Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul says five times i received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one three times I was beaten with rods once i was pelted with stones three times I was shipwrecked i spent a night and a day in the open sea i have been constantly on the move I’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep i have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food i have been cold and naked besides everything else i face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

Joshua: relationship

Preached on: Sunday 16th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-16 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 7:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word.

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the Word of God.

Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of holiness.

Come amongst us Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Beginning this Saturday, the Church of Scotland will meet in General Assembly to debate and decide upon our collective life. There’s much that’s going to be on the agenda for the five days of debate including issues like presbytery planning, how many ministers we can afford, how the calculations are made of what each congregation pays into the central funds, and much more besides, and there’s one particular issue that they’ll be debating that I’ll come back to later today.

However, this is our final week in the early chapters of Joshua and at first we might think ‘Well these are just the same themes and issues as last week Scott, why bother with us?” but kind of like the two sides of a coin, we might say that if last week in the story of Jericho we saw the eternal impact of sin, that we all fall short of the glory of God and so we all need a Savior, then the other side of the coin is in today’s account of Achan that focuses more on immediate issues and impact of sin and what we might do about it.

In our kids message this morning we were thinking about that core Biblical truth that God calls us into relationship with Himself. That is what the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. That’s why God created the world enough in the first place, and it’s why He sent His son to die for us, that our relationship with God might be restored.

Jesus Himself said “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” It’s all about relationship. It’s not about buildings, it’s not about an organization or a denomination, it’s not even about morals and old stories. At its heart Biblical faith is about relationship with God, but when we come to Joshua chapter 7 I suspect it jars with us again. Yet at its heart, this story is about relationship.
Sadly the breaking of relationship, the breaking of trust with God, and we see that in relation to what Achan does in verses 1 and 15 where we read “but the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things. Achan took some of them. The Lord said to Joshua, whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel.”

There are two parts here that I’ve highlighted in blue that speak of that broken relationship, that broken trust.

The first is ‘unfaithful’, the second ‘outrageous thing’, and in the original Hebrew, in both cases, it speaks of disloyalty, infidelity even, and so we can describe sin as more than doing something wrong.

Key to understanding what is so troubling about sin is that it is breaking trust with God, it is being disloyal to Him, breaking the most holy of relationships such that God sees it as akin to infidelity.

Achan broke that trust when he kept for himself some of the silver and gold that was to be given to the Lord from the conquest of Jericho. That was a commandment that God had given in chapter 6 before Israel even set out against Jericho, and yet Achan chose to disregard that command, he chose to break trust with God.

Now Achan was not the only one, in chapter seven, to have done that. We see a measure both in Joshua and the spies. Actually, in the book of Numbers, we read the instructions that God gave to Joshua of how the conquest of Canaan was to be undertaken. God said, Joshua is to stand before the priest who will obtain decisions for Him by inquiring of the Lord and yet, in what we read, there’s no mention of Joshua doing it, he acts of his own initiative, he fails to follow the command of God and that too is a breaking of trust, and maybe he did it because of overconfidence. Likewise, the spies came back from scouting out the next location and they encouraged Joshua not to send the whole army because only a few thousand are needed Joshua so, so, why send the whole army, and again we might say that this is an overconfidence of self-sufficiency and, as one commentator said, that too is a lack of faith, a lack of trust, to say ‘Well I can deal with it on my own God. No need to seek You. No need to have Your presence with us symbolized in the Ark.’

Now, Achan does face the greatest of consequences and we might wonder if that was fair, yet the consequences were spelled out beforehand for him, and we know that some sins, certain choices, carry greater consequences even in our day as well. In all three ways there is the breaking of trust, a breaking of relationship that leads to consequences.

In this account, we see that the failure to trust God and ultimately it is a failure to trust His goodness. Achan doesn’t trust God to provide for him and meet his needs, and so he covets this wealth, he steals, he lies and it just spirals, and likewise with the spies in Joshua, it’s their self-confidence, of this idea that is so often in humanity, that ‘I’m not going to trust God’s goodness, I’m not going to trust that he knows what is best, I’m just going to go alone, to sins, to break trust with God. And begin in the garden of Eden, right through history, we just break that trust again and again, because we don’t trust that God knows best, and we think we know what’s best, and so we disregard what God has said, And I wonder, friends here and at home, is there an area of your life, an area of our church life, locally, nationally, where we are breaking trust with God? Is there a choice we’ve made and keep making or do nothing to set it right, and we know it’s against God’s way and His commands, and maybe we do that because, as I say, at some level, we each think we know what’s best and we don’t trust that God is good enough.

Maybe it’s in your relationships at home, maybe it’s in how we spend our money or our time, it could be simply the things we choose to look over, because we don’t deem them important enough.

Friends, is there an area of your life and our life together, where we are breaking trust with God, if there is, there are consequences, because there’s always consequences to sin.

In Israel’s day the impact of sin is just manifold. We read in verse 1 that the first consequence is that the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and that’s not something we like to think about or talk about very much, but let’s remember that to sin is to break trust, it’s to commit infidelity in God’s eyes, and so in the New Testament we read of God being grieved such that, when we disobey God, our Heavenly Father feels sorrow, He is even displeased.

For Israel, a knock-on effect was that they were defeated and they were derailed from God’s purposes. We read in verse 12 that “the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies for I the Lord will not be with you anymore unless and until God’s people restore their ways” and the defeat they experience leads on to another consequence, that the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water, and we gloss over that, but it’s noteworthy, because earlier in Joshua, in chapter 2, it’s the same phrase that is used of the Canaanites, and so, we see that another consequence of sin is that God’s people become indistinguishable from the surrounding nations.

Sin has consequences friends, it grieves God, it derails us from his purposes, and it makes us indistinguishable from others.

Now, there are differences between how God relates to us and the Old Testament, His people in the Old Testament, how He relates to us today, because ancient Israel came under the Old Covenant but we are reconciled to God through the New Covenant in Jesus, and so in the Old Testament God related to His people as a single nation, it was a single nation under God, but that is not how He relates to His church today.

In the Book of Acts, which we’ve been reading as part of our New Testament reading Plan, we probably came to the story of Ananias and Sapphiri and went ‘Wow God, what did you do there?’ and it’s actually a really similar story to what we read about with Achan, but in that story only Sapphira and Ananias suffer consequences, there’s no mention of anybody else, there’s no mention of God withdrawing from the church, but nevertheless, at the very least, individual Christians are affected by sin, and when a couple or a family or a group of Christians choose a path contrary to God’s ways then, individually, and most often together, we face consequences, and Jesus warns us about this he says “I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love.”

Notice how it links together; to remain in Jesus is to remain in His love, and we remain in His love by keeping His commands,

and when we don’t, when we go our own way, it doesn’t break that relationship, because nothing can now, but it creates distance, and it reduces our fruitfulness, and the New Testament fruitfulness is both growing in the character of Jesus and it’s seeing our labors flourish for His glory, Sin has consequences it grieves God, it makes us indistinguishable from others and it derails God’s purposes for our lives.

Friends, if we are choosing a way contrary to God’s ways, maybe today is the day when God just wants to get your attention and to spell out the consequences, uncomfortable as that is, simply to call you closer to Him because He loves you. He wants life for you. Jesus said “I come that you may have life and have it to the full” and I realized that this passage, we’d rather not have this message, but he wants the best for you and that means walking close to Him and when we choose ways that are other than His it creates distance and He wants you back close to Him again because He loves you enough to die for you.

At the start I mentioned that the Church of Scotland is meeting in General Assembly next weekend and one of the issues up for debate is that of same-sex marriage. Now, I know that under your last Minister this raised a whole load of issues and consequences and today is not the time or place to go into old arguments, but as you’re beginning to know I prefer my cards on the table, so you may as well know that I am not supportive of the church conducting same-sex marriage, because I don’t see a Biblical basis for it and if the General Assembly never run the future votes in favor of allowing same-sex marriage to be conducted within the church then I’m of the opinion that that’s a choice which breaks trust with God. I believe it would grieve God. It would make us indistinguishable from our culture and it would derail us from His purposes and the fruitfulness He’d wish to bring in our day and some of us, should the Church of Scotland allow same-sex marriage to be conducted by ministers, then there will be questions whether they can remain a part of this congregation or any congregation within the denomination, and a passage like today which speaks of association and impacts beyond ourselves, it will raise questions for some of our people about whether they can remain part of us and the wider body within the Church of Scotland because they wonder if that breaking of trust means it’s allowable or honoring to stay.

Which is why I felt it was important to raise it today because, let me say, in this past week I’ve been wrestling with that, I’ve been, I’ve felt that pain, I’ve faced those questions again, and as I’ve delved into the Scriptures, and I’ve become familiar with the struggle of some of our church fathers, I have found the courage and encouragement that would say that God would have us stay and seek the reformation of the Church of Scotland even if issues I’ve named today become reality.

Because, even in our story this morning, the breaking of trust with God does not have the last word, God was ready to lead and reshape His people for His purposes. At the beginning of chapter 7 where is God? where is he as Joshua makes that choice to send the spies, to send the thousands of troops but not the whole army? where is God? where is he? He’s still there, He’s patiently waiting, silently there waiting to be sought, waiting to be humbly submitted to. He was ready to lead His people and maybe if Joshua had sought Him first then there wouldn’t be some of the consequences we read about. God was ready and waiting to lead and so when Joshua did seek the Lord He responded, He spoke to Joshua, maybe not what he wanted or expected but what he needed, and at first when I was reading this I was like ‘Joshua, what are you doing man! – like dodgy territory, it sounds like you’re gonna do what the previous generation did where they grumbled and then God punished them because they rebelled against Him!” but there’s a difference with Joshua’s prayer and its approach and then its appeal. In its approach it’s with humility and lament over the situation and its appeal, it’s not about what suits me, it’s about honoring God and in that place of prayer with such an approach and such an appeal God responds and He leads, and He reshapes His people, for His purposes, and, I wonder whether, brothers and sisters, if we are in direct opposition to God’s ways individually in our lives. Maybe we need to come into that place of prayer and humbly call out to the Lord to lead us in His ways, and reshape us and help us know what do I do differently here, to God how do I make this right, what is Your way, I just humbly seek reconciliation in that place of prayer, and on a national scale there is an opportunity this Saturday to join in prayer for anyone who wishes on Zoom with Covenant Fellowship Scotland and that’s an organization made up of members and Ministers of the Church of Scotland who are working and praying for the reformation of the Church of Scotland according to orthodox and orthodox reading of the Bible and if you wish you can join in that time of prayer simply email or phone the Church Office for the login details.

Now, I’m conscious this will be hard this morning, because in any parish church there’s any range of perspectives, and on many things, you won’t agree with me. Does that mean you can’t be welcome in this place? Of course, No! I have deep friendships people I love who are directly opposed to where I stand and with them, we seek the common ground and we work together and we respect one another’s conclusions. Today I’ve simply shared mine.

And there may be things that you see in the church, you see in people who are of different theology to you, where you feel that they are breaking trust with God, and, if that’s the case, then speak it out, it too needs to be named and shared because none of us are perfect, none of us have all the answers, we only see and perceive in power.

As I say, today will have been hard. I’m sure raising emotions for us all no matter where we are on the theological spectrum, and if you want you can come and talk with me about anything that’s been said. You may also wish to replay the sermon, because there’s a lot here and you might have not heard it all and you might not have heard it properly and what I actually said.

I hope, I’m praying nonetheless though, that we might be a people who seek God’s leading, that He might have, He might be that that King of our lives, in every area of our life, that we would keep trust with Him and so be led by Him and to all He’d have for us and His purposes through us.

I pray it may be so, Amen,

Joshua: context, character, cross

Preached on: Sunday 9th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here.
Bible references: Joshua 5:13-6:20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the Word of God. Come among us Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Up to this point in Joshua things have been quite easy for us, the readers. We’ve heard God’s call through the early chapters…
to commit ourselves to His purposes, daunting though that is, but nonetheless God calls us to it because He promises to be with us. And so, as a united people we can press forward, we can dream again, for we know and remember that God can do the incredible, that He is calling us to greater things, and He showed His power and grace when He gave His life our us in Jesus upon the Cross.

But with the story of Jericho and its defeat, we enter upon uncomfortable reading, for none of the city are spared, except Rahab…
and her household. These kind of passages raise hard, disquieting questions, and reconciling what we read here with what we know of God through Jesus is a challenge to say the very least.

As such, Christians have tended to spiritualise these parts of the Scriptures, maybe seeing in the fall of Jericho a metaphor for other things in life. Or, we’ve simply ignored or rejected anything we find offensive, including the difficult portions here. To be honest, we’d probably rather tear out the pages.
So, what are we to do with this kind of material? Does it have any relevance for us today? In answer to these questions, I have three words to structure our thinking this morning: context, character and cross.

Firstly, ‘context’. As with every passage of Scripture it’s always important to remember the context and there are various parts to this context. We need to note, for example, that we read Joshua through modern lenses tinted by our culture’s abhorrence of war and violence and — in the case of Christians —
by Jesus’ ethical teachings. The world of Joshua’s day jars with us because it is so distant from our time and sounds so harsh to our ears. The reality is that the ancient and modern worlds are truly different, with a huge chasm of three thousand years and vast cultural differences between their time and ours. As one commentator said: ‘…in a sense, readers’ discomfort with Joshua is a good sign: it shows the depth with which the gospel has transformed them.’

And not just transformed Christians, but…
transformed wider society as well. Sure, we still have our issues with wider society today, but it was the Christian Scriptures that fuelled faith and dreams to treat women and children better, and to end the slave trade, and to influence the shaping of laws where love for neighbour and even your enemy was unknown before Jesus spoke those words.

Under ‘context’, we also need to remember the wider story in the Scriptures, because there is a context which leads to this point in history. In Genesis, we read these words:
‘…the Lord said to [Abram]…In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ (Genesis 15:16)

For four hundred years, God had patiently observed the peoples of Canaan, the Amorites, and had seen their moral decline. A decline which led to child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods. The name Jericho means ‘moon city’ and likely it was dedicated to worshipping the mood god. This is part of the context.
So, let’s move onto ‘character’ and in particular the character of God. Can God be truly loving when it is His actions that led to the fall of Jericho? Is there a disparity between the God of the Old and New Testaments? Has God got a split personality?

Well, let us first note that the New Testament shows no unease about Joshua’s actions and Jesus never disowns the Old Testament or how it portrayed God. In fact, Hebrews chapter 11, where we read of great heroes of the faith, includes the story of Jericho…
and affirms God’s people, as well as Rahab, as individuals who acted in faith. The early church was able to look back on this story differently than what we do. Why is that?

As part of the New Testament reading plan, it’s been really helpful working through the book of Acts again, and along the way certain words and ideas have been jumping out for me. Of relevance for us today, is part of a speech which Peter makes to people who want to know more about his faith, and so Peter says this about Jesus: ‘We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.’ (Acts 10:39-42)

If someone asked you about your faith, what would you say? We might speak of Jesus, we might speak of the Cross, but would we dare to mention that Jesus is judge of the living…
and the dead? I’m not sure, because it makes us and others uncomfortable. Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. For example, the early church faced great persecution and Christians were executed for their faith, so I wonder if it is easier – maybe even helpful – to speak of Jesus as judge when we face great evil.

Nevertheless, the idea of God, of Jesus, being judge is a truth affirmed throughout the Scriptures and even in the teaching of Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that when…
Jesus speaks of judgment He’s even tougher than a lot of the Old Testament. And let’s also remember that God is described in the Old Testament as the One who is truly righteous, a merciful ruler of all peoples, a defender of the weak in all nations, and that ultimately it will be the coming of His kingdom which brings an end to war and true peace for all.

What is more, God is on record as stating His preference for life and blessing, for He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!’ (Ezekiel 18:23)

Across the Scriptures, we see that God reveals Himself as loving, life-giving, merciful and gracious. But He is also holy, righteous and so the judge of all. Paul writing to the Corinthians, says that love ‘…does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.’ (1 Cor. 13:6) It is not incompatible to having a loving God who also judges evil, judges all sin, and that is what happens with Jericho.
As we read earlier, God waited, He knew the Amorites were on a trajectory of moral decline and eventually He would judge them for that, using the nation of ancient Israel as the agents of His judgment. That may be why the angel, who met with Joshua, said he was neither for Israel or its enemies; God was not taking sides there, and Joshua needed to remember that he was part of something bigger.

However, this role for Joshua and the people was a specific and time-limited calling, and the Old Testament rarely recalls the violent…
conquest of Canaan, it never glories in its harshness, and never promotes it as policy for the future.

But let there be no mistaking: God is judge, yet He is a judge who is kind and patient, offering grace after grace. Indeed, He shows that even to Jericho, because He didn’t have to instruct Israel to walk around the city for 6 days – God could have judged it in other ways. But that procession around the city was a final, repeated last chance – a bid, a call to surrender to God and turn from their ways,… grace still remained a possibility, as seen in the treatment of Rahab.

The balance of God as judge and as loving Creator, is brought into sharp focus with our third word: ‘Cross’. The story of the fall of Jericho reminds us that God does not overlook sin forever, and that one day we must all give an account to God. This is an uncomfortable claim, and we may try to push back, seeking to justify our actions, that we’re not on a par with the Amorites, that they deserved judgment, but not us, not me.
In the New Testament, we find the church teaching otherwise, for Paul will say to the those in Rome: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We all have sinned, we all have gone astray, following our way rather than God’s, we do not live up to His standard, His glory. It does not matter if our lives are outwardly better than the Amorites, we all have sinned – and so when we stand before our judge, we come before Him as imperfect, and only that which is holy, on a standard with the glory of God, will share in His future kingdom.
Friends, would you claim holiness? Is your holiness on a standard with God’s glory? When I came to faith, I was at my moral lowest, brought face to face with my sin. Now, in the nineteen years of following Jesus, I’ve grown, I’ve matured, my character is better than it was. Yet, even this past week I could name multiple times when my anger led me to sin, when hurt or apathy has led me to minimise others or treat them poorly, even in righteous anger for an injustice someone else faced I entertained thoughts that were less than loving and not reflective of God’s glory.
Friends, we all have a sin problem and nothing we do can cover over that or wipe the slate clean. Indeed, just before Paul said that all have sinned, he also wrote this: ‘… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.’ (Rom. 3:20)

Paul is saying that nothing we do, not our religious activity, nor our morally good actions, make us right (or righteous) before God. God’s law simply helps us see how far short we fall of the glory of God.
So, is that the end of the story? Is God simply circling around the world, waiting for the time to bring judgment upon us all? Well, no – hallelujah! Because Paul goes on to say: ‘…righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.’ (Rom. 3:22-25)
By faith, Rahab turned to the living God and was spared. By faith, we too can be made right with God if we turn to Jesus. Because on the Cross He died as a sacrifice for us, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and faced the consequences on our behalf. Yet, to benefit from His death we must respond in faith, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. If we do, then we are ‘justified’ as Paul says. Justified can be understood as ‘just-as-if I’d-never-sinned’; the sin that separates you from God and brings you under the judgment of God, is transferred to Jesus,…
and it leaves you in perfect, unspoiled, reconciled relationship with God, and it’s upon that basis – the free gift offered in Jesus – that God, the judge, can declare us justified.

Friends, upon the cross of Jesus, the righteousness and love of God are perfectly balanced, and He waits with open arms to receive you back into relationship with Himself if you will but acknowledge your sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus. It’s a choice we all face, just like Rahab had to. Would she continue listening to her culture – to the traditions, upbringing and influences around her? Or would she turn to the living God in faith and find life?

Brothers and sisters, friends, sometimes the Scriptures bring an uncomfortable word, speaking from their context into ours such that we might see afresh a fuller picture of the character of God. He is a loving Father and loves you enough that He gave His Son for you. But He is also holy and righteous, and He will not overlook sin forever, and so He will judge when the time comes.
I hope and pray that we each have put our faith in Jesus, receiving then the forgiveness and reconciliation He secured through His death for each of us.

Before we close our service, I feel it’s important we take a moment to pray, so let us pray.

Joshua: dare to dream

Preached on: Sunday 25th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-04-25 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer as we approach His , let us pray

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, equip us for the purposes of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

Someone once said “I have a dream.” a dream” that was fueled by faith, a dream that was an outworking of relationship with the living God and which sought for change to come upon the earth so that the kingdom of God would be seen in that day.

Friends, do we have a dream? Do we have a dream for how our faith might be worked out today? Do we have a dream for the future of our church family and, if you were to try and answer that, would it be about survival or would it be tied to buildings? Because, honestly, I’m not really sure God’s very interested in mere survival or even our buildings, because he is allowing buildings and congregations to close in our nation.

So, if you were to try and share a dream for how your faith might be worked out or a dream for our church family, any dream must further God’s purposes, it must further the commission given to us by Jesus when he said to His church “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Friends, do we have a dream that is more than simply about survival and about ourselves? Do we aspire, do we yearn, do we hope for others to come to know the living God? Because, brothers and sisters, in the last two years since I’ve been here, the number of people who have come forward with an idea or have articulated a yearning for the commission of Jesus to be worked out in our day, the proportion who have done this is quite small. Now, why is that?

There could be any number of reasons as to why, and in previous sermons I’ve tried to speak into some of the different possible issues, but today I want to speak into something different, something that has to be there for anyone to be able to say “I have a dream.”

In our passage today we see an incredible moment in the history of God’s people where they cross over into the promised land but I think we kind of gloss over this passage almost. So, let’s take a minute just to familiarize ourselves with the details.

Here are a great multitude of God’s people, more than can be counted, and they are to cross the Jordan in the springtime when the snows on Mount Hebron would have melted and the spring rains had come, so the river Jordan is at its fullest, highest point. In modern times this would be about 10 feet deep and at the point of crossing about a hundred foot wide. Maybe in their day it was less, maybe it was more, but either way, God, through Joshua, foretells that an amazing thing is going to happen, for Joshua says “See the ark of the covenant of the Lord will go into the Jordan ahead of you and as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord set foot into Jordan its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” and then going on to verse 16 we see that the water from upstream stopped flowing, it piled up in a heap, a great distance away at a town called Adam. Now, we are not familiar with the geography so we make just about nothing of this, but Adam was 18 miles away from where they crossed, so God just created 18 miles of dry land for this great multitude to cross. I don’t know what your mental picture of the river crossing was, but mine wasn’t 18 miles across, a hundred foot wide river was it – was it yours? God did do the amazing thing Joshua foretold in verse 5 because God is a wonder working God, and his ancient people knew this. Likewise, when Jesus came, the disciples saw how he transformed people’s lives, how he brought freedom and salvation and hope and joy. God’s people, in the time of Joshua, might not know how they were going to cross the Jordan, and the disciples might not know how Jesus was going to fulfill His mission, and the church after Pentecost might not how it was going to take the Gospel to the nations, but in those previous times they knew God to be this wonder working God, because he’s the living God, the Lord of all the earth, such that all authority and power are His for anyone to claim, as Joshua did. That the Lord will do amazing things for anyone to claim that they have a dream inspired by faith then there needs to be expectation that God cares, that He is powerful and that He is present and works through His people. I wonder friends, do we have that same expectation and confidence?

Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t think God does the incredible or maybe we doubt our calling to partner with Him, to bring about the incredible, but do you remember what Jesus said in John 14 he said “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

Too often I think, these words scare us and so we try to downplay them, we reduce them to nice human ability things like caring and love and sharing the good news. But do you know that even those things are beyond mere human ability, because who amongst you is ready to say you love like Jesus or that you have the boldness of Jesus to share the good news. I’m not so, why did we reduce this to a mere minimal thing?

Jesus says we “will do even greater things” and the context is about making Jesus and the Father known. We can make Jesus known in many ways, through praying for the miraculous, through sharing the good news, through care and love and service, but the point is that Jesus evidenced all those things and so we too should evidence all those things, that it can and should and must include every way of making Jesus known.

Maybe we don’t have a dream because we don’t expect greater things. Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t really trust Jesus as the living God. Maybe we don’t dream because our aspirations are too low.

In the book I’m going to get you to read hopefully over the summer Francis Chan says “We need to expect more. We’ve become too easily satisfied. We’re content if a person leaves, pleased God wants them out. We have settled for the natural and our choices give little evidence that we believe in the Holy Spirit. For this reason we end up with gatherings that are very explainable and at times feel mechanical and even obligatory.”

The people of God, in Joshua’s day, expected more. They walked towards that river not knowing how God would do it, but knew He had promised to do it, do amazing things, greater things. Friends, do we need to up our expectation of God and dream again? But maybe we’d say “Well you know Scott, it was really easy for the Israelites because you know they had the Ark.” The Ark was a symbol of God’s presence. Israel understood it to be a representation of God’s royal throne and his footstool, not that God’s presence was located there alone, but it pointed away from itself to remind the Israelites that, though God was invisible, he was still there and he could still do things with overwhelming power, unlike the idols of other nations, and with such a visible reminder we might say “Well it was easy for them to expect more.”

Likewise we might say it was quite easy for the early church because after all the very presence of God became human and they saw the miraculous before their eyes. “Easy for them.” we might say. But friends, this is to forget what is different about our time and theirs. They didn’t have the scriptures like we do. They didn’t have access to worldwide testimony from over thousands of years now like we do. But, most importantly of all, God’s presence was identified with an Ark and then with individuals, ultimately Jesus, because up until that point, there was no way for people at large, God’s people at large, to receive the Holy Spirit, but let’s remember what Jesus goes on to say immediately after He spoke about the greater things He said this “I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth.”

To each person who claims faith in Jesus, to everyone who says they have called upon Jesus for salvation, they have received the Holy Spirit, the question then is “Will we believe God’s word or not?” and if we will trust it, will we allow it to shape our thinking and our identity and so our expectations and actions.

I could share stories of how in recent months God’s Spirit has been at work amongst us as a congregation, of one woman who had an electricity problem and the Spirit guided her to the problem which would have only been found out when the house burned down; I’ve never heard of that one before, but I was rejoicing!; or how God through His word has been shaping people’s lives and bringing great things about in their lives; or how someone placed a hand on someone and prayed for someone and God brought new life to be.

Friends, maybe we don’t expect much, maybe we don’t dream because we don’t realize what it is to be a Christian. The apostle Paul said “We are carefully joined together in Jesus becoming a holy temple for the Lord; through him you also are being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit now all glory to God who is able through His mighty power at work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” We might not have the Ark but we have the Holy Spirit amongst us and within us. Maybe it’s time we let the scripture shape our thinking, our identity, so we might start to dream of the greater things that God might do among us for his purposes?

There’s one extra thing to draw from our passage today for our commission. Sure, the people had a great leader like Joshua, and they had the Ark amongst them, and they knew God was the living God and a wonder working God, but, nevertheless, they still had to obey, they had to step out in faith. You can almost imagine, or at least I imagine, the priests carrying the Ark, walking towards the water getting ever close to that water’s edge, and someone turning to the other guys and saying “Hey Dave, do you think this will really happen because it seems mental!” You can clearly tell they were from Whitburn! Like “Come on!” or imagine being one of the people crossing the river and you’re just waiting for this water to start rushing down and carry you away, like they still had to journey and faith across that river bed, they had to obey, but is that the point. Where they were called to, first call to faith and obedience, the point of the crossing?

The answer is “No!” because in verse 5 Joshua says “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Consecrate yourselves – we gloss over those two words. What does that mean? and yeah it would have included things they were to stop doing and certain things they were to do and probably neither of those groups are things that we could apply to our time, but to consecrate yourself, to consecrate anything, was to give yourself to God’s purposes, to give yourself over to God and so when consecration is about an individual, is about the heart, is your heart given over to God, is your heart responding in faith, is your heart responding in obedience to the Lord? That’s where it began for Israel, the day before the miracle, and it included mundane things like washing clothes, apparently, and abstaining from good things, denying themselves, because you don’t see the miracle without faith, but faith begins in the ordinary everyday rhythms of life.

So, what about us friends? Where do we need to consecrate ourselves afresh? Where do we need to give ourselves to the purposes of God today? Because, here’s another thing, thrown lots at you this morning, here’s another thing, the Israelites one of consecration, big miracle, but Jesus doesn’t say how often the greater things will happen and if you’re reading through the New Testament plan with us it’s almost like it happened every day for the new, the early church. So, every day is the potential for greater things, and so every day there’s the call of God to consecrate yourself and maybe for you, it’s giving time to the Lord in prayer and in His word. Maybe for you it’s giving your money to the purposes of the Lord. Maybe for you it’s choosing to become a member here and saying God I’m in this with these people, for this area, for your purposes. Maybe it’s coming to the Prayer Meeting. Maybe it’s getting involved and serving in some way and sharing a new idea even, the specifics are between you and the Lord but most likely every one of us is called in some way to consecrate ourselves afresh.

Friends, if we are to have a dream, if we are to begin dreaming again of what God’s purposes might be in our day, then we must begin to expect greater things, we must have faith in the living God, not a God of an old book who we think is just a wee dream or a child story, that His presence is amongst us and within us, and that He is calling us, even today, to give ourselves for His purposes.

So why don’t we respond in faith just now and let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we don’t know all that this might mean for us and it probably brings a whole load of feelings to the surface, I know it did for me Lord when just this past week I felt You’d call me to step out and lay a hand on and pray for someone,

and it was super scary,

but You’re the one there working, God, and You’re the living God and You call us to give ourselves to You and Your purposes. Lord, may we hold nothing back, may we give You our all and may we go in Your strength, Your power, Your Spirit’s power at work in us and through us. Lord give us ears to hear this day to where You’re calling, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Joshua: respond

Preached on: Sunday 11th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-04-11 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 1:1-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, have your own way. Change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, shape us as the church of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction.
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

As I said before our reading the opening portion of the book of Joshua finds the people of God at the beginning of a new chapter Moses has died and gone to be with the lord before his death he wrote down the law of God enabling Israel to know the ways of the lord so that the promises of God could be fulfilled with Moses departure a new chapter begins and in many ways it foreshadows what the disciples would experience with Jesus after the resurrection in Matthew chapter 28 we read this the Holy Spirit and teaching them to be everything I have commanded you and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age hopefully we remember from last week that when the angel came and spoke to the woman and then through the women to the disciples the instruction was that they were to go to galilee and there Jesus would meet them well here they are they’ve responded in faith and they meet with Jesus for sure for some there is doubt still but they all worship Jesus as the risen lord and into that doubt into this group of people Jesus speaks he begins a new chapter these two moments in the history of God’s people echo one another and in doing so they show us what to pay attention to what to draw from the opening chapter of Joshua that it might speak into our day because we as followers of Jesus as members of his church we too are given the same commission as those early disciples so what are we to pay attention to well firstly we are to respond to God’s word the lord says to Joshua now then you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give them I will give you every place where you set your foot now then get ready these words carry drive impetus in the original language their commands to be put into practice and similarly Jesus says go and make go and make again these words are weighty they are strong they are urgent calling us to be about this rather than put it off it’s interesting that Joshua is also told that wherever they set their feet this will become home to them but here’s the thing it will only become home if they set out if they get actively involved if they cross into the promised land

in both Joshua’s time and in Jesus commission to the church God’s people are called to respond to God’s word because if we don’t

then his calling and commission is not fulfilled as he intended and there’s no plan b friends you and I here in the sanctuary and at home we are it it is through us that God intends for others to come into his family and into his kingdom just a few weeks ago I was reminding us of the drastic fall in church membership over the last 20 years a fall which it could be asked does it show our apathy to our commission or that we have become comfortable with our ineffectiveness and so once again I effectively ask you have you had enough of decline enough so that we do something about it that we recognize that we all have a part to play and it must include some way somehow the sharing of our faith with today’s generation because the people who seem to be coming to church staying at church getting involved with church are people who choose to identify as Christian who choose to follow Jesus but people don’t reach that stage if they’re not first hearing about the Christian faith and so they must hear it some way somehow

and so I ask you here and you at home do you hear the personal call to respond and own this commission to own it to say it is mine it is mine

Joshua was called to respond and to ensure that he would know how to put God’s word into practice the lord says to him be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you do not turn to it from the right or to the left keep it always on your lips similarly Jesus says that part of raising up disciples is teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you not only are we called to respond to God’s word we are called to know it to chew over and to do so in community

we are called to this because Jesus is not after people who know some nice stories or can recite some of his nice morals Jesus says that a disciple is someone who knows his lord’s teaching and knows it well enough that they put it into practice

so I wonder friends what’s the way that you are engaging with God’s word maybe you’re using the new testament reading plan or an app like Lectio365 or Pray as You Go maybe you use printed daily reading notes no matter your preference though if we are to be a people who confidently share our faith such that we raise up new disciples we need to know our faith and the scriptures that underpin it

Joshua was a man of God a person who knew God’s word and put it into practice and so his next step is to speak to the leaders and to the people so that what the lord had commanded would be put into practice but what I find really striking here is what he says to the Reubenites Gaditzen halftribe of Manasseh he says your wives or children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan but all your fighting men ready for battle must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites you’re to help them until the lord gives them rest as he has done for you and I find that remarkable because these tribes these fighting men are called to leave their security their safety leave what is precious to them and rest their lives in fact they’ve to go ahead of their fellow Israelites never mind tag along at the back where do you think you would prefer to be at the back not the front and I think for me this shows that God calls us to a way of life where we stand alongside one another a way of life where we cannot be indifferent to the welfare of one another now Jesus does not mention this explicitly at the time of the great commission but let’s remember only ten days before he had taught them this command love one another as I have loved you so you must love one another by this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another

care for others to the point of sacrifice is meant to distinguish us we cannot claim to be following the teaching of Jesus and remain indifferent to one another so what could this look like what could this look like well this summer there’s an opportunity for us all it’s my intention that from June to august there will be no Tuesday evening events and that’s to give us time to connect and reconnect with one another however i’m conscious that because of covet and because we’re a medium-sized church it’s easy for people to be overlooked or maybe even forgotten because we haven’t seen them in over a year and so we need a vehicle to care for as many as possible and a vehicle which also allows as many as are willing to get involved and so this week you will be sent a letter via email or post and in that letter you will be asked whether you are willing for your name address and phone number to be shared with the other members of your pastoral grouping this would then allow each of us to get in contact or do a card and visit or send a card do something and over the summer hopefully reconnect as a church family and if you’re not in a pastor or grouping then get in touch if you want to get involved because please note this only those who opt in will have their details shared and only those who opt in will receive details of others who have also opted in so if you don’t opt in your details will not be shared so let’s not worry but neither will you receive details and we’re sharing this just now because hopefully as many of us will get involved as possible and it then just takes time to put that into place additionally I would like to encourage you to read a book that I’ve been reading it’s Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church and i’d like you to try and read it over June to august because that’s less than one chapter a week i’ve been found in it both stimulating and easy to read much easier than the book I gave to the elders okay but it gets us into God’s word chewing it over and understanding some of what it means to be the church you can of course order a copy for yourself but if you would find it helpful for us to order your copy then give it out simply on the reply slip with the letter let us know there’s space to make that known to us okay friends if we respond I’m excited about what the summer could hold for us I reconnected church family who are chewing upon God’s word and responding to it such that we are better enabled to fulfill the commission given to us but before the end there’s one final thing one final thing ultimately it’s not our unity or our obedience or our knowledge which will enable us to fulfill our commission it’s that the lord is with us for he says to Joshua as I was with Moses so I will be with you I will never leave you nor forsake you be strong and courageous to not be afraid for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go and similarly Jesus promises surely I am with you always to the very end of the age friends our calling is momentous sometimes risky surely self-sacrificing and humanly impossible but the lord promises to be with us in the times of Joshua in the times of the early church and even still today as I said last week Jesus is leading us onward and so it is his presence his faithfulness that gives us true courage as well as the love and power to respond to his commission

and to be a people united and living out his command

I pray it may be so, Amen

The way of the Cross: led forward

Preached on: Sunday 4th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-04-04 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 16:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit reveal Jesus to us.
Come Holy Spirit lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction,
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

The Easter holidays have begun and I wonder if anyone of us are feeling excited about that? Boys and girls at home, young people, are we excited about being home for even longer? Parents, grandparents you’re thinking ‘Oh how are we going to make these holidays go by again?’

I wonder if you feel a bit like me coming in today that it was going to be slightly anti-climactic because normally we come into Easter feeling quite buoyant. The seasons are changing, the days are getting longer, holidays are just beginning, hopefully, if the timing’s just right, and celebrating what Jesus achieved at Calvary gives a fresh infusion of hope or at least normally it does. So I wonder how you are coming into Easter this year, and how you’re feeling?

Are you maybe feeling tired and worn thin? Maybe frightened or sad, possibly frustrated or disillusioned, and if you’re at home feel free if you feel able to share it on the live chat, because what’s striking for me in our passage today, is that these three women who go to the tomb, they could have been feeling any of these feelings. Tired and worn thin for sure, they’d just seen their friend and would-be Messiah killed. Sad, most certainly. Frustrated, disillusioned without a doubt, because they’d hoped Jesus was the Messiah but here He is dead in a tomb. Frightened, well their leader has just been crucified on a cross as a traitor. Here they come to the place where they’re going to give one last act of devotion, one last duty, and they’re coming with all the emotions we feel; fear, or tiredness, sadness, disillusionment, but when they arrive there the body of Jesus is missing and an angel tells them that He is alive, He’s not here and, in fact He’s gone ahead of them into Galilee, and they with there with the disciples they will find Jesus the experience and news is so startling so bewildering, just leaves them trembling and awe-struck, as well as afraid so afraid. In fact, they feel unable to speak of it to begin with. So, what are we to make of this passage? i can almost understand why a later scribe would add verses 9 to 20 because it feels unfinished.

Yet, whether Mark intended for this to be the case or not, there are three brief things that we can take away this morning.

Firstly, in the midst of the most negative emotions we can experience at Easter, Jesus leads His disciples onward. The women are told ‘He is not here, He is going ahead of you into Galilee.’

Likewise, maybe today, maybe in the midst of your struggles and your emotions, maybe you need to know that Jesus is not in some tomb and He’s not defeated, maybe you need to know that Jesus is alive and He goes ahead of you and leads you on.

This past week we’ve all received the news of what’s being envisioned for the Braes Churches. Seven congregations down to two, seven places of worship possibly down to two or three, and more change besides, and talking with a number of you from across the churches I know the range of emotions that we are feeling. Yet, in the midst of all, Jesus goes ahead and leads us on. He did it then, He does it now. So, where is the risen Jesus leading us today?

Second thing to note, the disciples are called to exercise faith, and faith is seen in action. They’re not simply told what to believe, they’re told to go, go, go – do what Jesus has said. Respond in faith, get walking to Galilee is basically what the angel says. in the midst of what you are feeling this Easter, Jesus leads you on and He calls you to respond in faith. Faith that is seen in the choices and actions of your life, and what that looks like for each of us and for us as a group of churches could be myriad, but let’s remember our purpose, a purpose that is meant to be core to any and every follower of Jesus – to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus.

What does that look like in your life? How is that seen in your life? Do you need to step out in faith this Easter and maybe put this purpose into practice?

Because, lastly, whilst the Gospel of Mark abruptly ends at verse 8, it does not mark the end of the story. We know that the women respond in faith, they tell the disciples and, with the disciples, they go and meet with Jesus, and from them a movement is birthed across the world, and we here and at home are the outworking of that, of Christians across the generations who for 2 000 years have exercised faith, but now it’s our turn now, it’s our turn.

We continue the story and that’s true whatever age you are. You could be a child or a young person, or you’re never too young to respond in faith to Jesus and be part of telling others about Jesus, or you could be at the other end of the age spectrum or anywhere in between and if that’s you well two things: there’s no get-out clause, and there’s no retirement age.

In the kingdom of God it doesn’t matter how busy we may be or whatever excuse we may give, we’re all called, we’re all called and the truth is we need everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, every age group, every person needs to get involved because Jesus is leading us on, He is leading us on as a church, as Christians in this area, but it will take every one of us to fulfill our purpose every one of us so we all have a part to play,

Friends, this Easter, this Easter may not be the Easter we wanted or expected, we may not have the positive emotions of previous years, yet Jesus is alive, He leads us on, He’s not in the tomb and He calls us to respond in faith.

So, that the story continues in this generation and for generations to come, and so it’s up to us, it’s up to you here and you at home, will it continue? will we respond today in faith?

I pray that we will and so let’s pray just. Now let us pray.

I wonder how you need to respond today? Which part do you need to respond in faith today?

Do you need to respond in faith to the truth that Jesus is alive? Do you need to respond in faith that He leads you on and He’s not given up in you?

Do you need to respond in faith that you have a part to play? Where do you need to respond today?

Maybe you’re not a Christian. Remember, you’ve not been following Jesus for a long time and if that’s you I’d like to lead you in a prayer just now, to come to faith, put your faith in Jesus, to recommit yourself maybe if you’ve wandered and so, maybe just in the quiet of your mind or if you’re at home speak it out loud with me and I’ll lead you through a prayer just now.

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things i’ve done wrong in my life, I’m sorry for wandering away from You.

I take a moment to name this Lord before You.

Please Jesus, forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank-you that You died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free.

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

I wonder if you’re going to respond in faith in another way, in one of the other two ways, and let me lead you now in a prayer maybe for these things.

lord I hear Your call to have faith, to trust that You really are alive here, that You’ve not given up on me or your church, You’re not giving up on us or this world.

Lord, I hear Your call and though I may feel low today, though I may feel at the end of my rope, I trust, I respond in faith, and if You’re calling me to serve, Lord, because You call us all to serve, show me how and where,

and help me know that Your power is greatest when I am weak. don’t have to have it all together because it’s You working through us that will see this world changed. Lord, I’m ready to play my part in this generation and for the generations to come. Help me give my life like You gave Your life for me. I offer it now in worship and service of You and of Your purpose. Lead us Lord, lead me individually, lead us as a church, and as a group of churches across the Braes, and to all You have for us now and forever. Amen

If you responded in faith today for the first time, I encourage you to get in touch with me, drop me a message, grab me afterwards, however it be because it’s good to take that step in faith in prayer, but the next step is to tell someone, and I’m a really safe person to tell, honest! So, come and tell me, get in touch if you took that step of faith.

The way of the Cross: welcome all

Preached on: Sunday 28th March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-03-28 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 11:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray before we think about God’s word

Come Holy Spirit reveal Jesus to us.
Come Holy Spirit lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction,
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Boys and girls at home, one and all, do you remember what this means?

Do you remember?

We use this sign language in the Lord’s Prayer, and it means kingdom. So we have a hand on our head like a crown, you want to join in and maybe join in at home, hand the crown and then flat hand in a circle kind of like the land of the kingdom the place where the king rules.

So we say ‘Your kingdom come’ in the lord’s prayer but why do we say that?

Well, it’s because our God is king, Jesus is king. But what kind of king is he and where is his kingdom?

So are you ready to do some actions here, and at home, are you ready?

So put your hands up high if you think Jesus is powerful. Hands up high for powerful.

Just keep them low if you don’t powerful or not. Oh, lots of hands up high, probably at home as well. You can put your hands down. Thank-you for joining in.

So, yes, Jesus is a powerful king. Did you have your hands up at home as well. I hope you did because He did lots of miracles, He healed people, He stilled storms. Jesus is a powerful king.

Now if you think Jesus was a caring king hands out wide, like a big hug. So was Jesus as a caring king or not? What are you choosing at home? Are you choosing out wide or not? Lots of hands out wide in here. You can put your hands down again.

Yeah Jesus was a caring king. He cared for other people, he showed that he cared.

Lastly hands out front if you think Jesus was a bossy king. Hands out front if you think he was a bossy king, pushing people around, telling them what to do. What are you picking at home? Well there’s no hands up here, so maybe at home, maybe some of you do have your hands out, maybe some of you don’t, who knows. Was Jesus a bossy king?

Well back when Jesus was here on the earth everybody knew that Jesus was powerful just like we do and everybody knew that Jesus was caring and we know that as well but people back then hoped and thought that Jesus might also be a bossy king and that was because they wanted Him to be the boss, they wanted Him to be the boss and make things right especially by bossing out the Romans and telling them to leave their country.

So when Jesus rode in into Jerusalem everybody was thinking, here comes this powerful, caring, bossy king. Yes, and he’s going to get rid of the Romans and we’re going to have a great place to live in and so they started singing songs ‘Hosanna! God save us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ They were so excited.

Now, boys and girls, what did Jesus ride in on again?

Was that a big horse ‘neigh’, was it was it an elephant like an Aladdin, was a reindeer like in Frozen – you can tell I watch a lot of Disney!

No, it wasn’t any of those. What was it? Can you remember?

It was a donkey, and a donkey’s not the kind of animal you’d expect a king to ride in on, but that’s what Jesus did and by doing that he showed he wasn’t bossy, he was humble. Humble and caring, and even though he was powerful, more powerful than any king and actually in the Bible just before our reading today, Jesus said this about himself ‘For even the Son of Man (that’s Jesus) did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ He wasn’t a bossy king but He was still king.

So we have to do what he said but he would show his care and his power through loving others, helping other people, and people he wanted to be part of His kingdom and that’s where, boys and girls, there was another surprise about Jesus. Do you remember what they were waving and putting on the ground as Jesus came into Jerusalem?

They were waving palm branches, and they were putting their coats on the ground, and that just sounds, really weird to us does it not? But both of these actions were a sign of them welcoming Jesus. They were thinking ‘Yes, here’s Jesus our king. He’s one of us. You’re going to help us Jesus, so welcome, be welcome here Jesus.’

They thought Jesus cared about them. They wanted his kingdom in that, just that one place, and other people were barred. Other people would be kept at a distance. Other people were not welcome.

Boys and girls, do you think that was true or not true about Jesus? What are the adults in here gonna pick true or not true about Jesus? I’m seeing a lot of thumbs down – not true about Jesus – He’d shown that He’d come for one and all. Any who would welcome Him into their lives. Because Jesus is king, He’s powerful, He’s caring, He’s humble and His kingdom is now spread all across the world, and everyone is welcome into His kingdom if they choose Jesus as their king, and I think that would have been a surprise and even a disappointment for a lot of people because they wanted Jesus to be their king, and meet their expectations. They wanted Jesus to be their king and sort out their problems. They didn’t want a king who would care about other people and especially not people who were on the outside, but that’s the kind of king Jesus is. He’s the king who came to serve and to serve people on the outside as much as on the inside, and I wonder friends, if that’s something we sometimes forget as well.

Christian writer N.T Wright said this ‘Have we so domesticated and trivialized our Christian commitment, our devotion to Jesus Himself, that we look on Him simply as someone to help us through the various things we want to do anyway, someone to provide us with comforting religious experiences.”

Basically is Jesus just about me and my agenda? Do I expect Jesus simply to meet my expectations? or am I willing to be surprised and even challenged by Jesus? Can I recognize that His kingdom is bigger than Brightons, or the British churches, or the Church in Scotland? Can I. do we realize that Jesus cares about the people who are not here today and who are not tuning in today as much as he cares for you and for me? And I wonder, do we care for that as much as Jesus does? or is our focus on ourselves, on our place of worship, on the stuff we want from Jesus? or can we learn to follow our king and care for the same things He cared about?

Boys and girls, one and all, I pray that we would be more like Jesus, that we’d follow our king. Our king whose kingdom extends to the whole of the earth. Now a king who came to make this possible so that one and all could be part of his kingdom and He gave his life to make that possible. Might we then be a people who follow in His footsteps, who follow the way of the Cross and help others across the Braes to know Jesus, and through knowing Him, to have hope a hope that is steadfast and sure?

May it be so, Amen.

The way of the Cross: salty people

Preached on: Sunday 21st March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-03-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 9:30-50
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

In a Facebook group for ministers, I was reminded this past week that over the last 20 years, the membership of the Church of Scotland has halved. Halved. We are…
in decline. This might not be new to you, but nevertheless it should make us all sit up and take stock, and maybe even ask some hard questions. Not necessarily to save our denomination, but because the figures show that Scottish Christians – and it’s true across the denominations – but Scottish Christians seem unsure how to live out their faith so as to bring lasting, positive change. We do a lot of things, but whether we do the right things and in the right way, is most definitely up for debate when all churches are seeing their numbers decline and our church experiencing 50% in 20 years.
Jesus said of His universal Church that ‘you are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13). We are to be a salty people. Now salt, across the centuries, had a variety of uses: to preserve that which was good; to fend off that which is bad, and so stave off decay taking root; and of course, we know that salt also changes flavour. In these three ways, the church is likewise to be salt: to bring out the good; to prevent decay; and change the “flavour” of our world for the better. If the church is declining, then the extent of our saltiness is questionable.
Our passage today also mentions salt, at the end, so let me begin there. Jesus said: ‘Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’ (v49-50)

Three separate sayings about salt. Not necessarily connected to one another, but connected to the wider passage, and so they act as a summary to what came before. Jesus begins saying, ‘Everyone will be salted with fire.’ which probably means that the church will be salted, or purified, with persecution, with difficult times. We are a people, after all, who are called to the way of the cross, and if the way was hard for Jesus, it will be hard for us as well. We’ll come back to the other two sayings once we dig into the earlier verses.

The passage begins with Jesus talking, for a second time with all the disciples, about what is ahead: He is going to His death. He will be deliberately handed over by God ‘into the hands of men’ (v31). Again, this goes straight over the heads of His disciples, and maybe… because of what happened earlier with Peter they’re afraid to ask more. As a result, they get into an unhealthy, self-promoting discussion: “Who is the greatest amongst us? Who is going to rule with Jesus when He comes into power as the Messiah?” That’s the flavour of their conversation and when Jesus asks about it there’s a really awkward embarrassed silence because it’s completely unworthy of them as His disciples and completely contradictory to the way of the cross.

So, Jesus begins to teach and He takes a little child in His arms and says: ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all…Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…’ (v35-37)

Who is the greatest? It is the one who gives their life for others. It is seen in their care and service of others, and in particular to those members of society who are not valued. Because Jesus did not include this child as a model to be imitated; His culture had no romanticized notions about children. A child was not seen as especially obedient,… trusting, innocent, pure, or humble. The point here is that children were insignificant in those days. Children had no power, no status, few rights. Jesus is saying, if anyone wants to be great, they should give attention to those who are neglected and regarded as insignificant. We are to serve those who are forgotten, who are little esteemed, who are socially invisible, easily ignored, or who can be hurt and dominated without notice or protest.

What a contrast between the disciples’ motives and the life Jesus calls them to. This… is part of how they are to be the salt, and they cannot follow in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, if they are putting personal ambition, personal interests, first.

I wonder friends, does the wider world see us more like the disciples, or more like Jesus? What do we prioritise? Is it our agenda and the things that make us feel secure? Or do we stand with the vulnerable, the invisible and those in need within our society?

As I have reflected on this passage, I’ve been drawn to recent news stories in relation to Sarah Everard. I think we are all aware of this tragic injustice and it rightly has touched a nerve within society. I was stopped in my tracks by what one woman said in a recent article: ‘[Women] moderate everything – our clothing, our drinking. We get taxis where maybe we can’t afford it. We hold keys between our fingers. We don’t wear headphones when we’re jogging. We stick to well-lit areas. It’s exhausting.’

In one particular tweet, women were asked if they had ever faked a phone call, changed route, or run in fear, after feeling threatened by men in public spaces, and this tweet was affirmed more than 120,000 times.

These experiences made me wonder about the male privilege that men, including myself, have in life, in that we don’t have to live the way women do, we never, never have to contemplate such realities, and so sadly we often right-off these issues, until it is too late.

So, if Jesus were here today, would he be calling His Church to do something about this? Jesus says, true greatness means caring for people, not just important people, or my people, or the people who look like me, or think the way I do or see things the way I see things.

Moreover, I have to ask, why is the church so far behind on this at times? Because I was struck by something the Prime Minister, of all people, said on Thursday last week, that ‘…there also needs to be “long-term cultural and societal change to deal with this issue”.’
Is this not a way for the church to be a salty again? Because it’s inherent in our calling from Jesus that we are to help shape and improve culture and wider society; we are to change the flavour, bringing out the good and reducing the decay. The question then, is whether we’ll do anything about it?

Or have we, the church, lost our saltiness? Have we lost the radical self-sacrifice and devotion to Jesus and His way? His way, after all, which was amongst the first to care for all and see all people as precious.
We are called to a salty way of life in how we care for others, but we are also called to show this saltiness in our unity with one another. The third saying of Jesus read: ‘Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’ (v50) This is a reference to sharing salt, of having meals together in the context of fellowship and peace, because when you’re at peace with other people you share life. This neatly summarises the two portions of our earlier passage.

Firstly, Jesus rebukes the disciples for trying to stop someone using His name to help others. Their reason for doing this? simply that ‘he was not one of (them).’ (v38) The disciples were once again focused on being great, and they did not want to share their power because doing so would undermine their position and status. In contrast, Jesus tells them to live another way, to live in unity with all who call on the name of Jesus; it doesn’t matter if they’ve not been ‘one of us’ up until this point.

Their self-interest is so dangerous that Jesus goes on to give a very stark warning. At first it can seem a little extreme, but Jesus was not being literal, because the Old Testament forbade self-mutilation, so Jesus is using hyperbole to get His point across: that anything which undermines unity in the faith needs to be dealt with. Indeed, by referencing body parts, which are precious, God-given, good things, we might even say that Jesus is not only calling us to reject sinful ways – like self-interest – but also to reject anything that might be seen as good,…
and yet which still leads to disunity.

We are called to be a salty people, to have unity with one another, and be willing to give up ways – whether good or bad – so as to preserve that unity and bring out the flavour of God’s Kingdom amongst ourselves as well.

I can’t help but think about the Braes Hub in relation to these verses. What good things do we need to give up in order to bring greater unity? What power do we need to give away to bring us together? But like last week,…
that might seem quite far off, so let me raise something more immediate.

Of all the facets of church life that I get feedback on, it is Sunday worship which seems to produce the most friction. As such, I have said to the elders that beginning in May, they will be working with me to do something about this, so that when we do eventually come back here to ‘normal’ worship, we come back differently and maybe even to something different. Because Sunday worship should not be producing the degree of tension that it…
sometimes has. This work with the elders will take some time and we’ll update you when we can. But let’s be clear, it won’t depend on the elders, it will depend on all of us changing, and following the way of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to be a salty people, people who follow in the way of the cross, and do so, in how we care for others and through our unity with one another. Jesus calls us to a new way of life, to turn the values of the world upon their head, such that in us and through us, the flavour of God’s kingdom is experienced here across the Braes.
I pray it may it be so. Amen.