The way of the Cross: led forward

Preached on: Sunday 4th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-04-04 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 16:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take a moment to name this Lord before You.

Please Jesus, forgive me. I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank-you that You died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter introduction (Tuesday evening)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott would you come and pray with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth

Preached on: Sunday 7th February 2021

The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-07 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 2:19-30
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

This past week, not only have we said farewell to some of our church family, but as a nation we said farewell to Captain Sir Tom Moore. I think we all can remember the valiant effort he put in to fundraising for the NHS and how the nation got behind him, helping to raise £33million to pay for every day small things – not protective clothing, actually – but small, important things nonetheless, things that made a big difference, in particular, to NHS staff amidst this pandemic.
For a brief period of time, Captain Tom’s life was an example and we rallied behind him, and for a brief period of time we also did Clap for Carers last year and we rallied behind that. Yet eventually, it seems, our enthusiasm does wane, we lose interest in each new initiative, and we go back to “normal”, huddling down and turning in. It’s good to have these individuals, these and campaigns, that help us turn out again but part of me wonders: how do we nurture long-term change? Not only within society, but within the church as well?

Last week, Jim gave such a powerful and encouraging sermon on “becoming”, on growing in the way of Jesus. So, how do we grow in the way of Jesus such that it becomes core to our identity and we walk in it all the days of our life? Because Jesus, as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Philippians, is the most powerful example of someone giving away their life for others, and yet,… after 5 weeks in Philippians, where can you say your life has changed, where have you grown in the way of Jesus? Or, what about our children? We tell them of the love and death of Jesus, which was for them as much as for us, and yet, how many walk away from the faith and have nothing to do with the way and the community of Jesus? I wonder, do you wonder about these things, in you, ever? Do you long for things to change? I hope you do. I hope there are many of us that wrestle and wonder and question these things; and, Yes, long for change, both in your own lives and in the lives of our world and community, that together we might pursue our core purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’.

So, what has all this got to do with our passage this morning? Well, in Philippians today we’re introduced to Timothy and Epaphroditus, two individuals who served alongside Paul, and he highly commends them both.

He says of Timothy:
‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’ (Philippians 2:20-22)

Timothy has grown in the way of Jesus; Timothy is not only looking to his own interests, but to the welfare of others and to the cause of Christ.

Epaphroditus also walks in the way of Jesus, and is described by Paul as:
‘…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died…he almost died for the work of Christ.’ (Philippians 2:25-30)

In Timothy and Epaphroditus, in the life of Paul as well,… we see individuals who have grown in the way of Jesus, and part of what grabs my attention here, is that in the pairing of Paul and Timothy we see growth across the generations; we see that the way of Jesus is relevant for all the generations and that the generations need one another. Equally, in the pairing of Paul and Epaphroditus we see something else: we see that no matter your background, the way of Jesus can change your life for the better and also bring great unity, even to two people who would have written one another off normally – Paul the strict Jew, Epaphroditus the Gentile – two completely different backgrounds, two completely different ways of life, and yet brought into unity because of Jesus.

In these three individuals, I see a deep and lasting change that led them to give away their lives for the sake of others…
and for the sake of Jesus, and it leads me to ask : how? How did this happen, Lord? And what can your church today learn that we might not simply turn up to church here in this sanctuary or at home, and never change, or simply share the faith with children and young people and yet never see them grow-up and own that faith themselves? How, Lord? How can this be?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a 2- or 3-point sermon to give us a nice easy solution by the end of this morning. Because these are huge seismic issues in our church, not just at Brightons, not just in the Braes not just the Church of Scotland, but the church across our land, Yet, I do want to highlight a few things, because for me they raise more questions than answers.

Firstly, we know that core to growth in the way of Jesus, is to know Jesus for yourself; to have met with Jesus and to keep meeting with Him. I think that’s why Huddle, that I talked about earlier, excites me, because the core question within Huddle each week is:
“what is God saying to you?” and then, “what are you going to do about it?” Imagine the growth we might see in ourselves, and in our young people, if we all could answer those questions and then go and help other people answer those questions for themselves as well. But how do we nurture that? How do we facilitate that kind of learning? Because clearly, what we were doing before the pandemic, even what we’ve been doing these past 12 months, isn’t fully nurturing this yet? How Lord? How can this be?

Secondly, it’s true that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus knew Jesus, but none of us learns within a vacuum and none of us thrives within in a vacuum as we’ve been finding these past 12 months; we all need community, we need one another, and much recent research suggests that for the generations to thrive need one another, both in the church and outside. Clearly, this is limited in our present circumstances, but it’s been great to see the church launch this intergenerational penpals idea ,…
and it’s been encouraging to hear of Pastoral Groupings being in touch with one another and maybe even meeting together, even by Zoom or for outdoor recreation within the restrictions. What else could we do just now? It’s only limited by our imagination and willingness. You don’t necessarily have to add more activity. What are you doing that you could just do with someone else? You’re going for a walk, could you invite someone else to join with you? And when that great day comes and we can at last all be together again, what can, or should, our life be like together then? Are we just going to return to “normal”? Because remember what the Moderator of the General Assembly said, returning to normal is returning to a church that is declining, and that’s true for Brightons as much as for anywhere, that our membership numbers are dropping and in five, ten years time we might end up going off a cliff and not being able to continue doing what we do just now, even in this lockdown. How might we create the means for all generations, and peoples of all backgrounds, to experience a degree of community, a degree of family, that truly nurtures them in the way of Jesus?
How, Lord? How can it be?

Friends, as I said in Tuesday night’s video, there is more change ahead, that we are called to tack, and if you don’t what I mean by that go and look at Tuesday’s video recording. I do realise that we probably want more messages of comfort and encouragement at this time and those will come. But the message of Philippians calls us to walk in the ways of Jesus, to grow in the ways of Jesus, maybe especially in difficult times both individually and as a community, sure we could leave these questions and the wrestling it produces till later in the year, till beyond pandemic, but that’s not the Lord’s call for just now, and I think that’s strategic so that when we come out of the pandemic we go forward. So, let us all lean in to this, I invite you to lean into this to where He is leading us just now, to engage with the questions, to engage with the process, that together we might chart a way forward so that one
and all, all generations, might grow, truly grow…
in the way of Jesus, in this place, and across the Braes, for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.

The Inner Room- Tacking (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 3rd February 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: Act 15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody and welcome to our Tuesday night input here on our Youtube Channel for Brightons Parish Church kind of dubbed it The Inner Room.

Wasn’t really sure what else to call it to be honest, because tonight is a little bit different from what we’ve done on other occasions, and it’s a bit like, I guess, a mini message, but at the same time I hope it to be have a little bit of a kind of bible teaching element

and as well, as just a little bit more of sharing, I guess, what’s going on inside me about what maybe the Lord has been saying to me, or what I think He’s saying

and so, I kind of just want to share a little bit from the heart. I in that way I just want this to be kind of a safe space and a place where it’s just that “inner room”. It’s the kind of an inner sanctuary, the safe place where I’ve been able to be real and honest, in one way or another with you, So, The Inner Room.

If it ever happens again it might get a new name, but I had to come up with something so that’s what I came up with.

Welcome, anyway, to this time together and it’s really great to have you. Please do say HI! if you’re there on the live chat, and have the means to do so, and if you’re listening back to this on a recording or on a telephone, thanks as well for putting in the time to tune in and have a listen or watch to this particular video.

So, tonight, as I say, is meant to be a little bit of a heart-to-heart, a little bit of sharing from the Scriptures.

I guess, what has led to this has been a journey for me over the last well six to eight weeks. I guess it started before Christmas and I think was prompted a little bit by being aware that towards the end of January I’d be coming up to the end of my second year, going into third, and there are developments on the go with the Braes Hub and there are lots of changes coming for us as a Congregation, as an area, Even things being planned or put on hold because of Covid, and lots of different things, kind of on the go, and so, I guess, it got me in a bit of a reflective mood, thinking “I wonder what is next Lord?”, because what’s been really encouraging for me is to be able to look back over the last two years and see some of what we’ve changed, what we’ve done differently, some the impacts that we’ve had in different places.

If you want in the live chat and feel free to put up things that you see or you’re aware of, for what you would give thanks to God for.

The things that come to mind for me are seeing people come to faith – I’ve been so encouraged by that one guy who got in touch recently saying he came to faith during one of the sermons in January – someone came to faith during the Alpha Course – we saw other people come to faith along the way in previous year’s Alpha Course and different things like that.

I am so encouraged when people say “I have chosen to follow Jesus” and that’s great to see, because not every Church is seeing that. It’s a great encouragement.

I’m encouraged also that and we’ve made some changes in some of our identity and things.

So, we’ve said part of what our Purpose is to “invite, encourage and enable all ages to follow Jesus Christ” It’s really clear, it’s really bold, and it’s really deliberate, and it’s really biblical, So, I’m super excited about where that might take us on a journey together,

and as part of that we’ve also said well here are four Values that go with this, that kind of put some flesh on the bones, and that kind of say well this is part of our DNA. We know what our Purpose is but what’s also part of our DNA, what’s some of the essence of Brightons and where we’re going within that broad purpose, and so we have our four Values and it’s been great fun just to tune into to that, to talk it through with the Teams and the different Teams we have in our Kirk Sessions and Deacons Court, as well as to hear people’s hopes and dreams for 2021.

We’ve also started the Pastoral Groupings, and that’s a big change for us moving from the Pastoral District to the Pastoral Groupings, There’s many more besides.

A Scripture Union group starting up at Wallacestone and the input in classes picking up again and since Murdo’s time, I know that he did that,

and there have been lots of things like Belong starting in the last two years – and Yes, okay, we’ve not been able to continue that and lockdown, like many things, but it got started. It gave us a flavor of things.

I was so encouraged just before we went into lockdown that we had our first Sunday morning where we had Prayer Ministry in the morning Service. I thought that was a huge step for us and it felt like we were in a good place as a Church family, because I didn’t feel like people were thinking or feeling “Not sure about this, Scott!” because I remember two years ago and I was asking you to respond to the Word and I did some things that were a wee bit out-there, even for me to be honest! A few of you, or probably a lot of you, were like “I’m not sure about this!” but a year on you allowed me to lead you into Prayer Ministry, and about six or seven people came forward that morning to be prayed for in the morning Service, about some really personal things and that’s just amazing! Amazing!

There’s much more besides and you can feel free, as I say, to put some things up in the live chat that’s encouraged you.

So, I’ve kind of been reflecting a little bit on the last two years and thinking about some of what’s been achieved, but there was a growing sense within me that there’s something else around the corner, and Yes we’ve done all these things, Yes we’ve seen Huddle start, an initiative through the discipleship team and you’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks so, listen out for Huddle, but my sense was there was something more, that and there’s more around the corner for us as a Congregation and part of what I want to share tonight is around that.

This is unscripted, other than some bullet points and notes, so we’ll see what comes but before we get into that before we turn to God’s Word let’s pray okay, let us pray.

My God and Heavenly Father, we do give You thanks for all that we’ve seen of You in the last two years that, even in the midst of lockdown and a pandemic, Lord, you’ve been at work in us and through us, and before this time, Lord, before this season, You were at work in ways that were great and so worthy of praise. And so, we want to lift our voice up and glorify You and give You the thanks and the honour.
But Lord, we’re on a journey, we’re on a journey together. That’s part of one of our Values of being Family – community journeying together towards wholeness – Lord, we’re never complete this side of heaven, so there’s always more, there’s always a next step, there’s also always something around the corner.
So, as I share, Lord, from Your Word and what you’ve been, I think, saying to me, Lord, give us ears to hear You, let me help us to hear You. As John said, John the Baptist, “May the speaker decrease and Jesus of Nazareth increase”, for we do say and pray all this for His glory and in His name, Amen.

So, if you will turn with me in your Bible, whether hardback or electronic, to Acts chapter 15, Acts chapter 15.

Prior to this point the Church has been going through phenomenal growth. Peter’s had that vision where how this has led him to Cornelius’s house the church has grown Peter’s miraculous escape from prison Barnabas and Paul have been sent off on a missionary journey and they’ve seen God do incredible things, and the Church has grown in different places and then they come back and to him to Antioch and they’ve spent quite a bit of time there and so, chapter 15 verse 1 we read this:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

And then we’re going to jump on to verse 24:
Prior to this in the in between time they’ve done a report and there’s been lots of debate and conversation and then James gets up and he says in response to this that and he thinks they should do certain things and say certain things to the believers in Antioch, and other areas, who have come from a Gentile background and so they decide to write a letter and what we’re about to read is part of that letter, verse 24:

“We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:”

and then detail some things and say Farewell, well and send these gentlemen off back down to Antioch with the letter and it brings great encouragement to the people if you read on into verses 13 and 31 so, Amen and thanks be to God for this reading from His Word.

I came across this passage as I was reading a book about discerning the will of God together. It’s by a lady called Ruth Haley Barton and I’d encourage you to have a look at it. It’s a phenomenal read in quite a revolutionary way really of doing discernment as a congregation. A lot to share. Not something you could implement straight away. I think it would take some time, months if not years, to get to that place as a community where you could put it fully into practice, but it gave me quite a bit of food for a thought.

And she points out in her book that in this passage, that circumstances arise which God utilizes for the furtherance of His mission, for the spread of the Gospel, for the building up of His Church, and it arises in the midst of a very difficult situation, even conflict, and yet it’s used, and it’s in the midst of that, and trying to decide how to respond, and what’s next, what’s the right way.

We were thinking about, in Jim’s preaching on Sunday, what is the way of Jesus? They were trying to think, what is the way of Jesus for these Gentile believers? and so they discuss and, I presume they pray as well, because in their letter and I think it’s also there in the earlier passage which we skipped over we get this these words “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, I just think that’s incredible what they say. They have real sense that the Holy Spirit was teaching them, leading them, in that way and in the way of Jesus and guiding them in that moment.

I and Ruth Haley Barton says that we come across many situations in life, in Church life, where something arises, and we discuss, and we pray, and we wrestle about it, and, in the midst of that, God does something that we might discern the mind of Christ together, and move forward in His way and into His purposes for us,

and my sense is that we are coming into a season of trying to discern some of that, or at least I am, but I think it will involve many of us, or that should involve many of us. I’m not quite sure what that will look like or be like but I’m excited about it!

I was listening to a podcast and went out walking Hector, I think maybe during my Christmas break, and it’s a leadership podcast – really helpful – but, actually, this particular episode, was from early on in the pandemic maybe the Summer time, I’m not exactly sure, maybe June/July time, but in that podcast the speakers talk about how even at that stage the pandemic was what they called an accelerator and a revealer, an accelerator and a revealer, and what they were meaning by that was the onset of the pandemic has accelerated certain things, for example it’s accelerated the use of Zoom and virtual communication, and has accelerated issues within the NHS or within us as a nation, and even as a world, it has accelerated within the Church, it has changes too.

That we went online and I can remember having conversations with our IT guys, I said Well we eventually get to that in four or five years time! and not knowing what was around the corner, and I’m sure you can think of other things that have been accelerated – if you want put it up in the live chat.

It’s also been a revealer. It has revealed where we’ve maybe put our trust and, for the Church, has it really been in God? or has it only been in the good times. It has maybe revealed the insecurity of life or the fragility of life. Has maybe revealed just how insecure certain structures are within our nation and across our nations.

So much has been accelerated and revealed and, again if there are things revealed that could pop up for you then please do again share it in the live chat.

And what Barton was saying, what these folks were saying in the podcast, and I think tied-up together in Acts chapter 15 here, that things are revealed for the Church here. Revealed that there’s a kind of change needed and it’s really interesting that in Acts chapter 10 the Disciples already knew that things were permitted and certain practices were to go, and when Paul & Peter got that revelation from God by the Holy Spirit and went to Cornelius’s house, and the Gentiles came into the faith, and things have been revealed but I’m not sure exactly how much change.

Yes, Paul and Barnabas went out but they hadn’t pinned down, they hadn’t made some decisions yet, and that lack of communication, the lack of decision, the lack of kind of concreteness, ushered in some of these issues, and so, it kind of accelerated change, accelerated the need for a decision.

I think it also revealed that need to make a decision. It also revealed what were to be the Church’s priorities for Gentile believers. They hadn’t pinned that down before, they hadn’t pinned down What are we going to pass on from our Jewish roots to these new believers, and they were still wrestling with those things. They hadn’t figured it all out and so, there were things revealed. There are things accelerated in that story, and, as I say, this time of pandemic has accelerated and revealed things for us.

But, I wonder what’s next because?

Hopefully, at some point this year in the not too distant future, we will be able to return to worship in person,

But.

I wonder whether we will seek to simply just return to what was and, remember that sermon where I quoted the Moderator the Church of Scotland, and he said we all yearn to get back to normal and he kind of questioned Why do we yearn to get back to normal, when normal was Church membership going off a cliff in churches without children. And then I don’t think it was that sermon but I think it was a Tuesday Evening Sermon in December, if you didn’t see it maybe go back and have a look, where I talked about the Brightons situation that, Okay, Yeah, we’ve seen people come to faith and we do have a number of contacts with children and families, but if you look at our demographics we are declining. Even within Brightons our membership is going down compared to what it was. Our demographic is getting older and if you look five, ten years down the road, unless things change dramatically, we’re gonna have some really tough times, and we’re going to have to think about what are we going to stop doing, because we just can’t sustain what we are doing just now. And so, maybe again, that’s part of why I was thinking What’s next Lord? You’ve taken us this far, we’ve reached this stage together what’s next?

and I don’t have an answer to tha.t I don’t know what you expect of my leadership as the Minister.

I’m certainly not what you’ve maybe had before, clearly. You’re certainly not what you maybe hoped or expected for.

I’m not someone that’s going to steady the ship. I’m probably going to rock the boat more often than not, because that’s what I think is needed in the Church just now nationally, never mind just here in Brightons. But I hope, within that rocking, I can also be a catalyst.

I talked with the Nominating Committee, I think, about wanting to be a catalyst, that, rather than being the answer-man, I would be a catalyst, kind of question-man.

and again I was influenced by a book I read called Canoeing the Mountains, and the Elders have read a good chunk of that along with our Deacons, and we’ve not finished it yet, we might come back to that at some stage, who knows, but it’s been almost a year since we last dipped into that together, but that book again influenced that kind of way of thinking and I find great freedom in that, that I don’t have to have the answers myself, that this can be a team effort, a family effort, a community effort, that we all you all have a place to play in us, and I can act as a catalyst alongside the Kirk Session and the Team Conveners and the different groups that we have in the ministries we have within the congregation. So, you’re not going to get from me a grand vision – Oh, this is the vision for the next year or the next five years, you’re not gonna get that from me. Sure, you’ll get some principles and foundations which is probably in part what has led to our Purpose and Values but I didn’t come up with all that on myself, again it was a team effort, and it was taken to the Kirk Session and unanimously voted on by the Kirk Session, that these should be our Purpose and Values.

So, I want to be a leader that enables and champions ideas, rather than the one has to come up with all the ideas.

Nevertheless, I do think as part of that catalyst part of my job is listening out to the Lord so that both in the preaching and in other ways of leadership and influence, I can be part of kind of steering us forward. Because in crisis, not just in the pandemic, but let’s be honest folks, as a Church, as the Church in Scotland, not just the Church of Scotland but the Church in Scotland, we’re in crisis largely, falling numbers, as I say in bits and pieces and again in this podcast I was listening to, he said it is tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar, in times of crisis, rather than pivot or innovate.

So, in crisis, it’s tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar rather than pivot or innovate, and I know places that have Churches that have really struggled in this time and Yes, we all have, but in some ways, they’ve struggled more because their ministers their members have not been able to innovate and or pivot in these times,

and the sense of isolation is much greater than what we have, and I think folks are so hungry, much more than we might be, hopefully, because we’ve been able to do certain things and provide certain things. We haven’t got it perfect clearly, there’s always things we can do better,

But I think this is in my thinking because this crisis makes us want to turn in and feel safe, and I wonder what happens later on in the year when we get back and Yes there’ll need to be a time of coming together, of being family, of reconnecting and of celebrating that, and valuing that, but the danger would be that we then get comfortable again and don’t look at what we need to be looking at, and even in this time now, to be looking out and I’m thinking “Well where next God? Where next?

and in all of this, just last week actually, I believe it was only last week, and I was sitting in this chair, I just read the bit, I think it was Mark, final chapter of Mark wasn’t it last Monday and I knew it was my Spiritual Director the next day and I thought he’s going to ask me if I’ve been spending some time in prayer and listening to the Lord, which is an exercise that I do every so often, and sometimes I’ll maybe get a picture or maybe get a phrase that’ll come to mind, and it’ll really help with my leadership. Actually, of late, it’s been really helpful for leadership. He can speak in other ways but I find, most often, nice speaking, into me about leadership,

and so, like the last two years there’ve been different things for my three or four months block so, I had my Bible reading, jotted down my thought or my prayer for the day, as I encouraged you in the Mini Message. I thought Right, I’m gonna spend some time preparing to see God says anything and he did! Surprise, surprise!

and I normally get a picture but this time it was more a phrase, and the phrase was “It’s time to tack” and I knew it was about sailing and tacking and I didn’t really know why this had come to mind.

At first I thought God was correcting me and that’s a bit of my own insecurity that I think as a young leader I’m till guessing half the time. I’m probably, like most ministers even with 30 years experience, probably still feel that they’re guessing, but I definitely feel that I’m guessing half the time, and that’s experimentation, and it’s life of faith and all that,

but Yeah, it kind of feels like I’m guessing half the time and with guesses can come wrong things, and Imake mistakes, and I have made mistakes in the last two years, and so I thought I’ve done something wrong, He’s correcting me. It’s time to tack. It’s time to change direction. It’s like What have I done wrong? What needs to change? but I decided to do some a searching on Youtube, actually, we’re all on Youtube aren’t we to some degree or another? and you get some nonsense on there, but I went looking for tacking, because I didn’t really know anything about tacking at all.

But I watched a couple of short videos about tacking and about the physics of sailing and some really startling and interesting things came up!

So, tacking is when the boat changes direction so as to be able to keep moving forward in a particular rough direction. So, if you’re wanting to go that way, you’re kind of tacking different angles to keep going in the rough direction but you’re cutting across and the rough path, so that you’re doing a kind of zig-zag to eventually get there,

but what’s interesting with tacking is, you’re sailing into the wind which I didn’t know you could do, like sailing into the wind just sounds mental, How is that even possible? but apparently it is, it’s apparently possible because the boat has a keel and forces and vectors, apparently, apply and the result of that is that you go forward!

A couple of things that jumped out to me that people said:

you can actually go forward faster than the speed of the wind when you tack. So, you’re going into the wind but because you’re going at a particular angle and all the forces and physics that are involved, you can actually go faster than the wind. I find that crazy! And you can go faster than the wind being blowing behind you. Which I just thought was really startling!

What other things kind of jumped out at me and just the general idea that it’s into the wind, faster than the wind, and it’s still going in a rough direction. You’re keeping your course but you’re changing slightly so as to catch more of the wind, and because you’ve maybe run out of distance, you’re getting near the shore, or you just need to change direction slightly, so it’s not actually about having done something wrong, it’s about keeping your course, but catching the wind so that you can do that, and you can maintain kind of maximum speed almost, and so, when thinking about this, talking about a few others, the sense of that it’s about aligning, it’s about God directing and guiding rather than correcting came to the fore, because he wasn’t seen to change direction completely.

So I think we’ve got our Purpose and Values. We know our overall direction but it’s time to tack, and that will feel difficult because, when you tack then, notes tell me, you go through what’s called the no-go zone.

Basically when you’re turning into the wind and that’s when the sail starts flapping because the wind’s on both sides of it, is not properly catching the sail, and the rigging is swaying a little bit, and you kind of lose a little bit of momentum, but then you keep going round and eventually you get past 45 degrees and you start picking up the wind again, and you go forward, and it sails and the rigging pulls taut, and you go forward in your direction with your crew, and you pick up speed to hopefully travel faster than the wind.

And, this next season, my sense is that there’s a season of perhaps three months maybe more where we need to do that tacking, and it might feel a bit awkward and the sails might flutter a bit, and we’re not really sure what’s happening, and we don’t really feel comfortable.

It was interesting reading a blog about the analogy of tacking with ministry and I’m often encouraged, the encouragement was that’s a time to be still and be in God’s presence, and you know what I’ve been talking about with my Spiritual Director, the need for retreat, the need for solitude, and silence, with God, and to grow in that discipline, and just how many things can come together at the one time – I was just blown away!

and so, I feel like God was just saying, It’s time to tack! and it’s funny, I had been talking to the Kirk Session back in December and thinking Well, I’m not quite sure when next I’ll share with them directly so I’ll give them their New Year’s message before Christmas, and the message was there’ll be more change on the horizon and who was to know that God would give this Word at this time to tack, that in my reading I would come across Acts 15, that in my time off I would listen to a podcast talking about this time being an accelerator and a revealer, and in times of crisis we want to buckle down and feel safe, but actually we need to pivot, we need to tack, we need to innovate, and just all that’s coming together,

and I want you to know where I’m at as your minister, as your leader, and some of you will find that really hard because you want a pastoral leader, you want to be made to feel safe, and there are times when I can do that and do do that, there are times when I bring a measure of encouragement, or try to at least, but we also need to pivot. We need to tack, we need to innovate. We’re not out of this as a Church, Yeah, we’re not out of our time of crisis even when the pandemic goes away, we still are faced with the situation that our membership numbers are going off a cliff. We’re barely seeing anyone come to faith, numbers of children are dropping, it’s going to be even harder. Younger people and children have been away from Church and Church groups for so long – Will they come back? – who knows. Will the adults that we’ve been reaching out to come back? Who knows.

So, it’s not time, I don’t think, to buckle down and feel safe. It’s time to tack, and we do that together.

As I say I’m not going to be your answer-man. I’m not going to come up with a grand plan. We need to do this together.

What does that look like? Here’s a couple of ideas:

I was chatting with some folks recently kind of about the bits and pieces of this and one part of the conversation led to send to someone You know if you’ve got ideas and you want to contribute to the life of the Church, then get involved in some of the Teams and in the Church, and I think that’s an avenue If you want to help shape the life of the Church, if there’s something that’s bugging you, or if you see that there’s an opportunity, then get involved in the Teams of the Church and those teams.

There are teams on the Kirk Session: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, Community Outreach and Up-and- Coming which looks after the under-25s. Information about all those Teams is on our website on the Get Involved page. So, go and have a look there.

There are also Teams within Deacons Court: Communications, Property, Finance and a few other minor pieces, but those are the kind of major teams. Maybe you could lend some of your support there, to help us move forward.

So, or it might not be one of those bigger Teams. It might be a team that reports to one of those teams for example the Sunday School Leaders Team

or it might be within, as I was saying recently, your Pastoral Grouping. Remember I talked about this recently in a sermon. Getting involved there, speaking to your Elder and saying How could I play a part in this Pastoral Grouping? Are there some people that I could phone or I could visit? And are there ways that we could be together?

My Pastoral Grouping and one of the people said
Well in a previous existence in time we had this thing where we would do like a kind of trip around people’s houses and share one course together and then you’d move on to someone else’s house for the next course

Clearly we can’t do that just now but let’s have a Zoom call, and an hour of fun, and we’ll do a quiz, and maybe do some games, and bits and pieces, and there was quite a few a party cracker jokes, Christmas cracker jokes. It was a great hour! Someone else’s idea, largely organized by other people, and I just facilitated it, and it was such an encouragement to be together, and I have a sense within my pastor of grouping that we’re becoming a bit like a kind of mini family within this wider family of the Brightons family. I’m really enjoying seeing just how that’s kind of growing.

Maybe you could lend your time and your love and your gifts there, if it’s not part of one of the wider teams.

Another idea for you is that hopefully you’ve watched the video from the start of the year, I think it was the second week in January, where we shared some hopes for 2021 from different people, and maybe there’s some stuff that’s resonated there, for you. I’ve certainly taken notes of things to pursue potentially, pursue the year ahead, but you might, you may have a hope for 2021. We couldn’t ask everybody. So, get in touch, send a message to our Facebook page or drop us an email, and say Hey, I was listening to this message and Scott invited us to share one hope around one of the values maybe, and this is what I hope for in 2021,

and clearly if it’s the same as what’s been repeated in that video, there might be no need to email, but if there was something different, or else you wanted to add to someone’s idea, again, drop us an email saying this is one of my hopes for 2021 for the Brightons Church family, and again we take that on board,

and I’m not saying that we’ll pursue all these ideas but it’s starting to do that discernment together of What does it mean to tack? Where is God calling us to tack in these coming months that we might be ready to catch the wind as we come out of restrictions, and hopefully come back together.

Yes, we’ll come back, and we’ll celebrate, and we’ll love seeing each other. I really miss you, I miss you all. I miss that Sunday morning –

one of my favorite points on the Sunday morning was around about half past 10 to 10 to 11, I go around and I talk to people and that people had come early so, if you never got that opportunity you clearly know that you didn’t arrive in time, and for that I’m sure you’re right on time for the service just not in time for me going about, and I really loved that time, it was just a really special time. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed that. Live Chat doesn’t equal it, not everybody’s on there that I would normally talk to at that point. I’ve missed that and I’m looking forward to that starting back as I say.

As many people are saying if we don’t allow God by Sis spirit to work amongst us so that it reveals and accelerates and that, so that we pivot, so that we tack, then we are just gonna run aground or we’re gonna just get comfortable and kind of bunker down or we’re gonna get kind of stuck in that no-go zone and the sails just gonna flutter and we’re gonna lose momentum,

and we really can’t afford to because, we have a community, we have a Parish that needs to know Jesus, needs to know that He’s real and living and active, needs to know the love and grace of God, and we’re called into that ,we’re called to invite others to share, we’re called to encourage one another in the way of Jesus, we’re called to enable all ages, the youngest to the oldest, to follow Jesus, and to know what that means, and to know and play their part.

So, I look forward to the next year, to the next two years and more, and I wonder what’s on the horizon for us next, as we tack,

and there’ll be more tacks along the way, but we’re entering into that season of tacking. Now and I pray that we would have the boldness, and the courage, and the sensitivity that the early Church showed in Acts 15 as well, and then from that see the Church of Jesus flourish in this place, and the Kingdom come like we’ve never known.

May it be so let us pray

My God and Heavenly Father, we thank You that You promised to never leave us nor forsake us, to journey with us by the Spirit. Jesus You promised that Your sheep will hear Your voice and that the Spirit will lead us into truth and into life, that He will reveal You and Your way.

Help us Lord, to be sensitive to the Spirit and to hear what You’re saying to us as a community, to us individually, by Your Word, and in the place of prayer.

Lord, where things have been of me, just pull them away, let them not linger in our hearts and minds, and cause unrest, or lead us in the wrong direction. But where things have been of You Lord, take it deep, keep it safe and bring forth a harvest that would be to Your glory.

Lord, we seek Your way and Your will. Help us to be bold where we need to be bold.

We ask this in and through the name of Jesus, Amen

Friends, thanks for being with us tonight. I realize it’s a bit of a longer message or session than normal, that’s the danger when I don’t have notes or detailed notes, and I just kind of keep going a bit, but I’m excited and passionate about what’s coming. So, hopefully, forgive me in the midst of all that.

It’s been really good to share in this time together. Look forward to our next time and in one way or another, and next week we’ll have Testimony Tuesday, so join us then, as folk share about their faith journey, and various different ways and forms. We’ve got our Thursday Prayer back on Zoom this Thursday as well as well as on our Youtube Channel and then I’m back in preaching this Sunday morning, as we continue in Philippians.

So, as we go from here, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you, my dear brothers and sisters, this night and forevermore. Amen

Becoming

Preached on: Sunday 31st January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
above).
Bible references: Philippians 2:12-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I’m sure, like me and many others, many of you will have had the experience of driving with your family through a spectacular awe-inspiring scenery only to have one of the kids call from the back of the car “Are we nearly there yet?” and sometimes I think that when it comes to the way we react with God, many of us can be like that; we can be so intent on reaching our destination that we miss out on the journey and the beauty of the journey.
And of course, sadly, our spiritual journeys often involve us listening to the culture around us, telling us how we should feel what we should think.
On our spiritual journeys, we’re often influenced by the world which is concerned about getting things done, about getting where we’re going, instead of making the most of the journey.

That’s why I think that we have such a big problem in the Church with people who say they want to be holy, be godly, be spiritual, be great husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers, be generous givers, be prudent spenders, be all these things, but,
at the same time, struggle to become what they say they want to be.
We’re a society that’s focused on “being” rather than on “becoming”.

There’s a good chance that some of you are sitting in your living rooms right now thinking to yourselves – I wish you’d get to the point! or Where are you going with this? because that’s what society has taught us to think. We have to focus on results, on outcomes.

I’m still pretty much at the beginning of my sermon but already some of you are wanting to know how it ends.
The problem is, life doesn’t work that way, life is not about that, it’s not only about being, it’s about becoming.

The difference between how you were when you were born, and how you are now, is not because someone told you that this is how you should be and you became, but rather, it’s a gradual process of becoming.

Who we are and, if we think of the Christian life when we refer to someone, converting to Christianity, we’re glad to say Oh so-and-so became a Christian yesterday which is a reason for celebration but,

we should also bear in mind that although he or she became a Christian yesterday they’re going to spend the rest of their lives becoming more Christlike,
continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you and to act according to His good purpose.

Christian life is not just about being it’s about becoming!

It’s quite a long time since I trained for the ministry – Scott might be able to tell us how things have changed since I trained back in the 1970s – but when we were taught about preaching, we were taught that sermons should last 20 minutes, they should have three points, and, if possible, you should use alliteration to illustrate your points because you’ll remember better. We were told that congregations couldn’t really concentrate for any longer than 20 minutes so, don’t go over the 20 minutes.

And there were all these rules about how to get from the start to the finish of your sermon in the right way.
And those rules, the three points, the preaching no longer than 20 minutes, alliteration, always accepted, I think we’re both told get to the point!

Those are the rules but, of course, life isn’t like that, and I’m sorry to say, today’s sermon’s not like that either
because we spend our lives out there in the world, in the world where TV and media define who you are.
That creates in each of us, even in Christians, it creates an impatience and a need for speed, and a need for instant results, and that moulds us into a position where we expect that kind of result in every area of life,

but the problem is, instant results might work in some areas, they might work in the office, they might work at Mcdonald’s but they don’t work in life.
Instant results don’t come in marriages, for example, don’t come in friendships, they don’t come in parenting. Instant results don’t come in building character, or in the spiritual life. Instant results don’t happen in any area of life that really matter.
In those areas, it’s going to take some time.

We all know what Jesus said in John 14 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
See, it turns out that Jesus is not only the truth, he’s not only the guy with the teachings that we need to know in order to get to God, Jesus is also the way.
The way is not simply a set of rules to be followed that we can learn and then sit back and relax because we’ve found the way,
the way is not a destination, by definition, the way is the life of Jesus

The way Jesus lived – that’s the way,
and what happens when people are so used to instant results try to embrace the way of Jesus, we find that it can’t be done overnight, because that’s not a place or a principle or a set of beliefs.

The way of Jesus – it’s a life to be lived – it’s a person who has to be embraced, and learned from, and understood, and grown into relationship with.
So, what happens is the only thing that can possibly happen in that scenario ……
we get burdened by guilt or discouragement or frustration, because we’re not getting it immediately.
It’s not enough that we realize that Jesus is the way, we have to pay attention – this is going to sound as if I’m playing my words here – but we’re going we have to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus is the way.
I’m not trying to be clever with words here – we say that Jesus is the way to Heaven, if we confess our belief in Him, He will forgive us our sins and set us right with God. That’s what we’re told in the scriptures,
and when we say that, when we tell people that, then we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way.
It’s true, of course, it’s true that if we confess our sins Jesus will forgive us our sins, but that’s the beginning of a process. Jesus will also transform us from the inside out if we are following in His way.
If we say, read the bible and learn about Jesus, again we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way
because it’s true that we need to learn about God by studying His word but, more than learning about Him, we need to learn to know Him, we need to learn to become more like Him,

because the way is not about learning, it’s not about knowledge, it’s not about information, it’s about becoming more like Him.

So, I’m afraid, although Jesus is the way, he doesn’t fit neatly into a concise three-point sermon, that’s no longer than 20 minutes, and makes a joke at the beginning to keep you interested, and another joke halfway through to maintain your interest, and all that stuff

what I’m trying to say is, Jesus is the way, but not in a concise three-point sermon kind of way, not in using great stories and appealing to people’s need for entertainment, kind of way
it turns out that Jesus is the way and I think I’m getting it a little better now, I think I’m learning to be a bit more patient with myself, because, after all, Jesus is patient with me and if I’m hard on myself and if I’m critical of myself, then I’m pursuing the way in the wrong way.
Does that make sense?

If Jesus is the way then we must pursue the way in the correct way.
How many of us get frustrated with ourselves over our failures, and many of us beat ourselves up and condemn ourselves because we feel incapable of doing this, the spiritual things that we would like to do, because we don’t pray enough, we don’t go to Church enough, we don’t evangelize enough, we don’t read the Bible enough, we don’t pray enough.

Listen, the way of Jesus is a way of gracious kindness, the Jesus way is full of patience and rest, it’s a way that will give us rest for our souls. If, and in our pursuit to follow the way of Jesus, we find that we don’t have peace or rest, we find that we are agitated and frustrated, then, maybe, we need to ask ourselves if we are actually following Jesus in the right way.
Maybe, instead, we’re following Jesus in the world’s way or in our own way?
Jesus said in Matthew 11 28-30 “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you a rest. Take my yoke upon, let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light.”
And that promised rest is not just for the end of the journey. Are we finding that rest in Christ here and now? Are we learning from Him in a way that lifts our spirits, a way that is gentle and encouraging? Are we experiencing Him, His infinite love that He has for us?

Because, if we’re not, and maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is –

Did Jesus mean that this peace and rest that He promised was only for at the end of the journey? Was Jesus saying come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden,
come to Me and live your life with Me, which will be a struggle, but after you die you’ll find rest that’s what Jesus said?
Of course not! Jesus said Let me teach you how to live.
In other words, Jesus is not only the way to Heaven, He’s the way to eternal life, right here and now. He says my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Folks! this can only mean that that we should be experiencing rest now, not just in the sweet by and by when we die,
but we should experience that rest that he offers, every day of our lives. If we are in harness with, if we are learning from Him to live in His way, which is easier. His burden is lighter. If we do that, we will find rest for our souls as we walk with Him and share His yoke. Side by side, learning the Jesus way.

So, what does that mean if we are not experiencing that kind of peace and rest in our spiritual life?

I think there’s only one thing we can conclude; that maybe we’re pursuing the way in the wrong way.

Is Jesus harsh? Is he a slave driver or a hard task master? Does he stand over us with a whip?

or Do we sometimes realize, when we look closely at the master with the whip,
that it’s our own face that we see and not the face of Jesus?

What I mean is, the way of guilt is not Jesus we have, is not Jesus, the way of endless self-doubt and self-blame and self-castigation and self-pity and self-condemnation.

They’re not the Jesus that should be self-evident when you see how many of those terms begin with self and explaining how humanity went wrong and got twisted up in sin.

Here’s what the apostle Paul writes he says, this is from The Message translation, he says “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them.”
See, when we experience constant condemnation and fear and guilt, is that coming from Jesus? Or is it coming from the image of God that we’ve created ourselves? Or that our society has created because we’re trying to follow the way using the tools of this world?

We impose on ourselves the need for instant results and instant success and instant growth in the way of Jesus, and then when they don’t materialize right away, we cast blame on ourselves, we get angry with ourselves, we grow disappointed and frustrated, which are the very things that Jesus promises we can escape if we walk with Him.

Now, please don’t sit there thinking or feeling terrible because you’re sure I’m talking about you.

I’ve often said from the pulpit that I’m preaching at me as much as anyone else, but that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m referring to. As soon as we understand that we have something to learn or that there’s something that we’ve been doing that’s not leading us on the way, we feel terrible, we sink into discouragement

But, the way of Jesus is gentle and humble, the way of Jesus is patient, the way of Jesus is about becoming more than about being.

We can follow Jesus in a hurried, frantic, rushed, schizophrenic kind of way,
but the problem is that’s not the way of Jesus, and if we try to follow the way in that way, we never find a way!

Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, and so we follow the way which leads to truth, which leads to life.

If you’ve not yet decided to follow the Jesus way, I hope you will make that decision. To become a follower of Jesus.

It begins with understanding that your way, my way, is not sufficient and is a dead-end,
and that the sin problem is a problem because it keeps us serving ourselves and keeps us alienated from God, and, as we realize this, we confess to Christ in prayer. We state our desire to Him that He forgive our sins and look kindly upon us,
and the great thing is that’s exactly what he wants to do, and then we turn and we leave our way, and we get on His way.

But, he will teach us a new way of living which will gradually change the way we think and the way we act in every area of our lives.

So, if you’ve never done that before I invite you today to become a disciple of Jesus and walk with Him, with us, as we learn together to leave our old ways behind.
Something specific to suggest that you might do this week, next time you feel guilty or discouragement or excessive hurry or panic or any other negative emotion, just ask yourself Is this what God’s voice sounds like?

Because, I believe you’ll quickly realize, that it’s not, and then ask yourself What is the way of the easy yoke? What way does Jesus, who loves us and accepts us completely, what way does he want us to live? What does he want us to know at this moment?

In other words, ask yourself, Where is God in all this?

Here’s a hint: God is the one who always loves you, who always has patience with you, who never guilt-trips you, or hurries, or manipulates you; He never uses fear to motivate.

God is the one who is steady and calm in the middle of your panic. God is the one who always says this to you “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet, my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed.”

This is God’s eternal, unchanging stance towards you and towards me, regardless of our failures, regardless of our shortcomings and our mistakes in the way, and I encourage you to allow yourself to hear God’s voice this week, and don’t worry,

we won’t get there overnight but, the great thing is, God wants you to enjoy the journey, to look out and see Him in action in the world around you, and know that He’s there and that H’s enough.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, in spite of all that we hear and read about our Saviour Jesus in Your Word, in spite of His love. His life, His humility, His service; in spite of all that we sometimes fall and fall for, the world’s lies that You’re a hard and cruel taskmaster; in Jesus we have seen and heard of Your love, and patience, and goodness, and kindness.

May we walk with You in the way of Jesus, the way that leads to eternal, abundant life, the way that begins right here where we are, and leads us ever closer to You, and may we know that, even if we get sidetracked or turned away, You are patient, and kind, and will lead us back, and back to whatever or wherever we are on the journey.

Help us to know that You are eager to walk with us, whether we’re just starting out in the way of faith, or whether we’re closer to the end of our journey, You are still the same Good Shepherd who wants the best for his sheep.

Amen.

The real Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 24th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 2:5-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Sunday 24th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us as followers of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Amen.

Today marks two years since I was inducted as your minister here in Brightons Parish Church, and from my perspective at least it’s been a good two years, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you and serving alongside you as we seek to fulfil our purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’. Who could have imagined these last two years? Who could have imagined what was on the horizon though?

I think it was the first Sunday I preached that I brought along this box – do you remember? On that day, we spoke about the labels we might use to describe Jesus – both His names as well as His character, and our boys and girls helped with that in the Young People’s message. But the key point of the box was that we all put Jesus in a box – we all think we know Jesus, we think we know what He’s like. But often our understanding of Jesus and so how we relate to Jesus, puts Him in a box – it confines Jesus, and maybe that box doesn’t even represent who He truly is or what He is like. More often than not, I think, we create a mental picture of Jesus, or we have certain expectations of Jesus, which are based upon popular ideas in our culture rather than on the truth. And in part, that’s another motivation to get into our 2021 reading plan, that we might all get to know a bit more of the real Jesus.
In our passage today, Paul wants to help the Philippians get to know more of the real Jesus. This portion follows on from what we covered last week, so there will be echoes of that. We saw last Sunday that Paul wrote: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ (1:27) and then he went on to explain that part of being worthy is having unity and trust, and he based his argument on what Christians have already received through Jesus and who they are in Jesus, as people who are in Christ.

Today, Paul continues his theme but with a different argument. He says, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…’ (2:5) Paul is about to get very personal, focusing in on the person of Jesus, helping these dear Christians to grasp… more of the real Jesus so that they might share, emulate, the mindset of Jesus in their relationships.

Now, Paul is writing to people in a time and culture where the popular understanding of the gods was that these beings held great privilege, great power and glory, and they exercised this for their own agendas and their own reputation. We see this in many of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology: the power and privilege they held could be used in whatever manner they wished, even to the detriment of humanity. That was the common assumption, the popular understanding of what it meant to be a god, what it meant to be divine.

Into that culture, into that popular understanding, Paul says:
‘…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ (2:5-6)

Notice that Paul is saying Jesus is God, that Jesus is much more than a prophet, a good man, a fine example or even simply an idea. We live in a time when many think that it’s OK to box in Jesus to one of these categories, to think that He is a mere man, or a cute, religious sage. But the testimony of the Church, the teaching of Scripture, is that Jesus is God, He alone is God and has always been God. Yet as God, He would not allow Himself to be boxed into the popular understanding of the time, for as God Jesus displayed His deity in ways that were completely opposite to everything that was expected. Paul says: ‘[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ – His rank, His privilege, His rights as God would have allowed, should have ensured, that He could dominate His creation, these creatures who had rejected Him and made a mess of His world. But Jesus chose not to exploit, not to keep hold, of what was truly and rightly His, and instead He made another choice, a choice to display His divinity in a truly unexpected and quite frankly – offensive – manner, for Paul goes on:
‘rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ (2:7-8)

Jesus made Himself nothing; He humbled Himself – Jesus chose, He willing chose a different path, He chose the way of unselfish giving, the way of humble service and obedience. He chose to show His deity, not in power and privilege, but with shame and weakness. Jesus did this by becoming a man, He took on human likeness, and then as a man, He obeyed His Father’s will such that Jesus chose to die, and to die the worst of deaths, death by crucifixion, the most vilified of ways to die.

Now, there are a few things I need to unpack for us here. In our translation today it says that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’, yet you’ll see in other translations that it speaks of Jesus emptying Himself. Technically, ‘emptying’ is a more literal translation of the Greek words, but it has led to wrong thinking about this passage –
people have misunderstood this literal phrase to mean that Jesus emptied Himself of divine power or other divine attributes. But, the Greek word is used throughout the New Testament in metaphorical ways, speaking figuratively about emptying, where something is deprived of its proper place or use. So, what the newer NIV translation does, is paraphrase it very slightly so that we don’t make that wrong assumption and can then get to the heart of the issue: Jesus is God, He remained God entirely, and as God He surrendered His rights and privileges; He did not empty Himself in any other way.

But let’s grasp what this means: the God of all creation chose, for the sake of the world, the way of sacrifice, the way of self-giving love. We take that for granted, I think, we almost expect that this should be the case –
but I wonder if you would sacrifice yourself in such a way? Would you give yourself for someone on death row, for example? Would you give up security, comfort, peace, and allow, say, a far-right fundamentalist group to govern our nation and so our lives? Because in coming a man, Jesus gave up security and comfort, and allowed humanity to put Him to death, a humanity who rightly should be judged by God, rather than judging God.

What is more, this very God, Jesus Christ, chose death – death had no power against Jesus, because God is immortal, and He alone is immortal. Yet, God, Jesus, subjected His immortality to death, holding nothing back and giving up everything, for love of you and love of me. Jesus said, ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down…’ (John 10:17-18)

And why did He do it? Again, Jesus says:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

In love for us, God gave Himself to die in our place. He didn’t have to, He might have conformed to the popular understanding of the gods – but for our sake, He did not consider His position, rights or privilege to be for His own agenda, or for His own benefit or safety, rather, He humbled Himself and loved us unto death. This is the mindset of Jesus, and Paul calls us to adopt, to grow in, this same mindset as people who claim to follow Jesus.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the recent news that there are churches and Christian organisations who are seeking in the courts to have the right to worship in our buildings amidst the pandemic. They are pushing back against the Scottish Government’s recent restrictions, and whilst I appreciate their argument that churches have not YET been a source of spreading the virus, I do have to question whether their undertaking, and appeal to their rights, is in line with the Saviour we are called to emulate: He gave up His rights for others. So, I doubt you’ll be finding my name added to such an appeal.

But let’s also get personal about this, and not simply critique the choices of others – what about us? We are called to love, to be humble, to be united, and to give ourselves for the other. Is this our, your, mindset?…
Do people see such humility and compassion in us? Is being part of church about what you can get, or have you yet found a way to give, and so love others?

Maybe it could be through your pastoral grouping; maybe it’s joining the Thursday live prayer time and praying for others; maybe it’s getting your family involved with the intergenerational penpals idea that our Sunday School and Pastoral Care teams are setting up; maybe it’s offering your abilities, your gifts, and getting involved – for example, we need more volunteers to help with our Boys Brigade sections, could you get involved there? For more information on any of these ideas, please get in touch because we’re all called to follow the example of Jesus and give our lives away for others.
Yet, not only are we to follow the example of Jesus, we are called to worship Jesus because of His example. Paul goes on to say:
‘Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (2:9-11)

One day every knee will rightly bow in worship to Jesus. We will all come to see that He is Lord, ‘the Lord’, and this is the name which Paul speaks of. ‘Jesus’ was the name given at His birth, yet the name, the title, of ‘Lord’, was given after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. That name, ‘Lord’, confirms Jesus as God of all creation but it was received by Jesus not by right or seizure, but by His humiliation and self-giving love.
I wonder friends, have you chosen yet to bow the knee in worship of Jesus? Can you see in His incarnation as a human being, and then in His death on the cross, can you see the depth of His love for you? Can you see the wonder of God? Can you see how worthy He is of worship and glory and adoration? Are you giving Him that yet, friends? Are you giving Him your worship? Have you bent the knee to Him in your own life? Now, I don’t mean are you just turning up to church and switching on the TV: our true worship is seen in how we live, in the choices we make, and in whether we are committed to Him, trusting of Him, come what may.

Please don’t let your hearts stay hard or distanced or cold towards God; let the box you have Him in be changed, let it be blown apart even, by how He has revealed… Himself in Jesus. This is no cute Sunday School story folks – this is the real Jesus and He really did love you to the point of death, and my question is: do you know Him? Are you following Him? Have you bent the knee to Jesus, and will you let Him reign in your life, such that His love, His self-giving love, will be seen in you and through you?

So, once more, like last week, let us have a moment to pray. I’m going to give an opportunity for anyone to bend the knee to Jesus, maybe for the first time, and welcome Him into your life. Then, there will be a prayer to invite the Spirit to fill us that we might show the love of Jesus to one another and in our community. So, let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we we see in Your life and in Your death such a powerful example such true love, and we are not worthy of it Lord and yet You still gave it for love of us because You thought we were worth it. You gave yourself and Lord, in light of that love, we want to bow the knee today. Maybe there’s some who want to bow the knee for the first time and welcome Jesus into your life, so pray along with me now. Pray out loud if you can.

Lord Jesus I don’t deserve Your love but thank you for loving me to death. Please forgive me. Forgive me for the wrong choices in my life. You might want to name a few things in the stillness just now.

Lord i turn from these and I open up my myself, my heart, my life to You.

Thank you for Your offer of forgiveness. I receive that forgiveness now and ask for Your Spirit to fill me. Please come into my life and lead me in Your ways.

Thank you lord Jesus.

Maybe for the rest of us, we need to choose afresh to bow the knee. You might even be so bold as maybe just to get down at home on your knee and welcome Him into your life, but if that’s not possible or not for you yet, maybe even just hold out your hands as a physical way of welcome.

Lord Jesus, come into our lives afresh. We bend the knee. Help us to give up our agenda, to pursue Your agenda, to love God and love neighbor, to make You known and to follow in Your ways.

Oh Lord, forgive us and show us how we should follow after You.

Lord, we want to be a shining beacon of light for You in our community and in our time. How unable we are to do that on our own strength. Lord, every day we’re faced with with temptations to go other ways and if it is for anything but Your Spirit we would choose those and we often do choose those. We turn a deaf ear to the Spirit. So, we ask for a fresh filling of Your Spirit now. Come and fill us afresh.

Come give us power to choose Your way over the ways we would normally choose. Lord, I pray too, by Your Spirit, You would give us a fresh understanding of Your love, that this would be more than words on a page, that Your Love would be poured out into our hearts by the Spirit, that Your love would be so real and tangible that it would overflow from us and to others, into the lives of others and into the life of our community.

Thank you Lord. for the gift of your Spirit

We offer ourselves in Your service and for Your glory, Amen

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.

Called to Maturity

Preached on: Sunday 16th August 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 20-08-16-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 15:10-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 15:10-20 (NIV)
Sunday 16th August 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet 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.

A few weeks ago, we began this new series where we are turning to a few moments in the book of Matthew where Jesus called people to Himself. Specifically, we were looking to see what these encounters might teach us about being church together, that we might then have clarity about the why, the what and the how of church life, both in this time of lockdown and when we start back with some of our more normal activities. So, what ideas or teaching or values of Jesus might guide us in this time and in the future?
Well, we’ve seen that Jesus invites us into relationship with Himself, He invites us also into His purpose, and Jesus invites us into family, His family, the family of God.
With regard to purpose, we turned to the Church Without Walls Report, which said that the core purpose of the church is ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ Today I want to explore one idea for how we may enable people to be disciples of Jesus.

Boys and girls, you’ve had a big week this week – schools and nurseries have started back, and it was lovely to see so many of your pictures. I’m sure your folks have even got pictures of last year, and so they can see how much you’ve grown and matured. Today is also our Moving Up Service, which is a time of year where we mark your development, your maturing, within the church family.
I wonder, adults in our congregations, as we see our young people mature, moving up the school years, moving up the Sunday School groups, how do we hope to see them mature? What hopes do we have for them?
Let’s take a minute to think or talk about that at home.
(PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with, feel free to put it in the Live Chat. Do we hope for our young people to achieve a path towards work and fulfilment? Maybe we also hope for them to find love, or stay active in our church family? On the issue of faith, do our hopes for our young people include more than Sunday attendance, or even more than diligence in reading the Bible or prayer? Our passage today speaks to these hopes, but it will also ask some tough questions about our own faith.
Jesus is with the disciples, surrounded by a crowd, and surrounded also by the religious leaders and teachers of His time. They’ve asked some thorny, difficult questions, and after answering them Jesus calls the crowd to Himself. He says, ‘What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’ (v11) Now, it may sound odd to us, or if we’ve grown up in the church, it may sound a bit obvious. But to the folks of the day, this was radical teaching, because they put so much focus on external things, on the rules and regulations of their religion, such that they forgot the issues of the heart.

A little later on the disciples ask Jesus for an explanation of His teaching and Jesus says, ‘…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts…’ (v18-19) This echoed His earlier teaching, where He said, ‘For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ (Matt. 12:34) I’m sure many of us can think of people whose words reveal the condition of their heart; words of comfort and encouragement from a heart of love; yet in another, words of criticism or judgment from a heart that is wounded or bitter.

In all of this, Jesus wants to help His disciples realise that following Him includes having their hearts changed, maturing in His likeness. Jesus had also earlier said, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48) Not that He expects us to reach perfection, but that we would grow in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
This would have shocked the people around Jesus – to them, maturity was about being religious, about duty, about stringent keeping of the rules. They had forgotten, or not been taught, that God is concerned with who we are on the inside, in our heart, and that until the heart is changed, external acts which seem good or tick the religious box, will never suffice. Jesus wanted to help the people see that following Him, being His disciple, is much more than superficial, outward displays of religion – instead Jesus had come to show that the outward acts are meant to flow from a changed heart.

So, let’s go back to those hopes we have for our young people. Did you mention this? Did you mention the idea of them having a relationship with Jesus, and through that relationship the character of Jesus being matured in them? Or did we simply list ideas such as going to church, reading their bible, praying, serving other people? These things are not bad things of course, and in the doing of them we hope that young people will connect with Jesus. Yet the danger is that we simply pass onto them a list of traditions, expectations, religious acts, such that they think this is all that makes up Christianity. Is this what we are passing on to the next generation?

If we are, if this is what we tend towards, could it suggest that this is all we think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
Have we reduced our faith to a list of things to be done? Or is there more to our faith? Can we speak of a relationship with Jesus which changes our hearts, and so our lives?

I’ve thoroughly valued the Testimony Tuesday evenings we’ve had so far, and if you’ve not watched them yet, then you can do so on our YouTube Channel or listen to the latest recording via our phone line. In every one, there have been stories about how God has changed people’s lives and we’ll be having another Testimony Tuesday on the 8th of September. If you would be willing to share something of your faith story, then please let me know. Specifically, it would be helpful to hear about recent things God has been doing – maybe something He has spoken to you about from the Bible, maybe an idea He has given you, or something He has prompted you to do. Now I’m willing to accept any story, but if there were any recent examples, I’d love to hear them – because if following Jesus is more than just a list of rules, if it’s more than turning on YouTube on a Sunday morning, then every one of us who calls our self a “Christian” should have something to share. We should be able to share how God is changing us now, from the inside out, how Jesus is helping us mature as His disciples, children who are growing up in the family likeness. I could name 2 or 3 areas just now where God working on my heart, leading me, maturing me. The areas of justice are particularly at the forefront of my thinking these past weeks, both for the poor and with regard to racial relations.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised, if some of you said that this is not part of your faith; that you don’t know how God is wanting you to mature, or even how He might do that. This takes me back to the word ‘enable’ – that part of the core purpose of the church: ‘to enable people to be disciple of Jesus’. Sadly, for generations, the church has
not done well at this, the church has often focused on ticking the external religious acts, but has not shown people a way of living in relationship with Jesus such that our hearts change. We need to do better at this. We need to find ways, as a group of churches, to enable people to follow Jesus, beyond simple religious observance, and into a way of life which matures the heart. Our young people today are not interested in ticking religious boxes. And there are many generations in our society, who write off the church, because of hypocrisy, or of an air of religious superiority, since they do not see the character of Jesus maturing and being evident in our lives.

Friends, in this time of restriction, in this season of change, with our hopes of our children, with our hopes for the future of our churches, I hope, I pray, that we never return to a faith which is focused on a list of things to be done. Rather, may we invest now, may we pursue now, and in the future, a following after Jesus, which changes our hearts, maturing us in His likeness.

May it be so. Amen.