July 14th 2018

This was the day my whole world changed. I remember this Saturday morning, almost 3 years ago. I had been so depressed and just felt dead inside. I went for a walk into Preston town center. A man was playing a guitar and singing on the street, and I sat down on a bench near him. Turned out he was singing about Jesus, and I had a moment where time seemed to slow down and I felt calm and at peace.

Then I got up and walked around the block and there was a table set up, where a pastor and his wife were handing out leaflets and chatting with people. At first I walked by, but something stopped me, and I said in my mind, “okay, fine, I will go back and talk to them.” So I spoke with them, and I went to their church, and I ate with them and joined in with their community.

And then through the course of the next year, my life changed radically. I started a new job and moved to Manchester, I gave up smoking weed, my deep depression lifted, and for the first time in the longest time, I was happy and content. I had hope again for the future. I met my wife and we are about to move into a house together.

All because in that moment on the road that day, Jesus prepared a table for me, and I stopped and turned back. One small decision changed things forever. I just had to say “okay, I’ll give it my best try.”

Reminders, Part 1

beside still waters

I still get afraid and anxious sometimes. No matter how many miracles the Lord does in my life, no matter how many times he comes through for me without fail, when there is a new challenge, I always seems to forget how faithful he is. So I thought I would write about all the times, I can currently remember, where he has come through for me and shown me his kindness and faithfulness. Then, perhaps next time I am afraid, I can look back at this entry and be reminded of his goodness.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

-Isaiah 43:1

When I was at my absolute lowest, deeply depressed and apathetic, I went for a slow walk into town, and I came across a table he had prepared for me. I spoke to a pastor and his wife, and was reintroduced to His love. Their church family took me in and invited me to a get-together they were having, in someone’s house, not long after. I felt out of place, like a zombie hanging out with humans, but I felt loved and accepted as if no one even noticed I was a zombie. Like this, love spoke to me in a way that logic or reason never could have. In my case, it wasn’t words that made the man a Christian, it was love.

One time in church, I was feeling very self-conscious and out of place, and we were asked to talk with someone nearby us. I was sat alone, while others were beginning to speak to each other, and so I felt increasingly nervous and embarrassed; a little frozen in my seat. But then the pastor noticed me, and with a look of urgency in his eyes, he moved towards me as if everything else around him had suddenly faded away, scaled a chair in front of me and sat beside me. Some moments in this life are like small reflections of the character of God, and this was one of them. For the Lord doesn’t just speak words, he speaks moments too.

I was at a Christian conference, where I was camping on-site and volunteering on the catering team. It was hard work at first, but then I began to love it. It was the team most of all, and in particular a man I met there who would become a friend for life. He made everyone around him smile and laugh, with his terrible jokes and loud singing. From him I learned of the joy of the Lord, of the freedom in laughter, and of the goodness in serving.

I had been very lonely for most of my life. I wanted to meet someone really special, someone I could marry, someone that was made for me. I never thought I would find this woman, and so, for too long a time, I had settled for a relationship that just wasn’t right for either of us. I took a chance and ended it, and moved away, but now I was very lonely again. But in my tent, in the heavy rain, I gave the Lord a chance. I said to myself, “I will pray with all my heart, with everything I’ve got.” And I did. Then, about a week later, I met her.

The night before I was due to be baptised, I was about to smoke weed. I had been smoking it on and off for years, for long periods, and had currently been smoking it for months. I said out loud to God, “I do want to get baptised, but also I’m not perfect, so it’s okay that I don’t give everything up straight away. This will just take some time, and I need to be kind to myself too.” So I finished rolling the joint, and just as I was about to smoke it, I heard a sound so loud it shook me to my core. I thought a missile had come down. Lightning had struck the lamppost, just feet from my window, and it had even melted my wifi box. I was shaking. Ridiculously, and in fear, I still smoked the joint, but it was the last one I ever had.

At my baptism, I was pretty nervous as I had to give a short speech. I had prepared some notes, but my mind still felt blank and awkward, as I sat in my seat, waiting to be called up. But then, as I was called, the moment my feet touched the ground as I stood up, I felt all fear drain away, and a wave of peace and confidence wash over me. I didn’t even look at my notes, but just spoke from my heart and all the words came and I felt alive.

I feel this post is going to go on forever, so I’ll stop for now, and do a part 2 soon!

Spiritual Lust

tea_and_toast

When I was a baby, I was baptised in the Church of England. My mother never claimed to believe in God, but out of love she wanted to “make sure I was covered, just in case!” She also sent me to a Christian primary school when I was around 4 years old, where we prayed to the Lord before our meals and would sing Christian hymns in assembly to the energetic tune of our old headmistress’s piano. In spite of her own lack of a faith, my mother was always, and still is today, eternally supportive of whatever I put my heart to. She would offer her views if asked, but always maintained it was something one had to decide upon for themselves. So in my early years, I don’t think I was ever quite sure, but I remember speaking to God. My favourite story growing up was the Chronicles of Narnia, which I would find out much, much later were written by C. S. Lewis, who was renowned in the Christian world. I was very imaginative back then, and I would dream a lot. I also remember supernatural experiences, of voices talking to me from the darkness and at other times my bed seeming to rotate as i lay down, enveloped with an intoxicating presence in the room.

However, as I got older, I found myself drawn to more exotic spiritual things. I met a native american man online when I was around 17, who first taught me to meditate. He told me to lay down on the floor and let go, to stop my thoughts and wait for “the helper” to come. I remember doing this late at night and feeling waves of energy wash over me. Then later, I found myself getting interested in Zen Koans and Taoism, and I eventually fell headfirst into Tibetan Buddhism. Looking back, I see all these things now as escapism, a spiritual lust. It’s that dissatisfaction in a man that makes him seek out the exotic and new and exciting. On a larger scale, we see this now in the west, where we have become discontent with our own Christian heritage and now seek out the exotic religions of the east. The Lord our God is like our loving wife at home, who has cared for us through the years, staying faithful and good, reliable and kind, and then out of our dissatisfaction, with a lust for the exotic, we turn to many mistresses.

But the Lord, in his kindness, never left me, even when I had left him. I remember once during my early meditations, I had entered a state of sleep paralyses, and instinctively, even though I thought I no longer believed in Him, I cried out “God, help me!” internally, and was immediately restored to normal. An experience that left me a bit confused and feeling I had failed in some way by needing him again, like a child who wanted to be independent but found they still needed their father. He tried to reach me many times over the years too, through my dreams and even the women I encountered in my life. I remember when I was 18, I got close to a girl who had me reading the bible and even attending her church and taking communion. What’s sad to me now is that I remember I really felt the Lord’s presence in those moments, but my heart was set on the exotic and I didn’t want to give up my other spiritual practices.

I do remember missing the Lord at many times and sometimes feeling a deep sadness or longing. I would read stories about Jesus and watching the Passion of the Christ even made me cry. I wanted him to be real, but I didn’t believe in him. In the end, I didn’t find the love I was looking for in the exotic. The things I had chosen over the Lord ultimately let me down. I had gone so far as to become a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, but I left it feeling broken and psychologically damaged, and I would then abandon all religion and enter a period of depression that lasted many years.

Then one day, when I was at my lowest, I went for a slow and apathetic walk into town. There was a man singing on the street, so I decided to sit on a bench and just listen for a while. It turned out the man was singing about Jesus, and I had a moment where I just felt an unusual calm wash over me. Then I got up and kept walking through town, and on the next street I came across a table. At that table was a pastor and his wife. At first I just passed the table, but then I felt something stop me, and in my head I said “okay, fine, I’ll just talk to them”. So I went back, and there was just something so good and kind about these people. I went to their church, ate with and spent time with these people. Even though in my mind, I was intellectually resistant, it’s like my heart just knew this was right, this was good, and this was what I had been missing. It touches me now to think, that even after all my “spiritual mistresses”, even after turning away from him and denying him for so long, he still prepared a table before me, when I needed him most, and welcomed me back home with love and open arms. I went astray for a while, but now I am back home.

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.

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.