Find security in God; invest in eternity

Preached on: Sunday 31st July 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 here22-07-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 6:19-34
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– We’ve all learnt to place our security in the wrong place
– We need to learn to put our security in God
– With our security in God we are freed to invest in eternity
Let’s take a moment to pray before we dig into God’s word. Let us pray:

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

I wonder what your earliest childhood memory is. Your earliest childhood memory. If you feel like it, why don’t you turn to your neighbor and for the next 20 or 30 seconds with a bit of music in the background, share what your earliest childhood memory is. Over to you.

So, okay then, sounds like you could go on for hours probably there, so feel free to pick up those conversations afterwards.

I’m saying to Margaret I have a terrible ability to remember events. My wife despairs of me. She’ll be like ‘Remember this?’ and I’m like ‘When? How did that happen?’ There are some things I would love to be able to remember just because it’d be great to see what the people’s faces were at the time/ Like, when I was really young and apparently, I thought that the neighbor’s car needed a paint job and so I got out the creosote. Thankfully it was a company car so he wasn’t too bothered actually. Or there’s a time when I was really young, about three I think, and had one of those little fire engines that you could ride on. I got about half a mile away from house before dad found me and the next day a fence was built within 24 hours to keep me penned in the back garden. I would love to be able to remember these things rather than just be told by my parents ‘Oh, you know, this happened when you were really young.’ There are lots of things we don’t remember from childhood. There’s probably lots of things actually we try not to remember from childhood and these events, some of them at least, can really shape our lives in very profound ways and we’ll come back to that thought in a little moment.

We’re in this series on the Sermon on Mount. We’re about two-thirds of the way through and we’ll finish up with our all-age service in about a month’s time with our children and families back amongst us, hopefully, and through all we’ve been seeing how Jesus has been building upon the teaching of the kingdom. He’s been helping us see what the life in the kingdom looks like, the ways of the kingdom so that we can come into that good, blessed, kingdom life. I don’t know about you but when I read so much of the Sermon on the Mount, I find it really challenging and there’s points, especially maybe with today’s passage, that it feels a bit burdensome. He says ‘Don’t have treasures on earth’. Well, strike number one. ‘Only serve God’. Strike number two. ‘Don’t worry’. Strike number three. ‘Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.’ Well, I’m all out Jesus so I’ll just pack up my bags and especially if you’re someone who worries by nature or by nurture and so that you’re in that place where anxiety is something you really struggle with and you’ve maybe been struggling for years and it might even be crippling your life there’s every potential that you hear this passage, you read this passage, you’ve maybe heard it tons of times and every time you end up going ‘Well, that wasn’t helpful’ or ‘It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.’ And especially when you come to some later teaching of Jesus in the same gospel, I might add, it really gets a bit perplexing because Jesus says this just a couple of chapters later not quite chapter 9 Jean, we’ll move on to 11. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened,’ – she’s going to get me later on – ‘and I will give you rest take my yoke upon you and learn from me for i am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ and as you’re reading through this passage, as you’re reading through the Sermon on the Mount and you think well His yoke is His teaching, that’s what Rabbis meant, that you would take the yoke of the Rabbi upon you, that’s His teaching. Really? The Sermon on the Mount is easy and light, really Jesus? So how, how do we square that up? How do we square up what Jesus is saying and what we feel?

I think some of it has to do with how we read it. That we read so much of scripture, we read the Sermon on the Mount, through a particular lens and so we don’t end up reading it through the lens of His heart. This heart that is gentle and humble. This heart that desires for you to know life and joy and freedom, and so, we don’t read it through that lens and we read it in another way and so, we don’t see His heart and it feels burdensome. So, if we were to read His word, if we were to read this passage through the lens of His heart, how does that change this passage? Indeed, how does it change the whole sermon?

Well, coming back to our passage, we heard Jesus say earlier ‘Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal …….. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ What is the concern of Jesus here? If His heart is for you, if He’s not against you, if He’s not out to condemn you and belittle you, what is His concern here?

Treasures are things that we value and it could be any number of things. It could be the material. It could be our money but, equally, it could be reputation or image; a loved one; our health; could be our comfort; it could be a job or a position that we have a role, even within the church. All these could be our treasures. Treasures are things we value but tied to that, often, treasures are things that give us security, they make us feel safe and when the thing we treasure is undermined or threatened what comes? Worry, as Jesus says, and when we elevate that earthly treasure to a position it should not hold, it becomes our master, as Jesus says, and when it becomes the focus of our lives, when it becomes our ambition and the goal and the driving thing in our life, then then our vision is often clouded, as Jesus says here, and with that, at times, can come a darkness in us, as that thing becomes the goal, as Jesus says here. And so, again and again Jesus is asking the question – Where do we find our security? Where have you placed your security? He knows our human condition, He knows by both nature and nurture, we all learn to place our security in the wrong place. There’s a writer that I really enjoy reading and listening to, her name is Ruth Haley Barton, a Christian writer, and she has a helpful way of putting this across. She talks about how, across our lives but particularly in the early years, we develop coping mechanisms. Mechanisms to help us deal with the harsh and hard realities of life in this world but, often, these coping mechanisms, particularly a young age, don’t include God and so, we end up finding our safety, our security, ways to cope, in the wrong place and God isn’t a part of that picture. I was listening recently to one of her podcasts and in that she related a story in which she recalled an event from her childhood. This event she had blocked from her memory for probably about 30 years but God brought it back to her and she went and spoke to her mum who confirmed it was a real event. She was about four years old when this event happened and it was her mum who dealt the blow because her mum disciplined her in a particular way, really not in a justified way, but her mum wasn’t doing it for any ill reason but she was just, that’s what she understood to be maybe best for her child but it clearly wasn’t because it left a wound and in light of that wounding, Ruth learned a coping mechanism. She learned how to keep herself safe, how to find security in a world which had suddenly upended for her and that had effects over the years such that in her thirties she was facing a form of bullying at work, she was really in a very difficult situation but she could not stand up for herself despite the encouragement of others, she could not stand up for herself because of that earlier wound and what she did instead was she withdrew and she got small because that was how she kept herself safe, that was her coping mechanism, that was where she found security by withdrawing and getting safe.

So, what about you? What about me? Where have we learned, maybe from childhood, maybe during our adult years, where have we learned to put our safety and security? It could be in position, could be in health and comfort, could be in reputation, it could be in loved ones, or wealth and possessions, might be any number of these.

Remember, Jesus doesn’t raise this to condemn you, belittle you, He does it because He loves you, He wants you to come into life, to come into greater freedom, to cut, to know a greater security than what you’ve known until this point. And that’s our next point, because he says ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns and yet, your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …. For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly father knows that you need them.’ So much of the teaching of Jesus, so much of what He says mentions the Father because the Father was His place of security, His safe place, that the foundation of His life because He is in that intimate relationship with the Father, the Father’s love, the Father’s care, the Father’s affirmation, that was central to Jesus and He models it and He teaches it to His disciples. And so, what Jesus is saying in these verses and through this passage is that we need to find our greater security in God. He calls us to give up that limited security that we may be nurtured and built for ourselves whether through childhood or whether through our adult ears, we need to give that up and find the greater security of the Father’s love, the Father’s affirmation, the Father’s care and provision. But to learn that, to learn to find our place in that is a journey. But it does echo what Jesus says in Matthew 11 too ‘Learn from me and you will find rest for your souls.’ To learn from Him, to learn from Him by unlearning our coping mechanisms, to learn from Him by having our minds renewed that we understand our Father more intimately and better, that we can have that greater trust and security. It is a process. Any learning is a process. It takes time.

I don’t know about you but my mental picture almost of the disciples is that they hear this and immediately they just jump ‘Right, no more worry!’ So, I almost imagine that but it doesn’t match up to the facts. Have you noticed how often the disciples are portrayed as a bunch of messed-up individuals. It gives me confidence actually, this is a side point, it gives me confidence that the Scriptures are true because if it weren’t true you wouldn’t include them as a bunch of messed-up individuals, you’d want them to be on a pedestal, but they’re not. So, we find Peter at the start of his time with Jesus and Jesus goes off to pray one morning and Peter comes after Him and says ‘Jesus, you know there’s a bunch of people over here, they want to see you,’ He’s more worried about them than about what Jesus is concerned about. He has this worry in him. Or later on in life, now, admittedly, walking on water I think any of us might be a wee bit intimidated by that, but he worries and he thinks but at least he walked on the water. Or later on in life again a couple years later, he’s with Jesus who’s arrested and because of worry and anxiety he denies the Lord three times. Worry. Or later, as an apostle, when Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit’s come, Peter saw 3 000 plus people come to faith and yet later he can then choose to ignore the Gentile Christians and only have fellowship with the Jewish Christians, because of worry, because of anxiety. And it takes Paul to come along and give him a bit of a verbal slap to get him out of that place, to help him see that it’s wrong what he’s doing. But he’s worried. But, you know, even later in life Peter is able to write in chapter 5 of one of his letters ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, the lord, because he cares for you.’ It’s a journey. It takes a whole of a life and more besides to learn but, if we will learn it, we will find a greater security, we will find rest for our souls. And later, in the same sermon, Jesus will say ‘Those who seek will find.’ Is it easy? No! Is this sermon going to answer every question and issue around worry and anxiety for you? No! Might you need to go and see a counsellor for years on end maybe, maybe, if worry and anxiety has become that pattern in your life. And that’s okay, I’ve been to see a counsellor because of things. So that’s okay. I don’t expect this sermon to achieve everything but some of it might help. Hopefully. Is this ever fully achieved in our lives? Well, I’ve only been following Jesus for 20 years, I’m hopefully only halfway through my life so I can’t really say that with any great authority but I doubt it. Ask some of the older people who have been following Jesus for a lot longer than me. But I reckon they’ll probably tell you, there’s always more to learn, there’s always more to learn.

How do we learn that? How do we learn to find that greater security? I think core to it all has to be to listen for the voice of our Heavenly Father. I think that has to be core or at least it is from my experience so far. Because, what are the things that I worry about? Not so much the Manse, to be honest, I worry about its influence on Gill but I don’t worry about it quite so much. Finances? Not so much. Image? Clearly not so much. But doing right by you, this community, doing right by God a bit more. Let’s remember, this is only my first charge. I’m a young guy. I’ve got lots to learn. Half the time I’m guessing. That’s what I worry about. But you know, whether it’s through the daily reading of scripture or reading of other books, or prayer and solitude in silence, there are ways that I’m building in. When I’m not like this little chap in the picture; he seems to be kind of almost trying to get out of his father’s arms; it’s not really, ‘I’m not really sure about this cuddle, dad!’ But if we want that greater security, we need to turn to the Father. We need to learn to hear His voice.

I shared with the Elders the very first Kirk Session meeting I had I think it was Elders it might be in the Deacon’s Court it gets confusing when you have two bodies of people but I was on retreat the week prior to me being ordained and inducted here and had all these thoughts swirling around me and I’ve learned on retreat to utilize art. now I did do standard grade art but I’m not the greatest artist in the world so line drawings are my thing. And I drew this picture and through it was drawing it because of just what I felt the Spirit was saying to me, You won’t see it well but if you want to come up and see it afterwards then please do and so, in this picture I’ve got me, I didn’t pick black for any particular reason other than just to make it a bit less obvious but here’s me and here are these things that could weigh upon me like: ministry expectation, being a pastor; week-in week-out preaching which is quite a daunting prospect; tradition; numbers; being young but also maybe lacking young people and wanting to see that grow in our body. All these weights but they’re not on my shoulders because I felt God was saying ‘I’m behind you, and I’ll take that weight if you let me. As long as you stay connected to me and breathe in my Spirit and breathe in what I say to you, it will nurture your heart and keep you right because, what should be over your shoulders is My yoke. My yoke, that is easy, my burden that is light.’ And I have that up in the study to remind me of that

So, what about you? What do you? Do to turn to the Father to hear His voice and it can’t be every now and again and it can’t be even just a Sunday, you need more, unless like you’re a bit more like Jesus, I think you need more than once a week. So, what are you doing? What’s God saying to you? Not to correct you necessarily, to affirm you, to speak His love over you. What’s He saying? And, if you can’t answer that question, then you need to learn, you need to learn to find that greater security in the Father and we have ways and means of doing that at church: Huddle; a Fellowship Group; many others besides. And if you don’t know how to tune into the voice of the Father you need to learn because you can’t do this life of faith otherwise, you can’t grow in greater security otherwise so, come and talk to me, drop me an email because I won’t be leading over the next two weeks and when I get back if I’ve got a group of people who are saying I want to learn to grow in that, we will put a group together, we will do something because there’s few things more life-giving than hearing the voice of your Father.

Now being free of worry is a, more free of worry is a great thing but there’s also other things that come, as Jesus says, as we find that greater security He says ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven when moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.’ With our security and God, the rest of the teaching of Jesus can come into play and become a reality in our lives. And too often we try and jump from ‘don’t have treasures on earth’ to ‘have treasures in heaven’ and we try and skip out the bit in the middle which I’ve just talked about. And, if you try and do that, you will end up with a religion, a way of following Jesus that is lifeless and which deadens your soul because instead, what you will have is something that makes you feel guilty, which makes you feel weary, and most likely in time, will bring about bitterness. So, don’t forget the bit in the middle.

But there’s this other third bit of today of ‘having treasures in heaven’. What is that? Well, it’s anything that lasts into eternity. So, what lasts into eternity? A Christ-like character. The Scriptures teach us faith, love and hope. The Scriptures teach us knowledge of God. Those who we’ve helped to come to faith in Jesus that will last into eternity. ‘The prayers of God’s people are like an incense that come before the throne of God’, they last into eternity. Our witness, our testimony of Jesus lasts into eternity. Anything that brings God glory, lasts into eternity.

So, where is the room for you to grow and how you invest in the eternal things? And that will depend upon where you are putting your security now. So, for example, if your security is in success at work and being a good employee and making sure that you tick all the boxes and such like, then you might be more inclined to say ‘Well, you know, I don’t have time. I don’t have time to be with God and seek His voice. I don’t have time to serve at church because work, that’s the goal, that’s where my treasure is, that’s where my security is.’ If it’s your comfort, your lifestyle, your bank balance, then what might come as a lack of financial generosity because you don’t want to invest in that, you want your bank balance, you want your lifestyle to remain safe, comfortable. It’s your treasure and so you’re not as generous as you might be. If image, if how you appear to others is your place of security and treasure, then what will come is an unwillingness or an inability even to step out in faith, to be different and often. I think, that can be a problem for our young people but is a problem for most of us too. A young person’s journey, a big part of it, is about identity and we need to help our young people navigate that journey so that this is not their place of security, but it’s there for all of us, I’m sure, as well, with each of those areas and there’s many more besides. With each of those areas if we can learn to find our security in the Father’s love then we are freed up to invest in eternity, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, not simply to be more free of worry and that would be a glorious thing to see.

Now, this is the point when I suspect you begin to feel a bit more of a challenge. You begin to wonder if God is criticizing you a little bit more, but let me remind you of Jesus and His words He is ‘gentle and lowly of heart; humble of heart; His yoke is easy and His burden is light.’ He came that you might have life and life to all its fullness. He was sent because the Father loves you and didn’t want to have eternity without you and Jesus chose to lay down His life on a cross to be the sacrificial Lamb of God for you and for me.

Let that sink in, brothers and sisters. Let that sink in, because, if we can, if we will, then we’ll see the heart of Jesus, the heart of God which yearns for us to find a truer life, a fuller life, a freer life, by having our security and our treasure in God.

I pray it may be so. Amen

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.

The main thing

Preached on: Sunday 30th January 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 22-01-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: COLOSSIANS 1:24-2:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, be amongst us and open our minds to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and open our hearts that we might hear the voice of Father God to us.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, 2022 is upon us and nearly a whole month has passed, one twelfth of the year has nearly gone and, for me at least, it’s flying past. Maybe that’s the newborn baby thing of sleep deprivation and the days blurring together; maybe it’s been out of the manse for about half of January because of a beetle infestation; who knows. One or two things, you know, to juggle and deal with. That means my month has just flown by. I wonder how yours has gone? But what is 2022 going to be the year of, do you think? What will 2022 be the year of? The year of getting back to normal? I thought I’d get a bit more of a ‘Yeah’ than that ‘Amen brother!’ And getting rid of these masks, eh? Or is it the year we see the end of the reign of Boris Johnson? I won’t ask you to vote in favor against that one! Is it the year that Russia does invade Ukraine? And what about for the church, us locally, the Church of Scotland nationally? Is this the year when it becomes a bit clearer what the shape of church will be? What buildings are going in the years to come, to be open or closed? Is that going to become a bit clearer?

All of these issues are important and they all have the potential to impact us one way or another but, as I’ve prepared for this week, there’s part of me has wondered – Are some of these, or maybe all of these are, something that can distract us? just consumes us so much that we fail to keep the main thing the main thing? Partly. I’m led to wonder about that because, if you read on in Colossians, and we’ll get to that there in the weeks to come, but in Colossians chapter 4 Paul says he’s a prisoner, he’s in chains. And so, he is in prison, he’s in chains because of his faith and being in prison in those days carried with it the threat of the death penalty. He is facing those circumstances and yet he will not be diverted, he will not be consumed by his circumstances and he will keep the main thing the main thing because he says in verse 25 that he’s become a ‘servant of the church by the commission God gave him’, he has a commission from God and he has real clarity about that commission. He knows he’s to present the word of God in all its fullness; he knows he’s to share the good news, the ‘mystery the gospel’ as he calls it, about Jesus, and by sharing that he hopes to build up the church, so that it remains firm in faith and encouraged in heart. he hopes, by sharing the gospel, that more people, the nations, will come to faith in Jesus and so he is clear about this, he is compelled towards it, and he will not be diverted.

It makes me wonder about us brothers and sisters. Makes me wonder about us, because, we too have a commission, don’t we? This is the beginning of my fourth year with you now and I think every year I think I’ve started with these same verses so we probably should be quite familiar with them by now Jesus says ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ We have been given a commission, a commission by God, and it’s a commission that carries eternal significance for the people we know, the people in our lives, the people in this area. We have to go and call them to follow Jesus and, when they respond in faith, to help them grow in faith and become mature followers. Paul would not be diverted from his commission – I wonder are we do we put it off? Or ‘I’ll get to it Scott when things are normal? You know, when I can get rid of the mask, finally I’ll be able to do x, y and z; finally, I’ll be able to give myself to them commission from God.’ Or ‘When (fill in the blank).’ Could be so many other things that we just allow to so consume us, so divert us that we never get round to this commission. I wonder, could this be the year when we learn that little bit more to keep the main thing the main thing?

And it’s a challenge that I will have to face all over again, as I learned to be a dad of two children, and one of them particularly young. It’s a commission, that I feel like I’m still learning to know what it means to be a minister and that keeps changing on me because we have a congregation of about 500 on the roll and that’s going to nearly double in size when, in the years to come, we go into a union with the other churches. What does it even mean to be a minister to that size of congregation? I’m not sure I don’t know, I’m going to have to learn, might have to stop things, might have to start things. I’m having to learn how to keep the main thing the main thing too but, if we commit together in this, then maybe we can encourage and spur one another on, maybe we can learn together to keep the main thing the main thing and I hope there’s a part of you that is rising up and saying ‘Yes, I want to this year!’ It’s a month into the year maybe this is your new year’s resolution, if you didn’t make one, that you want to keep the main thing the main thing but, in all likelihood, I wouldn’t be surprised, if there’s a part of you that’s fighting that, just wants to keep it at a distance, that maybe there’s not even a part of you that wants to say ‘Yes’ because you just feel weighed down, weighed down by weariness, weighed down by disillusionment or fear even, and so there’s this war in you that knows that you should maybe say yes but you just you can’t because of all that the last two years have brought, but maybe because of all that you are facing personally, in work, or in life, or in faith, that it’s sapping your reserves, it’s sapping your hope, and so we just don’t feel able to say yes and it’s so easy to become diverted and you know what is more, on top of all of that, we know that, don’t we, that our commission is costly to follow and put into practice. What Jesus says, it’s going to be costly, we’re going to have to give up time and energy, we’re going to have to give up maybe comfort or money, or maybe even popularity, we might have to stop doing things that we have been doing for a long time, and so, in the face of all, that it’s been natural and understandable for us to not feel able to say yes and to want to just put off that that bit more of 2022.

You know, Paul knew hardship and yet he still pursued his commission. He writes in verse 24 ‘Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body which is the church.’ Paul knew hardship, he knew affliction he knew suffering, and yet, somehow, Paul kept persevering. How was it that this man was able to keep saying yes to God’s commission despite his chains, despite the threat of execution for his faith?

Before we get on to answer that I just want to pause and unpick this verse a little bit because, as we read it we might it might raise questions for us, and we might wonder is Paul saying that the cross is insufficient, that it is lacking something. Is that what Paul means by Christ’s afflictions? And well, the answer is a very clear ‘No!’ No, the cross is not lacking, because Paul, in his letters, never refers to the cross as an affliction. Christ endured and if you look at even just the book of Colossians in chapter 1 verses 21 and 22 and in chapter 2 verses 13 and 14, Paul makes it very clear that what Jesus was to achieve on the cross he did achieve, that you can now be forgiven through Jesus’ death, that on the cross He died so that you could be forgiven and fully reconciled to God, so that you can stand before Almighty God without blemish, free of accusation, and reconciled to your Heavenly Father. That offer is there for every one of us. The cross is not lacking in any way, but what Paul knows is that to be a Christian is more than to attend church. To be a Christian is to do more than simply pray or read the Bible. To be a Christian is to be more than just a good person. A Christian is someone who is united with Jesus, not in an abstract way, but in a very deep spiritual way. When you are a Christian, you are part of the body of Christ, and so Paul knows that, as he suffers, Jesus suffers alongside him; as he suffers to fulfill his commission, Jesus suffers with him; and this is what helps Paul persevere, because he goes on to say in verses 27 and 29 that the mystery the gospel, the good news, he seeks to share with the nations, is that you can know Christ, you can know Jesus in you, not Christ with , not Christ around you, or near you, or above you, but Christ in you, in you, and it’s when Christ becomes that real to you, you then have the hope of glory, the hope that this life with its afflictions, with its hardships, with its suffering, this life isn’t all there is, that there is a spiritual dynamic to life, that there is a hope of a new heaven and a new earth, that there will one day be God’s kingdom in all its fullness. That’s the hope of glory.

but that hope is not as real and tangible if you don’t know Christ in you, if Jesus is just a nice story to you, if Jesus is just a figure from history, or a wise teacher to learn from, you won’t have that glory, that hope of glory, and what is more Paul knows that, as he contends, strenuously contends, Jesus is in him working powerfully. There’s power to help him persevere, there’s power to help him labor, there’s power to help him keep going. I wonder, friends, do you know that power by knowing Jesus, that power that helps you overcome sin, that power that helps you keep going, and keep laboring, in his name, tired though you may be? Friends, to be a Christian is not to know loads of stuff in the Bible, to be a Christian is not to be busy with religion, to be a Christian is not even to come to church, or keep a building open, or keep the organization running, principally, to be a Christian, is to know Jesus personally.

And so, let me ask – Do you know Jesus that way? Is Jesus a reality to you? And, if he’s not, or if Jesus seems distant, maybe this is the year you press into that, maybe this is the year you pursue Jesus in a fresh way? There are so many ways to get to know and journey with Jesus and maybe His invitation for you this year is to get to know Him in a different way. To engage with the scriptures or to engage with prayer in a different way. But to meet with Him. to know Him personally. And so, I’m really excited that this year we’re doing Huddle again and you would have seen that notice in the news sheet that Huddle is a way for us to grow in faith. And do you know that the key question in Huddle is? What is Jesus saying to you? The second key question is – What are you going to do about that? But that is the key question – What is Jesus saying to you? And so, if you want to grow in faith, if you want to be able to answer that question, then why not get involved in Huddle come, and speak to me, I probably again need to know today if that’s something you want to do. because we need to get dates in the diary. So, if you want to grow in faith maybe think about Huddle. Maybe think about getting into the word of God differently this year, somehow. There are so many ways. Or engaging with prayer and praise maybe in a different way. That you might have the hope of glory.

So Paul, he had clarity of commission and he knew Jesus personally and that gave him hope and power for his life and his circumstances but, you know, I think there was one other thing his life, his writings teach us today, one other thing that, if it wasn’t there, his commission still wouldn’t have been fulfilled because I think it’s possible, friends, I think it’s possible to be clear about the commission and you might be able to recite Matthew 28 to me and you might be able to say to me ‘Well Scott, I know Jesus and I have the hope of glory.’ it’s possible to have both of those things and still not fulfill your commission, because there’s something else that Paul had. Paul knew that to fulfill our commission, his commission, our commission, we must invest in the eternal, we must invest in the eternal, the eternal, the spiritual, that relationship with God, that faith which is so intangible, isn’t it, faith is just so intangible and infuriating at times, it’s less concrete than the rest of life and so we give ourselves to work, we give ourselves to whatever it may be, that a new hobby, or another issue, or another, which is so much more concrete than God, and the things of God’s kingdom. I was reminded of this just quite recently I met up with some friends from school 20 years on and there’s a real group of these guy friends that we just keep meeting with and I love seeing them, they’re real brothers to me, and some of them, quite a few of them, are in engineering of one form or another and I get talking to them and they they’re able to tell me all the different ways that they are developing technology and I just sit there amazed and slightly envious that they they’re so concrete in what they’re able to see their job brings about, and then there’s another friend and he’s in education, he’s a high school teacher and he’s able to say the difference he’s making in the lives of young people and he also has some quite funny stories about what goes on at high school at times and we have a good chuckle and again there’s a bit of me that’s like ‘I’m really envious of you that you’re able to see that, and know that it’s much more concrete’ because, when they come to me and say ‘Well, how’s your job going, Scott?’ I haven’t quite found the right answer to that yet because I tell them a little bit of what I’m doing and it’s just blank look, move on, because my job is about the intangibles in life, often it’s about faith and about the kingdom of God, and there are times when it hits the really hard times of life as well, and we don’t know what to say in those times and so we kind of skip quickly on about what Scott does. I investing in the eternal, is hard, it’s intangible, it’s less concrete and so, because of that again, we’re often like ‘Well, I’ll get around to it when I feel like. I’ll get around to it when I don’t have to wear a mask. I’ll get around to it when I’ve got a wee bit more time’ But that wee bit more time never seems to come, because all those more concrete things just seem to press in upon us, and in Paul’s life and in his ministry he displayed loads of ways that he invested in the eternal. He pursued God in prayer and he writes about what he’s praying for the Colossians as he does for all the churches and he invests in the eternal by cherishing the church and you can read how he cherishes the church and he invests in the people of the church but you can see how he invests in eternal by sharing the good news with others that they might come to faith in Jesus as well.

So, friends, what would it look like for us to invest in the eternal in 2022? What would that look like for you to not just invest in what is concrete but to invest in the eternal and invest in faith and then the kingdom of God?

I’ll give you some ideas just from Paul’s own example.

So, I mentioned that he prays. Are we praying for your day, are you praying for this church, in our ministry? You know, we have a Thursday prayer time and it’s online just now because of Covid and, hopefully, that will change one day, but if you have a telephone and I won’t ask you to put up your hand if you’ve got a telephone, because everybody’s probably got a telephone, if you have a telephone, you can join that time of prayer, you don’t need a computer, you don’t need a smartphone or tablet you can simply phone up and listen in and you don’t have to say a word other than maybe ‘Hi’ just to say hi but after that you can be silent the rest of the time, but by listening in, you are praying and you are praying and investing in the eternal. Might this be the year when we see our Thursday time of prayer grow in size again? Because the churches that are thriving across denominations generally are those churches that are coming together for prayer. Might we invest in prayer this year?

Paul’s example also shows that he invests in relationships, he invests both in people outside the church and he invests in people inside the church. So, what would that look like for you? Are you investing in relationships? Are you building relationships with the local community? And how are you building relationships amongst one another? Most of us, if not all of us, are in a Pastoral Grouping. You know, you don’t have to leave it just to your Pastoral Grouping Leader to care for your pastoral grouping. You can work alongside them. You can say to them ‘Hey, I’d be willing to maybe give someone a call or pay someone a visit or send someone a card.’ You can get involved certainly, speak to your Pastoral Grouping leader and we’ll help make it happen, because it doesn’t have to just rest on a small group of people, in fact it can’t, it needs every one of us.

Or what about using your gifts? Rachel prayed for it this morning particularly amongst our work and volunteering with young people. Paul labors and uses his gifts to help others to serve the church. You know, our Junior Boys Brigade section might not run after the summer because we don’t have enough volunteers. Do we want that to stop? Do we want that to have to stop because we don’t have enough volunteers? And so, we have to stop investing in the eternal of those young boys? The only way it’s going to be able to keep running is if people step forward and volunteer and there’s probably any number of other areas of ministry where that’s the case. Could you step forward and volunteer with the Junior Boys Brigade? You don’t have to be the main leader because we have a very able main leader but she cannot do it on her own, we need others to help. Could that be you?

Because we have a commission, a commission from God, a commission that transcends our current pressures and insecurities, the concerns of our day, because it’s a commission to invest in the eternal, to invest in the eternal welfare of others. We have a commission to go make disciples, to call people to follow Jesus, and if we want to see that commission fulfilled in greater measure this year, then we must learn to keep the main thing the main thing and we must do that by having clarity of commission, knowing Christ is in us, and then investing in the eternal. I pray it may be so. Amen.