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 rule of Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 27th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above Sunday 27th February 2022. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 3:15-4:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Please do be seated

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

Holy Spirit we pray for you to come amongst us and soften our hearts to the word of God Holy Spirit come and shape our lives under the rule of Jesus come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name amen

this past week we saw the next phase of president Putin’s plans of invasion for Ukraine the world waits now with baited breath to see what will transpire that this is happening on our doorstep that this is happening to a country that really poses and seeks no threat no issue with Russia i think it leaves us all a little dumbfounded whatever the underlying motivations whatever the end goal what is clear to everyone is that we are seeing a world leader a ruler of a nation exercise his power in some of the worst ways imaginable now Putin is not the only world leader we could critique for their misuse of power and so in general i suspect we have a rather large distrust of leaders and the rule of leaders so when we come to a passage like the one today we might engage it with a whole lot of baggage a lot of distrust and criticism what is more our culture has vastly changed from Paul’s day in his day slavery was part and parcel of everyday life and shame on us is still a part of modern day life but not to the same extent and the dynamics in families and the role of women have changed as well this means that we face a temptation as we approach our passage today we face the temptation to rubbish it or ignore it or skip over it or say it’s an example of a text that exhorts a misuse and abuse of power and helps to maintain such power imbalances and structures

but if we go with that vein of thought and do not take the time to dig into these verses we will miss out what God was doing in that day and what God is seeking to do in our day through his word changing the world one life one mind one heart at a time and to get to grips with this passage we first need to appreciate the guiding thought to Paul’s writing which is this the rule of Jesus shaping the lives of his people is good the rule of Jesus shaping the lives of his people is good maybe you think oh here goes Scott picking another idea of the thin air so let me explain where i get this from whenever we approach scripture to try and understand what the bible is teaching us there’s a number of things we need to do and two of the things are this first we need to identify and look out for what is repeated what’s the words that are repeated what are the ideas that are repeated second we need to be aware of the context of the writing and of the wider context of the scriptures so what’s repeated Paul speaks of the peace of Christ the rule of Christ the name of the lord Jesus there’s a repetition there the name of the lord is repeated six times in six verses and again there’s a reference to Jesus as master in heaven so clearly whatever Paul is getting at Jesus is central to this Jesus is shaping this passage what’s the context the context as we heard last week is the kingdom of God the kingdom of God shaping our lives clothing us to be fitting for the kingdom of God both now and for eternity and so it’s the rule of Jesus shaping the lives not of society but of his people Paul is writing to God’s people writing about how their shared activities help to shape their lives so he says we are shaped by the work and message of Jesus actually he says the peace and message of Jesus but I’ll get to that in a moment because i think he’s speaking of the work and message of Jesus we’re shared we’re shaped by our shared activities our thankfulness our teaching our exhortation our singing together all this shapes us shapes us around Jesus and then Paul talks of being shaped by the reality of Jesus in those later verses children are to do what pleases the lord you can’t please someone who doesn’t exist and so it’s be aware of the reality of Jesus he is real this is not just some guy in an old book or a history lesson he is real he is there or verse 23 that whatever we do we do it as working for the lord and that masters are to be mindful we’ve all to be mindful that we all have a master a lord in heaven and we will be accountable to him we are shaped and to be shaped by the reality of Jesus

and so what’s guiding Paul’s thinking is that the rule of Jesus is shaping and is to shape the lives of his people and i’ve added that that’s good i think it’s there in Paul’s writing but you might be wondering well is it good really like if the bible includes such passages and such writings about wives submit to your husbands and slaves the whole regime of slavery doesn’t get challenged in the scriptures is the rule of Jesus really good

well let’s go back to context this God who made himself known in Jesus he wants to give grace and peace and strength to his people he’s already given hope and redemption he has provided the means of forgiveness of sins at his own expense that he died on the cross nailed to that cross even when we were enemies of him in our minds chapter one of Colossians this same God who we’re not enemies with now if we have faith in Jesus this same God has overcome the enemies we still face of death and sin and the devil and he did it for sake of you and me this is the God who did that that we might chapter 3 have life in him and our life might be hidden in him so that it is secure that we are part of his kingdom now and will be for all eternity this is the God who inspired such writings this is the God whose kingdom we’re called to shape being this is the God who invites us to allow him to shape our lives and it is good and for our good

the wider scriptures also speak of the kingdom of God there’s too many scriptures to pick on but I’ll stick with Paul who says in romans for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit the kingdom of God the rule of Jesus is good he seeks to bring righteousness peace and joy to your life to this world that is his ultimate end goal

so Jesus is no Putin he’s not even a Boris he’s not akin to that boss that you know that was grumpy and dictating to you in the workplace Jesus is good and his desire to shape our lives is for our good so how are you going to approach his word today and the invitation to let him rule in your life will it be with trust and his goodness or will it be with criticism or a weariness maybe even a prideful disposition because it’s so easy to think we know best isn’t it it has been the plague of humanity since the beginning of time go back to the beginning of the biblical narrative Adam and Eve one thing not to do don’t eat from the tree and yet they end up doubting the goodness of God God’s holding something back from you and so they decide they know what’s better and they disregard God they doubt his goodness and we and they have paid the price ever since so how will you respond to God’s word God’s rule and his invitation today is it going to be with trust in his goodness trust to allow the rule of Jesus to shape your life

now Paul in particular in our verses today wants the rule of Jesus to shape our relationships and he names three areas of relationships, relationships within the church relationships within the family and then the master slave relationship those we are subject to or those who are subject to us and so beginning with the relationships within the church Paul says in verse 15 let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace and be thankful now when we read this verse we probably end up thinking about feelings and about us individually because as a society we are very feelings driven and we are very individualistic so we end up thinking that Paul is talking about some subjective peace that we’ve to let somehow rule in our hearts and that’s often to guide our thing thinking and our feelings and our decisions if you’ve got peace in your heart then you’re good it’s probably how we often approach such language but it’s not what Paul means Paul in the letter to Ephesians talks about the dividing wall between peoples between Jew and Gentile and in Galatians talks between not just Jew and Gentile but male and female slave and free there is this dividing wall

but now through Jesus through his work on the cross there is no division there needs to be no division that we can be reconciled to him and to one another and that is the peace he has won we are called to one body we are one body that is the peace that has been secured and for that peace for the people who make up that peace from all the different backgrounds of life we are to be thankful yes we need to be more thankful in general but that’s not what Paul is to be thankful saying here it’s in the context of being a body of recognizing that the people sitting around us the people who make up our fellowship the people who make up the Christian body beyond just our local congregation are people Jesus died for who were worthy apparently for him to die for

and that is to shape our thinking that is to shape our relating that is to shape the church now how do we keep that thought how do we maintain such an outlook or challenge behavior and ways of relating that are against that kind of thought well Paul says in verse 16 let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through Psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit

did you notice that it’s addressed to you

as you teach and admonish not you the minister not you Paul the apostle you every one of us has a part to play in this

we’ve all to do that as we talk about our faith as we point one another to Jesus as we sing the songs of faith we remind ourselves about the reality of Jesus about who he is about his will and his teaching about his work on the cross and so we remember how to relate to one another and we allow the gospel to shape our living

so who’s the person in church that gets under your skin it might be the minister

who’s that person that’s voice oh just greets you the wrong way who’s that person with the outlook that’s just so different from you and you can’t understand them who’s that person whose demeanor just gets you down who’s that person with a theology that you think is dated or heretical or just doesn’t belong here maybe it’s time to be thankful for them

and how can we

talk about our faith so that we keep the gospel central that we keep pointing each other back to what Jesus has done and of his relevance in our lives and his presence in our lives so for example when you are meeting during the week or after the service maybe ask each other a question what did you take away from Sunday I think there’s always something to take away I’m sure I’ve told the story before that when I was a young Christian i we went i was on a summer mission and we went to a service and i thought this old minister was talking the biggest lot of nonsense and I didn’t understand a word I just had a really hard prideful heart and I ranted and raved after the service and my friend Laurie same age as me been a Christian for a bit longer uh he just said well this is all the stuff that I got and I was I have been challenged since then that you might not have agreed with my message or whoever’s preaching but there will be something you can take away from the hymn from a prayer from a reading so focus on that maybe God’s got something in that for you and then share that with someone else so that you build up their faith don’t just keep it to yourself or maybe say to them how can I pray for you this week could we try and ask that question a bit more amongst one another because when you ask that question not just oh I’m thinking about you or how’s your week going when we ask how can I pray for you we’re reminding one another there is a God we can pray to that we’re not on our own that this world might be looking like it’s going to hell in a hand basket but there is a God and we can call to him and he cares for us

we are called to be a people who in our relationships point each other to Jesus keep the gospel central to all our relationships and all our decision making so that was the easy bit what about the rest of the passage that talks about those apparently maybe slightly dated very tricky verses relating to husbands and wives fathers and children slaves and masters well I’m not going to share an awful lot of hard and fast points of application on that section I’m afraid because in many ways we don’t know the context of Paul’s meaning here that when he says wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the lord or husbands love your wives and do not be harsh to them what is Paul meaning and what is the context he writes into is he is he mindful because the commentaries are just all over the place on this um and i generally have a kind of I don’t read every commentary but a fair number is he referring to as the situation like in Corinth where spouses were thinking about divorcing their other spouse because one was a believer and one wasn’t a believer and they were worried was this marriage a bad thing is God against my marriage and Paul writes to say no stay in your marriage is that what it means to submit to your husband in that context or is Paul aware of a kind of behavior that is that is wrong and unhealthy is there manipulation going on in the side of the wife maybe or something one or two commentators said that because there’s that old adage and I’d never normally quote this because my wife would probably kill me um the man might be the head of the wife or the family but the wife is neck

she’s in control really

literally there are books written on the subject matter here no matter which side of the debate you go for whether you think there is or is not a role for a husband to play a leadership function within a marriage

but let’s notice a few things at least a few things that need named first of all Paul says that wives are to submit not obey it’s children who are to obey parents and so there is no green light here for husbands to be controlling manipulative or violent and Paul also qualifies his statement that it is only as far as fitting in the lord what is fitting in the lord well let me just give you one example that we’ve already looked at that verse in romans that the kingdom of God is one of righteousness peace and joy and if there is none of that in your marriage if there are things happening in your marriage that are meaning that there is not righteousness peace or joy then there is something going wrong there

also to go back to the letter of Ephesians there’s much more teaching there on this relationship between husband and wife and Paul says that the relationship between husband and wife echoes the relationship between Jesus and his church that he says that as Christ loved the church husbands are to love their wives but equally the church is to submit to Jesus to his rule his leadership that he is head of the church now submission in the context of Jesus in the church is an act of trust to submit to Jesus as an act of trust so is Paul simply meaning that wiser to trust their husbands to trust that their husbands will put them first and seek their best is that what he means

then there’s what Paul says to husbands that they are to love their wives and not be harsh to them and in a culture where women were seen as little more than property as a thing that we were belittled by all faiths Paul is being very counter-cultural he is really shaking things up

and so though his words may seem dated aren’t they still relevant today too which husband here loves their wife as Jesus loved the church how many of us men whether by our words or by the looks upon our faces or in our body language have communicated harshness to our wives this week

whatever Paul’s getting at here ultimately in all these relationships it is about the gospel shaping them and husbands and wives whether married or single with children and a slave master relationship or in the church every relationship is to be shaped by the gospel so is it and with our children either your children or the children who attend church do we communicate the gospel so for example do we communicate to our children well you’re only loved you’re only appreciated we only want you here if you do as we tell you as you obey our rules

or do we communicate differently that you’re loved as you are not as you ought to be not as you should have been not as you might become you are loved as you are

because isn’t that the gospel that Jesus loved you despite you being a sinner despite you telling God to take a hike despite you being an enemy of God Colossians chapter one in your mind God died for you and me that’s the gospel how is that gospel worked out in your relationships is Paul’s point

so where might you embody the gospel and so embody the role of Jesus in your relationships

now despite what I’ve said despite the various caveats I’ve put on it some of us will still feel that Paul did not go far enough some of us will think that his teaching here propped up slavery for hundreds of years and that it still props up the subjugation of women

and why is whilst i would and will counter such claims we do need to acknowledge that the church has a shameful past when it comes to slavery and a shameful past when it comes to the treatment the care and the place of women too many a man too many a slave owner has taken these verses out of context and used them to justify sinful behavior men and women are equals in the sight of God made in the image of God loved equally by God

additionally the church has been woefully slow to change seem more to be playing catch up to wider society and then be maybe dragged into ways that are not of God because we are playing catch up we were called by Jesus to be salt and light to be salt and light and too often we have lost our saltiness

because salt not only preserves but it brings out flavor let’s go back to romans 14 what is the flavor of the kingdom of God righteousness peace and joy we have not brought that out in society

and so I think it’s right that as a church we now have a gender-based violence team and you might think that that is just a pandering to society where the church feels obligated to have such activities but i see it as part of our discipleship as part of what it means to pursue Jesus and embody the kingdom and i’ll explain why in a moment and I’m glad that we now have that team as part of the discipleship team rightly so and in the coming months we hope to roll out some opportunities for you all if you wish to engage with that to understand more about gender-based violence why is this an issue why what does it lead to and how can we do something about that and i encourage you not to become skeptical about it and think it is a pandering to society but to see it as crucial to your discipleship and our day and to come and invest your time learning about gender-based violence because here’s the thing

the changes that have come since Paul’s day in relation to men and women slaves and free it all came about because of Jesus teaching an example and it was built upon by the early church and yes it was built upon by Paul Paul’s teaching as it relates to home life as it relates to the slave master relationship was vastly different to his culture to not see people as things as property to not only value men and the free and Paul’s day he was incredibly egalitarian he would have been vilified for such a position

and whilst you may think he did not go far enough i found this quote helpful in one of the commentaries this week Paul does not protest against the institution of slavery or the dynamic between men and women and we should admit that his approach is subtler he has found a fixed point on which to stand from which to move the world slaves too are human beings slaves too are people Jesus died for women are people who Jesus died for all are loved all our people all are valued

and Paul’s teaching began to change the world maybe not fast enough for you maybe too slowly often times not appreciated often times ignored or thwarted but it was the Christian faith which gave the impetus to value people differently it was the Christian faith which would lay the foundation upon which wider change would come in society and to the dynamics between men and women

from the Christian faith things began to move in the world

so what about your life and your context where are we called to put the work and message of Jesus into practice in our relationships such that the world moves

it might not seem like much with all that’s going on in the news it might not seem like much but every choice matters every choice moves the world that little bit more towards the kingdom of God because did you notice all the little words of action in the passage let teach sing do it all submit love obey provide they’re all action words and they’re all words that require you and me to make a choice to exert our will our power not to dominate as a Roman dictator does a Russian dictator does

but to use our power to allow Jesus to rule in us and through us that the hallmarks of his kingdom might be seen in our day in our lives in our relationships in our community

that then the rule of Jesus might shape more and more lives for the good it might not seem like much but every choice is a choice to help the world move

and that happens one life at a time one mind at a time one heart at a time i pray that we make that choice today and every day may it 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.

World upside down

Preached on: Sunday 23rd January 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Isaiah 25:6-8 & John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

The story of the wedding in Cana reminds me of the time that I got a bit of a surprise, not so nice one, At the time we had just moved from the continent to a small village in the UK where I became involved in the church, in the local church as a Sunday School teacher and we were preparing for a family service and I had chosen to look at the wedding in Cana. The surprise came when I drew attention to Jesus words to his mother when she made him aware that there was no wine anymore, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has yet not come.’

The surprise was that my friend, my new friend, did not share with me the thought that these words were significant for she said ‘Jesus got up two minutes later and did what his mother wanted him to do anyway. Help out. So, what’s your problem?’

I was brought up in the Dutch Reform Church and I went to a primary school where we started every day with a Bible story and on the day before any holiday we got a treat in the afternoon another Bible story. An upbringing that shaped my faith and that’s why my friend’s reaction came as a surprise. I was actually quite upset but I upset her too but at the time I didn’t know what I know now.

So, what more, than what meets the eye, is there in this story?

First of all, Jesus’ presence at the wedding party is in itself significant. It could actually leave room for raising eyebrows. One could wonder cynically or not cynically, if Jesus did not have anything better to do than partying. You wouldn’t find John the Baptist at the party, for when his father, Zechariah, was told that he and his wife Elizabeth, in their old age, were going to be parents, the angel said ‘He will be great before the Lord and he must not drink wine or strong drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.’

So, John was separated from wine and strong drink, Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was amongst the people, Jesus shared both their sadness and joy.

Now, John and Jesus were relatives, as their mothers were relatives, but there was a much stronger connection between the two and that connection, that relation was articulated by Zechariah very accurately when he prophesied to his newborn son John ‘And you child, will be called the Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the lord to prepare his ways.’

These days, unfortunately, proper grammar and punctuation tend to be neglected. They’re not needed in quick messages, text messages, WhatsApp messages, using abbreviations and emojis. Yet, understanding grammar and punctuation helps when you read the Bible, for John, you could say, is the colon after the Old Testament; he is the last prophet, as his father said, as he rightly understood, John was the last prophet standing in the New Testament, as Jesus own prophet, with Jesus. Something new had come; a new way; a way that emerged and that emerging is what we see here at the wedding at Cana.

God begins small, not big, not loud, but, quietly, subtly at the very beginning of his ministry when He only had His first disciples, Jesus does this first sign behind the scenes, not in public, not yet. What Jesus does here serves God’s purpose and that purpose is the faith of his first disciples.

God’s hands build, they work in a refined way, using quantities that are well measured just as the precise measures are given of the six stone water jars. What Jesus first disciples experience in Cana confirms their trust in Jesus. But what about mother and son, Mary and Jesus, the brief conversation they had?

It tells that Jesus is in the first place not His mother-son, Jesus is in the first place his Father’s son, and the reason why Jesus does this first sign is not His mother’s but His Father’s will, and it will always be His father’s will that drives Jesus.

‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ At first sight Jesus comes across as dismissive towards His mother but it’s not that He rejects her. What He is doing is distancing Himself from her, and the reason He gives to His mother for that distancing is that His hour has not yet come. We find these words throughout John’s gospel and they always refer to Jesus dying and the glorification that comes with it after it. But then, why would Jesus say that His time has not yet come, and then change water in an abundance of aged wine, the finest of wines, the wine Isaiah speaks about? ‘As we heard on this mountain Lord, on this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine.’ The best of meats and the finest of wines.

At Cana, a glimpse is given of the wedding feast that is to come of which Isaiah already had a vision. Being given a glimpse of His promise we meet God as He shows himself through Jesus, revealing Himself in steps gradually, in His own mysterious ways and in His own time.

Without a word being said by Jesus that would have brought about that change, without being touched by Jesus, water in jars that are used for the purpose of Jewish ceremonial washing has become wine.

The wedding guests are completely oblivious to what has happened, and even the master of the banquet is surprised where this wine has come from. ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.’

This is again, the world upside down but then that scene for an opposite world is already set in the first bible book when God turns things upside down when he says ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ which we find in Genesis. This is God’s thinking. It’s not logical but theological thinking. Theological thinking that runs throughout the Old into the New Testament to surface at the wedding in Cana sensed there was something mysterious that changed the water, that changed the water into the highest quality of wine, but that sense is not related to their faith. The first sign that Jesus did, He did for the sake of the faith of His first disciples. The first of the signs through which He revealed His glory and His disciples believed in Him.

It was not yet a public manifestation of His glory, it was still more private. Jesus went a new way after His baptism in the Jordan, by His own prophet John the Baptist, who was shocked that He had to baptize Jesus.

John, the colon after the Old Testament.

And, as you know, a colon binds what comes before it, with what comes after it, and in that light I mention what a Dutch theologian says ‘Within the structure of the scriptural vocabulary, the name (and that is the name I am, who I am, the name that became flesh in Jesus0 the name is the cornerstone that possesses a wondrous capacity. It binds the most divergent components and covers contrasts with irradiance that does not come from people.’

That radiance binds together God’s written word as a wholeness and often a playing with words with names, serves to demonstrate that wholeness as we have it here with Cana and Canaan both, grapes signify the richness of God’s promise. Canaan was the promised land that Israel entered after going through the River Jordan. An abundance of grapes was brought back from Canaan to Moses by the spies whom he sent to Canaan. He had instructed them ‘Be good of courage and bring some of the fruit of the land’ And they did indeed. It was the season of the first ripe grapes.

In Numbers it says ‘They cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.’

After being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, the first sign that Jesus did was changing water into wine in Cana.

If we miss the unshakable flow of the mysteries that binds the two Testaments of God’s written word together, we miss so much of the richness of the way in which He presents Himself in both His written word and in our lives. Recognizing His mysteries in the Bible helps you to recognize Him in your life, makes the story of the wedding at Cana more than what meets the eye, is that it is not just a wedding in Cana, it is the wedding that God has in store for us.

As it says in Revelation ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory, for the Wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.

It therefore makes sense, that in the story of the wedding at Cana, there is no mentioning of the bride, for the bride is you, His church. As we seek His way that leads us into the future that He has for us, we need to let Him be who He is.

He binds, and He binds congregations in His way and He won’t miss His purpose that He has for them.

I finish with the beautiful words from Isaiah:

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I send it.’

Amen.

Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul says five times i received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one three times I was beaten with rods once i was pelted with stones three times I was shipwrecked i spent a night and a day in the open sea i have been constantly on the move I’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep i have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food i have been cold and naked besides everything else i face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

Prayer as relationship

Preached on: Sunday 27th 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 20-09-27-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Sunday 27th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
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 pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.I wonder how you responded to the news this week about the extra restrictions? I wonder how you felt as we awaited that news being released? I suspect there’s a broad range of reaction and feeling associated with what we’ve heard, and many of us may have a sense that the crisis continues, that these unprecedented days have carried now beyond six months and their end…well, we just don’t know when that will be.
In this midst of it all, we might be asking “where is God? What’s He up to?” These are questions and emotions that the people of God across the ages have felt and asked. Indeed, David, who wrote the psalm we read today, he was in a crisis, for he faced people who were bent on doing evil towards him, ready to go to war, ready to show savagery and devour him, like a pack of wild beasts ready to pounce and bring him low. David faces his own crisis, and we face ours, each just as life threatening, each just as potentially unsettling. Yet I’m struck by David’s posture, his reaction, the emotions that flow through him, for twice he speaks of his confidence, he says:
‘…though war break out against me, even then I will be confident… I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.’ (v3, 13)

In the midst of his crisis, David still has a confidence, a feeling of security. I wonder if we do? I wonder where, or to whom, we go when life seems too much to handle? Is it a spouse or a close friend, a trusted advisor, or parents? I’m sure David was surrounded by all such people, yet his confidence comes from another source, his confidence comes from another relationship, it comes from his intimate relationship with God, the Lord.

Notice what David says in verse 1: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (v1) David knows God, but in a very relational way – this is not simply head knowledge, information about God, but rather it is a reality that David knows for himself. ‘The Lord is MY light and MY salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of MY life.’ At the heart of biblical faith, is not a list of rules, nor expectation of duty, but a relationship with the living God and David draws upon what he knows of God as he faces his crisis.

So he says, ‘the Lord is my light’ – the Lord dispels the darkness of fear, the Lord lights the way ahead, and in the light of His presence and love…life, hope, faith is revived and helped to flourish.

But the Lord is also ‘my salvation’ – the One who can deliver me and rescue me – and the Lord is also his ‘stronghold’, ‘the stronghold of [his] life’, that place of security. In the Lord then, David receives protective presence and care, and it this very relationship which allows David to maintain a confidence, without fear, but also without minimising the realities either.

I wonder, do you have that confidence? In the midst of our crisis, in the midst of whatever crisis you may be individually facing, is there a quiet confidence in who God is? God doesn’t promise to fix all our problems now, and yet the Lord’s people over the centuries have affirmed His unchanging nature, that in Him they have found light and salvation and a place of refuge, a stronghold, even in the greatest and darkest of times. I wonder, do you share in that? Or, do you want to share in that?

C. S. Lewis tells of his experience standing in a dark shed on a sunny day. Through a chink in the wall a sunbeam probed its way into the dark interior of the shed and Lewis suggests it is two quite different things to look at the beam of light and how it interacts with the dark, illuminating only a small part of the shed, or to step into the light and look along the beam to its source. If you want to share in the confidence of David, you need to come into the light, the light that comes from a relationship with God, a relationship that we pursue and invest time in, a relationship that is personal to you, and not confined to four walls on a Sunday morning. Because when we step into the light and seek the Lord, although it may be dark within the walls of our shed, although our very lives may be dark, there is still light and it bathes our whole perspective when we look to its source.
I wonder, are you someone who is looking in from the side? Do you see a beam of light, but you’re simply looking on? Maybe you see it in another’s life, maybe you see it in the Scriptures, but this relationship with God, this knowledge of God, is external to you, it’s not your experience. If that’s you, how can we change that reality? How can we step into the light? Well, let’s turn to David’s example once more.

He writes: ‘One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.’ (v4, 14)

In these verses of his psalm, David gives us a window into how he pursues this relationship with God, and we see there a prayerful waiting, a prayerful seeking, of the Lord. David does this by spending time in the presence of God, which for him, at his particular point in history, meant going to the central place of worship, the tabernacle. So, David would seek the presence of God, in a prayerful way, by giving time to this.

But in that time, David would also ‘gaze on the beauty of the Lord’ – and this is language which speaks of a steady, sustained focus, rather than a one-time glimpse, and during this time instead of asking the Lord for things, David is praising and admiring and enjoying God, for who God is. David finds God captivating, not just useful for getting stuff. In spending time with the Lord in prayer, resting in His presence and appreciating who He is, David cultivates confidence, a contentment which carried him through many a crisis.

Again, I wonder, does this describe us? Is this part of our prayer life? Do we know how to slow down and wait in the presence of God, wait in such a manner that we enjoy Him? It could be argued, based on the Lord’s Prayer, that this is where we should start, for Jesus said to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’ In one line, Jesus echoes David, for in these familiar words, which we often rush past, we call to mind who God is and we hallow Him, we admire, we enjoy, we praise Him.

But unlike David, we don’t need a temple or a sacred place, because Jesus in His death made a way for us to come directly to God, and in the sending of the Holy
Spirit, we are enabled to know God and meet with God. Indeed, Jesus would say, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’ (John 14:16-17) At the heart of biblical faith, is a direct, immediate relationship with God, where you can relate to Him as the perfect Father, and so share in the confidence of David.

I want to give you now the prayer for this week, a prayer that my own minister, Kenny Borthwick, shared in a parish magazine some 8 years ago, yet it has stuck with me ever since and I keep turning to it, especially in the hard times, and I can do that because it’s only one line. It reads: ‘Abba, beloved Father, I belong to You, I am Your son, and I bring You great joy.’

My encouragement to you this week, is to take 5 minutes each day, and pray this line. Talk with God about each word, talk with Him about the words you find hard, talk with Him about the wonderful reality that is captured in these words. Also, can I encourage you to pray it out loud? In our psalm, David said, ‘Hear my voice when I call, Lord.’ David spoke out and there is something powerful, life-giving when we pray directly to God and speak out. I’m not asking you to do it in front of people, but the things we believe and hold dear, are the things we put into words, and same is true in our relationship with God.
So, I encourage you to speak out this prayer this week.
Why don’t we take a moment to pray this together, and I’m going to move into a more comfortable seat.
(PAUSE)

Here we are in my livingroom, in the seat I sit in each morning to spend time with God, and from time to time I’ll use that line. But I’ll also use it when I’m out walking Hector in the woods and fields. Use it where you see fit, use it where you need and want to connect with God, but let us pray it now. Let us pray.
(SHORT PRAYER)

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.

The partial Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 15th September 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 19-09-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Sunday 15th September 2019
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.

I want to show your a few famous lines from films and I wonder if you can guess where they featured:
• “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca, 1942
• “Houston, we have a problem.” Apollo 13, 1995
• “Ogres are like onions.” Shrek, 2001

To really get these lines, to grasp their meaning and significance, you need to know the back story – whether it be a love story, or a rescue mission, or a simple feel good film with poignant truths – knowing the back story helps.
And the same is true of ‘the kingdom of God’ – without knowing the back story it can be quite meaningless.

We are now into week four of our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and over the last three weeks we’ve seen that from the beginning of creation ‘the kingdom of God’ has been central to the biblical story. In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

In Genesis 3, we saw how the pattern of the kingdom was lost, for when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they were rejecting God’s rule, and as a result, they were no longer His people, which led to them being expelled… from God’s place, the garden of Eden, and consequently, they also lost the blessing of God.

But then last week, with Ian, we read from later in Genesis, where in chapters 12, 15 and 17, God makes a covenant, a promise, with Abraham to once again form a people of God, who will be given a land, who will live under God’s rule and once again enjoy God’s blessing.

So, we’re only up to Genesis 17, and yet we are beginning to get a rich and full back story to ‘the kingdom of God’. But from Genesis 17 to where we read in 2nd Samuel, it took about 900 years for everything to pass, so there’s a lot of history sandwiched between those two moments in the biblical story, which you may be glad to hear, we won’t try to cover in depth in this series.
And yet, to understand ‘the kingdom of God’, and to understand how God seeks to restore the pattern of the kingdom we need to know some of that 900-year history, which I’ll review, very briefly, just now.

Broadly speaking, from Genesis chapter 12 to Exodus chapter 18, the focus is primarily on God’s people, on how God would once again form a people who would be His special possession. And so, we find God taking Abraham, and from that old man, forming a nation, through Isaac, Jacob and then Jacob’s 12 sons, including Joseph.

Over the summer months, we worked through the story of Joseph, seeing how God’s promise began to be worked out – that this great grandson of Abraham…
was used of God to save God’s people from starvation by providing a home for them in Egypt.

But after Joseph, hundreds of years pass, and the people of God grow to be very numerous in Egypt, numbering in the millions. Yet they have become slaves to Egypt, and so they cry out to God, who hears them. He takes Moses and uses him to rescue God’s people and bring them out of Egypt, through what we call the Exodus, that act of God by which the people of God are saved.

Then, God leads them, by a pillar of cloud and fire, to Mount Sinai, which we reed about in Exodus chapter 19. And from chapter 19 of Exodus to the end of the book of Leviticus, we now find a focus on God’s rule and blessing, for in those chapters, we see how the people of God… are to live, and also how a holy God can presence Himself amongst His people so that they have relationship.

After Leviticus, we have the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, and whilst some of their content continues to describe the rule of God, these books also begin to move the focus onto God’s place, that land which was promised to Abraham many years before.

Now, the people of God are still, at the beginning of Numbers, situated at Mount Sinai, but because of grumbling, protest and unbelief the people of God are punished, and instead of a few months’ journey to the promised land, they travel for 40 years around the desert, so that all but two of that generation pass away, all who were filled with ingratitude and unbelief.

Eventually they do reach the promised land, but under a new leader, under Joshua, and they enter the land of Canaan, taking possession of it, and settling into a place that flowed with milk and honey.

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua himself gives a warning to the people, to not turn away from the Lord, and the question arises: will they or won’t they? What will happen to the people of God now?

We then enter into the book of Judges, where there is a cycle of sin and grace, for the people of God keep turning away from Him, doing evil in His eyes,…
and so, they are punished by God. They then cry out for mercy, so God sends a ruler, a judge, to lead them back under the rule of God, enabling them to enjoy God’s blessing and peace once more. This cycle of sin and grace repeats, again and again and again throughout the book, until we get to the very last line of the book of Judges, where we reed: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.’ (Judges 21:25)

There is here a hint of what the solution might be, that the people need a king. But this is not a new idea, for a king and ruler had been mentioned back in Genesis 49, where the line of Judah was said to hold a ‘sceptre’ and the ‘ruler’s staff’, and that ‘the obedience of the nations shall be his’. The idea of a king is also mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy, where the king is commanded: ‘..to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not…turn from the law to the right or to the left.’
(Deut. 17:18-20)

God’s appointed king was to be the means by which the rule of God came upon and through God’s people so that they could then enjoy God’s blessing. God would rule His kingdom through His king.

And so, at the end of Judges, this idea is raised once more, enabling us to enter into the books of Ruth, 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel and 1st Kings, where we see how God raises up for Himself a king to rule over His people…

Eventually, David, that famous shepherd boy, becomes king. His journey is one of suffering and rejection, he faces many struggles to reach a position of peace, of rest, and that is where we find ourselves as we come into 2nd Samuel chapter 7. All this is the back story leading to this very chapter, 900 years of God forming a people, of giving them His Law, His rule, of taking them to the promised land, and then establishing a king, through whom God’s rule and blessing could come to God’s people within God’s place.

Chapter seven opens with these words: “After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’ Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.’” (2 Sam. 7:1-3)

The king is at rest, at last, but he recognises it has come from God’s hand, and yet the ark of God, the symbol of God’s presence amongst His people, remains in a tent, whilst the king lives in a house of expensive cedar. And so, there is a burden upon David’s heart to do something, which receives the support of the prophet Nathan.

But that night the Lord spoke to His prophet, relaying to Nathan, and then on to David, that the Lord was going to turn David’s offer upon its head, for the Lord now promised to build a flesh and blood house, a lineage for David. We read:
“‘Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great…The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…’” (2 Sam. 7:8-9, 11b-14a)

In this passage, God refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham: of a people, of a land, of blessing… But these are now tied to the king and so Israel’s future is identified with the king’s future. Concerning this king, God promises:
• That he will be a descendant of David (v12)
• That His kingdom will be established by God (v12)
• That this future king will build a house for God (v13)
• Will reign for ever (v13, 15-16)
• And will be a son of God (v14)

So, a future king, one greater than David, is to come, and through this king, God’s kingdom will be established, His rule over His people, in His place, will become reality, and all will know and live in God’s blessing.

With the coming of David’s son, Solomon, as king, in the book of 1st Kings, we see the building up of the kingdom, such that by chapter 10 of 1st Kings the nation of Israel experiences a Golden Age, and we’re left asking: is Solomon the king who was promised? Is he this son of God?

Well, chapter 11 of 1st Kings reveals that Solomon is led astray from God, he does evil in the eyes of the Lord, and despite the intervention of the Lord, Solomon does not turn from his ways. As such, it’s not long before this partial rebuilding of the kingdom begins to disintegrate.

This is Israel’s highpoint as a kingdom under a human king, and so the promise and the hope of 2nd Samuel 7 still awaits fulfilment, we still await to see how God will restore His kingdom, through a human king, who will also be a son of God, such that the people of God live under the rule of God, in God’s place, and enjoying God’s blessing.

It’s been a long story, and there’s still more to come, but what might we glean from Genesis 12 to 1st Kings 11?

One of the most striking things about this period of the biblical story is how so many parts of it leave us hanging, leave us wanting more, and leave the people of God wanting more. In the book of Leviticus, God lay down the means by which He, as a holy God, could continue to presence Himself amongst His imperfect people. They are given instructions on how to construct the tabernacle, the tent where the ark of God would dwell, which was a symbol of God’s holy presence. They were also given the sacrificial system. But there are limitations – only one person, once a year, could come into most holy place within the tabernacle. There is then a limitation of relationship, it’s only a partial restoration of what was in the garden of Eden,… and so a greater peace between God and humanity must come, and so the people of God are left wanting.

In the books of Numbers to Judges, we see a limitation of obedience by God’s people, we see God’s people displaying unbelief and wilful disobedience, again and again. They so often have a hard heart towards God and His ways and so there is only a partial restoration of God’s people: they are numerically there, but their hearts are still so often wayward. The people of God are left wanting.

And then in 1 Samuel to 1st Kings 11, we see a series of imperfect human kings, through whom only a partial restoration of God’s rule and blessing comes about, and then only for a short time in the reign of Solomon,… before quickly crumbling away. Once more, the people of God are left wanting and hopes are dashed.

And I wonder if you resonate with that lack, with that hunger for something greater: of greater intimacy with God, or of greater obedience to God’s ways, or for a greater king who offers true hope?

Now these may not have been the first things to jump to mind when you thought about what you lack, but if we’re honest, all of us have some degree of discontentment, some degree of awareness that something is lacking in our lives.

It may be that you lack peace in your soul. It may be that you have discontentment with your life,…
maybe especially in the relationships you have with others, or with infirmity. It may be that you lack hope and encouragement amidst the greatest challenges of life.

Friends, the discontentment, the hunger in our lives, is a sign of the brokenness of our world, and of our God-given sense that there is meant to be something more, something better, of a kingdom that has been lost.

That lack we feel also highlights that our man-made solutions are insufficient, they don’t truly meet our need.
We try to anaesthetise our lack of peace and contentment with stuff, with pleasure, with popularity. Similarly, we try to fix our broken relationships through guilt, through nagging, through manipulation and trying to get our own way.
But the discontentment of our souls has at its root a deep spiritual need and problem, and no man-made solution can address that, just as no mere human king could be the solution to restoring God’s kingdom, nor could an external Law change the heart of broken humanity, just as no animal sacrifice could cleanse the human conscience and restore full intimacy with God.

The discontentment we feel, as the discontentment the people of old felt, is a pointer beyond ourselves and our solutions, to something else, indeed to someone else.

And that someone else, as we’ll see in future weeks, is Jesus – for in Him, as we read in Romans, we find a descendant of David, but also the Son of God. In Jesus, as the apostle Paul outlines, we find someone who:
• Is the Christ, the promised King (v1)
• He has conquered death (v4)
• He rules in power as Lord (v4)
• This Jesus calls us and equips us by His ‘grace’ to ‘obedience’ – to live under God’s rule (v5)
• And He calls us into relationship with Himself – that we might be a people who ‘belong to Jesus Christ’ (v6)

Friends, in the midst of our discontentment, God is calling, calling us into deeper relationship with Himself through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Just as there was more for the people of God long ago, there is also more for us as well – there can be greater peace, greater contentment, greater depth of intimacy with God and greater hope for tomorrow.
Friends, where do you lack that discontentment? Where is the lack in your life? Too often I have allowed my discontentment to lead me into unhealthy choices and actions, and I encourage you not to do that, but to seek Jesus in the midst of your discontentment.

Yesterday, I heard a song that sums this idea up well. As we listen to it, bring the deep ache of your soul to Jesus. PLAY: “Falling Into You” – Sam Hibbard

Friends, may today be more than a history lesson, may we hear the call of God to turn our eyes to our heavenly King so that in Jesus we see the One who can meet the deep ache of our souls, for He is the One through whom the kingdom of God will come. To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 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 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
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.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.