panther, Avengers, and Spider-Man. Where does our longing for superheroes come from?” Eric comments, “Stories of rescue that grip our culture remind us that people were created for the greater Story, for the greater Rescuer.” Read the whole article HERE.

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Paul Young’s “Lies We Believe About God” Dismantles Precious Truths from Scripture.

Randy Alcorn writes, “Last year, Paul Young, author of The Shack, had a book come out called Lies We Believe About God. Ironically, many of the doctrinal concerns that I and many others expressed about his novel The Shack (and in response, were told “it’s just fiction” and “this isn’t theology” and “that’s not what he’s saying”) have proven to be true. This book clearly reveals the author’s actual theology. I wanted to believe the best, and not be quick to misunderstand or accuse. I have friends who read Paul’s writings, and my desire isn’t to take away from the positives they’ve received from The Shack. However, Lies We Believe About God shows in the author’s own words how far he has departed from some basic and central evangelical doctrines. I’ve read the whole book, and I saw truth intermixed with unbiblical error. But as is often the case with false doctrine, the truth serves to make the error appear more credible. . . . . I recommend this summary of some of the unbiblical content in Lies We Believe About God, well expressed by Tim Challies. While Paul Young remains a likable person, this doesn’t change the danger of revising God’s truth and telling people nice-sounding things on God’s behalf, when some of those explicitly contradict what He tells us in His Word: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” Proverbs 30:5-6 (ESV)).

Read Randy Alcorn’s whole article HERE.

Read Randy Alcorn’s earlier article Reflections on The Shack HERE.

Read Tim Challies’ article What Does The Shack Really Teach? “Lies We Believe About God” Tells Us HERE.

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”The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. (Matthew 11.19). Meals played a big part in the ministry of Jesus. In this video, Tim Chester explores the power of meals as a context for building community and sharing the gospel.

I review Tim Chester’s book A Meal with Jesus HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 7 (20 April 2018)

Why we must understand the covenants to understand the Bible Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures.

Why churches and church leaders need curiosity Barnabas Piper writes, “In order to represent God to the world we must know Him, and to do that we must learn. We must search for truth about His nature, His character, and His work. We must explore both His Word and His world. We absolutely must be curious if we are Christians. Without it we cease to grow and we become incapable of fulfilling our purpose in life.”

Why do some pastors deliberately avoid teaching doctrine? Jim Eliff writes, ”. . . I’ve watched an unintentional doctrinal imprecision on the part of many pastors become intentional. . . . . Simply stated it is the “wisdom” of attempting to circle in more people for our churches by unashamedly minimizing, or perhaps nearly eradicating, the restricting influences of doctrine.

The Weight of Glory: C. S. Lewis’s remarkable (and surprising) sermon On 8th June, 1941, in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century. Justin Taylor writes, “Do we know that Lewis takes some surprising turns in this address, . . . . But if you could use some motivation or guidance, or simply want a substantial overview of the whole thing, I’ve tried my best to summarize the whole thing, tracing the various places Lewis takes us in this profoundly and edifying meditation.”

Book review: A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. In this book, Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as Arthur Sido comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church . . . .”

He’s still risen What would it be like today if the followers of Jesus suddenly heard – for the very first time – that He had risen from the dead? This video imagines the scene.

Why we must understand the covenants to understand the Bible..

Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles, and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere; it is the story of redemption, the story of God’s kingdom. And the story unfolds and advances through the covenants God made with his people. If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures.” Dr Schreiner then briefly overviews these covenants: the covenant of creation, the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David, and the New Covenant. Read the whole article HERE. Dr Schreiner also overviews these Bible covenants in his book Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World: read the publisher’s description HERE.

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Why churches and church leaders need curiosity.

Barnabas Piper writes, “Humans are unique. God did not make anything else in His image. . . . . Author Joe Rigney explains the most significant implication this way: “Being made in God’s image is a vocation, something that we are called by God to do and to be.” A vocation, a calling, a work we are to dedicate out lives to. That means it is on purpose and with a purpose, not just a state of being. . . . . We must reflect God intentionally each day.”

“What this means for the Church, and for churches, is profound. We are a community of image-bearers, each uniquely gifted and tasked to reflect something particular of God. . . . . . . our reflection of God is not passive. . . . . We reflect on purpose, with intention, by taking action. One of those actions is discovery – about God Himself. In order to represent God to the world we must know Him, and to do that we must learn. We must search for truth about His nature, His character, and His work. We must explore both His Word and His world. We absolutely must be curious if we are Christians. Without it we cease to grow and we become incapable of fulfilling our purpose in life. . . . . We need someone to teach us and show us what it means to live in godly curiosity. That is the job of church leaders.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Why do some pastors deliberately avoid teaching doctrine?

Jim Eliff writes, ”I have been involved in leading churches for four decades, with an emphasis on church planting in the last few years. I’ve also visited and addressed hundreds of churches around the world and have had the privilege of meeting thousands of Christian leaders. Through this time I’ve watched an unintentional doctrinal imprecision on the part of many pastors become intentional. . . . . Simply stated it is the ‘wisdom’ of attempting to circle in more people for our churches by unashamedly minimizing, or perhaps nearly eradicating, the restricting influences of doctrine. . . . . The problem is, it works.”

He comments, “In all of this acceptance of doctrinal sloppiness and miasma of beliefs, I find that many have totally disregarded a tenet that should be obvious to any Bible reader. I mean this: The apostles began churches with the intent to grow them as solidly as possible by means of a steady and meticulous interest in doctrine. The biblical data is overwhelmingly in line with this conclusion.”

He concludes: “We must be loving and comforting, praying and available, transparent and visionary, but as leaders we cannot dismiss what God insists on. . . . . Therefore give yourself to sound doctrine and make much of it from now on. If you cannot do this, resign. And if you are not a pastor, but a listener, go to those responsible for dispensing the truth with a sincere appeal for them to teach you doctrine without compromise. Tell them you cannot grow without it.”

Read the whole article HERE

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The Weight of Glory: C. S. Lewis’s remarkable (and surprising) sermon.

On 8th June, 1941, in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century. Justin Taylor, of the Gospel Coalition, writes, “I suspect that this celebrated address is more ‘sampled’ than read straight through and understood in full. Many of us know the famous opening, where Lewis observes that we have settled for mud pies in the slum, ignorant of a holiday at the sea, and that we are far too easily pleased. Or we might know his section observing that we have never met a mere mortal. But what is the argument of the piece as a whole? Do we know that Lewis takes some surprising turns in this address, . . . . But if you could use some motivation or guidance, or simply want a substantial overview of the whole thing, I’ve tried my best to summarize the whole thing, tracing the various places Lewis takes us in this profoundly and edifying meditation.”

Here are two well-known passages in Lewis’s sermon – (passages that have been quoted, in full or in part, innumerable times):

“. . . if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. . . . . It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Read Justin Taylor’s whole article HERE. Justin also gives a historical overview of that sermon and tells us about this sermon’s subsequent influence HERE. Read the original sermon HERE.

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Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, meals, covenants, eating, church, fellowship

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester.

Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. He invites them to enjoy fellowship with Him, to enter His ‘family circle’. It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. God offered Adam and Eve the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 2.9,16-17). But they ate from another tree; they refused fellowship with God. From that moment, God wanted to bring mankind back to His table – back into fellowship with Him.

So we find God inviting people to His table. In the Old Testament, there’s the annual Passover meal. When God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, chosen representatives of Israel banqueted with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.9-11). And among the various sacrifices there was the fellowship offering – the sacrifice that the offerer and his companions ate together in God’s presence. Before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples – the Last Supper. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters at the central act of our life together as God’s people.

And when God’s Kingdom arrives in its final glory, God’s people will enjoy “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19.9). They will feast with Jesus for eternity – they’ll enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in the new heaven and Earth.

In this book (which I reviewed earlier HERE) Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as one reviewer on Amazon.com, Arthur Sido, comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church . . . .”

This book is published by IVP and Crossway. Read IVP’s description HERE and Crossway’s HERE. Read the introduction HERE. Tim Challies reviews it HERE.

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What would it be like today if the followers of Jesus suddenly heard – for the very first time – that He had risen from the dead? This brief video imagines the scene.

See the publisher’s page HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 6 (13 April 2018)

“On the Third Day”: what Jesus and the apostles saw when they read the Old Testament “. . . Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). . . . this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.”

The Genesis of theology The book of Genesis has been called ‘the seed plot of the Bible’. Here are four theological themes that ‘germinate’ in the first two chapters of Genesis.

The hottest thing at church today “is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus.”

Pastors’ forum: evangelism and discipleship in the local church Nine pastors were asked about practical ways in which they encourage evangelism and discipleship in the life of their particular local church. Here are their responses.

10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology “. . . archaeological findings . . . have the potential to enrich our understanding and draw us into the world of the biblical writers—giving us a glimpse of the ancient world behind the living Word.”

“On the Third Day”: what Jesus and the apostles saw when they read the Old Testament

”Christ . . . was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15.3–4). Bruce Forsee writes, “Jesus knew that he had come to die, and he taught his disciples not only that he would die and rise again, but specifically that he would rise on the third day. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised“ (Matthew 16:21).

The apostle Paul indicates that the third-day resurrection was even indicated in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:4 he claims Jesus “was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” . . . Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). If Jonah’s “resurrection” on the third day pointed to Christ’s resurrection, this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.” Read the whole article HERE

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The Genesis of theology

Nick Batzig introduces four key theological themes that we find in the very first two chapters of the Bible – a theology of creation and new creation, of time and space, of separation, and of sanctification. Read the whole article HERE.

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The hottest thing at church today

Tim Challies writes, “According to a new study by Gallup, the hottest thing at church today is not the worship and not the pastor. It’s not the smoke and lights and it’s not the hip and relevant youth programs. It’s not even the organic, fair trade coffee at the cafe. The hottest thing at church today is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus.” Read the whole article HERE.

Read the report of the Gallup poll HERE.

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Pastors’ forum: evangelism and discipleship in the local church

Nine pastors were asked about practical ways in which they encourage evangelism and discipleship in the life of their particular local church. These pastors’ answers are worth reading. This is ‘where the rubber hits the road’ for us and our local church for fulfilling Jesus’s ‘great commission’ of Matthew 28.18-20.

Read the whole article HERE

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Image from Wikimedia. Image from the website of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; original photograph by Ardon Bar Hama.

Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The central column contains the text of Isaiah 53.13 to part of 54.4. This portion contains the wonderful prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings for us on the Cross. This scroll is dated from around 125 BC, and was therefore written before Christ fulfilled this prophecy. The Dead Sea Scrolls are one of the 10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology that are described in the following article.

10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology

Tim Challies writes: “Biblical archaeology is a wide field offering modern readers fascinating insights into the everyday lives of people mentioned in the Bible. . . . . Here are the ten most significant discoveries in the field of biblical archaeology.” Read the whole article HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 5 (6 April 2018)

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview? ”. . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.”

How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church “If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.”

Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism ”Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now. “There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, . . . .”

The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person.

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview?’

Andrew Carter, lecturer in theology, Bible and worldviews at The African Bible University, Kampala, Uganda, writes, “In August 2016 I was speaking at a Christian conference in Devon, UK. I’d been given the task of saying something about the role of apologetics in the believer’s life. In my talk I touched on the need for Christian parents to train their children in cultural analysis and worldview thinking. To help my audience with this, I listed about ten worldview questions that I teach my students here in Uganda, suggesting that they could use them to teach their children to think better and ask important questions about the world. . . . .”

“The morning after I’d spoken, I met a lady on the campsite who told me that she’d gone back to her tent and put each of my ten questions to her sixteen year old son. To her great dismay – she explained – he’d answered each one of them differently to her. As we chatted it became apparent that her answers were Christian and her son’s secular, or at least he worked with the assumption that God was virtually irrelevant to his life. She said something like this to me, “How can it be that raising my son in a Christian home has had virtually no impact on his worldview, whilst his schooling, peer group and cultural exposure has been so effective in shaping his world and life view?”

Andrew comments, “Perhaps the greatest failure of the church in the West has been the tendency to neglect to train the minds of God’s people; too many have acquired a kind of divided-life spirituality which assumes that the gospel only addresses a ‘spiritual’ realm of life: prayer, church activities, evangelism etc. Thinking is somehow seen as unspiritual and too intellectual. . . . . With our children, it just won’t do to tell them to accept Jesus into their hearts. Of course our children need to receive Christ as their Saviour, but we also need to show them why it makes sense to do so. In other words we need to give our children solid reasons why the Christian faith is true (nothing else explains reality as we find it) and contrast it with the inability of other worldviews to make sense of the world. . . . . . . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.” Andrew gives some practical advice on how to begin.

Read the whole article HERE

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How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church

Michael Lawrence writes, ”One of the great insights of the modern world is that John Donne was right and Simon & Garfunkel was wrong: I am not a rock; I am not an island. From who I think I am to what I believe about life and the universe, my beliefs are socially constructed. That doesn’t mean I don’t make independent decisions. It simply means that the social context in which I live largely determines the range of options I can choose from. . . . .”

”What happens when you apply these basic insights to the local church and its task of evangelism? All of a sudden, you realize that the local church is more than a preaching station or venue for evangelistic programs. . . . . . . . the entire community becomes a crucial element in the task of commending the gospel. That community becomes the plausible alternative to unbelief. It becomes a sub-culture that demonstrates what it looks like to love and follow Jesus and so love and serve one another. And it does all this as the church body lives out its life together. . . . .”

“In the last few decades, however, many churches have taken this insight a step further. . . . . If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The result? ‘Unbelievers’ become ‘seekers’, rather than non-Christians. They become fellow travelers on the journey with us, just at a different point. Practically, this means letting unbelievers join everything from the worship band to the after-school tutoring ministry, from ushering to coordinating rides for seniors. Everyone is included; everyone belongs, regardless of belief. The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.” Read the whole article HERE

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Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism

Alastair Roberts comments (writing in 2014) “Andrew Wilson has a fascinating post on his blog on the subject of the ‘new centre of British evangelicalism.’ Within it he argues that, while there are parts of British evangelicalism that are not within the ambit of its direct influence, Holy Trinity Brompton has become by far the most significant player within the UK evangelical world. Andrew defines the ‘centre’ that HTB represents as ‘the reasonably large, obvious bit in the middle, as far away from all extremes as you can get, from which it is possible to influence most of the game, . . . .’”

”. . . . Andrew’s discussion of the character, reach, and effect of HTB’s influence is perceptive and stimulating. He makes a number of interesting observations along the way. One of the most important of these is that ‘contemporary evangelicalism is increasingly becoming aligned by shared conferences, courses and choruses, rather than confessions, creeds or catechisms.’ . . . . In perhaps the most important paragraph in the post, Andrew observes the manner in which HTB’s centrality ‘reflects decreasing levels of doctrinal clarity in British evangelicalism as a whole.’ . . . . ‘How many people who run Alpha or the Marriage Course, I wonder, know what view (if any) HTB have of penal substitution, or hell, or predestination, or gay marriage, or any number of other contentious issues in the contemporary church? (Egalitarianism . . . is probably the exception that proves the rule). Most evangelicals will wonder why it matters: if someone has a good course, or runs a good conference, what difference does it make what they think about penal substitution, hell, gender roles or gay marriage? This, of course, is exactly the point I’m making—that the centrality of HTB reflects the lack of doctrinal clarity in evangelicalism . . . .’”

Alastair comments, “Andrew’s assessment of HTB, while containing a note of caution, is largely favourable. I would be much less sanguine about the scale of HTB’s influence than Andrew seems to be, on account of many of the characteristics that he describes. My concerns are far too broad to be laid wholly at HTB’s door, although HTB does exemplify a number of the developments and trends that evoke some of my deepest reservations about much contemporary evangelicalism. HTB often strikes me as an example of a highly successful ecclesial adaptation to contemporary capitalism. Implicit within its approach are new models of the Church, the world, and the Christian. The Christian is now the religious consumer, to whom the Church must cater. The Alpha Course (whose approach has been imitated by many others) is a polished and franchised showcasing of Christian faith in a manner that minimizes the creative involvement of the local church. It provides a technique of evangelism and discipleship along with a vision of Christianity in which the distinct voice and authority of the local church are downplayed in favour of a predictable, uniform, and airbrushed product. . . . . Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

Read the whole article HERE

Read Andrew Wilson’s article HERE

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How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now.

I published a page with a link to this article, titled Early Church catechesis and new Christians’ classes in contemporary evangelicalism back in late 2013. It remains as relevant now. In this article, Clinton Arnold looks at how the early church trained new believers – and then poses some searching questions about how our present-day evangelical church approaches this task. He writes: “For twelve years my wife and I were deeply involved in a ministry to new believers at our local church. When we began developing this ‘assimilation’ ministry, we started with an eight-week course that covered many of the basics of the Christian life. . . . . The initial idea was for new believers to take the eight-week course as a primer in some of the basics of Christian doctrine and practice and then help them blend into the regular age-graded Sunday School program of the church.”

Dr. Arnold had also been doing some reading in the Church fathers about how new Christians were trained in the early church. He came away “deeply convicted about the superficiality of what we were doing. There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, especially the development of a ministry plan and curriculum that would keep them for two to three years.”

In this paper, Dr. Arnold gathers some insights from the Apostolic Tradition, the earliest source providing us with detailed information about how the church trained new believers, together with some other ancient sources that speak about this practice. He offers some thoughts on how the present-day church can learn from their forebears in the early church.

Read the whole article HERE

Read my original summary of the article HERE

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The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

There’s a YouTube account CSLewisDoodle that brings the writings of C.S. Lewis to us in a novel form – using animated graphics, or ‘doodles’, to accompany an audio version of his writings. Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition writes, “The Doodler (we’ll call him) essentially takes Lewis’s writings, adds audio, and then creates a sort of running visual commentary on them. Some people would dismiss such doodling (or even graphic novels) as too low of an art form, but to do something at this pace requires a very deep understanding of the subject matter. And the research behind the doodling is significant. Note his comment on his doodles for The Abolition of Man: ‘In order to help you understand the meaning of the quotes, I have hunted down all of Lewis’ quotations and allusions including the notorious ‘Green Book’ itself. I have collated the original quotes, in their original context, and provided them as endnotes to a PDF document as a study aid.”

Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person. The ‘doodling’ that takes place on the video as you listen holds your attention and reinforces the message in a remarkable way. Here is one of them. It’s an illustration of C.S Lewis’ third talk of the third radio series called ‘What Christians Believe’. This talk became Chapter 2 of Book 2, in the book called ‘Mere Christianity’. (The Morse code at the very end can be translated by clicking the Subtitles/closed captions button on the video.)

Read Justin Taylor’s article HERE

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The Bible story captured in stained glass

Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino, in California, USA, installed the stained glass window, shown below, in 2007. It is 23 feet high, and dominates the auditorium of the church. This window is not only a breathtaking piece of art. It’s also a wonderful teaching tool, telling the Bible story in a series of images through the window. At the centre, and dominating the window, is a cross. Another striking element is the rainbow that flows around the top of the cross, from the first vertical panel on the left, right through and into the final vertical panel on the right. The window was designed by Bernard Bell, a pastor of that church, who called it The Big Picture. He hopes that the window will form and shape an understanding of the great story told in the Bible in both adults and children.

Shortly after its installation, Bernard Bell preached a sermon explaining the window. He said, “Our service today is shaped around our new window. You’ve had a couple of weeks to look at this window, to figure out what is in it. It has been fun to watch you reading the window, especially to see you reading it with your kids. This window is indeed designed to be read, just like the stained glass windows of the old cathedrals in Europe. The Bible is a story, the great story of God’s involvement with the world and of human response to him. This window tells that story pictorially; it is to be read as a story. The window is structurally designed in four vertical bays, but thematically designed as five acts with a prelude. The prelude is God himself. The five acts are the five major stages in his dealings with the world: creation, Israel, Christ, church, and consummation.” Click HERE to read the rest of this sermon; it’s also available as a PDF HERE.

Bernard preached two other sermons relating to this window. A sermon entitled A Window on Advent is available in audio and written formats (including a PDF version) HERE. A sermon entitled Stories and the Story is available in audio and written formats (including a PDF version) HERE.

The window was featured in the local newspaper, the Cupertino Courier. Read the journal’s article HERE.