Upper Braes Joint Service

Preached on: Sunday 11th February 2024
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 4:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermons keypoints:
– Hungry for God
– Trusting God
– Worship God alone

Sin of pride

Preached on: Sunday 29th October 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Daniel 4:4-28, 34-35, 37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Pride goes before a fall
– God hates pride
– Pray big; expect God to answer big

Holiness and obedience

Preached on: Sunday 12th June 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: Nehemiah 13:1-14, 23-31
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Spiritual permissiveness leads to social permissiveness leads to disobedience
– We need holiness in order that we remain obedient to God

Let us pause for a moment’s prayer.

Loving Father, Gracious Lord, we praise You that, by Your Spirit, You are here.
Open us, each one indeed, by Your Spirit to Your Spirit and help us to behold wonderful things in the Word of our God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I think we’d all agree that we’re living in an ever-changing world. Some changes, of course, are for the better like the recent emphasis on ensuring that all are treated as equal value whether they’re male or female, or black or white, whatever, and that’s a good change, but I often think that for every good change that comes along society takes several steps back. But also, I think we’d all agree, living in a permissive society things that only a comparatively short time ago would have been regarded as unthinkable are taken for granted today, leading to rising numbers of broken and dysfunctional families and individuals. And I don’t think it’s any comfort, really, to know that that’s how it’s always been.

Take out the scriptures we read this morning. You have been following the life and work of Nehemiah for some weeks now and you’ve learned how this man, who never wore a crown, never led an army, a man who himself had been born in exile, although he rose eventually to hold a key post in the court of the Persian king, but he’d return to Israel and from out of the rubble and dereliction, both physical and spiritual, had re-established, not only their pride in themselves as a nation, as God’s chosen people, but had led them forward to a fresh and vital relationship with God.

In chapter 10 we read that the people signed a spiritual covenant agreeing to obey God’s law as applied to them personally and in their worship. What a transformation. And in chapter 12:43 we read of the dedication celebration. We’re told that the sounds of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. What a pity that wasn’t the end of the story, that they all lived happily and joyously serving God faithfully after that. Sadly, real life isn’t like that. After a while Nehemiah had to return to his post with the king in Persia and during his absence the blight of spiritual permissiveness set in once more and where there is spiritual permissiveness, very soon, social permissiveness eats into the fabric of life both individually and in the community.

We start off well in this chapter verses 1, 2, 3 tell us that the Book of Moses was read aloud and the people obeyed God’s Word. That no Ammonite or Moabite should be admitted into the assembly of God because of how they treated Israel when the nation was journeying on the road to Canaan. Indeed, far from helping them, these peoples had tried, through Balaam, to have the nation cursed. But God had intervened and turned the curse into a blessing and in verse 3 we’re told that Israel obeyed God’s Word and excluded all who were a foreign descent.

Let’s be clear, God didn’t hate these nations, indeed, when we read the account of Jesus human ancestry, we find someone there who come hailed from Moab, Ruth. But Ruth had forsaken her old gods. She had wholeheartedly given herself to the worship of the God of Israel. But God knew that those whose hearts were given over to other gods would pollute Israel spiritually, hence the command, the nation heard God’s Word and obeyed it.

And that underlines to us the importance of reading and hearing God’s Word. But more than that, of obeying it. Jesus himself said in Matthew 6 and 24 ‘You cannot serve two masters. You either serve God or your love and service are given to another.’ We can’t have it both ways.

So, firstly we learn that God calls us to obedience to Him and His commands, not just in Nehemiah’s day, but in our day too.

That, perhaps, all makes verse 4 more horrifying because we learn that the rot in Israel’s spiritual health started at the very top of the religious establishment. ‘Elaishib the high priest was in charge of the storerooms of God’s house’ but the very man who should have been a leader in spiritual propriety had become close friends with one of Israel’s enemies, a man who from the very beginning of the work of building the walls had been a scourge to them, a thorn in their flesh, Tobiah.

It transpires he wasn’t only very good friends with Tobiah but was actually related to him through marriage and it was for this man, an enemy of the nation, that Elaishib cleared out the grain offerings and artifacts of worship for use in the temple to make room for him to set up residence in God’s house. What an insult to God.

Why would he do such a thing? we may ask ourselves. You know the old saying – blood is thicker than water – and that was probably part of the reason. Tobiah was an Ammonite a prescribed foreigner but Tobiah is actually a Jewish name meaning ‘God is good’ so he wasn’t totally ammonite.

Tt’s tough to side with a strict commandment of God such as excluding all Ammonites from the assembly of God when your relative is an Ammonite well, just a bit Ammonite, after all he’s a bit Jewish too.

So, we allow ourselves to compromise and immediately we do that we’ve stepped outside the will of God.

It’s sad but true that unwise friendships can seriously damage us spiritually. Spiritual permissiveness. But there was also financial permissiveness.

Verses 10 to 14. A problem that was the direct result of the first problem because Tobiah was using the rooms set aside for the tithes. The priests had required the people to bring their tithes and, as a result, the Levites who should have been in residence at the temple to carry out their duties had to go to work in the fields in order to support their families thus neglecting their temple duties.

Spiritual permissiveness invariably has a negative effect on our giving. The prophet Malachi confronted the people for robbing God by failing to bring their tithes into the storehouse. Spiritual permissiveness impacts on every part of our lives and just as it impacted every part of the lives of the people of Nehemiah’s day, the same is true today and our giving to God is often one of the first areas of our spiritual lives to suffer.

In chapter 10 and 31 we read that the people had agreed in their covenant with God to keep the Sabbath day holy. They wouldn’t work. They wouldn’t buy and sell. That day of the week would be set apart for God and His worship. What did Nehemiah find? He found that the merchants from Tyre, who had no scruples about the Sabbath, were doing a roaring trade selling merchandise to the Jews on the Sabbath and the people themselves were busily engaged in treading grapes and doing all sorts of work and having commercial dealings on the Sabbath.

No doubt the Israelites could have found at least a dozen reasons as they would see it, excuses might be better, for working and trading on the Sabbath, just as we do today. I remember someone rather ruthlessly saying ‘In my grandfather’s day it was the Holy Sabbath. In my father’s day it was Sunday. And today it’s just the weekend!’

Nehemiah took strong measures to bring an end to the desecration of the Sabbath by ensuring the city gates were locked and posted trustworthy guards to ensure they remained locked and chased the merchants who set up camp outside the gates. In verses 23 to 29 we’re told that there was also permissiveness in their homes, a problem that Nehemiah had previously corrected but, once again, some of the Jews had married foreign women and their children couldn’t even speak the Jewish language so it was impossible for them to understand God’s Word when it was read.

I think we are all aware that marriage is probably one of the most important and one of the most vulnerable areas in our lives especially for those of us who claim to love and follow Christ. It’s so easy to fall in love with someone who has no interest in the things of God

They may say they’re happy for us to be ‘religious’, as they might call it, but it’s not for them. No, but one won’t have any effect on our love for each other or in family life.

Sadly, while that sounds great in theory, in practice it invariably on the one hand puts a strain on the relationship and on the other puts an even greater strain on the Christian relationship with our Savior. For instance, it’s Sunday, one person wants to decorate a room or to go away for the day and the other wants to go to church. The result? Just as in Nehemiah’s day there’s compromise. We’ll do what I want today and next week you can go to church. We’ll do it week about. That’s fair.

Does it work? To begin with, perhaps, but, in the long term, it doesn’t and, invariably, the Christian partner, and it’s always the Christian partner, gets more and more caught up with worldly things, and worship and the place Jesus has in our lives becomes less and less, until we find ourselves no longer having time for Him and, indeed, no appetite for the things of God. Compromise, compromising the things of God just doesn’t work because He calls us to obedience. Obedience in every part of our lives. No exceptions and that includes our loving, our living, and our giving.

From the very beginning, Israel was called to be a people apart. God’s people. Leviticus 26:26-11 tells us ‘God said ‘I will put my dwelling place among you. I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people.’’ He gave them His law, a tool enabling them to live in obedience to Him and, thus, be a holy people. He called them to be His witnesses to the nations around them but, just like us, how often they compromised, so often with disastrous results. And God would send one of His servants like Nehemiah to bring them back to that place of obedience to Him. Nehemiah had had a very successful ministry among them but sadly how quickly the desires of the flesh took over once more.

Verse 30 tells us that Nehemiah purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign. Purification, holiness. Holiness and the conduct of the affairs of God’s house but also personal holiness. 1 Peter 1:16 the apostle reminds us ‘It is written, you shall be holy as I am holy’ and we cannot be holy if we are living in disobedience to the commands of a Holy God. The two are incompatible.

We might think Nehemiah’s reaction to the people’s sin will was a bit OTT. He’s often criticized for not being more polite or tactful. Nehemiah wasn’t in the least concerned about what people thought of him, his concerns centered purely on God, on God’s command, God’s holiness and the nation’s utter Godlessness.

Nehemiah was accountable to God alone and he was aware of God’s presence in every situation. He wasn’t taking action against permissiveness for his sake, he was doing it for God’s sake and his prayers for God to remember him spring not from any sense of self-importance, not a parading of his goodness and holiness, but from love, from love for God and for the people of Israel. They are also a plea for God’s help in what he is doing.

Nehemiah was well aware of his frailty. One man pitted against a nation. If anyone needed God’s help, he did, and he got it.

As we considered Nehemiah’s call to obedience to God and holiness of life before God and before our fellow men and women, we’ve got the responsibility to ask ourselves where do we stand? Are we, as individuals, living in that place of surrender and holiness before our Savior or not? And, if not, what is our response going to be?

Only we can answer that question.


Forgiveness and Peace

Preached on: Sunday 28th February 2021
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: Philippians 4:2-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us join together in a moment’s prayer. Let us pray

Loving and faithful God as we quiet our minds and hearts before You we ask that You will come upon us by Your Holy Spirit. We praise You that You are the Living Word and we ask that You will make Your word live to us, and all to the glory of Your great name


In our reading this morning Paul is preparing to bring his letter to the Philippians to a close and as he does so he gives to them in verses 4 to 9. Some short, pithy, but vitally important instructions to govern their future walk as followers of their Lord. We might say he was underlining to them that it wasn’t sufficient to talk the talk, it was vitally important that they put his advice into practice and walk the walk.

But before he gets there he deals with an ongoing situation in the church, a situation that sadly can be all too common in the church in any day, a situation that tarnishes our witness as children of God and robs us of blessing as individuals and potentially as a congregation.

There had been a serious falling out between two members of the congregation, two of the ladies there who had hitherto been front line workers for the Gospel. They weren’t on speaking terms and it seems that this was having a much more far-reaching effect than merely between the two of them but was impinging on the witness of the church.

in the previous chapters Paul has been hinting that there’s division in the ranks.

Chapter 1 verse 27 “whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”
Chapter 2 verse 2 “make my joy complete by being like-minded” verse 3 “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves”

It shows how seriously Paul was alarmed by the situation when in a general letter to the congregation he named the two ladies involved Eurodia and Syntyche.

I wonder how they felt when their names were read out? Did they cringe? Did they wish they could disappear through the floor? Or indeed did they take offense at Paul – how dare he?

But Paul is not seeking to humiliate them, he is seeking to help them get back to the place where they had formerly been, that place of spiritual vitality, the place of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, the place of effectiveness in Christ’s service.

In verse 3 we learn that these women were no slouches. Paul tells us that they’d contended at his side in the cause of the Gospel. Some translations render this. They had labored with him and he goes on to say that their names are in the book of life. That was a traditional title of honour often used for people of God who’d suffered persecution but remained faithful. But human nature being what it is they’d had a serious fallout and it would seem that the church was possibly in danger of taking sides and thus causing division.

It’s not just sad when that happens in the church, it is an inroad for Satan to so discard, eventually nullify, the witness not only of those directly concerned but of the congregation as a whole and leave a trail of hurt and discord that is very difficult to heal – and so often the cause of the initial problem is comparatively trivial. But someone’s feelings have been hurt and they seek to bolster their situation by appealing to others to agree with them that they’ve been hard done by and so the ball rolls on and on gathering momentum as it goes and Satan rubs his hands in glee.

Paul asks them to overcome their dispute with one another and put into practice the qualities he’s previously mentioned in chapter 2 verses 1 to 4. To be like-minded; to be one and spirit and purpose; do nothing out of selfishness or conceit; be humble; love each other – the attitude of Jesus Himself.

Paul is so concerned he doesn’t just leave it to the combatants to get themselves sorted out, we might say he appointed an arbitrator, an unnamed person, but obviously a mature Christian whom Paul trusted, to help sort out the situation for the good not just of Eurodia and Syntyche but the church as a whole.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what happened. Was Paul’s advice heeded? Did the two women have the grace to acknowledge their sin and be reconciled to each other, unto the Savior they loved, the savior for whom they’d previously been effective witnesses?

let’s not kid ourselves that we can carry on being effective witnesses for Christ if we’re harboring resentment against another in our hearts. The two are incompatible. Jesus was a well aware of that. In Matthew 5 he first tells us in verse 23 if we’re wanting to serve God but have a grievance against someone the first thing we’ve got to do is go to that person and make our peace with them, and then in verse 43 he goes even further and tells us to love our enemies. We cannot at one and the same time truly love someone and hold a grudge against them. Holding a grudge is the sure way to lose our peace of mind and heart and Paul tells us in verse 4 to rejoice in the Lord always.

Rejoice in the Lord when we’re harboring the acid of resentment and bitterness even of hate?

I read about one Christian man who had been terribly hurt by another. It was a really bad situation. Unfortunately, the first man found it impossible to forgive. Instead, the incident took over his whole life. He could neither think nor talk about anything else, Several people including his wife and even his doctor advised him to forgive the other person but he refused. He preferred to hold on to his hurt. He developed all sorts of physical problems, all caused by his attitude of mind and heart.

He died while still a comparatively young man and the doctor remarked to the widow that it was a pity the death certificate couldn’t show the real cause of death – death by unforgiveness.

Paul tells us to be anxious about nothing rather to be faithful in prayer, and assures us that when that’s the case we’ll enjoy the peace of God that passes understanding. The peace of God, but when our hearts are filled with self-pity, with anger, with spitefulness, I don’t think so! To be like Jesus.

We sing “all I ask to be like Him”. What was he like?

Well, he prayed for those who nailed Him to His cross and asked His Father to forgive them. That means only one thing – if someone has hurt us even and especially when they’ve hurt us badly, there’s only one thing that we as Christians can do to be obedient to the Savior we say we love, and that is in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, to love that person, really love them, pray for them, forgive them, no matter how hard that is and nobody least of all Jesus said it would be easy.

and every time after that when the familiar negative feelings resurface, as they will, stop forgive, all over again and pray for them and for yourself, hard.

When we live like that we will be able to follow Paul’s advice in these verses when he said in verse 8 “whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

I pray that all of us will know the reality of the peace of God within our hearts and lives as we live for Him and know His love and His grace filling us and flowing through us. Then we will indeed be faithful and effective servants of our Father God and His Son Christ Jesus.


Called to Give Our Lives away

Preached on: Sunday 30th August 2020
No sermon text is available.
Bible references: Matthew 20:20-28
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Spiritual Training (James 1:19-27)

Preached on: Sunday 19th January 2020
The sermon text is not available.
Bible references: James 1:19-27
Location: Brightons Parish Church