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.

The Friday Briefing 3 (23 March 2018)

Welcome to the third issue of The Friday Briefing. (If you missed the first and second, they’re available HERE and HERE.) The aim of this weekly briefing is to introduce a wide range of books, articles, and audio and video resources helpful for studying the Bible, for Biblical thinking and understanding, and for Christian discipleship. It will also include quotations that I’ve found thought-provoking and significant. There’ll also be alerts to material uploaded on this site.

The greatest drama ever staged

The gift of pain (Genesis 3.16-19)

We have lost the sense of God

I’m a modern woman who loves my church’s all-male pastor’s rule

Book review: Easter Enigma by John Wenham

The real reason you love music

The greatest drama ever staged

Here is a bracing argument for the importance and dramatic impact of Christian theology from the pen of Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), an English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, and translator. Written over 50 years ago, it’s relevance remains. She writes: “Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as ‘a bad press’. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – ‘dull dogma’, as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”

”That drama is summarized quite dearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents, or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ?

Read the whole article HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

The gift of pain (Genesis 3.16-19)

Bernard Bell, a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino, San Fransisco, writes: ”America should be the happiest country on earth. It is officially founded on the ‘self-evident’, God-given, ‘unalienable’ right to pursue happiness. Yet there is a lot of pain in this country: physical, emotional, psychological. Despite the highest per-capita spending on health-care we rank near the bottom in the West on any measure of health. Despite massive consumption of painkillers the pain persists. Despite numerous counselors the anguish endures.”

”Many who have visited Third World countries on mission trips have been struck by how happy people seem, even though they live in relative poverty, with poor access to health care and no painkillers. Many of us know people who have remained remarkably joyful in the midst of great pain: they don’t deny the pain, but the pain doesn’t paralyze their lives. In short, there does not seem to be a direct correlation between pain, suffering and happiness.”

”We wish the pain would go away, but pain is valuable. . . . . Today I want to rehabilitate pain, not by removing it, but by showing its positive effects.” Bernard concludes, “The antidote to pain is not Tylenol. It’s not relationships, or marriage, or family, or work. It’s certainly not death. The antidote to pain is God. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God uses pain as a tool to keep us from ourselves, to keep us from enjoying lesser things too much, to keep us from being too easily pleased.”

Read the whole message HERE

This message is part of series preached by Bernard Bell entitled Genesis 1-11: Our Story of Origins. The whole series is available HERE. This series can be downloaded in a single PDF file HERE and as a single EPub document HERE.

Click here to go back to table of contents

We have lost the sense of God

Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, writes: “After my last blog post in which I addressed the issue of believers abandoning going to church on a Sunday in preference for watching a football match, I tossed and turned most of the night. I kept asking myself how believers could do this. I could not understand how even pastors are now joining in this revelry with a clear conscience. I mean, how?

”I was sure that the football craze that had engulfed this generation is only a symptom of a greater disease. But what was that disease? That is the question I was wrestling with. By the time the sun rose, I think that I had an answer. The best way to phrase it is by the title of this blog post: We have lost the sense of God. I know that this sounds like an outlandish accusation but that is because we are comparing ourselves with ourselves. Hear me out.” Read the whole article HERE

You can learn a little more about Conrad Mbewe here HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

I’m a modern woman who loves my church’s all-male pastor’s rule

Katy Faust writes, “I know plenty of women who are incredible leaders and gifted speakers who can expound, exegete, and exhort as well as Keller or Piper, Pratt or Chan. But I don’t believe those gifted women should be lead pastors of the local church. . . . . While I believe the most biblical position prohibits women as elders and pastors, here I’ll try to outline a more pragmatic argument.” Read the whole article HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

Book review: Easter Enigma by John Wenham

This book brings vividly to life the events of the Resurrection that we will be celebrating this Easter. Easter Enigma weaves together the five accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection and His subsequent appearances, and gives us a compelling overview of what happened during those momentous 40 days. This book had an unforgettable impact on me when I first read it. It took me into the events of Jesus’s Resurrection and subsequent appearances in such a way that I felt that I could almost have been there in person when these momentous events took place.

Read the whole review HERE.

Click here to go back to table of contents

The real reason you love music

Gavin Ortlund muses on why we love music. He writes, “As someone who studies theology, I’m interested in the philosophy of music. What does music mean? Is it merely pleasant—’auditory cheesecake’, as Steven Pinker puts it—or does it actually have a significance that corresponds to its effect on us?”

Gavin comments: “If a triune God created the world as a work of art—not out of necessity, but out of love and freedom—then music can be understood, along with everything beautiful in the world, as a faint reflection of the pre-temporal glory of God. It is a tiny echo of what was happening before time and space. What rhythm and harmony are trying to do, however imperfectly, is trace out something of that love and joy that has been forever pulsating between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Read the whole article HERE. And – as a pointer to the joy that music can bring us – here’s a video of the U.S. Air Force Band treating visitors to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to a flash mob performance of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring/Joy to the World.

Click here to go back to table of contents

The Friday Briefing 2 (16 March 2018)

Welcome to the second issue of The Friday Briefing. (If you missed the first, it’s available HERE. The aim of this weekly briefing is to introduce a wide range of books, articles, and audio and video resources helpful for studying the Bible, for Biblical thinking and understanding, and for Christian discipleship. It will also include quotations that I’ve found thought-provoking and significant. There’ll also be alerts to material uploaded on this site.

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15

7 theological issues confronting the local church

The assumption we cannot afford

A golden age in Christian publishing

The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.21-35) – a sermon

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

Aaron Armstrong comments, “The Old Testament causes much consternation among North American evangelicals. Although historically, Christians have embraced the Old Testament as being absolutely essential to the Christian life—I believe the first person to do this was Jesus—somewhere along the way, we got scared of it.” Aaron gives us “three reasons to keep the Old Testament front and center” HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15

After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, God cursed the serpent, who had tempted them, (Genesis 3.14-15) and pronounced judgment on Eve (Genesis 3.16) and Adam (Genesis 3.17-19). To the serpent, he said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” James M. Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “God’s first act of judgment in the Bible is accompanied by his first promise of salvation, and the salvation will come through the judgment. As the serpent is cursed, he is told that he will proceed on his belly and that he will eat dust (Gen 3:14). Further, enmity is placed between him and the woman, and between his seed and the seed of the woman. This enmity will issue in the seed of the woman crushing the head of the serpent (3:15).” In his article, Dr. Hamilton highlights “the theme of the head crushing seed of the woman in the Bible.” He continues, “Even if at many points my interpretation of the data is disputed, this study will nevertheless contribute a catalog of the intertextual use of the theme of the smashing of the skulls of the enemies of God.” Dr. Hamilton finds imagery from Genesis 3.15 in many texts in both the Old and New Testaments – in his words, “the seed of the woman crushing the head(s) of the seed of the serpent, . . . shattered enemies, trampled enemies, dust eating defeated enemies, and smashed serpents.”

Read the whole article HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

7 theological issues confronting the local church

Jason K. Allen comments that in every era, Christians are called “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3). He writes, “Some struggles recur in every generation. Battles such as the veracity of Scripture or the person and work of Christ are perennial ones. The church, again and again, has to articulate and defend these doctrines. Other battles, such as the Bible’s teaching on marriage, gender, and human sexuality, seem to appear out of nowhere, and require the church to be agile, quick, and forceful in response. Christians are not to be pugilists, always on the look out for doctrinal fights. But we better not be cowards either, unwilling to find one. In fact, Martin Luther—the reluctant reformer—serves as a good role model. Luther challenged the ruling ecclesiastical and magisterial authorities of his day, under constant threat of death, because his “conscience was bound to the Word of God.” . . . . In the spirit of Luther, the church—and especially those who lead it—must continually ask itself, “where is the battle raging? Which truths are under assault? Against what attacks should Christians mobilize and engage?” When considered in this light, seven theological challenges surface for the church to confront.”

Read about those seven theological challenges HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

The assumption we cannot afford

Jen Wilkin writes, “We ended another year of women’s Bible study last Tuesday: eleven weeks in the epistles of John and eleven weeks in James. Fifty-four different churches were represented in our enrollment this year. A couple thousand more women podcast from around the country. At the conclusion I was deluged with cards and e-mails from participants expressing their gratitude, reflecting on what they had learned, and, almost uniformly, uttering a confession I have heard so often that it no longer surprises. . . . . Their confession is this: ‘I’ve been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now.’ . . . . . . . it is terrifying to me that so many women log years in the church and remain unlearned in the Scriptures. . . . . Church leaders, I fear we have made a costly and erroneous assumption about those we lead. I fear that in our enthusiasm to teach about finances, gender roles, healthy relationships, purity, culture wars, and even theology we have neglected to build foundational understanding of the Scriptures among our people.”

Jen urges us to “. . . teach the Bible.” She continues, “Please hear me. We must teach the Bible, and we must do so in such a way that those sitting under our teaching learn to feed themselves rather than rely solely on us to feed them.”

Read the whole article HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

A golden age in Christian publishing

Tim Challies sometimes finds himself “grumbling a little bit about the state of publishing today, and especially the state of Christian publishing. Many of the big publishers have been gobbled up by corporations whose primary concern is not the glory of God but the health of the bottom line. Some of the medium-sized publishers seem to collect any and every rambling word of the popular pastors and personalities so they can slap those words on paper. Many of the smallest publishers are churning out books that simply do not deserve to be printed. New tools for self-publishing allow anyone with an idea to commit it to paper and distribute it as widely as they can. And that’s not all that is concerning or annoying. There are the thousands of truly awful, unbiblical books being published each year, and the fact that the bestseller lists are inevitably dominated by titles that are not only bad, but often downright dangerous.”

But he continues: “And yet, when I stop and consider the state of Christian publishing, I can’t help but think that we are in a golden age. A strange age, to be sure, but a golden one nonetheless.” Tim brings evidence for this HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents

The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.21-35) – a sermon

Mark Stirling, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in St. Andrews, Scotland, gets to the heart of this powerfully challenging parable about forgiveness. In this message, Mark says: “if we don’t forgive other people, then we have failed to grasp the character of God Himself.” He comments: “Over the years that [my wife and I] have been involved in various aspects of Christian ministry, we would say that this issue of unforgiveness is one of the major stumblingblocks . . . towards people . . . becoming the people that God has made them to be.”

Mark points out that simply and humbly to receive from God, knowing that we cannot pay Him back, that we cannot earn our forgiveness, changes who’s in charge of our lives. If we try to pay God back, we remain in control of our lives. But to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness takes our self off the throne of our lives.

Listen to the whole sermon HERE (it’s the fourth message down from the top).

Click here to go back to table of contents

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture 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.

Read Scripture videos by The Bible Project – a great resource for teaching the Bible

The Bible Project has produced (among many other resources) a series of 71 short videos, named Read Scripture, that take you right through the Bible. They’re are a wonderful tool for teaching the Bible story – snappy, engaging, visually impacting, and theologically astute. And they’re all free – as is everything produced by The Bible Project.

These Read Scripture videos are suitable for teenagers as well as adults. They’re a great introduction to the Bible story that you could use with your family, your small group, or your whole church. I first encountered one of these videos at a church service where the preacher used the video to introduce a sermon series on the Book of Numbers. It was a brilliant way to begin that series.

Here’s the Read Scripture video on Genesis chapters 1 to11:

Other resources related to this video on Genesis 1-11 from The Bible Project are available HERE

The full set of Read Scripture videos for the Old Testament are available HERE.

Here’s the Read Scripture video on Matthew chapters 1 to 13:

Other resources related to this video on Matthew 1-13 from The Bible Project are available HERE

The full set of videos for the New Testament are available HERE.

The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short, animated videos, podcasts, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story. They focus on the Bible’s overarching themes and each book’s literary design, and they are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context. To find out more about The Bible Project, click HERE.

God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts – a series of 10 brief videos taking you through the Bible

 

God’s Big Picture: A Short Intro

 


https://youtu.be/pD2kq9cSw2Y

Vaughan Roberts explains the course in 45 seconds!

The God’s Big Picture Bible overview course traces the story of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation to see how it all fits together, telling of God’s wonderful plan to save the world through Jesus Christ.

Each of the 9 units consists of a 10 minute video followed by an hour long Bible study which you could do in a group at church or by yourself at home. The entire course is free to download at Clayton TV.

Click HERE to download this intro video and click HERE to download a short printable guide How to Use God’s Big Picture.

Click HERE to download the whole course (all videos and printable material). At average download speed (10Mbps) this could take up to half an hour.

The course is taught by Vaughan Roberts, author of the best selling book of the same name, which I review HERE). This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to dig deeper into the Bible and understand its storyline.

 

Unit 1: The Pattern of the Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/fFtwtcXEF1w

God’s people, in God’s place, under his rule and blessing- that’s how it all starts . . .

The Bible isn’t just a random collection of books but one connected story and it is vital to understand it in that context. This first video explains that the Bible has one author: God, one subject: Jesus Christ and one overarching theme: God’s plan to save the world through his son Jesus Christ.

We begin to look at this unfolding story in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, which sets up the pattern of God’s kingdom that we will trace through the rest of the units. We see that in God’s perfect created order, God’s People, Adam and Eve, live in God’s Place, the Garden of Eden, and enjoy his Rule and Blessing. In this creation the relationships between God and mankind, man and woman and mankind and creation are perfect, just as they were supposed to be. But it doesn’t last long . . . .

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 2: The Perished Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/9xkZwrgPbNA

An evil snake, two foolish rebels and then judgment, murder and death . . .

God’s perfect creation is all too quickly ruined. In this episode we consider the question of evil, the tactics of the Devil who wants people to distrust and disobey God and the sinfulness of human hearts.

As we read more of Genesis we see that God’s people, Adam and Eve, disobey God, reject his rule and suffer the dire consequences. Once they have turned their back on God he must turn his back on them. Relationships are broken and God’s people suffer the just curses of a fallen world. Sin and death infect the whole of creation. God’s people deserve judgment but in God’s grace this isn’t where the story ends . . .

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 3: The Promised Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/xvBVDFbp8Ac

God’s eternal plan to fix his broken world; shafts of light in the darkness of sin; and then a promise to one man that would set the agenda for the rest of history . . .

It looks like it’s all gone wrong but in unit 3 we learn that God has an eternal plan to save his people and restore his perfect creation. Reading on in Genesis we see that God, in his amazing grace, is going to send a saviour to rescue his fallen people. He then makes a foundational covenant or promise with one man, Abraham, which has implications for the rest of history. God promises to make himself a people through Abraham, to bring his people to a place and to bless them. As we see more of human sin and weakness we also see more and more of God’s grace and we realise God’s people cannot save themselves. Only God can save.

But questions abound. . . . How will he make a people from an elderly, barren couple? Where is this land? And how can he restore the perfect relationships of creation?

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 4: The Partial Kingdom – People, Rule and Blessing

 


https://youtu.be/N7lQcs0TtBM

A million slaves rescued, a face off between God and Pharaoh, and a nation is born . . .

God’s covenant promises of unit 3 are beginning to be worked out. In Genesis 12 – Exodus 18 we see how God begins to make a people for himself by miraculously granting Abraham and Sarah children and then many descendants. We see again and again that evil, unworthy persons become God’s people and it becomes clear that it is God who saves and that no man can boast.

We see how God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt by substitution, by conquest and by defeating their enemies. Once freed from slavery God begins to bless his people by giving them his law and by living amongst them. Things are begining to look up, but there is much more to be fulfilled.

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 5: The Partial Kingdom – Place and King

 


https://youtu.be/v2Z_vnnE0Rw

A million lives lost in the desert, the farewell speech of a dying man, and then battles, chaos and coronations . . .

Having seen the ‘people’ and ‘blessing’ promises partially fulfilled we’re now looking out for the promsie of ‘land’ to be fulfilled.

But, because of further disobedience, we read in the book of Numbers that God’s people are delayed forty years in getting into the land he has promised them. Once in the land things don’t get much better: the nation descends into a cycle of sin, judgment and grace. God provides judges to rule his people.

Perhaps God’s people would do better if they had a king to rule over them? In 1 Samuel – 2 Chronicles God’s promise of a king is seemingly fulfilled by Saul, David and then Solomon. The last two kings bring great periods of peace and prosperity to Israel, but ultimately each one fails to bring the everlasting peace and kingdom that God has promised. We conclude that these partially fulfilled promises must be pointing to something greater.

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 6: The Prophesied Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/1C574uH_qBQ

A disastrous line of idolatrous kings, the catastrophic destruction of God’s kingdom, and admist the rubble, new shoots of hope . . .

Israel’s history takes a downward turn as the people continue to disobey. They are exiled from the promised land, they become a scattered fragmented people and are left facing God’s judgment rather than blessing. But in his grace God sends prophets to speak his word to his people and enforce his covenant.

This unit maps the various prophets found in the Old Testament, all bringing a message of judgment and hope. Speaking God’s words and not their own, the prophets stress that God’s people will face judgment if they continue to disobey, but the prophets also bring a wonderful message of hope: God will keep his promise to bless his people. Most excitingly they prophesy of a new hope and a glorious, perfect King who will rule God’s people forever – that is of course, Jesus Christ. We’re left at the end of this unit eagerly looking for the arrival of true God’s King.

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 7: The Present Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/XMIw8WWefCI

The promised king has finally come and nothing will ever be the same again . . .

Finally all of God’s promises are fulfilled! Here we truly see how the whole of the Bible fits together. God’s promised king arrives to save God’s people – Jesus is born. This unit shows how each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) give complementary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, each concluding that Jesus is the Messiah, the saviour of God’s people and the fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises. We see how Jesus is God’s people, place, rule and blessing and what each of these promises means for the believer.

Most importantly this unit describes the way in which Jesus saves God’s people through substitution, by taking the punishment they deserve, so that God’s people can be restored to perfect relationship with him. There is a tension that remains however because the presence of sin remains . . .

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 8: The Proclaimed Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/7l_xuFLjKJE

How can a kingdom be both now and not yet? Why doesn’t the king just come back? And who is the Holy Spirit? . . .

Jesus’ kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. This unit explains that we live in the ‘last days’ between Jesus’ first and second comings. God is patiently waiting for more people to come into his kingdom before he sends Jesus back to wrap everything up. As we move on to the book of Acts we see that to accomplish the task of making a great people for himself God sends his Holy Spirit into Christians so they can tell others of Jesus.

We learn that the Holy Spirit brings about new birth, he equips believers to serve Christ and he produces holiness. Though believers have been wonderfully saved God does not promise an easy life now, rather suffering is to be expected. Believers are to persevere in holiness and in spreading the gospel, by looking forward to the glorious, eternal future when sin and death will be no more.

Click HERE to download this unit’s video, and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

 

Unit 9: The Perfected Kingdom

 


https://youtu.be/7ExQ10mzafA

A curtain is drawn back to reveal the truth behind human history and our king, slain but now triumphant ushers in a whole new world . . .

The end of evil and the beginning of eternity: the final book of the Bible, Revelation, is a series of visions given to the apostle John which conveys a message through symbols to strengthen believers.

There is a vision of a lamb on a throne in Heaven which encourages believers to know that though this world is full of evil there is someone in charge, Jesus, who gave his life for his people. Next there is a series of visions of seals, trumpets and bowls which depict the warmongering, economic instability and death that will mark every age until Christ returns. Then there is the final judgment when all evil and opposition to God will be totally and finally destroyed. And finally, there is the glorious picture of the new creation; God’s perfect kingdom where there will be no sin, or sadness or death.

We see how God’s promise to Abraham is fully and finally fulfilled: God’s people from all nations will live in God’s place, the new creation, and enjoy his rule and the blessing of his presence eternally. So we pray ‘Come Lord Jesus’ and while we wait ask for ‘the grace of the Lord be with God’s people Amen’.

Click HERE to download this unit’s video,and HERE to download this unit’s printables (talk outline and bible study materials).

Video and study guide on local church life (part 14 of The Journey)

In this video we explore:

 what the local church is, and what it means to be part of a local church;

 the four key pictures that the New Testament uses to describe the church – the body of Christ, God’s household, God’s temple, and the Bride of Christ;

 the spiritual gifts that God gives believers;

 how God’s people can fulfil the royal and priestly roles that God intended mankind to fulfil from the very beginning;

 why we gather together regularly as a local church, and what we do when we gather – including the Lord’s Supper.

This video is accompanied by a a group study guide. The video and guide are suitable for use in a small group study or Bible class on local church life.

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Click on the MP4 icon below to download
the MP4 version of this video.

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Leader’s Guide for group study

This Group Study Guide contains three questions, with Bible passages to read, together with some notes to help the group leader to guide the discussion.

Click on the PDF icon below to download
the PDF version of this Leader’s Guide.

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You may want to begin by asking if anything particularly struck people as they watched the video.

Question 1
What is the purpose of our church gatherings?

Bible passages to read
Acts 2.42, Acts 13.1-3, 1 Corinthians 14.1-5,26, 1 Timothy 4.13, Hebrews 10.24-25.

Acts 2.42 seems to suggest a broad outline for what happens in our gatherings – “teaching”, “fellowship”, “breaking of bread”, and “prayers”. The word “fellowship” translates the Greek word koinonia. This word suggests partnership in something done together.

What should a gathering of the local church include? There might be teaching and public reading of the Scriptures. There may be praise, thanksgiving and adoration of God – both spoken and sung. There may be prayer for the needs of people or situations. There may be prophecy, messages of wisdom, messages of knowledge, words of encouragement, tongues and interpretations. There might be testimonies – that is, people sharing what God has done for them. Not all these things will necessarily occur in every gathering. Each time we meet will be a unique occasion. And there may be times when the main focus of the meeting is, for example, prayer or teaching.

Everything that takes place when we meet together should build up the body. Paul writes: “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14.26 NIV). For example, too, those that prophesy, do so for believers’ “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Corinthians 14.3).

It seems clear from the New Testament that there should generally be opportunity for a variety of people to contribute. We can all take part in encouraging and building up our fellow-believers.

The Lord’s Supper is central to the life of a local church. It’s a shared meal that celebrates the new covenant between God and His people (prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31). This new covenant was sealed with Jesus’s blood. Through His blood – in other words, His sacrificial death – Jesus paid the penalty and made full amends for our sin. Now we can come into relationship with God. We can be bound to Him by the New Covenant.

In the Lord’s Supper, the bread symbolises Jesus’s body given for us. The wine symbolises His blood shed for us. When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we remember that it was His death that enabled us to be in covenant relationship with God – and to enjoy all the blessings that this brings.

All believers are bound to God by His New Covenant. And that means we’re bound to each other, too. We are one body. The Lord’s Supper is a time of fellowship with God. And it’s also a time of fellowship with each other. The Lord’s Supper provides an opportunity for believers to reflect on their relationship with God and with other believers. Are they really living according to the terms of the New Covenant, loving and obeying God, and loving and serving their fellow-believers?

Question 2
The Church is God’s temple. What implications does that have for our lives?

Bible passages to read
Exodus 40.34-35, 1 Kings 8.10-11, John 14.23, 1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 1 Peter 2.4-5.

The church is God’s temple – the place where God lives. Each believer is a temple – as Paul tells us: “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Corinthians 6.19). God lives within them (John 14.16-17,23). The whole Church, too, is a temple (1 Corinthians 3.16-17, 2 Corinthians 6.16, Ephesians 2.21-22).

God is holy (for example, Leviticus 11.44-45, Isaiah 6.3). His holiness is more than His moral purity; it is the sum of His divine attributes that sets Him apart from everything that He has made. He is the Uncreated, eternal, transcendent, divine Being, overwhelmingly and awesomely glorious in majesty. He is absolutely separate from evil, infinitely perfect, immaculately pure, faultlessly righteous. Central to God’s holy being is love – perfect, pure love.

When the Tabernacle was complete, “Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40.35). God’s glory filled the Temple, too, at its dedication ceremony (1 Kings 8.10-11). Remember, too, Mount Sinai quaked and smoked as God descended on it (Exodus 19.18). Now God lives in each believer, and among us as a local church! The lesson is clear: we, and our church, must be in a state fit for God to live amongst us. In other words, we have to be holy. Peter writes: “. . . as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.15-16).

God is uniquely holy in a way that is totally unattainable by any created being. But we believers are holy, too, in the sense that we now belong to God. We are His own special, distinctive people, set apart for His purposes. God made us believers holy (or, to use another Bible word, “sanctified” us) at the moment we became a child of God. We’re “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1.2).

Yet becoming holy (in other words, our sanctification) is also a process that continues throughout our lives. We’re to turn away from sin and pursue godliness. We have to put off our old way of life – our wrong attitudes, wrong ways of thinking and speaking, and sinful habits. New attitudes, right ways of thinking and speaking, and godly habits, need to be formed (see Ephesians 4.21-24, Colossians 3.5-17). God’s Holy Spirit guides us and gives us the power to do all this. But we must co-operate with Him and obey Him. As we obey Him, His Spirit purifies us, so that all that we think and say and do reflects more and more exactly the character of the holy God Who lives in us.

A vital part of our obedience to God is this: we’re to read the Bible and pray regularly, and meet often with other believers (see Hebrews 10.24-25). These things will strengthen us and help us to live holy lives.

Holiness means to belong to God for His purposes. Our purpose as God’s people is to be a community of people who extend His Kingdom across Earth through the power of His Spirit. Each believer has a special role in this magnificent calling. But to fulfil our role, we must be holy. So you can see how crucial our own personal holiness is to God’s plan for this world.

Question 3
What do these three images of the Church – a human body, a temple, a household – have in common?

Bible passages to read
Romans 12.3-8, 1 Corinthians 12.12-27, Ephesians 2.19-22.

Three ways in which the Church is pictured in the Bible are as a temple, a body, and a household. A temple is a single structure made up of many different components. A body is a single organism comprising a complex assembly of cells, tissues and organs, each of which has a part to play in the health and function of the whole body. A household is an economic and socially interdependent group of people who share a common life.

Each of these three images implies an integrated, interdependent community. Why is there such emphasis on community and interdependence? Because that’s how God made us. As we saw in Session 3, mankind isn’t just a group of unrelated individuals. The human race is a family, all descended from Adam and Eve. We’re all connected. John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself. . . .” At the heart of our beings is the capacity for love. We are relational beings. Donald Macleod wrote: “A life lived apart from community is a life that violates human nature”.

So when God speaks about the Church as a temple, a body, and a household, it isn’t a completely new idea. He built the idea of community into human nature right from the beginning. The Church is God’s new humanity. The Church is a community of people who love each other, support each other and share their lives with each other. When people see a local church functioning as a community as God intended, they are seeing what it really means to be truly human.

And all this means that we affect one another – for good or bad. We have the power to be a blessing to each other. In the church, God has given each of us gifts to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 14.12,26, and see also Ephesians 4.11-16). Conversely, we have power to harm each other. Failing to use my gifts damages the body. One person’s sin can defile many (compare Hebrews 12.15). We hurt people by breaking off relationships, or refusing to forgive.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

‘The Big Journey’ audio series – part 1

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Image ¸ gigi 62 ~ Flickr.com (CC BY- 3.0)

We are beginning to upload The Big Journey as a series of audio talks. The first one, entitled Charting Our Course is available here as an MP3 – just click on the MP3 icon below:

mp3-icon

This audio recording will be the first of around 20 or so taking you right through the Bible.

These audio recordings will supplement the Small Group studies we are beginning to upload here. Though written with small groups in view, they would also, of course, be useable for individual study.

Each study could comfortably be completed in a week’s study. At this pace, in just 4 months your group would go right through the Bible, getting to grips with its big picture and learning about some key themes and doctrines.

Each study consists of:

BAn introduction followed by Bible passages to read and around half a dozen questions to think about. The questions in this series of studies are designed primarily to help you learn about the Bible’s big picture and some key Bible doctrines.

BA Leader’s Guide – this gives guidance in answering each of the questions.

BA study guide, which goes more deeply into the subject area covered by the introduction.

The first Small Group Study, which this audio talk accompanies, is available in PDF form HERE. The Leader’s Guide is available HERE as a PDF document. The accompanying full study guide (it’s 12 pages long and goes into more detail) is available HERE as a PDF document.

Small Group Studies – now revised

Bible Overview Bible Survey

Small Group Studies

The Big Journey’s Small Group studies have now been revised. There are 16 in the series. This series takes you right through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They will be uploaded here at regular intervals. Though written with small groups in view, they would also, of course, be useable for individual study.

Each study could comfortably be completed in a week’s study. At this pace, in just 4 months your group would go right through the Bible, getting to grips with its big picture and learning about some key themes and doctrines.

Each study consists of:

BAn introduction followed by Bible passages to read and around half a dozen questions to think about. The questions in this series of studies are designed primarily to help you learn about the Bible’s big picture and some key Bible doctrines.

BA Leader’s Guide – this gives guidance in answering each of the questions.

BA study guide, which goes more deeply into the subject area covered by the introduction.

The first Small Group Study follows. This introduces the whole Bible story. This study is also available in PDF form HERE. The Leader’s Guide is available HERE as a PDF document. The accompanying full study guide (it’s 12 pages long and goes into more detail) is available HERE as a PDF document.


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Image ¸ gigi 62 ~ Flickr.com (CC BY- 3.0)

Why this course?

BFirstly, we hope it will make the Bible story clearer. Many things in the Bible seem rather haphazard and obscure – especially in the Old Testament. But when we see them in the context of the whole story that the Bible tells, we see their true significance.

BWe hope it will help you to understand the Bible in a new way. We want to teach more than simply the Bible’s storyline. We hope that this course opens up a larger, richer understanding of the Bible – and of God, of ourselves as His people, and of the Universe He created.

BWe hope it will help you to explain to others what you believe and why you believe it – the Bible makes sense of life, the Universe and everything!

BWe hope it will help you in your personal walk with God. The stories of our own individual lives are part of God’s big story – the story that the Bible tells. So our lives only really make sense in the context of that story. From conception to dying moment and beyond, God has a purpose for us. God’s plans for His creation involve us, His people! And when we see how faithfully and purposefully God has dealt with His people through history, we can trust Him to do the same for each of us.

The Bible is, at its heart, a story. Its 66 books were written by around 40 authors over 1,500 years. It includes all kinds of literature – history and biographies, genealogies, legal codes and moral guidelines, songs and poems, prophecies and letters. But through them all runs a single story – a story that begins at Creation and continues into the New Creation.

And you’ve never heard a story like the one the Bible tells. Dorothy Sayers pronounced the Christian faith to be “the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man . . . .” It’s a drama played out on a cosmic stage, a drama that spans all eternity.

A Hindu scholar captured the wonder of the Bible’s message when he commented to the Christian missionary Lesslie Newbigin: “I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion – and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.”

The Bible tells us how things came into being. It explains what’s gone wrong with this world, and how God is going to put it all right. The Bible shows me who I really am, why I am here, and where I am going.

Bernard Bell comments: “Psychologists know that a sense of purpose is essential to emotional and psychological health. We look for . . . an overarching story that makes sense of all of the little stories of our lives.” In the Bible I discover that my life has meaning and purpose and significance beyond what I could ever dream of. We can only really make sense of the stories of our individual lives in the context of God?s great Story, the Story we read in the Bible.

A map for the journey

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gi dad plans the route ¸ nick farnhill on Flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Planning the route.

A party of tourists arrives in Britain for the very first time. They decide to travel throughout the island from Land’s End to John O’Groats. What kind of map do they need to plan their journey? The standard-scale maps aren’t much use to begin with. What they need first of all is a map covering the whole of Britain – showing where they’re starting from and their destination in the far north of Scotland.

Genesis to Revelation is a very long journey. Like that tourist, we need a map that shows the whole journey from beginning to end. This series of studies aims to be that map. We’ll view the whole Bible story in one great panorama – taking us the whole way from creation to the glorious new creation.

In the preface to his series Unlocking the Bible pastor and writer David Pawson said this: “I suppose this all started in Arabia, in 1957. I was then a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, . . . . . . . How could I get these men interested in the Christian faith and then committed to it? Something (I would now say: Someone) prompted me to announce that I would give a series of talks over a few months, which would take us right through the Bible . . . . It was to prove a voyage of discovery for all of us. The Bible became a new book when seen as a whole. To use a well-worn clich‚, we had failed to see the wood for the trees. Now God’s plan and purpose were unfolding in a fresh way. The men were getting something big enough to sink their teeth into. . . . . . . . the results surpassed my expectations and set the course for the rest of my life and ministry.” To travel through the whole Bible was a voyage of discovery for David Pawson and his hearers. We hope that you, too, will catch the thrill of this great adventure as we journey from creation to New Creation!

Along the way, we’ll trace some of the Bible’s key themes, such as the covenants and the Messiah. We’ll see how these themes fit together and lead to God?s ultimate purpose – the establishment of His perfect Kingdom on Earth.

And as we travel, we’ll pause from time to time to look at some basic Christian doctrines. For example, what does it really mean that we’re made in God’s image? What really happened on the Cross when Jesus died? And what happens when Jesus returns to Earth? Such questions are too important to hurry by, and we’ll take a little time to look more deeply at them.

Learning for life

On our journey through the Bible, what will we learn?

We’ll learn about God

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What we believe shapes our destiny. At the beginning of human history, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe lies about God. They believed those lies – with catastrophic consequences for themselves, for us, and for this world.

But God continued to reveal Himself to mankind – His love, His burning holiness, His omniscience and limitless power. Then, one day, God Himself came to earth in the Person of His Son. He revealed Himself in flesh and blood. Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15) and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1.3). He declared: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9). Jesus shows us what God is really like.

And as we travel through the Bible, we’ll see God’s purposefulness, wisdom and faithfulness – and His sovereignty, too – as He works out His master plan for the Universe.

We’ll learn about creation

Secondly, we’ll learn about the universe we live in. We’ll discover how – and why – God created Earth and sun and moon and stars. And we’ll glimpse something of the glorious destiny He has in store for creation.

We’ll discover, too, that Earth and the heavens we see around us are only part of a much bigger created realm. There are heavenly places, too, that we cannot see. What happens in these heavenly places affects us in ways of which we are only dimly aware. And what happens here in our visible world impacts that unseen world, too.

We’ll learn about ourselves

David the psalmist himself asked: “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8.4). We’re all eager to know who we really are, where we come from and what has made us the way we are. Alex Haley’s best-selling book Roots, and the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? are testament to that.

Who are we? Oswald Chambers once pointed out, “the most marvellous thing in the whole of creation” is not the heavens, the moon and the stars – it is ourselves. God created us in His own image and likeness. We’re not actually divine, of course. But we are as like God as it is possible for any created being to be. God has crowned mankind “with glory and honour” (Psalm 8.5). The Psalmist sang: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139.13-14).

Sin, of course, has scarred us. But in our essential nature, we still bear God’s image (see Genesis 9.6, James 3.9). And God is now restoring us, His people, to bear His image perfectly. Our pattern is Jesus. In His selfless love, His unpretentious dignity and calm authority, His penetrating insight, His cloudless fellowship with His Father and His simple unquestioning obedience to Him, we see what God wants us all to be. One day, we shall be like Him! And one day we’ll rule all creation with Him. What an astonishing destiny!

So along our journey, we plan to stop for a while to explore what it really means to be human.

We’ll learn about Satan

Finally, we’ll learn about our enemy, Satan, and his dark kingdom. Neil Cole, in his book Organic Church relates a scene from the film The Two Towers, the second of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings. The nation of Rohan finds itself facing the wicked army of Goblins. When Theoden, king of Rohan, realises the Goblins are determined to wipe out his kingdom, he resolves to avoid war in order to shelter his people from danger. He declares: “I’ll not risk open war with my people”. But Aragorn the warrior warns him: “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not”.

Open war is upon us, too. We cannot avoid it. In the heavenly places, as Paul explains, there is a terrific spiritual battle going on between Satan and his forces and Jesus Christ and His people. And we’re involved in this cosmic battle! We’re called to be soldiers. We need to learn how to wage war.

And to wage war, we must know our enemy. Every military commander must understand his enemy – how he thinks, what his strategy is, his strengths and weaknesses. It’s the same for us. In the Bible, God teaches us about our enemy. He reveals Satan’s aims and strategies, and exposes his lies.

pickup crosses mountain road winding in twilight

Image ¸ ollirg on Fotolia.com

Reading and reflecting

Read Genesis 1.1-3.24, Revelation 20.7-22.5.

O?BWhat links are there between these passages in Genesis and in Revelation?

O?BWhat do you find in the new creation described in Revelation 21 and 22 that you don’t find in Genesis chapters 1 to 2?

O?BWhy do you think New Jerusalem is pictured as a Bride (Revelation 21.2, 21.9)?

O?BDorothy Sayers said, “the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man . . . .” What is a drama? In what way is the Bible a drama?

O?BHow does seeing the Bible as a single story help us in evangelism?

O?BIf a non-Christian friend of yours asked you to tell them what the Bible was about in just a couple of minutes, how would you reply?

O?BWhat do these passages in Genesis and Revelation teach us about God?

CREDITS ◆ Text copyright © Robert Gordom Betts. ◆ Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ (ESV™), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.