Monthly Letter – July 2016

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 service

Jeremy Middleton

 

 

 

 

 

Monthly Letter – June 2016

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

Monthly Letter – May 2016

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

May 2016 Update From The Transitional Leadership Team

The Transitional Leadership Team have been continuing prayerfully to think through the Lord’s way forward for us as a congregation at this time, and hope that what follows will provide both an informative update and also a positive stimulus to our thinking as together we seek to discern the Lord’s direction.

Timescale

A word, first, about the timescale, since we’re persuaded that it’s in everyone’s interest to have at least a rough time-line. We believe the different issues are best addressed in the order indicated below, and that time-scale suggested balances the need for urgency with a dose of realism.

April to August

Our aim between now and the end of the summer is to see our ‘purpose’ or ‘vision’ finally clarified: we hope to use these next few months to gain, together with you all, a common clarity of mind as to what we’re about as a fellowship of God’s people, and as to how our life will best be structured to that end: and that with a view to our being able to articulate such a ‘purpose’ clearly by the start of September.

  • We hope, indeed, that we may be able to have some sort of brochure available by the start of September as well – a brochure setting out and explaining who we are and what we’re about, along perhaps with specific material relating to each particular aspect of our life.
  • And, of course, we have a church weekend away planned for October 21-23 and we’ll plan to use that time also to work through the future God has for us.

September onwards

Come the autumn, we anticipate being ready then to start addressing a number of attendant issues. Once our ‘purpose’ is clearly established, we will then be better placed to give some concentrated thought to this further stratum of issues.

 

Clarifying purpose

We believe that it’s important for us to have a clear sense of direction as a fellowship and we’ve sought to build on the work already done in previous years in relation to precisely this; and through the on-going discussion we’ve had in this regard, both formally at our meetings and informally with others, we’ve certainly come to some clarity ourselves about that sense of direction.

We share with every church certain ‘core’ commitments

These are drawn from the Scriptures themselves and we understand them, therefore, to be non-negotiable.

Our mandate under Christ is, in very broad terms, to make disciples, to grow disciples, and to establish disciples as churches – all in the context, and as the expression, of our worship of God: or, putting these three core commitments slightly differently, they are – evangelism, discipleship, and ‘church-planting’.

We recognize three important ‘distinctives’ about Gilcomston

We can see that the location in which we are set, the ‘partnership’ through which we minister, and the culture for which we are known, are all significant and distinctive features of our life as a fellowship under Christ.

  1. We understand the significance, and the attendant responsibilities, of our location as a congregation whose building presently fronts onto Aberdeen’s main street. While our ‘purpose’ is not defined by the location, this is where we find ourselves set by God at this time.
  2. We see the sovereign providence of God in the partnership we share with a number of like-minded fellowships in our immediate neighbourhood, all committed to those same core gospel convictions, and all with a history of partnering with one another in the work of the gospel: we see in that not only the providence of God but the potential under God for the growth of His kingdom.
  3. We recognize the hand of God at work in the establishing, over many years, of a culture here of training, sending and mission; and we believe this, too, must help define the shape of the future which the Lord has for us here.

We see the importance of two significant ‘foci’ for our life

We are clear that, in pursuing those three core convictions to which reference has been made, both the ‘small group’ type of context, and the central, ‘whole-church’ gatherings, are alike of real importance.

We recognize the challenge, therefore, of ensuring that the pattern of our life as a fellowship prioritises both: for if being able to grow as disciples of Christ through the support and care of others is as important as being able to come as the servants of God and engage in both corporate worship and prayer, then the patterns and rhythms of our life as a fellowship must have the time and the space for both.

 

Simplify structure

So what might all this look like in practice?

We recognize the need to ensure that the ‘structure’ of our life is as ‘fit for purpose’ as possible: defining that purpose must be matched, therefore, by our deciding on patterns of congregational life which reflect and support that purpose.

Here’s where we’re at, then, in our thinking – stated simply in deliberately broad brush strokes, with a few explanatory comments thereafter.

We see the importance of developing the Community Group structure as the backbone of our fellowship’s life

We believe that our pastoral oversight should most helpfully be set it in the context of the Community Groups

We recognize the need to secure a healthy balance between our gathering together centrally and our life together in the Community Groups

We see that it’s helpful for everyone if there is a simple and single ‘framework’ for our congregational life: and we believe that the Community Groups are best placed to form this ‘backbone’ to our fellowship’s life, with the different groups functioning as so many closely connected vertebrae.

We recognize that for this to function,

  • every member of the congregation will need to be assigned to one of the Community Groups (even if not able to join with others in the regular meetings of that group): and
  • our pastoral oversight will need to be exercised within that Community Group framework also:

We recognize, moreover, that to develop the Community Groups (which in many ways are still finding their feet) in this way will involve our patiently learning together how such discipleship and pastoral oversight is actually exercised, and carefully exploring together how such a framework will actually work best.

We are very aware, also, of the vital ministry already being exercised by many through the teams of ‘carers’ within our existing Pastoral Care Groups; and while moving away from the ‘framework’ of the Pastoral Care Groups, we see the importance of ensuring that the ministry of such ‘carers’ is continued now, and enhanced, through the ‘framework’ of the Community Groups. We believe that such a ‘re-calibration’ is not just desirable but feasible, and we understand that some careful work will be required to facilitate it.

We recognize, finally, that

  • both the larger, ‘central’ coming together of God’s people, and our joining with others in the smaller context of the Community Groups, are equally important for the health of our life as a fellowship:
  • that in the life of any fellowship this is not always an easy balance to secure:
  • that to create and maintain such a healthy balance will involve necessary and significant change to the present patterns of our congregational life – and that in relation to matters on which, for good and varied reasons, sensitivities run high:
  • and that effecting such change, therefore, will require great care, no little patience, and much Spirit-given wisdom and grace, as together we seek and see His way forward.

We remain, accordingly, so very grateful for your on-going prayers and support: and we hope that you find this ‘update’ of some help. This is a joint venture and all of us as a fellowship are thankfully in it together – so don’t hesitate to be talking this through!

 

Transitional Leadership Team Update

As the Transitional Leadership Team, we’ve been starting to look in some detail at a range of important issues.

In particular, we recognize the importance of ensuring that there’s fruitful pastoral oversight being well and wisely exercised. A ‘starter paper’ on this area of our life is available for any who wish: and what we see as pressing is the need (a) to clarify what’s meant by pastoral oversight, and (b) to simplify the structures which we have in place – for there is, it seems a measure of confusion around this crucial area of ministry. In pursuit of (a), the need to clarify what’s meant by pastoral oversight, I’ve encouraged all the elders to read ‘The Shepherd Leader’ by Timothy Z Witmer.

There’s a similar ‘starter paper’ available on another important area of our life, namely the sort of ‘aspirations’ which we have, the basic shape which we believe Christ means our congregation’s life should have – the aim, direction, emphases: this ‘starter paper’ is entitled ‘Vision’, and we’re doing some work on that as well. It’s work, though, we’re keen that all should share, and we’re keen to be talking things through and teasing things out together as a fellowship. And it is our conviction that, come the end of summer, we’ll be well placed to ‘set out our stall’, as it were, and say “This, under God, is what we aspire to’: which is why we’ve also flagged up a weekend away in October, where we’ll aim to map out something of that future.

A third area which we’ve recognized as crucial relates to the matter of corporate prayer. Again there’s a ‘starter paper’ available for any who wish (like the others, it’s really just a ‘scene-setting’ thing, designed to stimulate thought and discussion). Our concern here is to maximize the contexts for such corporate prayer, and to minimize confusion, and the tensions which can sometimes be its consequence.

While these are three separate issues, we’re also aware that they are not entirely unrelated, and that addressing each involves addressing all. We value the prayers, and indeed the involvement, of the congregation as we continue to do so, and are grateful for all the encouragement we’ve received.

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Letter – April 2016

Dear Friends

Those of you familiar with the world of Postman Pat – it’s an animated children’s TV series which has been up and (still) running since 1981 – will have heard of Ted Glen.

As a raw and rookie father in those far off days when Postman Pat was screening first, I was thrilled to have a reason to sit down and watch this unassuming, friendly, rural hero, Postman Pat; and I enjoyed the growing acquaintance with all of his friends. (I was grateful, too, and not a little pleased, I must confess, that – way back then, at any rate – I looked and sounded absolutely nothing like the white-haired, rotund, and somewhat dithery, vicar, Rev Timms).

Ted Glen was one of Pat’s friends, an integral part of the communal life of the fictional village of Greendale. Because he would often appear as such a warm and helpful guy, I remember a feeling of shock one day when this self-same Ted Glen declared, in the face of one of the regular crises each episode always threw up, “It’s hopeless!”

Hopeless? I mean, Ted was the local handyman, and the guy could fix just about anything: so when even Ted Glen is declaring it’s hopeless, you know that things are bad and the situation bleak!

But, of course, things do often get just as bleak as that: bleak enough for even the self-sufficient, ‘can-do’ handymen Teds of the world to be brought to the brink of despair.

There’s a lot of that hard-hitting hopelessness doing the rounds these days in this city of Aberdeen. And Christians, of course, are never immune from such things. Jesus isn’t ever just some handy, ‘freebie’ ticket to a life which gets exempted from adversity. Anything but.

Our circumstances will often seem to us hopeless: in fact, they sometimes will be hopeless – at least humanly speaking. Isn’t that what the biblical narrative shows?

Abraham and Sarah for starters, right up there at the head of the line of believers. For Sarah, the biological clock had long since stopped even ticking, and the prospect of children was not just ‘in their dreams’, but totally off the radar – humanly speaking. Their situation in that respect was .. well, hopeless. It was “against all hope,” so the apostle Paul reminds us, that “Abraham in hope believed..” (Rom.4.18).

A couple of generations on down the line, there were times when Joseph must surely have known such a sense of that terrible hopelessness: times when he’d surely have reasoned that any real prospects of seeing that future fulfilled which the Lord had impressed on his heart as a spoilt and clumsy teenager – any such prospects were no more than the stuff of dreams. How often, I wonder, did the young man down in Egypt hear those bleak, depressing words from the ‘handyman of hell’ being whispered to his spirit – “It’s hopeless!” Which, humanly speaking, it was.

Or a few more generations further on, and the people of Israel enslaved and as good as entombed, as the screw was turned by a megalomaniac ruler: what earthly chance have a slave people got against the might of the Pharaoh of Egypt? About as much chance as a featherweight boxer with one arm tied behind his back against the heavyweight champ of the world. They’d not be allowed in the same ring. No contest. No hope.

Or talking of a featherweight against a heavyweight, what hope is a gangly, teenage shepherd boy going to have against an over-sized giant from Gath with his top of the range, state of the art weaponry? Humanly speaking it’s hopeless.

And wasn’t that just the line repeatedly proffered by the local TG handymen back in those post-exilic days – Tobiah the fussy official, and Geshem his grovelling lackey – when boldly Nehemiah undertook that work of God and set about rebuilding all the walls of old Jerusalem: “It’s hopeless, hopeless, hopeless!” they kept on insisting. Which, of course, it was. Humanly speaking.

The Bible is full of such records. From the Exodus story, and a people hemmed in, with mountains each side, an army behind, and the great Red Sea to the front: right on to the exiles in Susa, and an orchestrated genocide being sanctioned and commanded by the king: the biblical narrative is a series of hopeless scenarios.

It should neither surprise us nor dispirit us, therefore, when our situations also often seem quite hopeless. And more to the point, when they often are quite hopeless.

Hopeless, that is, when you fail to remember the Lord; when you fail to factor into your assessment of your present human hopelessness the presence and reality of God, the great Creator, the God Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Factor that into the equation, and .. well, anything can happen, everything is possible, and all bets are suddenly off.

It’s a tough place to be, nonetheless, that place of utter hopelessness. The clouds of despair press in upon your soul; for, wrack your brains as you will (and being given the gift of our minds, it’s impossible not to be using them thus), you simply cannot see there ever being a way your situation can be eased, far less resolved.

And the darkness which follows is bleak and black, and bitter indeed to the taste –anxiety, worry and fear, corroding the inner reaches of our hearts with their rancid, acid fumes. We’d far rather never go there.

When you find that every conceivable resource you can muster, and every conceivable remedy which you’ve tried, are alike so entirely inadequate for addressing your need – well, you rightly despair: you’ve run out of solutions, you don’t have an answer, you’ve been beached and you’re now high and dry. Even the handiest handyman can’t really help.

It’s hopeless. And it’s a hard, hard place to be.

Yet … it’s a good place to be, just the same. And it’s often (far more often than we’d ever have wished), it’s often the place where God Himself will take us. Joseph taken to Egypt: Elijah sent off up to Zarephath: Paul ending up in a prison.

The apostle acknowledged, and went on to describe, the despair which came over his soul: and there’s maybe some comfort for all of us here in discovering that even apostles could know such despair.

He speaks about the hardships which he suffered (and given the lengthy catalogue of hardships which he’ll later list, you’ll perhaps start to see that in truth you’ve got off pretty lightly compared to him!), and the pressures he endured – pressures, he confesses, that were far beyond his own innate ability to bear.

So much so, he’s prepared to admit (surely it would be mutually beneficial if we honestly admitted to each other how bedraggled, bruised and buffeted we are through all the different struggles which we’ve faced) – he’s prepared to admit that “we despaired even of life” (2 Cor.1.8)

Paul: despaired. The same sentence. Well, there’s some encouragement for you. In the pits of despair you’re in the best of company: some notable others have been there before you. And survived to tell the tale: indeed, to tell (more often than not) a quite remarkable tale.

Because Paul, avid Bible student that he’d always been, and as clear a thinker as you could wish for in processing the implications of the cross and resurrection of the Son of God – Paul very rapidly learned that the pit of our human despair is also in fact the well from which God’s great deliverance is invariably drawn. “This happened …,” he continued (speaking about his being brought to the point of abject and total despair), “.. that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, Who raises the dead” (2 Cor.1.9).

That’s why He’ll ever take us to these dark and dangerous places of our total, utter hopelessness, and wretched, bleak despair.

First, because often it’s only when there that we turn to, rely on, and cling for all that we’re worth to the God Who defies all the odds, parts mighty waters, raises the dead, and marvellously rescues His people: and also because it’s emphatically there, when humanly Ted Glen is right, and it is indeed so thoroughly hopeless – it’s there, above all, that it then becomes clear that salvation comes only from God.

He knows us all a good deal better than we generally know ourselves: so He knows full well that given even half a chance we’ll somehow try to redirect at least a tiny little part of any praise for what’s been wrought towards ourselves.

For there are still those guerrilla-like pockets of sin which have their secret hide-outs in our hearts; and ducking and dodging unseen, dressed in the deceptive camouflage of piety and grace, those pockets of sin will so subtly persuade us that we have actually had some part to play. Our efforts, our wisdom, our gifts (we’ll even perhaps acknowledge they all have derived from the Lord – but still they are in a real sense ours as well) – surely they had some part to play in it all.

How easy it is for us as Christians to lose hold of that total reliance on God! How easy, once the Spirit Himself starts His sovereign work of renewal within our hearts, and by His good grace we start handling the issues of life in a measured, mature sort of way – how easy then to slip back into thinking that we’ve got the whole thing sussed, and lose that first dependence on the Lord.

Well, the Lord is no fool, He’s wise to all that – and He’s rightly always jealous for a glory that is solely His. He’ll take us, time and time again – He’ll take us to that Ted Glen place of hopelessness, the point of real despair.

And there, in that place of despair, the lives of His people become in that way the canvas on which the gospel of grace, the gospel of the resurrecting God, is painted by the Lord for all the world to see.

Because what is that gospel if not the soaring declaration that into our plight of utter and abject hopelessness before a holy God, the Lord has Himself provided a total salvation? What is Jesus’ desperate cry from the cross – My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? – if not His anguished bearing witness to that plight of desperate hopelessness He takes upon Himself? And what is our worship each Sunday if not a resounding celebration of the God Who raises the dead, the God Who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or can imagine?

Perhaps that’s the light in which to be seeing your present situation. Perhaps that’s the way we should learn to view His dealings with us here across these months. “This happened .. that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, Who raises the dead”

On our weekend away we felt precisely this thrust from the Lord in the words of the song Hannah sang – “The Lord brings death, and makes alive; He brings down to the grave, and raises up” (1 Sam.2.6). Death .. then new life. Despair .. then mighty deliverance. Crucifixion .. then resurrection.

Easter, in a word. The way of salvation, which becomes, for those in Christ Jesus, a whole new way of life.

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

Monthly Letter – March 2016

Dear Friends

Men can’t multi-task. So they say (I can’t really check that out while I’m writing this).

There’s got to be a flip side to this gender limitation, though; and the flip side is (presumably) the way a man can at least often have some focus, a single-minded, all-engrossing focus on the task-in-hand.

It’s a challenge along just such lines which is one of the tasks we now face. Call it recovering focus perhaps; think of it maybe as a careful and communal re-calibration of the life of our fellowship here; or simply use the word ‘vision’.

However we choose to describe it, the task is important: the need to know both why we are here as a fellowship, and where, under God, we are headed. Otherwise we’ll simply dither, drift, and die. And who wants that?

So what is the ‘vision’ God has for us here? Why, in the purpose of God for these days – why are we here? What does He mean us to be and to do? And where, under God, are we headed?

And I mean, by the reference to ‘we’, not ‘we Christians’ generally (or big ones for that matter!), but ‘we here at Gilcomston Church.’ Where are we as a fellowship presently headed? What is the Lord intent on accomplishing through us here in the days and the years up ahead?

Well, let’s start with the words of a single-track man: the apostle Paul. You remember his words in the letter we’re presently studying – “This one thing I do..”?

(Well, he was a man, after all, ill-equipped by the fact of his gender, you’d think, to aspire to anything more than any one thing at a time – though you’d hardly have said that this man was exactly inept when it came to his simultaneous juggling of a hundred and one different tasks!)

This was a man who knew very well just why he was here, and where it was he was headed. But when he affirmed, “This one thing I do”, he was talking about single-minded devotion to Christ: he was setting down a statement of the focus which each and every follower of Christ will share, no matter who they are, or where and when they live.

That’s a ‘general’ sort of focus: an important focus, for sure – but necessarily merely general in its nature, a ‘vision’ of the destiny we have in Christ, a fervent affirmation of the goal to which we’re all as Christians moving.

We’re here to sound out the praises of God, and to go and make disciples; and we’re headed, and preparing, for eternity – a fuller, richer, resurrected life in realms so thoroughly expansive that it’s hard for us to even start imagining how wonderful they are.

That’s all maybe clear enough (well, it should, I hope, be clear enough!) and, yes, that’s all just great: but it’s ‘general’ not particular, and it merely sets parameters, within which we are still obliged to figure out the narrower, more specific set of answers to the issue of the ‘vision’ for our congregation’s life. And the “one-thing-I-do” line of thinking provides, I suggest, an important key to addressing that critical question.

It goes against the grain of modern thinking even to suggest this, I know – but I’ll state it nonetheless: we’re none of us God. We simply can’t do everything. None of us. No individual. Not even a Spirit-filled, turbo-charged, action-man apostle who makes multi-tasking, modern, working women seem ham-fisted by comparison with him.

The apostle Paul himself was very clear about the scope and limitations of the work he had been given by the Lord. He may have been thoroughly single-minded in devotion to his Lord: but he never imagined that somehow, single-handed, he was called in his discipleship of Christ to change the world – and that no matter how well and how often he might hone all his multi-tasking expertise.

He was but one small part of what he would aptly describe as the spiritual body of Christ. He was clear from the start about his own specific role and responsibility; and in the process of describing to the Christians at Rome just what his own specific calling actually was, he sets out some helpful, general guidelines for our each determining with clarity just what our own small part in God’s great story is to be (Rom.15.14-21).

He puts it like this – (1) What our part in the story is to be is, firstly, His call always, never ours; (2) our part in the story will, secondly, always be part of the wider gospel ministry whereby people both come to Christ and grow in Christ; (3) and finally, our part in the story has always God’s reputation and glory in view, not ours.

So when we translate these very basic guidelines onto the canvas of our congregational life, we should be quite clear that our calling as a fellowship is simply to share with other gospel fellowships in advancing the kingdom of God – and not to be promoting, pursuing, or pressing the claims of some nebulous ‘empire of Gilc’.

It should also be clear that our context is therefore significant, as one among several vital considerations which come into play in our discerning together God’s ‘vision’ and call for us here at this time.

By our ‘context’ I mean, not least, just the fact that we’re one of a number of evangelical churches rather crowded together in a striking concentration of gospel work: not exactly an ecclesiastical, Aberdonian equivalent of London’s impressive ‘Square Mile’, nor quite a smaller Scottish version of America’s famous ‘Bible belt’ – but nonetheless a compact little geographic corridor of evangelical life reflected in a range of different fellowships.

This very proximity is itself a rather striking providence of God: but it does raise important questions to do with our ‘vision’. For if we recognize that the Lord Himself has set these separate fellowships here together, and if we recognize that He sets us here to complement each other in the progress of that ‘kingdom’ work of gospel proclamation to which we’re all committed – then some of the central questions we do well to address are these:

  • Where in God’s wise providence do our own ‘distinctives’ lie? [One unique feature of our congregation’s life, for instance, is the fact that our building fronts onto Aberdeen’s main street]
  • What are our strengths?
  • Where does our ministry’s ‘centre of gravity’ lie?
  • How do we build on the perspectives set out in the vision-casting paper, ‘Future Gilc’?
  • And, as important as any of the above, how do all of the answers we’ve given tie in to the work of the kingdom, orchestrated by the Spirit of Jesus, through the range of evangelical fellowships right here in the centre of town?

These are just some of the questions which the Leadership Team are now asking, as we seek, with you all, to discern and embrace the call of the Lord on our life as a church at this time.

Back to where we started: we simply can’t do everything. But by the same token we dare not sit passively back at this time, content with what’s a fragile sort of ‘status quo’, and concerned only to secure a comfortable, safe and inward-looking life – we dare not sit back and do nothing, for there’s crucial kingdom work to be done in these days. Neither everything; nor nothing. But some one thing – which may well have a hundred and one different facets when it all gets worked out in our life.

And the “one-thing-I-do” single-mindedness, seen in the calling of Paul, has its roots in the question he asked when the man was found flat on his face at conversion – “What shall I do, Lord?” [Acts 22.10].

A dangerous question to ask! Because the Lord in His answer (as He generally does in response to both questions and prayers) had a whole load more to give to Paul than the poor man perhaps had bargained for: and it won’t be any different with ourselves as we ask the same sort of question today.

“Get up!” said the Lord to His dust-covered new-born disciple (face on the ground is fine for a while, but there’s work to be done – and while the ‘we-are-all-dust-and-to-dust-we’ll-return’ sort of mantra is certainly true, it’s only the serpent, and never the saints, who‘s consigned to crawl on his belly, and eat the dust – and of course eventually ‘bite the dust’ – all the days of his wretched life): “Get up! Go into (the city), and there you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.”

Do you see that? “..all that you have been assigned to do.” Not what he’d ever have chosen to do: not what he’d have ever even thought to do. It’s the Lord’s call; always.

Scary! But more than a little exciting!

Well, we’re risk-takers here: we’re asking the dangerous question. What shall we do, Lord?

And now that we, too, are beginning to pick ourselves up from the floor and the dust is beginning to settle – we’re waiting ourselves on this Jesus in the confident hope that He’ll make it all clear for us here just what He has assigned us now to do. The adventure has barely begun!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

February 2016 Update from the Transitional Leadership Team

The TLT (the name says it all!) have set out three primary objectives to fulfill their remit – securing a united fellowship, clarifying a shared vision, and effecting a ‘practical’ cohesion (ie ensuring all the ‘practical’ bits are in place – in respect to buildings, constitution, etc).

While we’re very conscious that there are no ‘magic wands’ and no ‘quick fixes’, we’re also clear that we needed to start tackling the work to be done with some urgency. When we met on January 25th we identified that the most pressing matters for us to start addressing are, first, our pastoral oversight, and then our shared vision.

There’s much, of course, that is already good in relation to both, which provides a really positive basis from which to work. Some analysis of how things presently stand in these matters, and some suggestions as to how we may progress them both, will be prepared and set before the Leadership Team prior to our next meeting on Tuesday March 8th, when we’ll hope to give some initial thought also to the vital matter of our corporate prayer.

In all our ongoing work we are keen to ensure we have good listening ears – seeking to be guided and led by the Lord Himself, of course, but seeking as well to be engaging always with all within the fellowship: and to be sure that you’re familiar with who comprises the Transitional Leadership Team, we’re rotating the giving of the notices Sunday by Sunday among them all!

More than ever, we remain so grateful for your prayers: and as you keep praying we’ll seek to keep you both posted and pestered!

Jeremy Middleton

 

Monthly Letter – February 2016

Dear Friends

Five years after I was born a book was published which became something of a Christian classic.

The book was called ‘Through Gates of Splendour’, it told the story of the author’s husband, Jim Elliot,  who was martyred aged 28 along with fellow missionaries to the Auca Indians in Ecuador, and it featured an appendix with a string of the many highly ‘quotable quotes’ from his journals.

With almost prophetic awareness, he reflected at one point in his journal on a verse from Psalm 104 (v.4):

“[He makes] His ministers a flame of fire.” Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this my soul short life? In me there dwells the spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him.

This book was part of the staple ‘devotional’ diet on which I was nourished as a relatively new Christian: and you don’t need a PhD to figure out why such quotes as the one above have inspired succeeding generations of Christians, and why they found a ready echo in our hearts.

We disdain all mediocrity. Don’t we all? Or am I alone (surely not!) in desiring to make a difference through my living for the Lord? When we first encounter and come to know the Lord, our hearts are often just about bursting with joy, with wonder, with the thrill of romance and adventure: it feels like a huge big fire has been lit in our hearts – a fire which we hope will never die down. God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things’! We want to be on fire for the Lord.

The imagery is powerful. In the hearts and minds of us all, there’s something almost primal about fire.

Perhaps because it’s a graphic reminder of the fiery centre of that fragile stellar system which remains our erstwhile home, that blazing sun without which there’s neither light nor life: and perhaps as well, therefore, fire becomes as telling a portrayal as any of the God Who is Himself the source of all creation and the author of all life.

Fire.

No wonder poor Moses got the shock of his life when his daily desert routines were so rudely interrupted by the Lord. No gentle tap on the shoulder with a quiet request for a chat: no hand-delivered appointment card with the prospect of possible work.

Just fire and flames. A bush ablaze with a fire which wouldn’t go out. A consuming fire which wasn’t consumed. And right in the poor man’s face. You want to know what God is like? Mr. Moses, meet your Maker!

Poor man! Talk about a baptism of fire. There’s a lifetime of work still to do for this man who’s been drifting towards his retirement: and the fire which he sees in the bush that’s ablaze is the fire he’ll require in his soul to be following through on this call.

This man who’ll have to face the might of Pharaoh as he sets the people free: this man who’ll have to bear the ire of Israel as he drags them through the desert in his wake, sometimes almost single-handed it will seem to him: this man who’ll have to teach and train his people in the truth of God with so much passion and persistence that the Word of God is well-nigh burned into their consciousness: this man will need to be, throughout his days, a man on fire.

And he will be – and that by the grace of the God Who Himself is ever ablaze; through the Spirit of God anointing the man and drenching him right from the start in the flammable fuel of heaven.

No wonder as well that the small group of Jesus’ disciples, convening discretely to figure out what to do next in the light of their Lord’s death and rising – no wonder that they, just the same, got the fright of their lives. Fire! A noisy and sudden eruption of fire invading their personal space, as the God Who is fire burst into the house, without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’ knock at the door, and bathed every one with the flames of His fire-laden Spirit.

Mr. Moses, your wish has at last been fulfilled. Remember the cry of Moses, the man on fire? “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” [Numbers 11.29]. He just did.

Because they, too, will now need to be men and women on fire. To do what their Lord has commanded; to get up, and go into that hostile and hazardous world; to declare in the face of imperious demands from both Rome and religion alike that they edit their message and ditch any claims about Jesus – to declare nonetheless that Jesus is Lord and that life is alone found in Him: well, yes, they will need to be men and women on fire.

And down the centuries – ever so often, and often in an all too literal way – down the centuries they will indeed be men and women on fire: drenched in the blazing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, saturated with the oil of the Spirit of God, and burned at the stake for the message of freedom they brought.

It’s men and women on fire that we all require to be: men and women whose hearts are ablaze with a deepening delight in our Lord: men and women whose service of Christ is a furnace that’s fuelled by the indwelling Spirit of God: men and women on fire. That’s true in every generation of the Lord’s on-going work.

And that’s why the theme of our weekend away is, I hope evocatively, Stirring the embers.

Embers are what happens when the blazing flames die back. Embers are residual. Embers are the state we’re in when faith has lost a measure of its urgency, when hope has lost that sense of real expectancy, when love has lost its warm and graceful vibrancy.

Embers are better than nothing. Of course. There’s still a degree of brightness and warmth. There’s still some sense of the fire there once was. And for some, once the flames have died back to that gentler condition of embers – well, for some that’s a preferable, much more ‘comfortable’ fire, less fierce and intense, less wild and disturbing and pure.

But embers simply are not adequate.

The bush in the desert was never a polite little pile of gently glowing ash, something more suited to an Ideal Home advertisement. It was ablaze, a frightening sight with voracious and unceasing flames.

And in just the same way, the Pentecost church was never just a warm and homely fellowship of cosy, friendly followers of Jesus: the church was a furnace of faith, her members on fire, her message always blazing out across the Roman world, her ministers (small ‘m’ please: they all of them shared in the life-giving ministry which Jesus continues to have) – her ministers great, leaping flames of fire (back to the Psalm with which I began).

No wonder we’re told that fear fell on people and cities all over the place. Fires are a scary phenomenon – fearsome and frightening; and yet always so fascinating too. Fear came upon whole communities: and faith started stirring in the hearts of the hardened and hopeless.

No wonder! This was a great rampaging fire whose every flame proclaimed the living and life-giving God.

Fire. Not merely glowing embers.

And where the fire of our faith and our hope and our love has burned back (and maybe burned out: how easily that can happen in our busy, beavering lives), when that fire in Christ’s church has burned back to leave her members merely embers – well, how we need the Son of God to bring out His bellows, and to breathe upon these embers great blasts of the wind of God’s Spirit.

You can see why Jim Elliot wrote as he did: and why the burden which lay on his heart finds a resonance still in us all.

Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. Make me a flame of fire: please God I’ll be ignitable!

My faith erupting into great leaping flames of delight in the Lord Jesus Christ: my hope simply bursting into flames of huge expectancy as I rest and rejoice in the resurrecting God: my love for the Lord and His people exploding into flames of warm, committed care for one and all.

Make me a flame of fire! Please, Lord. Brightening the life of the place where I live. Warming the hearts of the people I meet. Powering the thrust of the service I give.

That’s been my prayer and my hope for us here: that’s what the weekend away is about: that’s been the end which I’ve sought to pursue: and that’s what I trust we shall see!

“He makes His servants flames of fire.” To which we surely say, Amen!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton

January 2016 Record: Update

A couple of months ago we put in place a small group, comprising David MacPherson (minister at Bon Accord Free Church) and Willie Harrison (teaching elder at Hebron Evangelical Church), both from here in Aberdeen, along with Phil Hair (minister at Holyrood Evangelical Church), David Laing (Chalmers Church), Willie Philip (The Tron Church), and myself, whose role is to provide external support, guidance and accountability for us at this time.

I’m grateful that many of you were praying for us when we met through the day on Monday 7th December, and then, in the evening, with the elders, for there was a very real sense of the Lord’s hand upon these meetings, affording wisdom and guidance through the Holy Spirit.

While remaining all the more committed to their pastoral and practical responsibilities, the elders unanimously agreed to step aside meanwhile from the responsibility of strategic decision-making for the congregation, and entrust that part of their work to a Transitional Leadership Team, with a view to that body putting in place what is necessary for the true health and future growth of the congregation.

The elders accordingly agreed to a proposal under which the six members of the Review Group, acting effectively as ‘Assessor Elders’, would themselves comprise part of that Transitional Leadership Team, along with six of the present elders, whom the Review Group would appoint to that Team.

We are very grateful that these men who comprise the Review Group have been willing to commit their time and energies to us in this way over this next period.

Notwithstanding the considerable demands of their own local fellowships, they have each undertaken to be present with us, and will be participating in our worship, on the morning of Sunday 10th January, when this Transitional Leadership Team will be formally commissioned: that service will be followed by a congregational lunch and the opportunity to meet with the new Leadership Team in person. We hope that you will see this as an important occasion and, if at all able, make every effort to share in that morning’s worship.

Jeremy Middleton