Christian identity

Preached on: Sunday 26th February 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 23-02-26 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Ephesians 2:14-21
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Christian living requires power
– Christian living centres on God’s love
– Christian living is to the glory of God

Paul, the enthusiastic apostle

Preached on:
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Ephesians 3:1-13
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
Paul’s treasure
– God’s grace
– God’s special revelation
– God’s special commission for Paul
– God’s riches in Christ
– God’s purpose for the church
– God’s desire that we come to Him through Christ ‘in freedom and confidence’

B.C. and A.D.

Preached on: Sunday 12th February 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message
Bible references: Ephesians 2:11-22
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– What difference does Jesus make in our lives today?
– Before Jesus – hopelessness
– After Jesus – harmony
– relationship not religion
– Christ centred and Spirit driven

Path of new life

Preached on: Sunday 5th February 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking 23-02-05 Message PPT slides wide slides.
Bible references: Ephesians 2:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– we walked the path of death
– but God acted!
– now we walk the path of new life in Jesus

Get to know God’s power

Preached on: Sunday 29th January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF by clicking.
Bible references: Ephesians 1:15-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– spiritual realities:
– know God (not just know about God); time with God
– know His hope (confident assurances)
– know God’s resources (the riches of His inheritance in His people)
– know God’s power

Showered in spiritual blessings

Preached on: Sunday 22nd January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 23-01-22 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Ephesians 1:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– God’s blessings for God’s people
– God’s Son and Spirit for God’s people = security
– The praise of God’s people for the love, grace and glory of God

Ephesians sermon series intro

Preached on: Sunday 22nd January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Ephesians
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– about our faith
– about Jesus
– about the person and work of the Holy Spirit
– book: Sleeping Giant: A call to the church to awake and arise!


Preached on: Sunday 9th October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here22-10-09 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• Unity over Disunity
• Giving over Getting
• Maturity over Immaturity

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and mature us in the ways of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Over the summer I bought a second-hand bike because Hope was starting to learn without stabilizers and so I wanted to be able to ride with her and it was some time ago that my bike got stolen when I lived in Edinburgh. And so, I got, I decided to get a road bike because there’s quite a few guys in church and others I think that cycle and this isn’t me, I don’t look that good on a bike, but they’ve been good to get out with me and coax me along and pass on their knowledge and skills and encouragement. And it wasn’t long before I felt that, well you know, the second-hand bike maybe needs to be tweaked here or there or I need this bit of kit or that bit of equipment and, yes, there is some Lycra involved along the way. If you think I look better in Lycra then I’ll give you some other names another time, I wouldn’t name them publicly, he just happens to be playing the drums. Anyway, like most sports, there’s various levels of involvement, isn’t there. There’s that kind of low level, it’s not very serious and you’re just doing it for a bit fun. And then, there’s that kind of mid-level, and that’s probably where I’m at with most things in life probably, I get a wee bit serious and I want this and I want that just to be able to do it fairly well and not look like an idiot. And then, there’s that kind of higher level of competitiveness, of wanting to be maybe the best or just do really seriously and so, I guess, the image on screen is that kind of person and they have found something which has become really important to them and so they’ll adapt so much of life. They’ll maybe give up time, and then maybe invest time in pursuit of this. So, maybe look at their diet and what they should eat or not eat. What they need to detox from to make sure their body is in peak physical condition, so they can be the best of the best, because they’ve found something they really care about and they want to pursue it wholeheartedly.

And, in our passage today, Paul said these words ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Last week we touched on the calling we have from Jesus, the calling to follow Him, to make Him known, because He’s called us to be part of His family, part of His people and Paul says this is a high calling worthy of giving your life for, wholeheartedly of wanting to aspire and pursue a life which is worthy of that calling, it’s worth striving for and giving yourself to. And he will then spend the next three chapters of this letter getting into details and specifics, looking at all different facets of individual and corporate life, things that we should avoid, things that we should invest in, things we should pursue, things we should flee from. And we’re just focusing on the first little portion of that for today, because our series, just now, is following some of the chapters in this little book Anatomy of a Revived Church. It’s quite difficult to actually get a copy, you’ll probably need to go online although we’re trying to source some in case you want to pick up a copy and read it for yourselves. Over the next four weeks I’m either going to be on annual leave, moving house or preaching up at Blackbraes and Shieldhill, I think, this month and as part of the pulpit swap so I felt that it wasn’t really fair to give the next chat or a particular chapter to those guest speakers because the next chapter that we’re going to look at today is dealing with toxins. Dealing with toxins, and the author found in his research that a repeating theme of churches that were growing that new degree of flourishing, whereas one time they had maybe been declining, was that they dealt with toxins and particularly, particularly, people who created a toxic environment.

He writes at the end of the chapter ‘If a toxic member is allowed to continue his or her pattern of negativity and disunity, the church will decline. It may die. Dealing with toxic church members is exceedingly difficult but not dealing with them assures decline will continue.’ Now let me put it on record, it’s on recording as well, I don’t think we have any toxic members, as far as I know, however, there are patterns of thought and behavior we can all slip into from time to time which, if we don’t name and then don’t seek to deal with, they have all the potential of undermining our health as a church family and stifling the growth we might see, and certainly not living a life worthy of the calling we’ve received.

The little portion gives us three things to think about from chapter four and in each case we’re going to look at what Paul teaches but then, what’s the negative side of that, what’s the thing we need to detox from if we’re going to live this worthy life. And so, Paul begins by saying ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There’s one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.’ He begins by highlighting our unity, what we have in common, what we share, what binds us together, that we are one body, we are one faith through our one Lord and it’s that that we begin with today. That we have to make every effort to maintain that unity, to pursue it. This is worth pursuing. And so, he encourages us. Are we a people who pursue and maintain unity? Well, I think largely we do get on very well but there can be practices, as I say, that we can slip into which might embody or even nurture this unity and I want to flag this up for us. Two of them in particular.

The first is withdrawal. Sometimes something said or done or not done and it causes a degree of hurt, maybe offence, we struggle with it for whatever reason. It might be something that is said by another member, maybe something said or done by me, either in the pulpit, in the service, and changes that we’ve experienced, something I’ll say in private or on email or whoever knows what it might be. But because of that we then disengage, we withdraw, we avoid others, we keep our distance, we don’t talk to them, if we see them in the same room, if they’re going one way, we’ll go the other way and if we happen to be in conversation with them well, we’ll try and get out of that as soon as possible and we certainly won’t ask any questions because we don’t really care enough about them. All those hallmarks of withdrawal are hallmarks of disunity not unity. And so, withdrawal might be a practice where we need to curtail and do something about it.
Another one is echo chambers. If you’re not familiar with the term then all you need to do is listen to the party conferences that are happening because a lot of them are echo chambers, really, where we share our perspective with people who agree with our perspective and we just hear the echo and if we hear the positive things back then we think ‘Oh, that’s a good thing.’ and if we hear negative things back we think ‘Well, we’re onto a winner, we know that that’s a wrong thing and it needs dealing with.’ And that happens a lot at these conferences but it can happen in church as well. We can end up talking to people who just agree with us and because we hear back what we’re saying we think ‘Well, my perspective is right. This may be the only perspective and it’s got to be taken on board and it’s got to be a, something’s got to be done about it, and those that are not doing something about it well, they’re making mistakes and they’re doing things wrong.’ And, before you know it, we just there into this downward spiral of negativity and it’s nurturing disunity. Echo chambers. We need to be careful of them.

So, how do we detox from disunity and pursue unity? Well, Paul gives us some ideas. ‘Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another and love.’ Be completely humble he says. Have a lowliness of mind, is what that means. Don’t be prideful, don’t think you know all the answers and you know best, be gentle, have a meekness of spirit where you’re ready to admit wrongs and that you don’t have all the answers, don’t be about asserting your rights. This is about strength that’s under control. Be patient or long-suffering. One author, one translator put it to ‘have a wide and big soul.’. To have a wide and big soul. To bear with one another, to put up with one another. We’re people, we’re messy people, we’re gonna rub each other the wrong way sometimes and so, let’s be quick to forgive and ready to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us and to do so in love. And in love in the Bible is not just an emotion, the love of God is an act of the will, a choice and we too should show that kind of love, the love that Jesus has shown, that was sacrificial, that sought the welfare of others, that didn’t wait for them to make up their mind, didn’t wait for you and I to respond before He first showed love. Friends, if we are going to pursue unity over disunity, then let’s give up withdrawal and instead press in. Let’s offer a smile, let’s care, let’s ask questions of those people we’d normally avoid and, if they’ve done something, if I’ve done something, then forgive. And, rather than an echo chamber of negativity, can we have a wide and big soul where we die to self, we give up pride and we seek out people that are different from us, who have a different perspective from us and we listen to them.

One of the things that I’ve sought to do is when I’ve found that someone is struggling with something that I’ve done or doing more often than not, I’ve gone and given them the time to explain why they struggle and that’s hard, really hard sometimes, it gets very personal but it’s worth doing, it’s more often than not we’ve come to an agreement and an understanding of one another but it’s what we need to do, it’s what we need to model because we’re called to unity over disunity because that’s one hallmark of a worthy life, a life a way of life that might lead to greater health as a congregation. And I hope that you will pursue that along with me.

Paul has focused on what we share in common, on what unites us, but he also knows that it can be within unity a healthy diversity and so he goes on to say ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up as each part does its work.’ Each of us has been given something by Jesus, something to use to serve others he’s given us grace in the form of spiritual gifts and we have to use those. Whether it’s teaching or leading, whether it’s caring or encouraging, administrating or sharing, we’ve all got something to give, we’ve all got a part to play. All of us. And a life worthy of our calling sees a people who give of themselves to their church family and who give themselves to the purposes of Jesus in and through them. Are we a people who give over getting? Because it’s very easy, in all aspects of life, including church life, to slip into becoming very me-focused, me-focused and when we become very me-focused it can show up in conversations like ‘I want Church to be like this or that’ or that group or that person or that individual is not meeting my needs and that’s not to say that you don’t have needs or that those needs are unimportant, they are important, but when we get into a downward spiral of focusing on our needs, we can end up blaming. We talked about blaming last week, or we can end up complaining, moaning. I have a six-year-old and there are times when I need to say ‘Hope, what are you doing?’ and she knows how to finish that statement ‘I’m moaning.’ Are we really six-year-old Christians? Or do we know another way? Because the people that I look at who are doing less blaming and complaining are those who focus on giving, of giving themselves to others, building them up and serving the purposes of Jesus in their day, in their life. But this me-focus can also be seen in other ways. It can be seen in us saying ‘Well, I’m just too busy to be involved in church.’ And we get too busy maybe through work or kids or grandkids or hobbies but you’ve got a part to play and if you’re too busy to turn up to be involved in some area of church life then actually, you’re depriving the wider family of the gift God has given you, which is not for you, but for others. And so, if you’re too busy to be involved, you’re depriving others, you’re missing out on that worthy life. We can also show that me-focus by just not turning up to church. We can say ‘Well, I’m too busy or I’m just not interested you know, the style of the sermon, the style of the service, it’s changed. I don’t like it anymore. He rabbits on too long.’ Sometimes, yes. But actually, it just displays a focus upon ourselves because you could end up having a conversation like Allison had with Nadia, like so many of us have on a Sunday, and we give that listening ear, we give that reassurance, we’re able to maybe provide a practical help in that moment but, if you’re not there, if you’re not turning up, then that person’s going to miss out. You have a part to play. We each have a part to play and if we’re to detox from getting and pursue giving, well, we need to turn up, we need to play our part, we need to make church and a Sunday service less about us and more about God and His purposes and His people. And I would love for folks to come to me more often than not and say ‘You know, I’ve got this idea and I’m happy to help and let’s pursue this. What do you think?’ I can’t really think of many examples in four years where I’ve said no to such an idea but I can tell you the number of times of people who have come and they’ve just moaned at me. I’m going to respond much better to a solution than to a moan because we’re family and we have to be focused on giving and using what we have and building each other up, than getting, and about church being about me, mine and I, and that might require some tough conversations. Some cutting back. Of seeing church less as a hobby and more is something you belong to. And that could be about re-prioritizing things, even with our kids maybe, with our families, maybe with one another. We’re too busy doing maybe, other stuff and we need to say ‘Well, church is not a hobby, it’s not another thing on the list, it’s something I belong to because I belong to Jesus.’ And, if we want to live a worthy life, if we want to be a healthy congregation, then we must detox from a mindset of getting and pursue a life of giving.

And in our final portion Paul has one other area of church life to look at. He says in the middle of the, near the end of that chapter, that section, ‘Then we will no longer be infants blown here and there by every wind of teaching. Instead, speaking the truth and love, we will grow to become, in every respect, the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.’ Part of living a worthy life is growing in maturity, as he says. That as we mature in the ways of Jesus, as we grow in our love for one another and for our community, and give ourselves away rather than focus on getting, as we display a unity that is just not possible, should not be possible unless God was in it, then people might take notice. They might say ‘Well, there’s something going on in that church, and they’ve loved me like no one has loved me, and they they’re for each other like no one is for each other, that I’ve seen anywhere else. What’s different about them?’ and then we get to say ‘Well, it’s because of Jesus, because He’s not just an idea and He’s not just a guy in a book. He’s alive and real and He’s part of my life and He’s answering prayers and He’s doing all these incredible things.’ And so, because we mature and show His way of life, then it brings glory to Him who is our Head. Of course, the opposite of maturity is immaturity and there can be practices that belie an immaturity. The verses here particularly focus on speech. Paul says ‘Every wind of teaching’ i.e. the hot air, it’s people who are full of hot air, and not just any old hot air but teaching that draws you away from Jesus, is what he’s talking about here. That kind of hot air and the corrective of that is speaking the truth in love. So, speech is very much at the forefront here, a maturity of speech. So, how does your speech compare? Is it mature or immature? Do you fly off the handle, get angry? Do you criticize and complain? Do you gossip? Do you use vulgar language? Or, are you someone who’s encouraging, who builds others up, who champions others? Are you that kind of person? Are you that? Are you displaying mature speech, Godly speech? You might say ‘Well, you know Scott, I’m speaking the truth in love. Truth is sometimes hard to hear but I just need to get it off my chest and it’ll make, it’ll make church better.’ Well, I’m afraid that’s not what that phrase means. Speaking the truth in love is speaking the truth of Jesus because the verse before it is all about false teaching. So, to speak the truth is to speak the truth of Jesus, His character, His ways, His purposes. That’s what we’re to speak, to speak His word, to say this is who He is and this is the encouragement, just as Alison did to Nadia. She spoke truth, she spoke it in love, she wanted the best for Pre5s, she wanted them to be bold and to make every opportunity and what did it do? It built up, it encouraged, it equipped them and so they were ready and Nadia was ready, to take that opportunity. That’s what it means to speak the truth in love. It’s not about you getting it off of your chest what you’re really bothered about, it’s not about us getting our own way, if only our perspective was shared. That’s not speaking the truth in love. It might be speaking your truth but it’s not speaking the truth, the truth of Jesus. So, once again, what will you choose? Is the calling of Jesus important enough to you that you’ll detox from old patterns and instead pursue a maturity of speech? I hope so friends, I hope so brothers and sisters, because God is not bringing this to our attention to beat us up, to wear us down. I was having my devotions yesterday just using Lectio 365 as I often do and if you don’t use it I encourage you to maybe consider using it, and in there just the perfect day before today to just put it out there for me to take note of it Jesus says in John chapter 15, ‘I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You know friends, Brightons has been fruitful that there are so many here on a Sunday when in the Upper Braes some churches are lucky if they get a dozen or 20 people, those churches have no children, no children on a Sunday morning and we have a goodly number who make a nice noise and we’re thankful for them, we have been fruitful but there’s even more fruitfulness to come if we’ll only take on board what God is bringing to our attention and I think that’s why he wants us to have a look at this Anatomy of a Revived Church so that we might be, that we might be even more fruitful. He’s got good in store for us such as our loving good God who we’ve been thankful for today not only for the harvest, not only for testimony but because, through His Word, through the work of His Spirit amongst us, He wants to bring us even into greater days and so I pray that we would be a people who pursue unity over disunity, giving over getting, and maturity over immaturity. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Place Purpose Presence

Preached on: Sunday 12th June 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-06-12 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Ephesians 2:11-22
Location: Slamannan Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– with Jesus we share in God’s blessings and peace
– with Jesus we are a new and united people
– with Jesus we have place, purpose and presence

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and help us know what it means to follow Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Every Sunday morning, I always check the news before I come out just in case something happens. I mean, I suddenly need a new sermon or need to change something. Thankfully, nothing on the news this morning of that ilk but on the news we’re still headlines about the pandemic, about how Covid is changing and numbers, and bits and pieces, and how it still affects our life.

And the pandemic threw up so many issues for our world and for each of us individually. Whether it be lockdowns and masks, whether it be quarantines or everything else that came with that pandemic. There was so much. And one of the big challenges of the pandemic, clearly, was the very real and tangible isolation that we felt and, the longer it went on, and the greater our fear became, the greater, also, our sense of alienation from one another. And we might know people who are still in that place, they’re still feeling that way, that to come out to church, to come out to shops or things in the community, is still a scary thought, a fearful thing that they hold back from.

Pastor and theologian John Stott said that ‘the breakdown of human relationships is truly a dehumanizing experience for it is then that we become strangers in a world in which we should feel at home.’ We become strangers in a world in which we should feel at home. But it’s not only the pandemic that has made us feel that way or can make us feel that way, there is, of course, much change in the church just now. Numbers are falling, number of ministers are falling, the finances are falling, everything is falling and so, as part of that, we are having to very much consider which churches are going to close and unite, which buildings are going to shut, and that can be uncertainly, it can raise worry and fear for us, and it can make us feel a little bit adrift in that, in between time, and the prospect that it might be our church or our building, our congregation that’s affected, can make us feel that what has been a place of solace and comfort, of respite and sanctuary, is a threat. And so, maybe what felt home is now we’re feeling a little bit like strangers in a world where we should feel at home with that. We don’t yet know what’s happening with the Presbytery Plan. We don’t know what changes are coming so, as we wait, as we face that future, as we face our own futures beyond the church, in the pandemic, what grounds us in these times? What keeps our hope alive? Is there something we can hold to that might even maintain our optimism and motivation?

Paul was writing to a group of churches that were facing their own tough times, probably tougher than we’re facing in our days, and he writes to ground them, he writes to inspire and comfort them and, especially, he wants them to understand what they have gained through Jesus, what it means to be a Christian and part of the church. And so, he says to them ‘Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles, remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world’. He wants them to remember, he wants them to remember what they didn’t have before Jesus. They didn’t share in the covenants of promise. They didn’t share in those great promises God had given to His people of old, of what He was going to do in the world and for the world and have a people of His own. They didn’t know any of that. They didn’t share in any of that. And so, they didn’t, he says they were without hope, they didn’t have hope before Jesus, because they didn’t know God’s plans and promises and they didn’t know His plans and promises because they were without God, they didn’t know God, they didn’t have a true knowledge of God, they didn’t have fellowship with God. All this was true of them before they came to know Jesus.

You know friends, the same is true of us, the same is true of us. It’s not automatic that we share in these things. It is not a right. It’s not owed to us. We are really in the same position before Jesus is known to each of us.

But Paul goes on. He goes on to say ‘But now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ Through Jesus we are brought near to God, we are reconciled to God and so, now we do share in these things, we share in God’s promises, we share in His plans and so, we do have hope even in the darkest of times, because we truly know God and we enjoy fellowship with Him. And so, with Jesus, we share God’s blessings and have peace with God. But how easy is it to forget all this? I’m not preaching anything you’ve probably not heard a million times in all your days of coming to church, but it’s so easy to forget this, to even devalue it during the pandemic. I’m sure we all learn to revalue things. To revalue a hug and an embrace. To revalue being able to see people face to face rather than just use a phone call or learn the frustration of Zoom or whatever it might be. Or have to keep social distance with people. Of the freedom of being able to sing without a mask again and much more, much more besides. There’ are things we learn to re-value.

And the same is true of our faith. It’s very easy for this good news to become old news and I was just to shrug it off and especially if we have been around church for a long time, if we’ve maybe been a part of the church since we were a babe in arms, is very easy for us to end up undervaluing this. ‘Oh, here’s this young preacher, he’s just saying the same old stuff. I’ve heard this every Sunday!’ But how we end up undervaluing because we need to remember that without Jesus, without a faith in Jesus, this stuff is meaningless. For many, it would simply be empty and church would just go on around us. You may find that you’ve got a place in church but the reason church becomes meaningful really is because you end up knowing Jesus, you have a faith in Jesus and so, with Jesus, we share God’s blessing and His peace and that’s what grounds us, it’s what sustains us and gives us a hope, and I hope you know that hope yourself, for your own self and your days and your struggles and whatever you might be facing.

But Paul says there’s even more to what it means to be a Christian, there’s even more good news that we’ve got to share. And so, he goes on. He says ‘For he (that is Jesus) for Jesus himself is our peace who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.’ His purpose was to create Himself one new humanity out of the two thus making peace. Again, he’s trying to help them remember what was before they had Jesus, that there was this division between people and that was especially true in Paul’s day where there were the Jews and basically everybody else, the Gentiles, there was as he says in verse 11 ‘the circumcision and those uncircumcised’, there was such division, hostility, animosity between these two groups.

I’m sure we all know of groups in our own day where there is such division and animosity but, in the day of Paul, that division carried over into the temple and into religious life as well and even in how the temple was structured. And so, you had three courts within the temple. You had the inner two, which Jews were allowed into, but then you had the outer court, The Court of the Gentiles, but not only were the Gentiles relegated to the outside space, that court was lower down and can you imagine being significantly lowered down and always having to look up and wonder what’s happening up there and you’re excluded and you’re just not allowed in and that being reinforced by literally a wall we read here of a barrier, the dividing wall, and we think he’s just maybe speaking metaphorically but he’s actually being literal, he’s been literal, that there was a barrier there, a one and a half meter high barrier all around those inner two courts to keep the Gentiles out and on that barrier there were signs at regular intervals in both Greek and Latin saying that if you trespassed you were going to die, they would put you to death. Such was the threat they made. Great division, but Paul is saying here in Ephesians that that dividing wall, that barrier, that hostility has been overcome, has been taken down through Jesus because He’s made one new humanity and a united people because on His cross, in His death He is reconciled not only to God but to one another as well.

And so, those past practices have been overcome, they’ve been done away with, they’ve been relegated, they’re no longer relevant to have those different courts and to have that external barrier, It’s not relevant any longer.

So, what about in our day? What about in the church? Is this unity seen or do people see division in the church? And maybe we would point to say ‘Well, in the Upper Braes and the Braes we’re doing quite well. We’ve got joint services like a couple of weeks ago and it was great to be up here in Slamannan and in the Community Centre and have 180 of us all together. And we do Holy Week and we do World Day of Prayer and there’s maybe more besides. But, but, does that outside world look upon us, and as we sang in just one of our hymns there, does it just see division and schism? Does it see a separateness amongst the churches?

And it makes me wonder actually, whether God might be using the decline of the church to bring about something, to bring about a greater unity, because we refuse to do it ourselves. Not that He’s bringing it about but that He’s using it, using it to teach us, using it to refine us, using it to make real what is true spiritually, that we are one people. There is no Slamannan or Brightons or Blackbraes and Shieldhill and Muiravonside really. These are all labels, labels that will not be there in eternity. There is no division in Jesus and so maybe God is using it, using it to improve our witness, to improve the mission of God here because it’s, we get very defensive about our church and my building and our folk and our way of doing things, in our traditions, and we’re all as bad as the next, but maybe God wants to help us see that actually we are new and united people and maybe it’s time to live that out more fully.

Some food for thought over Sunday lunch.

So, with Jesus, we’re sharing God’s blessings and peace, with Jesus we’re made a new and united people, what Paul says, and a few verses he says an awful lot. He says there’s even more good news. He goes on to say ‘Consequently, you’re no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household and in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit.’ And what Paul wants to get across to us is that, with Jesus, we have place, we have purpose, and we have presence. I know I’m throwing a lot at you but I blame Paul, he’s just he manages to condense so much good news into so few verses. So, let me just talk you through this.

We’ve got place because he says that we’re now citizens of the kingdom of God. He says we’re children of God Almighty. he is our Heavenly Father. We’ve got a place, a good place, a place in the kingdom of the Son, the kingdom of light. We’ve got a place in a family that spans the generations, the centuries, the continents, cultures. That’s our place now. That’s our place but we’ve got purpose he says that God is building something. He’s building a people, a people who are made into a temple. That this temple, there’s not a building like this or like down in Brightons, it’s not a temple in one place like in Jerusalem though, His temple is made up of people across all the nations, across all time, a living temple and that we are part of that. We are part of an international eternal group of people. We are part of that, founded on Jesus who’s the cornerstone, who gives it its dimensions and shape and alignment. With Jesus we are part of that building. but we’ve also got presence because he says in verse 22 that ‘you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit.’

Friends, I think it was understanding the role of the Holy Spirit that most profoundly changed my Christian faith in some ways, other than the fact that I needed saving and I needed faith in Jesus, that was number one, number two was the role of the Holy Spirit that in each of our lives God’s Spirit is at work, that in each of us God resides by His spirit and also as Paul teaches here, amongst us, as a people, God is building a dwelling place to dwell by His Spirit to work and be at work in the world through us. We don’t just labor in our own strength, we don’t just have to rely on our own resources, God is really there to help us and work through us just like he did with George and he took that step away and God carried him through and opened doors and made his message receptive. The Spirit was at work and the same is true for each and every one of us, brothers and sisters, we are being built together to be a temple where God’s presence, His Spirit is at work in us individually and amongst us corporately. We’re citizens, we’re children, we’re a holy temple carrying the presence of God and the good news.

Friends, is that, this can’t be taken away, it can’t be lost, it can’t be changed. I think one of the struggles with the pandemic was not only the isolation but that we felt powerless to do anything in the face of it a mini virus that you can’t even see and yet it shuts down the world, and we felt so powerless to change that, to do anything in light of it. It robbed us of so much to be taken for granted we felt powerless to do anything.

But Paul is saying that these things cannot be taken from you. They cannot be lost because they don’t depend on you, they don’t depend on human resources, they depend on Jesus, on His power, His power displayed on the cross. He died to secure that for you and it cannot be taken from you friends. It’s good news that lasts the generations and all the seasons of life and so whatever comes in life, whatever lies in the future, for the British churches, this is us, this is who we are through Jesus. We’re people who share in God’s blessings and peace. We’re people who are united. We are people who have place and purpose and presence. It’s all a gift. It’s all of grace. It can’t be taken or lost whether that’s by death or circumstance, decline or change. This is us. This is what we have in Jesus, who we are in Him, and it is as unchanging as Jesus Himself is.

So, what are you going to do about it? Is this just an old, another rambling sermon and you’re just in one ear and out the other? Are you going to do something about it are you going to go back to your everyday life here in Slamannan and further afield, and are you going to live this out, you’re going to live out your identity with Jesus? And you can live out loud and proud or in a more quiet and confident manner. It’s up to you, but will you live out your identity, will you revel in it, will you rest in it, will you remember what you have through Jesus and allow it to be good news that you share, that grounds you, that gives you hope and motivation, come what may?

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Faith by grace

Preached on: Sunday 13th June 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-06-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 18:24-28 & Ephesians 2:1-5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit, impart to us wisdom and revelation.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name Amen.

We’re now in our penultimate week on our sermon series on Grace and previously we’ve seen that God’s grace can refer to the spiritual gifts that God gives us, or to His power to sustain us in the most difficult of times, then, last week, we saw how grace so shaped the early church that they were sacrificial in everything and how they lived, their lives and the lives they shared together, and their sharing of money and possessions. They, in this way, mirrored Jesus and His sacrificial giving.

Yet, today, when we read our passage in Acts none of these meanings applies to what we read about grace and so we find another meaning of grace. We read “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

Now, it’s noteworthy here, that we don’t read that those that Apollos went to were people who had believed in God’s grace nor are they people who believed in the God of grace rather, instead, we see that they are people who by grace had believed, and that’s an important difference because it suggests that these disciples, maybe all disciples, are helped by grace to, and that’s not something we often think about, I think, or talk about. Maybe because it points an uncomfortable truth, a truth that’s picked up in Ephesians, our reading today, in that passage we read “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, all of us also lived among them at one time gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were, by nature, deserving of wrath.”

I’m sure as you read those once again even more questions are coming to mind than they did the first time. Like “WHO is Paul talking about here? WHO’s he talking about?”

Well, he says “as for you” and then “all of us” and then “like the rest.” You, us, and the rest. So, whatever he’s talking about here apparently applies to everyone. Everyone, before they put their faith in Jesus, and it’s not just for some people long ago or one bit of society or for the people we don’t like or we think are a bit dodgy, it’s for everybody.

So, the next question you might ask then is “Well WHAT is the issue, Paul?” and he says “you were dead”. He’s saying that before these Christians had put their faith in, in fact, before any Christian had put their faith in Jesus, apparently, they’re dead.

So, I guess, we might then be saying “Well, WHAT kind of death, Paul? Because, come on, these people are living that you’re writing to, were living before we were, before we were a Christian so what kind of death are you talking about because they were living.” Well, he’s talking about a spiritual kind of death. We might talk about a walking dead or, to use a more modern phrase we know from tv, the waking dead. Of cours,e that maybe raises another question “HOW can Paul claim that? How how can he claim that you and I, anyone, is spiritually dead before we put our faith in Jesus? How can he have the nerve to claim that?”

Well, we see, he says, in the next bit hopefully “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” and by saying transgressions and sins he’s basically using a bit of a catch-all phrase meaning both the sins that we choose to do and the sins we end up doing because we choose not to do other things – commission and omission – and that leads Paul to conclude that we are spiritually dead because of what he knows in the Old Testament in the Old Testament. He knows that it said “Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear” and then Jesus said this, he said “Now this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So, Jesus is saying, to have spiritual life, to be spiritually alive, to have eternal life, is to know God but Isaiah is saying, because of our sins our relationship with God is broken. There’s distance between us and it’s that that leads Paul to conclude we are spiritually dead.

So maybe we then wonder “Well, WHERE is this deadness, saint Paul? Because if it’s real, come on, it has to be seen somewhere.” And again, Paul would take you to the Old Testament, he would take you to verses he used in Romans where he writes “There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless.”

There is no one who does good, not even one. Where is this deadness seen? It’s seen in the ways we turn from God’s, ways it is seen in our apathy towards God, it is seen in our mistakes, the choices we choose to do that we know are wrong, and the choices we choose not to do which would be good. As Paul says in Ephesians “each of us follows the ways of the world.”

So often and we gratify what’s in our hearts and in our minds, the flesh so that we follow its desires and its thoughts. Where is this sin? It is seen in the brokenness of our world and that we all contribute to that, me included, because, inherent to being human, inherent to being human, is a nature that is marred. We have an intellect, we have emotions, we have hearts, we have motives we have goals, which are not pure. None of it is truly good and sometimes we do stuff and we do it because we think it’s good, but we maybe do it for false motives.

Paul is not saying here that we don’t have potential, that we can’t do some good, and he’s not saying that God doesn’t value you, because he knows that the Old Testament teachers were made in the image of God but, nonetheless, his point here is simply that our nature, the image of God in us, is broken, it’s tainted, we have a darkness to us, our spiritual death is seen every day in our lives and in the brokenness of our world, and that’s what leads Paul to say we’re spiritually dead, that we are separated from God. As he said in Romans, and because of that spiritual deadness we don’t even seek God, we don’t even seek Him if left to ourselves, we’re so trapped by sin that we don’t actually seek reconciliation with God off our own back. That’s our predicament, that’s our predicament, and it affects every one of us.

So, what’s to be done, what’s to be done? Is God just like sitting up there having a big huff, or is it in a rage, and he’s ready just to smite us, because Paul talks about some wrath in there, probably made us a bit uncomfortable. Is He just waiting to come with His wrath, well, No, no, because in the same passage we read these words: “but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.”

Despite us being a bunch of rebels and mostly most of the time, telling God to take a hike, He still loves us, His mercy is still so great that He will not wait, he will not stand off and so, just as Jesus was raised from physical death, anyone who puts their faith in Jesus will be raised from spiritual death to new life, made a new creation, given life eternally, by faith in Jesus, by becoming reconciled to God, and He does it because He loves you, God loves you enough to die for you, and so that’s why we read in our passage in Acts today “Apollos was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

The grace of God helped them to turn to Him, His grace helped them to respond and to repent. Other parts of scripture also teach the same truth so for example we can read “One of those listening to the disciples was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Or we could see what Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And then Paul, to the church in Corinth said “For God who said let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the person of Christ.” We need God’s grace, we need His help, we need His intervention if we are to respond to the good news, if we are to come to Jesus in faith, and so, then, have His light shine in our darkness and bring that new life. Grace must come alongside us and work in us before we can respond in faith, and so, sometimes it’s called prevenient grace, the grace which comes before God gives that grace so that we can respond freely to in faith or to reject his invitation.

Christianity, friends, is not about becoming a nicer person, it’s not about becoming religious and having a religious routine, or ticking the box ‘you went to church’, Christianity is about becoming a new person, a new creation, becoming spiritually alive by His grace, enabling you to respond to His invitation so that His life might be in us and raise us from spiritual death. So, if you claim to be a Christian, then God’s grace came first, God’s great grace came first. So, there’s no boasting, there’s no right to achievement or reward, because His grace came first.

God did not stand off, He did not simply wait in wrath until it was too late, He came close, He gave grace so that you might seek Him, so that you might seek Him so that you might turn to Jesus and find new life, that His light might shine and bring that in your heart and your life and restore you, and He did all that because He loves you, He loves you.

And so then, we might wonder What’s our response today if you’re a Christian? Just humbly thank God for His grace, thank God for His grace that He so worked in your life.

One way somehow that that you responded that His grace came, because if that grace hadn’t come you wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be claiming faith in Jesus. Secondly, you might want to be praying for that grace to be working in others’ lives, but thirdly, listen to what scripture says about the importance of sharing the good news “How then can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard” Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ. As we share the good news, faith can arise, is what Paul’s saying here in Romans, but we know from what we’ve just seen, that faith can only come when there’s grace, and so it seems that in the act of sharing the good news God pours out his grace so that people can respond in faith. Now there’s an even greater motivation to be evangelistic, that as we share the good news, grace is given and people then have the choice to respond in faith or not!

Now what if some of us here today, are watching at home, would claim not to follow Jesus, what if that’s you, what if in your heart you know that Jesus is not your Lord and Savior, you’d rather be anywhere other than here in church or watching this at home, and that might include both adults and young people, and you might have attended church for years, you might have got married in church, you might have been brought up in church all your life, but you know inside the reality is, you’re spiritually dead, and you can tell that because Jesus is a bit dull to you, he does not seem glorious, you can tell it because you’re deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit, you can tell it because, in your heart, there’s no love for God, there’s no confidence that that He is your Abba Father, there’s no awareness of His personal presence day by day with you, all this and more besides points to the reality that inside you might come to church, you might even have had tons of sermons, but you’re spiritually dead, your spirits are dead until you come to faith in Jesus.

And, if that’s you, and if it bothers you, and if you want to know God and know His forgiveness and so no new life through Jesus, maybe today God is stirring up your heart, maybe God is pouring grace upon your heart so that you’re in a position to respond. Maybe today is the day to do that because we should not think there will be another opportunity, that I can just put it off to another day, we shouldn’t think that, we shouldn’t assume because Hebrews warns us “See to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

You can become so hard of heart that you might hear the gospel but you will not choose to respond and you will not choose salvation through Jesus.

Don’t leave it too late because, who knows when you flip into that point where it becomes so hard that you will not respond, that can happen, that can happen.

And so, will you respond today? Will you respond and seek reconciliation with God and be made spiritually alive by putting your faith in Jesus? Because, in a moment, I’m going to lead us in a prayer, I’m going to give us that opportunity to respond and invite you to repeat the words after me – you can speak them out quietly if you want, you can speak them quietly in your heart, it doesn’t matter, God hears but sometimes speaking them out can just articulate it but, there’s no pressure because today is, remember today that you’ve to respond, today is maybe the day you put your faith in Jesus and become spiritually alive. So, don’t put it off if you’re feeling tugging at your heart today let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, thank you that I am here today and hear you tugging at my heart. I’m sorry Lord Jesus, for the things I’ve done wrong and, in the stillness, just now I name anything for which I’m sorry ……

please forgive me Lord Jesus.

And now turn from everything I know to be wrong and submit to you as Lord. Have your way and my life.

Thank-you that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free and find new life.

Thank-you that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your spirit to indwell me. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit, to be with me forever. Thank-you Lord Jesus.

And I wonder, for the rest of us, what do you need to take home today? Have you grown a bit lukewarm in faith? Have you grown away but lukewarm to the fact that you’ve been given grace? And without that grace you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t believe? Or are there people that you need to be praying for, or even sharing the gospel with come walk me because how will they believe and turn to Jesus if you don’t share it?

Lord God, lead us in Your ways, give us a holy boldness where we need that, and may Your grace abound in this place, in this parish, across the Braes, Lord, that many would turn to You and find new life spiritual, life eternal, life which begins now by knowing You today and every day.

For in Your name we pray and for Your glory we ask it. Amen.