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 Book of Revelation: the Seen and the Unseen’ by Bernard Bell

In his New Testament Commentary Survey, D.A. Carson writes this: “Of the writing of books on Revelation there is no end: most generations produce far too many.” But among those published in the last 50 years or so, there are quite a number that can greatly help us when grappling with this crucial final book of the New Testament. One of them is Bernard Bell’s The Book of Revelation: the Seen and the Unseen, which you can download and read for free HERE.

This superb commentary comprises the transcripts of 37 sermons preached by Bernard Bell at Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino, the church of which he is a pastor. His commentary is one of the key texts that I’m using as a resource to teach through the Book of Revelation in a men’s Bible study group. It’s one of the most thoughtful and perceptive commentaries at a popular level I have yet encountered. It’s clarity and readability is aided by Bernard’s elegant writing style. It’s no doubt also helped by the fact that what Bernard wrote in this commentary was actually preached by him.

Here are a few quotations taken from the first three chapters to introduce this commentary:

“The revelation is an apocalypse, from the Greek word for revelation. An apocalypse is an uncovering or revealing of things that are otherwise hidden. This revelation concerns what must soon take place. Most people assume therefore that the revelation is of a detailed timetable concerning future events, the events at the end of time. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no such detailed timetable in the book. The revelation does indeed concern the events that will soon take place, but we won’t understand those events unless we first understand the present. A characteristic of apocalyptic is that the revelation concerns not just what will happen in the unseen future, but what is happening right now in unseen realms.”

“In the vision of Revelation there are only two colonies. The colony of hell on earth is peopled by “the citizens of the earth.” They live in Babylon, they worship the beast, and they bear the mark of the beast. The colony of heaven on earth is peopled by the faithful witnesses, who worship God, who bear the seal of the Lamb, and whose city is the New Jerusalem.”

“Over the past four years I have thought a great deal about the topic of worship. My primary textbook has been the Book of Revelation. Nothing has done more to stimulate my thinking about, and understanding of, worship than this book. How can this be, you ask? Isn’t Revelation all about the Great Tribulation, the Rapture, the Millennium, and Armageddon? No, Revelation is all about worship. More accurately, this book is all about God and about his Christ; about the one seated upon the throne, and the Lamb enthroned beside him. Everyone in the book worships; everyone that is except the Trinity in heaven, Father, Son and Spirit; and the counterfeit trinity on earth, dragon, beast and false prophet. Not everyone worships correctly, but everyone worships. It’s not a question of who are the worshipers and who the non-worshipers, but of who are the true worshipers and who are the false worshipers. It’s the same today. Everyone worships someone or something.”

“The Book of Revelation has helped me grow in my longing for the coming of Jesus. Seven times Jesus says, “I am coming” (erchomai). Another three times he uses a different verb, “I will come” (hēxō) to say the same thing. . . . . In the prologue John concludes his doxology addressed to Jesus with the excited cry, “Look, he is coming” (1:7). At the end of the prologue Jesus says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” To which John answers, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20). It seems that the whole book is designed to so reorient our vision that at the end we cry out, “Maranatha, Come Lord.””

‘The Good, the Bad, the New, and the Perfect’ by Bernard Bell

‘The Good, the Bad, the New, and the Perfect’, by Bernard Bell.  A brief overview of the Bible.  Available free online HERE.

Bernard Bell writes: “Psychologists know that a sense of purpose is essential to emo­tional and psychological health. We look for a meta-narrative, an overarching story that makes sense of all of the little stories of our lives. Fragmented by the loose strands of our lives, we yearn for a sense of ending that ties everything together.” 

We can only really make sense of our individual lives in the context of God’s great Story, the Story we read in the Bible.  Bernard Bell brilliantly captures this overarching story in four short studies that combine faithfulness to the Bible’s narrative, spiritual insight and pastoral wisdom.  The studies are entitled ‘This is my Father’s world’,  ‘Adam, where are you?’, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham’, and ‘The end of the beginning’.

Bernard Bell is Pastor of Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino, California.  Other sermons by Bernard Bell are available HERE.