No Excuse

Preached on: Sunday 15th August 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 21-08-15-Message-PPT-slides-multi-pages.
Bible references: Luke 14:15-24
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 the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and help us to follow after Jesus.
Holy Spirit, come among us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen

Have you ever been at a meal with friends or family maybe and at some point someone slips in a wee comment that changes the whole atmosphere? Have you ever been there? Maybe it’s a comment about politics like independence or how good a bad our job our Nicola is doing. Maybe it’s in relation to a thorny family issue or a very delicate personal matter. Well, in Jesus day it doesn’t seem like they had the old adage that we have of never talking about politics, sex, or religion at the dinner table, and I guess if you’re meeting with a bunch of religious leaders you’re going to talk about religion it surely is going to be on the agenda, and so our story today finds Jesus at the table with a Pharisee, a prominent Pharisee and he’s surrounded by other guests probably other Pharisees maybe other appropriate people, no riff-raff at this special occasion, and already if you flick back in your Bible and look at the earlier part of chapter 14 Jesus has already done some quite startling and said some quite startling things and you could literally cut the tension in the air, it’s that palpable, and, I guess, that’s what prompts one person at the dinner table to say a wee comment that just jars a little bit. He says ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” We might paraphrase this guest is saying ‘Brothers, brothers, despite our differences wouldn’t it be nice for us all to experience that great feast when the kingdom of God finally comes.’ Oh, awkward comment, because it seems Jesus is ready to kind of pounce on that, He’s ready to point out a number of false assumptions there, and so, he tells another parable

and in this particular parable Jesus is speaking of a certain man who is holding a great feast and he invites guests to be there. Now, in the culture of that day, when you invited guests to dinner you told them the day but you did not tell them the exact time, and this was because the host needed to find out how many guests were going to be there and then he or she would make sure there was enough food prepared. There’s no just walking down to Tesco for your burgers or venison or whatever it happens to be that you’re ordering that day, and so, just before the feast is ready, the host sends his or her servant to each of the guests to say ’That’s the meal’s ready, we’ve had the proper time so now’s the time to come to the banquet room.’ So, in other words, the people who were first invited and go to and they’ve actually said ‘I’m coming.’ they’ve already said they’re going to be there, the host is expecting them to turn up, and yet we find each guest making an excuse and that in itself and that culture would have been highly rude, and it’s made worse by their very poor excuses.

Now, Jesus doesn’t go into every excuse that every guest gives, He simply provides a sample of the kind of excuses.

And so, the first one says ‘I have just bought a field. I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Now, in our culture buying a house takes ages doesn’t it, really annoying, it took a long time in those days as well, and so this man would have had many opportunities to go and examine the land it was about to buy, and what’s more feast happened in the evening and the call to come would have been in the evening as well, and so he doesn’t really have much time to go and visit this field before it gets dark. It’s a ridiculous excuse,

and the second excuse is very similar ‘I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ now he’s very polite but you wouldn’t buy something before you tried it out especially oxen that you want to make sure have got the strength to pull through that field. Clearly this guest just does not want to be there.

Now, the third excuse sounds a little more sincere, a little more important, we might say. ‘U’ve just got married so I can’t come.’ but he’s not very polite isn’t he, and how often how many weddings do you know that happened just a little within days, none, they take weeks and months to organize and it was even worse back in those days because marriage feasts could take up to seven days, a seven-day party. This guest has known about the banquet invitation for a long time and yet they’ve chosen to disregard it, they’ve chosen to snub the host and take for granted this feast that they’ve been invited to. So, his excuse is pretty poor as well,

and friends, there’s much that we could take away from this parable today, but one of the first take home lessons and questions for us is whether we are making excuses towards God’s invitation. Again, and again Jesus issues us with an invitation to follow Him, to come to Him for forgiveness and new life, and by coming to Him and finding in Him what our souls desire, and need to lay down our lives for Him and, just in case you think I’m making this up, here’s some invitations from Jesus:

He says ‘The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news, come follow me’ that’s issued to every one of us without excuse. He goes on to say ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ there is a hunger and thirst in your soul that you will not find met by any other source. Have you come to Jesus? Have you allowed him to meet that deepest hunger and yearning of your soul and, key to all is, to know His forgiveness.? Jesus says ‘My blood is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. Could you say that you know your sins are forgiven, that you stand right with God? Can you say that, can you say it confidently? And then finally, Jesus says that if you’ve come to Him, if you know life through Him then actually, it will cost you. He says ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’

Friends, Jesus issues us all with an invitation and it’s not just an invitation that you can tick the box and just leave it aside until the time is convenient. Each day, every morning that you wake up is a new day to choose to follow Jesus, to choose to respond to Jesus. So, have you responded, have you responded and this is for every age from the youngest to the oldest, have you responded? and maybe you think ‘Well Scott, I’m in church, I’m in church, I’m watching at home, maybe that’s enough, that surely shows I’ve responded.’ Well Jesus says this elsewhere ‘Not everyone who says to me lord, lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will come to me and on that day, the judgment day, and say lord, lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons in your name, perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly ‘I never knew you.’

Friends, it’s possible to be very busy in church, it’s possible to be very regular in church and religious things, and to be religious on the outside and yet never properly respond to Jesus, and, just like with that uncomfortable guest who makes that awkward comment, it’s not enough to just say something nice, religious sounding, to have some nice pious sentiments, Jesus is not after that. He is after a people who know Him, who follow Him, and so they are known to Him too. Does that describe you, friends? Does that describe you? Are we people who make excuses? Do we make excuses? Do we keep Jesus at arm’s length?

In the parable each of the three excuses is a prioritization of something else above Jesus and the first two it’s simple materialism and we’re like ‘Well, I’m not like that. I’m not that bad.’ The third one is a bit quirky because it’s a marriage, it’s really important, God is really for marriage and yet, as we heard last week, to prioritize anything above Jesus, to delay responding to Jesus in preference for something else, well, that is the sin of idolatry, it’s making God second, and it’s turning something good into something bad. Are we people, are we a congregation, are we individuals who make excuses towards Jesus or do we respond to Him? Do we know Jesus and does He know us?

Because, if we’re pushing Jesus aside, if we’re prioritizing other things above Jesus, and snubbing His invitation then the parable does carry a warning ‘I tell you not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ The invitation isn’t open-ended, it’s not open-ended, there is a time to respond.

Are you responding to Jesus and that might look like something different from your life, to my life, or to the person you’re sitting next to.

Maybe you’ve never responded to Jesus and said ‘Jesus I want you as my lord and savior’ and maybe today is the day for that. Or maybe Jesus is calling you to a deeper level of faith, maybe he’s calling you to make a particular choice, maybe he’s calling you to volunteer and serve in a particular way, something way outside your comfort zone or to make Him the priority of your life above everything else, and maybe today is a day to do that and so before we go on to one final point in our sermon today I want to take a moment to pause and to give us an opportunity to respond now, before we leave those doors and forget what God has said in this moment. So, let us take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

So, what is God putting upon your heart? Where are you needing to respond? What’s His invitation to you today, or in recent days and weeks?

And if you’re needing to come to Jesus for the first time or you want to recommit yourself to Jesus and ask him to be your lord and savior then in the quiet of your heart pray this prayer with me

Lord Jesus I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong

please forgive me as i name them in the stillness as i name my sins

I turn lord from everything that i know is wrong

I thank you, you died on the cross for me so that i could be forgiven and brought home that I could be a daughter or son of the living God

come into my life by your spirit fill me now that i might choose you each and every day

thank you, Lord Jesus

And if Jesus is already your Lord where do you need to follow Him? Where is he calling you to step out or prioritize Him? Do you need to share your faith with someone? Do you need to volunteer in a certain way? Do you need to turn from a particular area of sin?

Let me pray for you.

Lord, whether to acquire it ever it may be you’re saying to us individually and collectively we ask for your grace your grace that gives power to equip us to help us walk your way to following your footsteps to grow in holiness to give ourselves over to you in increasing measure pour out your grace fell as a fresh lord that we may have your power and love and conviction and all that we need that we might glorify you in our day and in our lives for we ask it in Jesus name amen

so one final point before we we finish up for this morning and Jesus he was speaking originally to the pharisees and through the pharisees not only challenging them but challenging the wider nation because despite all the demonstrations of power that we’ve seen time and time again over the summer as we’ve looked at different passages these leaders and these the wider nation are not responding to Jesus in the way they should they fail to see what God was doing in their day and it’s tragic really because this is the moment they have been waiting for 400 years since the last prophet and here comes Jesus and they don’t see him for who he is here is the man the pharisees are purifying themselves for they were doing so because they yearned for God’s kingdom to come they were sacrificing so much to usher in the arrival of the messiah all the quicker and yet they don’t see what is right in front of them they don’t see it in the parable those first guests that the host goes back to they are actually the Jewish nation, the original invitees in the parable and incar they caught they’re contrasted with who comes later in the parable we talk about the poor and the such like the blind the lame the crippled and so in contrast to the poor there is the rich the original invitees and Jesus is portraying him in monetary terms but he’s actually speaking in spiritual terms because as Paul later reminds us he says this about Israel my people the people of Israel theirs is the adoption to sonship theirs the divine glory the covenants the receiving of the law the temple worship and the promises theirs of the patriarchs and from them is traced the human ancestry of the messiah who is God over all this is the Israelites spiritual heritage they’re spiritually rich they’re spiritually blessed and yet they don’t respond to the invitation of Jesus they don’t see in Jesus their messiah

and what does God do in the parable he goes to others he goes around those original invitees he goes around his people and invites the nations invites those who were less spiritually rich they did not have this heritage though some thankfully in Israel did turn to Jesus and part of the issue that holds them back is they expect God to behave in a certain way they had certain expectations because God had made rules and they interpreted those rules in a certain way and that as such the messiah had to behave in a certain way and Jesus doesn’t conform with their expectations if you go back in earlier and look Jesus heals on the sabbath and that was sinful in their eyes the messiah wouldn’t heal on the sabbath the messiah obeys the laws of God but it was the laws of God as interpreted by them and so they missed out on who was in front of them and what God was doing in their day and it makes me wonder brothers and sisters do i do we make ourselves blind to the activity of God do we only see God’s hand at work and as long as it happens within our expectations as long as God conforms to our self-determined limits

do we only honor God if we follow our rules in the box we’ve put God in I’ve been talking about that box for two and a half years

so for example this touches on all areas of church life and how the minister should dress if i was to rock up in a pair of white trainers one day would that cause a stir does that is that honoring to God or not in your frame of reference might do that one day just to see if it pushes your buttons and or in worship what we do here on a Sunday morning what is and isn’t honoring to God in your view how much of that actually conforms to the scriptures and how elders should perform their duties

in what we prioritize and spend our money on in the duties the minister should perform and then the number of pastoral visits he should do in x, y, z either this could go on

what happens if someone was to come up to me during worship and say i feel God’s given me a prophetic word to share and my preference would be i would share that if they told me and what happens if i said if someone feels there may be God saying this and i was to share that word could we handle that or would or can we only worship God within the boundaries we have set because of our experience or dare i say our tradition and speaking of traditions is it possible that the Church of Scotland is really the worst at this in some ways now I’ve grown up through the Church of Scotland and I’m committed to the Church of Scotland in many ways so I’m not just targeting us but we are quite bad at this we’ve got our way our presbyterian way we’ve exported it across the world and maybe it blinds us to what God might want to do in our day because we’ve got this rich spiritual heritage and it is a rich spiritual heritage is it in many ways a good spiritual heritage but does it blind us to what God might do does it inhibit does it undermine us even because i was listening to a podcast just this past week and the individual being interviewed said this sometimes a tradition will not pass on the flame it will hand you the ashes sometimes a tradition will not pass on the flame it will hand you the ashes

and it it wasn’t in reference to the church of scotland so this could be anywhere anyway any organization but we’re thinking about ourselves just now because i’ve said it before and i’ll keep saying it we’re a declining denomination we’re a declining church congregation despite recent members joining us and yet because of our inherited size it’s great the brightest is so big and because of our successes we’ve got youth organizations and we’ve got sunday school and we’re looking to have a youth worker because of these successes it can blind us to the reality that unless things change unless we discern what Jesus is doing and where he is leading us in our day then in a very short period of time we might have to make some very difficult choices just look at the volunteer needs that we emailed out this week nearly every section of sunday school needs help more than half of our sections across girls brigade and boys brigade need help pre-fives needs help i’ve just named every area of ministry that we do with children and young people and if we don’t invest in that we don’t have a church

now we could do something about that we could step out our comfort zone we could volunteer no matter our age or stage

but there’s a question in my mind is does something on our tradition hold us back our way of doing church because as i say we are declining nationally and still locally and we see churches in the braze facing the prospect of having to close

is it possible that our tradition is not passing on the flame of faith of passionate workers worshipers of Jesus who live in their community and speak of their faith in such ways that it captivates their neighbors and they want to follow Jesus or are we simply just passing on some ashes to the next generation

and that’s hard to hear

but you know church i believe i really do believe God is on the move i believe he wants to be on the move i believe he’s doing things in the last two and a half years we’ve changes have begun but they’ve been uncomfortable changes at times we’ve moved from from um elders districts to pass-through groupings and you might think that that’s just a name change but actually there’s much more that it could lead to and we tried to experiment a bit with that over the summer but you know what for whatever reason only a fraction of our congregation said they were up for that and there might be very good reasons we might not want to give our contact details to people we don’t know i understand that

but these are our church family

and yet we weren’t up for it and how many things in the last two and a half years could you say you’ve implemented from a sermon because i don’t just come up with hopefully some nonsense i try to pass on some things i think will help you that will equip us so like after last week’s sermon did you go and buy a book did you do anything with that sermon because that’s a really simple thing i’m not asking you to go and evangelize your neighbor buy a book read a story get inspired or four weeks ago just before my summer break i gave you two ideas for prayer one who are the two people you’re praying for to come to faith locally have you got your two people have you done anything with that because see if we don’t pray for people we’ll never care enough for people to invite them to church or the other prayer idea was um are you praying before you come to church because you’re coming with expectation did you pray this morning even if you’re at home by the way did you pray

or do you just take it as oh there goes scott again young annoying minister who keeps challenges and i’m getting really tired of the challenge does it go in one near and out the other do we forget it by the time we get to the church door because i think God tries to inspire me to talk on a sunday i’m hopefully not just waffling some war hot air so are we doing anything about it are we just ticking the box of the invitation

God’s i believe God friends i believe God is inviting us into something more to have faith we could never imagine and he’s trying to get our attention he’s trying to get us to change to take us deeper in faith and to fuller walk with him not only for our benefit yes he wants to to quench the thirst of your soul as Jesus said but through you through us he has got much in store for our parish and for the braze area and he wants them to come into the kingdom and know his loving grace he’s inviting us to partner with him and if we will not listen if we will not respond to that invitation he might do what he did in the parable and what he did in the life of Jesus in the church he might go round us he might go around us because his invitation must go out the kingdom seats must be filled

and so the choice is ours will we respond will we respond to what God is doing in our day and in our midst

i pray it may be so amen

Called and Empowered

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 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 here21-08-08 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:22-25
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 the word of God Holy Spirit come among us and help us to follow after Jesus Holy Spirit come among us with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen in the new testament we have four books on the life of Jesus Matthew mark Luke and John and they wrote it for a purpose I wonder what you would say their purpose was why did these authors write these books so if you feel able and you’re close enough to someone maybe turn to a neighbor and share with them just for 30 seconds the first thought comes to mind why did they write these books and if you’re at home and then do post something in the live chat so 30 seconds why did these authors write these books over to you

so

well I’m sure there are probably a many answers to that and we’ll see later on uh what comes up in the live chat about what people at home maybe thought if they feel able to share that but if I was to ask our wider community the parish I wonder what they might see I i wonder if they would describe these books as simply a means of passing on religious morals and stories I wonder if they would describe it as a kind of propaganda even I wonder even if I asked them do you think there’s any relevance in these books what they might say I suspect that many people would say no I suspect many people might say well there might be if you’re religious but there might even be some who say well this book is dangerous it’s oppressive even because over my summer break um I read this book it’s called a war of loves and it’s written by a celibate gay Christian and it partly describes his journey from hostile atheist to a passionate follower of Jesus and at one time he would have said the bible was dangerous and oppressive and he wanted nothing at all to do with Christianity but then he came face to face with Jesus and that changed everything friends we might summarize that the reasons for these books in the new testament as to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus and that is our purpose also as a church that the authors they wanted people to know about Jesus and by hearing about Jesus choose to follow Jesus and by choosing to follow Jesus recognizing then that needs some help to know how to follow Jesus and so they include material for that too they were willing to do this they were willing to prioritize this and to put their lives on the line because something changed their perspective just like that young author I read about the last two weeks they all met Jesus and by meeting him and learning to follow him their outlook on life changed forever our passage today is one of those moments one of those moments when the disciples themselves have their perspective on Jesus challenged and stretched if you look back in in the book of Luke chapter 5 that’s when Jesus called his disciples and since that point he’s mostly taught he’s done a couple of miracles and so probably in many people’s minds they’re beginning to think oh who is this guy who is this guy maybe he’s a prophet you know like prophets they challenge people and so Jesus is certainly causing a bit of a ruckus and challenging the religious leaders but prophets did miracles as well so maybe Jesus is just another prophet sure a great prophet but just another prophet but then one day Jesus tells his disciples they’re going to the other side of the lake and among these disciples are some experienced fishermen so the journey’s not unfamiliar and they know how to handle a boat and so off they go not giving it a second thought and at some stage in the sale things are so calm that Jesus he falls asleep in in the book and the disciples continue on with the task of getting them to the other side maybe they’re they’re talking maybe they’re thinking about all they’ve seen and heard and about this individual who now rests in their midst and then at some stage a squall a windstorm comes upon them and that wasn’t unusual in that particular area because the surrounding topography created those kind of events but it’s a particularly bad one these experienced fishermen are scared for their lives and so they cry out to Jesus master master we’re going to drown

upon waking and assessing the situation Jesus calls out to the wind and to the waves he speaks to them and the storm suddenly dies down and all becomes calm the disciples are left feeling both fear and amazement and they say to one another who is this he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him is he just a teacher is he a prophet is he maybe something more because they would have known from the old testament that God is described this way you rule over the surging sea when its waves mount up you steal them who is this who is this amongst the disciples what appears to be God God in human form because he has authority and power and if you look on in that same chapter the next three stories reinforce this Jesus has power and authority over nature over the spiritual forces of darkness over illness and even over death and in time the disciples would journey with Jesus and see him die upon the cross be buried but then raised to life again and though this would convince them that he is the son of God in human form and they would be willing to share this at risk to their life even imprisonment and death because they were fully persuaded that Jesus is God he is God in human form with all power and authority and the apostle Paul would one day write about this to the church in Colossae saying the son is the image of the invisible God in him all things were created he’s before all things and in him all things hold together he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him friends who is Jesus to you who is Jesus to you and might I ask what or who has supremacy in your life the disciples in our story were asked by Jesus where is your faith where is your faith basically in whom or in what is your faith we’ve all placed it somewhere our new members today they affirm that their faith is in Jesus that he alone is God he has supremacy in their life they take off the crown and give it to Jesus he’s their lord he’s their king he’s the one to whom they give control of their lives because he has all power and authority he’s more than a mere prophet or teacher so who is Jesus to you and what has supremacy in your life in our local community there were many answers to both of those questions some people might say that it’s work or success or popularity that has supremacy that’s the aim of life that’s what you have to aim for some people will prioritize family should have supremacy in your life for some individuals it will be circumstances or a particular experience which will define their identity a loss a an illness a really negative experience that’s what defines their life that’s what defines their values that defines their future and still others that I’ve met within our community they will turn and say supremacy is found in darker spiritual forces like tarot card reading or maybe a group that they belong to that group is the place that gives them identity and that group has the supremacy that group tells them what they can and can’t do so what are who is Jesus to you and what or who has supremacy in your life because the claim of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God he alone is God and as such he should have first place in our lives and to have anything else above Jesus is to commit the sin of idolatry and you know we can turn even good things into idols because as John Calvin reminds us the human heart is a perpetual idol factory we just turn out idol after idol even the good things and we put other things before Jesus so friends who is Jesus to you and will you allow him to have supremacy in your life now don’t think this is just for folks who are new to church or folks who don’t come to church because this was an important lesson for the disciples to learn to they needed to learn this to do what Jesus asked them to do next because if you go on in the book of Luke we read this when Jesus had called the twelve together he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill Jesus who is God in the flesh who has all authority and power he delegates some of that power and authority to his disciples now we might say well that was just a 12. well go on to the next chapter what do we see the lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go the 72 returned with joy and said lord even the demons submit to us in your name so he gives power and authority to the 12 and to the 72 and can you imagine being one of those disciples can you imagine it one of the fun things to do with scripture is to imagine yourself there can you imagine it Jesus comes along and says hey could you go and heal someone hey could you go and cast out that demon what would be your reaction would you be all cool calm and collected I think inside I’d be slightly freaking out I’d be like really me and when you left and you came across that first unwell or demon-possessed person how ready and willing would you be to do what Jesus has done to give it a show like imagine that standing in front of that person and knowing that Jesus has sent you to do what he’s been doing imagine that would you feel up for it if you do it right now

suspect many of us wouldn’t

and to for those disciples to be willing to follow through on that call from Jesus they needed to know that Jesus was more than a mere man and they needed to be committed to hem more than to their own comfort because they were going to have to get out their comfort zone and to more than what seemed possible because to the rational mind this is just crazy now why am I bringing this up well often I think our perception of what it means to follow Jesus is quite limited we limit it to verses or ideas that we are comfortable with and we push aside a greater vision of Jesus and a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus one author put it this way it’s a wee bit jargony but it’s worth reading it is a tragedy that the Christian religion is in many minds identified merely with pious ethical behavior turning up to church saying prayers and vague theistic beliefs you know some weird ideas about God suffused with aesthetic emotionalism so it makes you feel better and a male glow of humanitarian benevolence so you end up doing some good stuff for your neighbor this is not the faith which first awakened the world like a thousand trumpets and made people feel it blessed to be alive in such a dawn at one time people knew what Christianity really was the entrance is the history of a force of immeasurable range

what does it mean to follow Jesus to you is it about morals is it about knowing some good stories and turning up to church is it about being a good neighbor is it about making you feel better what does it mean to follow Jesus because those things aren’t necessarily bad they’re just not the whole picture because Jesus later on by the same author says you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth the church apparently has power if you follow Jesus you have a power within you to be his witness now why is that important why am I laboring this well if we reduce Christianity to morals and old stories and religious duty and a warm fuzzy blanket then we rob Jesus of glory and we rob ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus because today we heard one of our promises that many of us have made one of our membership promises and it says this do you promise depending on the grace of God to profess publicly your loyalty to Jesus christ to serve him in your daily work and to walk in his ways all the days of your life and in our last teaching series if you remember on grace we learned that grace is intrinsically tied to God’s power and here in this context of this promise is the power to equip us in the power to sustain us and without a greater vision of Jesus and without a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus we will not publicly profess our loyalty to Jesus we will shy away from that oh I’m not a Christian I don’t go to church and we will never invite anyone else to know Jesus because we will shy away from it because we will not rely on God’s power and our children and our children’s children will not walk in his ways all the days of their lives if again we and they don’t learn to rely on the one whose power can steal the storms and his power now resides in you and me we need to recover a Christianity that is more than turning up to church being nice because if that’s all that is I’m walking out the door and not coming back because I cannot be bothered with that and you know too many of us are not like this with our faith we are timid and many of our young people are timid because we’re not passing on to them a faith that makes them anything otherwise we’re timid in our faith and it’s got nothing to do with being an introvert or an extrovert so please don’t give me that excuse it has more to do with our conviction of who Jesus is and who we are as his disciples do we really under believe he’s God with all power and authority do we really believe that we are called and empowered to be witnesses and make known the kingdom of God

will we keep our faith in Jesus and hold on to his promises and allow him to have supremacy in our lives even over our comfort or what seems possible or will we become fearful the disciples became fearful in this story because they did not hold on to the promises God made God in Jesus he said they were going to the other side it wasn’t a wish this was going to happen this was a promise but when surrounded by that storm they forgot what he said and they were gripped by fear rather than by faith are we a church who are gripped by fear or by faith are we laying hold of God’s word even the uncomfortable bits or do we minimize Jesus and what it means to follow him to what is familiar and comfortable and by doing that are we robbing Jesus of glory and are we robbing ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus you know over the years i’ve learned different ways to help me have a broader vision of Jesus and nurture ways that help me understand more of Jesus and what it means to follow him and there are there are various things but you’ll not be surprised by now that I’m going to recommend you some books are my thing I like reading stories and usually once a year I try and read a book that is more about someone else’s story and so the recent book was a war of loves but I could recommend you book after book here or something chasing the dragon red moon rising God smuggling a war of loves as I’ve mentioned surprised by the power of the spirit or the hiding place these are real people’s stories across the decades across situations demographics countries but they all tell a real life story of how someone met with Jesus and by meeting with Jesus their vision of Jesus was enlarged and they were helped to hold on to the promises that are there in scripture friends maybe your one take away from today is to go get one of these books and have a read and then come back to me with your questions because I’m sure there’ll be some there’s more to Jesus there is more to following Jesus than what any of us know and if our perspective of Jesus is to grow if our self-understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is to mature if we are to have boldness to live for Jesus and our readiness to let him have the supremacy in our lives then we need to get to know Jesus better and we need to get to know his promises and his word better and hold on in faith to him and to those promises. I pray

Joshua: dare to dream

Preached on: Sunday 25th April 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 here21-04-25 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer as we approach His , let us pray

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, equip us for the purposes of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

Someone once said “I have a dream.” a dream” that was fueled by faith, a dream that was an outworking of relationship with the living God and which sought for change to come upon the earth so that the kingdom of God would be seen in that day.

Friends, do we have a dream? Do we have a dream for how our faith might be worked out today? Do we have a dream for the future of our church family and, if you were to try and answer that, would it be about survival or would it be tied to buildings? Because, honestly, I’m not really sure God’s very interested in mere survival or even our buildings, because he is allowing buildings and congregations to close in our nation.

So, if you were to try and share a dream for how your faith might be worked out or a dream for our church family, any dream must further God’s purposes, it must further the commission given to us by Jesus when he said to His church “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Friends, do we have a dream that is more than simply about survival and about ourselves? Do we aspire, do we yearn, do we hope for others to come to know the living God? Because, brothers and sisters, in the last two years since I’ve been here, the number of people who have come forward with an idea or have articulated a yearning for the commission of Jesus to be worked out in our day, the proportion who have done this is quite small. Now, why is that?

There could be any number of reasons as to why, and in previous sermons I’ve tried to speak into some of the different possible issues, but today I want to speak into something different, something that has to be there for anyone to be able to say “I have a dream.”

In our passage today we see an incredible moment in the history of God’s people where they cross over into the promised land but I think we kind of gloss over this passage almost. So, let’s take a minute just to familiarize ourselves with the details.

Here are a great multitude of God’s people, more than can be counted, and they are to cross the Jordan in the springtime when the snows on Mount Hebron would have melted and the spring rains had come, so the river Jordan is at its fullest, highest point. In modern times this would be about 10 feet deep and at the point of crossing about a hundred foot wide. Maybe in their day it was less, maybe it was more, but either way, God, through Joshua, foretells that an amazing thing is going to happen, for Joshua says “See the ark of the covenant of the Lord will go into the Jordan ahead of you and as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord set foot into Jordan its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” and then going on to verse 16 we see that the water from upstream stopped flowing, it piled up in a heap, a great distance away at a town called Adam. Now, we are not familiar with the geography so we make just about nothing of this, but Adam was 18 miles away from where they crossed, so God just created 18 miles of dry land for this great multitude to cross. I don’t know what your mental picture of the river crossing was, but mine wasn’t 18 miles across, a hundred foot wide river was it – was it yours? God did do the amazing thing Joshua foretold in verse 5 because God is a wonder working God, and his ancient people knew this. Likewise, when Jesus came, the disciples saw how he transformed people’s lives, how he brought freedom and salvation and hope and joy. God’s people, in the time of Joshua, might not know how they were going to cross the Jordan, and the disciples might not know how Jesus was going to fulfill His mission, and the church after Pentecost might not how it was going to take the Gospel to the nations, but in those previous times they knew God to be this wonder working God, because he’s the living God, the Lord of all the earth, such that all authority and power are His for anyone to claim, as Joshua did. That the Lord will do amazing things for anyone to claim that they have a dream inspired by faith then there needs to be expectation that God cares, that He is powerful and that He is present and works through His people. I wonder friends, do we have that same expectation and confidence?

Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t think God does the incredible or maybe we doubt our calling to partner with Him, to bring about the incredible, but do you remember what Jesus said in John 14 he said “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

Too often I think, these words scare us and so we try to downplay them, we reduce them to nice human ability things like caring and love and sharing the good news. But do you know that even those things are beyond mere human ability, because who amongst you is ready to say you love like Jesus or that you have the boldness of Jesus to share the good news. I’m not so, why did we reduce this to a mere minimal thing?

Jesus says we “will do even greater things” and the context is about making Jesus and the Father known. We can make Jesus known in many ways, through praying for the miraculous, through sharing the good news, through care and love and service, but the point is that Jesus evidenced all those things and so we too should evidence all those things, that it can and should and must include every way of making Jesus known.

Maybe we don’t have a dream because we don’t expect greater things. Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t really trust Jesus as the living God. Maybe we don’t dream because our aspirations are too low.

In the book I’m going to get you to read hopefully over the summer Francis Chan says “We need to expect more. We’ve become too easily satisfied. We’re content if a person leaves, pleased God wants them out. We have settled for the natural and our choices give little evidence that we believe in the Holy Spirit. For this reason we end up with gatherings that are very explainable and at times feel mechanical and even obligatory.”

The people of God, in Joshua’s day, expected more. They walked towards that river not knowing how God would do it, but knew He had promised to do it, do amazing things, greater things. Friends, do we need to up our expectation of God and dream again? But maybe we’d say “Well you know Scott, it was really easy for the Israelites because you know they had the Ark.” The Ark was a symbol of God’s presence. Israel understood it to be a representation of God’s royal throne and his footstool, not that God’s presence was located there alone, but it pointed away from itself to remind the Israelites that, though God was invisible, he was still there and he could still do things with overwhelming power, unlike the idols of other nations, and with such a visible reminder we might say “Well it was easy for them to expect more.”

Likewise we might say it was quite easy for the early church because after all the very presence of God became human and they saw the miraculous before their eyes. “Easy for them.” we might say. But friends, this is to forget what is different about our time and theirs. They didn’t have the scriptures like we do. They didn’t have access to worldwide testimony from over thousands of years now like we do. But, most importantly of all, God’s presence was identified with an Ark and then with individuals, ultimately Jesus, because up until that point, there was no way for people at large, God’s people at large, to receive the Holy Spirit, but let’s remember what Jesus goes on to say immediately after He spoke about the greater things He said this “I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth.”

To each person who claims faith in Jesus, to everyone who says they have called upon Jesus for salvation, they have received the Holy Spirit, the question then is “Will we believe God’s word or not?” and if we will trust it, will we allow it to shape our thinking and our identity and so our expectations and actions.

I could share stories of how in recent months God’s Spirit has been at work amongst us as a congregation, of one woman who had an electricity problem and the Spirit guided her to the problem which would have only been found out when the house burned down; I’ve never heard of that one before, but I was rejoicing!; or how God through His word has been shaping people’s lives and bringing great things about in their lives; or how someone placed a hand on someone and prayed for someone and God brought new life to be.

Friends, maybe we don’t expect much, maybe we don’t dream because we don’t realize what it is to be a Christian. The apostle Paul said “We are carefully joined together in Jesus becoming a holy temple for the Lord; through him you also are being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit now all glory to God who is able through His mighty power at work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” We might not have the Ark but we have the Holy Spirit amongst us and within us. Maybe it’s time we let the scripture shape our thinking, our identity, so we might start to dream of the greater things that God might do among us for his purposes?

There’s one extra thing to draw from our passage today for our commission. Sure, the people had a great leader like Joshua, and they had the Ark amongst them, and they knew God was the living God and a wonder working God, but, nevertheless, they still had to obey, they had to step out in faith. You can almost imagine, or at least I imagine, the priests carrying the Ark, walking towards the water getting ever close to that water’s edge, and someone turning to the other guys and saying “Hey Dave, do you think this will really happen because it seems mental!” You can clearly tell they were from Whitburn! Like “Come on!” or imagine being one of the people crossing the river and you’re just waiting for this water to start rushing down and carry you away, like they still had to journey and faith across that river bed, they had to obey, but is that the point. Where they were called to, first call to faith and obedience, the point of the crossing?

The answer is “No!” because in verse 5 Joshua says “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Consecrate yourselves – we gloss over those two words. What does that mean? and yeah it would have included things they were to stop doing and certain things they were to do and probably neither of those groups are things that we could apply to our time, but to consecrate yourself, to consecrate anything, was to give yourself to God’s purposes, to give yourself over to God and so when consecration is about an individual, is about the heart, is your heart given over to God, is your heart responding in faith, is your heart responding in obedience to the Lord? That’s where it began for Israel, the day before the miracle, and it included mundane things like washing clothes, apparently, and abstaining from good things, denying themselves, because you don’t see the miracle without faith, but faith begins in the ordinary everyday rhythms of life.

So, what about us friends? Where do we need to consecrate ourselves afresh? Where do we need to give ourselves to the purposes of God today? Because, here’s another thing, thrown lots at you this morning, here’s another thing, the Israelites one of consecration, big miracle, but Jesus doesn’t say how often the greater things will happen and if you’re reading through the New Testament plan with us it’s almost like it happened every day for the new, the early church. So, every day is the potential for greater things, and so every day there’s the call of God to consecrate yourself and maybe for you, it’s giving time to the Lord in prayer and in His word. Maybe for you it’s giving your money to the purposes of the Lord. Maybe for you it’s choosing to become a member here and saying God I’m in this with these people, for this area, for your purposes. Maybe it’s coming to the Prayer Meeting. Maybe it’s getting involved and serving in some way and sharing a new idea even, the specifics are between you and the Lord but most likely every one of us is called in some way to consecrate ourselves afresh.

Friends, if we are to have a dream, if we are to begin dreaming again of what God’s purposes might be in our day, then we must begin to expect greater things, we must have faith in the living God, not a God of an old book who we think is just a wee dream or a child story, that His presence is amongst us and within us, and that He is calling us, even today, to give ourselves for His purposes.

So why don’t we respond in faith just now and let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we don’t know all that this might mean for us and it probably brings a whole load of feelings to the surface, I know it did for me Lord when just this past week I felt You’d call me to step out and lay a hand on and pray for someone,

and it was super scary,

but You’re the one there working, God, and You’re the living God and You call us to give ourselves to You and Your purposes. Lord, may we hold nothing back, may we give You our all and may we go in Your strength, Your power, Your Spirit’s power at work in us and through us. Lord give us ears to hear this day to where You’re calling, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Peter introduction (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 2nd March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon
Bible references: John 1:35-51
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Hi everyone, welcome to Tuesday evening sermon here from Brightons Parish Church. It’s really great to share in this time with you tonight.

We do have something a little bit different tonight and in the coming months probably up until around about Summer, July time, and we’ll be looking at the life of Peter, but it’s not going to be me that’s taking you through that journey, my good friend Gordon Elliot who preached the first Sunday of January and started our series in Philippians.

Gordon is coming back each month to lead us through this study in the life of Peter and Gordon will lead us through that. Bringing a word each month and just to try something new, something different to give us a different voice, to give someone of a different age and experience to myself and to take us through a series over that time, and to give space from month to month to reflect to put things into practice, then come back and get a little bit more input on that theme, and I think that what Gordon will share will also tie into where we’re at as a church, where we’re at with our Values and our Purpose, as well.

So I’m going to hand over to Gordon now and invite him to come and lead us in our first sermon with him tonight.

Can I say wherever you are and whoever you are, thank-you so much for this invitation to take part in your monthly home group bible studies. It’s all a strange experience for me standing up here and only just talking to Scott, but he assures me there are people out there.

Over the next few months, once a month, we’re going to just be looking at the life of Peter and that will also include some of the other disciples and people that he meets etc, but that’s generally the thrust it will be through the life of Peter, but before we read together let’s just pray together.

Father, we thank You that Your word is not just a time in history about a people or people, individuals, that we know or think we know, but we just pray that You would help us to see ourselves in and through them, as to what You taught them, that You might teach us.

We again just thank You for the open bibles that we have and just pray Your richest blessing on our times together in Jesus name, Amen.

Our reading, our first reading is going to be in John chapter 1. John chapter 1 and reading from verse 35.

John’s disciples follow Jesus. “The next day John was there again”, that John, of course is John the Baptist, “with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by he said “Look the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around Jesus saw them following and asked “What do you want?” They said “Rabbi (which means Teacher) where are you staying?” “Come here” He replied “and you will see.” So they went and saw where He was staying and they spent that day with him.” this wasn’t just going to be a brief conversation. “It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him “We found the Messiah (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. “Nazareth! Can any good thing come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said to him “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” Jesus said “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added “Very truly I tell you. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

So, these are our some of our first introductions to some of the disciples and very briefly to them, to Peter himself.

Almost two years ago my wife and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary and we were over in Ireland at the time. Our eldest daughter and her family live over there and our son and his family, who actually live in Spain, they had come over. Likewise so, my youngest daughter and unfortunately she was even further afield in Vietnam so she couldn’t join us, but we were going to have a family reunion with just one or two friends and they had organized just like what we thought, my wife and I thought a get-together for lunch, and we went down to the church where I used to be the pastor to pick up the wife of the friend that was going to take us to Ballymena, not far out of Belfast, and we went into the church and waited and then to our shock and amazement, I can tell you it was a shock and amazement, 80 people just suddenly appeared from round the corner.

We had been caught out and caught on. We had no idea that this had been planned. I presume we thought our kids didn’t have it in them, but they obviously did, and even the grandchild, nobody had spilled the beans, we got no wind of it, and as we looked around these people, and got over the sense of shock and surprise, I looked around and just looked at some of the faces. Most of them I did recognize, one or two had grown older like myself, but some of them I hadn’t seen for years, and I mean in years, but what we could say about all of them, they were all friends.

Where we had become friends were quite different. Some were through the church in the Antrim Baptist where I’d been the minister; thers woere family friends and even to our bigger surprise was Margaret’s nephew and his wife, flew over from Bristol just to be with us. But that’s another another story.

But as we looked around, all the memories that were stirred, memories that were happy memories, that were difficult. Here were people that I had ministered to and ministered with and it’s very hard sometimes to look back and you see people’s faces and you know a lot about them that nobody else knows. That’s one of the privileges, sacred privileges, of being a minister.

But I wonder if you’ve ever taken stock of your friends? Whether they be friends in the church. And you’re longing to see people again like most of us? Or whether it’s people in your neighborhood or people that are away from you? To take stock of how your friendships came about. What were your first impressions?

Because we’re going to look a bit about the first impressions of Peter. Because when you look at the disciples that we’re going to look at, initially they were a real motley crew and you sometimes can look and wonder “Why did Jesus pick them?

As I looked at these friends of ours, and some of them had had really difficult backgrounds and I went through some very tragic and very difficult pastoral situations with them, but they’ve now become very close friends, not all of them, but all of them we know and we were astounded.

I wonder if you’ve ever sat down, now I’ve never done this, but I wonder if you’ve ever sat down and tried to count the number of friends you have or people that you know or even more so, how many people you’ve actually met and known over the last 50 years, the last number of years? Now that just is probably totally out of order, I wouldn’t even attempt to do it because you’ll notice that some people that have come into your life stay in your life and they become good friends, and a lot of these people they had been in my congregation, so it was more like a pastor and his flock, or some of them where now it’s very much I’m no longer a pastor there, but it’s now very much people or myself and people who are very strong friends, and you build relationships.

Now, when you look at the apostles, and we’re obviously not going to look at them all and we’re not going to even look at a lot of Peter’s life tonight – yes it would be tonight wouldn’t it that as to How did they come to Jesus?

Have you ever asked even your close friends How did you find Jesus? How did you come to know Jesus?

Now, we can get so used to people that we think we know, but during these days of pandemic, when we’re away and longing to just meet with people, maybe you need to think again and say I wonder how so-and-so found Jesus? and prepare some questions. You don’t have to wait until the pandemic’s over. You might wait a while but you could always text them, email them, phone them, and just ask after the bible study How did you come to know Jesus? and it may be told, you may be totally shocked but ask questions of your friends, ask questions of the people that you would normally worship with, or others that are outwith this congregation but part of another congregation, and it’s very interesting when you see even briefly n the portion that we read together, the different ways that they came to know Jesus.

You’ve actually got Andrew and John, John the brother of James, Andrew the brother of Peter, they heard a preacher, that preacher was John the Baptist, and it was just some words that he said as he pointed to Jesus who was obviously in the background said “Behold the Lamb of God” and he went on to say and describe later on “who takes away the sin of the world” and Andrew and John left John the Baptist and followed Jesus, and they spent some time with them. We don’t know exactly how long.

Some people just don’t have the time or don’t want to make the time but perhaps again it’s a time for you to get to know Jesus, to get to know what he’s done in your life, what he’s done in other friends life. So you need to spend not just a passing few moments but some time now. We don’t know what the conversation was all about but one thing we do know is the result of the conversation, they found that this was Jesus the Messiah. They heard a preacher John who then led them to Jesus and what Jesus said to them as I said we don’t really know, but we know that they had found Jesus.

The influence of sermons, the influence of preachers, the influence of people who have this tremendous power into our lives, to bring us to Jesus.

I don’t know, again I hardly know any of the people here, so I don’t know how you found Jesus, and perhaps it’s worthwhile looking back whether you’re young or whether you’re old, to look at the influences on your life.

People heard a preacher, and then as we go into Peter himself it wasn’t so much the preacher he heard at this time but he heard a testimony, he heard the testimony of Andrew his younger brother, well we think he was his younger brother, and John, and he just says “We found him the Messiah.” So they heard a testimony that would probably be more my initial way of coming to Jesus.

I worked in the civil service many years ago and I was really, I’m trying to think how old I was, but it was many years ago anyway, and it was through the testimony of two people I worked with. They belong to the Salvation Army in Leith in Edinburgh and it was their lives and their works. One was a young typist girl and she was actually leaving the office. She was only there for a few months but she was going on to train to be a Salvation Army Officer. Now I’ve never heard anybody speaking the way they spoke about Jesus and their faith, but I had a testimony and through their testimony I started to go and attend the Salvation Army in Leith and that’s where I became a Christian.

How did you find Jesus? Was it somebody witnessing to you? Was it someone even in your family, even as a child your Sunday school teacher, who they might not regard themselves as preachers, but in one sense they are bringing the Word of God?

It’s very interesting to find out the different ways that people have found Jesus. We’ll come back to that at the very end.

So some heard a preacher, some heard a testimony and, when it comes to Nathaniel and Philip, they were, it was quite different again. With them it was almost as though the Lord spoke directly to them. Perhaps they’re not used to that, that somebody says “You know how I found Jesus, because He spoke to me.”

I was reading the Bible which is His Word and through that message I found Him.

You could almost say that Nathaniel also was really spoken to by Philip’s testimony.

What’s also interesting, and we maybe haven’t got too much time to go into it all, you take it for yourself, but what did they hear about the Lord. I’ll just touch on it briefly later on.

And some of the phrases that are used even in this short passage. So, they heard the Lord.

Some needed time. John and Andrew just wanted time to spend with Jesus and to hear what he said and those words that John the Baptist said “Look the Lamb of God” and that’s what drew them. To find out what did he mean.

Now imagine the conversation, don’t be afraid to imagine what they talked about, and I’m sure it wasn’t just about the weather and I’m certainly sure it was not just about COVID etc. So, that’s all we seem to talk about nowadays.

They wanted to hear Jesus but through His word, through His message, not only did they find Jesus, but they started to testify and to witness to Jesus, and to Andrew. It was to his brother and we’ll look at this again in a moment. They were very different, as many brothers are very different.

Take this time take this time to ask yourself and to find out or to remind yourself who was influential in my life. Who was influential in other people in the congregation in their lives. What’s our first impressions of these disciples?

Well, as I said earlier, when you look at them and when you look at them later on we don’t hear an awful lot about Nathaniel and Philip but you really at times wondered what was Jesus thinking of in asking them to become His disciples, to join with Him, to lead the ministry with them. And you may look at some people around your church, in your congregation, you’re thinking Well there’s not much in them. I can’t understand why Jesus would have called them. Because you don’t see what the Lords maybe doing in someone else’s life. Ask them, because these are the people they may not be the closest of friends but they’re the people you worship with, or people who are your friends and who have had a lasting impression upon you, and you are now good friends, like some of the 80 people that we met at our surprise golden wedding celebration, but not everybody’s like that, You obviously know that Peter and Andrew and John, Nathaniel and Philip and others of the disciples, were bonded together as this group.

But you know, not everybody stayed together. Have you ever looked around the church and wondered where is so and so, I haven’t seen them for a while, and yet I thought they were going on well with the Lord. But if you read through the Scriptures you see people that literally just pass, almost pass through Jesus’s life, and we don’t know what happened after that.

Take for example Zacchaeus, now he obviously heard something, maybe it was from other tax collectors, but he was so keen to see Jesus. Being small, he did what was really unacceptable for a man of his standing to, climb a tree and he just thought he was hidden because nobody wanted to know him, but Jesus did, and after that incident we don’t know what happened. You ever wondered what happened to Zacchaeus after? What about the little boy that brought his loaves and fish? What happened to him afterwards? No doubt he went home to his mum and said “See that lunch pack you gave me today, do you want me to tell you what happened to it?” Oh yeah, what happened to him after that? We just do not know.

And there must be people in your life, as there are people in my life, that they’ve been part of my life at one time, they may have even had an influence and I have no idea what they’re doing now years ago.

I used to play tennis, not very well, l but I played with this guy and it was only years later I found out he was a Christian, and I really went at him, not roughly, and said “You never ever told me that you were a Christian.” I wasn’t at the time were probably that busy trying to play tennis and his now wife was in my classes at high school, he wasn’t, he was a couple years younger, but he’d never said anything until we met later at some Christian meeting. He had never shared a thing with me.

But, of course, it’s not up to us to even be those witnesses. The Lord can move in our hearts. So, search through the Bible and look for some other characters and thinking what happened to so-and-so and maybe do a Bible search and you might be find you don’t know anyway. Those are the first people that we we’re looking at tonight and yes just think what are your impressions. What are your impressions about Peter?

We’ll certainly look more at him in days to come and months to come, but the people they were, and, again, we’re not going to spend a lot of time in this, but when you look at them and you see them, and they were young people, not terribly young well as far as we know there was no one as old as me, I don’t know, but no I don’t think they would have been but when you look at their characteristics, there’s that Peter, now we know that Jesus even here calls him the Rock but you know he was a coward. There were times when he really was a miserable coward. Liar, swore and cursed, and he had a boldness with him. Sometimes he opened his mouth just too soon and too quickly. A boldness, but he was also a denier.

You know when we look around at one another in any fellowship none of us are perfect and we can undermine one another and somehow I think that we should all be on a perfect road of following Jesus and then you’re shocked to hear of someone who well “I never thought that would come out of his mouth, I never thought he would ever do something like that” but we do. You don’t know my life, I don’t know your life, thankfully.

But here the first impressions of Peter and those impressions go on through the different gospels I don’t know if I’d wanted him on my team until you realize what the Lord did in his life.

Look at other people through Jesus eyes and there may be someone that you know in this congregation that just needs that encouragement, needs that word, to just draw alongside them and help them to grow in their faith. When you look at the two brothers, well Peter and Andrew very different – Peter this bold, brash, sometimes very insecure, sometimes as cowardly – and Andrew who seems to be very quiet, I would reckon, because I don’t know him that muc,h but trying to read into the passages he seemed to have more stability and he was certainly an evangelist. Everytime you see Andrew he’s leading or pointing someone to Jesus. The brothers were very different and obviously Andrew lived in the shadow of his brother, but there doesn’t seem to be that spark of jealousy, he wasn’t one of the top three.

So, remember as you look around your congregation, as you look into your own life, you may not be one of the top three or one of the top 103. Does that matter? It’s who you are and the characteristics that you have. So, you’ve got this quiet, perhaps timid, young man.

You’ve got these fiery brothers, sons of thunder, John and his brother James. Again, I may be misjudging, but perhaps Philip was a bit uninspiring. We don’t hear very much about him.

Nathaniel, we again don’t hear very much about him, but what if you read into it seems as though Philip and Nathanael were friends and very perhaps very possibly met together for Bible study because when you read together, let me find it again,

Yes down in verse 41 the first thing Andrew did was find his brother and he brought him to Jesus, And the next day you find Philip and Nathaniel, and Philip found Nathaniel, and told him “We found the one Moses wrote about in the law.” Had they been discussing something through the Old Testament over that week. We don’t know, but it looks as though they were and about whom the prophets also wrote Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph and it looks as though they were a couple and maybe others who were just looking and searching in the word of God.

Read between the lines and don’t worry if it never happened, you’ll never know until you get to heaven, but read what’s not there and see how these people were going to be molded and then when you do this, these are all sermons in themselves, but when you see what words they came out, just in this short period of time, as I said Andrew said to Peter “We found the Messiah, the promised one” Incredible. John the Baptist said to Andrew and John “the Lamb of God”.
Nathaniel picked up the theme “You are the Son of God. The King of Israel.”

Philip picks up the fulfiller of prophecy, you know, take time to read what these men were being impressed with. What there was happening in their lives.

Again, let me take you back to my church in Northern Ireland and Antrim. When I look not just with friends that we had in Northern Ireland, when I look at some of the people, then when I first got to know them, and not really know them, you can look with a bit disdain or a bit critical. Believe it or not, even ministers do that.

There was a guy called Bertie, big tall guy, he was a policeman actually he was quite high up in the police. I won’t mention other family names but he won the Queen’s Medal for Gallantry and they don’t just hand those out. I don’t know all the incidents but it was still quite impressive and yet when I looked at Bertie, and we still look at Bertie, he was one of the people that they were at the 80 they traveled over from Donegal, and I didn’t recognize them at all, but I didn’t have I would have put it. When I looked at Bertie in those first days he didn’t impress me as a particularly spiritual man, and not terribly critical and he was, I think never at the prayer meeting, and perhaps, because of his duties, he didn’t get too involved in church life, perhaps because of the job he did, but you know that man and his wife, who was a nurse, now live in the Republic of Ireland and minister not as a minister but as Christians in an area where there are very few Christians, and they’ve gone through really difficult times, but they are a very spiritual couple.

Who am I to make impressions or to feel impressions that become totally wrong?

Another friend called David, still see him from time too, and he’s a right laugh, he’s one of these people when you get together he and his wife and me and my wife, you always have a good laugh together. When he was younger his mother seemingly took him to the doctor thinking there was something seriously wrong with them because he couldn’t speak. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, but he was no academic, he was no big top-notch theologian, but he ended up with his wife, as missionaries to Peru. My first impressions and still my impressions of David “How did he ever get through Bible College?” but he did.

Your impressions can be wrong, but when you get to know people.

There’s another David, and when we first got to know him, he was really a bit of a mixed up kid, but he spent a lot of time coming to our house some nights they think “Oh no, we’re going to be here all night” – he needed a lot of help but he was seeking. Now that David and his wife, as she later became, became missionaries to Africa and now they’re actually, believe it or not, presbyterian minister retired. I would never in a million years have dreamt that David would have ended up like that.

Our first impressions of people can be so, so wrong, but the blessing I’ve had and, as I look at these 80 people, was to see how the Lord had had taken many of them on into different ministries, to bringing up families, to being part of their churches. Some, no doubt, wandered away but for the majority of them, the words fail me, became very real in each of their lives.

So, in these days of lockdown, take time to think of the friends you have around you. And I start to think what questions would I like to ask that I don’t know about them. What impressions do you have that may be totally wrong?

Now I know, particularly Scots, we don’t like people interfering into our lives or what we think is being nosy. It’s not, it’s to encourage one another in the fellowship and it may just be a phrase or something that you say that will make them search as to who this Jesus really is.

So, in finishing, I’ve got some homework for you. Now I promise you, I will not be taking it in and marking it. It’s really for something I normally be asking have you done or not done it, but here’s three things hopefully we might have them on the screen so you can take them down.

Share your testimony – share your testimony with how you met Jesus share it with someone else.

Who were the people of influence in your salvation? Who were the people of influence in your salvation? For me it was the two people initially who were in my work and belonged to the Salvation Army who have never seen for, well the older man’s dead now, but praise God and give thanks for them, even if you haven’t seen them. Just stop and give thanks.

And then thirdly and lastly, Who are the people you are now seeking to influence for their salvation, that you may want to share your testimony with, that you may want to share Jesus with, that you may want to teach or preach or bring the word of God to?

So, there’s three little suggestions to give you something to work on and do take the passage before us. It’s thrilling, I’m always thrilled by the word of God. Even as I’m reading, I’m thinking “Oh I never saw that before” and I’m always being like any minister you think you want to go off on a tangent but I haven’t so take time to read and you’ll pick up even just these few characters and maybe your impressions of them will totally change and maybe your impressions of someone in your congregation or a friend out with the congregation may totally change and they will be helped and encouraged and the Lord will be glorified.

Scott would you come and pray with us.

Having heard Gordon preach tonight and what he brought from the Lord to us from the Scriptures, let us now take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

Our God and Heavenly Father, thank-you for Your word, thank-you that You are the living and active God, the great I Am, that you are ever present and ready to speak to us, Father for Your faithfulness and Your goodness to us and this we thank-you and praise You.

Lord we’ve heard Your word opened to us by Your servant our friend Gordon and we ask Lord that we would be doers of Your word, that we would not just listen or hear but would it sink deep into our very beings changing us from the inside out, because Father, You’ve called us to be a church that invite, encourage and enable others to follow Jesus and how we see that in the passage tonight of others who did that, who introduced Jesus to people and Lord, we have to admit we’re not good at this, we’re scared of this, often we shy away from it, we shy away from spiritual conversations, but would You give us a boldness, would You help us to be people who give people that little nudge.
We don’t have to be a great preacher, we don’t have to share a lengthy story or our message, but we can just do simple things, even and still point people towards You.

Lord, give us courage, give us opportunities, but help us also to take the initiative Lord, and to put Your word into practice.

Father, nurture in us Your way, Your ways that we might have that right focus and right attitude that we were speaking about some Sundays ago.

Father, we ask this and I and for your enabling in Jesus name, Amen

So brothers and sisters, thanks for joining us tonight for this experiment doing something a little bit different and please do take note of the questions. I’ll maybe also put them into the description at the bottom of the video if you want to quickly access them, to think about how to put this into practice.

We’ve got Thursday Evening Live Prayer at 8 15 on Thursday and then back on Sunday as well concluding our study through the book of Philippians. So, we’ll hope we’ll join you then too.

I think tonight for me has really nurtured that part of our values which is about sharing, sharing the love of God through words and deed, that part of our purpose that is about inviting and encouraging people to follow Jesus, and even that enabling and sometimes enabling doesn’t always mean it’s easy or comfortable, sometimes we have to step out our comfort zone and so that we can help people to follow Jesus and I pray and hope that we will do that, and that we’ll hear some of your stories about that in due course. If you have the opportunity to share your testimony or even just to think about what would you say about your testimony then do remember that in April we’re probably looking to have another Testimony Tuesday evening and so if you would be willing to share your testimony about how you came to follow Jesus then please get in touch with me and I can help you get that recorded in time for sharing in April.

So, thanks for being with us and we look forward to seeing you again soon. God bless you.

Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 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 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

You: a Good Work

Preached on: Sunday 3rd January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I have a confession to make, I had never heard of Brightons before Scott came here. Falkirk yes, Brightons no, but it has been a privilege, a real privilege, to get, in a sense, to know you through Scott.

Scott and I have known each other for quite a number of years, quite a number of years! He was studying at the Bible College and we worked together in a church in Edinburgh. He was really like my youth worker and the thing I always remember about Scott, I don’t know if he’s listening in or not, was we almost had to put the reins on him such was his enthusiasm, his keenness, that he just had such a heart and passion for the Lord and I’m sure that is continuing with you to know just now. But now I do know Brightons, I can even find my way here, mind you I did use the sat nav!
So I’d never heard of the Church. I just thought I would go into Google for a couple of minutes and just try and find out some of the history. I couldn’t find very much. You might be able to enlighten me, and even if my few facts here are wrong you can enlighten me but I believe the Church was built in the mid 1800s. I’m getting the nod so that’s great. And it started from stone quarried in the village nearby. It was probably a lot smaller even then. It was quarried by a man called Alexander Laurie and the Church building now still stands here. There’s obviously been some additions from what I can see and gather, but, more important than this building, beautiful though it is, and established though it be, is that the people of God are still here. Now not the same ones certainly looking around I doubt any of you go back quite that far! That God’s people are still here over many years. Additions will have been made; people will have been taken home; others will have moved away from the area.

You’re going to be studying and looking at the book of Philippians. It’s actually one of my favorite books. I just love the book of Philippians! There’s such a love and a warmth that comes ringing through it but one of the things, one of the portions I love, is the portion that I’ve been given to start off with and I’ve used these verses many a time to friends and colleagues who I really thank God for. And Paul’s heart just reaches into my heart and into the hearts of people that you cannot help but just lift your heart and thank God every time you remember them and what they’ve meant to you. You have to read in Acts chapter 16 for the foundation of this church; every church has its foundation.

Now the church of course is not buildings. That’s part of us but this was on Paul’s second missionary journey round about AD 52, so it wasn’t too long after actually Jesus’s crucifixion and certainly it was a church of some traumatic beginnings, some lovely thoughts, as well of the woman Lydia praying down by the riverside, but then you get the traumatic appearance or calling of this young slave girl and that caused such an upset. When Paul rebuked the spirit and the spirit left her, the evil spirit left her, and she was no longer good for her master’s use of telling fortunes, and that led to trouble, to a riot that led to Paul being imprisoned and been beaten. It led to an earthquake!
It was quite traumatic and read it for yourself and you’ll find out the beginnings of this church and sometimes as you go through a book you need to constantly almost look back to remind yourselves as to the beginnings because the people here in the pews the people at home perhaps you’re starting to forget some of their faces. Not those that you know very well but I’m sure, like many churches, there are people that will come and go, people that just come in and listen to the word and sing and then leave, and you hardly get to know them. Others will be known, you’ll have known them for years but these have been very difficult years or a year, very difficult months, so you’re not just sitters in a pew, you’re not just people who sit at home, and I hope when this is all over you will return to the pews, there’s sometimes a fear that people think “Oh this is great I just have to get up last minute, get my cup of coffee and then I’ll join in the church service.” Do not deny yourself the fellowship of God’s people when we’re allowed to meet once again.

What I want to do is just look at some of the words in this passage. Words that stand out to me in just 11 short verses, and the first one is the word you, you, you. You know in 11 short verses it’s mentioned 11 times? Now that’s a lot for one little word and it’s in the plural. It’s not just so often we become very individualistic and we certainly live in a very individualistic society. “It’s me” “My” “Mine”. The church is not “me, my and mine”! The church is “you” collectively and there Paul writes every time I remember you who were the you. Now obviously from my point of view I know Scott and Gill, I don’t know any of you either here or in your homes, but you do! You, God’s holy people. That’s what Paul said right at the beginning “to all God’s holy people in Christ” and then he goes on every time “I remember you”, and we’ll look at some of the others in a moment. You just feel and you recognize and I’m sure, as you go through the book you will see it again and again, how Paul pours out his heart and thankfulness for “you” now, who, where – the ”You”.

Well of course we don’t really know, we can surmise, it may have been Lydia or she may have gone home to Thyatira to her business, it probably certainly was the jailer and his family. You know it may even have been some of the other people in the jail with Paul and Silas at the time. Paul and Timothy sorry at the time, it may have been a young slave girl and her owner, it may have been the soldiers? We just don’t know names. We do know, because they’re in the book itself, is Epaphroditus as Euodia and Syntyche and Clement, but for most of them we don’t know who they were. But when you have a phrase like this from his heart, he remembers you “I remember you from my heart” it’s amazing! Now I don’t know how long it’d been but it was about 10 years from the founding of this church to when Paul actually writes this letter, so things would have changed as things would change in your church.

What are you thinking about just now of the “you” that are not here? Perhaps it’s many weeks or months since you’ve seen some of them. Even close people that you know and perhaps you’ve even forgotten the faces or the names of the person you last spoke with who was new to the church. You think I don’t remember their names? They have been very difficult months but let’s remind ourselves, even when you’re a full church, we are not just people who sit in pews, we are people who are in partnership together with the Gospel and “all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

It’s great when we come together because we can build one another but it’s not just to have nice wee pally conversations, it is that and we need that, and we miss that, but we are in partnership together in the Gospel. “I remember you” so when you go through this book remember that you are a you together as Paul teaches, as he perhaps rebukes, so he doesn’t do an awful lot in this book as he does in some others, but just remember you are together. Even if you get right through this book, which is very possible, and we’re still not able to meet together in the way we would love to so, that’s one word “you”.

Another word that struck me was struck me was remember, remember. Do you remember the day when we didn’t have to wear masks? Do you remember the time when we could sing our hearts out? It will happen again and these masks will go. I can remember you know, not that long ago, of you watch people in countries which are terribly polluted by fumes car fumes etc. and a lot of the people go around with masks on. You think “Oh my goodness!” and now we are, but here is this word
Remember, remember. Because this pandemic has brought a lot of troubles into our midst, individually and collectively, There’s the fear of dying or of catching it. There’s the fear of those who have lost loved ones and have not even been able to go to their funerals. It just hurts. So remember, there’s a lot of people. and it may include you sitting here. and it will certainly include some at home. of the heart and the pain of being unable to say goodbye in a normal way.

There’s a pain in the heart of those who have lost their jobs and will yet lose their jobs, but you know, despite all that, and it is horrific, personally one of my biggest struggles is the loss of fellowship. We’re built for congregational, we’re a gregarious people, we are not individuals. You miss the hugs. you miss the lack of visiting people. I have a brother in Edinburgh who’s dying of prostate cancer and I can’t visit him. Well, I shouldn’t visit him! There’s times when I’ve had to go – he’s not a believer, he has prostate cancer his wife has Parkinson’s – and it’s hurt. We’ve never fallen out but we’ve never been that close but I’ve been able to read with them to pray with him and sometimes I confess and admit – and please don’t tell this to the authorities – I’ve broken the rules and crossed the bridge and gone into Edinburgh because I felt I had to and if he deteriorates and get worse I would do it again. I would do it again because sometimes there are laws that are greater than the laws of our government. Now that’s not to encourage you to break rules, and we know one of the big problems, and we need to remember this, that this epidemic has caused an epidemic of loneliness. People on their own. My wife at the moment is going through, well we don’t know what it is but she’s just not well at all and it’s got worse and worse. And how we miss friends that just can’t come and visit us. Our friends that we just can’t go and visit them. We have families that live abroad, well one lives in in southern Spain and another lives in Northern Ireland, and their children. We have one daughter at home. But it’s this sense of loneliness and how we need to remember, how you need to remember, the people that sat beside you, the people that sat around you, and Paul encourages “I remember you. I always pray with joy because of your partnership.”

Such is the heart and such should be our hearts for those you know. Memories are a wonderful thing and I know the older you get sometimes the memories fade a bit so you can’t remember! I’m getting to the stage where I can’t remember people’s names that I know, so, well I don’t know if there’s a problem going on, but here Paul says I have you in my heart. Are there people that are on your heart, in your heart, in your congregation that you haven’t seen for weeks and perhaps you felt you’ve not been able to contact. You may not be able to visit them but you can phone them. Now this is where we really thank God, which I’ve now never always done, is for the internet and for guys that can put these things out and pull together ways that we’ve been able to meet in some ways. But the memory of the people you miss dearly. It must have been a while since Paul had seen some of them but he longs for them. Long for the people of your congregation. Go on longing for them and for the day that you’ll be able to sit together once again. Let your mind even now, I don’t mind if it wanders the rest of this sermon and wanders to people that you remember so fondly.

And you can still contact them either through social media by phone or, my next word, through prayer. I do admit when it comes to this word and Paul’s prayer I would take a series of sermons in itself to go through the whole gambit of prayer for one another but Paul says, and I’ll just simply read this “and this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Tto the glory and praise of God.” You see Paul’s big heart in these verses and you see Paul’s big prayers.
Extend your prayers either to people or what you desire for people and as you go through this book. Many things will come to you and perhaps somebody that you are really feeling for. What you learn through the next few weeks, pray for someone in the congregation. They might be listening but you add to what they’re hearing because it is terrible not being in touch and even when we do have social media. I’ve heard, I’ve said that many, many times “You know, I am Zoomed out!” I never even heard of Zoom before! That’s the problem, most of us hadn’t! I’m sure their share price has rocketed – but you know there are times when you just get weary. We thank God for the whole setup but we long just for that hug, that handshake, and that warmth. But remember because Paul comes through with here, with that joy of who’s ever running through your mind just now, that you long to see, to remember those people with love and with feeling and to remember to pray fervently for one another.

The day will come when we will be back together and my last word is not actually one word but two words and Paul says this in verse six “Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
note the word “good work”. “He who began a good work in you.” Now he doesn’t say good works, it’s not plural, it’s our work that’s been done in you and me and many others. What is that “good work”. Now there’s been lots of good works being done during this pandemic, some of them are amazing, what people have done. I just even heard on the news this morning about a group a group of Sikhs that took food down to the lorry drivers and I think they traveled quite a distance and you just wonder who else was doing that? Were the Christian communities likewise doing that? They have been named. You think there’s people that have felt for these lorry drivers stuck away from home, stuck in something that was not of their making, and here were people with kindness, there were good works, You’ve got the young footballer Marcus Rashford that has taken him back to his childhood, a difficult childhood, and longs to see children properly fed. Lots of good works. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. There is a theory, well it’s a theory, there’s a belief that by good works people are saved. You know if I do good enough, enough good things, then God’s bound to let me into heaven. That is false good works. Never saved anyone. But His good work did. It’s the work of God, “He who began a good work in you.” I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home and still I don’t my family, my immediate older family are not Christians, but what was that good work? It was when the Lord took hold of my life and saved me and changed me. Just let me read a verse or two in the book before in Ephesians “As for you”, there’s that word again “you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, every single one of us. The same, not just here but same for people sitting at home. There was a time when we were not in Christ.

And for those of you who are listening who are not in Christ, you know there is a good work that God wants to do in your life now and it can only be done through Jesus. Doesn’t matter how many good works you do and keep doing them, but it will not save you. It will not get you to heaven. Here is a good work, the work of God, and again you could do a whole series on this the ministry of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, into our lives. An initial starting of a good work in you – perhaps this new year you will find Christ as your Savior and that good work will change your life but of course it’s more than just an initial thing because he says “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t end when we first get saved, that’s the starting point of the journey. If you’re a young Christian and have not long come to find faith let me quote Jeremiah 29 where Jesus our God says “I have plans for you.” “I have plans for you.” You have a tremendous journey ahead of you. See, I wasn’t born into a Christian home and as I look back over the many years since I’ve become a Christian it’s incredible what has happened in me through the teaching of the Word, through the way the Lord has led. It’s taken me to places that I thought I would never ever see. The Lord has been so gracious and He continues on in that work. So if you’re not long starting the journey then I thank God for it. Sometimes I wish I was starting again but I’m not, I’m coming nearer to the end of my journey, and certainly I am from the beginning His plans for us will be very different from the plans that He’s had for me. Plans about your jobs, plans about your home, plans about your family, plans about where He might take you, what he might do with you. So look back and remember the day when Christ saved you. He began a good work in you. He will continue a good work in you and if you’re of the age – I am and retired and I don’t particularly enjoy retirement, I’ve struggled a lot with it – He’s not finished because you’re still here. You can’t do the things you used to do but sometimes a stillness, sometimes just a heaviness, a weariness settles into our lives but you know it need not be, and I think I speak very personally, so wherever you are, if you’re not yet a Christian, may that good work begin in you, even this morning, this year, this month. If you’re a new Christian just look forward to an exciting journey ahead of you. If you’re a long-standing person in the faith and feeling stale, find a freshness and as you go through this book. Many other avenues will open up to you. We’re yet in another lockdown and even coming across I think it was the bridge or somewhere it says stay local and I think Well I’m not staying local. You’re now in tier four and I know I shouldn’t be.” but in one sense Scott assured me no you’re coming to a place of work not just a place of worship, so I’m quite legitimate in me coming here but in other areas we are in lockdown who could have imagined. We’re not in a dictatorship. Who could have imagined that our government could have legislated to lock us down? It was just unthinkable but physically we are, but sadly some people are getting spiritually locked down and that’s what we need to do, to remember, to remember, to pray, to grow and to have our spiritual lives refreshed and renewed no matter how young or no matter how old we be. And so my prayer, as we close, is to just simply say to you “the Lord bless you and keep you and the Lord use you, as a congregation of His holy people. May it be so for His namesake.

Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 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 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 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 true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.

Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Called to Give Our Lives away

Preached on: Sunday 30th August 2020
No sermon text is available.
Bible references: Matthew 20:20-28
Location: Brightons Parish Church