Before we begin...
My story does not contain examples of gaining control over addiction, overcoming health problems or even spiritual healing. In fact it is a far more mundane journey; From being in a reasonably happy and contented place to being in a reasonably happy and contented place with the additional sense of peace and love unlike anything I've ever experienced before.
First some background
I grew up in a non-Christian, warm and loving family with my two brothers and sister. My parents, like so many people, had no real religious believes, happy for each of us to make our own decisions.
My first introduction to Christianity was at school, I went to a Church of England school, so religion was quite a large part of the teaching and every Wednesday the school assembly was held in St Mary's church next door to the school. Like all kids that age I believed all about baby Jesus and how God loves me, but in truth I gave very little thought to God and salvation. There were far too many and more interesting things to learn and do.
At the age of 14 I met "the Christians". They were the parents of a friend of mine and they proved to be no more than intolerant bigots. Professing love and what they claimed to be Christian values. They saw themselves as pious and righteous but to non Christians they were the most heartless, vindictive and judgmental people I had ever met. Paul's words to Titus sums up my opinion nicely. (Titus 1:16 - They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good).
People like me, from a non Christian background learn about Christ from what they read or hear, many will also learn by example. So Christians need to live out a life of example for others, sometimes the greatest advert for atheism is Christians.
That is how it worked for me. If Christianity made people act that way I was certainly not going to have anything to do with it. However, having a logical mind I also wanted to look into it for myself. Some of the things they were saying seemed to be biblical, but at times appeared to contradict itself. Having started studying the Bible for myself, it became apparent a lot of what they said had no Biblical basis at all and in fact at times totally contradicted what the Bible said. It amazed me how little "the Christians" actually knew about their own faith and Bible.
And so began my 30 year career of Christian baiting. Jesus was just a swear word and as far as I was concerned religion had created more hatred and suffering than anything else. I was a vocal and enthusiastic agnostic, (to me the existence of God was unknown and unknowable) ridiculing those who believed in something they could not possibly prove. During this time I had some good times as well as some bad times but overall I was happy, and never questioned my own enlightened way of thinking.
So how did it all change?
It all started when I met Annie, who is now my wife. She was a Christian but at that time was not attending any church. We did occasionally discuss each others believes but it never really became an issue. After three years together Annie decided she wanted to start attending church again, and of course wanted me to go with her. I knew, like when shopping, I could disappear into my own little world and let it all wash over me, so I agreed. So began her search for the right church. After trying 5 or 6 churches, none of which seemed quite right, (although retrospectively it was usually me who felt that), we were by chance driving in Ashingdon and saw a coffee morning in the Elim church. As we fancied a coffee we decided to stop and go in. The people were friendly and chatty, Annie mentioned she was looking for a church and they obviously suggested we should attend one of the services.
So the following Sunday there we were in yet another church, the difference being we both found we actually felt comfortable being there. Annie had found the church for her, for my part I was ok with that but proceeded to inform her, with much finger wagging, that although I was happy to go with her because she wanted me there, I was not going to get sucked into any of that Christianity lark.
After attending for a few months we were invited on to an Alpha course the church was hoping to run. Although I knew they could not change my mind, (just as I knew I would not change theirs), it sounded interesting so I agreed.
The concepts and reasoning presented weren't new to me but the opportunity to question and debate the various points allowed me to start to understand what they were trying to say. And I have to say everyone there helped to make our once a week meeting a really enjoyable evening. By the end of the course I had made, what was for me, a major step. I had managed, in my head, to separate Christianity from religion, they weren't they same.
The last part of Alpha involves an away day at a church in London. On this occasion the church that was normally used was not available so an alternative was used. When we entered I seemed to be drawn to a certain part of the church, there hidden behind a pillar was a picture, it was an abstract representation of Jesus on the cross. It was hanging on the wall but you were unlikely to see it from any other position. Well this picture just captured me, I pulled everyone over to see it exclaiming how wonderful it was. Most peoples reaction was to say nice and wander off again. For me when I stared at it I was overcome by feelings of Love, Hope, Sadness, Longing all mixed together, it was very powerful and emotional.
Even now, although I cannot tell you exactly what the picture looked like, or anything that happened during that day, I can still feel the intense emotion that picture provoked in me. I spoke to the Pastor about my experience and he naturally equated it to God, of course I was much too intelligent to believe that. However the feelings played constantly on my mind, my head told me it was just a picture while my heart kept asking what if there is something in it.
Eventually everything culminated in one thought. If I took communion, something I had always refused to do, I would be committing myself to something really important. This frankly scared me and although I knew I could simply walk away I also knew I wouldn't. It took me several more months before I finally felt I had to do it.
When I first took the bread I was immediately filled with a burning heat inside me, not in a destructive way, but in a beautiful yet to me scary way. Well both I and those close to me knew I had been caught, yet my head still wasn't going to let me accept it. So a few weeks later just before taking communion again I said to God "if these feelings are for real prove it to me by taking those feelings away". This time when I ate the bread I was totally overwhelmed by feelings of loss, despair and emptiness, only for the briefest of times, yet it was so intense it affected me for hours. Having experienced what it felt like when God is not with you, I finally understood, God had always been there with me even when I had not wanted him.
So how has this changed my life?
Well as I said right at the beginning, since accepting Christ I feel a sense of peace and love unlike anything I've ever experienced. This is due to a large part to my confidence that God is always with me, in the good times and the bad, after all I have experienced him not being there.
Jesus is no longer just a swear word but my Saviour. I used to laugh at people who claimed to have been saved, but I understand it more now.
Annie and I have become a members of the church and we both feel a great sense of belonging.
At one time the Bible stories were just words in a book, I didn't realize the spiritual depth to them, this is something I look forward to understanding more deeply.
I still ask many questions and certainly struggle with a lot of the concepts and dogma, however I have come to realise that while scientific certainty is comforting its not essential.
As a final note I was told long after the event that Annie, after our relationship had become serious, had been praying for guidance or a sign that I would find God. She had in the back of her mind the verse 2 Corinthians 6:14 (Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?). Coincidence or God's answer to prayer? That's for you to decide but I know which one I choose to believe.
If you do not at present know Jesus, please don't do as I did and rely on what you hear from others. Find out for yourself, if there is a local Alpha group give it a try, they are gentle, non scary events which you might enjoy and they often serve food which is always a bonus. The worst that can happen is you will waste one evening a week for a few weeks, but you never know you may gain far more.
I would like to end with a passage that truly speaks to me. Romans 13:8-10 (New International Version), Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
What this is saying is that if we lived our lives in a truly loving way there would be no need for Gods Laws we would automatically be fulfilling them. Truly powerful stuff. If you managed to get through my meanderings I would like to thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.