Why I Became a Christian

I moved here to Manchester 7 months ago. Now, before moving here, I had attended a few churches, but I didn’t see myself as Christian. I was more of a spiritual tourist, you might say. I also visited the places of other religions. I wanted to meet new people and interact with these interesting communities, but I had never intended to commit to any one in particular. I’d had a lot of experience of religion in the past, and was pretty much done with it. So when I first moved here, as a spiritual tourist, I decided I would check out a church someone had mentioned that was based in a cinema. I thought it seemed a bit of a novelty; a church in a cinema! I thought I would meet some interesting people, and it would be nice to be a part of something, even if I couldn’t fully believe something like Christianity myself. I knew there would be singing and worship, and I didn’t mind that, as I had been to many different religious gatherings in the past, and I quite enjoyed praying to a higher power of some sort, whether it was to Buddhist deities, to Krishna, or my own ideas I’d had about some unknowable higher power. But in all honesty, I was an agnostic of sorts. I did believe there was something more to life than the material, but I felt that it was ultimately unknowable and would be a mystery until I died.

So I found myself entering this cinema church one Sunday morning, and I remember hearing the pastor speak for the first time. I don’t remember so much what he was talking about, but I remember thinking that this guy was pretty cheesy. He spoke with a lot of emotion and passion, and it did come across as cheesy but I liked it. He wasn’t afraid to be emotionally open and honest. I enjoyed the worship too, singing songs to Jesus. It just felt really good. I got a chance to meet the pastor after the service, and he invited me to meet him at a coffee shop a couple of days later. And when we spoke there, I had a few questions I honestly didn’t believe a Christian could answer. They were real ‘stumpers’ I thought. But surprisingly, this pastor was able to answer them with a lot of depth and clarity. I didn’t expect that, as quite honestly I had previously regarded Christians as kind yet gullible. I had thought something like Buddhism was much more intellectually sophisticated than Christianity, but as I learned more of these people my opinion on this began to reverse. He told me about an Alpha course they were about to start, and I hesitantly said yes, but I felt I probably wouldn’t attend. As much as I was enjoying meeting with these Christians, I still felt like an impostor, as I regarded it as a beautiful delusion. There was only a matter of time, I thought, before I would have to part ways, as I felt I would never believe what these people believed.

However, I decided I would explore it anyway, and take the alpha. What did I have to lose? At the very least, it would be interesting to learn more. So I arrived at the pastor’s house, where it was based. We were to watch a video series that introduced Christian concepts and discuss it afterwards. I remember feeling initially apprehensive as we watched the videos. What did strike me though was the feeling of peace in the room, and also the format of the alpha course, in the sense that we did very little. It was very light and unpressured. It was obvious that these people didn’t feel the need to force anything on me, and that they really did believe in God’s ability to do the important bits, and they were just there to facilitate my encounter with God. And I realized after a while, that my preconceptions about Christianity had been false, at least in respect to this breed of Christian that didn’t mind meeting in a cinema, and that was all about relationship with Jesus rather than mindless religion and tradition. So I decided I would hang around a bit longer, but still in the back of my mind I felt there was a clock counting down to my eventual departure. Then one Sunday, I was in church and I overheard some people talking about a week long Christian conference. Then a few days later, I got to thinking about it, and decided I’d like to go. It involved camping and really getting immersed with these people. So I signed up, bought myself a cheap tent and was able to get a lift there with a family from the church.

So I find myself in the large worship room at this Christian conference, surrounded by thousands of these Christians. They have a stage up front, with a full band and light show, and I’m standing a few rows from the front. The worship begins and we are all singing along to the music, singing to Jesus, and the energy of the room is intense. Then after the songs, it goes quiet and the man on stage says that we are going to “wait now for The Holy Spirit.” So I stood there waiting with my hands open and stretched out before me. At first I wondered what I should be doing, and I expected nothing to happen. And as I was wondering how I could make something happen, in spite of myself something began to happen. It felt like energy building up inside of me and filling me. I felt a little anxious, as I wasn’t sure what was happening. Now, these worship sessions ran every morning and evening during the event, and each time this feeling got more intense. I was seeing people around me falling over and convulsing on the ground. One woman was screaming at the back, and I was told she had a lot of pain she needed to release. Then at one point I felt an invisible energy come from near the stage, and it knocked someone over then hit me afterwards like a wave. I remember praying to God that I didn’t mind having some kind of experience, but to please not knock me out! I never expected it to be like this, I thought this was something that just happened on American evangelical television shows. I had thought all this stuff was fake and even ridiculous.

And something was beginning to happen between the worship sessions too, as I interacted with the other Christians, as I was working together with them on the volunteer catering team and interacting over coffee and other social events taking place at the conference. I began to get the sense that the events around me were being orchestrated somehow and were teaching me things. Even the words people said to me, it was becoming apparent that I was being spoken to by something beyond the ordinary, something teaching me through events and even the mouths of those around me. What they called The Holy Spirit was undeniably thick in the air. And I felt the voices begin to merge into one, and it was a message to me about my past and my future. It reminded me about how I loved The Chronicles of Narnia when I was little, and how it was actually written by a Christian and inspired by Jesus, God. It reminded me of a time in my youth, before I had taken on the weight of disappointment, the weight of the criticism of those around me over the years, and the weight of the hopeless sense of having to “grow up” and stop believing and imagining things, but to “get into the real world”, the cold, hard reality. It reminded me who I was deep down inside, and when I heard possibly the 4th stranger mention CS Lewis to me out of the blue, it suddenly clicked and I knew in my heart there was a God, and he was reaching out to me. Then on the last day of this conference, in the final worship session, a young man approached me. He said, “I’m not very good at this, and I don’t do this very often, but I really felt like God wanted me to tell you something.” And he said, “You can dare to dream again.” Then I rose up as a new song started, and the lyrics stood out to me: “open up my eyes in wonder.”

I entered the conference an agnostic, but I left it a follower of Jesus. Not long after that I completed the alpha course and I went and got baptized. Then a while later, I attended another conference. It was on the exact same grounds as the last one, but run by other Christians. So I found myself once again in the same big worship room, only it looked different as it had been arranged differently. During the worship, after a few songs, we were asked to lie down on the floor if we wanted to, as a way of being reverent to Jesus. I felt a strong urge to lie down, almost like something invisible was pulling me down, and it just felt natural. So I did it, I lay down between the plastic chairs on the concrete floor, inwardly bowing to Jesus. As I did it I felt something wash over my body. It felt like water or energy running all over my body, and it felt alive and as real as anything. I was a little anxious of it. And then a new worship song started, and it was that same song again, about opening up my eyes in wonder. And as it started, I stood up to sing, and as I sang those lyrics “open up my eyes in wonder”, something amazing happened. I saw a vision appear before me. It wasn’t to my physical eyes, but it was more real than anything. It wasn’t an imagination or dream, it was something very real and overpoweringly so. It was a mass of bright light, so bright and intense, and I felt an overwhelming warmth and love coming from it. It was God. It was the same energy I had felt all along. What they called The Holy Spirit. I could feel His loving smile. It was so intense and bright, it was like pure concentrated love, so intense I could barely look at Him directly and it was hard to bear. It was like I had just made first contact with some extra-terrestrial being. I just felt very clearly that he loved me to an unbelievable degree, and was just pleased and delighted with me. This experience shook me to my core, and I felt close to panic but also incredibly amazed and blissful.

I found out that this wasn’t just something people chose to do with their lives, like one of the endless choices people could make about who they are or what they do. On the contrary, God chooses us. This is real. It’s not just another label we can stick on ourselves. God is real. This is why I became a Christian. I couldn’t not. God had always been here waiting, just waiting for us to pray to him and ask him the simple question, “Jesus, if you are real, please show me!” Because once someone does that, gets down on their knees and genuinely from the bottom of their heart, asks him that, the biggest adventure of their life begins.

The Spirit in the House

There’s something hidden that happens in church that you don’t know about. From the outside, it just looks like a bunch of nice people gathering together and singing, following rules from an old book and saying strange things. I never thought I would become one of these weird people. I mean, I always kinda liked Christians, as they were kind, but I always regarded them as dumb. I mean, why would anyone forsake their own intelligence to follow rules from an old book? That’s how I saw it, that Christians didn’t think for themselves. But seeing church in this way is like seeing a human being as merely a machine. However, just as in the human, in the church there is a ghost in the machine. There is an invisible and mysterious ghost, operating just out of your sight. It’s what you’re not understanding. It’s what you’re missing. It’s why they do it. The church, with its ceremonies and rules and behaviors, is just the house where the ghost lives. But you only know of the house, and nothing of its occupant. We don’t go to church just the visit the house, we go to visit the one who lives in the house. It isn’t the house, or the book, or the rules that turn an atheist into a Christian, it’s the lord of the house when he makes himself known. He is the “living” God. “Living” because he isn’t a character in a book you just need to believe in, he’s the spirit in the house, waiting for you. Waiting to personally and literally meet you, right here and now, with his tangible and felt presence.

Thinking Beyond Yourself

I used to tell people a lot to “think for yourselves”, but I’ve come to realize that while personal contemplation is important, if you only ever “think for yourself” you don’t get anywhere. If you want to grow as a person, you need to think BEYOND yourself!

You have to step out of your own thinking and reasoning, which is based completely on what you’ve already experienced and what you already know, and just follow the word of God.

This takes a measure of faith, because it’s hard to rationalize what is beyond your current thinking mechanism. But I believe there is more for us, and we will never become more if we keep thinking the same thoughts and recycling what we already know.

This is why true personal growth requires humility and faith in wisdom beyond our own. It’s not a blind faith, but in all honesty the first step is, just as if I tell you about a delicious chocolate pudding, if you don’t trust me then you will never try it for yourself, but on your second and third bite, your faith in the pudding in based on experience. He will never let you down.

Grace

I’ve struggled with myself for most of my life. I’ve been very self-critical for a long time and so hard on myself. Never mind a judge in heaven, I’ve been my own worst judge and critic. I’m what I’d call an inward perfectionist, watching my own thoughts and emotions, expecting perfection from myself and putting myself down when I’m not, which (let’s face it) has been most of the time. That’s why life has been a struggle. It’s really hard work, trying so hard all the time, trying to be someone I think I should be.

And religion hasn’t helped this. When I was younger, I was a Buddhist, and I’ve been involved in various religions since that, before coming to Christianity. And within the Christian church, I’ve still been following the same formula, reading about what perfection is and trying to emulate it. It’s so difficult and tiring, trying to live up to something like that. I think it’s why a lot of people get fed up with religion, Christianity or otherwise, and end up leaving. It’s just hard on a person, that much pressure, it’s like you’re fighting against your nature, trying to be something you’re not, someone you think you should be.

But recently I was shown another way. And that way was Jesus. I had gotten this all wrong, because Jesus had never asked me to be perfect, or to try and discipline myself to meet his list of demands. Jesus meets me where I’m at. He just wants to know me and help me. Trying to be perfect and disciplined by my own power was never going to work, and he never asked that of us. That was our mistake all along. Way back in the garden of Eden, Adam thought he could do it by his own power, that he could be like God, knowing good and evil, being perfect in his own strength. It was never going to work. Not then. And not now.

I’ve tried so hard to do this by myself, but now it’s time to accept defeat, and give it over to God. Self-discipline could never change what was in my heart. This is why Jesus came down to earth in the first place, this was the whole point, because we couldn’t do it ourselves, so he paid the price for us, he was the sacrificial lamb. If we think we can do it by our own power now, then we dishonour that sacrifice. It’s a simple gospel – Jesus took our sin upon himself, and all we have to do is accept him. He does the work, because we can’t. So we don’t have to struggle so much anymore, we can allow ourselves to be ourselves, as imperfect as we are, and just let him do his job, and he will change our hearts. That’s it.

But it’s hard to accept. We feel like if we abandon self-discipline, then we’ll just become worse. But what really matters is what’s in your heart, and it’s your heart that you act from, and no matter how many ice cubes you put in a volcano, they all eventually melt. The paradox is that when you stop trying to be perfect, and allow yourself to be as terrible as you are, then you allow Him to do his work on your heart, and then change is not only possible but expected.

Jesus was heavily criticized in his time, by those religious people, the pharisees, who thought they were holy by upholding all the laws, and were mythed at how Jesus had befriended the sinners and the worst of society. But for all their rules and attempted self-discipline, they never knew God, that’s why they didn’t recognize him when he was literally standing right in front of them. Jesus never asks us for perfection, just for a relationship with him, and it’s through that relationship that our hearts can change, and only through his power, not ours.

Invitation for a drink

Had to leave the house tonight and get out of my own head, so I headed for the pub. I said, “Lord, I’m gonna have a few drinks tonight, and I can either do it with you or without you, so I’m gonna do it with you.” So there I am, sat at a table on my own in the quiet pub, with my face down in my drink. I hear a group of people come in and populate the table next to me, and I hear them mention church. Turns out I knew a couple of them, so they invited me over and I spent the evening with them and had a good laugh. Turns out the Lord doesn’t mind accepting an invitation for a drink! We’re still only human, and I guess he really does “meet us where we’re at”, as they say! He has won my heart, over and over.

8 Areas of a Healthy Marriage

This post is just a rough transcription of the first quarter of a podcast I’m listening to, and I just wanted it here for reference. Here’s the podcast though, if you’re interested: https://podcast.gospelinlife.com/e/cultivating-a-healthy-marriage

“I planted the seed, Apollo watered it, but God made it grow.” A church is likened to a garden. A gardener needs a number of skills. Gardens take an enormous amount of work and constant attention. The bible calls the church the household of God. A marriage is a mini church. It is a complex relationship like a garden. You don’t start with a beautiful and fruitful garden. Don’t expect to immediately begin a happy and fulfilling life. Don’t think the problem is this particular person, the problem is that marriage is a garden that takes skill and attention.

1) Planning and Planting – laying the foundation and knowing why you are married, and who are you in the marriage? what is your role? Ancient culture said the purpose of marriage was to help the security and status of your marriage, but in modern times we marry for love or happiness. Both views are naiive, biblically. The bible says the purpose of marriage is gospel reenactment. Ephesians 5:25-31. “The purpose of marriage is to help your spouse become his or her glory future self through sacrificial service.” Therefore it means love is an action first, a feeling second. I will be the spouse I outta be whether you are being the spouse you outta be or not. Jesus loved me not because i was lovely but in order to make me lovely. we should do the same. this does not mean that marriage should be one way and that u should do all the sacrificing, as it is very selfish to let your spouse live a selfish life. it is very unloving to make it easy for them to sin against you. a ministy mindset wants to bring this person to the full potential God has given them. a ministry mindset will confront, and will not say it is okay for them to be selfish.

The more you act loving when you feel unloving, the more your love will grow. The more you act unloving when you feel unloving, the more your love will spiral down until it’s gone.

2) Roles in Marriage – Ephesians 5:22-24. “wife submit to your.. etc”. Headship and submission. In marriage the husband and the wife both take on the role of Jesus. The husband takes on the role as Jesus as head of the church and the wife takes on the role of Jesus as he is the son submissive to the father for the sake of our salvation. This allows us to reveal the really deep mysteries of God’s character through the roles of husband and wife. The foundation of these roles in creation, if you look at Genesis 1:26. Men and women equally share in God’s image, making them equal rulers over the earth. However in Genesis 2, it goes into more detail, making Adam first and Eve as the helper suitable to him. The word “helper” (Azor(sp?)) is most frequently used of God. “God our help”. A helper can only help out of strength. A helper helps because he or she has qualities needed by the person they are helping who doesn’t have those qualities. So it’s a position of strength, it’s not like assistant. It’s a helper who helps out of complimentary strengths that the husband doesn’t have.

It is in this way we reflect the mysteries of God. The classic understanding the trinity is that the Son is ontologically equal to the Father, that means in his essence he is equal with the Father, but in his function he is subordinate. So being made in the image of a truine God, it takes 2 people to take on those roles. Husbands and wives are complete co-equals in dignity and gifts and value and power and strength, but you’re different as to roles. Phillipians 2, Jesus did not cling to his equality with God, but he emptied himself in order to be our saviour and become a servant and die to save his people. The subordinate one should ask themselves the question, “if it is not an assault on the dignity and value and equality of Jesus to take the subordinate role to the Father, then how can it be an assault on my dignity and equality and value to take the Jesus role in my marriage?” It can’t be. It’s not going to hurt me if it’s defined by Jesus rather than by a cultural understanding. The doubt may arise that Jesus was submissive to a perfect Father, whereas our husband is far from perfect. This illustrates the importance of the husband also being like Jesus, who suffered and died for his church. This means that biblical headship involves servanthood. 1 corinthians 11:3. Jesus’ authority expressed itself by its sacrificial death in order to meet our needs. A head’s job is to use their authority to please, meet needs and serve. It’s not about control and getting to decide everything, the headship is primarily expressed in servanthood. Biblical headship involves voluntary respectful submission between equals. Submission is something that a wife gives, it is not something a husband can demand. Christ emptied himself, he didn’t grasp equality with God. It was always a voluntary submission. Christ and the Father are equal, so this showed that headship does not imply superiority.

Headship is something given by one person to another. The giver is equal to the reciever. And the reciever has the final authority but uses it only to serve and please and build up the giver. This authority it not used for yourself, as that’s not how Christ used his headship. He washed his disciplies feet, he didn’t sit there and demand to be served. He redefined what authority means, it means serving. In marriage, the head may never use authority to please themselves. A head may never overrule his spouse simply to get his way, or do what he wants. A head sacrifices his wants and his needs to please and build up his partner. Go to Ethesians 5 for more detail about that. Headship sometimes involves tie-breaking authority. It rarely involves this, but it does. A head only excercises the authority to overrule something that his wife wants or believes is necessary when he thinks that his spouse is doing something destructive to her or to the family. In a marriage you only have two votes so the occasions do arise where you have an impasse. There can’t be a misuse of this authority to overrule. It can’t be done just so the head gets his way. The only time a husband can use his authority to overrule is when he knows he has the responsibility and the accountability to God to only be doing it in order to serve, and to take care of his wife and his family, and he will be held accountable for that decision. And the wife has to understand that.

A New Home

comfycat

When I was little
my stepfather found an abandoned kitten
underneath a radar on the air-force base he worked at.
He brought her home in a small cardboard box.
She was quite vicious and untamed at first.
You wouldn’t dare poke your finger into her box
for fear of losing it.
She was wild and life had made her strong
and aggressive.
She hadn’t been loved in a while though,
not yet softened by gentle fingers
venturing into her box.
After a while, the venture to stroke her
wasn’t as terrifying,
but she still had teeth and nails
and was very cautious,
because she knew that the same spot on her belly
where love could get in
was also the spot where hurt had gotten in.
Pushing her paws apart was never going to work,
but love, by waiting a little, found its way in.

God’s Faith

jesus-helping-poor-man

I think as a people we are too judgmental and condemning. We judge each other by our failures and shortcomings, magnifying them and forgetting everything else. We find no room for faith, because faith is scary to us. We don’t believe in its power, and we are afraid of it because it leaves us vulnerable.

One thing I don’t hear much about is God’s faith. God has great faith. God has so much faith he gave us free will and trusted us with the destiny of his creation. He came down and became one of us, to teach us, but then he left his kingdom on earth in our hands, knowing full well our flaws. This is God’s great faith. He doesn’t obsess over our flaws and doubt us. He believes in us. He takes a chance on us.

This kind of faith has power. If you can be brave enough to put this kind of faith in a person, they will surprise you. It has such a positive impact on someone, when you believe in them when no one else would. Yes, it can leave you vulnerable and you may get hurt, it may be irrational and undeserving and unearned, but therein lies its power. This kind of faith can move a mountain in someone’s heart.

All our lives we are reminded of our faults and failures, but the message of Jesus is a different one. Jesus comes to give us hope. When he looks at us, he sees our full potential and through his perfect faith he brings it into being. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live a life of fear and condemnation, I want to live a life of faith, even if I get hurt. Imagine a world where we all started believing in each other again.