Monthly Letter – February 2017

Dear Friends

I know they say that you can have too much of a good thing: I don’t know who ‘they’ are – but I’m going to run the risk anyway, and expand a bit more on what we’ve been starting to look at in our Sunday morning worship.

“Immeasurably More…” That’s the title we’re using for the series of studies on Paul’s great letter to the church at Ephesus. It’s fair enough, surely, to use the man’s own words as the title; especially since they describe as well as anything else (and certainly as succinctly as anything else) the essence of what he’s on about in these six riveting chapters of Scripture.

Not just more, but immeasurably more.

That’s what God is able and pleased to do in and through our flawed and faltering lives – more; immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. And that’s because of who God is, of course: more, immeasurably more than all we could think or comprehend. Wiser and stronger, and purer and kinder, and richer and bolder and safer, than any mere mortal could even begin to take in.

God is in Himself so much more, immeasurably more, than all that our stunted, stubborn minds can start to grasp. Stubborn? Well, surely yes. It’s a stubborn trait of intellectual pride which makes us think (subconsciously perhaps, I grant you, half the time) that somehow what there is to know about the Lord can all – in truth it should all be comprehended by the minds of us mere mortals.

Impossible. Our minds are made to measure. And when we’re faced by that which can’t be measured, well we’re wired by God in such a way that reason is intended then to melt away to wonder. Which is when the stubborn streak kicks in. God gets ‘cropped’ to fit the largest frame to which our minds will stretch.

We’re happy to live with just such a down-sized sort of deity. We miss the point completely, of course, when we do. And that’s why Ephesians is never a comfortable book. Comforting, yes, when properly understood: but never all that comfortable, for the teaching Paul gives in this letter explodes from the start such a limited view of the Lord, and insists that we ‘know’ what in truth will go way beyond knowledge, and accept how immeasurably greater He is in every regard than anything we might have thought.

And because He is in Himself so immeasurably more than all we might think or conceive, He’s as able as well then to do so immeasurably more than all we might ask or even think. More than that, He’s not just able to do so, but actually pleased and willing to do so! More. More. Immeasurably more.

But we find that hard to accept. Hard to believe, except in some nominal sense, and then harder still, I suspect, to apply to our everyday lives. Which in some ways is precisely why the letter was written in the first place: it’s a pastor’s letter, full of that awareness of the obstacles to growth; the teaching of a pastor who’s attuned to all the flaws there are within the human heart which make it hard to take on board such elevated truth, and mean we end up merely paddling in the shallower pools of gospel life instead of swimming in the surging seas of grace.

Why do we find it so hard to accept and apply to our lives this glorious truth that our God is both able and pleased to do so immeasurably more than all that we ask or think? I think there are at least these three persistent reasons.

First, there’s a theological reason. Our view of God is often subtly flawed. We have not adequately grasped either the power of God or the love of God.

We believe in miracles, for instance – how could we not, since the miracle of a stunning resurrection is right there at the bedrock of our faith? But we view them as an oddity, akin to how we might regard some people with twelve fingers. I mean, sure, they happen, but they’re hardly what we’d think of as ‘main-line’. Miracles are there at the freak-ish end of faith.

God’s power is thus subtly reduced to the standard sort of measurements we use: and we find that we’re really ‘rationalists’ still at core. Theory is trumped by a sober sort of realism. God could do a whole load of things perhaps: but He probably wouldn’t and almost certainly, therefore, He won’t. Our theology is often, in practice, quite flawed.

And not just in terms of God’s power – in terms of His love as well.

Again, we know the theory: God loves us big time. We’re pointed right back to the cross, which simply can’t be explained without our having recourse to the wonderful love of the Lord. Or was that again out there at the freak-ish end of fervour on the part of God, a once in a blue moon demonstration of a love which is more normally restrained? Does God really love us that much? Always? So much that He’d open the doors of heaven and pour out everything? Again and again and again? Really?

Our theology can start to get quite twitchy at the absolute extravagance of God’s amazing grace. Which leads on to the second reason why it’s hard for us to take on board the ‘immeasurably more’ in God’s grace.

There’s an essentially spiritual reason as well. That’s to say, there are still in us all the remains of a gospel of ‘works’; the dregs of a sense of dessert still slop around the caverns of our hearts and infuse all our thinking with a thorough-going, performance-based perspective on the dealings that God has with us in Christ. There’s a deep-seated spiritual pride in us all which refuses politely to die; and this pride is a thing which will wriggle and squirm in its death throes far down in our souls, and it’s this which disdains such extravagant favour being shown us by God.

This reluctance to rule out dessert as a factor in how God will act then shuts our eyes to the humbling dimensions of grace, and the startling ‘immeasurably more’ He is able and willing to do.

There’s often a third, more ‘cultural’ reason for the struggles which we have in both accepting and applying to ourselves this ‘immeasurably more’ of the gospel. For those familiar with a culture (or sub-culture) of ‘asceticism’, this facet of the gospel of God’s grace is hard to take.

There’s something not right when you start to enjoy life too much. That has often been a hallmark of religion in our land. We follow a crucified Saviour, and therefore, like Him, we are called, are we not, (this is how this culture thinks) to be men and women of sorrows, acquainted with suffering? ‘Bless us, Lord (but not too much or it could get a bit embarrassing).’ I’m painting, I know, a caricature. But it’s there as often as not as part of the shadowy ‘culture’ from which we’ve been brought to the kingdom. And we need to learn that the austerity gospel is as harmful to true growth in Christ as the so-called prosperity gospel now doing its rounds. The ‘immeasurably more’ of the gospel means just what it says on the tin – we’ve been blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ!

But the moment you get just how big this all is, then up steps master Oliver, the boy who goes looking for ‘More’. Or his older female counterpart, a lady we all know as Eve.

Because ‘more’ dates back to Eden. There’s a wrong sort of ‘more’ Eve went seeking: and there’s a wrong sort of ‘more’ we, too, are so prone to pursue.

The Lord gave the pair back in Eden immeasurably more than all they’d have asked for or had dreamed of. All the trees in the lavishly watered, wonderfully fertile garden – they’re commanded by God to enjoy all this fruit. Except just one.

Are you seeing that? It’s more than their being allowed by God to eat the fruit: immeasurably more. It’s more than their merely being invited by God to enjoy the fruit: immeasurably more. They’re commanded by God to enjoy it all! There’s nothing ascetic about that is there?

But in the face of all that, God’s ‘immeasurably much’, Eve will insist on just that little bit more. And we’re her children. We’re the same. We want more. More of a say in how to live life. More of the freedom to do as we like. No restrictions at all. It’s license rather than freedom for which, deep down, we always hanker.

And before we even see what’s going on, we’re swinging from our legalism to license with the skill of a seasoned trapeze artist. Through the same deceptive scheming of the serpent in the garden, the ‘immeasurably more’ of the gospel becomes “I’m measurably more …” in our thinking: I’m measurably more able and worthy to make up the rules for myself: I’m measurably more .. well, you start making it up for yourself.

It’s a tightrope we’re summoned to walk. And Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is as good a pole as any to provide the sort of balance in our living that we need. May we learn to walk well with our Lord!

Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Letter – January 2017

Dear Friends

January 1st is one of the straws at which our world will always tend to clutch.

As if, by some strange sort of magic we otherwise scorn, that overnight shift from one day to the next has a power, on this one particular date, to press the ‘reset’ button on our lives and afford to us all a fresh start.

In truth, of course, it’s just another day: no different from the day before, with no inbuilt capacity to make things right and change our whole experience: the debt into which we have fallen – it’ll still be there: the grief which has broken our heart – it’s as painful and real as it was.

Much as we might wish that it were so, and hard as we might ring the bells to mark that midnight moment, there isn’t any magic in the middle of this one specific night. The first day of the first month of the new, incoming year is .. well, it’s just another day.

And yet.

And yet we’re glad to find that time is given all these regular, rhythmic punctuation marks. We’re glad of that arrangement, for instance, whereby time is broken into weeks, with each recurring Sunday like the start of a new paragraph; and glad as well that each New Year is likewise like our starting a new page.  We’re glad to think of history as if it were a larger, life-size variant of Monopoly, with January 1st affording similar benefits to that of passing ‘Go’.

In truth, of course, there are no timely, heavenly hand-outs as we pass this annual milestone in our lives. There’s no such easy magic which will break the wretched spell which sin has long since cast upon our world.

It’s just another day.

But the sense and the wish and the hope which we have, that there is somewhere such ‘magic’ – that’s an instinct which runs deep within our spirits and refuses to lie down. I wonder if you know the words of the Paul McCartney 1970 song which goes by the haunting name of ‘Another day’?

So sad, so sad: sometimes she feels so sad. Alone in her apartment she’d dwell, till the man of her dreams comes to break the spell.

Ah, stay, don’t stand her up. And he comes and he stays … but he leaves the next day. So sad, sometimes she feels so sad

Waiting, longing, hoping.  Waiting for ‘the man of our dreams’ who will come and will break that dread spell. But we look in the wrong sort of places, and we trust in the wrong sort of people: and what we dared to believe would at last be that man of our dreams turns out to be no more use, and to have no more substance, than the proverbial man of straw.

He comes and he stays, but he leaves the next day. The excitement and hope of Hogmanay festivity mutates into one more wretched hangover. So sad, so sad.

The instinct, though, runs deep; time after time, with a stubborn, set resilience, it emerges from the shadows and awakens once again the hope that somehow that old spell will yet be broken and a new start can be made.

This instinct runs deep, of course, precisely because that dream of ‘the man’ who will break this cruel spell – that dream has been carved on the walls of our souls by the Lord. It’s the way we are wired, by the grace of God, an unseen, pulsing pointer to the promise He Himself had, long before the dawn of time, first made – the promise that ‘the man of those dreams’ would come, and that He would indeed break the spell.

The book of Judges is, thus, for instance, just a catalogue of that Hogmanay-type hopefulness, when time after time the people of Israel get into a mess and end up dwelling alone (or it feels like that, surrounded as they are by hostile, nasty neighbours who, with at least a measure of truth, are but neighbours from hell) – dwelling alone in the ‘apartment’ God has given them, that thin little strip of middle-eastern land, waiting and praying and hoping for that God-given ‘man of their dreams’.

And yes, the man (well, usually it was a man) – he does come: “ah, stay! ..” we can almost hear them cry, “.. don’t stand us up!” And they do stay, varying numbers of years they’re around; but it’s always, in the great grand scheme of things, no more than just a fleeting sort of interlude – he leaves ‘the next day’. There’s a measure of momentary relief: but the spell isn’t broken, and the roller-coaster story of their up and down existence (and mostly it’s the down and out which dominates) goes on.

These so-called ‘saviours’ were not the real deal and they could not deliver the goods. But they were a recurring reminder of ‘the dream’ the Lord has buried in the caverns of our consciousness; and each of the leaders the Lord thus raised up was a sudden, whispered pulsing of that promise from of old.

Of course, that promise of God, writ large across the great, expansive narrative of grace, unfolded in the story of His dealings with this wayward, spell-bound people – that promise of God was also given utterance increasingly in what His prophets preached.

The assurance they brought that His mercies are new, not just on the morning of January 1st, but new every morning. The promise they articulated wonderfully, and that in the darkest of days – the promise of a new heart and a new spirit. The description of God as the One who makes all things new. And the soaring, climactic guarantee that there will, therefore, one day be a new heaven and a new earth when the spell will be finally broken and when all will be finally right.

That’s the ‘deeper magic’ to which those ‘dreams’, so well secreted in our souls, all point. The Man of our dreams who would come and who’d break the spell.

Remember that bit in the Narnia books when Aslan explains to the children what he’s done?

“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

The spell has been finally broken, and the Man of our dreams is at last and for ever here to stay. Death has started working backwards, until at last it will disintegrate completely, and then simply be no more.

This year more than ever, with the first day having fallen on a Sunday, the weekly celebration of our resurrecting God – this year more than ever we’re reminded that the surging hope and confidence we have is rooted in, not some cheap Hogmanay and hogwash sort of magic, but that ‘deeper’, daring ‘magic’ which took God’s own Son to Calvary and saw Him thereby break the ‘spell’, destroying once for all the power of hell and death.

And there’s therefore a sense in which the parallel with the Monopoly board holds true. It’s that one word ‘Go!’ which we hear once again at the start of another new year.

Our mandate is simply to ‘go’: because the Man of our dreams has now come. And stayed. And broken the spell.

Gladness instead of mourning. A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Renewal in place of the ruins.

In the apartments of Aberdeen, and far beyond, how many there are who dwell alone, ‘til the Man of their dreams should come and break the spell. Men and women, without hope and without God in the world, tired of disappointment, weary of their every new day dawning turning out to be no more than just ‘another day’, and utterly unaware (until they’re told!) that that Man has now come, and that the ‘deep undoing magic’ of the gospel has begun.

So the Man Himself calls out loudly, ‘Go!’

Please God we shall do so! With renewed expectancy: with spirits refreshed and energized again: eager to see ‘death’ now working marvelously backwards in the lives of those who for all too terribly long have been under that dreadful spell, the curse of sin.

Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Record – December

Dear Friends

‘American politics’ may not be the area you’d choose for your specialist subject on Mastermind (it wouldn’t be mine, for sure – and, of course, you may well wisely choose to avoid the challenge in the first place).

But in the past few weeks those self-same American politics have thrown up, and brought into sharp relief, a question which has a certain timeless relevance.

What do we look for in leaders?

It’s a timely question.

Timely, first of all, because in these next few weeks we mark again the coming of the King. “Today a Saviour has been born to you,” the shepherds out in the fields were told: but the Saviour thus born, well, be sure of this, “He is Christ the Lord,” they were quickly further informed. Our true salvation, and our only true security, is found within and under His lordship over our lives.

We’re safe where He’s sovereign. We get to live, as He gets to lead.

So what does that leadership look like?

Well, you’ll look in vain for any presidential palace or some fancy royal residence. Not with Jesus. Anything but. He runs a mile from that.

You think that’s an exaggeration? Hardly! Remember the time when He’d fed the five thousand (and that was just the number of men), and the people were all for voting Jesus in as president-elect? “Knowing they intended to come and make Him king by force …” – an electoral ‘shoe-in’ if ever there was one, and if ever it came to a vote: but what did Jesus do? He ran a mile, He “..withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (Jn.6.15).

He knew what they were on about. He was never going to be some sort of puppet-king like that. You vote Him in when you see what He can do for you: but then, of course, you can later vote Him out of office if He doesn’t actually do things as you’d like them done.

That’s just another way of saying that, bottom-line, the customer is king: and their so-called president-elect will be no more than just their puppet on a string. Jesus isn’t taken in.

He doesn’t do that sort of leadership at all. Instead, as often as not, His leadership looks far more like a tough-skinned, weather-beaten shepherd, out on the hills in the ancient world’s equivalent of his denim dungarees.

None of the impressive pomp and pageantry of palace life: that’s all very well for superficial, ceremonial spectacles, to let the sycophantic minions know who’s boss. But it’s hardly all that practical: and Jesus as our Leader is intent upon salvation – so He’s nothing if not practical. He has to be: salvation is a painful, messy business, and demands from the One effecting it a sleeves-rolled-up, and wholly hands-on exercise of stamina and strength.

His leadership, in other words, is never just a nominal thing, never merely titular at all. He’s come to be our Leader: to lead us out of hopeless, abject slavery, and to lead us on to pastures new and good.

No wonder the picture the Scriptures most commonly use is that of the Shepherd.

For it’s ‘sheep’ with whom this Leader takes to do: foolish, feckless creatures, clueless as to where to go, and drifting off to ditches, dead-ends, dangers and to difficulties galore. Such ‘sheep’ as that which we are, we need a sharp-eyed, sure-footed Shepherd, out on the mud of the hillsides, not some sequin-studded sovereign in the comfort of his castle.

That’s the Leader we needed. And that’s why the birth of the Saviour is heralded first to some shepherds, out at their work on the Bethlehem hills: they, better perhaps than any, will ‘get it’. The Saviour is a Shepherd, and that lordship whereby safety and salvation is secured for us is a bold and gracious, always out-front, leading of the flock both day and night.

For this is what shepherds do. They keep watch over each of their flock. They rescue their sheep from disaster, shield their sheep from all danger, feed their sheep with good pasture, lead their sheep by still waters – and prepare their sheep always for the temple of God, which is where their true destiny lies.

More striking still in the old, familiar narrative of Jesus’ birth is the time of day: or night, to be precise. These shepherds are out in their fields, keeping watch over all of the flock, by night: when the kings of this world have been long since tucked up tight in their comfortable beds, and the sovereigns in their silk PJs are fast asleep.

It was a dark, dark world in every sense into which our Saviour was born. But He entered the darkness, He lived with the dangers, He bore all the costly demands which that fullness of life He would give to His sheep would require.

That’s what leadership looks like! How good to be reminded at this time of year that such indeed is the nature of the Saviour who has come. The King who reigns through servitude: the Shepherd who will be at last the sacrificial lamb. The Lord in whom, through whom, with whom, we know life.

And that’s what we look for in leaders – to get back to the question with which I began. A timely question, as I said. And that not only because it’s Christmas and our thoughts are all directed to the coming of the King; but as much because it’s very much the area of our congregation’s life on which our thinking as the Transitional Leadership Team has been very largely focussed.

The Transitional Leadership Team is, by definition, essentially transitional. Its existence as such has given us all a helpful and necessary ‘breathing space’ in which to think through just how best we put in place the healthy local leadership required to take us forward in these coming days.

Reflecting back on the past twelve months, one of the things of which we’ve been aware has been the benefit of working with a numerically small local leadership team, to whom has been entrusted the decision-making role. In adopting this pattern, certainly, we have sought, as best we may, to balance what could well be termed a basic ‘oligarchy’ by ensuring that (1) we involved the body of elders in (as well as updating them about) our on-going discussions; (2) wherever feasible, we provided regular and good communication with the fellowship as a whole; and (3) we created at least a measure of congregational ‘enfranchisement’ through the various Community Groups, whereby discussion, informed by the Word of God, about different and important facets of our life as a fellowship here could be shared on as wide a congregational front as possible.

This sort of pattern is something we’re keen now to build on, as we move towards a form of local leadership into which the present Transitional Leadership Team can readily and happily evolve, without any fear of ‘cold turkey’ – to use an appropriate seasonal phrase!

It has, however, been geese (the older Christmas dinner-table centrepiece), instead of turkeys, which have informed and helped our thinking as we’ve pondered just what form our local leadership should take!

It’s become, I suppose, something of a commonplace, when thoughts have turned to leadership, to refer to the ‘formation flying’ of geese as they settle in to their ‘long-haul’ flight: their well-known ‘V’ formation significantly increases their combined efficiency (an estimated 70% increase, and more, in their flying range); and it highlights also the benefits there can be in their rotating the ‘point’ position with its ‘front-end’ demands of leadership.

Well, we’re certainly in ‘for the long haul’ here! And the flying geese analogy may well provide as helpful a model as any for the sort of local leadership to which we are aspiring.

For such a model serves to highlight well two helpful, core components of a ‘long-haul’ style of leadership.

First, it highlights the benefit of a small ‘executive’ leadership body, entrusted with the ‘point’ responsibility of an overall decision-making role. Such a Leadership Team would be both drawn from, and supported by, the larger body of elders – the former keeping the latter ‘in the loop’, and drawing on the pool of wisdom and counsel which the body of elders afford; the latter supporting and encouraging the former through their on-going prayer and insights.

Secondly, however, such a model well highlights the value and importance of ‘rotation’. As the geese themselves have figured out, there are very good practical and pastoral reasons for countenancing such a pattern of ‘rotation’; a pattern which would not involve at any point a great and wholesale change, but equally would guarantee a frequent introduction of a fresh and energising ‘set of wings’.

Leadership’s all about ‘long haul’: which is what we’re intent on securing.

And with that we’re back once more to Jesus. Our Saviour is here for the long haul. There won’t be any running away on the part of this Shepherd who’s come – no matter the cost He will bear, no matter the wounds He’ll receive, no matter the price He must pay. There won’t be any running away on His part, and He won’t for a moment ever think of just packing it in – no matter how wayward, and stubborn, and foolish and fractious His people, like sheep, may well be.

He’s the ultimate ‘long haul’ Leader: the Saviour and Shepherd, whose goodness and mercy will be there for me ‘all my days’, and who’ll lead me right on ‘til I’m dwelling forever in the house and the home of my God.

So, in closing, as the season of Christmas catches each of us up in its wonder and hope once again (at least I pray it may do so, whether sorrow or joy fills your heart), I’m eager to say that the warmth of the welcome you’ve given us here, and the sense that we’ve had of that gracious ‘long haul’ love of the Lord through the care and support you have shown – these have humbled us greatly, and served only to stir yet more in our hearts just such a ‘long haul’ commitment in love to you all in the on-going work of our Lord Jesus Christ in this place.

Thank you so much! And may the grace of the Lord, who though He was rich yet for our sakes become poor that we through His poverty might be enriched beyond all measure – may that grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with each one of you, in the face of all your circumstances, at this time.

Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Record – November

Dear Friends

It’s the ‘rhythm’ in our common life which I’m keen we examine and grasp: the ‘respiratory’ work of the Spirit of God, as it were, the pulse of the body of Christ: the ‘rhythm’ inherent in the ‘going out’ and ‘coming in’ of which the psalmist speaks.

Of course you can take that famous final phrase from the well-known psalm (you know the one, how “the Lord watches over your going out and your coming in for this time forth and for ever more”) and apply it, I guess, in any number of different ways.

It’s the pattern of our working life. Our going out to our work in the morning; our coming in as the sun starts to set.

It’s the route-map of our life on planet earth. Our going out on surging streams of expectancy into all that our adulthood brings; our coming in, on the tide of the toll of advancing years, to God’s stepping stone into His future.

It’s the sequence of our life in Christ. Our going out from the bondage of Egypt; our coming in to the freedom of Canaan.

But it’s also the ‘rhythm’ of our communal life as the born-again people of God. A people who are ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered’, ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered’ incessantly: gathered as those who are saved, scattered as those called to serve. The breath of the Spirit, the heartbeat of heaven, the pulsing life of the Lord.

Gathered, scattered. In, out. Together, apart.

It’s a rhythm writ large, as I tried to briefly demonstrate last month – a rhythm writ large across the whole, expansive spectrum of God’s truth. And it’s a rhythm in our communal life which the Lord has been careful to regulate right from the start.

One day a week in their own small patch of Israel, up and down the land, the locals were to gather, a coming together which was in many ways to define the very essence of the people they’ve become. They’re a ‘congregation’ because … well, because the very essence of that life they’ve been given by God is that they congregate: they’re a people who’ve been gathered together as the family of God.

And three times a year, they were to do the whole thing big time. A week long festival of faith on which they all converged: a sacred pulling together of all of the people of God from wherever their ‘lines’ might have fallen, a festival of faith, so large and so steeped in the grace of God’s blessing that it would dwarf the likes of Greenbelt in terms of both its size and its significance.

One people, one place, one passion. If ‘strap-lines’ had been in vogue back then, that’s the sort of strap-line they’d have had. One people, one place, one passion: the living Lord. The family of God, the city of God, the glory of God.

Their life as the people of God, sent out as they were (and thus everywhere scattered) by their great redeeming God, to declare and display ‘the glories of His grace’ – their life had its own clear ‘punctuation marks’.

To be better equipped for the service for which they were scattered, they required that coming together. Week by week on the Sabbath: and then three times a year, way up on the mountains of Judea, and in the city of their God.

And the ‘rest’ and refreshment God promised lay not so much in the downing of tools and in stopping their work, as in their coming together to worship and rest in their Lord. It was never intended as a ‘do-nothing day’, a ‘sit-there-and-twiddle-your-thumbs’ sort of day, with your working clothes thrown in the corner, and your lazing around with the chance to catch up on some sleep. Anything but.

This was the business of gathering again, ‘coming in’ once again from where they’d all been scattered, converging, as though drawn by some magnet on high (the Lord does have that magnetic, magnificent pull, doesn’t He!) to the place where the springs of the worship and love in their hearts would erupt in a fountain of praise.

So here are the questions we need to explore. Why is that week by week ‘gathering’ in which we engage so crucial to all we attempt when we’re sent out and ‘scattered’ to serve? And how do we best give expression to all the Lord means us to know in thus gathering His people together?

Or framing that question a different way: if the ‘One people, one place, one passion’ sort of strap-line has significance at all, then –

  • How do we give expression to our being, indeed, at one as the family of God? That’s essentially a relational
  • How does our converging on this one shared gathering place best point us back to that one great place in history where on His cross our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ effected that which brings all things together under Him? That, I suppose, is an essentially theological
  • How is that single, focused passion both stirred and expressed, such that, sent out once more, we’re on fire for the Lord, inflamed with His love, and eager to share the good news? That’s, I suppose, an essentially spiritual

Let me suggest, then, the four main points of our ‘congregating compass’: four primary reasons why our God graciously gathers us in week by week from wherever it is we’ve been scattered. Maybe then we can start teasing out just how best all these week by week gatherings will encompass the purpose God has.

History

We each of us have a history. And, yes, it is at its core always His story: the story of the Lord’s gracious dealings with us down the years. It’s the story which the blind man told – I once was blind, but now I see (Jn.9.25), replicated by the grace of God in all our lives in who knows how many different versions, but always with that quintessential contrast and its pivot on those two great telling words “.. but now ..”

We are not what we were. Once we were blind but now we see. Once we were lost but now we’ve been found. Once we were enemies, now we’re His friends. Once we were dead but now we’re alive.

Our present experience has a history we need to recall: we forget our past at our peril. Remember your story: remember it’s always His story: and remember what all is involved in those two simple, pivotal words – ‘but now ..’

That’s the first reason God gathers His people together: and needs to do so every seven days – our memories are short, our concentration poor, and thus, too easily and often, our whole perspective shifts and we become, no longer blind, so much as blinkered in our thinking, forgetful of those very basic truths which give our daily living such an edge.

For those two great pivotal words, ‘but now ..’, words which tie the riches that we now possess to what was but a wretched and impoverished past – those two great pivotal words ensure that we are once again all tethered to the trinitarian ‘trig points’ for the living of our lives: the grace of God, the cross of Christ, and the work of the Spirit.

These three combined realities, enriching, ennobling, enduring as they are – these three combined realities alone explain the stunning contrast which there is between our present and our past. Lose sight of these three, and the edge to all our living as we’re scattered through the week – that ‘edge’ is also lost.

Identity

Sundays address an endemic identity crisis in our lives.

For our world has it all upside down. It defines who we are (by and large) by what we do. Go into the barber, go into the hair-dressing salon, and, first time there, right at the top of the list of the questions you’re asked is ‘what is it you do?’

And how do we answer? We define ourselves by what we do.

You spend the larger part of all your days in educating children – “.. well, I’m a teacher” is the answer that you’re as likely as not to give.

But this world, which bombards us from morning to night with this subtly distorted perspective – the world has it all topsy turvy.  Who we are is not defined by what we do: it’s the other way round entirely. Who we are defines what we do. Our identity comes first. It’s paramount.

But a week out there in the upside down world – well, it weakens our hold on this truth, doesn’t it? We need such a regular reminder in regards to our identity.

Our identity is found in Christ. It’s a relational thing in the end of the day. I am His: that’s who I am. He is mine and I am His. Everything else flows from that: and nothing is bigger than that.

That’s to say, our identity is an essentially relational thing. In the words of the Bethel Music song – “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

Except it’s plural. Always plural. Once we were not a people, now we are the people of God (1 Pet.2.10). Strangers who’ve become citizens: foes who’ve become family. Our identity now is a plural, relational thing.

And God gathers together His people each week to remind us of this once again.

“Our Father ..” He taught us to pray, and those first two words say it all. We are both children of God, and related as brothers and sisters. Related, note. Our identity is a relational thing. In Christ; and part of God’s family. That’s who we are. And who we are then defines and determines both what we do and how we live.

Destiny

We are a future-oriented people in the way our lives are lived. Sundays serve to redirect our focus to that future God’s secured.

We’re gathered each week by the Lord to remind us of where all He’s wrought and accomplished for us in His Son – to remind us of where it will end. With the ultimate in ‘ceilidhs’.

Does that offend the sensibilities of some, to put the thing like that? I mean no offence! I mean only to stretch all our thinking, to help us all see that in gathering His people each week as He does, the Lord is intent that we grasp once again what’s in store – that glorious coming together of all of the saints, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev.7.9). There’s music and movement; isn’t that what the Scriptures all teach? The ‘great dance’ as C S Lewis once famously put it. Joy and delight, peace and pleasures, a family together and festive forever at last.

Sundays are there to calibrate our living once again. To pull up all the anchors of nostalgia which tie us to the good times of the past. To drag us away from the lure of the present and the pleasures it presents. To remind us that we’re pilgrims here, not residents. To assure us that, however dark the tunnel we may presently be walking through, there’s light at its end. Always.

The very act and fact of gathering reminds us of our destiny; and motivates us afresh to keep on pressing forward to that end with both an urgency and hope. Because the reason why we’re scattered to the far-flung corners of God’s world is to serve Him as His signposts to, His heralds of, that new and better day which soon will dawn.

Energy

As Jesus was conscious while He ministered of the power which was always going out from Him, so the service which we render in our ‘scattered’ lives saps streams of spiritual energy from our souls. Our reserves need replenished.

And it’s there in His gathering His people that the Lord thus refreshes us all. Like sponges wrung dry as our lives have been used by the Lord to bring cleansing and comfort to all of the folk we’ve been with, so we need once again to be drenched in the Spirit of God: fed afresh through the Word of the Lord, fired afresh in the praise of the Lord, filled afresh with the Spirit of God.

Gathered by God, to be scattered. Empowered by the Spirit poured upon us: encouraged in the knowledge of our destiny: ennobled by the grace of our identity: and inspired by our recalling His great story in our lives.

But how all that becomes the great reality of every weekly gathering of His saints – well, that must wait, I’m afraid, for another time!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Letter – October

Dear Friends

The sights and sounds and smells of harvest have been in the air. I mean outside, in the earthy world of farms and fields: the time when the brambles are big and the rose hips are ripe, and farmers go out to gather back in what they’d taken such trouble to scatter.

It’s part of the rhythmic annual liturgy of the land. Gathering what’s been scattered – and rejoicing in the increase. And what’s true in the way God has ordered His world is as true in the work of the gospel. We go out bearing ‘seed’ to be sown in the souls of neighbours and friends: and then we return, bearing with us the ‘sheaves’ which the seed, by God’s grace, has become.

The analogy is God’s, not mine … though I’m happy to use it, since the words of the psalm which express it so well have inspired and encouraged my heart since the day they were first impressed on my heart by the Lord.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” [Ps.126.5-6].

I had tears in my eyes when I first read those words: tears of sadness, despair and frustration through a sense of just how unworthy, inept and unsuited I was for all I’d been called to by Christ. These words from the psalm were as an oasis in the desert, like a beam of light shining into the darkness and distress of the pit of my own inadequacy.

They were a promise. A promise whose truth was paraded before my watching eyes in the cycle of the seasons and the sequence of the farmer’s world.

But they were more than a promise. I saw they simply recognized an elemental pattern in the way God works. He gathers, and scatters, then gathers again. This rhythmic annual liturgy of the land was a prism, I saw, through which we mortals with our ever so limited vision, could nonetheless grasp the whole grand purpose of Almighty God throughout eternity: He gathers, then scatters, then gathers again.

This, I saw, was the essence of the ebb and flow of history: this, I saw, explained the five great ‘acts’ in the drama of salvation which the Bible itself sets forth.

Gathered at creation: scattered by sin: gathered again at the cross of our Saviour, right at the cross-roads of history: then scattered once more by the Spirit: and gathered at last and for good in the glory of that final, lasting, joy-filled ‘harvest home’.

And what really struck home as I pondered this all was that no matter just where you might look in the course of this ‘large canvas’ flow, each part of the story you chose to inspect had this same basic pattern shot through it, like some sort of heavenly ‘trademark’. Gathered, then scattered, then gathered again.

The rhythmic sort of lifestyle of the countryside. And for this young man who had dreamed as a boy that he’d end up being a farmer, well, it pleased my heart no end to find that the Lord Himself was actually a ‘farmer’: or at least that the farmers were taking their cue from Him.

How does the Bible begin if not with the Lord’s trademark ‘gathering’? “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place ..” [Gen.1.9]. And so it goes on, as the great Creator gets to grips with the disordered mess of His formless ‘raw materials’, sorts them all out by separating out what is different, and by gathering together those things .. well, all that belongs together: like some hard-working parent intent on creating some order from the chaos of her children’s cluttered playroom: dolls in one place, the thousand and one bits of Lego all back in their own special box, soft toys here, all the puzzles there, and so on. Gathering, gathering.

And than, having wonderfully gathered the dust of the earth and breathed that into the wholeness of a brand new humanity – well, the next thing He does is scatter this ‘gathered’ humanity. His first words to this newly formed, and marvelously gathered humanity? “Be fruitful, and increase in number .. (that’s harmless enough! But look at what follows!) … fill the earth and subdue it…”

Dear me! No sooner gathered and enjoying the pleasures of the garden prepared for their living than their Maker is telling them – ‘Off you go, spread yourselves out through the earth and do yourselves what I have been doing for you…’

Every parent knows the drill. You step into the chaos and gather up and tidy away all the toys: but it isn’t for tidiness’ sake you gather them up: it’s to ensure they’ll be played with again, and more easily and fully enjoyed. You know they’re going to get ‘scattered’ all over again, indeed, you mean them to be scattered, that’s why you gathered them up.

God doesn’t suffer from some cosmic sort of OCD. That’s not why He gathers. It’s with a view to scattering, filling the earth with His well-ordered freedom and the serious fun of heaven.

And the striking thing is that all the way through the Scriptures this is the pattern you find.

Take the time of Noah. The ‘playroom’ of the world back then had become a bit of a bombsite: a mess, a tip, sheer chaos. Almost back to where we started in Genesis 1:2 – formless (disordered, chaotic), empty, and dark (morally anyway, and that’s the worst sort of darkness always).

So the Lord is back to His ‘gathering’, isn’t He, and Noah’s job is to bring them all in to the ark, ‘two of all living creatures, male and female’ (Gen.6.19), while the earth gets a thorough ‘spring-clean’.

Gathered. But then, just a matter of months down the line, they’re being ‘scattered’ all over again. Out they all came, off they all went, and the mandate from God once again – “Be fruitful and increase in number..” Back to filling the earth to its furthest corners.

Gathered, then scattered. It’s the rhythm which the Lord then writes into the life of the people of Israel. Spread out north and south through the land of ancient Canaan, they’re first gathered, then scattered on a regular, lasting basis.

Gathered each week where they are (the weekly Sabbath was far from being just a day of rest, as though simply downing your tools and stopping your work for a day was the be-all-and-end-all of the thing – the ‘rest’ for God’s people lay emphatically in their being careful to come together, to be gathered), and then scattered once more to get on with the business of God’s kingdom, out in the dust and dirt of their fields, or wherever it was that their energies best got applied.

And gathered, three times every year, on a much larger scale, all of these local ‘community groups’, as they all descended on the big central venue of Jerusalem; before, of course, being then scattered back across the land to bring the light of the knowledge of the God they had known to the farthest, darkest corners of the land.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. It’s a pattern, you see, not just a rich and lovely promise.

And, of course, that pattern is nowhere better evidenced than in the cross of the Saviour Himself. It’s at the feast of the Passover, when the whole of Israel converged on the city of Jerusalem, when the city was filled to overflowing with a people who’ve been gathered from all the farthest corners of the land – it’s at that great annual ‘gathering’ that the Son of God is crucified.

And His understanding of what He’s accomplishing there? Well, this is how He puts it – I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12.32).

That’s what happened, isn’t it? A people previously scattered are marvelously gathered together. Read on into Acts and there you see it in the opening two chapters of the book. The mixed, disheveled bunch of His disciples are all gathered in one place (that’s miracle enough): and as the Spirit comes upon them all, a larger crowd is gathered, men and women, ‘from every nation under heaven’, sucked in by the wind of the Spirit, until at last there are thousands and thousands being gathered together to share the new and common life of the people of God.

But you’ve hardly had time to draw breath and to marvel at the miracle, than the Lord is back to scattering them all. “Go” becomes the operative word. ‘Go and make disciples of all nations… you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth..’ And He makes sure they are just that.

There’s a sense in which the simple visual emblem of the cross depicts this rhythm as well as anything. The four corners of the earth converging on the centre – the centripetal power of the Spirit of Almighty God: but at the same time the four points of the compass, north, south, east and west, to which the people of God are sent out – the Spirit of God in centrifugal mode.

It’s the story of the lifeblood of our living as the people of God, pumped out from the heart with the oxygen of the kingdom, scattered to the farthest corners of the body; then returning, drawn back to the heart. The rhythm of the kingdom. Gathered and scattered, gathered and scattered.

Why do I labour the point? Because of who and what we are as a fellowship, and because of some of the tensions with which we, therefore, have to wrestle. We’re intrinsically a ‘gathered’ congregation (although that’s a bit like speaking of a round circle!) which deliberately ‘scatters’ her people to their own localities to do the business of the kingdom there.

And precisely because we’re scattered geographically, and yet choose to ‘gather’ to a central point which isn’t all that ‘local’ in the main, this ‘rhythm’ in our corporate life is both thrown into sharper relief, and is all the more important we get right. For a people who are manifestly ‘scattered’, what we do when we’re gathered by God assumes a huge significance. And that’s what I’ll aim to pick up on next month!

When the people of God get this right, then this rhythm becomes the heartbeat of heaven, the breathing of the Spirit of God, whereby life is imparted, lives are renewed, and the purpose of God is fulfilled. Which is surely what we yearn for!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Record – September

Dear Friends

Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected” are pretty tame fare when set alongside all the tales you find in the Bible.

The Scriptures start with a bang and announce a God who sets the scene, and writes the script, and manages all the story-line – and all in a way which makes the nail-biting twists in the sagas and soaps which we watch seem utterly bland by comparison.

If you don’t like surprise, then you’re best to avoid the God who made the universe and runs the course of history.

Except, of course, you can’t! There’s nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide: for just when you thought that you’d managed somehow to evade His righteous radar .. well, surprise, surprise, He’s there! A good few steps ahead of you.

We’ve been seeing that this month in the studies we’ve all been addressing (well, that’s been the intention, certainly – that we should all be looking at this together!) in the book of Acts. I mean, who would have thought that a mild-mannered complaint about some (alleged) queue-barging at a local church’s Food Bank (Acts 6) would issue in the wonderful conversion of a violent opponent of the gospel (Acts 9) – and beyond that see a plethora of other churches getting planted right across the Roman Empire?

Yet that’s what happened, in the surprising evolution of the sovereign work of God.

The Food Bank stramash resulted in Stephen’s appointment as a deacon: and he’d hardly had time to read and digest the remit he’d been given before he was fast-tracked on by the Spirit of God into something which wasn’t even in the small print of his latest job description.

And all of a sudden this problem-solving Food Bank supervisor is out at the front as a preacher in an influential city-centre synagogue: and my, it’s some preaching he’s doing! Stephen in that ‘pulpit’ in Jerusalem is nothing less than a cat among the pigeons of the cultured Jewish piety, which didn’t have the time of day for Jesus Christ. Feathers are not simply ruffled, they’re flying all over the place! And before he’s had time to draw breath, the poor young man (well, he’s not poor at all, of course, not in the truest and deepest sense of the word: this is riches beyond all price, to share in the ministry of Jesus) – before he’s had time to draw breath, this deacon-turned-preacher is facing not some kindly, bruising brickbats with the hand-shakes at the door, but a venom-driven barrage of the dusty, deadly stones and rocks his hearers found at hand.

Hardly has he made his first appearance when the man has breathed his last: we’ve barely got to meet the man, and there he is lying martyred in the cause of gospel truth. Talk about a high, make-a-difference cameo appearance!

Was that in the text of his remit? Did they spell out these dangers of life as a deacon when he took on the job at the Food Bank? Of course not. They didn’t need to. Jesus had done that already. It’s an integral part of the DNA of anyone’s discipleship.

And it didn’t end there! Even in the very act of dying he’s discovering there’s another role he’s being called upon to play. This deacon-turned-preacher-turned-martyr will now become the catalyst igniting all the anger and the hatred which has simmered in the heart of his contemporary, a young man by the name of Saul of Tarsus; Saul’s still young, like Stephen, and he’s standing there, a student-turned-spectator, consenting to the murder of a man whose face now shines just like an angel – and the more of the angel he sees in this man, the more there’s an anger erupting in Saul’s rebel heart. It almost drives the man demented; and it certainly drives him on to Damascus, ‘til he’ll be stopped in his tracks by the Lord.

Jesus Himself is living through the dying man, you see. And do you grasp what’s happening in Stephen’s life? The story-line is simply getting longer by the moment.

The deacon-turned-preacher-turned-martyr-turned-catalyst-towards-conversion (because that’s where this story will lead, isn’t it; we know the whole tale well enough) – Stephen will now assume an almost ‘apostolic’ role: he’ll start to produce the result the apostles themselves were supposed to effect.

They were ‘sent out’, remember (that’s what the word ‘apostle’ means), they were ‘sent out’ by Jesus – sent out into all the world to make disciples. Into all the world. And there they all are, still stuck where they started in down-town, city-centre Jerusalem; bogged down with the growing demands of their rigorous pastoral discipline (Acts 5) and the exasperating problems which resulted from their ever so practical care (Acts 6). They haven’t budged an inch!

Sent out into all of the earth? They’re increasingly stuck in the mud and the mess of a growing and grass-roots new church.

But all that suddenly changes when this Stephen comes along, and sets in train (unwittingly, I grant you) the process which then implements a God-ordained ‘eviction order’ policy which sees all these believers upping sticks and driven out of dear Jerusalem. And about time too! There’s gospel work to be done out there in the world. Bemoan it as persecution if you want: and no one says it’s comfortable or nice. But if that’s what it takes in the sovereign, ‘tough-love’ providence of God to get His people out there where they’re meant to be, well, so be it!

None of that was in the script for the Food Bank remit, of course! But one thing led to another, and Stephen’s story snowballed very swiftly into something with a marvellous (and frightening!) momentum of its own.

And if the whole thing starts to scare you just a bit, then it’s scarier still. Stephen’s experience is far from unique. It’s almost invariably just how God works.

If He told you the end of the story before you began .. well, you just wouldn’t start!

Would Joseph, for instance, have willingly served as a message-boy for his father (Gen.37.12ff), if he’d known that a pit and a prison, being betrayed, being forgotten, being sold and being framed, all on the way to becoming a ‘foreign missions’ pastor and evangelist (that’s what he was and became in effect) – would he have taken on the challenge of a message-boy in his father’s house if he’d known that all of this was down the line?

Most of the time the Lord simply won’t take that risk. He’ll lead us simply one step at a time.

Remember Nehemiah, to whom I referred last time? You’ll maybe figure out just why this man has often in these past few months been much upon my heart. He was happy enough (in human terms), we assume, in the life which he lived in the lands to which the people of Israel were exiled. And the whole surprising adventure started for him with a harmless conversation. That soon led to a burden of prayer, which in turn birthed ridiculous thoughts. And before he knew what he was doing he was taking his life in his hands and asking his boss (who happened to be the king) for something like a mid-life, open-ended gap year.

To go and repair the walls of old Jerusalem. That’s the sort of thing you do in gap years, after all. But that was all: just repair the walls. An undertaking big enough to stretch to almost breaking point this man’s faith-fuelled commitment to the will and cause of God.

I don’t suppose it ever crossed his mind that, far from just repairing walls, he’d end up with the challenge of reforming lives, renewing faith, and exercising God’s own rule among the people of Jerusalem: I don’t suppose it ever really dawned on him that this demanding gap year might evolve into a dozen years of ministry and more.

Because if it had .. well, he maybe would have balked too much at any sort of call to such a work from God. The Lord is surely wise enough to know that. It’s one step at a time, the way He works. So the cup-bearer becomes the prayer-warrior: then the cup-bearer-turned-prayer-warrior becomes the mid-life gap-year wall-builder: and before he has scraped all the lime and cement off his hands, the cup-bearer-turned-prayer-warrior-turned-wall-builder has become a reformer who’s running a city, and turning its whole life right around.

That’s just the way the Lord works. He makes things grow. He makes us grow.

And so it has been through these past twelve months. Isn’t that so? It began with a prayerful concern on my part to step into the breach, at a time of great sorrow and pain, and to make myself available to chair an elders’ meeting and conduct a morning service. That was all. An elders’ meeting and a morning service.

But bit by bit the Lord has surely simply grown that call, expanding it out ‘til it’s bigger (and better!) by far than the challenge involved at the start. Chairing a meeting and leading a service soon grew under God to the role of a part-time interim moderator: and barely had we settled and agreed this terminology, when it became redundant and a role as interim minister became the import of the Lord’s clear leading at that time. And so the whole evolving logic of the growing and expanding call of God has pulled us on, until He laid upon the hearts of all concerned the powerful conviction that what He really had in mind was something still more permanent, which thereby would ensure that as a fellowship we’d find ourselves together moving on instead of simply somehow merely ‘marking time.’

Is the Lord not scarily wonderful in the wisdom and grace of His ways? Is the snowballing nature of all that His call will entail not a mark of His consummate kindness and care? And if that’s how He works (so consistently works) in the life of a single individual (check it out with Stephen, Joseph, Nehemiah and a score of other folk), may we not be encouraged together to trust that that’s how He works in the life of a fellowship, too?

Growth is His trademark. He makes things grow. He makes you grow. He makes us grow. It’s with trembling excitement at what the Lord’s future may hold that all of us therefore will take this next step, as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours in His service and with a sense of real thrill and expectation,

Jeremy Middleton

Didasko Fellowship

Over the past 8 months or so we’ve been deeply grateful for the willing involvement of a number of church leaders from outwith the congregation who have shared with us fully as part of the Transitional Leadership Team. The benefits of their support and guidance have been many, and, I trust, obvious to all.

The time they have given, and the lengths to which they have gone to be a help to us, have been way beyond the call of any ‘duty’ there might be: and the essence of that lies in the fact that their commitment to us as a fellowship here has been built upon relationship. They are bound to us through relational ties which have roots which span the years.

In many ways, the Didasko Fellowship is simply the practical expression of just such relational ties on a slightly larger scale. It’s not in any sense some sort of embryonic new denomination: rather the Didsasko Fellowship seeks simply to recognise the relationships which already exist between many of us – as leaders, members, and congregations – and give, even if only for the short-term, some genuine practical substance to that in a “light-touch but real interdependence.”

Some congregations and ministers who have left the Church of Scotland have quickly found a welcome home in other Presbyterian denominations within Scotland. Not all, however, have been fully persuaded that that’s the right course for their church family; and others have simply not been ready in the midst of all the challenges they’ve faced to make that sort of decision.

In such cases, instead of being left on their own, their every presbyterian instinct has recognised not only all the hazards of a wholly independent life, but the value and importance of a mutual interdependence.

In the changing, turbulent landscape of the present time, where it’s folly to travel alone, and yet where it’s hard to discern the ‘shape’ the Lord is giving to His re-configured church, it’s surely true that each such congregation as ourselves is more likely to flourish and to see the gospel spread if we stand with each other in real and tangible partnership.

The Didasko Fellowship is simply a way in which those who have shared history, shared friendships, and shared gospel values, are able in the meanwhile to do just that. A relational commitment to one another, rooted in the common life we do already share, means that help is always at hand, support is always assured, and some necessary ‘checks and balances’ are always in place.

It does not preclude other options, of course. But it does provide some ‘breathing space’ in which the benefits of that mutual interdependence, which lies at the heart of the biblical perspective on church, can truly and fully be known.

And as the Transitional Leadership Team has pondered at some length the way we best move forward from the present interim pattern of our leadership, moving from the participation on the part of the five external church leaders in the TLT to an association on our part with the Didasko Fellowship has seemed a helpful and natural next step which is well worth our exploring at this time.

A document which introduces more fully the Didasko Fellowship is available on request.

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Record – August

Dear Friends

There’s an unassuming man in the Bible, who’s hardly what you’d call a household name among the general Christian public.

He doesn’t get the ratings which the likes of Peter, Paul or John will usually get – despite being just as bold and influential in his day as they all were. He doesn’t seem to catch the eye of all the modern movie-maker types, the way in which a Joseph or a Daniel seem to do – despite there being no less in terms of colour, faith and drama in the life this man had lived.

And few, it seems, will choose to name their offspring after him. How often do you run across a boy called Nehemiah? It doesn’t even shorten well to anything: ‘Ehem’?

It’s understandable, I suppose, why the guy has experienced such relative obscurity.

By the time you get to the book in the Bible which bears his name you’ve had to wade your way through the long, lugubrious narrative of Israel’s history in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings – and then, of course, through the slightly ‘airbrushed’ ‘re-make’ of that story in the two long books of Chronicles.

Most folk are looking for a bit of a breather after all of that. And for those who faithfully press on through the pages of Scripture, well it’s Ezra they then encounter – with further lengthy lists of names you’ve never heard of, ending with a ‘name-and-shame’ type catalogue of all the individuals who had married foreign women (there were a lot of them).

The Psalms, the Proverbs, or even the most minor of prophets seem an attractive – and, in the case of the Psalms, a close-at-hand – antidote to the headache which you’re worried may be coming on as you stick with this whole long chunk of narrative text.

It’s tempting, and easy, to skip over this guy, in other words. And not being the longest of books, and being tucked right away in the depths of your sizeable small-print Bible, it’s not always easy to find this book, even if you wanted to.

So, yes, I understand why he’s not among the headline-making heroes who spring to mind when talk gets round to all the mighty exploits which the Bible has recorded for our good.

It’s a pity, though! Because the man has a lot to teach us, and the challenge he faced in his day is akin to those facing us now. Not by any means identical, but in all sorts of ways sufficiently similar for us to be able to learn a whole load from the guy.

It’s with building-work that the man is associated. Nehemiah’s the man who took it on himself to see that the ruined walls of knocked-about Jerusalem were solidly re-built: it was no small work, and there was no quick fix.

There are challenges, too, for ourselves in regard to the building we have here at Gilc. The lease which exists at the present expires at the end of this coming March. Decisions will have to be made as to what we are going to do: and the options we have are neither comfortable, easy, nor cheap. But, then, Nehemiah’s options were hardly picnic-in-the-park type things themselves – he just rose to face the challenges there were.

It’s the way that he rose to those challenges, though, which is what impresses me most. And it wasn’t just the building work which created all the challenges back then.

It was ‘gospel’ work in which he was really engaged, and the demanding and difficult practical tasks relating to the city-wide repair of ruined walls (all good ‘gospel’ work themselves) were matched by all the other sort of building work required within the hearts and lives of battered, bruised believers in the place.

And all of that in a context of battle and conflict where every step going forward was contested by the unseen powers of darkness, and expressed in countless bits of under-hand and niggling opposition to the work of God. But that just goes with the territory of genuine ‘gospel’ work, doesn’t it? And Nehemiah was up to the challenge.

Sleeves rolled up and spectacles on (I’m speaking metaphorically of course!), ready to use both brawn and brain as required, he was rapidly involved in a work which was larger by far than what he’d maybe first imagined when he signed up for this unforeseen career-break.

It all began in a season of prayer: most real works of any lasting consequence generally do. As he poured out his heart in fervent prayer, burdened for the glory of the Lord, doors began to open, and a project, which was next best thing to crazy in the eyes of faithless folk, was prompted by the Spirit of the bold Creator God.

And prayer, of course, pervaded it all. When problems arose, it was down on their knees that they went. When critics appeared, it was straight to the Lord they repaired. When war was declared, it was God the Almighty they sought. Prayer. All the way through.

Well, the Lord really, wasn’t it, all the way through: it was His great work from beginning to end. And like most of what He does, it was more by far than this man Nehemiah ever asked or dared to think when first he got involved.

To which we all say a hearty ‘Amen’. Of course we do. We need no persuading of the place of prayer in our lives – as individuals, to start with, but in our life as the people of God as well. Our coming together to pray will always be both the starting point, and indeed the pivotal part, of a singular work of God among us here.

But just how that’s given its best and most helpful expression in our congregational life is the question we’re trying to address. Getting a wise and healthy balance in our living between the ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered’ dimensions of our corporate life is a challenging thing.

We gather each week for our worship, when we bring all our living together and lay it once more before Christ as He speaks through His Word to our hearts; and we want to give the time and space to make this a priority. But, just as important a part of our life shared in Christ, we scatter each week as well, both to learn as disciples of Christ in the context of our localized Community Groups; and to bear witness to Christ where we are in the range of our own local settings – in our homes and our work, spending time with our colleagues and neighbours, fulfilling our calling in Christ in the context of family and friends.

And there is, of course, both a ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered’ dimension to our joining together to pray as well.

The smaller, local setting, first of all – in which we share in weekly prayer for one another and for countless local needs. Our people are supported and upheld before the Lord in all the different challenges they face: and our neighbourhoods are blessed and graced by informed, united ‘local’ prayer which moves the hand of God Himself and sees that hand being laid upon the range of different places where we live and work.

And then as well the larger, central coming together to pray – as we gather up the many different threads of all our ‘scattered’ ‘local’ living for the Lord, and weave those threads together in a great red, rolled-out carpet of united and expectant prayer, down which, as that carpet of prayer is rolled out on a regular basis, our King of kings comes striding into His story across the world in great delivering power.

Giving time and space for both such forms of corporate and united prayer – the scattered and the gathered – without occasioning overload … well, that’s the delicate balance to which we aspire.

So there’s work to be done in the coming months in discerning and determining just how this healthy balance is secured. It’s work to be done together, and we’ll aim to do just that – through our Sunday morning worship, and through our weekly teasing out of how this all might best apply to us, as in our own localities we tackle with each other all the practical implications of God’s life-transforming truth.

Having started in prayer himself, Nehemiah took a good long look at the task in hand … then set the people to work. And something of a little minor miracle took place: the walls were rebuilt, their life was renewed, and the cause of the gospel revived. “For the people,” we’re told, “had a mind to work” (Neh.4.6).

With that sort of ‘mind to work’ among us here, who knows what minor miracles the Lord may again be effecting in the days ahead!

Yours always expectantly in the service of Christ,

Jeremy Middleton

July Record – Monthly Letter

Dear Friends

Anyone who’s read C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia will recognize immediately that great spine-tingling line which comes from the lips of Mr Beaver – “They say Aslan is on the move.”

And something of the experience of the children in the book as they hear those words (“..each one of the children felt something jump in his inside..”) is felt by us as well when we catch the sense that the Lord, the great ‘Lion of Judah’, is on the move: because when the Lord is on the move, anything can happen!

History bears this out. From the mid 1730s onwards, for instance, and for the better part of half a century, there was a remarkable and prolonged period of revival in both Britain and America, during which all sorts of things started happening!

It came to be known as ‘The Great Awakening’, because, amidst sometimes astonishing scenes, literally tens of thousands of people, old and young alike, were .. well, ‘awakened’. Some were roused from their spiritual stupor, others were raised from their spiritual deadness, and all of them were brought to a pulsing, vibrant newness of life.

Jonathan Edwards was one of those who was on the spot to give an eye-witness account of all that took place. He got a bird’s eye view of it all from the pulpit as both a preacher and pastor: and as a theologian and philosopher of some considerable note, few were better placed in terms of biblical knowledge, pastoral experience, and intellectual acumen, to provide the sort of ‘expert analysis’ we look for from our pundits.

He’d already written his famous “Narrative of Surprising Conversions” (the full title runs to some 41 words, so if you’re OK with this shorter version we’ll stick with that!) in 1737. A few years later he’d had the opportunity not only to narrate, but also to reflect more fully on all that had been taking place. So in 1741 he wrote and published an essay called “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God” (again that’s the short title, though even that would have a publisher today twitchily clamouring for something rather snappier).

How can you tell when Aslan is on the move? That’s really the question the essay sought to address. How can you tell when the Spirit of God is at work? What are His regular ‘trademarks’? “The Holy Spirit’s Calling Cards” might well have been the title which a publisher today would choose.

Whatever you make of the title, however, the issue is important. If Aslan is on the move, well, you need to know: it’s never a time to be napping. So ‘discerning the signs’ is a skill we’re encouraged to foster: like the men of Issachar long, long ago, those men who, we’re told, had “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron.12.32), our task, as I said last month, is to watch what the Father is doing, and discern the ‘trademark’ pointers to the Lord being ‘on the move.’

For there are, indeed, certain characteristic hallmarks of the Holy Spirit, character traits, as it were, which are so very basic to all He is that they invariably distinguish a work as emphatically His. For those with eyes to see.

One of the most basic tell-tale signs of a work of the Spirit of God is the essentially  ‘unifying’ or ‘reconciling’ nature of any such work. He delights to pull things together and put things together.

What’s He doing from ‘day one’, after all, if not precisely that? “Hovering over the waters..” back then when the earth was still formless, dark and void. Itching to get down to the work which is there to be done, and eager to get on with the business of bringing the whole thing together and orchestrating all the different pieces in this multi-sensual masterpiece we simply call ‘creation’.

And it is a masterpiece. Of course it is. Each and every individual strand across this massive, cosmic tapestry of life picked up, and woven with such matchless skill into a seamless, single whole.

Even the way we speak of it all reveals that basic truth. It’s so obviously a universe: not diverse at all. There’s a fundamental oneness, as the parts are all so wonderfully brought and pulled together.

Beautiful to behold, breath-taking in its splendour: while the Artist Himself, the unassuming, gracious Holy Spirit of the living God, steps humbly aside that our souls might savour this magisterial handiwork of God.

That’s Who the Holy Spirit always is: and that’s what He’s always about: so intent on, so adept at, so committed to, this work of both pulling and piecing together – bringing order where there’s only been a chaos and disorder, uniting where there’s hitherto been fracture and division, restoring where there’s only been a broken and disintegrated mess.

What was He doing from ‘day one’ of the church as well, if not precisely this? “Hovering over the waters..” all over again: hovering over the waters of the dark, disordered void of this now sin-stained earth, just itching to get started on the business of taking up the re-creative handiwork effected by the Son of God and pulling things together once again.

Isn’t that what  Pentecost is really all about? Isn’t that what we see the Spirit doing? Pulling and piecing all the bits back together again.

First, the disciples of Jesus – a sizeable crowd of awkward, clumsy, mixed-up, messed-up, battered, bruised and jumpy individuals from all the ‘airts and pairts’ of ancient Israel – all of them there ‘in one place’. Not just physically there in one place, but relationally, too, at one. I mean, that’s got to be a miracle of Holy Spirit grace! You try doing that with a crowd of such hugely different learners, and you’d figure herding cats would be the simpler option.

And then in His own sovereign providence (oh, He knows what He’s doing, does the Spirit of God!) He’s gathered together in this one single place a huge big crowd of folk from right across the Roman Empire, people groups from .. well, “from every nation under heaven.”

Co-incidence? Of course not! This is the Spirit of God orchestrating each and every circumstance and sounding out the melody of the music of renewal, in a way that’s quite unmissable. This, on a sizeable canvas, is what the Spirit of the living God delights to do!

He’s pulling these people together from all over the place. People who don’t even speak the same language, pulled so sovereignly together.

And don’t think the Spirit is done with them yet! Because gathered there in the city of Jerusalem, they’re then all coming yet closer together, drawn by the sound of the Spirit’s haunting music, and pulled in together by the power of the Spirit’s patient, reconciling grace, ‘til a crowd of some thousands is gathered together around the disciples of Jesus – and gathered together to Christ.

That’s what He does. And that’s what He’ll one day effect on a scale you’d find hard to take in – He’ll “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ” (Eph.1.10). Massive. Absolutely massive. Bringing all things together. Under one Head. Jesus.

That’s the essence of the gospel.

One day everything will be wonderfully brought all together under the headship, and through the redemption, of Jesus. Sinners reconciled with their God, enemies reconciled with their foes, the former fragmentations all a long-forgotten feature of a past which will be buried in the tombs of time.

And what one day the Spirit of God will effect in this great and cosmic masterpiece of grace, He is presently doing on the smaller, tiny canvasses of our own lives. Bringing us back to our Maker. Binding us close to each other.

It’s miracle, always. “Hovering over the waters” of our penitent tears; “hovering over the waters” of the rivers of resentment which have flowed from all the hurts which we’ve received; “hovering over the waters” of chaotic, stormy ructions in relationships – and itching always to get on with His work of renewal, His pulling and piecing together, His bringing and binding together, His ministry of reconciling grace.

I was travelling back on the bus to Argyll the other day: and we got parked for a while behind a West Coast Motors bus which had the West Coast Motors tag-line spread across the back.

‘Bringing people together since 1923.’

Well, I had a job not to burst out laughing! Since 1923? As if that was some big deal, when the Spirit of God has been doing just that, in a far more profound and wonderful way – He’s been doing just that since ‘day one’.

So what are the tell-tale signs, the ‘distinguishing marks’ of a work of the Spirit of God? How can you tell when Aslan’s on the move?

When this sort of thing starts happening. That’s how.

Is it pure ‘co-incidence’ that our neighbours up the road at Mission Action Church have found themselves being drawn by some strange providence to join us in our Sunday morning worship here at Gilcomston? And is it just ‘co-incidence’ that come the early autumn, too, our Free Church neighbours up at Bon Accord will join us in our Sunday evening worship here at Gilcomston?

Co-incidence? Hardly.

Speak your line once again, Mr. Beaver – and the Lord, I think, would have the words both bold and underlined!

“They say Aslan is on the move!”

Well, yes! And we’d better believe it! Because when Aslan’s on the move .. anything can happen: and almost certainly will!

This child of God is feeling ‘something jump in his inside.’ What a thrill it is to be here in such times!

Yours in Christ’s serviceAslan

Jeremy Middleton

 

 

 

 

 

June Record – Monthly Letter

Dear Friends

Jesus couldn’t do just anything.

Or wouldn’t do just anything: maybe if I put the thing like that you’ll not find it grates quite so much (though it’s Jesus Himself who uses the ‘couldn’t’ not the ‘wouldn’t’ turn of phrase).

Discovering that Jesus simply cannot do just anything may come as a shock to the system – or at least to the neat little ‘theological’ system which gets picked up when we skim read our way through some “Dummies’ Guide to the Gospel”.

But it’s the hard and helpful fact of the matter, which He Himself insisted on: it’s not my take on the matter, but His. “The Son can do nothing by Himself,” He declared (John 5.19).

Taken out of context, that’s rather startling. I mean, nothing? Well, yes: that’s what He said.

“He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Well, of course! They work in absolute harmony. The Father and Son are never at odds. The Son has His eyes on the Father, all the time, and does what His Father is doing.

And that’s where the fact of His being thus ‘limited’ in what He does, by the self-imposed constraints which He applies to what He does – that’s where it all becomes so very helpful for ourselves. It provides us with a very basic paradigm for choosing our priorities and defining what we do.

We do what we see the Father doing. It’s not complicated! Not in theory anyway.

It’s a paradigm which we encounter, in various forms, at point after point in the Scriptures.

Remember Jesus and His “My sheep listen to My voice .. and they follow Me”? Same thing. They see where the Shepherd is going, and follow His lead. Doing their own thing is no longer the way that they live – they do only what they see their Shepherd doing.

That’s how they soon learn to live: and that from the start was the default position the early disciples embraced.

Remember the issue the church had to face right away when it came to proclaiming the gospel. Jesus had spelled out the thrust of His call – bearing witness in the power of the Spirit and making disciples of all nations: and then He rattled off an early version GoogleMap to  give them all the route which they should follow – Jerusalem, all Judaea, Samaria, and then the ends of the earth.

Simple. Except what do you do when you get beyond Samaria? Even Samaria was a bit of a tough one for any former card-carrying Jew to swallow, though they could just about get their heads around that. But the Gentiles? I mean, that’s a whole new ball game: and the ‘rule-book’ they’ve got doesn’t really start to explain their commission’s conundrum.

The middle part of the book of Acts, therefore, narrates the struggles they had in figuring out what to do. And time and again it’s this same basic method of ‘guidance’ we find them employing. They simply do what (in one way or another) they see the Father doing.

Before very long, as the story unfolds, the spotlight has shifted to the major Gentile metropolis of Antioch. This is altogether new terrain; way outside the early church’s comfort zone: and they don’t have a handbook to help them. Not yet!

So Barnabas gets sent off north to Antioch. This is a man whose eyes of faith are sharp and keen, and whose only concern is to see what the Father is doing. It was maybe not all working out quite the way they had figured it would – but there’s good gospel work going on in the place, and it all bears the hallmarks of God.

He sees what the Father is doing, and tucks himself in close behind: God’s moving into the Gentile world, and the man of the moment must surely be Saul. Which is why the very next thing you see Barnabas doing, he’s off up the road to go get the man with the license to roam, the man whom Barnabas knows has got the whole Gentile world inscribed in his job spec from God: and he brings him back to Antioch.

It isn’t long before a fully-fledged and largely Gentile mission is underway.

And for any believers with strong Jewish roots the challenges only increase. Gentiles are soon being converted all over the place: are they not meant to first become Jews? How on earth is the church meant to handle the thing?

Their answer and approach, at the leadership meeting they hold, is this same old basic paradigm. They follow Jesus’ pattern: they look to see what the Father is doing – and that’s what they’ll then do themselves. “Say what you see,” as the puzzle books always insist. And that’s where they start, as they figure out what to be doing.

Peter, Paul and Barnabas in turn just say what they’ve seen. And all that they’ve seen of their God hard at work they then set alongside what they read and they see in God’s Word: and it then becomes clear to them all what to do. Simple!

We’re no different today. We’re aiming to do just what we see the Father doing. So here’s what we’re seeing (at least in part), and how it informs what we’re doing.

We see the Lord Attracting folk to Jesus. There is, of course (how could you expect it otherwise?) –  inherently, an all-pervasive winsomeness about our risen Lord, and the Spirit of God never tires of directing our gaze to this Jesus.

We’re seeing that here: people from all walks of life, folk with massive problems, attracted to a Saviour who, they clearly sense, has both the will and power to meet them in the depths of human need. We had a man the other night obliged to rise, walk out and take a sort of ‘breather’ halfway through the preaching of the Word – because he said (he came back in a little later on) the Word of God was touching such a cluster of raw nerves across his life, and doing so with such power, that he simply couldn’t cope.

We’re seeing something of early-days Philippi getting replicated now in our midst. The latter-day Aberdeen counter-parts of Lydia, slave-girl, and jailor – each with their own inner demons and being drawn and attracted to Jesus, as the One they have glimpsed is the answer to that pained, wretched cry of the human heart – “what must I do to be saved?”

So we do what we see the Father doing, and we work on ‘attractional’ living: patterns of corporate life – both gathered together, for worship and outreach and prayer; and ‘scattered’ right over the city through the range of ‘Community Groups’ – which put the spotlight centre-stage on Jesus, and help folk start to taste and see how good He truly is.

We see the Lord Consolidating faith, building up the faith of all believers through the grounding and instruction that they’re given in the teaching of His Word. Hasn’t that been central down the years to all the Lord’s been doing in our midst?

And isn’t that the pattern which the Word of God promotes? What was Moses doing through those forty years of wandering in the wilderness if not teaching God’s Word to God’s people that they might then live out before the watching world a whole new way of life? What was Samuel doing all those twenty years, trekking up and down the land of Israel, if not teaching all the people in their mixed-up, messed-up lives, how to live that better life the Lord bestows?

So because we see the Father so committed to consolidating faith, we do the same. Across the board. We aim to give a grounding in the faith. We aim to show the import and the impact of the Word of God on all of modern life – from kitchen sinks and nappies to the work-place and the deadlines people face; from the struggles of relationships to the tensions of our fellowship in Christ. We aim to teach the Scriptures in a way that helps us grow to be a people who together make the gospel come alive for those around us day by day.

Then, too, we see the Father always Training up His people for the service of His Son: His Word never simply informing our minds, but transforming our lives and equipping us all for the work of proclaiming the gospel. This is what the teaching and pastoral ministry is geared towards – “.. to prepare God’s people for works of service” [Eph.4.12]: and this is a part of the ‘next generation’ perspective which is how God Himself always works.

We have fine young men and women here, for instance, able men and women with a plethora of gifts: and all of them eager to serve, itching for action, bursting with a burden now to make their mark for Jesus on a pained and broken world. We aim to ensure that such passion and zeal is fulfilled, instead of frustrated, and are doing some intentional work in both fostering character-formation and preparing a course as well which develops leadership potential.

We’re blessed as well with many older men and women, as eager today as ever they were to be serving the Lord; and we’re keen to equip them, too, for the hugely significant ministry which in the latter stage of life they’re able now to exercise.

Old and young – and everything in between. We see the Father training up His people, and so we do the same.

And we see the Father Sending out His people in the cause of gospel growth. It’s the outflow of a heart of love which prompted long ago the sending of the Son of God: and the Son who was sent is Himself ever sending His people.

The Community Groups are perhaps an expression of this, as we see the Lord sending us out, every one of us here, into neighbourhoods right round the city, with the clear, consistent call to go and do the business where we are.

We see Him at work sending students out onto the campus, sending parents off out to the school-gate, sending patients along to the doctors: always, always bringing the good news of Jesus to people who need that news badly.

And we see Him at work still sending folk out from our fellowship here – as He has been for so many decades – into ministry all round the world.

As the beating heart pumps the life-giving blood through the body, so the loving heart of the living God pumps His people out into the world, carrying the oxygen of the gospel to every nation, tribe and people on the earth.

Attracting: Consolidating: Training: Sending. The book of ACTS is always being translated into our present day experience as believers here at Gilcomston.

We do what we see the Father doing: neither more nor less.

And that almost certainly means we’ll be often quite out of our own comfort zone; and as often both challenged and thrilled by the wonderful things which He does!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

May Record – Monthly Letter

Dear Friends

I don’t suppose there were too many ‘Health and Safety’ regulations way back in the first century. I doubt there’d have even been such a thing as a ‘voluntary code’.

But for those involved in the church’s first construction sites, ‘hard hats’ were pretty much obligatory – certainly if you recognized to any extent the authority of apostles such as Paul. He didn’t offer ‘hard hats’ as an option. “Wear them,” he exhorted: “because you’ll need them.”

Yes, I know he was talking about helmets rather than ‘hard hats’; and that he was using the imagery of the battlefield rather than that of any ‘brownfield’ or ‘greyfield’ development: but the point remains the same. The work of the gospel is variously described, in terms both of conflict and construction: but however you choose to describe it, you need your ‘hard hat’ head-wear.

I lived on an ‘active’ building site for close on 20 years. Well, not actually on it, of course, but bang next door: clean the windows, and they’d be clarted with dust all over again by the end of the day. The fence between us and the site might as well have been non-existent.

So I know full well that it’s messy out there on even the best construction sites. It’s dusty, dirty, dangerous work that goes on. There are diggers and ‘dozers and dozens of different contractors involved in a long-term development project.

Bosses and ‘brickies’, planners and plumbers, roofers and riggers – well, the list goes on and on: there’s a whole load of people involved. And all of them every-way different: some noisy, some nutty, some probably, too, more than a little bit nasty. But each with their own part to play in this major construction project.

View the plans, check out the large-scale 3D model of the whole completed project, and … well, it looks not a little impressive. Clean streets and classy homes, with ample gardens, great communal space, and the whole place landscaped to perfection. Impressive, attractive, and just waiting to be lived in and enjoyed.

But that’s emphatically future, of course. Checking out the here-and-now across the fence from where I lived, it looked more like the wrong end of a bombing range. To the untrained eye it was little short of chaos. Rubble, and rubbish: puddles and muddle and mud-laden vehicles scattered all over the place; and random mounds of earth and sand and gravel, interspersed between the piles of wood and building blocks. The local tip looked positively salubrious by comparison! This was more like chaos.

And because the church is a global construction site, the here-and-now state of that site is often precisely like that. We’ve seen the plans, checked out the Bible’s ‘3D’ model, so, yes, we know what it should be like, we know what it’s meant to be like, we know what it will be like. But, for the minute, it can all look a bit of a mess.

Well, the Lord is OK with mess. That’s the heart of the gospel, and that’s the start of the Bible. The Lord can take the shapeless, empty darkness of our lives and make from all the mess we somehow manage to create – He can make from all that a pure, renewed humanity, stunning in its beautified perfection.

That’s what’s slowly taking shape across the Lord’s construction sites. But midway through the project, unless you knew some better, you would never really guess that that’s what’s going on. It often seems quite messy, and a million miles from what the plans suggest that it’ll be.

Which is why we need the ‘hard hats’ on the building site, the ‘helmet of salvation’ as it’s put by Paul: because we need to ‘keep the heid’, as we say up here in Scotland, and keep clear in our minds the nature of salvation. While the foundations are already secured, and the final result is assured, salvation is meanwhile no more than a ‘work in progress’.

It’s rarely neat and tidy, and more often than not it can seem like a bit of a ‘bourach’ (you see, I’m slowly learning the Doric!), but amidst all the dust and disturbance, there’s a work of the Lord taking place – and to Him at least it’s not just a work taking place, it’s a church for His praise taking shape.

And I hope that that will be your perspective as you read in this Record the Update from the Transitional Leadership Team. We’re a Jesus-owned construction site, and He, our risen ‘Project Manager’ and Lord – He knows what He’s doing, and as step by step we press on with all the work which He has given us to do, the church which He desires that we should be will bit by bit be slowly taking shape.

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton