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

Fruitfulness

Preached on: Sunday 18th July 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 21-07-18 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit, help us to follow after Jesus and hear His voice.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen

Two of the places where Gill and I like to holiday the most are Northern Ireland and up north, particularly west of inverness, but to get to either of those locations requires quite a long drive and for many years I’ve really wanted to have a car that had cruise control, because the idea of not having to worry about speed cameras, not having to worry about accelerator, just being able to sit back and enjoy the drive, oh, that just sounds really good to me, not being able to have to worry about those things, but, as yet, no cruise control in a car, maybe in a couple of years whenever the car eventually dies and that’ll be the time for that feature, and similarly I wonder if there are times in our faith journey where we wish we could have cruise control, where our following after Jesus would just be that little bit simpler if you could switch on the cruise control so it was a little bit smoother, easier, just enjoyable. How good would that be? No? Am I the only one that might like that from time to time?

And our passage today reminds us that we can’t just put on the cruise control, that our fruitful life does not happen that way.

At this point in Luke’s gospel, and we’re beginning to see that Jesus is becoming very popular, and big crowds are gathering around Him but Jesus discerns this is the time for a bit of a challenge, now, because He’s looking for more than superficial faith, He’s looking for followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom of God because, let’s remember. at the time Jesus came the Jews were looking and hoping for a Messiah to come, a political and military Messiah who would come and be king and get rid of the Romans, but Jesus, if you go back and look at chapter four, makes it very clear that now is not the time of God’s vengeance, it is not the time. He is Messiah but He is not the Messiah they expect, and so this is part of the reason why He teaches in parables.

He said ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you but to others I speak in parables so that those seeing they may not see, though hearing they may not understand’ and when Jesus speaks here of the secrets of the kingdom He’s referring to what was there in the Old Testament but everybody was just overlooking it because they were expecting that political and military Messiah and yet, now, Jesus is revealing the truth of it, the truth that was there still in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come to serve and to die, and that the invitation to be part of His kingdom would be for everyone, not just the select few in the Jewish nation, but that didn’t fit with the expectations of the people of his day, and they refused, especially the religious leaders, but others besides refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah even though His miracles and His teachings should have made it really quite clear, and so He teaches in parables.

He teaches in parables for two reasons: to show their hardness of heart, but also to keep their idea of Him being this political and military Messiah just on down low, rather than it gaining traction, and we saw that in our last series on grace, but it’s only for a time, it was only for a time. Jesus doesn’t want to cloud His identity forever otherwise He wouldn’t give the disciples the explanation of the parable and we wouldn’t be teaching on upon it this morning, and so Jesus does want people to understand who He is, does want us to teach, and does want us to understand the parable, so that even today, just as in His day, there will be followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom, rather than just being superficial followers, and so He gives us the parable of the soils, and it probably should be called the parable of the soils because the focus is not on the sower and it’s not on the seed, it’s on the soils and on how receptive the soils are to the seed sown by the sower and there are four types of soil.

There’s the footpath soil which is what my daughter called it this morning in the early morning service and she was all shy and bashful about it. I was like “Hope, have you been reading my notes?” she hadn’t, she’s only four so that couldn’t happen. Footpath soil and rocky soil and thorny soil and good soil, and Jesus gives an explanation for each of those soil types.

The first one, He says the seed is the word of God and those along the path are the ones who hear and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Now, because of our propensity nowadays for the supernatural and for superstars and for superheroes like in Marvel, we get kind of attracted to one word the ‘devil’. Don’t we? And because we’d rather blame others than looking at ourselves again we get attracted to this word and this is what we want to focus on in this verse maybe, but the focus is not actually on his part in this because he couldn’t do anything if the soil first wasn’t hard, and so the focus is on the soil, that the soil is hard and it cannot receive the seed and become embedded in the soil, and so grow, and in Jesus day, that was most often seen in the religious leaders but many others besides, those who would not receive Jesus, would not receive His teaching, would not receive Him and believe His message, and I wonder, friends, are any of us here or at home, does this describe us? Do we refuse to believe the teaching about Jesus and we keep Him at arm’s length with a hard heart?

Then there’s a second type, those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it but they have no root, they believe for a while but in the time of testing they fall away. Here Jesus describes a superficial heart a superficial response to the word and yes, they start with great enthusiasm and passion but there’s no depth and because there’s no depth, they’re not able to sustain their faith particularly when things get hard, and following Jesus gets hard, and I wonder if that describes any of us, friends? Did you maybe pray a prayer, could have been in your teens, could have been much later, maybe one of the prayers that I’ve led us in but it’s not really led to very much. Now, I am not going to stop giving people an opportunity to pray a prayer, I think that’s a really important first step, but the proof of faith is fruitfulness, it’s a life lived in faith and so it’s not enough just to say a prayer, it’s not enough just to become a member of a church. So, is this you? Is this your faith, your heart? Is it superficial?

Soil three describes those that fell among thorns which stands for those who hear but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries riches and pleasures and they do not mature, and what Jesus is describing here is a divided heart, a divided heart and again there’s initial positive response to the teaching of Jesus and maybe it lasts a bit longer than the superficial heart but eventually the worries of life, the pleasures and riches, they grew up like weeds and they stifle it and they overwhelm faith and eventually again faith withers. Is that you friends? Is that you? Is faith withering?

Or have we the potential of the fourth soil which was described this way “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the words, retain it and by persevering, produce a crop” Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Because it’s only seen over time, fruitfulness is never achieved overnight and so the focus is on our response over a lifetime maybe most properly seen at the end of life when you look back over all your days of faith is that you friends are you continuing in faith with Jesus holding on even amidst the difficulties and as you look back over your life do you see signs of fruitfulness.

So, which type of heart or soil are you?

Are you a hard heart, a superficial heart, a crowded heart or a heart that has a potential for fruitfulness? Are you on your way to bearing a great harvest and you know maybe as we think about that we might begin to worry, we might think ‘I feel like my faith is drying up’ or ‘I feel like my faith is being crowded out’ maybe especially by worries or ‘I’m struggling to persevere to the end’ or you maybe look back and you’re thinking ‘Where is the fruitfulness in my life?’ Where is the fruitfulness? But, you know, Jesus doesn’t share this parable to condemn you and he doesn’t share it to say that what you are is always what you must be, because he shares it to issue an invitation. He wants you to recognize your heart but by recognizing that He wants to give you an invitation to have some heart surgery, because Jesus is in the business of healing and changing hearts.

Let’s remember what he said earlier in the gospel of Luke ‘It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

Friends, we’re all sick with sin, every one of us, we always have been and, until we go to glory, we always will be. Sin will always be an influence in our lives but Jesus is in the business of changing hearts bit by bit, year upon year, so that we can be fruitful, to bear fruit to the glory of His name.

So, what type of heart are you friends? What type of heart are you and are you on your way to being a fruitful heart? because Jesus invites you to have Him as part of your life and change your heart that we might be fruitful and I reckon many of us yearn for that. We might be withering in our faith, we might be struggling in our faith, we might feel like our faith is being overcrowded, or we might just want to be fruitful so that Jesus is glorified.

I think in part of us there’s that yearning and so in the rest of the time remaining to us I want to look at two things.

Firstly, what is fruitfulness? what are we talking about here? and the second is well How do you become more fruitful? What is fruitfulness and how to become fruitful?

Fruitfulness is described in the New Testament in these ways it’s described as good deeds, generosity, a Godly character, the fruit of the spirit. It’s knowledge and praise of God and sharing our faith. Now, I know there’s a danger in putting up a list like this because we’ll instantaneously start going ‘Okay, good deeds, tick; generosity, tick; I’m not very loving but I’m not bad on the kindness so, tick; and we start letting ourselves off on some of the things that are up here, and I’d want to challenge that because Jesus in the parable said the good soil are those that hear retain and persevere in what they’ve heard and that should prompt us to be people be Christians who want to display fruitfulness in all the areas not instantaneously because, as I said, it’s over a lifetime, but we should want to grow in all these areas even the things we’d prefer to avoid, because they make us uncomfortable. So, please don’t start just ticking off the list.

Okay, and in case it sounds too difficult and too costly, I think Luke gives us the first three verses to say kind of set the context and call us out on this because we read there ‘The twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases Mary, Joanna, Susannah and many others, these women were helping to support them out of their own means’ and there are various reasons for Jesus, for Luke including this.

First of all, clearly he wants us to see that the invitation to follow Jesus is there for everyone man and woman, that there’s no favorites, there’s no hierarchy, everyone is equal under God and invited to follow Jesus, and that would have been controversial in Jesus day because only men could follow Rabbis and Jesus is saying No, No, No, the kingdom is open for all because He values and loves all equally but secondly, and more to the fore of probably the reasons here are that these women have benefited from the teaching and ministry of Jesus, they’re all healed either spiritually or physically and so out of that they do the unthinkable, they sacrificially follow Jesus, they give up well-defined social circles and expectations and duties and the box that people have them in to follow Jesus, and they do so sacrificially, giving of themselves, their time, and their resources. These women are held up here as more of an example to emulate than the disciples are! So far the guys have not hit the standard but the women have and we’ve to emulate their example and so that list that was like ‘Oh this is way too daunting!’ these women are held up as to call us out, to say ‘here are people who gave up expectations, who gave up commitments and comforts so as to follow Jesus in a sacrificial way. They did it, you can do it if you are but willing.’ because fruitfulness will not come by putting on the cruise control, it will not come by doing what we’ve always done or what is comfortable. Fruitfulness does not just happen.
So how can we become more fruitful? What does it look like to hear and retain and persevere with God’s word? Well, there are literally books written on the subject and you’ll be glad to hear I’m not going to regurgitate a book this morning and so, what I’m going to share with you is just some broad principles and ideas and a few ideas that I’ve seen people in this congregation put into practice, and each idea is linked into the soil type.

So, soil one was the hard soil, the not receptive soil and it really speaks about openness. How can we be a people who are more open to the word of God? and you might think ‘Well, I’ve ticked this box. I’m in church or I’m tuning-in at home.’ Well sorry, if the very word of God made flesh was there amongst people’s lives and they were rejecting Him, and not open to Him, then don’t think just turning up to church means that you’re open to the word of God. Let’s not just tick the box rather.

Let me ask you ‘What is your rhythm at home of reading the bible? Do you have one?’ because that’s where it really hits the rubber to keep using the car analogy or when we come to church do we come expectant to hear from God and two people come to mind and I won’t name them but what they show me is great expectancy in how they come and even before they come and so one person I can think of they come with a notepad ready to take some notes down during the sermon because I waffle an awful lot and there’s a lot to take in and maybe you’ll just get lost in all the words and so coming ready to capture that thought to think ‘Oh, that speaks to me.’ take it down, take a note because by the time you leave that door you might have forgotten it. Are you coming open and expecting? and another person I can think of she sends me a written prayer every Sunday morning, every Sunday morning and has done it throughout lockdown every week carrying on a ministry she did even before lockdown and every week in that prayer in some way or another is God speak to us, minister to us, meet with us, whether we’re online or here in person.

Do we have that level of expectancy or do we just rock up to church because it’s the done-thing, or do we come expecting, expectant to hear from God? Do you pray on your way down? Do you pray as you’re getting ready ‘God I want to hear from You, I want to meet with You?’ I’d love to have a church and a family that and in my own life have that level of expectancy, that level of openness to the word of God. Could we nurture that church? Could we nurture a rhythm and an expectancy or soil two, the soil that struggled to provide for the wheat because it wasn’t deep enough and so there was lack of fruitfulness? How can we nurture depth?

Well, you could get involved in a Fellowship Group where you go and you study the scriptures together and you get deep down into them, and you share also your life in a fellowship group so you can pray for one another. That’s a way to nurture depth.

Or maybe later in the week don’t go on yet maybe later in the week you can look back over your sermon notes that you took when you came along, or go back and listen to the sermon again because it’s on our website, every sermon from the last two and a half years is on the website – go and have a look.

Or do you talk to God about what you take home from a Sunday or what you’re reading during the week, because when you talk to God you’re not just ticking the ‘read the bible box’, you’re taking it deeper, you’re reflecting and you’re praying and these ways get the word of God deep in our hearts by reflecting on it and by praying it over. It’ll help us retain the word of God.

Or the third soil type, clearly it was the crowded soil, so how do we create space? How we create space and it’s intentionality and priority and for some of us that will mean we need to reorder our lives. Most of us prioritize life either on habits we’ve learned over the years or the most pressing issues facing us just now and so quite often it will be family, work, friends, the house chores, maybe some volunteering but nowhere in the top five or ten things does time with God feature, but it should. Where do we bring it in? because if often ends up at the bottom of the list and ‘Well, oh God, there’s another day I was too busy, I couldn’t fit it in. There’s another week, there’s another month, there’s another year, and so no wonder we lack fruitfulness, no wonder we lack fruitfulness, and at every stage of life I’m sure that has different state pressures whether you’re in retirement, whether you’ve got a family, whether you’re busy with a career, whatever it may be, they’ll be the different pressures. So, what does it look like for you to prioritize Jesus in your life? Maybe we need to say no to more things, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to taxi you or the kids or the grandkids as much this week – easy for me to say with a four-year-old – do we push back against unrealistic work expectations. Do I in church, do we allow some things to stop in church because we’re too busy. How can we be a people who create space through intentionality and priority, space for God to speak?

But for some of us and for some areas of fruitfulness the issue is not stopping it is actually starting and earlier on I gave that list of fruitfulness and I just want to pick three from that list of good deeds, so generosity and sharing our faith.

So, good deeds, we looked in our last series that one of the meanings of grace is refers to spiritual gifts and so we all have spiritual gifts, we all have something given for the mission of the church. So are you serving? Now you may be at a stage of life where being, doing something physical is just not your thing, but are you supporting others, are you praying for others, otherwise others of us are able still to serve very actively, and so my question would be ‘Where is at least one area of church life where you give yourself? because all of us should have at least one area and sadly because not enough of us contribute.

Or we maybe need to stop more things. There are some people who have so many things that they’re doing, so on good deeds. Where are you serving the mission of this church, which is to make Jesus known and help us follow him?

Or generosity, are you giving to this church, to the work we do and if not, because it’s very easy to forget to maybe bring something or do it do it electronically, have you set up a standing order? Do you maybe need to increase your standing order? and as far as sharing our faith goes what are you doing about these words of Jesus where he says ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’

Are we retaining this like he says the good soil does, or are we turning away from it and just ignoring this, because it’s too hard and it’s uncomfortable? Now, I don’t expect you to go out and talk to the first person you meet on the street, I don’t expect that but, how about all of us committing to pray for two local people to come to faith, two local people so that then they become part of this church family. You can pray for more besides and I do as well but I have no expectation of them ever coming here because they’re too far away. Who are the two local people you’re praying for? because if you pray for them eventually, you’re more likely to invite them to come to church or you invite them to come to something or you’re likely to share your faith with them or you’re going to know them so well that when times are hard you can share something of your faith. So, who are the two people you’re going to pray for that are local, that you would love to see part of this church family? because we will not be fruitful if we just put on the cruise control. We will not be fruitful if we do what we’ve always done. It does not just happen friends. The Lord wants us to be fruitful that’s why he gave us this parable and I pray that, no matter the cost, no matter how counter cultural it might be, and how it might upset the apple cart, may we give ourselves in these ways so that we have the potential of the good soil and might bear fruit that is a hundred-fold what has been sown in our lives over the years. I pray it may be so, Amen.

The way of the Cross: led forward

Preached on: Sunday 4th 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 here 21-04-04 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 16:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit reveal Jesus to us.
Come Holy Spirit lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction,
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

The Easter holidays have begun and I wonder if anyone of us are feeling excited about that? Boys and girls at home, young people, are we excited about being home for even longer? Parents, grandparents you’re thinking ‘Oh how are we going to make these holidays go by again?’

I wonder if you feel a bit like me coming in today that it was going to be slightly anti-climactic because normally we come into Easter feeling quite buoyant. The seasons are changing, the days are getting longer, holidays are just beginning, hopefully, if the timing’s just right, and celebrating what Jesus achieved at Calvary gives a fresh infusion of hope or at least normally it does. So I wonder how you are coming into Easter this year, and how you’re feeling?

Are you maybe feeling tired and worn thin? Maybe frightened or sad, possibly frustrated or disillusioned, and if you’re at home feel free if you feel able to share it on the live chat, because what’s striking for me in our passage today, is that these three women who go to the tomb, they could have been feeling any of these feelings. Tired and worn thin for sure, they’d just seen their friend and would-be Messiah killed. Sad, most certainly. Frustrated, disillusioned without a doubt, because they’d hoped Jesus was the Messiah but here He is dead in a tomb. Frightened, well their leader has just been crucified on a cross as a traitor. Here they come to the place where they’re going to give one last act of devotion, one last duty, and they’re coming with all the emotions we feel; fear, or tiredness, sadness, disillusionment, but when they arrive there the body of Jesus is missing and an angel tells them that He is alive, He’s not here and, in fact He’s gone ahead of them into Galilee, and they with there with the disciples they will find Jesus the experience and news is so startling so bewildering, just leaves them trembling and awe-struck, as well as afraid so afraid. In fact, they feel unable to speak of it to begin with. So, what are we to make of this passage? i can almost understand why a later scribe would add verses 9 to 20 because it feels unfinished.

Yet, whether Mark intended for this to be the case or not, there are three brief things that we can take away this morning.

Firstly, in the midst of the most negative emotions we can experience at Easter, Jesus leads His disciples onward. The women are told ‘He is not here, He is going ahead of you into Galilee.’

Likewise, maybe today, maybe in the midst of your struggles and your emotions, maybe you need to know that Jesus is not in some tomb and He’s not defeated, maybe you need to know that Jesus is alive and He goes ahead of you and leads you on.

This past week we’ve all received the news of what’s being envisioned for the Braes Churches. Seven congregations down to two, seven places of worship possibly down to two or three, and more change besides, and talking with a number of you from across the churches I know the range of emotions that we are feeling. Yet, in the midst of all, Jesus goes ahead and leads us on. He did it then, He does it now. So, where is the risen Jesus leading us today?

Second thing to note, the disciples are called to exercise faith, and faith is seen in action. They’re not simply told what to believe, they’re told to go, go, go – do what Jesus has said. Respond in faith, get walking to Galilee is basically what the angel says. in the midst of what you are feeling this Easter, Jesus leads you on and He calls you to respond in faith. Faith that is seen in the choices and actions of your life, and what that looks like for each of us and for us as a group of churches could be myriad, but let’s remember our purpose, a purpose that is meant to be core to any and every follower of Jesus – to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus.

What does that look like in your life? How is that seen in your life? Do you need to step out in faith this Easter and maybe put this purpose into practice?

Because, lastly, whilst the Gospel of Mark abruptly ends at verse 8, it does not mark the end of the story. We know that the women respond in faith, they tell the disciples and, with the disciples, they go and meet with Jesus, and from them a movement is birthed across the world, and we here and at home are the outworking of that, of Christians across the generations who for 2 000 years have exercised faith, but now it’s our turn now, it’s our turn.

We continue the story and that’s true whatever age you are. You could be a child or a young person, or you’re never too young to respond in faith to Jesus and be part of telling others about Jesus, or you could be at the other end of the age spectrum or anywhere in between and if that’s you well two things: there’s no get-out clause, and there’s no retirement age.

In the kingdom of God it doesn’t matter how busy we may be or whatever excuse we may give, we’re all called, we’re all called and the truth is we need everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, every age group, every person needs to get involved because Jesus is leading us on, He is leading us on as a church, as Christians in this area, but it will take every one of us to fulfill our purpose every one of us so we all have a part to play,

Friends, this Easter, this Easter may not be the Easter we wanted or expected, we may not have the positive emotions of previous years, yet Jesus is alive, He leads us on, He’s not in the tomb and He calls us to respond in faith.

So, that the story continues in this generation and for generations to come, and so it’s up to us, it’s up to you here and you at home, will it continue? will we respond today in faith?

I pray that we will and so let’s pray just. Now let us pray.

I wonder how you need to respond today? Which part do you need to respond in faith today?

Do you need to respond in faith to the truth that Jesus is alive? Do you need to respond in faith that He leads you on and He’s not given up in you?

Do you need to respond in faith that you have a part to play? Where do you need to respond today?

Maybe you’re not a Christian. Remember, you’ve not been following Jesus for a long time and if that’s you I’d like to lead you in a prayer just now, to come to faith, put your faith in Jesus, to recommit yourself maybe if you’ve wandered and so, maybe just in the quiet of your mind or if you’re at home speak it out loud with me and I’ll lead you through a prayer just now.

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things i’ve done wrong in my life, I’m sorry for wandering away from You.

I take a moment to name this Lord before You.

Please Jesus, forgive me. I now 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 the gift of Your spirit. I now receive these gifts, please come into my life by Your Spirit to be with me forever. Thank-you Lord Jesus.

I wonder if you’re going to respond in faith in another way, in one of the other two ways, and let me lead you now in a prayer maybe for these things.

lord I hear Your call to have faith, to trust that You really are alive here, that You’ve not given up on me or your church, You’re not giving up on us or this world.

Lord, I hear Your call and though I may feel low today, though I may feel at the end of my rope, I trust, I respond in faith, and if You’re calling me to serve, Lord, because You call us all to serve, show me how and where,

and help me know that Your power is greatest when I am weak. don’t have to have it all together because it’s You working through us that will see this world changed. Lord, I’m ready to play my part in this generation and for the generations to come. Help me give my life like You gave Your life for me. I offer it now in worship and service of You and of Your purpose. Lead us Lord, lead me individually, lead us as a church, and as a group of churches across the Braes, and to all You have for us now and forever. Amen

If you responded in faith today for the first time, I encourage you to get in touch with me, drop me a message, grab me afterwards, however it be because it’s good to take that step in faith in prayer, but the next step is to tell someone, and I’m a really safe person to tell, honest! So, come and tell me, get in touch if you took that step of faith.

Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 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 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, come reveal Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,

Amen

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Midway Mini Message (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 19th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this message..
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of kings (Passion Wk.4 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 7th April 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-04-07-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-evening-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 19:28-48
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 19:28-48
Tuesday 7th April 2020
Brightons Parish Church

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

Three weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, with Jesus resolutely setting out for Jerusalem. Along the way, we specifically looked at those parts of Luke’s gospel where Jesus met with, or spoke about, Samaritans – those people who were outcasts, despised, usually forgotten or ignored by their Jewish neighbours.

But tonight, Jesus reaches Jerusalem, the journey is at an end, yet it has not been easy. He has walked mile after mile, up from Jericho, which is the lowest town on the face of the earth, up through the winding, sandy hills and now He reaches the heights of Jerusalem…
Jesus has crossed through Judean desert, climbing steadily uphill, up what feels like a mountain. It’s been dusty, because it’s hot and it seldom rains.

But we know that Jesus has chosen this journey because Luke reminds us that ‘After Jesus had [finished teaching], he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.’ (v28) Jesus leads the way. This is to be the climax of His story, of His public ministry, and He knows well what lies ahead, yet He sets His face to go and meet it head on.

About two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus comes to Bethany and Bethphage, a place He has been before, and He sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey for the final portion of the journey. Likely this has been arranged ahead of time…
And with it all going according to how Jesus says it would, He can now enter Jerusalem.

As He does so, the people start to lay down their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to walk on, for His donkey to walk on. It seems a bit strange to us, but there’s a story in the Old Testament, 2nd Kings chapter 9, where the new king, Jehu, is welcomed into Jerusalem by people doing the very same thing.

And as the crowds lay their cloaks before Jesus, we start to hear a chant, a song, rise up upon their lips – we start to hear the crowd say things like, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ (v38)
They clearly think Jesus is the King that God had promised to send, the King who would make the world a better place. So, they sing an old song, Psalm 118, it’s a song of victory, a hymn of praise to the God who establishes His kingdom upon the earth.

As I said on Sunday, in all of this, Luke is trying to help us see something about Jesus; we’re meant to see that Jesus is the King, the Messiah, that God promised, and that this King has certain characteristics.

He is a King who has power and authority; that comes across in a number of ways. In v31, the reason to give for the request of the donkey, is that ‘The Lord needs it.’ God needs it, and that Lord, that God, is Jesus.
What is more, we know from v30, that this animal has never been ridden before, you would think it would just throw off a backwater carpenter and rabbi. But low and behold, no such thing is recorded, we’re meant to see that Jesus is King of all creation, including what might be otherwise wild and untameable.

On top of this, the particular reason given for the crowds believing Jesus to be the promised King is spelled out for us in v37: ‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’ Countless miracles, things beyond explanation, things only the promised Messiah, the promised King, could do, because He came in the name and power of God.
It’s because Jesus is such a King, that even though some of the Pharisees object in v39, even then, Jesus says the praise of the disciples is fitting because otherwise the stones would cry out in praise themselves! Jesus is due praise even from the inanimate parts of creation, such is His right and claim. I think we’re meant to see in Jesus a King who has power and authority.

But, as I said on Sunday, that’s not all we see of Jesus, for we see Him entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Not the grand animal chosen by other kings. Yet as the words from Zechariah remind us:
‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zech. 9:9)

Here Jesus comes, riding on a donkey, for He is humble and lowly – He is the King who comes in humility to serve.

Jesus does so, because He cares. We’ve seen that along the way in the particular stories we’ve focused on: scandalous grace shown to the undeserving; mercy shown to the neighbour whom we might otherwise overlook; abundant generosity for the least, the last and the lost. This is King Jesus, this is the King of kings that Luke has been trying to help us see.

Brothers and sisters, in our time, with what we face, doesn’t this sound like a King whom we all need to know?
And even a King we all need to emulate? In Jesus we see a King who cares for people, for people who think they are outcasts and to them He shows scandalous grace. Where do we need to show grace in these days? Who has fallen? Who has not met expectations or seen things as we have? There is grace awaiting from Jesus for them, but is there grace from us?

We’ve also seen that Jesus cares for people who think they are forgotten or insignificant. I wonder if that’s you friends? I wonder, as you sit at home, slowly bouncing off the walls, wondering if someone will call today, because they didn’t call yesterday, maybe not even called for the last week, and the thought begins to go around your head – am I forgotten? Am I insignificant? Well, not to Jesus, not Him, because He came to earth for you, for love of you; to Him you are worth dying for.

And in a world, shaken to its knees by coronavirus, does that world not need to know that Jesus cares for all the nations? That not one is favoured more than another, that there is love and care and concern in His heart for every one, and so none is rejected, all are welcome.

Friends, do you need to know the King of grace, mercy and generosity, whom despite His power and authority, comes close in humility to serve, because He cares for you, for me and for this world? I know I need that King.

Nevertheless, in every age, in every decade, indeed in every life, events arise that question this. In fact, at the time, people questioned this.

We read tonight of some Pharisees in the crowd, who just could not see this of Jesus and so they call out to Jesus to rebuke His disciples for what they say of Him. To these Pharisees it sounds irrational, it sounds dangerous in fact, because it sounds like the kind of thing which will disturb the peace, for it might catch the attention of the Romans and get the Jewish nation in trouble. These Pharisees would rather hush up Jesus and keep the peace, than see Him for who He truly is. They question the claims of Jesus.

But other people also questioned, even rejected Jesus, at the time. At the end of our reading tonight, the chief priests, teachers of the law and leaders want to kill Jesus. The time has come; He’s gone too far, they’re thinking to themselves: “who does this upstart, backwater rabbi think He is? The stories about Him cannot be true; it’s just a placebo for the masses; folk tales and wild fantasy. We know the truth,” they say, “we know how the world works, and Jesus does not feature in it.” These folks also questioned the claims of Jesus.

In our day, understandably I might add, people question the claims of Jesus. Amid coronavirus, we might all question the claims of Jesus. Is He really King? Really?

The claim of Christianity that Jesus is King is as confounding as a King who rides on a donkey. But Jesus did it then, He does it now; He does things that just don’t make sense to us, and in the midst of it, He asks us: who do you say I am? And will you follow me?

You see, in the account we read tonight, it’s all about Jesus and what our response to Him is. Some question and reject, as we’ve seen. Others appear to welcome Jesus, there’s the great crowd who gather round and join the celebrations. But in reality, these folks have simply got caught up in the moment; they’re going along for the trip, hoping Jesus will fulfil some of their hopes and desires. They’re happy to sing the songs of praise, but only as long as Jesus retains the potential of doing what they want of Him. Because, these same folks, will in a few days’ time be shouting: “Crucify! Crucify!”

Nevertheless, there are some who genuinely follow Jesus, they trust Him to be King, to be Messiah, and though the coming week will put them to flight momentarily,…
They still have faith in Him, it’s just that their faith needs to mature in substance.

So, I wonder friends, where do we sit? Who are you most like? Is it the Pharisees? Those who can’t quite make sense of Jesus. Does the claim that Jesus is King make you feel a bit unsettled and you’d rather keep Him at arms length and not disturb the peace?

Or is it, the religious and political leaders you most feel akin to? Do you know how the world works and Jesus isn’t part of the picture, so He is not welcome?

Could you be a member of the crowd? Ready to follow Jesus, but only if He meets your expectations?

Or, are you a disciple? Have you come to that point, where you know, deep down, that Jesus is this King? You can’t explain Him fully; you don’t have all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted; because He’s the King who rides a donkey. But there’s enough faith, because it’s not size that matters after all, there’s enough substance to your faith, that you know Jesus is King. You’re a disciple, you’re a follower of Jesus, through and through, come what may. Friends, which are you?

I suspect that many of us might have had experiences with a number of these groups. I don’t think I’ve ever been amongst the religious and political leaders, certainly not as far as God is concerned, though maybe a little with Jesus Himself. Because, after all, I didn’t really understand anything about Jesus for a long time…
I knew His name, but not anything of Him, I had no real understanding of the significance of Easter, for example, and so I didn’t doubt God, but this Jesus guy didn’t figure in my understanding of the world.

And then, one day, He did. Because one day, I came to see my need of Jesus. I’d messed up. I came face to face with my own brokenness, my own humanity, and I found in Jesus scandalous grace, a mercy wide and free, which I knew I now needed, and it changed my life forever.

But along the way, I’ve had my wobbles. There have been those moments when Jesus has just not matched up to my earlier expectations. And there have been those times when I’ve come to the point of asking: what do I really believe of Jesus? What do I really even know, of Jesus?
Back in mid-March, I was speaking at the Breathing In event at Brightons Church, and we were speaking a little about Christian apologetics, about the defence of the faith. I recalled for the folks there a time when I really questioned what I knew of Jesus, and all I was sure of was this: I knew I could trust the Bible, so I knew Jesus lived, that He died, that He rose again, so He was who He claimed to be, and I knew by putting faith in Him, I was a child of God. I think that’s about all I was sure of, but it got me through, and in time, faith was restored, relationship rebuilt, pain healed but with scars that were there below the surface.

So now, today, I would say I’m quite firmly in the disciple group. I’m not saying I don’t question or doubt. But I’ve come to a place where I can live with mystery, with the unknown and unanswered. I know Jesus to be King. I know Him to love me and love this world. After all, this week of all weeks, is the one which proves these things.

Friends, what’s your response to Jesus? Does He feature in your picture of the world? Is He more, than simply, your “genie in a bottle”? Have you come to know Jesus as King of all creation, but the King who comes riding on a donkey? Is He to you the King of kings, even though He does stuff, or things happen, which just don’t make sense?

Friends, I hope we can all reach that place, but even if we can, faith is not easy. There are still questions, there are still unknowns, there is still mystery. And there will be those times, still, where the best, maybe the only, response is to weep, to wail, to lament. But as we saw on Sunday, we’re in good company, for in v41, we read, ‘As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…’

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and He weeps because it was the place of deepest rebellion against God, its people are blind to the One in whom true peace lies and in whom fullness of life could be found. For they have and will set their own interests and agenda before those of God, they will resort to murder to do so. Jesus can see where Israel is heading, and He knows that their infidelity to God and obstinacy towards His reign will only lead to ruin.

But, as you hear those words of judgment and see His actions of rebuke in the temple, as you see both prophet and priest in Jesus, speaking truth to power one moment then cleansing what is defiled the next, remember His tears, remember His tears of lament. What He says, what He does, issues forth not from a stern and cold justice, but from a heart of love, a heart that wants the best for, and from, His people, and so now must oppose their rebellion, even though it breaks His heart.

It’s the mystery of the gospel friends: that God is love, but His love will not overlook, cannot overlook, evil, and so there will be judgment of sin. But it breaks the heart of God. God was grieved to His heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of His human creatures. He was devastated when His own people, described as His bride, turned away from His love to give their love to another.

Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in His world. But that’s not the picture we get in the Bible, and lament is not just an outlet for frail, little humanity. Here is King Jesus, full of power and authority, yet vulnerable, honest and caring enough that He cries, He laments.

Lament is the cry of a heart that is shattered, raw, gazing into suffering, bruised by its ragged edges and crying out for justice. Lament resists shallow, packaged, simplistic answers. It demands fierce authenticity and is unafraid of unanswerable questions. Lament is not the antithesis of faith; it is what faith looks like when it draws near to grief. The more passionately we believe in the goodness of God, the more passionately we protest when His goodness is obscured, and so we lament.

Friends, we don’t have to have all the answers, ever, and not even in or for our present time. Yet not having the answers, doesn’t mean we must give up on Jesus being King of kings or truly caring for the nations. For He welcomes us to cry with those who cry, and mourn with those who mourn, and in the midst of pain and brokenness, find the God who laments with us and for us.

May this be the Jesus we know and whom we follow, not only this week, but until we see Him face to face.

May it be so. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 31st March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-31-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 17:5-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:5-19
Tuesday 31st March 2020 Brightons Parish Church

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

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. On Sunday we had our final service before we reach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We’re hoping to have some online prayers and reflections then for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, led for us by ministers in the Braes area, and more details will be available on Sunday.

In our passage for this evening, we have the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about and it follows on after a lengthy teaching portion, which began back in Luke chapter 15. In the particular section we heard tonight, it began and ended on the topic of faith, and that’s where we’ll start this evening.

As I said on Sunday, having faith just now is hard, we have questions, some people may even scoff at the idea of faith, scoff at it having value and relevance. But I think that hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. It is possible to be people of faith even amidst uncertain times.

But as the example of the disciples teaches us, it’s OK to be honest with Jesus about our doubts. In verse 5, we see that the apostles, those close friends of Jesus, said to
Him: ‘Increase our faith!’
Here are the people that Jesus is training up, training up to be involved in His continuing ministry, and despite having seen so many miracles already, they are now struggling, they perceive their faith is maybe not quite big enough for what Jesus asks of them.

And what does Jesus ask of them? We didn’t read those particular verses tonight but if you open your Bible, you can see in verse 1 that Jesus speaks of keeping faith even when things come along that might cause some to stumble, then in verses 2 to 3, Jesus speaks of living in such a manner as not to undermine another’s faith, then finally in verses 3 to 4, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as often as repentance occurs.

What’s quite striking here, is that the things which provoke the disciples to say, ‘increase our faith’, are not great wonders or undertakings which we might normally associate with needing faith. We may more naturally think of deeds such as praying for healing, or being asked to preach, or give up something that is dear to us.

Yet, what Jesus shares here, are every day, normal activities. Keeping the faith, building others up, and forgiving as often as needed. Doesn’t sound very grand, but aren’t they just as hard? Even now, amidst this pandemic, don’t we face all three to some degree? Keeping the faith when events around us might seem to belittle our beliefs. Building others up when it’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, doubt and moaning. And as we face lockdown, maybe for weeks upon weeks, and we get grumpy with one another because we’re living in such close proximity all the time, or we get bitter because we are alone and we feel forgotten, is not forgiveness needed in such times?

I wonder, as time passes and the lockdown extends, might not we also be inclined, with the disciples, to cry out, ‘Lord increase our faith’ because these otherwise mundane tasks are actually quite demanding.

So, what is Jesus reply? He says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbole because He and the disciples never did such a thing themselves.
Instead, Jesus is trying to highlight that it’s not the amount of faith that is important, but rather simply its presence and what underpins or defines our faith. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of Systematic Theology, reminds us of this: ‘…our spiritual forefathers used to say that little faith gets the same Saviour as great faith, but it may not get his greatness.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save, page 66)

What he’s saying, as with Jesus, is that what is important is not the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith. Often, we are tempted to say, “I don’t have enough faith”, or “He or she has more faith than I”. But such statements reveal that we think faith is dependant on us, that what we feel, what we can muster up, is what defines the character and strength of our faith.
But Jesus, as with our spiritual forefathers, is saying something else. They are revealing that faith should have its character and strength defined by God, rather than ourselves. This means, argues Ferguson, that ‘faith should be described as the extent to which our trust in the Lord is in keeping with the greatness of God’s person and the certainty of His promises.’ For example: if I trust, that Jesus is always with me unto the end of the age, as He has promised to be, and I trust this because I know Him to be alive, then this shapes my faith and so defines my living, my choices, and my perspective.

But, if I believe Jesus to be God but quite distant, detached from our experience, then I do have faith, I do have access to Jesus, but I do not appreciate His greatness as fully as I should, and so my faith is diminished and its impact upon my life is equally limited.

Faith, which can tell a mulberry tree to jump into the sea, is a faith which appreciates the greatness of God and lives accordingly. It’s not about the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith, and the substance of our faith is matured and maintained by the extent to which we grow in our relationship with God, and we do that by appreciating more of His person and His promises.

So, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to invest time in their relationship with God during this time of isolation, and we principally grow in our relationship with God as we dig into His Word, because it’s in His Word that we learn of His person and promises. We’ve offered a couple of ideas for this in our Sunday services, with an online reading plan begun yesterday, exploring faith and doubts. It’s not too late to get involved and details are still available on our website and Facebook page.

But, whether you join the reading plans or not, please invest some time in your relationship with God by getting into His Word. Then, the substance of your faith can be matured and maintained in line with the true revelation of God, as you learn of His person and promises.

On Sunday, I also mentioned that this issue of faith among the apostles is followed on after with the story of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It was that man who evidenced a faith which had substance – He

recognised in Jesus the God of all creation and that Jesus the God-man was overflowing with loving kindness.

I said on Sunday, that loving kindness was one way of unpacking the words ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’, which is what the ten lepers asked of Jesus in the first place. Jesus did heal them, He granted what they asked for, they experienced His loving kindness. But they do so, after following His command to: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ (Luke 17:14)

I deliberately skipped over that part of the passage because our service was seeking to be all age. But now, I’d like to give you a little more context for those words. In the Old Testament, the people of God were given instructions regarding various skin conditions, and as I outlined, it was pretty hard back then to tell what people had. So, anyone with one of these particular skin conditions had to leave home, they had to leave the village, because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated and removed.

But it was also possible for someone to be welcomed back into the community if their condition changed or went away. At that point, they were to go to their local priest, for only they could legally declare a leper “clean” and healthy, and so able then to return to a normal life.

What’s striking in the story of the ten lepers, is that one returns to Jesus, rather than going on to find the priest. Clearly, we’re right to talk about gratitude and thankfulness because it’s there in the passage, and we’ll come back to that soon. But this idea of Jesus being asked for mercy, and of the one leper coming to Jesus, when all the rest go seeking their priest, does call to mind what the writer to the Hebrews wrote: ‘…[Jesus] shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:14-17)

There’s a lot packed into those few verses, but did you notice that the writer speaks of Jesus as a merciful high priest? In the Old Testament, the high priest had the role of once a year going into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle, or temple, so as to make atonement for the people. This was part of the wider system which secured their forgiveness of sin such that they were in right standing with God.

The writer of Hebrews makes a lengthy argument that Jesus is the eternal, perfect high priest, bringing in a new and eternal covenant between God and humanity, such that any who will put their faith in Jesus can have their sins forgiven, once for all, remembered no more, and then given unrestricted access to God’s presence because they are made children of God through the Son of God who died in their place, even though He Himself was perfectly sinless.
But to establish that new, eternal covenant, Jesus had to be both fully man and fully God, which is what the writer said in the passage we read. As such, Jesus is then our merciful high priest, He is able to represent both God and mankind, and stand in the gap between us, offering us mercy, loving kindness, through His own sacrifice, and welcoming us into the family of God with right standing before God.

It’s in that place, as the writer outlines, that we are then freed from the fear of death, because eternal life is secured for us by Jesus, our merciful high priest.

Now, coming back to the story of the ten lepers, it’s interesting that the one leper who cannot go to the
Jewish priests, because he’s a Samaritan, comes instead to Jesus. Does that individual realise that he needs no other priest, for Jesus, the God-man, is priest enough?

Friends, we’ve spoken tonight of developing a faith which has substance by learning of the person and promises of God, such that it matures and is maintained. I wonder, if the example of the Samaritan, is not only one of thankfulness, but of recognising something of the person and promises of Jesus: that He is merciful, overflowing with loving kindness, ready to forgive and welcome us into the family of God, if only we will bow the knee and respond in faith to Him. That kind of faith has a measure of substance, and by such faith we can be freed of fear and as we sung on Sunday, having a hope which is steadfast and sure.

I think, as we recognise more of the person and promises of Jesus, that a real depth of thankfulness will overflow within us, and so let’s close with some reflections on that idea from the passage.

It’s clear from what Jesus says that thankfulness is important, especially thankfulness to Jesus Himself, and that’s something we are taught again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us, as we saw, to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

So, are you someone who’s thankful? I really valued those words from Tom Wright, who said: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

I wonder, have you begun to do anything about that yet? Because being a people of thankfulness, not only makes us less prone to anger or bitterness, it also guards against that common human tendency to think God “owes” us or that God is some kind of “genie in a bottle”.

I think that’s part of the reason behind Jesus’ words in verses 7 to 10: that nothing we do, or experience, can put God in our debt, because He has been generous already, and immeasurably added to His generosity through the death of His perfect Son, our merciful high priest.

Again, as our faith develops substance, rather than size, by appreciating the person and promises of God, then we are freed from unhealthy perceptions of God, we are enabled to see His goodness, His grace, His loving kindness, such that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything.

So, how are you going to develop a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity? When I was in training, I came across a spiritual discipline called Examen, and it’s a form of prayer that helps us realise the many good gifts of God throughout our day. We don’t have time to go into it just now, but I’ll put up some links on our website and Facebook page if you want to dig into that, because it’s a practice that I’ve found helpful, even though I’m only beginning now to cultivate in my own life.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, may we be a people whose faith grows in substance as we see more clearly the person of God, that He is full of loving kindness, that He comes close, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. May we also, appreciate afresh the promises we have from God, particularly the promises secured for us through Jesus, who gave Himself for us upon the Cross, that we might be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times. To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

True Faith (James 2:14-26)

Preached on: Sunday 2nd February 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 20-02-02-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 2:14-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 2:14-26
Sunday 2nd February 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

This past week I was away in Perth for two nights at the Church of Scotland First Five Years’ Conference – and yes, we did get snow as well. The conference is open to any minister who is in their first five years and it gives us newbies time to be together for support and to get some input on the dynamics of modern day ministry. Of course, whilst we’re there we try our best to set the world aright, especially within the Church and maybe because I’ve been talking about the life of our denomination a lot this week, here’s a question I invite you to discuss with your neighbour: what one thing would you blame for the current predicament of our national church?
Now this isn’t a question we discussed at the conference, but it does do the rounds: what one thing would you blame for the current predicament of our national church?

So, if you’re willing, turn to your neighbour for one minute and have a quick discussion.
(PAUSE)
The reality is that in all likelihood, every answer we’ve aired has played its part, and many more could be added to the list.

In our passage today, the second half of James chapter 2 doesn’t offer us a silver bullet to our situation or an exact diagnosis of where it all went wrong. But I do think it poses us some questions and as we wrestle with them… there are likely many points of application we could derive from the passage, yet they all centre around one key issue, which James drives home with four
illustrations, and it is this: ‘faith without deeds is dead.’

This idea is repeated four times by James:
• ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (v17)
• ‘faith without deeds is useless’ (v20)
• ‘a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (v24)
• ‘faith without deeds is dead’ (v26)

Yes, there is nuance a little there in the middle verses, but the point James is trying to get across remains the same:
‘faith without deeds is dead.’
He has one key issue and he has been building towards this from the outset of the letter, building his case that true faith is proven by the lives we live, and to make sure his readers are really clear on this, he now gives them four further illustrations.

Illustration 1 – in verses 14 to 17 here, James outlines a scenario wherein a fellow Christian is in need, due to lack of food or clothing. James probably begins with this illustration because he’s been speaking about the poor in the earlier part of the chapter. In the scenario, James imagines someone within the Christian community replying to such a poor and needy soul in this way: “‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs…” (James 2:16)

It would be like us saying, ‘off you go, try not to worry. Keep warm; eat plenty’. It’s an empty saying. In this situation, James asks: ‘…what good is it?’

Now, James’ point is not simply about ‘what good is it’ to the poor people, for obviously their needs are left wanting; to them there is no good, no benefit. But James is primarily highlighting the benefit of such faith to the individual spurning the poor believer, for James wrote:

‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ (James 2:14, 17)

And here is the predicament that James want his readers (and us) to grasp: if we claim to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we claim to be a Christian, but then have no specific action, no distinctive lifestyle flowing from such faith, well then, that faith is dead, it is of no good, for it does not save you.

James probably still has the earlier thought from verses 12 to 13 in mind, of God’s judgment, which we explored last week. We saw last week that apart from the forgiveness and mercy available to us at the Cross of Jesus there is no escape from judgment; it’s only when we ask God in faith to forgive us, because of the death of Jesus on the Cross, it’s only then, that we come into right standing with God, forgiven of sin, the slate wiped clean.
It’s only then that we are saved.

But if we claim to have such faith and claim to have such a status before God through Jesus, then as we saw last week, it should leave its mark, our lives should display His mercy and love. Conversely, a faith which appears to make no impact on your life, may be no faith at all. You may claim to have faith, you may be able to confess true and right doctrine, you may be a church member – but if your faith shows no mercy, if it bears no fruit, then James says it is no good, you are potentially not saved, you remain under the judgment of God, for in all likelihood your claim to faith is as empty as saying to a poor man,
‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.’

So, let me ask you this friends: do you claim to have faith? Do you claim to have faith? And if you do, what can you point to in your life where your faith makes a difference in your life and in the life of others? For example,…
let’s take James’ reference to the poor and not just gloss over that. Where is your faith costing you more than nice sentiment to the poor? It’s easy to become jaded to such needs; it’s easy to come up with excuses. Living in a manse that is right behind the church helps people know where your house is, and they then come asking for money and food and help with the electricity. So, every now and again, the questions arise: does my faith make a
difference here? Or is it, merely words?

James reminds us, that a claim to faith which has no impact on your life, which stirs little mercy or compassion, that is dead faith, it is of no good, your faith is just empty words, and empty words do not save. So, what does your life reveal? Is your faith alive or dead?

James now moves on to his next illustration. In verses 18 to 20, he introduces an imaginary interrupter; someone’s got a question and they are jumping in. These verses have proved complex for interpreters and commentators to engage with because in the original Greek there is no punctuation and so we have to wrestle with the text to know where to put in English punctuation so that the text stays true to the flow of the argument but is also clear. I think the NIV does a good job here and its structure, shared by other translations, has led to several commentators pointing out that the interrupter here is probably not hostile towards James, but rather is simply seeking clarification about James’ argument.

We can well imagine someone saying, ‘You have faith; I have deeds. Both are equally valid methods…

of showing genuine Christianity, don’t you think James? We’re obviously not in favour of being unmerciful, it’s just that, some of us do the deeds of mercy, whilst others of us encourage those that do the acts of mercy. Surely both are equally valid James?’

To such an interrupter, to someone who wants to allow space for both, James holds fast, because faith without deeds is useless, it is dead. His first reply is very much like his earlier case: ‘Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.’ (James 2:18b) – because faith without action is just empty words, it’s just a claim, it cannot be demonstrated.

But then James takes it one stage further, for he says:
‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’ (James 2:19-20)

Maybe James imagines the interrupter affirming that central truth about God, quoting from the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one…’ (Deut. 6:4)

And James responds with a quip that basically says: well, that’s all well and good, and very accurate, but even the demons believe that, they know that to be a truth. But here’s the thing, my friends, says James: the demons believe it, they know it to be true, and yet they still live in rebellion towards God, for the next verse after what you’ve quoted is this: ‘…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deut. 6:5) – and that is something a demon will never do, though at least they shudder, for at least they know the future that awaits them.

And so, James responds with: ‘You foolish person…’ (v20) You’re a fool because you’re like the demons, you’re no more saved than the demons, because your claim of faith is no more than what the demons have – it has not led you to loving the Lord your God with your whole being and so loving your neighbour as yourself. Your faith is useless, it is dead.

Friends, when faith is true, when faith is living, we each can face up to the reality that we are broken people, we are sinners, and as such we each deserve an eternity separate from God. But when faith is true,…
you don’t fear that anymore, you don’t shudder like the demons, instead you come into a place of forgiveness and peace. You come to know yourself as a child of God, reconciled to your heavenly Father, still aware that you’re imperfect, that it was your sin that led Jesus to be crucified, that He faced divine wrath because of us, because of me, because of you. But when you come in to living faith, you come to see the love of God at the cross, that for love He died for you, and so in response you love Him, and in that relationship of love all fear is gone, you don’t shudder likes the demons.

Friends, is your faith living? Can you face the reality that you are a sinner, deserving of judgment and wrath, but knowing that because of your living faith in Jesus,… you’re forgiven, you’re reconciled to God? Do the words of the old song echo true for you:
‘Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary.’

Does the cross of Calvary stir in you fear or joy? Is your faith living or dead?

It’s at this point that James switches tack and speaks of two positive examples to illustrate his point. Why he mentions Abraham is anyone’s guess – he is writing to Christians from a Jewish background, maybe that’s his reason. It could be that James is aware of how the early church based its argument for salvation by faith alone… on the passages from Genesis about Abraham. But for whatever reason, James switches tack.

It’s at this point also that some have wondered if James contradicts the teaching of the Apostle Paul, for James summaries his reference to Abraham with these words: ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.’ (James 2:24)

But Paul said, ‘For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.’ (Romans 3:28)

It was because of such an apparent contradiction that Luther wanted to get rid of the book of James completely. So, which is it? Is there conflict here? Or is something else going on?
Well, what we need to realise is that James and Paul are writing at two different periods of history, James was likely first, and they are writing to deal with different issues. Paul was writing to argue against a false teaching which said deeds of the law in addition to faith lead to salvation; his opponents argued for reliance on something as well as faith to secure salvation, in particular circumcision.

But the scenario for James is quite different – he’s not saying we have to add something to faith to be saved, he’s not even saying that faith by itself is deficient when he says that Abraham’s faith had to be made complete.

All James is arguing for is that true living faith always – it always – results in good deeds, in a radical obedience…
to God. Which is what we see in Abraham’s life: his willingness to follow God’s command, to the letter, by being willing to offer Isaac in sacrifice that showed Abraham’s faith to be real, and by his obedience his faith matured, it was made complete, it was given fuller meaning, as it was put to the test of obedience.

And Paul is not against such an understanding of faith, for he himself wrote: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ (Galatians 5:6)

Paul also argued for a changed life, a life that loved God and loved neighbour because of faith in God, of right relationship with God. Paul would affirm everything that James has said, it is simply that James looked at the experience of Abraham and saw there that the
willingness of Abraham to express his faith…
through obedience ratified his claim to a living faith. Because living faith should lead to radical obedience, or it is dead.

A similar point is brought home with Rahab – for though she was different in nearly every way from Abraham: him a man, she a woman; he respected, she unscrupulous; Abraham rich, Rahab poor; her a foreigner, him the father of Israel – but in both a living faith that was seen in how they lived, for their faith led to radical obedience.

The aid which Rahab gave to the Israelites would have risked her life, would have risked even her family. But living faith is more than a private transaction of the heart; it is a life of active, costly obedience to God, wherein… we share, at personal expense, we share in the purposes of God, holding nothing back from Him.

So, where might God be calling us to radical obedience? Where might God be calling us to costly risk-taking as we put our living faith into practice? Where is God calling you to share in His purposes today and not simply give a verbal claim to be a Christian?

The application of this could be as numerous as the people here, but if I may draw upon Rahab’s experience, in particular, can I ask: where are you serving the purposes of God?

Maybe this comes to mind for me because every month, if not nearly every week, I hear of the need we have…
for extra volunteers to sustain and develop our many ministries. At present those needing help especially include the Friends of Jesus group, the Sunday School, our uniformed organisations, but I’m pretty sure every group would welcome some new help.

Now this year we as a congregation have responded sacrificially towards the purposes of God with our finances; and I am blown away by how greatly you have increased your giving.

But we need to serve as well, within this congregation, and that might raise some queries in your mind. Firstly, you might say that you serve elsewhere already, and that’s great, but if you want this congregation to have a future, we all need to be involved in some way.
Secondly, you might say you’re too old, but being too old to do does not make you too old to pray. And if we could gather together 10, 20, 40 people who will commit to praying for the ministry of this church, and specifically give me their name so that I can give you updates and specific prayer needs, then you’d be putting your faith into practice and you’d be underpinning everything we do here. I have my friend, Dick Anderson, I’ve mentioned him before, now in his 80’s, still sharing his faith, but also praying for me and praying for us here at Brightons. If you’re too old to do, will you sign up to pray?

Thirdly, you might say: “I’m too busy, I’m too busy to do anything beyond work, family and coming here on a Sunday.” Now some people do have very severe circumstances and if that’s you, then this bit isn’t for you, so you can switch off. But for the rest of us, let’s remember Rahab, let’s remember Abraham – willing to count the cost so as to share in the purposes of God, putting their faith into practice. And that’s relevant for us because in our culture today, it seems like everything else comes first and God gets the leftovers – a few minutes here, a few minutes there. But Rahab and Abraham’s example, calls us to give of ourselves towards the purposes of God, to radical obedience, because that’s what living faith does.

Thinking back to my earlier question, there’s really no point in blaming the past; we can of course learn from it, but our focus should be on today. Because if a church, a congregation, could arise where all having a living faith accompanied with radical obedience, then…
that’s a body of people who could transform society, changing the lives of the poor, as well as raiding the dominion of darkness for great things would be seen in them and through them.

I wonder, if we are willing to resolve to be a people of living faith that we might then share in the purposes of God today. So, is our faith dead, or is it living?

Let us pray.