Everyone investing in the eternal

Preached on: Sunday 8th May 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-05-08 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Nehemiah 2:10-3:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Rebuilding is not about the building
– Rebuilding is a whole-community effort
– Rebuilding is costly

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

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

Last week I was getting Hope ready for school about half seven or so in the morning, she asked me the question ‘Dad, can I wear nail polish to school today? and I just feel the nerves rise up within me. The worry about what to do in this moment and not because applying nail polish phases me any longer. Two years of a pandemic and especially at the start when you’re trying to figure out how to pass time with a three-year-old, nail polish is a key winner because ‘Well Hope, you need to sit for five or ten minutes to let it dry’ so you know ‘just wait a wee bit longer.’ So, I’m quite adept at applying the old nail polish to Hope’s nails now. No, no the worry was not about applying the nail polish but whether we should because there’s part of me that begins to worry, here’s a five-year-old and is she worried about what people think about her and that her friends are wearing nail polish so she wants to nail polish, and if I say no then what’s that going to do for her self-esteem. And I got in a bit of a tiz and in the end she wasn’t allowed to wear nail polish and apparently, according to her mum, I made the right choice. So, score!

But I hope it’s not the only one of us who finds moments where we’re under the influence of people around us and our culture around us, we all are, whether it’s the culture or the media, whether it’s friends or family, whether it’s maybe practices in the workplace. There are things that influence us. Influence what we should pursue or invest ourselves in, or chase after. But, more often than not, the things that we’re told to pursue just raise anxiety and worry, they create competition and pride or even envy and bitterness, they’re not life-giving. So, what are we investing ourselves in? What do we esteem or chase after?

We’re now into week three of Nehemiah and we chose this book because of its focus on rebuilding. And we’re aware that we’re moving into a different phase with the pandemic and we’re also aware hopefully, sadly, that our denomination is in exponential decline and actually that affects a lot of the denominations. So this week’s focus on rebuilding helps us to think about how we might rebuild our own faith, but how might we might rebuild the community of faith as well. And we’ve seen in Nehemiah’s story the importance of prayer and repentance and it was great to gather with folks this morning at quarter past ten, if you didn’t make it along you missed out, because I just left me so encouraged from that time and I’d encourage you to think about maybe joining over the next four Sundays. We’re going to pray each Sunday from 10:15 to 10:30 up to Pentecost Sunday on the 5th of June. You don’t need to come and pray out loud, you can just listen in, but if that’s not possible for you then there are many other ways to be praying whether it’s at home or in a fellowship group or in a team that you’re maybe part of. Get involved and be praying for our congregation and wider denomination. But this week we move on once more and see the next bit of Nehemiah’s story, of what it says to our situation.

In our passage we saw how Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem. He traveled for four months from Souza to Jerusalem and, understandably, when he arrives, he needs a bit of a rest so, for three days, he rests. He prepares and then he goes and scouts out the city to see what needs doing. But he keeps all of his plans close to his chest probably because of the opposition he knows is out there against God’s people, and that’ll become more of a focus maybe in the next few weeks, but the time comes, eventually, for Nehemiah to make a move, to gather the people and share with them what is upon his heart. And so, he says to them ‘You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ We will no longer be in disgrace – it’s a theme that was there in chapter one but we didn’t dwell on it much due to time constraints, but this theme of disgrace is important for Nehemiah and for God’s people and it should be important for us too because it’s not so much that the people are in disgrace, it’s more about the worry about what that then causes for God’s glory and name, because a diminished Jerusalem with its walls and gates and a mess portrays a diminished God to the people around them. And so, the neighboring peoples would think ‘Well, your God can’t be very powerful, look how we beat you up and tore down your walls. Your God can’t care for you very much because you’re not able to rebuild.’ And so, they’re in disgrace and because they’re in disgrace the name of God is in disgrace. And so, as I’ve got on screen here the rebuilding is not about the builder, the rebuilding is not about the building, it’s about the reputation of God, it’s about God being seen to be worthy of worship, that he is the true God, their focus, a spiritual focus enabled, fulfilled through material means but with a spiritual focus, and it carries on into chapter three.

Chapter three we read at the very start that ‘The high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the sheep gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place.’ Now the order of things in scripture is very important at times and so the fact that Nehemiah begins with the sheep gate is important. At first, it seems like well, that’s just another gate but actually, the Sheep Gate is where the sacrifices were brought in and so they’re saying that’s that was the gate they began with, that was the important gate because God is important, we’re putting God first. And they dedicated it, they gave it over to God, they made it holy and all this because the rebuilding was not about the building, it was about God’s name and glory, about the true worship of God.

So, what about us and every day, as we think about rebuilding things after the pandemic, as we think about rebuilding our denomination in light of its decline? What is the focus for us? Is it about just keeping the building open and keeping the lights on? Is it about getting back to the glory days? If you lived in the height of the church and just wanting that memory to become reality again? Is it about the reputation of the denomination? Is it about feeling successful here that ‘Well hey, we’ve got kids?’ What is it about for you? What is it about? I feel church wouldn’t be a wrong thing to aspire for or a wrong thing to pray for, there might be very good reasons for that and based on Nehemiah chapter 2 one good reason would be that a full church might show that there’s a greater proportion of our community to recognize that God is worthy of praise. That would be a good reason. To see a full church, that would be a good reason to pray, for more people, and for worship not to make us feel good, not to massage our ego, but that God might be glorified and given His due worship. But for that to happen it needs to start in each of our lives. This needs to start in your life and in my life. We need to know that God is worthy of praise in all the seasons of life. We need to know that God is worthy of praise. So, let me ask, has your passion for God diminished of late? Is God less worthy, in your eyes now, of your praise? And I don’t mean happy clappy, be like Scott, hands in the air kind of praise, okay, and passion, you can express your passion however you want to, but is it diminished from what it was? Is God less worthy now in your eyes?

When I was in my mid to late 20s I was in a youth worker job and it came to a very sudden end and it was a very painful experience and left a lot of wounds for me and a job did open up straight away. That was a very a fitting job and actually would bring a lot of benefit in the end but for that first year of my job, that new job, I did not like it. I was in a fellowship group and every two weeks I’d go along and I would just moan about my job. I did not want this job and in that first year what ended up changing was my perspective and part of what changed was recognizing that God was worthy whatever the season of my life, that God was worthy of my praise whatever the season of my life. Now that might not be exuberant happy praise but He is so worthy of my worship and praise whatever the season. Have you come to that point yet? Have you matured in your faith that you’ve learned that lesson? Often it can only be learned the hard way I’m afraid, but if we don’t learn it then in our estimation and our perspective of God, God’s worth ends up going like this and our faith ends up going like this. We need to learn the lesson if we want to mature in our faith, that God is worthy of praise whatever the season.

And so, rebuilding is not about the building, it’s about God’s worth, about His glory, about His reputation. And that’s the first thing to learn from our passage today. Now let Nehemiah lays this concern before the people and he calls the people then to get involved and they respond with ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ and they begin the good work. And then, into chapter three, if you go and read it in detail, you can read list after list after the list of wall and gate and who gets involved, in what bit of work, and I saved you the pain of reading through all of chapter three but you probably – well done to Ian, by the way, for all the names, you did well this morning brother – but if you go into chapter three and you read it in detail you’ll find that not once is Nehemiah mentioned. I’m sure he was involved in some way but he’s not mentioned, and if you look in detail, the people that get involved come from eight different places. They don’t all come from Jerusalem. Some of them come from places as far away as 15 or 20 miles. So, again, they weren’t getting involved because it benefited them, they got involved because the rebuilding was not about the building. And they come from all different walks of life. They are male and female. They are high and low in society. They are different professions, so it’s not just builders and masons and carpenters that get involved, there’s perfumers and everything in there. Basically, all walks of life. It didn’t matter because there was this passion for the glory of God and so they got involved. And it all goes to show that rebuilding is a whole community effort, everyone needs to be involved to make it happen and everyone’s got a part to play. And, of course, that echoes the New Testament where Paul talks about the church as a body and he says ’Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all of its many parts forms one body, so it is with Christ. Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.’

Now, the image of the body, the church as a body, conveys many things of our need for one another, of our care for one another ,of our value of one another, however, in the context of the passage, it comes straight after a passage about our spiritual gifts, about the things God has given us to use for the common good, and so, we need to remember that part of the lesson from the image of a body is that we have a part to play and that, when we don’t play our part, the body is weakened.

So, let me ask you, where are you serving? Where are you serving within this community of faith? Where are you using your time and your talents to build up the church, to care and to further our purposes within the community, that God might be glorified? A stronger church and a witnessing church that sees people come to faith that glorifies God?

This past week I have the huge privilege of being at a great many meetings, admittedly, but it’s actually a real privilege at times because, for example, on Monday night I was at the Safeguarding Panel meeting which on the surface sounds really boring and tedious and who would want to be on the Safeguarding Panel, although they’re lovely people, so don’t tell that personally. Now the reason it was so encouraging is because well, I know many other Kirk Sessions don’t have Safeguarding Panel meetings because they don’t have children that they’re working with and so they have no need to meet, but we do because we’ve got children amongst us that we’re reaching out to and so it was great to see some names coming forward. But we also have a Pastoral Care system that many other churches would be envious of and, of course, it’s not perfect and we can always improve things, but we have pastoral visitors that keep in touch with people who are housebound and maybe more vulnerable and needing a bit of support and it was great to hear of names on Monday night coming forward to be involved in that as well. That is a great thing. I’ve had emails coming in this week talking about starting the teas and coffees next Sunday so please come along for that because it’s not just a nice thing, it’s a great thing that we have an opportunity to be family because when you’re in your pew how many people do you talk to, just a few that are around you and we get up and we go home and who knows if we see each other the rest of the week but we have that moment after the service to have a talk, have a catch up and to know what we can be praying for one another. So, come along to tea and coffee, give it a shot, especially if maybe you didn’t do it before the pandemic either. And then I know I didn’t manage to make it yesterday because I needed to save some time for the family, but yesterday morning the Up-and-Coming team met for a strategy breakfast – I’m always up for a breakfast – but I’m also up for an Up-and-Coming strategy session and it was great that they’re thinking about how can we invest in our children and young people and particularly they were thinking about intergenerational things and they were thinking about the zero to tens. And there’s people who have had a busy week of work, they’re here in church by the way, or serving through in those halls, and still they gave up a Saturday morning. Incredible people, a privilege to serve with them.

So, what about you? Where are you serving? You know, I need someone to come forward and lead the Communications Team, I need someone to come forward and lead the Discipleship Team, I need someone to oversee the publication of Bright Lights because this is all on me right now, I’m already busy enough. So, there are three jobs but there’s many more. Now, you might be at an aging stage of life where mobility, strength, energy etc is a dynamic, and that comes, but I bet you can pray, I bet you know how to move, work your telephone. I’ll give you a list of people I pray for or a list of people you can call. Every one of us has a job we can do. Every one of us. And if you can’t name a job that you are doing, it’s time to step up, and on your pews today there are these old cards that we have not had out since the start of the pandemic and on the back there’s a list of areas and you could fill this out today and leave it with the door duty team at the front or back and say ‘Well, I don’t know exactly what to do but I’m willing so here’s my details. Here’s what I’m willing to help with.’ Please, please get involved because there are some people who are carrying too much. Because, if we want to rebuild, well every one of us has to be involved, it’s a whole community effort.

But we know from Nehemiah’s time that there were people who didn’t get involved both within the community and outwith the community and that brought challenges, it brought setbacks and disappointments I’m sure, but it was also costly and it goes to show that rebuilding is costly.

The first instance I want to flag up for us is with the nobles of Tekoa who ‘would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.’ Now, when we read that, we think ‘Oh, here’s a bunch of snobs who just can’t be bothered. They just want to put up their feet and kick back.’ and that’s how it reads at first but, what we need to understand, is that the Hebrew for shoulders here refers to the back of the neck and it carries with it the imagery where an oxen would refuse to yield to the yoke that was placed across it to enable it to do its job and so, what’s actually happening here is not that the nobles are lazy but the nobles are prideful and they will not yield to the leadership of Nehemiah and the group of people around him, they are refusing to yield to leadership and so the rebuilding comes with a cost. Sometimes we need to give up our pride and sometimes we need to re-engage. And I wonder if that’s an issue for you. I don’t think it’ll be an issue for a lot of us but it might be an issue for some of us, because maybe you’ve chosen to disengage from church because of leadership, it could be my leadership, it could be the leadership of the elders or a leadership of someone within one of the teams, and because of something, you’ve decided to kind of reject them and step back and disengage. And maybe you’ve done it because you’ve genuinely felt hurt, I can understand that, but can I help you follow the logic of your choice through. First Corinthians says you are gifted to benefit the community and bring glory to God then, by you choosing to disengage, you are robbing God of glory and robbing this community of benefit and that’s challenging, and so I’d encourage you to think about getting re-involved, not to massage my ego or make me feel better, not to say that what has been done is okay but so as to say that God is worth it, God is worth it, that you’ll get involved again and you’ll serve and you’ll use your gifts and it will be costly I’m sure. I’ve had to do it in my life. Maybe it’s time for you to do it in your life. But there was also another cost for some people and more broadly for the people. Earlier on, in Nehemiah 2, we read that Samballat, Tobiah and Geshem heard about the rebuilding work and they began to mock and ridicule the people saying, what is it you’re doing, because it just seemed crazy to them. Here’s a bunch of people, there is a mess, there is no way that this is going to happen. It just seemed foolish and so they mocked and ridiculed the people. Imagine what the people would have been feeling. I’m sure they must have felt a degree of embarrassment, we all do, and if they’d allowed that embarrassment to take hold the work would have stopped. There was a cost to their rebuilding. They had to sacrifice their embarrassment. And I wonder if that’s an issue for any of us? Maybe we’re not willing to own up to being a Christian or that we go to church. Maybe we feel too embarrassed to share our faith or even to say to someone ‘I’ll pray about that for you.’ It’s a bit of a bold step and it can feel embarrassing but if you never say it, that person is never going to know that there’s a God they could turn to. Or maybe it’s embarrassment of getting involved in church, you might think ‘Well, I can never do that, I’m not able to do that.’ But there can be a false modesty, brothers and sisters, that holds us back because God is able to work through you, you just have to be willing to step out in faith. So, where might you need to sacrifice your embarrassment for God’s glory?

Now, what helped Nehemiah and the people overcome and pay these costs? Well, it might not seem obvious at first, but hopefully you can follow my logic, because in response to the critics, Nehemiah said ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We, as servants, will start rebuilding but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’ And that’s a true statement. These opponents did not share in the kingdom of God because they didn’t have faith in God. That’s true, but the converse is also true, Nehemiah and the Israelites did share in the kingdom of God because they had faith in God and because they shared in that kingdom they were willing to sacrifice for that kingdom. They were seeing that that is where they were called to invest despite the cost, despite the embarrassment, they were willing to invest in that. And it makes me think of what Jesus said he said ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and vermin do not destroy. And why do you worry about clothes’ (or Hope, why do you worry about nail polish, I can understand why she does, we’ll get on to those other lessons) ‘see how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness through faith in Jesus.’ We share in the kingdom of God and we’re called to invest in that kingdom to give it our focus to give our attention and time and talents and money and through all to then invest in what is eternal, what carries eternal worth, rather than what is fleeting. And so, I wonder can we be that people? Can we be a people where everyone, everyone is investing in the eternal,, the eternal kingdom of God? And when we do that, we show that God is worthy of our praise and when we do that, we show that everyone has to be involved and that we’re willing to pay the cost. That’s my prayer for us this morning as we think about these chapters of Nehemiah. So let us take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

Father, You will have been speaking to us in some way, maybe through the sermon, maybe through a prayer or a hymn or part of the reading that’s been unexplored. Lord, whatever it may be, take it deep and bring forth a fruit a harvest from that seed that would be to Your glory. Lord, if there’s been something that’s challenging, give us grace to receive it and to respond. Lord, if we’ve needed a word of comfort may we know Your presence with us to uphold us and strengthen us in this season. May we know that you are a worthy, God, of our praise and love, and may we keep following You in the highs and in the lows. Oh Lord, lead us forward as a congregation and blow away the chaff from our time together and from the sermon, and just take deep what is of You, the furtherance of Your purposes in Your kingdom, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Prayer before action

Preached on: Sunday 1st May 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-05-01 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Nehemiah 1:4&11; 2:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• Prayer changes things
• Prayer prepares things
• Prayer is the first thing

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

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

I recently had some leave at the beginning of April and so the family went down to our home, our house in East Ayrshire where I think I told you last year there was some building work on going. I didn’t really get much of a rest because I had 30 hours or so in the garden to do and it wasn’t light work. I probably dug up a couple of ton of stone and rubble and other junk as part of my time there. In fact, there were some boulders that were so large I had to cantilever them out of the ground. I couldn’t physically lift them and all this because we’re hoping that this month we will get our lawn finally sewn. But there’s always preparatory work to be done isn’t there, and the preparatory work is the hardest work and it’s essential work because without that getting done there’s no way that people could come along and rake over the ground and then sow the seed. There’s no way it could be done so the preparatory work had to be done but it is often the hardest and the heaviest work.

Last week we began our new series in Nehemiah and there we began with thinking about the situation of the church both locally and nationally and that, if we want a better church, a better future, then we need to engage with that preparatory work, the deeper preparatory work of the heart, which is often the hardest work. And so, last week in our first week, we thought about repentance preceding restoration and we all know probably that repentance takes time, it’s not just a one-off moment where you say sorry and move on, that true repentance takes time to work through as we change the direction of our lives. And so, although we move on today, please don’t forget about last week. If there were things that struck you there, if there’s things that you were driven to talk with God about, keep talking with Him, keep in that place of prayer.

But today we move on and yet we move on to another preparatory step we might see. Before things will change there’s something else required and it seems almost too obvious to mention but it is the place of prayer that we see in the example and story of Nehemiah. He prays. He prays for God’s help and intervention but he not only prays for confession, he prays to receive God’s help. And so, we read a little bit of the prayer from chapter one ‘Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revealing your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.’ So Nehemiah asked for God’s intervention and God’s help and it goes to show, as we were saying to the children with the little ornament, prayer changes things and we see that in chapter two that by verse six and then verse eight the king is responding positively to this request from Nehemiah and I think there’s a danger for us that we almost just skip over that. We think ‘Of course that’s going to happen you know, Nehemiah is a cup bearer, of course he’s going to trust the cup bearer, so he’ll automatically just say ‘Yes’ to that.’ But we think that because we don’t know the backstory maybe there is a backstory that 12 years prior to Nehemiah had been Ezra and that’s just the book before, so if you ever want to read it just a couple pages back, and Ezra had been sent. He was a priest and he’d been used of God to bring a people, part of the people, back from exile but some opposition arose against Ezra and the people, and they wrote to the king about the situation and to try and change the king’s mind and the king replied this way ‘The letter you sent has been read and translated in my presence. I issued an order and the search was made. It was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition.’ This is not good. ‘Now issue an order to these men to stop work so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow to the detriment of the royal interests.’ And so, what comes of Nehemiah, of Artaxerxes’ letter. As soon as a copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them, by force, to stop it. Stopped because of King Artaxerxes being persuaded. And so, Nehemiah’s not praying a little prayer here, he’s not just asking for a wee favor, this is a change of royal policy that he’s asking for. This is a big deal. Can you imagine trying to walk into Downing Street and persuade Boris Johnson to change his mind? Probably not. King Artaxerxes was Boris Johnson on steroids! That’s hard to imagine admittedly, but you know what I mean. Imagine doing that. That’s what he’s asking. This is an audacious request but prayer changes things, because Nehemiah prayed the future of thousands of Jews, the future of Israel, maybe even our future was changed because if Nehemiah hadn’t prayed there wouldn’t be his story to inspire us, to challenge us, to encourage us.

And likewise, I came across a recent story and a book I’ve begun to read. It’s a new book by Pete Greig called How to hear God, and in his very first chapter he recounts a story of a young lady called Azrin and it’s an incredible story that sparked because she prays and I’d like to read it to you. I’d like to read it in its entirety because it’s just such a good story so please sit back and just soak this up because it inspired me and I hope it inspires you.

Pete Greig writes:
I’ll never forget the testimony of a young woman called Azrin who first shared her story with me one evening over dinner. Azrin grew up in northern Iran where six of her cousins were killed by the ruling Ayatollah’s forces with whom the Kurdish Iranians are at war. Her earliest memories therefore, are of playing in the cemetery where her mother would go to mourn then, at the age of just 16, Azrin was arrested, accused of crimes she had not committed and forced to sign a declaration of guilt. She said ‘I had done nothing wrong and still they held me guilty’ and I detected a flicker of fire in her eyes. ‘These people had killed my cousins and now they were accusing me of crimes I had not committed so I decided I might as well go and do the things they had forced me to confess. I would travel to the mountains of Iran and join the Kurdish militia. Up to this point Pete Greig writes, Azrin had always dutifully attended the mosque to pray but she said Allah had never responded. As communists, the Kurdish militia denied God’s existence and Azrin began to wonder if they were right. ‘Either God was going to speak to me’ she said with a flash of that same fire ‘or I was doing or I would have nothing to do with him. I gave God an ultimatum.’ she grinned ‘I told him he had seven nights to speak to me or I would be permanently upset with him. On the seventh night, just before bed, Azrin reminded God of his looming deadline. ‘Either you appear to me tonight’ she said ‘or that’s it. I will live the rest of my life as if you don’t exist.’ And that night she had a dream. She dreamed that she was in a vast reception room full of many people feeling very alone until she recognized a man in front of her leaning against the wall. It was Hazrat Isa, Jesus, the holy highly honored one, highly honored in the Koran, as a prophet but not as the son of God. ‘He was standing so close I could feel his breath.’ she said.All around him there was a brilliant light. Nervously, Azrin addressed Jesus. She told him she was here to talk to God. He looked straight back at me and said the strangest thing ‘Talk.’ ‘No’ I protested ‘you don’t understand. I need to talk to God.’ Again Jesus looked at me and said ‘Talk.’ Then very slowly he repeated the most astounding phrase ‘I am God.’ he said ‘I am God. I am God’. Azrin’s face seemed to be shining with the memory. She whispered ‘As I heard this, all doubt drained away from my tired heart. We talked and talked and talked. I just poured my heart out to him, to God in Jesus, and for the first time in my life I experienced God speaking back into my life. When Azrin awoke from her dream she hurried to share the news with the local Mullah but he told her angrily that Jesus could not be God. Next, she told her family but they just laughed at her. And then, one day, as she was sitting in a park far from home, a total stranger gave Azrin a New Testament in the Persian language. It was the first Bible she had ever seen. The stranger also invited her to church where she was amazed to hear the preacher say ‘God is love.’ Reading her new Bible in the park afterwards Azrin finally found the words that made sense of her dream. Jesus said in John chapter 14 ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.’ No wonder he’d invited her to talk. Right there and then, sitting in that park, Azrin acknowledged Jesus Christ as the Son of God and, as she did so, she experienced an unfamiliar sense of hope flooding into her body, displacing the many years of despair. Azrin shared this story with me quietly and calmly but I just kept shaking my head in amazement and forgetting to eat. A couple of times I wanted to scream ‘Hallelujah!’

‘So, what did you do’ I asked ‘after you became a follower of Jesus?’ ‘Oh’ she laughed ‘I never joined the Kurdish militia. I didn’t want to kill people anymore, I wanted to bring life so I trained to plant churches instead.’ ‘Of course’ I said encouragingly ‘and how’s that going?’ ‘Well, I’ve planted five churches so far.’ she replied casually. ‘Isn’t that a bit dangerous?’ I asked instead, I’m already feeling a complete coward. Azrin fixed me with a steady gaze ‘Pastor Pete’ she said ‘I was willing to die fighting to kill for the Kurdish militia, don’t you think it’s much better to die fighting for Jesus?’

Wow!

Prayer changes things and sometimes when you pray you have no idea what you’re opening up yourself up to.

Prayer changes things, and it changed her life yet, we need to remember that prayer is not like treating God as a genie in a bottle. He’s not a slot machine or a spell that we’re trying to say the right words to get them working. That’s not how prayer works and we do need to acknowledge also that prayer goes unanswered. Indeed, Nehemiah knows a little of that experience too. It’s not obvious because we use the original words of the months, but chapter one begins in the month of Kislev which is late November/early December. Chapter two begins in the month of Nissan which is March/April time. So, he prayed for four months. I wonder if he ever thought his prayer was going to go unanswered? Change wasn’t instantaneous for him either and so not all changes we pray for occur and if that resonates with you and if you feel God is silent then maybe you should pick up Pete Greig’s other book which is titled God on mute, God on mute. Nevertheless, it was William Temple who said ‘When I pray coincidences happen and when I don’t they don’t.’ And the apostle James writes saying ‘You don’t do not have because you do not ask God.’ But he also cautions that ‘When you ask you do not receive because you asked with wrong motives.’ Sometimes we don’t have because we don’t ask and sometimes, we don’t receive when we do ask because we’re asking with the wrong motives. Nehemiah did ask and he asked with the right motives. His focus was on God’s kingdom, God’s glory, God’s purposes, and he prayed in line with God’s promises as well, His promise to restore His people.

And so, when thinking about our situation and our prayers for the church, if change is going to come it can’t be just by restructuring, there needs to be that deeper work. We need to repent, but we need to pray, we need to pray with right motives and we need to pray in line with God’s promises. Like Matthew 16 would be a great promise to cling to where Jesus says ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.’ If we want the future of our church to be better than its present, then we must pray, because prayer changes things.

Now we might wonder ‘Well, how does prayer change things?’ And there’s many possible answers to that, but the story of Nehemiah shows one way that prayer changes things and, in particular, prayer changes Nehemiah, prayer prepares Nehemiah and so he writes of his own account ‘I took the wine and gave it to the king I not been sad in his presence before so the king asked me why does your face look so sad when you’re not ill this can be nothing but sadness of heart. I was very much afraid’.

So, Nehemiah’s experiencing this fear as he embarks on trying to change the king’s mind and there’s some debate about why he might be fearful. He might be fearful of punishment because there’s some literature that would suggest that being sad in the king’s presence could get you killed. But also, maybe he’s fearful because he realizes that this is the moment, this is his moment to share with the king, to persuade the king to go with a different plan, to change his policy. He realizes this is the moment when the lives of thousands hang in the balance. I’m pretty sure I’d be a little bit fearful too. And yet, Nehemiah is able to overcome his fear because he spent four months in prayer and even draws on prayer amid communication with the king, in verse four. It keeps him going, it strengthens him, it gives him boldness. And how can I say that it gives a boldness? What gives me that clue, that idea well? Back in chapter one he prayed this ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.’ This man, this man, who with the click of his fingers, could have him killed, this man who everyone else was in fear of, this man who had ultimate power.

But, to Nehemiah, he’s nothing compared to God, God who is the God of heaven, the Lord Almighty who parted the Red Sea, who defeated Pharaoh, the great and awesome God. That’s his God and, in light of that God, Artaxerxes is just ‘this man’. In the place of prayer, he was equipped to have boldness to ask for his request, to overcome his fear. I wonder, is part of our purpose, as part of living out our faith, is fear holding us back? Fear of saying ‘I’m a Christian’, fear of saying ‘I go to church’, fear of sharing our faith, fear of playing our part ‘I couldn’t do that. I’m not like that person.’ Whatever it might be, is fear holding us back? Maybe it’s in the place of prayer that we are prepared to overcome our fear as we come face to face with God.

But Nehemiah is prepared in other ways as well. In the middle of our chapter 2 there’s a cluster of verses that show he’s prepared in a number of ways and i’ll I’ll just run through them very quickly:
he said ‘I answered the king. If it pleases the king, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it. I may have a letters to the governors and a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park.’

Now, again, we just skip over this, but we need to realize something’s going on here, we need to realize that first of all he says ‘send me’ and we think ‘Sure, of course he’s going to pray that or say that but, maybe at the start of the four months he was praying for Ezra ‘Lord, Ezra is already there, would you just open the door for Ezra’ because, you know, if you and I are praying for situations, don’t we just pray for the people who are local, never think to pray that we’d have a part in answering that prayer, and so he probably did the same, but over that time he comes to realize ‘Actually, maybe I should play a part here, maybe I’ve got something to give. Maybe I’ve got influence and skills that can be utilized, so send me’ becomes part of the plan.

But then, he also formulates a plan about how to speak to the king. Notice what he says. He begins by saying about his ancestors, where they are buried and that’s a clever move because the Persians had a great respect for the dead, a great respect for the dead and the living we might say and so he begins there rather than digging up old stuff about the history and about Gods and religions and anything like that, he begins with what the king can understand. That’s a wise move. But also notice that he figures out he needs letters to the governors to keep himself safe. He knows the person who oversees the wood so I need to go and speak to that person. So he’s formulating a plan here as if as he prays over those four months, he’s led to formulate a plan, he’s given wisdom and all this culminates in him in verse 8 saying ‘because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.’ God’s grace was upon him.

Now, let’s remember from our teaching series last year, that grace equips us, grace changes us, grace sustains us. All that he received, as he recognized that he had a part to play and there was a plan to formulate and he needed God’s grace to keep him persevering and being able to say to the king ‘This is my plan and please honor it.’ So again, thinking about our future, if our future is going to be more fruitful, if we’re going to see that the empty, vast empty spaces in this church filled once again, we need to be praying so that we are prepared, so that we overcome our fear, so that we receive wisdom about how to go forward, so that we receive grace that we might play our part and be equipped and sustained to keep playing our part. Because, why else Jesus does say in Matthew 16 that he will build his church? In Matthew 18 he also says ‘Go’ and Matthew 28 he says ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations’ He says to you and me and there’s a tension there. He says ‘I will build my church’ but ‘you go make disciples’. So Jesus has no plan B. It’s you and me. He’s not just gonna click His fingers. it’s through you and me that He will fulfill His purposes and He will extend His kingdom and He will build His church. So, we need to be praying.

And that leads us to our final point, the most crucial point of all, about everything we learn about prayer in chapters one and two, and it’s this: prayer is the first thing, prayer is the first thing. Notice that in chapter one he quickly gets into sharing his prayer which is really a summary prayer because, as we said, he’s been praying for four months so this is not the only prayer he prayed but this sums up the flavor of what he was praying but his prayer comes before his reputation, his title, prayer was the first thing to Nehemiah, is it the first thing in our lives. Is it the first thing in the church? Because, I think, we prioritize action. For a number of reasons, it is easier maybe or we may be like to be seen as busy, we like to be seen as doing something. And let me just give you an example of this. How many plaques around church do you see that are because someone was a prayerful person? How many statues, how many buildings are named after someone who was faithful in prayer? Whereas, more often than not, they’re named after someone who was busy.

So, prayer is the first thing for Nehemiah, before reputation or title, prayer came before action. It’s very obvious. Chapter one, he prays, chapter two is when he finally gets down to some action. Are we similar or not? And in some ways we’re not similar I think because we hear sermons about prayer but no one’s come alongside us to teach us how to pray. We’ve not been discipled in that and all I can say is the best way to learn to pray, is to pray, and to be around people who pray, which is why I love going to the Thursday evening time of prayer because I listen to other people’s prayers and I learn from them and that’s how I learned to pray. You know, I never learned to pray just by someone giving me a chance in church or listening to Sunday prayers. The most influential time of that influenced me and how to pray and have confidence to pray myself was when I was at the Christian Union and they said ‘Oh, we’ve got a prayer meeting at halfway Wednesday morning, do you want to come along?’ In my naivety I said ‘Yes’ and I went and as I kept going, I grew in boldness to pray.

Does prayer come before action for us? and in prayer before restoration. Chapter one prayer and the rest of the story unfolds from there, the story of restoration. So, if we want to see a different future, then prayer needs to be the first thing for us as well.

So, how are we going to do that, church? How are we going to do that? You can do it individually, of course. You can maybe set some time aside for that and to be praying for us as a congregation, for us as a denomination. You could do it in your Fellowship Groups. Many of you are in a Fellowship Group and you probably pray for needs locally and in your own life but, could you create some space to pray for the church locally, nationally. If you’re in a team, I know that many of our teams when they gather, they begin with prayer and they end with prayer and that’s good but, could we create a wee bit space in the agenda to pray for the church – and, just to give the elders a heads-up, you can guess what we’ll be doing at the start of our time together of Kirk Session very soon, we’ll be praying.

But I don’t know if you’re aware every Sunday morning, prior to the service, a few people gather for prayer. It was something that was started well before my time, I have no idea who started off, I’m sure someone can tell me. Numbers have dropped a little over time but there’s still some faithful people gathering for prayer each Sunday and so I want to call you to join that time of prayer, to join us at quarter past nine to quarter to quarter past 10 to half past 10 for prayer, to pray for the service, to pray for us as a church, to pray for our wider life as a denomination, and I’d ask please that any and everyone in the building drops all tools, prayer before action, so band, choir, tech, door duty, Sunday School, teas and coffees, whoever it would be, with down tools and if that cuts into your prep time could you come a wee bit earlier. I know that’s cheeky to ask, but it’s just for four weeks. I should have said that for four weeks and you can keep coming of course but for four weeks can we try and make that space between now and Pentecost Sunday on the 5th of June which is when we next share Communion, could we make that space, can we make that commitment and gather for prayer. Because, if you look at the testimony of the church over 2000 years, when these people gather for prayer, change happens and, who knows what that might lead to this great and awesome God, this living Jesus, who breaks into people’s lives and astounds them with His love. Who knows what He’ll do next if we will be a people who pray. So let’s take a moment to pray just now, let us pray:

Lord, very simply, what is of me, just blow it away and help us forget it, but what is of You, take it deep so that our lives change. Help us to be doers of your word rather than just listeners, which is so easy to do. Shape us and change us for Your purposes, for Your glory. And so, we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen

Introduction to the Nehemiah teaching series

Preached on: Sunday 24th April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this introduction.
Bible references: Nehemiah
Location: Brightons Parish Church

In a moment we’re going to hear our Bible reading and it’s a new teaching series that we enter into. When I met with a few others to think about what we might teach upon across this year we were mindful that, as a nation, we are moving into, hopefully, a new season and a new dynamic with the pandemic where, maybe, in some ways, church life would begin to rebuild again and restart in different ways. We’re also conscious that as a denomination, we are having to rebuild too, that we are having to enter a time of pruning back because of how things are within the denomination, and so, again, we’re building and rebuilding and as such, it made sense to turn to that quintessential book about rebuilding, the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.

In the book of Nehemiah, we find Nehemiah in exile because he is part of the Jewish people was taken into exile and many years later, he’s now in a position of influence and authority, and the people were taken there because they had disobeyed the Lord and He had disciplined them and there’s been two stages of return already so far. Under two other leaders, one of whom was Ezra and we have the book of Ezra just before Nehemiah, but now we meet Nehemiah who’s on the cusp of another return and another stage of the rebuilding work and we might get into bits and pieces of other dynamics of the history but that’s just to help situate you as we come to the reading today.

I encourage you not only to watch and read it on screen with us, but we have the Bibles out on the pews now as well and so I encourage you to get open up one if you don’t have an app or something with you. You’ll find on your newssheet that at the top of the newssheet every week is the Bible reading that we’re going to have and the page number so you can even be prepared for it. So follow along, keep it open during the sermon, make sure I’m not preaching heresy or something really rebellious and you can make sure that what I’m saying is from the Word of God.

Discipline Repentance Restoration

Preached on: Sunday 24th April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-04-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Nehemiah 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– God disciplines His people to mature us
– God is ready to restore us
– Repentance precedes restoration

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

Holy Spirit, we pray that You would come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and lead us as a body of people into fuller and truer life.
Come dear Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I was getting to share at the Deacon’s Court on Tuesday evening that a good proportion of my working week just now is given over to the future of the church, in particular, to something called Mission Planning and you’re going to probably hear more of that in the months to come because, as a denomination, we are undertaking a work of mission planning across the whole of the nation. Every presbytery is to come up with a plan of how the church would be shaped in the months and years to come. It will affect every congregation and every Kirk Session, and our presbytery has already been engaged upon this matter more recently, although the work has been going on for some time before as well, and we’re having to do this and we’re having to shape a plan because we need to face up to some facts that there is anticipated a 40% reduction of ministers and so we need to shape ourselves around that reality, and the reality that we have too many buildings. And so, we need to cut close to one-third of buildings across our nation and that’s just an average, so some places it will be more than that. In light of the theme around Nehemiah of rebuilding we might say that mission planning is addressing some of our structural issues, to help hopefully restore the church so that we might be more focused on mission rather than buildings and maintenance. But yet, within the resources available to us however, if we think that simply restructuring ourselves will lead to a better future then we’re deluding ourselves, because there needs to be a deeper, more personal work of God in our hearts, in our lives, if the church is to have a better future. And that goes contrary to our natural tendencies as people. We would much rather have a quick fix and we’d much rather have an external fix that was quickly done and didn’t require that deeper work of the heart. But, as we’ve been singing and thinking about today, our God is the Good Shepherd and so, thankfully, He doesn’t work as we would like Him to work. He knows our truest and deepest needs. And so our passage in Nehemiah today begins very personally with deep issues of the heart before anything else is addressed and so, yes, there might be some more challenging words today and there’s part of me that hesitates to do that because I feel like that is often how I’m seen or portrayed as ‘here’s another challenge, time to switch off the button and tune Scott out’ but I encourage you, please, to open yourself to what God might say this morning because He does desire to bring us into fuller and truer life both individually and corporately.
We read earlier the writing of Nehemiah ‘While I was in the citadel of Souza, Han and I one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile and also about Jerusalem.’

Nehemiah is an exile. Still, he is part of the Jewish people still in Babylon. He hasn’t been able to return as yet and we read earlier as well in verse 8 that part of the reason that they are scattered among the nations was because of unfaithfulness. They’re not in exile for any other reason and so, we have to admit and become aware of that. The Lord disciplines His people when they are disobedient and that was part of the Old Testament covenant that there was both blessing and curse. And so, when they obeyed, there was God’s favor and provision, and when they dissipate God would discipline. And so, we find them now in exile and often I think our view of any talk about discipline is shaped by misconceptions. We think of discipline as simply being hauled before the head teacher, and I can remember that experience myself from younger days, or we might think of it as appearing before a judge and we get really nervous about such an idea. But the scriptures don’t speak of God’s discipline in those terms. God’s discipline is as a father to a son, as a loving parent doing something out of no other motive than love itself, to refine, to mature, to change the heart. So, let us bear that in mind as we delve in here.

I suspect when Nehemiah is asking for this report I wonder if he’s hoping, anticipating for good news. To hear that the restoration that God began under the previous two leaders has maybe led to the people and that the city being rebuilt, that it’s on track, maybe it’s even near completion. I wonder if he’s hoping for that kind of news. But then, in verse 3 we read that the people are in great trouble and disgrace and the gates of Jerusalem are still torn down and burned. He realizes that there’s still more restoration to come and that speaks to him of God’s ongoing discipline. There has been, in His mercy and grace, phases of restoration but there’s still more to g. We might need to delve into some of that maybe next week as well, that the people have, for one reason or another, put off the work and so there’s still an ongoing discipline, there’s still that discipline of the heart and of His people.

All this talk of discipline might make you wonder ‘Well, does God still discipline today? Do we live under a system of blessing and curse as Christians?’ Well, as we were thinking about last weekend, we have our hope and trust in Jesus and because of His perfect life, because of His death on the cross, which was sinless and perfect, undeserved, then we live under a different means of relationship with God. We have a different covenant called the New Covenant and so, because of that the righteousness, the right relationship that Jesus had with Father God, we are brought into that. We share in that and so we don’t relate to God as Christians based on how good or bad we are, it’s not how good or bad that ends your status with God, it’s Jesus and His righteousness. As we sung about in our first two hymns, as the choir reminded us in Blessed Assurance, that is our assurance of who we are in Jesus. So, we don’t live under that old system of blessing and curse. That is done away with. Nevertheless, the New Testament still speaks about discipline and so in Hebrews chapter 12 we read that ‘God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.’ No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God still disciplines for our good. We’re told that we might grow in the likeness of Jesus, that we might grow in holiness, that we might share in His righteousness, as right living before God and with one another, and then walk in peace, walk in greater wholeness, has shalom.

Now, our next question might then be – Well, how does God discipline if he does discipline us? The passage tells us how does He discipline and the scriptures speak of a number of ways. But I want to draw on one for this morning because I’m particularly concerned and mindful of how God would discipline a group of people, a denomination even, and so I’ve been reflecting on Romans chapter one which I’m not going to detail but, in Romans chapter one, God speaks of disciplining the nations and in that discipline He basically just leaves the nations to their own devices, He allows their choices to lead to consequences and so, when a body of people potentially need brought in line with His ways and with His commands, I do wonder if He adopts a similar approach to discipline. He allows our choices to lead to consequences. He keeps speaking to us through His word, through faithful preaching but, if we will not listen, then maybe the Lord leaves us to our own devices. And so, as we think about our denomination, so, we think about the church in our day, could it be that our lack of impact, our lack of fruitfulness, and it’s lovely that as a church we are a bit fuller than the average church, where I am interim moderator there’s 20 to 25 people most Sundays. I’m part of the Mission Planning Team and there’s churches that have 10 or less gathering week by week and most have no children, not just one or two, no children among them, could it be that our decline, could it be that the lack of people called into ministry, could it be that the closing of buildings, is because we’ve not listened, that we are experiencing a measure of discipline, allowing our choices to lead to consequences? Choices like having wrong priorities or focusing on the building spending, so much on it, rather than on mission. Wrong priorities, like be more seeking our comfort above being uncomfortable enough for mission, such that we share our faith or we sacrifice time for mission. Could it be the dilution of the gospel or God’s word? Could it be a lukewarm passion for mission and discipleship? We make choices every day, as David was reminding us in our prayer, every day and do our choices align with God’s priorities?

And so, where does that then lead us, when we don’t? And does He allow that to ripple down and lead to consequences? Because, maybe that’s the only way to get our attention as a body of people locally and nationally. But let’s remember, He does it for our good. He does. It’s interesting, I have yet to find a scripture I think that says that God says ‘I’m disappointed with you.’ I don’t think He ever uses that language. He might say ‘You’ve gone wayward.’ He might say ‘You’ve sinned.’ I’ve sinned but He never says ‘I’m disappointed.’ He never ridicules. He never tears us down. He does discipline for good, to mature. And any talk about discipline is always hard, it’s probably hard to hear it, believe me it’s hard to share it.

I was not looking forward to this at nine o’clock. I’d come back in from doing some early preparation I said to Gill ‘I’m really nervous for this morning’. But discipline is not the whole story, because Nehemiah goes on he says ‘Then I said, Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses saying but if you return to me and obey my commands then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’

God does discipline but He yearns, He longs, He promises to restore us and we have hope in that again, as was echoed in many places already in our service, God stands ready, waiting to restore us and just in case you think this is an Old Testament idea and oh, we should just ignore it, it’s also echoed in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation where Jesus sends seven letters to seven New Testament churches, in particular to the church of Laodicea, Jesus says this ‘Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline, so be earnest and repent. Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, says the lord, and opens the door. I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.’ Jesus is ready to restore us, He’s ready to come in and have fellowship with us and change things around. The language here is an echo of Psalm 23 which we just sung about in The King of love my Shepherd is’ that banquet feast before us. He’s ready to bring us in, to bring new life, to restore, to bring us into bounty and a harvest, and just a great feast, as that’s on the other side of discipline. And so, we should not fear discipline, we should not turn away from it or shy away, we should not just put on the blinkers and let it go in one ear and out the other, because God’s discipline is not about, listen to me please, God’s discipline is not about inducing guilt. I know that’s hard to get your head around because that’s often how we feel but God’s discipline is not about inducing guilt. There may be conviction but it’s so that it leads to life.

When we feel guilt, that’s the enemy speaking, because the enemy wants you to feel guilty so that you turn from God, so that you feel gloomy, so that there’s self-pity. The Lord brings conviction to bring you to life and there’s many examples we could turn to both inside the Bible and outside the Bible, but I’m going to stick with an inside the Bible example.

And so, we have the apostle Paul and he’s used of God to challenge the churches left right and center when they stray and particularly the church in Corinth, who just seem to get it wrong in so many different ways. And so, he writes multiple letters to them and his first letter is really hard-hitting and he addresses a number of issues but he follows it up, he hasn’t managed to visit them, but he follows them up because he hears how they’ve responded to that first letter and so he says this, but he’s been exercising God’s discipline, and he says this ‘I know I distressed you greatly with my letter although I felt awful at the time I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you but only for a while, now I’m glad not that you were upset but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. The stress that drives us to God does that, it turns us around, it gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain but those who let the stress drive them away from God are full of regrets, they end up on a deathbed of regrets and now isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God. You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart and that is what I was hoping for in the first place when I wrote the letter.’ I wonder, can we try and see discipline, God’s challenge in that way? To welcome it, to engage with it? That on the other side of it is His life? Because He stands ready to restore us. He stands ready if we will but respond to Him.

And so, we can change our structure as much as we want, we could even plant churches, but, if the heart is not there, if the priorities are not right, it doesn’t make a jot of difference, we need to be changed from the inside out, we need to be purified and matured and, if we will but, heed the Lord as he says here, He’s ready to restore us, to come in, as He said in Revelation and bring that life, to bring that life. So, if we’re ready to respond, how do we respond? what does that response look like?

Well, Nehemiah’s passage teaches us that there’s probably multiple stages of responding but it begins this way. ‘Then I said, Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself, have committed against you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.’ As Nehemiah realizes that God’s discipline continues, he responds in prayer. As Corinthians said, he’s driven closer to God, he’s driven into that place with God, to seek the Lord. But how does he begin his prayer? He begins with confession, with turning up to God and in that place of humility, recognizing that he is but a man, a human being. He comes before this incredible God, He begins with confession because repentance precedes restoration and repentance is not just about saying ‘Sorry’. True repentance is when our hearts are so deeply changed and we are grieved by the waywardness, that we change our lives, that we’re ready to change our lives however that might need to be done. And, although Nehemiah doesn’t pray specifics here, as we’ll see next week, this prayer is really a summary prayer of prayers he prays over a great vast number of days. So, it’s unlikely he’s going to include specifics here but I think he would get specific in his prayers and so I want to get specific with us this morning.

If our future is to be different, if we are to see the gaps around us filled, for to see that balcony as full as the downstairs, how might our future be restored? What might we need to repent of? What might we need to admit up to God and ask for His help on? And again, as I say, I want to get personal. I don’t want to just talk about the wider denomination. Let’s talk about us here.

And so, very briefly I want to touch on our purpose and two of our four values because our purpose says ‘We seek to invite, encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus Christ.’ To do that requires all of us to be involved within the church and within the community because, inherent in this is that, everybody’s got a part to play, everybody’s got a part to play. Are you playing your part within here? There’s too many people who are carrying too much of the load. How could you play your part? Now there can be times of life, whatever age range, you’re at younger or older and in the middle, there can be times of life when things are particularly busy or particularly limited but, even in that, there is still space to pray. Are you praying? So, are you playing your part within the church and outside? How can we possibly invite others to follow Jesus if we’re not some way building bridges in the community and maybe sharing our faith gently? I’m not saying you have to stand on a soapbox and preach to people but do you ever invite someone to something at church, ever? We had a quiz last night, that’s an easy building, bridge building thing with someone in the community – ‘Oh, we’re doing this fundraising quiz, do you want to come along?’ Did you take that opportunity?

So, is there something there we need to change in us and repent of? Maybe it’s fear that holds us back. Maybe we need to repent of our fear. That we have a greater fear of our neighbors than we have of a holy fear of God.

We also have a value that says ‘We aspire to be a family of all sorts of people journeying in community’ and Jesus says that the outside world will know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another. Is that supernatural kind of love seen among us?

For example, do we always think the best of one another or do we assume that we know the motivations behind someone’s actions? Do we ever and always give the benefit of the doubt to one another? And, you know, if you put together the New Testament teaching about how Christians should behave both individually and corporately, you could summarize it as ‘we should be unoffendable’. We should be unoffendable. Do you ever get offended by something in church, by someone’s actions, by me?

You should be unoffendable, if you’re putting into practice New Testament teaching. Is that seen?

Or, what is the wider community hearing?’ Oh, they’re having another argument about x, y or z or someone was moaning about a, b or c again.’ Is there something that we need to repent of there?

And then our meet value ‘Meeting with God in a personal and life-changing way.’ It’s not about meeting together, that’s our family value, it’s not about having meetings for the for church. Not really sure where that value fits in. So, maybe it needs fewer meeting. But this is meeting with God because, let’s be honest folks, the community out there doesn’t give a jot about church, doesn’t need more community, it’s got its networks, it’s got its friendships, it’s got stuff to do, it doesn’t need more community, and it’s busy enough with work, with the cost-of-living crisis, with Netflix, with gems, with sports clubs, with clubs that kids are in. It doesn’t need more stuff to do and fill its week. So, why would they ever come in?

There might be multiple reasons that we could give them and answers to that question but one answer could be, if you can see what God is doing in your life, if you can say what God is speaking to you about, how he’s refining you, how he’s given you hope, what your faith means to you, how following Him is an adventure, and this is what it’s done in your life, then, then, maybe, you might help someone see that, actually, there is a God, there’s too much coincidence around these stories that individuals can share and, maybe, there’s something to pursue there, and, okay, I might not go to church but I’ll maybe go to this group or that thing first. But maybe they will come to church. Can you, have you limited your expectations of God, have you put God in a box, have you put up boundaries to keep God at a distance, have you maybe just become a bit lackadaisical in your relationship with God? ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered reading the Bible. I can’t be bothered praying.’

Whatever it might be, what is it that’s holding you back from meeting with God in a personal and life-changing way, such that you have testimony to share with people out there?

I can’t answer it for you but I can ask the challenging questions.

And all this, if you want another Bible story to hang all this on, think about the prodigal father. I know we are probably quite familiar with that story. The younger son he says ‘Father I wish you were dead to me because I want the inheritance that I’m due, now. I just, I want to be cut off from you and I just want to go my own way.’ Sounds a bit like our denomination at times, sounds a bit like how we can be in our own lives. And, you know, the father allows him to go. It’s a form of discipline because his choices lead to consequences and he gets himself into poverty. At the end of the story the son does return and as he expressed the horizon the father runs to him and he envelops him and he wraps his arms around him. And doesn’t that show us that God is ready to restore His people? He’s ready. His waiting is long but the bit in the middle of the story is just as important in fact, the restoration might not necessarily come without the middle where the son realizes it’s time to change and he doesn’t just say sorry, he comes back, he turns around, he lives differently. He gets to say sorry but he doesn’t get on to say the other things that are maybe more rooted in self-pity or a false humility, because the father loves him and restores him and brings him into new life. We often use that parable just to talk about coming to faith but maybe there’s a deeper meaning there also for us all, faith that the Father stands ready to restore if we were to but repent. So, let us take a moment to pray before we close our service. Let us pray:

So in the stillness,

where do you feel a measure of conviction, a measure of calling, a measure of fresh realization about Father God?

And, in the stillness, why don’t you speak to God about that and admit that to Him?

Our God and Heavenly Father, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with us, with me. Let your ear be attentive to our prayer this morning, to the confession we bring, that there are things that need to change in our individual lives and in us corporately.

We recognize, that just by admitting it, it doesn’t change instantly, that there’s a journey here, a process that we need to begin upon, but it begins with repentance, Father, begins with admitting the truth and asking for Your help.

Whatever it might be that you’ve put your finger upon this morning, don’t let us be overcome with guilt. That’s not of You. But let the conviction go deep that might change our hearts, that we might realize You do only out of love and to lead us into life and maturity, that we might further Your purposes and be Your people upon the earth and from us Your light might go forth into our wider community.

Hear our prayer for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jesus is risen!

Preached on: Sunday 17th April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-04-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 20:1-2 & 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– The resurrection proves Jesus has secured the new earth and heavens
– Jesus doesn’t deny the hard realities of this world (vis-a-vis ‘naive triumphalism’)
– Jesus is with us because He is alive (vis-a-vis ‘gloomy dualism’)

So, boys and girls, hopefully you had your listening ears on there because I’ll have a couple of questions for you in a moment. But, have you had a good Easter break? Have you all had a good Easter break? Ready to go back to school and nursery, yeah? Probably the parents and grandparents are more eager for that than you are. But here is a question I have for you this morning. It’s about, now what’s going on here, I’m not quite sure. There we go. The question is: What has changed in the last two weeks in your life in the last two weeks? What has changed in your life? It might be something you can think of that is a big thing, a small thing. It could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. And this is not just for the children, this is for everybody to think about. In the last two weeks, what has changed in your life? See what you can come up with, I’ll give you 30 seconds to have a chat with the person next to you, and see what you can come up with. What has changed in the last two weeks?

Thank-you.

So, hopefully you came up with some interesting things. Anybody want to shout out or share? Anybody down the front anything what to share? What’s changed in the last few weeks two weeks?

Shout out.

Three new chickens! Whoa exciting! Someone else? Anybody over this side? Upstairs or downstairs? Something you want to share? What about anybody in the middle? Could be a young person, could be an adult, that you want to share something, anything. What – you’re three! Oh, exciting. Did you have a good time celebrating? Did you get some birthday cake? Oh nice! What about over here ain’t nobody, Daniel Emily?

What? New drawers, okay, just making sure I heard you right there and Emily? Your room’s tidy. Hey good job, good job!

Well these are some really, I didn’t expect most of these answers but these are really great answers. Things that you notice, things that changed. But, you know, in your life there are things that have changed that you clearly didn’t think about because you didn’t name them this morning. So, for example, do you know that your hair has grown on average 5.6 millimeters? I know, you can’t tell it from my hair but I shave it every week. Okay now, or your fingernails? Your fingernails on average have grown 1.2 millimeters in the last two weeks and you probably didn’t even notice because you’ve been nibbling away at them. Or what about our planet? We know that our planet is spinning round and it also goes in an orbit. In the last two weeks alone, you have spun 204,000 miles in the last two weeks alone. As part of our orbit you have moved 22 million miles and you didn’t even notice. Like, oh, that’s nothing! These incredible things are happening and we don’t even, we’re not even aware of them, and the same was true that first Easter and our story, boys and girls, there were four people. There was the two angels but there was also two main characters. Who were our two main characters? Anybody want to stick our hand, can you remember two main characters other than the angels?

Emily – Mary. Did you see Mary? Yeah. And who is the other one? Shout out together – Jesus, Jesus. So, that was the first Easter and so we tell the story that Jesus died on the cross after being in the garden where he was praying and then where did they put His body – in the tomb, that’s right and so Mary goes to the tomb but she’s really upset because what does she find has happened? What’s happened on Easter Sunday?

Did it disappear? The body was gone, the stone was rolled away, yeah, it’s been moved. Now, why would she be upset about that? Why would she be upset at that? Hope, hand up please, okay, someone else, you’ve answered a couple of questions. Anybody else willing to brave any answers? Up the top at all? No, okay, we’ll go back here then. Why would she be upset? Shout it out,

She couldn’t see Jesus’s body. His body had disappeared. She thought someone’s taken it. And Jesus mattered so much to Mary that she was just aghast at this and so she runs off to tell the disciples, ‘Someone’s taking the body of Jesus’ and then she comes back to the tomb and she’s standing there at the tomb just looking and she sees these two angels. She doesn’t know it’s two angels but then she hears someone ask a question and she turns around and someone is there. Who is there with her now? Who’s there with her? Can you remember that part of the story? Who was there? Lydia – Jesus that’s right. Now, did she realize it was Jesus at the start? Did she realize it was Jesus at the start? No, she didn’t. We don’t really know why. Maybe she was just so tearful she couldn’t see passing tears. Maybe she didn’t turn around enough or maybe something had changed about Jesus. Maybe something had changed about how He looked and how He was but He says Mary and she turns and she realizes it’s Jesus. Jesus is alive, and she wants to just rush to him and give him a big hug like you would your best friend or your mum or your dad or grandparent. She hadn’t seen him in a long time, she just wants to give him a hug. But, does Jesus allow her to get close and just give that big hug? Does she? Is she allowed to do it? Not really, because He goes on to say this to her ‘Do not hold on to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your father, to my God and your God.’ It’s a really weird thing to say and probably not what you expected me to focus on from our reading, but there’s something really important for us here in this, I think. Because, what do we celebrate on Easter Sunday? What are we celebrating today? What do you think we’re celebrating? Anybody want to shout out?

Jesus is alive, we’re celebrating Jesus is alive. But, when you look out at the world, is the world perfect? The bad things happen. Do you think all the promises that God made in the Bible, are they all fulfilled yet? Do we see heaven on earth as Jesus taught us to pray for? Not really. Our world is a bit of a mess. Sometimes it can feel like things are getting worse and life can sometimes feel pretty hard and worrying and scary. And so, we can be tempted to react in one two ways. We can kind of have one reaction that says ‘Wow, Jesus is alive!’ and just ignore the world out there, or we can have another reaction that says ‘You know, the world out there is a mess so Jesus can’t be alive, it must just be a made-up story.’ And there’s one writer that I was reading just this past week, NT Wright that said we can either be in this side which is just ‘naive triumphalism’ but ignores the world, or we can be tempted to be on another side ‘gloomy dualism, where we think ‘Well, God doesn’t care, it can’t be real. If He is there, He’s just not involved or caring at all.’ Here’s the thing, neither side is right and neither side does Jesus fit into because He said ‘Do not hold on to me I have not yet gone to my heavenly Father.’ Jesus has died on the cross and when He died on the cross, He said ‘It is finished.’ What he had set out he accomplished, something changed, even though we were not aware of it and so He was risen from the dead to prove that. But there’s more to come, there’s more to come because His passion secured a future day, a future world that will be made perfect and whole and everything will be made new. It’s a change we’re not even aware of, just like we’re not aware of our world moving, there’s a change being made because Jesus on the cross died to defeat sin and death and all the powers of evil and one day His kingdom will be all that there is and that is our hope and that is our joy and that is proven by Jesus rising from the dead.

Now, when he rose, boys and girls, on that Easter, first Easter morning and met with Mary, she was quite sad but when she realized that Jesus was alive what do you think she started to feel? What do you think she maybe felt then? Anybody willing? What do you think she was feeling? She wasn’t sad anymore. What do you think? She was happy, joyful, She was because she now knew that Jesus was alive. He was there. He was present. And we might be here today feeling life is hard, we might be feeling and thinking that the world’s just a mess, that holding on in faith is just too hard, or seems crazy, but we can know that Jesus is alive, we can, Easter doesn’t deny the hard realities of life for the world but it reminds us that Jesus is alive, a future day has been secured and you can have that relationship with Jesus, beginning even now. You can hear His voice. You can journey with Jesus. And, maybe this Easter invitation is for you, to invite Him afresh into your life, to grow in faith, or pursue faith for the first time. And so, maybe this Wednesday evening, think about coming along to Alpha or if you can’t make the first week, then come to the second, we can catch you up. Come along to Alpha, explore the faith, ask hard questions. Or maybe get involved in a group in church or read a book, or read a bit more of your Bible – but grow in faith, invite Jesus afresh that together we might say with Mary ‘I have seen the Lord. He’s alive, He’s in my life.’ And then, we too can share in the Easter joy. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Trust in Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 3rd April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-04-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 11:1-45
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus is moved by our sorrows
– Jesus is able to overcome death
– Jesus invites us to trust Him

Please do be seated.

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and deepen our trust as we hear the voice of our Father through His word
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past week but in the past week we’ve had the Oscars and it got a little bit more attention than normal because Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage, live to the world, and he did so, Will Smith did so because Chris Rock had made a joke at his wife’s expense. His wife has alopecia and she has chosen to shave her head which is quite a big thing for a black woman, probably for really anyone and there’s been lots of reaction. There’s been the negative side of saying he should never have resorted to violence to respond to this issue, and there are those on the positive side who say ‘Well, good for him, he stood up for his wife and did so very publicly.’ Whatever our reaction might be to it, clearly Will Smith was moved into action. I wonder what his motives were. It’s clearly he was deeply troubled. Was it love? Was it anger? Was it anger and injustice he felt? His wife experienced that here as she and she is suffering in some form and for whatever reason she’s made the end of a joke, he might feel that there’s gender inequality here, maybe there was an injustice he was standing up against. I wonder also though, if there’s an unspoken motivation, that fear may have motivated him. I don’t even know if Will Smith would be aware of it, because there’s part of me wonders whether he responded to human vulnerability, his wife’s vulnerability at her illness. It’s not life-threatening maybe, but still it speaks of her vulnerability, he speaks of all our vulnerabilities and often, when we feel vulnerable, we react and we can react in fear. And the greatest fear that we all share is the fear of death and that can move us to action, sometimes unhealthy actions. And so, as we turn our passage, to turn to our passage today, is it this that moves Jesus in the face of death, in the face of human vulnerability? Is it fear that moves Jesus?

We’re journeying, just now, towards Easter, two weeks away, and we’ve been journeying through the gospel of John, looking at different passages where John helps us to see some of the purpose of the passion. And so, we looked in John chapter 3 where God so loved the world that he gave his son to save us, to bring us into God’s family, through new birth. And in chapter 4 we saw that God is seeking true worshipers, worshipers who will worship in the Spirit and in truth. And in last week, in John 9 and 10 that Jesus came to give life in all its fullness. And for all these reasons, Jesus went through His passion, He went through suffering for us.

Today’s passage gives us another facet and, in view of how John structures his writing, I think he wants to help us see that this is the greatest part, the greatest insight into the purpose of Jesus, and I can say that with some degree of confidence because, along the way, John will highlight for us the word sign that there are signs that are pointing towards Jesus, but he’ll also use ‘I am’ statements having Jesus says ‘I am’ and he’ll complete that sentence pointing to His divinity. And so, this passage is spoken of as the seventh and final sign before the cross and Jesus uses an ‘I am’ statement in it.

Seven is a very special number in the Bible it speaks of completeness and so it points to this sign being of the greatest importance to all the others and revealing who Jesus is and what He came to achieve. So, what does this event reveal of the purpose of the passion? In the face of death, what moves Jesus?

Well, we read earlier ‘When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her, also weeping, he was deeply moved in Spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.’ What moves Jesus? Our sorrow, our sorrow at death, our inability, our vulnerability against this greatest of foes. In reaction to Mary’s weeping, He weeps, He feels our pain, He shares our sorrow, he has lived our experience and shared in this human experience. Across all of history, in every human life, He is moved by our sorrow. But notice also that He’s troubled and, in fact, the phrase ‘deeply moved’ is repeated again in verse 38 and in some ways it’s an unfortunate translation, ‘deeply moved.’ Because the Greek phrase that lies behind that, when you look at it in every other usage, speaks of human anger, even outrage and fury. So, Jesus is moved here to anger, not against Mary, but rather towards death. Jesus is moved by our sorrow and His reaction is to weep and to be angry.

Pastor and writer John Stott had this to say about this ‘[What he saw] enraged Jesus because it brought home the evil of death, its unnaturalness, it’s ‘violent tyranny’. In Mary’s grief He sees and feels the misery of the whole race and burns with rage against the oppressor of humanity. It is death that is the subject of His wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom He had come into the world to destroy.

Friends, in our passage today we see the compassion of Jesus, a compassion that is more than mere pity, and His empathy is more than just there to console us, and surely He does consume us, surely we read of our God as one who draws near to the brokenhearted and weeps with those who weep. But His compassion is a true compassion, it moves Him to action here, and in His passion, it moves Him to confront death on our behalf.

So friends, do you see the heart of Jesus for you, for us? Our God is not uncaring. Our God is not unmoving. He is not akin to any false notion that would say God feels nothing towards us, nor is He willing to be involved in the brokenness of our world. That is not a true picture of our God because God enters in through Jesus to the human experience and to the heartbreaking realities of life. He’s there in our sorrow. He knows the pain that tears our soul and, what is more, He’s moved to intervene. He steps into history as a human being to experience it with us, to confront it with us, and for us, to defeat death itself. This is part of His purpose, part of the purpose of His passion.

Yet, some of us, as we reread that passage today, the question will come to mind of ‘Well, why did He delay?’ He knows God. If God is so caring, if He’s so loving, why did He delay there? Why does He delay in other ways? And I don’t have answers to all the other questions, and maybe the situations in your life, but for here at least there’s something to be said. We read earlier ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days and then he said to his disciples ‘Let us go back to Judea.’’ Why, if He loves them, why delay? Why wait?

Well, there’s three things that we need to understand here. Firstly, at this time in history, in this particular location, people were buried on the day they died. People were buried on the day they died. Secondly, as regards timing, we know from verse 17 that Jesus, when He arrives, finds Lazarus to have been in the tomb for four days, so, Jesus isn’t very far away, probably takes Him about a day to travel there and, assuming it takes the messengers a day to find Jesus and reach Him, then this means Lazarus died as soon as the messengers leave or very soon after, so it wouldn’t have mattered when Jesus left, Lazarus would have been dead and buried in the tomb. Day to travel, day to travel back, two days from the point of Lazarus death but still we might wonder ‘Why delay?’ And here’s the third thing you need to know, there was a Jewish belief, at the time, not held by Jews any longer, not held by Christians, but a Jewish belief at the time that held the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days, hoping to re-enter it, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. As I say not something that we subscribe to, not something that Jews subscribe to nowadays, but held at the time. And so, Jesus delays for our reason, He delays to prove beyond doubt something about who He is, that this wasn’t just an accidental resuscitation or something, that Jesus didn’t arrive just at the right time and ‘Well, you know these things happen.’ No, he leaves it four days to prove beyond doubt that who He is and what His power can do so as to strengthen the trust His disciples have in Him. And so, when He arrives he says to Martha ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Now Martha has been taught well, she’s been taught from the scriptures that there will be a resurrection at the last end and she knows this, she believes that, she trusts this and so she believes she will see her brother one day. But Jesus has a more immediate plan in mind and He wants to deepen her understanding of Him and of what He can do and so, he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’

‘Do you believe this?’ Now, let’s note that Jesus doesn’t simply say that he can provide resurrection and life, that would be impressive in itself, no, he says that life eternal life is in Him, that the escape from the finality of death is available from Him by being in relationship with Him. That’s how we share in this life and then this hope and He says very similarly later on in John 17 saying ‘Now this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ Eternal life is not a ticket, it’s not a little thing you just put in your back pocket for when the day arrives, it’s not even a force or some kind of power or gift, eternal life is all tied up in relationship with Jesus and knowing Him and sharing in Him by believing in Him.

And, to prove His claim, to prove His identity and power, Jesus raises Lazarus. He calls to Lazarus in a loud voice, we hear a voice of true and raw authority, the voice we might say that at the beginning of time said ‘Let there be light’ for He is the light of the world and in His light there is life.

Friends, Jesus comes into our day, into your brokenness, to stand with us and for us against death, and offer us life. As one commentator said he offers us the ‘indestructible life of the resurrection the very life of the deathless God Himself. This is our God, this is our Jesus, and to know Him, to share in Him, to believe in Him is to have this hope. Not that we don’t grieve. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha and Mary not to grieve but that we grieve with hope and for this Jesus came, for this Jesus went through His passion, for this He has moved to action that we might share in His life and have hope. He makes this move towards us and our world. So, how will we respond to Him? How will we move in response to His movement to us? Because, in the passage He asks of Martha ‘Do you believe this?’ Do you believe this. Now, belief here in the Greek is not, I know this in my head or yeah, you know, fake idea and then you just get on with life, to believe in a biblical sense is to believe in such a way that it makes a difference to your life, that your actions change, that your outlook changes, it’s not just mental agreement to an idea.

So, what about us, what about you, do you believe this?

Maybe you’re unsure or maybe you’re not even ready to say that you believe it, and so, I wonder whether you should consider signing up for Alpha. We have an Alpha Course starting in just a couple of weeks’ time and Alpha is a great way of either refreshing your knowledge of the Christian faith, if you’ve maybe been coming to church for a long time, it’s a great way to be refreshed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, or, if you’re not a Christian at all, to explore the Christian faith, to ask difficult questions, the team are ready for them, they might not have the answers but they’re ready for them. Come along, sign up to Alpha, explore and seek Jesus, make a move towards Him and He will make a move towards you, and details are in the news sheet of how you can sign up for that.

But what about those of us who are sure of this? We say we believe this or we’re at least a little more sure of this we might say? I wonder, do we believe this enough to share it this Easter, or will we let fear divert us? Earlier in the passage we read that little middle portion between verses 8 to 16 where Jesus talks about light and darkness and about stumbling and not stumbling and it seems quite an odd little bit, but Jesus is responding to the disciples’ fear. They’re scared that what’s going to happen. People are already trying to stone Jesus. ‘If we do this Jesus. are they going to stone you?
Are they going to stone us?’ And so, they get fearful and they’re going to be diverted from what Jesus says. They should do but Jesus will not let them divert Him. He warns them against overestimating the danger because He is with them, the light of the world is with them, and so He will not let them stumble, He will guard them and so they must obey the Father, they must go to Lazarus so that God will be glorified, and faith might be strengthened,

So, what about us, friends? Will we allow fear to divert us this Easter time? Or will we put our belief into practice? Will we share the good news, knowing who it is that stands with us, as we make that invitation? Knowing who it is that’s in us by His Spirit? We have the light of the world, the God of all life, with us. And so, maybe take the Easter cards, this is last year’s one, take the Easter cards that were sent to you and hand them out, they were posted to every member this past week, you got one for yourself you got one to give away. Give it away. Invite someone along. Or the Easter Fun Day and if you’ve misplaced it or given it away already, there’s more at the front and rear door. Take one away, invite someone along, come with them so as to encourage them there and build that relationship and share something of the good news of Easter this year. Or if you’re on social media, don’t just like the church posts, share the church posts because that’s how it gets out towards your friends and your contacts on social media. Help us get the word out that there’s something good to believe in our God who’s come into this world to stand with us in our sorrow and to defeat death on our behalf.

So, do you believe this? Maybe you need to investigate it a bit more. Maybe you need to share it a bit more. But, may we all see in the passion, this God who stands with us, this God who defeated death for us, this God who bids us come, trust Him afresh. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Fullness of life

Preached on: Sunday 27th Mar h 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-03-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 9:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• asking our questions
• trusting Jesus
• journeying towards life to the full

Well boys and girls, it is so good to have you, our uniformed organizations, with us this morning and great to mark these high achievements of the Queen’s Badge awards but, also on Friday night, we had a great night with the Boys Brigade Company marking so many other achievements and awards and it was lovely to be a part of that and see that. I know that, in the week coming, there’s the Anchor Boys final evening, there’s also the Girls Brigade coming together on Wednesday night, and I’m sure those will be full of special moments too.

But beyond helping you develop and achieve and recognizing that hard work, another point part of Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade is having a little fun and I think we should give Billy one last chance to have a little fun don’t you. I think we should maybe give him a chance because after this well, the fun level’s just going to dive off a cliff, Billy. So, should we get them up front to give us a wee hand? How about a wee game? Right Billy, come on up.
I thought I’d avoided this.
You must have known something like this. So, Billy the plan is that we’re going to have a little game. Have you ever played the game 20 guesses or 20 questions? Okay, so I have picked a character and it could be a real-life character or a make-believe character, it could be male or female and you have to ask us 20 questions and the answers are yes or no, that we can give you. Now, I’m going to show us all the picture of it, in a moment. Mister Rankine will close his eyes so he’s no peeking. You’ve got your glasses off.
I could put my glasses on and I wouldn’t see.
Don’t.
Don’t say it okay, don’t even whisper it, because I’m sure he’s got really good hearing and despite him getting slightly on in years you know, but he’ll be grand, so I will show you and then you can help me answer the questions so he’s got his eyes closed.
Okay right so 20 questions.
I can open my eyes again.
So yes or no, yes or no answers, is all we can give him.
Is it a male?
Is it male? 1 oh it’s not me that’s good! That’s not my question. Is it a real life character?
Is it real life?
No not real life.
It’s a cartoon character. Is it a Disney cartoon character.
Yes.
So female Disney cartoon character.
You’re doing well.
Can I get my daughter to come down and help me?
No! We won’t use that as a question.
Right is it a recent Disney cartoon.
No.
Okay. So, I’ve got a reasonable chance.
I’ve tried to play it in your favor.
Okay, dear me, I really could do with Eilidh’s head. Let me see, is it’s a real, it’s a human. What is it? Right, so is it an animal, a female animal character?
No, not an animal.
Quick, that was a good question coming up. Is it a cartoon that’s still on the go just now? No. 10. No, well you can watch it but it’s not going to go.
Okay, so that’s a bit more senior Netflix or something, yeah,
It’s not a human. So, it’s an animal, didn’t say tha,t is that an animal, no, no. Right and you said it wasn’t it said – my memory is going here as well. Did you say was it a female, human, cartoon character.
No, human’s a bit of a broad term, I’d say, I’m not quite sure it’s human.
Is it a ship?
No.
That wouldn’t help me much anyway, I’m really, Im really struggling here.
Got dust dust.
Would it be a fairy type character.
Yes.
Would it be based on a very old book. That should not go out after midnight.
I don’t know okay, you must be thinking another guy.
No Cinderella?
No.
Okay, no Cinderella. No, I was banking on it being Cinderella there folks.
I obviously was at Boys Brigade too much when you were watching Disney characters. Mark, can you help.
There’s a famous boy in it and he can fly.
Ah right, okay. So, there was a there’s a ship involved in this? There is character, yeah, I’m just gonna, I’m gonna take this right now. So there’s a kind of Peter Pan type character involved here.
You’re getting very close.
And I can’t really remember the name.
Begins with a T.
Ah yes indeed, yeah, we’ll get there the second part of it would ring possibly?
Yes it would ring our bell maybe yeah.
Yeah. So, that would be Tinkerbell!
Good job! Right, you can say you’re safe. Yes, Tinkerbell. Well done, we got you there eventually. So, good, good sport, good sport.

So part of your time is about learning and development and recognizing that part of it is about fun but there’s another part to Girls and Boys Brigade, and that is also learning about Jesus. And in some ways that’s the most important part and that’s what we hope to pass on and to share with you and what we aim to do as a church family as well.

In our story today Jesus did something amazing. What did he do? Can anybody remember? What did he do? Anybody from the front? Okay. No, what did he do in our story today? What did he do in our story today? Can anybody remember from the Explorers or the Anchor Boys? Yeah, what did he do today? We can hear from the back then.

Yeah, He made the man see again. And what did He, what did He do? What did He use to him to make him see? Can you remember? What did He do? What did He do? Daniel? He put him right in his eyes, He got some mud and used some saliva like ‘Jesus. come on, what are you doing? That’s just we’ve been yucky!’ But Jesus was doing some odd things He was doing some amazing things and people were beginning to go ‘Who is this guy? What is he about? Is he just a teacher? Is he a more than that, is he a prophet? Is he even more than a prophet?’ And so, people were guessing and guessing and guessing and they probably were doing an even worse job than Mister Rankine. Now, some people got it right. Who got it right in our story today? Who got it right in the story? The blind man didn’t he. He managed to guess it eventually who it was and so eventually he bowed down in worship of Jesus. So, who did the blind man think that Jesus was? What would be another name that we might use? God, that’s right. God had come in a human body and His name was Jesus. This is what he eventually understood and so though he had been blind at the start, he was the first to see with the eyes of his heart, to see the truth about Jesus, and part of our church family, part of the Girls and Boys Brigade is to help you ask your questions, to help us ask our questions about Jesus so that we can come to trust Him and worship Him for ourselves.

But, did you notice in the story the man had to do something to show his trust. What did he need to do? Jesus made that little mud pack and put it on his eyes. What did he have to do next? Can anybody remember? What did he do next? What did he do? Lauren – he had to go and wash it off, that’s right. He had to go and wash it. It was an act of trust. Now, that man was born blind. Explorers and Anchor Boys, can you think what would he have seen for the first time? What would he have seen for the first time that would be so amazing? What do you think? Yeah, that. What he would have seen? The water. He’d never seen water before. What else would he see, what else even beyond that little pool, what other things would he see that would be so amazing? What do you think he might have seen? Some fish, and he’d never seen fish before. What else he might have seen not just at that moment but going back as he went back home? What would he have seen? What do you think? His food, his home, his family, his friends. He’d never seen any of that. What are the things that you think you look at and are so amazing? What other things do you think are so amazing? Right at the back. Yeah, yeah definitely. He would have seen the fish. He would have seen like the sun, like we’re on a sunny day, never had seen the sun before. So, Jesus has given this man not only his sight but given this man life, new life, amazing life and in the very next chapter of the Bible he goes on to say ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ That’s why Jesus came, part of why He came, part of His purpose, to give us life to the full. We’ll never experience all of it in this life but He came that we might have life, we might be on a journey towards fullness of life, it’s part of the reason He died on the cross, and part of the reason He rose again, so that we could have life to the full and it all begins by trusting Jesus, by choosing to trust Jesus in our everyday lives, trusting what He says in the Bible, putting that into practice, trusting what He says about Himself in the Bible, that He’s the light of the world, He’s the good shepherd and He is with us every day.

Boys and Girls, I hope this past year in Boys and Girls Brigade, that you have asked your questions and if you’ve got questions about Jesus then make sure you ask your officers, make it really tricky for them, I know they love the questions and if you’ve got questions in church then come ask your questions as well, ask your questions, that you can grow and trust and so that we remember, as we journey towards Easter, that part of the reason Jesus came was to bring us into fullness of life. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Now on your way in did you get a little candle? And if you’re in the pews for our uniformed organizations there were some put at the end of the pew. So, if you can pass them along. Don’t switch it on yet and Richard, we can skip on to the prayer bit, so maybe a second slide. So, there’s a little black switch on the bottom that’s how you switch it on, but don’t use it yet, Okay, and what we’re going to do is that we are going to pray together using this candle, okay. We’re going to pray three short simple prayers so let’s put off the light just now, okay, but during the prayer I’m going to invite you to switch it on, okay, as a sign of asking for God’s light to come in to the world in different situations.
So can you try and think of someone, nice and quiet, think of someone who maybe needs help just now. Maybe they’re sad, maybe they’re unwell, maybe they’re angry with something, maybe they’re scared, maybe someone at school, might be someone in the church family, maybe someone in your family. Can you quietly think of someone. Maybe close your eyes just to help you think and to know that we’re going to pray.
Okay. So, let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, we’re thinking of someone that we want to pray for, someone that we want Your light to come into their life and so we switch on our candle as a sign of that prayer. Please, our God, shine Your light into their life to bring hope, to bring life, to bring your peace. May fear and anger or despair or sadness go. May they know that You are near and you are the light of the world Lord Jesus. Amen.

Okay, let’s switch it off again, switch it off again. Okay, I want you to think of something in the big wide world, maybe a situation that you know about, maybe someone who needs some help in the big wide world. So, not someone at school or in your family, something in the big wide world where you want God’s light to come. Okay, can you try it in the quiet, just think of someone or something.

Okay, let’s close our eyes again and let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we’re all thinking of something that needs Your light to come into it. It might be the war in Ukraine. It might be a situation in the news we’ve heard about today. And so, we switch on our candles as a sign of asking for Your light to come into that situation, to bring truth, to light, to bring Your wisdom to bear, to lead forward on a path of righteousness and peace. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

All right, switch off. One last prayer. Today is Mother’s Day in case you forgot, but we’re not just thinking about mums, we’re thinking about people who have had a positive impact in our lives. It might be your officers. It might be your mum. It might be a granny or an aunt. So, it could be someone who’s has helped you, who’s a good role model to you, someone that’s really been a good influence in your life. Can you think of someone. Someone that you’re thankful for. Yeah, right, let’s close our eyes and pray one more time:

Our God, we want to thank You for this person who’s been a part of our life. They might not be with us anymore or they might be, and we thank you for their influence in our lives, We thank You for how they brought Your light into our lives. Maybe they shared something of You, maybe they shared something of Your image because they’re made in Your image, something of Your light. And so, we put this candle on one last time to remember the light that’s shown in them, Your light shining into our lives. We thank You for them and we ask that what they passed on to us, that You would help us to live out in our day-to-day lives. We want to thank You for all the officers and staff of the Girls and Boys Brigades. Thank-you for all they give and the light that they shine to the generations here in Brightons, in the wider Braes area. We ask your blessing upon them and upon each of our children and young people who are part of the Brigades. We ask that Your light would go with them across these summer months and they would come back in September full of stories and of joy, are full of having grown again and ready for a new session to begin. Guard them and keep them we pray. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You can switch it off and you can take this home. Maybe at home at night time you might want to say a little prayer and just switch on that candle as a sign that you are asking for God’s light to be in your life. It’s an act of trust. Faith is all an act of trust, of holding onto God and asking for His light and life to be in our lives.

True worshippers

Preached on: Sunday 20th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-03-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 4:1-30; 39-42
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– God is seeking true worshippers to complete our joy
– God transforms our worship by the Holy Spirit
– God invites all into true worship

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

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and open our hears that we might hear the invitation of our Heavenly Father.
Come now Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In four weeks time we will be celebrating Easter but what and why do we celebrate? In the final week leading up to Easter Sunday we have what’s called Holy Week and there will be a service each night of the week from Monday to Friday in one of the Braes Churches I invite you to come along. Each night we look at a different part of the journey of Jesus took towards the cross or what is some in that week, is sometimes called His Passion which refers to His suffering. So, let me ask again, why do we celebrate Easter? What is the Purpose of the Passion?

To help us answer this, last Sunday we began a new series where we’re going to look at six passages in the Gospel of John, Six passages to help explore the Purpose of the Passion and Monica kick-started us in John 3 where we read in verse 16 that ‘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.’ Part of the purpose of the passion is the love of God saving us. But is that the end goal? Is that the end goal? Does God simply want you to have a ticket to heaven? Is that all He’s about?

Well, our passage today continues to build on this, continues to add another dynamic to the purpose of the passion, but to help us really get to grips with our passage, I need to teach it in reverse order starting near the end with what the Father seeks, His goal and then bringing in what this means, how he brings that goal about, and finally, concluding with His invitation which reveals His heart.

And so, near the end, we read these words of Jesus ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. The father is seeking true worship, true worshipers. This is His goal. This is part of the purpose of the passion and it’s echoed across the scriptures. I’ve just given you three examples. I won’t delve into any depth.

But go into Titus and you read that Jesus came to have a people of His own. That’s part of why he died.
And first Peter too we read that this people who he died for are called a holy nation, they’re called a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
But Peter’s just echoing what we read in Exodus where in Exodus God says through Moses that to the people that they will become a kingdom of priests, are people who will bring the praise of God, who will worship Him and enable others to worship Him.
It’s a purpose God has had across the millennia, across the scriptures and it’s part of the purpose of the passion. The Father is seeking true worshipers, who worship in the spirit and in truth. But what does that even mean? What does it mean to worship in the Spirit and in truth?

I’d like to begin with the truth part because in the verse immediately before, this is where it’s helpful to bring a Bible if you can, Jesus says ‘You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews.’ You Samaritans worship what you do not know. So, what don’t they know? Well, the Samaritans only had the first five books of the Old Testament, what we call the Pentateuch. They didn’t have the rest of the Old Testament. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of the character of God and of His ways. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of how He would bring salvation for the world. Just imagine all that they were missing, across all the prophets, across all the books of wisdom and Psalms. They didn’t have any of that and so, they have this gap of spiritual knowledge. They don’t know the character of God in all its fullness. They don’t know His plans and His purposes. They lacked the truth of God and so, it led them into false worship. They worshiped in the wrong place. They worshiped through the wrong means. It led them astray because, to worship truly, requires us to worship in truth. We must know God as He has revealed himself and live in light of that and His plans.

But God didn’t leave it there. At the end of the Old Testament there was a next part of His revelation and it was through Jesus. Because the writer to Hebrews reminds us ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets but, in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son Jesus’ The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, the fullest and final revelation of the character and the ways and the purposes of God was in Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t just a man, He was God in the flesh. God was revealing Himself and so to worship in truth is to worship the God revealed in Jesus, in His life and His teaching and His death and resurrection, and to worship anything else, to worship any other being, under any other name, is then false worship. And so, to be a true worshiper, which is God’s goal, requires worshipping in truth, worshiping God as revealed in Jesus.

But you know, as I was thinking about this this week it took me down a line of thought and into some material that I haven’t looked at in years. Because the question could come to our minds – Is God a bit egotistical? Is God a bit needy? Like, if I said to you, worship and praise me, well you’d probably think I was mad or more mad than you already think I, am and you think ‘What is he on about, like he is so needy, he is so prideful, he is so egotistical, and you’d be rightly disgusted, Is the same true of God? How would you answer that one?

An author and pastor has written and thought about this for decades and his name is John Piper, and in a moment I’d like to share something he wrote. But to understand what he wrote you first need to read something from C S Lewis, because John Piper built his argument upon what C S Lewis wrote. So, C S Lewis said ‘I thought of praise in terms of compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.’ Let’s pause there. All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise – so think about it, you’re out walking this afternoon along the canal here or wherever happens to be your favorite jaunt, and you just are stunned at the view because the sun is pouring down and it’s just marvelous you say ‘How glorious!’ – you just can’t help yourself, your enjoyment overflows into praise. Or a little baby, baby Innes or whoever it might be, Willow and the others that we’ve had, you see them and you just coo and oh, you’re so gorgeous, they’re so beautiful, you’re so wonderfully made. You just can’t help yourself. Or you’re spending time with a friend or with your partner or whoever it might be, and you just ‘I love you. I really appreciate you. I value your friendship greatly. You are a rock in my life.’ You just can’t help yourself. You see what C S Lewis is getting at? It goes on ‘I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment…..’ There’s another level of joy when we express what we feel, when we speak out that praise of whatever it might be. It takes us to a next stage of joy.

And so, John Piper builds on this and he says ‘If God would have your joy complete He must command you to do what will make you infinitely and eternally happy, namely, praise Him. God is the one being in the universe for Him gathering attention for Himself is not arrogant, it’s not selfish, it’s not abusive and manipulative, but is love …’ God’s not seeking your worship because He needs it, He’s God, He existed perfectly before any of creation was ever there, but He calls you to praise Him so that you might have your joy made complete. God seeks true worshipers to complete your joy, your joy, your joy.

So, take it back to the woman at the well. There’s at least two ways that she is worshiping falsely. First of all she’s worshiping at the wrong place, in the wrong faith tradition and so, she doesn’t know the character of God, she doesn’t know the plans and purposes of God and so, she wouldn’t have the security and peace and hope that were the Jews, because they could see how God was going to save the world although He did it again in the ways unexpected. She was missing out on that, she didn’t have the joy that could have been hers. She also wrongly worshipped the attention of men. She’d had multiple relationships and she sought that attention to feel loved, to feel affirmation, to find security, to find a place and a belonging, a home. But where does it leave her? She’s ostracized, she’s alone, she’s despised. Where she sought her joy did not lead to joy because, when we fail to worship God and fail to worship Him in truth, we end up worshiping something else and it doesn’t lead to the joy we thought it would, and this has repercussions on so many levels.

I could take you to a global level with Russia and Putin just now. There is a man who worships either himself or power or a former picture of Russia, and wanting to bring that back. Who knows what exactly he worships, but it’s clearly not God as revealed in Jesus, and it has repercussions horrific repercussions.

But let’s not just point the finger. Let’s remember that it’s there in all our lives, my life too. We might worship comfort and so, we don’t love our neighbor as we should because we want to be comfortable, we want the nice house, we want the nice things, we want, we want, we want. Our comfort can have its other ways as well. We can want a comfortable life and when someone does something we don’t like, changes something we don’t like, or does something that doesn’t agree with us and makes us a little bit uncomfortable, in many different ways, we can just bite their head off, we can be angry and nit-pick, because we worship our comfort and we’ll defend that even if it means that we don’t love our neighbor. But you can worship your health, you can worship money, you can worship your reputation and image, you could worship success, you can worship this building. There’s false worship in all of our lives and, if we are to know the joy that God would have for us, we need to root that out, just like Jesus sought to do with this woman. That’s why he came to lead us into true joy as part of the purpose of the passion. For the Father seeks true worshipers who worship in truth.

But how, how do we become true worshipers? That’s the next logical question, isn’t it? If you want that joy to be complete if you, want life in all its fullness, as Jesus says then, then how Jesus? Is it by going to a particular place? Is it by a particular style of worship? Is it is it by ticking certain religious boxes? How?

I don’t think it’s any of that, partly because of what Jesus says in verse 21 ‘A time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem’. It’s not through that means, not through what you can achieve.

So, what is it that brings true worship? What brings us into true joy? Well, there earlier on in the conversation Jesus said this ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty. Again, whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

This whole episode began with Jesus saying ‘Can I have a drink?’ and then, after, follows a conversation where she clearly gets the wrong end of the stick and, to be honest, there’s part of me that’s like ‘I can understand why.’ because Jesus uses language and words that she would interpret a particular way. But he’s doing that to get her attention and to draw her in. And I get that, but, but there’s words here that normally would refer to actual water. So, in the previous verse He talked about living water and here He talks about a spring of water and, in the context of the day, living water is moving water, it’s water that moves and much like a spring of water, that there’s a source, and it travels downhill and it’s good and it’s clean, because it’s moving. That’s different from water you get in a well in this area, because that well is a hundred foot deep and it’s letting you pull up water that’s flowed together underground, it’s not free-flowing, it’s not classed as living water, it’s probably a little bit stagnant and so, she’s like ‘Well, I want the good stuff. I don’t want this stuff. I want the good stuff.’ And so, I can kind of understand where she’s getting confused by. But we all know that Jesus isn’t talking about actual water, He’s using that as a starting point to get her attention and draw her in, because He sees that she is trapped in false worship, He sees that her joy is very much not complete. What she is drawing from the well, the spiritual well she is drawing from, is either dry or stagnant and she needs a new source, she needs a source of living water, she needs this water to come rushing into the depths of her soul such that her life changes and she finds that true life she craves, the life God desires for her to know. So, what is that source? What is this living water? What is the means by which we become true worshipers?

Well, a little later on in John, a couple of chapters later Jesus says something that very much echoes this passage, but then John adds a little commentary to help us understand, and because he was one of the apostles, close followers of Jesus, he’s a pretty trustworthy source. He says ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ All sounds very similar. And then John adds ‘By this he meant the spirit.’ By this he meant the spirit. To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God within you. Jesus said in the early passage, true worshipers will worship in the spirit. What we need is the Spirit of God in us, transforming us into that place of worship, rather than it being confined to a building of four walls, we need the Spirit in us. And that’s just echoing what God had promised to do across the ages. He said in Ezekiel, for example ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ What is needed is the Spirit, the Spirit to come into a person’s life and change their heart so that they no longer have a heart of stone, a heart hardened by sin, that is uncaring towards God, that is distant towards God, that is not moved by God’s character and His plans, and yearns to live for God. That is the kind of heart change that we need. And I’ve told my story so often enough, that you’re probably sick of it, so I won’t labor it, but that change that happened in my life was exactly captured in these verses – to change from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh – by the Spirit coming into my life. What the woman needed was the Spirit of God coming into her life and to the depths of her being and changing her from the inside out and freeing her from false worship.

To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God. It’s not in your power to make it happen. It doesn’t happen by you coming to church, doesn’t happen by you becoming a member, it’s not within your gift to make happen, you need God to act and He’s ready. He promised it. He fulfilled it and offered it to this woman and He came through for her and He can come through for you and make you into that temple, that place where He dwells, where He resides and brings about true worship.

Now, maybe you’re beginning to wonder ‘Well, have I experienced that? Have I received the Spirit, Have I received the living water of Jesus?

And there’s so many scriptures that we could go to here that would to help you discern that or not. We could look at Ezekiel 36 which we just looked at. Do you know that you are forgiven? Do you know that you have a right relationship with God? Then the Spirit’s been at work in your life. Romans 8 that says, if you know God as your Heavenly Father, if God is no longer just an idea to you or a figure from history, if God is personal to you, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. First Corinthians 12 would say you can’t know who Jesus is, you can’t see that He’s the lord and Savior you need, you can’t put your faith in Him, unless the Spirit has been at work in your life. Second Corinthians 5 and Romans 12 would say that, if your desire is to live more for Jesus than you currently are, if your desire is to offer your life and worship to Jesus, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. But if there’s no such desire, if there’s no such confidence of knowing God, of being in right relationship with God, then maybe something’s missing.

I wonder where are you friends? Do you know this to be true of your own journey and your own relationship with God? None of us gets it perfect, we don’t always live for Jesus but, is there a desire there? Do you know God?

And maybe, what God wants for you this Easter, as we journey to the cross, is maybe just for you to know you are His. You are His. He has been at work in you, so press on, pursue Him, invite Him into your life in even greater measure, invite Him to root out that false worship, to lead you further and further into true joy.

Ephesians 5 reminds us to ‘keep on being filled with the Spirit’. It’s not a one-off affair that you leave back 20 years ago when you chose to follow Jesus for the first time. Keep on asking to be filled with the Spirit that you might overflow and be led into that fullness of life and live your life in worship of God. Maybe that’s what you need to know, that affirmation, you are His, He’s been at work in your life, so press on, press in no more. But what if that’s not you? What if you look at that list and you think ‘I just don’t know? I don’t know if this describes me.’ And if it doesn’t ‘Maybe I don’t have the Spirit.’

Well, I’ve got good news for you as well, and it’s all summed up in one random little verse from back in John chapter 4. Jesus, we read about John wrote about Jesus ‘Now he had to go through Samaria.’ Jesus had to go through Samaria and right now you’re probably thinking ‘This guy is like having a trip! What is he getting at with this verse?’ Because, at first read, it doesn’t mean anything, we just skip over it. But, think about it – He had to leave because there was pressure from the Pharisees, but there’s nothing to say he had to go through Samaria, nothing. He wasn’t in a particular rush to get anywhere. He didn’t have a deadline to get to something, and every Jew would avoid Samaria because you didn’t associate with Samaritans, they were the enemy, they were second class, you avoided them at any cost. So, why does Jesus have to go through Samaria?

He has to go through Samaria because of his heart for these people. The heart that lay behind the passion, the heart of love, love for this woman, love for these people. These people were seen as heretical, as traitors. They were despised, they were second class, they were told, they were written-off from the mercy of God. And this woman was a woman, and that day that was less than so many other things, and she was an adulterer, she was seen as immoral, she has despised even more, she has ostracized as we’ve already said, but Jesus had to go through Samaria, he pursued her, He pursued them, He broke tradition, He broke taboos, He broke, He risked everything for love of her, for love of her because He wants to invite her into true worship. And He came into the world for love of you and to invite you to drink, invite you to have that joy.

Now, you might wonder ‘I’m not worthy Scott.’ Neither was she. You might think ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to offer in response.’ Neither did she, but her heart and her worship. And, pursuing this woman, and pursuing the Samaritans, God shows that the invitation is open to all, to you today. It’s there.

But we, like that woman, we can try and keep God at a distance. We’d prefer to evade God and avoid God. We’d prefer not to have our comfort upended because we’ve grown used to worshiping the wrong things and, when God comes close as He’s maybe coming close right now to you, He’s maybe whispering in your heart to say you don’t have this, and if you want this you’ve got to let me in, and that might be making you a little bit uncomfortable right now. Friends, don’t keep God at arm’s length, invite Him in. Invite Him in because, if you don’t, you won’t know the life, you won’t know the joy He wants you to have. You’ve got to trust Jesus; you’ve got to invite him in because you won’t find it anywhere else. So, what will it be friends? What will you choose today?

The purpose of the passion includes making your joy complete through true worship. So, come to Jesus, come drink of His Spirit, come admitting the thirst of your soul and the ache to live and fuller life, come recognizing the truth of Jesus, come see that He is the Savior you need, the Savior of the world, He is the savior who pursues you even unto His own death such is His love for you.

Come worship in the Spirit and in truth because the Father invites you to be transformed from the inside out, that you may know true life and true joy.

So, let us come to God now in prayer. Let us pray:

I wonder friends, where are you seeking joy in the wrong places?
It might be a good thing, but you’re maybe worshiping it rather than worshiping God.

Or, where is there a part of your life that is joyless and sapping your joy? It may be that you’re worshiping something wrongly there.

And, today, the Father would seek to free you of that.

Our God and Heavenly Father

All of us have an ache in our hearts and souls. All of us yearn for that greater joy, that fullness of joy and life, that You offer and we won’t know it completely in this life but we can know more of it. And so, we invite You into our lives. Come now, Holy Spirit, and fill us afresh, fill us to overflowing, make us a temple of Your presence. Come, free us of false worship, forgive us of that, forgive us of that false worship, and help us to worship in truth, to worship You alone, to order our lives rightly, and be led into that greater joy.

Lord, if anyone here doesn’t know You yet, if they’ve not made that choice yet, and if they are ready and willing, and they’re open to You coming into their lives, come now, we pray. Come, fill them and change them. You might just want to say even a few words just asking Jesus to come into your life, asking Him to fill you afresh with His Spirit, but you need to make the choice.

Father, thank-you for Your word today. Thank-you for your love that invites us into that fullness of joy, into that true worship. Lead us on, complete the good work you’ve begun in us, for we ask it in Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen.

As I always say, if you made that choice for the first time, if you said you wanted Jesus to be part of your life for the first time, then please tell me. Not for my ego, not cos I’m needy, but because by saying that you are speaking out that act of faith and it really helps solidify that that faith journey that you’ve begun today so let me know if that’s the case.

Purpose of the Passion

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 3:1-16
Location: Blackbraes & Shieldhill with Muiravonside

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and bind up our hearts and open our eyes.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder what are your earliest memories of church? What are your earliest memories of church? My own memories include going to church with my family, standing beside my dad, maybe even being held by my dad, and him singing the hymns out fairly loudly – which is probably where I get that habit from – I remember juice and biscuits after the service along the tables with other boys and girls, and just such a hubbub of conversation and activity there, I remember getting dressed smartly, I remember sitting with my Gran when we moved church. I don’t really remember much of what the minister said, which hopefully won’t be your experience today! I wonder what you remember? What your earliest memories of church are?

They could be very well tied-in with this building. These memories we are fond of. Many of them are good and they make a lasting impression upon us. These memories probably shape our view of what church is about and of what church means to us. For most of my early life I probably associated church with these memories. It was about going to a building, it was about doing certain things, it was about wearing certain things.

But then, at the age of 19, I became a Christian. That was when my faith became truly alive and real to me. Up to that point I believed in God but that belief made very little difference to my everyday life. In fact, life was becoming more and more selfish such that during my teenage years I was hurting others around me as a result. But then came a crisis moment and I came to truly know Jesus and not only did I change, but my understanding of church did as well.

In our passage today we see a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, and in that passage Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’. Then later he 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. No one can see, whoever believes.

Jesus is not simply teaching moral truths and spiritual truths, he’s talking about people, he’s not talking about an organization or a building or a place. Jesus is talking about people.

And that’s because the church is made of people. Jesus came to earth, He came to die on a cross for people, people like you and me. The church is made of people and we know this, we know this because we sing this. Do you remember the song:
‘I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.
The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place.
The church is a people.’

The church is made of people. It’s why Jesus came to die. It’s why His resurrection is important because His resurrection proves there is hope for people, for people like you and me.

I know we know this. I realize it sounds like something from Sunday School but have we followed through the logic of what this means? It means the church is broader than us, the church is broader than here. There is, in fact, no them and us. There is only the church.

As a result, this means we have a great security and we have belonging. We don’t just belong to Muiravonside or Blackbraes & Shieldhill Parish Church. There is a place for us in any church and every church should stand in solidarity with one another, across congregations, across boundaries, even across continents. Isn’t that what we see when we pray for the persecuted church. So many of our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and yet we join in prayer for them and we don’t care what ethnicity they are, we don’t care what nationality they are, we don’t care what denomination they are, we simply pray for them. We join in prayer across all man-made boundaries for our brothers and sisters in Christ because the church is made of people. That’s why Jesus came. That was the purpose of His mission and His passion. This means we belong to something bigger. We actually have a greater security than we may ever have realized.

But is the church made up of just anybody? Or, let me put it another way, how can someone be part of the church?

Do we become part of the church by attending? Do we become part of the church by giving or becoming a member?

I think we probably all bring assumptions to our faith. We all do. And the same was true in Jesus’ day as well. And the same was true of Nicodemus. We read of Nicodemus in verse one ‘Now there was a pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.’ As a pharisee he obeyed the strictest of rules, he sought to honor God in every way imaginable, he wanted to know exactly how to apply God’s law, and he followed those rules very strictly. He was for this, highly esteemed. He would be seen as a truly righteous man and through years of study and self-application, he has gained a position on the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus has ticked all the boxes. He assumes his place in God’s family and kingdom. He assumes he is in; he is safe.

But as the dialogue shows, we can assume the wrong things, we can trust the wrong things and by doing that, we gain a false sense of security.

And what Jesus says, He helps Nicodemus to see things more rightly and to see where he can find life and hope and so Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they’re born again.’ He goes on to say ‘just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

Jesus is saying that life is to be found in Him. We are to trust in Jesus. It is this that qualifies someone to be in the kingdom or not, to be in the church or not, to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus is what ultimately allows us to belong or not, to His church because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus.

I wonder friends, is that where your trust is? Or have we trusted in other things?

Have we maybe trusted in the denomination, in its strength and size, and its legacy? Have we trusted in the building? That as long as the building’s here, as long as the walls stay up, and the roof is intact, everything will be okay? Have we maybe derived a false sense of security from these, just like Nicodemus? And as the future of these things that we’ve put our trust in seems more uncertain, have we responded like Nicodemus does to Jesus? Twice Nicodemus says ‘How?’ ‘How?’ ‘How can this be?’

And maybe you’re asking the same question with all the uncertainty you face because your trust is not in Jesus, it’s been in something else, you’ve assumed the wrong things.

So, maybe this Easter season, maybe in this journey towards the cross anew this year, maybe amidst all you’re facing, God’s invitation is for you to trust Jesus more deeply, to trust Jesus more truly, maybe even to trust Jesus for the first time, not so that you can get your own way, not so that everything will be okay, but, as you trust in Jesus, you might find a greater peace and hope and joy, even in the darkest of times.

For a number of reasons these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the story and life of Corrie Ten Boom and if you don’t know her story then at the end of April, Brightons is hosting a production of her story called ‘The hiding place’ which is based upon the book of the same title ‘The hiding place’. I encourage you to get a copy of the book or to join us down at Brightons for that production at the end of April and we’ll let you know of more details. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian and in her young adult life experienced World War II, her herself, her sister and her dad were in fact taken by the Nazis to concentration camps because they helped Jews escape from the Nazis. And her story speaks of how it is possible to keep trust in Jesus even in the darkest of times, even in the horror of such circumstances.

Corrie didn’t always trust perfectly, her sister did more often actually, and it was her sister’s influence that helped shape Corrie, helped strengthen Corrie, helped refine Corrie’s trust herself. And Corrie lived through that when her sister and father did not and she would go on to inspire many others to trust in Jesus, to trust in the way of Jesus, and to see the church grow. Because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus. And I wonder friends, does that describe you?

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, what kind of trust are we talking about? Is this a kind of trust where you just grit your teeth and get through to the end? Is it a kind of trust where you’re simply holding on and you’re simply fulfilling duty? I’m not sure it is, and it’s certainly not that kind of trust that got Corrie Ten Boom through her experience either. It was something other than duty, it was something other than just sheer doggedness and sheer human strength, it was something other, it was something of which Jesus spoke about in our passage today where he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.’ For God so loved the world.

If the church is made of people and those people have come from the world to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus, then do you know what that means? The church is made of people loved by God as well. The church is made of people loved by God.

I wonder friends, do we know that? Do we believe it? Have we received it for ourselves? Do we actually know that God is for us, for you personally?

He’s proven it. He’s proven it to the greatest degree he possibly can. He sent His one and only son to die for us. God is for us.

Now, it can be hard to hold on to that in a broken world with all that is going on and all that is changing in our world and in our local context. It is said that in our day we are in a grey zone, a period of time between the eras when things are changing, when things are in flux when the world as we know it is disappearing before our eyes. Being in that grey zone is unsettling, it is disorientating, it is scary. I’m sure you feel it like I do as well.

And maybe God’s invitation this Easter is to perceive His love more fully and to receive His love more deeply.

As we journey towards Easter together, reflecting on the cross, reflecting on the reasons that Jesus came and the purpose of His passion, may we see the love God has for us. May we see the depth and height and breadth and length of the love of God for you, not just for the world, but for you. For you.

I encourage you please, to try and make the time between now and Easter to dig into God’s word, to meet with Him in prayer. Maybe you can invest some time reading through the Gospel of John, maybe read a bit of a chapter a day or one chapter a day, whatever you feel you can manage. That through this gospel, this gospel where we find such truths as we’ve seen today, you can grow in your knowledge of God’s love, you can grow in your appreciation of God’s love, a love that drove Him to send His one and only Son into the world, to die on a cross for you, for you. Because, ultimately, that’s why Jesus came, that was the purpose of His passion. It was the reason for His journey to the cross, to have a church, a church made of people, a group of people who trust in Him, and know the love of God.

May we be such a people now and all our days come what may. I pray it may be so.
Amen.

Building blocks of evangelism

Preached on: Sunday 6th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here22-03-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 4:2-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to what You might say today through Your word.
Holy Spirit, help us to hear the call of God.
Holy Spirit, come with power and deep conviction to change us and shape us, to make us your ambassadors. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I would like to read you a modern-day parable that someone has written and it is called The Life-saving station.

‘On a dangerous sea coast, notorious for shipwrecks, there was a crude little life-saving station. Actually, it was merely a hut, with only one boat but the few members kept a constant watch over the turbulent sea. With little thought for themselves, they would go out day and night, tirelessly searching for those in danger. Many lives were saved by this brave band who faithfully worked as a team in and out of the life-saving station. By and by it became a famous place. Some of those who had been saved, as well as others along the seacoast, wanted to become associated with this little station. They were willing to give their time energy and money in support of its objectives. New boats were purchased, new crews were trained. The station once obscure, crude and virtually insignificant, began to grow. Some of its members were unhappy. The hut was so unattractive and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided. Emergency cots were replaced with lovely furniture. Rough handmade equipment was discarded and sophisticated systems were installed. The hut, of course, had to be torn down to make room for all this new equipment, furniture and systems. By the time of its completion the life-saving station had become a popular gathering place and its objectives had begun to shift. It was now used as a sort of clubhouse being an attractive building for the public to gather in. Saving lives, feeding the hungry, strengthening the fearful, calming the disturbed these rarely occurred now. Fewer members were interested in braving the sea on life-saving missions so they hired professional lifeboat crews to do this work. The original goal of the station wasn’t all together forgotten however, life-saving motifs still prevailed in the club’s decorations and there was a liturgical lifeboat preserved in the room of sweet memories with soft indirect lighting which helped hide the layer of dust upon the once used vessel. Shipwrecks still occur in those waters but now most of the victims are not saved, every day they drown at sea and so few, so very few, seem to care.’

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with that.

Are we the people in the parable? Are we simply content with our clubhouse and our place in the clubhouse. As we come to share in Communion today and gather around the Lord’s table, do we take just simple comfort from the fact that we’re okay, we are part of His family, we have our place, we have our faith but we maybe have forgotten the wider world Jesus came for.

These are questions we each need to ask of ourselves and of us as a congregation. Have we forgotten or neglected our calling?

I feel quite certain it’s a question Paul would ask of the church in our day given our reading today. Up to this point Paul has been directing the attention of the Colossians upwards to Jesus and inwards to care for one another and to grow in faith, to strengthen that faith. But now he turns outward and he calls the Colossians to turn outward as well and so he writes ‘Pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should.’ As he begins to turn outward, his instinct is to ask for prayer, and as Paul often does, he leads by example because in the very next verse he goes on to call them to be similarly outward focused ‘Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. When you read the words be wise.’ I wonder what it conjures in your mind ‘Be wise to how you behave towards outsiders.’? We, I think, believe it means to be nice and polite, which I don’t think it does actually mean because in the New Testament wisdom is not about how to live a successful life, it’s not about how to have the good life, it’s not about knowing the answers, it’s not about just being nice and kind or something like that. Having wisdom in the New Testament is about understanding who Jesus is and what God has done and is doing through Jesus. And so, to be wise towards the outside world is to understand the outside world in relation to Jesus and to who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.

And so, what has Paul already said about Jesus and his letter that would be of importance for the outside world? Well, in chapter one of Colossians he says that if you don’t have faith in Jesus you are alienated from God and an enemy of God and your mind and the only way to be reconciled to God is through Jesus. Or go into chapter 3 and Paul says there that because of sin in the world and in our lives the wrath of God is coming there will be judgment upon our actions.

That is the wider context. And so, although Paul doesn’t talk about an outward focus until chapter four and it’s only a couple of verses and we might be tempted to think ‘Oh, it’s just a wee tag on here’ it’s really not, it’s not an optional extra that slipped Paul’s mind, because he was writing for another purpose. He was writing to ground their faith and strengthen their faith but he can’t help himself in turning outward and remembering that everything he’s written so far has relevance for the outside world and so sharing Jesus is not an optional extra for us, it’s of eternal significance and really he’s just echoing Jesus who said in those verses we quote so often ‘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.’ The stakes are high because he goes on to say ‘Whoever believes in him that is in Jesus is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.’

That is the context of scripture that drives home Paul’s argument that we are to be wise, we have to understand the outside world in relation to Jesus, to who he is and what God has done in and through him, and it’s why Paul goes on to say ‘make the most of every opportunity’ make the most of every opportunity.
I wonder if we are like Archipelas who needed a reminder from Paul, ‘complete the ministry you have received’ he’s told do. We need to be reminded to complete our calling. Our calling to invite people to follow Jesus that they might be saved.

Sharing Jesus with the outside world is not an optional extra. It has eternal significance and if we don’t take that on board, if we don’t try to grow in this some way, somehow, we’re just going to end up like that self-indulgent clubhouse and we’re no longer a life-saving station.

As we come around the Communion table today, let us remember why Jesus actually died, not to make us comfortable, not even to make us nice people, but to save us and to bring salvation for the world, including the world that is outside our doors right now.

Now, let me be honest friends, I’m as poor at this as anybody. I shy away from this as much as the next person, and so, I’m not standing up here as the finished product and not standing up here as an expert in this. I’m simply trying to open up God’s word for us Sunday by Sunday and let him speak. So, it’s not hypocritical for me to say this. I’m preaching as much to me as I am to you, but one of the things I love about God’s word is how He equips us through His word, by the example and the writings of His church. He equips us and so Paul, in his writing, actually gives us building blocks to help us share our faith and I want to briefly touch on four.

He writes ‘devote yourselves to prayer being watchful and thankful and pray for us too.’

Building block number one is prayer. Because, if you’re not praying, you won’t be sharing. Paul’s probably got in mind prayer beyond simple evangelism and mission. I’m sure of that because of what he writes in chapter one. So I’m taking a particular focus here, let’s admit that. But he quickly goes on to talk about evangelism and I think for him evangelism and prayer will be intimately tied because, think this through, as you thank God for what you have received, the grace and mercy you have received, for the love He has shown you, and as you express that thankfulness to God, a passion, a zeal, an excitement arises in you and you’re like ‘I want to share this with others.’ And so, if you’re not in prayer, thanking God for this, you’re probably not very excited and you’re not really want to share it with people. We need to be praying in the place of thankfulness but as we thank God for that we might be like ‘Well, I want to share this.’ and so, we ask him for open doors, as Paul does, and then as we begin to ask for that, when we’re out and about in the community, or we’re talking with people, we’re more mindful of those opportunities. ‘Oh, I could have said something there. Oh, this is where Jesus might be relevant. Oh, I could pray for that person, I could say and pray for that person, because well, there’s a God that I can pray to you. Become more aware of those opportunities, but then we’re going to mess up, aren’t we, we’re going to not take the opportunities at times, we’ll take some and we’ll miss out on others, and so, we go back into prayer and we were saying to God ‘God I didn’t take that opportunity you gave me and I’m sorry I allowed my fear, I allowed my discomfort to hold me back and I didn’t love my neighbor as I loved myself. I was more in love with my comfort and my image and reputation than I was in that person’s welfare.’ And we’ll start to repent of that and as you repent of that it gives you resolve that the next time the opportunity comes you’ll take it.

In a place of prayer we are prepared for evangelism. And so, if you’re not, you won’t be prepared. If you’re not praying for people to come to faith, you won’t be prepared either. So that little card that I’ve left down on the table there, that’s person number one to be thinking of, but maybe add to that one or maybe two others, especially if that person on your card is not a local person. We are called to evangelism, to mission, to sharing the good news with this community, in this place. So, who is that to you. In my own life I have my phone, I have an electronic calendar and I have little reminders that pop up every day. One stream of reminders is around people, family, friends, situations that I want to pray for. And I have family members I’m praying for to come to faith. I’ve got friends that I’m praying to come to faith. I’m going to just about, I’m going to add dads that I’m meeting at the playground that I want to come to faith. I then have a second stream of reminders that I break up my pastoral grouping – so Elders, wee idea for you pastoral grouping leaders – each day pray for a different couple of members from your pastor grouping, and there are members of my pastoral grouping who have spouses that don’t believe and I’m praying for those spouses to come to faith. I’m not saying you have to go to that extreme but who are the two people you’re praying for that are locally not believing in Jesus. The reason I probably rabbit on about this so much is because I am praying for this, it’s there in my consciousness, and you won’t give a jot about this if you’re not praying for this. So, we need to be in the place of prayer.

Building block number two is relationships. Paul says ‘Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders and let your conversation be always full of’ and it goes on. You can’t have a conversation, you can’t name two people, you can’t act towards people you don’t have a relationship with. So, who outside of the church locally do you have relationships with who are you building that relationship with? Maybe a neighbor, maybe a friend, maybe a colleague. But we need to be in relationship. We can’t just be a wee holy huddle and we’re looking who are you building relationships with. Hopefully you are and you can name two people.

Building block number three is when you’ve got those relationships we hopefully have some conversation and he says ‘let your conversation be always full of grace seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ And I think we get a whole list of wild ideas about what this could mean. I think we interpret it through our nice, comfortable, kind of middle class, lens at times. And so, when we read ‘let your conversation be always full of grace’ again we read that as well, be nice, be polite, that kind of ilk of interpretation. But I don’t think that’s what Paul means because let’s remember the context of Paul’s day, he’s writing to a group of people who are ostracized, ridiculed, mocked, even persecuted for their faith. To be a Christian then was in a hostile environment, not necessarily our environment, although it’s getting more hostile, and so, in the context of that time, to be full of grace can mean two things I think. To be forgiving and forbearing when people ridicule you and mock you for following Jesus. They were mocked because they believed in a crucified Messiah. ‘Your God can’t be powerful, he was killed!’ was how it went, and they would have to show grace in their conversation as they forgave and as they bore with that.

But God’s grace also upholds us, upholds our faith so that we believe until the very end. We cling on even in the hard times. That is a work of God’s grace and so I think also that being full of grace in our conversation can be that when you are ridiculed and when people malign your faith and when they say it’s rubbish and nonsense that when you stand there and you kind of take it on the chin but you say ‘I still believe in this Jesus’ and you’re not going to dissuade me and you’re not aggressive about it but you’re just firm and you’re resolved that is you walking in grace and that is powerful in our day.

Paul also goes on to say that conversation should be seasoned with salt and again there’s two dynamics here I think at play. One is that Jesus said that we are ‘to be salt and light’ and in the message translation of that passage in Matthew the author there draws out that we have to bring out the God flavors, the flavors of God’s kingdom. So, that might be at play. But also, in the day, salty conversation was a conversation that was earthed in reality, it was earth in the everyday of living, and to combine those two thoughts together I think what Paul might be getting at is when you get to talk about faith, don’t talk about some highfaluting theology, and don’t talk about the organization of church, talk about how Jesus is real to you, of what He’s done in your life and is doing in your life talk, about your testimony. Bring out God’s flavor from your own life that they might see it, that they might know it. And I think combining all that together helps us to know how to answer everyone because, with this part of the verse, we often think we’ll have to have an answer for every possible question under the sun, every question about science, every question about morality, every question about the Bible, every question about theology. None of us, not even the minister, can answer everyone with all those questions.

But I wonder, as you hold on in faith to Jesus, in that conversation, as you share what Jesus means to you and has done in your life, that is a powerful answer. Because we can debate matters of theology and morality and philosophy, and everybody can come up with their answer but when you share your story, it’s a little bit more difficult to ignore that and to explain it away because your story of faith has power in it. And maybe, that’s what we need to focus more on. What is your story of faith that you can share. And it might not be a whoop-dee-doo story of faith, you might not be in the greatest place of faith right now, you maybe are not in a place of rejoicing, but you know,, in our day in our world, being able to say how you hold on in faith amidst the dark times and the times of suffering and the times when Jesus doesn’t seem as close, that’s powerful. Over lockdown we had multiple testimonies shared on Tuesday, Testimony Tuesday, and so many of them included times of faith in the hard times and they were powerful.

So, what’s the story that you can share in conversation with people?

And the fourth one builds on all this too in the latter bit of Paul’s letter, as he closes off, he lists a whole lot of people. People he ministers and serves with, people that he labors with, and digging into some of their stories there’s two in particular, Mark and Demas that jumped off the page for me, because they’re kind of two sides of the one coin of perseverance with grace.

Mark was a colleague of Paul’s and in Acts chapter 13 we read that we can read there that he deserted Paul he left for some reason, we don’t know why, maybe it was fear, maybe the opposition was too much, we just don’t know, and it hurt Paul, it betrayed his trust and he wouldn’t serve with Mark for a time. But now Colossians is a little later on in the story and Mark is back involved with Paul. Mark is persevering in ministry again and there’s been grace and forgiveness.

Demas is the other side of that in the time of Colossians. He’s serving alongside Paul but by the time of second Timothy Demas is said to have deserted Paul then, he’s went the opposite way, he’s not persevering any longer, he’s not relying on God’s grace.

And in these two examples we see that to be effective in sharing our faith and sharing Jesus with the outside world, we do need to persevere. That might not come easy, it might be the scariest thing about our faith, but we’re called to persevere and when you don’t feel able, when you don’t feel good at this, when you feel weak at this, as I do, then that’s probably the best place to be in, because what does God say to the church in Corinth ‘When you are weak then you are strong’ that ‘his power is made perfect in weakness’. You don’t need to be the finished article, you don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to be committed to this, to make some form of commitment to persevere because, if we don’t if, we don’t complete the calling we have received, we’re just going to become, if we’re not already, and I’m not saying we are, but we could very well easily become, just a self-indulgent clubhouse and forget our call to be a life-saving station. Because, as we gather around this Communion table, it reminds us there are eternal things at play. We often focus on the love of God and forget the other side of that coin – Jesus came to die to save us.

Let us remember the full gospel and give ourselves to being that life-saving station.

I pray it may be so. Amen.