Monthly Letter – March 2017

Dear Friends

I was born in the year that Mount Everest was first climbed.

Reaching that peak may be ten-a-penny now (around 4,000 people have done it), and there are those who say that K2 is actually the tougher climb anyway, but back in 1953 getting to the top of the highest mountain in the world was a big deal.

So much so that my parents were sorely tempted, I’m told, to name their first-born son Hillary, after the man who, along with his Sherpa mountaineer, Tenzing, would, a couple of months later, become the first man ever to reach the famous summit. My Dad was a climber of mountains (of the Cumbrian, rather than the Himalayan, variety), so I guess he was keen to impress on his son from the start his own long-standing mountain-climbing instinct – an instinct which looks at a mountain and figures it’s there to be climbed.

Regardless of the chosen name (and I think Hillary might have proved an awkward one for a boy to go through schooling with – shades of Johnny Cash and ‘A boy named Sue’, perhaps: mind you, Tenzing wouldn’t have been much better), the instinct was certainly instilled: show me a mountain and I’ll not balk at the prospect of the climb.

Which is just as well, I suppose, given the mountain ahead of us here in these days, with our building now to be bought. Raising the purchase price of £750,000 (augmented, of course, by significant fees) is far from representing just a pleasant Sunday stroll across some gentle, rolling foothills in the life of faith: these are more like soaring mountain peaks we have to scale!

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the spirit with which we’ve all greeted the news that the building is ours now to buy has seen us both partly excited and thrilled – and partly, as well, just terrified silly and scared right out of our socks! I mean, that’s an awful lot of money which we have to find!

Mount Everest is always a truly daunting prospect: but that doesn’t mean that climbing it is not even worth attempting. It simply means we treat this massive challenge with the Jesus-centred attitude of faith which it demands.

Remember that sprightly and evergreen octogenarian, Caleb?

“Give me this mountain!” he was quick to insist when the land was at last being divided among all the tribes. The man had had his eye on these mountains since the day he’d first spied them, a whole half-lifetime before. Far from being a ridge too far, those were the heights which a man of his throbbing, adventurous faith had always been eager to climb and to claim for the Lord. Some Caleb-calibration is our need. Think big. Aim high. Seek nothing less than the best God is eager to give.

So what do we learn for ourselves from this vibrant, ‘Munro-bagging’ man, as we rise to the mountain-sized challenge our buying this building presents? Here’s a simple sort of checklist then, which, when faced by any sort of challenge that you face, will stand you in good stead.

Be expectant. Not because we keep burying our heads in the sand and pretending the mountain’s not there: but rather because we’re very aware of the Lord having brought us thus far.

He always completes what He starts. He knows His mountains: so when we find that He’s brought us as far as the ‘base camp’, we can be sure that the summit’s attainable: He doesn’t ever lead His people up the garden path – or even across the Himalayan foothills for just the sight of Everest’s peak. So when we’re able to see (as we are), that the only reason why the purchase of the building is now possible is through a series of striking and sovereign providences of the Lord, then that kindles an expectancy that the sums, just like a summit, are attainable.

Hudson Taylor (so I recall) used to have two simple banners hanging down each side of a door in his house: one said Ebenezer and the other Jehovah Jireh – a simple and daily reminder to the man that ‘Hitherto the Lord has helped us’ and (therefore we may be confident) ‘the Lord will provide.’

Be careful to remember. Caleb was one of just two who could actually recall the momentous events which saw the people of Israel delivered from bondage in Egypt. He’d been in a sort of Himalayan landscape in the past, in other words: the mountain of the Pharaoh’s dreadful tyranny, the mountain of a sea which had to be crossed, the mountain of a people numbering tens and tens of thousands to be day-by-day provided for through close on four decades of wandering.

He’d been there before. And so have we. We’ve had to face at least two previous challenges of such a sort as this: both huge financial mountains to be climbed, the sums involved comparable at least to that we face ourselves. And we’ve seen how the Lord has provided. Wonderfully. Persistently.  Sufficiently.

There’s a history for us to look back to, and that grace of our God-given memories is the soil from which our hopefulness now grows.

Be courageous. We don’t climb the mountains alone. Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t. And neither did Caleb: he knew the score, the music of God’s promises in Christ. What the Lord had impressed on Joshua’s soul, was impressed on Caleb’s as well. ‘I will be with you .. The LORD your God will be with you’: so ‘be strong and courageous’.

They make children’s songs out of this sort of memorable phrase! ‘I am not alone, No! No! No!’ Pretty naff songs, for sure (and more naff than pretty) … but at least they’ve got the point!

It was the same Hudson Taylor who once said (he’s a lot of these quotable quotes) – ‘All God’s giants have been weak men (and women) who did great things because they reckoned on God being with them.’ Exactly. It’s not complicated.

We reckon on that because God has promised us that: He’s given us that, He’s given Himself, His very presence, in the Person of His Son. Jesus, Immanuel. God with us. It’s right up there, bang in the middle of our own wheel window – a perpetual and simple reminder of that great foundational truth, ‘God with us.’ If that’s the case (and it is!) then who can be against us (however mighty they might seem to be)? And more to the point at the present – what can be against us (no matter how massively mountainous the challenge may presently seem)? Be bold!

Be excited. Not in some frothy, superficial, sentimental way: but rather in a spirit of wonder and awe, as it dawns on our hearts that we’re here where we are, and facing what we face, not on account of some rotten twist of fate, but simply because of the call and the word of the Lord.

What’s He been saying through these past any number of weeks as He speaks into our gatherings if not just this, that He’s as able as ever he was to do, as He puts it, immeasurably more than all we could ask or even think? What do we dare to ask Him for in relation to the sums we now require? Well, He can do immeasurably better than that! What do we think (in our wilder and thus unspoken dreams) He might possibly do? Well, think again, says the Lord, you’re way off the mark – He is able to do and to give immeasurably more than we think!

And what’s He been doing this past long while if not drumming it into our heads week by week that the means by which He is pleased to reveal His great glory is through His covenantal dealings with His people: and that the essence of those covenantal dealings with His people crystalises out as this – ‘you go, and I’ll give.’

It’s all good stirring stuff, and we’re glad to sit back in our seats and enjoy all this riveting drama unfolding before our watching eyes in the lives of these ancient believers. And then we find that the Lord is now speaking not just to us any more, but about us as well. ‘Your turn now!’ He declares. ‘You go, and I’ll give. You’ve learned it: now live it! You go climb this mountain – and see if I don’t give!’

Isn’t that what thrilled the prophet Habakkuk? “He enables me to go on the heights.” And should we not be as similarly thrilled? For we’re now finding ourselves sucked right into the story we’re reading: His story, and we all get to be a part of it. How awful, how wonderful!

So, yes, we’ve every cause to be excited. And therefore, as well –

Be committed. That man Caleb certainly was. Single-minded. Whole-hearted. Giving his all. It’s the only way safely to climb in the soaring Himalayas.

150 years ago this place was just a building site. And those who made sure (by investing themselves in that single-minded way) that this building we’re now going to buy was erected all those years ago in 1868 – well, they couldn’t have had any sense at all of just what the Lord would then do: immeasurably more than all they’d have asked then or thought! Think what’s happened since then.

It’s no different for us today. Through our generous and sacrificial giving we’re investing in a future work of God, the extent of which we can scarcely begin to imagine. But we take God at His word, and thus believe it will again be immeasurably more than all we might ask or could think.

May we not dare to believe that in the years to come and from this building we’ve bought, He will take up the rubble and ruins of lives that are broken and battered and lost in their bondage to sin, and build for Himself a people renewed, and restored, and transformed – to the lasting praise of His own great Name?

And is not this a ‘mountain’, then, which we ourselves, like Caleb of old, will be eager to tackle and climb with a whole-hearted, generous faith?

Yours in that spirit of faith, and in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Jeremy Middleton