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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