You: a Good Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence in prayer

Preached on: Sunday 4th October 2020
There is no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs available for this sermon.
Bible references: Luke 18:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Prayer as relationship

Preached on: Sunday 27th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-27-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Sunday 27th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for one another

Preached on: Sunday 20th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-20-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Sunday 20th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church
Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

We’re halfway through our series on prayer, responding to this call from the Lord to grow as a people of prayer, that His purpose for us – to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’ – might be realised in our day and in our community. We’ve seen the importance and value of the Lord’s Prayer, how it can shape us and help us know what to pray.

Then on Tuesday night of last week, I put into practice what I’d preached on, taking to the streets of Brightons and prayer walking, for about half an hour, as a means of praying for others If you missed the live event, you can still watch the recording on our YouTube channel, and it might give you ideas, or a flavour, of what prayer walking can be like.

In that time of prayer, it was my privilege to pray for the wider community, but I also got to pray for our church family, for people who identify with Brightons, who say this is their spiritual home This call from the Lord to pray, is also a call to pray for one another and that’s the focus of our reflections this morning.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul mentions “Father” and “prayer” more times than in any of his other letters. It seems that having God as our Father, and belonging to His family, should result in prayer. Later in the letter, Paul says: ‘…be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Eph. 6:18)

Part of the reason why Paul will again and again weave together having God as our Father with prayer for the family of God is because of what Father God was doing through His Son Jesus. Paul writes: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…’ (Eph. 1:3-5)

Paul is saying that it is in the nature of God to draw people into relationship, into His family Before the creation of the world, there was Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing in perfect community and from the overflow of their love they sought to extend that community, to have a family, a people that were their own. And so, God made choices, God made a plan, God acted intentionally, with purpose, exerting His will so that one day you might have the invitation to come into the family of God.

Friends, in this passage, in the Scriptures as a whole, the goodness of God is revealed, for we have a heavenly Father who seeks us and pursues us. He is not distant, He is not cold or austere, but rather He delights in you, He loves you so greatly that His Son died for you. I wonder, do you have this relationship with God? Have you responded to God’s invitation?

If you have, you’re now part of the family of God, bought at a price, dear and precious to the Father, and so, we should treat each other that way as well. Often, we can misunderstand church thinking it’s just another club or a group to belong to. Because of that it’s easy to take one another for granted, or just to be surface level in our care for each other. But Paul models something different: Paul earnestly gives himself away for the church – Paul gives his time, Paul serves, Paul encourages and underpinning it all Paul prays for the family of God.
So, here’s the invitation for this week of prayer. Remember, I said each week we’d have something to pray or do. Well, this week I invite you to turn to Ephesians and use one of Paul’s prayers. You can find them in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 15-17, and Ephesians chapter 3 verses 16-19.

Take one or both of these prayers and pray them for our congregation and for our organisations. Pray them for your Pastoral Grouping. Pray them for our Boys and Girls Brigades, as well as our Sunday School groups. Because we are family, we are part. of the family of God because of Jesus, because of the love of Father God, and so He calls us all to reflect His love to one another, by caring enough to pray. May it be so. Amen.

Prayer for neighbour

Preached on: Sunday 13th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20200913powerpoint.
Bible references: Jeremiah 29:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Jeremiah 29:1-14
Sunday 13th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church
Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we began a new series on prayer, because the Lord is calling us to grow as a people of prayer. We need to lean into this because our purpose – to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’ – is beyond our ability, and so we need to go to God and receive from Him strength, truth, wisdom, peace, insight, love, forgiveness and power. All this and more, is available to us through prayer if we will relate directly and regularly to God.
I suspect that most of us, when think of prayer, we think of praying for others, praying for their help, their benefit, and that is what we’re going to reflect upon this morning, since today is Guild Sunday and much of their labour is done for the benefit of others.

I was talking to a friend recently and he shared a story about prayer and its impact. He lives in another town in Scotland and he and a group of friends decided to pray for their local area, doing so by walking around the local streets and praying for the things they saw around them. After a number of weeks praying in this manner, two things happened. Firstly, a shop closed, a shop which was selling items that were not good for the well-being of the community. Secondly, a run-down disused factory was taken over and redevelopment work for it…
was announced, bringing a sense of renewed hope and life to the community. As these people prayed for the well-being of their community, things changed.

In our passage today, the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, called His people to: ‘…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile [and] Pray to the Lord for it…’ (v7) In these words are echoes of an earlier promise and calling given by the Lord to His people. In the book the Genesis, we read that the Lord said to Abram: ‘…I will bless you…and all people on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Gen. 12:2-3) Within the plan of God, there has always been this balance: of receiving His blessing – His goodness, His life and purpose – but then to be the means through which others can share in God’s blessing as well…
The prophet Isaiah reminds God’s people that they were to be ‘…a light to the nations’ (Isa. 51:4) and in our last series, we saw that Jesus calls us to share the love of God in word and deed, not to just keep it to ourselves.

So, it shouldn’t really be a surprise when Jeremiah says, ‘…seek the peace and prosperity of the city…[and] Pray to the Lord for it…’ Yet it probably would have been a surprise to God’s people, because this city, whom they are to seek its well-being and pray for, this city is home to the very people who invaded their land and took them 800 miles away from everything they’d known and valued. To many an Israelite, Babylon was the enemy and all they wanted was to get home to the place where they belonged. But they are in exile, they are foreigners and strangers, surrounded by oppressors, and yet God…
calls His people to seek the ‘peace and prosperity’, the well-being, the shalom, of that place and to pray for it.

I wonder, does this at first seem a bit disconnected from our time and our place? Well, in the New Testament, we’re reminded of some important truths: ‘you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to…Live such good lives…’ (1 Peter 2:9-12) We might not be surrounded by invaders, but brothers and sisters, we too are foreigners and exiles, as the apostle Paul will say, ‘our citizenship is in heaven’. So we are pilgrims, with our true home, not being here on earth, but elsewhere, in that new heaven and new earth which we will experience fully when Jesus returns.
And so, the words of Jeremiah echo a truth for the people of God found throughout Scripture: we are to ‘…seek the peace and prosperity of [where we live and] Pray to the Lord for it…’ As we do so, especially as we pray for our locality, things change – both around us, as my friend’s story showed, but also in us.

The people of Israel, when they were called to pray for Babylon, they are praying for their enemy, the oppressor, people they didn’t like. But as they prayed, a number of things would change. Firstly, they’d begin to see their situation in light of God and His purposes; He reminds them in verse 11 that ‘…I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ As they pray, as they talk with God, remembering who He is and what He has promised, they will get a greater perspective of Him and instead of focusing on their plight, they will begin to focus on the Lord instead and hope will arise, expectation will build, clarity will come, and they will be set free from self-pity and a victim mentality.

Friends, what are the situations you need to pray about? Where do you need to turn to God, and know His presence, His promise and His provision? As we lean into God, talking with Him, finding our shelter in Him, knowing Him near, especially in the difficult circumstances of life or the uncertainties of the future, it is as we pray that we are changed, and so we are then enabled to fulfil the purpose God has for us.

But as we pray for others, another change comes as well. If we deliberately, intentionally, begin to pray for the well-being of others, as the Lord commanded through Jeremiah, then love for neighbour will also arise within us. It really is impossible, I think, to pray for the wellbeing of another and yet harbour hate, bitterness, hurt or jealousy in your heart towards that person. And so, as you pray for them, your love for them grows, and so within you grows an even greater desire to make known the love of God to them, both in word and in action, to be the conduit by which they experience the blessing of God.

So friends, who are you praying for? Who are the people that get under your skin? Who’s the neighbour you try to avoid, or wish would move? Who’s the person in church that irks you? Well, pray for them. Pray for their wellbeing. Pray for God’s blessing to be known in their life. Because if you do that, good will come for them and good will come for you, because you’ll know a greater peace and joy, and you’ll know a greater love for them, and they might get to know the love of God as well.

So, prayer does change us – it gives us a renewed perspective of God and of our situation – and prayer for others also changes us by increasing our love for others. But prayer, and prayer for others, does change the world around us as well. In the book of James, we’re reminded that ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …’ (James 1:17) Every good thing in your life, every good thing in your community, every good thing in our world is a gift of God, and if we want to see our community or our world flourish, it will be a gift of God, a gift of His grace and love and power.

When the Lord called His people to pray for Babylon, He was showing His international concern, His concern for the world, not just for His people or where His people lived, but also for the nations of the world, and even the nations that had turned away from Him. He wants their good and He calls His people, then and now, to pray. So, let’s be a people of prayer on behalf of our communities, and for the nations of the world. Let’s ask God for great and good things to happen. Let’s ask for God’s power and glory to be seen. Because as God’s people, as His representatives, a holy priesthood, we should show the same concern as God for the brokenness of His world, sharing His love in word and deed and prayer.

So, what’s that going to look like this week? Remember, I said each week we’d have something to pray or do….
Well, for this week I invite you to get a copy of this prayer resource, called ‘Taking it to the Streets’. It’s a resource that gives you some explanation and some examples of praying for your local area and especially praying as you walk around your locality. You can get a copy from the website and it will also be on our Facebook page this afternoon. A copy is being posted to those who receive a CD, DVD or our 6-week printed material, but if you would like a printed copy then do just let us know.

And the invitation this week is to go out, if you are able, and do a prayer walk with this resource. It gives you four basic prayer points to get you started, as well as a prayer of blessing you might pray for your street or your neighbour. And if you are unable to get out, you can still use the prayer resource and what’s written there.
Additionally, this Tuesday evening I’ll be doing a live prayer walk via our YouTube channel, so join me then if you’re able and contribute your prayers to mine in that time. See the notices for more information.

The Lord is calling us to a season of prayer that we might fix our eyes on Him and be a conduit of His blessing to neighbour, both near and far. May we respond to His call, and in so doing share the love of God in the Braes and to nations across the world. May it be so. Amen.

Why pray?

Preached on: Sunday 6th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-06-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Luke 11:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 11:1-10
Sunday 6th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Introduction to reading
In our last teaching series, we explored in the book of Matthew the calling of Jesus to His disciples, both then and for us now. We saw that we are all called into a relationship with Jesus, and with that comes an invitation, a command even, to give our lives away for His purposes, as part of the family of God, such that we share the love of God and we mature in the character of God.

Back on the 15th of July I was praying and asking the Lord for guidance, and I believe He shared a number of things to help us enter into His purposes, His freedom, and the life He has for us. I noted these down in my journal and one prompting was a call to prayer, to grow in prayer, to become a more prayerful people, and this is as much for me because I know that I need to grow in prayer.
So, beginning today and through to the October break, we are going to look at some teaching on prayer and each week have a particular prayer or activity to use in helping us to pray. Because it’s all well and good having a clear purpose and a sense of what Jesus has called us to, but without being a people of prayer, we won’t change, and this world will not change either.

During my recent holiday I read a little on the issue of justice, and the concluding words focused on prayer. In particular, this portion caught my attention: ‘we must [empower the pursuit of justice] with prayer. If we [rely on] willpower, hard work, protest and activism alone, we will become exhausted. Prayer gives the battle over to Jesus. Prayer fuels our action. Through prayer, Jesus will give us strength, truth, wisdom, peace, insight, love, forgiveness and power. Through prayer, God wins the main battleground – the human heart.’
(Ben Lindsay, We Need To Talk About Race)

Whether it be the issue of justice, or the calling to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’, we need to be a people of prayer, because our own finite resources are just not enough. So today, we begin a new series on prayer, and hear now our first reading from the Scriptures.
(PAUSE)

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer is one of those parts of life, parts of faith, which we know we should do, but often don’t. That can be for any number of reasons: we don’t know what words to use; we fear getting it wrong; we maybe don’t think it does anything. There can also be other reasons, such as simple laziness or apathy.

This past week, Gill and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and if I told you that we rarely talk, don’t listen to each other, and generally get on with our separate lives, it wouldn’t matter than we lived in the same house, or had our marriage certificate, or shared our financial resources, you would still be thinking that the quality of our marriage was quite poor, even worrying. Thankfully, none of those things actually apply!

Yet, the same is true with our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You might come to church, you might have a baptism certificate or something that marks when you became a member or an elder, and you might give generously in finances or in time to the work of God’s church. But if you are not praying, not relating personally and directly to God on a regular basis, then I would wonder about the quality of your relationship with Him.

In our day there is a prayer movement called ‘24-7 Prayer’, and a number of years ago they produced a video which summaries ‘why’ we might pray, and I would like to play that for you, just now.
(PAUSE – play video)

I wonder what jumped out for you – do feel free to share it in the live chat just now. I was struck by the idea that prayer may be the most powerful thing we do to change our world, to change ourselves, because when we pray we are connecting with the living God, engaging in a twoway relationship, and as we do so, what we pray echoes into eternity. So, prayer is key, it is powerful, and sometimes the best way to learn to pray is simply to pray.

Nonetheless, one day the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ (v1) Clearly, they saw something – something in the way He prayed, or in what He prayed, something different. Or maybe they saw how Jesus had prayer underpinning all of life because again and again He would go off to pray. And so, the one and only thing they ever ask to be taught, is to pray.

In response, Jesus shares with them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, which is probably the most famous prayer in history. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and I am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.” Christian writer, Timothy Jones, also argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”
We know from history, that it was traditional for rabbis of the time to have their own unique prayer which brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers likely had such a prayer because in our passage today the disciples said, ‘“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”’ (Luke 11:1)

It’s unlikely they were just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips. They were saying: ‘We need know what You are about, we need a statement of faith!’ As such, the Lord’s Prayer is maybe our primary foundation for understanding life and faith, giving shape to everything else. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray and so we might simply repeat the words as given, because repeating it regularly can help its central truths to slowly shape our hearts and our minds.
But the Lord’s Prayer can also be like a map: teaching us the way of prayer, the route to take. Many of us find prayer difficult, don’t we? We get distracted or struggle to know what to say. But praying each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer helps us become real with God: real with Him about what we think of Him, of the needs we have for ourselves and the needs of others, as well as seeking His forgiveness for our sin and asking for His help in the difficult realities of life.

Here is a prayer that we often just recite without much thought, yet it can be a framework into which we pour all of the thoughts and concerns of our lives. It is possible to take the thing that is most burning in your heart at this time and pray about it using the Lord’s Prayer.

Earlier in the service, I said that in each week of this season of prayer, we would have a prayer to pray, or an activity to use, and the Lord’s Prayer is the one for this week. You can simply take the version you are most comfortable with and pray it in one of the ways I’ve described this morning. Or, if you wish, you can find an alternative version on our website, in the “Sermons” page, as well as from our Facebook page this afternoon. In that document there are various examples of the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes using different language to express its meaning, or capturing the prayer from a particular angle. If you’ve been praying this prayer for many years, it may be helpful to try a different version because then may you to see and engage with it afresh.

But whether you pray in “Thee’s” and “Thou’s”, or take it a word or line at a time, may we choose to grow as a people of prayer, responding to this call to pray, and investing time in our relationship with God by using the Lord’s Prayer each day this coming week. For Jesus has promised: ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ (v9) As we prayer, as we ask, seek and knock, may we know the reciprocal welcome and provision of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

24:7 Prayer Introduction (Matthew 6: 5-13 Evening))

Preached on: Sunday 23rd February 2020.
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.

Bible references: Matthew 6:5-13

Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 6:5:13
Sunday 23rd February 2020 (evening) Brightons Parish Church

Over the first year of my time here at Brightons, we’ve
focused on the prayers of Paul, covering a good number of his prayers from the New Testament epistles. I feel like we have created a sense of the evening service having a focus on prayer, with time always set aside to respond in prayer to God’s Word. I would like to continue that in the coming year, at the very least, so as to continue growing our prayer life and our coming together in corporate prayer.

I thought it would be good to also continue with a focus on teaching about prayer and it seemed worthwhile to dig into the Lord’s Prayer. I was already aware that the 24/7 prayer movement had written a course on prayer, largely structured around the Lord’s Prayer. It really is a very practical and helpful course, so my intention…

this year, is to use one of their videos every other
evening, starting tonight. Then, in the months between, we’ll have a more normal sermon, with a focus on the previous month’s theme or topic.

On the evenings where a video is shown, we may also from time to time have space to discuss the content of the video with one another, and we’ll have such an opportunity tonight.

So, we kick start our new series this evening and the Lord’s Prayer is probably the most famous prayer in history, crafted by Jesus himself. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.”

N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar, wrote: “The Lord’s
Prayer, correctly understood, is one of the high roads into the central mystery of Christian salvation and Christian experience.”

Christian writer, Timothy Jones, argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”

It was traditional for rabbis at the time of Jesus to have their own unique prayer that brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers seem to have had such a prayer because, in the parallel account in Luke’s gospel of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ disciples asked, ‘Lord teach us to pray,’ and they added ‘just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

They weren’t just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips.
They were saying: ‘We need a statement of faith!’ This makes the Lord’s Prayer the earliest Christian creed, given to us by Jesus himself some three centuries before the Church wrote down its first creed, at the Council of Nicaea.

As such, the Lord’s Prayer is our primary doctrinal foundation for life and faith, well worth repeating regularly so that its central truths can slowly shape our hearts and our minds. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray.

But the Lord’s Prayer is also like a map: teaching us how to pray. It helps us to pray our own prayers from the heart, because when Jesus said, ‘this then is how you should pray,’ he may well have been telling his disciples to use it more as a guide than a destination.

Many of us find prayer difficult. We get distracted and
struggle to know what to say. But praying the Lord’s Prayer is a simple answer to these problems, for each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. Prayed in this way, each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer becomes an invitation to embark upon our own personal adventures of adoration, petition, intercession, confession and spiritual warfare.

So, without further introduction, we’re going to play the second video from the 24/7 Prayer Course. The theme is ‘adoration’, focusing upon the words: ‘Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’

[PLAY VIDEO] [HAND OUT SHEET]

[GIVE TIME FOR DISCUSSION]

Summary comments:
The necessity and place of adoration has grown for me especially over the last 10 years, because I think it’s adoration that has got me through the hardest of dark times. I spoke in the morning service a few weeks ago about the effect that words had on my soul when I was a youth worker, and the year following my departure from that church, was a hard year – and I had to learn to worship and adore God, even amidst pain and hardship. It was a powerful but helpful lesson, standing me in good stead for the future.

Even this past week, something happened, which I won’t
go into, but in what happened, it was sore to the heart,…

it wounded me to some degree, and it has been in that
place of being with God, in that place of adoration – as I have appreciated afresh who God is, what I have in Him, and who I am in Jesus – it is in that place that I have felt God ministering to me and bringing a measure of healing. The place of adoration is powerful and life-giving.