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.

God loves you

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: Psalm 40:1-10 & John 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– ‘God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’
– God is love!
– We are set free from a wrong perception of God
– We should recognise the times when God has been involved in our lives
– God is the one who changes us through His Spirit – not about what we do ourselves

Let us pray:

Father God, we pray that as we come around Your word now, that You will fill us with Your Spirit that You would open our ears Lord, so that we can hear You speaking to us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘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. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.’

These are words that summarize the entire Gospel for us. The core of the Christian message for us is ‘God loves you’ and God wants us to know that, and that is why Jesus was sent into the world to live among us, to suffer for us, and to rise again for us
and, in some ways, this has a major implication for us because it changes the way in which we should see God, it changes how we experience God in our lives, Jesus’ influence in the world.

But what he said and by what he did, established a foundation for all Christians and for the body of believers such as we are here today. The church and this foundation is all that Christians are to communicate to each other and to the world. God is love. In fact, the scriptures teach us that love is the very nature and being of God and it’s this message that Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus and so, we see that in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus wanted to do a couple of things and the first of these is that Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from a wrong perception of God.

Nicodemus had everything going for him. He was in the inner circle of the Jewish leaders. He was wealthy. He had status. He was a member of the elite Jewish council and he was considered to be very knowledgeable. However, Nicodemus had a particular perception of God and how to enter God’s kingdom, and that perception was not correct. As a Jewish leader, he had dedicated his life to this way of living. Nicodemus was traveling down a road of what he thought was important, of doing everything correctly, a road that suggests that unless you do everything 100% correctly, God will reject you forever. Nicodemus thought that God’s biggest priority was to select the elite for a place in heaven and to reject everyone else. In other words, he thought that God was like a grumpy old judge boss who would severely punish anyone who didn’t perform absolutely perfectly and there were no second chances.

I wonder how many of us have thought about God in that way? That God wants to condemn rather than to save? There are some folk who have a picture of judgment day, one where there is a huge television screen, let’s call it, showing a DVD of your life and that you will be fast forwarding your story pausing every now and then to point out all the sinful parts of your lives, parts where you made wrong choices. Of course, this is certainly not so. Such a picture tells only a really small and distorted part of the story. On judgement day there may well be a showing of a film of our lives but I feel certain that, from what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, that what we are told throughout the scriptures, that God will be highlighting those occasions when He has been at work in our lives, like when we were created, like when we were accepted into God’s family in baptism, like when God gave us opportunities to develop as a person, as a Christian, when God molded us as a result of our experience of Him, experiences in worship, in prayer, Bible study, in fellowship with other Christians, and every time some of the perhaps not so good things of our lives are shown, Jesus will be standing right there saying ]I already paid for that. Don’t worry, I already paid for that.’

Nicodemus had a completely different way of thinking about God. No doubt, he sought to keep all the main man-made rules of his religion as well as the law, of course, which God had given to Moses. Nicodemus was a religious man, he was an upright man, he was a teacher, and he was respected in society and yet, Nicodemus knew within himself that something was missing in his life, and so convinced by the miracles of Jesus that he had seen and those that he had heard of, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness and Jesus explains to him the nature of God’s love, the nature of God’s love for all of humankind, that God’s love is not static or self-centered, but that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

Christ came to save. Christ did not come to condemn. Why? Because God considers mankind special, and that includes each one of us, and he calls us to come closer to Jesus and not just for today, but every day. God’s love reaches out and draws others in, draws us in as well. God sets the pattern of true love. When we love somebody dearly, we are willing to give freely of ourselves, even to the point of sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of His Son. The highest price that anyone could pay. Jesus paid the price for your sins and for mine, and then He offered to all of us, if we believe in Him, a life, a new life that He bought for us. And the message Jesus wanted to convey to Nicodemus was that he needed to allow God to be his influence and not all those other things in his life. Not the religious ritual he was accustomed to. Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from the wrong perception that he had of God, and then Jesus wanted to make Nicodemus aware of the radical nature of God’s love and to emphasize to him that, in order to receive the gift of eternal life, one must be born again of the Spirit.

Jesus says to Nicodemus ‘You are a respected Jewish teacher but I assure you no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. Humans can reproduce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to Spiritual life.’

Unfortunately, Nicodemus was struggling with a concept of being born. He finds it really difficult to grasp this way of thinking so we hear him saying to Jesus in verse 3 to 11 ‘How can a man be born again when he is old? Surely he can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.’ See Nicodemus was looking at Spiritual matters from an earthly perspective. When Jesus speaks about being ‘born again’ Nicodemus is scratching his head,. trying to work out how it might be possible to crawl back into his mother’s womb. The thing is that, Nicodemus was too focused on what he had to do to receive the gift of eternal life/ Of course, that’s part of our nature. We find and it was part of his nature too. We find that really difficult to understand and probably most people on their faith journey will struggle with that concept too, because, most often in our faith journey, we are overly concerned about what we do, and what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus and to us today, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what God is doing for you, and what God does for you, changes you, changes your status with God. For each of us it begins and ends with a baptism based on faith. The day we were baptized is the day that we can say God claimed us for His own, it is the day we began being influenced by God, it’s the day we can say we are committed to being in a relationship with our triune God, it is from then on that we make God the influence of our lives. This relationship is absolutely important because without it we are allowing things other than God, to influence us and the influence of God has, that in the influence God has on our lives is to constantly remind us and to demonstrate to us He loved the world so much that he gave His one and only Son that when we believe in Him, we will not perish but we will have the gift of eternal life.

The message of Jesus is clear. It’s a message that will transform us. It’s a message that will allow us to take a careful look at ourselves. It’s a message that, when we give our hearts to Jesus, we will take on a new road a road of recovery and discovery, where we will find so much joy in knowing that we are loved by God. It is this message that transformed Nicodemus and we see this in John chapter 7 and verse 50 where Nicodemus tries to defend Jesus. We also see it in John chapter 19 when, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Aramathia to wrap the body of Jesus with spices and sheets of linen cloth. In fact, we are told in the scriptures that Nicodemus brought 32 kilograms of perfumed ointment with which to provide for Jesus burial.

Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that only a radical change in following God can lead to eternal life and certainly the message of Jesus took Nicodemus away from the road where he was primarily focused on himself and what he was doing the things that he thought were important to gain that space that elite space in God’s kingdom. The message of Jesus took Nicodemus to a place where he allowed Christ to do the work for him, to save him and to grant him eternal life.

But the concept of being born again remains difficult to grasp and, while most of us may have had a really good understanding of God’s message through Jesus Christ, as a body of believers, as the church of Jesus Christ in Scotland, our task is also to do all that we can in order that people can hear and experience the message of John 3,16 and that of verse 17 that God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.

When I hear how people came to join the church, to join a congregation, or came back to church after being away for a lot of years, it’s often as a result of something, something new that they have experienced. In most cases, it was how another Christian brother or sister had related to them or treated them. How people were patient with them in answering their questions. How people were displaying the fruits of the Spirit which we find in Galatians chapter five – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. These are not actions that we have or that we are born with. These are actions that arise out of having a strong relationship with God and in this relationship we are influenced by God as a result of our earnest prayer times, of regular Christian worship, of Bible reading, Bible study and a fellowship with other believers and when we serve the church, when we serve our families and the various communities in which God has placed us, giving of our time and our talents and our money for God’s work, we are also encouraging others to grasp hold of the message of Jesus Christ, to set aside the things of the world and be born again.

A question we can ask ourselves today – Is the message of John 3 16 to 17 being clearly communicated in every experience people have with a church in which we serve? Are the people experiencing the message of John 3 16 to 17 when they cross our path? Are they experiencing that God loves them, that God welcomes them, wants them to be safe and wants them to be in heaven with Him? Are they hearing that God came to save them, not to condemn them, or to forget about them, because He considers them special? Are we, as a church of Jesus Christ, vehicles of God’s love?

In John chapter 4 and verse 9 we read ‘God showed his love for us by sending his only son into the world so that we might have life through him.’ The love of God is expressed through His offer to us, of a chance to join His Spiritual family and to live forever.

The starting point though, the starting point is to receive the gift of Christ and thereby taking up the offer of eternal life. So, how does this transformation happen in a believer? It is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God who is love and for those who obey his word 1 John 2 verse 5 God’s love is truly made complete in them. And this is how we know we are in union with Him: whoever claims to live in Him, must walk as Jesus walked. God’s love is not just expressed in the fact that Jesus was willing to die for mankind, for you and for me, but that He lives for us, that He is in us and that is also, through us, God’s love is expressed on how much we live like Jesus, and that is the plan of God. You see, the plan of God in the world is that the kingdom of God should grow, that is why God’s Spirit works through us and we must be really attentive to that. God’s love originates and finds its birth in the stable of our hearts. God’s plan to put love in the world started with the birth of Jesus Christ but includes the rebirth of you and of me and our task is to keep ourselves in God’s love as we wait for the mercy of our Lord to bring Jesus Christ alongside of us and to take us to be with Him for all eternity. To Him who is able to keep us from falling and present us before His glorious presence, the only God, our Savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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.

Introduction to Colossians teaching series

Preached on: Sunday 2nd 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 Intro slides.
Bible references: Colossians
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Give him a go but I call him my ‘duck on the bike’. The family think I’m I’m mad with the duck on the bike but here he goes.
High tech Christmas everybody!

What on earth am I doing talking about these things? I promise you, it will become clear.

If you could bring the map up. Brilliant. Today we’re starting a new series in a new book and we’re going to be studying the book of Colossians if you can and I always find it helpful when I’m reading the Bible to try and figure out a bit of what’s going on and who’s writing the book, where it’s coming from, and what’s going on, so I found this map, not a great map, but it shows you where Colossae is and you can see that Colossae’s in the middle of modern day Turkey and it’s about a hundred miles inland from a Roman town called Ephesus, where you get the book of Ephesians from, and well, the thing about the Colossians was they were they were a bit like my duck on a bike. Can you bring my duck on the bike up just so people can see him. He’s a bit squashed I think that’s photography copyright Brent Haywood.

But my duck on the bike, he gets a bit crazy and his eyes go spinning and, as we’ll learn about later on in the sermon, that’s what happened to the Christians in Colossae. They got a bit befuddled and they got a bit muddled up, but Ewan showed us what the apostle Paul taught them when he brought them the book because in the book, and we’ll learn about this as we look as we look at the passage later on, when Billy reads it to us, but in the book Paul was encouraging them not to get befuddled by everything down here, by what’s going on in the world but he encouraged them to look up, to set their minds on Christ, to set their hearts on Christ and then by looking up things on earth kind of had a way of working out.

So, I hope that was an okay children’s address for some of you oldies.

Malachi: Love God, love His people and love for family

Preached on: Sunday 31st October 2021
Apologies for the lack of sermon video. The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-10-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 2:10-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray.

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, be in our midst and give to us wisdom and revelation.
Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you do have a Bible with you or on a phone or some device, I encourage you to have it because it won’t be appearing on screen due to our tech problems, and you might want to follow along with us. This might be a good reminder to bring along a Bible. We can’t actually give you a physical Bible just now because the cleaning process afterwards is so thorough. So, you might want to come prepared with a Bible just now, so that you can make sure I’m not preaching just some nonsense and you can make sure it’s matching up to the word of God!

Before I was a minister my job was as a development officer for the Scouts across the southeast of Scotland and that took me down into the deepest darkest Borders in the deepest darkest of winter and so, one winter evening, I’m down I think near Coldstream and our car at that time had some issues, I don’t know exactly what it was, there were battery problems and it wasn’t keeping its charge and such like – you can tell I know a lot about cars – and I come out the meeting and there’s a bit of an issue with it again and so I decided to just start it up I’d managed to get it started up maybe I should like rev the engine try and charge the battery or something so here’s me revving the engine the revs are really high and I must do this for a couple of minutes or something and eventually I have to stop because the temperature gauge is going off the scale. I get out the car and there’s the radiator red hot and I’m like ‘Oh, I’ve made a really bad decision here’, and I have to phone and get help to get me out of that situation. And looking back on it you can understand I’m just embarrassed to tell that story and how little I know of cars and what I should have done in x, y and z, and it’s easy in retrospect to know maybe what you should have done. And I tell that story for two reasons because firstly, we can look back on and these readings from Malachi and think of the people ‘Why were you so silly? Why did you do this? Why did you make these choices? This is just crazy!’ But then on the other hand there’s that accumulation of problems, like with the car I had, one problem and then I did another thing and another thing and it just led to a real mess of a situation, and I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life that sinful choices can be very similar. You make one choice, you know it’s not the best choice, and then that leads to something else and to cover that up you make another choice and before you know it sin starts building and accumulating, and it just gets worse and worse and worse. You’ve probably known that in your own life and it’s true of the people. That because the priests hadn’t been doing their job, the people start to doubt the Lord’s love and they start to dishonor the Lord rather than seeking to honor Him, and it just spirals down and down and down. As I said each week and so we get to this point today where there’s not just one issue, there’s multiple issues, and they’re all feeding into one another and so, in our passage today, if you were to look through it you would see that five times the Lord says the people are unfaithful, five times, it’s just a repetition and so this is part of the prophecy where the Lord wants to deal with their unfaithfulness and the word here for unfaithfulness in the original language conveys the idea of treachery, and so in your English translation you might see the word treachery used. That they have been treacherous towards one another or towards the Lord. That has that connotation to the word. The idea of being disloyal, of even infidelity, and so the Lord comes with this challenge and every bit of Malachi is a challenge but as we heard last week, He brings that challenge for good reasons. He brings that discipline for good reasons, and so I almost want to flip what we might take initially. We might just think it’s a challenge but actually there’s an invitation here. There’s an invitation, there’s a call to renew loyalty to the Lord, to renew their loyalty too, for us to renew our loyalty to the Lord and Malachi focuses on three areas of life. Three areas of life where they need to show greater, love to the Lord and how they love and how they love in three particular areas.

And so the first area where they have to show loyalty to the Lord is in love to the Lord. They are doubting the Lord’s love. They are dishonoring the Lord and so I want to start there even though it’s not necessarily where Malachi starts. Because that’s the crux of all their issues, and so we find in verse 11 that Malachi says Judah has been unfaithful, a detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign God.
And, at first, we might be like ‘What is this about?’ like ‘Is God racist?’ ‘W why is he against marrying people of another nation and another people?’ like ‘What is that about?’ And well, God’s not racist, He’s not. This isn’t an issue of race, it’s an issue of protection, because He knew hundreds of years before that His people started to marry into other nations, that they would be led away in their worship of Him, their love of Him would be diluted. And so you can flick back into Deuteronomy chapter 7 and He said through Moses hundreds of years before ‘Do not intermarry with them.’ these other people, groups, do not intermarry with them, do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods by intermarrying. There would be this conflict of faith, this conflict of religion. Who would they follow, and some would choose to go and follow other gods or there would be a whole mish-mash of religion and so they would try and worship both and still that would be idolatry. There’d be that turning away from the Lord and so He wants to protect their love, protect their worship, and so He gave that command and in what we read here in verse 11 that a detestable thing has been committed in Israel, Judah has desecrated the sanctuary, it seems to have come true. It’s not they might turn away and desecrate the sanctuary or this is going to happen, No, it has happened and so the Israelites have worshipped other gods and then come to the temple and said ‘Oh God here I am, you know, here’s my sacrifice, here’s my prayers. Welcome me, accept me, hear my prayers.’ and God said ‘No, no, no, no! You’ve been idolatrous, You’ve worshipped other Gods’ and he can’t then receive that sacrifice and that prayer, that worship. They have been unfaithful, they have been disloyal, and I think in verse 15, I think there’s this hint that it breaks the heart of God. The verse says ‘Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.’ He seeks a nation He seeks children who are Godly not just in being a nice person and coming to church, He seeks children who are holy, who are given over to Him, who are holy as He is holy, who respond to His love with love. That’s God who gave Himself for them, to respond and like mindedness to respond, to respond the same way, to give of themselves in love of God and they haven’t done it. They’ve wandered away, they have been disloyal and I think here there’s a lot of just the heart of God breaking, that His children have become disloyal. There’s been infidelity on behalf of His people and it just breaks the heart of God because the first and greatest commandment of all the commandments in the scriptures – Do you remember it? Do you remember what Jesus said? ‘To love the lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and greatest commandment.’ Jesus said and they have broken it.

Friends, the people of old broke it and it breaks the heart of God that His people were disloyal in that way and so He sends Malachi to bring them back to loyalty by renewing their love for Him and as followers of Jesus we too are called to love God in such a way, we too are called to love God with all that we are, that the idea of our mind and our soul and our heart, it’s all of we, all that we are, but it’s not just a love that’s internal, it’s then seen in every facet of life that we order our lives around loving the Lord.

So, what does that look like for you? Do you need to order your life a bit differently going forward this week, to show your love to the Lord, to renew your loyalty to the Lord? It might be seen in your time. Do you prioritize time in the secret place with the Lord to be in His word, to be in prayer, even if it means you have to get up before the kids, get up or whatever it might be or before you go to work or you make sure that you switch the tv off at nine o’clock so that you get a better time before you get to bed at 10 o’clock? What is it that you, how you show your love to the Lord? How do you need to structure your life to safeguard that love and to show that loyalty to God? Or maybe it’s giving of your time and getting involved in His purposes because if you’re just sitting on the fringes and you’re like ‘Well, I’ll just let someone else do that job’ or ‘I don’t have the time or I can’t be bothered’ Is that really showing your love for the Lord when you just discard His purposes? So, maybe you have to get involved in Pre-Fives, maybe you have to step up, maybe that’s how you have to show your love of the Lord in response to His word today.

There’s a second area of life though that Malachi comes to challenge and it’s the love of God’s people. He says in verse 10 ‘Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?’ And so, let’s remember that the people of God, this great nation, they started from one family, the Abraham family, and God grew them and nurtured them and they became this great nation and He brought them into the promised land and Yes, they were unfaithful and so that God worked up the scale of discipline as we were talking about last week and, eventually, that resulted in their exile, so they get taken off to exile but then God is still with them there and He brings them home and He enables them to rebuild the temple and rebuild their land and yet again, we see them being disloyal, of idols giving worship to others idols. This God who created them, this God who is their father, and so they are a people who are bound together, they are bound together by covenant by promise and yet they are threatening that. They are profaning that. They are profaning, has much the same meaning as desecrating, of treating it as ordinary, as spoiling it.

They were carried into exile because of idolatry and here are people engaged in idolatry again and risking that. They go through all that again and go into exile they are not loving one another; they are threatening the welfare of one another by their choices. How can they do such a thing? How can they do this to one another? They are not valuing one another as they should.

And you know, we are also bound together, brothers and sisters, by a covenant. Not the old covenant. We are bound together by the new covenant through Jesus. We spoke about this in our last series on our Purpose and Values. We are a family, brothers and sisters together, one family together, and out of that we are to show love to one another. We’re to show love to one another such that Jesus says by our love for one another we will be recognized as his disciples. Do we live in such a way? Do we treat each other in such a way that the outside world knows that, that we are disciples of Jesus, that we overflow with the love of Jesus? Is that seen in our lives? And that ‘one another’ phrase, I’ve been wanting to bring this in for weeks, if not months, because there’s been this thought in my head, just jogged by various bits of preparation, that He says ‘If you love one another’ and if you go into your Bible or go online and you look for the ‘one another’ phrases in the New Testament, there’s about 60 ‘one another’ phrases. That’s how important loving ‘one another’ is to God that he has included so many ‘one another’ phrases. Now, some of them duplicate but there are still about 40 individual phrases or so.

Let me give you a flavor of some of them:
‘Be devoted to one another in love’ Romans 12
‘Don’t grumble against each other’ James 5
‘Forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you’ Colossians 3

So, what would it look like for you to grow or renew your loyalty to God by loving one another better?

That first one ‘be devoted to one another in love’? Is that seen in your life? Do you just come to church and tick the box or do you involve yourself in some shape or form in the life of this congregation? Do you serve? Do you know people in this congregation that you’re supporting? You can’t know everybody, I’m not expecting you to serve and help everybody but who is it here, who is it that’s a housebound and can’t be here that you are loving and supporting? Because, if you’re not, if you literally just come to church and tick the box, is that really devoting yourself to the other in love really? And, you know, being part of a community is tough work, sometimes we grate and rub up against each other. What you say isn’t quite what they’d like it to be said, or something’s proposed that we do, something or we change something, or who knows, there are so many different ways in the life of a community that we just rub each other up a little bit.

Are you prone more to grumbling and moaning than cheering on? Could we learn to be the greatest cheerleaders of one another rather than the greatest grumblers and moaners? I’m not saying you are, I’m just saying it’s a possibility that it happens in churches. I’ve been around a couple. Could we try and learn to love one another such that we don’t grumble? It’s not don’t grumble a little it’s just don’t grumble at all. Could we try and eradicate grumbling and moaning as a church? And you know there will be times when something is done that you feel grieved in your spirit, a choice is made, something changes, something’s not done that you think should be done, someone says something and you take it one way and they’d completely meant it another way, and there’s this grievance, can we learn to forgive as the Lord forgave us and keep the bond of unity between us? Or do we hold on to that grudge and nurse the bitterness?

Because if we are just living for ourselves and we just come to church for ourselves, if we are ignoring the command of God not to grumble, if we are ignoring his call to forgive as we have been forgiven, you know, friends that’s not being loyal to God, that is saying we know best we want our way, and God you can take a hike, I’m not listening to you, it is being disloyal to Him and so He calls us to hear Him and to love His people and so as to renew our loyalty to Him.

But there’s a third area that Malachi picks up on. It’s covered in a number of verses and it’s the love of family. We read earlier already, just in point one, we read these words ‘Judah has been unfaithful the detestable practice has been committed. Judah has desecrated the sanctuary, the Lord loves, by marrying women who worship a foreign god’. So, we covered that bit already but He goes on in verse 14 to say ‘You have been unfaithful to the wife of your youth, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. And so, what is going on here is that first of all we need to remember the context that at the time of writing, only men could initiate divorce and so the men are divorcing their rightful Israelite wives and going off and marrying foreign wives who are leading them into idolatry. There’s this double sin that as I was saying at the introduction that accumulation and that building up, they are casting off they are dismissing their wives simply because they want to marry another woman. They are abandoning their current rightful marriages and Malachi comes to challenge that, to challenge such despicable behavior, to challenge their practice of divorce, because God, the Scriptures have a really high view of marriage, and I hope that we do as well as a church, that verse 14 the wife is described as your partner that your companion your help. And please don’t see that as a poor term or me being derogatory to a woman in any shape or form, because who else is called the helper the Lord – the Lord is called ‘the helper’, it is the most respectful term you could think of. So, please don’t think I’m being derogatory there.

And what is more, she is the wife of your marriage covenant, this marriage promise made before God in the presence of God made to be lasting unto death. And then that use of covenant to show that it’s meant to portray something of the relationship between God and His people, that is how high a view God has of marriage and I’m not really going to say an awful lot more about, divorce today because I just don’t think it would be very pastoral. There’s so much that could be said, there’s so much of individual situations that would be said that I think it would probably just I’d end up saying something unhelpful or the wrong thing or you’d misconstrue it the wrong way too and so all I want to add on that little bit of this is to say that if you are feeling unsettled
because of something in your past or previous relationships then I’d ask you to come and just talk with me, let me hear something of your story and we’ll just take it from there, not to challenge you or correct anything, but if you just maybe to bring you peace about what it was about a choice made maybe, because I just don’t, as I say, you feel it’s right to go into lots of detail in our time together this morning, and what is more I’m conscious that there are folks amongst us who are not married, there are folks amongst us who are widowed, there are folks amongst us, thankfully, who are happily married so if I was just to go on about divorce with, are they just to switch off ,are they just to get some information that they file away, is this there’s nothing of greater relevance for them in this portion of scripture. So, what I’ve been thinking about this week is, what is the broader principle here? What is the broader principle here? Talking about home and family life and how we treat one another, and I think it is that love of family that’s the third area God would want to speak into today. Do we love our family well? Because the New Testament has so many instances where it talks about family. Paul writes to Timothy ‘If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God’ or you could go into Colossians or Ephesians to see verses there about how parents should relate to children, children to parents, husbands to wives, wives to husbands. The New Testament is interested in all the facets of life including home life no matter your circumstance.

We still love one another well and there, that way in that part of life too but in thinking about home and family life. There’s one area I want to touch on, because of the final verse in Malachi today where Malachi says on behalf of the Lord ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife’ which we can understand with all that we’ve covered, he’s divorcing his wife and it’s a form of hatred because it’s certainly not love. The man who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect. Does violence to the one he should protect.

Why is it a doing of violence? Why is it a doing of violence? Well, we need to go back to Genesis chapter 2 and there we read that when a man and women come together they form one flesh, not just physically, but in their whole life together, they are seen by God as one flesh, are coming together. Such unity weaving together, or cleaving as the scriptures talk about, cleaving together, that they are seen as one flesh and so in the act of divorce that flesh is ripped apart there is a doing of violence, a tearing of that one flesh bond. But I’m conscious that violence and relationships doesn’t necessarily just come at the end with divorce, there can be violence and relationships well before that point, and you in your own relationship sadly maybe experience some violence. It could be a physical violence, a sexual violence, it could be violence of words, and we’ll speak more of that in a second, it could be manipulation, control and someone at home, someone in your family could be doing violence to you in your relationship and I’d want to take the opportunity to say, please don’t suffer alone or in silence, please come and talk to us, talk to me. We recently set up a gender-based violence team within the church. We’ve not really promoted it much yet because we’re still learning, still learning how best to support, how best to educate our congregation, how best to educate ourselves, but there are people around who can listen who can signpost you to other sources of support. So, if you are suffering violence of some form in your relationships in your home life, please take that really brave but scary step and come and talk with us please.

But I am conscious too that that violence can take many forms and I’m reminded of Matthew 5 where Jesus says ‘Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment, but I tell you also that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment ‘and he goes on to give the example of things that we might say that would bring judgment upon us and that idea that our words carry the power of both life and death, that expressing anger through our words can be akin, it can be on a par in some shape or form, with the violence of murder.

And I wonder if that is something that you experience in home life, might not just be in a relationship, it might be towards your children, it might be from a parent, it might be from a partner or spouse, the doing of violence can take many forms and too often we in the church have not talked about it, we have ignored the fact that it exists, that it happens and that we too can commit it. We excuse it, we overlook it we ‘Well, it was circumstances or whatever’ but we fly off the handle and we hurt our children, we hurt our partners and spouses with our angry words and rather than bring life and encouragement, we bring death, we bring violence of a form, and I wonder if part of the call today from God is to repent of that, to acknowledge that, to just be honest that that is going on, that in your relationships there is anger and it is hurting others.

And if you will give God the space and the opportunity, I believe He would want to work in you to bring the fruit of the spirit of kindness and of gentleness and of peace and of patience and of self-control, so that, what has been, does not have to be the future.

It’s a tough word again through Malachi to hear.

But as I was listening to a podcast the other week. Repentance can’t happen without us naming the truth and too often we don’t name the truth in our own lives and in the life of the church. Repentance leads to life and repentance can’t happen if we don’t name the truth. So, can we name the truth, friends, in our own lives and hearts. Where is the anger in your life? Where is the lack of love for brother and sister in your life? Where is the lack of God in your life? Can you bring it to the Lord that He might then open a door into newness of life for you and for the others around you.

God’s call today is a call to greater loyalty to Him or to renew that loyalty and to live that out as three spheres of life: love of Him, love of his people and love of family. I pray it may be so. Amen.

We’re going to close our time together with our final hymn which is Love divine, all loves excelling. It’s a hymn that reminds us of the love of God, this love that we are to emulate, this love that we respond to, this love that we are to show to one another so we sing together Love divine, all loves excelling.

Grow: in fear and love

Preached on: Sunday 19th September 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Deuteronomy 6:1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Were you listening out for those feeling words? Can anybody tell me what they were? Can you put up a hand if you think you can remember it?

First one, Fear, yeah, and there was a second one? Did any of our young people listen, now any of our adults, you want to shout out together? One, two, three, Love, yeah, fear and love.

Now hands up if you think that sounds a bit odd, that we’re called to fear God and love God. Hands up if you think that’s a bit odd. I think that’s a bit odd. I’m like ’What is this all about? What are you talking about here God?’

So, I brought something along from home to maybe help us think about this a little bit. So, in my bag here I have my drone. So, in lockdown last year, I got a drone. It’s a Mavic Air II which basically means it flies really fast and really high, and then I really enjoy it. It’s got the wee camera on the front that means you can take pictures and video and as I say it does fly very fast and very high. Now, I’m not going to put it on in here you’ll be glad to know, I’m also not allowed to break the rules, but I’ve got a wee video just to show you something that I did during lockdown last year with Hope, so we’ll see that just now.

Wow, so you can clearly tell that I like having a bit fun with my drone. I also like the editing process at the end, it gets the creative part of me out and about. So, this is my drone and I’ve on my birthday this year, I got out for the morning and did a wee bit flying and videoing and video and stuff, and made a video last night too, but as much as I feel a sense of fun when I’m out with my drone, I also feel fear. I sometimes feel fear when I’m flying my drone. Boys and girls young people in our organizations, why do you think I sometimes feel fear when I’m flying what do you think?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, sometimes birds do go for it and I really don’t want the birds to go for it. Another reason Emily:

it could crash and so both these methods by bird or me just doing something silly, I could crash it and it’s not cheap so I’d rather not crash it and damage it. Can you think of anything else? There’s one more reason I can think of but I might sometimes be a bit scared what do you think? Might fall on me or someone else, yeah exactly, and these blades they go really fast and they could really hurt someone and it can do quite a rate or not so if it was to hit someone I’d be quite worried that they’d get injured.

So I feel this fear in me sometimes when I’m using my drone and but it’s a good fear, it’s a fear that makes sure that I use my drone properly, that obey the rules, that I look out for people, because I value the drone and I value other people, and it’s the same with this fear that God talks about. It’s not a bad fear, it’s a good fear He’s talking about, He wants us to respect Him, to value Him as our Heavenly Father and so we might have that fear that we might not be showing the love we should, that fear of letting Him down or hurting Him because God can be grieved by our actions, and our passage today there were a number of things that said to do a number of things to learn so that we might show God this love and respect.

What did, young people, what did we, what did the reading say we were to learn? What were we to learn? Can you remember? Anybody? Commandments, that’s right, God’s commandments, His teaching, His ways. Now we might wonder, why does God want us to do that? Like is God a killjoy? Does God just want life to be boring? Is that what God’s about?

Well, to help answer that question we’ve got a picture here from the Beginner’s Sunday School. Are any of our beginners in here just now, any other beginners in? A couple. They’re mostly through next door. They did this picture and you’ll probably know this Bible story I would think, on this side we’ve got the man who built on the rock and the other man built on what? Shout it out. Sand, that’s right, and the rain came down and which house fell? It was the wrong one on the rock wasn’t it? You sure? I was sure it was the rock. The sand, okay! Okay, it was the sand wasn’t it. It was the sand, yeah, so the rain came down and the house build on the sand fell down, and Jesus was saying not that life would always be easy or go well, but he was saying, if we will listen to His teaching then we will make the best choices in life because God knows what is best for us, He knows what is good for us. So, if we want to do good we need to learn His commands, His ways, His teaching, but there’s a problem with that, I reckon, because there’s an awful lot in here. Sometimes it’s also really hard to do so.

How are we meant to live this out? How are we meant to show God this love and this respect that we’re supposed to, this fear? Well, we need to learn, we need to grow and one of our values as a church is that we want to be a people who grow, who grow in our faith, we get to know God better, we get to know His ways better and we grow in character so that we’ll learn to be more like Jesus in our character as well.

Now, I reckon you all know how to learn things don’t you? Hands up if you know how to tie your shoes? Do you know how to tie your shoes? Hands up if you know how to brush your teeth? Yeah, can you eat your food with cutlery yet? Yeah, some of you, I struggle sometimes! So, we can all learn things, yeah. So, I reckon since our officers are like adults they should be able to learn things really quick don’t you think? Yeah? So I’ve asked two volunteers from each of the uniformed organisations to come forward and I’m going to get them to do something, just like on the spot, they’re going to have one minute to learn something.

So if I can get our two volunteers to come out, and in your bag you will find three juggling balls, and you’ve got one minute to learn to juggle. Okay, over to you.

If you face that way then everybody can see you. Keep going, have another shot, keep going.

Come on, your officers you should know what to do! Oh right, we’ve got one on the go here,, yep one at a time, we’re getting there. How are we doing, oh yeah right, one hand to the other that’s a good start, definitely. Right I think that’s nearly half your time gone come on, come on.

Oh great, I think that might be enough well done, well done, thank-you. Well done.
Please, you can leave them there and I’ll get them at the end, thank-you so much.

Now, that was a wee bit unfair don’t you think. One minute to learn to juggle, that’s just not fair, even if we are adults, because you know sometimes it takes time to learn to juggle and when I was younger I was in a high school play and I was asked to take on a role where I had to learn to juggle and with this jacket on and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do it but I was asked to juggle and it was like in front of everybody, all the adults all the young people, I’m thinking ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ and I had to walk at the same time, oh so much, but my teachers helped me and by practicing and repetition and although this was 25 years ago hopefully …….

There we go. The amount of times I dropped those in practicing.

We can learn new skills but it takes time, takes repetition, takes the help of others and there are many different ways to learn to juggle.

Our Bible passage says all these things too. It says the sooner you start the better, because the sooner you start and the more you do it the more natural it will become, and it will just become a way of life. Our Bible says we need all the generations together so that the older learn from the younger and the younger learn from the older, but we also need to do it in different ways. The Bible passage said to write it and to talk it and to make stuff to help us learn these commands in this way of life, and you know we’ve got tons of ways at church to help all of us from all the ages:
you might come to church; you might go to Sunday School, Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade; you might be part of a Fellowship Group or go to Alpha if you’re an adult; you might do the New Testament Reading Plan or get a copy of the Bible reading notes; there are so many ways and the question is ‘Will you use them? Will you use them?’ because you won’t grow by leaving the juggling balls, the Bible in the cupboard. I was really rusty this week, the amount of times I got a couple of balls going and it fell on the ground. If you want to learn God’s ways, if you want the good He wants for you, you need to learn His ways and put it into practice because also He calls us to love Him and respect Him by doing that, and that’s what our next song is all about. It’s a new song for us it’s called Revelation Song and it’s about singing our love and our respect to God. Now the Band are going to sing through the first verse and we’ll remain seated and then towards the end of the first chorus we’ll stand, look for my lead, and we’ll sing verses two and three together.