Back To The Future

Back to the Future

discerning God’s purpose for our life as His church

“.. and to the ends of the earth …” [Acts 1.8]

Welcome to a new decade! It’s appropriate (all the more so in the year 2020!) that we have a clear ‘vision’ going forward: some clarity, that is, as to what the Lord calls us to be and to be doing as a fellowship of His people here at Gilcomston. Otherwise we’ll simply drift.

So over these next weeks we’ll be seeking together to discern clearly what the Lord is intent on doing among us and through us – and how that will shape the pattern and priorities in our life as His people here.

Antioch is as good a place as any to start. It was one of the major cities in the ancient world, and, more significantly for our purposes, very rapidly became under God the launch-pad for the spread of the gospel into the Gentile world.

As such the lessons we can learn from the church at Antioch – the way the church came into being, the constituency which formed the church, the ethos of the church, and the missionary perspective of the church, etc – such lessons will hopefully stimulate our thinking and excite our hearts.

Given the changing context of the church’s life and work in Scotland today, the church at Antioch provides perhaps one of the most helpful ‘templates’ for church life which can be found in the New Testament. Hence our using the narrative relating to that church as our starting point for this important study.

May the Lord fire our hearts afresh and lead us forward into His future with a real expectancy and boldness!


One of the most helpful commentaries on the whole book of Acts is that by David Gooding, entitled ‘True to the Faith’. It’s published by Myrtlefield House, and the whole commentary is available on line:

click on ‘Download’, and then on ‘PDF’ when asked to ‘select format’.

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Making Much Of Jesus

Present-day lessons from the letter to the Hebrews
“…you need to persevere…” Hebrews 10:36

Following Jesus in the western world today is a tough call. For the first time in hundreds of years, it means going entirely against the flow of the culture and society around us: life at 1800.

In such a context it’s very tempting simply to tone down, or ease back on, our commitment to the Lordship of Jesus in our lives, and revert to being .. well, just mildly religious.

It was that sort of temptation and pressure which those to whom this letter was written were facing. They were Jews (Hebrews) who had boldly placed their trust in Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), the One to whom their Scriptures had pointed. But increasingly they were facing persecution from both the Jewish faith and the Roman state – and with that came the pressure to ‘shrink back’ into the religion of the Hebrews, a Judaism without Jesus.

Or as we experience it today, the pressure to pursue a Christianity without the Christ – religion without a relationship with the risen, living Lord Jesus.

Because the original recipients were largely (if not wholly) Hebrews, the writer spends much of his letter comparing and contrasting Jesus with the best that the Old Testament can offer. Angels? Jesus is better. Moses? Jesus is better. The high priest? Jesus is better. The sacrificial system? Jesus is better. And so on.

If the Old Testament seems a strange and unfamiliar book, don’t panic! In these studies we’ll be aiming to stand back a bit from the detail and see in broad brush strokes the picture of Jesus which the writer is seeking to paint for his readers.

In the slightly altered words of an old 13th century prayer from Richard, Bishop of Chichester – may the fruit of these studies in the letter to the Hebrews simply be that we see Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly, and follow Jesus more nearly.


Useful books include ‘Hebrews for everyone’ [Tom Wright]; ‘The Message of Hebrews’ [Raymond Brown]; and ‘Experiencing the presence of God: Teachings from the Book of Hebrews’ [A W Tozer]


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The Fire Of The Lord

an introduction to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit

Ephesus is as good a place as any to start! When Paul first arrived there his opening gambit to the disciples there was a probing question – “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”: to which they replied – “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19.1f).

Sadly (and strangely!) their answer is often reflected in the experience of Christians today: while they will, of course, almost certainly have heard of the Holy Spirit, in too many cases Christians have not been taught that much about Him (and, indeed, aren’t even sure whether to refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘Him’ or ‘it’).

Whatever the reasons for this are, it’s a regrettable omission, not least because the lack of such careful instruction has huge repercussions. It’s a deficiency which inevitably has an adverse impact on a person’s growth in grace, their experience of the gospel, and their fruitfulness in ministry.

This short series of seven studies, therefore, is intended to provide something of a corrective to any such lack. It is, of course, no more than an introduction, starting with God’s promise that He would pour out His Spirit, concluding with His exhortation to be filled with the Spirit, and, between those ‘bookends’, exploring some basic truths about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work in and through His church.

There are two main dangers against which it’s as well from the start to be on your guard.
1. First, there’s the danger that we treat (and keep) this as a purely ‘academic’ or theoretical study: ensure you approach these studies expectantly, therefore, looking to the Spirit Himself to use them in a thoroughly transformative way in your life.
2. The second danger is that these studies become contentious and occasion a divisive spirit. That runs wholly counter to all that the Spirit is committed to doing! So pray for the wisdom to ensure that the manner in which you share in these studies does not serve to grieve the very One about whom we are seeking to learn!
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Strangers On The Earth

Strangers on the earth

Getting to grips with the message of 1 Peter

“.. that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light …” [1 Pet.2.9]

These are changed days! Our land has moved from being ‘the land of the Book’ to being an essentially secular society, which has defiantly thrown the Book well and truly out of the pram.

Both the rapidity with which that shift has happened, and the extent of the change which has occurred, have taken many by surprise and left many in something akin to a state of shock – quite taken-aback and, indeed, sometimes almost traumatised, as the Christian church is often ridiculed and vilified, and as believers today now find themselves pushed out to the margins of society, and viewed as oddballs, bigots, baddies – anything but ‘mainstream’.

This is not how it’s meant to be…. Or so we think.

But in truth the ‘norm’ for the followers of Jesus Christ has in most places and at most times down through history, seen them out on the fringes of society, often pilloried, sometimes roundly persecuted, and in varying degrees deprived of the sort of ‘platform’ which for centuries here in Scotland we have simply taken for granted.

It’s hardly surprising that this letter we know as 1 Peter has become in recent years very much part of the ‘staple diet’ of Christians in the west, as the foundations on which our society has been built have started to crumble; for 1 Peter has just such a situation in mind, sent to Christians who were increasingly finding themselves marginalized and persecuted on account of their faith.

How can you declare the praises of the Lord when you’ve not got the platform to speak? Or as the psalmist expresses it – “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” [Psalm 137.4]


In many ways that’s the question which 1 Peter seeks to answer. May we all learn well from the lessons which this letter provides, and be the better equipped to sound out the praises of our Saviour today!

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Our ‘Core Values’ at Gilcomston Church

“.. As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you …” [John 20.21]

It’s important in every sphere of life to know what we’re about – otherwise we’re liable simply to drift. That’s as true for us as a fellowship as it is for us as individuals.

The start of a new year is an appropriate time, therefore, to ensure that our sense of direction is clear and to set out again the ‘parameters’ which define the ministry which we believe the Lord has given us here.

All that we seek to be and do as a fellowship at Gilcomston Church is encompassed, essentially, in the acronym ACTS. That’s to say, we aim to be a body of believers at the centre of Aberdeen’s life who are –

  • Attracting people to Jesus through lives which put the spotlight centre-stage on Jesus:
  • Consolidating our faith as believers by clear Bible teaching with contemporary application:
  • Training all our members for fruitful lives of ministry in the service of Jesus Christ:
  • Sending out our people in the cause of gospel growth – both into our local communities and into the world at large.

Through the four Sundays in January we’ll consider each of these in turn, using four passages from John’s gospel, and the incidents they record, as our starting point.


May these four studies serve to give a real focus to our lives and see the Lord ‘enlarging our territory’ through this coming year.

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The season of Advent is characterized by waiting. As children we perhaps can still remember how long a wait it seemed in the countdown to Christmas Day. Waiting is never easy, but today more than ever the whole notion of waiting goes very much against the grain of a markedly ‘instant’ society.

Waiting, however, is a recurring theme in the Scriptures, a frustrating constant in the experience of believers. Invariably faith is seen to go hand in hand with hope, because the promise to which we hold is still future. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, therefore, we’ll explore this component of hope and the consequent experience of waiting.

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Signs Of Life

Signs Of Life
The seven ‘signs’ in the public ministry of Jesus

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

[John 20.30f]

John records seven incidents during the public ministry of Jesus which he describes as ‘signs’. ‘Signs’, as John presents them, both authenticate (see Acts 2.22 for a similar perspective) and illustrate: that’s to say they point clearly to who Jesus is and the significance of what He has come to do.

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Poplar Trees

‘Poplar trees

by flowing streams’

The work of the Holy Spirit in His church

“I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground: I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams”

[Isaiah 44.3f]

The Holy Spirit is the great ‘executor’ of the Godhead. He effects, both powerfully and perfectly, the will of God.

In this short series of studies we’ll consider a number of significant implications of the work of the Holy Spirit for us as a fellowship of God’s people.

This series makes no claim to be exhaustive (even if you may sometimes find it exhausting!), nor should it prove to be divisive – such an outcome, as the first study makes clear, runs entirely counter to all that the Holy Spirit is intent upon effecting in the life of His church. The series is intended, rather, to be instructive and encouraging, helping us to see, at a practical level, how God’s astonishing purpose in Christ is being and will be realized.

By focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ’s church we are, of course, implicitly acknowledging that it is only by Him that the purpose of God is progressed, that the church of Christ is built, and that our lives as His people are changed. Prayer, therefore, will be an integral part of our studies, as we look together to Him to effect His will in our life as His people. Make sure that in each study there is time set aside for just such eager and expectant prayer!


May there be in these days a fresh outpouring by God of His Spirit upon our lives as His people, and upon our life together as His church.


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on the road

On the road

Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry

“.. so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught …” [Luke 1.4]

Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus is the most thorough (and the longest) of the four gospel records. It was written for a man called Theophilus (that may well not have been his actual name, but a ‘cover’ to protect his identity), who was almost certainly an eminent Roman citizen. His account, therefore, was written for a primarily ‘Gentile’ context and does not presume any great knowledge of the Bible.

Luke is up front about his intention: it’s to help this man have the confidence to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It could be a costly thing being a follower of Jesus back then (as in many places to this day), and Luke wanted to bolster the embryonic faith of this man in the face of both the hostility he was likely to face and the adversity which almost certainly would be his experience.

Three good reasons why it’s worth our while taking a read of his account of the life and ministry of Jesus are given by Luke in the brief introduction with which the book begins (Lk.1.1-4).

First, he underlines how careful he has been in researching this remarkable and important message: whenever we’re able to double check what he says, he is found to be 100% reliable and accurate.

Then, too, he explains how comprehensive his account is as well. He investigated all his ‘sources’ (other accounts, Bible prophecies, eye-witness accounts, and respected preachers), and he investigated the story ‘from the beginning’. He’s nothing if not thorough!

Moreover, he has taken care to ensure that his account is as clear as possible. It’s what he himself called ‘an orderly account’ – not random reflections and recollections hastily thrown together.


May this study of Luke’s gospel help us all “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”, to the end that we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (see Heb.12.1-2)

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