Let Christ change you

Preached on: Sunday 13th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here AVAILABLE SOON.
Bible references: John 13:1,3-5,12-17,34-35
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:



Preached on: Sunday 6th November 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: Mark 7:1-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Tradition helps to ground us and also leads to
– Prejudices
– Priorities
– Misuse
– Misunderstanding
– We need discernment on what to retain and what to change

Our loving Heavenly Father, we come into Your presence this morning and, in so doing, we thank You for the privilege of being here. You are the one who created us, the one who created the world in which we live and move and have our being, You are the one who is all-powerful and yet, You have made it possible for us to come into Your presence. As we have just heard, there are many challenges within our world and sometimes we can be so discouraged, so disheartened, so dispirited by all that we see and hear, we seem to lurch from one crisis to another so, frequently, that the word perma-crisis has entered into our dictionaries. We feel our own weaknesses, the frailties of our minds and bodies, the transience of what is around us. We face so many challenges through our faith and we often falter and feel that we fail. Strengthen us, we pray, and renew a right spirit within us. We ask You, by Your Holy Spirit, to create within us a heart for worship, a heart that is glad to be open to You and not a heart which desires, constantly, its own comfort zone. It’s all too easy for our worship to become a war and blanket around us and for us to shut out the real needs. Help us not to fall into that trap and, as our hearts are opened, we ask that we may have a renewed vision of You, our God, as You reach down to us and the person of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ made real to us through Your Spirit. He walked this earth before our time. He experienced the pains and aches of human existence yet, He did so gladly, setting before us a divine example and opening for us a new and living way into Your presence. We ask that we may meet Him here this morning and now we ask you to forgive our sins. Close in with Your Word, for we ask these things in Jesus. name and for His sake. Amen.

There’s a tradition, isn’t there, that The Guild at Brightons Church has a special Sunday every year. Have you noticed? We’ve been here before. We’ve been at The Guild Sunday and today we’re observing that tradition. By now I think you’ve worked out what the T-word is for today, it is the word ‘tradition’. It’s great to be made aware of the work of The Guild and to be reminded that The Guild has changed with time. We think, perhaps, as Maggie said, that it’s something very old and fixed and it’s just a certain sector of the church that come along dutifully and do various things that are not perhaps relevant to this world. Well, if that’s the way we’ve been thinking, we’ve been well instructed this morning. When I first heard of The Guild it was the Woman’s Guild and it dropped that bit of the name. Now that was a big change and I’m sure it didn’t come easily, there would have been voices for and voices against because that’s the way we handle the T-word, tradition. Yes, that’s how it is but now it’s just The Guild and men can come too. Men can come along. Now, I don’t exactly see a rush on the part of men here and, I would have to say, that I am as guilty as anyone else. But a week ago, I went along to The Guild and I was very encouraged, inspired and I had a spring in my step as a result of being there.

When I heard about the projects, so interesting, and one of them in particular, they’re both equally worthy, but one I thought ‘How wonderful’, Unida. Why did I think that? I thought that because I spent my working life in higher education, and third level education, and to those of us in this country it comes so easily as Elspeth Reid reminded us on that Monday evening. We have, in Brazil, a tradition, keyword again, where women are just kept in a corner, where they are despised and so often injured and one of the cities where this is, the city where this has been set up has a very high murder rate of women and Unida is trying to change tradition, trying to give people a chance and, particularly, to give women a chance. We struggled with that one in our own society much earlier on, still struggle with it, but, in places like Brazil, there are even more challenges. So, tradition is on the move. The Guild is on the move and the way we handle things in this world, that’s on the move as well and that’s great.

Tradition then, what is it? I have to confess that when I thought of this sermon my first idea was ‘I don’t know what tradition is.’ It’s such a difficult word to define and, funnily enough, we all think we know what tradition is. That’s the problem. We’ve all got our traditions which we hold dear and yet, if I asked you to define tradition so that it was convincing and all-embracing and real, I wonder what we would arrive at, the definition of tradition.

I was brought up in the islands, as some of you already know, and I often talk about my background there, I was brought up within Gaelic tradition. I was a Gaelic speaker first and foremost and the first sermon I ever preached was in Gaelic within a Gaelic context, and I learned pretty quickly that there were traditions associated with Gaelic tradition wee ones inside the big one and that I had to be very careful if I wasn’t right about this or that I might feel are we tug here and there, and after I would finish the service somebody would say ‘Oh, you didn’t quite do that the right way.’ and I learned the Gaelic way of doing a service. And then I moved on to doing it the English and Scottish way. Some of us know Gaelic tradition in another way, the songs, the music, the stories, the tales and they’re all wrapped up in that word ‘tradition’. But then we can move to Scottish tradition, Irish tradition, English tradition, Welsh tradition, British tradition. We can have our own traditions. Remember, remember the 5th of November, which was just last night with all its explosions and bangs. And that’s another tradition.

But then, of course, we have church tradition and that is a difficult word as well, isn’t it?
We can talk about what the Church of Scotland does traditionally and we can talk about what the church in Scotland does traditionally and it’s also variable and within each individual building, each individual church. We have our own wee traditions, don’t we? And what are they? There are ways of doing things. We’ve done them down the years and probably they’ve held us steady. Tradition does that. Sometimes some would say it holds us too steady and we don’t move as we ought but, to be honest, some of our traditions change gradually, so gradually that we hardly notice others are harder to accept but eventually we get around to accepting the change. The changes are difficult. I remember when they were rows going on and whether we should address God as ‘Thou’ and not. We had that one. We then had difficulties with the move from the King James Bible to the New International and, in the course of time, the New International changed as well, the text moved on to be more inclusive.

And so, change comes. Traditions change and sometimes we don’t notice and sometimes we get a jerk. Suddenly we’ve got to change our ways. Something big comes along. Didn’t Covid do that for us, moved us along, gave us a great bump and we had to go over to new methods, new ways of reaching out because we couldn’t meet within the walls. It was a strange time and yet we’ve learned a few things through that. Doing church is different now. As I speak to you, others are watching me and this live stream is taking this message far beyond this church and I’m not aware of it. It doesn’t bother me in the least, and nobody here is very much aware of it either, but it has come and it too has become part of what the tradition is. It has moved in and we are grateful for it. There’s an expanded view of what the church actually is and I think Covid did for some of us to think along these lines.

No, I have been asked to speak on tradition because of a book that Scott recommended to us. It is The Anatomy of a Revived Church by Tom Rainer. And, in that book, in one of its chapters Tom Rainer looks at tradition in the church. It’s very interesting what he sees as tradition which is difficult to manage.
Worship music and styles, possibly, yes.
Order of worship services, well we run to a certain order don’t we. But, even today’s, one has been moved about. Nobody noticed.
The times of worship services, we can some of us know churches which meet at midday, others which meet in the afternoon and so on. But, if you move them, sometimes there’s quite a bit of friction.
The role of the pastor. Well, I’ll leave that one to the pastor. I don’t think I would want to say too much of that.
About that the role of committees, ministry and programs.
Church buildings, rooms.
In church business, meeting staff positions.

Well, there they are. And recently we ourselves have been asked to think about the role of children in the church and matters pertaining to communion. And I’m quite sure we’ve all had our wee thoughts about this in terms of ‘T’ tradition haven’t we? If we’re really honest, we have, I have and this is what goes on.

And, of course, round about us Presbytery changes. There was a time when every church had its Parish, every Parish had its church then amalgamations took place, the world began to move in other directions and that process is still going on, making us feel very uncomfortable at times, wondering what’s around the next corner. We’re human and tradition sometimes helps to ground us, keeps us safe, we can hold on to it, solid. And then things, that’s what we think, and then it begins to change. Now, I could spend this sermon digging into the debates. I’m not going to do that. I want us to dig into God’s Word and see what happens when Jesus talks about tradition. That’s what’s important for us today and the passage that we read together from Mark’s Gospel highlights this.

I was reading through Mark’s gospel when I suddenly realized that I had committed myself to talking about tradition and, somehow, it had just moved away, as tradition does, out of my brain, and then Scott reminded me and I thought ‘Where will I get something about tradition?’ and I was reading Mark’s Gospel, that very place, that very chapter that we’ve read here this morning, and there’s a wonderful example of Jesus taking on tradition, graciously, firmly, and not without a touch of dry humor which Jesus was very good at.

He encounters the Pharisees and the way they see the world. Now, I want to analyze this very briefly using two P’s and two M’s so, if you come back to the passage that we read, that Sandra read so beautifully for us, chapter 7 of Mark’s Gospel we’ll work it out and we’ll use this to guide us through our attitudes to tradition.

So, the two P’s first of all. What do we see here? We see Prejudices, that’s the first thing. We note this is all about prejudices. The Pharisees are engaged in ceremonial washing it’s not about this, not about doing that, or whatever else you do, it’s about ceremonial washing and the Pharisees are keeping a close eye on the disciples to see what they’re going to do. They’re washing their various items. They’re going at it in the way that is right for them and let’s remember all that. Let’s be fair to Pharisees, sometimes, I think, we’re not all that fair, they’re doing the right thing by their book and they were very good at that and sometimes we would do well to take a leaf out of their book.. So, Jesus handles them very wisely. They want to see if the disciples somehow step out of line, and they do. ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands?’ And tradition can lead us into criticism of other people and it’s not helpful sometimes. As I’ve said, I was brought up in the highlands, I was brought up entirely where we had a fairly open approach to the faith. My father was a Baptist Minister and he preached every Sunday morning in Gaelic in the Baptist Church but he also helped the Church of Scotland whenever there was a vacancy, whenever there was difficulty, my father stepped into the bridge. And for us there is a continuum between the Baptist movement and the Church of Scotland one which, I suppose, represents to this day. But if I went to the northern highlands I might find things that are a little different, and some denominations like to attack the others, they like to run down the alternative denomination, point out its faults, its failings. The Presbyterian Church may just point to the failures of the Free Church, and the Free Church may just point to the failures of the Church of Scotland. It happens occasionally, believe me, in the highlands and often it’s through because we’ve got our own way of doing things. Stand to praise, sit to sing. That sort of thing happens. But then there are doctrinal issues as well. Not doing it the right way. Westminster Confession. Are we close to that, is that church further away from it than our than our way of doing it. And very easily we have prejudices.

Jesus challenges that by asking the Pharisees about their Priorities. And that’s the second P. Jesus counters the Pharisees complaint with the words ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men’ or, as the newer version says ‘onto human traditions’ so it’s all inclusive, it’s not just male that’s female as well, as with the Woman’s Guild. And so, we have to ask ourselves what is really important in being church? Are we here to fight denominational battles? I think of what we are here to do, as I often have these challenges with the Church of Scotland. What am I here to do? Support the Church of Scotland? What is it we’re here to do? We are here to proclaim the Gospel as a living community. That’s what we are here to do. ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men (human traditions).’ It’s so easy to do. I’ve seen so many flash points along the line because priorities are not honored as they ought to be. When there’s to be physical change in a church, move a pew, anything, and you can often spark just a little debate, just a little, because great grandfather endowed that pew and great-grandmother sat on it for X number of years. We don’t remember how long but she did so you mustn’t move the pew. And so, it goes on, and the most divisive disputes that I’ve encountered in the time are often about material things, try moving something that’s material. People will react in a way that they might not react if you’re moving spiritual things. That’s the irony. Priorities – sort them out. Our more inclusive concept of church demands change, very often, to bring in people who have needs, difficulties, challenges, that we don’t necessarily have but the inclusivity of the Christian Gospel demands a response.

Now, how about the two M’s? We’ve done two P’s and we’ve not done two M’s.

The first of the two M’s is Misuse. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they have ways that they can bend tradition and they do it in the area of family responsibility. If they call something Corban i.e., devoted to God, then they don’t need to devote it to looking after their parents. And tradition can have ways of cleverly getting out, getting us out of difficulties, responsibilities we have. We appeal to tradition all around so we don’t do it. I do it this way, and it is safer doing it that way so, I’m not going to get involved. I know it because I’m the chief sinner in that respect. that’s going on in my own head so often. Not quite the way I would do it so I’ll keep away. And so, Jesus challenges this mindset, this excuse for inactivity and I would plead guilty to it even in today’s Church. If we don’t like what the church is doing, why not get involved and make it better? Surely that’s the way to go rather than to say ‘Oh, my tradition is the one that’s important and if they don’t do it. well, out.’ Not a good way to go.

And the second ‘M’, misunderstanding. Jesus tackles that beautifully in terms of the externals. He says it’s not what goes into you that’s going to make you unclean, it’s what comes out of you. And we need to remember that tradition is often an external matter. What really matters is the internal one. Where are we going spiritually? That’s the issue, certainly the issue for me. And it’s easy to do the tick on tradition isn’t it? Done that one, done that one, okay. Externals. But how are we in here? What’s our relationship to God? What’s our relationship to the one who created us? Where do we put Him? In a pew or high above us, exalted and glorified? I love the little verse that’s actually omitted in there, in the translation we read from. ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.’ I’m often challenged by that because sometimes, we can hear things and not hear them. We can be very selectively deaf. ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And in that spirit, we have to think about tradition. Is it the be-all and end-all or is there a greater, a better calling.

I’ve been in so many different churches. They all do things differently but the thing I rejoice in the fact that I can talk to you about Jesus and what He means and says and does to this moment. That’s what’s important.

Warnings though. We must never assume that tradition is automatically bad and that it has to be broken simply because it is tradition. I know people and for them the very word tradition is like a red rag to a bull. Whoom, they’re at it! and they want to change it – Wheech!. We didn’t mention it in case there’s a huge reaction but remember folks, changing tradition and substituting something untraditional in its place is not necessarily a good thing. There’s no silver bullet that we can just invoke and fire as Brent Haywood reminded us a couple of weeks ago. Novelty and newness may be part of the answer. It often is because we have to match the needs of society with the ways we’re working,
and we have to change our ways. But novelty is not the remedy. It can only ever be part of it. We have to get our priorities right.

And, above all, we’re back to the ‘D’ word. We had the ‘T’ word, tradition and we’ve now got back to the ‘D’ word which we heard a few times in the course of this year’s sermons. What is the word? Discernment. We have to be so careful what we’re going to put away, what we’re going to keep. When we were renovating the house in Tiree my daughter was in charge and when we were doing the needful, I would be asked ‘Dad, what are we going to do with this? Are we going to keep it or are we going to throw it out? and nine times out of ten I would say ‘Mach!’ in Gaelic which is the word for ‘out’. But then, there were things that we had to keep and I’m glad we kept them. Discernment was needed.

And so, my dear friends, that’s tradition. We live with it all the time. We make it, we then think it’s been there since Noah was a boy, and it hasn’t. And we need to be flexible in our approach to the world that we live in. Remember, the church’s mission is to the world, not to itself. Our mission in Brightons is out there and it’s so important that we think in these terms. The Guild shows us the way. They’ve been changing the traditions quietly, beautifully, so quietly and nicely, that some of us haven’t noticed and we need to notice, because they’re exemplary in that way.

Amen, and may the Lord bless to us these few reflections on the theme of tradition.

Nothing without Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 23rd October 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: John 15:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– There are no ‘silver bullets’ for church revitalisation.
– In John 15 Jesus however makes it very clear as to what does brings LIFE (see John14:6):
– as branches are to a vine, so are we to Jesus; without him we can do nothing
– as branches of the vine, we will bear fruit if we remain in Him
– it is to the Father’s glory that we bear much fruit
– the nutrients that produce fruit that lasts is love

I asked the band if it was okay, or I asked Eric if it was okay, if I could speak here even though they’re over my shoulder. So, if I don’t make as much eye contact, I apologize. And also, if you’re up upstairs in the balcony wave at me if I’m not looking at you when I’m speaking.

Before I start, I want to just say, I’m here under the authority of Scott. Scott is our Teaching Elder and he permits people to speak under his authority. And also, I want to say that if there is anything that is not of the Lord, we need to let that flow away as chaff.

So, let me pray before we begin to look at God’s Word:
Almighty God, we thank you that Your Word is truth and as we come to look at it now, we pray that Your Spirit might move in our hearts and that whatever the speaker may say or may have prepared, that Your Holy Spirit will speak, and if there is anything that’s not of You may it be cast aside as chaff but, if there is truth, may Your sword go to the heart, I pray. Amen.

Today we’re continuing to look at some of the lessons that can be taken from that book that Scott has been sharing called The Anatomy of a Revived Church. Now, as a reminder, the book draws on research that was undertaken into churches that were on the edge of death but were turned around and, for the past three weeks, we’ve been looking into the lessons from the research and, today, Scott has asked me to consider a particular chapter that’s headed ‘Seeking silver bullets no more’. Seeking silver bullets no more. Now, I wasn’t sure if people knew the phrase ‘silver bullets’ because I grew up in New Zealand with the Lone Ranger on television and he had the silver bullets because they were better than lead bullets. But it’s a metaphor. It describes a magical solution or a fix to a difficult problem. Now, given the events of the last few days, you might want to say that the Conservative party is currently looking for a silver bullet when it comes to the replacement of yet another prime minister.

No more politics! The author of the book says this ‘The silver bullet syndrome is alive and well in thousands of congregations. The silver bullet sentence typically begins with ‘If we only had ……… ‘ then the church leader or the member informs me of the magical solution that would turn their church around. He goes on, ‘Hear me clearly, there are no silver bullets for churches in need of revitalization. There are no shortcuts and our anatomy of revived churches the results were 100 percent. No successful church revitalization depended on a silver bullet. Not one!’

Well, what are these supposed silver bullets that apparently don’t work? What are these if we only had ….? The author of the book provides a list:
• if we only had the right kind of minister
• if we only had more money
• if we only had better music
• if we only had the right sort of building or if the building was in the right place
Now, that’s the list from the book. I’m sure you’ve been in these conversations with people when they bring out the silver bullet question, the one fix that doesn’t work. Now, the easy thing that I could do this morning is just rattle through those and tell you why they don’t work. Well, that’s not what I’m going to do because I figure we are done with hearing about what doesn’t work.

All week we’ve been hammered by information about what doesn’t work in the government, what doesn’t work in the economy, what doesn’t work in the health system, what doesn’t work in our energy needs. What you don’t need from me this morning is a lesson on what doesn’t work in the church. Not today anyway. There’s just too much negativity about. So, instead, I want to come to a passage from God’s Word that is positive.

Now, I want you to open your Bibles this morning. I want you to keep your Bibles open, because, when we go on and look at this passage, I’m almost going to go through it verse by verse. There’s going to be nothing complicated. So, John 15, keep it opened as we go through.

And it starts with that phrase that John and I were talking about before ‘I am the true vine and my father is the gardener.’

Around Easter time, we looked at a passage from John chapter 15 when, on Palm Sunday, we were looking at Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the donkey and, back then, I took us through some of the chapters ahead of that and I suggested that it was really important that we got a grip on what Jesus said to His disciples during Holy Week, in particular, what he said to them at the Last Supper, and I tried to turn our attention to chapters 13 to 17. Flick through, flock through the Bible as we’re looking at this and you’ll see, you’ll see where I am with this, Chapters 13 to 17 should really jump out at us.

Now, all of the Bible is important but I think Jesus was really trying to drive home to His disciples why He had come, why He was about to die and I think those chapters really need focused attention. I’m looking at Norma. I remember last time Norma when you read the Bible and you’ve referred to Jesus red letters about the start of it. This is like the purple patch of what Jesus is looking at from chapters 13 to 17 and here, right in the middle at chapter 15, Jesus says ‘I am the vine’ and He tells His disciples ‘you are the branches.’ Now, it’s important to pause for a moment because the vine in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, was very, very important because the Jews, the nation of Israel, its symbol was the vine. If you look at some of the ancient coinage, it’s got vines on it. It’s as if, for the Jews, the vine was like the thistle for people in Scotland. It was the national symbol and so, Jesus, typically radical, flips things on its head again and He says ‘I am the true vine.’ Now, we wouldn’t get that here in Scotland but if Jesus said, bad illustration, but if Jesus says ‘I’m the real thistle’ then that would resonate much more with us and so, the Jews knew when he says ‘I am the true vine’ that he was saying something very, very radical. John wanted to get that across to us.

Now, you might be saying ‘Well, what’s any of this got to do with a revitalized church?’ Why am I so fixated by it? Well, chapter 15 is really important and the image of the vine is very important because it’s a picture of the Jesus-way. When I spoke, back in August, we looked for a moment at John chapter 14. I want you just to cast your eye on that again. Do you remember Thomas, the flummoxed disciple? Because Jesus said ‘Look, I’m going to prepare a place and you know where I’m going.’ and Thomas says ‘We don’t know where you’re going.’ and do you remember those words that Jesus said to Him? Can anybody? Can anybody shout them out to me – ‘I am ……’’

Fantastic my job is done! ‘I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.’ Now, I don’t apologize for going back and going over those words again because I believe that they are at the heart of the Gospel, at the heart of the Good News and, you know, I thought it was marvelous, I thought it was marvelous that at the Queen’s funeral, that was the text that she took, because the Queen planned her funeral and she took the Bible reading from that very passage, that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. That was the Queen’s final message to us from the grave. And Jesus, at the Last Supper, when He gets His final chance to have a conversation with His disciples, He’s sitting there and His very best shot at explaining what He was about, was this picture of the vine. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’

Can I suggest this to you this morning? Can I suggest that you take this passage in John chapter 15 and that you make it your go-to passage, a go-to passage when you are trying to understand what Jesus is about, a go-to passage when you’re speaking with others about Jesus and I urge you, in your own time, to look at this passage, to, as it were, eat it to drink it up, to learn it to study it, to mark it. It’s so central and it’s such a brilliant symbol of a relationship with Christ. So, all I can do in the time that I’ve got and all I want to do is skip through the passage. Now, it’s going to be light. I don’t have the time to go into it in any depth but I want to skip through some of these verses.

Verse 1. ‘I am the true vine; my father is the gardener.’ Jesus the vine. It’s our focus but,
as I tried to draw out with John, it’s the father God, who is the gardener and He tends the vine and He tends the branches.

Verse 2. ‘He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.’ What a picture. John lovingly tending his plants. Now, I know many people in this congregation have got green fingers and you know exactly how to bring on your vegetables and your flowers and your plants through the summer, and you know how important it is to prune, how to make a plant flourish. That’s how gardening works. Such an important picture, and it’s so important that we understand that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved, are involved in this image of the vine.

Now, there’s much that could be considered about pruning and about dead wood but I’m not going to go there today. I want to move on and I want to look at some of the positive messages that Jesus has given.

Verse 4. ‘Remain in me.’ Those of you that use the older versions of the Bible, you’ll know that the word that comes up again and again is ‘abide in me.’ Remain in me. But I’ve underlined in this passage the number of times that that word ‘remain’ comes up. It’s incredible. ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’

Verse 5. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’

Now, you hardly need me to expand on this can. You remember back to your school biology days – what was it? – phloem and xylem going through the plant, reaching the leaves from the stems through the plant, from the branches, that’s what it means to be in Christ.

Verse 5. ‘Remain in me and I in you. Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.’ That’s Jesus asserting a fact.

But look further at the sentence. He says ‘apart from me, you can do nothing.’ When asked ‘John, what you do with the deadwood?’ he said ‘Well, you burn it because it’s useless.’ Do you see that these are, these are incredible statements. Remain in Jesus and you will bear fruit; apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. Now, I wonder, do you believe that? Do you really believe that? Do you pray that? Oh Lord Jesus, may I remain in You and may You remain in me. Oh Lord Jesus, apart from You I can do nothing. Can you say that with conviction? Is Jesus a living vine to you? Do you believe that He sustains you and that, without Him, you can’t bear any fruit bear, any fruit? Or is your Jesus just of the sort of stained-glass variety?

What about us as a body of God’s people, as a community, as a church?

Remain in me and I in you. Without you, I can do nothing. In my Bible I’ve got those words underlined and I pray them most days and I remember Jesus Christ my Savior tells me ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’

Now, I’m laying this on thick. I’m really laying this on thick because it’s so important. Do we live that? Do we stop at each meal and say ‘Thank-you Jesus’? Do we wake up in the morning and say ‘Thank-you Jesus’? When we put our head on the pillow at night do we say ‘Thank-you Jesus for another day.? Whether things are good or bad, whether things are hard or easy, can you pray that? Do you believe that ‘apart from me you can do nothing’?

I wonder, and I’m asking you as personally as I can, if you’ve never done it before, pray it tonight, pray it in the morning, better still, when you go home at lunch time, pray it as you eat your food, pray it in front of your children or your grandchildren, pray it in front of the people who are around you, if you’re on your own, pray it out loud, say it out loud ‘Lord Jesus, you are the vine, I am the branch. Thank-you. Thank-you for this food. Thank-you for my house. Thank-you for my clothing. Lord, I can do nothing without you. Nothing.’

I am laying it on thick because sometimes, I think, it needs to be laid on thick to ourselves. But what about as a church? What about as a collective? What about as a group of Christians here in this place? Do we really believe, collectively, that, without Jesus, we can do nothing? Or instead, are we just a distracted congregation, looking for those silver bullets, those simple solutions that take us away from what is the main thing? I wonder?

You see, I can’t skip over verse six. Verse 6 says ‘If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.’ It burdens my heart, each Sunday, when I drive home from this place that we pass a church and that church looks dead, there is nothing happening there. It burdens my heart that there are churches in this country that are offering no hope. Sorry, that wasn’t scripted.

Verse 7. ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.’ Really?

Verse 8. ‘This is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ Now, I haven’t had a chance to talk much about fruit in this message but look at that. I think that’s incredible. I think that’s incredible. Let me tell you why. Let’s back up a bit. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. We only produce fruit if we are in the vine, if we remain in Jesus, if we abide in Him but that fruit’s not for us, fruit’s not for this church. Look at verse 8 again. ‘This is to my father’s glory.’ My father’s glory. Not your glory Church. Not your glory, Brent. This is for the father’s glory. Now, is that not extraordinary? The maker of the universe, the controller of time and space, takes glory from our fruit? He takes glory from our fruit? How does that work? That is almost too much for my mind to comprehend.

But, let’s return to the business of what it means to remain in Christ because He explains it further verse 9, and 9 through 11 ‘As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ Now look, there’s so much in those verses that I’ve just read. It’s a sermon in itself and then some!

But, do you see, the nutrient, the nutrient flowing through the vine to the branches is the nutrient of love and it’s the nutrient of joy. ‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love.’

Well, what is that command?

Verse 12. ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ I hate the way the secular word is taken, the secular world has taken over the use of this word ‘love’ and it’s become some sort of sentimental greeting card nonsense. The love of the Father to the Son and the love of the Son to the Father and the love of the Son to us, His branches, and our love to Him is central to our faith. Never let it be cheapened by what the, by what the secular world might describe love as.

Verse 12. ‘Again, my command is this love each other as I have loved you.’

Now, I started by saying that there were no silver bullets, that there was no one solution for a church to be revitalized. You might, at this point, be challenging me on that, because there kinda is, that kinda is a formula in a way and it’s this, that Jesus is the vine, that we are the branches, if we remain in Him then there is fruit but it requires obedience.

Skipping all over the place but verse 17. ‘This is my command’ if you take nothing out the door today, take these three words, right at the end of verse 17 ‘love each other.’

My challenge to you is, get hold of John 15 and make it your go-to passage. Make it your go-to passage, to remain in Jesus, abide with me, remain in me.

Let’s sing that out. Let’s tell out our soul. Let’s be, let’s be led in that final hymn ss we sing that now. Amen

Who’s counting?

Preached on: Sunday 16th October 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: Numbers 1:1-4, 17-19, 45-50 & Matthew 28:16-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Gathering
– Giving
– Groups

If like me you’re a fan of tennis and, in particular, Andy Murray, you’ll understand why I say that as long as he is winning it’s a joy to watch but as soon as the score is not going his way well, I don’t know about you, but I often have to leave the room. I can’t bear the tension.

In any sport from football or rugby to ice hockey, cricket to tennis, if you don’t count the goals, the tries, the runs or the points, you don’t know who’s winning.

Well, what about the church? How can you tell who’s winning in the church?

I can remember when every Church of Scotland had to count the number of people attending communion at least once annually and send it into Presbytery who in turn sent it in to 121 and that exercise was supposed to be a good way of keeping count of how many people attend a church regularly. So, someone who is in church every Sunday for example but happened to miss the twice or thrice yearly communion because they were away on holiday or they were unwell, well, they were counted as a non-attender whereas someone could roll up once a year just to keep their name on the congregational role and be counted as regularly attending. What a piece of nonsense! Thankfully, those days are gone.

We need to be wise when it comes to counting numbers in church. Obsessing over numbers as a so-called measure of success can cause wrongful pride. Which church do you go to? Oh, I go to !!!!!!!! church. Oh, how many people go on a Sunday? Um, just a few. Oh well, I go to Brightons Church and every Sunday there’s at least 200 in church.

I/we wish. Well, sometimes anyway!

Rural congregations, for example, have no opportunity whatsoever to gather in that kind of number of people. But we can go too far in the opposite direction, if we dismiss keeping numbers, keeping track of numbers all together.

Interestingly, in his book Anatomy of a Revived Church, consultant Tom Rayner discovered, completely unexpectedly, and I might add, that revitalized congregations were counting. They were keeping track of their numbers.

So, continuing the series based on this book that Scott began two Sundays back, and I’m doing what I’m told Scott, if you’re watching this morning, we come to Who’s Counting?, that’s the title of my sermon, Who’s Counting?, and we begin firstly with Gathering.

Now, just in case anyone is thinking this isn’t very biblical can I remind you of our first reading from the Old Testament that Margo read to us. Numbers is called Numbers, in English it’s not known as that, in the Hebrew but it’s known as Numbers in the English translations because it takes its title from the first few verses. As Margo read to us, we heard that, instructed by The Lord, Moses was told ‘You and Aaron are to number by their divisions, all the men in Israel 20 years old or more who are able to serve in the army.’ and that was in verse 3.

Now, let me give you a little bit of background to Numbers because it’s one of those books that well, if we’re honest, we don’t read that much you know with the people who decide ‘Right, I’m going to read the Bible from the very beginning.’ Genesis, Exodus and then they get to Leviticus and yeah, the struggle and of course Numbers comes next so maybe skip over it but it’s actually quite an interesting book. It came at a pivotal point in the history of God’s people. Having been rescued from Egyptian slavery, the people of God arrived at Mount Sinai. God had provided for their spiritual and their physical needs. He’d given them the Covenant Law by which to live and a Tent of Meeting in which to worship and also a system of sacrifice to ensure forgiveness of sins. So, in Numbers, the people of God, the Israelites, are finally ready to make the journey to Canaan, the Promised Land.

Now, counting the number of men suitable for army service was part of that preparation. To set off along the way they would learn some valuable lessons about holy living, the importance of good leadership, the dangers of temptation and perhaps, most importantly, that God is gracious and keeps His promises.

Now isn’t that bang up to date for the 21st century? The kind of things that we need to know as individual followers of Jesus but also as a church community and congregation and family.

Our aim, of course, is not to enter into the land of Canaan but, as Jesus commanded us in our second reading, our aim is this ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.’ That’s Matthew 28 verse 19 as Margo read. That is our aim.

Just for a moment, to go back to the people of Israel, in order to ensure that they could defend themselves Moses counted the Israelite men who could fight should that be needed and, as we know, the journey to the promised land did not go rather smoothly but rather lonely, rather long, longer than this sermon is going to be, 40 years exact and well, a lot of problems on the way. But, in order to work out if what we are doing in church is actually reaching people outwith the church, we actually also need to count numbers.

Now, one group of church leaders, sensing that things in their congregation were declining, called this consultant who wrote the book to ask for help, and he analyzed their Sunday worship attendance over the past 10 years. In the words of one elder the results were breathtakingly shocking.

Now, to their credit the leaders of that congregation didn’t panic nor did they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to change, you know that well-oft used phrase in the Church of Scotland ‘Well, if it sees me oot, it’ll day fine!’ Well, actually, it won’t. They didn’t panic, they didn’t refuse to change, instead they decided to take seriously their mission to their community and they began to prayerfully plan. Their focus changed. In other words, from being inward to being outward.

So, by engaging with where people’s actual needs were, showing that they cared, sharing God’s love slowly, new people started to come and they kept track of church attendance because they reckoned that if what they were doing was working then it would increase and, in fact, in that congregation it did, So, Gathering is my first point.

My second point is Giving. Financial giving can make more people more nervous than any other subject in church life especially if that congregation is behind budget and it can also make more people more apathetic if that congregation is doing well. Now, I don’t know if Brightons still has a Deacons Court. Have you still got? You do, well, in Larbert East we had a Deacons Court as well, but we changed over to the new constitution a couple of years before I retired in preparation for what was coming but a number of years ago a lovely godly church member left quite a large legacy to the church. It was actually a quarter of a million pounds and that’s, I can say that because it’s out in the public domain. When the Deacons Court learned about this, I saw the pound signs appear in their eyes and I told them, I’m usually quite a gentle person, but on this occasion, I was less than gentle, and I said to them ‘I can see what you’re thinking so, if you think that money is going to be used to pretty up the church building, or if you think you’re going to invest it in something like the lottery then you’ll be looking for a new minister.’ Well, to their credit, they realized what I was saying. That money was invested with the Church of Scotland and is used to finance 80 percent through its interest, 80 percent of the salary of the part-time family worker in the church. Parish Outreach worker. So, money can be a blessing if it’s used in a godly way.

I know of other congregations, I was ministering one who received a legacy and the congregational board in that church sat back and folded their arms, whereas the other congregation with which it was linked wasn’t so, wasn’t so fortunate in one sense and they worked hard and they were the ones who increased their financial giving and saw life in the church. You see, congregational giving is an indicator of leading trends of the spiritual state of the congregation and, interestingly, in this book, Rainer discovered that people often stop giving before they stop coming to church altogether. So, if someone is struggling for whatever reason and stops giving it is a pastoral matter not just a financial one.

So, before we rub our hands together and start counting the offering, here are three simple principles to note that come from the book, and they’re biblical as well, and I share them with you in the hope that your Deacons Court will take them on board and prayerfully consider them. It may be that you’re already doing them so forgive me if I’m doing repeat, saying something that you’re already doing.

But the first is a systematic approach to first-time givers works wonders. People need to know that they are appreciated. That’s actually a Biblical principle, to show someone, you know, to thank them, to be kind to them.

Secondly, tie money to mission. Using an offering to showcase how givers are supporting God’s work is the surest way of making sure that it continues to be supported.

And thirdly, thank generous givers because it appears that some people don’t even know if anyone in their congregation cares that they are supporting their congregations. Now, I’m not saying that about Brightons. That is just a general principle that has been discovered in the study of the anatomy of revitalized churches.

So, that leads us thirdly to Groups, I hope you notice the alliteration Gathering, Giving, Groups, specially done for you. Seven out of ten revitalized churches also tracked attendance at groups associated with their congregations.

Now, take, for example, James had been a minister at a certain church for 12 years, it was in decline before he was called to be the minister but that decline continued gradually in his time too, so the church decided to get serious about Jesus’ command in Matthew 28. and to make some more disciples. They track Church attendance but also Church groups. It enabled them to see where the greater spiritual fruit was growing in terms of the groups connected with the congregation and they also discovered, incidentally, that those who had stayed with the church through its decline were all part, every single one of them, was part of an existing group within the church. So, they learned from this that pouring resources into groups that were working was the way ahead instead of wasting energy and time on those groups that weren’t, and the growth in that congregation was slow but steady. The trend reversed and it went up. Everybody in the congregation didn’t have to do everything or go to everything. Remember our passage in Numbers where the Levites the members of the tribe of Levi, the Levites, weren’t counted as fighting men because their job was to take care of the worship side and the tent of The Lord’s presence. In other words, people should use their God-given gifts where they are most suited. Not forced into doing that which isn’t their gifting. So, if you aren’t good with children, resist all pressure to go and teach children. If you aren’t good at finance like me, get your wife to do it and make sure you’ve got people in the congregation who know what they’re doing. We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to go to every group but there’s all always something where we can become more involved and use our gifts and that way, the church family grows.

So, who’s counting? It’s a proven fact that revived churches are. They are counting people who are gathering for worship and incidentally, remember to include those who are worshiping online because there are still people who, after the pandemic, are worried about coming back to church and there are people who are two and a half years older and a wee bit more frail but they can still watch online and, if you’re watching today, you are part of the worshiping community of Brightons Church just as much as everyone sitting in the pew.

So, growing churches are counting people who are gathering for worship. They’re also counting how people are giving financially and of their time and talents, and also the groups in which people are involved.

This is not about counting for counting’s sake. Nor this about counting so we can boast about our increased church attendance. This is about counting for accountability. We are all accountable to The Lord, for how we are serving Him in our church congregations.

Now, Rainer did not expect to find this aspect of counting amongst churches that were revitalized but, when he did and thought about it, it made sense because, if what a church is doing for example in worship is still seeing decline then it isn’t working. Hard questions need to be asked and that isn’t just about the minister, in case anybody thinks that I’ll blame Scott.

Do you know, a number of years ago, my wife and I went to a church, I won’t say which church it is, it was in Falkirk Presbytery where I knew, as Presbytery Chaplain, that the minister was struggling and when we arrived at the door there were two elders that were greeting people and I knew who these Elders were because one was a Presbytery Elder and the other was an additional Elder on Presbytery and when they saw us walking towards them this is what they did – they looked us up and down, folded their arms and turned their backs. That’s true. An utter disgrace! No wonder the minister was struggling. And that’s why what’s happening in church is not just the minister, it’s the entire congregation. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to hear you singing this morning. It’s absolutely amazing. I can sense that you’re worshiping The Lord.

So, if what’s happening in worship is not working, it’s everyone’s responsibility, together. It’s about the entire congregation, to seek where God is leading because you see, what really matters, is making disciples of Jesus. It’s what he commanded us to do, and that’s why I’m going to reissue my challenge that I raised with the children earlier. Those people that you’ve thought about that you could invite to church. Please do it. If they say no, then you’ve done your part. Maybe God will work on them. But maybe go back in a wee while and try again and pray for them.

You see, let’s not forget that along with His command to make more disciples, Jesus also said this ‘And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revived church: series introduction

Preached on: Sunday 2nd October 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 message.
Bible references: n/a
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today we begin our new teaching series and I’m taking the inspiration for each of the weeks from this little book that I came across a few months ago. It’s called ‘Anatomy of a Revived Church’. Anatomy of a Revived Church. And the background is that this researcher was asked to explore churches that had been declining but then started to grow again, started to show signs of health, and could he identify any key themes, lessons, changes that helped them. And he did. He found seven that he writes about in in this book. It’s an easy read. I think I read it a little over an hour, but it’s helpful, as well as challenging, and I think it grabbed my attention because, we know that as a denomination, the Church of Scotland is declining, we know that there are buildings closing and we’re having to downsize. What we do and Brighton’s isn’t immune to that. If you look at our trajectory, we are probably on a slow decline, unless things change. And so, for those reasons, it grabbed my attention.

Now, the aim is not to preach the book. We’re still going to preach God’s Word but we’re going to take those themes, we’re going to maybe take some of the examples and illustrations, but we’re going to see what God’s Word would say in light of these things. What his mandate, his wisdom to guide us and help us know what might need to change in our lives, in our life together, if we want to see renewal and revitalization and the growth again.