Monthly Letter – October 2021

Dear Friends,

There was a children’s song from a few decades back which was called “If I were a butterfly.” You maybe remember it. You maybe had to sing it sometimes. You maybe even love it, for all I know!

But while I suppose the point that it’s trying to make and to impress on children’s hearts is clear enough (and its actions maybe keep your child involved), its sentiments leave a bit to be desired.

“If I were a butterfly ..” Well, you’re never going to be a butterfly.

Or maybe you are? Fluttering by and flitting from one church fellowship to another in the hope that you’ll find what you’re after. ‘Butterfly’ believers. Not a concept the Scriptures really recognize.

“And if I were an octopus, I’d thank the Lord for my good looks..”

(And you wonder why we don’t sing that song? I mean – really? Your ‘good looks’? Talk about ‘poetic license’!)

But maybe there was something prophetic about the song, as it envisaged a day when we’d want to have a finger (or a tentacle) in ever so many pies. And compared to a limpet, maybe an octopus might indeed be grateful for his or her good looks!

Ah, yes, a limpet. Not the most attractive of creatures. Just one strong, muscular foot, that’s all. And a big ‘hard hat’ as well, I suppose. Not the striking and impressive sort of repertoire the octopus displays, with its eight different tentacles of talent and its eight different handshakes of involvement.

The limpet by comparison must seem to be impoverished and dull: a kind of pitiable, pauper’s octopus. Just the one simple foot to the eight octopean tentacles. Just the one perhaps. But .. but it’s one strong, muscular foot by which the thing is clamped so very firmly to the rock.

Are you starting to see where I’m going with this? I’m on about commitment.

Commitment in an octopean age which likes to keep its octopean options always open. Commitment in an age which rather scorns the firm attachment of the limpet to the rock. Commitment in an age which is awash with countless choices all the time.

So many different things you want to do! So many different sights you want to see! So many different lands to which you really want to go! So many different ‘highs’ you want to have! So many different options all competing for your time and your attention. All of them there on the screen before you.

A former generation always functioned with a single ‘screen’. But generation ‘Z’, and now, beyond that, generation ‘Alpha’ – they’ve morphed from being the single-screen and single-footed limpets of a bygone age and tend towards an octopean mindset and a kind of eight-screens-at-a-time approach to life.

Which friend should I be calling? Which social media avenue demands another pearl of wisdom from myself? Which blog should I be reading next? Which Facebook posts should I be kindly liking? Which texts should I be answering? Which people should I e-mail? Which e-mails should I think about ignoring? Which of the catch-up series form the must-watch-now agenda for my TV-viewing schedule for the day? Which channels of the hundreds that I’m surfing have the programmes that I can’t afford to miss?

The octopus age has arrived! We don’t want to miss a thing, so our tentacles of time are stretched out in at least such eight directions all at once. Choices have been multiplied, across the board: and keeping your options quite open has become in effect a basic human right for octopod humanity today.

Coffee, bread, and any type of milk you like: there are choices galore for them all. TV schedules and your local cinema multiplex: choices galore once again. What you watch. Where you watch. When you watch. How you watch. Choices, choices, choices.

Right across the spectrum of our modern life. You can even choose your gender now, from a huge, expanding list of liquorice-all-sorts options: and can keep your options open, too, of course, since waking up tomorrow you may want (and therefore have the right to choose) to have another gender identity for the day.

Limpets must be losers, surely, when the seascape of society boasts this vast, enticing plethora of choice for its inhabitants today. Limpets? How can you be sure to have a finger in the many different pies there are to taste, when you don’t have any fingers and you only have one foot?

Commitment doesn’t really gel with such an octopean age.

So gap-years, career breaks and plans that are always ‘short-term’ have ousted now the limpet-like perspective of the past. And the long-term commitment so basic to all that the missionary does – and indeed, to all that ministry means – that long-term commitment has got lost in all the razzmatazz of choice.

Who can now think of committing themselves to a lifetime of singular service? Who can commit to a land, to a task like that; to a culture, a language, a people, a cause – who can commit to just that for the rest of your life? Who can commit to a single career? Who can commit to a life-long, exclusive relationship?

When an altogether better sort of option might be just around the corner.

But the life of the believer is the limpet life. Clamped firmly by faith to the Rock.

With the helmet of salvation on our heads, we’re one-footed limpets clinging to the Rock. Not so concerned for the supposed ‘good looks’ of the octopus: pre-occupied rather with the ‘good life’ and the ‘good Lord’ Himself. The Rock.

One foot. One rock to which we cling. One way on which we’re set. One cause to which we’re thirled. One pie on which we’ll rest. One food on which we feast. Did you know that the limpet’s tongue is the strongest known biological structure in the world? No fingers in so many pies for them! They feast alone on the food which the Rock affords.

Such are believers and such the essence of faith.

One passion. One thing I seek. One thing I ask. One thing I do.

One person. One Name in whom alone salvation can be found. One Saviour in whose service is our freedom truly known. One King in whose enduring realm security is found. One Lord on whom we solely fix our eyes.

Limpets. Never octopi.

The Bible is full of just such limpet-like descriptions of the essence of discipleship.

Think of Jesus and the wonderful stories He told to drum the point home to our hearts. The man who sells up everything he has to buy the field where buried treasure lies. Another guy, a merchant with an eye for things of value, who does the same to purchase and secure that single pearl of priceless worth.

Think of the searing summons He gives, insisting (insisting, note, not in any way suggesting) that you can’t be His disciple if you will not bear your cross, if you will not give up everything you have, if you will not (by comparison) hate your very family, indeed your very life. You don’t get Him at all, if He’s not going to be your everything.

Think of all the countless illustrations which there are throughout the Scripture of just this.

Ruth, for instance. Another land. Another life. Not some gap-year foray into Israel and the trans-Jordanian heights. She invested her all in the land and the life of the Lord. Her best foot forward, her only foot forward, in that limpet-like faith which saw this bruised and buffeted Moabite woman gladly clamping herself to the Rock.

Or Caleb. Pressing on from beginning to end, through thick and thin, from the chains of bondage in Egypt, through all the hard yards of those decades of wilderness wandering, not fazed by the size of the challenges faced, and not slackening at all as the years went by. His eyes fixed on Jesus. His heart set on God. His life given up in pursuit of the glory of God. One thing I seek. One thing I do. A limpet.

That’s faith. That’s the only faith the Scriptures ever recognize. It’s steeped in commitment. Because that’s what the Lord Himself is like. Committed. Absolutely committed. Covenant love in which He committed Himself to His people, come what may. Not the shifting sands of the secular shore.

But the Rock. Immovable in His love. Enduring in His grace. Single-minded in His passion. Committed. Giving absolutely everything. Holding nothing back. Drawing no sort of lines in the sand. And it’s that sort of ‘limpet’, reciprocal faith that He calls for and looks for and wants.

It is perhaps one of the largest mental hurdles which the so-called ‘zoomers’ (generation Z) and the up-and-coming ‘generation Alphas’ of today will have to face. They’ve been reared in an octopus culture – and the kingdom of God’s just not like that at all.

God’s kingdom’s shot through with commitment. His commitment. Our commitment. There’s not the room for an eight-screens-at-a-time approach to following Christ. There’s only one pie that is ever going to count, and to have that pie you need your every finger grasping hold of it. Committed absolutely to the King. Clamping yourself to the Rock with all that you’ve got.

Shopping around for the church of your choice all the time, as though, somehow, the customer is king – it’s not a kingdom perspective. In the kingdom of God it’s Jesus who’s King. You hear His call. You join His church. You clamp yourself onto the Rock. You don’t have the footing to fill your life with all sorts of ‘other things’. ‘Good looks’ no longer matter. You’re not a tentacled octopus anymore!

Maybe this month is a time to take stock of your life. A time of review. For myself. For the church. For us all. For you. Is it clear that you’re clamped to the Rock? Have you subtly inhaled the contemporary fumes and succumbed to an octopus life, with an ‘eight-fold’ load of ‘other things’?

Perhaps especially this is a call to the rising generation of Christ’s church. We’ve not long finished reading through the challenging book of Daniel. In that multiplex life of Babylon, surrounded by so many different (and very attractive) options, he resolved as a youth – quite likely in his teenage years – he resolved that he would clamp himself quite clearly to the Rock: and all of his living thereafter was directed, pure and simple, to the Lord.

Will you rise to that challenge today? It’s not in any sense a monochrome or boring life. Think of the apostle Paul and all the hugely varied facets of his life: but he was, by his own clear testimony, a ‘one-thing-I-do’ individual, limpet-like in a life that was clamped to the Rock and lived, in its every component, solely for the Lord.

And will those of you who are older now, will you help encourage and equip that rising generation to embrace just such a life – by demonstrating day by day the beauty and the potency of such a life?

Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Jeremy Middleton