Prayer before action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building blocks of evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray it may be so. Amen.

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.

Midway Mini Message (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 19th January 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 message..
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody, welcome to our Midway Mini Message. It’s midway through the month and hopefully it’ll be a mini message but, when preparing for tonight, I had a load of ideas, so I’ll try and keep it as brief as I can!

Tonight, is about helping us engage with the 2021 New Testament Reading Plan. Hopefully many of you have begun to read through this. We’re currently in the book of Mark, the Gospel of Mark, and it’s been encouraging to hear how different people have begun to be engaged with it, forming little groups to support one another even, which is amazing!

But maybe, like other new year’s resolutions at times, you’re beginning to feel “Like okay, halfway through the first month this is becoming hard” and some of the initial enthusiasm is a waning a little bit. Maybe you’re even finding a little bit more difficult than you thought, that you’re reading through, you’re being diligent, but maybe not getting as much as what you hoped you might from it; and my plan, my hope is that tonight, and in future sessions, we might equip you in that, and encourage you through this this year as we read together through the New Testament.

The Psalms remind us that those who dwell, meditate, chew upon the Word of God can know the blessing of God. Psalm 1 says “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law, day and night.” That blessedness is not about protection from all perils and hardship, but it does include peace and well-being, includes growth of character, stability, delight, joy, even in the midst of hard and difficult times, and many much is the testimony that I and others could share of the benefit of digging into God’s Word and how, through it, we have met with the living God, and our faith has been sustained, maybe especially in the difficult times.

Now this way of reading scripture, that we’ve begun one chapter a day, is a particular way and it may be quite different from what you’ve ever done before, and many of us have maybe used things like Daily Bread or other resources like that, where someone has prepared things in advance for maybe three or four months and you read a bit, and they’ve got some thoughts to read, or you might use an online reading plan from the Bible app for example. Often it can jot around different parts of the Bible, maybe following a theme hopefully. Some of the reading plans maybe do work systematically through a portion of the Bible and again, though there’s often some people’s thoughts on that and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve used it myself, as you know as I’ve said often, I’ve used the Lectio 365 app a lot last year. Pretty much it was my main source for devotions but this year I thought I’d do something different. Go back to a method I’ve used a lot and invite you to give it a shot and journey with me in this, that we might know more of Jesus and more of the teaching about Jesus, and how we are to live as Christians. And so, we’re focusing there on the New Testament.

There’s a couple of things to bear in mind to try and get the most out of this. I guess, first of all we need to remember what Paul said to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all scripture is god breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness” and so, if we approach the Bible in that way, then it will change how we receive things and how we expect things will come more expectant. I think expecting to hear from God and the less nice bits, the less glossy bits, the bits that we think “Oh, it’s just a Sunday School lesson” we might take more heat off it. Might not be, as you’re reading through, the thing that initially jumps off the page that you’re meant to hear. It may be something else and so, just bear that in mind, as you come to it, that you’re coming to God’s Word, that it is from the heart of God and there might be something there, will be something there for you, even in those days where it’s like “I’m just not getting anything”. Maybe in that time especially, is when you see that you have to love your neighbor – Sunday School lesson – “Oh, I know to love my neighbor!” well maybe take some time to think about that and see where God takes you by His Spirit.

So, that this is a method I’ve been using for years. It’s been used by billions of Christians, probably most Christians, probably in other countries who don’t have access to other resources. I assume that this is just the way that they’re doing it, they’re just reading through the scriptures and then learning about God, and then learning what it means to follow Jesus. As they read through, and God is speaking to them, and it’s been used from the day the Church began, it’s just how they’ve been using it and through that their faith has been sustained, has been grown, and I pray it would be the same for us.

You’ve probably already begun to realize that, as you read through chapter by chapter, there’s stuff you don’t understand and it’s the same for me. I’m reading through things I’m not always understanding everything and that’s okay. It’s okay not to understand everything that day, that you can come back to another time, another year, maybe another decade, and maybe at that point it’ll be then that it falls into place for you. So, it’s okay not to understand stuff. I’m not getting everything, I don’t expect you to get everything either, okay and that kind of thing is maybe more for Bible studies or maybe for Sunday preaching, or maybe some more intensive kind of Bible reading routines, that you can use in our benefit, but it’s not this.

Okay, so let’s bear that in mind as we come into it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that we’re going to come across a couple of different genres in the New Testament. So, we’ve got the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and they’re very different from the epistles, the letters by the Church fathers like Paul and John and Peter – so, the early apostles. Okay. And it can be helpful just to be aware of that dynamic, that in the Gospels the focus is very much on Jesus, on who He is, what He came to do what He did, and some of the teaching He passed on, and that those Gospels are written for all the Church to read, and know, and apply. The epistles are a bit different – they’re as relevant for all the Church, but in a different way, because they were written to our particular audience, sometimes a particular congregation or a group of congregations. And then we’ve got the Book of Revelation, and we’ll talk about that nearer the end of the year, because that’s a whole other different type of genre. And what you take from the different genres, how you approach the different genres, will be different, and it’s worth remembering that ,and if you’re not familiar with that, or you just want a bit more help, I’ve got two resources for you to consider getting a copy of.
Okay. now if you’re listening back to this message on the telephone we can get either of these resources printed off for you although one will probably be more helpful than the other. The more helpful one and useful for everybody, is the Bible Society resource and they’ve produced online resources, that you can either read online or downloaded and printed off, for each book of the Bible, and each book of the New Testament as well, and so, it gives you a bit of an introduction to the book, it tells you who wrote it, gives you some inspiring quotes from it, it gives you a bit of a structure to maybe help understand. In that way it gives you ideas of what this might mean for you as well as some maybe discussion questions to think about yourself or talk about with others, and I’ll put a link to this resource in the description of this video.

The other resource is by a group of people who come under the title The Bible Project, and most of it, they’ve got a website and a Youtube Channel, and for each book of the bible, as well as loads of other ideas and themes and issues. They’ve produced videos and the videos take you through a bit of a cartoon drawing that they’ve done, and so we can print off this cartoon drawing for people to read but without the commentary it might not mean quite as much. So, we can get that for those that are not on the internet but again, as I say, it might not mean as much without the commentary, and these are five to ten minute introductions.

That was the book of Mark. There’s also the book of Galatians just to give you a very quick overview to remind you what to maybe expect or be having in the back of your mind as you’re reading through. So, the Bible society and The Bible Project really helpful as you come to the scriptures as well as simply knowing that it’s the word of God and approaching it with that kind of heart and disposition.

Now, when you’ve been reading through hopefully you’ve been engaging with the questions and with the prayer stuff because it really needs both for these to be truly meaningful. I think Tim Keller, in his book on prayer, he talks about how prayer and the reading of scripture just have to and should dovetail so closely together and that one needs the other and vice versa, and so, don’t skip on that, don’t approach it in a peripheral way. You’re coming to God, you’re coming to hear from Him as he’s spoken through His word. and use the questions that are there. So, for example, going through the gospel of Mark, I’ve been thinking “What does it show me here of Jesus?” and I’ve just been reminded of His power and the dynamism He carried by the Spirit and that lives changed and there was an expectancy with Jesus, and Have I got that expectancy? Have I kept that expectancy? and that’s, in part, what prompted the message and following prayer time on Sunday, that as I read through the scriptures, that’s what arose in me; as I saw more of the person of Jesus but equally those other questions “Is there a sin to confess? There’s been a couple of, as I’ve read through things, thinking “Oh Lord, I don’t live that way!” or I see something and that how that person responded to you and my life too. “Forgive me Father, forgive me.” Or maybe there’s been a command to follow or something you’ve needed God’s help with. Who knows, maybe what it’s been, but again there will have been things for me and there’s so many thoughts going around our heads just now and in general. Isn’t it so.

One of the other things that I find helpful is to take some notes in a journal. Literally a sentence is all you need to write down, one sentence. Turn it into prayer if you like – I often do that nowadays. Rather than just here’s a thought, I write down a prayer with the thought and with that kind of heart. Or it maybe with the verse that has jumped out to me. And then, at the end of the week, you can, on a Saturday, if you’ve done all your five readings Monday to Friday, on a Saturday you can just take some time to look back over the week and see if you’ve got any more thoughts. Talk to God about it a bit more and then on Sunday you’ve got Church so no need for a reading that day. Yeah?

So, the questions are there to be used. Please don’t just bypass them. I do try to use them. And approach it prayerfully, and, as I say, you’re not looking to understand everything but you’re trying to see “Well, what is God maybe saying to me today, here, now?” You’re looking for what grabs your attention or what strikes your heart or what encourages you, challenges you. But, as I say, there’ll be days, there will be days where you’re reading through and it’s hard work. I have been there myself, and in that day you’re maybe just need to take a pause, maybe say “God I need Your help. I’m not getting anything today.” and maybe it’s coming back to it later in the day, or it could be just seeing if there’s something that sounds a bit dull or bland or the Sunday School lesson “Love your neighbor” and maybe that’s the thing you should dig into because it’s all God’s word, it’s all beneficial, there’s something you can get from it if we seek God’s help and put in a bit effort, at times, as well.

So, I encourage you that and then just take it into prayer and pray about it and think if you approach it that way I think you can get something helpful from it each day.

But I am conscious that there will be things that come up you know like “What does that mean?” or “Does this mean that?” or “Surely no!” or “I’m really confused!” and so, that’s where this idea about having a question and answers session. The idea came up for a questions and answers evening, and so for the 16th of February myself and a couple other ministers from the Braes Churches will get together to record a video to upload for the Tuesday night where we answer some of your questions. Now, to give us enough time to do that and juggle that around everything else, I need your questions in by the 4th of February, which is a Thursday. Get them in. That gives us about a week to do some digging for you, think through some stuff and come prepared and get the recording done. Can’t promise we’ll do every question but we’ll try and do as many as we can. We just don’t know who’s going to get involved because it’s not just Brightons reading this plan, which is really encouraging, it’s also Slammannan and I think we’re sending it out to Blackbraes and Shieldhill, Muriavonside, which is great, as well. So, who knows what will come! So, get your questions in and help us all just to chew things over.

Nevertheless, as I say, the goal in this is not to understand everything, I don’t think anyone has understood all of scripture, and that’s okay, the goal of this primarily is to nurture your relationship with God and so you’re looking for What are You saying to me today, God? What’s the thing that encourages me or challenges me? What’s prompting me to speak and praise You? and sometimes the wonderful thing about this way of reading the scripture is that some days, not all the time, but more often than not, something will come along that maybe just speaks into a situation and that you’re particularly facing. It’s like I needed to hear that and it’s just really striking how God does that and I’ve known a number of seasons where that has been the case.

So, I pray that we get some of those for each of us as well going through this year but especially I pray and hope that as we go through this it’ll grow your faith that you’ll get to know Jesus so much more, you’ll get to see what this is about and the life He calls us to individually and as a Church, and I think, if we support one another, nurture one another, learn from one another, take on board these questions, and approach the Bible as God’s word, with that sense of expectancy, that He will speak to us, He’ll give us something day by day, our daily bread. Man does not live on bread alone but from the very word of God, and I pray that each of us might know that this coming year.

So, thanks for tuning in. I’ve tried to keep it as brief as possible, probably longer than a mini message, but nonetheless I pray it’s of blessing to you.

And so, as you go from , may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this night and forevermore, Amen

Why pray?

Preached on: Sunday 6th September 2020
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 20-09-06-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Luke 11:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 11:1-10
Sunday 6th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to reading
In our last teaching series, we explored in the book of Matthew the calling of Jesus to His disciples, both then and for us now. We saw that we are all called into a relationship with Jesus, and with that comes an invitation, a command even, to give our lives away for His purposes, as part of the family of God, such that we share the love of God and we mature in the character of God.Back on the 15th of July I was praying and asking the Lord for guidance, and I believe He shared a number of things to help us enter into His purposes, His freedom, and the life He has for us. I noted these down in my journal and one prompting was a call to prayer, to grow in prayer, to become a more prayerful people, and this is as much for me because I know that I need to grow in prayer.
So, beginning today and through to the October break, we are going to look at some teaching on prayer and each week have a particular prayer or activity to use in helping us to pray. Because it’s all well and good having a clear purpose and a sense of what Jesus has called us to, but without being a people of prayer, we won’t change, and this world will not change either.

During my recent holiday I read a little on the issue of justice, and the concluding words focused on prayer. In particular, this portion caught my attention: ‘we must [empower the pursuit of justice] with prayer. If we [rely on] willpower, hard work, protest and activism alone, we will become exhausted. Prayer gives the battle over to Jesus. Prayer fuels our action. Through prayer, Jesus will give us strength, truth, wisdom, peace, insight, love, forgiveness and power. Through prayer, God wins the main battleground – the human heart.’
(Ben Lindsay, We Need To Talk About Race)

Whether it be the issue of justice, or the calling to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’, we need to be a people of prayer, because our own finite resources are just not enough. So today, we begin a new series on prayer, and hear now our first reading from the Scriptures.
(PAUSE)

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer is one of those parts of life, parts of faith, which we know we should do, but often don’t. That can be for any number of reasons: we don’t know what words to use; we fear getting it wrong; we maybe don’t think it does anything. There can also be other reasons, such as simple laziness or apathy.

This past week, Gill and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and if I told you that we rarely talk, don’t listen to each other, and generally get on with our separate lives, it wouldn’t matter than we lived in the same house, or had our marriage certificate, or shared our financial resources, you would still be thinking that the quality of our marriage was quite poor, even worrying. Thankfully, none of those things actually apply!

Yet, the same is true with our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You might come to church, you might have a baptism certificate or something that marks when you became a member or an elder, and you might give generously in finances or in time to the work of God’s church. But if you are not praying, not relating personally and directly to God on a regular basis, then I would wonder about the quality of your relationship with Him.

In our day there is a prayer movement called ‘24-7 Prayer’, and a number of years ago they produced a video which summaries ‘why’ we might pray, and I would like to play that for you, just now.
(PAUSE – play video)

I wonder what jumped out for you – do feel free to share it in the live chat just now. I was struck by the idea that prayer may be the most powerful thing we do to change our world, to change ourselves, because when we pray we are connecting with the living God, engaging in a twoway relationship, and as we do so, what we pray echoes into eternity. So, prayer is key, it is powerful, and sometimes the best way to learn to pray is simply to pray.

Nonetheless, one day the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ (v1) Clearly, they saw something – something in the way He prayed, or in what He prayed, something different. Or maybe they saw how Jesus had prayer underpinning all of life because again and again He would go off to pray. And so, the one and only thing they ever ask to be taught, is to pray.

In response, Jesus shares with them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, which is probably the most famous prayer in history. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and I am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.” Christian writer, Timothy Jones, also argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”
We know from history, that it was traditional for rabbis of the time to have their own unique prayer which brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers likely had such a prayer because in our passage today the disciples said, ‘“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”’ (Luke 11:1)

It’s unlikely they were just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips. They were saying: ‘We need know what You are about, we need a statement of faith!’ As such, the Lord’s Prayer is maybe our primary foundation for understanding life and faith, giving shape to everything else. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray and so we might simply repeat the words as given, because repeating it regularly can help its central truths to slowly shape our hearts and our minds.
But the Lord’s Prayer can also be like a map: teaching us the way of prayer, the route to take. Many of us find prayer difficult, don’t we? We get distracted or struggle to know what to say. But praying each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer helps us become real with God: real with Him about what we think of Him, of the needs we have for ourselves and the needs of others, as well as seeking His forgiveness for our sin and asking for His help in the difficult realities of life.

Here is a prayer that we often just recite without much thought, yet it can be a framework into which we pour all of the thoughts and concerns of our lives. It is possible to take the thing that is most burning in your heart at this time and pray about it using the Lord’s Prayer.

Earlier in the service, I said that in each week of this season of prayer, we would have a prayer to pray, or an activity to use, and the Lord’s Prayer is the one for this week. You can simply take the version you are most comfortable with and pray it in one of the ways I’ve described this morning. Or, if you wish, you can find an alternative version on our website, in the “Sermons” page, as well as from our Facebook page this afternoon. In that document there are various examples of the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes using different language to express its meaning, or capturing the prayer from a particular angle. If you’ve been praying this prayer for many years, it may be helpful to try a different version because then may you to see and engage with it afresh.

But whether you pray in “Thee’s” and “Thou’s”, or take it a word or line at a time, may we choose to grow as a people of prayer, responding to this call to pray, and investing time in our relationship with God by using the Lord’s Prayer each day this coming week. For Jesus has promised: ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ (v9) As we prayer, as we ask, seek and knock, may we know the reciprocal welcome and provision of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I will declare Your name (Psalm 22)

Preached on Sunday 5th May 2020
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 20-05-03-Morning-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 22
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 22 (Easy English Version)
Sunday 3rd May 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, what do you think this noise is? Listen up! (PLAY SOUND OF ROARING LION)
Can you guess what that noise was? Shout out your answer! The right answer is…“a lion”. Well done if that’s what you said!

The sound you heard was a lion roaring. Do you think you can hear a lion roar from very far away (stretch hands) or only very close (put hands close)? Where will you put your hands? What you going to pick?…the answer is very far away, sometimes even miles away.
Now, why are we talking about lions?! Well, in the psalm we read today, we heard another prayer of David, and he begins with these words: ‘My God! My God, why have you left me alone? Why is my help far away? I am crying out in great pain!’ (v1)

How do you think David is feeling at the start of this prayer? Thumbs up if you think he’s feeling good…thumbs down for not feeling good…I think David is…not feeling good. I think he is feeling sad, hurt, scared by things that are happening around him and to him.

And so, David cries out to God in prayer, he roars to God, as loud as a lion because God seems distant; God seems absent. I don’t think David is looking for an answer to his questions; I think he just wants God to act!
Because what makes this even more difficult for David is that God has acted before, both for David and for his ancestors. David says: ‘Our ancestors trusted in you…[and] you saved them. They called to you and…you did not disappoint them.’ (v4-5) David cannot make sense of God’s absence, God’s distance, because that has not been the case for others.

Also, David remembers that God was like a midwife to him when he was young: ‘Lord, you brought me safely to birth….From the day that I was born, I was already in your care. You have been my God since my mother gave birth to me.’ (v9-10)
God brought David safely into the world and laid him upon his mother – so again, why is God absent, so distant, that the roar of David’s soul is not heard?
Now, I wonder if we resonate with David’s words here? Does God seem absent and distant to us? Do you feel in the depths of anguish and doubt just now? Is your plea also for God not be far from you and to help? And if you are in that place, or if you’ve been in that place, I wonder if you think your faith is failing or imperfect?

Last week I mentioned a few times when I had experienced difficulties, and in one of those periods of life I remember being on a weekend away in Pitlochry with friends from church. We invited a speaker to come that weekend, a minister, and in some of my free time I spoke with him about how I was feeling, that what I had experienced had rocked my faith and I felt at my lowest, I felt far from God. I thought my faith was diminished.
But then he said, “what if this is the moment when your faith is actually at its strongest? Because it would be really easy to give up on God, to walk away, and yet you are holding on and seeking God even in these hard times. That speaks of faith to me, a strong faith.”

David says, ‘My God! My God…’ (v1), even when all the evidence suggests that God is absent, maybe non-
existent. David still holds on to his relationship with God because he sees what God has done in the past and so he continues to put his hope in God now. This is maybe the moment when his faith is strongest.

Boys and girls, there’s also something else very important about this psalm – do you know who else prayed these words? If I used some sign language, could you guess?
(sign the cross – palm to palm)
Who do you think prayed these words?…Did you guess? It’s “Jesus”! Many years after David, Jesus used the words of this prayer when He was facing the most difficult moment in His life: dying on the cross for our sin, dying there because He loved us. And when He was on the cross, and our sin was like a weight upon His shoulders, Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46)

As Jesus prays the words of David, upon the cross, it shows us that Jesus understands our hard times, He understands those moments when Father God seems distant, absent. Jesus encourages us to come to God with raw honesty and to see that as a sign of faith, maybe even the darkest moments of life.

This psalm of David is a prayer of lament, anguishing over the apparent absence of God, and yet it can be a model of prayer for us in these times as well.

But boys and girls, towards the end of the psalm, what David is feeling changes, he uses different words. Is David feeling upbeat (raise hands) or very low (lower hands) at the end of the psalm?…He’s feeling really upbeat, David is full of praise for God. So, why the sudden change?

Well in the middle of the psalm, we read these words: ‘Lord, please do not stay far away from me!…Keep me safe!…Save my life…I know that you have answered my prayer…God did not forget to help…He did not turn away…’ (v19-21, 24)

At some point God acted, at some point God broke the silence, He came close again and helped. And so now David is able to gather with his people and praise God, in fact he says: ‘I will tell my people how great you are…’ (v22) and then he calls others to join in praising God, to see that God is worthy of praise.

Now, this may feel similar to the “I will…” statement of last week’s psalm, but it is different. David is not simply talking to God about what God has done, David is talking to others about what God has done, first to his fellow Israelites, but then he envisages this good news of God rolling out to the nations and to future generations. This good news is that God is still Lord, God is still King, He is still on His throne despite the experiences we have which cause us to cry out, “my God, my God”.
What great action of God might we look to? What great action of God shows that He cares for us and for the nations? Well, of course, it’s the death and resurrection of Jesus, the ultimate sign of God’s love for this world, the way He broke the silence, speaking to us in the person of Jesus, drawing close to our brokenness, because Jesus is
Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ (Matthew 1:23)

Psalm 22 is used 24 times in the New Testament because again and again there are words and ideas here which point to Jesus and only Jesus. Never in the life of David does verse 16 actually happen: ‘a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.’

So, here is another prophetic word from God through
David, written hundreds of years before Jesus…

so as to help us see that Jesus is the promised one, the one who would be afflicted, broken, for the sake our world, to give us hope, a world-changing hope, the hope of Psalm 22.

Jesus, on the cross, roared out, “my God, my God…”, but He also said, “It is finished…” (John 19:30) Not a cry of defeat, but of victory – that His death was ushering in a glorious hope, even more glorious than what is painted in the psalm. Because our hope through Jesus is that one day a time will come when we see Him face to face, and ‘He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away.’ (Rev. 21:4) Friends, this psalm, and the very life of Jesus, acknowledge the hard realities of our world; that we experience brokenness and the depths of anguish. Yet at the same time, both the psalm and the life of Jesus, remind us that God has acted, God has heard and delivered; ‘He has done it’, ‘it is finished’.

And so now, there is a call to take up those later words of David as well: ‘I will tell…how great you are…’ (v22 EEV), ‘I will declare your name…’ (v22 NIV) Brothers and sisters, in these difficult days, yes, this psalm invites us to be honest, but it also invites us to share the hope we have, because of Jesus, with others: that ‘He has done it’ (v31 NIV), ‘it is finished’ – God has broken the silence, He is not absent, but has acted and came close in Jesus. To Him be all glory, now and forever. Amen.
We’re going to take a moment to pray now, and in our prayer, we’re going to use the sign language for “Jesus”, which is this…we are going to do that four times, and each time remember or pray for something. So, let us pray.

Let us make the sign of Jesus and remember how He felt left alone, just as you might feel alone today.
Let us make the sign of Jesus again and remember that He died for us.
Let us make the sign of Jesus again and remember that Jesus rose from the dead, giving us hope.
Let us make the sign of Jesus one more time and ask to God to remind us of someone who needs to hear the good news of Jesus this week.
Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.

I will praise (Psalm 16 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 28th April 2020
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 20-04-28-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 16 (NIV)
Tuesday 28th April 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In tonight’s sermon I’m going to focus much more on the remaining verses of the psalm, then come back to some of what I shared on Sunday because the all age message focused very much on verses 1, 2 and 7. Nevertheless, the theme of trusting God, even in the ‘dark nights’ (Psalm 16:7 EEV), will be the core of our reflecting tonight, because this psalm is all about trusting God, beginning in v1 and then detailing that through the other ten verses.

I think what this psalm teaches us, through the life and experience of David, is that trusting is having our identity in God, v3-6; trusting is also having our hope in God,… v8-11; and finally, trusting is living consciously before God, as we saw on Sunday.

So, let’s turn to v3-6, trusting is having our identity in God. This psalm is identified as a miktam, a form of prayer, and most of these have a description that tells us they were written whilst David was fleeing as a fugitive from Saul. So, it’s highly likely that this psalm too was written during this period of David’s life, a time when he had to live in the wilderness, far from home, far from the land of his forefathers.

Now, every Israelite clan was secure in their possession of a portion of land, with clear boundary lines determined by the throwing of the lot, and this was seen as their inheritance in the Promised Land. As such, we need to be mindful of this when we hear verses 5 and 6, which said:
‘Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.’

So, the language here would normally be understood in terms of the land and how it was apportioned and valued. But, remember the circumstances David finds himself in here – he is without land, without home, driven away. Normally, this should lead an Israelite to be mournful, destitute, feeling cast adrift and uncertain of their life and value because theirs was an identity tied to the land, much more than any affiliation we might have in our day to our land, whatever our nationality.
Yet, that is not what we see of David. Instead, we see someone who now sees the Lord as his portion; the Lord is his inheritance, and in this, in God, David delights, because trusting is having our identity in God. It is by losing that which would normally be of greatest value to an Israelite, that David is enabled to come into a deeper place with God, to have a greater depth of trust.

As such, we read of David’s resolve to trust only in the Lord, for he said:
‘Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips.’ (v4)

What ‘suffering’ David mentions is unclear, though it could refer to realising that these other ‘gods’ are impotent and unable to fulfil the wishful hopes of their followers.

Nevertheless, David’s resolve is to worship, to trust, only the Lord. He will not participate in the ritual pouring and drinking of sacrificial blood within the false worship of these other gods, neither will he call upon their names in prayer, ritual or rites. Instead, it is the name of the Lord, Yahweh, that will be upon David’s lips alone, even though, at this time of his life, those around him encourage otherwise. We reed about this in 1st Samuel: ‘They have driven me today from my share in the Lord’s inheritance and have said, “Go, serve other gods.”’
(1 Samuel 26:19)
But David will have none of this, for he trusts in the Lord alone, and in the journey of loosing his inheritance, this refugee, finds in the Lord a greater refuge and inheritance than he ever knew before.

In my devotions last week, the Lectio 365 app said this:
‘God’s greatest gift is always, ultimately, simply himself.’
(repeat) I wonder, is God so real to us, like He was to David, that we can affirm this notion, and so say with David, ‘Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup’, or as our version on Sunday said, ‘You, Lord, are all that I need…[You are my greatest gift].’ Have we come to that place, where trusting in God means we have found our identity in Him, that He is our truest and best inheritance?

This idea is echoed in the words of Robert Murray McCheyne who said: ‘what a man is on his knees before God, that he is and nothing more.’ McCheyne knew that this life is fleeting, what we have is here today and gone tomorrow, and so like David, he also knew that it is what we have in God that lasts and is of eternal value, we are what we are in that secret place before God. So, are we a people who have our identity in God? Is He our portion and our inheritance? Do we find our security in the Lord, or is our security dependant on things and circumstances? The words of David in this psalm testify that even at the most unstable and threatening moments of our lives – when all other forms of security fail and leave us without defence – even then, the Lord is still our portion, our cup, our future.

And in case that sounds a bit hard to believe, in case that sounds trite or fanciful, or a notion based on a comfortable Western, middle class life, then I encourage you to dig into the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Protestant Lutheran Pastor and theologian during the Second World War.

Due to his opposition to the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed in a concentration camp in the last month of the war. It is said of Bonhoeffer, that ‘even during the privations of the concentration camp, [he] retained a deep spirituality which was evident to other prisoners. Bonhoeffer continued to minister to his fellow prisoners. Payne Best, a fellow inmate and officer of the British Army, wrote this observation of him: “Bonhoeffer was different, just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfectly at his ease…his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him.”’
(https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html)

Bonhoeffer and David, trusted the Lord and part of that was finding their identity, their security, in the Lord, even in the most desperate of times, and so they would not turn from Him, though advice or circumstance might encourage otherwise. Because although their inheritance was unseen, it was not insecure, and though their portion was intangible, it was not unreal.

The Apostle Paul says something quite akin to this in his writings to the Philippians, he said:

‘What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…’ (Philippians 3:8)

Friends, may we so grow in our trust of God, maybe especially in these times, these ‘dark nights’, that we too can reach that place with Paul, with David, with Bonhoeffer, that we also realise the worth, the inheritance, we have in knowing Christ Jesus, and so through that trust find our identity, our security, in Him.

Secondly, this example of trusting God involves having our hope in God. David wrote:
‘I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.’ (v8-11)

Trusting God is having our hope in God, maybe especially in the face of death. David speaks of ‘the realm of the dead’, in some translations this phrase is given its technical name from the Hebrew, Sheol. It sounds strange to us, but that’s because we may not realise that Israel’s understanding of what happened after death… was slowly revealed by God over time, there was progressive revelation.

Nevertheless they knew, even in David’s time, that death is the opposite of life, and God is the source of life, and so to die, they thought, was to loose God, to loose His presence and the pleasures of His presence; death wasn’t simply about losing our present existence. The Hebrew understanding of death and its aftermath held out little or no hope of resurrection into new life, regardless of whether they were judged righteous or wicked. That’s part of the reason why the Sadducees in Jesus’ day held to the idea that there was no resurrection, but Jesus put them right when He said, that ‘[God] is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ (Matthew 22:32)

Yet, here, is one of those signs that God by His Spirit was revealing something through David, was inspiring hope of a future beyond death. This allows David to speak of knowing the Lord at his own right hand during his earthly life, and so not being shaken and knowing deep gladness and contentment. What is more, in the same psalm, David speaks of a hope of knowing God beyond death, by being at God’s right hand for eternity, and so of knowing His presence and pleasures. Trusting is having hope in God, especially in the face of death.

It was a trust also echoed in Jesus, who said with His last breath, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46) It is a trust found in the writings of Paul, who again said to the Philippians, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Philippians 1:21) To live now is to know Christ by His Spirit, but to die is to go and be with Christ in person.

This hope is only secure because of Jesus. The early church recognised that the language used in Psalm 16 had to point beyond David, because Peter, in his first great sermon recounted to his fellow Israelites these words: ‘I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.’
(Acts 2:29-32)
Jesus alone was not left in Sheol; by His resurrection, He alone was saved the corruption of His body. As such, Jesus our Lord, is preserved by God, given an eternal inheritance, and so He will never be moved nor shaken, for He is secured from death, and ushered into the presence of the Father where there is fullness of joy.

But because of Easter, through faith in Jesus, we too can share in the victory of Jesus, and so, the hope of Psalm 16 becomes our hope as well through Jesus, because trusting is having our hope in God.

This psalm is a really powerful, challenging prayer, spoken by a man under the influence of the Spirit, amidst uncertain times, dark nights, and yet it is infused with confidence and joy, because David has learnt that trusting God is having our identity in God, and it is having our hope in God as well.

But how do we cultivate and sustain that kind of trust? Well, clearly this psalm doesn’t have all the answers, yet as we saw on Sunday morning, it does give us some important ideas, which I’d like to draw on again tonight.

In the all-age message, I spoke of how thankfulness and praise help to keep our horizon filled with God, because as we realise all that we have from our good heavenly Father, and realise who He is and appreciate all that we have through Jesus, then with thankfulness and praise, we keep our focus on God and sustain our trusting in Him.

One commentator said this: ‘trust is not merely a warm feeling or a passing impulse in a time of trouble…it is a structure of acts and experiences that open one’s consciousness to the Lord as the supreme reality of life.’ (James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation)

That’s a bit of a weighty statement, but a meaty statement to feed our minds and build our faith. ‘Trust…is a structure of acts and experiences that open one’s consciousness’ – and we might say, keep open one’s consciousness. As we said on Sunday, thankfulness and praise keep God at the centre, they keep Him in focus, by keeping us open to Him and conscious of Him. The great and terrible deception of the enemy is to turn our minds from God, to darken them, and make us believe in no god, or that God is distant and uncaring…
But with thankfulness and praise we keep that from happening, we open and keep open our consciousness to God, so that we live consciously before Him and with Him, rather than God being an after thought or put in His box and kept for Sunday.

In the introduction to the reading on Sunday, I spoke of how Google searches for prayer are up significantly since the start of the pandemic. It would be good to pray that in the midst of this, people’s consciousness of God would open such that they find Him and come to trust in Him. Yet, let’s also pray, that their consciousness stays open, that they go on to live consciously with God for the rest of their lives, bearing a great harvest to His glory.

And let’s take note of that for ourselves as well, that we might be doers of the word and not only hear it, for thankfulness and praise are only a few ways given, to us by God, to help sustain this consciousness of God and keep Him at the centre of our horizon and outlook. If you’re looking for more ideas, you might want to review the sermon and material from 17th March last year, it’s still on our website by the way. In that service I spoke on spiritual temperaments, and if you review the material then you can figure out which temperaments match you, because each one of us will have ways that help us meet with God and keep us open to Him and centred upon Him. I would also encourage you though to try out the other temperaments, just in case you find a surprising new way of building your trust in God by living consciously before Him.

In all of this, it’s worth noting that David’s difficulties did not vanish as he said this prayer. The insecurities of everyday life still remained for him, and they do for us as well. Yet, as we weave in thankfulness and praise, to strengthen and deepen our trust in God, living consciously before Him, we are then empowered through Him to find the path of life, both within and through these painful times, even when we seem to approach the very gates of Sheol itself. I pray that we will be a people who keep trusting in these days, by having our identity and our hope in God as we weave a rhythm of thankfulness and praise into our lives.

May it be so. Amen.

Spiritual Maturity (James 5:10-20)

Preached on: Sunday 8th March 2020
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 20-03-08-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 5:10-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the
meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Parenthood is a funny thing. My daughter Hope’s
favourite TV programme is Peter Rabbit, and there’s only
so much of that which any sane adult can watch, so I
thought this past week that I might expand her horizons
and put on a kids Bible TV programme, which I found on
Amazon Prime. Hope has watched a few episodes now
and is thankfully asking for it not just Peter Rabbit, so at
least there’s a bit variety! I guess there’s a bit of me that
also thought a Bible programme might be a little
educational as it might help her learn more about God, so
after each episode I’ve tried to chat with her about the
content, to see what she has gleaned.

But I guess I keep forgetting that Hope is only three years
old and so she misses things or doesn’t understand much
of what is said – instead she often focuses upon
something else completely or some little detail that isn’t
really part of the lesson being taught.

That experience with Hope, this past week, has reminded
me that when we are young we can easily miss the
deeper things. It is as we mature that we begin to
understand things on a deeper level, whether it be a TV
programme, or a story or even what is being taught about
God in church. It’s with maturity that we begin to have
the ability to see beyond the surface of things and see
past the distracting things.

So, what does this look like in the spiritual side of life?
What does it mean to be spiritually mature? There could
be several answers to that question but in relation to our
passage today, and the letter of James as a whole, I think
John chapter 5, has something for us to be mindful of in
relation to spiritual maturity: ‘Jesus [said]: ‘Very truly I
tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only
what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the
Father does the Son also does.’’ (John 5:19)

It’s a startling and somewhat bewildering line from Jesus
– after all, He is God in the flesh, so what does He mean?
Likely, there are multiple ways of correctly understanding
these words from Jesus, and one such idea is this: that the
Father defined Jesus’ reality. The Father’s works,…
the Father’s purposes, the Father’s very existence
defined and guided Jesus’ life and ministry. It was the
love of the Father who said, ‘This is my son, whom I love;
with Him I am well pleased’ (Mark 3:17) – it was such love
that saw Jesus through the temptations. It was the
purpose of the Father that allowed Jesus to say in the
Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this
cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42)
The Father defined Jesus’ reality. Jesus lived in such close
relationship with the Father that He could say: ‘…[the
Son] can do only what he sees his Father doing, because
whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

Now, let’s remember that Jesus is our example, He is our
teacher, our Lord, so He is the one we model ourselves
upon, we should seek to become more like Jesus…

So, if Jesus allows His life to be defined by the Father, if it
is the Father who defines reality for Jesus, then that
should be the case for us as well. This means that spiritual
maturity is equal to the degree that we allow Father God
to define our lives; defining how we see the world, how
we respond to issues, and what choices we make.
Spiritual maturity is the degree to which God defines our
reality.

And it’s this idea of spiritual maturity that seems to
underpin the letter of James as a whole. James began his
letter this way: ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord
Jesus Christ…’ (James 1:1) For James, his whole life is
wrapped up with Jesus; it is God who defines his identity
and what James is about.

Then later in the letter, he writes: ‘My brothers and
sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must
not show favouritism.’ (James 2:1) Here he wants them
to understand who they are in Christ and live that out.
Again, James sees spiritual maturity as the degree to
which God defines our lives: defining our choices, our
priories, the things we give our time to, defining how we
understand ourselves and understand the world.

Again and again, James has to take them back to this core
understanding, because it’s all too easy to make God
abstract and distant; it’s all too easy to forget God, as easy
as forgetting the air we breath – we forget His priorities, we
forget His ways, and when we do that we focus on the
wrongs things or see things the wrong way.

It’s like with Hope – because of her immaturity she
focuses on the thing which gets her attention, rather than
what the programme is trying to tell her about God.
Likewise, spiritual maturity is the degree to which God
defines our reality so that we are aware of Him and
partner with Him, focusing on what truly matters.

One way of gauging this is to ask ourselves: do I really
believe the Scriptures? Do I really believe this stuff about
Jesus? Am I confident about the Christian faith? If you’re
not, then one idea be might for you to come along to the
Breathing In event this Saturday. You can sign up today
on the sheets at either door. The focus of input at the
event is how we can be confident in our faith, and coming
along to that event might give us some ideas. So, sign up!

But coming back to James, throughout this letter he has
been taking this principle, modelled by Jesus, taught by
the Scriptures, that part of spiritual maturity is the degree
to which God defines our reality. This maturity is not
dependent on age, it is not dependent on how long
you’ve been a church member or even the length of time
as a Christian, and to finish off his letter, James now gives
a final flurry of input on what this would look like in
practice. He touches on suffering, on honouring God, on
prayer and on sin, and we’ll briefly look at each of these,
though they all could do with a sermon each.

So, first off, patience in suffering and James exhorts us to
this, referencing the prophets and Job as examples. He
draws on these personal, often difficult, stories because
they all showed patience and perseverance because God
defined their reality.

The prophets knew they were called by God, often with a
difficult message, and so even when hard times came and
opposition rose against them, they persevered in their
task; God defined their reality.

The story of Job is a bit different, it’s about personal
suffering, about suffering when we don’t know why, and
not because of our choices or the task God has called us
to. What we see in the account of Job is a man whose life
is defined by the reality of God and when tragedy strikes
his picture of God is shaken, he’s faced with questions he
never asked before. On the surface, it can look like Job’s
faith withers and dies, but in actual fact, his complaint to
God was a complaint born out of faith – God defined his
reality and to that God he called out…

Job never gets the answers that he wishes for, but he
reaches a place where he can still hold on to faith. God is
still defining his reality at the end of Job’s story.

James raises the issue of suffering because he is well
aware that life, including for the Christian, is one in which
we experience trouble – and in such a way that we may
feel tempted to call into question the goodness of God.
James is asking, even in the midst of suffering, will we
allow God to define reality? Will we hold on to Him and
what the Scriptures teach of Him? Or will we allow the
difficult times to drive a wedge between us and God? Will
we allow the whispers of the enemy to sow lies about God
into our hearts and minds, such that we push God away to
the periphery of our lives? James wants us to be mature,
such that God defines reality even in the midst of suffering.

James then, in verse 12, seems to shift topic abruptly
once more. But as we’ve seen, speech is very important
to James, because our speech reveals what we hold in our
hearts, including about the reality of God. James here
may be referencing rash or unrealistic vows that were
most likely going to be broken and so to make an oath
with God’s name would be to involve God in falsehood,
and as such it would discredit rather than honour the
person of God, because a name was symbolic of the
person.

I suspect that few of us are making any vows, particularly
involving God or heaven, so what relevance is this verse for
us today? Well, how about that underlying principle, that if
God is defining our reality, then we should seek to honour
the person and name of God in all we do. The application of
this principle is so very broad, but for a moment, let us stick with speech. Are any of us ever
using God’s name in vain? Are we using O.M.G. even
accidentally? Or, let’s remember that the Scriptures
forbid any swearing or course language – are such words
heard from our tongues? Because if God is truly defining
our reality and we are taking onboard what He says in the
Scriptures, then we are not honouring the person of God
when we take His name in vain or when we swear. We
are choosing at those times to use language that
dishonours Him, because He has said not to do so.

We could take examples beyond speech: do we get drunk?
Do we dishonour God by not honouring Him enough to have
devotional time in the Bible and in prayer during our week?
If God defines our reality, it is seen in how we honour the
person of God, both in speech and in action.

The third and largest issue in this final portion of the
letter is with regard to prayer, and prayer in all
circumstances. I wonder if any of our elders got a bit
twitchy as we read through these verses because
obviously elders are meant to have a particular task
based upon the words of James. But we’ll come to that in
a moment as we work through these verses line by line.

Verse 13 read: ‘Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them
pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’
(James 5:13) This verse is directed to anyone, to
everyone – we are meant to be a people of prayer, and
prayer in all the circumstances of life, the bad times but
also the good. Because if God defines our reality then when
times are hard we turn to Him, and when we are thankful
for something, we are quick to give Him the honour,
because as James reminded us earlier: ‘Every good and
perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights…’ (James 1:17)

In my preparation this week, I came across a really
striking line from one commentator: ‘We should view
prayer as [a] revolutionary tactic, not a passive
resignation to a situation. In prayer, we enlist the aid and
ear of “the Lord of Hosts” [“the Lord Almighty”] (if we
recall James 5:4)…’ (Craig Blomberg, James)
What is your view of prayer? Is it like this? Or, do you see
it as something ineffectual? Do you see it as simply
speaking to the four walls, or only a moment of quiet
inner reflection? Because James, along with the rest of
Scripture, calls us to understand God as revealed
in His Word, and His Word reveals Him to be the Lord of
Hosts, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord Almighty. To
engage in prayer, is not passive resignation, but
approaching the throne of Almighty God.

So, are we allowing God to define our reality such that we
approach Him in prayer? Are we a praying people? Now,
if you would like to grow in your prayer life, then why not
come along to one of our many opportunities for prayer:
Thursday evening or Sunday morning prayer times; the
monthly evening service which has a focus on prayer; or
join a Fellowship Group where you can pray for one
another and hopefully the life of the church as well; or for
elders and deacons, come along to the prayer times
before our monthly meetings. We should all be praying
and in all circumstances.

James then raises the issue of praying for those who are
ill. He says such persons should call the elders and they
will come to ‘…pray over them and anoint them with oil
in the name of the Lord.’ (James 5:14)

The anointing of oil is symbolic in the Scriptures of a
person being set apart for God’s special attention and
care, as well as a symbol of God’s presence with that
individual.

Should we always pray with anointing? Not necessarily –
the overall teaching in the New Testament does not
consistently pair healing prayer with anointing, and so we
should not see this one verse as mandating oil to
accompany all prayers for the sick. A number of
commentators highlight that the words…
‘…the Lord will raise them up’ (James 5:15) could signify
people who are lying down, restricted to bed because
they are so ill, maybe with a chronic or life-threatening
illness.

And that matches reality, does it not, because a number
of us here do have stories about God healing where no oil
was involved. Just last year, one of our congregation
members shared with me after the service that they had
considerable pain in their shoulder, so I offered to pray
with them. I laid a hand on their shoulder and prayed
quite simply and succinctly.

At the time I wasn’t really aware that anything had
happened, because I forgot to ask what I would usually
ask, “has there been any change?”

So, it wasn’t until some months later, when I was
speaking with this individual at the Alpha Course that
they shared with me of the warmth they felt, not just of
my hand but in a much stronger manner, a warmth
working through their shoulder and of their shoulder
then becoming better.

Now, I can also share the other end of the spectrum,
because in this past year I have also prayed for another
individual’s shoulder and nothing seemed to happen on
that occasion. But too often, too often, we let the
negative define reality – and so somehow, we need to
need to find a balance within our prayers: of never
expecting God to heal and on the flip side, requiring God
to heal on demand, rather than remembering He chooses
how and when He heals….

Because complete healing never occurs in this life; any
healing is only temporary, our bodies will fail us, and it is
only in the new heaven and new earth that we will have
a fully perfect body.

But still, will we allow God to define reality? He is the God
who says that He heals, and that all healing – natural,
supernatural, medical, physical, psychological or spiritual
– is of His hand.

Now, I’m not saying we implement this straight away –
healing prayer is something we grow into, but we should
grow into it with intentionality, rather than putting if off
or giving excuses.

One idea might be for you to go through the Alpha Course
after the summer break, where one of the weeks is on
healing and it is an excellent week in particular. But
equally, I am willing to pray for healing and pray with the
anointing of oil – all you have to do is ask.

Often we do not think we can pray such a prayer,
probably because we do not feel up to the task. But as the
passage reminds us, it is ‘in the name of the Lord’ (James
5:14) that healing comes, it is not upon our own merit or
the eloquence of our words which achieve such an
outcome. As such, James reminds us that ‘the prayer of a
righteous person is powerful and effective…’ (James
5:16) and then he goes on to speak of Elijah, who James
says was ‘…a human being, even as we are.’ (James 5:17)
Elijah was that Old Testament prophet who could rise to
the heights of faith, and then fall into the depths of
despair. He could be brave and resolute sometimes, and
then fly for his life at the whiff of danger. He was an
ordinary person, but what set him apart for James, is that
Elijah was right with God.

Elijah was in right relationship with God, he was a
righteous person, because of his faith. For us, we come
into a right relationship with God by putting our faith in
Jesus, it is by Him we are made righteous. And so, if you
have done that, if you are in right standing with God then
James says your prayer is powerful and effective, because
your prayer is coming before the throne of God in the
name of Jesus, because You are in Jesus, Jesus is in You,
and through Jesus you stand rightly before Almighty God.

So, let’s not make excuses, that we can’t pray or that our
prayers aren’t good enough. Instead let us allow the
reality of what God has done for us in Jesus to define our
lives, because if we do we will then be a praying people,
praying in all the circumstances of life, both the bad and
the good.

The final example of spiritual maturity that James
highlights is the peril of sin. James actually mentions sin
in verses 15 to 16, with regard to prayer and healing, and
the reference there is not suggesting all illness is related
to sin, because Jesus debunked that theory Himself.
Instead, in verse 15, there is that simple assurance that
any known sin can be forgiven and then in verse 16
the encouragement to own up to our faults and failings
by practicing vulnerability with one another. By engaging
in vulnerability through confession and prayer, James
again seeks to help us live in the reality of God.
In my own life, I have a friend that I meet up with once a
month, and we’ll not only talk about how things are
going, we’ll also ask the hard questions: how’s your walk
with God, how’s your purity? I also know I can message
him if I’m struggling with something and often reaching
out to him, being vulnerable, is enough to break the
power of temptation and enable me to keep living in the
reality of God by honouring God with my choices.

James also points out the peril of sin in the final two
verses, where a person is wandering away from the truth.

Now, truth for James is more than just right beliefs, it also
includes right practice, because as he’s shown again and
again, the truths of the faith should impact our living. So,
to wander here could include both wrong belief and
wrong practice and for such individuals, James exhorts us
to get alongside them, to enter that place of vulnerability
and seek to draw them away from the peril of sin.

Friends, I think the letter of James has brought a timely
message for us, for along the way his writing has given us
principles, ideas and concrete actions to take onboard
both individually and collectively so that we might have a
faith which is more than mere words.

Key to this is the degree to which we model ourselves
upon Jesus, particularly the degree to which
we live in the reality of God, and perceive the deeper
things of God. This will be seen in the type of wisdom we
exercise, in the way we treat one another and speak to
one another, it will be seen in both our actions and in our
prayers.

My prayer is that this timely word from God might help
us all to mature in faith and in character.
To God be the glory, now and forever, amen.

24:7 Prayer Introduction (Matthew 6: 5-13 Evening))

Preached on: Sunday 23rd February 2020.
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: Matthew 6:5-13

Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 6:5:13
Sunday 23rd February 2020 (evening) Brightons Parish Church

Over the first year of my time here at Brightons, we’ve
focused on the prayers of Paul, covering a good number of his prayers from the New Testament epistles. I feel like we have created a sense of the evening service having a focus on prayer, with time always set aside to respond in prayer to God’s Word. I would like to continue that in the coming year, at the very least, so as to continue growing our prayer life and our coming together in corporate prayer.

I thought it would be good to also continue with a focus on teaching about prayer and it seemed worthwhile to dig into the Lord’s Prayer. I was already aware that the 24/7 prayer movement had written a course on prayer, largely structured around the Lord’s Prayer. It really is a very practical and helpful course, so my intention…

this year, is to use one of their videos every other
evening, starting tonight. Then, in the months between, we’ll have a more normal sermon, with a focus on the previous month’s theme or topic.

On the evenings where a video is shown, we may also from time to time have space to discuss the content of the video with one another, and we’ll have such an opportunity tonight.

So, we kick start our new series this evening and the Lord’s Prayer is probably the most famous prayer in history, crafted by Jesus himself. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.”

N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar, wrote: “The Lord’s
Prayer, correctly understood, is one of the high roads into the central mystery of Christian salvation and Christian experience.”

Christian writer, Timothy Jones, argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”

It was traditional for rabbis at the time of Jesus to have their own unique prayer that brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers seem to have had such a prayer because, in the parallel account in Luke’s gospel of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ disciples asked, ‘Lord teach us to pray,’ and they added ‘just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

They weren’t just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips.
They were saying: ‘We need a statement of faith!’ This makes the Lord’s Prayer the earliest Christian creed, given to us by Jesus himself some three centuries before the Church wrote down its first creed, at the Council of Nicaea.

As such, the Lord’s Prayer is our primary doctrinal foundation for life and faith, well worth repeating regularly so that its central truths can slowly shape our hearts and our minds. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray.

But the Lord’s Prayer is also like a map: teaching us how to pray. It helps us to pray our own prayers from the heart, because when Jesus said, ‘this then is how you should pray,’ he may well have been telling his disciples to use it more as a guide than a destination.

Many of us find prayer difficult. We get distracted and
struggle to know what to say. But praying the Lord’s Prayer is a simple answer to these problems, for each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. Prayed in this way, each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer becomes an invitation to embark upon our own personal adventures of adoration, petition, intercession, confession and spiritual warfare.

So, without further introduction, we’re going to play the second video from the 24/7 Prayer Course. The theme is ‘adoration’, focusing upon the words: ‘Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’

[PLAY VIDEO] [HAND OUT SHEET]

[GIVE TIME FOR DISCUSSION]

Summary comments:
The necessity and place of adoration has grown for me especially over the last 10 years, because I think it’s adoration that has got me through the hardest of dark times. I spoke in the morning service a few weeks ago about the effect that words had on my soul when I was a youth worker, and the year following my departure from that church, was a hard year – and I had to learn to worship and adore God, even amidst pain and hardship. It was a powerful but helpful lesson, standing me in good stead for the future.

Even this past week, something happened, which I won’t
go into, but in what happened, it was sore to the heart,…

it wounded me to some degree, and it has been in that
place of being with God, in that place of adoration – as I have appreciated afresh who God is, what I have in Him, and who I am in Jesus – it is in that place that I have felt God ministering to me and bringing a measure of healing. The place of adoration is powerful and life-giving.

Devoted to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer

Preached on: Sunday 17th February 2019
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 19-02-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Acts 2:42-47
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Acts 2:42-47
Sunday 17th February 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchJesus said, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Matt. 22:37-39)

With our young people I began to unpack that, love for God and for one another was central to the early Church, so much so that even in their changing circumstances they prioritised certain practices and were devoted to doing them, because, as we saw last week, they wanted to live for Jesus and play their part in His continuing ministry; they were convinced He was alive and so, they wanted to know more of His life for themselves and be a conduit of His life to others.

Over the years it transformed the world – in a relatively short space of time, the early church came to be envied by the Roman authorities for how extravagantly they showed love to neighbour, no matter creed, colour or class.

And the result was this: “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) The growth of the Christian faith was phenomenal, not only here at the birth of the church but across the early centuries. Yet does this phrase mean that these Christians simply stayed at home? Does it mean that they played no part in these historical changes coming to fruition? Of course not – the verses we will look at in a moment, as well as the rest of Acts, if not the rest of the New Testament,… make it very clear that individual Christians and the Christian community as a whole play a key role, that what we do, what you and I do, is of great importance. If Brightons Parish Church is to have a vibrant future, and if that is to overflow into our community, such that our community thrives as well – then we all (we all) have a part to play in that; we all do need to do certain things, as we’ll see today and next week.

But before we get practical, notice this: “…the Lord added to their number” – “…the Lord added to their number” – the early church knew that any life, any growth, any success, any vibrancy, any positive impact upon its own members and then the surrounding community was a result of the Lord being active in and amongst them,… and so, they made it clear in their account: “…the Lord added to their number.”

Maybe it’s because of this conviction that the author of Acts sandwiches the stuff we like: the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – the author sandwiches all these things that we’d love to see, between two key statements: “They devoted themselves to……[and] the Lord added to their number.” The start and the end go hand in hand, because the top list is like the four wheels of a car – without those four wheels, the car won’t move, or with some wheels missing it will only bump and grind along the road, but never reach its full potential, never seeing the distance and destination it could reach with all four wheels.

Or it’s like me trying to make my favourite cake – Chocolate Guinness Cake (and yes, I can make it) – it’s like me trying to make that cake without chocolate, Guinness, bicarbonate of soda or cream cheese: any Chocolate Guinness cake that doesn’t include those things is going to be dull and flat, lacking life and lacking all the good stuff that makes me want to keep it to myself!

With baking and cars we know that we need the whole package, but when it comes to church we somehow think we can have one without the other – we want the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – but we’d rather leave the other stuff to the “spiritual people” or “religious people” or the minister. So, please here me clearly on this: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord; we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.
If we want vibrancy in Brightons Parish Church, and if we want that vibrancy to overflow to the community, such that it blesses and benefits the community, and if we want people out there to think church might be relevant, then we each, individually, must know and walk with the Good Lord – because when we do that, His life, His power, His love, His grace will flow into our lives and overflow into the lives of the wider community. It’s simply how it works: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.

So, our passage today is not complex or even hard to understand, and many of the ideas and terms you will be familiar with. In some ways, I probably could end the sermon here and leave the rest up to you…but I love to learn, and consequently, I love to give others the opportunity to learn and grow as well.
So, in the time remaining, I am going to try and limit what I say, and give you as much of the remaining time to chat amongst yourselves. My idea is that this week we’ll focus on verse 42, and next week we’ll cover the other verses. Hopefully you’re up for giving that a try for these two weeks, and then we’ll go back to me talking for twenty minutes. Sound fair enough?

So, v42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

But what do these terms mean for us today?

• Firstly, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching: they learnt about Jesus and His ways. We can do that a little through Sunday worship,..
but we each need more, and so today, maybe you should consider starting to read your Bible more regularly, and if you need help with that, then the discipleship team have daily reading notes available in the vestibule after today’s service.

• Secondly, they devoted themselves to fellowship: the word for fellowship here is “koinonia” and its basic idea is “sharing” – sharing in life together. How can we do that with one another? Maybe join a fellowship group; or maybe get involved in active service in this church and next week we’ll hopefully have a vacancy list to help with that. Or help with the Easter Fun Day.

• Thirdly, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread: they shared in communion,…

they came back to the Cross time and time again. Here we only celebrate that a handful of times a year, so please try and be here for it.

• Lastly, they devoted themselves to prayer: they prayed; again and again throughout Acts we see that the early church prayed. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is quoted as saying this: “there has never, to the best of my knowledge, been a revival in the church that did not begin with a renewal of prayer.” We never get the good life, without the Good Lord, and that’s so true of prayer. For us, that could mean coming to the Thursday evening prayer meeting. Or you could come to the Sunday evening services, because this year I’m thinking our theme for them will be prayer.

So, now it’s over to you – I’d like to give you the remaining time in small groups to talk about what it might look like for you to be devoted to Jesus through these things, to know and walk with the Good Lord. If you like, one idea is to start the conversation with the category you are weakest at – but whatever you do, try to come up with one or two things you personally could do differently so as to love the Lord a little more with your heart and soul and mind. So, over to you.

(PAUSE FOR DISCUSSION)

Friends, we obviously have not had time to think about all the ways we could apply these verses in our lives – but hopefully you’ve got a few ideas to take away, and maybe you can take some time this week…

to read these verses again and think through how you might put them into practice in your own life. For these things do help us to walk with the Lord, from whom we receive life, and love and grace – and as we dwell in Him and He in us, then His life and love will overflow in this place and out into the wider community, and maybe then Brightons Parish Church might also testify too that “…the Lord added to their number.”

May it be so. Amen.