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.

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Good News of Great Joy – A Christmas Talk

This is a rough transcript of a talk I gave last Sunday on Luke 2:10-11. I only work off of notes and not a full script but this is a rough approximation of what I said on the day. This was rushed off a bit so sorry for any mistakes. Merry Christmas!

In our passage the shepherds receive good news of great joy and so I wonder, what would bring you great joy? When I thought about this, the thing that came to my mind was the birth of my little girl Melody. It was just such an amazing thing that I wanted everyone to know, I wanted to share the news. “My little girl has arrived and she’s amazing!” Both Becca and I were completely full of joy at her birth.

And even today she is still one of the things that brings me the most joy in life. Everyday she seems to be learning new things and picking up words and phrases. Recently I’ve been trying to teach her quotes from Lord of the Rings as it just amuses me to see her running around quoting Gandalf! I love the way that she copies me too. In the summer I would go and sit on the step in the garden and put my drink down beside me and she would come up and plonk herself down on the step,put her drink next to mine and then look at me as if to say, “I’m doing what you’re doing.” And I love the way she runs up to me shouting “Daddy” when I get home and come through the doors. That’s what brings me great joy and I’m sure many of us here can identify with that feeling even if the circumstances are a bit different. 

So in our passage the shepherds are out in the field at night, watching their flock and quite possibly washing their socks too so I’m led to believe, and suddenly angel appears with a heavenly announcement:

‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’

So what is this good news of great joy?

‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’

This good news of great joy is the announcement of the birth of a child. But not just any child. Look at who the angel says he is. This baby is Saviour and Messiah! He’s their rescuer, the anointed one, God’s chosen King who will deliver his people and redeem them. Now it’s hard to say what the shepherds would have understood by this. Maybe they thought the Messiah would come and liberate them from Roman occupation and restore the nation of Israel. But whatever they thought, this was the person they’d been waiting for. God’s promises were being fulfilled right here, in their lifetime. Just imagine the joy they would have felt. It would have been completely overwhelming. And to think, here it is being announced to a bunch of stinky shepherds, the lowest of the low, right at the bottom of the social ladder. Imagine the great hope this would bring for them and indeed, the joy.

And it should be good news of great joy for us too? Why? Well because even with Melody and all the joy that she brings me, I know that something isn’t right, that there’s still something wrong. And so this is good news of great joy to me because I know that I need a saviour and I need a Messiah, someone to redeem me. Because I know the depths of my heart, the deep uncontrollable drives inside me, the corruption inside. That even when I’m being “good” there is something not right in me. I might be able to control my behaviour but there’s still something deep down in my being, a selfishness, even a darkness that I naturally gravitate too.

And I don’t just see this in me, it’s in the whole world as I look around me. Every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the news or click on the BBC website all I see is oppression, marginalisation, pain, suffering, mourning and loss. You know, in the UK this year, 500,000 families have lost someone, 250,000 elderly will be at Christmas time and 80,000 children will be homeless. And you know what? We could go and mourn with these families, spend the day with the elderly, find housing for all of those children but even then the darkness wouldn’t be gone, because there is something deeper in our very being. And we’ve all felt it, we’ve all felt the fall and we feel it every day. I need redeeming and so does the whole world, so how could this news, of a saviour and a Messiah, fail to bring us great joy?

But how can one person make a difference? Well there’s something else about this child’s identity in these verses. We’re told:

“to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The most amazing thing in this announcement is that the saving Messiah is God! The child lying in the manger is not just some man chosen for the task, he is the Lord of heaven, God in the flesh, God with us, the visible image of the invisible God. In him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell and he was in his very nature God. And here, God draws alongside us, he comes close to the broken, people like you and me, the sick, the black hearted and the corrupt. God comes as a man takes, our burden on himself and pays for it all on the  cross. How can this not bring us great joy?

So no matter what the darkness is for us this Christmas, whether it’s sick family, the death of a loved one, the family tensions of the Christmas period or even just that very darkness deep within us, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light, a light who has come to save and redeem us.

I’d like to finish with an extract from a poem which I think sums this up well.

Our summer’s gone, if you’ve been around,
you’ve felt the fall: life’s run aground.
We’ve gone up in the world, seen summer die.
So what’s our hope? The dark defy?
Stoke the hearth? Retreat indoors?
Rug up warm with you and yours?
The shadow reaches even here,
But THIS is the place for Christmas cheer.

It’s dark, in the bible, when Christmas is spoken.
Always a bolt from the blue for the broken.
It’s the valley of shadow, the land of the dead,
It’s, “No place in the inn,” so He stoops to the shed.
He’s born to the shameful, bends to the weak,
becomes the lowly: the God who can’t speak!
And yet, what a Word, this Saviour who comes,
Our dismal, abysmal depths He plumbs.
Through crib and then cross, to compass our life.
To carry and conquer. Our Brother in strife.
He became what we are: our failures He shouldered,
To bring us to His life: forever enfolded.
He took on our frailty, He took on all-comers,
To turn all our winters to glorious summers.

It’s Christmas now… whatever the weather,
Some soak in the sun, some huddle together. 
But fair days or foul, our plight He embraces.
Real Christmas can shine in the darkest of places.

Praying For Our Local Secondary School

One area of my work that I’ve never really felt like I’ve been able to get on top of, is working in our local secondary school. I feel like the school has become a bit of burden to me, not in the sense that I dislike working there, but in the sense that it feels like we’ve made very few in roads there and have constantly been knocked back.

In some ways, we’re incredibly lucky as a church to have as much involvement in the school as we do. The school is very open to using us and other churches to give assemblies and to come in to speak in religious education lessons. These are undoubtedly great opportunities but they’re also very hit and run, with no real chance to build any momentum. Having done a number of lessons there, I’ve seen first hand the spiritual darkness that seems to engulf so many of the young people, something I previously blogged about here.

There are very few lights shining in the school right now.

There was a very small Christian Union when I arrived but it eventually fizzled out and died. We managed to reboot it in late 2011 and we saw a great number of non-Christians coming along, mainly due to the enticement of free doughnuts and juice, but whatever their motivations, they were still being exposed to the gospel. However, it wasn’t long until the school banned us from bringing food in with us and number soon dropped again until we were left with only 1 or 2 people attending. The reasons given were mixed but I guessed that there was likely some anti-Christian feeling further up the chain of command which had put pay to our work. After a promising start, it felt like all the doors had suddenly been shut. With such a large amount of unreached young people right on our doorstep and having seen the vastness of the spiritual poverty there, I’m left feeling pretty dejected about the situation there as well as feeling alone in my efforts & desire to see any real change. But with all this in mind, I’ve come up with a solution.

We’re going to pray for young people in that school.

And I mean we’re going to pray for them regularly. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the church. If we want to see God make a difference in the lives of those young people, we have to be prepared to pray for them more than twice a year at First Priority. That’s why I’m starting a weekly prayer meeting for the school, where members of the church family who feel the same way I do will come together to pray for that school.

Only prayer will open doors in the school

I don’t know what we’re going to pray for, I don’t know how long the meeting will last or even where or when it will take place, and I don’t have any plans regarding what this will lead to. All I know is that if we pray for that school, and I mean really pray and are faithful in it, God will open those doors. I don’t know how, but He will. He’s the only one who can.

That’s why if you’re a member of my church and you’re reading this, I want you to come and pray with me. Like I said, I don’t even have a venue or a date yet, although I know it would most likely have to be a daytime thing. But if you want to get behind this as a church then get in touch with me. Comment on this post and tell me when a convenient meeting time would be for you, or message me back on Facebook which I’m hoping you’ve been directed here from. Once I have some people on board we’ll start praying and let God do the rest.

Please don’t let apathy stop you from getting involved in this. As Leo Buscaglia said:

“I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”

If we really loved these people, we’d pray for them. Apathy only shows our lack of any real love for these young people. So let’s step up our game as a church and get behind this.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Our God Is So Big

I spent last weekend with the crew of Curtains Up! as it was our planning weekend for the upcoming camp. As usual, it was great to spend time with people who we know and love and the weekend was marked by the usual highlights of ridiculously late nights and probably illegal amounts of caffeine. No matter how much older I get, I never seem to learn the lesson of going to bed early.

We had a great time reading through the gospel of Mark as well as thinking through the book of James which we’ll be using for our study group material this year. The weekend got me all fired up and excited about getting back on camp and getting the opportunity to work alongside young people from various backgrounds.

And it’s backgrounds that really got me thinking this weekend. We have a number of people who having been on camp and now that they’re  too old to continue, are joining the crew as leaders. I got chatting to them and a few of our other leaders who are still not that far away from their days as church youth and I was asking them about what their youth groups were like whilst growing up. Running a couple of groups myself, I was interested to hear how other groups functioned and what kind of things they did, as it’s always good to keep an ear to the ground and steal any good ideas.

It's not easy being the only young person in your church

What surprised me was the number of people who said they simply didn’t have a youth group as teenagers. Either their church didn’t really have any youth, or they had a handful whose ages were too varied to really form a productive group, or there just weren’t really the people to lead a group in any consistent fashion. Some had had some smattering of involvement in vague groups, but for most there was nothing solid in place. My follow up question was to ask “Then how did you survive? How did you keep going?”

There were a few ideas but no solid answer to the question. Somehow, people just did and they had come out the other side walking with God.  And this got me thinking in a number of ways.

Firstly, I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a church that saw youth work as a priority and had the resources and the inclination to pay for a full time youth worker. Having grown up in that kind of atmosphere and then having gone into working for a church that offers the same kind of opportunities, I guess part of me just kind of assumed that most young Christians have those kind of opportunities. The truth is, they don’t. For a large majority of young Christians, their churches can’t afford to pay for someone to do youth work or they just don’t have a peer group of other young Christians around them to form any real group or community. If you have a youth worker, a youth group or quite frankly anyone willing to invest time in young people at your church, you are in the minority and you should be incredibly thankful.

Secondly, it made me realise just how much bigger God is than we give him credit for. I find it so easy to get stressed about our kids and our groups. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it well enough? What more can I be doing? This is where the real answer to the question “how did you keep going?” comes into play. Our leaders kept going as young people because God made them keep going. It was Him who got them through all the rough times and helped them to stay faithful. There is simply no other explanation. So why am I getting stressed about our kids? If God can keep people walking with him with barely any support or input appropriate to their age, then he can certainly keep safe those who are being fed, encouraged and built up on a regular basis.

It’s so easy to get caught up on programmes and how everyone’s doing and start stressing about it. But God is bigger than all our programmes and all the things the world has to throw at our kids and if he wants to keep them going, He will. That doesn’t mean we should stop working with our kids and putting in the hard grind, but it does mean that we need to keep in perspective the fact that God is ultimately behind the work and it’s him that draws people to himself, not us.

If you have an established youth work in your church, you’ve probably got kids who are encouragements and kids where you wonder whether anything is going in at all. But if God can keep people going with basically no input at all, take heart that even those who appear to be rejecting the message are getting more input than some people who’ve gone on to become strong Christians. Nothing is impossible with God and we can’t know what seeds are being sown.

Our God is a great big God.

My Gardening Ministry

Following on from my last blog I thought it would be worth sharing some encouragement I found in the Bible regarding how we view our ministry.

My concern in my last blog was with whether the change in size of my group was an indicator of something being wrong, for instance the choices I was making in leadership. I was looking at 1 Corinthians yesterday and I felt it was encouraging so  thought I would share it with you.

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8.

The thing that struck me is that I simply have no way of knowing whether I’m planting or watering and in fact, it’s probably different  in regards to each individual in my group. If I’m not seeing people changed now, maybe it’s just because this is a time for planting. Someone  may come along in the future and do the watering. That might be me, it might not. And that’s OK, because ultimately it’s not down to me. God and God alone is the one who gives the growth. I just have to be like the farmer in the parable of the sower; a faithful servant who keeps on scattering the seed even though he has no idea what soil it will land on.

That’s the problem with ministry. We can never be sure which soil the word is falling on, and sometimes those that seem encouraging actually have no root. Only time will tell.

The other part of 1 Corinthians that encouraged me were Paul’s words at the beginning of chapter 2.

1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Paul, quite likely one of the greatest evangelists to ever walk the earth (except Jesus) says that he didn’t come to the Corinthians with big words and clever arguments. He simply came to preach Christ and him crucified. It’s as simple as that. When the temptation comes to try and make your group more fun and exciting or any of the other buzzwords that are so often thrown around, what we need to remember is that it’s not about that. It’s not about gimmicks and it’s not about academia and the accumulation of knowledge. It’s about Jesus Christ crucified for us. And why should we preach that (apart from it being the truth obviously)? Because if we try and use gimmicks or grand arguments, then the glory goes to us, not God. And people’s faith will rest on those things rather than on Christ crucified.

That’s why I’m going to keep preaching Christ crucified. It’s not big and it’s not clever but it’s all that matters.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18