God’s Heart, Power and Invitation

Preached on: Sunday 29th August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-08-29 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Genesis 17:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment then to pause and come to God in prayer before we think about His word. Let us pray:

Holy Spirit, come and reveal to us the heart of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and help us to follow after Jesus.
Holy Spirit, come with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

Today I feel God has three things for us. I think He wants to reveal His heart, His power and His invitation. I think God wants to reveal His heart, His power and His invitation within our passage today there is a repeated idea that comes across in several of the verses. We read ‘The Lord appeared to Abram and said ‘I am God Almighty I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers’’ and then just a few verses later He goes on and says ‘This is my covenant with you. You will be the father of many nations no longer will you be called Abram your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations.’ I’ll make you very fruitful. I will make nations of you, and so in these verses we see God confirming His covenant, His binding promise, His binding agreement with Abram and it includes here the promise of fruitfulness, and in case that sounds familiar, then it should hopefully, because if you journeyed with us for a few years here at Brightons you might remember our teaching series on the kingdom of God, and in that in that series we looked at genesis 12 where there is a very similar promise and God says that he will make Abram into a great nation but here in chapter 17 God goes even further he promises that from Abram will come many nations and so it’s only fitting that his name should be changed from Abram to Abraham which means the father of many and i would suspect that would be startling for anyone to hear never mind a 99 year old when he only has one son but before we get into that let’s pause and ask a question why does God make this promise why this promise why not something else

I wonder what your answer would be? I won’t get you to turn this week, some of you’ll be relieved with that, but if you were to answer that question what would you come up with. My thinking is that it reveals something of the heart of God in the giving of this promise I think it reveals his heart to have a people of his own and God doesn’t do that because God is in need he is after all God he’s self-sufficient but out of the overflow of father son and Holy Spirit what we call the trinity out of the overflow of their love God’s heart is to have a people of his own and that’s what he tries to show from the beginning of the bible to the very end through all the covenants and the old and the new God is seeking to show humanity the depth of his love the depth of his grace and of his invitation to us it’s there at the beginning of creation that God creates mankind, humankind, male and female in His image set apart from the rest of creation to have that unique relationship and that unique intimacy with God himself but then we mess it up don’t we Adam and eve they make our wrong choice and it breaks the relationship yet God doesn’t stop and so with Abram he begins working out his purpose again so that his purpose of having a people of his own this this motivation that beats within him will come to fruition and from Abraham eventually comes Israel but they too mess up they are wayward they sin and we wait centuries upon centuries to see how it will unfold through the scriptures and you might want to revisit that teaching series on the kingdom of God you can get it from our website or you can get a copy on CD or DVD if you wish but eventually the scriptures show that in the coming of Jesus God is ready to fulfill his promise through His son then the life death and resurrection of Jesus God is still about drawing a people to himself and we read this in the new testament our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are his very own God’s heart is to have a people of his own and that promise made to Abraham is now fulfilled through Jesus and so we might we aren’t descended from the Abraham but through faith in Jesus who was a descendant of Abraham who was also the son of God through faith in Jesus we become part of God’s own people we enter into the heart of God and so that’s why it’s right that our purpose as a congregation is to seek to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus it’s all about Jesus because through Jesus we enter into God’s purposes we enter into the heart of God but people to know that must be invited into it and to be invited into it they must hear about it doesn’t just happen you’re not born naturally into the family of God you’re turning up at church being baptized being nice or religious doesn’t take the box it’s only through faith in Jesus and for people to take that step as i say they must hear of God’s heart a heart to have a people of his own so when you imagine sharing your faith or you imagine inviting people into something what do you imagine seeing what are you inviting them into what is your vision of that is it simply to attend church more is it to make them a nicer person are more religious

or do we share the heart of God do we know the heart of God for ourselves do we know that God’s heart beats for each of us that you are so precious to father God that he sent his son to die for you God died for you died to make this possible for you to know him and to be in relationship with him God’s heart is to have a people of his own and it began with a promise to Abraham almost 4 000 years ago and if he had been able to look into the distant future he would have seen the countless millions even billions of people who over time and even now believe in this God who know this God and follow this God who belong to the Christian church that’s what we are a part of brothers and sisters that’s what we share this is our purpose this is the heart of God

I hope that stirs something in you i wonder what it stirred in Abram i wonder if he said if he heard this and was a wee bit boggled by it we know he didn’t doubt because the scriptures tell us he believed and it was credited to him as righteousness he believed the promise of God but still such a promise and for that to come from this old man really it’s beyond human comprehension and what’s more if you look at the promise in more detail it includes a land and that land is owned at that time by a people who are more numerous and powerful than Abraham’s little puny family God what are you about making such a promise what are you doing making such a promise i think God is revealing something as well he’s revealing his power we read just before what we looked at God says I am God almighty before he even gets into reaffirming the promise he says I am God almighty in Hebrew it’s El Shaddai and it’s a name of God which refers to his all-sufficient power and might particularly in comparison to human vulnerability and weakness God was saying to Abram that he had the power God had the power and himself to do what he was promising to Abraham he didn’t matter that Abram was 99 years old God had the means to fulfill this promise and that would be the basis upon which Abram could pay his trust so what about in our day where is our trust what in our day is going to see the heart of God fulfilled through Jesus well if you’re still reading the new testament reading plan it’s eight months in and it’s been a bit of a slog at times if you’re still reading that then just last week you came across these words then Jesus came to them the disciples and said all authority in heaven on earth has been given to me therefore go and make disciples of all nations timely words timely words Jesus has all authority and he claims the power of El Shaddai and indeed earlier in the same gospel he also says I tell you that i will build my church and the gates of hades will not overcome it Jesus will build his church Jesus has the power and authority to build his church so that the heart of God to have a people of his own will be fulfilled and the promise to Abraham and the great commission given by Jesus we see God revealing his power his power to accomplish his purpose the church I know that two weeks ago i had a hard challenging message for us and i still stand by that I stand by the challenge of questioning whether our traditions will pass on a flame of faith or only of ashes but know this Jesus will build his church he has the power and authority to do that and he calls us to trust in his power to trust in him if you were to go on in chapter 17 of genesis and read further you would see that God says he will accomplish his promise through Sarah, Abram’s wife, not through the son they already have Ishmael who was Abraham’s slave Hagar because what we see here is that Abram and Sarah had tried to go out alone they had tried to go alone they had tried to see God’s promise fulfilled in their strength and their means by human means and in some ways I can understand that they had waited years and nothing had happened and it’s 25 years at this point since that original promise that’s a long time to wait for God to fulfill his promises and so they took the bill by the horns but God says ‘No, no, no, no, it doesn’t matter that Sarah’s over 90 years old and has never conceived through her I will fulfill this promise’ because our way is often not God’s way and he does have the power to fulfill his promises and we are called to trust in that because church God’s heart is to have a people of his own through Jesus and we don’t need to come up with our own clever ideas we don’t need to rely simply on our own resources when it comes to seeing his church grow or when it comes to sharing our faith Jesus will build his church and the gates of hades will not overcome it for God’s heart is to have a people of his own and his power will accomplish it

so God has revealed his heart he’s revealed his power but he now reveals also in this passage to Abram his invitation he says I am God almighty walk before me faithfully and be blameless and those words that have highlighted you walk before me faithfully and blameless are not about sinless perfection they’re actually about wholeheartedness Abram is invited into wholehearted relationship of trusting God radically deeply forever a whole giving over of himself to God’s cause and it was going to be seen in a number of ways we’ve already touched on how his name was going to change from Abram to Abraham can you imagine that can you picture yourself in the scene imagine going down the marketplace oh hey Abram eh actually God’s told me that I have to rename myself Abraham and they would know what that meant by the way so they would be like hold on he’s got one child he’s the father of many Gods told him to do this I don’t know about you but I’ve been looking at this guy thinking what are you on really how embarrassing must have that been for Abram how embarrassing but God calls him to wholeheartedness even at the cost of public embarrassment and what is more in this passage God also institutes a sign of circumcision now that was a wide practice in the ancient nearest of the time most often used as initiation into um puberty or marriage but God reworks it here so that it’s a sign of passage into the covenant community but the key thing is this would have been known sure it’s a very private thing but it would have been known these folks they circumcised their kids on the eighth day and their God told them to do it that would have been known around them they would have been known as following that God and belonging to that people

but it doesn’t matter God was calling them into wholehearted commitment unconditional commitment to a way of life where there is literally no going back

but that’s what biblical faith is biblical faith requires to be put into practice it’s not about head knowledge it’s not about it being purely private and personal biblical faith must be put into action it must be lived out and made concrete if it is true faith it must be made public somehow some way now clearly in the new testament and under the new covenant with Jesus circumcision isn’t required but God still calls us to wholeheartedness our faith is not to remain private and personal our faith must be seen and shared and so yes Jesus does say he will build his church but he also commanded go you go and make disciples it’s both and not either or pick the one you like best Jesus commanded and if we will heed that if we will trust that if we will give ourselves to that then he says he will build his church from obedience comes fruitfulness from sacrifice comes fruitfulness from trusting in God and his ways comes fruitfulness because obedience trust and self-sacrifice are marks of wholeheartedness as seen in the life of Abram and so church God invites us into wholehearted commitment even in the sharing of our faith and I reckon if I was to pull you and say what is the scariest thing about following Jesus I could almost guess that the top thing would be sharing our faith it’s the thing we shy away from the most the thing we’re scared of the most we are hindered by fear now I am not please hear me I am not saying you have to go out there today and talk to the first person you find about Jesus okay sharing our faith is a process and I’m really excited that the discipleship team are going to be looking at that more in the coming months and trying to equip us in that and I look forward to what those conversations are yield but we’re held back by fear and if nothing else I pray that this teaching series might help us be equipped to overcome that fear doesn’t just go away I still get scared come on up here in the pulpit and how many sermons has it been I’m literally just about shaking every time I feel that God’s saying to issue a call to come to faith and if you were to talk to the greatest evangelist I’m pretty sure that they would say every time that they’d done it they were still scared that they were still a nervousness fear doesn’t go away often what we need is courage to overcome our fear and not let fear drive us or dominate us

and if we are to give ourselves to making disciples which includes the sharing of our faith we can’t let ourselves be held back because if we don’t obey that command we’re not going to see Jesus build his church here because fruitfulness comes from obedience

and so let’s just reflect on what’s being said this morning as we close

God’s heart is for him to have a people of his own a people of his own and that’s what you’re part of, you’re part of a worldwide movement, you’re part of something that’s been there for 4,000 years, who cares if your neighbor thinks you’re a loony

you’re part of something bigger, you’re part of something more and it’s with the God of the universe. Allow that to sink in. God has chosen you to be part of that

that’s not scary news to share that’s the greatest privilege to have the opportunity to share that that is God’s heart or when we feel unable and weak to share our faith let’s remember God’s power his power that is available and ready to help you share your faith and to put your faith into practice so that his purposes can be achieved allow that to become part of your consciousness and maybe that might equip us more to overcome our fear as well

So will we be a people who take up this invitation God’s invitation will we be a people who know his heart and know his power and so commit ourselves to inviting encouraging and enabling people of all ages to follow Jesus will we be that people. I pray that we will and that this series mi

Power revealed

Preached on: Sunday 25th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there are no Powerpoint slides accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Speak o Lord, indeed, to us that the earth may be filled with Your glory.
Your glory was seen in this first miracle that we look at today performed at a wedding in Cana and many miracles thereafter have taken place not just through the pages of scripture but in life in many different ways as we come to this world today continue to work in our lives and show anew the things that we might do. In Your name we ask these things. Amen.

In the second chapter of John’s gospel, we have the account of the very first miracle of our Lord. The scene has now shifted from Judea where John the Baptist has been baptizing in the Jordan and they’re now 70 miles north the area of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples have walked all that way. The occasion was a wedding, an eastern wedding.

Eastern weddings were very different from western affairs. In western weddings the bride is the prominent figure when she enters clad in all her glory the whole congregation stand and the organ thunders and whatever it is. Every eye is focused on her, but in eastern weddings it’s the groom that is prominent, he is the featured one. The bride merely shows up for the wedding. I’m sure we wouldn’t like that here but not only is this groom the featured person but he also pays for the whole affair. So, some of those weddings and those times would go on for two or three days, some as long as a week, and both sides of the family would join together for a big celebration. This is the kind of wedding that John is talking about here this morning. Very sadly, unfortunately not the kind of weddings that people have had to have during this these times of lockdown and pandemic. It was a big affair and Mary figures rather prominently at this wedding too.

She’s there at the wedding and Jesus turns up as we’re told with five disciples. Now, whether they hadn’t sent back their reply or hadn’t saved the date they weren’t expected. He had just called these disciples to Himself and they had walked for two days from Judea. No-one had time to send word that they were additional members in Jesus party but as is ordinarily true in these rural settings people do not make a great deal of fuss about things, they’re always there to add a little more water in the soup and take care of the unexpected guests that show up. So, the disciples come with Jesus unexpected and that maybe explains why the wine run out. Not that I’m saying the disciples drunk at all but there were extra people there for two or three days and that called on a great deal of wine at these celebrations so Mary seizes the occasion to say very significantly to Jesus these words “They have no wine.”

She doesn’t ask Him to do anything about it, she merely states the fact “They have no wine.” Some of the commentators suggest that what she meant was that it was a gentle hint that maybe they had turned up unexpected and had caused the situation, they had put a strain on the hospitality of their host and maybe they should have left before it fully run out, but another says that Mary did not expect any miracle because Jesus, up to that point, hadn’t done any. But the account makes rather clear that Mary did expect Jesus to help. She came to Him with the problem and she expected Him to do something about it. Personally, I believe she did expect Him to do something startling and supernatural. We have to understand Mary had expectations that had been greatly awakened. Undoubtedly she had been told about the accounts of what had happened in Judea how he had been baptized by John the Baptist and how indeed the heavens opened, the dove lighted on Jesus head and the voice cried out “This is my beloved son“ and she too remembered the promises of the would-be Messiah when she carried Him in her womb. Undoubtedly, she expected Him to act along with all the other Jews of that day. She doubtless expected Him, as the Messiah, to claim the throne of David, to somehow drive out the Romans and fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament, but now that Jesus has taken the initiative, He’s called some disciples, she had a sort of right to expect more to happen, and the fact that Jesus clearly understood her came back in His response and He says “Woman, what has that to do with me?”

It’s not a rude or disrespectful answer to his mother, although it may sound like it. If a young man today called his mother ‘woman’ he probably would have got a clip around the ear, but here Jesus was using a very common title of respect in the same way on the cross he addressed Mary as “Woman, behold your son.”

When he says what was it to do with Him, He’s just more or less saying ‘I don’t
Understand? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to happen? What do you want in the plan, mother?’, and often that’s the questions we ask in our lives ‘What are, what is part of God’s plan? We look for the miracles and they don’t often happen but sometimes they do and Mary already had in her mind that something was going to happen because at the end of speaking with Jesus these few words she turns to the servants as we hear and says “Do whatever he tells you to do”.

Notice the simplicity of her words, how easily, how quietly and with dignity it was done and then Jesus takes over from there, not in any flashy way, but just simply says “Fill the jars with water” and, of course, they fill these great big stone jars up with water to the brim with gallons and gallons of water and then he tells them to “Draw out some, take it to the steward of the feast.” There was no prayer, there was no words of command, there was no hysterical shouting or bleating or laying on the hands, nothing at all, He didn’t even touch the water, He didn’t even taste it afterwards Himself to see what has happened, He simply says “take it to the steward” the master of ceremonies or whatever you want to call them, and quite simply the water became wine.

This happened within the limits of a natural process. It’s very important to see this. Milk didn’t become the wine, the water didn’t become milk, he didn’t change it into something like Irn Bru brew or whatever, what happened was something that also happens in nature, water is being changed into wine in every vineyard in France, Spain, Portugal and further afield, it’s part of the long process of growth, gathering, and crushing, and it involves the activity of men and women and the process of fermentation, it’s a natural process and this was the characteristic of these miracles of Jesus, they were a very natural process.

There’s a very helpful book by C S Lewis called Miracles where he pointed out that every miracle Jesus did is simply a kind of short circuiting of natural processes, doing instantly something which, in general, would take a longer period of time. Lewis says in the book each miracle writes for us, in small letters, something that God has already written or will write, and letters almost too large to be noticed across the whole canvas of nature. This is what Jesus is doing, He’s overleaping the elements of time, growth, gathering, crushing, fermenting and he takes the water right to wine without a word or a gesture. He demonstrates His marvelous ability to master the processes of nature.

Some claim that Jesus didn’t change water into real wine that all he did was change it into very good grape juice. I consider that claim that they make ridiculous, probably hardly worthy of an answer. They don’t serve grape juice at Jewish weddings. They never have and they probably never will. In fact, in other places in the New Testament where we have warnings against the overuse of wine, we have a clear indication that the wine of that day was indeed intoxicating, people had to watch it then, just as they must watch today. Wine was a commonplace drink, one that believers partook off along with everyone else in the culture and climate. Our Lord certainly did change that water into real, true, genuine wine. Actually, the very force of this miracle depended upon the fact that it was good wine and this was confirmed to the amazement of the steward of the feast when he drank the wine. Can you just picture them taking the cup and sipping it, swirling it around, perhaps smelling it, and drinking it again, and then realizing what a wonderful blend or brand of wine it was, in fact, such a good wine that had come from these jars that had been filled with water.

The account that we read this morning even hints at the bewilderment of the very bridegroom, we’re not told that the what the bridegroom said but he evidently didn’t say anything he must have been quite, I suppose, bewildered by everything. He just keeps his mouth shut and he takes the credit for the whole incident and for his guests realizing that they had kept and served the best wine last which was not the common practice at these things.

“This is the first of His signs that Jesus did in Cana and Galilee! it says in John 2:11 and it manifested His glory and the disciples believed in Him.

Three factors call for our attention in that particular verse because John says that the miracle was a ‘sign’. It was an acted parable and signs are not merely miracles they’re miracles that have a meaning, they’re intended to convey truth that would not otherwise have been known, that’s what signs are for, to tell us something that we wouldn’t otherwise know, that’s what John means when he says that this miracle was a sign and what it pictured on that day was the normal outcome of the combination of human and divine activity. Men can fill water jars, only God can change water into wine. Men can do the ordinary, the common place, the normal activity, but God touches it and brings it to life and gives it its flavor, and what’s the meaning of this sign that day, it’s an indication of what the ministry of Jesus was going to be like, Whenever He touched a human life, not only during His lifetime on earth, but well beyond that, and that’s how it affects us today as well. Bring God into our situations, into all the humdrum calling places, activities, and we’re touched with a new power, become different, more fragrant, more flavourable, more enjoyable and delightful, and the joy and the gladness of our heart when He comes into our lives, and that was the meaning of the sign that day where God indeed manifested Himself to humankind and showing this first miracle, and, according to John, that the second thing was that indeed it did show God’s glory. Already in chapter one John has told us that the glory of Jesus is His great grace and truth, and that He’s full of that grace and truth, and here in this event this morning we see both of these together.

His grace is manifested in the fact that He brought with Him five, with Himself six, unexpected guests to the wedding. They had no gifts to bring, so He seizes on the fact of the six stone water jars and He has them filled to the brim and He changes them and thereby He gives the most generous gift anybody would give at a wedding. He gives that newly married couple a gift of the best wine in the whole countryside. One jar for each of those unexpected guests. What a gracious truth comes from our Lord’s grace as He gives and gifts to each one of us and with it comes the truth and the glory of Jesus in His fullness, in that event there, was manifested truth about Himself that He indeed was the Lord of all nature.

A I pointed out earlier, He was carrying out a natural process but in a very short period of time.

We can open up the fairy tale books. We find ourselves in a world of miracles so diverse that they can hardly be classified – beasts that turn into men; men into beasts or trees; trees that talk; ships that do things; magic rings that change; all these things in the land of fairytales, but the fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles and storytellers lies in the fact that they show invasion of a further power, the great power of God. He brings the light into the world through His son Jesus Christ and He’s proclaimed the King of kings and His majesty is there for all to see and it was starting to become evident as these miracles were carried out.

He worked with things in nature changed them quickly, and people talk about nature. I read a little explanation in our gardening magazine that someone has said nature is the glove on the hand of God and we see the glove at work and we think it’s marvelous and it spoke about many of the ladies gardening and wearing their gloves wearing their garden gloves to dig up the earth, to pull the weeds, to sow the seeds and the plants.

Wouldn’t you think it’s strange if someone came along past your garden seeing all the fine work you had done and marvel that your gloves could do such a thing.

It’s the hand inside the glove that does the work to show the glory of the garden and it’s God indeed in Christ that shows the work that glorifies Him in life.

We see everything in the natural world, we see the cycles of snow and rain, we see the stars in the heaven, the sun, the moon.

Who did it? It wasn’t the glove behind all these things, and the power of nature was God Himself.

The third thing that John brings out and concluding this passage he says “His disciples believed in him” they believed that here was God’s man, they had started following Him, He was ruling over all the works of God’s hand, He was put in dominion and authority and given power over all the earth and here He had power over nature, a limitless power, and that was the sign in this very first miracle when the disciples saw the water changed into wine they believed more deeply in Him than they ever had before, they saw that here was one who could handle life, here is one who could take a commonplace thing, nothing out of the ordinary, simple water, and make it wine, make a source of joy, glory and warmth, and He still comes yet, but not to change water into wine, but to change us. The hand is there upon us, and in us, and through us, and the power of His spirit, and He can bring out in us more flavor and fragrance and strength and beauty than can ever be brought out in whatever bottle wine. He will do this with each of us if we ask Him if we follow Him, and if we believe Him.

Through the miracle at Cana, His disciples believed in Him, and through that very miracle today can we indeed strengthen our belief that He works in all things for the good of His glory and continues to mould each of us day by day, Amen

Let’s just pray:
Thank-you Father for this look at this simple event on that day in Galilee. Help us define its meaning for our own lives, knowing that He who, without a word, without any ostentation, transformed, silently,, quietly with dignity, the water of that day into wine. So, can He take the water of our commonplace lives and change it into wine that we may be rich and full of His power and His glory. We thank you for that, in Jesus name, 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

Contentment and Generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th March 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 21-03-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Before we think about God’s wordCome Holy Spirit, help us to hear the voice of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

When you think about Christianity, what does it give you? Is Christianity, or as we’ve called it in this series ‘the way of Jesus’, is the way of Jesus simply about good morals? Is it simply about being religious and doing religious activities? Does the way of Jesus simply give you more things to do, more rules to follow, more boxes to tick?

When I talk with young people who may have very little experience of Christianity I try to help them see beyond these narrow misconceptions.

As I prepared for today I came across a testimony which someone shared in light of being diagnosed with a serious illness. This individual said “The options open to me medically are minimal and at best do not promise renewed energy nor longevity. The other option is to turn this over to God in faith. This we have been directed to do by God after much prayer and spiritual surrender. What the future holds we do not know, but we know God holds it. These past few days have rolled over as like an avalanche leaving in their wake some central certainties which make up my thanksgiving prayer list. Out of the dark night of the soul has come the sunlight of God’s love. I am thankful for God who is real and personal, for a Christ who is present in power, and for the Holy Spirit who is by our side in every struggle. My gratitude overflows for a faith that is unwavering in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and for the personal practice of prayer that brings all God’s promises to bear in any situation. My thanksgiving list is made this year not from what I have but from who has me, a God who’s able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all I ask or think.”

What does Christianity give you?

Would your list have included contentment as this individual spoke of? Would it be, would there be peace and hope? Would it include a love which helps you to live well such that you’re not focused on yourself?

The individual who wrote those words was an older minister and he wrote them to his congregation. Here was a man who had a deep and mature faith. Someone who had learnt the way of Jesus and how I envy such a mature faith!

In our passage today, Paul follows on from the previous section where he said in verse 9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice.” Once more Paul calls them to grow in their faith, to grow in the way of Jesus, to grow in maturity. Towards that end he says they are to put into practice what they have seen in him whether before or now, and so he speaks of the maturity they are currently showing and how they might still grow in further maturity. We might summarize these two points as learning contentment and learning generosity.

Paul says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here is a man, as I’ve said in previous weeks, who is imprisoned, potentially facing execution and surrounded by hostile opponents, and yet Paul can still say that he is not in need and that he is content. In Paul’s example I see an elder brother who is much farther down the road than I, and he beckons, he calls me, he calls us all, to know more of the way of Jesus, to grow and mature, so that we can share this contentment no matter the storm or circumstance. But let’s notice that Paul said he had to learn it as well, it wasn’t automatic for him but it can be learnt.

Key to it all is to find our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus. In this way Paul is challenging the attitudes of his day for the stoic philosophers of the first century also prized contentment and saw it as a mark of being a truly wise person which they esteemed, yet they said you could find such contentment within yourself. Theirs was a contentment through self-sufficiency, but Paul points to another way, to contentment found through dependence on Jesus. We might say a ‘Christ sufficiency’.

I wonder friends, do you yearn like me for greater contentment? When people look at your , do they see someone who exudes a deep contentment even in the trials of life? Could it be that we’re seeking contentment in the wrong ways or places? Are we relying on ourselves? I wonder are you tired of that way of life? Would you not rather find an alternative which brings joy and radiates a measure of hope, even in the darkest of times? I know I would do.

Paul says this is available by finding our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus.

The word ‘strength’ in the Greek is ‘endunamo’ which comes from the word ‘dunamis’ meaning power. One commentator paraphrases Paul as saying ‘I can do all this through Jesus who gifts me with dynamite’ which I love. This got me thinking though, and I searched elsewhere in the scriptures in the new testament for where Paul talks about power in his other letters and I noticed these three things:

that with power we can know peace by receiving the love of God,
with power we can know purity by receiving self-control,
with power we can know perseverance and faith by receiving an endurance and patience amidst trials

Friends, where do you need contentment? Is it in the difficulties of life? Is it in the temptations of life? Is it in the frustrations and the bitterness that well up within us in the day to day of life?

Because God would want to help you learn contentment, to mature in faith by finding, in Jesus, the strength, the dynamite, the power to know a peace or a purity or a perseverance which is beyond your mere human ability and self-sufficiency.

Now hear me right please, we could say much more about contentment. It’s not wrong, for example, to pray for circumstances to change. Paul does. It’s not wrong for difficulties to weary us. Paul speaks of those hardships,

and also please, do not simply hear this as a challenge. Hear this as an invitation. An invitation to another way of life, to life in all its fullness. So, will you respond in faith today and seek to mature by learning contentment through Jesus?

Paul goes on, and he commends the Philippians for their generosity, something which many others had not shown.

ow it seems like Paul is a little cagey here; on the one hand he seems to say ‘thank-you, it was very much appreciated’, and then on the other he seems to say ‘well it wasn’t really needed and I wasn’t really looking for it.’

The reason for this is that Paul doesn’t want to appear like the contemporary charlatans of his day who would build a gathering of followers and then gain financial support from them. Paul doesn’t want to come across as being motivated by financial gain. Nevertheless he commends the Philippians, he commends them for their generosity, their sharing to meet the needs of others. Presumably, this they also learnt from Paul who from his writings was one who encouraged the churches to care for one another and to care for others.

I wonder friends, do we have a mature faith that shows itself in generosity? Do we realize that, as followers of Jesus, we are called into something greater than ourselves? Do we realize that the way of Jesus, which does bring freedom and contentment, is also the way of sacrifice? Because, as we receive His power, to know his love, we’re called to show that love and sacrifice to others. As we receive His power to be pure through self-control, we’re called to deny ourselves that others might benefit.

Brothers and Sisters, as I said earlier in our service, we face a difficult time ahead for the Braes Churches, not just in the next few months, but in the years to come. Whatever lies ahead, will our response be marked by generosity and contentment? Do we understand ourselves to be part of something bigger and that the way of Jesus is not, and has never been, about buildings? Are we willing to follow Jesus in the way of sacrifice and of denying self? What would that look like amongst us across the Braes?

Yet, let’s not leave this for application in a few months time, What about now, today?

Well, this coming week the Tuesday Evening Event online will feature input from Tearfund and they are asking churches to partner with them in their Lent Appeal, and for every one pound you give it will be doubled by outside funding. Will you get involved? Will you choose to sacrifice and be marked by generosity?

Friends, today we conclude Philippians. There have been many important lessons, many pointers to what it means to live as followers of Jesus and grow in maturity, to walk in the way of Jesus. I pray that we will be such a people, a people who respond, who say yes to God’s invitation, such that we too might be worthy of the Gospel and all to the glory of God may it be so, Amen