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.

The way of the Cross: step forward

Preached on: Sunday 14th 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 here21-03-14 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 8:27 – 9:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

When you were younger, did you ever play that relay race where you would take two steps forward and then one step back? I remember playing that in the Cub Scouts and it’s harder than you think. It’s not natural. It doesn’t come easy, and so when I was a Scout Leader and playing it with Beaver Scouts, who are younger than Cubs, they would struggle, often bending the rules because they just want to go forward.

I wonder if that’s a picture which could capture how you feel or have felt about your faith?

Maybe you were making progress, two steps forward, but then something came along and it forced you to take a step back, and in some cases you might even have taken several steps back.

We imagine the life of faith, don’t we, to be a constant, upward, positive journey – forward step after forward step – when the backward steps do come they take us by surprise and, because no one prepared us, and few of us are open enough about our faith, then we struggle and our faith becomes undermined, even in a detrimental way.

I think Peter would know some of that experience himself. Up to this point in the book of Mark, Peter has been watching and listening to Jesus and he, along with the other disciples, has been asking ‘Who is this?” “Who is this whom even the wind and the waves obey?” “Who is this who heals and teaches with such authority?”

As they journey with Jesus, they hear what others are saying. They hear the whispers, the rumors, the questions. They’ve maybe been asking them themselves and slowly, ever so slowly, the pieces start coming together, and Jesus discerns it’s the right time to ask a question or two.

“Who do people say I am?” The answer given is largely positive and makes sense but it’s not quite there yet, because the crowd hasn’t spent as much time with Jesus as the disciples have.

So, Jesus presses them further “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the Christ?” Well done Peter, two steps forward, you’ve figured it out!

So, now Jesus begins to teach them the true nature of what it means to be Messiah. He discerns that they are ready to hear this and the way he will go.

We read these words earlier, “Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and after three days rise. Again he spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

The Messiah must die. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross, and so, Jesus is the Messiah who will give his life for others.

But this is too much for Peter, because Peter, as with all his contemporaries, expected the Messiah to be a king-like figure who would rid Israel of Roman occupation and bring Israel back to its glory days. So, how can Jesus speak of suffering? How can he speak of dying? If he dies he cannot be the true Messiah and so Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter seeks to impose his perspective, his agenda onto Jesus, because Peter’s concept of Jesus as Messiah is too narrow.

In the space of a few minutes Peter suddenly takes a backward step and, with the rebuke of Jesus, maybe he even takes a couple of steps back. What’s striking here is that it is Jesus who causes Peter to take those steps back. We might say, even, it is Jesus who undermines the faith of Peter. Yet Jesus does this so as to lead Peter to a higher and truer faith. There will come more steps forward but first Peter must step back so that Jesus can help Peter know the Messiah truly.

This has been the case for people across the centuries. Paul would one day say “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The secret of Jesus identity is not that he was the Messiah but what he came to do as the Messiah, and the way in which he would accomplish this. His way seemed weak, seemed foolish, to many, a backward step, an undermining of faith, but it is the way of Jesus.

Friends, have we recently experienced the backward step of faith ourselves? Maybe because of the pandemic. Where are you going? Maybe because of the changes coming for the Braes churches. Is this really what you want God?

Maybe it’s in a personal area of life. Don’t you love me God?

Maybe you feel like you’ve taken a backward step, that your faith has been undermined and it might raise the question of whether belief in this God, belief in Jesus as God, is foolish and weak.

I wonder, in the midst of your questions, in the midst of all you are wrestling with, are you willing to allow Jesus to change your perspective of Him? Are you willing to allow Him to undo the easy answers? Will you allow him to lead you to a higher and truer faith even if difficulties remain or lie ahead?

We too, like Peter, can begin to take steps forward once more, and to do so we simply need to keep journeying with Jesus. We keep giving him our time in prayer, through reading the scriptures, in worship, or solitude. We keep journeying the way of Jesus even amidst the dark night of the soul, and one day, one day light will come, hope will arise, pieces might fit together, not with easy answers, but with a higher and truer faith in Jesus the Messiah who suffered to give his life for you and for me.

In our reading today, Jesus sought not only to mature Peter’s faith, the occasion gave Jesus the opportunity to speak to the wider crowd as well, and help them see that He wasn’t calling them to a revolution against the Romans, no, His way, the way of the Cross was also for His disciples, for any who would follow Him and seek life through Him. Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Forever whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

To follow Jesus and find life through Him, to belong to the way, is to give your life for Jesus. We might think that to follow Jesus is to give our life away for others, after all that’s what Jesus did, but this is not what Jesus says, he says “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Why does Jesus say this? Is he an egotistical Messiah?

Well Jesus taught, in line with the old testament, that the first commandment, the first, is to love the lord your God’s with all your being with every area of your life. The second is to love others. And when we get the order of our loves right then we are able to love rightly. As we love God’s and receive His love, we can grow then and truer and purer love for others. For as we learn to deny self, as we follow Jesus, then we are better placed to love others sacrificially.

Jesus is not seeking a minor adjustment to our lives. Here we are called to the way of Jesus, to the way of the Cross, but we cannot do that if we do not love Jesus and show that love by giving our lives for Him. What is more, do you know what can happen when we love others first or even seek to do good without reference to Jesus? Well, it can lead us to think we deserve God’s blessing. We might think to ourselves “God, I have loved others surely I deserve salvation?” or we might think to ourselves as well “God, I have loved others so why am I facing these difficult times?”

The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross. He is the Messiah who will give His life for others. To follow Him, to follow in the way of Jesus, is to give your life for Jesus. When we get this wrong we build a wrong perspective of Jesus, we put our agenda on Him and we turn Him into a genie God or a slot machine God, a God for the good times and a God who must make our life go our way.

Sometimes when we picture Jesus like this and then experience an event which forces us to take a backward step, we can become stuck in that backward step, I think, maybe because we understood Christianity as something other than loving Jesus first, something other than giving our lives for Him.

This has been a problem across the centuries such that in the 15th century a Christian writer named Thomas à Kempis said this:

“Jesus today has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who carry His cross. Plenty of people He finds to share His banquet, few to share His fast. Everyone desires to take part in His rejoicing, but few are willing to suffer anything for His sake. There are many that love Jesus as long as nothing runs counter to them, many that praise and bless Him as long as they receive comfort from Him but, should Jesus hide from them and leave them for a while to draw them into deeper relationship with Himself, they fall to complaining. Those who love Jesus for His own sake, not for the sake of their own comfort. Bless Him in time of trouble and heartache as much as when they are full of consolation.”

Brothers and sisters, we journey with Jesus towards Easter. The Jesus who is Messiah, who would suffer and die as Messiah, came to die as Messiah, and as people who belong to the way, Jesus bids us come follow Him, give our lives, our love to Him, that we might walk in His way and carry our cross in our day.

I pray it may be so,

Amen.

Contentment and Generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th 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 21-03-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Before we think about God’s wordCome Holy Spirit, help us to hear the voice of Jesus.
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

When you think about Christianity, what does it give you? Is Christianity, or as we’ve called it in this series ‘the way of Jesus’, is the way of Jesus simply about good morals? Is it simply about being religious and doing religious activities? Does the way of Jesus simply give you more things to do, more rules to follow, more boxes to tick?

When I talk with young people who may have very little experience of Christianity I try to help them see beyond these narrow misconceptions.

As I prepared for today I came across a testimony which someone shared in light of being diagnosed with a serious illness. This individual said “The options open to me medically are minimal and at best do not promise renewed energy nor longevity. The other option is to turn this over to God in faith. This we have been directed to do by God after much prayer and spiritual surrender. What the future holds we do not know, but we know God holds it. These past few days have rolled over as like an avalanche leaving in their wake some central certainties which make up my thanksgiving prayer list. Out of the dark night of the soul has come the sunlight of God’s love. I am thankful for God who is real and personal, for a Christ who is present in power, and for the Holy Spirit who is by our side in every struggle. My gratitude overflows for a faith that is unwavering in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and for the personal practice of prayer that brings all God’s promises to bear in any situation. My thanksgiving list is made this year not from what I have but from who has me, a God who’s able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all I ask or think.”

What does Christianity give you?

Would your list have included contentment as this individual spoke of? Would it be, would there be peace and hope? Would it include a love which helps you to live well such that you’re not focused on yourself?

The individual who wrote those words was an older minister and he wrote them to his congregation. Here was a man who had a deep and mature faith. Someone who had learnt the way of Jesus and how I envy such a mature faith!

In our passage today, Paul follows on from the previous section where he said in verse 9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice.” Once more Paul calls them to grow in their faith, to grow in the way of Jesus, to grow in maturity. Towards that end he says they are to put into practice what they have seen in him whether before or now, and so he speaks of the maturity they are currently showing and how they might still grow in further maturity. We might summarize these two points as learning contentment and learning generosity.

Paul says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here is a man, as I’ve said in previous weeks, who is imprisoned, potentially facing execution and surrounded by hostile opponents, and yet Paul can still say that he is not in need and that he is content. In Paul’s example I see an elder brother who is much farther down the road than I, and he beckons, he calls me, he calls us all, to know more of the way of Jesus, to grow and mature, so that we can share this contentment no matter the storm or circumstance. But let’s notice that Paul said he had to learn it as well, it wasn’t automatic for him but it can be learnt.

Key to it all is to find our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus. In this way Paul is challenging the attitudes of his day for the stoic philosophers of the first century also prized contentment and saw it as a mark of being a truly wise person which they esteemed, yet they said you could find such contentment within yourself. Theirs was a contentment through self-sufficiency, but Paul points to another way, to contentment found through dependence on Jesus. We might say a ‘Christ sufficiency’.

I wonder friends, do you yearn like me for greater contentment? When people look at your , do they see someone who exudes a deep contentment even in the trials of life? Could it be that we’re seeking contentment in the wrong ways or places? Are we relying on ourselves? I wonder are you tired of that way of life? Would you not rather find an alternative which brings joy and radiates a measure of hope, even in the darkest of times? I know I would do.

Paul says this is available by finding our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus.

The word ‘strength’ in the Greek is ‘endunamo’ which comes from the word ‘dunamis’ meaning power. One commentator paraphrases Paul as saying ‘I can do all this through Jesus who gifts me with dynamite’ which I love. This got me thinking though, and I searched elsewhere in the scriptures in the new testament for where Paul talks about power in his other letters and I noticed these three things:

that with power we can know peace by receiving the love of God,
with power we can know purity by receiving self-control,
with power we can know perseverance and faith by receiving an endurance and patience amidst trials

Friends, where do you need contentment? Is it in the difficulties of life? Is it in the temptations of life? Is it in the frustrations and the bitterness that well up within us in the day to day of life?

Because God would want to help you learn contentment, to mature in faith by finding, in Jesus, the strength, the dynamite, the power to know a peace or a purity or a perseverance which is beyond your mere human ability and self-sufficiency.

Now hear me right please, we could say much more about contentment. It’s not wrong, for example, to pray for circumstances to change. Paul does. It’s not wrong for difficulties to weary us. Paul speaks of those hardships,

and also please, do not simply hear this as a challenge. Hear this as an invitation. An invitation to another way of life, to life in all its fullness. So, will you respond in faith today and seek to mature by learning contentment through Jesus?

Paul goes on, and he commends the Philippians for their generosity, something which many others had not shown.

ow it seems like Paul is a little cagey here; on the one hand he seems to say ‘thank-you, it was very much appreciated’, and then on the other he seems to say ‘well it wasn’t really needed and I wasn’t really looking for it.’

The reason for this is that Paul doesn’t want to appear like the contemporary charlatans of his day who would build a gathering of followers and then gain financial support from them. Paul doesn’t want to come across as being motivated by financial gain. Nevertheless he commends the Philippians, he commends them for their generosity, their sharing to meet the needs of others. Presumably, this they also learnt from Paul who from his writings was one who encouraged the churches to care for one another and to care for others.

I wonder friends, do we have a mature faith that shows itself in generosity? Do we realize that, as followers of Jesus, we are called into something greater than ourselves? Do we realize that the way of Jesus, which does bring freedom and contentment, is also the way of sacrifice? Because, as we receive His power, to know his love, we’re called to show that love and sacrifice to others. As we receive His power to be pure through self-control, we’re called to deny ourselves that others might benefit.

Brothers and Sisters, as I said earlier in our service, we face a difficult time ahead for the Braes Churches, not just in the next few months, but in the years to come. Whatever lies ahead, will our response be marked by generosity and contentment? Do we understand ourselves to be part of something bigger and that the way of Jesus is not, and has never been, about buildings? Are we willing to follow Jesus in the way of sacrifice and of denying self? What would that look like amongst us across the Braes?

Yet, let’s not leave this for application in a few months time, What about now, today?

Well, this coming week the Tuesday Evening Event online will feature input from Tearfund and they are asking churches to partner with them in their Lent Appeal, and for every one pound you give it will be doubled by outside funding. Will you get involved? Will you choose to sacrifice and be marked by generosity?

Friends, today we conclude Philippians. There have been many important lessons, many pointers to what it means to live as followers of Jesus and grow in maturity, to walk in the way of Jesus. I pray that we will be such a people, a people who respond, who say yes to God’s invitation, such that we too might be worthy of the Gospel and all to the glory of God may it be so, Amen

Focus- where is yours?

Preached on: Sunday 21st February 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 21-02-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 3:12- 4:1

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.

This past week has been a significant one for the Braes Churches because the seven Kirk Sessions have all voted in favour of a draft Partnership Agreement which outlines the broad structure we would work within as a Hub across the Braes. This Partnership Agreement will now go to the Presbytery Planning Group and we hope it will be accepted. When the outcome is known, we’ll keep you updated and then, maybe, be in a position to share the Partnership Agreement more widely.
Hopefully we’re all aware of why we are talking about, and working hard towards, becoming a Hub: in essence, the Church of Scotland faces multiple difficult decisions simultaneously. Collectively, we need to address the issues of fewer ministers, dwindling finances, aging congregations and buildings, a lack of office bearers, and above all a dwindling impact and relevance within Scottish society such that few churches have young families worshipping within them and even fewer young people grow up to own the faith for themselves after they leave the church family.

This was brought home to me again recently, when the Chief Officer for the Church of Scotland wrote at the end of January to all Presbyteries and said:
‘…our future target number for all ministry posts in five years’ time would be in the region of 600. This is a reduction of around 20% on the advisory figures produced by the Ministries Council in 2018 for the number of ministers.’ (Dave Kendall)

So, more change is coming, and the proposed Hub will not be with us forever, though it can guide us through the immediate future and begin a process of drawing all the Braes Churches even closer together and enable us to support one another in these difficult days. Because, the Partnership Agreement is not the solution. Neither is the solution simply a matter of increasing finances, or recruiting more ministers, or shelving our old buildings, or even being a more attractive church to wider society. Our true problem is spiritual, rather than any of these other issues, and I partly believe this in light of what I read recently in two separate books, which shared a similar thought nonetheless:
‘Win [your community] with entertainment, and you have to keep them there by entertaining them.’ (Francis Chan) and separately: ‘In the end, what we won [young people] with is what we won them to.’ (Intergenerate)

I’m also mindful of what we read in the book of Acts:
‘…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:47)
So, our problem is spiritual because our solution is spiritual; our solution is tied to our spiritual maturity – of things we give ourselves to, the priorities that we have, the dependence on the Lord that we nurture, the vibrancy of our faith, the testimony we can share of God’s work among us, and how we nurture our common life together. All of this is spiritual and sadly these issues, these conversations, are foreign to many of us –
we don’t talk about it much, maybe we feel uncomfortable to do so. As such, we probably resonate with this old quote: ‘Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes) I wonder is some of us say “Yes! Amen!” to that – that is so true, I can think of people that are too heavenly minded. And this quote gives us a measure of comfort.

But what if the church today is so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good? Have we imbibed that quote so much that we address the problems of our day with earthly solutions, rather than heavenly solutions?
CS Lewis once said:
‘If you read history you will find the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought most of the next…It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’ (Mere Christianity)
So, how do we change? For we still need to press on with the Hub and addressing these things because finances are running out, ministers are being burnt out and the people of the church still need to be cared for. Yet, as I say, our problem is deeper, it’s spiritual not structural. So, how do we change? How do we ensure we pursue the right things and have a vibrant faith to share with the world?

Well, in our passage today, Paul calls us – and models to us – the importance of being a church which pursues maturity through a right focus and a right attitude. He says:
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (v12)

Firstly, let’s note that Paul is referencing what he wrote in the previous section – of knowing Jesus, of appreciating Jesus, of growing in relationship with Jesus and likeness to Jesus. Paul says he hasn’t yet obtained all this; even he, the Apostle Paul, who has been following Jesus for maybe 20 or 30 years, even he has not arrived at his goal, which in other translations is spoken about as ‘perfection’ or ‘maturity’. So, Paul himself is still seeking to mature and he wants the church to pursue this as well.

Towards that end, maturity comes about by having a right focus – a goal, a prize, a calling, he says, and as we previously mentioned last week, this is to have a relationship with Jesus, and grow in the likeness of Jesus. That’s why Paul goes on to compare a heavenly focus with an earthly focus.
When our attention is predominantly captured by the things of earth then we in effect become enemies of the cross – we shun the way of Jesus – and our God is our stomach – we pursue personal satisfaction above all else, we pander to self – and this then leads to a false glory, a glory that’s in shameful things, in fact we can end up valuing the wrong things, in fact, we can end up enjoying and celebrating things that offend God. Francis Chan, one of the authors I quoted earlier, in the same chapter goes on to say:
‘By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centred churches.’ (pg. 53)

As a remedy to this, Paul reminds the Philippians that we can keep a right focus by remembering we are citizens of heaven. Philippi, where the group of Christians are based that Paul is writing to, Philippi was a Roman Colony and that meant they were citizens of Rome and they were to promote the interests…
of Rome and they would have sought even o make Philippi reflect the look, the feel, the customs of Rome, even though it was hundreds of miles away. Likewise, as citizens of heaven, God’s people are to point to the kingdom of God through their lives and through their values.

So, let me ask church, is this our focus, our goal? Do we prize our relationship with Jesus and seek for His kingdom to be known and grown within the Braes? Or is church about us? About what you and I can get from chruch? The most life-giving people I know, the most life-giving churches I know, are people who have a right focus, because then through them flows the love, power and values of God.

Yet, if we are to mature towards this goal, it doesn’t happen by accident, we must also adopt a right attitude.
Paul says: ‘…I press on… one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize…’ (v12-13)

What Paul forgets is not past mistakes, as we commonly assume, but rather his past accomplishments – he isn’t settling down, Paul’s not resting on his laurels or counting his chickens. He presses on, he runs the race to the very end, and likewise he calls the Philippians to this way of living out their faith: he concludes by saying for them to, ‘stand firm in the Lord in this way’. Stand firm even though they face persecution, make Jesus the highest priority of your life – is what he’s saying.

Friends, are we standing firm? Are we showing your allegiance to Jesus, first and foremost in our lives?

For example, I’ll give you a number of questions here:
Are you reading the Scriptures? Have you started the New Testament plan for this year? And are you putting your faith…
into practice? Are you serving? Are you giving to the life of your congregation in some way, however small, however behind the scenes? Also, are you giving financially? What we spend our money on shows what we value. Have you looked at that recently? Have you considered whether that needs to be adjusted in any way? And finally, are you nurturing the faith of others, of one another? Our reading plan took us into Hebrews this week and on Friday we were reminded of these words:
‘See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Are we encouraging the faith of one another? Is our faith of enough worth that we speak of it? Or do we only speak about work, family, the weather and the things that we complain about?
Brothers and sisters, we are called to maturity through a right focus and right attitude – and we all have a part to play in this. Fewer buildings, more ministers, an all-singing all-dancing Hub are not needed to make this happen; it simply takes you responding to the Word of God. And that’s a choice we can all make.

So as Paul says, and I say to you, My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and care for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends.

I pray it may be so, and want to take a moment to pray now, and give us space to respond.

So let us pray.

Our last hymn was that call for a closer walk with God, that call to shed the dearest idol, the dearest thing, that we might give our worship to above, and before God that we might then worship God alone

I wonder friends, I wonder where you need to seek a closer walk with God what is it you’re going to respond to today from today’s message.
Do you need to prioritize Jesus in some way?
Do you need to prize him more?
Do you need to give Him your time?
Do you need to serve in some way?
Do you need to sacrifice embarrassment and being uncomfortable, and have a conversation about faith and spirituality with someone?
Come Holy Spirit, come and speak to our hearts, show us where we are to respond today.
Lord, if there’s someone we’re to speak with today or the coming week about spiritual matters would you bring them to mind just now.
Come Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit reveal how we might grow closer to Jesus.
Is there a sin that we need to turn from? Convict us Holy Spirit.
Is there a choice we need to make to read Your word, to be in prayer, to serve, to give? Come Holy Spirit, reveal the way of Jesus to us.
Friends, whatever’s come to mind, why don’t you just take a moment in the silence and the stillness or even with the kids buzzing , just take a moment to speak it out to God either quietly or audibly – who’s that person, what’s that choice, what’s that sin you need to turn from?
Get real with the Lord, right now. Don’t wait till after, do it now. Come Holy Spirit.
Oh lord, how we adore You, we want to adore You even more, that You would be our goal and prize, You would be what we run towards day after day, and all our days. Lord, help us shed the sin that so easily entangles, the traditions or distractions or whatever it may be, Lord, that keep us from Your way.
Help us shed them and help us choose You and choose the things that are of You, and prioritize You, and show Your kingdom, and build Your church, Lord, come have Your, way fill us afresh today with Your Spirit.
Give us that power to choose Your way over the way we’d so easily take because of sin. Come Lord, fill us afresh that we would stand firm in You this way, this day, every day this week Lord,
for we ask You in Your name and for Your glory,
Amen

Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 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 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, come reveal Jesus. 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

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Growth

Preached on: Sunday 7th February 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 21-02-07 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 2:19-30
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.

This past week, not only have we said farewell to some of our church family, but as a nation we said farewell to Captain Sir Tom Moore. I think we all can remember the valiant effort he put in to fundraising for the NHS and how the nation got behind him, helping to raise £33million to pay for every day small things – not protective clothing, actually – but small, important things nonetheless, things that made a big difference, in particular, to NHS staff amidst this pandemic.
For a brief period of time, Captain Tom’s life was an example and we rallied behind him, and for a brief period of time we also did Clap for Carers last year and we rallied behind that. Yet eventually, it seems, our enthusiasm does wane, we lose interest in each new initiative, and we go back to “normal”, huddling down and turning in. It’s good to have these individuals, these and campaigns, that help us turn out again but part of me wonders: how do we nurture long-term change? Not only within society, but within the church as well?

Last week, Jim gave such a powerful and encouraging sermon on “becoming”, on growing in the way of Jesus. So, how do we grow in the way of Jesus such that it becomes core to our identity and we walk in it all the days of our life? Because Jesus, as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Philippians, is the most powerful example of someone giving away their life for others, and yet,… after 5 weeks in Philippians, where can you say your life has changed, where have you grown in the way of Jesus? Or, what about our children? We tell them of the love and death of Jesus, which was for them as much as for us, and yet, how many walk away from the faith and have nothing to do with the way and the community of Jesus? I wonder, do you wonder about these things, in you, ever? Do you long for things to change? I hope you do. I hope there are many of us that wrestle and wonder and question these things; and, Yes, long for change, both in your own lives and in the lives of our world and community, that together we might pursue our core purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’.

So, what has all this got to do with our passage this morning? Well, in Philippians today we’re introduced to Timothy and Epaphroditus, two individuals who served alongside Paul, and he highly commends them both.

He says of Timothy:
‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’ (Philippians 2:20-22)

Timothy has grown in the way of Jesus; Timothy is not only looking to his own interests, but to the welfare of others and to the cause of Christ.

Epaphroditus also walks in the way of Jesus, and is described by Paul as:
‘…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died…he almost died for the work of Christ.’ (Philippians 2:25-30)

In Timothy and Epaphroditus, in the life of Paul as well,… we see individuals who have grown in the way of Jesus, and part of what grabs my attention here, is that in the pairing of Paul and Timothy we see growth across the generations; we see that the way of Jesus is relevant for all the generations and that the generations need one another. Equally, in the pairing of Paul and Epaphroditus we see something else: we see that no matter your background, the way of Jesus can change your life for the better and also bring great unity, even to two people who would have written one another off normally – Paul the strict Jew, Epaphroditus the Gentile – two completely different backgrounds, two completely different ways of life, and yet brought into unity because of Jesus.

In these three individuals, I see a deep and lasting change that led them to give away their lives for the sake of others…
and for the sake of Jesus, and it leads me to ask : how? How did this happen, Lord? And what can your church today learn that we might not simply turn up to church here in this sanctuary or at home, and never change, or simply share the faith with children and young people and yet never see them grow-up and own that faith themselves? How, Lord? How can this be?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a 2- or 3-point sermon to give us a nice easy solution by the end of this morning. Because these are huge seismic issues in our church, not just at Brightons, not just in the Braes not just the Church of Scotland, but the church across our land, Yet, I do want to highlight a few things, because for me they raise more questions than answers.

Firstly, we know that core to growth in the way of Jesus, is to know Jesus for yourself; to have met with Jesus and to keep meeting with Him. I think that’s why Huddle, that I talked about earlier, excites me, because the core question within Huddle each week is:
“what is God saying to you?” and then, “what are you going to do about it?” Imagine the growth we might see in ourselves, and in our young people, if we all could answer those questions and then go and help other people answer those questions for themselves as well. But how do we nurture that? How do we facilitate that kind of learning? Because clearly, what we were doing before the pandemic, even what we’ve been doing these past 12 months, isn’t fully nurturing this yet? How Lord? How can this be?

Secondly, it’s true that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus knew Jesus, but none of us learns within a vacuum and none of us thrives within in a vacuum as we’ve been finding these past 12 months; we all need community, we need one another, and much recent research suggests that for the generations to thrive need one another, both in the church and outside. Clearly, this is limited in our present circumstances, but it’s been great to see the church launch this intergenerational penpals idea ,…
and it’s been encouraging to hear of Pastoral Groupings being in touch with one another and maybe even meeting together, even by Zoom or for outdoor recreation within the restrictions. What else could we do just now? It’s only limited by our imagination and willingness. You don’t necessarily have to add more activity. What are you doing that you could just do with someone else? You’re going for a walk, could you invite someone else to join with you? And when that great day comes and we can at last all be together again, what can, or should, our life be like together then? Are we just going to return to “normal”? Because remember what the Moderator of the General Assembly said, returning to normal is returning to a church that is declining, and that’s true for Brightons as much as for anywhere, that our membership numbers are dropping and in five, ten years time we might end up going off a cliff and not being able to continue doing what we do just now, even in this lockdown. How might we create the means for all generations, and peoples of all backgrounds, to experience a degree of community, a degree of family, that truly nurtures them in the way of Jesus?
How, Lord? How can it be?

Friends, as I said in Tuesday night’s video, there is more change ahead, that we are called to tack, and if you don’t what I mean by that go and look at Tuesday’s video recording. I do realise that we probably want more messages of comfort and encouragement at this time and those will come. But the message of Philippians calls us to walk in the ways of Jesus, to grow in the ways of Jesus, maybe especially in difficult times both individually and as a community, sure we could leave these questions and the wrestling it produces till later in the year, till beyond pandemic, but that’s not the Lord’s call for just now, and I think that’s strategic so that when we come out of the pandemic we go forward. So, let us all lean in to this, I invite you to lean into this to where He is leading us just now, to engage with the questions, to engage with the process, that together we might chart a way forward so that one
and all, all generations, might grow, truly grow…
in the way of Jesus, in this place, and across the Braes, for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.

The Inner Room- Tacking (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 3rd February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Act 15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody and welcome to our Tuesday night input here on our Youtube Channel for Brightons Parish Church kind of dubbed it The Inner Room.

Wasn’t really sure what else to call it to be honest, because tonight is a little bit different from what we’ve done on other occasions, and it’s a bit like, I guess, a mini message, but at the same time I hope it to be have a little bit of a kind of bible teaching element

and as well, as just a little bit more of sharing, I guess, what’s going on inside me about what maybe the Lord has been saying to me, or what I think He’s saying

and so, I kind of just want to share a little bit from the heart. I in that way I just want this to be kind of a safe space and a place where it’s just that “inner room”. It’s the kind of an inner sanctuary, the safe place where I’ve been able to be real and honest, in one way or another with you, So, The Inner Room.

If it ever happens again it might get a new name, but I had to come up with something so that’s what I came up with.

Welcome, anyway, to this time together and it’s really great to have you. Please do say HI! if you’re there on the live chat, and have the means to do so, and if you’re listening back to this on a recording or on a telephone, thanks as well for putting in the time to tune in and have a listen or watch to this particular video.

So, tonight, as I say, is meant to be a little bit of a heart-to-heart, a little bit of sharing from the Scriptures.

I guess, what has led to this has been a journey for me over the last well six to eight weeks. I guess it started before Christmas and I think was prompted a little bit by being aware that towards the end of January I’d be coming up to the end of my second year, going into third, and there are developments on the go with the Braes Hub and there are lots of changes coming for us as a Congregation, as an area, Even things being planned or put on hold because of Covid, and lots of different things, kind of on the go, and so, I guess, it got me in a bit of a reflective mood, thinking “I wonder what is next Lord?”, because what’s been really encouraging for me is to be able to look back over the last two years and see some of what we’ve changed, what we’ve done differently, some the impacts that we’ve had in different places.

If you want in the live chat and feel free to put up things that you see or you’re aware of, for what you would give thanks to God for.

The things that come to mind for me are seeing people come to faith – I’ve been so encouraged by that one guy who got in touch recently saying he came to faith during one of the sermons in January – someone came to faith during the Alpha Course – we saw other people come to faith along the way in previous year’s Alpha Course and different things like that.

I am so encouraged when people say “I have chosen to follow Jesus” and that’s great to see, because not every Church is seeing that. It’s a great encouragement.

I’m encouraged also that and we’ve made some changes in some of our identity and things.

So, we’ve said part of what our Purpose is to “invite, encourage and enable all ages to follow Jesus Christ” It’s really clear, it’s really bold, and it’s really deliberate, and it’s really biblical, So, I’m super excited about where that might take us on a journey together,

and as part of that we’ve also said well here are four Values that go with this, that kind of put some flesh on the bones, and that kind of say well this is part of our DNA. We know what our Purpose is but what’s also part of our DNA, what’s some of the essence of Brightons and where we’re going within that broad purpose, and so we have our four Values and it’s been great fun just to tune into to that, to talk it through with the Teams and the different Teams we have in our Kirk Sessions and Deacons Court, as well as to hear people’s hopes and dreams for 2021.

We’ve also started the Pastoral Groupings, and that’s a big change for us moving from the Pastoral District to the Pastoral Groupings, There’s many more besides.

A Scripture Union group starting up at Wallacestone and the input in classes picking up again and since Murdo’s time, I know that he did that,

and there have been lots of things like Belong starting in the last two years – and Yes, okay, we’ve not been able to continue that and lockdown, like many things, but it got started. It gave us a flavor of things.

I was so encouraged just before we went into lockdown that we had our first Sunday morning where we had Prayer Ministry in the morning Service. I thought that was a huge step for us and it felt like we were in a good place as a Church family, because I didn’t feel like people were thinking or feeling “Not sure about this, Scott!” because I remember two years ago and I was asking you to respond to the Word and I did some things that were a wee bit out-there, even for me to be honest! A few of you, or probably a lot of you, were like “I’m not sure about this!” but a year on you allowed me to lead you into Prayer Ministry, and about six or seven people came forward that morning to be prayed for in the morning Service, about some really personal things and that’s just amazing! Amazing!

There’s much more besides and you can feel free, as I say, to put some things up in the live chat that’s encouraged you.

So, I’ve kind of been reflecting a little bit on the last two years and thinking about some of what’s been achieved, but there was a growing sense within me that there’s something else around the corner, and Yes we’ve done all these things, Yes we’ve seen Huddle start, an initiative through the discipleship team and you’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks so, listen out for Huddle, but my sense was there was something more, that and there’s more around the corner for us as a Congregation and part of what I want to share tonight is around that.

This is unscripted, other than some bullet points and notes, so we’ll see what comes but before we get into that before we turn to God’s Word let’s pray okay, let us pray.

My God and Heavenly Father, we do give You thanks for all that we’ve seen of You in the last two years that, even in the midst of lockdown and a pandemic, Lord, you’ve been at work in us and through us, and before this time, Lord, before this season, You were at work in ways that were great and so worthy of praise. And so, we want to lift our voice up and glorify You and give You the thanks and the honour.
But Lord, we’re on a journey, we’re on a journey together. That’s part of one of our Values of being Family – community journeying together towards wholeness – Lord, we’re never complete this side of heaven, so there’s always more, there’s always a next step, there’s also always something around the corner.
So, as I share, Lord, from Your Word and what you’ve been, I think, saying to me, Lord, give us ears to hear You, let me help us to hear You. As John said, John the Baptist, “May the speaker decrease and Jesus of Nazareth increase”, for we do say and pray all this for His glory and in His name, Amen.

So, if you will turn with me in your Bible, whether hardback or electronic, to Acts chapter 15, Acts chapter 15.

Prior to this point the Church has been going through phenomenal growth. Peter’s had that vision where how this has led him to Cornelius’s house the church has grown Peter’s miraculous escape from prison Barnabas and Paul have been sent off on a missionary journey and they’ve seen God do incredible things, and the Church has grown in different places and then they come back and to him to Antioch and they’ve spent quite a bit of time there and so, chapter 15 verse 1 we read this:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

And then we’re going to jump on to verse 24:
Prior to this in the in between time they’ve done a report and there’s been lots of debate and conversation and then James gets up and he says in response to this that and he thinks they should do certain things and say certain things to the believers in Antioch, and other areas, who have come from a Gentile background and so they decide to write a letter and what we’re about to read is part of that letter, verse 24:

“We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:”

and then detail some things and say Farewell, well and send these gentlemen off back down to Antioch with the letter and it brings great encouragement to the people if you read on into verses 13 and 31 so, Amen and thanks be to God for this reading from His Word.

I came across this passage as I was reading a book about discerning the will of God together. It’s by a lady called Ruth Haley Barton and I’d encourage you to have a look at it. It’s a phenomenal read in quite a revolutionary way really of doing discernment as a congregation. A lot to share. Not something you could implement straight away. I think it would take some time, months if not years, to get to that place as a community where you could put it fully into practice, but it gave me quite a bit of food for a thought.

And she points out in her book that in this passage, that circumstances arise which God utilizes for the furtherance of His mission, for the spread of the Gospel, for the building up of His Church, and it arises in the midst of a very difficult situation, even conflict, and yet it’s used, and it’s in the midst of that, and trying to decide how to respond, and what’s next, what’s the right way.

We were thinking about, in Jim’s preaching on Sunday, what is the way of Jesus? They were trying to think, what is the way of Jesus for these Gentile believers? and so they discuss and, I presume they pray as well, because in their letter and I think it’s also there in the earlier passage which we skipped over we get this these words “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, I just think that’s incredible what they say. They have real sense that the Holy Spirit was teaching them, leading them, in that way and in the way of Jesus and guiding them in that moment.

I and Ruth Haley Barton says that we come across many situations in life, in Church life, where something arises, and we discuss, and we pray, and we wrestle about it, and, in the midst of that, God does something that we might discern the mind of Christ together, and move forward in His way and into His purposes for us,

and my sense is that we are coming into a season of trying to discern some of that, or at least I am, but I think it will involve many of us, or that should involve many of us. I’m not quite sure what that will look like or be like but I’m excited about it!

I was listening to a podcast and went out walking Hector, I think maybe during my Christmas break, and it’s a leadership podcast – really helpful – but, actually, this particular episode, was from early on in the pandemic maybe the Summer time, I’m not exactly sure, maybe June/July time, but in that podcast the speakers talk about how even at that stage the pandemic was what they called an accelerator and a revealer, an accelerator and a revealer, and what they were meaning by that was the onset of the pandemic has accelerated certain things, for example it’s accelerated the use of Zoom and virtual communication, and has accelerated issues within the NHS or within us as a nation, and even as a world, it has accelerated within the Church, it has changes too.

That we went online and I can remember having conversations with our IT guys, I said Well we eventually get to that in four or five years time! and not knowing what was around the corner, and I’m sure you can think of other things that have been accelerated – if you want put it up in the live chat.

It’s also been a revealer. It has revealed where we’ve maybe put our trust and, for the Church, has it really been in God? or has it only been in the good times. It has maybe revealed the insecurity of life or the fragility of life. Has maybe revealed just how insecure certain structures are within our nation and across our nations.

So much has been accelerated and revealed and, again if there are things revealed that could pop up for you then please do again share it in the live chat.

And what Barton was saying, what these folks were saying in the podcast, and I think tied-up together in Acts chapter 15 here, that things are revealed for the Church here. Revealed that there’s a kind of change needed and it’s really interesting that in Acts chapter 10 the Disciples already knew that things were permitted and certain practices were to go, and when Paul & Peter got that revelation from God by the Holy Spirit and went to Cornelius’s house, and the Gentiles came into the faith, and things have been revealed but I’m not sure exactly how much change.

Yes, Paul and Barnabas went out but they hadn’t pinned down, they hadn’t made some decisions yet, and that lack of communication, the lack of decision, the lack of kind of concreteness, ushered in some of these issues, and so, it kind of accelerated change, accelerated the need for a decision.

I think it also revealed that need to make a decision. It also revealed what were to be the Church’s priorities for Gentile believers. They hadn’t pinned that down before, they hadn’t pinned down What are we going to pass on from our Jewish roots to these new believers, and they were still wrestling with those things. They hadn’t figured it all out and so, there were things revealed. There are things accelerated in that story, and, as I say, this time of pandemic has accelerated and revealed things for us.

But, I wonder what’s next because?

Hopefully, at some point this year in the not too distant future, we will be able to return to worship in person,

But.

I wonder whether we will seek to simply just return to what was and, remember that sermon where I quoted the Moderator the Church of Scotland, and he said we all yearn to get back to normal and he kind of questioned Why do we yearn to get back to normal, when normal was Church membership going off a cliff in churches without children. And then I don’t think it was that sermon but I think it was a Tuesday Evening Sermon in December, if you didn’t see it maybe go back and have a look, where I talked about the Brightons situation that, Okay, Yeah, we’ve seen people come to faith and we do have a number of contacts with children and families, but if you look at our demographics we are declining. Even within Brightons our membership is going down compared to what it was. Our demographic is getting older and if you look five, ten years down the road, unless things change dramatically, we’re gonna have some really tough times, and we’re going to have to think about what are we going to stop doing, because we just can’t sustain what we are doing just now. And so, maybe again, that’s part of why I was thinking What’s next Lord? You’ve taken us this far, we’ve reached this stage together what’s next?

and I don’t have an answer to tha.t I don’t know what you expect of my leadership as the Minister.

I’m certainly not what you’ve maybe had before, clearly. You’re certainly not what you maybe hoped or expected for.

I’m not someone that’s going to steady the ship. I’m probably going to rock the boat more often than not, because that’s what I think is needed in the Church just now nationally, never mind just here in Brightons. But I hope, within that rocking, I can also be a catalyst.

I talked with the Nominating Committee, I think, about wanting to be a catalyst, that, rather than being the answer-man, I would be a catalyst, kind of question-man.

and again I was influenced by a book I read called Canoeing the Mountains, and the Elders have read a good chunk of that along with our Deacons, and we’ve not finished it yet, we might come back to that at some stage, who knows, but it’s been almost a year since we last dipped into that together, but that book again influenced that kind of way of thinking and I find great freedom in that, that I don’t have to have the answers myself, that this can be a team effort, a family effort, a community effort, that we all you all have a place to play in us, and I can act as a catalyst alongside the Kirk Session and the Team Conveners and the different groups that we have in the ministries we have within the congregation. So, you’re not going to get from me a grand vision – Oh, this is the vision for the next year or the next five years, you’re not gonna get that from me. Sure, you’ll get some principles and foundations which is probably in part what has led to our Purpose and Values but I didn’t come up with all that on myself, again it was a team effort, and it was taken to the Kirk Session and unanimously voted on by the Kirk Session, that these should be our Purpose and Values.

So, I want to be a leader that enables and champions ideas, rather than the one has to come up with all the ideas.

Nevertheless, I do think as part of that catalyst part of my job is listening out to the Lord so that both in the preaching and in other ways of leadership and influence, I can be part of kind of steering us forward. Because in crisis, not just in the pandemic, but let’s be honest folks, as a Church, as the Church in Scotland, not just the Church of Scotland but the Church in Scotland, we’re in crisis largely, falling numbers, as I say in bits and pieces and again in this podcast I was listening to, he said it is tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar, in times of crisis, rather than pivot or innovate.

So, in crisis, it’s tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar rather than pivot or innovate, and I know places that have Churches that have really struggled in this time and Yes, we all have, but in some ways, they’ve struggled more because their ministers their members have not been able to innovate and or pivot in these times,

and the sense of isolation is much greater than what we have, and I think folks are so hungry, much more than we might be, hopefully, because we’ve been able to do certain things and provide certain things. We haven’t got it perfect clearly, there’s always things we can do better,

But I think this is in my thinking because this crisis makes us want to turn in and feel safe, and I wonder what happens later on in the year when we get back and Yes there’ll need to be a time of coming together, of being family, of reconnecting and of celebrating that, and valuing that, but the danger would be that we then get comfortable again and don’t look at what we need to be looking at, and even in this time now, to be looking out and I’m thinking “Well where next God? Where next?

and in all of this, just last week actually, I believe it was only last week, and I was sitting in this chair, I just read the bit, I think it was Mark, final chapter of Mark wasn’t it last Monday and I knew it was my Spiritual Director the next day and I thought he’s going to ask me if I’ve been spending some time in prayer and listening to the Lord, which is an exercise that I do every so often, and sometimes I’ll maybe get a picture or maybe get a phrase that’ll come to mind, and it’ll really help with my leadership. Actually, of late, it’s been really helpful for leadership. He can speak in other ways but I find, most often, nice speaking, into me about leadership,

and so, like the last two years there’ve been different things for my three or four months block so, I had my Bible reading, jotted down my thought or my prayer for the day, as I encouraged you in the Mini Message. I thought Right, I’m gonna spend some time preparing to see God says anything and he did! Surprise, surprise!

and I normally get a picture but this time it was more a phrase, and the phrase was “It’s time to tack” and I knew it was about sailing and tacking and I didn’t really know why this had come to mind.

At first I thought God was correcting me and that’s a bit of my own insecurity that I think as a young leader I’m till guessing half the time. I’m probably, like most ministers even with 30 years experience, probably still feel that they’re guessing, but I definitely feel that I’m guessing half the time, and that’s experimentation, and it’s life of faith and all that,

but Yeah, it kind of feels like I’m guessing half the time and with guesses can come wrong things, and Imake mistakes, and I have made mistakes in the last two years, and so I thought I’ve done something wrong, He’s correcting me. It’s time to tack. It’s time to change direction. It’s like What have I done wrong? What needs to change? but I decided to do some a searching on Youtube, actually, we’re all on Youtube aren’t we to some degree or another? and you get some nonsense on there, but I went looking for tacking, because I didn’t really know anything about tacking at all.

But I watched a couple of short videos about tacking and about the physics of sailing and some really startling and interesting things came up!

So, tacking is when the boat changes direction so as to be able to keep moving forward in a particular rough direction. So, if you’re wanting to go that way, you’re kind of tacking different angles to keep going in the rough direction but you’re cutting across and the rough path, so that you’re doing a kind of zig-zag to eventually get there,

but what’s interesting with tacking is, you’re sailing into the wind which I didn’t know you could do, like sailing into the wind just sounds mental, How is that even possible? but apparently it is, it’s apparently possible because the boat has a keel and forces and vectors, apparently, apply and the result of that is that you go forward!

A couple of things that jumped out to me that people said:

you can actually go forward faster than the speed of the wind when you tack. So, you’re going into the wind but because you’re going at a particular angle and all the forces and physics that are involved, you can actually go faster than the wind. I find that crazy! And you can go faster than the wind being blowing behind you. Which I just thought was really startling!

What other things kind of jumped out at me and just the general idea that it’s into the wind, faster than the wind, and it’s still going in a rough direction. You’re keeping your course but you’re changing slightly so as to catch more of the wind, and because you’ve maybe run out of distance, you’re getting near the shore, or you just need to change direction slightly, so it’s not actually about having done something wrong, it’s about keeping your course, but catching the wind so that you can do that, and you can maintain kind of maximum speed almost, and so, when thinking about this, talking about a few others, the sense of that it’s about aligning, it’s about God directing and guiding rather than correcting came to the fore, because he wasn’t seen to change direction completely.

So I think we’ve got our Purpose and Values. We know our overall direction but it’s time to tack, and that will feel difficult because, when you tack then, notes tell me, you go through what’s called the no-go zone.

Basically when you’re turning into the wind and that’s when the sail starts flapping because the wind’s on both sides of it, is not properly catching the sail, and the rigging is swaying a little bit, and you kind of lose a little bit of momentum, but then you keep going round and eventually you get past 45 degrees and you start picking up the wind again, and you go forward, and it sails and the rigging pulls taut, and you go forward in your direction with your crew, and you pick up speed to hopefully travel faster than the wind.

And, this next season, my sense is that there’s a season of perhaps three months maybe more where we need to do that tacking, and it might feel a bit awkward and the sails might flutter a bit, and we’re not really sure what’s happening, and we don’t really feel comfortable.

It was interesting reading a blog about the analogy of tacking with ministry and I’m often encouraged, the encouragement was that’s a time to be still and be in God’s presence, and you know what I’ve been talking about with my Spiritual Director, the need for retreat, the need for solitude, and silence, with God, and to grow in that discipline, and just how many things can come together at the one time – I was just blown away!

and so, I feel like God was just saying, It’s time to tack! and it’s funny, I had been talking to the Kirk Session back in December and thinking Well, I’m not quite sure when next I’ll share with them directly so I’ll give them their New Year’s message before Christmas, and the message was there’ll be more change on the horizon and who was to know that God would give this Word at this time to tack, that in my reading I would come across Acts 15, that in my time off I would listen to a podcast talking about this time being an accelerator and a revealer, and in times of crisis we want to buckle down and feel safe, but actually we need to pivot, we need to tack, we need to innovate, and just all that’s coming together,

and I want you to know where I’m at as your minister, as your leader, and some of you will find that really hard because you want a pastoral leader, you want to be made to feel safe, and there are times when I can do that and do do that, there are times when I bring a measure of encouragement, or try to at least, but we also need to pivot. We need to tack, we need to innovate. We’re not out of this as a Church, Yeah, we’re not out of our time of crisis even when the pandemic goes away, we still are faced with the situation that our membership numbers are going off a cliff. We’re barely seeing anyone come to faith, numbers of children are dropping, it’s going to be even harder. Younger people and children have been away from Church and Church groups for so long – Will they come back? – who knows. Will the adults that we’ve been reaching out to come back? Who knows.

So, it’s not time, I don’t think, to buckle down and feel safe. It’s time to tack, and we do that together.

As I say I’m not going to be your answer-man. I’m not going to come up with a grand plan. We need to do this together.

What does that look like? Here’s a couple of ideas:

I was chatting with some folks recently kind of about the bits and pieces of this and one part of the conversation led to send to someone You know if you’ve got ideas and you want to contribute to the life of the Church, then get involved in some of the Teams and in the Church, and I think that’s an avenue If you want to help shape the life of the Church, if there’s something that’s bugging you, or if you see that there’s an opportunity, then get involved in the Teams of the Church and those teams.

There are teams on the Kirk Session: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, Community Outreach and Up-and- Coming which looks after the under-25s. Information about all those Teams is on our website on the Get Involved page. So, go and have a look there.

There are also Teams within Deacons Court: Communications, Property, Finance and a few other minor pieces, but those are the kind of major teams. Maybe you could lend some of your support there, to help us move forward.

So, or it might not be one of those bigger Teams. It might be a team that reports to one of those teams for example the Sunday School Leaders Team

or it might be within, as I was saying recently, your Pastoral Grouping. Remember I talked about this recently in a sermon. Getting involved there, speaking to your Elder and saying How could I play a part in this Pastoral Grouping? Are there some people that I could phone or I could visit? And are there ways that we could be together?

My Pastoral Grouping and one of the people said
Well in a previous existence in time we had this thing where we would do like a kind of trip around people’s houses and share one course together and then you’d move on to someone else’s house for the next course

Clearly we can’t do that just now but let’s have a Zoom call, and an hour of fun, and we’ll do a quiz, and maybe do some games, and bits and pieces, and there was quite a few a party cracker jokes, Christmas cracker jokes. It was a great hour! Someone else’s idea, largely organized by other people, and I just facilitated it, and it was such an encouragement to be together, and I have a sense within my pastor of grouping that we’re becoming a bit like a kind of mini family within this wider family of the Brightons family. I’m really enjoying seeing just how that’s kind of growing.

Maybe you could lend your time and your love and your gifts there, if it’s not part of one of the wider teams.

Another idea for you is that hopefully you’ve watched the video from the start of the year, I think it was the second week in January, where we shared some hopes for 2021 from different people, and maybe there’s some stuff that’s resonated there, for you. I’ve certainly taken notes of things to pursue potentially, pursue the year ahead, but you might, you may have a hope for 2021. We couldn’t ask everybody. So, get in touch, send a message to our Facebook page or drop us an email, and say Hey, I was listening to this message and Scott invited us to share one hope around one of the values maybe, and this is what I hope for in 2021,

and clearly if it’s the same as what’s been repeated in that video, there might be no need to email, but if there was something different, or else you wanted to add to someone’s idea, again, drop us an email saying this is one of my hopes for 2021 for the Brightons Church family, and again we take that on board,

and I’m not saying that we’ll pursue all these ideas but it’s starting to do that discernment together of What does it mean to tack? Where is God calling us to tack in these coming months that we might be ready to catch the wind as we come out of restrictions, and hopefully come back together.

Yes, we’ll come back, and we’ll celebrate, and we’ll love seeing each other. I really miss you, I miss you all. I miss that Sunday morning –

one of my favorite points on the Sunday morning was around about half past 10 to 10 to 11, I go around and I talk to people and that people had come early so, if you never got that opportunity you clearly know that you didn’t arrive in time, and for that I’m sure you’re right on time for the service just not in time for me going about, and I really loved that time, it was just a really special time. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed that. Live Chat doesn’t equal it, not everybody’s on there that I would normally talk to at that point. I’ve missed that and I’m looking forward to that starting back as I say.

As many people are saying if we don’t allow God by Sis spirit to work amongst us so that it reveals and accelerates and that, so that we pivot, so that we tack, then we are just gonna run aground or we’re gonna just get comfortable and kind of bunker down or we’re gonna get kind of stuck in that no-go zone and the sails just gonna flutter and we’re gonna lose momentum,

and we really can’t afford to because, we have a community, we have a Parish that needs to know Jesus, needs to know that He’s real and living and active, needs to know the love and grace of God, and we’re called into that ,we’re called to invite others to share, we’re called to encourage one another in the way of Jesus, we’re called to enable all ages, the youngest to the oldest, to follow Jesus, and to know what that means, and to know and play their part.

So, I look forward to the next year, to the next two years and more, and I wonder what’s on the horizon for us next, as we tack,

and there’ll be more tacks along the way, but we’re entering into that season of tacking. Now and I pray that we would have the boldness, and the courage, and the sensitivity that the early Church showed in Acts 15 as well, and then from that see the Church of Jesus flourish in this place, and the Kingdom come like we’ve never known.

May it be so let us pray

My God and Heavenly Father, we thank You that You promised to never leave us nor forsake us, to journey with us by the Spirit. Jesus You promised that Your sheep will hear Your voice and that the Spirit will lead us into truth and into life, that He will reveal You and Your way.

Help us Lord, to be sensitive to the Spirit and to hear what You’re saying to us as a community, to us individually, by Your Word, and in the place of prayer.

Lord, where things have been of me, just pull them away, let them not linger in our hearts and minds, and cause unrest, or lead us in the wrong direction. But where things have been of You Lord, take it deep, keep it safe and bring forth a harvest that would be to Your glory.

Lord, we seek Your way and Your will. Help us to be bold where we need to be bold.

We ask this in and through the name of Jesus, Amen

Friends, thanks for being with us tonight. I realize it’s a bit of a longer message or session than normal, that’s the danger when I don’t have notes or detailed notes, and I just kind of keep going a bit, but I’m excited and passionate about what’s coming. So, hopefully, forgive me in the midst of all that.

It’s been really good to share in this time together. Look forward to our next time and in one way or another, and next week we’ll have Testimony Tuesday, so join us then, as folk share about their faith journey, and various different ways and forms. We’ve got our Thursday Prayer back on Zoom this Thursday as well as well as on our Youtube Channel and then I’m back in preaching this Sunday morning, as we continue in Philippians.

So, as we go from here, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you, my dear brothers and sisters, this night and forevermore. Amen

The real Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 24th January 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 21-01-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 2:5-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Sunday 24th January 2021
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 as followers of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Amen.

Today marks two years since I was inducted as your minister here in Brightons Parish Church, and from my perspective at least it’s been a good two years, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you and serving alongside you as we seek to fulfil our purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’. Who could have imagined these last two years? Who could have imagined what was on the horizon though?

I think it was the first Sunday I preached that I brought along this box – do you remember? On that day, we spoke about the labels we might use to describe Jesus – both His names as well as His character, and our boys and girls helped with that in the Young People’s message. But the key point of the box was that we all put Jesus in a box – we all think we know Jesus, we think we know what He’s like. But often our understanding of Jesus and so how we relate to Jesus, puts Him in a box – it confines Jesus, and maybe that box doesn’t even represent who He truly is or what He is like. More often than not, I think, we create a mental picture of Jesus, or we have certain expectations of Jesus, which are based upon popular ideas in our culture rather than on the truth. And in part, that’s another motivation to get into our 2021 reading plan, that we might all get to know a bit more of the real Jesus.
In our passage today, Paul wants to help the Philippians get to know more of the real Jesus. This portion follows on from what we covered last week, so there will be echoes of that. We saw last Sunday that Paul wrote: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ (1:27) and then he went on to explain that part of being worthy is having unity and trust, and he based his argument on what Christians have already received through Jesus and who they are in Jesus, as people who are in Christ.

Today, Paul continues his theme but with a different argument. He says, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…’ (2:5) Paul is about to get very personal, focusing in on the person of Jesus, helping these dear Christians to grasp… more of the real Jesus so that they might share, emulate, the mindset of Jesus in their relationships.

Now, Paul is writing to people in a time and culture where the popular understanding of the gods was that these beings held great privilege, great power and glory, and they exercised this for their own agendas and their own reputation. We see this in many of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology: the power and privilege they held could be used in whatever manner they wished, even to the detriment of humanity. That was the common assumption, the popular understanding of what it meant to be a god, what it meant to be divine.

Into that culture, into that popular understanding, Paul says:
‘…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ (2:5-6)

Notice that Paul is saying Jesus is God, that Jesus is much more than a prophet, a good man, a fine example or even simply an idea. We live in a time when many think that it’s OK to box in Jesus to one of these categories, to think that He is a mere man, or a cute, religious sage. But the testimony of the Church, the teaching of Scripture, is that Jesus is God, He alone is God and has always been God. Yet as God, He would not allow Himself to be boxed into the popular understanding of the time, for as God Jesus displayed His deity in ways that were completely opposite to everything that was expected. Paul says: ‘[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ – His rank, His privilege, His rights as God would have allowed, should have ensured, that He could dominate His creation, these creatures who had rejected Him and made a mess of His world. But Jesus chose not to exploit, not to keep hold, of what was truly and rightly His, and instead He made another choice, a choice to display His divinity in a truly unexpected and quite frankly – offensive – manner, for Paul goes on:
‘rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ (2:7-8)

Jesus made Himself nothing; He humbled Himself – Jesus chose, He willing chose a different path, He chose the way of unselfish giving, the way of humble service and obedience. He chose to show His deity, not in power and privilege, but with shame and weakness. Jesus did this by becoming a man, He took on human likeness, and then as a man, He obeyed His Father’s will such that Jesus chose to die, and to die the worst of deaths, death by crucifixion, the most vilified of ways to die.

Now, there are a few things I need to unpack for us here. In our translation today it says that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’, yet you’ll see in other translations that it speaks of Jesus emptying Himself. Technically, ‘emptying’ is a more literal translation of the Greek words, but it has led to wrong thinking about this passage –
people have misunderstood this literal phrase to mean that Jesus emptied Himself of divine power or other divine attributes. But, the Greek word is used throughout the New Testament in metaphorical ways, speaking figuratively about emptying, where something is deprived of its proper place or use. So, what the newer NIV translation does, is paraphrase it very slightly so that we don’t make that wrong assumption and can then get to the heart of the issue: Jesus is God, He remained God entirely, and as God He surrendered His rights and privileges; He did not empty Himself in any other way.

But let’s grasp what this means: the God of all creation chose, for the sake of the world, the way of sacrifice, the way of self-giving love. We take that for granted, I think, we almost expect that this should be the case –
but I wonder if you would sacrifice yourself in such a way? Would you give yourself for someone on death row, for example? Would you give up security, comfort, peace, and allow, say, a far-right fundamentalist group to govern our nation and so our lives? Because in coming a man, Jesus gave up security and comfort, and allowed humanity to put Him to death, a humanity who rightly should be judged by God, rather than judging God.

What is more, this very God, Jesus Christ, chose death – death had no power against Jesus, because God is immortal, and He alone is immortal. Yet, God, Jesus, subjected His immortality to death, holding nothing back and giving up everything, for love of you and love of me. Jesus said, ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down…’ (John 10:17-18)

And why did He do it? Again, Jesus says:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

In love for us, God gave Himself to die in our place. He didn’t have to, He might have conformed to the popular understanding of the gods – but for our sake, He did not consider His position, rights or privilege to be for His own agenda, or for His own benefit or safety, rather, He humbled Himself and loved us unto death. This is the mindset of Jesus, and Paul calls us to adopt, to grow in, this same mindset as people who claim to follow Jesus.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the recent news that there are churches and Christian organisations who are seeking in the courts to have the right to worship in our buildings amidst the pandemic. They are pushing back against the Scottish Government’s recent restrictions, and whilst I appreciate their argument that churches have not YET been a source of spreading the virus, I do have to question whether their undertaking, and appeal to their rights, is in line with the Saviour we are called to emulate: He gave up His rights for others. So, I doubt you’ll be finding my name added to such an appeal.

But let’s also get personal about this, and not simply critique the choices of others – what about us? We are called to love, to be humble, to be united, and to give ourselves for the other. Is this our, your, mindset?…
Do people see such humility and compassion in us? Is being part of church about what you can get, or have you yet found a way to give, and so love others?

Maybe it could be through your pastoral grouping; maybe it’s joining the Thursday live prayer time and praying for others; maybe it’s getting your family involved with the intergenerational penpals idea that our Sunday School and Pastoral Care teams are setting up; maybe it’s offering your abilities, your gifts, and getting involved – for example, we need more volunteers to help with our Boys Brigade sections, could you get involved there? For more information on any of these ideas, please get in touch because we’re all called to follow the example of Jesus and give our lives away for others.
Yet, not only are we to follow the example of Jesus, we are called to worship Jesus because of His example. Paul goes on to say:
‘Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (2:9-11)

One day every knee will rightly bow in worship to Jesus. We will all come to see that He is Lord, ‘the Lord’, and this is the name which Paul speaks of. ‘Jesus’ was the name given at His birth, yet the name, the title, of ‘Lord’, was given after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. That name, ‘Lord’, confirms Jesus as God of all creation but it was received by Jesus not by right or seizure, but by His humiliation and self-giving love.
I wonder friends, have you chosen yet to bow the knee in worship of Jesus? Can you see in His incarnation as a human being, and then in His death on the cross, can you see the depth of His love for you? Can you see the wonder of God? Can you see how worthy He is of worship and glory and adoration? Are you giving Him that yet, friends? Are you giving Him your worship? Have you bent the knee to Him in your own life? Now, I don’t mean are you just turning up to church and switching on the TV: our true worship is seen in how we live, in the choices we make, and in whether we are committed to Him, trusting of Him, come what may.

Please don’t let your hearts stay hard or distanced or cold towards God; let the box you have Him in be changed, let it be blown apart even, by how He has revealed… Himself in Jesus. This is no cute Sunday School story folks – this is the real Jesus and He really did love you to the point of death, and my question is: do you know Him? Are you following Him? Have you bent the knee to Jesus, and will you let Him reign in your life, such that His love, His self-giving love, will be seen in you and through you?

So, once more, like last week, let us have a moment to pray. I’m going to give an opportunity for anyone to bend the knee to Jesus, maybe for the first time, and welcome Him into your life. Then, there will be a prayer to invite the Spirit to fill us that we might show the love of Jesus to one another and in our community. So, let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we we see in Your life and in Your death such a powerful example such true love, and we are not worthy of it Lord and yet You still gave it for love of us because You thought we were worth it. You gave yourself and Lord, in light of that love, we want to bow the knee today. Maybe there’s some who want to bow the knee for the first time and welcome Jesus into your life, so pray along with me now. Pray out loud if you can.

Lord Jesus I don’t deserve Your love but thank you for loving me to death. Please forgive me. Forgive me for the wrong choices in my life. You might want to name a few things in the stillness just now.

Lord i turn from these and I open up my myself, my heart, my life to You.

Thank you for Your offer of forgiveness. I receive that forgiveness now and ask for Your Spirit to fill me. Please come into my life and lead me in Your ways.

Thank you lord Jesus.

Maybe for the rest of us, we need to choose afresh to bow the knee. You might even be so bold as maybe just to get down at home on your knee and welcome Him into your life, but if that’s not possible or not for you yet, maybe even just hold out your hands as a physical way of welcome.

Lord Jesus, come into our lives afresh. We bend the knee. Help us to give up our agenda, to pursue Your agenda, to love God and love neighbor, to make You known and to follow in Your ways.

Oh Lord, forgive us and show us how we should follow after You.

Lord, we want to be a shining beacon of light for You in our community and in our time. How unable we are to do that on our own strength. Lord, every day we’re faced with with temptations to go other ways and if it is for anything but Your Spirit we would choose those and we often do choose those. We turn a deaf ear to the Spirit. So, we ask for a fresh filling of Your Spirit now. Come and fill us afresh.

Come give us power to choose Your way over the ways we would normally choose. Lord, I pray too, by Your Spirit, You would give us a fresh understanding of Your love, that this would be more than words on a page, that Your Love would be poured out into our hearts by the Spirit, that Your love would be so real and tangible that it would overflow from us and to others, into the lives of others and into the life of our community.

Thank you Lord. for the gift of your Spirit

We offer ourselves in Your service and for Your glory, Amen