My Testimony

A little while back, we were visiting my parent’s house. During our time there, my parents asked me to sort through some of my old stuff and decide if there was anything I wanted to keep or whether stuff could be chucked. Apparently when you’re 28, married, have two kids and haven’t really lived at home full time for about 10 years, your parents decide it’s probably time for you to finally take your stuff away. As I sifted through various folders containing bank details and GCSE certificates, I came across two handwritten pieces of A4 lined paper with the heading “My Testimony”. I had written this about 11 years ago, shortly after I became a Christian. I think Jon March had probably told me I should write it down before I forgot. Well I did, but it had sat forgotten for over a decade. Needless to say it had some sentimental value and I wanted to hold onto it. Now finally I’ve typed it up and put it onto my computer and as we’re in a week of interviews and testimonies at All Saints this week, I thought why not share mine. I’ve copied it below and it’s all as written by 17 year old me, with no changes, even if I would’ve liked to have tidied it up a bit.

My Testimony

I was at Soul Survivor B 2003. I was enjoying the experience, especially the worship as that was the only time I felt I was really connecting with God. Even then, I had doubts about whether or not it was actually the music I enjoyed or the praise. I have now come to the conclusion that it was a mixture of both and the reason I liked the music was because the Lord had given me a real passion for it. Despite feeling connected to God during the musical worship, I was saddened that I didn’t feel anything when I was being prayed for.

The main tent at Soul Survivor

I had had prayer on about two occasions, with people placing their hands on me and praying for various things, including healing. The prayer for healing went unanswered and I felt upset and angry with God as I was truly asking him to come into my heart. I also was sad about it because it was evident that people around me were getting healed and some very quickly. I began to think that the only way the Lord would really give me some sort of sign was when people laid their hands on me and prayed for me. I felt that my prayer wasn’t good enough to warrant an answer.

On the third night of Soul Survivor, Mike Pilavachi did not ask people who wanted particular prayer to stand up and for people to pray for them by laying hands on them. Instead, he asked everyone to stand and to pray in whatever way we wanted for the Lord, the Holy Spirit to come down upon us. I heard people screaming in what I thought was tongues and Mike was saying that he knew some of us had anger rising up in us and that we could let it out. I was feeling nothing at that point and felt fine, apart from being worried that God didn’t want me. I was also scared at all the noise going on around me and Mike said not to be scared but I still was. I prayed to God , telling him I was scared and asking him to make it right. I asked the Lord to fill me with the Holy Spirit and for Jesus to come into my heart.

I began to tremble in my legs, which I had felt in previous prayer sessions before. However, I was always dubious of this in case it was my body just shaking because I was cold or that I might be somehow faking it. As I went on in praying I began to shake violently. I remembered Mike saying that if we can’t cry here, with God, where can we cry and so I said to God something along the lines of “Lord I’m not afraid to cry in front of these people, so if you’re there please give me some sign.” Almost instantly I began to fill up and I burst into tears. Sam, Oli, Jon and Anthony prayed for me whilst I just let it come down.

It was the most emotional experience I have ever had. I cried for all the bad things that had happened to me, such as the lack of healing and other life problems and it hurt emotionally and I remember thinking maybe I was doing something wrong, as surely I shouldn’t feel this upset. I was crying because I knew I had made mistakes. But whilst I cried, I felt that the tears were tears of awe because I knew that it was true, all true and I was going to heaven and I was going live forever in heaven and I could never doubt again. And as I went on praying, there were moment that the tears subsided and I thought the Lord had almost finished saying what he wanted to me but then the tears came again and this time I was crying for the things I had done in my life which had not glorified the Lord and I was saying, “Sorry Lord, I’m so sorry, it’s all true.”

When these tears passed, I felt myself laughing because I just felt so happy but I was so happy that I couldn’t smile or laugh enough to express my happiness so I just had to cry again. Then my tears subsided and I fell to my knees and bowed my head, partly in exhaustion because I had done a lot of crying, and partly because I felt bad for all the wrong things I had done and I cried again.

Eventually, it all passed and I was left tearful but absolutely beaming because I was so happy. How could I doubt now?

Despite thinking, “how can I doubt now?” and the fact this this occurred only a few days before I wrote this, the further the event got away, the more I began to analyse and think about what happened, the more I began to think, “maybe I was just letting out pent up emotion” or “I got caught up in the mood.” I don’t believe that this is because I don’t believe in the Lord, but that it is because it is human nature to doubt. I know he’s there because I felt it to be true so strongly and if it was just me, I would have had some doubts even at the time but I had none. I felt God so intimately but still I doubt as is my nature but even as I write this my faith is reaffirmed as I remember something I think J. John said. “When we pray, coincidences happen. When we don’t, they don’t,” and as I write my testimony of how I felt the Lord, songs are playing on the radio praising Jesus and never before, until now, have I heard music praising the Lord on Radio 2! Now that’s what I call a coincidence. Amen.

Advertisements

Why Christian Teenagers Would Do Well Not To Listen To The Archbishop

Yesterday night, I was reading an article re-posted by a friend. The article was by an American giving his perspective on what had gone on in the church of England over the previous weeks. The article can be read in full here. There were a lot of good things said in the article but the paragraph that jumped out to me most was this one:

“But I was astonished when, the day after the vote, the Archbishop of Canterbury not only bemoaned the failure in his farewell speech to the General Synod, but also insisted that the Church had betrayed its responsibility to reflect the sensibilities and values of the general culture: “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday,” Williams sternly lectured his flock, “whatever the theological principle on which people acted or spoke,” dissenters had to understand that their objection to woman bishops “is not intelligible to wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of wider society.”

For me, this quote from Rowan Williams shows us exactly why the church is in such disarray, namely because the leadership of the church seem to think that the church has to fall in line with the trends and priorities of wider society. Our government seems to agree, with David Cameron even saying that the church needed to “get with the program.” And what did I say when I read these things?

“What horrifically misplaced and unbiblical ideas!”

Let’s leave out the issue of women bishops for now, as that will only muddy the waters, but let’s try and apply that principle in a consistent way across our faith. For example, should the early Christians have “got with the program” and endorsed the bloody and violent gladiatorial games of their age in order to reflect the trends and priorities of wider society? Should the early Christians have “got with the program” and worshipped the Emperor as a god in order to reflect the the trends and priorities of wider society? I mean, claiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour and the only way to the Father really isn’t intelligible to wider society. It’s pretty narrow minded and exclusive too. Should Wilberforce have “got with the program” and not stood against slavery in order to reflect the trends and priorities of wider society? Rubbish!

And what should we tell our teenagers today?

“Listen guys, this whole ‘saving sex for marriage thing’ doesn’t really line up with what societies saying is OK. It’s going to be quite hard for you to stick to your guns and be taken seriously if you do that so why not just ‘get with the program.’ And I get that you want to keep a clear head on a night out and not get drunk but that’s not really in line with the trends and priorities of wider society. Why not ‘get with the program.’ Life will certainly be easier for you.”

Can you see the ridiculousness of this? The church is to be led by what God has said, not by what society thinks. I can’t really see Jesus saying “live for yourself, do anything you like as long as it’s not hurting others.” What a warped Jesus that is but if we were to follow society, that’s what we should do. Live for self, put yourself first, more money, more possessions, more sexual partners etc etc. Do we really want the church “to reflect the sensibilities and values of the general culture.”

This might rile a few people but I’m not saying this off my own back. Just look at what God has to say on this issue:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. – Matthew 5:13

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:12-17. (If we live the way God wants us to, we will be persecuted. It will be tough as we’ll clash up against society, but we should stick to the word of God).

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (We’ve been called ‘out of darkness,’ and are to be a holy nation. We’re set apart i.e. separate and distinct from the world).

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self,created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. –  Ephesians 4:17-23 (We’re not to live as those outside God’s people do. They have no understanding or grasp of God. Why then are we to reflect the trends and priorities of our society?)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light – Ephesians 5:8

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify[a] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. – John 17:14-21

14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. – Philippians 2:14-15 (we still live in a crooked and depraved generation).

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. – Philippians 3:20

That’s just a handful of passages that say exactly the opposite of what the Archbishop was saying. This isn’t about women bishops, it’s about the dangerous ideas we’re letting creep into our church almost without even noticing.

So I plead with any of you out there who are in youth ministry, don’t tell your teenagers to try and fit in with the world. They are to be salt and light, set apart, distinctive and no longer conforming to the pattern of this world! If they do this, it will be hard and society will mock and vilify them (John 17:14-21, 2 Timothy 3:12-17) but we need to encourage them to have the same attitude as the apostles in Acts 5. The Apostles had been commanded not to speak about Jesus by the Jewish authorities. Their message probably wasn’t intelligible to or didn’t fit in with the trends and priorities of wider society! But what does Peter say?:

“We must obey God rather than men!”

Amen!

Former Terrorist Converts To Christianity

This week, our church is running 6 evenings of interviews with people whose lives have been changed by Jesus. Last night, we heard from our first interviewee, David Hamilton, a former member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who was involved in a number of terrorist acts throughout his younger days before converting to Christianity. He’s now pastor of a church near Stockport. You can listen to him being interviewed by Roger Carswell here.

In or Out?

I’ve finally finished all of the lessons I was doing in our local secondary school. They were a completely mixed bag and I’m pleased to say that there were actually some more encouraging groups than the ones I mentioned in my previous entry, which is a good thing considering how appalled I was at some of those.

The best groups I had were actually the two lowest ability sets. The school had asked if I could do some shorter sessions with them as they would probably struggle to engage with the subject. The plan was to do 15-20 minutes with them and see how it went. It was the same teacher for both groups. Before the class began she mentioned that when she had told the group a Christian was coming in, they were threatening not to turn up. Tough crowd then! But they did turn up and it was a great experience. They knew that they were just going to have 15-20 minutes and if once that time was up they had lost interest, we’d call it a day.

I was in with both groups for the full hour. The questions just kept on coming and these kids really wrestled with the scenarios we were discussing, bringing in their own experiences, listening to each other and me and re-evaluating as they went along. They were the two easiest lessons I’d done and the most encouraging.

The teacher and the teaching assistant were made up. Apparently some of the kids in the group normally just give one word answers but during this lesson they really took off. It was a great feeling and a really fruitful day with three great consequences.

Firstly, the kids in both group said that I wasn’t what they had been expecting when they heard a Christian was coming in and that I was actually OK, even normal. So it’s great that their preconceived stereotypes have in some way been broken down.

Secondly, the teachers were really encouraged by the whole thing so this will hopefully open the door to be more involved in lessons at the school.

And thirdly, I got to explain the gospel and that’s really what it’s all about. Three birds, one stone!

I’ve also done two assemblies based around Easter. They were probably my most daring to date in terms of stating what the death and resurrection of Jesus means and I probably wasn’t quite as careful as I’m supposed to be in stating what I did. Schools tend to like it if you say something like, “as a Christian, I believe…” as opposed to “this is the way it is,” and I think there was definitely more of the latter. But it was a great chance to share the gospel and I was really pleased with how they went. One of the Christian teachers came up to me afterwards and asked to pray with me about what had been said and also about some things in her family life which was a real privilege. She said that next time I did an assembly it would be great to be prayed for up the front as she thinks it would be good for the kids to see. So in terms of schools work it’s been a good few weeks with plenty of encouragement. Maybe things aren’t quite as bleak as they could be.

Just before I did all these lessons, a man from church asked me how the work was going in the local secondary. I told him that it wasn’t that great generally and things were a bit of struggle there. What he said struck a chord with me. He said that it’s interesting that the apostles did the majority of the their ministry outside of the church, but yet we tend to do most of ours inside the church, with those who already believe. It got me thinking about where our priorities should lie in terms of our ministry. Should we be focusing on the ones we’ve got, building them up an encouraging them or should we be more outsider focused, realising that people are living in spiritual darkness and we need to tell them what Jesus has done? It’s more comfortable on the inside, but maybe the real work needs to be done outside.

 

Show Me The Money!

What would you do if somebody gave you £25,000 towards your youth work?

Two days ago, I was told that someone had left £25,000 in a legacy that was specifically to be set aside for the youth work at the church. Quite frankly, I’m a little stunned. This is a huge amount of money and no doubt needs to be used wisely. So that’s why I’m pondering the above question; what do I do with it?

I’ve already got a few things in mind. Firstly, it will mean that we can definitely pay for some of our volunteer leaders to join me on a few of the youth work conferences/training days I manage to get to each year. As I was away on conference this year, I was struck by how I’d missed an opportunity to take some of our volunteers along for what would have been a really useful time for them. Although it would have been tough for some of them to find the time, it wouldn’t have been completely impossible, however I would have felt pretty bad asking them to dig deep into what for some is already a limited cash flow, especially as they already give so much in terms of time and hard work. This money will mean that won’t need to be an issue and hopefully the opportunity to take some more leaders on conference will be a great benefit to the group.

Secondly, it will be good to have some money set aside for camps/weekends away/general activities that can help pay for those young people whose families  might find it a financial struggle. We’ve never stopped anyone going on something because of money, and we never would, but at least now we know we have a bit of a cushion for that.

I haven’t really put much more thought into it yet so that’s about as far as I’ve got. But in order to aid me in my thinking process I’ve designed a handy poll for people to vote on. Below you will find a number of options I have suggested for how I could spend the money, although there is also the option for you to post your own ideas which might perhaps be more practical/Godly. I shall eagerly await your ideas!

 

Focus on the Good

Every month, our church has a prayer meeting in order to pray for the life of the church, as well as those it supports in missionary roles and things like that. A few weeks ago I was asked if I could lead a short section on the youth work for the evening meeting (there’s a lunchtime and an evening session). I have to admit my heart sank. I go to the lunchtime meeting as it always follows on from our staff meetings and so I don’t normally go in the evening. In all honesty, it’s a horrifically boring meeting and so the thought of having to endure it twice filled me with dread.

However, the whole thing was actually a really good experience. I decided to put together a powerpoint and a handout which detailed four areas of my work, each with two categories of things to pray about: things to give thanks for and things to be praying for. The process of thinking through these areas was really encouraging and allowed me to see how many good things are actually going on within our youth work. Then to get together with the rest of the church and pray that over with them was great. It was really encouraging to hear people praying out freely and not holding back and it was just really clear that people were behind the work that was going on.

So if you work in any kind of Christian ministry, I really recommend sitting down and making a simple list of things to give thanks for, even if you’re not about to lead a prayer meeting.  In the every day grind of life, it’s easy to end up focusing on the problems and the things that need prayer and so it’s easy for the good stuff to get overlooked. When you sit down and try and think of the encouragements I reckon you’ll be hugely surprised by how much there is to give thanks for. Give it a try!

On a slightly different note, the change to working on a Saturday continues to be encouraging. I met with one of our teenagers for breakfast today and it was good to be able to get to know him a bit better away from the church and to shine some light on other areas of his life. It also threw up a few areas where there are clearly misunderstandings in terms of his grasp of Christianity and so it was good to be able to try and address some of those. When I’ve arranged a meeting with someone I’m always praying for the courage and boldness to ask them about their faith. It’s easy to feel like you’d be intruding and so back away from asking the hard questions, but I’ve found that 9 times out of 10 people are happy to chat about their faith and sometimes I think they’re almost hoping you’ll bring it up as there’s something on their mind.

So there’s a lot of good to focus on at the moment and that’s encouraging.

And the award for biggest overuse of the word “encouragement” in a blog goes to me!