My Testimony (2)

As I said in my previous post, that week was hellish. Perhaps surprisingly, In a strange, rather nervous way, I was eager to go to church the following Sunday evening. In my heart of hearts, I knew now, whatever I thought logic and science had been telling me previously, that God was real, and that somehow I had to sort out the mess which was my life. I also knew, instinctively, that trying to hide was hopeless - in a sense, I had no choice but to go back to church and 'face the music' - however uncomfortable that turned out to be.

I can remember nothing at all about the service, until the end of the sermon. The Pastor made another 'altar-call' (they were frequent, but by no means every week) - I'm sure he had a fairly shrewd idea what was happening to me - my face, the previous week, must have been a picture and, though I can remember nothing about the week now other than my terror, my conversations with Isobel must have been 'interesting'. I was out of my seat almost before he spoke the invitation, and committed myself to God at that point, confessing my sins and begging forgiveness in Jesus' name. And I knew, there and then, that I was forgiven. As Jesus said:

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Luke 11: 9-10 (NIV)

The sense of relief was immediate and almost palpable. Corrie Ten Boom called this after-effect of forgiveness "a flood of joy and peace", and that about sums up the feeling.

After the service, he offered me the chance to talk through anything that was bothering me. I didn't take him up on his offer, but have often wished, since, that I had - I'm sure that a lot of the 'baggage' from my former life could have been dealt with there and then, and that my start in the Christian life, though undoubtedly painful at that point, would have been far less traumatic over the months and years that followed.

One thing which has, mercifully, happened in the years since, is that I’ve gradually forgotten the ‘deep, dark, secrets’ which were revealed to all on the Sunday evening when God convinced me of His existence. Whatever they were, they aren’t relevant in any way to life now - forgiven and forgotten!

Isobel never came to parties... Except once, towards the end of sixth form in ‘Mick’s Club’ in Carlisle, and a few months after I had become a Christian. She clearly wasn’t at all comfortable about being there. I can’t remember the reason for the party - was it to celebrate the end of ‘A’ levels? - perhaps - but it’s lost in the mists of time. As I've hinted, I was quite keen on drink, and on parties - a good excuse to drink and 'have a good time'. Looking back, I'm not sure what was good about those times.

The following morning she came into the sixth form common room at school, where I was sitting eating breakfast after a particularly painful, somewhat hung-over, swimming training session. She clearly wasn’t pleased with me, and proceeded to detail, without mincing her words, my appalling behaviour. I was, by her account, a drunken, foul-mouthed, oaf, and a very bad advert for the God I had so recently turned to and professed to follow. I was very ashamed and vowed, there and then, to give up alcohol - which I did. Why was she at that party? I never asked her, but I’m sure I know who sent her!

A few months later, off I went to university, here in Lancaster. On the first day of 'Intro Week', I realised that I faced a stark choice - to go to the bar along with everyone else, get drunk, and resume my former life, or to do as the pastor had suggested on the last Sunday before I left, and seek out the Christian Union. The latter course of action seemed the only sensible one - I had a pretty fair inkling of the fate awaiting me otherwise, and it wasn't pretty.

So I 'got stuck in' with the CU, and then found a church - a little Elim Pentecostal church started up, via a mission, a few weeks after I arrived in Lancaster, and I settled there until Linda and I met and were married, at which point it closed down - coincidence, or not? With my background, I needed that small, intimate, fellowship, and the love and accountability it offered (not to mention the superb sermons and pastoral care of its pastor, Stephen Thompson). Surely that church can't have been there purely for my benefit? Whatever, I am grateful to God that it existed while it did, and I owe those folks a debt of gratitude for their love and support. After some weeks spent ‘wandering in the wilderness’ (happily not forty years like Moses and the Israelites) we finished up at our present, Anglican, church (which certainly didn't, at the time, feel like 'the promised land' - though in many ways it does now).

The intervening years haven't always been easy - I had an awful lot of bad habits to 'unlearn', and to be forgiven for. I've had to learn, gradually, to forgive those who've hurt and angered me. I've also had to learn, in my turn, to accept forgiveness, and love, from others, and to learn to accept myself, with all my many failings. I have gradually learned that God accepts and loves us, just as we are, and that because he does, we must accept and love ourselves too. Self-acceptance has been one of my biggest battles.

I may touch on some of the more formative points of my life as a Christian in the years between then and now as this blog unfolds over time.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2016