Some things remain hazy - others are as clear as if they’d just happened a few hours ago.
Let me try and keep to the ones in sharp focus that will give you a definite understanding of how it was that I became a christian. I’m sure that some would summarise my experiences in psychological terms and see my decision as the result of emotional or psychiatric influences that pushed me into it, but the things that happened to me both then and since testify against those thoughts.
I’ve seen many unexplainable phenomena occur - things such as cancers disappear in an instant and alcoholics sober up in a couple of minutes both when prayed with. If God doesn’t exist, these things couldn’t have happened - and, to the people who don’t believe in the existence of God, these things are impossible and in need of a rational explanation based upon current Scientific laws and principles.
But God doesn’t always operate within His pre-set physical rules.
My childhood had some highs and lows but I don’t want to make too much of them. I grew up like most kids - enjoying the things around them and learning new things. I was swept away by the new fads and other such stuff that the world was. I used to love to try new things and, if there was an advert on tv that promoted a new product, I just had to have it or try it.
Around about 13 years of age, I started writing comedy at school - it wasn’t anything that stood the test of time and, besides, I threw out my writings when I first became a christian, so eager was I to remove most of my past life from me and to start anew. But to my friends who read my thoughts, they were a source of much mirth and hilarity, and I began compiling comedy passages in books that I’d keep almost sacrosanct at home, hoping one day that I’d become a comedy writer of some fame.
But the crazy thing was that I began to feel heartache over the world and its ways. I was around fourteen at the time if my memory serves me well, and I was just looking to begin a career through Higher Education into Engineering when what I can only describe as a sort of depression began to wash over me on numerous occasions.
I looked around me at the world I was involved in and didn’t like what I saw - there was violence on the streets and in homes. People were being murdered for no greater reason than that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wars were continuing - and even being started - when most men and women were shouting words of peace.
On the one hand, I believed in the goodness of man - but, on the other, I didn’t see the reality of what I believed in. If man was so good, I reasoned, then why didn’t we live out of the goodness of our own hearts? To me, the world had become cold and, though I had enjoyed my childhood, I began to realise that it wasn’t as innocent as I’d once presumed it to be.
There was a school magazine which was printed once a year and submissions were invited from the kids - poetry, prose, short stories. I submitted some poems in quite quick succession and, though I know at least one of the next two reproduced below were printed, I can’t remember if the other was with any great certainty.
Whatever, they both demonstrate the way I was beginning to think as a teenager.
THE WORLD IS DEAD
The world is dead though life continues.
Screaming mobs run from packed arenas while old men protect their loved ones from the marauding fans.
The world is dead.
Blacks and whites fight each other for racial peace while political parties incite them to riot.
No resources, no peace, no reason.
Only force exists in a world that once thrived.
The world is dead.
Even God has rejected His chosen people.
That’s the original ending, by the way, I haven’t changed it. Even though I wasn’t a christian, I did have some ‘God-consciousness’ - I think most people do - but my concept of God was of Him as some sort of life force (and this is pre-Star Wars days!), of some pervading cosmic principle that sought to influence life on earth and to bring it back into the perfect state that it had originally sprung from - and, of course, in those days that meant evolution as the principle that had changed us from one thing into another.
Anyway, the second...
O foolish world!
While our earth lies strewn around us
With sick schemes and plans,
You continue destroying yourself everyday.
How long can you survive continually self-destructing?
Vote for this, vote for that.
Vote for him, vote for her.
Can you stop arguing between yourselves just long enough to rid us of our crisis?
Only our beloved Saviour can show us what we need.
Renounce your faith, atheist,
For faith in Him has given us hope in times of universal trouble.
Yes, honestly, I wasn’t a christian - and I really did spell the word ‘saviour’ with a capital ‘s’ even though I had no concept (as far as I remember) of Jesus being ‘God in the flesh’.
I was into a psychologist’s writings named Wilhelm Reich. There was an article in my teenage years in a Ufology magazine about some of his work and that prompted me to buy a compilation book of some extracts from his works before going on to read ‘Reich on Freud’ (he had been one of Freud’s students before his immigration to the States - from Germany I seem to recall), ‘Listen! Little man’ and, my most treasured possession, ‘The Murder of Christ’.
Just like any humanist, Reich reinterpreted the Gospels the way he wanted to and saw things ‘in-between the lines’ that just weren’t there - but it was so alive to me that I lapped it all up. He also had a very perceptive view of mankind and his short booklet ‘Listen! Little man’ was addressed to humanity as a whole and pointed out it’s weaknesses and frailties.
Of course, this was right up my street. His perception of the world around him mirrored mine - how could I not accept the things he said? Only problem was that his solution was not possible for I began thinking in terms of man not being able to free himself whereas Reich did.
The more I saw of the world, the more convinced I became that mankind was on the road to a destruction that there was no turning back from - even if a few men and women tried their hardest to go against the flow of the multitudes, little could be done to write a different conclusion to the one that was coming upon all of us.
I saw no solution - only the problem - but I didn’t live my life in a continually depressive state. I did have highs and lows, though, but these extracts from a poem I wrote show how I was generally feeling.
CHRISTMAS DAY 1977
Xmas is time to forget all that’s bad:
To live and let live and just don’t feel sad.
Don’t give Belsen a thought or poverty places
Throughout the world - all the kids’ crippled faces.
How many wars are in progress and continue long on?
For peace and salvation in Christ’s name - HANG ON!
Can’t you see what you’re doing, it’s not Christ at all?
You just want escapism instead of St Paul.
Xmas dead and Xmas past, back into reality.
Go back with a hangover to your work and your plea
For a new year’s resolution for peace and love on earth
No more slavery, no more fighting or tears for the Virgin Birth.
Jingle Bells, war is over
Let there ever be peace on earth
Jingle Bells, no more fighting
No more fears for the Virgin Birth
Christmas 1977 was a time when I had left school - I’m going a bit fast, now, let me recap some events...
I had been attending a weekly christian meeting called initially GNC (Good News Club) and then, as we got older, Crucible - run by a chemistry teacher called Steve Gooden. I never really understood the Gospel, even though I did hear it and did listen to testimonies of many visitors we had that came and talked to us.
To me, there were still no solutions, even though I must have heard the Gospel - I did have some form of consciousness of God and always professed myself, when asked, as an ‘unorthodox’ christian (that was partly true, of course, but if I was unorthodox then what words could describe my condition today?!!!!!).
I had passed my GCE O Levels with flying colours but took on far too many A levels at the beginning of September 1976. I knew within the first couple of weeks that I’d taken too much on (Physics, Chemistry and 2 courses of Maths) but the teachers persuaded me to persevere for a short time to see if I could recover my composure and increase my work rate. But, after that extra time given, I approached them again and they explained to me that I couldn’t now drop one of the subjects as that would mean that I would have to be reallocated subjects and, as the other courses had already started, this couldn’t be done.
I got more and more depressed until I decided to leave school - which I did, much to my parents disapproval. They understood in the end but, if you put yourself in their shoes, you’ll see that their only son dropping out of school was not something that they were initially going to be very pleased about. But, bless ‘em, they finally agreed and I left for employment with Customs and Excise as a Clerical Officer in a part of the organisation which was slow to say the least - the most exciting thing that used to happen was when we managed to finish the Daily Telegraph crossword!
The summer of ‘77 saw me typing up all my comedy notes - that may not seem like a point worthy of interest but I was trying to compile them into a book and, at the very end of my work, I remember writing a poem ‘to God’ asking Him to remember me. But I destroyed the poem shortly after becoming a christian because it contained an offensive word (actually more than one)!!
The implication of the poem, though, was that I was unable to write much comedy because my life had degraded into a meaningless and empty existence that was not conducive to writing funny material - therefore I asked God to do something about it. This, as far as I remember, was the first time that I called upon God. I was 16 or 17 years old but it wasn’t until I was 22 that I would finally come to acknowledge His work.
I don’t remember too much else about ‘77 except that the boring work continued and I longed to leave. My studies on day release were equally tedious and required I invest studying time in four subjects that I simply did not relish.
I had been brought up to have an interest in horse racing and, notably, gambling. There was rarely a Saturday morning when I wouldn’t be found in our local betting office (I was quite tall for my age and had been frequenting their offices on numerous occasions before) for the morning’s dog racing at Hackney, nipping next door to the pub for some cider in-between races or when a race didn’t interest either myself or my dad who came with me.
Both these grew increasingly throughout the year and, looking at how much more money I was spending on these pursuits, gave me cause for concern - but I just couldn’t stop them, even though, at one point, I was diagnosed as having a liver virus and had to stop drinking for a few months while I recovered.
I was also deeply interested in music - and had been for many years. Having now more money to spend, I bought countless records and started frequenting the concerts of my idols.
It seemed a natural progression, then, that I started looking at the Betting Office companies in London to see if I could get some sort of position with them. After all, my interest was in racing and it was something that I knew would hold my interest - certainly more so than the boring work that I was having to do in Customs and Excise and the studying which was driving me crazy.
I applied to Mecca Bookmakers and was accepted as a sort of apprentice working in their credit offices until I was 18 when I would be moved out into one of their shops as a Trainee Manager to learn how to run a shop.
This I did and was a manager of an Inner London Betting Office sometime after I turned 18 (I recall - I may have been 19 but I think that I hadn’t reached that age when I was given my first shop to manage). I managed betting offices until September 1984 but a lot happened in that time that I need to relate.
I hated hypocrisy.
And I thought the Church were hypocrites - the image that is portrayed by the mass media only reinforced that view and I grew ever more convinced that something radical was the answer.
So I became more convinced in my own belief in Wilhelm Reich and his teaching. Like many others, I wanted world peace and thought it was achievable in my lifetime if everyone would simply lay down their arms and commit themselves to peace.
Yes, I hated hypocrisy.
I think it was one night when I had a couple of free tickets to a BBC Radio recording near Haymarket (at the Paris Studios) that I passed by a statue that stood at the bottom of a road - it was modelled of a politician who had turned into a national hero but what was portrayed in the image was so much different from the person history actually told us he was like.
The thought stayed with me and, after I’d got home, I wrote this poem
He was never a man of love
Only to his country
In times of hate and war.
He murdered, he cheated, he swore.
And yet, here he stands today,
His face wrought in waves of love and peace
His arms held out in an ever warm embrace
To a cold world.
I walk passed you everyday
And yet your eyes never change
But now you’re dead and gone
Your statue will live on
Showing us and oh so different face.
I was an introvert.
That might seem like a crazy statement to those who now know me - I am anything but - but in those days I shied away from going out and hated the world’s party system (I still do hate it, by the way!), seeing in them very little that attracted me to participation. I’d rather have sat in the corner of some quiet room and read a book or listened to some decent music.
But, more than anything, I knew that what I had as my highest objective couldn’t be achieved - that was a deep and meaningful relationship. A close female friend that I could settle down and marry, be in love with and...well, most of us have had the dream - more easily fantasised about than obtained.
I had gone out with several girls/women - I had even gone steady with a girl for quite some time but I ended that relationship when, wrongly, I thought love was about gooey feelings!
Then came my first marriage - and what a disaster that turned out to be!
I met my wife at work, she was one of the relief counter-clerks that moved round the betting offices to help out when absence necessitated. I can’t remember just how long we went out together before we were married but we lived together from May of ‘81 until August of the same year (I think - could have been September) when we got married and then split up in January of ‘82. The dates are a bit of a blur to me and I don’t think about it very often.
Why was it a disaster?
Because I was expecting my wife to be to me everything that I had wanted out of life and she just could not be that person. That wasn’t her fault, it was mine, for expecting that someone who could be so much had to be more than she was and, even, different.
In fact, even though I never realised it at the time, I really wanted her to change to be what I wanted her to be and yet I wanted to stay the same as I was. Even if that was possible, the person I was could never at that time have committed to a lasting relationship - it just wasn’t possible.
So, we spilt up in the January of ‘82, and I moved back to live with my parents.
But it had ended my ultimate dream and it was therefore very significant. All that I had been aiming for in life had been shown to be unobtainable. I had entered into what seemed to be able to give me lasting satisfaction and yet it had been empty and disruptive.
Although I never gave up that dream, my pride took a battering and my hopes were dashed as I hit an all-time low for the next months.
I began hitting the bottle more and more. Up to that point, I had never been drunk, but during the first part of ‘82 I was drunk on a few occasions - I even had to be driven home one night when I found myself so incapable that I couldn’t remember all the details of that evening (but I do remember trying to pick a girl up...strange thing was, I didn’t even like her). I guess I must’ve blacked out.
I also gambled heavily (for me) and began having to go without things that I really wanted. I wasn’t in poverty, you understand, but we each have limited resources and mine were being made even smaller by my ‘investments’.
But I couldn’t stop - believe me, I tried! I worked out all sorts of systems to try and quell my gambling ways but nothing worked. I tried to go without alcohol for days but there was always an ‘occasion’ that demanded that I crack open some beer or open a bottle of wine (sometimes nothing more than a live football match on the telly).
And yet, I knew I had to stop. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, I was killing myself and that if I didn’t stop pretty soon then I would find myself penniless most days.
From being in a relationship that had offered so much to me, I had sunk to being an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler - even though I knew that I must stop, I couldn’t.
During the period January-July ‘82 when this happened, I had attended the Yorkshire Passion plays at some London theatre or other where the audience become part of the crowd and mingle with the actors.
That really freaked me out.
The part they were doing that evening was the crucifixion and I came away feeling very, very scared. I know you won’t find this surprising, but I wrote a poem about what I experienced - and it’s quite important, too, for you to be able to understand where I found myself
A play - all but a play
We were asked and we declared
‘Barabbas’ we cried
Not one objected.
He was nailed, He was cursed.
He was spat, He was fouled.
And yet, if one had said ‘Jesus’
He would have been out of place,
Not one of the crowd.
So, we blindly followed
Something we had no choice.
And Jesus is martyred again.
Yes, it really shocked me. I knew that Jesus shouldn’t be crucified because He’d done no wrong - but I couldn’t help myself in assenting to the crowd’s voice in calling for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be executed.
And I had the choice, too - we all did.
I could have shouted for Jesus in that split moment between Pilate asking the crowd who they wanted to be released and that first actor who called for Barabbas. It was at that moment that I actually realised that, had I been in the crowds on that day so many years ago, I would have done exactly the same thing as those crowds did (maybe for different reasons but I would still have followed the crowd).
I was no independent person, I was only one of the crowd. As much as I might like to think of myself as a free-thinker or ‘unorthodox christian’, I was just a weak-willed human like any other who couldn’t even stand up for the Person who I was supposed to believe in - even when we were play acting.
That really frightened me and the horror of it lasted with me for weeks - if anything, it pushed me into drinking and gambling more because I knew of no solution to my predicament. Not even my experience of the christian clubs at school could help me out because I had never fully understood the implications of the Gospel. I knew that ‘Jesus saves’ but, where I was, that didn’t seem to be a viable alternative - especially when I had just rejected Him!!
And, believe me, I was desperately trying to sort my life out. But, whatever I condemned in my own life, I found myself doing all the more - even though I knew what was right to do, I just didn’t have the will or the power to carry through my resolution and my commitment was as shallow as any man’s.
My mother had become a christian in her teens but had backslidden.
Around the first third of the year, she began thinking about God again and how her childhood had been with Him and this led her into wanting to get back into a relationship with Him once again, culminating in several visits to a local church who were having a ‘crusade’ (as they called it) one of the weeks (I think) in June ‘82.
The Saturday night, dad and I arranged to meet her outside the building as we used to run a whist drive for a group of old people in the town hall and the end coincided with the expected completion of her service.
My dad and I stood outside the front door swilling a couple of cans of lager waiting for mum to come out and I remember peering in and seeing numerous people with hands raised heavenward, singing loudly - I can’t remember what I made of such behaviour but I did remark to dad that it seemed like it was something resembling a Rock Concert.
I think it was at that meeting that she recommitted her life to following Jesus - but I can’t be too sure.
Whatever, I noted what was going on and it got me thinking - eventually I asked mum if it was alright if I came along one Sunday evening (the ‘Gospel’ service) to hear what happened.
She, of course, agreed (but, knowing me, she didn’t show too much emotion - wisely). I went along at the end of July - must’ve been the second Sunday before the end of the month.
Now the speaker was a visiting one and he seemed to be totally unaware that the meeting was supposed to be a Gospel meeting (that is, a time when christians invite their unsaved family and friends to a ‘wonderful little meeting that isn’t over-powering’ in which they get bombed with the Gospel) - he decided to speak on the subject of how the church were a bunch of hypocrites.
Hey! I loved this preacher!
He actually agreed with me! And it must’ve been the most bizarre Gospel message ever! Tell the unsaved that the church that they might commit themselves into are, in fact, two-faced and say one thing but often do another. Not plan A when it comes to ‘three-point’ evangelism.
But it was the message I needed to hear.
When the preacher asked if anyone wanted to commit their lives to Christ, I asked Jesus to help me - quietly, in my own mind. You see, I knew that my life was a wreck and, at that time, I thought that christianity was doing your best with God’s help - I had no idea just how revolutionary it was!
But, God met me where I was and that following week was amazing. There was a fresh bounce in my step that I’d not noticed there for years and I had the power available to me to stop gambling and stop drinking.
I couldn’t believe that ‘it worked’ but I had to confess that it did.
I decided to go the following Sunday as well - another visiting speaker. This time he gave a simple Gospel message but I remember one of his lines when he said of the afterlife and what it was like that ‘it makes you want to jump into your coffins tonight’.
I wasn’t drawn to a free offer of heaven - I was more concerned to live right on earth than I was in anything that was to come after death. And I had already told myself that I must give my life to God that evening - I didn’t give my life to Christ during the week, of course, because I thought that I had to do it on a Sunday evening in a church building but it wasn’t important for God to correct me at that time.
In the closing ‘prayer’, I just asked Jesus to save me. That’s all. I understood the message that had been preached and I already had the evidence in my life that Jesus ‘worked’ - it wasn’t illogical to ask God to do what I knew He could do (or, rather, what He had done that previous week).
I didn’t raise a hand to accept Jesus. I didn’t pray the sinners prayer. I didn’t stand to my feet when asked to do so by the preacher. I just asked Jesus to save me and, at that moment, I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that He would do it.
Now, let me tell you what happened to the three of us (my mother, father and I) as we walked home that evening.
My father had always been one for finding coins in the street - I could look for months on end and never find a thing but he would frequently find all manner of change as he cycled from home to work on most days.
But he’d never found a fifty pence coin in the road - this was at a time when the pound coin had not yet been invented.
I’m not exactly sure what was going through his mind that evening but, in the church meeting, he had asked God for a sign that He was real and that He existed and the proof - for him - was if he picked up a fifty pence piece from the roadside as we walked home. He didn’t say ‘if I find a fifty pence piece’ but he was quite specific when he asked God for him to ‘pick up’ a fifty pence piece.
I had stopped to buy a can of Coke in the Off Licence while my parents began walking ahead of me up the long road that led us home when the thought hit me that I should contribute something to the church the next week - but, having already planned to go away for that week, it meant that I would have been unable to do so.
Therefore, I decided to ask mum to put some money in the offering box for me.
Being young, however, I decided to throw her the money as they walked away from me. Normally I have very good aim, but, this time, the fifty pence coin that I threw with the words ‘Put this in the box next week for me, will you?’ went nowhere near her and hit the ground a few yards away and then spiralled round where my dad had stopped until it came to rest at his feet.
He bent over and picked up a fifty pence coin from the street - his face went white, I seem to recall!
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you have to be an old christian to be used by Him!
That following week went well at the start. The great feelings remained and I started reading the Bible in the evenings instead of listening to music or watching telly. Mum caught me when she brought me up a cup of tea one day and I told her what I’d done that Sunday evening - she tried to control her delight but it was obvious she was bubbling over with enthusiasm.
Problem was, by the middle of the week, the feelings of joy had all but gone and I began doubting whether I was actually saved or not. I frantically found every sinner’s prayer I could find and prayed each one hoping that I might get the feelings back that had proved to me that I was a christian. But nothing worked - obviously something wrong with the prayers or I wasn’t acceptable to God!
Of course, I was relying not only in feelings but in some sort of verbal formula to save me instead of solely in Christ.
But I had a week’s annual leave due me the following week and I had just cancelled the week away I had with a friend of mine as that holiday was almost certainly going to lead me into doing things that I no longer had any real desire to do.
By the end of the week, I resolved to go ‘somewhere’ and sort my life out. I wasn’t sure just where but I knew that whether I came back ‘with God’ or not was not important - I just had to come back with something that would sort me out once and for all time.
So, on Sunday morning, I packed my bags and travelled across London to Paddington station (the railway system that serves the West Country) and began formulating in my own mind the place that I wanted to stay. It wasn’t unusual for me to go places on my own, I was an introvert - I had been to Holland, Switzerland and Belgium on solo trips before.
I decided that my destination mustn’t be more than five hours away by train, that the train must have a buffet on it and that the destination must have plenty of things to do in it. Now all I had to do was select the right place...
...and I opted for Truro.
Six hours by train.
There was no Buffet on the train, either.
And the most exciting thing to do in Truro is the cattle market and the Kentucky Fried Chicken place - and only one of them was open on the Sunday.
Why did I choose Truro? I knew it not to be the place that I wanted to go but I found no objection to my choice as I gazed up at the large destination board on the platform and opted for the town. I certainly wasn’t expecting God to meet me there - and I certainly wasn’t trying to run away from God. I was just trying to determine whether I was a christian or not and whether what I’d had at the beginning of the week was real or not - and, at the very least, I had to come back with my life sorted out because I knew full well that the path I was walking on before the previous fortnight was one that was going to destroy me sooner or later.
So, Truro it was.
In Truro I went back to my old ways.
I sat in the pub that evening drinking cider and telling myself that I could control my drinking, that I was a self-willed person who could exercise self-control over these areas to make myself better. How I ever let myself think such things is completely beyond me - I had tried to do this before and had totally failed to achieve my objectives, returning to a lifestyle that was even worse than before I tried to change myself for the better.
I don’t remember the time but I recall seeing an older lady come in to the pub and walk over to the guy behind the serving bar. Her strange movement caught my eye as I began reading an article in the Times that was at the top of the page.
The guy nodded his approval and she turned and looked around the bar at the people who were drinking and chatting. For some reason, she walked straight over to me, sat down beside me and said
‘Do you mind if I talk to you?’
‘No, sure’ I replied.
I can’t remember the exact conversation from then on but, suddenly, a bunch of tracts were flashed out from her handbag and she began sharing about Jesus and how he had died to save us from our sins.
That convinced me God was real and that He was making a play to get me back. I didn’t hesitate in telling the lady (Victoria is her name) what had happened to me and what I was doing in Truro.
Victoria just accepted my story and encouraged me to pursue God rather than my own way of life - which I was eager to do. Her words were what I now know to be ‘prophetic’ - that is, words straight from the mouth of God and I didn’t hesitate in allowing her to pray for me in the middle of the pub (must’ve raised a few eyebrows) and of going upstairs to my room when she had left and recommitting my life to the Lord from that moment on - I had already done it in the pub but I was legalistic in those days and thought that I had to do it on my own as well.
She may have felt that it was just ‘too good to be true’ - like the time recently when I went on to one of the christian chat web sites where the non-christians like to hang out and argue and was asked ‘Where did Cain’s wife come from?’
Expecting the same old routine once I’d answered (about incest and God being the author of sin and all that), I answered ‘She was the daughter of Adam and Eve’
‘Oh, Thanks’ came the reply ‘I’d never realised that before’ and we went on to have a good chat about the Bible and other things.
It was just too easy - people aren’t supposed to believe what you say! They’re supposed to argue so that you can use all your well-developed arguments!! But it just didn’t happen.
I don’t know if Victoria has ever spoken to anyone who has accepted whatever they said immediately or not - but I knew that she was God’s servant for my good and I was not going to blot my copy book and refuse her words.
(I’ve since found out from Victoria that her entry into that pub was unusual. Though she normally popped into the local on her way home from church most Sunday evenings, that particular one was not her usual choice. Even more reason for me to shake at the thought of how God had planned this all along - and thank goodness that Victoria listened to God’s voice that evening and didn’t do what she’d always done! Praise God for people who won’t stick with the traditional way of doing things but who remain flexible in the Lord’s hands!)
I returned on the first train to London the following morning and home. My mum was ecstatic - can’t remember how my dad reacted but it wouldn’t have been negative.
The pastor of the church came round one of the evenings that week and the three of us chatted in the front room. I shared with him what had happened at mum’s prompting but I can’t say that he gave me any real assurance that what I’d experienced was real - didn’t matter though, his acceptance of the event didn’t lessen the validity of God’s moving in my life.
And what of my life since that time?
Well, I don’t want to detail my experiences in the same detail as I have above but there a few things that I feel I should mention. Perhaps they’ll be of interest to some people, perhaps they’ll even be of help - perhaps I just need to commit them to writing so I don’t forget!
Whatever, let me record them...
When I became a christian, I was an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler. Immediately I found power to stop drinking and suffered no withdrawal symptoms. I also ceased gambling.
I was asked once why I don’t regularly play the lottery and my reply is that I want God to give me the numbers first - I’d have no trouble with my conscience if God gave me the right numbers for the week’s draw, but, if He did, I’d certainly need some specific details to tell me just what I was supposed to do with all the money.
I really have no trouble believing that God could provide for me in this way - but I do have difficulty accepting that I should try and provide for myself in a similar manner. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't do the lottery - and I wouldn't condemn anyone for doing it either - but moderation is the key issue where participation is securely under control.
Of course, the word ‘gambling’ is a strange one and one could equally use the label for trading on the stock exchange or taking a risk with investments in banks and building societies even though it normally means going into a Betting Office and putting a bet on a horse, greyhound, soccer match and so on.
The point in all these things, though, is who is being looked to as Provider - and being responsible for the money that’s committed into our hands. I would have to think carefully about the normal attitude that would frown upon a person who puts a one pound bet annually on the Grand National but which sees nothing wrong in wasting hundreds on ‘keeping up with fashion’ or of getting the latest technological advances when what is owned is perfectly adequate.
Considering matters from God’s viewpoint becomes disconcerting and, very often, a break from the norm.
Alcohol is a little different, though, it’s one of those things that’s been given to man to enjoy (enjoy, that is, not abuse). But, when I became a christian, I was an alcoholic and immediately left all forms of alcohol behind me.
In fact, I remained teetotal from August of ‘82 until my wife and I visited Paris during the summer of ‘91/92 (I can’t remember the exact year) - it was then that I began to realise the power available not only to cause me to be able to abstain but also to participate fully under control.
Of course, this is not the right word for everyone. Some, like myself during the early years of my christian experience, need to abstain totally and need other christians to be self-controlled and abstain in their presence so as not to stumble them.
But God has now restored that area to me...
...along with music.
When I first became a christian, I threw away probably 99% of all my records and kept just the ones that were ‘safe’ - actually, I gave them to a non-christian at work but I didn’t receive any money for them as I just felt that was wrong. I wouldn’t now, though, but then I felt it was wrong.
After a few months, I even got rid of the ‘christian ones’ so I was left with nothing. This may sound pretty bizarre, but music was one of those gods in my life that needed to be defeated - I would come in of an evening and, instead of spending time alone with God, I would listen to music and blank out His voice.
For me, that meant the destruction of what stood in-between me and Him and, though I struggled with it for a good many weeks, in the end all the records went.
Having said that, I now have a varied CD collection of even some of those albums that I gave away or destroyed in my first two years as a christian - because I have now realised the power at hand to control their playing (though my wife may tell you that I haven’t yet found the power to adjust the volume control correctly!!).
Maybe you need to do similar things?
Maybe even stranger things?
Don’t worry, just do it.
Women were a big issue, too.
I came to Jesus married but separated and there were all sorts of issues that surrounded that for the next five years.
I had married a divorced woman so at one time I wondered if, perhaps, God didn’t actually view me as being married but as having committed adultery (Mtw 5:32). But, perhaps I was married in His eyes - in that case, if I divorced then I would be committing adultery (Mtw 5:32, Mk 10:11). Or should I accept that I was ‘unmarried’ in the sense of being separated when I came to know Jesus?
The more I thought about my situation, the more confused I got - the problem was that I didn’t know how God viewed my situation so I delayed doing anything about it.
Meanwhile, I did the only thing I could - I lived as if I was married and didn’t go out with anyone on the basis of them being a girl friend. Of course, I didn’t sit at home alone and refuse any evenings out - there were people that needed talking to which meant I needed to get them away from their surroundings and try and ‘help’.
I remember one such woman who I saw have a gun pulled on her by her brother outside her house. That prompted me to try and take her to one side to chat and try and help, but I do believe that the elders of the church I was attending didn’t see it like that - it was that kind of church, unfortunately, where they judged on the external appearance of things rather than go up to the person and ask them directly what was going on.
May the Lord change such churches for good, for no lasting revival will ever take place in these congregations until their heart is transformed and their minds are renewed - indeed, until we’re all transformed so that we stop hindering His work in our midst.
If the Holy Spirit came in power into many of the churches today, unless there was an acknowledgement that radical change was needed, the move would simply grind to a halt when the ‘unusual’ and ‘unorthodox’ was assessed as ‘ungodly’.
When we find that we get a ‘raw deal’ in fellowships, we should never be discouraged but continue on with Jesus Christ, knowing that, if we learn from the experience, we can become more like Him, being careful not to repeat those same things that were done to us. If Joseph had given up when he received harsh treatment at the hands of his own brothers, he would never have found himself in a position to save his own brothers’ lives years later.
So, I remained as if I was married.
In January of ‘84 I felt God say to me to get divorced and I didn’t believe Him. I was convinced that this was what He wanted me to do but I analysed the Word and decided I must be hearing things, that it was a desire of the heart that had found expression into my mind. I was quite wrong, though, and in September of the same year met my future wife at Heathrow Airport at the beginning of a tour out to Israel.
I quickly realised that God had planned for us to be together but I told her of my situation when it became obvious that she felt the same way about me as I did her - so we remained friends throughout the holiday and began writing to each other when we got back.
I filed for a divorce in January of the following year and the divorce came through sometime in May, I seem to recall. After that, we decided to go out together as an engaged couple (actually, ‘going out together’ is an unfair representation - she lived in Manchester and I in London. We alternated every fortnight and visited each other at the weekend).
But being married during that seven months or so was the best thing that could have happened to me - I was forced into building a relationship with my wife-to-be instead of rushing headlong into a romantic affair. We developed our friendship and became grounded in each other’s life long before we ever kissed.
That meant that any relationship that developed was based upon being ‘friends’ rather than on a gushy feeling - and that meant it was going to last.
We were married in June ‘88 - finally sorting out my marriage ‘problem’.
God never did tell me whether He considered me married when I came to Him or not, He just told me to divorce. Guess I’ll never know...
Another area that needed sorting was my employment. When I became a christian, I was a Betting Office manager in central London - I was sure then that such an occupation was incompatible with being a christian but I was unsure just what I should do. I freely admit that what I believed then may not be what I'd stand on now - after all, there's nothing that shouldn't be brought under Jesus' control and influence. But, back then, God met me where I was.
Being zealous for the Lord, I wanted to leave sometime during September/October of ‘82 and I remained convinced that I should just hand my notice in and allow God to look after me ‘by faith’. My mother wasn’t at all convinced though and I had a rather heated discussion with her at the end of which I went up to my bedroom, prayed and said to God
‘Come on, tell me I can leave’
then opened the Bible and put my finger on the pages - I wouldn’t recommend this to you at home to try this but I was very young in the faith and didn’t know much about the will and ways of God! The line that my finger fell on was a verse from Isaiah which simply read
‘Believers will not be in haste’
It wasn’t that the verse could be applied to my situation - but that it hit me like a sledge hammer right between the eyes and I felt weak. In the light of that, I decided not to leave and found myself at peace with my job (even though the leadership of the church seemed not to be - again, they didn’t ask me why I stayed).
During either ‘83 or ‘84 (I can’t remember which), there was the ‘Mission to London’ with Luis Palau - my betting office was probably the only shop that had stickers all around it proclaiming ‘Come to QPR to hear Luis Palau’!! I was possibly the first christian bookie in human history but I was able to witness to the Lord before people who might never have heard that there was anything on - even though my witness was far from perfect.
I continued to study the Bible and attend what meetings I could and became a joint youth leader by ‘84 at the insistence of the youth leader who had always supported me against the decisions of the main leadership of the church.
But, one day, I went in to work and was hit by the question
‘What am I doing here anymore?’
I chatted it over with my mum that evening - well, actually, that’s not a correct statement. I really only told her what I was about to do. The following morning I handed my resignation in much to the amazement of my superiors - I don’t think they’d ever had a reason given that matched mine.
‘It’s incompatible with me being a christian,’ I said.
‘But don’t you have a job to go to?’
‘Why don’t you stay until you get another job?’
‘Because I must leave now’
Must’ve been pretty weird for them to comprehend - but even that would have served as a witness that there were more important things in life than having paid employment.
I think it was August that I left - in September I was travelling round England working for a christian organisation.
Anyway, that was my employment sorted out and, yet, I must point out here that a believer who has just such a job shouldn't think that God will have them leave in the same manner as I did - even that they will leave immediately. God's timing is perfect and He needs His people everywhere to stand and live for Him - not only in the 'righteous' places.
When a person comes to know Jesus, they bring a whole lot of baggage with them that Jesus needs to sort out. My alcoholism and gambling disappeared overnight (actually, by the grace of God, it disappeared a week before my commitment to Him - it was all the proof I needed that God existed even though the lack of ‘feelings’ confused me) but things like my idolatry of music, my marriage situation and my employment needed God to work on them and sort out the problem in His own time and at His own pace.
The situations that I’d found myself in were actually means that God used to not only get the Gospel out but to cause me to get to know Him better and to see Him at work through my life. Certainly, the christian life is not having all your problems sorted out but seeing God move in those problems to bring about maturity in His people and to demonstrate His incredible care for us and His immeasurable power.
Before I finish, let me list for you some instances in my life that spring to mind.
There have been times during the years when I’ve found radical change in my life in a short space of time and other times when the progress has been slow. There were three specific individuals whom God used significantly in my ‘upbringing’ as a christian and which I relate only to demonstrate my experience, not to urge you to follow them.
Steve Bell was the youth leader at the church I was in during my first two years. He was used to challenge me not to rely upon traditional formulae but to go for God and allow Him to dictate the method and way in which He wanted to work. He made me realise that the prophetic was more than an infrequent occurrence that happened but a necessary part of everyday living. He, along with the book ‘Disciple’ by Juan Carlos Ortiz, revolutionised my experience - something that the leadership could never have done.
Secondly, Roger Forster was used to show me how universal the cross of Christ was in the Scriptures - something that my teaching continues to bear witness to. And, thirdly, there was George our hamster (he whose stories appear on the web here) whom God used to make me see the wonders of His Creation.
Incidentally, out of those three individuals mentioned, only two were christians!!!
I’ve made mistakes, too (yes, honestly, I’m not perfect!!).
So eager was I to be used in spiritual gifts when I first started realising that they were still available to His Church today, I tried to make a prophecy happen so that I could give it. I remember one meeting where I made myself see a picture of a pile of material that was being burnt but, after the flames had subsided, there was left what was useful to God.
I must emphasise that this was conjured up out of my own mind and was not a direct word from God. Therefore, again in my own strength, I spoke out the vision and what I saw.
Instead of sharing that the Lord wanted to remove the dross from our lives, what I said could best be summarised with the words
‘Get out of building quickly because judgment is about to fall!’
Fortunately, the leader ignored the word, opened his hymnbook and said
‘Let’s sing number 492’
But I learnt not to make things happen but to allow God to move.
I also vowed to God one evening that, if He allowed me to lead the choruses, I would introduce a song that no one else had heard, using the overhead projector. Well, God chose me to lead the choruses (and I now know why) and I stepped up to lead the congregation in that new song.
Problem was, the bulb blew on the projector just as I was about to share the new song - but I’d vowed to God that I’d sing the song and I hadn’t specified that the projector had to be working! I swallowed hard, led the song (a solo, very nearly) and slumped off the platform extremely embarrassed.
From that day on I have never vowed to the Lord!
And I’ve had successes, though ‘success’ is a strange word that is often interpreted as meaning all sorts of things that it isn’t meant to represent in the Church. For instance, leading a church is supposed to mean that you’ve ‘arrived’ as a christian - it could mean that you’ve been disobedient to the call of God to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and so have stayed at home. In fact, it could mean a lot of things!
My ‘successes’ are not something that may make much sense to people reading this so I shall decline from sharing them - besides, if I really have been successful, it is only because God has moved by His power through me to do things and, if that is the case, how can I claim that I’m successful? Isn’t it rather God who has achieved?
But I will mention one time when I was down in Helston and we were asked to pray for someone in a small meeting about a problem they had. I began asking God for direction when He interrupted me and I had to stop.
Basically, he told me to shut up and turn to a Scripture and share it with the person. This I did and it was the answer to their problem - in my own strength I would never have found the answer, but my success was in letting God speak.
But, then, I wasn’t really being successful - more like submissive...
In case anyone is wanting to know my ‘church history’ so to speak, I conclude with this list - very recently, a leader of a fellowship concluded from this web page that I ‘continuously’ have conflict with leadership, the inference being that I was some sort of spiritual monster that kicked up trouble wherever I went.
As I was careful to point out, however, while there have certainly been times when I have had to think carefully whether I should continue in a place that’s a ‘problem’, this has certainly never been the norm. I have learnt a great amount about God in every place I’ve been and the trouble that I’ve experienced (and not made, I hasten to add) has been in the minority when my life is looked at as a whole.
I must emphasise, however, that I got little or nothing from some of these churches and was unable to teach the Scriptures in many others seeing as they rely upon qualifications from men rather than a knowledge of God and of the Bible. Others, however, were very willing to allow anyone with gifts from God to use them so long as they were employed for the building up of the Body of Christ - the very thing that each and every person with a gifting from God should be careful to aim for.
2 years (82-84) in a London Assemblies of God church - being established in the faith. God sorting my old life out. I had a few problems with the leadership at that time but never fully understood what was going on ‘behind the scenes’ that caused the animosity to be directed towards me. It was only some years later that a good friend of mine explained to me what slander had been circulating around the leadership that had caused them to ostracise me. I do thank God for it, though - it helped me to realise just how dangerous and damaging false testimony and gossip can be in the life of a fellowship, how it can cripple what God wants to do in a fellowship’s midst. And the danger isn’t consigned to those who aren’t leaders - I suffered at the hands of the leaders themselves and, if there can be grades of sin, such a thing has to be considered worse in a person who’s leading God’s flock. Being a young believer, though, I always thought that what I felt was me, something I’d done wrong even though, it turned out, the problem was of someone else’s making.
1 year (84-85) with the Assemblies of God moving around England helping out various churches - seeing the ‘other side’ of christianity. I saw a lot of the things that go on ‘behind the scenes’ that people in the congregation never get to see and, to be honest, a lot of it should have warned me as to what had happened in the previous two years. I learnt a lot about what not to do as well as what is fitting and right. It was an invaluable experience and I was grateful for God to have used me in many different locations to advance His Kingdom - and some of the characters I met were awesome people in Christ, some, sadly, are no longer around.
1 year (85-86) back at my first church - I had major problems with the old leadership throughout my final year there - perhaps I should’ve done better to leave for the next place I attended immediately? In my absence, a new youth leader had been appointed in my place who told me in a private conversation that Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross. It still amazes me when I come across leaders who don’t believe even the foundational truths concerning Jesus and the cross - more so when they’re in denominations who should know better. Both being used in preaching and returning to help with the music was forbidden but, when my mother approached the leaders to be given an explanation (and totally unknown to me, I hasten to add), one was refused. As I said above, it was only a few years later that I discovered what had been going on ‘behind closed doors’.
2 years (86-88) at Ichthus Christian Fellowship in Central London - to learn. I was content to see what was happening and learn from them. They had so much positive input into my life.
2 years (88-90) in various churches in and around the Sheffield/Worksop area - including a church split when a leader decided they were going to split the fellowship deliberately to try and remove those sheep that they didn’t want to lead (something that we could do nothing about), being dominated by a heavy authoritarian leadership in another (apparently, the leadership alone knew what God’s will was for myself and my wife’s life so that we could only do what they approved of and must always do what they told us to) and being told that we were trying to dominate and take control of yet another church and that, if we didn’t submit and obey the leaders, we were ‘of the devil’ (not one of the methods that Jesus used, I seem to recall, to gain followers).
2-3 years (90- 92) in Rother Valley Church (an independent church on the western edge of Sheffield) - I began focusing on the centrality of the cross here for the first time and drawing my notes together into foundational teaching of the work of Christ. The stories of George the hamster also started here.
6 months (93) in an Assemblies of God Church in the city of Sheffield - sitting back and doing very little. Could barely manage to get a conversation going with anyone, either! In the end, we felt that the brick wall we kept coming against just to get to know people was something that we should simply accept and take it as an indication that we were to move on.
6 months (93) in a local Assemblies of God church where we live - wanting to be used but there were too many ministers and not enough sheep.
2 years (94-96) in an Independent/Brethren church to the east of the city of Sheffield - teaching and leading music. We left, in the end, because when a word from God came about there being ‘sin in the camp’ from one of the believers and was confirmed by three independent sources, the leadership both opposed it and watered it down. Shortly after we left, one of the leaders was found to be having an affair outside his marriage (actually, he was one of the leaders who hadn’t opposed the Word from God - now, is that strange or what?).
6 months (97) in an Independent church to the west of the city of Sheffield. We decided to leave here, too, when we considered the options available to us - this was a place where there was another word from God which wasn’t accepted by the leader even though it was confirmed. When I used to teach, the leader would stand up afterwards and say that the congregation was already doing what I’d said so they didn’t need to change. Couldn’t see what else we could do at the end. We left peaceably enough - just as we’ve tried to do wherever we’ve been.
7 years (97-04) in an untypical Congregational church to the east of the city in Killamarsh - teaching, leading music and putting together the Internet ministry. Although the numbers were never large, we felt in March 2004 that it was time to close the place after having left the building and spent the past 6 months meeting in a room above a local pub.
So, that’s me.
Yes, I know it’s a bit long-winded but at least it’s here now for all to read.
Probably never be able to minister again in an Assemblies of God church...and many others will have suddenly decided that some of what is typed here makes me a dangerous and deluded individual. Some will take that last statement as being an admission that I am deluded and dangerous - as it was just a few days ago - a, sort of, self-confession.
Although many refuse to accept anything outside of their own experience, the above is the truth as far as I understand it. I’ve fabricated no events, nor twisted the information - and I’ve written carefully to make sure the reader has understood when my words have been my own interpretation of events rather than something that I’ve been able to accept as established fact.
Each person has a unique and different experience of Jesus Christ - that’s what makes the Body able to minister to itself. What one has experienced becomes the way that another who’s going through a similar situation can be comforted and encouraged. Otherwise the Body would be lop-sided and unable to minister effectively.
November 1998 (updated 2004 and 2012)
The author can be contacted here