Malachi: treasured possession

Preached on: Sunday 21st November 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 21-11-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 3:13-4:6
Location: Brightons Parish Church
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Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word

 

Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal the call of Father God.

Holy Spirit, be present and reveal the hope we have through Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

 

The day I became a Christian I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I know it wasn’t because the idea of becoming a Christian made me feel uneasy and it wasn’t because of the hangover I had that morning. I had been out the night before and I don’t remember much of the evening but the bits I do remember, as I’ve shared on a number of occasions, they made me sick to the pit of my stomach because I made some really bad choices that night and I woke up realizing I had a problem and at that time I would have called my problem selfishness. Now. further along the journey of faith. I can be quite honest and say it’s just sin. And what’s more shocking is that I thought I was a Christian. You know, I worked on a Sunday at W.H Smith and so I couldn’t go to the morning service but there was holy-me going to the evening service. Surely that made me a Christian? And I volunteered with my Scout group and gave up my time to benefit young people, and I had a good reputation and people, hopefully, thought quite well of me but, but here was me that morning, the day I became a Christian, faced with the reality of my life, that, actually, in my heart was a growing selfishness, and my heart was very far from God, because God was just an idea, He wasn’t a person I related to in any real way and there’s been so much that I’ve taken from my experience but what I’d want to relate to you this morning is that it’s easy to assume things are okay, it’s easy to ignore the deeper issues in our lives, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the moment that we forget to take stock of our lives, and so, the day I became a Christian, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but that day, the day I became a Christian, changed my life for the better and I’ve never regretted a moment since then, I just wish it hadn’t taken me messing up my life quite so much to come to that realization that I had a problem and I needed God’s help. And you know, this morning, you might have a bit of a queasy feeling in your stomach, and it’s probably got nothing to do with anything else other than the bible passage we heard this morning because, if truth be told, it was a wee bit uncomfortable was it not. I’ve been stewing on it all week how am I going to preach from this? What does it mean? And if you feel uncomfortable, the person that invited you to be here for them becoming a member or them getting their child baptized they probably feel even more uncomfortable. So, when you go out the door and you’re chatting about the service afterwards just bless them and be really kind and merciful to them because they had no idea what was coming today, because we’ve simply been working through the book of Malachi and I didn’t aim for this passage to be today, it just happened to be the last bit before we go into Advent.

 

But you know, maybe it’s timely, maybe in some ways it’s timely for you and for us because, sometimes, we need something to help us sit up and take notice, something to make us take stock of life rather than getting into a real mess like I did all those years ago. And so, maybe today is helpful and the message of Malachi might be helpful for us because Malachi was also sent to our people who were completely oblivious. There was something deeply wrong but they didn’t actually have a clue and so God sent Malachi one more time and He says to the people ‘You have spoken arrogantly against me. You have said it is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements?’ and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty. There’s something deeply wrong with the people, something deep in the souls of their being. There’s arrogance and there’s distance from God and, sure their meeting His requirements, they say, and that might be like they’re going to the temple and they’re praying and they’re giving their sacrifices, they’re maybe bringing their offering. They’re going around like mourners. They’ve already got dust and ash and sackcloth on them to show signs of repentance but actually, it’s all just external, going through the motions, it’s not from the heart and they’re bothered by this. They say it’s futile! What’s the point? What good is this to me? There’s no return for this, there’s no profit in this for me God! What’s the point? What good is it doing me? You know, they’ve turned faith into something very selfish. They appear to be serving God but actually they’re just serving themselves and there again is echoes of my story, echoes of my selfishness, echoes of my brokenness, my sin, but it’s an issue we all deal with don’t we. Because if truth be told, as human beings, we can turn just about anything into being about us and asking ‘Well, what’s the benefit in this for me?’ or ‘How can I benefit from this in some way?’ We twist it.

 

So, for example, I was in the playground this week and I was talking to one of the other dads who’s also called Scott, and we got talking and he was telling me about the parents’ night and how it went for his son, and that his son was reading already, primary one, age five, same year as my daughter, and there’s a part of me that’s like ‘Well, Hope’s not reading!’ And there’s almost a part of you that could twist that into ‘I need to get Hope reading’ so that I don’t feel so terrible as a parent. I, you, as a human being, you could twist just about anything family, kids, money, your job, church – How often in church is it ‘Has the service suiting me?’ – as the minister, the elders, the pastoral grouping leaders, the Sunday School. Is it suiting me and meeting my needs? Just about anything in life we can twist because and I think that part of the reason is as our last song suggested, the longing of our soul is something else than where we often look, we often look to these other things and we try and have the longing of our soul met by these other things and it just can’t, and so we end up twisting things. And last week we were thinking about God sorting out the world, sorting out the problems and making this world a better place, that one day He would restore all things and so we that was a really positive message hopefully and hopefully you left encouraged and hopefully you’re like ‘God, come on sort out the world. Come back sort out, sort out the problems out there.’

 

But maybe, when it comes to today’s message of sorting the problems in here, maybe that just feels too uncomfortable, maybe we’d rather say to God ‘You know God, just back off back off! It’s my life.’ or ‘Treat me a bit differently God, you know, I’m not as bad as the person down the road, I’m not as bad as the person in that country, or doing that thing or that politician, just treat me a bit differently. God, come on geeza break!’ But you know, to God, sin is sin and whether it’s the smallest acts or the tiniest indiscretion, He knows it. And this is a truth He had to reestablish with His people through Malachi because they think serving God is futile, they think God just overlooks sin. Here’s these evildoers, they’re getting away with stuff. God doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. What’s the point? And so, He sends Malachi to remind them of the truth. He sends them to take heed because as He says – there will be a day when He will act. There will be a day when the Lord will act. There’ll be a day when He will restore the world and He’s going to make it all new and there’ll be no more sin or death or mourning. There’ll be no more brokenness or selfishness.

 

But that creates a problem, doesn’t it? Because what does God do with you and me, the darkness in us. If not a jot of sin can be in that new creation, what does He do with us?

 

Another prophet put the problem this way ‘We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to our own way.’ And the new hymn actually picked up on that too, I hadn’t noticed until we sung it there, we all got our own way. We’ll tell God to take a hike, and our culture just reinforces that message, doesn’t it? It just says, be free, throw off restraints, just go for it alone, ignore God, don’t let Him tell you, don’t let the church tell you how to live your life, be free, because that’s the way to a good life, a best life. But you know, it’s a lie it’s a lie because at 19 I pursued that, at 19 I pursued life my way, and where did it lead me? It just led me into more brokenness and for more for the heart for other people and so on the day I became a Christian, as I sat there with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I had to own up to my brokenness, my sin, because nothing was going to change if I didn’t do that first.

 

And part of being a Christian involves that lonely moment when you acknowledge that, when you acknowledge that reality in your life, and all our members, new members who stood there today at one point or another they’ve all had to own up to that reality, that they have a problem, like I have a problem, like you have a problem. That problem is sin and, as we affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed, that has been the belief for 2000 years and beyond, that God was going to come back one day to deal with sin and none of us will be exempt from that. And so, God has to get these truths back into the lives of His people, people who are oblivious to this reality and they don’t know something’s wrong and so He brings a wake-up call He did in my life the day I became a Christian. That was a wake-up call for me and maybe you’re sitting there feeling really uncomfortable and really wishing you weren’t in church today and you’re really going to give the person a hard time that invited you along, despite what I said earlier, but you know maybe that uncomfortableness, maybe even that anger, because this can raise anger in us, maybe those feelings are actually God shining a wee torchlight in your life and just saying ‘Look there is a problem here. There is something we need to talk about. There’s a deeper issue we need to address.’ but you know, God doesn’t do it to be mean, He doesn’t include passages like this in the Bible to be mean, and He doesn’t do it to leave us feeling condemned or judged or guilty, because, most of the time, I don’t live my life that way because not only did God on the day I became a Christian I’d highlight my problem, He provided a solution because He loves us, He loves you in the depth of His being He loves you.

 

And so, also in Malachi we read these words ‘Surely the day is coming the Son of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.’ The day of the Lord is coming and on that day, though it will be like the rising of the sun, and the rays of that event will bring healing to the world, to all creation and do away with sin forever and that idea, that hope, that reality is spoken in so many places across the scriptures. We read earlier from Isaiah, and in just before the verses immediately before what we read, we read this also from Isaiah ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. Yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. each of us has turned to our own way and the lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ Time and time again God tells of an event and then of a person who will come to bring this restored world about who will bring this freedom from sin who will bring healing for all.

 

And that event came 400 years after Malachi. That event happened in the Advent season we’re about to celebrate. It happened with the coming of Jesus, when God stepped into our broken world, when God went to the cross to die the death we should for our sin. So, you might get angry at God for what He’s saying this morning, I’m really uncomfortable with it, but let’s remember He also provides that solution he hung on a cross and bled for you and for me that’s how much he loves you, He died so that sin wouldn’t have the final say, He died so that if you put your faith in Him you can share in that great and glorious day when He’ll make all things new and the Son of Righteousness will bring healing from all sin and you know since that day, since the day Jesus died and then rose again, and across the centuries since then, people across this world have been putting their faith in Jesus, just like our new members did, they’ve been finding that the words of scripture are true that there is forgiveness through Jesus, that you can be reconciled to God through Jesus, and we’ve come to see that it’s all of grace, it’s all a gift, we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, we simply receive it through faith in Jesus and every day, even today, there are people coming to faith in this truth, they’re coming to find life and hope through Jesus, this one who will bring healing when the Son of Righteousness rises.

 

And so, what do we do with today’s message? What do we do with these two sides of the one coin? On the one side we have the really bad news that we all have a sin problem, and on the other side of the coin there’s good news, that there’s hope and forgiveness through Jesus. What do we do with that?

 

Well our passage gives us two ideas and the first, on the first thing to do is to repent, which means change your thinking, such that your heart and your life changes as well, and there were people who heard what the Lord said they heeded Him and they turned to Him, and in turning to Him, the Lord said over them they were his treasured possession and He would spare them.

 

Maybe you need to repent today. Maybe you’re not a Christian. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a long time and you know you’ve not made that choice yourself. Maybe today is the day you need to repent and turn to the Lord and admit ‘I’ve got a problem God, and I need Your forgiveness.’

 

The second idea of how to respond this morning is to stand and be counted. Those that responded, their names were written down they were counted, and our new members today, their names will be added to our Church Roll, they’re being counted and so maybe one of the things you need to consider doing is becoming a member here in church, to publicly say ‘You know, I believe in Jesus. I’m following Jesus, and this is my spiritual home.’ Maybe that’s the step you need to take to stand and be counted but that membership as the promises were asked today not only includes having your name on a bit of paper it involves being part of this church family through the giving of your time, talents and your money, and so maybe there’s something in that for you. Maybe you’re standing and being counted needs to look like getting involved or caring for the people who call this their spiritual home. It’s if you’re not infirm and housebound or limited in some capacity like that then really do we have an excuse? We need to stand and be counted because if we’ve counted this as our spiritual home and made these promises we made promises to get involved. Maybe you need to get involved.

 

But maybe standing be counted as also like in verse chapter 4 verse 4 here where it says ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses’ we think of remembering as just having a bit of information in our head but in Hebrew and in the Old Testament the idea of remembering was that you not only remembered it but you lived in light of it, you walked in accordance with God’s ways, you lived your life God’s way, that’s what it means to truly remember and you know maybe there’s an area of your life that you need to stand up and be counted. The other six days of the week you’re out and about because our final promise that our members made today was to do that to witness to Jesus in all the rest of their life and you know maybe there’s something in your life, an area of your life you need to stand and be counted. It might be sharing your faith, but it could be that you need to choose God’s way rather than your culture’s way or the way of your colleagues. Maybe you need to walk in truth and in uprightness. Maybe there’s a sin in your life that you know God would want you to turn from. Maybe anger. Maybe sexual immorality of some form. Who knows what it might be.

 

And the question is Will you stand and be counted by walking in God’s ways rather than yours or the culture? Will you live in response to the grace you’ve received? is basically what the passage is calling us to do. So, before we finish up, I want to give us a moment to pray. I want to give a moment first of all to turn to God in repentance. That if you’ve never done that, maybe today is the day to do that because I wouldn’t be doing my job if I simply told you an idea but maybe just didn’t help you along that next bit of the journey. So, if you want to make that step today, let me help you make that step and I’ll lead you in a prayer and then we’ll go on to pray as well about how we respond to the grace we’ve received by being stuck by standing and being counted. So, let’s come to God in prayer. Let us pray:

 

So, if you want to welcome Jesus into your life and receive forgiveness, why don’t you pray along with me just in the quiet of your heart, pray these words with me.

 

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life for the selfishness that’s there, and I take a moment to name anything that’s on my conscience this morning.

Lord, please forgive me.

I turn from everything that I know is wrong and I choose to walk in step with You. Thank-you, You died on the cross so that I could be forgiven. Thank-you for Your love. Thank-you for Your grace.

I ask for you to fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might walk with You all the days of my life.

Thank-you Lord Jesus.

 

Lord God, we hear a tough message from Your word today but You speak it in love, to call us deeper, to call us into Your ways, to respond to Your grace and so I pray for those that have made that choice today, to respond for the first time, protect them, I pray, protect this choice they’ve made today.

 

And for all of us Lord, as we as we ponder the magnitude of Your love and grace, that took You to the cross, and the reality that one day You will return. Help us live between now and then to Your glory, to live lives worthy of your calling and so stand and be counted in all the areas of life.

Lord where there’s a sin we may be trapped in, give us grace and break us free Lord where we need to stand and be counted by getting involved or coming into membership or making You known at work.

Lord, give us grace that we might have strength and power to witness to You and to give our lives for Your glory.

Oh God, You’re a good God, a great God, and we delight in You this morning. Thank-you that You delight in us, that we are your treasured possession. May we go here from here knowing that, rejoicing in that, and inviting all to know that as well by coming to faith in Jesus, for in His name we ask this. Amen

 

If you have made that choice for the first time today, please come and talk to me, tell me, tell a trusted Christian you know, because it’s easy to make it, just keep it very personal but you need to take that next step of faith to say ‘I’ve made that choice and that will just help to solidify and strengthen that choice of faith you’ve made today. So, come and chat to me. I won’t ask you a lot of questions, I’ll just rejoice with you, or tell a Christian, a trusted Christian, that you’re here with today.

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Saved by grace

Preached on: Sunday 20th June2021
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 here21-06-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: 2 Timothy 1:16-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit with revelation about our God and Father.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Boys and Girls, young people, it’s been so good to see and hear a little of what you have been learning and doing in your Sunday School groups. Thank-you for sharing and contributing to our service today.

With the adults we’ve been learning about our particular word, the word grace, and we’ve seen that has many meanings in the Bible yet, every meaning tries to help us understand a gift that God wants to give us. So, during the week, I recorded some short videos of people opening a gift. Let’s see the first one.

So, what was inside gift number one? ………. football boots and football boots equip us to play football. This reminds us that one of God’s gifts of grace is the spiritual gifts He gives to anyone who follows Jesus. We might say the first gift is the power to equip us. Let’s see video number two.

So, what was inside video number two? ………. an energy bar and an energy bar helps us to keep going. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace is the power to sustain us especially when times are hard. Let’s see video number three.

So, what was inside gift number three? …… hair clippers and hair clippers help to change us, they turn my long hair into very short hair. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace as the power to change us, to change us on the inside so that we’re more like Jesus. Let’s see video number four.

So, what was inside video number four? ………. a torch and a torch helps us to see. This reminds us that another of God’s gifts of grace is the power to see, to see that Jesus is God and so turn to Him in faith.

These four meanings of grace, these four gifts of grace are what the adults and older young people have been learning during our Sunday services over the last four weeks but there’s one more gift of grace to learn about, one more gift to open so, let’s see video number five.

So, what was inside video number five? …………. a fire extinguisher and a fire extinguisher helps us do what? what does a fire extinguisher do? Well, a fire extinguisher helps to put out fires of course, but by doing that, by putting out the fire, it helps to save something. What does a fire extinguisher help to save? A fire extinguisher helps to save maybe a building like a church or a house but more importantly it helps to save the people in the house so that they are kept safe. A fire extinguisher helps to save.

Our Bible passage today includes all these meanings of grace, all of these gifts, but especially mentions this last gift. We read “God has saved us not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”

One final meaning of grace is the power to save that is God’s last and best gift the power to save. That is what God offers to anyone through His grace.

Now today is a special day. Do you know what today is? It’s Father’s Day and, hopefully, that’ll be special day for uncles and grandads and dads all sorts of people across our world today and hopefully, maybe at home with you.

Our Beginners acted out a story for us today which was about two sons and a dad, a father in that story. Both sons needed saving; one needed saving because he rejected his dad and had went away and got himself into trouble; the other son also needed saving, he also needed the father’s help because that second son was trying to earn his father’s love and acceptance. Both sons needed saving but only one son knew he needed help. Which son knew they needed help? Was it the younger son or was it the older son? Was it the first son or the second son? Use your hands. Hands up in the air. What are you going to pick?

That’s right, it was the younger son. The first son. And so, he came home and he was going to ask his dad to take him a home but as a servant rather than as a son. But what did the father do? The father ran to his son, wrapped his arms around him, and welcomed him home, welcomed home his child.

Now, as Jesus was telling the story no one would have expected this, they would be expecting the father to get angry at the son and tell the son to go away. They’d expect the father to cast the son off but Jesus shows that God is different, that God is the God of grace, scandalous grace, who has the power to save us. The father alone had the power to welcome the son home. The older son thought he had to earn it through hard work, the younger son thought he had to earn it by shame and ridicule and then servitude, but Jesus shows us that the Father is ready to forgive us, He is ready to save us rather than cast us out, the Father has the power to save and He is ready to do that because He is more gracious than we can ever imagine. This has been the plan and purpose of God since before the beginning of time. As our bible passage reminded us God knew we would get ourselves into trouble like the younger son, He knew that we would sin and the wages of sin is physical spiritual and eternal death, but God in His grace made a plan, a scandalous self-sacrificing plan, to exert His power to exert His grace to save us so that we might have life eternal, life immortality as our bible passage said “now and always, by being reconciled to Father God”. This is the gospel, the heart of the gospel is about salvation, that God acts in grace and he offers grace to save us because He alone has the power to do that.

I pray that all of us, all ages, will know the God of grace, will receive His grace and so be reconciled to Father God. May it be so, Amen

Faith by grace

Preached on: Sunday 13th June 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 21-06-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 18:24-28 & Ephesians 2:1-5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer let us pray:

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

We’re now in our penultimate week on our sermon series on Grace and previously we’ve seen that God’s grace can refer to the spiritual gifts that God gives us, or to His power to sustain us in the most difficult of times, then, last week, we saw how grace so shaped the early church that they were sacrificial in everything and how they lived, their lives and the lives they shared together, and their sharing of money and possessions. They, in this way, mirrored Jesus and His sacrificial giving.

Yet, today, when we read our passage in Acts none of these meanings applies to what we read about grace and so we find another meaning of grace. We read “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

Now, it’s noteworthy here, that we don’t read that those that Apollos went to were people who had believed in God’s grace nor are they people who believed in the God of grace rather, instead, we see that they are people who by grace had believed, and that’s an important difference because it suggests that these disciples, maybe all disciples, are helped by grace to, and that’s not something we often think about, I think, or talk about. Maybe because it points an uncomfortable truth, a truth that’s picked up in Ephesians, our reading today, in that passage we read “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, all of us also lived among them at one time gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were, by nature, deserving of wrath.”

I’m sure as you read those once again even more questions are coming to mind than they did the first time. Like “WHO is Paul talking about here? WHO’s he talking about?”

Well, he says “as for you” and then “all of us” and then “like the rest.” You, us, and the rest. So, whatever he’s talking about here apparently applies to everyone. Everyone, before they put their faith in Jesus, and it’s not just for some people long ago or one bit of society or for the people we don’t like or we think are a bit dodgy, it’s for everybody.

So, the next question you might ask then is “Well WHAT is the issue, Paul?” and he says “you were dead”. He’s saying that before these Christians had put their faith in, in fact, before any Christian had put their faith in Jesus, apparently, they’re dead.

So, I guess, we might then be saying “Well, WHAT kind of death, Paul? Because, come on, these people are living that you’re writing to, were living before we were, before we were a Christian so what kind of death are you talking about because they were living.” Well, he’s talking about a spiritual kind of death. We might talk about a walking dead or, to use a more modern phrase we know from tv, the waking dead. Of cours,e that maybe raises another question “HOW can Paul claim that? How how can he claim that you and I, anyone, is spiritually dead before we put our faith in Jesus? How can he have the nerve to claim that?”

Well, we see, he says, in the next bit hopefully “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” and by saying transgressions and sins he’s basically using a bit of a catch-all phrase meaning both the sins that we choose to do and the sins we end up doing because we choose not to do other things – commission and omission – and that leads Paul to conclude that we are spiritually dead because of what he knows in the Old Testament in the Old Testament. He knows that it said “Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear” and then Jesus said this, he said “Now this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So, Jesus is saying, to have spiritual life, to be spiritually alive, to have eternal life, is to know God but Isaiah is saying, because of our sins our relationship with God is broken. There’s distance between us and it’s that that leads Paul to conclude we are spiritually dead.

So maybe we then wonder “Well, WHERE is this deadness, saint Paul? Because if it’s real, come on, it has to be seen somewhere.” And again, Paul would take you to the Old Testament, he would take you to verses he used in Romans where he writes “There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless.”

There is no one who does good, not even one. Where is this deadness seen? It’s seen in the ways we turn from God’s, ways it is seen in our apathy towards God, it is seen in our mistakes, the choices we choose to do that we know are wrong, and the choices we choose not to do which would be good. As Paul says in Ephesians “each of us follows the ways of the world.”

So often and we gratify what’s in our hearts and in our minds, the flesh so that we follow its desires and its thoughts. Where is this sin? It is seen in the brokenness of our world and that we all contribute to that, me included, because, inherent to being human, inherent to being human, is a nature that is marred. We have an intellect, we have emotions, we have hearts, we have motives we have goals, which are not pure. None of it is truly good and sometimes we do stuff and we do it because we think it’s good, but we maybe do it for false motives.

Paul is not saying here that we don’t have potential, that we can’t do some good, and he’s not saying that God doesn’t value you, because he knows that the Old Testament teachers were made in the image of God but, nonetheless, his point here is simply that our nature, the image of God in us, is broken, it’s tainted, we have a darkness to us, our spiritual death is seen every day in our lives and in the brokenness of our world, and that’s what leads Paul to say we’re spiritually dead, that we are separated from God. As he said in Romans, and because of that spiritual deadness we don’t even seek God, we don’t even seek Him if left to ourselves, we’re so trapped by sin that we don’t actually seek reconciliation with God off our own back. That’s our predicament, that’s our predicament, and it affects every one of us.

So, what’s to be done, what’s to be done? Is God just like sitting up there having a big huff, or is it in a rage, and he’s ready just to smite us, because Paul talks about some wrath in there, probably made us a bit uncomfortable. Is He just waiting to come with His wrath, well, No, no, because in the same passage we read these words: “but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.”

Despite us being a bunch of rebels and mostly most of the time, telling God to take a hike, He still loves us, His mercy is still so great that He will not wait, he will not stand off and so, just as Jesus was raised from physical death, anyone who puts their faith in Jesus will be raised from spiritual death to new life, made a new creation, given life eternally, by faith in Jesus, by becoming reconciled to God, and He does it because He loves you, God loves you enough to die for you, and so that’s why we read in our passage in Acts today “Apollos was a great help to those who by grace had believed.”

The grace of God helped them to turn to Him, His grace helped them to respond and to repent. Other parts of scripture also teach the same truth so for example we can read “One of those listening to the disciples was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Or we could see what Jesus says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And then Paul, to the church in Corinth said “For God who said let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the person of Christ.” We need God’s grace, we need His help, we need His intervention if we are to respond to the good news, if we are to come to Jesus in faith, and so, then, have His light shine in our darkness and bring that new life. Grace must come alongside us and work in us before we can respond in faith, and so, sometimes it’s called prevenient grace, the grace which comes before God gives that grace so that we can respond freely to in faith or to reject his invitation.

Christianity, friends, is not about becoming a nicer person, it’s not about becoming religious and having a religious routine, or ticking the box ‘you went to church’, Christianity is about becoming a new person, a new creation, becoming spiritually alive by His grace, enabling you to respond to His invitation so that His life might be in us and raise us from spiritual death. So, if you claim to be a Christian, then God’s grace came first, God’s great grace came first. So, there’s no boasting, there’s no right to achievement or reward, because His grace came first.

God did not stand off, He did not simply wait in wrath until it was too late, He came close, He gave grace so that you might seek Him, so that you might seek Him so that you might turn to Jesus and find new life, that His light might shine and bring that in your heart and your life and restore you, and He did all that because He loves you, He loves you.

And so then, we might wonder What’s our response today if you’re a Christian? Just humbly thank God for His grace, thank God for His grace that He so worked in your life.

One way somehow that that you responded that His grace came, because if that grace hadn’t come you wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be claiming faith in Jesus. Secondly, you might want to be praying for that grace to be working in others’ lives, but thirdly, listen to what scripture says about the importance of sharing the good news “How then can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard” Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ. As we share the good news, faith can arise, is what Paul’s saying here in Romans, but we know from what we’ve just seen, that faith can only come when there’s grace, and so it seems that in the act of sharing the good news God pours out his grace so that people can respond in faith. Now there’s an even greater motivation to be evangelistic, that as we share the good news, grace is given and people then have the choice to respond in faith or not!

Now what if some of us here today, are watching at home, would claim not to follow Jesus, what if that’s you, what if in your heart you know that Jesus is not your Lord and Savior, you’d rather be anywhere other than here in church or watching this at home, and that might include both adults and young people, and you might have attended church for years, you might have got married in church, you might have been brought up in church all your life, but you know inside the reality is, you’re spiritually dead, and you can tell that because Jesus is a bit dull to you, he does not seem glorious, you can tell it because you’re deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit, you can tell it because, in your heart, there’s no love for God, there’s no confidence that that He is your Abba Father, there’s no awareness of His personal presence day by day with you, all this and more besides points to the reality that inside you might come to church, you might even have had tons of sermons, but you’re spiritually dead, your spirits are dead until you come to faith in Jesus.

And, if that’s you, and if it bothers you, and if you want to know God and know His forgiveness and so no new life through Jesus, maybe today God is stirring up your heart, maybe God is pouring grace upon your heart so that you’re in a position to respond. Maybe today is the day to do that because we should not think there will be another opportunity, that I can just put it off to another day, we shouldn’t think that, we shouldn’t assume because Hebrews warns us “See to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

You can become so hard of heart that you might hear the gospel but you will not choose to respond and you will not choose salvation through Jesus.

Don’t leave it too late because, who knows when you flip into that point where it becomes so hard that you will not respond, that can happen, that can happen.

And so, will you respond today? Will you respond and seek reconciliation with God and be made spiritually alive by putting your faith in Jesus? Because, in a moment, I’m going to lead us in a prayer, I’m going to give us that opportunity to respond and invite you to repeat the words after me – you can speak them out quietly if you want, you can speak them quietly in your heart, it doesn’t matter, God hears but sometimes speaking them out can just articulate it but, there’s no pressure because today is, remember today that you’ve to respond, today is maybe the day you put your faith in Jesus and become spiritually alive. So, don’t put it off if you’re feeling tugging at your heart today let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, thank you that I am here today and hear you tugging at my heart. I’m sorry Lord Jesus, for the things I’ve done wrong and, in the stillness, just now I name anything for which I’m sorry ……

please forgive me Lord Jesus.

And now turn from everything I know to be wrong and submit to you as Lord. Have your way and my life.

Thank-you that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free and find new life.

Thank-you that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your spirit to indwell me. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit, to be with me forever. Thank-you Lord Jesus.

And I wonder, for the rest of us, what do you need to take home today? Have you grown a bit lukewarm in faith? Have you grown away but lukewarm to the fact that you’ve been given grace? And without that grace you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t believe? Or are there people that you need to be praying for, or even sharing the gospel with come walk me because how will they believe and turn to Jesus if you don’t share it?

Lord God, lead us in Your ways, give us a holy boldness where we need that, and may Your grace abound in this place, in this parish, across the Braes, Lord, that many would turn to You and find new life spiritual, life eternal, life which begins now by knowing You today and every day.

For in Your name we pray and for Your glory we ask it. Amen.

Amazing grace: amazing power

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

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

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

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

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

so what about you what’s your story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that is our God

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

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

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

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

let us pray

God’s right here right now

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

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

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

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

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

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

Joshua: context, character, cross

Preached on: Sunday 9th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here.
Bible references: Joshua 5:13-6:20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

Up to this point in Joshua things have been quite easy for us, the readers. We’ve heard God’s call through the early chapters…
to commit ourselves to His purposes, daunting though that is, but nonetheless God calls us to it because He promises to be with us. And so, as a united people we can press forward, we can dream again, for we know and remember that God can do the incredible, that He is calling us to greater things, and He showed His power and grace when He gave His life our us in Jesus upon the Cross.

But with the story of Jericho and its defeat, we enter upon uncomfortable reading, for none of the city are spared, except Rahab…
and her household. These kind of passages raise hard, disquieting questions, and reconciling what we read here with what we know of God through Jesus is a challenge to say the very least.

As such, Christians have tended to spiritualise these parts of the Scriptures, maybe seeing in the fall of Jericho a metaphor for other things in life. Or, we’ve simply ignored or rejected anything we find offensive, including the difficult portions here. To be honest, we’d probably rather tear out the pages.
So, what are we to do with this kind of material? Does it have any relevance for us today? In answer to these questions, I have three words to structure our thinking this morning: context, character and cross.

Firstly, ‘context’. As with every passage of Scripture it’s always important to remember the context and there are various parts to this context. We need to note, for example, that we read Joshua through modern lenses tinted by our culture’s abhorrence of war and violence and — in the case of Christians —
by Jesus’ ethical teachings. The world of Joshua’s day jars with us because it is so distant from our time and sounds so harsh to our ears. The reality is that the ancient and modern worlds are truly different, with a huge chasm of three thousand years and vast cultural differences between their time and ours. As one commentator said: ‘…in a sense, readers’ discomfort with Joshua is a good sign: it shows the depth with which the gospel has transformed them.’

And not just transformed Christians, but…
transformed wider society as well. Sure, we still have our issues with wider society today, but it was the Christian Scriptures that fuelled faith and dreams to treat women and children better, and to end the slave trade, and to influence the shaping of laws where love for neighbour and even your enemy was unknown before Jesus spoke those words.

Under ‘context’, we also need to remember the wider story in the Scriptures, because there is a context which leads to this point in history. In Genesis, we read these words:
‘…the Lord said to [Abram]…In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ (Genesis 15:16)

For four hundred years, God had patiently observed the peoples of Canaan, the Amorites, and had seen their moral decline. A decline which led to child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods. The name Jericho means ‘moon city’ and likely it was dedicated to worshipping the mood god. This is part of the context.
So, let’s move onto ‘character’ and in particular the character of God. Can God be truly loving when it is His actions that led to the fall of Jericho? Is there a disparity between the God of the Old and New Testaments? Has God got a split personality?

Well, let us first note that the New Testament shows no unease about Joshua’s actions and Jesus never disowns the Old Testament or how it portrayed God. In fact, Hebrews chapter 11, where we read of great heroes of the faith, includes the story of Jericho…
and affirms God’s people, as well as Rahab, as individuals who acted in faith. The early church was able to look back on this story differently than what we do. Why is that?

As part of the New Testament reading plan, it’s been really helpful working through the book of Acts again, and along the way certain words and ideas have been jumping out for me. Of relevance for us today, is part of a speech which Peter makes to people who want to know more about his faith, and so Peter says this about Jesus: ‘We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.’ (Acts 10:39-42)

If someone asked you about your faith, what would you say? We might speak of Jesus, we might speak of the Cross, but would we dare to mention that Jesus is judge of the living…
and the dead? I’m not sure, because it makes us and others uncomfortable. Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. For example, the early church faced great persecution and Christians were executed for their faith, so I wonder if it is easier – maybe even helpful – to speak of Jesus as judge when we face great evil.

Nevertheless, the idea of God, of Jesus, being judge is a truth affirmed throughout the Scriptures and even in the teaching of Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that when…
Jesus speaks of judgment He’s even tougher than a lot of the Old Testament. And let’s also remember that God is described in the Old Testament as the One who is truly righteous, a merciful ruler of all peoples, a defender of the weak in all nations, and that ultimately it will be the coming of His kingdom which brings an end to war and true peace for all.

What is more, God is on record as stating His preference for life and blessing, for He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!’ (Ezekiel 18:23)

Across the Scriptures, we see that God reveals Himself as loving, life-giving, merciful and gracious. But He is also holy, righteous and so the judge of all. Paul writing to the Corinthians, says that love ‘…does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.’ (1 Cor. 13:6) It is not incompatible to having a loving God who also judges evil, judges all sin, and that is what happens with Jericho.
As we read earlier, God waited, He knew the Amorites were on a trajectory of moral decline and eventually He would judge them for that, using the nation of ancient Israel as the agents of His judgment. That may be why the angel, who met with Joshua, said he was neither for Israel or its enemies; God was not taking sides there, and Joshua needed to remember that he was part of something bigger.

However, this role for Joshua and the people was a specific and time-limited calling, and the Old Testament rarely recalls the violent…
conquest of Canaan, it never glories in its harshness, and never promotes it as policy for the future.

But let there be no mistaking: God is judge, yet He is a judge who is kind and patient, offering grace after grace. Indeed, He shows that even to Jericho, because He didn’t have to instruct Israel to walk around the city for 6 days – God could have judged it in other ways. But that procession around the city was a final, repeated last chance – a bid, a call to surrender to God and turn from their ways,… grace still remained a possibility, as seen in the treatment of Rahab.

The balance of God as judge and as loving Creator, is brought into sharp focus with our third word: ‘Cross’. The story of the fall of Jericho reminds us that God does not overlook sin forever, and that one day we must all give an account to God. This is an uncomfortable claim, and we may try to push back, seeking to justify our actions, that we’re not on a par with the Amorites, that they deserved judgment, but not us, not me.
In the New Testament, we find the church teaching otherwise, for Paul will say to the those in Rome: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We all have sinned, we all have gone astray, following our way rather than God’s, we do not live up to His standard, His glory. It does not matter if our lives are outwardly better than the Amorites, we all have sinned – and so when we stand before our judge, we come before Him as imperfect, and only that which is holy, on a standard with the glory of God, will share in His future kingdom.
Friends, would you claim holiness? Is your holiness on a standard with God’s glory? When I came to faith, I was at my moral lowest, brought face to face with my sin. Now, in the nineteen years of following Jesus, I’ve grown, I’ve matured, my character is better than it was. Yet, even this past week I could name multiple times when my anger led me to sin, when hurt or apathy has led me to minimise others or treat them poorly, even in righteous anger for an injustice someone else faced I entertained thoughts that were less than loving and not reflective of God’s glory.
Friends, we all have a sin problem and nothing we do can cover over that or wipe the slate clean. Indeed, just before Paul said that all have sinned, he also wrote this: ‘… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.’ (Rom. 3:20)

Paul is saying that nothing we do, not our religious activity, nor our morally good actions, make us right (or righteous) before God. God’s law simply helps us see how far short we fall of the glory of God.
So, is that the end of the story? Is God simply circling around the world, waiting for the time to bring judgment upon us all? Well, no – hallelujah! Because Paul goes on to say: ‘…righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.’ (Rom. 3:22-25)
By faith, Rahab turned to the living God and was spared. By faith, we too can be made right with God if we turn to Jesus. Because on the Cross He died as a sacrifice for us, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and faced the consequences on our behalf. Yet, to benefit from His death we must respond in faith, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. If we do, then we are ‘justified’ as Paul says. Justified can be understood as ‘just-as-if I’d-never-sinned’; the sin that separates you from God and brings you under the judgment of God, is transferred to Jesus,…
and it leaves you in perfect, unspoiled, reconciled relationship with God, and it’s upon that basis – the free gift offered in Jesus – that God, the judge, can declare us justified.

Friends, upon the cross of Jesus, the righteousness and love of God are perfectly balanced, and He waits with open arms to receive you back into relationship with Himself if you will but acknowledge your sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus. It’s a choice we all face, just like Rahab had to. Would she continue listening to her culture – to the traditions, upbringing and influences around her? Or would she turn to the living God in faith and find life?

Brothers and sisters, friends, sometimes the Scriptures bring an uncomfortable word, speaking from their context into ours such that we might see afresh a fuller picture of the character of God. He is a loving Father and loves you enough that He gave His Son for you. But He is also holy and righteous, and He will not overlook sin forever, and so He will judge when the time comes.
I hope and pray that we each have put our faith in Jesus, receiving then the forgiveness and reconciliation He secured through His death for each of us.

Before we close our service, I feel it’s important we take a moment to pray, so let us pray.

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.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th 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 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th March 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.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition 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, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us 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)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…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)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but 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.

A Taste of Grace (James 4:1-10)

Preached on: Sunday 23rd 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 20-02-23-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 4:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 4:1-10

Sunday 23 February 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.

When my wife and I lived in Edinburgh, we had at that time a group of friends who were studying medicine and so from time to time Gill or I would be asked to help these medics prepare for their examination tests. This would usually involve us pretending to be a patient who had come in and needed examining and diagnosing. Thankfully it didn’t require anything invasive or something that would give me the shivers (because I’m not good with medical stuff), but the process helped them learn a structured way to identify symptoms, discern the underlying situation, and finally consider a solution.

 In his letter to these scattered congregations, James has

again and again been like a doctor – highlighting the signs, diagnosing the situation and offering solutions. In many ways his earlier material has been building to this portion of the letter; as someone needing to share some bad news, he has been gentle and affirming, often calling them “brothers and sisters”, but at the same time, James has wisely not dodged the issues either. Along the way, the good doctor has hinted at the underlying issues, building to our passage this morning, because today the good doctor has to break the hardest of news and once more, he begins with signs that something is wrong.

James writes: ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:1-3)

Here, James highlights horizontal signs and vertical signs that there is a deeper problem. On a horizontal level, James sees the disharmony within these scattered congregations, he sees fellow Christians fighting and quarrelling with one another. James even goes as far as to say that they ‘kill’ one another. There is precedent to suggest he could literally mean murder. But equally, the adultery that James speaks of in verse 4 is metaphorical, so it is also feasible that James is not being literal. As his brother and Lord had said: ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and  anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…’ (Matthew 5:21-22)

Whether James is being literal or figurative, there are horizontal signs that something is deeply wrong within all these congregations. As one commentator wrote: ‘it is a depressing commentary on church life that James can write to a scattered people (1:1) and make the same general comment on all alike.’ Similarly, one philosopher said: ‘I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than   the  virtues  which  they   profess,   is  the  readiest criteria of their faith.’ (17th century Jewish philosopher Spinoza)

 So, let me pause here, and ask: are there fights and quarrels between us here at Brightons? It would be naïve to assume there aren’t some issues – after all, James says that they arise because of the ‘desires that battle within you’ (4:1) – and all of us have desires. These desires that James speaks of are not necessarily bad desires, the word is neutral in the Greek. But, when coupled with our messed up, self-focused, sinful nature, these desires get twisted and it leads to the kind of things James has written about: self-interest, unhealthy words, false wisdom leading to cliques and disunity.

So, do we have underlying issues here at Brightons? We may appear to be well on the surface, even healthy, but is there anything going on underneath? Are we allowing anything to fester?…

What are the things that we are allowing to create distance between ourselves? James says that the horizontal sign of disunity may point to something unhealthy underneath.

But James also, in these early verses, speaks of a vertical sign of a deeper problem. He wrote: ‘…You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:2-3)

Clearly, James is speaking about prayer, and what he is saying is that our twisted natures even impact our spiritual lives. Prayer could and should be a solution to receiving the desires of our hearts, as the Psalmist reminds us (Psalm 37:4), but even when these Christians do pray,…their prayers are going unanswered because they ask it with wrong motives, our sinful nature twists those desires into something that is all about ourselves and as such the answer from heaven is ‘no’ or ‘not yet’.

We know from the Lord’s Prayer what to pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:9-10)

Our prayers are to have a focus on God’s name, on God’s kingdom and His will, such that the motives for prayer and the things we ask for corporately in prayer, should seek the glorifying of God’s name and the extension of His kingdom upon the earth.

So, again, let’s pause and ask: where are our corporate prayers not being answered? Now, James is not giving a fully worked out reason for unanswered prayer, so please, please, if you are in a hard place at present and you are not seeing answer to prayer, do not automatically assume it is due to you asking for things out of wrong motives. James is simply highlighting that alongside very unhealthy dynamics within these congregations, they are also not seeing answered prayer as a gathering of God’s people. An example might help.

By and large, most congregations in the Church of Scotland are praying something like: “Lord, we long to see children and families back amongst our congregations.” On the surface, a very reasonable prayer; on the surface, surely a prayer God would want to answer, yes?

But are we asking this with unmixed motives? How much is that prayer being asked because we want to feel successful and healthy; or that we hope for our congregation or denomination to have a future; or simply because the place is less full than it used to be? But does God care about any of that? I know God cares for families coming to faith and finding life in all its fullness through Jesus, but I’m not sure I see anything in Scripture which supports those other prayer motives. So, maybe we don’t see answers to our corporate prayers because we’re asking them with wrong motives, we’re not necessarily asking them for the sake of God’s name and Kingdom.

James, the good doctor, has identified two signs, so now he breaks the bad news, now he brings the situation out into the light: ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?’ (James 4:4-5)

The situation that James highlights is a grievous disloyalty. Drawing upon the language of Scripture, which describes God’s people as His bride, James says their behaviour and twisted motives are adultery and friendship with the world. This temptation has always lurked at the door for the people of God and so God often sent prophets to His people, such as Jeremiah:

“‘…like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:20)

Like Jeremiah, James is warning these congregations that their flirtation with the world has consequences on their relationship with God and that God has no wish to settle for such disloyalty. As verse 5 reminds us, God loves with a jealous love, His desire is for His people to be wholly and unreservedly His.

Often, we think of jealousy as wrong, and for human beings it often is for it leads to the fights and quarrels that James mentions. But with God, who is perfect in nature, His jealousy does not stem from insecurity or selfishness. God’s jealousy is a secure jealousy, which seeks what is best for you and I by guarding our hearts from disloyalty. He is jealous for the affections of our hearts for we are the bride of Christ. He wants us to run from the things that lure us away from Jesus, and one of those things is friendship with the world.

 Now, to our ears, this sounds a bit extreme or a bit odd. But we need to remember that friendship in James’ day meant identifying with their standards and priorities. Friendship was a life-long pact between people, people with shared values and loyalties, and James is simply saying that such friendship with the world is incompatible for Christians.

He’s not alone is saying this, Paul said much the same, John too, and it was Jesus who said, ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ (Mt. 10:37)

From James to Jesus, the point is not that it is wrong to love others, because Jesus clearly taught us to love our neighbour…

 The point, however, is about who and what has the ultimate authority in our lives – is it God and His Kingdom values, or is it the values of the world? James has been trying to make the point throughout his letter that there are substantial differences between the values of the world and the values of God: instead of favouritism of self, sacrificial love is the way of God’s Kingdom; instead of religion in words only, we’re expected to partner in God’s Kingdom purposes; instead of words that lead to death, we are to speak life.

Doctor James has diagnosed that the reason for the disorder and fractiousness within these congregations, is that at heart they have aligned themselves with the values of the world, rather than the values of God. They have acted in an adulterous manner, they have been grievously disloyal.

Now, it’s unlikely these congregations were aware of the issue, it’s unlikely they consciously choose to disown God and follow the world; more likely they identified as Christians and yet they got sucked into a dubious way of life.

And that’s a bit of a scary thought: that genuine “brothers and sisters” in Christ, have the potential of to twist our desires so selfishly that we end up committing a grievous disloyalty towards God, we end up grieving God and arousing His jealousy, because we turn our backs upon God, even unconsciously.

I wonder, friends, does this make us stop and take stock? In the areas where we have disagreement, in the ways that our desires are not being met, in our unanswered prayers,…

 is there the possibility that these things are happening because we do not have the priorities of God? And as such, are we then grieving God? It’s a scary thought, it’s a thought should make us sit up and take stock: are we showing grievous disloyalty to God?

James writes this way, not only because it’s true, but to help his readers wake up, rub the sleep from their eyes and take a long hard look in the mirror. Yet he doesn’t leave them there, for in verses 6 to 10, James shares with them his solution, the doctor proscribes the medicine, which is a grace-fuelled loyalty.

He begins by quoting from Proverbs, that God shows favour, His grace, to the humble. The point James takes from the Scripture, is that those who will humble themselves,…those who can face up to the truth, God will come close and raise them up with His grace. And so, James says, ‘but he [God] give us more grace.’ (James 6:1)

One commentator wrote: “What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs, he always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, he always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first…there is always more grace. No matter what we do to him, he is never beaten.…His resources are never at an end, his patience is never exhausted, his initiative never stops, his generosity knows no limit: he gives more grace.” (Motyer, James)

 He gives more grace. To a bunch of infighting, self-centred proud Christians, God is waiting with more grace. But to receive that grace, as the Proverb says, we must humble ourselves – or as James puts it: ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.’ (James 4:7, 10)

James is calling for fresh loyalty to God, borne out humility and fuelled by grace. This loyalty to God includes: resisting the devil (v7) and coming near to God in repentance (v8-9).

We probably feel a bit unsettled or confused with the first idea, of resisting the devil – we might even wonder what it means? But James has repeatedly raised the idea that what can fuel our poor choices…is that dominion which is opposed to God. It’s just that now, James is being specific and explicit.

In calling us to resist the devil, James is calling us to resist anything that would make us act disloyally towards God. Ultimately, the question is: who is directing the path of our lives? Is it God, or is it something or someone else?

Of course, we get things wrong, and so James calls us to show loyalty to God by also coming near to God in repentance. He writes: ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.’

(James 4:8-9)

 On the surface, James sounds like a bit of a killjoy, he sounds pretty depressing! But later he will write, ‘Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’ (James 5:13) So, we need to keep in mind the context here, for James is not against joy. Instead, James is calling us to repentance, that’s what he means by coming near to God and having our hands washed and our hearts purified. Washing our hands is a metaphor for cleaning up our outer life, our acts of wrong-doing.

And the idea of purifying our hearts is another metaphor but this time with regard to our inner life, our inner values, which is why he calls them “double-minded” for they have mixed motives, mixed loyalty.

In both the outer life and the inner life, James calls us to repentance, he calls us to take our sin and disloyalty seriously, which is why we are to grieve, mourn and wail. Once we realise how grievously disloyal we have been towards God, we ought to be upset, we ought to be repulsed by our sin and disloyalty.

Now, it’s possible to be so shocked and horrified by our sin that we think we should clean up our lives first and then draw near to God. But friends, that’s not what James says to do, because that’s the way of self-reliance, salvation by works, and pride.

James says, come near to God first, then wash and purify. We are to come into God’s presence, come under His holy influence, and in that place find His grace, His more grace, so that we are then fuelled, by grace, to live in loyalty towards God.

Brothers and sisters, I’ve spoken before of being a young man of 19 when I came to faith. I’ve spoken before of how selfish I was at that time. I think I’ve spoken about how my actions hurt others though I didn’t really care, and quite clearly then, God’s values were not anywhere near the top of my priorities, even though I was going to church every week.

But then, in a moment of unasked for grace, God showed up one morning. The morning after the worst choices of my life, God came close to me. He came with holy grace. He came as the uncompromising holy God who showed me the sins of my hands and the impurity of my heart…

 

He showed me a little of the vast darkness in my heart and that quite literally, I deserved hell because that’s who I was partnering with. But God didn’t just come in His holiness, He came in His grace, and with outstretched hand He welcomed me into His family because in humility I repented. His love has astounded and captivated me every day since that moment, 18 years ago, and I have never, and will never, turn my back on Him, or forsake His call, no matter the pummelling I get or the risks asked or the ways He calls me into greater likeness to His Son. I am committed to Him, because He has cultivated grace- fuelled loyalty in me, He gave me such grace as I did not deserve even when I had been so grievously disloyal to Him.

 Friends, do you know God’s grace? When did you last taste His grace?

God stands at the door of your heart this morning, He stands there calling you to come near to Him, to admit the error of your ways and find grace, more grace.

You may be a Christian even, like the folks James wrote to, and maybe you need to come back to the more grace of God, finding and remembering the basis upon which our faith, your faith, stands, the more grace of God.

My prayer is that in the depth of our being we will know that more grace and allow it to fuel the deepest of loyalty to God and the healthiest of dynamics amongst us. May it be so. Amen.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father: patient and waiting

Preached on: Sunday 5th May 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-05-05-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20
Sunday 5th May 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we began our sermon series on Luke chapter 15 and we took quite a broad overview of the chapter, looking at each of the three parables Jesus told.

In the first two parables, Jesus spoke about a shepherd going in search of his lost sheep and a woman going in search of her lost coin. In the third parable, we explored the story of a father and his younger son. To help us understand what Jesus is getting at with these parables, we need to remember what He said to His disciples:

‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ (Mt. 11:27) Here Jesus helps the disciples understand that He knows the Father perfectly, that Jesus is the ultimate authority on what the Father is actually like, and that part of His mission is to reveal the Father to others.

So, in our three parables from Luke 15, Jesus is seeking to help us grasp the character of Father God, and to see what the Father prioritises and how He interacts with the world. Last week, we saw that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, that in the example of the shepherd and the woman we see a God who seeks us out, so as to rescue us from our lostness, because God never writes us off.

And then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who loves with such extravagance and such reckless generosity that He can truly be described as prodigal.

In the coming weeks, we’ll take some time to dig a little deeper into some of the other traits which Jesus gives us of Father God, and we’ll also ask some of the questions that arise out of these parables, especially the parable of the prodigal father and his two sons.

Since arriving here in Brightons, I’ve generally had a Friday off to look after my daughter Hope. A common feature of my days off to go swimming together and we’ve been doing that since she was about one year old.

Now-a-days, I know not to fit in too many things before or after swimming, but in my foolish youth, I often attempted to fit in a bit of shopping as well. When Hope was younger, it generally worked quite easily, because she would sit in the trolley, interact or eat away on something. But when she could start walking, that brought its own challenges, because my daughter refused to go in the trolley any more.

The experience helps me empathise with a short story I read this week: a man is in a supermarket, pushing a trolley which contained, among other things, a screaming baby. As the man proceeded along the aisles, he kept repeating softly,’Keep calm, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t yell, George.’

A lady watching with admiration said to the man, ‘You are certainly to be commended for your patience in trying to quiet little George.’

‘Lady,’ he declared, ‘I’m George.’

How I feel that father’s pain! Keeping our patience is such a difficult thing, whether with children, or colleagues, or family members, neighbours, or even here, we can rub each other up the wrong way.

Patience has been defined as a state of suffering with fortitude, as the ability to endure evils without complaining. The word comes from a Latin word meaning ‘suffering’, and has the idea of being able to endure much, to be ‘long-suffering’, of enduring without giving way to fury or to flight.

In the parable we read today, the third from Luke chapter 15, we are reminded of the younger son’s request and of the father’s response. Last week we saw how shockingly offensive these remarks by the younger son are: ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (Lk. 15:12) To say such a thing in the context of Middle Eastern customs would be the equivalent of someone here saying: “I can’t wait until your dead. I want the money now.”
And then, to sell that portion of the estate, whilst the father was still alive, showed a total lack of decency and effectively said of the father, “To me, you don’t exist any more.” Ouch!

In all of this, the younger son rejects his father, he rejects the Father personally, he rejects the fathers ancestry, he rejects the father’s way of life and what he stood for.

Now, I find it hard to keep my cool when Hope decides she doesn’t want the lunch I’ve prepared – a lunch she specifically asked for, let me tell you – and yet here is a child causing untold hurt on multiple levels as he rejects his father so completely.

At this point in the story, following the customs of the time, the original listeners would be expecting a traditional Middle Eastern response from the father, which would have involved him driving out the son from the family with nothing less than physical blows.

And yet, the father, does nothing like that. We read that: ‘So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, and set off for a distant country.’ (Lk. 15:12-13) Instead of responding with blows, the father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honour as well as the pain of rejected love. Ordinarily, when our love is rejected, we get angry, we retaliate and do what we can so that we don’t hurt as much.
But this father maintains his patience, and so his affection, for his son. The father bears the agony – he is truly long-suffering, he endures without giving way to fury or flight, and he doesn’t compile rejection upon rejection.

And in this wonderfully moving story, we see a portrayal of our heavenly Father, who loves with a seeking and prodigal love, and does so with great patience towards us, His children.

I wonder, to what measure do we reflect this kind of patience? It is a of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it should be increasingly seen in our lives if we are followers of Jesus.

Leonardo da Vinci once said:
‘Patience serves as a protection against wrongs, as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be less powerful to vex your mind.’

This quote reminds me of what a friend once said: Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. If makes sense, if you think about it a moment – if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, particularly love and patience, then we really shouldn’t take offence at very much, should we?
Paul says to the Colossians that we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, as well as bearing with one another and forgiving as quickly and fully as we have been forgiven by the Lord. So, we should be the least offendable people around, should we not? But, let me ask: how quickly do you take offence? How long do you hold on to a grievance? What hurts are you still holding on to and allowing to vex your mind?

These are hard questions to face up to – but we must, because we are called to reflect our heavenly Father. So, maybe it is time friends, for us to face up to the lack of patience in our lives? Maybe it is time to face up to all the ways we are short with one another,…
or where we become easily irritated, or hold onto a grudge or offence made against us? Because, the God we serve, and whom we call our heavenly Father, He is prodigal in His patience towards us, and we are called to reflect Him.

In addition to the father showing great patience and longsuffering at the beginning of the story, in response to such terrible treatment by his younger son, we also see another facet of the father’s patience and a little later in the parable.

In v20 we read: ‘So [the younger son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ The younger son has come to his senses, he has realised the folly of his choices and the selfishness of his actions, indeed, he probably realises the great shame he brought on his father and so the pain he also inflicted. But in his desperation, he still goes back to his father. And what do we read? ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…’

His father saw him. His father was looking out for him. Who knows how long the father had been watching? Long enough for his son to burn through a fortune, then become desperate, so desperate that he will work on a pig farm, which is offensive to Jews, and still longer than that because the son endures part of a famine as well.

The father likely waited a long time. He was longsuffering. He was patient. Who knows how many days he squinted in the sunlight, peering into the horizon, for the slightest hint of movement? Who knows how many nights he lit a torch and walked the boundaries of his home waiting on his son?

But the father did it, and he did it, because he loves with a prodigal, seeking love which will not allow him to give up being patient towards his precious child.

How many of us have waited patiently for something? It can feel like agony, but in these particular circumstances, it surely would have been near unbearable for the father.
To help us get a true feel of this, Christian author, Philip Yancey, has rewritten the parable in today’s context and I’ve made it fit our situation, so let me read it to you.

(READ FROM BOOK: ‘The Father You’ve Been Waiting For’ by Mark Stibbe, pg179-183.)

Her father waited. Her father waited with patience beyond our comprehension, probably with great agony, and he did so because he loved her so very much.

Friends, Jesus told the parable, and Yancey retold the parable in today’s language, so that we could see and appreciate afresh the prodigal love and patience of God – not with a fictional character, but with you and me.
We, each, are younger sons and daughters – we, each, have told God to drop dead, that we want His stuff: life, pleasure, the wonders of this creation, satisfaction in work, the enjoyment of family…many good, good things actually…and yet, we’d rather not have God – in fact, God is as good as dead to us.

Now, you know how much agony it feels when we are rejected, and you can imagine some of the agony the parents of the girl in the story must have felt. But imagine with me the agony God must feel, when we reject Him? Imagine loving with a perfect love – not the measure of love that you and I have towards our children, or the measure of love felt by the girls’ parents – but rather a perfect, pure love, a love that is so holy, so other,…
that it defines love? What degree of agony does someone face when they love that strongly and they are rejected?

Friends, God loves you that much, that perfectly, and His heart breaks for you to return to Him and live in relationship with Him as His child. In His very great patience, fuelled by prodigal love, God waits, God suffers, for you, for you to return to Him.

Let me ask: have you returned to God yet? Would you call yourself a Christian? Would you say that God is the centre of your life? Being a Christian, being a child of God, is much more than coming to church, or giving your offering, or even being loving and patient.

To be a Christian, is to come home to God – that God becomes the centre of your life, such that you build your life upon Him and He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for God, that’s when you know you’ve come home. That’s true repentance.

And God is lovingly waiting for us, my friends – if you haven’t returned to God, will you come home to God today?

But God is lovingly waiting for any of us who have grown cold towards Him, despite being a Christian – for us too, He waits, and calls us home once more. If that is you, will you hear the call of God today and return home to Him?
Will you come back into His embrace and know His prodigal love for you? Because, even for you, God patiently waits, He waits for all of us to respond today, and every day, to His love.

May we all come home to God. Let us pray.