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REFLECTIONS - A Few Key Points From Recent Sermons(Recent Sunday Morning Sermons are available to listen to on our Audio pages and earlier sermons can be found on Audio Archive page )
Sunday Evening Healing Service 17th November 2013, Kenneth Gray. 2Kings 5:1-27 “All the glory”
In this story of the healing of Naaman’s leprosy what is first notable is that the process is started by a young Israelite girl who has been taken captive by raiders from Aram. We know little else about her, not even her name. Despite her captivity she is a dutiful servant to Naaman’s wife and shows concern and compassion for her master urging that he should see “the prophet who is in Samaria”. Her faith that Elisha could heal Naaman has prompted her to speak up. This step was not without risk to this girl with no status. What might the consequences for her have been if Elisha had felt unable or unwilling to help Naaman and had turned him away?
Is this not how things often progress in the church today - how often is it the quiet, ordinary person whose faith makes a difference in someone’s life rather than the church leaders and office bearers? How often it is that the Lord chooses some seemingly ‘insignificant’ individual of faith through whom to do great things!
The girl clearly cared about her master and wanted what was best for him. She is a wonderful example to us of a genuine Godly care for others and we should consider more carefully who and what we pray for. We find it challenging enough to remember to pray for those we love and are close to; how much harder do we find it to pray for those who perhaps have wronged us or whom we may regard as ‘unworthy’ of our concern?
Naaman acts on the word of his servant
Next, it is notable that Naaman, “commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded” acts on the recommendation of this nameless servant girl. How unlike the diplomatic processes we observe today when heads of state seek permissions and favours or when contracts are being negotiated. In this story we learn of the King of Israel’s consternation to receive the King of Aram’s letter saying “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” No long, drawn out behind-the-scenes bargaining between the officials of the two courts in advance of Naaman’s turning up with his request to be healed.
We cannot but God can
Early in his ministry Jesus healed lepers. In our day, some three thousand years on from Naaman’s time, leprosy is almost eradicated and medical advancements have been able successfully to treat and cure the disease for many years. But when the King of Israel receives the letter he does not know what to do - nor does he give Elisha a thought. Do not we in the church react in a similar way when troubles come upon us? Our faith is puny and we forget we have an all powerful God.
But Elisha has confidence in the Lord. When he hears of the King of Israel’s reaction he sends a message to him : ‘Why have you torn your robes? Make the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ He does not say ‘Send him to me and I will heal him’. When Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house the prophet treats him in quite a disrespectful manner and sends his messenger with instructions for Naaman to follow. By this point Naaman may have felt he was being pushed from pillar to post - not unlike the experience of patients in our hospitals today who never get to see the actual specialist consultant until they’ve repeated their account of their illness to a legion of his assistants and juniors.
When he hears what Elisha has instructed Naaman is angry and let down. He is the second most important man in the land and he clearly expected more of a ritual - a personalised show put on for his benefit alone. He stomps off in a rage. We too can experience a similar sense of anti-climax when we seek God’s help. We expect God to act in certain ways and we are annoyed, frustrated and even doubtful when he does not conform to our ideas.
Naaman takes his attendants’ advice.
Thankfully, Naaman listens to the good sense expressed by his attendants and follows Elisha’s instructions
When we seek God’s help as we are struggling with big problems do we not expect his solutions to be complicated and elaborate? Yet have we not been taught that to achieve the biggest life-changing experience all we have to do is to give our hearts to Jesus Christ? So Naaman’s big problem is solved in the simplest of ways. He trust’s Elisha’s word, bathes in the Jordan 7 times and is healed.
Naaman is healed not because of the Jordan river, nor by any powers of Elisha. He is healed by God. He is healed completely, immediately and most beautifully: “and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”
Naaman’s attitude is now transformed and, full of gratitude, he wishes to pay for his healing with money. Convinced of the power of the God of Israel, not only that he is God, but that he alone is God and that indeed “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel" he vows to make no sacrifices to any other gods. Elisha refuses to accept any payment - being God’s servant is payment enough. Some people believe that if they pay more or do more they will be healed - but God gives freely.
It is all too typical of human nature that someone in this story seeks to profit financially from the situation. Gehazi lies to Naaman “My master sent me to say…”and accepts some silver and some clothing from him. He then lies to Elisha about what he has done, with dire consequences -
“ Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants for ever.” Gehazi clearly did not know God as Elisha knew him.
Our approach to healing
So many diseases are incurable from a human perspective but nothing is ‘incurable’ for God. Healing is sometimes required for a spiritual or psychological problem rather than a physical one. God can heal the head and the heart as well as the body. God can also heal a broken life and broken relationships. In such cases he sometimes changes us or sometimes he changes them.
Elisha could not heal - no more can we here tonight. There is no 100% guarantee but there is a 100% promise that God hears our prayers and will touch our lives.
Sunday Evening 10th November 2013. Kenneth Gray Isaiah 51:1-8, “The only thing that lasts”
Kenneth observed that many modern churches do not have a war memorial because there have been no world-wide conflicts since they have been built. On this Remembrance Sunday it is easy to get sucked into the process of ‘looking back’. Many people in the UK still seem to cling to the view, expressed so memorably by Winston Churchill, that our ‘finest hour’ was in 1940 and it’s been downhill ever since. Kenneth during his study leave noted that some of the big churches he visited were not as big as they used to be and there is a sense, across the land, that we are in a period of decline and our best days are behind us.
Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophesying periods of destruction, decay and judgment. God had turned his face away from his people because of their disobedience and sinfulness. Isaiah 51 talks of destruction but also offers hope. It may well be that we are in similar times or it may well be that we are about to see God do great things in our land.
God’s message through Isaiah is, firstly, that the people should “look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn” - look to Himself. He is the Rock of their salvation. They must remember whose they are and whom they serve.
The war memorial in our own building here records the youthfulness of some who died in the Great War and reveals the ordinariness of the men who went to war - not great generals and strategists but, for example, a postman and a golfer. It reminds us of the core of courage that has always resided in the heart of our church throughout its history and inspires us to live up to the Covenanting tradition of which we are heirs. The Church is stronger in the West of Scotland than in the East probably because of that very Covenanting tradition and we still strive to worship God in spirit and in truth.
Secondly, God gives his promise to his people in the midst of their affliction: “he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.” The picture is one of restoration of the land to a condition even better than it was before - a restoration that will never fade or decay.
This reminded Kenneth of Ypres which found itself in the frontline during the 1914-18 conflict. It was so bombarded that it was razed in 1919 and the Belgian authorities then rejected suggestions that the site should remain flattened as a memorial to hundreds of thousands of soldiers who had been killed, 100 thousand of whose bodies had never been found and identified.
Instead they rebuilt Ypres and created the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient and whose graves are unknown. Following the opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres expressed their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium's freedom. Every evening at 8pm, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the "Last Post” - a ceremony that has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928. In earlier years this ceremony was attended by relatively small numbers of people but since the 1980s numbers have increased until there are now some 2,000 people present every evening.
A similar trend of remembrance is evident nowadays in the UK. Tomorrow, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month will see more people than ever before pause for 2 minutes to reflect and to honour the dead of WW1 and WW2 and subsequent conflicts.
Isaiah tells the people : “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.” This is what will happen when God comes to judge the disobedient and faithless.
We must recommit to the mission of the church to make known God’s salvation through Jesus Christ so that people will be saved for eternity. Our real work is not about this world. There are churches in the Philippines which will have been planning evangelistic outreach projects for Advent whose congregations and buildings have now been destroyed by the typhoon. Their opportunity to tell people about Jesus has been snatched away.
The challenge for us is to be ready - as individuals and as a congregation - to give an account of this salvation whenever we get an opportunity. Nothing lasts forever - except God’s salvation. Britain is unique in Europe in that its borders are fixed by water. Many other European countries have seen their borders shift over the decades, their territories growing or shrinking in line with military or political changes. Isaiah’s message is that man-made things wear out but God-made things are everlasting.
‘The Remnant’ is often alluded to in the Old Testament. This is the small number of faithful believers who hold firm in their faith despite the blandishments or persecutions of the world around them. Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophesying to such a remnant who held firm to the hope for the future as promised by the Lord and who believed unswervingly that God was God.
Isaiah speaks encouragement to the remnant: ''“Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken my instruction to heart: do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last for ever, my salvation through all generations.”"
This is also an encouragement for us. We should never be afraid of the reproaches of men. We must stand firm and hold to the truth of the Gospel even when those around us are growing scared or hopeless. If Isaiah had succumbed to human fear and responded to the reproaches of men he would never have passed down to us these wonderful words of the glorious grace of God for us to read and be heartened by 2,600 years later.
Let us therefore stand firm not just for the present but for future generations. On Remembrance Sunday, as we think of servicemen who died, we ask what they were fighting for. They were fighting to preserve something they believed in - the freedom to live. One can only wonder what they would think of society today.
As Christians we must ask ourselves where is our energy and our interest invested - in the transient or in the eternal?
Sunday Evening 3rd November 2013 Kenneth Gray Ephesians 6:10-24 “Our defence is sure”
This passage begins with an exhortation: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. During his recent study leave Kenneth visited several churches in the US and the UK and perceived that even in what might be called ‘strong’ churches there was a sense of fearfulness, particularly in the US. They seem to be worried about society and about government pressure to conform to the secular agenda. Churches are losing confidence in the Lord.
Yesterday’s Review Day for West Renfrewshire Youth Trust had been very encouraging in that it had been reported that SU staff were receiving positive reinforcement from school staff despite recent attempts by the Secular Society to challenge and discredit SU work in schools. The trust in SU that had developed over many years was not easily being undermined by secular forces and SU staff were being advised by school staff that there was “nothing to worry about”.
Paul message to the Ephesians to stand strong is one we must heed. Christianity has become all about being ‘nice’ and we seem ready to rush to get out of people’s way when they dislike something we say or do. We should stand firm but we are spiritually weak and physically tired - to stay strong in the Lord we need to put on the full armour of the Lord, drawing strength from his mighty power.
Paul paints a vivid picture almost as if inspired by the sight of a Roman centurion in armour nearby. Rome was very powerful in Paul’s day and its influence is still evident even today in the arts and architectural heritage and in institutional structures such as governments and universities which have senates. In Paul’s day Rome hated the Church and he wanted to build up the church to withstand ‘the devil’s schemes’.
Kenneth observed that many people enjoy reading about history but his recollection of school is that history teaching seemed to be about one battle after another: the 30 years war; the 100 years war; the Napoleonic war etc. etc. Many of the battles, particularly in earlier times, seemed to be about standing firm. They involved short bursts of fighting with the winners being those who stood firm, held their ground and didn’t give way. Armour was heavy and made it difficult to move quickly or for long periods of fighting.
Our battles are against forces that are stronger than we are. It is hard enough to overcome physical flesh and blood forces but even harder to overcome spiritual forces of evil. There is a horrible depravity evident in modern society. We try but cannot hem in the evil forces - all we can do is stand firm. But we cannot stand firm alone, in our own strength. Nor are we intended to be ‘cannon fodder’ in the battle against evil. We are to defend ourselves wearing the ‘armour of God’ and the full armour at that. Like any soldier if we forget a piece of vital equipment the consequences can be disastrous. But sometimes we are too prideful to have recourse to God’s full armour.
Paul says “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist”. Stick to the truth of the Gospel. Do not embellish the Word or water it down. Do not seek to self aggrandise by exaggerating or distorting its claims.
“with the breastplate of righteousness in place” - The glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ is our protection, and we can only don it if we know him and have given our lives to him.
“with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” - Our feet are vulnerable and we know how painful it can be if something falls them. Paul is advising us to be ready to respond with the Gospel of peace. The church doesn’t need to justify its existence through social work activities. Instead it should first be concerned to take forth the Gospel.
“take up the shield of faith” Arrows can assail us from all sides but we can “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” by holding firmly on to the shield of faith. To follow Christ does not mean we will never suffer harm and injury but forces of evil cannot rob us of eternal life.
Paul ends this metaphor with the image of “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Our heads are the most vulnerable parts of our bodies and we need the Spirit’s help to avoid all wrong-mindedness. The Word is our strong sword both defending us and attacking the forces of evil intent on destroying us.
Finally Paul exhorts us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
Prayer is the forgotten weapon of the church. We have lost the desire and the will to pray. We lack the alertness and persistence in prayer that Paul describes. Revival does not come to a church where prayer is not the cornerstone of its life. We need to practise praying all the time - prayer is our most offensive weapon - and we need to pray for “all the saints”. Prayer should come as naturally as breathing and not become a rigid, tick box ritual.
Reflecting on his study leave visits to other churches Kenneth concluded that there was nothing wrong with the preaching; there was nothing wrong with the welcome; there was nothing wrong with the service - but perhaps power is lacking because prayer is lacking.
The power of Paul’s preaching was the power of Jesus in him because the Christian church was praying for him. We need to rediscover our prayerfulness so that we can stand firm in the power of the Lord.
Sunday Evening 27th October 2013. Jim Brown Genesis 22:1-19 “Amazing Faith”
In Genesis 14 Abraham passed the money test: “The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, “I made Abram rich.”
But in chapter 12 Abraham failed the spouse test “And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”
The Bible does not gloss over the failure of its saints - it records them, sometimes in graphic detail. In chapter 17 we learned that “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’“
Now in tonight’s passage Abraham is to face the greatest test of the strength of the covenant between God and himself. The whole idea of child sacrifice is repulsive to us but was more common in Abraham’s day. God’s request will be the biggest test of Abraham’s faith and his obedience. It’s easier to be obedient and trusting when you know the end from the beginning but Abraham does not know what the outcome will be. God rarely gives his prophets reasons for the tasks he allots to them but he does give promises. God often gives his chosen servants assurance of his strength and his presence before giving them tasks to undertake. Here there is no vision, no promise, no assurance given - just an instruction. Thus Abraham must now trust that God is all loving, all wise, all powerful and respond to God’s command: “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’”
What a knife this must have seemed in Abraham’s heart to prepare to sacrifice his only, beloved son! To live a life obedient to God can be extremely challenging. Jim recalled a young gang member whom he had encountered in Pollok who had been converted, much to the chagrin of his peers in the gang, so much so that they had taken an axe to his knee and seriously injured him. Few of us, mercifully, face such dramatic tests of our faith.
In this passage we see that Abraham’s response is immediate. He could have argued with God much as he did over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but he does not. Some commentators suggest Abraham was in shock and acted somehow on ‘autopilot’. But he undertook a 45mile journey over three days at God’s command, an example of Eugene Peterson’s prescription for effective discipleship --‘a long obedience’. This is what Paul was describing in Romans 1:5 “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”
Clearly Abraham’s faith is evidenced by his words to his servants: He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’ If only our faith produced such works of obedience! As the writer to Hebrews states: ”By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”
What is the message of this passage? Pleasing God is not about sacrificing animals. Isaac’s question “where is the lamb?” has echoed throughout the Old Testament until the Lamb was revealed whose sacrifice would save the world. It was revealed to John the Baptist who, on seeing Jesus, said “Behold the Lamb of God!” We can only imagine Abraham’s emotions before the angel of the Lord stays his hand. Here the lamb caught in the thicket was substituted for Isaac but Jesus Christ is our substitute. He went to the Cross in our place to take away our sins. Genesis 22 is a first ‘sketch’ for that later perfect ‘masterpiece’. Abraham’s pain prefigures the pain of God the Father; Isaac’s obedience prefigures the submission of Jesus to his Father’s will. Even Moriah was no accidental location - it would later become the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Abraham did not withhold his son and God did not spare his Son. The question for us tonight is -What are we willing to give up for Jesus? What is our ‘Isaac’? Perhaps it is a possession, a secret sin, an attitude …
As Alan Redpath once expressed it at a Keswick Conference “ It’s not what we give but what we hold back that counts”. That’s what spoils our peace our joy, our witness.
Sunday Evening 20th October 2013 Jack McHugh Ephesians 6
This epistle describes what it means to be a Christian in all aspects of our daily lives. For God there is no such thing as a ‘Sunday Christian’. We are not only expected to behave as godly churchgoers once a week but also as godly people - parents, children, slaves, masters - the rest of the week too.
In verse 1 Paul says “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” So when our children ask why they should be obedient it should be enough to point them to this text and say “because the Bible says so”. Sadly this level of reference to God’s Word is diminishing in the world today and young people are more likely to demand their own way. In 2 Timothy 3 Paul predicts that such attitudes will be evident “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy….”.
The modern trend in Western society is to consign elderly parents to care homes rather than look after them in our own homes. This suggests that many sons and daughters find their own selfish lifestyle more precious to them than their duty to accommodate parental needs. Respect and care for our parents is not only a duty, says Paul, but it is also in our own interests “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Paul also has an instruction for parents: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Children do need boundaries but negative warnings and admonitions must also be tempered with positive encouragements and appropriate praise so that their spirits are not broken. Adults’ behaviour must therefore be Christ-like rather than dictatorial.
We might do well to ask how well the Church performs in this regard. Clearly in some churches children are dismissed from services and have no status or significance in the church family. We are blessed in Freeland and our children and young people are a delight and a credit to the teaching they have received. Elsewhere children are ‘tolerated’ at best. But nor should we dilute the Gospel message to make it accessible to children - the Gospel is of itself sufficient to attract, sanctify and convert - but let children come and ear the commands of Scripture for themselves.
Paul directs his instructions about godly living also to those who were slaves exhorting them to “…serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord”. God expects the Christian slave to work ungrudgingly, when the master is not looking as well as when he is. As for masters, they are to “treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.”
The standard of godly behaviour Paul is outlining for us to aim for here is that of “ a slave of Christ”.
Contemporary Christian language describes freedom from the slavery of sin, where Satan holds sway and has the authority over our lives, and total commitment to serving Jesus our only Lord and Master who will provide all we need and more. God has made us slaves of Jesus Christ, sons and daughters who are joint heirs to eternal life in Heaven.
Paul’s epistle is a reminder that we are all called to be godly and we are all equal in God’s sight. All our deeds and actions should glorify God. Let us take on board the deeper message that we should particularly value those whom the world does not value - the poor, the needy, the dispossessed, the difficult, the unlovely.
Sunday Evening 6th October 2013 Kenneth Gray - Hebrews 8 “ A new covenant”
Kenneth observed that we are all familiar with the term ‘built-in obsolescence’. In the manse there are no fewer than 5 obsolete computers in the loft. Statisticians have calculated that any brand new car will typically have a maximum 12 year life span before it will be consigned to the scrap yard. The recipients of this letter may have been less familiar with the concept of obsolescence than we are but they will have shared the typically human tendency to hang on to things that should be discarded. How often do we hang on to something ‘just in case’ when it is not only useless but its retention actually hampers our progress.
The writer to the Hebrews is contrasting the old covenant and the new. He is explaining that old rituals and old mind-sets are no longer appropriate or required. Gone is the need for animal sacrifices; gone is the requirement for a high priest to mediate between the faithful and the Lord God; gone is the belief that by our own good works can we earn ourselves a place in heaven. Now we have a unique High Priest, Jesus himself, who has died for our sins once and for all.
Extending the computer metaphor Kenneth further illustrated the point. If we try to access the internet on an obsolete PC we will be unsuccessful. The message on the screen will persist “you are not connected”. So it is with many people in Scotland today they are ‘not connected’ to the Living God. They have allowed their faith to be stunted and hampered by a stubborn determination to hang on to old mistaken beliefs and practices.
Throughout history God has anointed particular individuals to lead the people in faithful service or to perform priestly rituals. Once such, who is mentioned in various places in Hebrews, is Melchizedek. But the writer is at pains to point out that no earthly high priest, not even Melchizedek, can stand comparison with the High Priest of the New Covenant. All are as cardboard cut-outs compared with Jesus. ‘But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.’
If there had been nothing lacking in the old covenant there would have been no need for God to have sent his Son to forge the new covenant. But the old covenant could not save people. When the high priests offered up the big annual sacrifices on behalf of the people in the holy of holies these did not save the people. These rituals were merely the forerunners of the glorious sacrifice that was to be made by Jesus by whose grace alone we are saved.
Kenneth commented that it was a bit like driving to faraway places. Before motorways were built journeys took far longer, more circuitous routes through numerous villages and towns before we reached our destination. Come the motorway and we bypass the diversions and go straight from A to B - we no longer take the inferior option of the old road.
Some of us might be tempted to say “ if only I’d lived better, worked harder, given more of my time and money ... I could have made myself right with God”. But there is only one way our sin can be dealt with - we must lay it at the foot of the Cross.
We each have besetting sins that we seem to commit repeatedly. Occasionally we make a special effort and feel we have mastered a particular sin only to find that we fall back into old habits and succumb again to temptation - much to the delight of the Evil One. Our effort is not what overcomes sin. Our sin is nailed to the Cross and we stand clothed in the beauty and purity of Jesus. We must keep reminding ourselves of what Jesus came to do and we must live now as people of the new covenant who have laid their sins at the foot of the Cross, who have confessed their sins and their need of a Saviour.
In verse 10 we find one of Scriptures’ most beautiful passages: “This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
One of those ‘better promises’ on which the new covenant is founded is that we will all know the Lord - ‘from the least to the greatest’ of us.
Kenneth recalled his boyhood when he and his peers were hugely impressed when a boy whose father had ‘connections’ was able to bring a football celebrity on a visit to the school.
The writer to the Hebrews emphasises that when we come to faith in Jesus we are each able to come directly into the presence of the Holy Living God - we don’t need any earthly high priest or someone’s dad with connections! That is the power and the privilege of the new covenant. So let us each ask ourselves ‘Do we know God like that?’
Sunday Evening 22nd September 2013 Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 5:1-21 “Living in the light”
Jesus is the ideal we should emulate but our natures are sinful and when Paul lists the sinful behaviours to be avoided - sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking - we can all relate to some of them if we are honest with ourselves. Paul warns the Christians of Ephesus: ‘For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.’
As Christians then we must be clear that it is not just the ‘big sins’ like violence and murder that alienate us from God but also all the more familiar everyday nastinesses in how we think and talk and interact with others that offend God and threaten to destroy our souls.
We may not set out to be sinful but it is so easy to drift into sinfulness by engaging in unwholesome, foolish talk or by exposing ourselves to ungodly influences. Kenneth referred to ‘TV torpor’ - an unthinking habit of watching whatever comes on our screens, however unsavoury, without exercising our judgment about its suitability. People get sucked into the world of soap operas and other TV dramas until they mistake fantasy for reality. This is evidenced by the tens of thousands of letters of protest received some years ago by the then Home Secretary when a character in the radio 4 show ‘The Archers’ was put in prison.
Taking Christ as the ideal Paul states ‘there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity’. This is hard to avoid in our society where sex is used to sell every kind of product imaginable. Sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day and he knew that if the Christian community did not take a stand against it they would in fact be colluding with those who disobeyed God - they too would get sucked in again to darkness. ‘Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.’
Paul then tells them something quite startling that we would do well to think about. ‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.’ None of us listening to this sermon tonight probably thinks of him/herself as ever having been ‘darkness’ . But we were darkness until we came to faith. Our former way of life no doubt seemed natural, not wrong, but now we know better. Now we must find out what pleases Jesus Christ so that we can reflect the light that comes from a transformed life.
Some people will tell you that it is OK to be like other people so long as you believe the right things. But we cannot ignore what it means to live in the light. Paul does not describe the secret sins of those who reject Jesus because ‘It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.’ Our job as Christians is to show the beauty of the light in all aspects of our lives. ‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.’
As this godly light shines on it sin loses its allure and we see it for what it is. The world does not appreciate this exposure and Christians are criticised for hampering people’s fun. The truth is that as we bring the light to bear on the world we expose the sordid reality of sin. We must work to halt the church’s desperate rush to say ‘bad’ is ‘good’. Darkness flees from the light and does not understand it. If the church does not take a stand against immorality what chance is there for the world? In the past 400 years Christian teaching has underpinned our culture but in the last 60 years that has been changing. The church must hold the line not shift it.
This week, when many innocent people have been murdered in a Nairobi shopping mall, we can only wonder how many of them, Kenyan Christians, had perhaps been planning to talk to a friend or a neighbour about their faith but had now had that opportunity snatched from them.
As Paul advises ‘Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.’ He is preaching against those things with which the Ephesian church is struggling. The church must rekindle its fire and recover its excitement about the Gospel. This is a big challenge especially for a church like Freeland that is full of reticent Scots. But we can do more to encourage one another and not rely on the minister to do all the hard work. Submitting to one another is something else that does not sit well with the Scottish temperament. As Christians we must listen to each other and learn from one another, submitting to the truth even if we do not like it.
Sunday Evening 15th September 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 4: 17-32 ‘Escaping futility’
Kenneth observed that it is often the case that something of the old ways of doing things, old behaviours, old attitudes persist whenever when people undergo some major change in their lives. Thus for the new Gentile Christians there had to be a concerted effort to shake off some of their former practices and ways of thinking when they came to faith in Christ. What was true for this early Christian era in Ephesus is also true for us in our post-Christian era. Western society is currently rejecting Christ and discounting the Christian religion as irrelevant but many Christian values persist in people’s thinking and underpin society’s institutions.
The aim of the Reformation was to return the Church to what was regarded as its simpler, uncorrupted New Testament roots. The Ephesian society Paul describes sounds familiar to us. The Evil One has managed to create in our times a society that is very like that New Testament society from whose contamination Paul desires to protect the young church in Ephesus. The modern church is surrounded by pleasure seekers who have given themselves over to every kind of immorality. Society’s ‘heroes’ are being found to have feet of clay and popular celebrities are regularly being exposed as indulging the basest of proclivities.
People today continually accuse the church of ignorance and describe Christians’ beliefs and practices as ‘mediaeval’. The church is urged to be ‘more enlightened’ in its views. Some church leaders would have us believe that 2 thousand years ago people were ignorant about what was sinful - this is untrue. Paul spells out for the early church exactly what practices are sinful for a Christian. He exhorts the Ephesians to put off their old selves and live a new way as God intends. The Holy Spirit inspires Paul to write uncompromisingly to the New Testament church about how they should now be living.
It is still important today that the church ‘holds the line’ without compromising the Truth. We must not airbrush away the differences between the church and the society which surrounds it - between the old lives and the new. If the Sheep start to look like the goats they will begin to act like them too.
The futility of their thinking made the Gentiles vulnerable and we too must guard against such error. Kenneth commented that we sometimes know a thing is futile but it doesn’t stop us doing it. For example people, seeing a building on fire, will run to fill buckets of water and throw them on the blaze risking their own safety in a desire to do something rather than nothing until the fire tenders arrive.
The truth of the Gospel should be the only currency in which we operate and in the battle to win souls for Christ prayer is the strongest weapon we have. When we fear the Evil One is gaining ground and begin to think we cannot stand against him we must never forget that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.
In verse 25 Paul is forthright. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body.” He is hitting at 2 types of falsehood:1) the blatant lie and 2) avoiding the truth. He also says “In your anger do not sin”. Kenneth admitted how easily anger could take hold of him about trivial things - like a driver cutting ahead of him on the road or the ‘android’ voice in the call centre failing to resolve his issue - whereas he found it harder to whip up anger about the important things. Anger robs us of reason, judgment, compassion. Christians should be different from the rest of the world.
It is said the Devil makes work for idle hands and here Paul advocates that “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” He also warns against unwholesome talk including things like spitefulness and gossip that destroy rather than build up relationships.
Our talk should be about Christ. The church should be excited about Jesus and keen to take every opportunity to tell people about him. We should be like a new parent when the baby arrives - unable to contain our joy. This is what folk outside the church should be able to sense about the church community - a bubbling up of joy that never wanes.
Sunday Evening 8th September 2013 Kenneth Gray Ephesians 3:14-21; 4: 1-16
Paul here is painting a picture of what the church should be like. The challenge for us is to assess how far this description matches what the church today is actually like. Last week we looked at Paul’s sense of the unique ministry to which he had been called - to encourage the Gentile believers and reassure them that God’s love, mercy and grace was for them as much as for the Jews, his chosen people.
The Jews were proud of their ancestry. They were descendants of their father Abraham and nothing could change that. Jews today still regard themselves as Abraham’s children. Paul has made it clear to the Gentiles that they share in the same inheritance and that they too bear the most beautiful name of Jesus.
In verse 14 Paul now tells them ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father’. There is no commandment, no special instruction in Scripture that requires us to kneel when praying. However there are some situations that we pray about where we feel it right and appropriate to kneel when we are approaching God in prayer. Our most fervent, heartfelt prayers are likely to be those we make on our knees. So here Paul emphasises the fervour of his prayer by mentioning that he is on his knees.
And what is Paul’s prayer? ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’
As a minister Kenneth has encountered many people in the church who find it very difficult to articulate their faith. For some faith is something they have never attained despite regular church attendance over many years. They may have listened to the Gospel year in year out but there has been no significant change in their lives. Such people, and unbelievers outside the church, find committed Christians strange and difficult to relate to because we have such confidence about our faith.
This can be very off-putting for non-Christians. It’s a bit like being in a maths class where the teacher begins to explain a complicated theorem and there’s the one person who immediately ‘gets it’ almost before the explanation is finished. Everyone else is struggling to keep up and some never ‘get it’. This enviable facility of that individual does not endear him to his peers - rather, everyone resents the seeming ease with which everything has ‘clicked into place’ for him. They feel diminished. So it is when someone expresses his or her lively, genuine faith in Jesus Christ - it can have the same effect. The great blessing we enjoy can also be a discouragement for others but there’s nothing we can do about that and we certainly should not down play the strength of our faith or our joy at being redeemed. We do need to pray, as indeed Paul prays, that people come to know Jesus, be open to the faith and grasp it, so that they may ‘be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’.
God is pouring that fullness of knowledge into finite bodies. As God pours in something must flow out to make room for this new gift, so we get rid of the rubbish which fills our minds. Paul wants the Ephesians to be filled up with God and to discard everything that impedes the growth of their faith and the service they render.
Kenneth recalled a sermon by Rev. George Duncan where he commented that psychologists claim that we never forget anything. For example if we do something wrong it remains like a scar on our memory, a persistent blot on our conscience that can hamper our capacity for emotional development. If we fill our minds with rubbish and sinfulness it stays there unless we ‘fill ourselves up’ with God. Paul tells the Ephesians that ‘God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’. Some of us will never be clever, artistic, athletic, beautiful, popular etc. but all of us can be filled to the full extent that God can endow. Thus Paul concludes this intense prayer extolling God’s glory.
Chapter 4 opens with an exhortation ‘As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ Kenneth remembered when an ex prisoner joined the accountancy firm where he worked. It is a hard thing to be an ‘ex con’ - people will always think differently about you because you have been convicted of wrongdoing. At first this colleague was scared to talk to anyone in case they asked awkward questions or in case he got hurt by their attitude. He was not proud to be a prisoner. Here, though, Paul is proud to be a prisoner of the Lord. Most of us, thankfully, will not be imprisoned for our faithfulness to Jesus Christ but we may well be ridiculed, misunderstood, excluded or victimised in various hurtful ways.
We must be aware that the Evil One twists things and engineers bad situations in our lives then says ‘What kind of God is this that puts you, his followers, through such terrible experiences?’ Paul is a great example of how a believer should respond to Satan’s undermining and to adversity. The trouble is that most of us do not live lives in line with our calling as followers of Jesus.
In verses 1 to 6 Paul outlines Christian attributes and behaviours that the church has ignored probably more than any other Scriptural teaching and as a result it is now frequently characterised by anger, conflict and disunity.
But living as Paul describes does not mean that ‘anything goes’. We are often lazy in our thinking but we need to be able to exercise true humility, gentleness, patience etc. without condoning heresy. What’s wrong is wrong and it is not ‘loving’ to pretend it’s right. Those attributes listed by Paul should be our ‘default setting’ in the church and should underpin the judgment we exercise when assessing how we should respond when challenging situations arise that might require us to sacrifice unity for the sake of truth. In our 275th anniversary year we in Freeland are reminded that our church was formed by breaking the bond of unity.
Paul describes the depth of God’s grace. A mathematics lecturer once observed that he could survey a lecture hall full of students and identify those who were grasping the point of the lesson and those who were floundering. He recognised that there is a level of mathematical understanding that each person attains and beyond which they are lost. It’s different for each individual. Paul explains ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.’
Our experience will be different from the next person’s. We all experience the same saving grace but the way it is manifested in us will be different. Thus God uses the ‘apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers’ in their various roles to build up the body of Christ. We must not think we have all got to be the same but neither should we make this an excuse for not working at improving our deficiencies. God gives these varied gifts to prepare different people for diverse works of service.
Some people seem never to want to grow up. They resist change of all kinds. An elder once commented that for many people in the church the peak of their Christian education occurs when they are 14 or 15 years old in Bible Class. This is the level of their Christian maturity and they remain comfortable at this level throughout their lives.
We worry about bad people abducting our young children or ‘grooming’ our teenagers for evil purposes via the internet. We worry because the young are so easily deceived by cunning evildoers. But if we remain immature in our faith we too are easily deceived. Is that not what we see happening in the church? The Evil One does not even have to be terribly clever because we are so easily taken in.
Therefore let us fill ourselves up with Christ and as Paul states ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.’
Sunday Evening 1st September 2013. Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 3:1-13 - ‘God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles’.
Firstly, they are filled with natural human sympathy for a person in trouble. Secondly, though, for the Ephesian church Paul is not just a preacher to the Gentiles he is also an advocate for the Gentiles. He has preached against the Jews’ reluctance to accept the newcomers as equals, as fellow believers in Christ. Now the Gentiles are worried that their place in the church will be undermined when Paul’s authority and influence are curtailed by his imprisonment.
This fear is not groundless. We only have to think about churches in America where the full acceptance of black Christians in traditionally white churches has been slow to happen such that many all-white and all-black churches still persist despite the colour bar having long been removed. Nor is it always a question of race that seems to make it difficult for people to work and witness harmoniously in churches. Sometimes it’s differences in age, gender or socio-economic status.
Here Paul is at pains to make it clear that what God has offered to the Gentiles is what he has been longing to give them through the ages. He has now chosen to reveal himself to the Gentiles through the Jews. Paul is now sharing with the Gentiles the Good News that God’s love is or everyone. This mystery was revealed to Paul and his special obligation is to share it with the world and the church.
Our first reaction as humans when someone says ‘God has laid this on my heart’ is to be sceptical. We know there are charlatans and misguided people even in the church and we must remain vigilant for individuals who try to mislead us or who are deluded. But Paul is in Scriptures and we know he is God’s chosen instrument. Isn’t it amazing, though, that God should choose Paul, the archetype of Jewishness, to advocate on behalf of the Gentiles and to bring to them the Good News? Paul wants the Ephesian Gentiles to know about God’s love for them because they have been in his heart for ever. This encouragement for the Ephesians is also a great encouragement for us today.
As Christians in a secularly-minded world we struggle to find new and better ways to evangelise. The young people we encounter seem particularly cynical. Our battle involves perseverance in the face of the prevailing cynicism and disinterest.
Kenneth illustrated his point by describing the train journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh. As we travel along we can look out of the windows and glimpse the backs of people’s houses - a more authentic insight into how people live than a look at house frontages. The train periodically stops at a station then moves off again but the town or village where it has stopped remains unaffected by the train’s progress. Kenneth felt the church was often like a train. We frequently go about our business and even work hard at it but no-one seems to be affected or changed by our efforts. We in the local church have a tremendous opportunity. The business we are in is to be committed to serving the Lord in this very place for a lifetime.
Paul had previously resisted bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. It is often an indicator of an authentic calling by God when the individual initially tries to resist it. Paul states: “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”
This is another great Christian paradox: How can you make clear the ‘unsearchable riches’? The answer is never to stop trying. Paul was not very well qualified to preach to the Gentiles. As a Jew he did not feel they took God seriously enough and they had a different view of the world. Like some benign elderly uncle he too was set in his ways and uncomfortable with change. Nevertheless, in obedience to God, Paul embarked on the most far-reaching change there has ever been, taking Christianity from a small sect to a world-wide religion. We forget that Paul was writing when the church was operating largely in the Middle East and not in the West. There are now millions of Christians across the world. Although the church is declining in Scotland it is growing in places like China and India. Even our local Presbytery has ministers of Brazilian and Pakistani nationality.
God’s plan of salvation is universal. As Paul affirms: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Kenneth observed that our newspapers are full of doom and gloom. There are individual tragedies recorded as well a major world conflicts and there seems to be happening a collective headlong rush into sin. It is clear that someone is co-ordinating and organising all these horrors. Even the politicians refer to such acts as ‘evil’ because deep down they recognise Satan’s hand at work seeking to undermine God’s plan and purpose for mankind. But God has accomplished through Jesus. Christ has taken upon himself the wickedness - ours and that of every one of his redeemed people.
We always present the best aspects of ourselves to others but inside we know what we are really like. All our defects and deficiencies are now hidden in Christ. Paul teaches that our joy now is that “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
Kenneth remembered that when he was moving into the manse some 25 years ago the new carpets he’d ordered failed to arrive when expected. He found the phone number of the supplier’s headquarters and rang the MD to find out the reason for the delay. He recalled the consternation of that MD who was concerned mostly to discover how Kenneth had acquired his direct line number.
In most of life’s transactions it is very difficult to get straight to the top person unhindered. As Christians we have the unparalleled privilege of direct access to the top at all times. Paul’s message to the Ephesians is therefore that they should not worry about his situation and that the Gospel remains the same whether or not he is around.
Sunday Evening 25th August 2013. Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 2:11-22. ‘Jew and Gentile reconciled through Christ’.
Kenneth knew of another church where 90% of the congregation were born-again Christians but their 15 elders had not been converted. There was enormous tension between the members’ hopes and aspirations and the decisions taken by the eldership. The elders’ stranglehold on church affairs was perpetuated by means of their resistance to the appointment of new elders with different views. Not until this cadre of the unconverted died off did the church manage to move forward! When we see how issues of theology or race or age or gender etc. can divide a church then we see how relevant is this message of Paul still today.
Kenneth remembered listening to a preacher from Malawi who had revealed how difficult it was proving to elect elders because of the requirement for monogamy in a society where polygamy had been commonplace for generations. The Malawian Christians had found faith in Jesus but had retained their cultural predilection for polygamy.
For Christians from the Jewish tradition the only right way to stand before God was for a man to be circumcised - a concept alien to the gentile Christians. Paul addresses the Gentiles, not as somehow ‘second class’ converts due to an accident of birth. Rather, they are a people who have been elevated by Jesus to the same status of redeemed souls as their Jewish counterparts. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ”. Paul states that, because of things they could do nothing about, the Gentiles had been excluded from the citizenship enjoyed by the Jews - but now no longer. As born-again people accepted into the family of Jesus Christ they are no longer excluded from the benefits of citizenship.
The church today needs to understand Paul’s message. We are all part of the Christian community but unless we are born again we remain foreigners.
The great tragedy of our age is that more and more people live without hope. Kenneth sees this at funerals in the pain and despair experienced by the unbelieving bereaved. For them the end of earthly life is all there is. As God’s people we must give an account of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. The challenge is to bring comfort without compromising Gospel Truth.
We all know how frustrating it can be to be far away from a desired person or object or place when we long to be near it. Paul paints a picture of our longing to be near God but being estranged from him because of our sin until Jesus brings us near by his blood.
Those of us who have had the privilege of seeing a close friend come to Christ will know what a deeper, closer relationship with them results from their conversion. It doesn’t matter how close someone is to grace if they have not crossed into true faith.
We all long for peace. Paul’s message is that Jesus is our peace. Peace for the soul comes from being reconciled with God, being in his presence, no longer estranged.
One of the biggest current global issues is how we deal with Islam. Predictions about the approaching numerical superiority of Muslims and the western distaste for many aspects of Sharia law combine to make us fearful. We should not be afraid. Our attitude to Muslims must be one of seeking to win them for Christ. We should be encouraged that millions in the Islamic world are already being converted to Christianity such that even the secular newspapers are commenting about it.
The Islamics are like the ‘uncircumcised’ to whom Paul is referring. We as individuals are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’. Collectively we are the body that is his church. Whether former Jews or former Gentiles or former Muslims, in Jesus Christ we are made a whole community of God’s people - his church. “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Paul’s message reminded Kenneth of the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, construction of which began more than130 years ago and is still ongoing with a predicted finish date in 2026. There are conflicting views about the architectural and aesthetic merits of the building and both critics and admirers are very vocal in expressing their opinions. But we cannot see what God sees. We must not criticise and complain about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Every ‘building’ needs diverse materials to make it strong. The church in Ephesus is being built to God’s glory by redeemed people from different traditions and backgrounds. We now are the ‘building’ where God lives - let us not fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves as ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when we are ‘his’.
Sunday Evening 18th August 2013. Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 2:1-10. ‘From life to death’.
We all need to be reminded of that from which we have been saved - we forget all too soon. We tend to see the best in ourselves and find excuses for our sinful behaviour. It is human nature to wriggle out of situations where we are at fault and pass the blame to someone else. We only have to watch children squabbling to see neither party wishes to own up to being in the wrong. How familiar is the cry “But he started it!” Similarly, opposing fans at a football or rugby match will each interpret the same infringement on the pitch as the fault of the other side.
This is a problem too for evangelical Christians. We can begin to see ourselves as better than others and to think of ourselves as ‘deserving to be saved’. Paul is saying to the New Testament church ‘you were dead but now you’ve been saved’ and that message is still true for us too.
Equally, those who have not accepted Jesus Christ have not been saved and are still under Satan’s power. We should not be surprised, therefore, about the evil things that occur in the world. The Evil One works tirelessly and we can observe his handiwork today in places like Syria and Egypt where people’s hopes for freedom and democracy have been snatched away. But, sadly, most people fail to recognise that they are in bondage to the Devil.
Paul does not mince his words. “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” The great paradox of the Christian faith is that the God of grace and mercy is also the God of judgment whose abhorrence of sin results in his wrath being visited on the unrepentant. Paul reminds the Ephesians that, despite their sinful natures, God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice have enabled them to avoid the consequences of their sin. And we too are beneficiaries of that grace and mercy. But we must remain vigilant because the Evil One never gives up trying to lure us back on the sinful path to eternal damnation.
The Prime Minister is currently trying to tighten up safeguards preventing children accessing pornography on the internet. - it seems there are no limits to the depravity of which humans are capable. Satan is clever. He even presents sin in the guise of worldly kindness and ‘fair-mindedness’ to make us feel better about the wrong behaviours we practise, tolerate or encourage. Paul emphasises that we are evil by nature and it is only by God’s grace we have been saved.
For most of us feeling ‘rich’ is perhaps an unfamiliar experience. Here, though, Paul gives us a beautiful picture of the lavishness of God’s grace and mercy describing the unimaginable richness we have been given in the forgiveness of our sins.
Paul says ‘all’ our sins have been taken from us. For Kenneth this called to mind the picture of an athlete who has given his all in a race and is almost dead on his feet. Jesus comes and lifts him up from his lowest ebb and revives him making him even more alive than he was before. When we come to faith we find new depths of beauty and meaning in the world around us.
God does not save us or nothing. He saves us to be put in the highest place because we are made holy in him. Why then does the world think the church is dead? Kenneth commented that he continually meets young people who are cynical about the Christian faith and view the church as irrelevant to their lives. But when they start to ask questions in small groups or in one-to-one situations and receive sound, truthful answers they have their minds opened. How sad it is that the church gives the impression of deadness!
Paul reiterates that we are saved by grace ‘through faith’ and even that faith that saves us is a gift from God. People often say to Kenneth “I wish I had a stronger faith”. But God does not dole out faith in small measures. If we truly believe, our faith will be sufficient for the service God requires of us and the life he has planned for us. Doing good works does not create faith. We are “…God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.
We are the tools God uses to do good in the world. Tools are better in the hands of the craftsman than in the hands of the amateur. We therefore do better when we serve at God’s direction, doing the work he wants us to do and each of us will be given different work to do. Furthermore, it makes no difference in faithfulness whether we are called to minister to 40 or 40 thousand. We will meet people here in Scotland, in Bridge of Weir even, who will never have anyone speak the Word to them unless we do. That is how important our work and witness really are regardless of how insignificant we might feel ourselves to be or indeed how busy and important we might think we are.
Kenneth noted that the newspapers are full of stories about a talented footballer who is not satisfied by his pay scale - a classic case of the individual worker believing himself to be more important than the team. Regrettably, a similar pridefulness can be found in the church. Let us remember this as we undertake our Christian work and witness in this coming week.
Sunday Evening 11th August 2013. Kenneth Gray, Ephesians 1:15-23. ‘Giving thanks’.
During his recent trip to the United States Kenneth had been struck by the apparent lack of interest, even reluctance, among the 1000 ministers attending a conference to get to know one another or explore ways of working together.
Biblical orthodoxy is important to Paul but that’s not all that’s at stake here. Paul knows God has called these people to service in the church at Ephesus so who is he to question God’s plan? We should be similarly concerned for churches we know about that are facing challenges and we should continue to pray for them. There are many churches that are struggling not just in Scotland but also in America. We tend to think of the churches in America as large and thriving. Kenneth visited two such congregations which had thousands of members and annual incomes ranging from $7million to $13million. But there are also many churches that are smaller even than Freeland, and many that are struggling to survive. Faithfulness does not always lead to growth.
We should remember to give thanks for neighbouring churches and not think of them as the ‘competition’ .
Paul has ‘not stopped praying’ for the Ephesian church. His devotion is untypical of human behaviour. Most of us start projects and tasks enthusiastically then our interest wanes over time. Not so with Paul. He says similar things in many of his epistles and we wonder how he found the time to travel to so many parts of the known world, write and pray for all the different people and situations he encountered. But Paul’s commitment to the Lord’s service was total. He never wasted time or opportunities to do the Lord’s work whether travelling, recuperating from illness, enduring imprisonment or preaching to assemblies or groups. We could all pray more if we re-ordered our priorities and organised our time better. Just think how much time we waste watching rubbish on TV for example!
We should not regard prayer as a burden. We do not have to pray for absolutely everything all the time. God lays things on our heart that we feel moved to pray about and our approach to prayer should not be merely mechanistic. Rather, we should become prayer warriors. Paul’s specific prayer for the Ephesian church is one that we would do well to pray for ourselves and for others “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
We all need to know God better in good times and bad times, in our joys and in our sorrows. We live in an age where people seem to know others less and less. We no longer talk to people - we email. We are becoming detached from one another. It should be different in the church. Church should be a place where we get to know and trust one another and develop honest relationships.
The church’s business is to find ways to get to know God better and help others also get to know Him. It’s not about better buildings, more secure finances or better-structured institutions.
In verse 18 Paul prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”. As a church our hope lies in eternal life in heaven. Paul wants the Ephesians to know that hope. As Christians we don’t think enough about heaven. Much of what we do is grounded in earthly endeavour. Despite the familiar aphorism the church is not so ‘heavenly minded’ as it should be. If it were perhaps its mission would be of more ‘earthly use’. It is important for Paul that the Ephesian church comes to know new life in Jesus Christ and discover new hope in the riches of their glorious heavenly inheritance. Heaven is the place where God dwells and Jesus has dominion. As Christians we have confidence that this earthly realm is not all there is.
Paul goes on to remind them of God’s power - the immeasurable, incomparable power that raised Jesus from death to life. God applies this amazing power to the work of his church and Paul wants the Ephesian church to rely on this power It is power that does not spring from human will, skill or intellect but is accessed when God’s people accept it and allow God to move in their midst.
Paul finishes the passage in speaking of the exalted status awarded to Jesus “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”.
We are familiar with and often impressed by earthly titles with which people are invested. The royal family, for example, have numerous titles that reflect certain relationships or responsibilities they are considered to have in relation to various people and places. Jesus is placed so far above all such titles as to make them meaningless and inconsequential.
For Christians the only title worth having is ‘redeemed’.
STUDIES IN THE MINOR PROPHETS 2012A series of sermons on Malachi, Habakkuk, Jonah, Nahum, Hosea, Zephaniah, and Haggai preached during the autumn and winter 2012 by Kenneth Gray, Derek Peat and Jack McHugh can be downloaded here.
STUDIES IN EZEKIEL 2012A series of sermons on the Book of Ezekiel preached during the spring and summer 2012 by Kenneth Gray, Derek Peat and Jack McHugh can be downloaded here
Sermons summarised earlier than this date can be found on Reflections Archive page.
Mon 23 of Sep., 2013 12:38
Open Air Service
Wed 19 of June, 2013 07:39
Open Air Service
Sat 15 of June, 2013 07:47
Fri 24 of May, 2013 08:00
Wed 01 of May, 2013 07:51
Wed 27 of Mar., 2013 14:03
Mon 18 of Mar., 2013 11:35
BB Coffee Morning
Fri 08 of Mar., 2013 17:01
Jack's Prayer Blog
Prayer Breakfast Saturday 4th May 2013
Wed 17 of Apr., 2013 16:08
Prayer Breakfast Saturday 1st September 2012
Thu 30 of Aug., 2012 20:12
Prayer Breakfast Saturday 11th August 2012
Mon 30 of July, 2012 22:48
Prayer Breakfast Saturday 7th July 2012
Sat 02 of June, 2012 10:17
Prayer Breakfast Saturday 7th April 2012
Sun 18 of Mar., 2012 23:31
- Sunday: 08 Dec 13
- Sunday: The Pilling Report; Scottish Catholic Church and safeguarding; 01 Dec 13
- Sunday: 24 Nov 13
- Sunday: 17 NOV 13
- Sunday: 10 Nov 13
- Sunday: 03 Nov 11
- Sunday: 27 Oct 13
- Sunday: 20 OCT 13
- Sunday: 13 Oct 13
- Sunday: 6 Oct 2013
- Sunday: 29 Oct 2013
- Sunday: Religion in Scotland 15 September 2013
- Sunday: 22 SEP 13
- Sunday: 8 Sept 2013
- Sunday: 01 SEP 13
- Sunday: Chief Rabbi interview 25 Aug 2013
- Sunday: Egypt; GK Chesterton; Zoroastrianism 18 Aug 13
- Sunday: 11 Aug 13; Manchester’s Eruv; Northern Ireland; St Paul’s mission recreated
- Sunday: Immigration and Cricket Chaplaincy 04 Aug 2013
- Sunday: 28 Jul 13
- Sunday: 21st July 2013
- Memories of the Srebrenica Massacre; Christianity and Extraterrestial life 14 July 13
- Sunday: 07 Jul 13
- Hospital Chaplains; Muslim Sermon on Grooming 30 Jun 13
- Brighton Witch; God & Hip Hop 23 Jun 13
- Sunday: G8 Summit & Museum Cuts 16 Jun 2013
- Sunday: 09 Jun 13
- Sunday: Melvyn Bragg; Synagogue Saviours 02 Jun13
- Sunday: Woolwich murder; Prosperity Gospel; Saints 26 May '13
- Sunday: 19 May 2013
- Sunday: 12 MAY 13
- Sunday: 05 MAY 13 Ireland Abortion law; Reading graveyards; Church of England clerical abuse report
- Sunday: 28 Apr 13 Samira Ahmed presents
- Sun 21 Apr 13: Exorcism, Muslim History and Archbishop Vincent Nichols
- Sunday: 14 Apr 13
- Sunday: 07 APR 13 Edward Stourton, presenter
- Sunday: Cyprus, Syria and Food banks 31 Mar 13
- Sunday: 24 Mar 13
- Sunday: With Edward Stourton in St Peter's Square 17 Mar 13
- Sunday: Samira Ahmed, Presenter 10 MAR 13
- Sunday: 03 Mar 13: Start of the Papal conclave; letter to Justin Welby; Book of Mormon; how to manage the Catholic church
- Sunday: Keith O'Brien and Chartist Hymn Book 24 Feb 12
- Sunday: Pope Benedict & Egypt's Grand Mufti 17 Feb 13
- Sunday: Knights of Malta; Magdalene Laundries; Giles Fraser 10 FEB 13
- Sunday: Knights of Malta; Magdalene Laundries; Giles Fraser 10 FEB 13
- Sunday: Halal meat, Religious Courts 03 Feb 2013
- Sunday: 27 Jan 13
- Sunday:Religious discrimination claims 20/01/13
- Sunday:Spiritual Underground; Belfast, Shared Churches 13/01/13
- Sunday: Hindu Women; Sunday and Christians; Soho Masses; Gay Bishops; 06 JAN 13
- Sunday: Jesse Jackson; Rabbi Mirvis; Angela Merkel 30/12/12
- Sunday: Women and Religion special 23/12/12
- Sunday: Census Results on religion; Mayan Prophecy; Gay Marriage 16 Dec 12
- Sunday: Edward Stourton, Presenter 09 DEC 12
- Sunday: 02 Dec 12
- Sunday: 25 Nov 2012
- Sunday: 18 NOV 12
- Sunday: 11 Nov 12
- Sunday: 4 Nov 2012
- Sunday: 28 OCT 12
- Sunday: 21 Oct 12
- Sunday: 14th Oct 2012
- Sunday: 07 Oct 12
- Sunday: 30 Sep 12
- Sunday: 23 SEP 12
- Sunday: 16 September 2012
- Sunday: 09 Sep 12
- Sunday: 02 SEP 12
- Sunday: 26th August 2012
- Sunday: 19 Aug 12
- Sunday: 12 Aug 12
- Sunday: 5th August 2012
- Sunday: 29 JUL 12
- Sunday: 22 Jul 2012
- Sunday: 15 July 2012
- Sunday: 8th July 2012
- Sunday: 1st July 2012
- Sunday: 24 Jun 12
- Sunday: 17 Jun 12
- Sunday: 10 JUN 12
- Sunday: 3rd June 2012
- Sunday: 27th May
- Sunday: 20 May 12
- Sunday: 13 MAY 12
- Sunday: 06 May 12
- Sunday: 29 Apr 12
- Sunday: 22nd April 2012
- Sunday: 15 Apr 12
- Sunday: 8 April 12
- Sunday: 01 APR 12
- Sunday: 25 Mar 12
- Sunday: 18 MAR 12
- 11 Mar 12
- Sunday: 4 Mar 12
- Sunday: 26 Feb 12
- Sunday: 19 FEB 12
- Sunday: 12 Feb 2012
- Sunday: 05 Feb 12
- Sunday: 29 JAN 12