Sunday Morning Service is at 10.30 amYou can listen to previous services on our Audio Pages.
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Sunday Evening Service is at 7.00pm
Youth Fellowship (YF) at 6.45pm(except during school holidays)
Recent Sunday Morning Sermons are available to listen to on our Audio pages and earlier services can be found on our Audio Archive page.
REFLECTIONS - A Few Key Points From Recent Sermons
(Sunday Morning Sermons are available to listen to on our Audio pages )
Sunday Evening Service 12th May 2013. Jim Brown, 1Corinthians 15:1-20 “If” is a small word.
In 1Corinthians 15 the word ‘if’ introduces enormous implications. ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ In what JB Phillips referred to as one of the most important passages in the Bible Paul here goes straight to the crux of our faith. He is speaking directly to those in the church at Corinth who have begun to question the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Thomas was the first recorded sceptic and it took a resurrection appearance of Jesus to convince and humble him. Other sceptics have been more or less vocal down the ages and many have tried to challenge, contradict and explain away the bodily Resurrection.
There had been numerous theories as to what became of Jesus’ body. Some said grave robbers had taken it. It’s true that some people will steal anything and grave robbing was a frequent occurrence but Jesus had no possessions or riches worth stealing - even if robbers had managed to avoid arrest by the guards on duty at the tomb. Others said the Disciples took it - if so why were they cowering away in the upper room, afraid of persecution for their faith? Some said the soldier guards had fallen asleep on duty. If so the penalty would have been their execution. If, as some suggested, the Jewish religious authorities had stolen it surely they would have subsequently produced it to put an end to Christianity.
Paul does not bother to address these theories - he focuses instead on the evidence. He points to witnesses who were still living. Paul confronts the doubters head-on and urges them to stop and face up to the implications if Jesus is not risen from the dead. ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’
Christ crucified is not the whole Gospel - Christ resurrected is what gives meaning to the rest of the Bible. We know that a principal qualification for apostleship was to have witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection. Without the resurrection all preaching is futile but we know that the apostles’ preaching was anything but futile and sinners were converted in their thousands.
The crucifixion and the resurrection are twin and complementary planks of our faith. Paul concludes this passage on a positive affirmation ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.’ Just as the first Adam brought death the Second Adam has brought eternal life. Alleluia!
Sunday Evening Service 5th May 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Colossians 1:15-23 ‘The Very Highest Place’
Colosse was a small town not a large metropolis like Corinth or Rome. It is easier to grow a church with large numbers in the congregation where the catchment area has millions of residents. It is predicted that by the 2020s more than half (55%) the UK population will live in cities and large conurbations. That means there will still be 45% living in communities like Colosse or, as we might say, Bridge of Weir. The important thing is not “the Church” but Jesus Christ. When we look at large churches like Times Square in New York with its huge choir, like something out of the movie ‘Sister Act’, we are amazed and even impressed . But such churches have to be constantly on their guard against allowing the desire to put on a spectacular ‘show’ impede the act of true worship and distract from the Gospel message. The focus must always be on Jesus - not the preacher, not the choir, not the buildings. The role of any church’s ministry must always be to help people find Jesus.
The problem for the early Church was that society was unsympathetic even to the point of persecuting followers of the Way. Thus arose the issue that the Church has had to deal with through the ages - how does the Church relate to the Establishment? The early Christians had grown up as part of the Establishment but, once converted to Christianity, they found themselves under pressure to conform to social mores that ran counter to Jesus’ teaching.
In our generation we have not been accustomed to many such pressures and the threat of persecution has not featured significantly in our lives for many generations, no doubt because the Church has hardly been on fire with evangelistic zeal. The more vibrant and alive the Church the greater the opposition from society. We are now finding that the traditional values of the church are increasingly at odds with the views and practices of modern society and , given current trends, we must expect that opposition to become increasingly evident.
What we must never forget is that the ‘establishment’ and all those authorities that oppose the Church are as much subject to Jesus Christ as any of us who follow Him.
As verse 6 reminds us “…the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”
We need to be reminded of the reality of the supremacy of Jesus and believe it, trust in it and rejoice in it. Verse 18 “ And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
We are not surprised that society can change its position on traditional beliefs and practices but today we are struggling to come to terms with how easily the church seems to be adapting to social pressure and changing its position on formerly established truths. The Evil One never sits back or goes away when society honours God. Nor does he relax when society turns its back on God.
The two most persistent, destructive threats to the church are
1. Altering the truth of the Gospel by turning it around - preaching that there are many paths to heaven instead of only one way - through Jesus Christ.
2. Admitting people into the Church who do not know Jesus as Lord - they profess with their mouths but they do not believe in their hearts.
What should our response be to such threats? We need to draw closer to each other inside the church and not fall out with one another. The sad thing about the Evangelical Church is that it can be very good at criticising but it’s not so good at praying together and studying the Bible together.
So many feel they can ‘take on’ evangelical churches where what they claim is not evident in how they behave.
The Bible contains the same unchanging Truth for every generation and Jesus Christ knows the true nature of every branch of his church. In verse 21 Paul is speaking to the elect not to the church as an ‘institution’. They are saved people no longer alienated from God. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.”
If Paul were to preach this in society today people would not recognise themselves as ‘alienated from God’ or ‘evil’. We’ve forgotten what it was like before redemption was secured for us by Jesus’ sacrifice. We need to be vigilant lest our sinful nature leads us to act in ways that threaten to alienate us from God. Scotland was once regarded as a “God-fearing” country. This is no longer the case. You cannot be ‘God-fearing’ unless you are reconciled to God. Most of us live what society might regard as ‘unblemished’ lives - we tend not to break society’s rules and we observe laws. For most of us, the fear of accusation is something we can all relate to. We dread being picked up by roadside cameras if we’ve exceeded the speed limit; we are sometimes nervous of something we’ve said or done coming back to ‘bite’ us. When we come before God’s throne we can stand unblemished and free from accusation because of what Jesus Christ has done for us - provided we continue firmly in our faith and remain loyal to the Truth of the Gospel.
Standing firm and remaining loyal are difficult to do - it’s so much easier and more comfortable to compromise. This is especially true within our own families. When some members of our family do not follow the same path that we follow, the temptation is to regard blood as thicker than the love of God.
It can be difficult, too, when we respond to people enquiring about the Christian faith. We can be tempted to give enquirers the acceptable, easy answers they are looking for instead of the saving but possibly uncomfortable truth. It’s one thing to give bad advice inadvertently - it’s sinful deliberately to misguide people.
There is unparalleled Hope held out to mankind in the Gospel. We cannot alter, ‘refine’ or try to redefine its message for 2013 - no matter how tempting that may seem . The Gospel is God’s fixed Truth. If we remove the power, the authority or the challenge it contains what’s left is useless.
Sunday Evening 28th April 2013. Kenneth Gray, Philippians 3:12-21 - ‘Pressing on towards the goal’
In verse 10 of his letter to the church at Philippi Paul states ‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ The church at Philippi believes that Paul already knows something of these things, even a willingness to die for his faith in Jesus Christ. But Paul makes it clear he is not perfect, and that he ‘presses on’.
Unlike Paul , many of us find it easy to avoid ‘pressing on’. We imagine we’ve come ‘far enough’ in our faith journey. We know ‘enough’ about Jesus ; we’re involved ‘enough’ in the work and witness of the church. The question for us all must be ‘how far have we come in maturing our faith and how much zeal for the Lord is there still in our hearts?’
Presbyterianism emphasises that all our life situations afford us opportunities to serve the Lord - at home, at leisure and at our workplaces. We can serve God when we carry out whatever work he has called us to do - ‘the Protestant work ethic’ is widely recognised. And why should we grasp such opportunities? Paul states so that we ‘might take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’.
The expression ‘take hold’ is an interesting one. We sometimes have to ‘take hold’ of a reluctant child who does not wish to go somewhere such as the dentist, say. We may have to drag them along for their own good despite their protests. ‘Take hold’ can also mean ‘embrace’. Sometimes we need to be hugged, held closely in a comforting embrace when we are downhearted or lonely.
In his service of the Lord Paul experienced both kinds of ‘taking hold’. He knew times when the Lord had had to grab him and make him change direction and he also knew what it was to have the Lord walk alongside him, taking hold of him gently and tenderly. However much Paul might falter he knew the Lord’s grip on him would never falter or fade. We too must seek to achieve this same assurance that only comes from a close relationship with Jesus Christ.
Kenneth noted that Egypt is full of historic monuments and buildings that no longer have any cultural or religious significance for the native population who are mostly Muslim. They appreciate their buildings for the tourism income they generate but there is no longer any spiritual or cultural connection.
It’s different for us in the West. We are so fascinated by our listed buildings that any attempt to alter or remove them, say to re-route a motorway, becomes a cause célèbre. We seem to be very interested in looking back. It sometimes seems history teaching in our schools gets stuck in the WW2 era. Without doubt the lessons of WW2 need to be taught to each new generation so that such atrocities never recur. However, it may be that the detailed re-examination of that era might have more to do with our desire to relive what we regard as ‘our finest hour’ when many believe it’s been ‘downhill ever since’!
Nor is the Kirk exempt from this fascination with buildings. Kenneth described a meeting of a Presbytery committee where the decision to spend £3 million on church buildings had been taken in a few seconds without anyone’s heart skipping a beat. This piece of business had been preceded by a speaker who had made a presentation about people suffering hunger and homelessness - he had received a stirring round of applause, but no offer of cash.
When Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians he believed the Second Coming was imminent. He preached with a real sense of urgency, concerned to save as many souls as possible from eternal damnation. Despite what the Bible teaches, the Church today does not really consider the Lord’s return to be imminent so we are not so determined to ‘press on’.
In verse 15 Paul leaves no room for argument. ‘All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.’ Kenneth described a small church of some 50 thousand believers living in a land surrounded by millions who hate the church. Even though small and persecuted this church is full of divisions and arguments among its people. This church was none other than the early New Testament Christian church. Nevertheless, through this small group of imperfect believers, the Lord transformed the whole world for ever. Let us therefore take heart in what God has achieved and not be discouraged.
Verses 17-21 Paul accuses the church of having its mind on earthly things when its citizenship is in heaven. Citizenship is a complicated concept but fundamentally it refers to a person’s true home.
It is proper for the Kirk to serve people in the world but all humanity will ultimately share the same destiny - we will all die. Some of us age gracefully, others seem to age early because of pain or worry. But we can all look forward to the transformation of our bodies in heaven. Our heavenly citizenship should therefore be our main aspiration - the goal to which we are all pressing onwards.
Sunday Evening 14th April 2013. Kenneth Gray -Philippians 3: 1-11, “Gain and loss”
That’s what worship should be like and the question for us is - do our hearts lie inside the church or outside? This is a measure of what Paul is trying to get us to understand when he says “Rejoice in the Lord... “. It’s easy to get out of the habit of rejoicing.
Philippians chapter 3 has a theological and a practical message. Life can be a roller coaster of emotions but if the strength of our faith is dependent on how well or smoothly our lives are proceeding then we are not walking by faith.
Paul’s reference to ‘beware of those dogs’ was a timely warning to the early Christian church not to stultify its worship with meaningless ritualistic observances. Their circumstances now required a new set of rules. The former Mosaic rules had had a good purpose but ritual had replaced true spirituality.
We are well advised to heed this warning too. If we don’t rejoice in the Lord Jesus the Church will sink into an abyss of rule-based institutionalism. This message is still relevant today. We make rules but if we find we can’t keep them then we change them and dilute them because we’ve lost a true relationship with the Lord.
At the end of days we are going to see a vast array of people on their knees and the sea will give up their dead and we will witness how great is the power of the Lord. Paul wants us to discover more of this power at work both in individuals and also in the Church. The Church is persecuted where God’s power is being seen at work in people’s lives. It is unsurprising then that the Church of Scotland is not suffering persecution.
Paul challenges the church at Philippi to think about the qualities or background they think they need to be considered ‘righteous’. Whichever ‘credentials’ they think are needed Paul has them all - he can tick all the boxes and display a perfect pedigree according to the outdated standards of pre-Christian law .
He states: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
But he regards all these as ‘worthless rubbish’ compared to knowing Jesus Christ. He exhorts them (and us) to recognise that they have been delivered from the drag of Pharisaical legalism.
Politicians frequently accuse one another of talking rubbish. It’s a common put-down. Paul states - “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Here Paul tells us that anything that takes the place of Jesus Christ as our main priority is ‘rubbish’. We can all be guilty of self-righteousness and legalism - it’s very easy to condemn something then become in thrall to them ourselves. - that includes good things like family life, education, employment. Nothing compares to knowing Jesus better. No self-generated righteousness derived from ritualistic observance of the law is any kind of substitute for righteousness that flows through faith in God by his grace.
Kenneth commented that we can sometimes feel peeved when we give someone a birthday gift that we’re pleased to have thought of only to discover we’ve been ‘outdone’ by a much better, more expensive or more thoughtful gift given by someone else. It’s hard when we discover our effort has been second rate. We seem to spend our lives thinking we can make ourselves better. Human righteousness is second rate compared to the righteousness of Jesus. The only righteousness worth seeking is that which comes from the one who is Holy and Perfect.
Paul reminds us that it is not enough to just to believe in the Resurrection - we must live in the light of the Resurrection and allow its reality to change us. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus. We need to get rid of anything and everything that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. Making changes in our lives is hard. They say that the favourite day to start a new diet is ‘tomorrow’ never today. We are guilty of the same approach to changing our ways and leading more Christ-like lives.
For Paul “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. How many of us are truly aspiring to this attitude? Let us not smugly compare ourselves favourably with those who do not believe in the Resurrection - rather let us all strive to allow the power of the Resurrection Truth to transform us.
Sunday Evening 7th April 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Luke 24: 36-49 “ What do we see?”
It is significant that Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples before they could make any preparations ‘just in case’ he returned. That’s how we humans tend to behave - we make provision for eventualities, even quite unlikely ones, ‘just in case’. Organisations keep reserves in the bank to meet contingencies that might arise; we stock up on food ‘just in case’ a shortage of some necessary produce might result from poor a harvest; the UK keeps a strategic petrol reserve in Sweden in case supplies from normal sources cease for any reason.
There is nothing wrong with such prudent approaches to husbanding our resources. However, if Cleopas had returned with the news of his encounter with the Lord, without Jesus appearing immediately thereafter, then the disciples would no doubt have set about making preparations - they would have set the agenda. Instead, they remain completely focused on Jesus and ready to pay heed to what he needs to say to them. This is a useful reminder to us to remain open to what the Lord is saying to us rather than always trying to set the agenda, particularly in church, when we worship. We must be careful when preparing church services to leave God room to speak to us.
“Peace be with you” says Jesus as he appears and stands among them. He asks the rhetorical question “Why are you troubled?” because he knows they do not know what to believe. Is this a ghost or is he indeed the risen Lord? Amazingly, for some a ghost is a more likely explanation than the resurrected Christ. But we should not be amazed since there are people in Bridge of Weir today who also find it easier to believe in ghosts than to accept the evidence of the Truth contained in the Bible. Kenneth recalled a conversation he had had with an individual who had rejected Christianity but claimed to believe in Star Trek! A recent poll indicated that 55% of Scots claimed to be ‘Christians’ but church statistics reveal a much lower proportion to be registered church members or regular worshippers.
The Gospel is meaningless and worthless if Jesus has not risen from the dead - if he is not alive today. Jesus responds to the wonder and confusion in the minds of his disciples in the most practical ways. He does not launch into theological explanations but he shows them his injured hands and feet. He asks for food and eats it. This is a crystal clear demonstration that he is no ghost - he is real and alive.
Now, ready to listen, the disciples hear Jesus teaching them. He opens their minds and teaches them from the Old Testament Scriptures and the Psalms. How their hearts must have burned inside them to listen, for example to Psalm 22 that we read earlier, in which they can now recognise the whole Easter story laid before them! They had not understood or made these connections until Jesus explained them. Jesus shows how his suffering, death and resurrection had been foretold. The second part of the teaching is that the message of forgiveness is offered to the repentant. That part is being fulfilled every day until the day everyone will see Jesus, not in his risen glory at his resurrection, but returning as the Judge of all the world at the end of days.
Some offers and rewards are time-limited. We are all familiar with buy-one-get-one-free promotions in our shops that last for a set number of days or weeks. But some stores like the DFS furniture store seem to be in perpetual ‘Special Offer’ mode. As Christians we must guard against thinking we are in a ‘DFS world’ - Jesus’ offer of salvation is time-limited, we just do not know when he will return in judgment.
During his last visit to us missionary David Ferguson spoke of the tsunami in Japan that had swept away many people to whom he and Lorna would now no longer be able to preach the Good News of the eternal salvation that Jesus offers. Eye witness testimony is compelling. There is a power in speaking about what we have experienced - the most hardened sceptic cannot challenge our personal testimony. God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us experience his power and his love. Yet the Holy Spirit has become controversial in the church because we have seen questionable manifestations. The Holy Spirit is not like other people - his power is different and we need to recognise it and allow ourselves to trust it and ‘be clothed in it’.
As we learned at this morning’s family service winning souls for Jesus is not ‘rocket science ‘ - it is simple, clear teaching that transforms lives, in the days of the early church and now.
Easter Sunday Evening 31st March 2013. Kenneth Gray, Luke 24:13-29 ‘Burning hearts‘
The women had first discovered the empty tomb but they had gone there expecting to find Jesus’ dead body. Peter and John had next seen for themselves that the tomb was empty and didn’t know what to make of this. Now the word began to spread among Jesus’ followers with confusing and incomplete messages being exchanged and speculations being shared. In this passage, Cleopas and a companion are walking to Emmaus in despondent mood. Had they truly believed what Jesus had promised they’d have remained in Jerusalem with the other disciples to await developments. They are among the first to encounter the risen Christ but initially they fail to recognise him.
Kenneth observed that ministers tend to emphasise in their preaching that blessings come to the church when it stays united and working together. Here the Bible is describing an occasion where two who have gone off on their own receive a particularly intimate and wonderful blessing - a personal encounter with Jesus. This meeting occurs when the two are at their lowest ebb. They are discussing the torture and crucifixion of their beloved leader in whom their hopes and dreams of liberation and forgiveness resided.
The ‘stranger’ gently and politely seeks admittance into their company and joins in their conversation - a reminder for us that Jesus, the centre of Heaven’s worship, said ‘behold I stand at the door and knock’; he does not force anyone to give him access to their heart. Then Jesus does not reveal his identity or try to lead the conversation. He allows the two to talk. We can only imagine Cleopas and his friend’s embarrassment later when they are hurrying back to Jerusalem to think how they explained to the ‘stranger’ everything that had happened concerning Jesus!
Gradually Jesus shows them, step by step, how the Old Testament had prophesied those events and had pointed to Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection. The need for this to be explained gives lie to the claim by sceptics that the early church fabricated the resurrection of Jesus. Until Jesus himself had ‘joined the dots’ for them the early church had not made these connections. Now Cleopas and his companion feel their hearts burn within them as the kaleidoscope image forms a coherent and beautiful picture.
Those who work with youth know what a blessing it is to teach the young and to observe them as they grasp the message. The way Jesus brings the message to life for his followers is a blessing and as the three arrive in Emmaus Cleopas and his companion invite Jesus to share their hospitality. Only when Jesus breaks bread do they recognise him. Cleopas had not been present at the Last Supper but no doubt he had observed Jesus on other such occasions and the familiarity of Jesus’ actions causes the ‘penny to drop’. Having now recognised Jesus they would no doubt have been so ecstatic and excited that they would have been impossible to teach further. So Jesus vanishes from them. Their hearts still on fire they immediately set about returning to Jerusalem to tell the others the wonderful news.
The question for each one of us is - when were we last on fire hearing or reading the Word? Many non-Christians can get really excited about relatively unimportant things like sports or hobbies but we so seldom feel or show excitement about the Word of Life.
Cleopas and his friend are desperate to report that Jesus is alive. When they get back to Jerusalem they discover they are not the only ones who know and even as they make their report Jesus reappears in their midst.
That is the wonderful thing about our faith - we worship a LIVING GOD not some abstract concept but a living God who is here with us whether we are worshipping in a field, as we did this morning, or in the church, or in a hall or a bible study group or wherever. What a blessing to be a follower of Jesus Christ knowing that everything he said and promised is true!
Sunday Evening 24th March 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Luke 19: 45-48;20:1-8 “Authority”
As shocking as we might at first find this we should stop to consider whether we too, however inadvertently, are hampering the practice of prayer and worship in our own churches. By introducing coded ‘church speak’ or particular rituals or structures are we making it difficult for ‘outsiders’ to penetrate our portals and find open access to God’s Word? It is advisable therefore periodically to review and question what we do and how and why we do it in God’s house.
Jesus did not pull his punches with the chief priests and teachers of the law. He challenged their non-biblical authority. He revealed their power to be self assumed rather than God granted so they wanted to kill him for threatening the security of their positions and their status. The Temple leaders were in a quandary. They were desperate to wipe out this threat but they observed how the people ‘hung on Jesus’ words’.
What a marvellous privilege it was for those who were able to sit and listen to Jesus preaching and teaching in the Temple. We can only speculate about how many will have realised that they were listening to the Messiah. Some will have felt their hearts burning inside them. Others will have entered the Temple as tourists and been gripped by the compelling nature of Jesus’ words and by the authority with which he spoke. And this was what the Temple leaders want to find out from Jesus- what was the source of his authority?
Kenneth observed that much of the preaching in the Church nowadays is powerless because it fails to recognise or draw on the authority of Scriptures. Preachers frequently make no reference in their sermons to the passage from Scripture that has been read - sometimes church services omit readings from the bible altogether. Some preachers really seem to believe they know better than the bible!
The temple leaders do not fail to recognise that Jesus speaks with authority. He is powerful not because he is a charismatic orator but because what he says is true and they are challenged by his words. Any devout Jewish person should have been able to speak out, as Jesus did, against what the leaders had allowed to happen to the Temple but they were afraid.
Jesus responds to the Temple leaders’ question by asking them a question in return. “John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
These men were also politicians and, typically, never gave a straight answer. They conferred together in a huddle about how they should respond then gave the cop-out reply “we don’t know”.
They are engaging with Jesus motivated only to preserve their position power and status - their actions did not derive from the authority of God.
By their disingenuous reply the Temple leaders rob themselves of the wonderful opportunity to hear Jesus’ answer. If they had been motivated by a genuine desire to discover the truth rather than a determination to trip up Jesus then he would have revealed his true nature to them.
Luke’s Gospel goes on to record parables told by Jesus that are more and more challenging. They grow in authority and intensity stressing the need for repentance and revealing that time is running out for the people to change their ways. Small wonder then that the Temple leaders grow more and more desperate to get rid of Jesus.
We can sometimes feel the pressure when we talk to people about our faith. We can take them to a point where they have to either follow Jesus or reject him. Many people decide to turn away. This may be part of the reason why we can be reluctant to push our faith - we are scared to bring people to that point where that choice is inescapable.
But sometimes we simply need to bow to the authority of Jesus - it becomes a question of obedience, even when God’s authority runs counter to what we ourselves desire.
As we enter Holy Week we must each ask ourselves ‘Do we stand under the authority of Jesus Christ?’ Perhaps Jesus is talking to us tonight about something he wants us to do - if so let us not question his authority.
Sunday Evening 10th March 2013 - Jack McHugh, Acts 3:11-26 “There is only one saving Gospel!”
In this passage Peter delivers the second sermon of his ministry and, like most good sermons, he poses some very searching questions of the onlookers and also provides the answers. The healing of the lame beggar which we considered last week was the dramatic introduction to this passage and, as we discover in Chapter 4, another 2 thousand believers were added to their numbers as a result of this message from Peter. We cannot get involved with the Word without being affected. To bring spiritual benefit to people in our day we must return to the apostolic power of the Word.
Peter puts the focus on Jesus.
Peter addresses the crowds who are full of amazement and curiosity at the miraculous healing they have just witnessed. He immediately seizes the opportunity to focus the crowd’s attention on Jesus and away from John and himself. Unlike most human beings Peter does not accept any credit for the miracle but proclaims the power to be flowing from the name and grace of Jesus.
This is a useful reminder that we should treat the instruments of God - ministers and preachers of his Word - with respect, esteem and love them and take care of them,but we must not be tempted to idolise them. Jesus alone deserves all the honour.
People sometimes say that modern preachers are not gifted and that’s why souls are not being saved at the rate achieved through Peter’s preaching. The truth is that every preacher called by God is equipped by God with the gifts needed for this task.
Peter exposes their sin
With the urgency of a messenger desperate to impart a life-saving message Peter goes straight ahead listing the sins and crimes of which the crowd are guilty. With the courage born of the Spirit’s empowerment he accuses them of having murdered the Son of God, ‘the author of life’, but then reveals that God has raised Jesus from the dead. He explains that it is by faith in the name of that same Jesus that the beggar has been healed. He tells them that entry into heaven can only be given, through God’s grace and the righteousness of Jesus, to those who admit their sinfulness and repent.
Peter offers the crowd a new hope
After wounding the crowd by cataloguing their own guilt, Peter goes on to extend to them the offer of an incomparable hope. Having castigated their ignorance and that of their leaders he explains that the death of Jesus had been the accomplishment of God’s purposes as foretold through the prophets. He urges them to repent and turn to God so that their sins be wiped out. He offers them a fresh opportunity to be ‘heirs of the prophets and of the covenant’ a heritage they were discarding by their rejection of the Christ.
Peter, like Paul after him, emphasises the pre-eminence of Jesus. Jack observed that every good sermon should always get back to Jesus regardless of whatever else it has covered. In our day with its rising tide of human philosophies we all need to know what we believe. The modern trend is for man to seek and offer man-made solutions to life’s challenges and questions when only God offers the truth and the answers man is seeking.
As we are reminded in John14:6 Truth is not contained in dogma but in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ did not say ‘I will teach you the way, the truth, the life’ - he said ‘I am the way, the Truth and the Life’.
What if God were to ask you to do something sacrificial such as give up a well paid career and comfortable home to work among the poor and the oppressed in a far off land? If you responded to that call the world would describe you as having ‘lost everything.’ As Christians we know that to serve God is to gain everything.
In the intervening centuries since Peter preached this sermon nothing has really changed - the sin is the same , but so too is the Saviour. The hope offered to those early crowds is offered also to us. People today need to turn back from sin and give their lives to Jesus. We need to tell people about Jesus and share with them this hope.
Sunday Evening 3rd March 2013 - Jim Brown, Matthew 17:1-13 ‘Eye witness to His majesty.’
Matthew clearly writes with a Jewish readership in mind; Luke and Mark tend to focus more on the humanity of Jesus and John focuses on the majestic deity of Jesus. Each account is distinctive in style and some accounts do not include events mentioned in the others. For example, there is no account of this transfiguration of Jesus in John’s Gospel.
For Peter, James and John this was an unforgettable experience. For Jesus nothing happens by chance. He has a pre-ordained appointment to be reborn. This transfiguration takes place some 6 days after Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi. Despite this insight and despite Jesus having foretold this event at the end of Chapter 16 “ Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Peter still misses the point at first and asks to build 3 shelters in honour of Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
There are 5 witnesses to this event - Peter, James, John, Moses and Elijah. It is said that the higher you climb the closer to God you feel. Here the disciples are overwhelmed when on the mountaintop they hear the very voice of God praising His Son. Jesus is in conversation with the prophets perhaps discussing what he will accomplish by the Cross. The presence of the prophets indicates the interest that exists among those in heaven for us still on earth.
Why did Jesus choose those three disciples to witness this event? Jim perceived them to have become a kind of ‘inner cabinet’ for Jesus. They were present at the healing of Jairus’ daughter and they will be positioned nearer than the others to Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane. Did Jesus have favourites? We all come to faith in different ways, at different paces and we live different lives of faith. Jesus probably spoke more to Peter than to any of the other disciples because Peter needed more advice and more teaching for the role he was to take on after the Resurrection.
It was for the benefit of Peter, James and John that Jesus was transfigured before them. It was to help assure and equip them for the difficult days ahead. At Mt. Hermon they hear a statement from God himself about who Jesus is. Jesus, always aware and in control, did not need any reaffirmation of his own deity.
The transfiguration itself is too hard to describe adequately. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” This recalls the description of Moses when he came back down from Mt. Sinai. Moses’ face bore the marks of reflected glory - Jesus’ displayed his inherited glory.
The disciples are given a glimpse of Jesus with the robe of his humanity removed and they are rendered speechless. It is so wonderful an experience that Peter’s first desire is to hold on to it, to commemorate it in some way. He makes the mistake of suggesting they put Moses and Elijah on a par with Jesus. Jim observed that the same error is perpetuated today by those who describe all faiths as equal. As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is the only true God - the Way, the Truth, the Life.
We would all love such a mountaintop experience to reassure us and banish all our doubts. But we are called to walk by faith - our only sign the sign of the Resurrection. So we must live our lives mindful of Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Sunday Evening 24th February 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Acts 3: 1-10 ‘The church meets society.’
In our previous studies in Acts we have learned that the members of the early church met daily. It is likely that Peter and John will have seen this crippled beggar frequently as they went in and out of the synagogue. Indeed people with disabilities begging in the streets were a common sight. People in this situation did not hide away, rather their livelihood derived from the charity of others.
The opportunity arises
What is remarkable is why Peter and John should have singled out this man for healing. If the apostles had possessed money and given it to the beggar then the miracle would not have happened. Peter and John would have entered the temple, no doubt feeling good about having discharged their charitable duties, and thought no more about it. Sometimes we do not allow God to do what he can do in situations because we lack the insight to realise the limitless scope of his power.
The beggar had asked for money- that’s how he made a living. In the UK today there are people who have been reduced to begging to get by. Many find themselves in the grip of money lenders. The world doesn’t really change. This passage from Acts is as relevant today as it was in Peter’s day because people’s hearts and needs do not change.
In verse 4 the man ‘gave them his attention’ no doubt delighted that they had stopped to address him. He imagines they will now give him money. The man’s expectations were limited; he would have been content with ‘crumbs from the master’s table’.
How like the rest of us! We look down instead of up. We strive in our Christian walk merely to be better than others; we do not aspire to be like Jesus. When we open our Bibles do we expect God to enlighten and change us or are we content to give cursory attention to reading familiar passages?
The beggar’s heart no doubt sank to hear the apostles had no money to give. We do not know whether he knew who the apostles were or if he had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed. We do not know if he had heard of the new hope, the new life that had been discovered by the people of The Way.
Peter responds and follows through
Peter and John did not set out from home that day determined to identify someone to heal, someone to whom they would offer new life in Jesus. Peter simply sees a man’s desperate longing, a need - not just for money but for Jesus - and he responds.
The human condition is to be needy. So often people think they need a bigger house, a better job, a fancier car when actually what’s missing from their lives is Jesus.
In verse 7 we read that Peter reaches out and takes the beggar by the hand. He followed up the words with action. Sometimes we speak the right words but we don’t follow through - we speak the words but we do not really believe. When someone is converted we need to ‘take them by the hand’. We can be quite good at connecting with and supporting people who have been converted ’in the right way’ maybe through an Alpha course or via some recognised, well-structured evangelistic campaign. But even then our support dwindles away after our first flush of interest. We tend to be sprinters rather than marathon runners when it comes to evangelism.
Transformation expressed in joy
When the beggar gets up and discovers he has indeed been healed his joy is immediate and exuberant. He leaps and shouts and praises God. In the kirk we are big on restraint, even repression - we’re not so big on joyful exuberance! The world does not like that about the Church. We talk about transformation and renewal but we play everything down.
The impact is felt by society
All the people see what has happened and are full of amazement. Evangelistic events often finish with an appeal, an invitation to come forward and accept Jesus into your life. There is usually a pause until the first few individuals make their way to the front and then the trickle builds to a steady stream until many respond and a crowd assembles at the front. Sometimes this kind of response is criticised for being no more than an emotional reaction that is shallow and unsustainable. But even when one person is truly drawn to God other people are affected by it.
When the beggar is healed perhaps some feel guilty for not having been of more help to him in the past. Others are clearly full of wonder and awe to see this miraculous transformation. The church grows when people witness the transformation in the lives of those who come to faith.
In the West so few are being converted inside the church and church members so seldom seem to look for conversions. Churches start to grow when Christians start to invite their friends along and are not embarrassed to discuss their faith and not ashamed that their church may not be perfect.
Over the coming weeks our studies will discover the start of problems for the early church. There is no persecution when the people of the Way are quiet and quiescent but things change when God’s power is visibly at work within his church.
How sad that the modern church in the West shows so little evidence of God’s power at work that society disregards it and finds it inconsequential.
Sunday Evening 17th February 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Acts 2: 42-47 ‘Devoted to what?’
It is not uncommon in modern church circles to hear people advocate being empathetic to the world in order to attract people. So many Christian organisations and churches appoint liaison personnel to bodies like Parliament, the Judiciary and so on in order that they can be seen to be ‘in touch’ with the world. The rationale for such activities seems to be that if we are not like the world, the world is not going to accept our message.
Kenneth observed that Acts shows the early church to have been as different from the world as it was possible to be. Early church members’ practices contrasted completely with those of non-Christians in Jerusalem. The early Christians were not thinking about administration and the bureaucracy involved in ‘running’ the church - they were focused on praying, praising, worshipping God and enjoying fellowship with one another. Having accepted Christ as their personal Saviour individually they were now enjoying being part of a rapidly growing corporate body of believers.
Nowadays the Church is too much like the world; too often it is ‘church’ that we are selling, not God . Our focus is all on the institution rather than on the Saviour.
Growth, especially at this rapid pace, brings problems as well as opportunities. With the Holy Spirit sweeping through the church God was calling people to Himself of his own free choice without any of the gradual ‘screening’ processes that the Church would later develop. The fellowship would therefore have been made up of all sorts of people with different personalities, different ethnicities and backgrounds drawn together by a common desire to worship Jesus.
The early church seems to have managed this potentially problematical mix of people by concentrating firstly on the teachings from the apostles. A good lesson for us - always start with Scriptures! They also prayed together and broke bread together daily. The modern Church still tries to follow this model.
It is interesting to note that sometimes rapid growth like this is not sustained. For example the church in North Africa, birthplace of St Augustine, experienced rapid growth. So much of the church’s systematic theology derives from St Augustine yet there is virtually no Christianity discernible in North Africa today. The chilling conclusion we can draw from this is that we have no guarantee that Scotland, or indeed Europe, will always be a ‘Christian’ land.
How do we know what is ‘sound’ Christian teaching today? The early apostles’ authority came from their personal experience of hearing Jesus speak and teach. As the modern Church we need to get back to that basic place - God’s Word. This is so basic a truth that we often ignore it.
Kenneth recalled that staff of the AA or RAC are frequently staggered by how little many motorists know about the basic components of a car and the basics of car maintenance. They do know how to programme the radio; they can operate their satnav; they can set-up their car phone apps easily but they do not know where to put in the oil and water!
It’s the same in the Christian faith. There are people who can wax lyrical about obscure and esoteric aspects of theology but they do not know the basics of their faith. If we get the basics right everything else is built upon these.
We owe so much to the faithfulness of those early apostles. They would all be dead within 30 or 40 years of this passage. Within 50 years there would be no-one alive who had been a contemporary of Jesus. Without the teachings of the apostles the Christian message and the foundations of the Church would have been lost. Preachers have a huge responsibility to provide sound teaching yet so many nowadays offer sermons that are unbiblical, ungodly, unfaithful and ill thought out.
We do use the term ‘fellowship’ a lot in the Church and most churches have a ‘fellowship committee’ or similar. Yet so many churches actually offer very little in the way of fellowship on Sunday mornings when church members’ involvement with one another is minimal. However, a sense of welcome and fellowship are things that new people do look for when coming into a church. Do we not need to change our attitude to one another not just the structure of the Church?
Communion too was a bigger, more frequent practice in the early church that derived from a recognised culture of hospitality. It was not the periodic ‘event’ that it has become in the modern church. There seems to have been a real sense of God’s imminence and presence that people came together to celebrate over food. It is clear that part of the success of the Alpha Course is the opportunity it affords to get to know participants over a meal. Modern families have lost the art of eating together, of the unity of the meal. Our lives are so busy and disjointed from one another that we have to work ever harder to maintain relationships.
As modern Christians this has also led to us losing the practice of collective prayerfulness. None of us , if we are honest, have prayer lives that bear scrutiny. We all pray too little individually and corporately. For those in the early church, many of whom were Jews, praying was as natural as breathing. We do not have to teach children to ask or to love. As children of the Heavenly Father we should find it easy to ask him things and to love him but somehow we find it difficult.
The early church impressed people. It changed society. Not everyone was impressed but many were. Some passed by and rejected the message but no-one failed to recognise that these early Christians were very different. ‘Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles’ In Corinthians Paul tells us that the church in Jerusalem ran out of money - they gave of their possessions to anyone in need - so Paul helped gather resources from other areas to support them. The church in Jerusalem didn’t means test people, they simply saw a need and met it.
This still happens in the church today but often it’s done quietly, behind the scenes. At a recent Presbytery meeting the Welfare Reform Act was being discussed. Whilst many present regarded many of its provisions as an imposition on the church others, like Kenneth, regarded it as an opportunity to offer help in the name of Jesus Christ.
Another characteristic of the early church was its accessibility. We are told the Christians came together daily. No doubt not every person attended every day but clearly people could come under the influence of the Christian community every day. Today we lock our church doors to protect our buildings from theft and vandalism. We, basically, tell people to ‘come back when we are open’. Sadly, so many of our institutions and services take a similar approach e.g. the NHS and Social Services. The world has become a 9 to 5 bureaucracy and the Church is following suit. The early church was not like that. We must continue to examine what the early church used to be like and compare it with how we operate currently and find ways of bridging the gap that has developed.
Sunday Evening 10th February 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Acts 2: 14-41 ‘The pattern for every sermon’.
It is said that evangelist Billy Graham always felt he preached better if George Beverly Shea were present to sing the praise because of their long-standing association and mutual support. In sporting events, like rugby matches for instance, players often comment that the cheers of the crowd motivate them to perform to their best. But preaching is not like rugby. Those attending a church service are there to form part of the worship; they come seeking a welcome and an affirmation of their faith.
Explain the Word
Kenneth observed, secondly that Peter ‘raised his voice’ and said ‘let me explain’. In the midst of the furore caused by the apostles’ message and their ability to speak in everyone’s language Peter had to grab the crowd’s attention. He then goes on to do what 90% of preaching is all about - explaining what the Word is saying. Preaching is not about entertainment or witty stories; it’s not about displaying gifts of oratory. If a preacher does not set about explaining God’s Word then he’s not doing his job.
Historical biblical context
Peter refers to the hundreds of years of prophesies that the Jews have all held on to and the fulfilment of which they have all longed for and prayed about. He tells them that these prophesies have now come to pass in their present generation. Peter has not sat for hours in his study preparing this sermon. He speaks from the heart drawing on Scriptures from Joel he has known all his life and memorised. These touch a deep chord with the crowd. In a similar way words from the Psalms, say, can resonate with us today. Though composed thousands of years ago they seem as if they were written expressly to comfort or inspire us in situations we are currently experiencing.
Speak about Jesus
In verse 22 Peter gets to the ‘meat’ of his sermon - every good sermon must speak about the work of Jesus. It is amazing how little some of us know about Jesus. Every preacher must avoid assuming that everyone in the pews - whether visitors or even long-standing members - has heard about Jesus and knows what He has done for the world. It is only through Jesus’ work on the cross that we are made right with God.
This truthful summary of Jesus’ life and works cuts the crowd to the quick. If we had been those apostles might we not have put off preaching such a hard-edged, no-holds-barred message on this Pentecost day? After all, many of these very people were those who had called for Jesus’ crucifixion! Might we not have commissioned a small committee to consider the matter? Might we not have discovered ways of preaching in a shallow fashion without causing offence to anyone? Peter speaks the Truth boldly and baldly empowered by the Blood of Christ.
Witness to the Risen Christ
There is an astounding arrogance among those nowadays, both inside and outside the Church, who argue and debate about the facts of the Resurrection. They try to contradict those who were actually there. A good preacher, like Peter, goes to Scripture to explain Scripture.
Preach to elicit a response
Peter did not address the crowd to display his skills in oratory. He is not trying to be ‘nice’ or popular- the message is too important. He wants people to change and be saved. Those same folk who were milling around at 9am full of consternation to hear the apostles speaking had not set out that morning intending to be changed. Yet by the end of that day 3 thousand of them had their lives transformed. They became new, first-hand witnesses to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. This is a compelling reminder that we must pray people will be changed and expect it to happen.
The challenge for the Church of Scotland is whether we do believe that God can bless a nation like ours today. There is no point in mouthing prayers for revival if we do not believe the Holy Spirit can deliver this.
Sunday Evening Joint Communion Service 3rd February 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Acts2:1-13 ‘Tongues of Fire’
This reminded Kenneth of a situation many years ago when a fellow minister had enlisted his help dealing with a bridegroom who had turned up very drunk for his own wedding. The minister had been doubtful whether the young man could be considered sufficiently compos mentis to take his marriage vows. Happily, consumption of several cups of black coffee had restored the groom to a more sober state and the wedding had gone ahead.
Some had considered the apostles to be ‘drunk’ because they were in the grip of the intoxicating power of the Holy Spirit. Emboldened by this power they had left the upper room where they had been praying and awaiting the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise. Now they possessed the courage, the joy and the words to set about spreading the Good News.
When we exit the church after a service on any Sunday do the people of Bridge of Weir wonder if we too are intoxicated - so full of joy at the Gospel message that we cannot hide how we feel?
In this passage the coming of the Spirit is accompanied by firstly by noise. “ …a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”
In Freeland we are perhaps more relaxed than some churches about how we organise ourselves and how we conduct worship services. Before our service begins the church is usually quite noisy. Children run about and people chatter to one another. Kenneth views this noise as a sign of life; people are pleased to see one another. When human beings are pleased they show it, so we should not be reticent about showing our happiness when we worship. When we hear God’s Word being preached we should be stirred and unsettled - prompted to respond.
Sadly, nowadays we in the Church tend to dislike being unsettled; we resist change and seek the familiar and comfortable. We do not want the church to change; we expect to be challenged - but not too much, please! The Holy Spirit however stirs up people, excites them, sets them on fire with zeal for evangelism. The Church needs to give the Holy Spirit free rein if we really wish revival to come in Scotland.
Tongues of fire
In this passage the coming of the Spirit is accompanied secondly by tongues of fire. Here we are given a beautiful picture of power coming down, cleansing and burning away the impurities of sin. The Holy Spirit does not just come and live within us: He changes us and makes us better. The more the Spirit fills us the more the 'bad old us' departs. We need the Spirit to burn away all the old dross that is hampering the Church and reveal the purity of God in our midst.
Power to speak
The apostles are now equipped with the words to speak and the courage to speak them. Kenneth recalled the words of evangelist Tony Campolo who described the experience of preaching to a congregation of Afro-Caribbean Christians. His message was accompanied by frequent shouts of ‘praise the Lord’ and ‘halleluiah!’ when his message was inspired but ‘help him, Jesus!’ when he was perhaps missing the mark. Their excitement for the Word burst forth from them as it did for the first apostles. In the early church the apostles spoke with power and authority. They did not have degrees in theology; they had not been through ordination ceremonies. But they knew the Saviour and they spoke in the name of Jesus, with the authority of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. They preached the Gospel gloriously in everybody’s language. They spoke compellingly of the wonder, the glory, the majesty of God. No preacher can preach adequately unless he is filled by the Holy Spirit.
This service of Communion tonight reminds us of the love and the sacrifice of Jesus. We see some of that glory when we break bread together. In so doing we are proclaiming the depth of God’s love and the scale of God’s grace. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit enables us to share these very insights with others as we go about in the world.
Sunday Evening 27th January 2013 - Kenneth Gray, Acts 1: 12-26; ‘Prayer and preparation’.
There does seem to be a perceived ‘optimum’ size for some churches. For some, when numbers start to exceed their optimum, squabbles can arise, some people decide to leave and numbers eventually even out again to the optimal level. Kenneth observed that a somewhat similar situation seems to pertain at Freeland. We tend to feel that if the church is well-filled on Sundays things are going well enough. But if numbers seem to be falling then we must take action of some kind to restore them. This concept of an ‘optimal size’ is a constraint on our evangelism and, as an approach, indicates an unhealthy complacency.
What if the 120 we read about in Acts were to have said “We’re OK; 120 is a good number; we’re saved, so let’s enjoy our salvation together in our tightly-knit group.”?
What this passage teaches us is that it is because of those 120 that we ourselves have been offered salvation. Last Sunday we considered how the sowing and reaping of our predecessors in Freeland has benefitted us.
Reflecting on the work of the Church of Scotland in previous decades, Kenneth commented that 25 years ago the Church operated the biggest mission in Israel. Due to financial constraints this is no longer the case. In the recent past some 400 missionaries from Scotland were deployed in the international mission field through the Church’s Missionary Council – today the number is 30. This scale of decline in activity is true of missionary work generally.
We have lost sight of the need to fulfil our responsibilities for sowing and reaping. We have carried the farming analogy too far. Farming is a cyclical activity. There are seasons for sowing and seasons for harvesting so we fall into the trap of thinking that it’s OK to enjoy the sowing of others whilst we wait for some notional ‘right time’ to reap. We tend to involve ourselves in ‘seasonal evangelism’ - taking the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world only in periodic, pre-determined campaigns. The truth is that evangelism is always ‘in season’!
Another problem is that most of us in the church are so much better at ‘practical’ Christianity than we are at ‘spiritual’ evangelism. We find it difficult to talk about our faith. We fear we will be called upon to answer difficult questions for which we don’t know all the answers.
If the 120 had shared that reticence they would never have got started.
The paradox is that, like so many TV pundits, we are all swift to share our views on every topic under the sun – from football to politics, from the national health system to the economy – whether or not we possess any knowledge or expertise in those subjects. But when it comes to the Gospel message – the most important information people do need to hear about from us - we clam up because we don’t know all the answers! So, Kenneth concluded, when it comes to evangelism, we need to be more confident in the power of the Holy Spirit to equip and lead us.
Another very important lesson from this passage is found in verse 14 “They all met together continually for prayer..” A strong prayer habit was the foundation of the early church. It is easy to fall into bad habits in relation to prayer. We can find ourselves ‘praying by rote’ almost mechanically mouthing familiar phrases and petitions without really thinking about what we are saying. Kenneth noted that in Freeland we have most closely emulated the early apostles when we have held our Day of Prayer events. It is so easy to become distracted when we pray. We need to strive to improve the balance between our everyday living and working and our prayer lives. The early church’s people prayed together and drew together in God’s presence and in their reliance on Him. Prayer is at the heart and centre of all they do.
So it is that they ‘get an idea’ i.e. God speaks to them about replacing Judas. Let us all spend more time in prayer – individually and collectively and allow God to speak to us.
The choosing of a new apostle was a significant task. If the Eleven had not been so in tune with one another and united under God there might have been resistance to this statement by Peter. Jesus himself had selected the original 12 – did they have the right to elect a substitute? The two candidates identified have the required credentials; they have both been with Jesus throughout his ministry, through the crucifixion, resurrection and the ascension. They do not know which man to choose so they pray about it and put the decision in God’s hands. They cast lots and the lot falls on Matthias.
If we in the modern church had had to pick a new apostle we would have set up a committee! Is it not time we in the Church of Scotland placed less reliance on a business-like approach and allowed the Holy Spirit to lead? The reformation in Scotland tried to return to the early Church’s way of doing things but we seem to have stopped short of being truly Spirit-led. Let us turn from being bureaucracy-chained to having a simple dependence on God.
Sunday Evening 20th January 2013 - Service of Prayer For Healing. Kenneth Gray, Matt 9: 35-38; Luke 23: 32-43 ‘Jesus knows’.
There may be individuals sitting in these pews tonight who have found themselves in a doctor’s surgery all alone being told some devastating news about their health. Maybe some have been called into the boss’s office to learn their firm is being ‘downsized’ and they are being made redundant. Who would not, in such situations, long for a comforting arm to embrace them? How many of us here at this Healing Service feel harassed and helpless, in need of the Good Shepherd’s compassion and guidance? Some of us may be burdened in relation to our own problems and some in relation to the situation affecting a friend or relative. Perhaps the problem is physical or emotional or spiritual or even financial. We want them to know they do not have to live their lives without help and comfort and healing.
In this service of prayer for healing we hope that God will perform miracles that restore wholeness and health to all who seek it, on their own behalf or on behalf of others.
Sometimes it is hard to express exactly what it is we want and it is not until someone actually asks us that we are really forced to formulate a response to the question. Jesus Christ knows what is in our hearts; he also knows, better than we do, what we really need.
Jesus is compassionate and is ever ready to minister to those in need who call upon his name. The message we read from Luke showed Jesus was even ministering to others as he hung upon the cross at Calvary. The night before his crucifixion he had prayed fervently to be spared this agonising and humiliating death if there might be some alternative way to save the world. But having submitted himself to the will of the Father he is nailed to the cross between two thieves. In his last hours on earth Jesus’ innocence and goodness have an impact on a hardened criminal who recognises that Jesus is special and does not deserve to be crucified. Jesus’ presence turns this lost and hopeless sinner into a saved soul who will enjoy an immediate future in paradise.
Jesus knows what we all need tonight. That may not be what we think we need or what we want. The thief who recognised Jesus’ goodness asked only that Jesus would remember him when he came into his kingdom. People on the margins of society often do not believe they deserve any help or anything good to happen to them. They do not believe they deserve healing and they have low expectations.
When the penitent thief rebukes his fellow criminal perhaps he is simply seeking to comfort Jesus in these last few hours they are all forced to share together. The message for us all is that we must never give up hope. There is no place where God’s grace cannot reach – no situation that his power cannot transform. The thief was saved without the benefit of erudite theology. No clever sermons changed his heart. He encountered Jesus and saw him for the person he truly was. The power of transformation was in the person of Jesus himself.
Our prayer tonight is that we may all encounter Jesus in this place and be transformed.
Sunday Evening 13th January 2013- Kenneth Gray, Acts 1:1-11 "The end of the beginning."
In this passage the gospel has already reached ‘the ends of the earth’ as known at that time. Kenneth observed that if there were a follow-up volume to Acts, covering what is being done and taught in the church today, then we would be part of it – part of the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ working through us. The message remains the same and the work continues from generation to generation. Jesus did life-changing things in those days and he can still transform people’s lives today.
It is important that we read about the activities of the early church as a reminder of what the church should be like. The early church displayed certain characteristics:
1. Dependent on God. The early church had no constitution, no bank account, no money, no buildings. This was how Freeland Church began – its people wholly dependent on God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit. In our days there are so many elaborate church buildings such as St Peter’s in Rome or St Paul’s in London. Many churches are wealthy institutions but the power of the Holy Spirit is hard to discern. The early church gave everything to the service of Jesus Christ.
2. Obedient. This was not easy for those early disciples. They had been told by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem and await the Spirit’s empowering. But they were restless and itching to get to work and spread the Good News so they went to Galilee. In our day too people have a restless spirit. It seems we cannot sit at peace without using our mobile phones or other technological devices. We must always be busy. We need to learn how to wait on God and let him lead us so that we can become busy to a worthy purpose. We must be obedient to the purpose of God. Jesus’ instruction to remain in Jerusalem was repeated because it was so important that the Holy Spirit would come to transform them and equip them for the work ahead.
3. Obedient without knowing. In response to the disciples’ typically human desire to know the details of the times and dates of his plan Jesus tells them not to concern themselves with such things. Jesus keeps them in the dark about these details because true faithfulness to him must be shown in a willingness to act ‘in faith’. To be effective followers the disciples would have to set aside the frustrations of ‘not knowing’, think differently from how they used to think and depend totally on God. The modern church has forgotten how to wait on God , how to listen to the Holy Spirit – as the old hymn puts it how to ‘trust and obey’.
4. Looking upward intently. As soon as the Ascension was over it was past. God was now calling them to new work. There was no point now in continuing to gaze heavenward. For us a similar temptation lies in continually looking back wistfully on the so-called halcyon days of the church and harking back to former blessings. Continually reliving old glories distracts us from moving forward in our spiritual journey. It is a human tendency to want the world to be as it used to be and in the church it means we tend to try to reach people in the same old ways we used to do. The world has moved on. The church needs to listen to the Spirit’s prompting and learn how we should win souls for Christ in our generation. We are here with the same purpose and the same message as the early church and we have access to the same power if we choose to seek and accept it.
As we begin a new year of work and witness are we in Galilee gazing upwards at the sky or are we in Jerusalem, listening to the Holy Spirit?
Sunday Evening 6th January 2013- Jack McHugh, Matthew 2:19-23 "The return from Egypt"
Jack was reminded of the four stages of life the caterpillar goes through - egg, larva, pupa and then butterfly. The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”. As human beings we often want to skip ahead to an advanced step in our life’s journey but there are risks associated with jumping ahead before we are matured and ready.
In this passage we are reminded that God has a plan and a process that is in train in the life of Jesus and his earthly family. From the very conception of this baby the world has rejected him. We even see a king, Herod, feeling so threatened by the birth of the child that he tries to murder him and murders so many other children in the process. For every move in God’s plan it seems Satan attempts some counter-move. God allows Satan to exist but Jesus is not his victim and in time it is Herod who meets with a horrible death.
Now that those who plotted the child’s death are dead, Joseph is again instructed in a dream to bring Jesus from Egypt back to Israel – from ‘the land of sin’ to ‘the land of promise’. We see that the obedience of Joseph and Mary is rewarded by God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises to them. Originally Nazarenes themselves, Joseph and Mary are told to go back to Nazareth and this is where Jesus will live, grow and develop until he reaches 30 years of age and is ready to undertake his short, but world-changing ministry. From this inauspicious location the Saviour of the world will come forth and preach the Good News for everyone.
It is important that we never forget that Jesus will return in glory - that is his promise and we know he keeps his promises. Some Christian communities use the greeting ‘maranatha’ as a continual reminder of the Second Coming. Jesus’ return will bring judgment on all of us. If our sinful world does not alter course people will experience a disaster worse than any physical disaster they have ever seen.
For those who believe in Jesus and follow his ways the rewards are total. Faith in Jesus can enable us to achieve amazing feats in his name. Christ’s obedience of and dependence on the Father enabled him to prevail and secure victory on the Cross of Calvary. As we embark on a new year let us all resolve to know him more and follow him more closely.
Jesus was perfect and he draws people to himself because of his perfection. Mercifully, people’s salvation hangs on valuing what Jesus did not on the actions of his imperfect followers. Jesus did many amazing things when he was on earth but the most amazing was that he laid down his life for our salvation. We are each invited to accept or reject him. If we accept him we must also share him with the world and make disciples of others.
Our world remains imperfect but Perfection will return. Jesus will come a second time and gather his church to himself. Maranatha!
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.
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
Fri 08 of Mar., 2013 16:56
Mon 21 of Jan., 2013 10:03
Wed 16 of Jan., 2013 09:37
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: 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
- Sunday: 22 Jan 12
- Sunday: 15th January 2012
- Sunday: 08 JAN 12
- Sunday: 01 Jan 2011
- Sunday: 25th December 2011
- Sunday: 18th December 2011
- Sunday: 11 Dec 11
- Sunday: 04 DEC 11
- Sunday: 27 Nov 11
- Sunday: 20th November 2011
- Sunday: 13 Nov 11
- Sunday: 06 NOV 11
- Sunday: 30 Oct 2011
- Sunday: 23 Oct 11
- Sunday: 16 Oct 11
- Sunday: 09 Oct 11
- Sunday: 02 Oct 11
- Sunday: 25 SEP 11
- Sunday: 18 Sep 11
- Sunday: 11 Sep 2011
- Sunday: 4 Sep 11
- Sunday: 28 AUG 11
- Sunday: 21 Aug 11
- Sunday: 14 Aug 11
- Sunday: 07 AUG 11
- Sunday: 31st July
- Sunday: 24 Jul 11
- Sunday: 17 Jul 11
- Sunday: 10 July