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