God loves you

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Psalm 40:1-10 & John 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– ‘God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’
– God is love!
– We are set free from a wrong perception of God
– We should recognise the times when God has been involved in our lives
– God is the one who changes us through His Spirit – not about what we do ourselves

Let us pray:

Father God, we pray that as we come around Your word now, that You will fill us with Your Spirit that You would open our ears Lord, so that we can hear You speaking to us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.’

These are words that summarize the entire Gospel for us. The core of the Christian message for us is ‘God loves you’ and God wants us to know that, and that is why Jesus was sent into the world to live among us, to suffer for us, and to rise again for us
and, in some ways, this has a major implication for us because it changes the way in which we should see God, it changes how we experience God in our lives, Jesus’ influence in the world.

But what he said and by what he did, established a foundation for all Christians and for the body of believers such as we are here today. The church and this foundation is all that Christians are to communicate to each other and to the world. God is love. In fact, the scriptures teach us that love is the very nature and being of God and it’s this message that Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus and so, we see that in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus wanted to do a couple of things and the first of these is that Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from a wrong perception of God.

Nicodemus had everything going for him. He was in the inner circle of the Jewish leaders. He was wealthy. He had status. He was a member of the elite Jewish council and he was considered to be very knowledgeable. However, Nicodemus had a particular perception of God and how to enter God’s kingdom, and that perception was not correct. As a Jewish leader, he had dedicated his life to this way of living. Nicodemus was traveling down a road of what he thought was important, of doing everything correctly, a road that suggests that unless you do everything 100% correctly, God will reject you forever. Nicodemus thought that God’s biggest priority was to select the elite for a place in heaven and to reject everyone else. In other words, he thought that God was like a grumpy old judge boss who would severely punish anyone who didn’t perform absolutely perfectly and there were no second chances.

I wonder how many of us have thought about God in that way? That God wants to condemn rather than to save? There are some folk who have a picture of judgment day, one where there is a huge television screen, let’s call it, showing a DVD of your life and that you will be fast forwarding your story pausing every now and then to point out all the sinful parts of your lives, parts where you made wrong choices. Of course, this is certainly not so. Such a picture tells only a really small and distorted part of the story. On judgement day there may well be a showing of a film of our lives but I feel certain that, from what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, that what we are told throughout the scriptures, that God will be highlighting those occasions when He has been at work in our lives, like when we were created, like when we were accepted into God’s family in baptism, like when God gave us opportunities to develop as a person, as a Christian, when God molded us as a result of our experience of Him, experiences in worship, in prayer, Bible study, in fellowship with other Christians, and every time some of the perhaps not so good things of our lives are shown, Jesus will be standing right there saying ]I already paid for that. Don’t worry, I already paid for that.’

Nicodemus had a completely different way of thinking about God. No doubt, he sought to keep all the main man-made rules of his religion as well as the law, of course, which God had given to Moses. Nicodemus was a religious man, he was an upright man, he was a teacher, and he was respected in society and yet, Nicodemus knew within himself that something was missing in his life, and so convinced by the miracles of Jesus that he had seen and those that he had heard of, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness and Jesus explains to him the nature of God’s love, the nature of God’s love for all of humankind, that God’s love is not static or self-centered, but that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

Christ came to save. Christ did not come to condemn. Why? Because God considers mankind special, and that includes each one of us, and he calls us to come closer to Jesus and not just for today, but every day. God’s love reaches out and draws others in, draws us in as well. God sets the pattern of true love. When we love somebody dearly, we are willing to give freely of ourselves, even to the point of sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of His Son. The highest price that anyone could pay. Jesus paid the price for your sins and for mine, and then He offered to all of us, if we believe in Him, a life, a new life that He bought for us. And the message Jesus wanted to convey to Nicodemus was that he needed to allow God to be his influence and not all those other things in his life. Not the religious ritual he was accustomed to. Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from the wrong perception that he had of God, and then Jesus wanted to make Nicodemus aware of the radical nature of God’s love and to emphasize to him that, in order to receive the gift of eternal life, one must be born again of the Spirit.

Jesus says to Nicodemus ‘You are a respected Jewish teacher but I assure you no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. Humans can reproduce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to Spiritual life.’

Unfortunately, Nicodemus was struggling with a concept of being born. He finds it really difficult to grasp this way of thinking so we hear him saying to Jesus in verse 3 to 11 ‘How can a man be born again when he is old? Surely he can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.’ See Nicodemus was looking at Spiritual matters from an earthly perspective. When Jesus speaks about being ‘born again’ Nicodemus is scratching his head,. trying to work out how it might be possible to crawl back into his mother’s womb. The thing is that, Nicodemus was too focused on what he had to do to receive the gift of eternal life/ Of course, that’s part of our nature. We find and it was part of his nature too. We find that really difficult to understand and probably most people on their faith journey will struggle with that concept too, because, most often in our faith journey, we are overly concerned about what we do, and what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus and to us today, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what God is doing for you, and what God does for you, changes you, changes your status with God. For each of us it begins and ends with a baptism based on faith. The day we were baptized is the day that we can say God claimed us for His own, it is the day we began being influenced by God, it’s the day we can say we are committed to being in a relationship with our triune God, it is from then on that we make God the influence of our lives. This relationship is absolutely important because without it we are allowing things other than God, to influence us and the influence of God has, that in the influence God has on our lives is to constantly remind us and to demonstrate to us He loved the world so much that he gave His one and only Son that when we believe in Him, we will not perish but we will have the gift of eternal life.

The message of Jesus is clear. It’s a message that will transform us. It’s a message that will allow us to take a careful look at ourselves. It’s a message that, when we give our hearts to Jesus, we will take on a new road a road of recovery and discovery, where we will find so much joy in knowing that we are loved by God. It is this message that transformed Nicodemus and we see this in John chapter 7 and verse 50 where Nicodemus tries to defend Jesus. We also see it in John chapter 19 when, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Aramathia to wrap the body of Jesus with spices and sheets of linen cloth. In fact, we are told in the scriptures that Nicodemus brought 32 kilograms of perfumed ointment with which to provide for Jesus burial.

Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that only a radical change in following God can lead to eternal life and certainly the message of Jesus took Nicodemus away from the road where he was primarily focused on himself and what he was doing the things that he thought were important to gain that space that elite space in God’s kingdom. The message of Jesus took Nicodemus to a place where he allowed Christ to do the work for him, to save him and to grant him eternal life.

But the concept of being born again remains difficult to grasp and, while most of us may have had a really good understanding of God’s message through Jesus Christ, as a body of believers, as the church of Jesus Christ in Scotland, our task is also to do all that we can in order that people can hear and experience the message of John 3,16 and that of verse 17 that God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.

When I hear how people came to join the church, to join a congregation, or came back to church after being away for a lot of years, it’s often as a result of something, something new that they have experienced. In most cases, it was how another Christian brother or sister had related to them or treated them. How people were patient with them in answering their questions. How people were displaying the fruits of the Spirit which we find in Galatians chapter five – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. These are not actions that we have or that we are born with. These are actions that arise out of having a strong relationship with God and in this relationship we are influenced by God as a result of our earnest prayer times, of regular Christian worship, of Bible reading, Bible study and a fellowship with other believers and when we serve the church, when we serve our families and the various communities in which God has placed us, giving of our time and our talents and our money for God’s work, we are also encouraging others to grasp hold of the message of Jesus Christ, to set aside the things of the world and be born again.

A question we can ask ourselves today – Is the message of John 3 16 to 17 being clearly communicated in every experience people have with a church in which we serve? Are the people experiencing the message of John 3 16 to 17 when they cross our path? Are they experiencing that God loves them, that God welcomes them, wants them to be safe and wants them to be in heaven with Him? Are they hearing that God came to save them, not to condemn them, or to forget about them, because He considers them special? Are we, as a church of Jesus Christ, vehicles of God’s love?

In John chapter 4 and verse 9 we read ‘God showed his love for us by sending his only son into the world so that we might have life through him.’ The love of God is expressed through His offer to us, of a chance to join His Spiritual family and to live forever.

The starting point though, the starting point is to receive the gift of Christ and thereby taking up the offer of eternal life. So, how does this transformation happen in a believer? It is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God who is love and for those who obey his word 1 John 2 verse 5 God’s love is truly made complete in them. And this is how we know we are in union with Him: whoever claims to live in Him, must walk as Jesus walked. God’s love is not just expressed in the fact that Jesus was willing to die for mankind, for you and for me, but that He lives for us, that He is in us and that is also, through us, God’s love is expressed on how much we live like Jesus, and that is the plan of God. You see, the plan of God in the world is that the kingdom of God should grow, that is why God’s Spirit works through us and we must be really attentive to that. God’s love originates and finds its birth in the stable of our hearts. God’s plan to put love in the world started with the birth of Jesus Christ but includes the rebirth of you and of me and our task is to keep ourselves in God’s love as we wait for the mercy of our Lord to bring Jesus Christ alongside of us and to take us to be with Him for all eternity. To Him who is able to keep us from falling and present us before His glorious presence, the only God, our Savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer as relationship

Preached on: Sunday 27th September 2020
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 20-09-27-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Sunday 27th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.I wonder how you responded to the news this week about the extra restrictions? I wonder how you felt as we awaited that news being released? I suspect there’s a broad range of reaction and feeling associated with what we’ve heard, and many of us may have a sense that the crisis continues, that these unprecedented days have carried now beyond six months and their end…well, we just don’t know when that will be.
In this midst of it all, we might be asking “where is God? What’s He up to?” These are questions and emotions that the people of God across the ages have felt and asked. Indeed, David, who wrote the psalm we read today, he was in a crisis, for he faced people who were bent on doing evil towards him, ready to go to war, ready to show savagery and devour him, like a pack of wild beasts ready to pounce and bring him low. David faces his own crisis, and we face ours, each just as life threatening, each just as potentially unsettling. Yet I’m struck by David’s posture, his reaction, the emotions that flow through him, for twice he speaks of his confidence, he says:
‘…though war break out against me, even then I will be confident… I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.’ (v3, 13)

In the midst of his crisis, David still has a confidence, a feeling of security. I wonder if we do? I wonder where, or to whom, we go when life seems too much to handle? Is it a spouse or a close friend, a trusted advisor, or parents? I’m sure David was surrounded by all such people, yet his confidence comes from another source, his confidence comes from another relationship, it comes from his intimate relationship with God, the Lord.

Notice what David says in verse 1: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (v1) David knows God, but in a very relational way – this is not simply head knowledge, information about God, but rather it is a reality that David knows for himself. ‘The Lord is MY light and MY salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of MY life.’ At the heart of biblical faith, is not a list of rules, nor expectation of duty, but a relationship with the living God and David draws upon what he knows of God as he faces his crisis.

So he says, ‘the Lord is my light’ – the Lord dispels the darkness of fear, the Lord lights the way ahead, and in the light of His presence and love…life, hope, faith is revived and helped to flourish.

But the Lord is also ‘my salvation’ – the One who can deliver me and rescue me – and the Lord is also his ‘stronghold’, ‘the stronghold of [his] life’, that place of security. In the Lord then, David receives protective presence and care, and it this very relationship which allows David to maintain a confidence, without fear, but also without minimising the realities either.

I wonder, do you have that confidence? In the midst of our crisis, in the midst of whatever crisis you may be individually facing, is there a quiet confidence in who God is? God doesn’t promise to fix all our problems now, and yet the Lord’s people over the centuries have affirmed His unchanging nature, that in Him they have found light and salvation and a place of refuge, a stronghold, even in the greatest and darkest of times. I wonder, do you share in that? Or, do you want to share in that?

C. S. Lewis tells of his experience standing in a dark shed on a sunny day. Through a chink in the wall a sunbeam probed its way into the dark interior of the shed and Lewis suggests it is two quite different things to look at the beam of light and how it interacts with the dark, illuminating only a small part of the shed, or to step into the light and look along the beam to its source. If you want to share in the confidence of David, you need to come into the light, the light that comes from a relationship with God, a relationship that we pursue and invest time in, a relationship that is personal to you, and not confined to four walls on a Sunday morning. Because when we step into the light and seek the Lord, although it may be dark within the walls of our shed, although our very lives may be dark, there is still light and it bathes our whole perspective when we look to its source.
I wonder, are you someone who is looking in from the side? Do you see a beam of light, but you’re simply looking on? Maybe you see it in another’s life, maybe you see it in the Scriptures, but this relationship with God, this knowledge of God, is external to you, it’s not your experience. If that’s you, how can we change that reality? How can we step into the light? Well, let’s turn to David’s example once more.

He writes: ‘One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.’ (v4, 14)

In these verses of his psalm, David gives us a window into how he pursues this relationship with God, and we see there a prayerful waiting, a prayerful seeking, of the Lord. David does this by spending time in the presence of God, which for him, at his particular point in history, meant going to the central place of worship, the tabernacle. So, David would seek the presence of God, in a prayerful way, by giving time to this.

But in that time, David would also ‘gaze on the beauty of the Lord’ – and this is language which speaks of a steady, sustained focus, rather than a one-time glimpse, and during this time instead of asking the Lord for things, David is praising and admiring and enjoying God, for who God is. David finds God captivating, not just useful for getting stuff. In spending time with the Lord in prayer, resting in His presence and appreciating who He is, David cultivates confidence, a contentment which carried him through many a crisis.

Again, I wonder, does this describe us? Is this part of our prayer life? Do we know how to slow down and wait in the presence of God, wait in such a manner that we enjoy Him? It could be argued, based on the Lord’s Prayer, that this is where we should start, for Jesus said to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’ In one line, Jesus echoes David, for in these familiar words, which we often rush past, we call to mind who God is and we hallow Him, we admire, we enjoy, we praise Him.

But unlike David, we don’t need a temple or a sacred place, because Jesus in His death made a way for us to come directly to God, and in the sending of the Holy
Spirit, we are enabled to know God and meet with God. Indeed, Jesus would say, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’ (John 14:16-17) At the heart of biblical faith, is a direct, immediate relationship with God, where you can relate to Him as the perfect Father, and so share in the confidence of David.

I want to give you now the prayer for this week, a prayer that my own minister, Kenny Borthwick, shared in a parish magazine some 8 years ago, yet it has stuck with me ever since and I keep turning to it, especially in the hard times, and I can do that because it’s only one line. It reads: ‘Abba, beloved Father, I belong to You, I am Your son, and I bring You great joy.’

My encouragement to you this week, is to take 5 minutes each day, and pray this line. Talk with God about each word, talk with Him about the words you find hard, talk with Him about the wonderful reality that is captured in these words. Also, can I encourage you to pray it out loud? In our psalm, David said, ‘Hear my voice when I call, Lord.’ David spoke out and there is something powerful, life-giving when we pray directly to God and speak out. I’m not asking you to do it in front of people, but the things we believe and hold dear, are the things we put into words, and same is true in our relationship with God.
So, I encourage you to speak out this prayer this week.
Why don’t we take a moment to pray this together, and I’m going to move into a more comfortable seat.

Here we are in my livingroom, in the seat I sit in each morning to spend time with God, and from time to time I’ll use that line. But I’ll also use it when I’m out walking Hector in the woods and fields. Use it where you see fit, use it where you need and want to connect with God, but let us pray it now. Let us pray.

The Creatures of the World (Wonder Zone wk.4)

Preached on: Sunday 19th July 2020
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 20-07-19-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-17 (NIV)
Sunday 19th July 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, so far in our summer services, we’ve looked up with wonder to the stars and planets! Last week we looked in wonder at light and how it makes a difference in our world. Every week though, we’ve also marvelled at the God who made it all.

But today our drama reminded us of the incredible variety of life around us – from the tiny ant, to human beings, to magnificent trees and underground caves. Every animal, every plant, every part of this world has something amazing about it!
Those ants from the drama can do things we can’t – ants can lift 20 times their own body weight, which is the same as me lifting an Indian Rhinoceros – can you imagine?! I can’t! Also, ants don’t have ears but they “hear” by feeling vibrations through their feet, and they also don’t have lungs, instead, oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body – that’s amazing!

I’ve also met some other amazing animals – when Gill and I travelled to Zambia in Africa we got to touch a lion and a cheetah, who were part of a programme to reintroduce their cubs to the wild. And with the cheetah in particular, such was its size that when I purred it shook the air – that was amazing and slightly intimidating at the same time!

The people who wrote the Bible included songs and poems about the world around us. One of these psalms, Psalm 104, goes like this:
“My God with all my heart, I want to tell you how amazing you are! You built the earth and covered it with the ocean, your voice thundered and mountains rose up, valleys appeared and the oceans were created! You provide water for the donkeys and other wild animals, birds build their nests and sing in the trees. You cause the earth to produce food for all creatures, including us! Stalks make their home in the fir trees, goats make their home in the mountains, small animals make their homes between the rocks! You created the sun and the moon to rule the day and the night. At night lions roar and hunt but in the morning they go back to their dens, while we go off to work. By your wisdom you made so many things!
The whole earth is covered with living creatures and the oceans are alive with creatures big and small! Lord God let your glory last forever and ever! Let everyone see and know how amazing you are! May you be pleased with everything you have created…I will sing of your astounding deeds for as long as I live because you make me glad.”

We truly live in an amazing world, with amazing creatures and plants. So, here’s a question for you today: what is your most favourite animal or plant, and what is so special about it that you would thank God for it? I’ll give you 60 seconds to think or talk about that at home.

The psalm we read today is another psalm which speaks of God’s wonderful creation, but instead of talking about plants and animals, it focuses on you and me, human beings. We read these incredible words: ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you
because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…’ (v13-14)

In the original language, which was Hebrew, the final line there simply reads: ‘I am fearfully wonderful.’ ‘I am fearfully wonderful.’ Not only are the stars and planets, the plants and the animals wonderful – we are wonderful, says God. You are wonderful! The complexity and intricacy of your body, mind, soul is beyond our understanding, it fills us with wonder and amazement… It was Isaac Newton who said, ‘In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.’ And yet the thumb pales in significance to what makes us human, for there is so much which sets us apart from the animal world and confirms that we are made in the image of God. Each of us has a degree of creativity within us and a desire for purpose and meaning; each of us can appreciate beauty; each of us has intelligence, morality and a spirituality. These things are not taught, these things are not modern or ancient developments, they are unique but universal to humanity. God created your inmost being, made in His likeness, and so you are fearfully wonderful.

Instead of a question just now, let us instead take a moment to pray. Boys and girls, you can get involved…
in this as well because in a moment, we’re going to ask God a question, and then wait for God to answer. The question to ask God is this: ‘who do you want me to tell, this week, that they are wonderful?’ You can ask it out loud, you can whisper into your hands, or you can think it in your head, but ask God, ‘who do you want me to tell, this week, that they are wonderful?’ And then whoever comes to mind, first off, maybe that’s who God wants you to tell. So, don’t over complicate it, just the first person who comes to mind.

Let’s take a moment to pray.

Today we’ve been thinking about the amazing world around us and that we are fearfully wonderful.
But the psalms we’ve looked at today remind us that it all exists because there is an amazing God who made this amazing world and made all of you amazing people. And this God wants a relationship with you. The psalmist says that God:
• Knows us (v1)
• Follows us (v2-3)
• Hears us (v4)
• Surrounds us (v5)
This is a God who is not only amazingly powerful and creative, this God is also caring and close. There is nowhere in fact that we can go where He is not already there, and wherever we journey God personally pursues us, for we are the continual object of His thoughts. He loves you so much that He wants to relate to you at the deepest level.
But I wonder if you want that? This way of talking about God can appear quite intimidating – is God just the ultimate Big Brother? Is He just waiting to pounce and catch us out? Well, the Apostle John reminds us of the relationship we can have with God, for John wrote: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!… This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ (1 John 3:1; 4:9-10, 18)

We don’t need to fear God’s attention if we have come to know His forgiveness. In that place of being His child, we can allow God to expose all the areas of our lives, just as David prayed, and so allow Him to lead us ‘…in the way everlasting’, the way of life with God close, now and for all eternity.

I pray that each of us knows this powerful, creative and caring God close to us day-by-day, as we rest in the amazing forgiveness and love He offers through Jesus.

May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

The Wonders of the Universe (Wonder Zone wk.2)

Preached on: Sunday 5th July 2020
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 20-07-05-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 8 (NIV)
Sunday 5th July 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment now to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, in our drama today the Wonder Zone scientists got knocked off course as they tried to investigate Saturn, but that helped them to see the wonders of our solar system!

Have you ever looked up at the stars in the night sky? Have you tried counting as many stars as you can see? Why not give it a shot this summer, if you’re allowed to stay up a bit later? Apparently, it’s possible to see with our eyes between 5- 10,000 stars. But even that is just a small proportion, because we think there…
might be at least 10 billion galaxies and each galaxy could have 100 billion stars – that’s a lot of stars!

Boys and girls, some of these stars have been grouped into patterns, “constellations” is what we call them, so that when we can look up at the stars, we can see different shapes. The names given to these shapes were based upon famous stories like Hercules and Pegasus.
Maybe you could try finding them over the summer too.

The psalm we read today also has a story behind it, and it also involves the stars. More than three thousand years ago there lived a man called David. He was no ordinary man, he was a king – he was king of God’s people called the Israelites.

David loved God and wanted to live God’s way and sometimes David got it right, sometimes he got it wrong. But he knew that he could talk to God about whatever happened. Sometimes he had to say sorry to God. Sometimes he needed to ask God to help him and sometimes he just had to shout about the amazing things God had done.

Our psalm today is one of the songs David wrote to God and it was all about the stars, the planets, the Sun and the moon. David was basically saying to God, “Oh God you are in charge of everything. Your name is amazing and the whole earth knows it. When I look into the night sky, I can see how wonderful you are. I know it. Children know it. Even toddlers and tiny babies know it. They all sing to you about your great and marvellous deeds…
The praises of children cause your enemies to fall silent. Everyone who has turned against you can think of nothing else to say. I think about everything in the sky, the whole breadth of the heavens that you have made. I think about the moon and the stars, the Sun and the planets. You put all of these things in their own special place. I ask myself, why do you care about us humans? We are tiny, we are weak. We don’t live very long compared to you and yet we are only second to you. You have given us crowns of glory and honour. You have put us in charge of everything You have made. You put it all under our power: the sheep, the cow, every wild animal, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea and all the creatures of the ocean. Oh, God you are in charge of everything. Your name is amazing and the whole earth knows it.”
That’s basically was what David was saying to God in the psalm, the song we read today. I wonder, when you look at the night sky, and you see the moon, the Stars, the planets, what you want to say to God? I’ll give you thirty seconds to talk or think about that at home.

The universe is vast and amazing, and it can sometimes boggle our minds when we try to think about it all. We’re still learning things about the universe, still learning things about our solar system. For example, some scientists think there might be another planet beyond Neptune, a ninth planet, ten times the size of earth – but they have not found it yet. So, scientists are still learning things about the stars, and we’re all still learning things about God – hopefully we have a risky curiosity.
One of the things that startled and amazed David, was to realise that the God who made everything, the God who was powerful and creative enough to make the whole universe, that same God cares about you and me. David said to God, ‘…what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’ (v4) We may not seem as important, big or amazing as the stars, but God knows us and loves us.

David says that God is ‘mindful’ of us – God remembers us, God has His mind filled with thoughts about us. David struggles to understand that, because God is as big as the universe and yet He concerns Himself with you and me.

But not only do we sometimes struggle to understand this, we can struggle to believe or accept it at all…
In preparation for the “Science and Faith” night last Tuesday, someone sent me a text message, but I got it too late to include in our recording. At the heart of their message was a question about suffering; about believing in a God who is supposedly mindful and caring of us, and yet, so much is wrong in our world. I think that person, like all of us, struggled with the daily reality we face.

To be honest, even if I had received the message in time, I’m not sure what answer I would have given. For there’s really no answer that truly satisfies the pain we feel, the wondering and frustration in our souls, as we look around the world and see that not everything is ‘under [our] feet’ (v6), not everything is under our control, and at times it doesn’t feel like everything is under God’s control.
So, do we just naively carry on? Do we simply bury our heads in the sand? Are we clinging to a lie when a truth is maybe staring us in the face?

Well, as you might guess, I don’t think so. I still don’t have the answers, but the Bible doesn’t duck the reality of the world either. The writer of Hebrews says, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them [humanity]. But we do see Jesus…” (Heb. 2:5–9) In Jesus we see the mindfulness and care of God compel Him towards us, such that He – the vast, powerful, creative God of all – was willing to become a weak infant and then die in the most humiliating way, all in order to save us, to provide us with a hope and a future. Because the claim of Christianity, is that Jesus conquered the worst, He conquered death itself, for we claim He is alive even now.
And so, the claim of the Christian faith, is that God raised this Jesus to have all authority and power, it’s just that right now it’s not fully revealed, but it will be one day, and on that day, the final enemy to be destroyed will be death itself (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

I still don’t have “answers” but I do have continuing faith in God, because He has proven Himself, through Jesus, to be the mindful and caring God of our psalm, so much so, that He wouldn’t stay distant, but came to die, He came and ‘…suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’ (Heb. 2:9)

You and I not just mere specks of dust in a vast and uncaring universe. We are so dearly loved, that the God who made it all, came near, because He could not…

imagine, He could not keep thinking about, a future where you and I are not with Him and resting in His care and His love.

I pray, that in your wrestling, in your dark seasons and times, in your marvelling at the starry night, that you would know this God close to you, ever faithful, never leaving.

May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

I will praise You (Psalm 148 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 23rd June 2020
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 20-06-23-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 148
Location: Brightons Parish Church


23 June 2020

Good evening everyone, welcome to Tuesday evening sermon, it’s great to have you join with us as we dig deeper into God’s Word. After tonight we will have our discussion time in our Jitsi room and there will be questions to download from our website, so you just need to go to the sermons page or website and you can get the questions there and if you need the login details for the Jitsi room then just put something in the live chat at the side or drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook and we’ll get you the details so you can join us tonight. This is the last Tuesday evening sermon of this file format probably until after the summer break and so this is the last time to engage in this sort of format. Beginning from next week we’ll be having a program of different events over the summer on a Tuesday evening, giving space for us to be built up in our faith but also time to have some social time together some prayer time together, a variety of different things and we’ll get that information out to you in due course, so tonight – last time for the Jitsi discussion room, join us if you are able or get the questions from the website afterwards so that you can reflect on the passage and its application for your life afterwards. So, let us open our Bibles, open our Bible Apps, turn to Psalm 148 and we hear it read for us once more by Erin Lang. Let us come to God in prayer, let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Holy Spirit draw close; be the spirit of wisdom and revelation for us tonight, that our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, would be opened to what you would have a see and hear and do and be from this night on and forevermore, and all to the glory our God and Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, for we ask it in His name. Amen So, Psalm 148 – it’s one of the five final Hallelujah! Psalms that makes up the end of the book of Psalms, drawing to that crescendo of praise to God, as we saw on Sunday morning. And so, we saw that there is that clear invitation to all creation to join in the praise of the Lord, Yahweh, as we saw in earlier Psalms, and so that was the focus of where we drew our attention on Sunday morning. But this Psalm is laced with relationships, relationships to one another and relationships to God and, you know, it’s really interesting that Jesus had such a balance of his relationships, He was the only individual ever to live in perfect balance of all His relationships and, let me just take you over into Luke chapter 6 where, in verses 12 to 19, we see these relationships, that are laced there throughout Jesus’ ministry and life, and so we open in verse 12 that Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and spend the night praying to his Heavenly Father, to Father God, and so we see that He has that relationship with His Father and this defines so much of His life, it is His principal relationship, that up relationship, to Father God – but then moving on in chapter 6 to verses 13 to 16, Jesus calls a group of individuals to be close to Him, to have relationship with Him, He has the twelve – He also has the 72 later on in Luke chapter 10, and He also has the three that He spends a principal amount of time with, but He has these relationships, these ‘in’ relationships, we might say, that He invested time in these relationships. And then there is the crowd, there is the world, there are those beyond his circle of close followers and He invests time in those relationships as well – verses 17 to 19 – He goes down from the hill with His disciples and there’s a great number of people needing His help and so Jesus heals them, He spends time with them, He brings the kingdom of God in their midst. He has not only an upward focus and relationship with God, He not only has an inward focus and relationship with His followers, He has an outward focus and relationship with the wider world, and He has them all in perfect balance throughout His life, and one writer helpfully gave this the picture of a triangle, and of the three sides of a triangle being in perfect balance, the ‘up’ at the top of the triangle and in the two sides ‘in’ and ‘out’, and we all need to be in balance just as Jesus lived. We need to have that balance of ‘up’, ‘in’ and ‘out’ but so often, we don’t live that way, we often have an imbalance and, as churches, we often have an imbalance as well. So why am I even talking about this in relation to Psalm 148? Well, as I say, there’s a principle invitation for all creation to praise God – that upward relationship, but there is that wider context of relationship as well, all defining our relationship from God, and if you kind of juxtapose that example of Jesus’ life in the triangle against the Psalm, for me it just opened up the Psalm so very powerfully and so I wanted to bring that for you tonight in this sermon. So let’s start with the upward relationship, the top of the triangle. Clearly that the Psalm is calling us, calling all creation, to turn its attention to God, to give God the praise that is due His name alone, because, as the Psalmist reminds us in verse 5, ‘Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at His command they were created’, at His spoken word of creation everything has come into being, and that includes you and me – as we saw in verses 11 and 12 – but as we saw also on Sunday that He has raised up for His people a horn – a deliverer, a strong deliverer, and for us, now, we see a prophetic word of reference to Jesus, even though at the time it would have been understood in the context of who God had raised up as a king for his people. And so, we have these reasons to glorify God as we saw on Sunday, to praise the
Lord, but we’ve to praise Him alone, in verse 13, ‘For His name alone is exalted’, we’ve to praise the name of the Lord, we’ve to praise Yahweh alone, and so we’ve to have Him and give Him His rightful place as King, that the fundamental claim of this Psalm is that God alone is King, the Lord Yahweh alone is King, and what’s striking about that for us human beings is that, so often we imagine ourselves kind of above all creation alongside God because we are very creative beings, we are very powerful beings, as one of the Psalms says, we’ve been made a little lower than the heavenly beings, and so we often get ourselves kind of confused, we have a false perception of ourselves, and this Psalm calls us to orientate our lives rightly – to worship God alone, yes with our words, but praise is so much more than just what we say, as we saw in the Psalm, that the created order doesn’t utter a word really, but with their lives, praises God, glorifies His name. So, words are important but they are not the whole way in which we praise God. And so, the Psalm calls us to orientate our lives such that our lives, our worship, to the Lord. But what does that look like? What does that look like? How does that affect our time? – how does that affect what we use our money on? – how does that affect the manner in which we live? – the choices that we make? And so, I think that’s where I find that the triangle quite helpful again, because in the triangle there is the ‘out’ and the ‘in’ corners as well, that they’ve all to be in relationship but, in balance, but they are in relationship to one another and so, we define how we live ‘out’ by what God says, because it’s in relationship, it’s a triangle: likewise, with the ‘in’ corner, it’s that idea of what does it mean to tell love our neighbour, to love our brother and sister, to invest and then, again defined by what God says, it’s all in relationship. And when we allow God to be God and have that proper relationship upwards to Him, we heed what He says about these other areas because we are allowing God to be God, and we realize that we are not God, that only He is over creation. So, let’s go first to the ‘out’ corner; and what’s striking about this Psalm, like much of the Old Testament when we dig into it deeper, is that it radically challenges that the wider philosophies, mythologies, traditions, that would have been prevalent around Israel at the time; and so ancient Near Eastern mythologies and traditions, argued, portrayed, had a theology which said that the Sun and Moon were divined, that the great sea beasts were was just as powerful as God, that even the ocean depths were a form of chaos, kind of fighting against God in some way, and yet this Psalm, like all the Old Testament, challenges that theology, and it says that only God alone is divine, that everything else has been created to praise Him, that He is not in a battle of wills, there is no contest here, He alone is exalted – that’s what we see in verse 13, ‘for His name alone is exalted, His splendour is above the earth and the heavens’, His splendour – it’s a picture of His glory, of His Kingship, and what the Psalm is helping us see is that God is not on the same level as everything else, that everything else is under Him, He rules alone, He alone is sovereign, He reigns on high as King, and so the name of the Lord, Yahweh, His named alone is exalted and is to be exalted, His name alone is to be praised. So, what’s the application of all that? Well, two ideas here in the outward area; on the one hand is just as relevant today as it was then, that challenge to the wider plethora of religions (?), worldviews (?), which say that everything is equal, that there are many ways to God, and the Psalm, as with the whole theology of the Bible, says differently; that the Lord Yahweh alone is exalted, that He alone is God over all, and I guess the question comes about how do we share that? – how do we make that known? – and again, that will come down to, how do we go about evangelism?- that evangelism is still just as needed today as ever, and in our culture increasingly so, we are beyond Christendom where it can be assumed that everybody is a Christian or has a Christian worldview. That can no longer be assumed, it is long gone, it is no longer here. Now, I am not someone who is in favour of street evangelism, I actually did that in my teenage years so – not my teenage years, my student years – I know how disastrously it goes often and so that’s not what I’m talking about, I’m not talking about ramming religion down people’s throat, I’m not talking about any number of different ideas of evangelism that we might have, but when we live in a culture that really drowns out and at times seems to just push the Lord to the side, there comes a time when the church needs to say, as it should always have said, how do we make God known in our context, in our place, here? – and it’s not enough just for the minister to do it, it’s not just enough for the minister to be the one calling people to follow God, to turn from their ways – and that’s the basic meaning of repent – because such a small proportion of our congregation, of our parish, come to church on a Sunday, might ever come to church on a Sunday, and so there’s that calling, that invitation, that challenge, for us all to be involved in that in some way, somehow. In some way, somehow, we need to figure out how to be equipped in that, how to go about that, how to do that in our context, in our parish, now in 2020, that people might know the Lord alone is Yahweh, that He alone is exalted. But also in the area of ‘out’ is something around what we quite often call creation care, creation care, because, it’s really striking that this Psalm references so much of the wider creation, as I said on Sunday, it’s almost like the Psalmist is looking out on everything he can see and imagine and he’s astounded by it all and he sees that it’s all there to glorify God and all called to participate in the glorifying of God; and creation alone, the wider creation, excluding humanity, sings in perfect unison and tune, it’s us who are out of tune, but there’s that relationship within the wider creation and it gets me thinking about how we might be getting in the way of what creation is to do, because if everything belongs to God, and He alone is Lord of it all, then we have to look after that because, as his stewards, we were given the responsibility to do that and what is important and valuable to God should be important and valuable to us. And I know that in our kind of branch of Christian theology, we can sometimes struggle with that, we get so focused on the word, and we get so focused on evangelism, that basically that’s all mission ends up being; but there are so many really strong arguments in favour of the need to look after the wider creation, and if you’re not convinced about that – that that’s important for Christians to do nowadays – then can I encourage you to maybe pick up this sizable tome, you can borrow mine if you don’t want to borrow it. It’s ‘The Mission of God’ by a gentleman with the title ‘Wright’, this is one of the books I had to read during my training, Christopher Wright, ‘Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative’, and he has a whole chapter on mission and God’s earth. I just want to read you a small, kind of summary paragraph that he says, ‘To love God means to value what God values. Conversely therefore, to contribute to or collude in the abuse, pollution, and destruction of the natural order, is to trample on the goodness of God reflected in creation; it is to devalue what God values; to mute, to mute, God’s praise and to diminish His glory’. And he goes on to give many more reasons why care of creation is seen as one of the hallmarks of mission, a very challenging, thoughtprovoking chapter and so if you want to delve into that a bit more, then think come speak with me if you want a bit of broader theology on why creation care should be seen within the mission of God. And just get to get really practical on that, I think in the first year I was here in Brightons, I had that all-age talk where I got chatting with the children about how we look after the wider creation. I wonder if any of you have done anything about that. I’m pretty sure I talked with them about biodegradable toothbrushes – anybody got their toothbrush yet? – shampoo? – shampoo as a soap bar instead of having a plastic bottle, plastic not being as recyclable as you might think. Likewise, because of the plastic issue, investing in safety razors – using this for about a year now and cutting myself a lot less, though hopefully that doesn’t change just because I’ve mentioned that now, or what about even in the kitchen instead of cling film and tinfoil getting a reusable beeswax wrap which, when it might eventually -and we’ve had this one for a good wee while now, but when it might eventually no longer become usable is completely biodegradable as well. Just really simple quick practical ways that we can put this into practice but we can embody and partner with the mission of God which includes care and redemption of the wider creation, so as not to mute the voice of creation as it sings its praise to God; and so that’s the other part of the ‘out’ relationship that I wanted to bring today – as we look out and we think about mission, do we think about creation care? – and do we think about evangelism? So, let’s go to the other corner of our triangle, the inward relationship, and at the end of the Psalm, the psalmist is calling the people of God to their place of praising the name of Yahweh. He says, ‘He has raised up for His people a horn, the praise of all His faithful servants of Israel, the people close to his heart’. But, of course, this is all situated within that earlier context of ‘praise the Lord, let them praise the name of the Lord’. There is that call, ‘let them’, it has a bit of an unfortunate, English phrasing, it doesn’t sound – it’s like – well, just let them kind of get on with it, or something quite kind of tame, just slightly permissive, but really the idea is real exhortation! When God said, ‘let there be light’, it wasn’t just a nice – well it would be kind of nice if that happened – type thing, it was ‘let there be light’ It was a kind of – it was a command, clearly. Now, it’s different here, but you get that idea that it’s more than just a nice permissiveness, it is a real calling to say, ‘this should come into being’, that the praise of Yahweh should be core to His people for who He is, that He alone is exalted, that He alone is Lord over all, that He has raised up for His people a horn, a strong deliverer, a saviour, and that his people are close to his heart. And in that inward part of the triangle, the idea there is around how we care for one another? – it is around how we challenge and encourage one another? – it is how do we spur one another on in our faith and towards love and good deeds? – and a couple of thoughts come to mind. Clearly, as I’ve said – there’s that call to praise the Lord, the psalmist is crying out and this would be used in the context of praise and worship and, it would be clear, in the Old Testament about how to go about doing that – in our context, how do we do that? – how do we spur one another on? – what is the means that we have to do that? – because it’s not just the minister’s job, it’s not just the elders’ job, what are the means that we reach out to other and we spur one another on in our faith? I’m having some really great discussions just now with the Discipleship Team about looking at different models for how we spur one another on in our faith, because as it stands, quite a small proportion of our Sunday congregation engage in Fellowship Groups and maybe that’s not for everyone, maybe Fellowship Groups aren’t intentional enough to be expanding and growing – at one point in recent church history there was the ‘cell movement’, the idea that cells multiply and grow, and so we’re bouncing around some ideas just now within Discipleship Team about, well, what models are there? – and what models might we try? So over the summer we’re going to try, as a Discipleship Team, one particular model and see – does this have anything that might be of benefit to have Brightons? – that might encourage one another and provide a means by which we can be drawn alongside our people and saying, ‘Come on! worship the Lord, worship Him not only, as I say, in what we say but in our very lives and orientate much more of our lives around Him and for Him and for His praise and glory. I don’t know how that’ll go over the summer and if we have anything to share you’ll hear about it in due course. But I’m struck by those words ‘the people close to His heart’. It’s striking, isn’t it, that the psalmist comes back to that? – that he describes and he paints this picture of all creation, the great depths of the ocean to the very heights of creation and the heavens itself, with the angelic beings and the Sun and Moon and stars in outer space, the animals on the land, the vegetation, the great sea creatures, and yet he comes down to the people and he describes them and reminds them of this, that they are the people close to His heart. I’m reminded of that lovely story in the Gospels where the Apostle John is resting with Jesus and his head is on the chest of Jesus, and he hears – I can just imagine him hearing the Heart of Jesus beating, the heart of God beating, that he was close to Jesus, he could hear its rhythm, and he knew the wider heart of Jesus, the wider character of Jesus, the wider love of Jesus, and I wonder, ‘Do we know that? – do our people know that? – does our wider parish know that? – that there is that invitation to know the heart – to hear the heart of God beating for you and from me. There’s a part of the ‘in’ of the triangle is enabling that, is facilitating that, facilitating that experience of Jesus that we know His heart beats for us, beats with the rhythm of love for you and for me, because we are near to his heart as the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 13, ‘but now in Christ Jesus you, who were once far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ’. We’ve been brought back into that relationship with God, that God might not just be the old man in the sky, but we know that the living Jesus walks with us now, today, that we are near to Him and He is near to us, and we have that invitation, as I was saying just last week, to hear the voice of God for ourselves – once more and every day. Again, how are we enabling that? – how are we leaning into that for ourselves? – we’ve looked at, in this series on the Psalms, of digging into God’s Word, for example, what have you done about that? – how are you creating space for the Lord to speak to you? But how can we enable that for others? – and again, that’s part of the question I have with the Discipleship Team is, how else can we be equipping people? – and so that’s part of this testing of a model, because this particular model that we’re looking, its principal focus at times, is what is God saying to you now? – inviting us into that dynamic experience with God because we are the people who are close to His heart. I pray that we may know that God close and as we give Him His rightful place, as we look up – that, yes, praise would flow from our lips, that praise would be seen in our lives in the ‘out’ and how we share our faith with others and how we care for creation and see that as an equal part of mission, and how we spur one another on and look out for one another and get beyond the weather and and how are you doing and get into the the real gritty issues of faith and life, and help our brothers and sisters to experience God and to hear his voice for themselves. May we live in praise of God and with these relationships in balance. To Him be all glory, now and forever. Amen. Let us take a moment to pray before we finish up for this evening. Our God and Heavenly Father, You are the Lord, Your name alone is exalted, You alone are in splendour above the heavens and the earth – to Your name alone, the Lord, Yahweh, our Father in heaven, we bring You our praise, we bring it in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, to glorify You and adore You and not only to see that, but to live it out in our lives as well. Father, lead us on, we pray, individually and as a congregation, in how we might live these relationships in balance, that we might live ‘out’ well, that we would be active in the sharing of our faith, that we might grow in confidence in this, that we would yearn for it more, Lord, that we’d overcome fear because we yearn for people to know that You alone are the Lord, that You are there for them, but Lord too, may we be a witness, may we be good ambassadors and stewards of Your creation, to care for what You care for. Lord, show us how we can take those practical steps, but Lord equally, be with us as we seek to draw alongside one another, to spur one another on in faith and help one another know that You are near and we are near to You – that we are dear to You, and that You invite us into much more than just ticking the box and following rules, that You invite us into a life of faith with You which, as we were thinking about, is meant to be full of dangerous wonder. We are meant to experience You, God, and know Your voice for ourselves. Lead us in this Lord, equip us for it better, but may all of it Lord, be to Your praise, be to Your glory, to point to You, to delight and revel in You, our God and heavenly Father; and so hear us as we draw this prayer, this series in the Psalms, and indeed our Tuesday evening sermons to a close for now, as we say together that prayer which Jesus taught His disciples: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen. Thanks for being with us tonight everyone for Tuesday evening sermon. We do have the Jitsi discussion room starting quite shortly after
this, so get in there if you’re able to join with us or download the discussion questions for your own reflection from the website. Next Tuesday evening we have our question-and-answer evening with our group of local scientists, so if you’ve got a question about science and how it relates to our faith, then get a question in, drop us an e-mail, post on facebook even in the live chat just now. Get it in, we’d love to have any number of questions and try and engage with those. So, if you’ve got something that you want answered, something that maybe you’re unsure – how does this relate to my faith? – how do I understand God about this? – how do I understand this in relation to the Scriptures? – then get in touch, drop us a message, we need it by Friday so that we’ve got enough time to record things in advance of next Tuesday, so, I hope to see maybe on Thursday evening with our Thursday evening live prayer, if not Sunday morning either in our pre-service Zoom cuppa or afterwards in the service at 11 o’clock. And as you go from here, may you, your family and loved one, know the blessing of God Almighty, the Lord whose splendour is above the heavens and the earth, this night and for evermore. Amen.

I will praise You (Psalm 148)

Preached on: Sunday 21st June 2020
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 20-06-21-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 148
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 148 (NIV)
Sunday 21st June 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Good morning everyone – I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s service as much as I have, because all the hard work undertaken by our Sunday School groups has truly provided a time of all age worship and so our thanks goes out to everyone, including the leaders and tech people for all the hours they have put into preparing for today.

Let us take a moment now to pray before we think about God’s Word once more. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, during lockdown we’ve all spent a lot of time at home. Here are three places we might have spent some time: the garden; the bedroom; the living room.
Which one do you think has been used a lot more… during lockdown? Get up off your seats, come and tap on the screen! (PAUSE)

A lot of people have been telling me about all the time they have been spending in the…garden! So many people have been busy tidying up, playing in or simply enjoying their garden. Gardens are wonderful places to see incredible things and I want to show you a few things in my garden, so let’s go outside. (WALK OUT TO GARDEN)

Well, here we are in the garden, where I’ve been spending time with Hope, Gill and Hector! One of the new things in our garden are these plants – can you guess what they might be? They’re very small just now but hopefully they’ll grow to be much taller over the summer!
Can you guess? (PAUSE)
These are sunflowers, which my dad gave me to grow with Hope, but I’m clearly not as good at growing things as my dad because here’s a picture of his sunflowers, which have grown so tall already! Now, over the summer a beautiful flower will appear on each plant. But do you know that each sunflower is actually made up of over 1000 individual flowers, all held together on a single stalk. That’s incredible, and it makes me marvel at this wonderful world! Let’s see something else in my garden.

(MOVE) Up in this tree, is a bird box, and the blue tits have hatched and flown out. Do you remember Ian telling us about the bird box in his garden? Well, Ian sent me some pictures of the baby birds when they left the bird box, and now that they have, Ian has also been able to look inside the box and see the incredible nest that they built – again, I’m left marvelling at this wonderful world!

I’ve really enjoyed being in the garden during lockdown but I’ve also enjoyed going out for walks – we usually go up into Ercall Wood and again, there have been times when we’ve stopped and marvelled at this wonderful world, even on a windy day, and we’ve also marvelled at the sunset from our study window.

I wonder if that’s why the psalmist wrote the song we read today? Did he look around and see all the incredible things in the world? And knowing that each one was made by God, is that why the psalmist calls upon everything to praise God?

But, how does the sunflower, the bird, the field or sun praise God? Well, there’s actually a clue in the psalm. We read that all the world is to praise the Lord because ‘…at his command they were created… [they] do his bidding…’ (v5, 8) – basically they praise God just by being there and doing what they do! The sunflower, bird, field and sun fulfil their purpose by simply going about their business – as they blossom a thousand flowers, build intricate nests, dance in the breeze or shine with the colours of love – in just being who they are, they praise the Lord, for they are heeding His Word of creation to be a flower, a bird, a breeze in the field and the sun in the sky.

I wonder if the psalmist was looking out on the world around him, seeing how wonderful it all was, but maybe also hearing its collective voice of praise to the Creator, a collective voice where nothing was out of tune!
Beginning next Sunday, we’re going to spend five weeks looking around this wonderful creation and seeing what it teaches us of God. We’ll be learning a new song, which you can hear after the service today. There’ll also be interviews with scientists, dramas and much more.

But we’d also like to hear your questions. For the boys and girls, we are looking to answer one of your questions about science and faith every week in the service, so get someone at home to send those questions into us.

For adults and young people, we’re going to have a
Question and Answer evening on Tuesday the 30th of June, but we need your questions by this Friday – so please get them in and we’ll get our panel of local scientists to talk through your questions.
One reason for doing this, is to help us see that science and faith are not opposed, for this wonderful creation points us to a wonderful Creator. So, get your questions in and join us for our summer services – we’ll also be giving out these books to all children and young people!

Boys and girls, what part of the world, what part of creation, makes you go “wow!” – why don’t you share that with someone at home or think about it just now for
30 seconds. (PAUSE)

There are so many wonderful things in our world, things that make us go “wow!” and the psalmist helps us see that all of these parts of creation sing a song of praise to God, and they sing it in perfect tune and unison.

Boys and girls, the person who wrote this song didn’t just say everything in the sky, and all the plants and animals on the ground, were to praise God – who else is meant to praise God? Who else did he mention in the psalm? Will I read a little bit to you again? ‘…men and women, [elderly] and children’ (v12) – so who else is to praise God? (PAUSE) That’s right – you and me! All of us! We’re all to praise God! We’re to praise God because He made us, but the psalm gives us another reason to praise God as well.

The psalm says: God ‘…raised up for his people a horn…’ (v14) – that sounds very strange! Is it a horn, like on a rhino? No – that’s not what he means! But what does the horn of a rhino do? Let’s talk or think about that for 30 seconds at home just now. (PAUSE)

I think a horn helps to protect the rhino, especially when it’s in danger. The horn also helps the rhino have a good life because with a horn, a rhino can do more things.

But the psalmist isn’t talking about a rhino, the psalmist is talking about a person, a person who helps protect and rescue people, a person who helps others find life. I wonder, does that remind you of anyone? It reminds me of Jesus, because He said: ‘I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10)

Jesus also said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:11) Jesus was saying He would help us receive this eternal life, by dying on the cross, for you and for me.

So, that’s another reason to praise God – because God loved us so much, that He died, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, God in a human body, died on the cross, for love of you and me, so that we could be rescued, protected and given eternal life by coming to know Father God for ourselves, when our sins are forgiven.

When we realise all that God has done for us, we’re supposed to add our voice to the whole of creation and join in praise to God! And when we do that, and only when we do that, are we then also singing in tune to our Creator, the One who loved us enough to die for us.

I pray that all of us, young and young at heart, may add our own voices to the great song of creation and invite others to do so as well! May it be so. Amen.

I am forgiven (Psalm 130 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 16th June 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Psalm 130
Location: Brightons Parish Church


16 June 2020

Good evening everybody! Welcome to the manse and to Tuesday Evening Sermon. It’s great to have you with us. Thanks for putting in the time to be here and to dig more into God’s Word. I pray as we do so you’ll hear the voice of God, he will speak to you through this time as you give him space to speak to you through his word. After tonight’s Tuesday evening sermon there will be the opportunity to dig into this a little bit more. One way to do that is to download some discussion questions from our website from the sermons page there or you can do that as well as join in the Jitsi discussion room and if you’re wanting to join that, if you don’t have the details, then just put a little message in the live chat tonight or put something on our Facebook page, drop me an email or a text message if you’ve got my details and I’ll get you details so that you can then get on to the Jitsi discussion tonight and join in with that discussion as people wrestle with some questions up to about 9 o’clock and so join in if you are able. So let’s crack open our Bibles, let’s open our Bible apps and turn to Psalm 130 and it will be read for us once more by Sandra Anderson. Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. O come, Holy Spirit, come close to us now. Let us hear the voice of Jesus and see the heart of our Heavenly Father, that we would be captivated afresh, spurred into the life that you have for us individually and collectively as a body of your people here in Brightons, and for any who join us beyond, Lord, give them an equal and greater blessing even, we pray, for we ask it in your name. Amen. So Psalm 130 a really amazing Psalm, one of the songs of ascent, sometimes called a lament Psalm as well because of you know elements it has that seem to speak of lament, of crying out from the depths as the psalmist says in verse 1. And as you’ll have heard on Sunday, I focused particularly on a few verses and so had to skip over various other parts and so today, tonight, we’re going to build on Sunday, we’re going to look at some of the words and phrases that we didn’t really have space or time to get into, but then also as always try to see well what does that mean for our individual and our corporate lives as a church family, and so I pray, really do pray, that this will be a blessing, knowing God might speak to us through this time. One of the first words I want to look at is in verse 3. The psalmist says, ‘If you Lord kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?’ and the word ‘sins’ there is the Hebrew word avon, and it’s much more than just a list of wrongdoing, avon has a sense of both the actions and then the consequences that come from that, the damage that results from our actions, from our avon. And it’s kind of the picture of a flood which just carries us along and from which there is no escape and it just wreaks destruction after destruction, and it’s not just the instantaneous effect that a flood has, but then the ongoing effect and how that detrimentally impacts a life or a group of lives. Imagine a village being struck by a flood and the consequences that has for years, generations even sometimes. And that’s the idea here behind avon. Not just our little wrongdoings, our misdemeanours, our mis-steps, but our way of life that has repercussions beyond us and affecting beyond us. And so that’s the the first word to bear in mind here and from this, from sins, from avon. the psalmist says the only escape is through the Lord’s, verse 7 he calls out to the group of people that are joining him in worship and the psalmist says: ‘Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.’ This idea of full redemption is a powerful phrase, full of meaning, it’s so very rich and it’s much more than simply forgiveness, much more than God saying you are forgiven. It is a freeing from that flood, it is a lifting of a burden so that we might be whole and know life in all its fullness. It is often used in reference to the exodus of God’s people from the the slavery of Egypt and so redemption means to free something or someone from slavery, from bondage and to do so by paying a price, by buying that freedom. And this is what is also with the Lord, not only forgiveness but Redemption with the Lord, with Yahweh is forgiveness but this forgiveness brings redemption for it is also with him, it is part of his character, his heart, that he wants life for us and life in all its fullness. But to reach that place the psalmist says the people and he are to wait, to put their hope in him. This ‘wait’ and ‘hope’ are synonymous really in the Psalm and in many Psalms, they’re much the same, to wait with eager and active anticipation that God will do something, that God will step in, he’ll break in, he’ll lead us on a path through, in the case of Israel and the Exodus a path through the waters, he will create a way to lead us into that new life and so he waits, he waits upon the Lord, he waits upon the Lord to speak. He says in verse 5, ‘I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits and in his word I will put my hope.’ We think again of the Exodus and the people trapped at the Red Sea fleeing for their lives and now trapped, unsure where to go, and then God speaks. He says to Moses ‘lift up your staff’, and the way is open for them into new life. His word came and it brought that freedom, that redemption, that way into life and all its fulness. And the psalmist knows from God’s dealings with his people and what he has revealed in his word that he can be waited upon, and he will be faithful to speak, to act to bring them through, and so he waits for the Lord to do so, to speak and to act. And he is confident of this because not only with the Lord is there forgiveness, not only with the Lord is there full redemption, with the Lord there is unfailing love. Verse 7 again, ‘Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love.’ That idea for unfailing love is the word in Hebrew hesed, hesed. I’ve mentioned it a number of times. It’s a really rich, important biblical word, it’s one of those words we really need to cling on to and become aware of and really, when we see it, our antennae should be going every time, because it speaks of God’s covenant love, his steadfast love, a love which just doesn’t give up, it’s unflinching in its faithfulness, it is loyal beyond our comprehension, a love which God demonstrated so often to his people despite their rebellion. It’s a love that just does not give up, an ‘unfailing love’ as it’s translated here in the NIV. And those are the key words that I want to bring out for us tonight from this, avon sins, ‘redemption’ as full redemption, this idea of waiting actively with anticipation and hope for the Lord to speak because he is also the God of hesed, unfailing love, covenant love, his loving faithfulness. The Psalm gives us that encouragement, that provocation almost, to anticipate more of God, to anticipate an encounter with God, a knowing of God that is more than just of the mind; yes it will affect the mind, but it will be more than the mind, it will speak to our hearts and our souls and it will be with forgiveness and with steadfast love and with full abundant redemption. And in all this we see that the character of God is neither bent against us, nor is God just neutral in his justice and righteousness, and so often people get that misconception of God that God is just one or other of these. He’s against us or is very neutral, distant, kind of standoffish, God- in-the-sky, old man with beard picture. But this Psalm, with God’s heart for forgiveness, with God’s heart of unfailing love and redemption, this is a God who bends and leans towards us, and so yes, the psalmist waits, he waits with anticipation, he waits with hope, and don’t we find that same God described in the New Testament, revealed in the life and action of Jesus. Take for example one of our most famous verses, the one which our children and young people focused on in their activities for the service on Sunday morning, John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.’ He gave, he made every effort he held nothing back, and so Paul in the book of Romans and chapter 8, Paul can say in verse 31: ‘What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?.’ Graciously lead us into full redemption, life in all its fullness. Jesus said in John chapter 10: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ Life in its fullness. Of course, Paul says in the very same book, Romans, that we wait for the redemption, for full redemption, the redemption of our bodies that has been secured for us, but we don’t experience it yet, and so we have a foretaste of that through the gift of the Holy Spirit. But we have that still full redemption to wait for but it is there, it is guaranteed and will be ours. and so we begin our journey towards wholeness, towards life, towards full redemption because of a God, our Lord, who comes with full forgiveness, who comes with unfailing love, hesed, love. He comes with full redemption. And you know like this idea of talking about forgiveness is not comfortable. I don’t even find it comfortable and there are times when we probably want to talk about just about anything else and we’ve not been trained, I’ve talked said this so often, I think I said it last time, we’ve not been trained in discipleship, we’ve not been trained to share our faith and to invite people in to know the life that God has promised. That terrifies us and so like I had to step out in faith on Sunday and issue that call to forgiveness and invite people to know the forgiveness through Jesus. That is still scary for me, that was not part of my training, it’s not been part of my upbringing as a Christian, it’s something I just know that I need to do, but if it wasn’t for God like last week in my quiet times just mentioning it again and again through my devotions I probably would have bottled it, but he was very clear and so I stepped out. and there’s that question I guess, it comes to mind of, ‘Oh God, do we need to talk about this again?’ and ‘God is this really even relevant for everyone?’ because there are voices within society, sadly there are voices within the church which sometimes say, ‘Well this idea that everybody needs forgiveness, well not really sure on that front’, and you know I found a really helpful passage in some reading I was doing at the weekend that kind of puts another perspective on this, maybe phrases this in ways that are unfamiliar with us but which maybe resonate better with our generation, so I want to read you it so that you can hear it, kind of follow along with me as I journey in faith and what I’m digging into, and it’s a passage from a book I
mentioned recently, ‘Dangerous Wonder’ by Mike Iaconelli. I’m beginning to read through it again with my friend Gordon. It’s ‘the adventure of childlike faith’ and so sit back, get comfortable and let me read this couple of pages to you, not chapters, you’ll be glad to hear! Don’t try to hold on to every words but get the sense of what he is speaking because so much of what is mentioned in this and another little section I’d like to read to you, echoes this Psalm I think. ‘There is deep within all of us a voice. It speaks to us continuously, knocking on the door of our consciousness. When we are children the voice is very loud, as it was with me, shattering our awareness with overwhelming clarity. Its loudness is not like a train or jet engine; it shouts to us with a whisper; it is like the wind breezing through a field of daisies, scattering their petals across the sky into a flower snowstorm; it is like a thousand flutes echoing in the middle of the forest. This voice of our childhood is the voice of wonder and amazement, the voice of God which has always been speaking to us even before we were born. One sad day we are aware of an absence, we can no longer hear the God voice and we are left with only silence; not a quiet silence but a roaring silence. Indeed God kept on speaking We did not want to stop hearing, but our lives became louder; the increasing crescendo of our possessions, the ear-piercing noise of busyness and the soul-smothering volume of our endless activity drowned out the still small voice of God. Most of us cannot say when it happened, we only know that it happened. When we became aware of the absence of God’s voice there were a thousand deaths within us. Idealism and innocence died first and across the scarred terrain of our souls one could see the withered remains of dreams, spontaneity, poetry, passion and ourselves, our real selves, the persons we were made to be. What happened; what happened to our aliveness? How could we grow up, accumulate 12 to 15 years of education or more, get married, have children, work for decades and never really live? How could we begin our lives with clarity and passion, wonder and spontaneity, yet so quickly find ourselves at the middle or end of our lives dull and bleary-eyed, listless and passionless? The death of the soul is never quick; it is a slow dying, a succession of little deaths that continues until we wake up one day on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, beyond the adventure of God’s claim on our lives. We become lost. It took me 50 years to realize I was lost. No one knew I was lost, my life had all the trappings of foundness. I was a pastor, for heaven’s sake! I’d spent 25 years in church related ministry and most of my days were consumed with writing or talking about Jesus, and yet I was lost, confused, soul-weary, thirsty and bone tired. I had succeeded at mimicking aliveness, but I was nearly dead.’ Friends, this echoes the place I think so many people find themselves in, maybe even so many of us in the church at times, echoes very much and in a much more modern day the experience of John Wesley which I spoke about on Sunday. A lostness. I wonder instead of saying to people, ‘Do you, do you see your sins and how you you need forgiveness,’ I wonder whether we say, ‘Do you know the voice of God? Do you know the voice of God?’ People might say they don’t know what you’re talking about and maybe that leads to a conversation then about sin, because he doesn’t deny sin, and he goes on to talk about it and clearly the scriptures talk about sin, but he speaks of this scarred terrain of our souls, the weathered remains of dreams and x, y & z and echoes that avon that flood which sweeps us along and we lose the voice, the reality, the relationship, the dynamic intimate relationship with God that we were made to have. And so yes, everyone needs forgiveness, because everyone at some stage or another ends up on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, and they need to hear his voice calling them home. The question is, are we convinced of this, are we convinced of this enough to live a life that in Mike’s words, is dangerous. I want to read you another little bit that just hits me between the eyes and hopefully it’ll do the same for you. ‘The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The good news is no longer ‘good news’, it is ‘okay news’. Christianity is no longer life-changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, he changes them into nice people. If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested. What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice version of Christianity that turned the world upside down? What happened to the category smashing, life-threatening, anti- institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered, by those in power, dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude and who everyday were unable to get over the grace of God. The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed.’ I’m reminded of a song by DC Talk, called ‘Jesus Freak’ and in there they have this little quote by someone I can’t remember who it was, but the quote goes something like this, that the most powerful voice against Christianity sometimes are Christians who live in such a way that it seems to deny what Jesus has done, and that that has any relevance for the rest of the world. And so that question that I asked on Sunday: are we convinced of the truths that are in this Psalm and how that is then carried on into the New Testament, that we have a God who wants to offer us forgiveness but forgiveness isn’t the goal, its forgiveness into something else, into reverence and then service; but it’s not a lifeless, boring religiosity, and the Westminster Confession puts it that ‘the goal of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. Enjoy God! And so that service is that invitation into a ‘dangerous wonder’, as Mike Iaconelli says, a ‘full redemption’ as the Psalm talks about, us enjoying God as the Westminster Confession did. And is that, are we passionate about that, are we convinced of that, are we giving our all to that, are we willing to travel 250,000 miles on horseback to preach 40,000 sermons. I’m only on sermon about a hundred and sixty. I have no idea and that’s from all my training and time as a youth pastor, I’m only on sermon about a hundred and sixty or something maybe even less than that and he did forty thousand! So, are we convinced, are we passionate, are we, are we ready to follow Jesus wherever he might lead, to make known, to invite people into this and you know this is so crucial the I’m glad the strategy group kind of stumbled and then took it up and then came across this this quote from a Church of Scotland report called ‘The Church Without Walls Report’, which was written a number of years ago now and which the church really hasn’t done very much with, but in there, the report talks about what the church understands to be the core purpose of the church and it’s what the strategy group propose should be the possible purpose of Brighton’s parish church, to invite encourage and equip people as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve not come up with anything new, it’s clearly based on the scriptures and it’s been endorsed by the Church of Scotland General Assembly, so how can we really argue with it? Although we do want you to engage with it at the strategy group, but its core and so there’s that invitation and there’s that equipping so that we might know how to go and and invite people into that and equip them and and help them reach that full redemption. And so in our values, our values are kind of like the, well, there’s the purpose, but what does that look like and what does that look like in Brightons and help us put some flesh on the bones for that and that’s what the values are about and I won’t give you them all just now so as not to spoil all the fun, so get involved in the focus groups if you want to, but within there we speak of wholeness through redemption, we speak of experience of knowing God and so waiting on the Lord, hoping in his word, expecting God to speak and to meet with us. You know we speak of sharing, sharing our life, sharing the good news, sharing what we have and who we are with our church family but also way beyond that. We speak of maturing, of being able to hear and know the voice of God and having the courage and the boldness to follow wherever that voice leads us, follow with a dangerous wonder, that we might participate in in the life and the mission of God in this world, and know it for ourselves and be a group of Christians who are not just ticking the box and not just getting through life and not just doing the nice things, but who really take God’s Word and his gospel so seriously, captivated by it so powerfully, that we will live that dangerous calling that he calls us to. Maybe be known as people that are anything but boring, they follow the Living God wherever he goes or wherever he calls because we’re tuning in to the voice of God, this God who with him comes forgiveness and unfailing love and full redemption. I pray that we may know that God for ourselves and we may make that God known in our time and in our place. May it be so. Amen. Will you join me in prayer, let us pray: Our God and Heavenly Father, we praise you that you are the God of hesed love, unfailing love and who leads us on a journey towards full redemption, a redemption that is sure and certain, secured for us by Jesus, and we praise you, Jesus, for your great love that took you to the cross, that saw you lean into that and face it unflinching that we might know life and life and all its fullness. You, Jesus were killed for me, for us. You were pinned to that cross because of my sin, my avon, and Jesus that breaks our heart that you were pinned there to die for me and I praise you and sit in wonder of you Jesus, and tell you that because you first loved me I love you now and I want to give my life in service of you. I want to live in holy fear and reverence of you and to to be unflinching as far as I’m able by the power of your spirit to follow in that life of dangerous wonder, to share in your mission to make you known, to invite people into relationship with you that they might hear the voice of God for themselves and by so doing also begin that journey towards full redemption. Heavenly Father lead us, lead us individually and as a group of your people into your plan and purposes for us now, here, give us wisdom and discernment, give us boldness and courage and passion. Lord, may we be anything other than the Christians described by Mike Iaconelli, of dullness and just being apathetic to the gospel and unconvinced, and Lord save us from that. And so I yield, we yield ourselves to you, Lord, that you might lead us in your way. We pray that prayer together now as Jesus taught his disciples, saying in one voice: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever. Amen. Friends thanks for joining us tonight for our Tuesday evening sermon. We’ll be back live on Thursday evening for live prayer at 8:15; join us either in our zoom room and email us if you don’t have the details for that; if you need technical help getting connected please do get in touch; try and join a little bit before 8:15 as well just in case there are any issues if it’s your first time; or get us on YouTube channel where we’ll be streaming Live the prayers as we bring them towards others and if you’ve got any prayer requests please do get them in via the live chat, via Facebook page or email. Get in touch and we’ll gladly bring your prayers before our God and Heavenly Father. We’ll be back on Sunday Morning, as well this Sunday we have the Sunday school closing service where there’ll be great input from our young people and leaders, so join us then if you’re able and as you go from here may the blessing of God Almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you this night and forevermore. Amen.

I am forgiven (Psalm 130)

Preached on: Sunday 14th June 2020
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 20-06-14-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 130
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 130 (NIV)
Sunday 14th June 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I promised on Facebook that we would have a super-easy, quick game, so here it is! Are you ready?

Which of these fruit is an apple? The answer is…
Which of these birds is a magpie? The answer is…
What sauce do I prefer to have on my sandwiches? HP
Which of these dogs is my dog Hector? The answer is…

OK, final question – and this one is hard! Which of these people is a Christian? I’m going to give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home – so over to you! (PAUSE) That was a bit harder, wasn’t it! Well, the answer is…I don’t know. I don’t know which of those people is a Christian or not, because I just got their pictures from the internet! My point is this – looking at these people, we can’t tell by them standing there who is and who is not a Christian. So, how can we tell? Is it even possible?

Well, what things would you include on a list, if you were trying to figure out if someone was a Christian? Would it be – “goes to church”, “reads the Bible”, “doesn’t say bad words”, “knows the Lord’s Prayer”, “is loving”. What if none of those things is what makes someone a Christian?

There was once a man called John Wesley – he lived a long time ago in the seventeen hundreds. When John had finished school, he went to university in Oxford…
and became a minister, like me. With his brother Charles, John formed a group of friends who made a promise to read the Bible, pray, fast and help other people. John and his brother even went all the way to America as missionaries for a while in 1735.

But even though they did all this, neither John nor his brother Charles, ever felt sure that they were a Christian. In his own words, John later said at that time they had “a fair summer religion” and about their trip to America he said, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”

You see – it’s possible to be a very good person yet not be a Christian; it’s possible to do all the external things that a Christian should do, like go to church, read your Bible, pray, and even be a minister, but still not be a Christian. That was the experience of John and Charles Wesley, and many other people over the years.

So, is it possible to know for sure if you are a Christian? I’ll give you another 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

There’s a lot in today’s psalm and we’ll get to more of it in the Tuesday Evening Sermon, so join us then if you’re able, or catch it later in the week as a recording.

But this morning, I’d like to focus on a few verses, starting with verse 4:
‘But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.’
The psalmist speaks about forgiveness, because he is aware he needs forgiveness. In verse 3 he said:
‘If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,…who could stand?’

So, he wants forgiveness, he knows he needs forgiveness for his sins, the wrong things he has done. Then in verse 1 he says: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord…’

Maybe he feels like there is a great distance between God and himself; maybe God feels very far away. Maybe he feels that his relationship with God is broken – that’s possibly why he uses two different names of God: ‘LORD’ in capitals, meaning ‘Yahweh’, which is the covenant name of God; but also ‘Lord’ with only a capital L, meaning ‘master’ or ‘king’….
But both are about relationship; a good relationship, one of trust, reverence and love. Yet, the psalmist knows the relationship is broken, because of his sin, and so now there is distance between himself and God.

Nevertheless, he knows something else – he knows that Yahweh, the Lord, his King, is a forgiving God, that with Yahweh is forgiveness – that forgiveness is part of God’s character, and God has the authority to forgive.

So, the psalmist waits on the Lord, he puts his hope in God’s promise to forgive. Maybe the psalmist is thinking of Isaiah chapter 1:
‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet,…
they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ (v18)

He knows that the Lord is willing to forgive but also that out of this forgiveness will arise, even must arise, ‘reverence’, a reverence that leads to serving the Lord. Other translations speak of forgiveness leading to a healthy ‘fear’ of the Lord; a fear where we submit to God as our King, giving Him His place in our lives.

I talked about this at the end of last week’s message: of having a faith where God’s Word shapes our lives, shapes our hearts, and changes us from the inside out. But for that to happen, we must first receive the forgiveness of God and bend the knee to our Lord, allowing Him to be… King of our lives once more, maybe even for the first time.

The great preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, said: ‘none fear the Lord like those who have experienced His forgiving love.’ So, if we come back to those four individuals, which one is a Christian? We don’t know – not even by their outside life!

And that’s because, what’s most important, is what’s in your heart. Do you know the forgiveness of God for yourself? You might not know when you first received it – but a Christian should know, in here, that they have received the forgiveness of God, and this forgiveness should shape their lives, such that out of reverence, holy fear, we give our lives in service to God….
Where there is no reverence, where there is no holy fear, where life is lived largely according to your standards and God’s ways are far from your thinking and will – well, if that’s you, then I worry you may have that “fair weather religion” John Wesley spoke of, and truly, that form of religion does not make you right with God, you haven’t really experienced His forgiveness, because with forgiveness comes reverence and service.

A few years after John Wesley came home from America, he still felt much the same as in 1735, he did not know the grace and peace of God. But on the 24th of May 1738, he heard today’s psalm in an afternoon church service, before going to a Christian meeting that night. He later wrote in his journal a now-famous account of his
conversion, he said: “In the evening I went…

very unwillingly to a [meeting] in Aldersgate Street, where [some]one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In the years after his return from America, it took John Wesley time to see that it’s not “Christ and good works” which secure our forgiveness, but Christ alone who saves, resulting in good works.

Many of you listening today are Christians, so what is there for you today? Well, we always need to be asking ourselves if we are convinced and resolute on this, or have we become lukewarm and apathetic about the forgiveness we have through Jesus? Because to remove the absolute, eternal need of forgiveness for everyone, or to play down the death of Jesus on the cross, is to gut the Bible and the Christian faith of all substance. Also, such was the impact on John Wesley that he travelled some 250,000 miles on horseback and gave over 40,000 sermons. How is God’s forgiveness impacting us?

I hope today there are also others listening in, folks who know they are not a Christian; you’re maybe watching for the first time, or after some time away from church.
There might be others, who have fulfilled all…
religious duty like the young John Wesley, but you know that the forgiveness of God has not touched your heart: you lack reverence for God, and God is not King, not the Lord of your life, if you’re brutally honest. And there may be in either of those groups, and others beside, folks who do not feel at peace with God – He may seem distant to you, and for any and all these people the forgiving love of Jesus may well be unknown to you.

So, why not today, bend the knee to Jesus, admit your sin, and come into His embrace? It’s in that place you can come to know the hope, the peace, the freedom that the people of God have experienced whenever they have put their hope in the promises of God. If that is something you would like to do, then let us do it just now, and I invite you to repeat the words of this prayer with me… “Lord Jesus Christ, thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life and I name these before you now…Please forgive me. I now turn from everything I know is wrong and allow You to be King over my life. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit to help me serve You. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Friends, if you’ve prayed that for the first time, or if you know that this has brought some change for you today, then please tell someone else, it’s a really important step when we receive the forgiveness of God – get in touch with me if you like, I’d love to hear that you’ve taken this step. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

I will not neglect the Word (Psalm 116)

Preached on: Sunday 7th June 2020
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 20-06-07-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 116:1-16; Psalm 1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 119:1-16 (International Children’s Bible)
Sunday 7th June 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

SCENE 1 – In the kitchen

Gill – What are you two doing?
Scott & Hope – We can’t hear you!
G – What are you two doing?
S&H – We can’t hear you!
S – Let me turn down the music. Then we can hear Mumma.
G – What are you two doing?

S – Oh, what are we doing?

H – We’re just making some bread.

S – We’re making some bread. So, what do we have? We have some…

H – cake mix!

S – we have some bread mix, that’s right, and some water to put in. So, we’re making some bread, aren’t we? Have you made bread with Mumma before?

H – Yes!
S – Yeah. You like baking, don’t you?

H – I like making chocolate cake, it’s my favourite.

S – that’s your favourite! Why don’t you pour that in just now and I’ll talk to the boys and girls at church.

Hi everyone, welcome to our kitchen – and yup, Hope and I are making some bread and we couldn’t hear Gill because the music was too loud. I’m going to turn it down just a little bit more so that you can hear me.

So, that reminds me a lot of what it’s like in life. Every day there are lots of noises all around us trying to get our attention. It might be our friends, what’s on TV, it might be our favourite celebrity or social media influencer,…
it might be TV programmes or announcements from government or science or health professionals – lots of voices shouting for our attention and it can be hard to hear God’s voice.

Just like we had to turn down the so that we could hear Gill, sometimes we need to turn down those other voices so that we can hear God’s voice through His Word, the Bible.

In our Psalm today, the man who wrote it was also surrounded by many voices – the voices of the arrogant and the rulers, the wicked and the oppressors. But the psalmist didn’t choose to listen to those voices, instead he chose to listen to God’s voice; he dials down the other noises and tunes in to God.
So, here’s a question to think about at home for 1 minute: what are some of the voices that we need to dial down, and how can we better tune in to God, listen to God’s voice? Over to you for one minute!

Welcome back everyone – I’ve started to make my sandwich, but I’m not really sure I’ve got it right, what do you think I’ve done wrong? I’ve got here my turkey and salad to put in the middle, and I really like brown sauce, so I’ve got HP here, no messing around with anything less. And I’ve got the two parts of the recipe, one for the top and one for the bottom!

Do you think this will taste any good? Give me a thumbs up for yes and a thumbs down for no! (WIGGLE THUMB)
I reckon, actually, that it’s going to have to be a thumbs down – I cannot imagine eating some paper is going to taste any good, can you? No! What do I need in here? Shout it out! That’s right – I need bread! The recipe is of course important, but the goal is to make bread and have a great sandwich! The goal is not only to have the recipe.

And that reminds me about another lesson from our psalm today. Again and again the psalmist talks about ‘your orders’, ‘your commands’, ‘your word’, to ‘obey you’, ‘not sin against you’, ‘you have spoken’. Now, who is this ‘you’ that the psalmist is talking about? Who is it? It’s God! God has given us His Word, the Bible, which is full of information about how to live and what God is like; it is full of God’s commands and also revelation of Him.

But God didn’t give us this just so we could have a list of instructions and become really knowledgeable about the
Bible, nor is the Bible to be the thing we love the most. What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment? It was: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.’ (Matthew 22:37-38) We are to love God, love Him above everything – even above His Word – and that’s because the goal is not simply to read and know God’s Word, the goal is to know God Himself. Not just to know about Him in our heads, but to know Him as a person, to know Him in our hearts.

The Psalmist says in verse 2: ‘Blessed are those who…seek him [God] with all their heart.’ The goal is not just to have the recipe, the goal is to have the bread, the bread of life, as Jesus was called.
So, here’s another question for you to think about: as you read the Bible, are you seeking God, or are you seeking to know and follow His rules? I’ll give you thirty seconds to think or talk about that just now.

Well, here I am, at the dining table with my sandwich. We’ve baked the bread; we’ve put it all together as it should be, I’ve even remembered to replace the recipe with slices of bread. But is it enough to leave the sandwich sitting on the table? Am I going to be fed by it sitting there? No! Of course not! If I want to be fed, I have to eat the bread, the sandwich has to become part of me. Because the sandwich goes into my mouth, down my throat, into my tummy and there my tummy does things with the food that give my body strength and energy… But to get that strength and energy, I need to eat the bread.

And that’s our final lesson today, from this psalm: it’s not enough just to have God’s Word, it’s not enough to know God’s Word and even to know God through His Word. Quite clearly this psalm tells us that we need to put God’s Word into practice in our lives. Verse 9 says: ‘How can a young person [any person] stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.’

It verse 11 it also says: ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ What we learn about God and His ways is meant to become part of our lives, it is meant to change our hearts, the place of our will, and so that we will the things of God.

Many of us will have seen this picture online or in the paper or news this past week: of Donald Trump holding up a Bible in front of a church. The Bible Society wrote a very powerful article about this event and they quoted the bishop, whose church was used for this event, she said: ‘Let me be clear, the President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of [Christians], and one of the churches of my diocese without permission, as a backdrop for a message [opposite] to the teachings of Jesus.’

And she said that because the Bible was used as a prop, that church was used as a PR location, and violence was used to make it possible.

It’s not enough to have a Bible, it’s not enough to know some things from it, to even know something of…
God based upon the writings in the Bible, and that’s because God counts as His children, the Lord Jesus counts as His disciples, those who seek for His Word to become part of who they are, to shape their hearts and lives.

There is a place for Christians to call out the President for his behaviour, that day and so many more besides. But let’s remember, that when we point a finger, three point back at us. A man called C.K. Chesterton, once replied to a newspaper which ran the question: ‘What is wrong with our world?’ He replied: ‘Dear Sir, I am. Yours sincerely, C.K. Chesterton.’

These past weeks, as we have rightly championed Black Lives Matter, and responded to the injustice faced by
George Floyd and many others, I have had to take…
a hard look in the mirror, on my own life and ask the tough questions, because this psalm excludes a faith which idolises the Bible, for we are to worship God alone, but equally, it also reminds us, that God says a faith which takes little heed of God’s Word, a faith where our heart and will do not seek His ways, is a faith which in the words of the book of James, is worthless.

So, friends, let’s stand with Black Lives Matter, let’s be actively anti-racist, but let us also eat the sandwich, let us heed God’s Word and allow it to shape us. For as I read in an email this week: ‘World change usually starts with my change.’

Let us tune in to God’s voice, seeking Him as our first love, and allow Him to change us from the inside out.
May it be so. Amen.

I yearn for the Kingdom (Psalm 72 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 2nd June 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Psalm 72
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Tuesday Evening Sermon – 2nd June 2020

So Psalm 72, this royal sum which speaks of the king and the kingdom and is a prayer that people would have prayed for hundreds of years. As we saw on Sunday morning, there is so much in this Psalm which links the king and God and God’s kingdom so closely together, so entwined together and really what we’re seeing here is that we’re to understand that through the king of Israel God’s rule would be seen.

And that comes across in a number of different verses. We could start with verse 1 for example, there we read of this prayer: ‘Endow the king with your justice, O God, with your righteousness.’ The prayer is not simply for the king to be just or to be good, but to have God’s justice, God’s righteousness.

That’s further developed with him to judge God’s people in verse 2 and then we see later in the Psalm things that you just can’t really imagine for a purely human king. For example verse 5: ‘May he endure as long as the son as long as the moon through all generations. ‘ she Sun and the moon obviously not understood quite as we understand them in our scientific age, but seen us as signs of things which that lasts forever and So asking this prayer that the King would endure for as long as these bodies in the sky. Yet, how can this be for a human king? It boggles the mind

And what is more there’s that prayer further down in verse 8 for him to rule ‘To the ends of the earth’; indeed for ‘all nations’ in verse 11 ‘to serve Him’. There’s this idea here that the kingdom is going to extend and whilst they didn’t know the full extent of the world and their day but as far as they knew they imagined the king ruling that for and further to the whole. Yet what human king ever had yet, even in the great nations of the time? And later as Israel was ruled by other powers – to still hold this prayer to pray this prayer and imagine and pray for a king that that rules beyond just the land of Israel, beyond even the peak of Israel’s history with David and Solomon. to yearn for him to rule even further? No human king in Israel’s time managed such a thing.

And then if we go further down again to verse 17, there is the prayer that his name would ‘endure for ever’. But what’s striking is that just a few verses later it’s ‘praise be to God’s glorious name for ever’ and if you look at the Psalms, it’s the name of God that is the focus of praise – not the Kings name. Yet as we saw in verse 17, ‘May his name endure for ever’ – may the name of the King endure forever. And connected in the same verse of 19 is this idea that ‘may the whole earth be filled with his glory’ and we saw earlier about the nations, of his the kingdom extending to all nations, that the whole earth be filled with his glory – again this entwining of God and the king in God’s kingdom together.

It really starts to raise the expectation that much more than just some ordinary king is is yearned for or expected. There starts to be nurtured in Israel this expectation of one who will come, a king who will come, who would be much more than just a human king – there has to be a messiah, someone special, set apart, anointed in some way beyond what they can comprehend, to fulfil this prayer.

Now that the seeds of it, as we know from Samuel, were sown in David’s time, that David was promised by God in second Samuel chapter seven. God said to David that he would establish a house for David and that God would raise up David’s offspring to succeed him, that God would establish his kingdom and that Kingdom the throne of his kingdom would be established for ever. And what is more God said ‘I will be his father and he shall be my son’. The seeds of it are sown in David’s time and it develops over time, greater clarity comes such that in the time of Isaiah later on and a portion that we would often read more at Christmas time than in the heat of this summer we see in Isaiah chapter 11 how this prophecy developed. And so we read there in Isaiah

Friends, there develop that expectation that one would come a messiah, an anointed king, who would be of the Lion of David, who would inherit the promises made to Abraham, promises from Genesis 12…

And what do we see in our Psalm, we see this idea that the nations will be blessed through the king. But the king is only blessed because God’s blessing is upon him. And so it’s really from God and so God is entwined with the king here and God’s kingdom with the king – it’s all entwined in the rule of God.

And so we know, now looking back, it can never just be a human king – yes, he would be of the line of David, but there had to be something more to him to bring about what Isaiah spoke about of a kingdom of a world where what is natural is completely turned on it’s head, and things changed so radically and powerfully.

And so people had to keep praying for the kingdom of God to come, for one to come, the Messiah to come and then one day Jesus came, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near, it was breaking in with him to this world and everything was going to change. The prophecies of Isaiah would begin to come true, the prayers of God’s people like in Psalm 72 were to begin to come true. And of course who did Jesus minister most? He ministered most to the poor and needy, giving them life and wholeness beyond what they could ever imagine. And we know from the letters to the church, from the Apostle Paul in particular, but elsewhere as well, Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 1 that God had a plan and it was put into effect when the times had reached their fulfilment o bring unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Jesus under the Christ, the Messiah – and so when the time was right he came.

Friends only Jesus, only Jesus could be this king and only because of the cross and his resurrection. It was he who conquered death, the first to rise from the dead to prove that he had conquered death. Friends he is King and he now sits at the right hand of God reigning there, given the Spirit to pour out on his people his kingdom might be extended. He sits in the position of power and authority at God’s right hand even now because he conquered, he was victorious, he was proven to be the promised king and messiah.

So, what does this mean then for us? Well a great deal clearly. One of the things that I’ve been pondering recently and I spent some time during my week off reading about it was about ‘discipleship’ – about how do we go about seeking ways to disciple others, to invite them in, to equip them and encourage them as disciples of Jesus? And it’s got me thinking as I read this Psalm alongside what I was reading there it’s got me clearly thinking of Matthew 28 and from Jesus the Great Commission to the disciples to ‘go to all the ends of the earth’ to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey him.

And it gets me thinking that we’re to be part of how this kingdom extends. Yes we’re to pray, to pray that God’s kingdom would come and will come more to that and a few moments. But we also have a part to play – disciple making is not just going to happen; God has no plan B. We are it friends, the church, we are called to go make disciples and that is principally how Jesus imagines his kingdom to grow. As we see in Acts chapter one, that they are to be his witnesses in Jerusalem Samaria Judea and to all the ends of the earth, just like our psalm.

But the witnessing was more than just being a body of people in a place. It was more than just loving their neighbour. It was more than gathering for worship on a Sunday. It was active disciple making because by making disciples the world starts to change. The things, the facets, of God’s kingdom start to come about, which is why I said on Sunday do we want to see hopelessness decrease? Do we want to see isolation decrease? Do we want to see a crime decrease? So many things happen and change and can only change really when the kingdom of God comes.

We might think of the stories of revival, I particularly think of the Welsh revival and I remember reading that in the Welsh revival they actually had to ask the police officers to stop doing their jobs effectively because there was no one in the jails, there was no one in the cells, because God’s Spirit came, brought revival and people became disciples of Jesus, the kingdom of God came in their midst and not only did people come to faith but lives changed.

There was that question from Sunday: do you want to see our world become a better place? Then pray for the kingdom of God to come. Because we have a king who has a glorious Kingdom and he wants it to come in our world. He wants it to extend to the ends of the earth and principally that happens as his church, you and I, share our faith, meet Jesus and see people become disciples.

Now how we do that we all need to learn. I need to learn as well. Because no one really discipled me, it has mostly been guesswork and trial and error and even now it’s trial and error and guesswork because part of my training in the Church of Scotland was not actually how to go and make disciples, which tells you an awful lot about the Church of Scotland frankly. But there are people, there are ways, to learn how to disciple others and if we want to see the kingdom of God come in our parish, in the Braes area and our nation and world, then we need to learn how to go and make disciples.

You’ll be hearing about later this week in the notices, probably in an email too, you’re going to be hear about an invitation from the Strategy Group, which is a group within the Kirk Session, they’ve been looking and clarifying what are our purpose and values for Brightons Parish Church and what is there in our DNA already? What is there in the Scriptures? And trying to bring some clarity on that because, well, it’s quite hard to carry around a whole Bible with you. And so we need some touch-stones, we need some kind of foundation clarity on things, and the invitation is going to be there for you to join in some focus groups that the strategy group are doing it and the ‘purpose’ includes a clear focus on this idea of discipleship because of this teaching that is there throughout the Scriptures: the God as our King, Jesus is the promised King, He proved it, and he has a kingdom and he wants that kingdom to extend to the ends of the earth.
But principally how he does that is through his church, His church going and making disciples.

So look out for that email, look out for the notice, read it, get involved in what we’re asking as we’d love as many people to get involved to help bring clarity to our purpose and our values as Brightons Church in this new season of our life, to bring clarity to what our strategy might be in the future.

But going back to our Psalm, one of the things that I picked up in the commentaries I was reading was the structure of the Psalm and what’s very striking is that the Psalm begins with God’s justice, and righteousness, and particular righteousness is repeated several times verse 1 verse 2 verse 3 and then come things like compassion for God’s afflicted people, for the children of the needy, then comes things like Shalom, peace, which we’ll look at in a moment – the goodness, the prosperity of the nation and the kingdom and to the world.

But first comes righteousness, and this wasn’t an idea that was unknown to God’s people, the Mosaic law spoke of it as well that, first of all, was righteousness, even before compassion there was to be no favouritism to poor or rich. Righteousness was to come first and this was because It was core to who God is.

Psalm ninety seven says: ‘clouds and thick darkness around him, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.’ They were key to who God was/is, and so they were key to his kingdom. And so there’s this prayer, for the King to have this justice and righteousness from God, from these the rest might flow, and so for example you see in Isaiah that righteousness is the soil, the atmosphere, the climate within which peace can flourish and he same is true in the Psalm.

And it’s unhelpful in the NIV actually that in verse 3 it says ‘may the mountains bring prosperity to the people’ and an unhelpful choice of word there because if you go back to the Hebrew, the word is Shalom, which would normally be classified as peace. And so maybe the translators are trying to get away from ‘peace’ because we think of peace as a lack of conflict, of a peace of soul like calmness and so I can see what they’re trying to do. But prosperity just doesn’t quite catch it, and maybe they’re not quite ready yet maybe to go with a word like wholeness, which I think would catch much more of the meaning of Shalom. It’s used by many commentators: wholeness or well-being, and this is a wholeness or well-being that’s multidimensional.

I quoted in a sermon somewhere in the last year or so about Tim Keller. He has a really helpful article in the NIV Study Bible and you can get on the NIV Study Bible website, it has a really helpful article about Shalom and he says Shalom is ‘multidimensional – it’s complete well-being, physical, psychological, social and spiritual. It flows from all of one’s relationships being put right with God, with and in one’s self, and with others.’

And so this idea of Shalom is so rich and wide and varied and deep. It’s much more than peace, it’s much more than prosperity and it’s not just spiritual. We often equate with this peace with being just spiritual but it’s more than that, but the spiritual is core to it because from that spiritual can come the rest. From that righteousness, that right relationship with God, that walking in his ways, can come peace, can come compassion for the needy. It’s interesting that the needy are spoken of a couple of times, ‘to save the children of the needy, in verse 4, ‘to save the needy from death’ verse thirteen, and what we have to remember is that in the wisdom literature in particular death generally was not seen as just happening and often death would come about through your choice. Obviously that’s not always the case but saving the needy from death, this way of life that they were maybe trapped in because of the injustice around them, and so this idea that the most defenceless, those most unable to protect themselves, had to be helped, had to be protected, that this was part of the king’s role and calling, and so part of his kingdom and part of what he expects of his subjects, you and I as well.

And so, we are reminded that they are ‘precious’ verse 14, those who suffer from oppression and violence, those who are needy and weak, that ‘precious is their blood’ or is their life to him. And we know this of our Saviour, we know he speaks of His father, whom he represents on earth, Jesus speaks of the Father saying he knows how many hairs upon our head, he speaks of a Father who so loves us that he gives his Son for this world, for you and I, for the weak the oppressed, the needy.

But first comes that righteousness and why I’m kind of labouring this point is that if we are going to change our way of life, if we are going to give ourselves for the purposes of God, if we are even going to learn what way is, then we need that righteousness – not just that right relationship with God, but to train us in his way of righteousness, to train us in his ways, to have his heart.

And to have that, as 2nd Timothy 3:16 says, teaching, training, maturing us in righteousness – that we need God to help us see the ways that we’re just not seeing what he is about, we’re just not seeing his priorities, we need to be taught and rebuked and we need to be corrected and trained in his ways – not just to be a nice person but to love with a radical, dangerous, even zealous love we might say.

And I think part of why this is on my heart just now is another book I was reading in my week off, and I’ve been reading it for a while, is a book I was recommended, that I’ve heard many people speak of it, and a number of people follow the author online.

Wow, it’s an incredible book, emotionally charged because of the topic but what he writes, and he was a missionary so he’s steeped in the scriptures, but his understanding of God’s ways, of His righteousness is second to none, particularly in this subject matter and so I’ll finally give you the name and title, it’s Krish Kandiah, and his book is ‘Home for Good: making a difference for children in need’ and he’s writing particularly about fostering and adoption, in particular in the UK. He is a British Christian and he is part of a campaign called ‘Home for Good’ which is seeking to encourage the church to consider how it might support and get involved with adoption and fostering. There’s so much in the book that that really struck me, but I guess one of the things that’s kind of stuck with me a little bit is that we often look for ways, I guess in our context: how can we show the world that we care, that Jesus makes a difference? What is the issue of our time that can speak to our nation, can be prophetic to them, can help them see the ways of God and the love of God? And Krish makes a
very convincing case for adoption and fostering to be that way and he said something that was really profound and striking for me. He said that if one family or one individual in every church in the UK was to get involved in adoption or fostering and be supported by their church family then the church alone could eradicate the need of and the lack of fostering homes and adoption homes in the UK. And I wondered, does that stack up? And so I know from Falkirk Council that they need something like forty five fostering places and then for Falkirk Presbytery alone of the Church of Scotland there are 35 churches. There must be at least another ten in the Falkirk area, we’ve got a couple just up the road in Madison for example. So easily the church could meet that need. So I’m just throwing it out there in case it speaks to someone and because as you as you read the Psalms and God’s ways, meeting the needs of the needy, who could be more ‘needy’ verse 4 ‘saving the children of the needy’ as Krish clearly paints in this book – these desperately needy children and maybe part of how the kingdom comes in our time is that disciples like you and I allow God’s Spirit to convict us, to challenger us, to rebuke us, even correct us, to train us in righteousness and the ways of God that we might take that zealous, dangerous, risky step of faith and open our homes to the children who are desperately in need. I wonder if that’s how the justice and righteousness of God in our time comes to fruition and the kingdom is extended – not to convert these children, to love them. We don’t turn them into a project, but we love them, and we evidence that God is on the move.

But you know, this is all quite challenging. How do we see this come about? How do we have the strength, the courage, to take such steps? How do we see God’s kingdom come through us? Well on Sunday we spoke about praying ‘thy kingdom come’ but Sunday was also Pentecost, and I just didn’t have the time or the space to weave in a whole other thread, so forgive me that I missed an incredibly important aspect of how the kingdom comes. But I wanted to focus on Sunday on the kingdom, on praying for the kingdom.

But as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, as we pray thy kingdom come, we open ourselves up to the influence of the Spirit – for him to identify the ways that we need to grow and change and get to know God better, and so often the church entwines praying for the kingdom with praying for the coming of the Spirit. Because it’s only going to be by the Spirit working in us and through us that that we will see the kingdom come. We have to break this idea in the Western Church and especially I’m afraid in the Church of Scotland, that if we somehow have the resources, that if were just clever enough or creative enough or strategic enough or have good enough management or enough money or a good enough building that it’s all going to fall into place. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at changing people’s hearts, I’m not really very good at changing people’s minds, and I’m not very good at making people become less of a sinner. I don’t know how you are, I just know that I’m not very good at it and that’s because these things are the work of God’s Spirit. And so we need to be praying thy kingdom come and come Holy Spirit upon us, upon our area, upon our nation because we can’t do it in our own strength – as the prophet Zechariah reminds us (chapter 4 verse 6) that is not by our strength not by our own might but by the Spirit that God’s kingdom comes.

One of my favourite letters about the Spirit is Ephesians because Paul speaks of the Spirit there so much and so if you’re wanting ideas of things to be praying about in relation to the Spirit go there. For I realise the Spirit is not the person of God that we feel most comfortable with. God the Father, yes, Jesus, sure, but with the Spirit we often feel like, “Who and what does he do?” So often we call him an “it” which really we shouldn’t because it sounds like we’re just making the Spirit into a force like in Star Wars but the Spirit is a person, a “he”.

Paul, who is so steeped in God’s ways, has as these prayers laced throughout the verses of, such as Ephesians 1 verse 17: that ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation would be given so that you may know God better’, get to know our Heavenly Father better. Or what about in chapter 3? Praying for the Spirit to be given so we would have strength through his power, the power of the Spirit, ‘in our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith’: that he would be a home in our inner person, in our hearts and our souls and our minds and so he would rule there and lead us in his ways of righteousness that bring His compassion, that bring his justice his righteousness and so His kingdom would come in our midst and through our lives.

Understandably then Paul speaks in chapter five verse 18 that we are not to get drunk on wine not to get drunk in alcohol not to give way to that, but to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ – we are to keep being filled with the Spirit, asking to be filled with the Spirit: “God fill me with your Spirit so that your kingdom would come, that I might know you better, that I may embody the love of Jesus, that I may embody his justice and his righteousness that compassion would flow, that justice would flow, that your wholeness would come in my life and through my life to others”.

Again thinking about the work of the Strategy Group we have very deliberately in the four values that we’re beginning to test and suggest, everyone mentions the Spirit because of this, because it’s not feasible by us in our own strength, or by our own resources. And it’s not even just by having His Word, because his word is alive and active because of the Spirit, breathing it to being in the first place through the various writers and it is the Spirit that makes it alive and active and sharper than any sword, piercing to the very core of our being – the Spirit upon the Word and through the people of God to bring the righteousness, to bring the kingdom, of God in our lives, in our midst, that the blessing of God, the wholeness of God may come to our parish, to our nation, to you and I, to our families and friends.

My friends, do you long for this? Then pray thy kingdom come, come Holy Spirit. So, why don’t we take some time to do that just know? Let us pray.